My World of Religion, Politics, Entertainment and Social Issues

If you are visiting my blog, expecting to see 'Toward a Progressive Catholic Church,' I have changed my title to reflect my wide assortment of interests. Having retired from my secular job, I hope to devote the rest of my life to my hobbies, ministries and perhaps a part-time job that makes good use of my communications skills. This blog will be designed to address my multi-faceted interests.

My Photo
Name:
Location: Rochester, New York, United States

I have an M.A. in Theology and an M.Div (Master of Divinity) from St. Bernard's School of Theology and Ministry. I am currently a media consultant and promoter of classical music. I am also certified as an officiant by the Federation of Christian Ministries for baptisms, weddings and funerals and minister independently of the Rochester Diocese. My life has encompassed many interesting paths: broadcasting, free-lance writing, video-production, music, ministry and a secular job in government. In addition to this blog, I have a YouTube site at www.youtube.com/priestray and I have a Facebook page.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

A Reflection on Terri Schiavo's Death

A Reflection on Terri Schiavo's Death
by Ray Grosswirth, M.A., M.Div

When the news of Terri Schiavo's death was announced on March 31, I found that my feelings fluctuated between those of relief and sadness. On one hand, I am relieved the media circus and political wrangling are over; on the other hand, I am saddened over the family struggle that permeated the 15-year debate over Terri's well-being.

Whatever one's feeling were throughout this long ordeal, I pray there will be reconciliation between opposing sides during this period of mourning. At the very least, we should pray there is no violence from radical elements within the religious right.

Having witnessed Terri's ordeal play out on our television screens the past few weeks, I can't emphasize enough how important it is to articulate one's health-care wishes in writing. It appears that Terri Schiavo indicated verbally to her husband that she did not want to be kept alive by extraordinary means if she were in a vegetative state. However, because her wishes were never formalized via either a health care proxy or living will, the result was a family feud in which Mrs. Schiavo became a political pawn, whereby the religious right argued for her life and others argued for her right to die with dignity.

I find that I can't sit in criticism of either Terri Schiavo's parents or husband. My position has always been, and continues to be, that we can't honestly judge a life and death health-related situation unless we are actually involved in the decision ourselves. Obviously, there was strong love between Terri and her husband, just as there was strong love between Terri and her parents.

I am perhaps angry over this case because of the fact that the religious right has placed itself in a position of judgment, whereby they felt it was in Terri Schiavo's best interest to be kept alive via her feeding tube. The question I have is: "Was it in Terri's best interest, or was it in the best interest of the religious right?"

Sadly, the media gave us mixed medical information about Terri Schiavo. Consequently, we did not know the full extent of her brain activity. Her parents told us she was able to recognize them. Her husband stated that she was essentially brain-dead. If there is one blessing in all of this, it is that both sides have agreed to an autopsy, which should help us toward better understanding of the medical parameters of this tragedy.

During the final stages of my graduate theological studies, I served for a year as a chaplain in St. Mary's Hospice in Rochester, New York. I can therefore testify to the compassionate treatment that is given to persons in the final stages of life. I have every reason to believe that Terri Schiavo was treated with the very same compassion and that she died in peace and comfort.

May God's grace touch all who now mourn the passing of Terri Schiavo.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

A New Gospel of Mary Magdalene

A NEW GOSPEL OF MARY MAGDALENE
by Ray Grosswirth, M.A., M.Div

INTRODUCTION

If I had written this during the period of the Inquisition, there is no doubt I would have been condemned to a terrible fate. In today’s day and age, there are still those who might label me as a heretic for writing what follows. However, please keep in mind that this is simply a product of my imagination. It is designed to give you a perception of Mary Magdalene that will perhaps lead the Roman Catholic hierarchy to consider the many ways it has tarnished the reputation of a saintly women who can rightfully claim the title of ‘Apostle to the Apostles.’

THE SETTING

The date is approximately 5 A.D. and the setting is a small desert community in the vicinity of Nazareth. During this year, Mary Magdalene was born. While little is known of her parents, her birth was short of miraculous, for the same three wise men who came from afar to visit a child in Nazareth several years earlier, also decided to visit this baby girl - once again, guided by a star.

From the time Mary Magdalene was a little girl, she displayed a keen intellect and was full of questions. She also managed to disguise herself, so that she could worship with her male childhood friends in the Nazarean synagogue, which was approximately five miles from her home.

MARY MAGDALENE’S FIRST ENCOUNTER WITH JESUS

In the year 15 A.D., Mary found herself seated next to a teenage boy, who at that time was approximately 15 years old. His name was Jesus. To her surprise, he boldly challenged the rabbis who were responsible for educating the young concerning their faith. He spoke about following his Father’s will and the need to pay attention to those in need. After astonishing those present in the synagogue, Jesus walked out quietly, fearing that his elders might physically oust him.

Mary decided to follow Jesus through the exit door, whereupon she removed her disguise. As one can expect, Jesus was quite stunned to learn that the person who was seated next to him in the synagogue was indeed a young girl, who at this time was only 10 years old. Both Jesus and Mary Magdalene had a lengthy discussion about the courage Jesus displayed by challenging his neighborhood’s religious authorities. Jesus in turn had a good laugh over Mary’s courage concerning her disguise that allowed her to worship with her male counterparts.

Jesus took a liking to Mary and told her he hoped she would seek him out when she arrived at a marrying age. After several years had passed, Mary indeed began to wonder about the whereabouts of Jesus, the childhood friend who had befriended her.

MANY YEARS LATER

In the year 25 A.D. (Jesus was approximately 25 years old and Mary Magdalene was approximately 20 years old), Mary began to hear stories about a young man who worked as a carpenter in the city of Sepphoris. Sepphoris was a fairly large city dominated by the Romans and Jesus managed to use his carpentry skills to suit the material needs of the Roman aristocracy who ruled much of the surrounding area. Jesus managed to find a safe balance in such an environment by working quietly at his craft and sneaking out of town at night to deal with many issues of faith and the special bond between himself and his Father - a relationship he would not fully understand until several years later.

On a particularly chilly afternoon, Mary Magdalene wandered into Sepphoris. She went from house to house, inquiring about a man named Jesus. Just as she began to feel her journey was fruitless, a man appeared behind her and placed his cloak over her her so that she could be free of the frigid air. To her astonishment, it was Jesus of Nazareth. They instinctively hugged, for they had both sensed that a combination of fate and God’s will would eventually bring them together.

Jesus and Mary talked non-stop for several hours, for they had several years of lapsed time to piece together. When their conversation ended, Jesus told Mary that after his earthly father (Joseph) died, his mother (Mary) encouraged him to seek out his spiritual Father’s will. Although Mary Magdalene did not understand this quest, Jesus assured her it would make sense in the near future.

JESUS AND MARY MAGDALENE ARE MARRIED

Jesus and Mary went on to develop a very close relationship. This relationship became formalized in the ritual of marriage, which took place in Sepphoris. The chief local rabbi officiated and Mary, the mother of Jesus, attended the couple. (During the first two years of their marriage, Jesus and Mary had two children.)

When Jesus was thirty years old, and Mary Magdalene was 25, they began to hear about John the Baptist, who was preaching about the need for repentance. Jesus instinctively knew he had to see him. He kissed Mary goodbye and told her he would return immediately after visiting John. (It was at this point that Mary began to realize that Jesus was following the will of his Father and that his meeting with John the Baptist would forever change him and their relationship.)

THE MISSION OF JESUS

After Jesus was baptized by John at the river Jordan, he immediately set out to return to his wife (Mary Magdalene). Along the way, he was tempted in the desert by Satan. Having rebuked Satan, he returned to Mary, whereby he revealed the full will of the Father to her. Part of this will was to gather up disciples, so that news of the Kingdom of God could be spread throughout the ancient world.

After Jesus gathered his disciples, they traveled with him, along with their wives and children, city by city, until they finally reached their ultimate destination of Jerusalem. It was here that a clash of values would come to a climax between Jesus and Roman authorities.

Contrary to popular belief, there was very little friction between Jesus and the Jews who resided in Jerusalem. For all intents and purposes, Jesus was Jewish and had no reason to alienate his own people. Yet, because a select few of the Jewish leaders feared that Jesus might antagonize the Romans over his preaching about the Kingdom of God, they enticed Judas Iscariot to keep an eye on him. Although most Jews continued to support and befriend Jesus, Judas nevertheless put events into place that were foreshadowed in early predictions by Jesus.

THE PASSION

Sensing that his time was near, Jesus met privately with his wife (Mary Magdalene) and Mary (his mother). While they begged him to come with them to Sepphoris, they also realized there was a purpose to his being in Jerusalem. After a long sorrowful conversation, Jesus instructed both Marys to take care of his children and to make sure they stayed out of harm’s way. (Mary Magdalene made provisions for the children to travel to Sepphoris, while she and the mother of Jesus remained for the events that were to follow.)

On what would come to be known as Holy Thursday, the disciples and their wives, along with Jesus and Mary Magdalene, gathered for a Passover meal. Jesus instructed all gathered to break bread and drink wine in memory of him. He also warned them that future generations would try to exclude women from such a meal, but at the same time, encouraged them to press ahead, despite warnings they might receive from religious authorities.

THE RESURRECTION

As the Gospel writers Mark, Matthew, Luke and John have testified, Jesus was crucified by the Romans and buried, and he rose again on the third day. However, what was not related by the four Gospel writers is the fact that Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene for a reason. It was not only because she was his beloved wife; it was also because he sensed that the voices of women would be squashed by future generations. He also sensed that male religious authorities might turn Mary Magdalene into a sinner for their own sinister purposes. Jesus therefore chose Mary to spread the good news of the resurrection, in the hope that Mary’s place in history would be preserved as ‘apostle to the apostles.’

MARY MAGDALENE REDEEMED

As Jesus predicted, the reputation of his beloved wife (Mary Magdalene) would be tarnished for many centuries, due to the male-dominated church that emerged bearing his name. It wasn’t until the year 1969 that the Vatican finally announced to the world what most of us knew already: Mary Magdalene was not a sinner; she was rather apostle to the apostles and continues to be a model for all of us.

Having read my imaginative account of the relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, you may be wondering what my motives are. My primary purpose is to articulate a dignity to Mary Magdalene – a dignity that was denied her by the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church for close to 2,000 years. Recent scholarship has shed new light on her remarkable life. We can now say with complete certainty that she was not the sinner as depicted in numerous paintings from the medieval period. We also have come to learn that following the death of Jesus, Mary Magdalene continued to spread the good news of the resurrection.

Sadly, when the fathers of the church decided to formulate what has come to be known as doctrine, part of their process was to eliminate references to women who were instrumental in building the church of the first century. They further placed Mary, the mother of Jesus, on a pedestal, identifying obedience as her most noble trait. Thanks be to God, we have finally come to recognize the genuine humanity of both the mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene (who I have theorized to be the wife of Jesus).

Whether or not one subscribes to the theory of Jesus being married to Mary Magdalene, I like to think there is universal agreement on the fact that she was perhaps the best example we have in the Gospel tradition of what it means to be a true disciple. The Vatican was perhaps successful in covering up this fact through 1969. However, now that we know the truth, we should be praying to Mary Magdalene every day for guidance in a church that is on a road to self-destruction. I pray that she and all the good women in our church reclaim the inclusivity that was willed to us by Jesus of Nazareth. An exclusive church cannot survive. Noone understood that more than Jesus and Mary Magdalene.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

In Defense of 'The Da Vinci Code'

I can't say that I am surprised by the Vatican's condemnation of 'The Da Vinci Code.' It is just another example of the paranoia that permeates the psychoses of our cardinals in Rome. Admittedly, there is an element of humor with all this hysteria. First and foremost, the Vatican should realize by now that when they instruct the faithful not to read something, it will only enourage more people to buy the book. So, anyone who hasn't read 'The Davinci Code' will certainly pick up a copy now. Secondly, the Vatican is unwittingly providing great pre-publicity for Ron Howard's movie version of 'The Davinci Code.' (I am assuming it will be released in 2006, with Tom Hanks in the starring role.)

The Vatican's condemnation is reminiscent of 'The Inquisition' of the medieval period. If 'The Davinci Code' had been written during that period, it woud have certainly found itself on the list of 'forbidden books.' Since millions of Catholics now possess a copy of 'The Davinci Code,' it is unlikely the Vatican will send its henchmen after readers who refuse to burn their books. (Sadly, victims of the Inquisition suffered torture and worse for simply possessing books deemed to be inappropriate by the supreme pontiff.)

It is important at this juncture to state that 'The DaVinci Code' is a work of fiction. Yet, the assumptions and theories presented by the author are highly relevant, as they relate to current debates in the Roman Catholic Church. Certainly, as the priesthood shortage continues to be a center-stage topic, there seems to be overwhelming interest in the sexuality of Jesus. This translates to the corresponding issues of married priests and the ordination of women.

Since many of my friends and co-workers have read this book, they have naturally asked me if I believe Jesus was married. Correspondingly, I have been asked if I feel he was married to Mary Magdalene, as the author of this book implies, in addition to the intriguing idea of Jesus and Mary having raised children. Finally, since Opus Dei is mentioned in the book, I have been asked for my impressions/opinions of the organization.

Whether or not Jesus was married cannot be proven one way or another, simply because our resources are limited. Scripture lacks the proof we need to solve this mystery. Yet, this doesn't mean that we need to throw our hands in the air in a state of despair. Just as the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls was an unexpected surprise, it is entirely possible that first century documents are buried somewhere that could shed new insights into the personal life of Jesus. At present, I stand by the assumption that it is entirely possible that Jesus was married, considering that he lived with, and traveled amongst married members of the Jewish community.

If Jesus was married, it seems that Mary Magdalene would be the primary candidate for his wife. Although the Roman Catholic hierarchy tried its best to discredit her for many centuries, careful scholarship has shed new light on her role as an apostle to the apostles. When the male disciples fled, following the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus, it was Mary Magdalene who stayed by his side. Furthermore, the author of 'The DaVinci Code' presents the possibility that Mary Magdalene was the mysterious person seated next to Jesus in Leonardo DaVinci's painting of 'The Last Supper.' Thus, minus a chalice in the painting, Mary comes to represent the living 'Holy Grail,' which becomes further manifested by the bloodline traced to Mary & Jesus. Again, all this is conjecture, but not to the point of dismissing it as fantasy.

How wonderful it would indeed be if persistent scholarship were to definitely prove that Jesus was married - whether it was to Mary Magdalene or someone else. This would place our hierarchy in the embarrassing situation of having to explain why it enforced mandatory celibacy for so many centuries. (The idea of the pope with egg on his face is a rather amusing conception.)

Finally, I wish to offer some closing thoughts about Opus Dei, since the organization is mentioned in 'The DaVinci Code.' To be fair, I am reluctant to categorize Opus Dei as a cult. I would simply describe them as extremely conservative, and I can't say I would endorse their practices. Their website is rather misleading, in that it implies Opus Dei is simply an organization that combines faith and work in the context of devoted membership. Yet, their spirituality can perhaps be best described as reminiscent of the Tridentine era, whereby a theology of suffering and self-sacrifice are the driving forces of their members. They are also passionate in the protection of the status quo, and are therefore closed to progressive ideas.

I have not personally gone out of my way to investigate Opus Dei. However, I thought CNN did a wonderful job last year, whereby anchor Anderson Cooper provided two interpretations of Opus Dei. In brief, a former member of the organization criticized methods of self-inflicted suffering that are used, such as beating oneself with a spiked instrument. (This is supposed to allow a person to experience the suffering of Christ.) On the other hand, a defender of Opus Dei stated that reports of self-inflicted suffering are exaggerated.

In the final analysis, Opus Dei is not for me. However, interested parties are certainly welcome to explore the organization. As with any group or association, I would hope that any prospective member will research all the parameters.

Whether or not one subscribes to the theories presented in 'The DaVinci Code,' we can at least be thankful for the questions and insights that are emerging as a result a book that has captured the imaginations of a multitude of readers.

Our esteemed cardinals at the Vatican need to get a life. If they have nothing better to do than pick on a book, perhaps the pope can find a more lucrative project for them.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Celibacy: The Elephant in the Room

The topic of priestly celibacy has correctly been called 'the elephant in the room.' While I don't blame celibacy for the sexual abuse crisis in the Roman Catholic Church, there is every reason to believe it is a contributing factor.

It would be extremely helpful if American bishops removed the 'fear factor' from public dialogue on discussions relating to the Roman Catholic priesthood. However, the reality is that some bishops will go to any length in an attempt to suppress or squash open and honest dialogue on an outdated poliicy that continues to place our sacramental system in severe jeopardy.

To cite an example of suppressed conversation, Archbishop Timothy Dolan has forbidden public discussion amongst priests on the topic of clerical celibacy in Milwaukee. (When petitions were circulated nationwide in favor of optional celibacy, 185 priests from Milwaukee were the first to sign.) In the meantime, my contacts in Milwaukee have informed me that Archbishop Timothy Dolan has threatened to punish any priest who publicly states he is in support of optional celibacy. (You may also recall that he disciplined a pastor for allowing a meeting to take place in his parish on the issue of the ordination of women, and Dolan further threatened to shut down the diocesan newspaper for covering the meeting.)

When priests are not allowed to speak to reporters about the issue of optional celibacy, when diocesan newspapers are not allowed to print stories about optional celibacy, and when priests face removal from their ministries for pursuing honest and consensual relationships, it is no wonder that we are seeing so many problems emerge in today's church climate.

We have an excellent 'religious issues' reporter in Rochester, New York and I would love to see her do a story on the celibacy issue. Yet, the reality is that I would have a very difficult time getting local priests to speak with her on this topic. I suppose there is potential for a story about the imposition of mandatory celibacy, and related problems it causes for married persons such as myself who are called to the priesthood. However, this in itself would not make for a very interesting story. What would make the story powerful would perhaps be interviews with priests who made commitments to celibacy, but are nevertheless called to relationships.

My sense is that the only Rochester priests who would be willing to talk to a reporter are those who would defend the discipline of mandatory celibacy, for priests making such statements of defense would not find themselves in trouble. However, the sad reality is that as much as I like and respect Bishop Matthew Clark, I have no doubt that he would discipline any local priests who spoke to reporters in favor of optional celibacy. (The Vatican would require him to discipline priests in such a case.)

Tragically, everyone realizes that celibacy is the 'elephant in the room.' However, noone in a position to make an impact on the topic is allowed to speak about it. I want to extend my sincere thanks to the Milwaukee priests who had the courage to articulate their desire for change. It is indeed a shame that Archbishop Timothy Dolan saw fit to threaten them with the hammer of hierarchical authority.

Much Debate on New Book: "Priests in Love"

It was called to my attention this morning that the Beliefnet website is currently hosting a debate of the book, "Priests in Love." (There were 728 postings as of this morning.)

I will need to read the book in order to offer a fair objective analysis. However, the topic should not be surprising to those of us who have studied and written about the topic of priestly celibacy.
Per the following book review, "Priests in Love" is not about sexual abuse. It is rather an honest look at 'consensual' relationships that many priests are engaged in. (I personally don't fault any priests who are in relationships of this sort.)

My argument continues to be that some priests are called to a life of celibacy, and some are not. Whether or not priests called to relationships can in fact live celibate lives remains an interesing paradox. (I would much rather see priests in such a dilemma pursue a normal, consensual relationship than resort to anything 'unnatural' as a result of sexual frustrations. Therefore, it should be no surprise there is great interest in this book, for it seems to present an honest picture of priests who fall in love, yet find the need to keep the relationships secret as a result of their commitment of mandatory celibacy to their bishops.)

A married priest recently told me that he and his wife had a 'secret' relationship for seven years when he was a parish pastor and she was a nun with the Sisters of St. Joseph. (This book will hopefully get the message out that there are many of these relationships - relationships that are driven underground due to the oppressive policy of mandatory celibacy.)

Here is the book review:

PRIESTS IN LOVE: Catholic Clergy and Their Intimate Friendships
Review taken from Continuum Catalogue, T&T Clark International, Religion Spring 2005

"Although it reads with the ease of a novel, the power of this book is inestimable for furthering a productive dialogue on the sexual issues facing the Catholic Church precisely because it gives voice to real people, real priests, and their companions. These lives challenge any reader to re-examine her or his own life, sexual ideas, and moral compass. After reading it, I decided that it should be dedicated to the Pope and be required reading for every bishop." Richard Sipe, author of Celibacy in Crisis: A Secret World Revisited

"No one has captured with greater understanding and insight the personal, human struggles of priests coping with mandated, institutionalized celibacy than Jane Anderson. This moving and compelling book, both gracefully written and grace-filled, is destined to shake the foundations of obligatory celibacy." Donald Cozzens, Sacred Silence: Denial and the Crisis in the Church
In the 1960s and '70s , thousands of Roman Catholic priests left the active ministry to get married. Nothing like this had been seen on this scale since the French Revolution, and before that since the Reformation. Now a different phenomenon seems to be at work: priests who have formed long-time, intimate sexual friendships. These men are not pedophiles or sexual abusers. They are adult, mature men who can no longer find a rationale for a life of obligatory celibacy and enter into responsible sexual relationships. Some of them are straight, some gay. Based on interviews, conducted over a nine-year period, with 50 Australian priests, Priests in Love tells the stories of these priests and their friends. It deals with the moral, psychological and social challenges they face on the less traveled road of social change.

Jane Anderson, mother of four teenage children, received her PhD in anthropology in 2004. She lives in Yakamia, Western Australia, and has been actively involved in Australian Catholic life for over twenty years.

Voices of "Priests in Love"

"If truly the command of God is to love, then I feel our love is where God can be found. As for celibacy, it's an injustice insofar as it is mandatory, and God can't be found in that kind of contradiction." - Fr. Abe

"Promises are conditioned by their contexts and are not absolutes in themselves. If the context loses its validity, so then does the promise. I made it originally in good faith, with the understanding of the situation I had at the time. But eventually the context changed, and my faith in the purpose, place, and even probity of the promise dissolved." - Fr. Thomas

"I am definitely in favor of celibacy - for those who freely opt for it as a way of loving God. The vow of celibacy is only for a few. Theirs is a noble choice and a clear sign that they are men/women of deeply sensitive love. But celibacy should never be required of persons as part of a package deal for priestly ordination." - Fr. James.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

How Would You Like to be Pope for a Day?

As the world focuses on the health of Pope John Paul II, there has been much speculation about who will step into his shoes. The selection of the next pontiff will rest upon a very basic question: Who will best suit the present needs of our church - a long-term pope or short-term pope? Those leaning toward a long-term pontiff tend to favor Milan's cardinal. In terms of a short-term pope, names often mentioned are Cardinal Ratzinger and Cardinal Arinze (both ultra-conservative).

In conjunction with Cardinal Ratzinger, reformers such as myself worry about the amount of damage he could do the church, even during a short period. Skeptics raise the question: How much damage can he possibly do over a couple years? My answer is: Someone like Ratzinger could inflict much damage, even during the course of one day. For example, he could conceivably declare infallibly that women may never be ordained, or he could declare infallibly that Christ willed celibacy for priests (which would obviously be both a doctrinal and theological error on his part).

Being somewhat of an imaginative person, I created an unlikely scenario, and then asked two corresponding questions: 1.) What could a bad pope do in one day? 2.) What could a good pope do in one day?

Many of us who are are old enough to recall the infancy days of television can remember a game show that was called, "Queen For A Day." The show began with the host screaming in a loud voice, "How would you like to be queen for a day?" Pre-picked contestants were then invited to come to the stage and tell various tales of woe. Whoever gained the most sympathy, as a result of votes registered on an applause meter, became crowned and received an assortment of prizes. The scenario may seem silly by today's standards, but the show was extremely popular in the 1950s.

As I thought about this game show, I began to wonder if the Vatican would score higher ratings if it were to sponsor a weekly broadcast entitled "Pope For a Day." In such a scenario, contestants would be invited to appear on live television, whereby they would be expected to articulate what they felt they could accomplish in a 24-hour period. In such an 'unreality' show, cardinals and bishops would not be allowed to vote, for they would obviously select the candidate who stated he or she would do nothing except protect the status quo. Therefore, those eligible to vote for a 24-hour pontiff would be priests, deacons, nuns and laity.

The more I thought about "Pope For A Day," I was reminded of another television program that is currently drawing large audiences. It is simply called, "24." It centers on a day in the life of a government agent, whereby each of 24 episodes focuses on one hour of the day. This format would work very nicely with "Pope For a Day." In brief, the winning contestant would have his or her day divided into 24 televised hours, with each hour dedicated to a particular task or decision by the new pontiff.

As I pondered further on this unlikely situation, I tried to picture myself as a winning contestant. I then had to decide how I would divide my 24-hours. While I am sure I could come up with some projects to fill my day, there are a few preliminary items that would take precedent: 1.) I would get rid of the rite, "Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest." (Why should we need such a celebration, when there is an abundance of married priests?) 2.) I would declare all prior ordinations of women as valid and reverse their excommunications, and would then ordain as many qualified women as possible in my allotted day. 3.) I would order all celibate priests who are long overdue for vacations/relaxation/medical attention to take some time off, whereby married priests would serve as substitutes. 4.) I would end mandatory celibacy for priests. 5.) I would ordain married men, in addition to women, as already mentioned. 6.) I would end the antiquated annulment process, in favor of a type of responsible marriage preparation that would not discriminate against divorced persons. 7.) I would order each diocese to provide suitable pension programs for all priests, whether they be celibate or married.

I wonder how many of us have pondered over what we would do differently, if we had brief control over the Vatican. Ultimately, however, Roman Catholicism should not be about power. Instead, we should be focused on ministry. Nevertheless, we are hindered in our ministries, due to roadblocks anchored in cement by the powers-that-be. It seems that the Vatican is more interested in control and would rather allow priestless parishes than consider a more inclusive clergy as a solution. Unless our pontiff and cardinals are willing to consider the prospects of change, it is not only priestless parishes that will be of concern, but perhaps parishes without the faithful as well. Then the scenario will be: Who would like to be a Catholic for a day?

Concerning Church Structures and the Faithful

As I reflected on the word 'structures', it has traditionally come to have two meanings in the context of Roman Catholicism: 1.) It can obviously refer to the buildings that house our worship communities; 2.) It can also refer to the hierarchical pyramid that is responsible for the leadership of our Church. Both types of structures have their benefits and liabilities. For example, we take great pride in our places of worship, while at the same time, cringe when expensive repairs are needed. We can also take pride in our structural leadership when we are moving in a positive direction, or we can become quite angry when one of our bishops or cardinals takes action that may be perceived as an abuse of power.

I have a strong sense that our priests and laity occasionally feel lost amongst our immense structures, whether they be our buildings or a large contingency of bishops and cardinals. We are then faced with the question: Is the Church about structures or people?

When considering the buildings that house our worship, we can find grand structures throughout the world, many of which have been standing for several centuries. Since these holy places were built by our ancestors, we tend to take great pride in maintaining them for as many years as possible. When new places of worship need to be built, as in the case of our ancestors, we tend to shop for the best materials and construct worship spaces that reflect our current theological/environmental/pastoral realities.

I am the first to admit that I stand in awe when I am in the midst of a beautiful worship space, whether it reflects either an earlier era or a contemporary design. Yet, at the same time, I find that I often reflect back to the humbleness of Jesus and the leaders of our earliest church communities. I then have to wonder what Jesus would think of the immense cathedrals and worship spaces we have constructed over many centuries. Would he be impressed, or would he scold us for paying more attention to structures than the needs of believers? Perhaps this is a stretch of the imagination, but I truly believe that Jesus would tell us: "The simpler, the better." In many respects, it is perhaps the small faith communities that best reflect the house churches that were commonplace in the first century. Yet, even in large communities, perhaps we need to pay more attention to our ministries than grand architectural designs that cost us millions of dollars. If we are building massive granite or marble structures at the expense of the poor, the sick and the needy, there is much wisdom that can be gained by reflecting on the Beatitudes: Blessed are the poor..........................."

As we discuss structures in terms of our hierarchy, we can clearly see the potential for the misuse of power. To the credit of Vatican II, priests and laity are only beginning to find their rightful voices. One only needs to read textbooks printed prior to the 1970s to notice the familiar pattern in which church history was written. Generally, we would read about the long succession of popes, cardinals and bishops who made significant contributions to the development of our church. Vatican II finally recognized that our priests, women religious and laity have contributed much to our history, although they were deliberately kept out of written accounts. This is beginning to change, thanks be to God!

By focusing on church structures, whether they be buildings or members of our hierarchy, we do a great disservice to the faithful priests, nuns and lay men and women who have been the cornerstone of Roman Catholicism since its inception. Without the people, there would be no hierarchy, and there would be no buildings. Yet, at the risk of sounding disobedient, we have somehow allowed ourselves to be subservient to our bishops and cardinals. Our clergy and people in the pews have much to offer, in terms of gifts, time and spirituality. Yet, as long as we are led to believe we are only good Catholics if we continue to support our structures, there is only going to be friction between ourselves and the powers-that-be.

If the Roman Catholic Church is to become a better place, it must become more inclusive. In order for this to happen, we must become a community that cares more about people than structures. In this regard, our hierarchy needs to pay attention to recent polls conducted amongst our clergy and laity, rather than dismissing them.

In the final analysis, we will still need our structures. However, when they overshadow the basic needs of believers, the Kingdom of God remains an unfulfilled dream. I therefore continue to pray each day for a Roman Catholic Church that is more inclusive, and for a Roman Catholic Church that puts more worth in the faithful as its cornerstone, as opposed to a piece of granite.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

A Puzzling Paradox

Since 2002 , I have been puzzling over a paradox that has become increasingly clear as the pedophilia crisis in the Roman Catholic Church continues to capture headlines. In brief, it is interesting to note that the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church went to great lengths, over the course of several decades, to protect pedohiles. Paradoxically, at the same time, the Vatican has been quick to punish good priests who have simply entered into marriage out of genuine love. Is something wrong here?

When one examines this paradox closely, it becomes perfectly clear that our hierarchy has serious hang-ups concerning sexuality. To understand this better, we need to go back to 1139 and the corresponding Inquisition which was to last several decades. (Some would argue that the Inquisition never ended.) While several attempts were made to mandate celibacy prior to 1139, whereby the solitary life of monks was held up as a model, the year 1139 was the pivotal year whereby celibacy was not only emphasized, but mandated under harsh terms. With the advent of the Inquistion, it was discovered that secret marriages were still taking place, whereby Inquisitors sought out such unions and dished out what they perceived to be appropriate punishments. Consequently, the married priesthood was gone, but not forgotten.

During the several centuries Roman Catholicism has lived with mandatory priestly celibacy, the hieararchy has thrived in an environment of secrecy. To ensure this secret society, a priest going through the ordination rites routinely made, and continues to make two promises: 1.) obedience to his bishop and 2.) commitment to a life of celibacy.

Through my involvement with CORPUS, I have come to know many priests who have entered into marriage. Unlike the Church hierarchy, you will note that I don't use the term "former priests." While some have elected to go through the process of becoming laicized, others have found ways to continue their priestly ministries. When our hierarchy continues to use celibacy as the determining factor as to who can and who cannot be called a Roman Catholic priest, I am inclined to believe our Magisterium needs to reflect back to the first century Church. In fact, a scenario I continue to picture is that of Peter returning to us for a convocation of priests. I have a sense he would ask a simple question: "Where are your wives?"

How does the Magisterium expect us to take its members seriously when it continues to operate under the umbrella of secrecy and silence on the pedophilia issue? Perhaps more import, how can some of our cardinals and bishops protect guilty priests and at the same time punish good priests for either desiring healthy relationships or entering into marriages?

Through enforced celibacy, members of our hierarchy are contributing in an indirect way toward the suppressed sexuality of priests who are not called to a celibate life. This can lead to problems, some of which are just beginning to surface. This is not to say that celibacy is the cause of pedophilia. Yet, an environment of enforced celibacy can be both attractive to a potential pedophile and a springboard for illicit behavior.

My remarks are in no way designed to insult the many wonderful priests in our ranks who are genuinely called to a life of celibacy. We owe a debt of gratitude to these faith-filled men who continue to serve unselfishly. Yet, I continue to worry about those who commit themselves to a life of celibacy, when in reality they are not called to this way of life; some are able to adjust and others are unable to commit in a healthy way.

When a priest chooses to marry, he should not be required to apply for the laicized state. In fact, some choose not to, thereby incurring the wrath of the powers-that-be. Here lies the paradox: A pedophile priest is bounced from parish to parish, protected by the hierarchy. However, a priest who chooses to marry is forced out of his ministry.

My goal is not to replace celibate priests with married ones. Rather, there is room amongst the ranks of the clergy for celibate men, married men and women. As long as the Pope continues to require a celibate, all-male clergy, the present climate of secrecy will continue and Jesus will continue to weep.

The Question of Being in Union with Rome

As tension in the Roman Catholic Church intensifies, I have been examining the question of what it means to be a Roman Catholic. More specifically, I have been challenged by conservative Catholics in recent weeks and have been repeatedly asked: "Are you in union with Rome?"

There is no debate about my being a Roman Catholic. I subscribe fully to the Creed and try to live out a sacramental life to its fullest. I attend Mass every Sunday, and am active in my parish as a lay minister. Yet, I continue to be challenged by divisive issues.

For the past several years, I have been openly challenging our hierarchy on far-reaching issues, whereby I have been advocating the following: 1.) ordination of married men; 2.) the welcoming back of priests who entered into marriage; 3.) ordination of women; 4.) full inclusion of gay and lesbians; 5.) abolishing the annulment process; 6.) liturgical reform; 7.) freedom of expression on Church policy matters. Many of my campaigns concerning these issues have been articulated either in writing or public forums. Therefore, I have essentially moved from private dissent to public dissent.

If being in union with Rome means following the practices of our faith, there is no question of my being a Roman Catholic. Yet, if being in union with Rome means subscribing to all the teachings of the Magisterium, I suppose my membership in the Roman Catholic Church is open to question.

I maintain my right as a Roman Catholic to challenge any teaching of the Magisterium that deviates in any way from the original mission of our Church. Furthermore, when the Magisterium chooses to remain silent when the faithful desire dialogue, my position is simply that it is the hierarchy that has fallen out of union.

When we examine our faith and practices, we always need to keep Christ as our focus and role model. The living Christ continues to be a model of inclusivity for us, inviting us to be a Church that embraces all, whether members be male, female, married, single, gay or straight.

In recent weeks, I have been accused by conservatives of trying to turn the pedophilia crisis into a celibacy issue. I continue to maintain that I certainly don't blame celibacy for pedophilia. However, an all-male, celibate environment may be an attractive secret society in which pedophiles can hide. Nevertheless, I have tried to distance the two issues, despite accusations I have received to the contrary. Although I try not to be accusatory, I have been very open of accusing conservatives within the hierarchy of turning the pedophilia crisis into an excuse for gay-bashing. Therefore, if any blame is to be placed, our hierarchy needs to examine its policy of pointing its finger at the most vulnerable in times of crisis.

Despite all the historical and theological arguments I continue to present in support of an inclusive priesthood, voices of opposition continue to remind me that I must follow the teachings of the Magisterium. In this regard, my consistent response has been that celibacy is neither a matter of doctrine or faith; it is rather a policy issue. Even the Council of Trent allowed for the change in this policy when circumstances required such change.

Another question I am consistently asked is: "How far are you willing to go?" Concerning the corresponding issues of celibacy and Holy Orders, I am willing to go the limit, even if it means ordination by a maverick bishop. (Any such bishop should feel free to contact me.) If we are to initiate change, we occasionally need to take a bold step, despite the looming threat of excommunication. Contrary to what some conservatives may think, my goal is not to sabotage the Church, but to make our Church more inclusive.

Several years ago, when I was a single person, members of my parish community submitted my name to my bishop, recommending me as a candidate for the priesthood. I was deeply honored that I was called forth by my community, much in the same way early priesthood candidates were chosen. So, I went through the interview process and was accepted into a discernment group for men over 40. However, along the way, I met and fell in love with Brenda. We were married in 1994, yet my call to ordination continues. I received an M.A. in Theology and an M.Div from St. Bernard's School of Theology and Ministry; yet the rule of mandatory celibacy stands in my way. Despite the voices of conservatives who would like to see me move on to another Church, I am staying and continuing to work for change.

While I don't presume to speak for the Holy Spirit, I like to think that the Third Person of the Trinity is with us as we try to build a better Church.

Marriage as Impediment to Ordination

While marriage continues to be celebrated as a sacramental union in the Roman Catholic Church, our hierarchy also refers to marriage as an impediment to priestly ordination. What the Church is essentially saying is that marriage is a blessed state as long as married parties keep their distance from the priesthood, thereby preserving the Holy Orders for celibate men.

In consideration of our hierarchy's disciminatory practices, I continue to voice three questions: 1.) How many married men, called to ordination, end up frustrated due to the fact that their gifts are stifled by the very same Church they wish to serve? 2.) How many priests who have entered into marriage would continue their vocations in the Roman Catholic Church if marriage were not an 'impediment'? 3.) How many women continue to feel as though they are second-class citizens in the Roman Catholic Church due to the fact that the doors to ordination are closed to them?

Having addressed my support of womens ordination and the plight of married priests in many of my prior writings, I would like to take this opportunity to address a situation I find myself in. This is to say that I am a married person, called to ordination. Yet, our hierarchy continues to remind me that my marriage is an 'impediment' to the ordination I am called to. This raises a very deep and emotional theological/spiritual question: "If, after several years of discernment, I have come to realize that the Holy Spirit is calling me to priestly ordination in the Roman Catholic Church, can it possibly be true that our hierarchy is putting handcuffs on both the Holy Spirit and me by preventing my ordination from taking place?

For now, I am continuing my fight within Roman Catholicism on issus of reform. Whenever I get discouraged, I constantly remind myself that it is the sacraments, liturgy and tradition that keep me grounded in the Church. Yet, I continue to have a constant struggle concerning my gifts, which are suppressed by the powers-that-be. It is for this reason I occasionally get frustrated by the lay ministries I am restricted to, as meaningful as they can be. As I continue to realize I am being called to preside, preach, anoint, baptize, officiate at weddings & funerals, etc., I can't say I will always be a Roman Catholic, unless the voices demanding Vatican III and an inclusive priesthood are heard within a few years.

In relation to my struggle, I have been in dialogue with an independent bishop. He is in need of priests and has encouraged me to come on board, whereby considering my theological and ministry degrees, ordination could conceivably commence within a very short time-span. Ironically, I would need to go through four years of formation in my diocese to become a Roman Catholic deacon, despite my M.A. and M.Div. (Deacons are only required to receive an M.A.). In this context, a Roman Catholic bishop in another diocese informed me that if the celibacy rule changes, it is most likely the first married priests would come from the ranks of the diaconate. So, he encouraged me to become a deacon, whether or not this is my calling, with the expectation this could be a stepping stone to the priesthood. Yet, my position on this is simply that if one discerns carefully, the diaconate and priesthood are two separate callings. (The diaconate is primarily an ordained ministry of service and the priesthood is highly sacramental in its character.) It is to the priesthood that I am called.

At least for now, I remain a Roman Catholic working toward change. However, if the Holy Spirit leads me elsewhere, I guess I will need to be open to that possibility.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Canonization of Fulton J. Sheen

As I continue to work toward reform initiatives in the Roman Catholic Church, it may seem strange to some that I am promoting the canonization of Fulton J. Sheen, especially since he is often linked with conservative Catholic philosophies. I would nevertheless argue that he was a trailblazer in terms of bringing Catholicism out of the shadows and into the mainstream media. In this regard, it is amusing to note that a few well-known conservative members of the hierarchy tried to take Sheen off the airwaves in the 1940s and 1950s, for they felt he was drawing too much attention to himself. However, in the end, even they came to realize that he was probably a good asset toward inter-religious dialogue, especially since his popular weekly television program was viewed by persons of all faiths.

What follows is my argument for Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen's canonization:

As we analyze the movers and shakers of Catholicism during the twentieth century, I would argue that Fulton J. Sheen gave the Catholic Church a much-needed boost. He also set the stage for what was to become a major ecumenical movement. Furthermore, he helped to heal old wounds between Catholics and Jews, which was perhaps highlighted when he was invited to speak in the late 1960s during a sabbath service at a synagogue in Rochester, New York. In short, this kindly archbishop was a voice of reason and reconciliation in an age when turmoil and violence threatened to shatter our world. He also helped to counteract messages of hate on the radio from the likes of Charles Coughlin, a priest who ended up being an embarrassment to the Catholic Church.

Unlike the many commercial sites on the web that are set up to sell merchandise tied to Fulton Sheen, my objective is to simply relate a couple personal stories that will hopefully inspire others to join the effort toward canonizing the man many affectionately referred to as "Uncle Fultie", a nickname earned as a result of his beating "Uncle Miltie" (Milton Berle) in the television ratings.

I feel blessed in that I grew up in a mixed religious environment. My mother's side of the family was a mixture of Irish Catholics and Protestants, while my father's side of the family is Jewish. While there can certainly be differences in such an environment, one man seemed to draw us together during the 1950s. His name was Fulton J. Sheen. I will never forget sitting as a family, watching attentively as Sheen gave his lively talks.

This reflection is just as much about my late grandmother as it is about Fulton Sheen. Dorothy Cecelia Burke was very influential in my faith development. While I was only twelve years old when she died, she had much to do with my conversion to Catholicism late in life. Before she married my grandfather, Franklin L. Dodge, she was raised by the Furlong family of Rochester, New York. (Her parents, William Burke and Maud Grady, Irish immigrants, gave her to the Furlongs so that she could experience a good life in America.) Dorothy's step-sister, Phoebe Furlong, became a Sister of Mercy (Sister Mary Clarissa). One of my fondest memories of my grandmother concerns Fulton J. Sheen. He had a great influence on her and she loved to discuss his T.V. programs. Before she died in 1962, she told me she would be with me always. (I believe she has kept her promise.) The stories that follow illustrate this point:

I usually don't relate these stories publicly, but I feel that I would not be alive today if it hadn't been for two miraculous interventions. In the first instance, I was riding my bicycle, two weeks following the death of my grandmother. I went through a stop sign and crashed head-on into a car. Witnesses told me that I flew at least thirty feet in the air. I recall landing on what appeared to be a pocket of air. Onlookers were amazed that I was not hurt. (I recall having a sense that my grandmother was present.) The second incident occurred in 1976. I worked three jobs that year to make ends meet. On one particular evening, I was driving home late at night when I fell asleep at the steering wheel. I crashed into a utility pole, which split in two upon impact. The top half of the pole fell on top of my car, demolishing it. There was only a small space for me to crawl out of the car. I managed to do so and then walked to the nearest police station to report the accident. The police told me they had already dispatched two patrol cars to the accident scene, not aniticipating that I could have survived. (I only had a scratch on my chin.)

If I have been reluctant to tell these stories in the past, it is because I realize that many people more righteous than myself have been killed in accidents. To use another analogy, if an airplane crashes with 100 people on board and 50 die, it doesn't mean that the 50 who survived are any more righteous than those who perished. Yet, my survival defies a rational explanation. If my grandmother did indeed intervene, Fulton J. Sheen had much to do with her 'angelic' state. In a related sense, I often tell people that my conversion to Catholicism late in life was due in large part to the influence that both Fulton Sheen and my grandmother had on my life.

I regret that I did not know Fulton Sheen during his tenure as Bishop of the Diocese of Rochester, New York (1966-1969). However, I recall feeling honored by his presence. Unfortunately, he came to Rochester during a difficult period. It was at the tail end of Vatican II, culminating in sharp divisions between local Catholics. Some were determined to keep the Church the way it was prior to Vatican II reforms. For others, the reforms were not moving swifly enough. Fulton Sheen was in the uncomforable position of having to balance the opposite objectives. This was also a difficult time for St. Bernard's Seminary, for enrollment was down dramatically. To Sheen's credit, he envisioned a time when graduate-level theology courses would be available to the laity. His vision proved to be prophetic, for in 1981, St. Bernard's Seminary closed its doors and the school moved to the campus of Colgate Divinity School as St. Bernard's Institute and just recently moved to its own location in the Rochester suburb of Pittsford and has taken on the new name of St. Bernard's School of Theology and Ministry. (I received both an M.A. in Theology and an M.Div. from St. Bernard's and am currently contemplating doctoral studies.)

Aside from the frictions between conservatives and liberals, Fulton Sheen also faced a leadership crisis with local priests, who were not used to his style of leadership. In retrospect, I believe a more cordial relationship could have been worked out, but Sheen had enough of Rochester after three years. However, on the bright side, he willed many of his belongings to the Rochester Diocese, inclusive of his vestments, recordings, books, etc.

While some have identified Fulton Sheen as a conservative, others have testified to a liberal side in his approach to Catholicism. It is not my intention to enter in this debate. However, I like to think he would be sympathetic to a cause I have been promoting for the past couple years. Those who know me well are aware of the fact that I have been lobbying for an end to mandatory celibacy as a requirement for the priesthood. While Sheen may have been opposed to such a suggestion during his lifetime, he cared a great deal about the state of the priesthood. Therefore, I like to believe he would be distressed over the current shortage of clergy and the great amount of stress placed on the few priests we have. Accordingly, I will pray that Sheen, in his own way, will lend his wisdom to the celibacy debate.

Considering the huge influence Fulton Sheen had on my grandmother, Dorothy C. Burke, I can think of no greater tribute to "Uncle Fultie" than to offer this modest tribute to him.

The Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen Archives

Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, the sixth bishop of Rochester and an internationally recognized writer and preacher, designated St. Bernard's as the repository of his books, papers, and memorabilia.

The Sheen Archives now contain a complete collection of the more than 90 books published by the Archbishop (with translations of some works in eight languages), his 2500 volume personal library, several hundred audio cassettes, about 200 video recordings of his telecasts, together with other effects that form a legacy of enduring significance.

The collection is housed at the Diocesan Archives of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester. http://www.dor.org/Archives/special.htm

An Exploration of Religious Conversion

As you browse through my web-blog, it may appear on the surface that some of my writings are anti-Catholic. However, it is important to state that I love the Roman Catholic Church, despite its faults. My disagreements with the church hierarchy have nothing to do with doctrines or sacraments, but rather with outdated policies that threaten to fracture communities of faith.

I believe every writer operates out of a certain context, which is driven in part by one's religious background. The purpose of this writing is to give readers a sense of both my religious upbringing and how I came to be a Roman Catholic. It was not until I had been a Catholic for several years that I began to question some of the policies of the church. It was due in part to persisting questions that I pursued two graduate degrees at St. Bernard's School of Theology and Ministry (formerly St. Bernard's Institute). As many in academia can safely attest, the more one learns, the more questions surface. This has certainly been the case with me.

As you read through my multiple postings, I raise some questions and then challenge the Roman Catholic Church's hierarchy to consider the early communities built by Christ's disciples - all of which were inclusive in scope. Tragically, our current hierarchy is building a church that is based upon rigid rules, whereby we are becoming more 'exclusive' than inclusive.

With the above stated, I now wish to move to my religious conversion experiences. As stated, this will give readers a context for many of my writings. In order to best address this topic, I feel it is best to begin with an overview of religious conversion in general, after which I will relate my personal story.

I occasionally assist with a process in the Catholic Church known as RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults). This is a process by which persons of other faiths can receive the Sacraments of the Catholic Church after several months of preparation and study. When people enter into this process, I often tell them that as they embark upon their journeys toward full initiation into Roman Catholicism, they certainly are going through a conversion process, but this does not mean that they are abandoning their pasts. (What they bring with them is extremely important, and will always be part of who they are.) In this context, conversion becomes simply a new way of relating to God and becoming a member of a new faith community.

As described in writings at various web sites, I guess you can refer to me as a "mixed breed" in terms of my religious upbringing. Having Jewish relatives on my father's side of the family and Christian relatives on my mother's side (Catholic and Protestant), I consider the influence of both sides to be extremely important to my faith development. Although I eventually embraced Catholicism, my Jewish roots have consistently played an important part in my relationship with God and people in general.

As I look back at my childhood, I realize more and more how blessed I was to have early religious training within a Jewish community. I continue to be extremely grateful for the many friendships that were cultivated at Beth Joseph Center of Rochester, New York. Many of these friendships continue to this day. In retrospect, I am probably one of the few people on this earth who have gone through both a Bar Mitzvah and Confirmation.

Having received two theological degrees through St. Bernard's School of Theology and Ministry, it is my hope that I can further the efforts of reconciliation between Jews and Catholics. Having been part of both communities, I feel that I am perhaps better equipped than most to embark on such an effort. A painful part of the past that is obviously part of any conceivable reconciliation effort is that of the Holocaust. I have devoted many, many hours of study to this terrible period, and am often drawn back to my days in Hebrew School. While I was too young to understand the full impact of the Holocaust, I recall my teachers discussing it in the 1950s. Their eyewitness accounts came back to me when I engaged in extensive research on the Holocaust several years ago, and perhaps most graphically, when I spent some time at Yad Vashem during a recent visit to Israel.

The period of the Holocaust was brought back to me as I discovered, much to my amazement, that one of my former teachers, Cantor Max Ruben-Tilles, is one of the co-filmmakers of a documentary, entitled "The Lost Wooden Synagogues of Eastern Europe." It was Cantor Ruben (as we used to call him) who prepared me for my Bar Mitzvah. It is admittedly with a little bit of sorrow that I recall misbehaving in some of his classes. However, I hope he can appreciate that I have grown to have a deep appreciation for the hardships he endured in a number of concentration camps, and I hope to use my theological education to help the efforts toward preventing anything like the Holocaust from ever happening again. Thanks, Cantor Ruben, for being such an inspiration to me.

There is much Catholics and Jews can learn from each other. I believe the theme of reconciliation is key to such collaboration. In my case, I will never forget the friendship I developed with Rabbi Judea Miller before he died. He and I were members of a local Jewish/Christian dialogue group. After one of our meetings, Rabbi Miller expressed how he was initially dismayed at my decision to convert from Judaism to Catholicism, but then recognized that there was much I could offer as a result of having connections to both traditions. In addition, he understood that my Irish-Catholic background on my mother's side of the family had much to do with my leanings. Shortly before he died, he expressed his appreciation to me for my work on the Holocaust and my determination to work toward an end to religious persecution.

In recent months, I have been focusing on the idea of 'conversion of heart' as being the most integral part of finding new paths to God. Regardless of what faith tradition one embraces, that which takes place in the heart is what is most important. In this context, I have been researching ways in which the Catholic Church can bring more meaning to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This sacrament was initiated in the Church's recent history as a more meaningful alternative to the centuries-old tradition of Confession. I have urged Church leaders to look at the ancient Jewish customs associated with Yom Kippur. In short, Jews understand perhaps more than anyone else what is meant by reconciliation. In the days leading up to Yom Kippur, Jewish people seek reconciliation with those they have wronged. On the day of Yom Kippur, Jews seek reconciliation with God. In the Catholic tradition, the practice of individual Confession fell into disuse for a variety of reasons. When this was replaced with the Sacrament of Reconciliation, it was hoped that Catholics would be brought to a new level of consciousness concerning their relationships with God and human beings. Yet, more needs to be done with this sacrament. Therefore, I continue to urge a careful look at the Jewish practices around the celebration of Yom Kippur.

I now consider myself to be a loyal Catholic, although some of my web pages are aimed at bringing about some much-needed reforms within the Church. My conversion to Catholicism was due in large part to the influence of my Irish-Catholic grandmother and Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. Particulars of their influence can be viewed at http://www.angelfire.com/ga2/religious/sheen.html

Part of the work I have undertaken in recent years is in the area of Scripture. For many centuries, Jews have been persecuted unjustly as a result of misinterpretations of the Gospels. Recent scholarship has shed new light on Judaism during the period of Jesus. Jesus was, in fact, part of the Jewish community. Therefore, it was not his desire to start another faith. Yet, divisions within the Jewish community gave way to the beginnings of Christianity. Therefore, Jews became the foil for much of early Gospel interpretation. My position, however, which echoes much of recent scholarship, is that it was the Romans who put Jesus to death. We need to be careful when speaking about the Jews as having conspired with the Romans. Theologians such as Raymond Brown have identified as many as thirteen different sects of Judaism during 1st century Palestine. Some were followers of Jesus, while others were part of a very strict Temple sect. In general, Jesus was accepted in many Jewish circles. It is the general consensus of today's scholars that it was probably a very slim population of legalistic Jews who may have collaborated with Pontius Pilate. Yet, it is important to remember that Romans in general were equally hostile to both Jews and early Christians, especially considering the fact that the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D.

My embracing Catholicism is in no way a negation of Judaism. It is rather a way of expressing my belief in Jesus as the Son of God, which is not part of Jewish doctrine. Yet, the connections between Judaism and Christianity remain. Without Judaism, there would be no Christianity. Therefore, there is an ancestral obligation for Jews and Christians to live as brothers and sisters. Sensitivity to this issue has been expressed repeatedly by the U.S. Catholic Bishops since Vatican II, perhaps most notably in the area of Scripture interpretation, i.e., the events depicted during Holy Week. A wonderful document that all should read is "God's Mercy Endures Forever: Guidelines on the Presentation of Jews and Judaism in Catholic Preaching." It was produced in 1988 with full participation of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai Brith and the NCCB Secretariat for Catholic-Jewish Relations. In addition, Pope John Paul II has been instrumental toward improving relations between Catholics and Jews and has referred on several occasions to conditions he experienced in Nazi-occupied Poland, which drove him to work in underground movements to save Jews who would have otherwise faced annihilation.

In summation, it is my hope that this article will dispel any misinformation that relates to what is meant by religious conversion. In the final analysis, I don't believe that when we arrive at the gates of Heaven, God will judge us by the religious denominations we have chosen. Many families have been hurt when one of its members decided to 'convert' to another faith. Yet, as I have emphasized in this article, and elsewhere, conversion is simply taking another route to God. To use a simple analogy, when one travels to a new destination, the point of origin never disappears. It is part of who we are, and always will be. Shalom.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Vatican Upholds Excommunications

Needless to say, there are a few cities in which unprecedented friction is occuring amongst Catholics. For example, the situation in Lincoln, Nebraska is going to present a very interesting and tense test-case scenario. (As you know, over the weekend, the Vatican upheld the 1996 decision of Bishop Bruskewitz to excommunicate members of 'Call to Action' and members of several other reform groups in his diocese. The Vatican also indicated they will not consider another appeal.)

The latest news out of Denver is that things are at the breaking point. Complaints by priests, nuns, lay ministers and diocesan employees about conditions there suggest that their archbishop better stock up on headache medication. (He can expect to get a multitude of complaints from the faithful as their rights continue to be violated by the powers-that-be.)

Needless to say, the Boston Archdiocese is also experiencing deep divisions. (Some in the archdiocese have even indicated that things were better under the leadership of Cardinal Law than they are now. In fact, I received an e-mail this morning from an individual who indicated: "I will not allow myself to be warehoused into a parish of 5,000 people, just because my parish is closing.")

CORPUS (www.corpus.org) continues to feel that we offer a solution to some of the problems facing the church, for we represent 20,000 married priests who are ready and willing to serve in parishes. (We also represent a multitude of women and married men who are called to ordination.) Yet, in many cities, diocesan priests are forbidden to associate with married priests (professionally or socially) and there is currently no dialogue at all between our organization and bishops (through no fault of our own). Therefore, certain bishops will continue to be challenged and criticized by our organization. My personal criticisms will be articulated in the context of my daily blogs and at www.corpus.org.

Up to this point, I have not publicly suggested that Roman Catholic bishops be excommunicated from the church. However, when bishops act contrary to the inclusiveness modeled by the early disciples of the church, they should consider stepping down. Yet, the reality is that their power-hungry desires will prevent them from doing this. (I would especially urge Bishop Bruskewitz in Lincoln, Nebraska and Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis, Missouri to consider leaving the Roman Catholic Church. At the very least, the Vatican should consider excommunicating these two individuals, for they are an embarrassment.)

To give you a sense of how bad things currently are in Lincoln, Nebraska, here is the latest from the Associated Press:

Saturday, March 5, 2005
Diocese Declares Blanket Excommunication Final

By: By KEVIN O'HANLON
Associated Press Writer

Saturday, March 5, 2005

LINCOLN, Neb. -- An appeal of the threatened blanket excommunication of scores of Lincoln Catholics has been rejected by the Vatican, the Lincoln Diocese confirmed Friday.

But some canon law experts questioned whether such a blanket action was valid.

"It's against the whole spirit of Church law," said Monsignor Kenneth Lasch, a retired canon lawyer in Morristown, N.J.

Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz ordered Lincoln Catholics in March 1996 to sever their ties to 12 groups or face excommunication two months later. The bishop said the groups -- including Call to Action, several Masonic organizations, and abortion-rights groups Planned Parenthood and Catholics for a Free Choice -- contradict and imperil Catholic faith.

The order was put on hold while it was appealed.

Under excommunication, Catholics cannot receive Holy Communion. They cannot be married or buried in the church. Excommunicated Catholics may be forgiven through the sacrament of confession or may be absolved in their dying hour by a priest.

The Vatican notified Bruskewitz "some time ago" that the appeal was rejected, said Rev. Mark Huber, a spokesman for the diocese.

He declined to say why the decision had not been made public and deferred questions to Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, head of the Congregation of Bishops in Rome.

Re did not immediately respond to a fax seeking comment sent to the Vatican on Friday.

Huber said the appeal was rejected because it challenged a church law -- specifically, legislation from the 1996 Synod of the Diocese of Lincoln -- which prohibited membership in the organizations.

"They can't appeal a particular law," he said. "They can appeal a judicial sentence or an administrative decree. Excommunication is part of the law."

Lasch, who said he was not aware of a mass excommunication ever being done in the United States, said he was dubious of what he called Bruskewitz's "generic warning" of excommunication.

Lasch said that while Bruskewitz "has the authority to do what he did, the spirit of Church law has not been observed by him.

"It's only under the most extreme circumstances that such laws should be promulgated," he said. "Bishops ... should avoid using these extreme measures except in the most dire of circumstances. It has to be proven that membership" in one of the groups "is in fact resulting in great scandal to the faithful of the diocese.

"I really think it's a stretch to impose such a penalty," he said. "It borders on scare tactics."

Friday, March 04, 2005

My Support of the Ordination of Women

On February 22, 2003, Denise Donato was ordained a Catholic priest by the Spiritus Christi community of Rochester, New York and Bishop Peter Hickman of the ECC (Ecumenical Catholic Communion). As a diocesan Roman Catholic, I was greatly honored to receive an invitation for participation in this event, whereby I was in the procession and engaged in the symbolic laying-on-of-hands.

I realized that by agreeing to participate in this ordination, I would perhaps be placing a wedge between the official Roman Catholic Church and the Spiritus Christi community. Yet, upon careful prayer and reflection, I felt, and still feel, that my participation was part of the inclusivity that was modeled by the disciples of the first century.

My decision to represent CORPUS (www.corpus.org) at Denise's ordination was based upon my commitment to the ideal of an inclusive priesthood. Our organization has come to symbolize more than the repatriation of married priests. While this is certainly one of our primary goals, we have also come to realize that we can't begin to talk about an inclusive priesthood, unless the ordination of women and the ordination of married men become options. In this context, I was thrilled to see that in a recent CORPUS survey, 100% of respondees answered YES to the ordination of women.

Critics (mostly bishops) were quick to state that the February 22, 2003 event was a schismatic act and that the Roman Catholic Church does not recognize the ordination of women. It will be the purpose of this article to support the argument that Denise Donato's ordination was neither radical or heretical. It is rather in keeping with the ministerial inclusiveness demonstrated during the first century of our church.

To begin, it should be stated that as in the case of men, it is my hope that women who aspire to become priests go through a long period of discernment and study. I can testify to the fact that Denise Donato did both. She was one of my classmates at St. Bernard's School of Theology and Ministry (formerly St. Bernard's Institute) and she was a remarkable student. In addition, Denise's work at Spiritus Christi has been exemplary. She has therefore demonstrated over the past two years that she is an outstanding priest.

Returning to the critics of the ordination of women, I would suggest to them that they consider a careful reflection on the Letters of Paul. There are clear indications from Paul that women were integral to the early development of the apostolic church. We can also find several references to 'deaconesses' in the early church. The ordained priesthood was a rather late development in comparison. So, if we use the "chicken and egg" analogy, and ask who came first - the deaconess or the priest - the answer is th deaconess. If we furthermore consider ordained priesthood in terms of qualifications, the earliest references to such qualities were evident in women who were committed not only to ministries of service, but in women who presided in early eucharistic gatherings in what were known as 'house churches.'

Whenever I am challenged concerning my support of women priests, I like to remind 'doubting Thomases' that Jesus could have chosen anyone to bring news of the Resurrection. The fact that he chose a woman is highly significant. This leads me to some comments I feel I need to make in reference to Mary Magdalene.

Tragically, there are still some insistent upon labeling Mary Magdalene as a sinner. It can be rightly argued that her sinful reputation was born out of a desire to repress any historical evidence of female leadership in the early church. We also know from contemporary biblical scholarship that Mary Magdalene was not the woman caught in adultery in Luke's Gospel, which was the belief for many centuries. I am rather inclined to believe, based on recent research by notable scholars, that Mary Magdalene was a teacher, preacher, and community leader. These days we would call someone with such attributes a priest or pastor. Since the formal priesthood did not come into existence for several decades after Mary's death (there were initially bishops, deacons and deaconesses), we can at least recognize her for the pivotal role she played in her community.

I recall an argument I had with a fundamentalist around two years ago at an on-line forum. He was steadfast in his belief that only the twelve Apostles sat with Jesus at the table, and that women were excluded for a reason. It seemed that whatever arguments I presented to the contrary, I only managed to raise his ire. In brief, I take the position that the premise that Jesus chose only twelve men as Apostles needs to be examined in light of first century literary and historical criticism (two of the many ways of interpreting Scripture). Yes, there were twelve male disciples. Yet, it is also the position (a position I support) of many biblical scholars that there were multitudes of women who both witnessed and ministered in Jesus' name. (These were the unnamed women who by design were left out of early literary accounts, but who are mentioned in extrabiblical texts.)

There are in fact 39 Gospels. The fact that there are four in our canon does not mean the other 35 should be discounted. The selection of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John was based on their similar narrative structure. Biblical scholars are now carefully studying the others on the basis of insights offered concerning first century life, and particularly the role of women. The Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Mary are examples of texts that could lead to new discoveries.

As I participated in Denise Donato's ordination in 2003, a few members of the Roman Catholic community were not pleased. I would simply ask these individuals to spend as much time as I have with documents referencing the first century church. Denise is amongst the multitudes of women who have served, and who continue to faithfully serve Christ. Paul recognized how valuable women of his generation were, i.e., Lydia, Evodia, Syntyche, Phoebe (deaconess) & Prisca. (It is interesting to note that when Paul addresses Prisca and her husband Acquila, he addresses Prisca first, suggesting she may indeed have had a primary role in her community.)

In the final analysis, I think we need to be open to the will of the Holy Spirit. I am not pretending to know what this will is. Yet, I believe the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church is making a huge mistake if it continues to stifle the gifts of women who are called to preside at the eucharistic table.

CONCERNING POSSIBLE CHURCH SCHISMS

The big news out of the Anglican community during the past two weeks has been the possibility of a schism, due in part to divisions surrounding the issue of ordination of female bishops. The same type of friction existed when Anglicans and Episcopalians began ordaining women as priests several years ago.

For the record, I am very pleased that progressive members within the Anglican/Episcopalian communities are open to the ordination of women. They have certainly moved a greater distance than Roman Catholics in this regard. (Catholics are still locked in the Middle Ages when it comes to womens' issues.)

I am beginning to feel it would not be a bad thing for the Church of England to split into two factions - one that supports the ordination of women and one that does not. In this manner, members could pick and choose which falls within in their theological/ecclesial beliefs.

I was struck by the fact that traditionalists within the Anglican church expressed fear that ordaining women as bishops could damage their relationship with the Roman Catholic Church. In this regard, there are times when I think it might be healthy for the Catholic Church to consider splitting into two factions - one that is inclusive and one that is protective of the status quo. (My feeling is that 75% of Catholics would join the progressive wing and 25% would remain in the traditional wing. In such a scenario, parishes could be identified as being either 'traditional' or 'progressive' and Catholics could choose accordingly. We have a similar construction within the Lutheran Church; traditionalists generally join the Missouri Synod Lutherans, and progressives often link with Evangelical Lutherans.)

Just as we are beginning to see some traditional Anglicans/Episcopalians move in the direction of the Roman Catholic Church, we are also beginning to see some progressive Roman Catholics move in the direction of inclusive parishes within the Anglican/Episcopalian communion. So, the next twenty or thirty years should produce some very interesting developments in terms of church structure.

Jesus was consistently inclusive in the course of his ministries. Our church leaders should follow his example, as opposed to their blind obedience to papal decrees.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

USCCB: Catholics Vote for Clint's Movie

As a follow-up to my post of yesterday, I was delighted to learn that Catholics who took part in a USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) survey, overwhelmingly voted for Clint Eastwood's movie. (The USCCB asked Catholics if they were able to vote in the Oscar race, how would they vote?) Catholic respondees, by an overwhelming majority, chose 'Million Dollar Baby' as best picture, Clint Eastwood as best actor, Hilary Swank as best actress, Morgan Freeman as best supporting actor and Clint Eastwood as best director. (This is in stark contrast to bishops who have labeled the film as "morally offensive." In my estimation, it is the bishops who are morally offensive.)

You may view the complete results of the USCCB survey at the following link:

http://www.usccb.org/movies/oscarvote2005.htm

Peace,
Ray

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

CHAPUT & GROSSWIRTH REVIEW EASTWOOD FILM

What follows are two reviews of the film 'Million Dollar Baby.' The first review is by Archbishop Chaput; the second review is mine. While Archbishop Chaput was correct in identifying the great acting in the film, he was incorrect for what he refers to as bad moral reasoning on the part of Clint Eastwood. My review therefore recognizes 'Million Dollar Baby' as a true masterpiece. Here are the two contrasting reviews:

'Million Dollar Baby': Great boxing, bad moral reasoning
by Charles J. Chaput
Archbishop of Denver

The Epistle for this past Sunday (2 Tim 1:8b-10), in leading us more deeply into Lent, urged us to "bear (our) share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God."
It called on us to put our trust in "our savior Christ Jesus, who destroyed death and brought life and immortality . . . "

I remembered these words over the past few days as I thought about the controversy over Clint Eastwood's film, "Million Dollar Baby." Advocates for the disabled have criticized the movie for being pro-euthanasia. Supporters have dismissed critics as right wing "culture cops." One columnist even drew parallels between Clint Eastwood, who directed and stars in the film, and William Shakespeare.

That kind of praise is overstated by quite a stretch. But there's no doubt the film is powerful, and in many ways, attractive and compelling. Briefly, Eastwood plays a washed up gym owner and ex-boxing coach, tortured by some wound he inflicted on his estranged family in the past. Irish and Catholic, he attends daily Mass and argues with his priest-friend about doctrines he doesn't understand. He's driven to seek something in Church, but unwilling to find it.

Into his gym one day walks a young woman - played wonderfully by Hilary Swank - who wants to be a boxer to escape her "white trash" background. Little by little she wears his resistance down. He coaches her. They become friends. She's a natural fighter. She takes the place of the daughter who rejected him. And then, on the threshold of winning a championship, a dirty punch from an unethical opponent turns her into a paralytic dependent on a respirator.

This is where the story takes the wrong turn. She asks him to help her die. He resists and seeks the counsel of his priest friend, who warns him - quite articulately - not to do it. He struggles with his conscience. Finally he slips into her room one night, detaches her respirator and injects her with adrenaline, killing her instantly. Then he disappears. As the film concludes, it's unclear whether the Eastwood character has any peace with what he's done.

"Million Dollar Baby" is a great film about boxing and a bad film about moral reasoning. That's why people have reacted to it so sharply. If Eastwood had done a poor job of filmmaking, nobody would care. Instead the characters in "Million Dollar Baby" are appealing, complex and involving, and the key moral choice of the movie isn't made to seem easy - it's just wrong; very gravely wrong.

It's hard to believe that Eastwood intended this film as "pro-euthanasia propaganda." But the effect may be the same. He could have taken the final act of his story in a different, more humane and ultimately redemptive direction. Instead, by equating murder and mercy, he locks his characters into hopelessness. He makes a profoundly evil act seem noble. The tragedy in this otherwise arresting movie is what it could have been - and isn't.

'MILLION DOLLAR BABY' A GREAT FILM
by Ray Grosswirth, National Secretary of CORPUS

I want to thank Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver for recognizing a wonderful movie. At the very least, the archbishop brought out the wonderful acting and relationships depicted in the film, which in my estimation, is amongst the finest work produced and directed by Clint Eastwood.

I am admittedly writing this review with somewhat of a bias. In short, I am a huge Clint Eastwood fan! From his very early days in the acting profession, when he was one of the regulars in the television western 'Rawhide,' I saw something in Mr. Eastwood that led me to believe he would find fame an fortune in motion pictures. I was certainly right in my predictions, for Eastwood has come a long way in his distinguished career, beginning with what has been referred to as 'spaghetti westerns' and progressing through a series of 'Dirty Harry' films and a vast array of westerns, comedies, love stories and complex dramas.

I like to feel that I have become somewhat of an authority on the films of Clint Eastwood, for I can take any of his movies and carefully outline the plots, characters and Clint's production intentions. Especially during his later years, Mr. Eastwood has fashioned what can best be described as brilliant story-telling. Some of these stories have indeed been complex, as is the case with 'Million Dollar Baby.'

Clint Eastwood's movies of the last few years emphasize the point that life presents us with very difficult choices. In a likewise fashion, there is often a very fine line between good and evil. This became very clear in Mr. Eastwood's masterpiece 'Unforgiven.' Some have labeled this film as 'anti-western' in that there is no clear distinction between the bad guys and good guys. Such complexities also were evident in last year's brilliant movie (also directed by Clint) 'Mystic River.'

Clint Eastwood has stated over and over during the past few weeks that he was not trying to make a moral or political statement with 'Million Dollar Baby.' Perhaps the best way to watch this film is to envision it as a three-act play. In the first act, we are introduced to the characters. In the second act, the plot moves forward, whereby we think the climax will be reached. However, we are suddenly surprised by a third act, whereby Hilary Swank's character finds herself paralyzed and on a respirator. (One needs to see the film to understand how this comes about.)

Clint Eastwood is not trying to make a statement about euthanasia with 'Million Dollar Baby.' First and foremost, he was being loyal to the story's author. Secondly, via his brilliant direction and acting, he gets us to understand that we can't predict how we will respond in certain situations, unless we are actually in those situations.

I simply urge people to see 'Million Dollar Baby.' I guarantee that it is a film that will move you to tears. Above everything else, the story is about relationships and difficult choices some of us are faced with. I thank Clint Eastwood for this wonderful masterpiece.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

CRITIQUE OF MANDATORY CELIBACY

Having spent a great deal of time in front of my television set in recent weeks, I have found there is a great deal of interest amongst the media concerning our current crisis in the Roman Catholic Church. While pedophilia continues to dominate the headlines, the overriding concern amongst journalists seems to be the veil of secrecy that shrouds the hierarchy. It is no coincidence that that topic of celibacy has come into play in conjunction with the current crisis, whereby the media is asking a very basic question: Why does the Roman Catholic Church continue to enforce mandatory celibacy for priests? I have been asking this question for many years, and have not received a satisfactory answer from the Church hierarchy.

I thought I would take this opportunity to examine statements routinely given by our Magisterium in their attempt to silence the celibacy debate. Each statement will be followed by my own commentary.

1.) The Vatican has stated that Christ was celibate. My response is in the form of a question: Do we know this as fact? In reality, we know very little about Christ's sexuality. What we do know is that he traveled and shared meals with male and female companions. In addition, he lived in a Jewish environment that required marriage of males by the age of 20, especially amongst those who aspired toward the title of 'rabbi.' (Jesus is referred to as 'rabbi' quite frequently in the Gospel tradition. Therefore, we can't discount the possibility of his being married.)

2.) The Vatican has stated that Paul encouraged celibacy. My response is that the Church tends to take Scripture out of its proper context in defense of mandatory celibacy. Careful study of Paul's Letters reveals to us that during the time of his writing, believers were in anticipation of the Second Coming during their lifetimes. Therefore, Paul was simply instructing the faithful not to concern themselves with concerns of this world (including marriage), for it was more important to prepare themselves spiritually for the world to come. Paul was certainly not setting a blueprint for a celibate priesthood, for in actuality, the priesthood in its formal sense was not to come about during his lifetime. Initially, the hierarchy consisted of bishops, deacons and deaconesses. (The priesthood would come later.)

3.) The Vatican repeatedly tells us that celibacy is a gift to the Church. My response is simply that celibacy is indeed a gift for those who are called to this way of life. Yet, not all who are called to the priesthood are called to a life of celibacy. In this regard, the Magisterium needs to draw distinctions between celibacy and the priesthood. One does not need to be called to both as pre-conditions for ordination. Yet, our hierarchy would like for us to believe a call to the priesthood and a life of celibacy are one in the same.

4.) The Vatican insists that only men can be priests, utilizing the defense the Christ was male. The Church also continues to teach that all of Christ's disciples were male. My response is that Christ never dictated that only men could be his disciples. We need to keep in mind that during the period the Gospels were written, it would have been unfashionable to mention women disciples. However, we do get a sense that women shared a very special place in the life of Jesus. In addition, from what little information we have concerning the earliest house churches, women were very instrumental in offering not only hospitality, but preparing and offering eucharistic meals as well. Contemporary scholarship has also given us new insights concerning the life and role of Mary Magdalene. While the medieval Church tried to cover up her importance by labeling her as a sinner, we now have sufficient evidence that she was indeed the 'disciple to the disciples.' After all, Jesus commissioned her to share the good news of the Resurrection with the male disciples.

5.) The Vatican would like for us to believe that only celibate priests have the time that is necessary to service the needs of the faithful. My response is that celibate priests are being stretched to the limit. By inviting women and married men to the ranks of the priesthood, there would be a sufficient number of ordained persons to assume sacramental responsibilities, whereby there would be safeguards against burnout scenarios.

6.) At the practical level, concerns have been raised over the cost factor, whereby many feel the Church could not support married priests and their families. My recommendation is simply to introduce married priests gradually. Just as Paul worked as a tent-maker to support his ministry, many married priests or those like myself who feel called to ordination, have other sources of income. Therefore, perhaps the hierarchy would consider using 'Mass Priests' in a similar way they were used during World War II. By allowing married priests to celebrate weekend Masses, thus relieving celibate priests of the responsiblity of multiple liturgies, parish communities would gradually become accustomed to seeing married clergy presiding at the Eucharistic table. As the acceptance level grows, the implementation of full-time married priests could become a possibility. Concerning the cost factor, Protestant churches are able to support priests and their families; so, why can't Catholic communities?

I offer the above challenges to the Vatican, for thus far, our hierarchy has not offered credible reasons for sustaining mandatory celibacy. We deserve a better reponse from our pontiff than his telling us that celibacy is a "closed issue.

CLERICAL DISPENSATION: FAVOR OR PUNISHMENT?

In recent television interviews, I have heard members of the hierarchy refer to priestly dispensation as a "favor" granted by the Church to priests who wish to marry. Excuse me, bishops and cardinals, but I hardly see anything in a dispensation letter that amounts to anything close to a favor. What I do see, however, is what amounts to a list of punishments.

It is no wonder that many priests choose not to apply for the laicized state when marriage is desired. Instead, they have found ways to continue as married priests, but unfortunately are not allowed to continue in this capacity within Roman Catholic diocesan parishes.

I have never been a priest, but pray for ordination every day. As discussed in many of my writings, I spent several years in discernment prior to my marriage, whereby those responsible for formation in my diocese felt I would be a good candidate for the seminary. Although I eventually married, I did earn an M.A. in Theology and an M.Div and my call to priesthood continues. While I have found many meaningful lay ministries in which I can utilize my gifts, it is the sacramental responsibilities of the priesthood to which I am called. This realization allows me to sympathize with dispensed priests who are no longer allowed to be part of the ordained ministry in the Roman Catholic Church they were called to, for the simple reason they fell in love and entered into sacramental unions.

Since I have never been a priest, I had not seen a dispensation letter until recently. A married priest was very kind in that he allowed me to have a copy of his. The legalistic language in the first few paragraphs is fair enough. However, it wasn't long before I came across the 'punishments.' I spent several days reflecting on these punishments and continue to be angered over a disgusting paradox: Pedophiles have been routinely shuffled from parish to parish, while at the same time, GOOD priests who entered into marriage were removed from their ministries, and in many cases, were asked to move from their communities. Additionally, dispensation letters prohibit these good people from teaching in Catholic institutions. Something is very wrong here!

My heart goes out to priests who applied for dispensation and received the list of punishments I referred to. I also support married priests who chose not to apply for the laicized state, and instead found ways to serve in either independent parishes or found ways to provide baptisms, weddings and funerals in a manner independent of local dioceses.

For those who have never seen a dispensation letter, allow me to quote a few paragraphs, inclusive of a personal commentary following each paragraph:

1.) "A priest who has been dispensed by this process itself loses the rights proper to the clerical state, and the honours and ecclesiastical offices; he is no longer bound by other duties connected with the clerical state."

WHILE THIS MAY GOOD NEWS TO SOMEONE WHO TRULY WISHES TO BE RELIEVED OF THE CLERICAL STATE, THIS IS A VERY PUNISHING STATEMENT TO SOMEONE WHO DESIRES BOTH THE PRIESTHOOD AND MARRIAGE.

2.) "He remains excluded from the exercise of the sacred ministry, with the exception of those matters in Canons, and therefore cannot give a homily. Moreover he cannot perform the extraordinary ministry of distributing holy communion nor can he undertake a leading office in the pastoral sphere."

NOTICE THE EMPHASIS ON THE WORD 'CANNOT.' IT IS THE HIERARCHY'S WAY OF SAYING: "NOW THAT YOU HAVE BEEN DISPENSED, HERE IS WHAT YOU 'CANNOT' DO.

3.) "Essentially a priest dispensed from priestly celibacy, and more so a priest who has married, ought to keep away from places where his previous state is known."

ISN'T THIS A VARIATION OF A CLASSIC WESTERN MOVIE WHEREBY THE SHERIFF TELLS A PERCEIVED SCANDALOUS PERSON TO "GET OUT OF DODGE?" IN THE CASE OF DISPENSATION, HOWEVER, ALL A 'GOOD' PRIEST IS GUILTY OF IS ENTERING INTO MARRIAGE. (THIS IS HARDLY A SCANDAL!)

Earlier, I mentioned Catholic academic institutions. It is indeed a shame that we are losing some brilliant professors for the simple reason that the Vatican feels it would be "scandalous" for students to be taught by priests who entered into marriage.

In summation, I have concluded that the application process for priests seeking the laicized state is indeed demeaning. Therefore, it is no wonder that many choose to avoid this process. There is a simple solution: AN INCLUSIVE PRIESTHOOD!!!