October 8, 2020
Dear U. S. Senators,
My name is Coral Anika Theill, aka Kathryn Y. Warner (nee Hall). I legally changed my name in 1999 to Coral Anika Theill when I entered a state address confidentiality (protection) program for safety from my ex-husband, Marty Warner, i.e, V. Martin Warner, Independence, Oregon.
I would like to testify at the confirmation hearing of Judge Amy Coney Barrett as to the oppression, abuse and crimes that I and other women were victims of in the People of Praise sect, to which Amy belongs. Although men have ultimate authority in the sect, women leaders, like Amy, are complicit in the subordination and mistreatment of lower status women like me.
I became a member of the Vine and Branches sect in 1979 in Corvallis, Oregon. It was formally absorbed into People of Praise in 1982 and I escaped the group in 1984. My abuse became more severe after we became a People of Praise Community.
The entire time I was there, I was under the control of men and subjected to psychological abuse, including undue influence, threats, shaming, and shunning by leaders and my husband. Coercive persuasion was used on my children to turn them against me. My husband and community leaders used coercive control, isolation and intimidation to strip me of my personhood, safety and freedoms guaranteed to me as a United States citizen. They also launched a smear campaign when I finally got the courage to leave.
The actual crimes committed against me in the sect were: marital rape, false imprisonment, kidnapping, and illegal interrogation. I did not know these were crimes at the time. I believe these crimes are still occurring in People of Praise communities and need to be investigated.
The People of Praise Community that I was forced by my husband to join, was founded in South Bend, Indiana in 1971. I met and attended meetings with the founder, Paul DeCelles and attended a retreat which his wife, Jeanne DeCelles, led. They teach that men have total authority over their wives. Their policies are based on the domination of men and submission of women. They assert that men’s power is absolute and instill fear in women that great harm will come to whoever questions and/or defies that power.
I was told I had to obey my husband, who was my “head”. I was required to be a "helpmeet", which is a biblical term for a wife’s duty to “help” her husband, i.e. do whatever he wants, whenever he wants. This was a main reason my husband wanted to join the group—to give him complete control over me. I had to ask my husband if I could leave the house, go to the store or anywhere else. I was not permitted to do anything without his permission, even go to the store or the doctor. My husband instructed me in what kind of clothes I could wear, how to style my hair, whether I could wear make-up or not, when and what I could eat or drink. Even bodily functions were monitored.
He told me what books I could read and destroyed books if he disapproved of them,
including a favorite of mine, Our Bodies Ourselves: A Book by and for Women, by the Boston Women’s Health Collective. His comments toward me were consistently insulting and demeaning. I couldn’t do anything right in his eyes.
I was not allowed access to money or knowledge about our finances. I was forbidden to work outside the home or attend college classes. I was allowed to buy groceries and I purchased most of the children’s and my clothes and household items at second-hand shops. My husband read my incoming and outgoing mail. I was not allowed to read a newspaper.
I was forbidden to take birth control and was even accompanied by my husband to OBGYN appointments. I was required to submit to my husband's demands for sex at any time - even immediately after giving birth. My husband could rape me at will and that was fine with the leadership. The most serious crime committed against me while in the People of Praise were continuous marital rapes.
I had to attend weekly meetings, retreats, mandated women’s meetings and ministry meetings. Little time was left for family or self. The male “heads” of the sect, those in highest authority, were the main force in controlling members’ actions and thoughts. “Headship” involved matters such as the discipline of children, how to deal with a wife, how to help one’s wife see and deal with her problems, whether to have another baby, what kind of car or home to buy, etc. Husbands sometimes sought help by their own “heads,” on how to get their wives to fall in line—obey.
Each week I was forced to endure a “headship” meeting with my husband who would “correct” me and the children. He would remind me that I set an example for the children by obeying him in all things, and this was a direct correlation to how they would respond and obey him. My husband reported to leaders in his own “headship” meeting any comments I had made that questioned his absolute authority. He kept a black book and listed each of my infractions.
When I tried to share my feelings with my husband and the leaders, my feelings were dismissed. I was told how I should feel. They were the authorities and that fact gave them the right to rule over my emotions. I was required to tell my innermost thoughts and emotions to a woman leader called a “handmaid”, who reported what I said to the male leaders who then reported them to my husband, who could then “correct” me in our headship meeting.
When I dared to question or use my own reasoning processes, I was called a rebel and mentally ill and told I had to atone. The threat of being put in a mental institution was added to the litany of humiliations. I was subjected to exorcism and put in “special counseling” with Father Charles Harris, the People of Praise Community leader.
I was forced to attend a People of Praise Community women's retreat where the other women shunned me. They were not allowed to speak to me or look at me. I was often forced to sit on the floor, outside of Community meetings where members would pass by and shun me. I was an outcast, yet not allowed to leave the Community because my husband still was a member.
I was not permitted to see outside friends or relatives. My father died in 1984, during the beginning of my fourth pregnancy in 1984. My husband did not permit me to visit him in the I.C.U. at the hospital the night he died.
When my husband was out-of-town, he assigned other men in the community to “check-up” on me or leaders would enlist members from the Vancouver branch to "watch" me in my own home so I could not leave, call friends or escape.
I lived under the constant threat by my husband and the leaders that great harm would come to me if I didn’t obey them, including taking my children away. After I left, Family Court did their bidding and took custody of my children away from me and allowed my husband to alienate them from me. I was threatened they would put me in a mental institution if I did not submit to their authority. I now understand this was a crime: false imprisonment.
One example of the oppression I endured is that after my second miscarriage and D & C surgery in the spring of 1984, I was required to attend the mandatory People of Praise women’s meeting. I was still bleeding heavily and was weak from the surgery. The women wished to go on a shopping excursion that evening. I shared I would be unable to go shopping with them and walked out of the meeting. The “handmaid” of the women’s group, Connie Hackenbruck, immediately called my husband and reported my disobedience. My husband called another member, Bruce Bernning, to watch our three children and as soon as I arrived home, I was forced into a car and driven to the home of Ed Brown, my husband’s “head.” He told me that some people (like me) couldn’t “cut the mustard”—the narrow walk with Jesus Christ. I told him I was tired and wanted to go home but it was only after several more hours of interrogation, I was finally allowed to leave.
Because I was brought and kept at Ed’s house against my will and he used insults and threats during the interrogation, I believe this fits the crimes of kidnapping and illegal interrogation. The next day the members in the community were instructed to shun me – not to speak to me. I was considered “poisonous” and a danger to the community’s well-being, but still forced to attend meetings and women’s retreats. Shunning is a cruel and inhumane practice within many church groups and cults, a form of silent ridicule. My crime: I was in disobedience to the leaders.
I experienced much depression and anxiety as a result of all of this abuse. I still suffer from PTSD.
Head coordinators and their wives from South Bend, Indiana, Amy’s group, would visit our Community periodically presenting at retreats. Paul and Jeannie DeCelles and Bud and Sharon Rose were frequent speakers. Bud and Sharon Rose eventually moved from South Bend to live in Corvallis for a year, so there was much coordination and interaction between the two communities.
One of People of Praise’s first leaders, Notre Dame professor Adrian Reimer, confirms that the husband is always the “head of his wife" and the wife must “submit in all things”. He said a "married woman is expected always to reflect the fact that she is under her husband’s authority.” In his book, Not Reliable Guides, Reimers describes how a married woman in the People of Praise is "expected always to reflect the fact that she is under her husband's authority…This goes beyond an acknowledgment that the husband is 'head of the home' or head of the family; he is, in fact, her personal pastoral head. Whatever she does requires at least his tacit approval. The wife, as a good member of the community, has a prima facie obligation to obey her husband as the bearer of God's will. In practice, this means that the two do not—indeed, cannot—relate as equals." The "subordinate role of women to men is a fundamental cultural premise" for the group, he wrote.
People of Praise has released a statement to the media saying they were unaware of any abuse, but that is not true. They were actors in the abuse I suffered. There are numerous individuals who witnessed the abuse I have reported, some of whom are willing to testify. I documented the abuse I suffered in my published memoir, BONSHEA Making Light of the Dark, in 2003 and 2013. No one has refuted my claims or sued me for defamation. My memoir has been used as a college text for nursing students at Linfield College, Portland, Oregon and has been cited in many articles and books.
At her nomination party at the White House, Amy deflected from accusations of the gender discrimination in her sect by saying she and her husband share domestic tasks. First of all, she is a leader in the community, so she has a much better life than most women who are expected to stay home, keep having babies, even when it is unhealthy or dangerous, and take care of children themselves, as I was forced to do. But the more important point is that there is not equality or autonomy for women in the sect, instead a serious imbalance of power between men and women.
It should be concerning to members of Congress that Amy did not disclose her membership in the sect to the Senate, while information about her involvement and leadership in the People of Praise Community has been scrubbed from the internet. It appears that she—and the male leaders she is beholden to—are trying to hide her leadership in the community; however, a Washington Post source has provided documentation supporting she is (or was) a handmaid and a top woman leader. The public has a right to hear about her sect’s commission of crimes and abuse of women.
I believe crimes and abuse against women are being committed systematically and methodically by People of Praise under the cover of religion. But this is not about religion. It is about power men are given to keep women under their control.
I have witnesses who can corroborate my abuse and know former members who can give written testimony (and perhaps in person) as to the abuse and subjugation of women in the People of Praise sect. The confirmation hearings should include this testimony.
I would very much like to testify to the Senate in person as I believe the public should hear first-hand about Amy Coney Barrett’s support of patriarchal ideology and resulting oppression of women. This should be a disqualifier for the highest court in the land.
Coral Anika Theill
Aka Kathryn Y. Warner (nee Hall)
Author, Advocate & Military Reporter
Memoir: BONSHEA Making Light of the Dark
Contributing Writer for Leatherneck Magazine, “Short Rations
For Marines” & “RECLAMATION: A Survivor’s Anthology”
Cindy Dumas, M.A. has been researching, writing, and raising awareness about the Custody Crisis since 2003, when she was unable to protect her children from their abusive father. She fled into hiding when Family Court failed her and was tricked into returning home, when her children were given to their abusive father.