Printer Friendly

"Mourning the death of our faith": the little pebble and the Marian work of atonement 1950-1984.

Introduction: The Age of Mary

On November 1, 1950, Pope Pius XII became the first pope to institute an infallible doctrine through his ex Cathedra apostolic constitution Munificentissimus Deus. The Pope's promulgation of the Marian dogma of the Assumption, while sometimes viewed as a political exercise of papal power, was also an outgrowth of the Pope's well-known personal devotion to the Virgin Mary, especially the apparition at Fatima in 1917. (1) This decree coincided with an intensification of Marian devotion across the globe with the Pope remarking: "piety toward the Virgin Mother of God is flourishing and daily growing more fervent." (2) It also coincided with the early years of the Cold War which witnessed a resurgence of interest in Marian apparitions and apocalyptic thinking arguably unseen since the high point of Marian devotion in the troubled atmosphere of nineteenth century France, where appearances of the Virgin Mary frequently occurred--at Paris (1830), La Salette (1846), Lourdes (1858), and Pontmain (1871)--in a society and Church still coming to terms with the legacy of the Revolution of 1789 and its aftermath. (3)

In Italy, to give one example, the years following the Second World War witnessed an explosion of Marian apparitions, especially in the months leading up to the sharply contested election of April 18, 1948. Here a series of mass Marian pilgrimages--a ubiquitous aspect of Italian popular piety--coincided with the Pope's suggestion that the election represented a choice between Christ, represented by the Christian Democrats, or against Christ in the form of the Popular Front, a left-wing coalition of revolutionary socialists and communists. (4) While Italy was the most popular venue for these apparitions, the period from 1947-1954 also witnessed an increase in apparitions across both Eastern and Western Europe amid social tensions created by the early Cold War and post-war reconstruction. (5) Predictably--given the history of ambivalence with which the hierarchy of the Church has viewed such miraculous phenomena--these apparitions were not welcomed in all quarters, especially when some visionaries began to show a marked reluctance to submit to episcopal authority. The infamous head of the Holy Office Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani, in an often quoted piece in L'Osservatore Romano published on February 4, 1951, warned the faithful against paying too great a significance to supernatural phenomenon, or confusing miraculous occurrences with sanctity. (6)

The years that followed saw some decrease in the number of reported apparitions, a change usually attributed to Ottaviani's warning. (7) Despite this, the 1950s still came to be known in some quarters as the 'Age of Mary' or as the final decade of the 'Marian Century', and the Virgin Mary, most notably in her guise as Our Lady of Fatima, assumed an almost unprecedented place in Roman Catholic devotional life. Mary was seen by many Catholics as increasingly important both in a theological sense as a near-divine participant in the economy of salvation (so-called 'Marian Maximalism' (8)), but perhaps more importantly, in a political sense, as her intercession and earthly appearances came to be seen as a witness and bulwark against the ever-threatening spectres of communism and secularization.

In countries like Australia and the United States devotion to the nineteenth century French apparition at Lourdes--and in some quarters the more controversial and apocalyptic apparition at La Salette--had been popular in the years prior to WWII. (9) However, from WWII onwards, the appearances by the Virgin to three peasant children in Fatima, Portugal, between May and October 1917, surged in popularity. Fatima's apocalyptic imagery, its call for the consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and the practice of First Saturday devotions for the reparation of sin, became widespread in the atmosphere of Cold War hysteria and growing anti-communist sentiment among large swaths of the Church. (10) Moreover, as masses of displaced people from the historical heartlands of Marian devotion in Southern and Eastern Europe began to migrate to Australia and the United States, they brought with them a rich spiritual repertoire of traditional devotional practices and popular beliefs, coupled with the traumatic lived experience of the near-apocalyptic reality of total war between the twin-evils of Stalinism and Nazism, which had only recently laid much of the European continent to waste.

It was into this specific epoch in the history of Roman Catholic devotion, which witnessed a melding of two intensely apocalyptic strands of Marian devotion--the reactionary piety of nineteenth century counter-revolutionary France best exemplified by La Salette and mid-twentieth century anti-communist piety closely identified with Fatima--that William Kamm was born in Cologne, Germany, on May 16, 1950, a city still reeling from the devastation wrought by allied bombing raids. (11) The son of Catholic parents, a German mother and a decommissioned Italian soldier father, Kamm's family (minus his biological father) would migrate to Australia when he was just four years old.

Under the shadow of the Cold War and widespread changes in the Church wrought by the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), over the next thirty-five years, Kamm, better known by his moniker 'The Little Pebble', would grow into an intensely religious alleged visionary preoccupied with an admixture of Marian Maximalist devotion, apocalyptic prophecy, and European-style popular Catholicism. In 1985, Kamm would found a self-styled religious order known as the Order of Saint Charbel (the Charbelites) based at a property in Bangalee near Cambewarra west of Nowra on the N.S.W. South Coast. Despite numerous failed attempts to acquire official Church recognition, both in Australia and at Rome, the activities of the Charbelites, particularly their resistance to episcopal oversight and censure and their traditional devotional practices, would become the source of ongoing controversy with successive diocesan bishops of Wollongong over the course of the next three decades. This eventually culminated in an official diocesan investigation announced in 1998 and--with the express support of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith--an order for the Charbelites to disband and "to cease all activities that are contrary to the teachings, authority and discipline of the Catholic Church" in a Decree of Bishop Peter Ingham on June 16, 2002. Kamm and his remaining followers were excommunicated (latae sententiae) on June 10, 2003, following the schismatic consecration as bishop of his associate Fr. Malcolm Broussard. (12) This was soon followed by Kamm's arrest, conviction, and subsequent imprisonment for a series of sexual offences against young female followers. (13) Kamm was released on parole in late 2014 and still claims to receive what are known in the large subculture devoted to Marian apparitions as "messages from heaven." (14)

Moving Beyond the 'Cult' Stereotype

Rather than focusing on the often discussed sensationalist aspects of Kamm's activities, this article seeks to examine the historical origins of the Charbelites and their intense form of devotion to the Virgin Mary from the period of Kamm's youth, through the group's genesis in a series of prayer groups known as the Marian Work of Atonement (MWOA) established in the early 1970s, to their initial censure by Bishop William E. Murray of Wollongong in his pastoral letter On True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary issued on December 2, 1984. (15) In what follows I seek to contextualise this prehistory of the Charbelites against the backdrop of local developments within the Roman Catholic Church in Australia and wider developments in the Church abroad over the tumultuous period between 1950 and the early 1980s. However, before progressing to examine this complex historical matrix a number of preliminary points need to be made, not least regarding this group's controversial reputation.

To most outsiders, and indeed to the hierarchy of Australian bishops, Kamm's prophetic and visionary messages have been considered both bizarre and disturbing, leading to decades of media and Church scrutiny. His Order has usually been dismissed offhand as a 'cult', (16) and his followers marginalized from the mainstream Church. Regardless of the group's clear canonically schismatic status--most recently reiterated by the Bishop of the Maronite Eparchy of Australia Antoine-Charbel Tarabay in a pastoral letter November 14, 2014 (17)--its historical development offers an intriguing window through which to view many of the challenges and changes which the Roman Catholic Church has undergone in the post-World War II era, especially, though not exclusively, in an Australian context. Despite its marginal and sectarian position with regard to the mainstream Church, I suggest here that it is impossible to understand this group without particular reference to the distinctly Roman Catholic religious ecology from which it emerged, accompanied by some historical account of particular strands of Marian devotional and apocalyptic thought which have persisted within the Church since at least the nineteenth century and in certain regards much earlier. (18)

During the post-war period, the Australian Church has successively faced at least four challenges which I suggest are particularly important for understanding the development of the Charbelites. First, the mass migration and settlement of scores of Southern and Eastern European Roman Catholics fleeing communist persecution and an uncertain future in an unstable post-war Europe. (19) Second, the implementation of the pastoral, liturgical, and ecclesiological reforms of Vatican II, and attempts to address the reluctance of small sectors of the Church to embrace the Council's vision for aggiornamento and renewal. (20) Third, and arguably related to the second, the marked decline of many Catholic devotional practices, ranging from frequent confession to traditional forms of devotion such as the praying of the Rosary, not to mention a marked decline in religious vocations.21 And, finally, how the Church has grappled with the widespread secularization of Australian society, and with this, the emergence of more permissive attitudes in education and personal morality considered scandalous by more traditionally oriented Catholics; a development which has become increasingly acute from the period of the late 1960s onward. (22)

Each of these factors contributed to a trend among some conservative Catholics which led to the formation of what Patrick O'Farrell described as a "significant movement ... toward re-emphasis of traditional doctrines and older pious practices," most notably those linked with the Virgin Mary, a trend particularly apparent amongst older Roman Catholics who yearned for the devotional and theological certainties of their younger days and in certain ethnic quarters where such devotional practices constituted the primary locus of their religious and cultural identity. (23) It was amongst this group of self-described "disaffected Catholics" that Kamm drew the majority of his followers, individuals who believed, as one former elderly female follower reflected: "that the church was moving away from the traditions she held dear." (24)

Bearing in mind these complex socio-historical factors--rather than dismissing the Charbelites pejoratively as a 'cult' and sensationalising their more controversial theological beliefs and practices--this article contends that from a historical perspective what became the Order of Saint Charbel can be partially explained as the product of this complex historical and social matrix. It is the purpose of this article to better contextualise the circumstances and factors which have influenced the development of this group. However, before progressing to do this it is incumbent on me to mention three caveats.

First, in this article, I adopt the position that it is not the province of the historian to make judgements about the authenticity or otherwise of Kamm's visions and supernatural claims. Assessing the probability or otherwise of such claims is properly the role of qualified spiritual theologians and the Church hierarchy. The Church hierarchy has historically followed a complex and lengthy set of investigative processes in such cases. (25) In this particular case the Church's position --in the form of official pronouncements by diocesan bishops with jurisdiction over regions or communities in which the Charbelites can be found, as well as by various Vatican dicasteries--advised by competent theologians, has maintained a generally negative position regarding these matters since 1984. (26) This said, the Charbelites have consistently challenged the validity of the Church's judgement on such matters and the findings of the diocesan commission conducted under Bishop Philip Wilson and refuse to disband their communities as requested. (27) Since 2002, a large number of Charbelites have departed from the group and subsequently either reconciled with the mainstream Church, or become involved with other canonically suppressed groups like the Society of St. Pius X or elsewhere in the Marian apparition subculture. (28) At their height the Charbelites likely only comprised at most a few hundred members living in community in Australia and overseas, however they had a much wider network of committed prayer groups scattered across the world.

Second, is it not my intention here to discuss Kamm's criminal convictions or the doctrinal and organizational developments within the Charbelites over their later history, especially during the early 1990s, which may have some bearing on these matters. These are matters best left for a future time and another forum. While the apocalyptic tendencies of this group were evident even during its early days, data I have examined suggest that the Charbelites' arguably more heterodox and antinomian theological developments--in particular their understanding of a New Holy Era and the Royal House of David --post-date the period covered by this paper. (29) It suffices to say here that these arguably heterodox beliefs and practices are by no means as unprecedented--especially amongst visionary and prophecy-inspired movements which have periodically emerged in earlier epochs of Church history--as has often been suggested. (30)

Third, due to the relatively recent nature of many of the developments discussed in this article, and its utilisation of information gauged from current and former members of the group and other sources, some of the documentation and interview data utilized will be quoted anonymously in order to protect the privacy of those individuals cited. Documentation on the public record, or dealing with deceased persons, will be cited as usual. However, more contemporaneous matters from the late 1970s onwards will be treated with some circumspection. (31)

William Kamm: The Early Years

The Kamm family migrated to Australia under the Department of Immigration's assisted passage scheme in 1954, like many other German migrants choosing Renmark in South Australia, a region with a history of German settlement. Kamm's childhood was not marked by an intensely Catholic environment: he attended state schools due to the costs associated with attending parochial schools and his family were in his estimation not overly devout. However, in his three-volume autobiography Kamm does note the important early influence of Italian neighbours, who he describes as "staunch Catholics who loved their faith." (32) These neighbours frequently took Kamm to Mass and at age eight Kamm received his First Holy Communion. According to Kamm, his home life was unsettled, the family were poor and his stepfather an alcoholic prone to violence. The family briefly returned to Germany in 1960, though soon travelled back to Australia, sans Kamm's stepfather, and eventually relocated to the outer Melbourne suburb of Sunshine where Kamm began high school.

Sunshine, like other outer suburbs of major Australian cities in the 1950s, had become a popular location for many European migrants, often unable to afford the high costs of housing in inner-city areas. In Sunshine devout Italian and Maltese communities soon began to make their presence felt, especially their public devotion to the Virgin Mary. (33) It is unsurprising then, amidst the turmoil of his parent's separation and some teasing at school resulting from residual anti-German sentiment in the wider community, that Kamm's devotional life took on a great importance and he began to form what was to become a life-long interest in Marian apparitions. Of this period he writes:
   I would often visit the Church and I developed a great interest in
   the lives of the Saints. These I would read often and found their
   lives very inspiring and edifying. My love for Our Lady was
   increasing and I loved to read of Her Apparitions--of the recent
   ones--especially of Our Lady of Fatima. This great Apparition of
   our century was what inspired me the most and I read everything I
   could about it (34)

Kamm's interest in Fatima and Marian devotion was not unusual during the early 1960s. (35) Books like the Dominican Thomas McGlynn's Vision of Fatima (36) first published in Australia in 1951, had become popular devotional reading of the kind alluded to by Kamm. (37) In 1951 Archbishop of Melbourne Daniel Mannix had established the Blue Army of Our Lady of Fatima, founded by New Jersey priest Fr. Harold Colgan in 1946, at the parish of Our Lady of Victory in Camberwell and it had grown in size over the subsequent decade (Kamm was later to join this group as a young adult). (38) Moreover, perhaps most importantly of all, the Family Rosary Crusades, led by visiting American priest Fr. Patrick Peyton, had drawn record numbers in 1951 and 1953 attracting thousands of Catholics to public rallies at locations like the Melbourne Cricket Ground, and popularising the daily family Rosary with the slogan "the family the prays together, stays together." (39)

For Archbishop Mannix, intensely committed to the anti-communist crusade through his patronage of the Catholic Social Studies Movement ('The Movement'), Peyton's message was timely and amply captured the spirit of the period. As he told his flock in 1951:
   At this time of international confusion and unrest, of internal
   strife and religious persecution, the world seeks vainly for a
   return to peace. True peace can come from God alone; it will be
   given to those who ask for it prayerfully and confidently. The
   world will be led back to Christ through prayer, especially the
   prayer of the Rosary, for history has repeatedly proved the
   irresistible power of the Rosary against the enemies of God. (40)

Mannix's words, like those of Peyton and others, captured the cultural timbre of Cold War Catholicism, an apocalyptically tinged message which was to mark sectors of the Catholic community well into the 1960s and in some cases beyond. Moreover, as the auspicious year of 1960 approached, those Catholics who had become aware of the messages of Fatima popularised in devotional literature like McGlynn's book during the 1940s and 1950s became increasingly excited as the date of 1960 approached, eagerly awaiting the release of the famed "Third Message" slated for release at that date. This message would not be released until 2000, (41) leading to belief among some conservative Catholics of a cover-up accompanied by complex conspiracy theories pertaining to its content which persist into the present. (42) Kamm would later actively promote many of these theories, especially those propagated by the controversial traditionalist priest Fr. Nicholas Gruner.

Mannix and other Catholic cold warriors were certainly aware that Peyton's crusade, while ostensibly devotional, was not lacking in a political dimension. Indeed, subsequent studies have demonstrated the extent to which Peyton was in the pay of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) through this period. (43) As such, Peyton's sentiments found an appreciative audience in an atmosphere where politically engaged anti-communist sentiment amongst Roman Catholics had reach fever pitch, not least in Melbourne, over the course of the 1950s, encouraged by the often apocalyptic rhetoric of News Weekly, the widespread activities of B.A. Santamaria's Movement, and events like the Petrov defections. (44)

Fatima became the devotional wing of wider Roman Catholic anticommunism. (45) This heady atmosphere of anti-communist hysteria combined with enthusiasm for Marian apparitions and the importance of the Rosary as a weapon against communism left a lasting impression on Kamm and his followers in the early 1980s, even though Kamm himself was far too young to have become involved with its more active political dimension. (46) The Fatima devotions of the 1950s--including calls for the consecration of Russia to Mary's Immaculate Heart, First Saturday devotions in reparation for the world's sins, and speculation about the content of the 'Third Message' --were all to feature prominently in Kamm's locutions during later years. (47) Pilgrims to the shrine established by Kamm and his followers claimed to have witnessed the miracle of the sun (first witnessed by pilgrims at Fatima on October 13, 1917) and the famous motto the Family Rosary Crusade cited above was to feature as one of the key aims of the MWOA. (48)

The often-striking parallels between the apocalyptic mindset of Kamm's followers in the early 1980s and that held by the clandestine cells of the Movement in the 1950s do not end there. Certain aspects of Kamm and his followers' plans in the 1980s to established self-sufficient farming communities in Nowra and Gilgandra in Western N.S.W. were not without a 1950s predecessor in the short-lived farming cooperatives and aims of the National Catholic Rural Movement (NCRM). (49) Indeed, even the unsettling revelations about the construction of catacombs and weapons training by some of Kamm's followers out of fear of a communist invasion during the heightened atmosphere stoked by U.S. President Ronald Reagan in the early 1980s were not without a 1950s precedent. According to Paul Ormond, in the 1950s some Movement associates formed "local militia, with regular training, to resist the communist takeover," (50) and earlier sectarian rumours occasionally re-emerged at the time that Archbishop Mannix still had a substantial armoury and tunnels hidden under Rabeen! (51) Strange as such notions might appear today, belief in an impending communist invasion was as real in the 1950s and early 1960s for many Catholics, as it was for Kamm and his associates in the early 1980s, and it is worth remembering that an apocalyptic rhetoric of an impending communist threat persisted in issues of News Weekly well into the 1960s. (52)

Wollongong: The Diocese of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and Old World Devotion

Returning to Kamm's biography. The family's sojourn in Sunshine was relatively short-lived, and amid some dramatic events involving Kamm's stepfather and an attempted kidnapping, the family again relocated in 1965, this time to the growing industrial city of Wollongong. In Wollongong, Kamm's devotion to the Virgin Mary and his exposure to the distinct forms of religiosity which were to inform the founding of the MWOA continued to develop, influenced by the distinct religious ecology of the diocese.

By age sixteen Kamm had left school, become an altar boy, and begun to attend Mass more frequently. By seventeen he was attending daily Mass, and he became acquainted with a number of the priests serving at the local cathedral of St. Francis Xavier. It soon became clear to these priests that Kamm had what the late Fr. Leo Stevens later described as "a strong interest in apparitions approved by the Church and numerous alleged apparitions," though at the time the nature of Kamm's devotional piety still remained within the bounds of acceptable practice. Still Father Stevens later claimed that: "I advised him to give less emphasis to apparitions in his religious life." (53) In Wollongong, Kamm also became exposed to the diversity of ethnic devotional practices which waves of migrants had brought with them from Southern and Eastern Europe--the very regions where the post-War Marian revival discussed above had been most intensely felt. Indeed, it was around this time that Kamm first became aware of his Italian paternity, having hitherto believed his German stepfather was his biological father.

Kamm continued to regularly attend Mass over the period of his adolescence at the Wollongong cathedral. However, by the early 1970s he had become a parishioner at Unanderra, a parish known for its Marian devotion and active Italian migrant population. The Immaculate Conception Parish had come under the authority of the Scalabrinian Fathers--an order explicitly charged with the care of Italian migrants abroad--in 1952 and they continued to exercise pastoral responsibility in the parish until 1977 when Fr. Stevens became the first diocesan parish priest. Despite passing from the hands of the Scalabrinians, even in 1988, when an official history of the Church in the Illawarra was written for its 150th anniversary, the parish was still known for its strong Marian culture and the remained the parish of choice for many of the migrants employed at the nearby Port Kembla steel works. (54)

By the mid-1970s some regions of the Diocese of Wollongong had a population of nearly 80% migrants and when Kamm's family arrived in the mid-1960s the diocese already had more than twelve resident or visiting ethnic or migrant chaplains serving a diverse range of groups. (55) Unsurprisingly with the influx of successive waves of migrants from Italy, Croatia, the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, and later Lebanon, coupled with the diocese's dedication to the Immaculate Heart of Mary by Pope John XXIII in 1959, Kamm continued to encounter an old-world brand of Marian devotion like that he had already experienced among Italian migrants in Sunshine and Renmark, with communal displays of piety in the form of Rosary processions, the communal feste, and pilgrimages to Marian shrines like the grotto built to Our Lady of Lourdes in Earlwood (Sydney). (56) These public expressions of migrant devotion, which continue today, were to provide a model for the program of monthly Atonement days of prayer held by the MWOA on the thirteenth day of each month beginning in December 1984.

While these ethnic groups brought a plethora of local devotions and pious practices from their home countries, the high concentration of displaced persons, later known as "New Australians," did not come without its difficulties; not least for the episcopal hierarchy whose assimilationist approach often ran counter to Vatican policies and caused tensions with migrant communities. For many migrants a perception certainly existed --among both laity and priests--that a still predominantly Irish hierarchy was not always sympathetic or accommodating to the pastoral needs of Southern and Eastern European parishioners, or of their distinctive local devotional customs, which were occasionally dismissed as superstitious or eccentric. (57)

This policy of assimilation, which existed from the top-down well into the 1980s, often exacerbated ethnic differences and led to a distrust of local clergy by some migrant Catholics. While a ghetto situation like that which existed amongst some European migrants in the United States never completely emerged, many ethnic communities did retreat inwards and opt for their compatriots as priests and fellow parishioners. When this was not possible, the reminiscences of migrants from places like Italy and Poland frequently attest the challenges occasioned by differences in attitudes and customs amongst Australian Catholics and those familiar to migrants in their homelands. Moreover, the lax behaviour of many laypeople and priests in Australian parishes often scandalized these migrants. (58)

The reception of communion in the hand--a practice that was to figure prominently in early conflicts between Kamm's followers and the mainly Irish priests in Nowra--was a case in point. Reception of the Eucharist in the hand was permitted in Australia in late September 1975 after the bishops petitioned Rome for an indult allowing this practice; though it is important to note that this did not take place without a degree of protest from more conservative bishops like Bishop Bernard Stewart of the Diocese of Sandhurst. (59) The practice of reception of the Eucharist in the hand was considered especially problematic for European (and other) migrants who had been reared in an atmosphere of Eucharistic devotion and among whom the doctrine of the Real Presence was still held in significantly greater awe than among their arguably more secularized Australian coreligionists. Indeed, some migrants were even scandalized by the frequency with which Australians received the sacrament (and the implication that this had not been preceded by confession), with one telling sociologist Adrian Pittarello "here people go to communion as if it were a sport." (60)

Similarly, while modest dress in churches was the norm in the intensely Catholic countries of Italy, Poland, and Croatia, in Australia migrants were often shocked by the loose dress standards they encountered in church, as one migrant lamented in an interview with Naomi Turner "some even wear thongs to Mass." (61) As with the reception of communion (and the requirement that this be accompanied by frequent confession), the need for modest dress in church became a frequent topic in Kamm's early locutions and demonstrates what emerged as a major difference in religious practice between the migrant and devotionally inclined associates of Kamm and the wider Church. (62) Religious gatherings held by the MWOA featured strict dress codes, according to a locution received by Kamm from the Virgin Mary on September 4, 1984: "no woman is to be allowed on the Sacred Grounds without headgear. No see-through clothes, short skirts, slacks, short sleeves and the sort." (63)

While it is important to acknowledge that a significant portion of Kamm's followers, particularly in the historically mainly Irish parish of Nowra, were of Irish-Australian extraction, it is suggestive that some of the initial conflicts between Kamm's followers occurred with the predominantly Irish clergy serving St. Michael's Parish. (64) Early conflict, in particular, emerged with the indomitable Mgr. John Purcell (affectionately known as "the Mons"), an Irish priest in the traditional mould described by a contemporary as "a 'fierce' man: not in the sense of being ferocious, or at least not too often, but in a sense of being determined, serious, dedicated." (65) Mgr. Purcell was not averse to publicly criticising Kamm. As early as 1985 he publicly labelled Kamm an "imposter," who the Monsignor believed "might be suffering from an overdose of imagination or from delusions." (66) Moreover, the Monsignor was not above criticising the MWOA in the media for disobedience, refusing members communion and private confession, and on occasion ridiculing what he believed were fanatical and unhealthy displays of piety which focused too heavily on the supernatural and outward displays of devotion. (67)

In addition to the more conservative values and standards of reverence often exhibited by migrant communities with whom Kamm associated, Italian migrants had also brought with them largely peasant traditions of local Madonnas, devotion to particular local saints or holy people, and a distinct preference for what might best be called a dolorous spirituality; all popular forms of spirituality largely organized by and for the laity and often outside the direct supervision of the institutional Church. (68) Among other distinct aspects, Southern Italian devotional piety had a long tradition of focusing on the importance of spiritual (often accompanied by physical) suffering for the reparation of sins, especially as exhibited by a holy person --such as either a stigmatic or a victim soul--as well as the veneration of the Virgin as Our Lady of Sorrows and intense spiritual meditations on the Passions of Christ. (69)

Kamm was strongly influenced by these kinds of devotional traditions, especially the growth in popularity of devotion to figures like to the Franciscan stigmatic Padre Pio and the German stigmatic and visionary Therese Neumann during the 1960s. (70) As Kamm wrote of his teenage years:
   I was fascinated by the life of a Holy stigmatic Priest of
   Pietralcina (sic.), called Padre Pio, of Italy. This holy man was
   known throughout the world as a Prophet and Seer. He had the gifts
   of reading souls and was famous as a Confessor. People travelled
   all over the world to confess to him and to ask his advice, and
   many applied to be his spiritual children. I was completely
   overawed by such a man who carried the wounds of Our Lord. It was
   to me like seeing a manifestation of Heaven on Earth. (71)

While Padre Pio, canonized in 2002, was the most popular of the kinds of holy men and women esteemed in Southern Italian devotions, he was by no means atypical except in the extent of his devotional cult. (72) The kinds of supernatural experiences described in popular works on Padre Pio --bilocation, his co-salvific suffering, his reception of the stigmata, his visions, his conflicts with demonic forces, and his intense prayer life--were common to early European traditions surrounding holy people and saints. (73) In the eyes of his devotees, what set Padre Pio apart from earlier exemplars was that he had been granted a much wider range of these spiritual graces than earlier exemplars.

The image of the suffering holy man exemplified by Padre Pio--a Christ-like figure capable of extraordinary spiritual feats and supernatural abilities--was to feature heavily in Kamm's own interpretation of his spiritual mission. Kamm would later claim to have received the graces of bilocation, the stigmata, and even to have received heavenly visions of Padre Pio. (74) Moreover, the locutions given to him for his closest followers (the 'Inner Circle') would include a frequent emphasis on the importance of suffering for the reparation of sin, especially as victim souls, a model of reparatory piety that became less popular in the post-conciliar era. (75)

However, the importance of devotion to Padre Pio, and these traditional modes of reparatory piety, held among Kamm and his later associates during the 1970s, was not limited to a traditional model of sanctity. Such ideas also linked them with a wider spiritual milieu--a devotionally oriented conservative manifestation of Catholicism suspicious of aspects of the Vatican II reforms and perhaps best referred to as "selective traditionalism." This subculture was, in the words of Swiss historian Jean-Francois Mayer, characterised by "opposition to some aspects of the reforms brought about by the Second Vatican Council but no rejection of the council itself." 76

Kamm and Selective Traditionalism

Aside from the appeal which the model of sanctity illustrated by Padre Pio had amongst Kamm and his later followers, equally important in the present context is that the developing cult of Padre Pio also became a focal point of wider conservative tendencies emerging during the period of Vatican II and after and heavily promoted by messages from a number of the unapproved Marian apparitions which occurred during the 1960s; notably those of Conchita Gonzalez at Garabandal, Spain (1961 to 1965), and of Rosa Quattrini ("Mama Rosa") at San Damiano, Italy (1962). While sometimes referred to as "selective traditionalism," the Dutch anthropologist Peter Jan Margry instead labels these links between various conservative sectors of the Church "the 'Protest' camp" and describes Padre Pio's role in it thus:
   It was precisely the condemnations by the Vatican and the way that
   the Padre and his devotees went ahead 'against the judgement of
   their betters' that made Padre Pio a standard bearer. Everywhere he
   was appropriated by groups which themselves were developing a
   critical stance to the Catholic Church and/or the renewal within
   it, and through them he was brought into the context of 'deviant'
   devotions. Here, incorporation into fundamentalist religious
   movements in and around the Church was possible, a movement which
   contributed to the faster and broader dissemination of the Pio cult

Much of the later material distributed by Kamm and his associates during the 1970s, coupled with their establishment of the MWOA prayer groups, mirrors the same diffuse set of spiritual practices which informed the emerging Padre Pio prayer groups discussed by Margry. By the late 1960s the figure of Padre Pio had become the centre of a loose network of prayer groups in parishes around the world, many of which also shared an interest in Marian apparitions and other supernatural phenomena coupled with varying degrees of disquiet surrounding the implementation of reforms following Vatican II and their impact on traditional forms of devotion. (78)

While like many other private para-church prayer groups most were quite orthodox in their beliefs and practices, others became seedbeds for the growth of all manner of fringe devotional practices surrounding weeping statues, bleeding crucifixes, demonic possession, and a resistance to change within the Church. This can be partially attributed to the rising number of publicly distributed private revelations which condemned practices like communion in the hand. Moreover, such groups drew heavily on what Margry calls the "instrumental" and "traditional" modes of piety so important to Southern Italians, where prayer took on an almost magical role in providing healing and protection, where displays of thaumaturgy became synonymous with personal sanctity. (79)

Kamm, like numerous others in this developing spiritual milieu, became fascinated with the controversial apparitions at San Damiano, with its harsh condemnation of communion in the hand, and with the apparitions at Garabandal, with their apocalyptic emphasis on an impending "Great Warning" a supernatural event where the entire world would experience "an interior realization of one's sins." (80) Reflecting on this period in the early 1970s Kamm wrote:
   I began to follow the Messages of well known Marian Seers,
   e.g. Mamma (sic.) Rosa of San Damiano, in Italy, a most famous
   Apparition of recent times. She was a friend of Padre Pio, the
   renowned stigmatist. I myself wrote to Padre Pio about my sick
   mother, and he responded by sending me part of a mitten he had used
   on his wounded hand, and my mother was cured of gall stones. (81)

By this stage, Kamm had already experienced his first vision in 1968, and was moving toward the establishment of the MWOA prayer groups. This period immediately following Vatican II witnessed the first signs of decline in traditional devotional practices and many conservative Roman Catholics were beginning to speak of a crisis in the Church following on from the conciliar reforms, as Kamm reflected on this period:
   While reading many of the private revelations through the current
   Seers of the world at that time, I began to realise we were living
   at the 'End of Time' and that there were many abuses in the
   Catholic Church, especially since the Second Vatican Council. When
   I saw these abuses practised by Bishops, Priests and other
   Religious I would begin a campaign of correcting it by trying to
   talk to Parish Priests, or the Bishop of that Diocese. This of
   course caused me to have many altercations with the Diocese
   Hierarchy. (82)

The Marian Work of Atonement

By his late adolescence Kamm was displaying an intense religiosity heavily indebted to these strands of traditional Catholicism. On Easter Sunday, 1968, the seventeen-year-old Kamm experienced his first locution following Mass at the Cathedral. Kamm heard a voice claiming to be God the Father and noting:
   William, My son: be not afraid for this is your God speaking to
   you. You have nothing to fear for I am with you always. I am giving
   you knowledge of what you are going to do for Me. I have chosen you
   to be a leader of men; many men will follow you as you will
   bring them into the Father's House. You will suffer much and
   become a great and Holy Saint. You will be married and have
   children, and you will set an example of how a Holy Family should
   be like--the example of the Holy Family. Through your influence
   many will be saved. Be strong and never lose faith. (83)

The vision, according to another source, also noted that Kamm "would do battle with the anti-Christ and that [he] would be heavily persecuted." (84) Kamm did not notify anyone of this experience until almost a year later, when he consulted a priest who suggested that: "it probably meant that he [Kamm] was close to God and left it at that." (85) He later claimed to have also approached Norman Cardinal Gilroy in 1970, who gave a similarly non-committal response but did encourage Kamm to seek out a priest for spiritual direction. In response to this intense religious experience, Kamm became involved in para-church organizations in Wollongong and Sydney, noting in his biography that he joined the Blue Army of Our Lady, the Our Lady of Lourdes organization, and became a Franciscan Tertiary. Kamm even considered a priestly vocation with the Franciscans, but was considered unsuitable for being, in his own words, "too religious." (86)

Following a brief but intensive involvement with the recently established Charismatic Renewal Movement (CCR)--itself another major platform for the dissemination of locutions and literature on supernatural phenomena, especially the immensely popular apparitions at Medjugorje in Bosnia-Herzogovina which began in 1981 (87)--Kamm established the MWOA prayer groups in 1972 in an attempt to make reparation for the sins of society and the Church. These groups, at their peak numbering around fourteen, existed on the margins of parish life and usually took place in the homes of members. The aims of the MWOA, according to an internal document, were fivefold and involved the formation of prayer groups "to make reparation for the sins of the world"; to form family prayer groups noting that "the family that prays together, stays together"; to "spread and promote the current and previous Apparitions of Our Lord and Our Lady"; to "unite all Marian workers" and finally "to love and support the Pope, Bishops and Priests." (88)

Each group was dedicated to a figure like Padre Pio or in some cases an unapproved apparition like Garabandal, and drew their membership from across the dioceses of Wollongong, Sydney, and Canberra. The MWOA continued to build up a following over the course of the 1970s among devotionally inclined Catholics seeking an outlet for forms of devotion they felt were being neglected by the mainstream Church. When the groups came to the attention of Bishop Murray a priest at the Cathedral in Wollongong was asked to attend. He later informed the Bishop that "he saw no harm being done--the meeting consisted merely in the recitation of traditional prayers." (89) However, this peaceful situation was not to last and the rapid pace of change engulfing the Church was about to send the MWOA on a collision course with the Diocese of Wollongong.

Private Revelation and the 'Crisis in the Church'

As the 1970s progressed the Church in Australia and internationally changed rapidly, many Catholics disturbed by both the pace and content of the changes began to believe that Pope Paul VI had spoken prophetically when he famously remarked: "the Smoke of Satan has entered the temple of God." (90) These changes provoked among Kamm and those around him a more critical stance toward the Church and an increasing focus on contemporary locutions from a succession of seers that displayed an increasingly bleak assessment of the state of the Church, often leavened with various anti-communist conspiracy theories regarding the Vatican and its developing approach to Ostpolitik. (91) For migrant Catholics who had escaped communism, and those like Kamm who felt the marked decline in traditional devotion acutely, such changes and accommodations were unconscionable and they sought succour in various locutions which condemned such developments or explained them through a conspiratorial lens.

This period has been described by sociologist and priest Fr. Andrew Greeley as a "secondary revolution" whereby lay and clerical reformers sought to go beyond the Vatican II degrees--invoking the "Spirit of Vatican II"--to implement often iconoclastic changes in church life. (92) Greeley neatly summarises some of the more visible manifestations of this reforming zeal which alienated man devotionally inclined Catholics:
   The leaders of this secondary revolution banned statues, stained
   glass windos, votive candles, crucifixes, and representational art
   from new or remodelled churches. They rejected popular devotions
   like May crowning, processions, First Communions, incense,
   classical polyphony, and Gregorian chant. They dismissed the
   rosary, angels, saints, the souls in purgatory, and Mary the mother
   of Jesus. They considered these old customs and devotions
   liturgically or ecumenically or politically incorrect. (93)

As Greeley notes, many of these actions went far beyond what was called for in the conciliar documents themselves and left many older or more conservative Catholics bereft. As one later follower of Kamm succinctly described the situation later "we were led to Kamm's brand of Catholicism because we were mourning the death of our faith." (94)

One, however, unintended consequence of this period of modernization was the increasing scope permitted to lay initiatives in the life of the Church, as envisioned in the conciliar decree Apostolicam Actuositatem. This led to interesting results, especially when coupled with a decision by Pope Paul VI in late December, 1966 to rescind Canon 1399 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law which forbade publications "which described new apparitions, revelations, prophecies and miracles and the launching of new devotions even where these were alleged to be of a private nature," (95) and also Canon 2318 removing the possibility of being sanctioned for frequenting an unapproved apparition site. (96) While this was ostensibly a pastoral decision to bring the situation in line with the Council's emphasis on increased lay participation, it ultimately had unintended consequences. Among other things it led to the wider distribution of private revelations than had hitherto been the case and the emergence of a new generation of Marian visionaries like Kamm who were uncomfortable with the changes wrought by the Council and its implementation and who were largely unimpeded by the threat of Church sanction or censure against their claims. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had, in practice if not on paper, lost its teeth and its ability to censor publications or impose sanctions on controversial visionaries. All manner of documents began to circulate citing this decision as a justification for publishing critical material. The result was that the floodgate was opened to a tsunami of private revelations critical of the post-conciliar changes and calling for a return to traditional forms of devotion.

Like those who became involved in groups like the developing Society of St. Pius X or more radical sedevacantist and schismatic groups like the Palmarian Catholic Church of the Holy Face, (97) during the 1970s Kamm and his associates became immersed in what the Canadian sociologist Michael Cuneo has called the "netherworld of American Catholicism." (98) This milieu is best described as less of an organized movement than a devotional subculture which embraced a number of loosely related interests ranging from miraculous phenomena like the stigmata, apparitions, and the private revelations of various seers, to end-time prophecies and an obsession with an impending and cataclysmic coming chastisement. (99) Linked together by a shared communication structure of prayer groups, devotional periodicals, and photocopied locutions distributed worldwide through faxes and post, this subculture burgeoned in the 1970s among disaffected Catholics and created a reactionary backlash against conciliar renewal which often perplexed Church authorities.

From the early 1970s Kamm had read extensively in this area, and like many in this subculture became fascinated by popular works on prophecy emerging out of this situation of newfound liberty for visionaries amid the post-conciliar reforms. (100) Perhaps the most influential work here was the widely read book Catholic Prophecy by French emigre to Australia Yves Dupont, which collated centuries of private revelations regarding the end-times and the circumstances that would accompany them, and which became something of a classic among reactionary Catholics. (101) Dupont's popular volume, together with his short-lived but influential periodical World Trends, brought together what has been described by one scholar as the "underground tradition of Catholic millennialism," comprised of a series of popular prophecies dating back to late antiquity, (102) with a new set of apparitions from the twentieth century, including visions attributed to figures like Padre Pio and more importantly the series of apparitions given under the title Our Lady of the Roses at Bayside, New York, beginning in 1970. (103) While Dupont died in 1976, his magazine and booklets continued to circulate among those involved in this growing Marian subculture, including in the Diocese of Wollongong.

Kamm and Bayside

Already deeply immersed in this network of groups promoting unapproved apparitions like San Damiano, Garabandal, and the Cold War apparition at Necedah in Wisconsin, in the late 1970s Kamm and his associates in the MWOA became actively involved in the circulation and promotion of a variety of controversial and anti-conciliar literature. Soon Kamm became particularly devoted to a series of the highly contested apparitions and locutions then taking place in the suburb of Bayside in the borough of Queens, New York, an association which was to prove controversial both for Kamm and for the growing number of supporters at the Bayside shrine of Our Lady of the Roses.

At Bayside, the housewife turned visionary Veronica Lueken began to experience private revelations in 1968 and in 1970 she began to receive locutions allegedly from the Virgin Mary. As time progressed these messages became increasingly apocalyptic and conspiracy driven, detailing, in the words of American folklorist Daniel Wojcik: "a wide range of various satanic influences in American society, including discussions of things like rock music, drugs, immodest dress, sex education, television, the Illuminate, UFOs, and test tube babies." (104) Unsurprisingly, given this apocalyptic and conspiratorial content, the group soon attracted negative attention from the Diocese of Brooklyn, who undertook a preliminary investigation into the group in 1973.

The results of the investigation were not made public, but it resulted in a negative assessment (a case of constat de non supernaturalitate (105)), but in 1974 the Bayside devotees were forced by the Church, and frustrated local residents upset by traffic congestion and litter, to move their premises from the grounds of St Robert Bellarmine's Church to nearby Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. Eventually on November 4, 1986, Bishop Francis Mugavero of Brooklyn issued a decree against the group encouraging parishioners to avoid participating in the activities of the group or reading their literature. (106) Despite these setbacks, however, the group had already developed an extensive international following, and to this day the self-described 'Baysiders' remain a divided but active presence in the American Church. (107)

In Australia, the content of the Bayside messages became a matter of concern to the Australian Episcopal Conference (AEC) in late 1975 after then secretary Fr. (later Bishop) Patrick Dougherty began to receive copies of the Quebecois pro-Bayside broadsheet Michael from various diocesan priests who noted the increased regularity with which it was appearing in a number of rural parishes. This material was disturbing parishioners as it contained details of the most sensational of Veronica Lueken's locutions in which she claimed that Pope Paul VI had been replaced by an actor who had undergone plastic surgery to look like the Pope, and that a malevolent and powerful clique of cardinals were directing this imposter. (108) Fr. Dougherty subsequently initiated inquiries with the Diocese of Brooklyn to trace the origins of this material and was notified by Mgr. James P. King, Chancellor of the Diocese of Brooklyn who replied: "It is the considered opinion of the authorities of this Diocese of Brooklyn that nothing miraculous is happening there [i.e. at Bayside] and we discourage people from going." (109) Fr. Dougherty also made inquiries with the Diocese of Saint-Hyacinthe in Quebec and was informed that the group distributing the material, identified as the Pilgrims of St Michael (usually known as the "White Berets" (110)), had sought no permission to distribute this material. The chancellor of Saint-Hyacinthe, Fr. Andre Boucher, described the group as: <<Ce sont integristes, tres attaches au passe. Ces catholiques ont une grande devotion envers la Vierge Marie et mettent beaucoup d'insistance sur des apparitions de la Vierge non reconnues officiellementpar l 'autorite ecclesiastique competente.>> Fr. Boucher went on to note that the distributors of the newspaper: <<Ils sont en lien tres etroit avec Mgr Lefebvre.>> (111) As a result of this the AEC agreed on a policy to discourage the promotion of these materials. (112)

In this context, Kamm made two trips to Bayside, in late 1979 and again in 1980. He was expelled from volunteering at the shrine during his second visit under dubious circumstances. (113) Upon his return to Wollongong Kamm and his followers began to actively distribute the Roses broadsheet, one of the official publications of the Our Lady of the Roses Shrine, as well similar material to the letterboxes of parishioners in the Diocese of Wollongong and wider afield. Kamm also began to give talks in private homes and even in some cases at the invitation of parish priests. It was at this point that the MWOA first encountered a kickback from the Diocese of Wollongong.

During the same period Kamm, like others involved in the Marian subculture, set himself up as a self-appointed watchdog for orthodoxy. Like those associated with the John XXIII Fellowship Cooperative who began to publish the magazine Fidelity in 1977 and other conservative groups, (114) Kamm made note of instances of what he considered liturgical abuses or heresy among local priests and subsequently reported these to Bishop Murray, signing at least one of his letters "a very concerned Catholic." (115) While on occasion Bishop Murray conceded that Kamm's complaints had some substance, he also cautioned Kamm regarding the gravity and potentially serious consequences of denouncing "a priest to his bishop as being a heretic or as being guilty of preaching heresy." (116) Unsurprisingly, Kamm's letters did not endear him or his associates to the local clergy, and through his letter writing campaign, Kamm's conservative attitudes became known to Bishop Murray, setting off a series of exchanges which were to influence future relations between the MWOA and their local bishop.

This is most clear in one of Bishop Murray's replies to Kamm in January 1982. Kamm had complained about alleged Christological heresies preached by one of the priests at the Diocesan Cathedral, the refusal of communion kneeling and on the tongue to several of his associates in Campbelltown, and about "certain Priests in the Wollongong Diocese" who had referred to "those who follow these Apparitions [i.e. Bayside] ... as crackpots." (117) Bishop Murray replied promptly and tactfully. In the first instance he tried to inform Kamm about the complexity of the communicatio idiomatum whilst assuring Kamm he would speak with the priest in question. In the second instance Bishop Murray agreed with Kamm that the priest in question should have allowed reception of the Sacrament kneeling and on the tongue.

However, with regard to Bayside, Bishop Murray was firm noting that: "With regard to the alleged apparitions at Bayside the Australian bishops have been advised by the Chancery Office of the Diocese of Brooklyn N.Y. as follows ..." before quoting Mgr. King's letter quoted above. Bishop Murray went on to write that:
   Following this advice I discourage any promotion in this diocese of
   devotion relating to the alleged apparitions at Bayside, and I warn
   against the danger of dissemination of any literature concerning a
   devotion that does not have the official endorsement of the
   Catholic Church. (118)

Kamm did not heed Bishop Murray's pastoral advice and continued to distribute and promote the Bayside material. Though by this time a number of Kamm's MWOA associates were expressing doubts about his honesty and links to the wider Bayside movement. (119)

The Seer of Australia

According to Canadian traditionalist journalist Anne Cillis, who had been instrumental in Kamm's expulsion from Bayside in 1980, Kamm had remarked on his departure that: "Well, I guess it's time Australia got its own seer." (120) The accuracy or otherwise of this statement is unclear, and may simply represent the frequent backbiting and hyper-critical attitude exhibited among many involved in this conservative Catholic subculture, though several former members and even Kamm himself have confirmed aspects of Cillis' story. (121) Regardless, beginning on March 7, 1982, Kamm began to experience locutions from the Virgin Mary, who over the next year began to appear to Kamm more frequently. For example, on July 16, 1982 Kamm was informed that the property of his followers Bill and Joan Price in Bangalee was to become hallowed ground. (122) Kamm first revealed these locutions to a meeting with the leaders of the fourteen MWOA prayer groups in December 1982. During this period he also revealed them to Fr. Stevens, who later described his response:
   It was after he [Kamm] travelled to the United States and attended
   the alleged apparitions at Bayside, New York, that he began to
   announce that he himself was also receiving apparitions and
   messages. I noted, and pointed out to him, the similarity between
   the format and phraseology of the Baysider events and those of Mr.
   Kamm. (123)

In response to Kamm's claims that he was a seer, a number of MWOA members left, but others remained, and on February 20, 1983, Kamm gathered between twenty and thirty of his followers at the home of the Price family at Bangalee in order to relay personal messages from the Virgin Mary for various MWOA members. This meeting marked the beginning of Kamm's "Inner Circle" a group of privileged members of the wider prayer group network whose chief loyalty was to the unfolding mission and who during the predicted "great tribulation," were expected "to ensure the survival of the hidden Church until the return of Jesus Christ." (124)

This event and the subsequent locutions received by Kamm for members of the "Inner Circle," including instructions that some members should sell their homes or cease paid employment, were not welcomed by all members of the MWOA and over the ensuing eighteen months even more families and individuals hitherto supportive of Kamm left the movement. (125) Worried about the direction the prayer groups were taking, or in some cases for their personal safety, a number of MWOA members wrote to Bishop Murray or other clergy about their concerns regarding Kamm's new role as the "Seer of Australia," his apparent lack of ongoing spiritual direction, and the instructions contained in the messages.

The reasons for some members' misgivings become clear from one such the letter written by one MWOA member to Bishop Murray in October 1984 which reads in part:
   From February onwards there was usually a meeting with William on
   the property [Bangalee] every two months. During these meetings the
   supposed plan from Heaven was gradually unfolded and soon we
   believed that 1) there was to be built at Nowra an underground
   shelter (catacombs) for the last days; 2) there were going to be
   120 of us in the end--we were especially chosen ones from the whole
   world for all time which Our Lady had chosen for her own to "greet"
   her Son when He returned; 3) only four clerics were going to
   survive in Australia when a war and chastisement destroyed the
   land--this 4 included one Bishop (not yourself unfortunately!); 4)
   Atonement days of prayer were to be held each month on the 13th; 5)
   a Lourdes was to be established on the Price property where many
   would be cured and converted (there happens to be a spring on the
   property). (126)

Kamm's autobiography does not deny these events or the concern which many of his associates had regarding the more dramatic content of his locutions. He notes that: "it was during this time that I began to have locutions and God revealed a Plan about having to build catacombs for the 'Latter Days'." (127) Over the ensuing months Kamm claimed to receive around forty private messages for members of the "Inner Circle," slowly unfolding the group's mission to unite all the seers then receiving messages across the globe and "to lead the Church during its darkest hour." (128) These messages, later included as an appendix to a document penned by a disaffected Polish priest, Fr. Miroslaw Gebicki, who left the group in the early 1990s, included instructions to followers for building the catacombs, to continue promoting the messages from the Bayside apparition, and the maintenance of traditional devotional practices such as the prayer of a ninety-day Communion novena, the Nine First Saturday and the Nine First Friday devotions. In addition to this they also contained instructions for the four priests then tangentially involved with the MWOA. (129)

Meanwhile the group continued to set about the construction--which included dynamite blasting, much to the chagrin of a neighbouring family (130) --of catacombs at the Bangalee property and another sizable property owned by member Albert Cooke in Gilgandra in the Diocese of Bathurst. Some members of the group also began to engage in military style exercises at the Gilgandra property in preparation for predicted attacks by enemies of the mission, a development which was later to lead to police scrutiny of the movement's activities and concerns about a concealed cache of weapons somewhere on one of the group's properties. (131)

Our Lady Comes to Australia

Beginning on November 1, 1983, Kamm began to receive messages from the Virgin Mary for public distribution, and beginning on November 11, the group began to widely distribute these messages across Australia and abroad. Thematically and structurally similar to the locutions of earlier Marian seers at La Salette, Bayside, San Damiano, and Garabandal, Kamm's first public message seethed with apocalyptic warnings against the kinds of lax religious and moral behaviour which had affronted Kamm and his associates over the course of the 1970s. Addressed "especially to the Roman Catholic Hierarchy and Priests" the message chastised the religious in no uncertain terms:
   My sons, why have you left the road of love and sacrifice--the
   narrow road of My Divine Son, Jesus--which leads to life? Can
   you not see that you are on the road to perdition, and taking many
   souls with you? Are you so blind that you cannot read the Signs of
   the Times? My sons, turn back, while there is time, for soon the
   Divine Justice will be wrought! Remove yourselves from your
   lethargy and complacency ... My sons and children, you must pray
   and do penance and atone for your sins which cry out for a heavy

Moreover, the people of Australia are singled out for criticism for "all sorts of atrocities and abominations in the sight of their God" and warned that Australia would "soon be devastated by disasters of natural disturbances and an invasion by enemy forces." Like other messages dating back to La Salette, Kamm's locution called on Catholics to turn away from sin and beseech God's mercy and make atonement. In addition to this, like the messages from more recent seers like Mama Rosa and Conchita Gonzalez, the message instructed the Bishops of Australia to "stop the abominations and sacrilegious practices being committed in My Son's House," singling out communion in the hand for particular criticism. The Church was warned that it was "standing at a crevasse" and must heed the messages of Our Lady, noting:
   Listen to my Words which I have spoken through many Apparitions
   around the world--like Fatima, Lourdes, La Salette, Garabandal, San
   Damiano, Portavoz of Mexico, San Stephano, Bayside, Montichiari,
   and many more. (132)

Further public messages, totalling nearly thirty by the end of 1984, were widely distributed in a broadsheet entitled Our Lady Comes to Australia. Not only presenting criticisms of changes in the Church, but also advocating a return to traditional practices such as praying the Rosary, frequent confession, Eucharistic devotion, and the wearing of the brown scapular, as well as promoting the apparition of Our Lady of the Ark, Mary Our Mother Help of Christians (the preferred title of the MWOA). (133) The messages soon began to make their way around the world through the group's pre-existing contacts in the wider Marian devotional network and were eventually translated into other languages by enthusiasts.

The messages' criticisms of the clergy, however, coupled with Kamm's earlier practice of notifying Bishop Murray of what he deemed liturgical abuses by priests, worked against the developing movement, as Kamm himself concedes regarding many local priests: "I became a thorn in their side as I would complain about them to the Bishop." (134) It was upon the reception of these messages, coupled with concerns about what many around him considered Kamm's lack of sufficient spiritual direction, that the small clique of priests hitherto indulgent of Kamm's interest in Marian apparitions and apocalyptic predictions began to turn against Kamm: most notably retired Bishop Thomas W. Muldoon.

Kamm and 'The Bull' Muldoon

The elderly Bishop Thomas Muldoon, a figure notoriously referred to as 'The Bull' for his forthright and at times abrasive manner and his outspoken conservative leanings, had met Kamm in Sydney in 1980 through the Duffy family, who knew Bishop Muldoon from his work as a parish priest in Mosman and who became some of Kamm's most devoted followers. (135) Initially Bishop Muldoon treated Kamm and his associates with a degree of indulgence, clearly sympathetic to their demonstrable devotion to the Virgin Mary. If letters preserved in Kamm's autobiography are authentic, (136) Bishop Muldoon may have even encouraged certain of the MWOA's devotional activities. However, by late 1984 Bishop Muldoon had well and truly changed his tune, noting in an angry missive to Kamm written on October 30, 1984, that:
   When you first brought this matter of locutions, visions,
   "messages" to me, I agonized over it for a long time and sought
   divine guidance in much prayer. I treated you with great charity
   and patience, while saying very little for or against, lest I
   should indeed be dealing with a true supernatural phenomenon. But
   as the months passed I became more and more convinced that the
   so-called "messages" are not authentic and that they lack objective
   reality. I am now confirmed in that judgment. The evidence against
   it all is too overwhelming. There is much more I could write, but
   this must suffice.

Muldoon further advised Kamm that he "must see Bishop Murray, explain what you were doing, and obtain his approval or blessing on the venture." (137) In his autobiography Kamm would later claim that the now deceased Bishop Muldoon (who died of cancer in 1986) had been his spiritual director prior to their break in late 1984 (138); a claim which Bishop Muldoon denied elsewhere in his letter to Kamm noting that since Kamm claimed his spiritual director was under a vow of silence: "I am most certainly not the spiritual director to whom you refer so often."

From at least early 1984, Bishop Muldoon had kept Bishop Murray and two priests in Sydney and Maitland informed about his developing concerns regarding the MWOA, especially after Kamm's first locutions went public in late 1983 contrary to the advice of Bishop Muldoon. It is clear from letters written at the time, however, that Muldoon's originally benign and solicitous attitude toward Kamm's Marian devotion had subsided by early October 1984. Bishop Muldoon had arrived at a characteristically forthright conclusion expressed in a handwritten note to Bishop Murray:
   William Kamm is not evil. Nor does he deliberately set out to
   deceive people. I think he is subjectively sincere, but that he is
   deluded. I think he is a megalomaniac (perhaps without knowing it)
   and that he is an hallucinationist (sic.). I am afraid many people
   have been hurt, and more will be more so if he is not stopped.

Bishop Muldoon's opinion was shared, though in less blunt terms, by four other priests who had initially been named in Kamm's locutions to the "Inner Circle" as sympathetic: Fr. Leo Stevens, Fr. Michael Dargan, the Vincentian Fr. John Wilkinson, and Fr. Clement Gailey, all of whom had been approached by current or former members with concerns about the unfolding activities of the MWOA and in various ways distanced themselves from the group's activities. (140) Indeed, Bishop Muldoon's letters, coupled with the letter of the follower quoted above, were only some of the worried correspondence which Bishop Murray and other clergy received from people associated with the MWOA over the course of 1983-1984 and with Kamm's messages going public in November 1983 they began attracting negative attention further a field.

On May 20, 1983, Fr. Bill O'Shea's 'Question Box' column in the Catholic Leader answered an inquiry about Kamm's messages. Fr. O'Shea cautiously advised his correspondent that the material she had enclosed was "of a very dubious nature," before outlining some of the traditional criteria utilised by the Church for assessing private revelations. He concluded that: "Midst all this nonsense, in fairness, there are appeals to such Gospel values as the need for prayer, repentance, self-sacrifice. But these do not give to the alleged apparitions the ring of authenticity." (141) Around a month later, on June 15, 1984, a nine-page report was penned by a Catholic barrister based in Sydney entitled Report on Messages being Distributed and Attributed to the Blessed Virgin Mary under the Title of Our Lady of the Ark which outlined at length several inconsistencies in Kamm's locutions as well as canonical concerns based on the recently promulgated revised Code of Canon Law (1983). (142) Matters were becoming more serious and through various correspondence Bishop Murray had become aware that Kamm had told followers in a locution on October 7, 1984, that the Bangalee property of the Price family would become the "Lourdes of Australia," and would be the place of "where Heaven's graces will descend and where Mankind will be cured." (143) Furthermore, Bishop Murray knew that the group planned to publicize the location of the "Sacred Grounds" as a place for mass pilgrimage beginning on December 8.

Amid the growing number of complaints from former associates, questions from confused parishioners about the status of the messages contained in Our Lady Comes to Australia, and the fast approaching official opening of the apparition site at Bangalee, Bishop Murray sent copies of the messages he had received from Kamm to Fr. John Thornhill, a leading Marist theologian in Sydney who in 1983 had advised an AEC committee on the CCR convened by Bishop Joseph Wallace of Rockhampton. (144) Due to his experience studying the CCR, in both its positive and negative aspects, and no inquisitor by any stretch, Fr. Thornhill was initially reluctant to be involved in such an investigation. (145) However, after reading the material in question, he wrote to Bishop Murray:
   As far as the content of the "messages" is concerned, my reading
   of the many broadsheets you included leads to the conclusion that
   their tenor in no ways conveys any consistent message worthy of
   God or of the Blessed Virgin which would call for a supernatural
   intervention. Rather they seem to reflect the personal preferences
   and preoccupations of someone with a rather old-fashioned and
   unhealthy religiosity.

Fr. Thornhill went on to succinctly analyse the "many bizarre elements" contained in the messages, including predictions of disasters as well as their sympathetic statements about Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, and noted that the messages contained: "nothing of the great renewal themes of the Vatican Council." He concluded that: "I can only conclude that William Kamm is deluded, in the claims he is making," and advised Bishop Murray "that a firm, succinct statement be made warning Catholics against the whole movement." (146)

Bishop Murray's Response

Armed with this theological assessment, Bishop Murray's response was, unlike other bishops faced with similar situations, decisive. Bishop Murray organized a meeting with Kamm through Fr. Stevens in November 1984 and notified him that should he not cease to distribute his messages Bishop Murray would be forced to issue a public statement against him. Kamm later wrote: "I told the Bishop I would obey God rather than him," (147) a response which became his usual reply to criticism from subsequent diocesan bishops over the next two decades. In response to this, on December 2, 1984, Bishop Murray issued a short pastoral letter entitled On the True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, which was read at all Masses held in the diocese on the first Sunday of Advent.

Bishop Murray's letter began by acknowledging the Diocese's strong history of Marian Devotion and quoting Lumen Gentium LXVII on his desire that approved devotion remain a part of diocesan life, before moving on to the matter at hand. The letter went on to cite the Code of Canon Law (CIC 823) on his solemn duty "to condemn writings which harm true faith or good morals." To Bishop Murray, Kamm's locutions had become "a cause of serious unrest and disturbance" to many people and that "to claim that Faith and Morals are not involved in these matters would indicate a refusal to face reality." In outlining his justification, Murray noted that Kamm's messages had caused divisions in families of which Bishop Murray had "received numerous reports," that the content of the messages focused on the "sensational, the unusual and upon fearsome predictions," that the practices of the MWOA had become "eccentric" and "a cause of disturbance to other members of Christ's faithful," and that that the messages advocated "devotional practices" within the local Nowra parish which had not been approved by the parish priest or other local clergy. Unsurprisingly, given the focus it had received in Kamm's initial message, Bishop Murray also criticised how the messages had contained "condemnations of practices regarding the reception of Holy Communion that have been permitted by the Church founded by Christ of which Mary is the Mother."

The ultimate thrust of Murray's assessment was contained in the classically worded phrase "no supernatural significance can be attached to the messages issued by the person calling himself 'the Little Pebble'." However, while Bishop Murray was critical of the messages, his manner of speaking was by no means pastorally insensitive, as he wrote:
   I realise that many people in perfectly good faith have
   participated in prayers and devotions promoted by "The Little
   Pebble". I do not in any way wish to censure or criticise them for
   this. I am sure that because of their sincerity their prayers would
   have been acceptable to Our Lord and His Blessed Mother. But for
   the future I strongly advise them to participate only in those
   devotions officially approved by the Church.

Moreover, he did not personally impugn Kamm, but rather noted, in concert with Bishop Muldoon's less guarded comments, that he was "prepared to accept the possibility that the author of the abovementioned "messages" may be an innocent victim of self deception and not one who sets out deliberately to mislead others." (148)

The response to Bishop Murray's letter, which was also published in the Catholic Weekly was predictably sensational. (149) On December 8, 1984, the media descended upon the Price's property at Bangalee where around 200 pilgrims had gathered. Front page headlines soon followed: "Virgin Mary Talks to Them!" and "Catholic Row." (150) Kamm and his associates remained defiant, with one member telling a local newspaper that: "Dr Murray has his nose a bit out of joint over this." (151) Other members suggested that they were already in the process of seeking support from Pope John Paul II in an effort to begin a canonical investigation of Kamm's alleged apparition (they would have to wait a number of years before this took place and the conclusion reaffirmed Bishop Murray's letter). (152) Kamm, meanwhile, wrote to Bishop Murray in January 1985 criticising his treatment of the group. Despite Bishop Murray's censure, pilgrims continued to attend the shrine of Our Lady of the Ark, Mary Our Mother Help of Christians, over the course of the 1980s and Kamm continued to be a figure of interest to the local media. However, for the purposes of this article, this is an appropriate place to conclude this chapter in the history of the MWOA.


The subsequent history of what was to develop into the Order of Saint Charbel and its conflicts with the Church hierarchy in Wollongong and further afield certainly does not end here. What this article demonstrates is that while certainly eccentric and at times disturbing, the activities of William Kamm and his Marian Work of Atonement group represent a particularly curious episode in the post-war history of the Australian Church. While as the intense atmosphere of the early Cold War rescinded most Catholics quietly sidelined the rabid anti-communism of the period, Kamm and his associates clung tenaciously to this apocalyptic worldview. When the period of the early 1980s--with President Ronald Reagan's rhetoric of the "Evil Empire" --occasioned a brief resurgence of anti-communist hysteria, Kamm found a ready audience amongst the dormant anti-communist tendencies existing within the ethnic communities of the Diocese of Wollongong and those who had imbibed the sensational material of the Bayside apparition.

At the same time, while at a parish level the implementation of the renewal envisioned by Vatican II progressed with little outward resistance amongst most Catholics, over the 1970s and early 1980s a reaction developed in conservative quarters against the more extreme reforms, including within the Vatican itself. (153) As this article has demonstrated, Kamm and his associates' represent one more devotionally and supernaturally oriented strand of this wider conservative resurgence. While never explicitly repudiating the Council, Kamm and his associates saw the demonstrable decline in traditional devotional practices as a form of iconoclasm, a veritable "stripping of the altars," and along with other sectors of the Church sought to turn back the clock and restore the Church of an earlier period.

Finally, the halcyon days of 1970s Australia witnessed a widespread liberalisation in Australian society under the Whitlam and (to a lesser degree) Fraser federal governments after two decades of conservative federal government. (154) While aspects of this "reinvention of Australia," especially an increased emphasis on social justice, were often embraced within the Church, it also witnessed a reaction by those like Kamm and his associates who saw such changes as signs of moral decay and a rise in indifferentism. The moral outrage expressed in the early messages--on topics like pornography, public nudity on beaches, homosexuality, immoral and blasphemous films, and especially abortion--excoriated the lax standards many conservatives believed were a manifestation of an increasingly sinful country, was arguably part of the gestalt of a wider conservative reaction to an Australia come of age. (155)

The sentiments expressed by Kamm and his associates are not, given the societal conditions of the time, as inexplicable as might initially appear. While by mainstream standards they are certainly marginal and at times bizarre, Kamm and MWOA represent an intriguing example of how one group of devout Australian Catholics made sense of the wider social and religious change witnessed by Australian society in the second half of the twentieth century. The MWOA were a group, as one former member articulated, who were mourning what they saw of as the death of their faith. Whether that was actually the case, and the Church was entering a state of almost terminal decline, is a matter of subjective opinion--and most historians would dispute, or at least qualify, whether the the Church has actually declined--what is certain is that Kamm and his followers have left a richly documented example of post-WWII Australian Catholic history worth further scrutiny.

Dr Bernard Doherty is an adjunct lecturer in Church History and New Religions at St Mark's National Theological Centre (Charles Sturt University). He has published in a number of academic journals including the Journal of Religious History, Nova Religio, the International Journal for the Study of New Religions, the Alternative Spirituality and Religions Review, Phronema, and the Journal of the Australian Catholic Historical Society.

(1) E Duffy, Saints and Sinners: A History of the Popes, London, Yale Nota Bene, 2001 351-55.

(2) Munificentissimus Deus 2. Online at: deus.html Last Accessed January 21, 2016.

(3) EA Matter, 'Apparitions of the Virgin Mary in the Late Twentieth Century: Apocalyptic, Representation, Politics'. Religion vol. 31, no. 2, 2001, 125-153. B Corrado Pope, 'Immaculate and Powerful: The Marian Revival in the Nineteenth Century', in C.W. Atkinson et al. Immaculate and Powerful: The Female in Sacred Image and Social Reality, Boston, Beacon Press, 1985, 173200. S L Zimdas-Swartz, Encountering Mary: From La Salette to Medjugorje, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1991.

(4) See e.g. E A Carillo, 'The Italian Catholic Church and Communism, 1943-1963'. The Catholic Historical Review vol. 77, no. 4, 1991, 644-657. R A Ventresca, 'The Virgin and the Bear: Religion, Society and the Cold War in Italy'. Journal of Social History vol. 37, no. 2, 2003, 440.

(5) For a tabulated list of apparitions by country for the years 1931-1975 see W Christian Jr., 'Religious Apparitions and the Cold War in Southern Europe', in E R Wolf, Religion, Power and Protest in Local Communities: The North Shore of the Mediterranean, New York, Mouton, 1983, 242f. See also M Scheer, 'Catholic Piety in the Early Cold War Years, Or How the Virgin Mary Protected the West from Communism', in A Vowinckel, M Payk and T Lindenberger, Cold War Cultures: Perspectives on Eastern and Western European Societies, New York: Berghan Books, 2012, 129-151.

(6) Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani, <<Siate, cristiani, a muoveri piu gravi>>! L'Osservatore Romano 4/2/1951

(7) P Apolito, The Madonna on the Internet: Religious Visionary Experience on the Web, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2005, 26. R Laurentin, The Apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Today, Dublin, Veritas Books, 1991, 13, 23.

(8) For a discussion of 'Marian Maximalism' see R Laurentin, Mary's Place in the Church, London, Burns and Oates, 1965, 53-81.

(9) See K Massam, Sacred Threads: Catholic Spirituality in Australia 1922-1962, UNSW Press, Sydney, 1996, 78-107.

(10) T Kselman and S Avella, 'Marian Piety and the Cold War in the United States.' The Catholic Historical Review vol. 72, no. 3, 1986, 403-424. K Massam, 'The Blue Army and the Cold War: Anti-Communist Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary in Australia.' Australian Historical Studies vol. 24, 1991, 420-428.

(11) W Kamm, The Testament and Mystical Life of William Kamm, Vol. 1., Nowra, The Author, 1999, 1.

(12) Bishop Peter Ingham, Fr Malcolm Broussard, June 10, 2003.

(13) P Yeomans, ''The Little Pebble' Cult Leader and Child Sex Offender'. Australian Police Journal vol. 67, no. 1, 2013, 44-49.

(14) On this wider subculture see PJ Margry, 'The Global Network of Divergent Marian Devotion', in C Partridge, Encyclopedia of New Religions, Oxford, Lion, 2004, 98-102. Henceforth, for the sake of clarity, I will refer to "messages from heaven" as messages.

(15) Some material has been written on the group's subsequent history, most notably G Webber, A Wolf Among Sheep: How "God's Prophet" The Little Pebble became a womanising, millionaire cult leader, Tomerong, KeyStone Press, 2008. See also S Wickham and C Hartney, 'RockchoppingWith the Little Pebble: Mainstream, Fringe and Criminal', in F Di Lauro, Through the Glass Darkly: Reflections on the Sacred, Sydney, Sydney University Press, 2006, 288-301.

(16) I refrain from using the term 'cult' with reference to this group for reasons outlined in JT Richardson, 'Definitions of Cult: From Sociological-Technical to Popular-Negative'. Review of Religious Research vol. 34, no. 4, 1993, 348-356. I suggest from a sociological perspective that this group is better understood as a 'sect' with origins in Roman Catholicism but institutionally unrecognized by the mainstream Church, on sectarianism see B R Wilson, The Social Dimensions of Sectarianism: Sects and New Religious Movements in Contemporary Society, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1992 and SJ Hunt, Alternative Religions: A Sociological Introduction, Aldershot, Ashgate, 2003.

(17) Bishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay, William Kamm aka "Little Pebble", Media Release, Maronite Eparchy of Australia, November 14, 2014.

(18) On these currents see J Devlin, The Superstitious Mind: French Peasants and the Supernatural in the Nineteenth Century, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1987. T Kselman, Miracles and Prophecies in Nineteenth-Century France, New Brunswick, New Jersey, Rutgers University Press, 1983. SL Zimdars-Swartz and PF Zimdars-Swartz, 'Apocalypticism in Modern Western Europe', in BJ McGinn, JJ Collins and SJ Stein, The Continuum History of Apocalypticism, London, Continuum, 2003, 607-627.

(19) FW Lewins, The Myth of the Universal Church, Canberra, Australian National University, 1978. N Turner, Catholics in Australia: A Social History Vol. 2, North Blackburn, Victoria, Collins Dove, 1992, 183-205.

(20) On this see N Ormerod et al. Vatican II: Reception and Implementation in the Australian Church, Mulgrave: Garratt Publishing, 2012. On resistance to the reforms see B Doherty, 'The Road to Schism: Yves Dupont and the Latin Mass Society of Australia 1966-1977'. Journal of the Australian Catholic Historical Society vol. 35, 2014, 87-107 and DV Hilliard, 'Defending Orthodoxy: Some Conservative and Traditionalist Movements in Australian Christianity', in RD Linder and GR Treloar, Making History for God: Essays in Evangelicalism, Revival and Mission In Honour of Stuart Piggin, Sydney, Robert Menzies College, 2004, 273-292.

(21) R Dixon and R Powell, 'Vatican II: A Data-Based Analysis of Its Impact on Australian Catholic Life', in N Ormerod et al. Vatican II, 305f.

(22) On the impact of secularization on the churches see DV Hilliard, 'The Religious Crisis of the 1960s: The Experience of the Australian Churches'. Journal of Religious History vol. 21, no.2, 1997, 209-227. Also DV Hilliard, 'Australia: Towards Secularisation and One Step Back', in CG Brown and M Snape, Secularisation in the Christian World: Essays in Honour of Hugh McLeod, Farnham, Ashgate, 2010, 75-91.

(23) P O'Farrell, The Catholic Church and Community: An Australian History, Kensington, New South Wales University Press, 1992, 426.

(24) L Carty, 'Former Pebble devotee fears for family', IllawarraMercury 31/8/2002.

(25) For these procedures see D Blackbourne, Marpingen: Apparitions of the Virgin Mary in Nineteenth-Century Europe, New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1994, 24-55. Kselman, Miracles and Prophecies in Nineteenth-Century France, 147-188. M F Smith, 'Canonical Considerations Regarding Alleged Apparitions.' Marian Studies vol. 46, 1995, 128-144 and Zimdars-Swartz, Encountering Mary, 9-12.

(26) See Bishop Joseph Hitti, Letter to the People of the Diocese of St Maroun in Australia, July 24, 1995. Bishop Peter Ingham, Mr William Kamm also known as The Little Pebble. Bishop William E Murray, True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Pastoral Letter, December 2, 1984. Archbishop George Pell, Official Notification, June 13, 1997 and Bishop Philip Wilson, Decree, September 27, 1999.

(27) G Failes, 'Pebble will continue to roll on', Illawarra Mercury 18/6/2002; S Sofios, 'Pebble's rocky path--Prophet defies ban by Vatican', The Daily Telegraph 22/6/2002.

(28) On this wider subculture see D G Bromley and R S Bobbitt, 'The Organizational Development of Marian Apparitional Movements'. Nova Religio vol. 14, no. 3, 2011, 5-41.

(29) For a discussion of the criminal matters see Yeomans, '"The Little Pebble" Cult Leader and Child Sex Offender', Webber, A Wolf Among the Sheep, and Wickham and Hartney, 'Rockchopping with the Little Pebble'.

(30) Indeed the development of Kamm's theology often shows a remarkable phenomenological similarity to the leader of the breakaway Polish Mariavite Church, Jan Maria Michal Kowalski, and the prophet of the now extinct French sect L'Oeurve de la Misericorde, Eugene Vintras. See M Garcon, Vintras: heresiarque etprophete, Paris, E. Nourry, 1924 and J Peterkiewicz, The Third Adam, London, OXford University Press, 1975.

(31) In the circumstance that persons anonymously quoted or discussed should wish to contact or correct the author I welcome this opportunity and undertake to maintain their anonymity.

(32) Kamm, The Testament and Mystical Life of William Kamm, vol. 1, 3.

(33) DV Hilliard, 'God in the suburbs: The religious culture of Australian cities in the 1950s'. Australian Historical Studies vol. 24, 1991, 409.

(34) Kamm, The Testament and Mystical Life of William Kamm, vol. 1, 4. Emphasis added.

(35) On this period generally see E Campion, Australian Catholics: The Contribution of Catholics to the Development of Australian Society, Ringwood, Viking Press, 1987, 194 and especially Massam, 'The Blue Army and the Cold War'.

(36) Thomas McGlynn O.P., Vision of Fatima, Melbourne, Skeffington and Son Ltd, 1951.

(37) 'Vision of Fatima', The Advocate, 2/8/1951.

(38) 'Blue Army of Our Lady Established in Melbourne', The Advocate, 16/8/1951.

(39) '5000 Children in "Living Rosary" on Nov. 18', The Advocate 1/11/1951. 'Gippsland's Greatest Demonstration of Faith: 8,000 at Family Rosary Rally, Sale, Hear Father Patrick Peyton', The Advocate 29/11/1951.

(40) 'National Rosary Crusade Moves Into Victoria: Archbishop's Letter on Family Prayer for World Peace', The Advocate 12/11/1953.

(41) For an account of this see Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone, The Last Message of Fatima: The Revelation of One of the Most Controversial Events in Catholic History, New York, Doubleday, 2013.

(42) See Zimdars-Swartz, Encountering Mary, 206-219. For the complex conspiracy theories which emerged following this see the biography of their chief promoter, Fr. Nicholas Gruner, F Alban, Fatima Priest: Priest, Prophecy and Peril ... The Vatican Key to Peace or Terror, Pound Ridge, Good Counsel Publications, 1997 and the discussion in M Cuneo, The Smoke of Satan: Conservative and Traditionalist Dissent in Contemporary American Catholicism, New York, Oxford University Press, 1997, 134-152.

(43) H Wilford, The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 2008, 167-196.

(44) See B Duncan, Crusade or Conspiracy: Catholics and the Anti-Communist Struggle in Australia, Sydney, UNSW Press, 2001. R Fitzgerald, The Pope's Battalions: Santamaria, Catholicism and the Labor Split, Brisbane, UQP, 2003. On the wider Cold War see R Manne, The Shadow of 1917: Cold War Conflict in Australia, Melbourne, Text Publishing, 1994.

(45) This thesis is most strongly stated in N Perry and L Echeverria, Under the Heel of Mary, London, Routledge, 1988, 231-257.

(46) Some of Kamm's many older followers were, however, involved with aspects of this anti-communist activity.

(47) See e.g. Highlights from the Messages from Heaven given to the Little Pebble, Vol. 2, Nowra, The Marian Work of Atonement, 1990, 9, 40-42. Highlights from the Messages from Heaven given to the Little Pebble, Vol. 9, Nowra, The Marian Work of Atonement, 1991, 12-15.

(48) S Borham and R Maiolo, 'Prophet and Loss', Sydney Morning Herald, 24/12/1993.

(49) K Peoples, Santamaria's Salesman: Working for the National Catholic Rural Movement 1959-1961, Melbourne, Garrett Publishing, 2012.

(50) P Ormonde, The Movement, Sydney, Nelson, 1972, 19.

(51) On these earlier rumors see J Franklin, G O Nolan, and M Gilchrist, The Real Archbishop Mannix from the Sources, Ballarat, Connor Court, 2015, 207.

(52) See e.g. Ormond, The Movement, 160f.

(53) Fr. Leo Stevens, Statement re Wilhelm Kamm, n.d.--author's collection

(54) PJ Flaherty and M A O'Keefe, The Church in the Illawarra: 150 Years, 18381988, Wollongong, The Committee, 1988, 121-124.

(55) Flaherty and O'Keefe, The Church in the Illawarra, 229-249.

(56) Indeed, it is worth noting that even today the Marian Shrine located on the margins of the Diocese of Wollongong at Penrose Park (near Berrima) remains a hub of traditional Marian devotion. Monthly 'Fatima Days' continue to attract pilgrims in their hundreds, if not thousands. See E Skurjat, Shrine of Our Lady of Mercy of Jasna Gora Berrima-Penrose Park, [Berrima-Penrose Park N.S.W.], The Pauline Fathers Monastery, n.d.

(57) See e.g. S Girola, 'Saints in the Suitcase: Italian Popular Catholicism in Australia'. The Australasian Catholic Record vol. 80, no. 2, 2003, 164-174. A Pittarello, "Soup Without Salt" The Australian Catholic Church and the Italian Migrant, Sydney, Centre for Migration Studies, 1980. 'Understanding the Italian Religiousness', in N Brown, Faith and Culture: Challenges to Ministry, Manly, Catholic Institute of Sydney, 1989, 184-203.

(58) Turner, Catholics in Australia, vol. 2, 192-204.

(59) Bishop Bernard Stewart, Pastoral Statement on the Manner of Distributing and Receiving the Sacrament of Holy Communion, June 17, 1976.

(60) Pittarello, "Soup without Salt", 28.

(61) Turner, Catholics in Australia, Vol. 2, 200.

(62) See e.g. Highlights from the Messages from Heaven given to the Little Pebble, vol. 1, 17f.

(63) Our Lady Comes to Australia flyer advertising the Shrine of Our Lady of Ark, Mary Our Mother Help of Christians, n.d.--author's collection.

(64) On the history of this parish, see P J Flaherty, The Catholic Church in Shoalhaven, 1977-1977, Nowra, Shoalhaven Commercial printers, 1977.

(65) Flaherty and O'Keefe, The Church in the Illawarra, 258.

(66) 'Church Denies Sacraments to Sect', The Sunday Telegraph, 13/1/1985.

(67) See A Gill, 'Catholic Church bans members of Nowra cult', Sydney Morning Herald 30/1/1985. B Martin, 'An Interview with The Little Pebble', The Illawarra Mercury, 15/6/87. 'Pebble sect outlawed', The West Australian 7/1/1985.

(68) On such localized traditions see W A Christian, 'Holy People in Peasant Europe'. Comparative Studies in Society and History vol. 15, no. 1 (1973), pp. 106-114

(69) On this kind of spirituality see M Carroll, Madonnas that Maim: Popular Catholicism in Italy since the Fifteenth Century, Baltimore, Johns Hopkins Press, 1992 and Veiled Threats: The Logic of Popular Catholicism in Italy, Baltimore, Johns Hopkins Press, 1996. For a more popular account see M Freze, They Bore the Wounds of Christ: The Mystery of the Sacred Stigmata, Huntingdon, Our Sunday Visitor, 1989.

(70) C McKevitt, ''To Suffer and Never to Die': The Concept of Suffering in the Cult of Padre Pio Da Pietrelcina'. Journal of Mediterranean Studies vol. 1, no. 1, 1991, 54-67.

(71) Kamm, The Testament and Mystical Life of William Kamm, vol. 1, 6.

(72) PJ Margry, 'Merchandising and sanctity: the invasive cult of Padre Pio'. Journal of Modern Italian Studies vol. 7, no 1, 2002, 88-115.

(73) See e.g. CM Carty, Padre Pio: the stigmatist, Rockford: TAN Books, 1971. For a more historical perspective on Padre Pio see S Luzzatto, Padre Pio: Miracles and Politics in a Secular Age, New York, Metropolitan Books, 2007.

(74) See e.g. Highlights from the Messages from Heaven given to the Little Pebble, Vol. 2, 22-23. Kamm, The Testament of the Mystical Life of William Kamm, vol.1, 182f

(75) Document entitled 'Information for Members', n.d., n.p.--author's collection. On the spirituality of Victim Souls in historical perspective see the extensive discussion of P M Kane, ' "She Offered Herself Up": The Victim Soul and Victim Spirituality in Catholicism'. Church History vol. 71, no. 1, 2002, 80-119.

(76) J-F Mayer, '"There Will Follow a New Generation and a New Earth": From Apocalyptic Hopes to Destruction in the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God,' in J R Lewis, Violence and New Religious Movements, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2011, 201.

(77) Margry, 'Merchandising and sanctity', 96.

(78) On such groups and their promotional networks see S L Zimdars-Swartz, 'The Marian Revival in American Catholicism: Focal Points and Features of the New Marian Enthusiasm', in MJ Weaver and RS Appleby, Being Right: Conservative Catholics in America, Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1995, 213-240.

(79) Margry, 'Merchandising and sanctity', 94-96.

(80) On these apparitions see Zimdars-Swartz, Encountering Mary, 92-162 and 233.

(81) Kamm, The Testament and Mystical Life of William Kamm, vol. 1, 16.

(82) Kamm, The Testament and Mystical Life of William Kamm, vol. 1, 18.

(83) Kamm, The Testament and Mystical Life of William Kamm, vol.1, 13.

(84) Anon., The Story of Our Lady of the Ark Mission and the Little Pebble, n.d., 3--author's collection.

(85) Anon., The Story of Our Lady of the Ark Mission and the Little Pebble, 1.

(86) Kamm, The Testament and Mystical Life of William Kamm, vol. 1, 16.

(87) On Medjugorje see M Bax, Medjugorje: Religion, Politics, and Violence in Rural Bosnia, Amsterdam: VU Uitgerverij, 1995 and Zimdars-Swartz, Encountering Mary, 220-244.

(88) William Kamm, The Marian Work of Atonement, 2-page A4 size document, June, 1983, 1--author's collection.

(89) Anon., Report on Mr William Kamm Otherwise Known as 'The Little Pebble', n.d. 1.

(90) 'Be Strong in the Faith', L'Osservatore Romano, Weekly (English) ed., 13/7/1972.

(91) On this aspect of Catholic political involvement see E O Hanson, The Catholic Church in World Politics, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1987. For a slightly later example of the kind of conspiracy theories see M Martin, The Keys of This Blood: The Struggle for World Domination between Pope John Paul II, Mikhail Gorbachev, and the Capitalist West, New York, Simon and Schuster, 1990. Also see Alban, Fatima Priest, 71.

(92) On this topic see E Campion, 'Vatican II: fifty years on'. Journal of the Australian Catholic Historical Society vol. 33, 2012, 105-114.

(93) Andrew Greeley, The Catholic Revolution: New Wine, Old Wineskins, and the Second Vatican Council, Berkeley, University of California Press, 2004, 82.

(94) Webber, A Wolf Among Sheep, 28.

(95) Laurentin, Apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary Today, 5.

(96) Sacra Congregatio Pro Doctrina Fidei, 'Decretum'. Acta Apostolicae Sedis vol. 58, 1966, 1186

(97) On this curious visionary sect see M Lundberg, 'Fighting the Modern with the Virgin Mary: The Palmarian Church'. Nova Religio vol. 17, no. 2, 2013, 40-60. Kamm had initially supported the locutions of their leader but later rejected the group, see Kamm, The Testament and Mystical Life of William Kamm, vol. 1, 17.

(98) M Cuneo, 'The Vengeful Virgin: Case Studies in Contemporary American Catholic Apocalypticism', in SJ Palmer and T Robbins, Millennium, Messiahs, and Mayhem: Contemporary Apocalyptic Movements, London, Routledge, 1997, 175. For a more detailed exploration see also Cuneo, The Smoke of Satan, 121-177.

(99) See A Luebbers, 'The Remnant Faithful: A Case Study of Contemporary Apocalyptic Catholicism'. Sociology of Religion vol. 62, no. 2, 221-241.

(100) Kamm's reading habits were reported by a former housemate from the 1970s in Borham and Maiolo, 'Prophet and Loss'.

(101) B McGinn, Antichrist: Two-Thousand Year of the Human Fascination with Evil, San Francisco, HarperSanFrancisco, 1994, 252.

(102) M Introvigne, 'Modern Catholic Millennialism', in C Wessinger, The Oxford Handbook of Millennialism, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2011, 550.

(103) On Dupont see B Doherty, 'The Road to Schism: Yves Dupont and the Latin Mass Society of Australia 196-1977'. Journal of the Australian Catholic Historical Society vol. 35, 2014, 87-107.

(104) D Woycik, 'Bayside (Our Lady of the Roses)', in R Landes, The Encyclopedia of Millennialism and Millennial Movements, London, Routledge, 2000, 47.

(105) See F M Jelly, 'Discerning the Miraculous: Norms for Judging Apparitions and Private Revelations'. Marian Studies vol. 45, 1993, 48. The Normae Congregationis (NC) issued in 1978 and used by diocesan commissions as a guideline for examining alleged private revelations and supernatural phenomena can be found online at: doc_19780225_norme-apparizioni_en.html

(106) A copy of Bishop Mugavero's decree can be found in J J LeBar, Cults, Sects, and the New Age, Huntington: Our Sunday Visitor, 1989, 209-211.

(107) See Cuneo, The Smoke of Satan, 152-177. Also J P Laycock, The Seer of Bayside: Veronica Lueken and the Struggle to Define Catholicism, New York, OXford University Press, 2015 and D Wojcek, The End of the World as We Know it: Faith, Fatalism and Apocalypse in America, New York, New York University Press, 1997, 90-96.

(108) For the curious historical origins of this conspiracy theory see Cuneo, The Smoke of Satan, 159-161.

(109) Mgr. JP King, Letter to Fr. Patrick Dougherty, December 30, 1975--author's collection.

(110) On this curious group see M Geoffroy and J-G Vaillancourt, 'Les Berets Blancs a la Croisee des Chemis', in R Bergeron and B Ouellet, Croyances et societes: communications presentees au dixieme colloque international sur les nouveaux mouvements religieux, Montreal, aout 1996, Saint-Laurent, Fides, 1998, 173-185.

(111) Fr. Andre Boucher, Letter to Fr. Patrick Dougherty, January 19, 1976--author's collection.

(112) Details of the AEC response can be found in the file Apparitions: Bayside: 1973-1986, Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference Secretariat File Non. D[octrine] + M[orals] 92/425 Part 1. My thanks are due to Leonie Kennedy, Archivist at the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) and Fr. Brian Lucas, former secretary of the ACBC, for allowing me to examine this file. This file contains no mention of the activities of Kamm and his followers.

(113) See Borham and Maiolo, 'Prophet and Loss'.

(114) On the culture of denunciation among conservative Catholics see E Campion, 'Spying for the Holy Office: A Sydney Story'. Journal of the Australian Catholic Historical Society vol 34, 2013, 115-121 and Hilliard, 'Defending Orthodoxy', 227.

(115) Kamm, The Testament and Mystical Life of William Kamm, vol. 1, 30.

(116) Kamm, The Testament and Mystical Life of William Kamm, vol. 1, 27.

(117) Kamm, The Testament and Mystical Life of William Kamm, vol.1, 27.

(118) Kamm, The Testament of the Mystical Life of William Kamm, vol. 1, 27.

(119) Webber, A Wolf Among the Sheep, 32f.

(120) Borham and Maiolo, 'Prophet and Loss'.

(121) Webber, A Wolf Among the Sheep, 32f.

(122) Anon., The Story of Our Lady of the Ark Mission and the Little Pebble, 8.

(123) Fr. Stevens, Statement re Wilhelm Kamm.

(124) 'Information for Members', n.p.

(125) On these defections and the early history of the MWOA see Webber, A Wolf Among Sheep, 29-50.

(126) [Name Suppressed], Letter to Bishop Murray, October 19, 1984--author's collection.

(127) Kamm, The Testament and Mystical Life of William Kamm, vol. 1, 43.

(128) Anon., The Story of Our Lady of Ark Mission and the Little Pebble, 10.

(129) Document entitled The Secret Messages of the Little Pebble, n.d.--author's collection.

(130) B Martin, 'Little Pebble Under Fire', Illawarra Mercury 15/6/1987.

(131) Webber, A Wolf Among the Sheep, 43f.

(132) Highlights from the Messages from Heaven given to the Little Pebble, Vol. 1, 1f.

(133) Highlights from the Messages from Heaven given to the Little Pebble, Vol. 1.

(134) Kamm, The Testament and Mystical Life of William Kamm, vol. 1, 47.

(135) J Carmody, 'Muldoon, Thomas William (1917-1986)', in Australian Dictionary of Biography vol. 18, Melbourne, Melbourne University Press, 2012. Online at:

(136) Kamm, The Testament and Mystical Life of William Kamm, vol. 1, 56-60. Since these letters are typed copies, rather than scanned originals, I have been unable to verify their authenticity. The other material quoted below is either handwritten or signed material on Bishop Muldoon's personal stationary.

(137) Bishop Thomas Muldoon, Letter to William Kamm, October 30, 1984--author's collection.

(138) Kamm, The Testament and Mystical Life of William Kamm, vol.1, 49.

(139) Bishop Thomas Muldoon, Handwritten Letter to Bishop Murray, October 24, 1984--author's collection. Underlining in original.

(140) Webber, A Wolf Among the Sheep, 46f.

(141) B O'Shea, 'Deep thoughts on Mary', The Catholic Leader 20/5/1984.

(142) [Name Suppressed], Report on Messages being Distributed and Attributed to the Blessed Virgin Mary under the Title of Our Lady of the Ark, June 15, 1984. The circumstances surrounding this report, or whether it was sent to Bishop Murray at the time, are unclear. The author of this report is still alive, but I have been thus far unable to make contact to clarify the circumstances surrounding its authorship.

(143) Highlights from the Messages from Heaven given to the Little Pebble, vol. 1, 61.

(144) Fr. J Thornhill, 'The Spirit in the Life of God's People: Exploring a New Awareness'. The Australasian Catholic Record vol. 61, no. 4, 1984, 385-395.

(145) My thanks to Fr. Thornhill for speaking with me on this matter.

(146) Fr. John Thornhill, Letter to Bishop Murray, October 30, 1984 --author's collection.

(147) Kamm, The Testament and Mystical Life of William Kamm vol. 1, 56.

(148) Bishop William E. Murray, True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

(149) Bishop William E. Murray, 'True Devotion to Our Lady', Catholic Weekly 28/11/1984.

(150) 'Catholic Row', The Shoalhaven and Nowra News 12/12/1984. C McPherson, 'Virgin Mary Talks to Them!', Daily Mirror 13/12/1984. See also A Field, 'Bishop warns parishioners against miracle cure group', The Australian 12/12/1984 and 'Rebel Catholics defy ban by bishop', The Daily Telegraph 13/12/1984.

(151) ' "Sacred Ground" ', The Shoalhaven and Nowra News 12/12/1984.

(152) C Mcpherson, '"Little Pebble" Says he Hears Virgin Mary', Daily Mirror 13/12/1984.

(153) On this period see Hilliard, 'Defending Orthodoxy', 275-279. E Isichei, 'Visions and Visionaries: The Search for Alternative Forms among Catholic Conservatives'. Archives de sociologie des religions vol. 36, no. 75, 1991, 113-125.

(154) See Stuart Macintyre, A Concise History of Australia, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1999, 231-235.

(155) See e.g. Highlights from the Messages from Heaven given to the Little Pebble, vol.1, 3f., 16, 25. 40f.
COPYRIGHT 2015 Australian Catholic Historical Society
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2015 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Doherty, Bernard
Publication:Journal of the Australian Catholic Historical Society
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Jan 1, 2015
Previous Article:Gerald Ridsdale, pedophile priest, in his own words.
Next Article:The many faces of religious persecution in Asia.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters