Back in March of 2020, Augustine Inferrera reached out to Church Militant to talk about his recent experience as a postulant at a self-identified "Carmelite" monastery in Wyoming's hinterlands. It was the beginning of the COVID lockdown, and I had ample time on my hands to initiate an inquiry into this group of men.
In those first phone conversations, I came to realize that the monastery, though billing itself as traditional and Catholic, was more like a cult than like any religious order I have ever encountered over my 60-odd years.
I myself, as a young man, was a Franciscan for seven years, and know what it means to live as a religious, in a religious community. And in recent years, I have developed a good relationship with the Carmelites in Fairfield, PA and have visited their monastery. I know the lived charism of the Carmelites well.
Even more important has been my study of the original writings in Spanish of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross — both remarkable Carmelite saints, whose writings have greatly impacted the universal Church over the centuries. As a priest, I know and value the authentic charism of the Carmelites and their founders.
That first day after talking at length with Augustine, I called the Wyoming monastery. Despite my repeated phone calls to the prior, Fr. Daniel Mary, I received no return call. I kept my cell phone at my side, hoping Fr. Daniel would return my repeated calls — all to no avail.
This lack of transparency on the part of Fr. Daniel, without the common courtesy to return a phone call or respond to repeated emails, is what energized my inquiries. Unlike the prior, other young men associated with New Mt. Carmel were quick to return my phone calls.
I spoke to the exorcist Fr. Chad Ripperger, who had written a letter of recommendation more than a decade earlier for Fr. Daniel and his New Mt. Carmel, when it was just being established. Father Ripperger told me he had not spoken to Fr. Daniel or anyone else at the monastery in 10 years.
I called and spoke to Abp. Paul Etienne, former bishop of Cheyenne, in whose diocese the monastery resides. His contact with the monastery and Fr. Daniel Mary ended when he left Cheyenne. The archbishop had no knowledge of what was now happening there.
The monastery sits geographically in St. Anthony parish. That parish territory is the largest in the United States, covering 6,000 square miles.
Father Clark noted that, some years ago, he had met Fr. Daniel Mary at a diocesan priest meeting. Apart from this, the prior has never made any effort to contact him, or to facilitate a meeting with him at the monastery — in spite of Fr. Clark's offering the Traditional Latin Mass every Sunday at St. Anthony's for Cody's traditional community.
Father Clark did, however, have a good relationship with the local sheriff's office, including Deputy Sheriff Rob Cooke. He had recently witnessed Deputy Cooke's marriage at St. Anthony's.
At my request, Deputy Cooke made a site visit at the monastery to check out firsthand the health and wellness of the monks and their prior. As mentioned, my repeated phone calls to the monastery had gone unanswered, and I was concerned that the monks all might have COVID, or something worse.
Deputy Cooke called me back after making his site visit, and he found the monks in good health, occupied with construction work or coffee sales.
That spring, Augustine would file a complaint with the Park County Sheriff's Office against one of the monks, Br. Joseph, as reported in Church Militant's 2022 Spotlight: Counterfeit Carmel. Brother Joseph had lost control, flown into a rage and put the much-smaller Augustine into a choke hold. This happened after Augustine was helping another postulant put on knee pads at the construction site. Brother Joseph admitted guilt and was convicted.
The very first day I spoke to Augustine, I attempted to make contact with Bp. Steven Biegler, bishop of Cheyenne, who has responsibility for New Mt. Carmel in his diocese.
Despite asking to talk to Bp. Biegler personally, I was never put through to him. The chancellor, Jean Chrostoski, was friendly, and we talked a number of times about the situation playing out at New Mt. Carmel. In the end, per Chrostoski's recommendation, I submitted my concerns about New Mt. Carmel in an email to Bp. Biegler.
My March 25th email to the bishop ended up being a two-page summary of red flags. I also forwarded this email to civil attorney Paul Jonna, a friend, whom I had consulted:
Dear Bp. Biegler:
The purpose of this memo is to inform you in writing that a grave situation has been brought to my attention today by a young man in his twenties, a faithful young man, who, via an internet search, found out about a monastery in your diocese. The name of this monastery is New Mount Carmel, and Rev. Daniel Mary is the prior. This past February this young man joined this community, as he was interested in becoming a monk. They accepted him as a postulant, but after a few short weeks, this young man quickly came to realize that what was advertised, as compared to what really happened within the monastery walls, was a far cry from the religious life advertised on the internet. Day one of his postulancy consisted of 10 hours of stonemasonry work; day two of his postulancy consisted of 10 hours of stonemasonry work; day three of his postulancy consisted of 10 hours of stonemasonry work ... And this continued even on Ash Wednesday: The prior gave the grunts the dispensation from fasting so that the stone work could continue on the monastery grounds.
Note at the end of this first paragraph that I note that Fr. Daniel had dispensed with the Church's mandate for fasting and abstinence on Ash Wednesday.
Granting such dispensations at a whim is not orthodox. No prior, pastor or bishop can dispense with this rule at a whim. Augustine told me the rationale for this " dispensation" was so that construction could continue unabated. Ash Wednesday 2020 at the New Mt. Carmel — instead of being a day of reflection, prayer and abstinence for the postulants — was just another routine work day. How tragic and out of sync with what religious life should be.
One thing Augustine lamented most was that, because of the excessive work hours on masonry and construction, the monks failed to pray the Rosary. Time was not set aside for it, and at the end of such a long and exhausting work day, when Augustine tried to pray the Rosary, he would often end up falling asleep. This was the case with others there as well.
For being a so-called Carmel, the monastery exhibits no genuine devotion to the Blessed Mother — something Augustine saw as very "off." I have to agree.
From time immemorial, Carmelites have fostered deep devotion to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, the Rosary and the Brown Scapular. This disconnect with Carmelites' known tradition disturbed me. Devotion to Our Blessed Mother is an integral part of the Carmelite charism. At the Wyoming monastery — which attracts young postulants by presenting itself as Carmelite, even though it is only a public association of the faithful, with no formal connection to any Carmelite order — relegated it to an afterthought.
As a priest with a devotion to Our Lady, and who makes it a practice to say at least three Rosaries daily, I made reparation for the neglect of prayer at the monastery. I told Augustine that he had ample time now with the COVID lockdown to say at least two Rosaries a day, to make up for those that went unsaid when he was at New Mt. Carmel. Augustine added the extra Rosaries to his spiritual regiment that very day.
After Augustine reported to the bishop all his concerns about the monastery, Bp. Biegler launched an investigation. A year later, Church Militant held a summit for persecuted seminarians — an event Augustine participated in, on my recommendation. At that event, I introduced Augustine to senior producer Christine Niles, who picked up the investigation I had begun more than a year earlier. This resulted in a comprehensive and accurate Spotlight investigation that aired Jan. 13, 2022, and which has received acclaim.
Months later, there has been a concerted effort by some young men, reportedly former postulants, to air a series of videos disparaging Augustine and Church Militant's Spotlight, engaging in character assassination of Augustine (the victim and whistleblower). Most peculiar about this website set up in defense of New Mt. Carmel is that every single one of them are former postulants who left the monastery. Not one is a vowed religious of any sort.
They are fundamentally young, naïve men defending an ideal, living as a Carmelite monk (a life they each fled, for various reasons). But normal life as a vowed religious does not involve a severe imbalance between work and prayer, e.g., putting in 12-hour work days while neglecting prayer.
New Mt. Carmel, not associated with any other branch of Carmelites in the world, is a sham.
What's so important to note, seven months after Church Militant's Spotlight was aired, is that if Fr. Daniel as prior wanted to refute that report, he had ample time to do so. He has never done so, nor did he ever return Church Militant's repeated phone calls and emails requesting comment.
Instead, he has launched a new, slick advertising campaign on YouTube, remaking the image of the Wyoming monastery after the devastating allegations, once again deceptively making it appear in videos that the life of the monks is little more than prayer and wandering through the mountains.
But I take Fr. Daniel's silence as confirmation that what was reported by Church Militant is true. You have a rogue group of men, posing as monks, who, on the one hand, celebrate the Holy Mass of the Church in the Extraordinary form — all well and good — but then shower together in the nude at the end of the work day. Beyond strange!
While communal showers may be the norm in high school or football teams, they are not the norm — nor are they ever recommended — in religious houses of formation. "Normal" spiritual directors don't direct their charges in their underwear, behind closed doors — even on hot days! Other Carmelite monasteries don't foist muscle supplements on their postulants as part of a "normal diet," nor do they gather them together in the morning, make them strip down to nothing but underwear while slathering oil all over their bodies before going onto the construction site.
None of this is normal in religious life. Some of it is not even normal in secular life!
These situations are all foreign to vowed, religious life in any community in the Roman Catholic Church throughout the world. I don't make this statement tritely but with conviction. Weird sects like this, when they spring up under an alpha personality, like Fr. Daniel Mary, with no proven track record, must be reformed — or otherwise suppressed by the Church.
Let's talk about Stockholm Syndrome, which these young, idealistic men in their defense of the New Mt. Carmel seem to exhibit.
Most clinicians use the example of the woman who remains with her husband despite being beaten repeatedly. But such dynamics can extend to many different kinds of relationships. They always involve the subordinate, weaker party defending and supporting the abuser, despite suffering greatly from it.
The young men in the video series appear, in my opinion, to be prime examples of Stockholm Syndrome. Despite suffering from the mistreatment and obvious grooming they underwent, they defend it! They are clueless about what real religious life is like, because, presumably, this was their only exposure to so-called religious life.
Back in 2020 when Bp. Biegler launched his investigation, I had hoped that the group would be suppressed. But like many investigations completed by the Church these days, that investigation — conducted by the psychologist, Fr. David Songy, OFM — has done little to reign in this sect.
Their remoteness in Wyoming's hinterlands helps them maintain their mystique and secrecy.
To reach New mt. Carmel, you have to fly into Cheyenne and then drive many miles. It therefore does not have many idle visitors. The monastery's active censorship and monitoring of phone and internet communications further isolates the community. Most other cloistered religious communities in the Church at least answer phone calls and emails and respond to inquiries.
Compare, for example, the cloistered Poor Clare Monastery Mother Angelica established in Alabama. Unlike these "Mystic Monks," nothing strange was ever reported of Mother Angelica's group of traditional Poor Clares. Mother Angelica was always open and transparent. This was true 40 years ago, and it's true today. If you call them, someone answers the phone. What a concept!
But from day one in making inquiries about New Mt. Carmel, their screening of phone calls and refusal to answer emails — along with all the other problems — condemn them as a cult, with no transparency, and something to hide.
Sects and cults flourish because young, naïve individuals who like ideals remain vulnerable to charlatans who offer an ideal to grab hold of, but at the end of the day fail to fulfill it. Jim Jones of Jonestown fame was great at this. "Look at what wonderful work he is doing with low-income Blacks!" was the refrain at the time.
Jonestown happened because the people in power, President Carter and others, never questioned or investigated Jones. They gave a man they did not know well the license to cart off more than 1,000 U.S. citizens to Guyana, most who ended up dead. You would think in the aftermath of the Jonestown mass suicide that people would see these internet holy rollers for the charlatans they are.
You would think people would ask more questions, demand more proof before they fork over their money. But people remain gullible — and New Mt. Carmel Foundation continues to rake in the cash. As of its latext tax returns (2019), this so-called non-profit has more than $31 million in the bank.
New Mt. Carmel has high turnover and loads of ex-postulants, who at some point liked the ideal, as marketed on the monastery's website, enough to travel to Wyoming's hinterlands to join. After a short time in essentially slave labor, they realized it was not what they were looking for, and came to their senses and left.
This so-called New Mt. Carmel has nothing to do with a real Carmelite community or the real Carmelite charism, exemplified by St. Simon Stock, St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross and St. Therese of Liseiux. These venerable Carmelite saints would abhor the deception and the work-prayer imbalance foisted on postulants.
Postulancy should be a time to learn the order's rule, to put in more time before the Blessed Sacrament, to devote more time to prayer, to learn the sacred theology of the Church and so forth, balanced, of course, by work. Ten to 12 hours a day of construction, with only one to one-and-a-half hours relegated to prayer, is not normal. There is no excuse for this.
The first red flag Augustine mentioned to me — "They don't offer time to pray the Rosary" — proved in the end to be the most revealing. The "Mystic Monks" of Wyoming's New Mt. Carmel may be mystic, but they are hardly true Carmelites, in any sense of the word.