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!

Priest fears Irish Catholic Church ‘largely irrelevant’ to most people

Institution likened to an old car that has gone off the road and ‘sunk into a bog and is stuck’

By Patsy McGarry

The Irish Catholic Church has been likened by a priest to an old car that has gone off the road and “sunk into the bog and is stuck”.

“The engine is still running, but the wheels are spinning and going nowhere,” said Fr Roy Donovan of the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP), who said it was like the U2 lyric about being “stuck in a moment you can’t get out of”.

Fr Donovan, who is parish priest in Cahersonlish, Co Limerick, said “the Catholic Church in its present state is in crisis and doesn’t seem to have any future”.

“There is also something very wrong with priesthood. It is not only young people who have become disassociated from the church as an institution but people across all the generations. The church is not on the radar of most people – it is largely irrelevant.”

He was speaking in Dublin on Monday night at a We are Church Ireland event entitled ‘What Does it Mean to be Catholic Today?’

Fr Donovan asked why the church in Ireland had not carried out research in an attempt to establish why “so many Catholics have become disconnected” with the institution.

“ (Archbishop) Diarmuid Martin remarks that, ‘the low standing of women in the Catholic Church is the most significant reason for the feeling of alienation towards it in Ireland today’, ” Fr Donovan said.

‘Christendom is over’

“Pope Francis perceptively remarked ‘we are not living in an era of change but a change of era’. Christendom is over, he stated recently. There are huge losses accompanying a change of era.”

Meanwhile “a lot of priests are saying ‘sure it will see me out’ and continue to work out of the old model. There is not enough appetite for change which would require major reversals. We never implemented the Vat 2 (Second Vatican Council) idea of empowering the people.”

Fr Donovan said he did not understand “how a church that attracted some of the best brains in the country as priests could have allowed us to end up where we are today!? What is left of us are tired and haven’t got the energy to change and move on.”

He recalled how “Pope Francis in his Christmas message said ‘the world has changed and so must the church’” but he feared the church was not up “ to the massive changes required”.

“Our systems/ structures/ parishes are no longer fit for purpose. We have too many dioceses, parishes, too many churches – more than we need. We have too many celebrations of masses on Sundays with small gatherings,” he said.

Complete Article HERE!

German Bishops Rethink Catholic Teachings Amid Talk of ‘Schism’

Conservatives, particularly in the U.S., greet the prospect with alarm

Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich (far left) during an audience with Pope Francis (right) at the Vatican last year

By Francis X. Rocca

Germany’s Catholic bishops will meet in Frankfurt on Thursday to launch their most ambitious effort yet in their role as the church’s liberal vanguard: a two-year series of talks rethinking church teaching and practice on topics including homosexuality, priestly celibacy, and the ordination of women.

Conservatives in Germany and abroad are greeting the prospect with alarm, and nowhere more so than in the U.S., whose episcopate has emerged as the western world’s foremost resistance to progressive trends under Pope Francis.

The tension between the groups epitomizes significant divisions in the church, which some warn could lead to a permanent split.

Earlier in January, a group of conservative Catholics from various countries, including Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, a former Vatican envoy to the U.S. who has become one of the pope’s harshest critics, gathered in Munich to warn that the German initiative would result in “the constitution of a church separate from Rome.”

The event starting this week originated as a response to the scandal over sex abuse of minors by Catholic priests. A 2018 report on the crisis in Germany called for a more positive attitude to homosexuality and more attention to the challenge of celibacy. Catholic women’s groups later prevailed on the gathering to also address the question of gender equity in the church’s leadership.

The decline of the Catholic Church in Germany has accelerated amid the scandals and growing secularization. According to the church’s latest statistics, 216,078 people left the church in 2018—a leap of 29% from the previous year. A poll published in January by the Forsa Institute showed that only 14% of Germans trusted the Catholic Church, down from 18% the previous year. Trust in Pope Francis fell to 29% from 34%.

However, the church in Germany is prospering as never before in material terms, receiving a record €6.6 billion ($7.3 billion) through a state-collected tax in 2018. German bishops are among the biggest financial supporters of the Vatican and of Catholic institutions in the developing world.

German bishops have enjoyed rising influence under Pope Francis, reflected in his policies of greater leniency on divorce and more autonomy for local church authorities on matters such as liturgy—moves long advocated by German theologians.

The leaders of the German synod, which will include representatives of Catholic laypeople, say they are offering it as a model for the church at large.

Ludwig Ring-Eifel, head of the German bishops’ news agency, estimates that around two thirds of the bishops—the threshold for passing a resolution—support the ordination of married men and women deacons and half are in favor of blessings for same-sex unions.

American conservatives say that for a branch of the church even to consider such moves poses a threat to unity.

“The German bishops continue move toward #schism from the universal Church,” Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver said on Twitter in September.

A minority of German bishops share such fears—and look to the U.S. for support. Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Cologne, leader of the German conservatives, traveled last summer to the U.S., where he visited various church institutions and met with some of his most prominent American counterparts.

“Everywhere, I encountered concern about the current developments in Germany,” the cardinal later told his diocesan newspaper. “In many meetings, the worry was tangible that the ’synodal path’ is leading us on a German special path, that in the worst case we could even put communion with the universal church at risk and become a German national church.”

Pope Francis himself has cautioned the Germans not to stray too far.

“Every time an ecclesial community has tried to get out of its problems alone, relying solely on its own strengths, methods and intelligence, it has ended up multiplying and nurturing the evils it wanted to overcome,” the pope said in an open letter to German Catholics in June.

But after meeting with the pope and Vatican officials in September, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich, chairman of the German bishops conference, said: “There are no stop signs from Rome.”

In fact, when Pope Francis has publicly entertained the possibility of a split in the church, it has been in regards to the U.S., not Germany.

“There is always the option for schism,” the pope said in September, in response to a reporter’s question about conservative American opposition to his agenda. “I pray that schisms do not happen, but I am not afraid of them.”

That lack of fear could be because only the pope can decide whether or not a state of schism even exists, said Adam DeVille, a professor of theology at Indiana’s University of Saint Francis.

“If things get too far out of hand one way or another, I can see him acting in extreme but selective cases,” to stop any separatist moves, Mr. DeVille said.

“All it would take would be the sudden forced ‘retirement’ of a couple especially outspoken or perceived troublemakers, in Germany or anywhere else, for the others to shut up, and fall docilely in line,” he added.

Complete Article HERE!

This St. Louisan Became A Female Priest

— And Defied Centuries Of Catholic Tradition

Elsie McGrath said becoming an ordained Catholic priest was “a monumental step forward in educating people about what the church really ought to be.”

Elsie McGrath never thought of herself as a rulebreaker.

But in 2007, she broke one of the most fundamental rules in Roman Catholicism when she became an ordained priest.

She was later excommunicated, along with fellow priest Rose Marie Hudson and Bishop Patricia Fresen, who ordained the two.

Women are barred from joining the Roman Catholic clergy, but McGrath is hopeful that will change. Last month, Pope Francis caused a stir when he said the Vatican would explore the possibility of female deacons, a class of ministry allowed to oversee weddings and baptisms but not provide Communion.

McGrath spoke with St. Louis Public Radio’s Shahla Farzan about her call to priesthood and her hopes for the future of the Catholic Church.

On converting to Catholicism

I became a Catholic in 1956 after I married a Catholic at the age of 17. There was nothing to it, because Catholics in those days were very “tunnel vision” and out to save the world all by themselves. Nobody could be saved if they didn’t join the fold, and there was nothing to joining the fold except saying, “Yes, yes, yes” and not questioning anything.

Having been raised as, “Do what we tell you and always obey the rules and everything will be wonderful,” I thought: “This is pretty good. I’ll just be Catholic, and I will do as they say and obey the rules and everything will be good.” And then Vatican II happened, and everything started falling apart. I felt they were abandoning me, taking away my security blanket of having all the answers and leaving me looking for my own answers. And then I started getting enlightened and got on the bandwagon for changing things.

On watching her husband, Jim, become an ordained deacon

I had already gotten an undergraduate degree in theology from St. Louis University. My plan was to go into a master’s program after I got my undergrad degree, but because (Jim) was going into the diaconate, I put that off until he was finished because we went through his diaconate formation together. All of the women were encouraged to do the classes with their husbands, which was a four-year preparation at that time. I went through the whole thing with him because he was so enthusiastic about it, and I was so happy for him that he was making this move.

Jim became a deacon in 1996. I was good with it right up until the very moment that we went into the cathedral for the ordination ceremony. We walked down the aisle together as couples. When we got to the altar rail, the women got to move out of line and sit down in the pew and the men advanced up onto the altar. At that point is when I first realized how absolutely awful and unjust this whole thing was. I felt like I had been stabbed. I was totally unprepared for the reaction I would have.

McGrath converted to Catholicism at age 17, when she married her husband, Jim. When he became an ordained deacon in 1996, she said she realized “how absolutely unjust and awful” it was that women were not allowed to join the Catholic clergy.

On meeting Bishop Patricia Fresen, the leader of the women priests movement

Becoming a priest was literally the farthest thing from my mind, except for the injustice of women not being allowed to. In 2006, Patricia Fresen came to St. Louis, and I thought, “I really need to go hear what this woman has to say, because I have discounted these women priests, but I really don’t know anything about them.”

My friend called and said, “I’m going to have a little wine-and-cheese party at the house on Friday evening for Patricia Fresen to be able to meet a few people. Why don’t you come over?” Well, I didn’t really want to do that. I didn’t want to meet her up close and personal, but I went. I walked into the front door of the house, and Patricia was sitting right there. As I walked in, we locked eyes with each other. I had no idea it was her, but I said to myself, “I have got to meet this woman.” The funny thing is that I had not an inkling that this was ever in my mind or my heart until I locked eyes with Patricia Fresen.

On being called to the priesthood

I questioned my own motives, especially because this all happened so quickly and I was completely unprepared for it. I kept wondering, “Why are you really doing this? Are you trying to prove something? Does this have to do with your ego?” It took me from June until November to come to the conclusion that this was something that I really, really was being called to do.

This had nothing to do with me personally; this was what the spirit within me was leading me to, and it made perfect sense. Why else would I have spent all of those years getting all of those theology degrees? Everybody would say, “What are you going to do with that? I guess you think you’re going to be a priest or something?” I would say: “I just love theology. I can’t get enough of it.” The more I know of it, the better I can help the people that I’m working with in the church. This was a monumental step forward in educating people about what church really ought to be.

On her ordination ceremony

[Archbishop] Burke made it clear that anyone who even attended this “attempted ordination ceremony” was going to be excommunicated right along with us. Some of them knew that they were treading on thin ice, but they wanted to be there anyway. [Editor’s note: McGrath’s husband died in 1998.]

We had scads of religious sisters there. We had a drum circle before the ceremony in the corner of the synagogue, and most of them were religious sisters. They didn’t say anything, they didn’t look up, they didn’t look around. And when it came time for everything to start, they just kind of quietly disappeared again.

The whole ceremony was just otherworldly. It was almost like I was floating above somewhere and looking down on what was happening. We processed back out of the sanctuary and the three of us are standing there, Patricia and Ree (Rose Marie Hudson) and me. Here comes this guy straight up, almost ahead of everybody. He works his way through all of those people, and he serves all three of us with the latest document from Burke, the summons. It said, “You have just committed the gravest of sins and you have until,” I believe, “December the third to recant.” In March, the actual decree of excommunication showed up.

On being excommunicated from the Catholic Church

Excommunication is literally a contract. It’s a legal document, and that means that it has to be accepted by both parties for it to actually be in force. We see ourselves as Roman Catholic women who have chosen to be ordained and model a new way of being in the church. We do not accept excommunication, and therefore, we’re not excommunicated.

We don’t need “the Church.” Whenever we talk about “the Church,” we’re literally talking about the hierarchy of the church. But the church itself is us. Our choice is to remain in the church and effect change from the bottom up, because that’s the only way change ever happens anywhere.

On leading Therese of Divine Peace, a Roman Catholic congregation in St. Louis 

We have about two dozen faithful members. Everyone is welcome at the table; that is the biggest thing. You don’t have to show papers to receive Communion. At the famous Last Supper, Jesus even served Judas before Judas left the room. If this is the sacrament of unity, how can anybody possibly be barred from the table? If you believe that you are in a community of people who are faithful to living the way Jesus did, what’s going to stop you from sharing bread and wine?

The Roman Catholic piece keeps a lot of people away from us for two very big reasons. One, they don’t want anything to do with the Roman Catholic Church anymore. Or two, they don’t want to take the chance of getting in trouble, because the Roman Catholic Church is so important to them.

On the possibility of women being ordained in the Catholic Church

Pope Francis has done a lot to move things along from the stagnation that we were in with the two before him. He’s softening his stance because he’s understanding that we might have something important to offer the church.

We absolutely know that it will change. Anybody could throw out a figure of when this is going to happen. We’re not going to see it happen from this particular lifetime, but that’s what we’re doing it for.

Complete Article HERE!