08/21/17

Catholic Church’s idea of gender equality may be too little, too late

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Woman who feels calling to priesthood says daughter asks: ‘How can you follow such an institution?’

Dr Ann-Marie Desmond, from Timoleague, Co Cork: ‘I can’t see anything wrong with women celebrating the Eucharist.’

By

Correspondent

As the clamour demanding full equality for women in the Catholic Church grows ever louder indications are that it is beginning to make an impact at the very highest level.

Just this summer Sweden’s first Cardinal Anders Arborelius proposed that Pope Francis create a special advisory body of women similar to the College of Cardinals. Cardinal Arborelius was himself admitted to the college in Rome last June.

“It’s very important to find a broader way of involving women at various levels in the church. The role of women is very, very important in society, in economics, but in the church sometimes we are a bit behind,” he told media in Rome.

Similarly German cardinal Reinhard Marx, a member of the council of nine cardinals which advise Pope Francis, has called on the church to admit a greater percentage of women to its upper echelons.

“We would be mad not to use women’s talents. In fact, it would be downright foolish,” he said. The fact that only men can be ordained Catholic priests was “certainly not helping the church come across as a pioneer of equal rights”.

The church’s message must be inclusive, he continued, and “that is why I want to emphasise that positions of responsibility and executive positions in the church that are open to lay people must be shared by both men and women”.

Whereas admission to equality in church administration might be welcomed by some women, their glaring absence from clergy, whether as deacons, priests, or bishops, remains for most the true indicator of their second-class status as members.

Last year Pope Francis set up a commission to look at the possibility of admitting women to the diaconate, which is now also reserved for men only. The commission is a welcome step where women are concerned, but just that.
Papal decision

In Ireland, the Association of Catholic Priests has called on all dioceses to hold off on the introduction of the permanent diaconate until this commission reports and Pope Francis makes a decision based on its findings.

“We believe that proceeding with the introduction of a male permanent diaconate at this time, and thereby adding another male clerical layer to ministry, is insensitive, disrespectful of women, and counterproductive at this present critical time,” it said last week in a statement.

It was commenting after Fr Roy Donovan objected to a decision by Archbishop Kieran O’Reilly in his archdiocese of Cashel and Emly to set up a body to look at introducing the male-only diaconate there.

“What are the implications of this when already there are so many women involved on the ground, in all kinds of ministries, without been given much status and power? Have they not also earned their place at the top table?” he asked.

Fr Donovan told The Irish Times the response to his stance had been “all very positive, including men as well”. In his own experience no parish in which he had served could have functioned without the work of women.

“It’s very difficult to get men involved, even in pastoral councils,” he said. It was similar when it came to getting people to be ministers of the word and ministers of the Eucharist.

He recalled a recent US study that indicated that as many as 66 per cent of parish roles there were filled by women. “The church is only going to lose if women are excluded from the top table, especially when it comes to younger women.”

One woman who believes she has a vocation to the Catholic priesthood is Dr Ann-Marie Desmond (54) of Timoleague, Co Cork. A teacher of religion and history, with a PhD in education and degrees in theology and history, she is married with two grown-up daughters.
Devout family

Hers was a traditional Catholic upbringing in a devout family and with an aunt a nun. Even when her brother was an altar server she did not question why, then, she could not become one too. Girls are now allowed be altar servers, and in most parishes these days the altar servers are girls.

It was at third level education that Ms Desmond began to question things and later when, preparing for Masses, women like her “would organise everything, pick the readings etc., and a man [priest] would come in, take over, and celebrate it”. She has herself been a minister of the word and of the Eucharist.

Hers has remained “a very committed faith” but she had become “very anti the institution”, she said. This was not just because of its exclusion of women but also “of gay people, and people such as the divorced and remarried, from Communion. I would want a much more inclusive church,” she continued.

A lot of women like her retained “a deep faith but would no longer be followers of the Catholic Church”. She had explored other churches and admired in particular the inclusivity of Anglicanism in the form of the Church of Ireland, but “had stayed within [the Catholic Church] to speak out”.

The church needed priests, “a value-driven leadership”, she said but this should also include women. “I can’t see anything wrong with women celebrating the Eucharist,” she said.

The reason Jesus did not include women among the apostles was because of the culture of his time when women remained in the home, she said.
Married

“Many of the apostles were also married,” she pointed out, as an indicator of the inconsistency of the church’s position on priesthood which now demands its priests be celibate.

She welcomed, “very, very cautiously”, the Pope’s commission on women deacons as, possibly, “a gradual evolution towards priesthood”. It was “a step in the right direction”.

But she wonders about the church’s future where younger women are concerned. “How can you be a follower of such an institution?” one of her daughter’s asked recently, reflecting on its exclusion of women.

Complete Article HERE!

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06/2/17

The challenge of being both gay and Catholic

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When I entered the Catholic Church in 1998, I had never met another gay person who accepted and intended to live out the Catholic sexual ethic in which sex is reserved for marriage between a man and a woman. I had never even heard of such a person. I didn’t care, since I was full of blithe 19-year-old overconfidence (“Seems like nobody’s done this before, but surely it will be a cinch for moi!”), but life without models and guidance proved lonely and confusing.

Since then the community of LGBT people seeking to live out the historical Christian sexual ethic has become far more vocal. There are a few small guidebooks: Wesley Hill’s “Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian,” Tim Otto’s “Oriented to Faith: Transforming the Conflict Over Gay Relationships” and my book “Gay and Catholic,” which suggest ways for gay people to lead lives of love in traditional churches.

I would love more books to add to this tiny shelf, especially a book in which LGBT people seeking to live within church teaching are considered part of both the global church and the LGBT community. Gay people who accept celibacy out of obedience to our churches face challenges common to all Christian disciples. We also face the all-too-common LGBT experiences of violence, discrimination and isolation. And we have the unique experience of trying to serve and love in churches that often seem embarrassed by our existence and silent about our futures. I’d love a book about the gifts LGBT people can bring to our churches, and the compassionate and creative guidance we need from those churches.

A new book by the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest, called “Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter Into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity” is not the book I’ve longed for. It’s a slender book stitched together from a speech, Bible passages with questions for reflection, and a moving “Prayer When I Feel Rejected.”

Martin defines the church as “the institutional church — that is, the Vatican, the hierarchy, church officials, and the clergy.” He aims to persuade these priests and bishops to listen better to gay people and our families, and to persuade gay people to be more polite and thoughtful in our criticisms of mitered folk.

Martin was startled by many Catholic leaders’ response to the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando last year. Hearing church leaders deplore violence but refuse to acknowledge that the people targeted were gay, Martin called for a bridge between the two groups.

Martin calls on church leaders “to proclaim God’s love for a people who are often made to feel, whether by their families, neighbors, or religious leaders, as though they were damaged goods, unworthy of ministry, and even subhuman.” And he calls on LGBT people to give the Catholic hierarchy “simple human respect … in keeping with our Christian call,” instead of mockery.

Martin never hints that gay people exist who seek to live in obedience to the Catholic Church. Fair enough — not every book has to be for everybody, and people in my situation are a tiny minority. But we may be able to offer insights into areas this book carefully avoids.

For example, why is this conversation so hard in the first place? “Building a Bridge” doesn’t raise the question of why LGBT people and the Catholic Church so often seem like two separate, hostile camps. The Catholic sexual ethic is this book’s embarrassing secret. It’s never mentioned, and so the difficulties the teaching itself poses for gay Catholics in our culture are never addressed.

I’m deeply sympathetic to the attempt to have a conversation about gay people and the church that never mentions sex or chastity; too often even the most “respectful” statements from the Catholic Church hierarchy have a strong flavor of “Jesus loves you, but here’s how you’ve got to behave.” But I’m not sure it’s wise to write as if all the church is asking is for gay people simply to be nicer.

The church is not just a bunch of dudes in special clothes. If we picked our religion based on whose leaders were most personally trustworthy, nobody would be Catholic. But the Catholic Church is the bride of Christ — our mother, as terrible as an army with banners (Song of Songs 6:10) — and she asks a much higher “bridge toll” of everyone than this book admits.

The church asks more of her leaders than mere respect and sensitivity (although God knows that would be a good start). She asks of them repentance and amends for the ways in which they’ve made so many churches hostile to gay members, treating us as problems to be fixed or silenced.

And the church asks gay people to do our best to forgive. She asks us to have the courage to live out forgotten forms of Christian love, including same-sex love: devoted friendship, celibate partnership, intentional community and more.

In a culture where everything from pop songs to health insurance urges us to structure our lives around romance and marriage, gay Christians have a chance — or a duty — to show that you can make a life of devotion, joy and mutual sacrifice within celibacy. And straight Christians have a chance not only to live the models we’ve shown them, following the paths we’ve blazed, but to support us when our callings to nonmarital love leave us economically or emotionally vulnerable.

Scripture shows us the covenant friendship of David and Jonathan, the devoted kinship of Ruth and Naomi. Jesus, the God who is love, loved more deeply than any human being. Jesus’ celibacy helped us see what it means to dedicate your life to God and the people of God.

Martin writes eloquently of the gifts LGBT Christians can bring our churches. But aside from a vague reference to “social justice issues,” he doesn’t suggest that our church can guide and teach us. Martin has written well on celibacy for priests and others who have taken religious vows, as in his 2002 New York Times op-ed, “Choosing Celibacy.” I wish in his new book he had explored celibate witness more deeply, or reflected on scriptural models by which gay people could understand our longings for same-sex love and intimacy. If we are all the church together, LGBT laypeople who seek to live in obedience to the church have a place as well as those who dissent.

After the Pulse shooting, Washington area houses of worship held an interfaith vigil. The participants were of every sexual orientation and many beliefs; celibate gay people stood alongside those in same-sex marriages to mourn and pray. Sometimes it can be harder to come together in ordinary times than in the wake of crisis. But our challenge is to be honest about our beliefs — even the ones we find most challenging — while welcoming and cherishing those who disagree.

Still, Martin offers LGBT Catholics who accept our church’s teachings something we need desperately, in his use of Psalm 139, exploring how God knows us completely and loves us unshakably. No matter what we do or where we go, God is there with us. We are “fearfully and wonderfully made”: formed, from the very first moments of our lives, by God’s love.

Complete Article HERE!

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05/1/17

Rebel Catholic group defies church, ordains woman priest in NC

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Abigail Eltzroth was ordained Sunday in Asheville by the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests.

An international group defiantly opposed to the Roman Catholic Church’s ban on women priests Sunday ordained its first woman Catholic priest in the 46 counties that make up the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte.

The ordination ceremony for Abigail Eltzroth happened in Asheville at Jubilee! – a nondenominational faith community – with Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan presiding.

Eltzroth, 64, said she is the second woman in North Carolina ordained by the rebel group, called the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests.

“It’s time for a change and we’re in the forefront, leading the charge,” Eltzroth told the Observer on Sunday. “We expect that eventually everybody is going to follow us.”

Eltzroth said, she now plans to to start a Catholic worship community in the Asheville area.

But reached for comment Sunday, David Hains, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte, said: “I hope that Catholics in the diocese will understand that it would be sinful to receive a fake sacrament from a woman priest and that includes attending a fake Mass.”

According to a news release about the Sunday ordination from the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests, 250 women in 10 countries have been ordained as Catholic priests. In the United States, it said, women priests serve in 65 “inclusive churches.” That includes women priests affiliated with the association and with a second allied group – Roman Catholic Women Priests – that has the same mission.

Several major Protestant denominations have women clergy, including the Episcopalians, Lutherans, United Methodists and Presbyterians. And most American Catholics say they’d like their church to ordain women, too. A Pew Research Poll in 2015 found that about six in 10 American Catholics said they favored allowing women to be Catholic priests.

But the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy has stood by its longtime prohibition against women becoming priests.

Not only that. In 2007, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, with the blessing of then-Pope Benedict XVI, decreed automatic excommunication against anyone “who attempts to confer a sacred order on a woman, and the woman who attempts to receive a sacred order.”

Excommunication means the person cannot receive the sacraments or participate in the liturgy unless he or she repents.

Citing Jesus

Pope Francis, who has proven to be more liberal than Pope Benedict on some issues, briefly raised hopes among Catholic reformers when he established a commission to study whether women could be ordained as deacons. Catholic deacons cannot celebrate Mass or hear confessions, but they do perform some priestly functions, including marrying couples, baptizing babies and others and giving homilies, or sermons, during Mass.

But, when asked last year about the prospect of female priests in the next few decades, Pope Francis said the church’s teaching banning women priests was likely to last forever.

He said Pope John Paul II had the “last word” on the issue – a reference to a 1994 apostolic letter that said ordaining women was not possible because Jesus chose only men to be his 12 apostles.

But Bridget Mary Meehan, a Florida-based bishop with the Association of Roman Catholic Priests, pointed to Mary Magdalene, also a major disciple of Jesus in the Gospels.

“The risen Christ appeared first to Mary Magdalene, not to (apostle) Peter, and called on her to announce the good news of Christianity – the resurrection being the central message of Christianity,” Meehan said. “Mary Magdalene was the apostle to the apostles.”

The association also claims that their ordained women priests are true priests because a male Roman Catholic bishop, acting as a spiritual descendent of those first apostles, ordained their first women bishops.

On its web site, the group says that “we stand in the prophetic tradition of holy obedience to the Spirit who calls all people to discipleship. The movement began with the ordination of seven women on the Danube River in 2002. Today there are (250) women priests and 10 bishops worldwide.”

Catholic convert

Eltzroth, the woman who was ordained Sunday, grew up Presbyterian but became a Catholic in her 50s. “It’s the most ancient tradition,” she said of Catholicism. “It’s the tradition that we all look to. Everybody looks to what the pope and the Catholic leaders are doing.”

Her resume includes several pastoral jobs: jail chaplain in Saginaw, Mich.; pastoral associate on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in Montana; and pastor to two churches in the sand hills of Nebraska.

Eltzroth, who is divorced, is the mother of two grown children.

She said she sent an invitation to her ordination to Bishop Peter Jugis, who heads the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte. She received no response.

Asked about Pope Francis, Eltzroth said, “He’s a great leader. I’m very pleased with his stands on social justice. I hope the same social justice will be brought not only to the civil world but to the the religious (Catholic) world, too.”

As for the threat of excommunication, Eltzroth said: “I’m sure that I will be (excommunicated) if I haven’t been already. But there are plenty of saints who have been excommunicated. So that’s not going to stop us.”

Complete Article HERE!

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04/27/17

University of St. Thomas students protest archbishop as commencement speaker

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By Lindsay Ellis

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York since 2009, will speak at the University of St. Thomas in Montrose’s May commencement ceremony despite student calls for the university to reconsider.

Student concerns relate to his role in handling sexual abuse allegations and his reported remarks criticizing same-sex marriage. 

A petition calling for the university to cancel the speech brought 100 signatures in the last several days.

University President Robert Ivany said Thursday morning that he does not believe the critical view reflects the general campus opinion. The university’s governing board of directors selected Dolan to speak two years ago in a unanimous decision, he said.

Ivany, who will step down after this semester, plans to meet with graduate student Christina Cochran on Monday to discuss her concerns, he said.

A small group of students is “outraged” by the selection, Cochran said by phone Wednesday.

“In my opinion, this student does not reflect in any way shape or form the attitude of the students of St. Thomas,” he said. He said he will listen to her concerns but that Dolan will speak at commencement.

Before taking his current position in New York, Dolan was archbishop of Milwaukee.

There, priests accused of pedophilia were paid up to $20,000 for agreeing to be removed from the clergy under Dolan’s leadership.

“Was it a payoff, was it a settlement, was it an impetus, I wouldn’t say that, nor would I say it was a normal practice, but it was done,” he said in a 2012 deposition about the payments, which he later said were to help accused priests transition out of their roles and get medical insurance.

He said that people in favor of same-sex marriage were “bullying” the church in a 2011 interview with the National Catholic Register, an arm of the Catholic Eternal Word Television Network. “You think it’s going to stop with this? You think now bigamists are going to want their rights to marry? You think somebody that wants to marry his sister is going to now say ‘I have a right’? I mean, it’s the same principle, isn’t it?”

Ordained to the priesthood in 1976, Dolan has served in Missouri, Washington, D.C. and Rome. He had a prominent role in President Donald Trump’s inauguration, leading the nation in prayer from the Capitol moments before Trump took office.

He was appointed to the College of Cardinals by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012. Dolan promoted a voluntary compensation program for priest abuse victims last year in an effort to bring healing and closure.

The university announced Dolan’s speech, which will take place at NRG Arena on May 20, last week in a news release.

“He has brought the truth of the Gospel to countless men and women through his joyful personality, quick wit and his popular homilies at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City,” Ivany said in a statement. “Cardinal Dolan’s insights and enthusiasm for our faith and for the dignity of all will find an appreciative audience in our dedicated graduates.”

Dolan spoke at Le Moyne College’s commencement in 2015 despite similar concerns. More than 750 people signed an online petition indicating their disapproval.

Complete Article HERE!

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04/14/17

With too few priests, Portuguese women step up

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The practice of Sunday services being led by laypeople in a priest’s absence take place in a number of countries, including Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Switzerland and the US

By Thomas CABRAL

Facing a shortage of Roman Catholic priests, women churchgoers have stepped in to lead Sunday services in villages in southeastern Portugal, a sign the ageing communities are open to change.

In the tiny church of Carrapatelo, a village overlooking the vineyards of the Reguengos de Monsaraz region, Claudia Rocha stands before a dozen mostly elderly female churchgoers wearing a black dress and sneakers.

Her leather jacket and smartphone sit on the front-row bench as the 31-year-old leads what the church terms “Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest” with ease.

After prayers and church hymns, she makes comments on the day’s biblical reading, a form of preaching.

At the end, Rocha hands out communion wafers representing the body of Christ that were blessed by the priest beforehand, but wine is not part of the ceremony.

“This church would be closed if I wasn’t here. Who cares if I am a woman, a deacon or a priest? What matters is having someone from the community who maintains our connection with the priest, even when he isn’t here,” she tells AFP.

– No misgivings –

A divorced social worker without children, she is one of 16 laypeople — eight men and eight women — chosen by Father Manuel Jose Marques to help ensure regular attendance at the seven parishes he presides over.

“It might seem strange and new, but we haven’t invented anything here. It’s a tool that has long been set out in the Church’s guidelines, for cases when it’s absolutely necessary,” says the 57-year-old priest.

The practice of Sunday services being led by laypeople in a priest’s absence take place in a number of countries, including Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Switzerland and the US.

It began in the 1980s, when services were prepared with a priest or ordained clergy member, resembling mass but without the rite of consecrating bread for communion or the Eucharistic prayer.

The Vatican and many clergy members have refused to encourage the practice, fearing a trivialisation of the tradition of Mass.

Father Manuel had no such misgivings.

To him, the need to set up Sunday services without a priest became apparent as soon as he took on his seven parishes around 16 years ago.

Before, there had been three priests for the seven parishes in Reguengos de Monsaraz, a town in the region of Alentejo between Evora and the Spanish border.

He assembled a group of 16 volunteers aged between 24 and 65 from varied backgrounds.

“These are people who have experience with faith and welcoming Christ, and who know how to talk about it,” he says, noting he makes no distinction between men and women.

Lay women step in, too, in other rural parts of Portugal, whose population of 10 million is overwhelmingly Catholic but only counts around 3,500 priests for 4,400 congregations.

– ‘Very sensitive subject’ –

Last August, Pope Francis set up a group to study the role of women deacons in the early days of Christianity.

While he ruled out the possibility of ordaining female priests, the move was considered a potentially historic opening towards a place for women in the Church.

“It is a very sensitive subject, but what we have done is very simple. In this tiny village, we are quite a bit ahead of the Vatican,” says Rocha.

The progressive Father Manuel says he believes “women would be very good priests and deacons” but is quick to add: “It’s not the opinion of one priest, or even 10 that makes theology.”

“We are living in the heart of an open community, the difference between men and women is no longer as strong as it was in the past,” says Dora Cruz, who teaches catechism in Campinho, a village of 700 people.

“But women’s equality doesn’t necessarily come from priesthood,” adds the 31-year-old mother and kindergarten teacher.

Members of the congregation approve of having a woman behind the altar.

“People found it strange at first — a woman leading Mass? But now we’re used to it,” says Angelica Vital, a 78-year-old pensioner.

“If we’re short of priests, I think they should be allowed to marry — they are men, like any other!” she adds, with a devilish grin.

Complete Article HERE!

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