I've been going to the Friday night discussion groups for more than two years, when I've been in Rochester, though I've been in Steubenville for the majority of the time. In all, I've been to the St. Titus Fellowship approximately 30 times.
I began to see problems with the group almost from the start. While most of the visitors and regulars were assuredly decent and good-hearted individuals, I began to notice the strange dynamics of the group's leader, David Higbee, and his inner circle.
Higbee is a charismatic personality. Passionate, confident in his convictions, and well-read. Higbee converted to the Catholic religion nearly 20 years ago. In 1998 he was even featured on EWTN's The Journey Home where he told his conversion story.
But as I say, something was very strange. At the beginning of every St. Titus meeting, we would sit in a circle and were handed sheets of paper filled with various scriptural verses, lots of commentary, and some questions for discussion. I always wondered, "Who is writing this commentary?" and "Why is the group automatically assuming that it's right?" I mean, what if some of the points happened to be wrong? But Higbee was guiding us. He was leading the discussion. So what could go wrong? Right?
The meetings consisted largely of Higbee pontificating on some subject while the yes-men beside him rang the note, "Yes, that's quite right." There were some genuinely insightful exegetical points made during the meetings. At the same time, Higbee and his yes-men were far too enamored with their own opinions and interpretations. I got used to Higbee's indignant responses to any questioning of the material with which we were provided. I tried to take these outbursts with a grain of salt. Still, I couldn't help but realize that, in a room of anywhere from 10 to 25 impressionable young adults, this was a man who loved his position of influence a little too much.
Meanwhile the doctrinal mistakes of the St. Titus Fellowship were piling up. At one meeting a member of the inner circle insisted, despite my protests, that God did not love Mary more than others. Of course this truth should be sufficiently obvious to traditional Catholics. Pope Pius IX in his Apostolic Constitution Ineffabilis Deus, wherein he defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in 1854, wrote, "Above all creatures did God so love her that truly in her was the Father well pleased with singular delight. Therefore, far above all the angels and all the saints so wondrously did God endow her with the abundance of all heavenly gifts poured from the treasury of his divinity." And we find ample examples of this point throughout the Church's Tradition.
On the eve of the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God, one of the subjects taken up in the discussion was excessive devotion to Mary. Citing long passages from an Eastern Orthodox theologian, they asked if we had ever witnessed examples of excessive Marian devotion or if we ourselves had ever been guilty of it. They didn't, however, ask whether we had witnessed examples of deficient devotion. Concerning this there seemed to be little interest. Then members of the group went on about how some Catholics revere Mary too much and how this takes away devotion from Christ. One said that some students at Franciscan University (my alma mater) were particularly guilty of this. Another said that doctrines such as Mary as "Mediatrix" and "Co-Redemptrix" could be very confusing to people. Naturally I took up the Marian cause, referencing Doctors of the Church St. Bernard, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Alphonsus Liguori (as well as the great Marian saint Louis de Montfort). One replied, "They aren't always right." And Higbee's right hand man replied, giggling, "Thomas Aquinas didn't even believe in the Immaculate Conception!"
In an online discussion on this subject with one of the members of St. Titus / St. Irenaeus Ministries, this member wrote to me, "I just think there's a big problem when you (I see you do this alot) use Church teachings/Dogmas, etc. over just basic truths from the scriptures. Scripture is obviously number one, and Church teaching is man made, so if it contradicts the Gospel, well, it has to go."
On another occasion, Higbee's right hand man maintained that Catholic seminarians shouldn't have to learn philosophy, that Scripture suffices.
Another time, Higbee himself said that once while saying the Rosary, he was inspired to read a copy of the Philokalia, an Eastern Orthodox work.
Um, wait, this is a Catholic group?
The scope of these problems of Mr. Higbee Incorporated exceeds the time I'd prefer to spend describing them. I've attempted to dialogue with Higbee's right hand man concerning some of these problems that I've had with St. Irenaeus Ministries, but it didn't get very far. I continued to keep attending the meetings because I wanted to continue clarifying the issues when they popped up in the group. I knew that I was in a good position to do that.
One day I decided to do a Google search on David Higbee. What I found shocked me. Rochester's local newspaper the Democrat & Chronicle had done a story on David Higbee back in April of 2002 (the 26th, I believe).
The headline read, "Catholic layman fired in abuse case." The story begins, "The dismissal of the religious education director at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Irondequoit stunned parishioners and colleagues of the former Protestant minister. David Higbee, 54, was fired Thursday after Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester officials discovered evidence that he had abused a boy years ago." See http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/674090/posts This was before Higbee was a Catholic, when he was a pastor in Chicago. More info concerning the case was on zoominfo.com under David Higbee at http://www.zoominfo.com/#!search/profile/person?personId=82540856&targetid=profile but this has recently been deleted.
I also found that Higbee had changed his name. His former name was David Kemmerer. I mentioned the name change in an email to Higbee's right hand man, having seen an old article written by him when his name was still Kemmerer (the article can be viewed at http://www.ctlibrary.com/ch/1988/issue18/1816.html). He told me, "I should explain the reason for David's name change. David was born David Higbee (the surname of his birth father) but raised David Kemmerer (the surname of his stepfather). Some time in the late eighties, his stepfather passed away. Two years later (David waited for a time out of respect), he changed his name back to Higbee."
Interestingly, EWTN's The Journey Home does not list the 2/27/98 show with David Higbee and his conversion story on its website (http://www.ewtn.com/vondemand/audio/seriessearchprog.asp?pgnu=22&SeriesID=-6892289). As you can see, it has been skipped in the listing.
Higbee's right hand man took issue with some of the "provocative things" I've said on my Facebook page concerning the Marian controversy and has written me a letter that if I do not stop saying them I will no longer be welcome in the group, for "there is no place here for a provocateur." Well, after this blog post, needless to say, I am no longer welcome in the cult of David Higbee.
**Note: I posted this because people associated with Higbee have the right to know. I spent years in this group ignorant of the facts. When I first started going I asked Higbee why St. Irenaeus Ministries was not listed on the diocesan website. His answer was essentially that he was orthodox and the diocese would never support him. He never told me that he had been fired from the diocese. This was a betrayal of trust. I hope that people can have the information by which to make their decisions.