Grand Rapids judge leaves church after being denied communion for being gay

Judge Sara Smolenski

By Alexis Stark

On Nov. 23, 2019, Judge Sara Smolenski received a call from the Rev. Scott Nolan at St. Stephen Catholic Church.

Nolan requested that Smolenski, who presides over Grand Rapids’ 63rd District Court, abide by the teachings of the Roman Catholic church and not take communion because she is married to a woman. Some churches have taken similar action against leaders who support abortion rights.

“It felt like being invited to someone’s house for dinner, but you can’t eat the food,” Smolenski said.

After local media covered her marriage to Linda Burpee, Smolenski did not expect her sexual orientation to be an issue in her home parish. During an interview with WOOD-TV, Nolan said Catholic teaching gave him no choice in making his decision.

Since that phone call, Smolenski’s story of discrimination reached local and national media outlets. She also faced responses from people who accused her of going to the media.

“I never called the media, but when they reached out, I chose to speak out,” Smolenski said.

In response to Nolan’s decision, some parishioners wrote a letter urging the community to write to Grand Rapids Bishop David Walkowiak and Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron.

Rev. Scott Nolan

“The St. Stephen community is experiencing a crisis of leadership involving selective discrimination against gay parishioners … these acts have been destructive to the culture of inclusion and diversity that are hallmarks of St. Stephen,” the letter read.

Smolenski said there were other parishioners who didn’t question the incident. St. Stephens also kept mailing parish contribution envelopes to Smolenski’s home, even after she and her spouse stopped attending mass. Nolan didn’t respond to a request for comment for the story.

“For months, I was so sad,” Smolenski said. “I’m still very sad about it. I stopped going to St. Stephens because it makes me feel too sad. Then I became angry. Now I think I’m past the anger because I know that’s not how all priests feel.”

When Fountain Street Church’s Minister for Spiritual Life and Learning, the Rev. Christopher Roe, first heard about Smolenski’s story last year, he responded with grief and sadness.

“I found it so disappointing that someone would experience such discrimination in their spiritual home,” Roe said. “I’m not Catholic, but I understand Catholics to be deeply rooted in tradition; it’s embedded in your identity and your family’s identity.”

Roe also reflected on the vulnerability and ripple effects of someone in the public sphere experiencing discrimination because of their identity.

“For anyone who has experienced any kind of trauma in their life, there are different things that can trigger it. With Sara’s situation, whether you’re Catholic or not, I think it stirred up a lot of trauma, specifically experiences of rejection or discrimination, for a lot of people in our church and the spiritual community,” Roe said.

As much as the last six months have dampened her spirits, Smolenski’s faith remains unshaken. Depending on how the COVID-19 pandemic progresses, when churches begin opening their doors again, she is unsure about what church she will call home.

Despite the Catholic church’s theological understanding that same-sex marriages live in opposition of biblical teachings, Smolenski continued attending the church she was baptized and raised in because it fit for her.

“I grew up in that church. It helped form my faith. I never had a priest tell me I wasn’t welcome or could not be a part of the church because of I was gay,” Smolenski asserted.

This incident also further solidified her doubts regarding the Catholic church’s institutional view on who is worthy of communion and by extension, God’s love.

“It’s not perfect; I’m not perfect,” Smolenski said. “When that priest told me I couldn’t have communion, I really felt like I knew what discrimination meant. It becomes personal when someone says you aren’t welcome.”

As a Catholic, Smolenski chooses to believe in the Christian teachings that God does not make mistakes and Jesus loves and accepts all people, regardless of sexual orientation, race, or background.

“I’m not ashamed of who I am; I’m proud. Jesus doesn’t make mistakes, so none of us were born as mistakes,” Smolenski said.

Though hurt by the incident, Smolenski felt encouraged by the support from her community and across the country. She even received an invitation from a Catholic church in Ireland.

“A man named Angus from Ireland wrote me a letter telling me I was welcome to his village’s Catholic church anytime,” Smolenski said. “I kept a notebook full of hundreds of notes, emails and handwritten letters of support. They were so powerful.”

Today, Smolenski questions the Catholic church’s discrimination, arguing that it excludes God’s children from practicing their faith in their church community.

“How can this rule be applied so discriminately? Why are the rules different from one church to another, priest to priest,” Smolenski said.

Earlier this month, the Detroit Archdiocese fired Terry Gonda, St. John Fisher Catholic Church’s music director, for being married to a woman. According to the Detroit Free Press, her firing occurred nine days after the U.S. Supreme Court granted federal job protections for LGBTQ employees, although churches are exempt.

Given the increased progressive activism during the Trump era and the Black Lives Matter movement’s increased visibility, Smolenski reflected on her role in creating change and challenging institutional discrimination.

“We have to use our voice, especially white people, because that’s how change is going to happen with any form of discrimination,” she said. “We need to do what is right and I don’t think that’s what the Catholic church is doing.”

Complete Article HERE!

Eyebrows raised as Swiss bishop taps woman for senior job

Marianne Pohl Henzen smiles in the Saint Paul sisters church in Fribourg, Switzerland, Wednesday, June 3, 2020. A Swiss bishop’s appointment of Marianne Pohl Henzen, a lay mother of three, to a senior administrative post previously held by a priest has raised eyebrows in conservative Catholic circles, at a time when a strengthened role for women in the church is under debate in other European countries.

By NADINE ACHOUI-LESAGE and JAMEY KEATEN

A Swiss bishop’s appointment of a lay mother of three to a senior administrative post previously held by a priest has raised eyebrows in conservative Catholic circles, at a time when a strengthened role for women in the church is under debate in other European countries.

Marianne Pohl-Henzen will serve as an “episcopal delegate” in the diocese of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg, and will also be joining Bishop Charles Morerod’s episcopal council, the main governance advisory body which is traditionally made up of priests and bishops.

Pope Francis has insisted women should be given greater decision-making roles in church governance. He has recently reconstituted a study commission on whether women can be ordained deacons, but has upheld a ban on women priests and counts no women among his top advisers.

Church conservatives are particularly sensitive to any moves involving women in decision-making roles usually reserved for men, fearing they could set in changes motion that could eventually lead to women being ordained priests.

Swiss church leaders insist Pohl-Henzen’s role as “episcopal delegate” for the German-speaking part of the Fribourg canton, or region, will be different from that of her predecessor. He had been an “episcopal vicar,” which under church law is an ordained priest whose main task is to help the bishop govern a part of his diocese, including with authority over priests.

Pohl-Henzen, who had been the vicar’s No. 2 for years, is simply rising to the top job on Aug. 1. She says she obviously won’t carry out key religious duties that only a priest could.

“It’s a small step,” she said in an interview. “If others steps happen when it comes to women in the church, it will be through men first. For example, perhaps the requirement of the celibacy of priests will fall. The next step could be women as deacons. And maybe far, far later, women as priests.”

“But we know many people don’t want that to happen so we cannot push much,” she added. “We need to take it step by step.”

Catholic doctrine reserves the priesthood for men, and church tradition requires Latin rite priests to be celibate.

Like many countries in western Europe, Switzerland has seen a steady collapse in the number of Catholic priestly vocations, with fewer than a dozen new diocesan priests ordained each year for the past several years, according to Vatican statistics.

Morerod said his move was about letting “priests do the job of priests” and outsourcing administrative matters to a layperson — irrespective of gender. In a phone interview, Morerod said he hadn’t received any “reproach” from the Vatican over Pohl-Henzen’s appointment.

Pohl-Henzen said some “not very flattering” comments were made about Morerod after her appointment was announced last month, but added that many in her community have congratulated her over it.

Some conservative and traditionalist Catholic commentators in Italy and the United States have claimed that the appointment is ambiguous, since she apparently will be doing the work of a vicar but with a different title.

But the Rev. Robert Gahl, a moral theologian at the Opus Dei-run Pontifical Holy Cross University in Rome, said the title change is crucial, and Morerod clearly is not making her a vicar.

“Marianne Pohl-Henzen seems to have proven her capabilities in bridging diverse language groups that sometimes have conflicts,” he said by e-mail, adding “It’s wonderful that she has the confidence of the bishop.”

Gahl said her appointment to the episcopal council was also to be welcomed, saying it brings “the possibility to offer a new perspective.”

Conservatives’ fear has been heightened because of a push in neighboring Germany to open up even more leadership roles to women and an official dialogue process launched earlier this year between Germany’s bishops and a powerful lay group that is demanding change.

Even traditionally Catholic France is seeing women increasingly protest their second-class status in the church, fueled in part by clergy sexual abuse and cover-up scandals.

In Lyon, Anne Soupa has made a splash with her unprecedented, symbolic, and self-admittedly impossible bid to take up the post of archbishop left vacant after the resignation of former Cardinal Philippe Barbarin. He was convicted, then acquitted, of covering up for a pedophile priest.

Barbarin resigned anyway, saying it was time for change, and Francis accepted the resignation in January.

“My candidacy is not for me, it’s so that other women can take this opportunity and apply,” Soupa said. “So that tomorrow, other women can say ‘I could be bishop, I could be nuncio, I could be priest, I could be deacon.'”

“I think there is a blindness problem inside the Catholic Church,” she added by video call. “Canon law has been written by men and for men, and it’s inconceivable to put women in it. And we are not even given the freedom to think that it could be different.”

Soupa has no chance, since the church’s in-house law and centuries of doctrine say only ordained priests can be bishops and archbishops, since bishops must trace their lineage to Christ’s original apostles.

In addition, one doesn’t campaign to be a bishop, since the vetting process is conducted in secret and directed by the Vatican’s ambassador in consultation with the country’s bishops, for a final decision by the pope.

Complete Article HERE!

Pope Creates New Expert Commission to Study Women Deacons

A female priest on an ancient reliquary box

The Vatican said Wednesday that Pope Francis has created a new commission of experts to examine whether women can be deacons, an ordained role in the Catholic Church currently reserved for men.

The 10-member commission, the second of Francis’ pontificate to study the fraught issue, includes equal numbers of men and women representing the United States and six European countries.

Deacons are ordained ministers who perform many of the same functions as priests. They preside at weddings, baptisms and funerals, and they can preach. They cannot celebrate Mass.

Married men can be ordained as deacons. Women cannot, though historians say women served as deacons in the early Christian church.

In response to women demanding to be given greater roles in the 21st century, Francis established a commission in 2016 to study female deacons in the early Christian church. But the members failed to reach a consensus and the group effectively ended its work.

The issue was revived during Francis’ 2019 summit on the Amazon. The region’s bishops called for the question of women deacons to be revisited given the shortage or priests in the vast territory. Francis agreed at the time, and the new commission appears to be his follow-up.

Significantly, the scope of the commission’s mandate does not appear to be limited to the early church, as was the 2016 commission. Amazonian bishops had called for the real-life experiences of their region’s Catholic faithful to be taken into consideration in any new evaluation.

Advocates for expanding the ministry to include women say doing so would give women greater say in the ministry and governance of the church, while also helping address priest shortages in several parts of the world.

Opponents say allowing women to be deacons would become a slippery slope toward ordaining women to the priesthood. The Catholic Church reserves the priesthood for men, saying Christ chose only men as his 12 apostles. Francis has repeatedly reaffirmed the teaching.

The new commission has as its president the archbishop of the central Italian city of L’Aquila, Cardinal Giuseppe Petrocchi. An official from the Holy See’s powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was named to serve as No. 2.

Sing a new song unto the Lord:

the transgender, nonbinary Rev. Kori Pacyniak

The Rev. Kori Pacyniak, pastor of San Diego’s Mary Magdalene Catholic Community.

The Rev. Kori Pacyniak is believed to be the first transgender, nonbinary priest in the Roman Catholic Womenpriests movement

By Peter Rowe

The conversation began in typical fashion, with a question many grandparents ask: “When you grow up,” Kori Pacyniak’s grandmother wondered, “what would you like to be?”

At that point, the chat took an atypical turn.

“I want to be a priest,” said Kori, then an 8-year-old girl from a devout Polish Catholic family.

Grandmother: “Only boys can be priests.”

Kori: “OK, I want to grow up to be a boy.”

Now 37, Kori Pacyniak no longer wants to be male — or female. Pacyniak now identifies as nonbinary, someone who is not strictly feminine or masculine. (And someone who has abandoned gender-specific pronouns like “he” or “she” in favor of the more inclusive, if sometimes confusing, “they.”)

While Pacyniak left behind standard gender roles, the youthful fascination with the priesthood never faded. On Feb. 1, Pacyniak was ordained a priest in the Roman Catholic Womenpriests movement.

The Rev. Kori Pacyniak is now pastor of San Diego’s Mary Magdalene Apostle Catholic Community, a Serra Mesa church that preaches “A New Way to be Catholic.” For this parish, Pacyniak also represents a new way, as they are believed to be the first transgender, nonbinary priest.

Founded in 2005 by Jane Via and Rod Stephens, Mary Magdalene celebrates the Mass with a liturgy that, aside from some tweaks in the wording, would be familiar to most Roman Catholics. The church is not recognized by the San Diego diocese, however, and the Vatican has excommunicated several of the women ordained in what has become a global movement.

Mary Magdalene now has about 120 registered parishioners; 60 to 70 regularly attend 5 p.m. Sunday Mass at the church’s temporary home, Gethsemane Lutheran Church. Most in the congregation were raised as Catholics, yet were disillusioned by the church’s refusal to ordain women. Even among these believers, though, there was some initial hesitation about a nonbinary cleric.

“For some congregants,” said Esther LaPorta, president of Mary Magdalene’s board, “I think at first it might have been something to get used to.”

Among those who have had to adjust: Via, the 73-year-old pastor emeritus.

“I’m struggling to refer to Kori as ‘they,’” Via said. “When there is a single person and we know that is just one person, well, I’ve never used the word ‘they’ for a single person. I know Kori gets frustrated with me at times.”

Usually, though, the priest responds to this confusion with a charitable laugh.

“This is hard?” Pacyniak said. “Learning to spell my last name as a child was hard. Welcome to my world!”

A restless search

Kori Pacyniak grew up in Edison Park, a neighborhood on Chicago’s North Side. The tightly-knit Polish community shared a common language, customs and beliefs. Friends, neighbors and family, Kori’s comrades in the Polish Scout troop and Polish folkdancing troupe — all were Catholic.

Like many children, Kori daydreamed about careers. Some days, the goal was to become a Navy SEAL. On other days, a professional soccer goalie. Or a Catholic nun. Always, though, there was the hope that the impossible dream Kori had shared with a grandmother would, somehow, become possible.

“As they went through college and started studying theology, this really became a topic of conversation,” said Basia Pacyniak, 67, Kori’s mother. “It was very much what Kori wanted to do.”

Majoring in religious studies and Portuguese — “no employable skills,” Kori cracked — the undergraduate came out as bisexual. Pacyniak was still searching, though, still examining gender identity and career paths. Although president of Smith’s Newman Association, an off-campus Catholic organization, Pacyniak was frustrated by the church’s positions on women and sexuality.

Pacyniak, center, is applauded by Bishop Jane Via, left, and Bishop Suzanne Avison Thiel, right, during the ordination ceremony.

“Other people wanted to become president,” Pacyniak said. “I wanted to overthrow the Vatican.”

This restlessness continued post-graduation. After an administrative job in Los Angeles, Pacyniak enrolled in Harvard Divinity School’s master’s degree program. The new grad student came out as transgender and started to identify as male. This venture into masculinity was brief and unsatisfactory.

“I realized that box was just as restrictive as female,” Pacyniak said. “Neither male nor female identification works for me.”

For a time, Pacyniak considered converting to a church that, while similar in some ways to Catholicism, ordains women and welcomes LGBTQ clergy. Again, though, something didn’t seem quite right.

“I thought that might be my church home,” Pacyniak said of the Episcopal Church. “But am I too Catholic to be Episcopalian?”

Yet Catholicism posed barriers to Pacyniak. For one thing, Rome only recognizes two genders, male and female. And…

“Right now,” said Kevin Eckery a spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego, “ordination is only open to natural born males.”

Pacyniak completed studies at Harvard, and later enrolled at Boston University’s School of Theology. There, Pacyniak studied how to minister to LGBTQ military service members in the years following the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

But in 2016, a friend forwarded a job listing. Mary Magdalene needed a pastor. Candidates didn’t have to be ordained, if he, she or they were willing to work toward ordination.

In January 2017, Pacyniak began serving as Mary Magdalene’s pastor.
Queer theology

The Rev. Caedmon Grace is a minister at the Metropolitan Church of San Diego, a church that grew out of the LGBTQ community. Even here, there are ongoing discussions about the language of worship.

Consider John 3:16. A familiar New Testament verse, it’s often translated as “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son…”

“Our practice in the MCC is to use inclusive language,” said Grace. “So that has become ‘For God so loved the world that God sent the begotten one.’ We’re not identifying God as male or female.”

This may not be the translation heard in most Christian churches, yet the emerging field of “queer theology” questions many of the assumptions of traditional religious prayer and practice.

“We have to get out of the hetero-nomative lens we use for understanding everything,” said Pacyniak, who is completing a doctorate in University of California Riverside’s queer and trans theology program. “We have to make trans and queer folks see themselves as part of the liturgy.”

Even at Mary Magdalene, a church that prides itself on its inclusive nature, this requires some work. When Pacyniak arrived, the liturgy included a line, “We believe that all women and men are created in God’s image.”

“This is great,” Pacyniak told Via after Mass. “But for people who don’t identify as women or men, that doesn’t work.”

The line was rewritten: “We believe that all people of all genders are created in God’s image.”

Creating a “spiritual support community” for trans and nonbinary people is a key goal of Mary Magdalene’s newly ordained priest. So is reaching out to the congregation’s men and women.

“Let’s make the tent as big and as open as we can,” Pacyniak said. “It’s an ongoing opportunity. Don’t get too comfortable; have conversations with people on the margins.”

All in good time

Through this past January, Via assisted Pacyniak on the altar during Mass. The new pastor studied, learning theology, liturgy and administrative duties, before being ordained as deacon in June 2019 and then, on Feb. 1, as a priest. More than 100 attended the ordination, so the ceremony was moved from Mary Magdalene’s small space to the soaring Gothic sanctuary of St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral.

The pews held Pacyniak’s parents, Basia and Bernard; brother, sister-in-law, two nephews and several cousins; friends from high school, Smith, Harvard and Boston U.; plus dozens of congregants from Mary Magdalene.

“Kori is very open and kind,” said Carol Kramer, who has attended Mary Magdalene for a decade. “I think they’ll be a really good pastor.”

Many religious traditions teach that we’re all created as complex, multi-faceted, beloved children of God. Pacyniak is a pastor and a student of queer theology, yes, but so much more: a baseball fan — with shifting allegiances, from Cubs to Red Sox to Padres — a regular Comic-Con attendee and, this priest insists, a Catholic. This brand of Catholicism may not be recognized by the Vatican, but that doesn’t bother Pacyniak’s parents, who remain practicing Roman Catholics.

“We are very proud of Kori,” said Basia Pacyniak. “The movement and the community is very welcoming, very open, and we are very supportive of that community. I feel that it is not in conflict with the Catholicism that we practice.”

The Pacyniaks foresee a day when their church will include women priests. Give it time, counseled Bernard Pacyniak, 66.

Lots of time.

“I imagine,” he said, “in 100 years this will all be part of one organization.”

Complete Article HERE!