Dear Blog Visitors:
An inspiring piece from the Chicago Tribune caught my attention this morning. It is headlined, 'Excommunicate Me, Please.'
When I was ordained a married priest in 2006, there were two responses from members of the Roman Catholic hierarchy. One response was that because of my actions, I excommunited myself. The other response was the my ordination was valid, but illicit. The fact remains that I never received a formal excommunication letter from the Vatican. Does this mean I am in limbo? However, like many married priests around the world, I remain in active ministry, officiating at weddings, baptisms and funerals (in my case, with legal recognized certification from the Federation of Christian Ministries).
In recent years, we have seen many women ordained as priests. Yet, to the best of my knowledge, none of them have received a formal excommunication letter from the Vatican. As in the case of myself, these women have simply been told that by their actions, they have excommunicated themselves from the Roman Catholic Church.
Someone recently asked me if the Vatican sends excommunication letters anymore. The simple answer is that they do, but only when it is determined that individual actions are serious enough to merit such correspondence.
It is interesting to note that when a Roman Catholic priest is found guilty of the crime of pedophilia, he is not excommunicated. However, when married men are ordained or when women are ordained, the official line is that they "excommunicated themselves" by their actions. Go figure!
The bottom line is that the Roman Catholic Church can't afford to excommunicate multitudes of people. As it is, the church is in dire straits financially. Parishes worldwide are closing, and collections are off due to a stagnant economy. Correspondingly, papal trips have been curtailed, due in part to shrinking contributions to the Holy See. So, it is reasonable to assume that the Roman Catholic Church is in no position to kick members out for such matters as seeking ordination via alternative means.
I will close this posting with the piece I referenced from the Chicago Tribune, entitled 'Excommunicate Me, Please.'
Peace to all,
Excommunicate me, please
By Sheila O'Brien
Would someone in Rome formally excommunicate me, please? I want to be excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Church because walking away will break my heart.
My grandparents left Ireland with nothing but their vibrant faith. They and my parents brought my siblings and me to a baptismal font and promised to guide us to Christ. And, they did that by word and deed. They taught us to love the Gospel and challenged us to live that Gospel at all costs. I love the Mass, Catholic social teaching, the scores of nuns who built the church around the world, the dedicated priests and people who love God with all their hearts and bring that love to the world. It is my life, the center of every experience, the filter for reality.
But, the headlines continue — more pedophilia, more stonewalling by the bishops, more "norms" from Rome protecting perpetrators. Now, it is a "crime" of the church to attempt to ordain people like Mother Teresa or St. Teresa of Avila — women. And, the hierarchy, who have arguably hidden crimes and criminals, who will not open the books so we can see where our money has gone and who always claim the moral high ground, have grouped ordaining women with pedophilia.
Our heads swirl. How can we stay in a church whose leaders protect pedophiles? Yet, how can we leave and relinquish our church to those very leaders?
We have a financial remedy — write "one time bequest" on your parish contribution check and all the money will stay in your parish; none will go downtown. Do it. That will stop the spigot of money to the hierarchy and may get their attention. But, it doesn't salve our consciences about how to live the Gospel in an institution off the rails.
We watch the bishops ignore recommendations from fellow Catholics who served on an abuse panel. We have waited for the civil authorities to empanel grand juries and bring indictments, but that has not happened. And, our long wait for a bishop or priest of courage, of conscience, to speak up and say "enough" has proven fruitless. The priests are scared of retribution from the bishops; they tell us so.
So, each person must decide: Stay and fight (cutting off the money but with little hope for change) or leave. Both options are spiritually and emotionally exhausting.
That's why, silly as it sounds, formal excommunication by the hierarchy would be a welcome relief. If they would just make the decision for me, give me a piece of paper that says, "you're out," it would free my conscience of all of this. Then someday, when I see the faces of my grandparents, I can assure them that I fought the good fight, finished the race and kept the faith that they gave me at that baptismal font long ago.
I just wish they were here to tell me what that means right now.
Come Holy Spirit.
Sheila O'Brien is a wife, mother, daughter, sister, a product of 22 years of Catholic education and active in her parish. She is a justice of the Illinois Appellate Court, Chicago.