I feel sorry for professed Christians who support this President.
They have a profound and fundamental spiritual problem: their God is too small.
They passionately worship a deity made in their own image: white, American, Republican, male—and perpetually terrified of just about everything: Muslims, immigrants, gay children, Special Counsel reports, mandalas, Harry Potter, Starbuck holiday cups, yoga, wind turbines, Science—everything.
Their God is so laughably minuscule, so fully neutered of power, so completely devoid of functioning vertebrae that “He” cannot protect them from the encroaching monsters they are certain lurk around every corner to overwhelm them.
MAGA Christians sure put up a brave face, I’ll give them that. They shower this God with effusive praise on Sunday mornings, they sing with reckless abandon in church services about Him, they brazenly pump out their chests on social media regarding His infinite wisdom, they defiantly declare this God’s staggering might at every opportunity—but their lives tell the truth: They believe He is impotent and scared and ineffectual. You can tell this because they insist on doing all the things that a God-sized God would simply do as part of the gig.
They need to be armed to the teeth at all times because they don’t really believe God will come through to defend them in a pinch—and will always be outgunned.
They want to change gay couples and transgender teenagers themselves, because they don’t trust God to work within people as He desires. (Apparently God keeps making LGBTQ people, which really pisses them off.)
They want to stockpile and horde wealth, health insurance, and opportunity—because this is a zero sum game; because the God they claim turned water into wine, and fed thousands with a few fish and some leftover bread—can’t make enough for everyone.
They are obsessed with building a wall and defending a border and turning way refugees—because their God isn’t generous or smart or creative enough to help them figure out how to welcome and care for everyone who requires it.
They want no other religious traditions to have a voice, because their insecure and terribly tiny God is mortally threatened by such things.
MAGA Christians’ daily existence testifies that their God is a microscopic, myopic coward, who has appointed them to morally police a world He cannot handle or is not equipped to direct and renovate. That’s pretty sad.
In short, their God isn’t a God worth believing in or worshiping—which is why they have to play God while they’re alive. It’s why they are furrowed-browed and white-nuckling their journey here—not content to let Jesus take the wheel for fear he’d drive them outside their gated community and into the hood and ask them to get out and care for the people they’re so used to condemning.
If you’re going to have a God, it may as well be right-sized. The world deserves this.
People deserve a God who is bigger than Franklin Graham’s God and Mike Pence’s God and Sander’s and Jerry Falwell’s God. Their God is small and terrified—and it suspiciously resembles them.
People deserve a God who so loves the world, not a God who thinks America First; whose creation begin without divides and borders and walls, because there is only a single, interdependent community.
People deserve a God who touched the leper and healed the sick and fed the starving and parted the seas and raised the dead—not a quivering idol who drafts bathroom bills and social media crusades against migrant families.
People deserve a God who is neither white nor male nor cisgender-heterosexual, nor Republican—because any other God isn’t big enough to bear the title or merit any reverence.
MAGA Christians believe in God earnestly, pray to God passionately, serve God with unflinching fervor. The problem is their God is too small, and as long as they are oriented toward such a tiny, useless deity—they will continue to be compelled to do for God what they believe God should be doing, but can’t or won’t.
I feel sorry for them and for the world that has to be subjected to their pocket-sized theology when there is an expansive space waiting.
I hope and pray that these people soon find a God who is big enough so that they stop living so small.
Walk into St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Glen Ridge on a Sunday morning and you’ll find the trappings and sacraments of a typical parish.
From the kneeling parishioners to the priests in robes dispensing Holy Communion, there are few signs of divergence from tradition.
There is, however, one stark, if less apparent, difference: The priest leading the service, the Rev. Geety Reyes, is openly gay.
St. Francis of Assisi and two kindred churches in Kearny and Long Branch, belong to the American National Catholic Church, an independent religious movement founded in the Garden State nearly 10 years ago. ANCC affilates mirror the Roman Catholic Church in most respects, except those elements that members find judgmental or discriminatory.
“We believe in an all-inclusive, loving God,” Reyes tells New Jersey Monthly. “We tend to be progressive, but we are conservative in that we embrace the Gospel.”
The ANCC also embraces numerous innovations the Vatican rejects, including gay, married and female priests, gay marriage and divorce. Transgender, nonbinary and gender-fluid members are also welcome. The ANCC also supports a reproductive choice.
“We don’t see ourselves as a new church,” says the Most Rev. George R. Lucey, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi. Lucey, who is also openly gay, was instrumental in founding the ANCC in Glen Ridge in 2009 and presides as bishop over all 10 ANCC parishes in seven states. “We see ourselves as united to the same church that was founded by Christ.”
Catholic Church officialdom begs to differ. Asked to comment on the ANCC and its place in Catholic faith, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Newark provided this statement: “It would be inappropriate for us to make any comment about the American National Catholic Church other than to state that this group is not in union with the Catholic Church in Rome, so they are not in union with the Holy Father. We will leave it at that.”
New parishioners come to the ANCC for a variety of reasons. “I was not happy with the way that the whole bad-priests scandal was handled,” says Loretta Marches, a five-year member of the ANCC parish in Glen Ridge, her hometown. “I have a strong Catholic faith, but many misgivings with the Catholic Church. I found the [ANCC] website and contacted them because it was exactly what I was looking for—none of the politics and the exclusion of certain people.”
The ANCC’s three New Jersey parishes have more than 1,500 members, up from 1,000 in 2016 and 500 in 2014, Lucey says. Nationwide, ANCC claims about 2,000 parishioners; Lucey expects new parishes in the coming months in Poughkeepsie, New York, and Baltimore, Maryland.
According to a 2018 Pew Research Center report, between 2007 and 2014, Catholicism nationwide saw a “greater net loss due to religious switching than has any other religious tradition in the U.S.” The report further states that 13 percent of all U.S. adults “are former Catholics,” a higher rate than any other religion. But the same report found that only 2 percent of U.S. adults are converts to Catholicism—that is, people who now identify as Catholic after being raised in another religion (or with no religion).
A native of the Philippines, Reyes joined the ANCC church as a parishioner. He was ordained as a deacon in 2012 and as a priest three years later.
“I was raised Roman Catholic; I wanted to follow it,” says Reyes, 43. Unfortunately, his gay identity made him feel uncomfortable in the Roman Catholic church. Then he learned about the ANCC.
“One of our taglines when we preach is that we are Catholics without judgment,” he says.
ANCC leaders estimate there are about 400 independent Catholic jurisdictions in the United States—all unaffiliated with Rome. ANCC appears to be the largest group among the Garden State’s Catholic alternatives. Others in New Jersey include Good Shepherd Reformed Catholic Church in Toms River, and the Saints Peter and Paul Polish National Catholic Church in Passaic.
“We don’t exist as an axe to grind against Rome; we don’t really fight with anybody,” Lucey explains. “[Parishioners] come in and it’s a little like being home. There’s a great comfort in that. If people are attracted to us, it is because they see in the expression—which the Catholic Church has always taught, but has gotten away from—that God accepts and loves all of us for who we are.”
Reyes says that while many St. Francis of Assisi parishioners are gay, the parish has just as many traditional families with moms, dads and children. “It is becoming more and more mixed,” he says.
None of ANCC’s three New Jersey parishes has its own chapel. St. Francis of Assisi leases a small chapel behind the much larger Glen Ridge Congregational Church. Our Lady of Guadalupe American National Catholic Church, founded in 2011, borrows space in St. James Episcopal Church in Long Branch. The Sacred Heart of Jesus American National Catholic Church, launched in 2013, holds mass in Kearny’s Grace United Methodist Church.
That doesn’t seem to bother parishioners. “What is important to me is the lack of restrictions on how people find their spirituality. This church respects their right to worship,” says Hap Walter Bojsza, a West Orange resident who joined the Glen Ridge parish four years ago. “Our liturgies are the same Catholic liturgies, our readings are the same week after week. There are no dogmatic differences. The only difference is who is welcomed, and that is everybody.”
An Air Force veteran and father of two daughters, Bojsza says he was raised a Catholic, but left for many reasons—including his concerns about pedophile priests.
Jim Capobianco of Kearny left the Catholic Church for ANCC five years ago, after attending a Christmas Eve mass in which the priest’s homily attacked pro-choice views.
“That kind of did it for us,” recalls Capobianco, a married father of three. “The Roman Catholic Church has clung to ideals, and I respect that,” he adds. “But I also feel like there seems to be an inability to change. They seem more out of touch with the world that we live in.”
Suzanne Ryan, a divorced Maplewood mother and teacher, attended two Catholic churches close to home in recent years, but found them lacking. “I wanted a more vibrant church that was involved in social justice,” she says of her switch to ANCC four years ago. “I needed to feel that the church did what it was really supposed to do—a message of love and openness. I wanted a community where everything was inclusive and participatory.”
ANCC has had at least one brush with trouble. Leo Donaldson, a former cantor and musician at the Glen Ridge parish, was suspended in 2016 from his church duties after being arrested on sexual-assault charges relating to his roles as a Bloomfield High School teacher and coach.
He pled guilty in 2018 to charges of aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault, endangering the welfare of a child, and official misconduct and was sentenced to seven years in state prison. None of the allegations related to his time at the ANCC church.
Asked to comment, Lucey says, “We have a policy of background checks [for church leaders] and two adults with children at all times, and only in public space. I am grateful we followed our procedure and am keeping Leo in our prayers.”
All ANCC’s priests have other vocations and serve unpaid. Some were ordained in the Roman Catholic tradition; some defected from other churches. Priests can also be ordained under the auspices of the ANCC, a process that includes theology courses through the University of Notre Dame online, and training at a local parish.
Lucey, 64, took a winding road to the ANCC. A native of the Philadelphia suburb of Conshohocken, Lucey has followed parallel paths of ministry and counseling. He holds an M.S. in education and a PhD. in psychology. He became a Franciscan Friar in 1998. Ordained a Franciscan bishop, he served in ministerial roles in Canada and Mexico. He also worked briefly for the Diocese of Paterson as director of Hope House, a program for HIV and AIDS patients in Dover.
Lucey was ordained as a priest in the Independent Catholic Movement in 2005. Following his ordination, he resigned from the diocese. “It felt like a conflict,” he says. “I couldn’t be working for the Roman Catholic Church and be part of a group that wasn’t Roman Catholic.”
Lucey remained in New Jersey, working as a counselor and psychotherapist and living in West Orange with Bill, his partner of 15 years. At one point, Lucey worked at a hospital in Summit as a counselor and launched a “spirituality unit” there for gay and lesbian patients suffering from physical or chemical abuse.
“I just started asking them what they thought about the Gospel, and they asked me to do it for the entire hospital,” he says. He began holding Sunday Mass, including gay and lesbian weddings. “I started to do more weddings, and people asked where I celebrated Mass.”
Eventually, Lucey began performing eucharistic services in his home on Sunday nights. His next step was to launch his own parish. Inclusiveness was central to his vision.
“As we are committed to acknowledging the Catholic teaching of the dignity of the human person because they are created in the image of God, it follows then that God, who is omniscient and omnipotent, does not make mistakes,” Lucey says. “Then there must be an image of God who is gay, straight, transgender and nonbinary.”
The West Long Branch parish, Our Lady of Guadalupe, took a different road to ANCC affiliation. A former Roman Catholic church with a predominantly Spanish-speaking membership, it faced upheaval in 2009 when the Diocese of Trenton ordered it to consolidate with two nearby churches to form a single parish, Christ the King.
Some Our Lady of Guadalupe members and leaders objected and eventually left the diocese, formed a new parish and joined the ANCC in 2011. Trenton Bishop David M. O’Connell decried the move as illegitimate, stating at the time that “no Catholic Church is independent.”
But theology experts say these new forms of Catholicism are valid expressions of change in religious thinking.
“There is a kind of legitimacy in that these people wanted to be Catholic and are doing Catholic things,” says Dugan McGinley, a teaching instructor in the religion department at Rutgers University. “I think that is legitimately and effectively Catholic, although it is not officially recognized.”
Julie Byrne, author of The Other Catholics: Remaking America’s Largest Religion (Columbia University Press, 2016) and the Hartman Chair in Catholic Studies at Hofstra University, agrees. “There really is no trademark on the word Catholic,” she says. “When [Roman Catholic leaders] say [independents] are not Catholic, they are trying to trademark the Catholic name….To me, if you say you are Catholic, you are Catholic.”
The Rev. Paul Gulya, pastor of the Sacred Heart ANCC Church in Kearny, says his church opens its doors to all “who are feeling left out or broken-hearted and marginalized.”
Gulya, who is gay and married, was ordained in 1981 in the diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut. In time, he felt distanced from fellow priests because he questioned the church’s rules.
“For me it was an issue of independence,” he remembers. “I found that rectory living wasn’t for me. You were living with people whom you didn’t necessarily share the same ideals or ministerial vision with.”
Mother Phyllis McHugh, a former Roman Catholic nun who spent 10 years with the Sisters of the Roman Family of Nazareth in Philadelphia, was the first woman incardinated as an ANCC priest. She had left Roman Family many years before to teach. She later married and is now a mother and grandmother. McHugh was ordained a priest in 2011 at St. Jude’s Church in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, the ANCC church in the Philadelphia area. A second woman is set to be ordained this year at the ANCC parish in Bridgeport.
Admitting divorcees is also a founding principle for ANCC. “Why would we withhold the sacrament at a time when people need it the most?” Lucey says. “If they are coming to us, the assumption is that they are in a moral or spiritual dilemma.”
Decisions on day-to-day matters are left to the local parishes, Lucey says. However, each parish must celebrate Mass with the liturgy of Vatican II and perform the same seven sacraments as the Roman Catholic Church.
“The Catholic Church,” Lucey declares, “is the church that came from the blood and water that flowed from the side of Christ and [was] proclaimed publicly at Pentecost.”
Far more than celibacy or sexual repression, barring one gender from the Roman Catholic Church’s highest ranks provides the implicit rationale for clerical abuse.
By Alice McDermott
No Christian should need to be reminded of the moral error of discrimination. We hold at the center of our faith the belief that every human life is of equal value. And yet the Roman Catholic Church, my church, excludes more than half its members from full participation by barring women, for reasons of gender alone, from the priesthood.
The moral consequences of this failing become abundantly clear each time another instance of clergy abuse, and cover-up, is revealed. It is the inevitable logic of discrimination: If one life, one person, is of more value than another, then “the other,” the lesser, is dispensable. For the male leaders of the Catholic Church, the lives of women and children become secondary to the concerns of the more worthy, the more powerful, the more essential person — the male person, themselves.
The Catholic Church needs to correct this moral error.
I was visiting a Catholic university in Boston in 2002 as the clergy abuse scandal involving Cardinal Bernard Law was breaking. I was there to discuss a novel I had written, but the questions from the audience at my talk — and at the book signing after, and on the sidewalk as I walked to my car — were mostly, if passionately, rhetorical: What do we do now? Where do we go from here? Do you think the church understands our pain? Do you think the church understands what we’ve lost? How much corruption should we tolerate?
At the time, I could offer only small commiseration — as well as my regret that these Catholics had been so betrayed by their spiritual leaders that they were left to seek solace from the likes of me, a reluctant and often contrarian Catholic, a novelist, a woman. “Awful, yes,” I said. “Outrageous, yes.” “Hope,” I said now and again. “Hope for change, perhaps.”
In the intervening years, the institutional church has learned to expand its vocabulary to include such words as “transparency” and “victim” and even “prosecute.” In the intervening years, wrists have been slapped, apologies made, some twisted souls have been sent to jail. But even as bishops and other Catholic leaders gather in Rome this weekend to address the abuse crisis, no Catholic I know feels assured that real change will come, that the worst is behind us, that some prince of the church, even a sainted pope, won’t eventually be revealed as a predator, an enabler.
For those of us trying to hang on to our affiliation with the Catholic Church, Pope Francis’s recent defrocking of Theodore McCarrick, a former cardinal and archbishop of Washington, though commendable, is no recompense for the blindness, the arrogance, the cruelty of a system that allowed that pathetic man to become the shepherd of one of the most visible dioceses in the world. We fear that boys’ club secrecy and prancing misogyny, the profound moral error of discrimination, will prevail.
For myself, and for many of the Catholics I know (especially women), the question of how much corruption we can tolerate is now weighed against the tremendous loss we would feel, if we left this church. It’s an institution that has shaped us, comforted us, guided and informed us, that is the center of our spiritual lives as well as our community lives and family lives, the source of our own moral strength, of our faith in the substance of things hoped for. And yet small commiserations can no longer placate our outrage. A sea change is required.
Forty years ago, when, as the evidence now shows, abusive priests and winking bishops were flourishing throughout the world, Sister Theresa Kane of the Sisters of Mercy stirred a bit of outrage in the Catholic rank and file when she implored Pope John Paul II, on his first trip to the United States, to “be open to, and respond to, the voices coming from the women of this country.” She added later that “serious social injustices” were imposed on Catholic women by the “very system” of their church, and that until the church began reckoning with this uncomfortable fact, it could not “give witness to justice in the world.”
Sister Theresa was not the first voice in the Catholic Church to suggest that discrimination against women was at odds with the church’s core mission. More than a decade before, in 1965, the Second Vatican Council released a document called “Gaudium et Spes,” or “Joy and Hope” — two gifts now in short supply among the Catholics I know. It said, in part: “With respect to the fundamental rights of the person, every type of discrimination, whether social or cultural, whether based on sex, race, color, social condition, language or religion, is to be overcome and eradicated as contrary to God’s intent.”
In barring women from the priesthood, then, what Sister Theresa called the “very system” of the Catholic Church is adhering to a rule, a mere custom, that is contrary to God’s intent. It is this grave moral error, far more than priestly celibacy or Catholic sexual repression, that provides the implicit rationale for abusive priests and, more insidious still, for the men who excuse and protect them.
Rape and abuse is not about sexual longing or loneliness. It is about power. It is about the cruel dehumanization of the other, the perceived lesser being, in order to gain, and retain, power. The institutionalized misogyny of the Catholic Church reinforces the notion of women, and their children, as the lesser. Catholic women, and their children, can have no assurance that the church can reform itself until that essential error is addressed and corrected. And that error cannot be corrected as long as women cannot be priests.
Lately, as I have listened to the conversations of my dismayed and discouraged fellow Catholics, I have thought of the Catholic women who have shaped my own faith — nuns, teachers, mothers, friends. I’ve recalled the particular sound of these women’s voices when they have come to the end of their patience; it’s a calm, powerful, sober sound, a formidable voice that can bring children up short, silence excuses, restore order to chaos. It’s the voice of a woman saying, simply: “All right. That’s enough.”
It’s the voice the Catholic hierarchy needs to hear.
An Irish-born priest spoke out against celibacy in the priesthood in the final days of his life.
A priest born in County Kerry has used his final words to question the compulsory celibacy undertaken by priests in the Catholic Church. Fr Daniel O’Leary died in England on January 21, 2019, but used his final column with international Catholic weekly The Tablet to voice his dissent to the requirement.
O’Leary, a well-known spiritual writer, was diagnosed with cancer last June, and wrote the piece, which was published posthumously, so as to be “free of fear and bitterness, and full of love and desire, as I step up for the final inspection.”
“I now believe, with all my heart, that compulsory celibacy is a kind of sin, an assault against God’s will and nature,” O’Leary stated.
“I’m just pointing out that one of the fall-outs of mandatory celibate life is the violence it does to a priest’s humanity, and the wounds that it leaves on his ministry.
“Please remember, I’m only recalling the memories, convictions and awakenings that are filling my soul during these ever-so-strange final days and nights,” he added, acknowledging that some within the church would regard his words as traitorous.
Describing clericalism as “a collective malaise,” O’Leary continued to write: “The enemy, we were warned, back in the 1950s, was a failure in prayer; falling in love was the cancer; suppression, sublimation and confession were the cure. Emotion was the threat; detachment was the safeguard; becoming too human was the risk; the subtle carapace of clericalism was the precaution.
“[It] keeps vibrant, abundant life at bay; it quarantines us for life from the personal and communal expression of healing relationships, and the lovely grace of the tenderness which Pope Francis is trying to restore to the hearts of all God’s people.”
Father Daniel O’Leary was born in Rathmore, Co Kerry in 1937. He trained to be a priest in All Hallows College, Dublin, before moving to England.
An award-winning author of 12 books, he was a regular contributor to The Tablet, The Furrow and other publications, and held Masters degrees in theology, spirituality and religious education.
Fine Gael Senator Jerry Buttimer has expressed disappointment at Pope Francis’ declaration that there is “no room” in the Catholic church for gay priests.
“The issue of homosexuality is a very serious issue that must be adequately discerned from the beginning with the candidates,” Pope Francis says in a book released in Italy on Saturday.
“In our societies it even seems that homosexuality is fashionable and that mentality, in some way, also influences the life of the church.”
Writing in The Strength of Vocation, Pope Francis says some priests did not exhibit any homosexual inclinations when they joined the priesthood only for it to emerge later but he reminded the faithful that the Catholic Church views homosexual acts as sinful.
“In consecrated and priestly life, there’s no room for that kind of affection. Therefore, the church recommends that people with that kind of ingrained tendency should not be accepted into the ministry or consecrated life
Mr Buttimer, who is gay and studied for five years as a seminarian in Maynooth in the 1980s, said the Pope seemed to be delivering a very traditional message with regard to people from the LGBT community which was at odds with some of his initial comments regarding gay people.
Pope Francis was now adopting “ a very hardline” approach to the LGBT community and to say that homosexuality was about being fashionable failed to recognize that people’s sexual orientation was a fundamental part of their being, he said.
‘In god’s image’
“Being gay is not transient, it’s not a phase, it’s not a passing stage of one’s life – I’ve always made the point that, as a Christian, as a Catholic, I was born and am born in the image of the god who created me and the god that I pray to and worship,” said Mr Buttimer.
“For me, this is disappointing from Pope Francis whom I thought, given his initial statements that he would not judge people, would have travelled a journey of being more open, and understanding and accepting of LGBT people but obviously I was wrong.”
Mr Buttimer said one of the fundamentals of the priesthood was that it was a celibate ministry but to say that applies to just homosexual priests without stressing that similar principles should apply to heterosexual priests was “wrong and deeply unfair”.
“The church would be a better church, a more enhanced church by having a ministry that is open to all and it just baffles that the Pope, on one level seems to be a welcoming man and then in the next breath shuts the door completely to members of the LGBT community,” Mr Buttimer said.
“There are many committed Christians and Catholics who are gay, some of them are afraid to come out but they make very fine contributions in the liturgy as lay readers and lay ministers of the Eucharist and they do a wonderful job in our churches, in our classrooms, in our choirs and as part of parish councils.”