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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.

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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 and I have a Facebook page.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Why Vatican II Still Intrigues Us

Dear Blog Visitors:

Thinking you might like to see my article from the July/August 2007 edition of 'CORPUS Reports,' I have included it for you below. It is a reflection on Vatican II, and it features the Council's missed opportunities. (While Pope John XXIII was a true visionary, Benedict XVI is attempting to stifle reform initiatives. In my article, I tried to present John XXIII as a role model for future pontiffs.)

By Ray Grosswirth, CORPUS Media Liaison

More than forty years have elapsed since the close of Vatican II. However, those of us who continue working toward church reform can’t seem to escape memories of the events that captivated the world’s attention and imagination from 1962 through 1966. It is not as if we are longing for a time machine to transport us back to the Council. It is rather our fond obsession with the multitude of missed opportunities that won’t allow us to accept the current state of affairs in the Roman Catholic Church.

The missed opportunities of Vatican II are too numerous to mention. Amongst some of the more notable are: a.) the failure of Vatican II to encourage open discussion on the timely issue of clerical celibacy; b.) the failure of Vatican II to promote the value of the multi-faceted gifts women bring to the table; 3.) the failure of Vatican II to recognize the fact that sexual morality can’t be legislated; 4.) the failure of Vatican II to recognize the dangers associated with the abuse of power.

CORPUS counts amongst its membership many priests who were canonically active during the period of the Second Vatican Council. It was indeed a time when it appeared to onlookers that the Holy Spirit had descended upon John XXIII - a pontiff truly deserving of the keys to the Kingdom.

John XXIII had a magnificent vision of what the Roman Catholic Church was capable of becoming in the future. Priests therefore had every reason to hope that the church law of clerical celibacy would change. Optimism was definitely in the air for those who felt it was time for physical and spiritual renovations, and John XXIII was the anointed decorator. However, as fate would have it, John XXIII, although in his eighties, died much too early, leaving the Council in the hands of many who would manipulate, in a negative way, the good intentions of the deceased pontiff.

Historians have repeatedly stated that John XXIII seemed to have been an unlikely candidate for the papacy, considering both his advanced age and his being relatively unknown to much of the world’s population. However, it is also important to note that biblical scholars are fond of stating that Jesus appeared to be an unlikely candidate for the title of Messiah. He was a carpenter’s son of simple means and was not interested in the politics of power. Likewise, Jesus had no interest in the financial security that was a common fringe benefit for those in leadership positions. To the contrary, his mission, as in the case of John XXIII, was doing the will of God.

I truly believe that John XXIII was divinely chosen as our pontiff, for it appears that God saw in him saintly attributes that would serve the church well. I further believe that this divine mission is the reason we continue to be transfixed by the pope who was inspired to convene Vatican II.

If Vatican II still beckons to us, it is because the inclusive vision set forth by John XXIII was hijacked by Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Perhaps John Paul I would have honored the legacy of John XXIII, but his papacy, like that of John XXIII, was cut short. In the case of John Paul I, it was a 30-day papacy. (For those who subscribe to a popular conspiracy theory, rumors persist that John Paul I was poisoned. It was common knowledge that he had intended to expose corruption within the Vatican Bank, and conservatives feared that he would return to the intended reforms of John XXIII. So, perhaps the conspiracy theory has at least an element of truth.)

As we analyze Vatican II, our church would be more inclusive today, if the initiatives of John XXIII had been followed. This is certainly not to say that the Second Vatican Council was a total failure. There were admittedly some good documents produced by the Vatican II proceedings. One of the more positive writings was Gaudium et Spes (The Church in the Modern World). Some wonderful statements on ecumenism also came out of the Council. However, we must not forget that John XXIII saw Vatican II as an opportunity to open the Vatican’s windows – the purpose being to let in some fresh air. Guess what? The air has grown stale again, and the Catholic population is facing what amounts to a Eucharistic famine.

Pope Benedict XVI has been in office for two years. While he has not been the tyrant many expected, he has nevertheless stifled good-intentioned efforts at reform. For example, shortly following the consecration of four archbishops by married Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo in September of 2006, Benedict called a hasty meeting on the topic of clerical celibacy. (Expectations were high that perhaps optional celibacy would become a possibility.) However, the meeting only lasted two hours, after which a press release announced that mandatory celibacy was here to stay.

Having been part of the CORPUS Board and staff the past few years, I have been engaged in many conversations concerning the future of our organization. I personally feel that CORPUS continues to be a vital voice in the push for church reform. In the spirit of Vatican II and John XXIII, the church can only survive if fresh air is allowed to enter the windows. So, it is only natural that the Community of John XXIII has evolved as a relatively new initiative of a few members of CORPUS. Be sure to visit our website ( and click onto the Community of John XXIII to get updated information.

In conclusion, I pray that the current Vatican leadership will come to recognize that John XXIII was perhaps the greatest pope in modern history. If he had lived long enough to guide the Second Vatican Council to its conclusion, I think we would have a much better church today. Let us pray for more compassion and inclusivity from Benedict XVI. Perhaps he should be praying to John XXIII for guidance.

My Thanks to Phyllis Zagano

Dear Blog Visitors:

Due to my busy secular job, I have been away from my blog for a couple months. However, I read a wonderful commentary today by Phyllis Zagano that I want to share with you. (Phyllis is one of our country's leading academics/theologians, who has advocated for constructive change in the Roman Catholic Church.)

I also want to take this opportunity to thank VOTF (Voice of the Faithful) for making a decision to advocate for optional celibacy, which would allow for the implementation of married priests. As Phyllis Zagano brilliantly articulates in her commentary, the idea of married priests is not a new innovation, but rather part of the church's tradition.

While celibacy is not the primary cause of sexual abuse, it has indeed been a contributing factor. So, I am grateful that Voice of the Faithful has lent its courageous voice to this important issue.

I continue to be grateful to Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo for ordaining me as a married priest last December. I officiated at my first wedding a few weeks ago, and expect to officiate at a few more this year.

Here is the commentary by Phyllis Zagano:


Does celibacy still serve Catholicism?

By Phyllis Zagano Religion News ServiceSalt Lake Tribune

Article Last Updated:07/06/2007 08:54:57 PM MDT

Catholic priest pederasty may be on the wane, but it has not stopped. Voice of the Faithful, the Catholic lay group formed in response to the crisis, thinks celibacy is part of the problem. It's gearing up to ask the Vatican to restore an ancient church tradition: married priests.

Church tradition? Well, yes. Married men can be ordained - bear with me for a moment - as Catholic priests and as deacons. Laws have overlaid the tradition, but the early church's determination stands: Married men can be ordained, while ordained men cannot get married. Bishops must be unmarried, but widowers qualify.

The largest cadre of married Catholic priests serve in one of the 22 Eastern Catholic Churches. The next largest group comprises former Protestant and Anglican ministers who have converted - in some cases with their entire parishes - to Catholicism. Since the 1950s, the Vatican has approved priestly ordination for convert ministers, a process regularized by Pope John Paul II for members of the Anglican Communion. There are about 75 former Episcopal - now Catholic - married priests in the United States; more than 600 Anglican priests (about 150 married) have converted in Great Britain. There are even a few married convert priests in Spain.

Catholicism has plenty of good experience with happily married priests, and plenty of bad experience with unhappily celibate priests. Voice of the Faithful is not calling for an end to celibacy, just for a closer look at things.

VOTF President Mary Pat Fox says research supports the common-sense understanding that celibacy "plays a role in the abuse crisis." Fox told The New York Times that celibacy does not cause pederasty, but "it plays a role in creating this culture of secrecy that then caused the bishops to handle the crisis the way they did." The system closes ranks, and celibacy remains the be-all and end-all of priesthood.

Don't get me wrong. Celibacy is fine - for those who are called to it. But married priests are also part of the Catholic tradition.

The U.S. bishops' spokeswoman, Sister Mary Ann Walsh, argues the celibate system will not change: "Don't waste the bishops' time on it - they can't do anything about it. You might as well have a great discussion on what goes on on Mars."

Hello? Let's review. The Catholic Church can ordain married men. Most Eastern Catholic Churches ordain married men as deacons and priests. The Western (Roman) Catholic Church ordains married men as deacons and, with special Vatican permission, as priests. There remains a huge problem with priest pederasty in the U.S., fed by a culture of secrecy and supported by ordained celibate men who just don't get it.

Sometimes some of them really don't get it.

At a public session of the Catholic Theological Society of America in Los Angeles in June, Catholic priest-writer Donald Cozzens argued that zero tolerance for priestly sexual offenses should not apply to an otherwise good priest who was credibly accused of, say, once being a flasher, or of making one pornographic telephone call. I questioned him, and he restated his belief that once-a-flasher should not disqualify a Catholic priest forever.

That is just plain nuts. Would a one-time flasher physician keep his license? How about a teacher? Who else - besides a priest - gets a free pass for one pornographic phone call?

I know there are married oddballs out there, and there have been some sad situations with the married priests we have today. But the predominantly celibate clerical culture is not yet cleansed of concepts that are both silly and dangerous. What father of children would say a flasher can be a priest? What priest's wife would let her husband say it?

Walsh says talking to bishops about celibacy is the same as talking to bishops about life on Mars. I think she may be right. The celibate clerical culture remains in trouble. There are still some clerics out there who are not living on this planet.

* PHYLLIS ZAGANO is senior research associate-in-residence at Hofstra University and author of several books in Catholic studies.