A church celebrates with women as priests

Several months ago, Kathy Schuck’s 15-year-old daughter posed a question that seemed innocuous but that became a call to action.

The gist of Ann Schuck’s question: Why did girls and women seem to be less important than men in their church, St. Rose of Lima in North Wales?

Kathy Schuck, 56, of Blue Bell, said she had long felt women were confined to secondary roles in the Roman Catholic Church, where she did not hear a message of inclusion. The hierarchy and exclusion of the voices of the lay members troubled her, she said. So, after 15 years, she left her parish.

“It disturbed me that the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church uses a term like ‘radical feminism’ to . . . categorize any woman who wants to have a voice in the church when that voice is not in total compliance with doctrine and orthodoxy,” Schuck said. “It was clear to me that my lack of action reinforced that that behavior was acceptable – and it isn’t.”

On Sunday, she joined more than 50 others belonging to the St. Mary Magdalene Community in celebration of its fifth anniversary. The group is led by two Roman Catholic female priests not recognized by the Vatican. Sunday’s celebratory service was held in rented space at the Drexel Hill United Methodist Church.

St. Mary Magdalene is one of several worship communities being led by women in 28 states, said Suzanne Thiel, president of Roman Catholic Womenpriests USA, a nonprofit group that prepares women for ordination and carries out the ceremonies.

“We provide spiritual comfort and solace for people who no longer find it in the Roman Catholic Church,” said Eileen McCafferty DiFranco, who was ordained in 2006 and who, along with her St. Mary’s co-pastor, is one of 113 female Roman Catholic priests, bishops, and deacons worldwide, according to Thiel.

At least eight more ordinations, which the organization maintains are valid, are planned worldwide by Christmas, Thiel said.

“We know the Vatican and the hierarchy are not happy with us,” Thiel acknowledged. “What’s important is the Catholic people have accepted us.”

Since 1976, the Vatican has been strongly reiterating that women are not full members of the Roman Catholic clergy after the Episcopal Church validated the illicit ordination in 1974 of 11 women in Philadelphia.

Then Pope Paul VI reminded Catholics that an all-male clergy was a “constant and universal tradition” of the Roman church because Jesus freely chose only men to be his apostles. By their “natural resemblance” to Christ, male priests also serve as the “sacramental sign” of him, the pontiff said.

Advocates of female clergy had long accused the church hierarchy of misogyny.

St. Mary Magdalene has drawn male and female members, some from as far as Delaware. In general, members said they did not feel fulfilled by their home Catholic parishes and sought a more intimate community with less hierarchy where their voices would be more valued.

“It’s all about intimacy. You can’t be intimate with a parish that has 2,000 to 3,000 members and no mechanism to get to know people on a deeper level,” said Judy Miller, 73, of Hockessin, Del., a member of St. Mary for three years with her husband, Chuck.

Schuck said she was welcomed, greeted by name, and introduced. “I was as comfortable as I was in someone’s home,” she said.

The St. Mary Magdalene Community has grown from 10 members to about 90, with a satellite community in Northeast Philadelphia, said DiFranco, who, along with being a priest, is a school nurse in the city. Services usually draw 30 to 40 members.

St. Mary members said that they enjoyed the congregation’s interactive homilies and that everyone was welcome to take communion. DiFranco said she doesn’t use prayers routinely heard in traditional Catholic Masses, opting instead for “non-sexist” prayers.

Members collectively decide which charities to support.

Maryrose Petrizzo, a member of St. Mary of Magdalene, said leadership opportunities were limited in her church in Wilmington. Among the positions she held was youth minister and eucharistic minister. “I could only do so much,” she said.

But at St. Mary Magdalene, she has led the liturgy and given the homily.

“That’s been so life-giving to be able to give a homily,” said Petrizzo, who has applied to be ordained.

After DiFranco’s ordination in 2006 in Pittsburgh, staff from St. Vincent de Paul in Germantown visited her and asked her not to show up for communion.

She preached on Sunday about following one’s dreams, much like women who have heeded the call to be priests.

“We succeeded in being priests in spite of the church,” she said after the homily. “Where human beings shut the door, God opens the window.”

Complete Article HERE!

3 men settle abuse suits against church

Three men who filed the first sexual abuse lawsuits in the Navajo Nation court system against the Catholic Church have recently settled their cases.

The Gallup Independent reports that the men will receive money as part of the settlement from the priest who is accused of sexually abusing them, the Diocese of Gallup, the Franciscan Province of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Albuquerque and another church entity.

Patrick Noaker, an attorney who represented the men, said his clients have asked that the settlement amounts not be publicly disclosed.

The lawsuits allege that Charles Cichanowicz, a former Franciscan priest who once worked on the Navajo Nation, sexually abused them when they were teenagers in the late 1970s and 1980s. Cichanowicz was assigned to parishes in Shiprock, N.M., and St. Michaels, Ariz.

Attorneys for the Diocese of Gallup and Cichanowicz didn’t respond to requests for comment, nor did Albuquerque’s Franciscan Province of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

At least one of the lawsuits alleged that the diocese and the Franciscan orders transferred Cichanowicz when he was caught and continued to assign him to parishes, giving him unsupervised access to children.

It alleged they did not report him to authorities, tell parishes about him or take safeguards to prevent him from unlawful sexual conduct. Cichanowicz later left the priesthood.

Noaker said lawyers for those who were sued in the case offered no apologies to his clients, and Cichanowicz made no admission of guilt.

By filing their lawsuits in the Navajo Nation’s courts, Noaker said his clients feel like they have protected other children by raising public awareness of the sexual abuse of children on the Navajo Nation. Noaker said none of the men ever considered pursuing out-of-court confidential settlements with the Catholic Church.

He said the men started the legal process ashamed and embarrassed by what had happened to them and grew into men willing to take on the man they say abused them.

Complete Article HERE!

Psychologist: Bishops’ lashing out at sisters is a distraction

COMMENTARY — Kathy Galleher

Since the Vatican’s public release April 18 of the results of the doctrinal assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, many American Catholics have been confused and angry. These women, who work tirelessly with the poor and marginalized, whom many of us see as embodying Christ’s love, are being accused of doing grave harm to the church. In conversation after conversation, I have heard, “Why so much anger directed at women religious?”, “What is this about?” and “It just seems … abusive.” As I pondered this last observation, I recognized a familiar dynamic.

For nearly eight years I worked as a psychologist at a treatment center for priests and religious. During that time I worked with a number of men who had committed sexual abuse. An essential part of the therapeutic work was for these men to understand the deep pain they had caused, to accept responsibility for it, and to move forward with a commitment not to let it happen again, which included accepting restrictions and consequences. Often the largest obstacle to healing was the first task: accepting and understanding the amount of pain they had caused.

When we harm someone, healing requires that we recognize the extent of the injury we caused. Only when we are able to see this clearly and take responsibility for it can we respond with appropriate guilt. Appropriate guilt focuses us on how to repair the injury (if that is possible) and what actions we must take to prevent it from occurring again. If we cannot recognize the pain and take responsibility for it, we get stuck and assume an aggressively defensive stance, lashing out and blaming others as a way to deflect attention from our actions, actions we find too painful to look at honestly.

In treatment, when a client was stuck in this way, we would see this blaming/lashing-out dynamic, and he would start a fight. The greater the unacknowledged pain, the more furious the fight. Often the fury was directed toward a bishop or superior who was removing him from ministry. “You’re ruining my life,” he would say. “I feel betrayed. You have no idea how much pain you are causing me and you don’t even care.” Although he was the abuser, in his mind in that moment, he was the victim of the bishop or superior. The real victim had vanished from his awareness.

Fights like these were so provocative that the instinctive reaction of those on the receiving end was to respond with their own aggression. So the fight would escalate, take on more heat, and distract from the work at hand. As therapists, we tried to contain these fights and give them as little energy as possible (like depriving a fire of oxygen). Our job was to say, “This is a distraction. Let’s get back to work.” Then we would support the client in leaving the fight behind and returning to his unfinished work: looking deeply at his own pain, taking responsibility for the pain he had caused, and taking action to prevent it from occurring again.

I see strong parallels between this and the church’s dealings with LCWR. The level of anger and blame in the doctrinal assessment document feels like someone is picking a fight, and the intensity of it hints at the enormous amount of still unworked pain at the heart of the church’s sexual abuse crisis. To me, this fight looks like a distraction.

In the past 10 years, the church has taken steps toward responding to the tragedy of sexual abuse in the church at the individual level, including responding to allegations more quickly, involving law enforcement, and developing child protection policies. However, the church has not yet been willing or able to examine its own role as an institution in concealing and enabling decades of abuse. The bishops have not taken collective responsibility for their actions (and inactions) and for the enormous pain they have caused. As much as the abuse itself, it is this failure by the hierarchy to acknowledge and accept their responsibility that has angered and disillusioned so many current and now-former Catholics. Too much pain is still unacknowledged and unworked.

The church hierarchy seems to be stuck and they are blaming and lashing out. They have started a fight with LCWR and the women religious. In the doctrinal assessment, they have accused the women of the church of betraying the core values of the church, of causing scandal and leading the faithful astray, and of not being sufficiently trustworthy to reform themselves. They have ordered the women to be closely supervised. These accusations seem more rightly to belong to the sexual abuse scandal rather than to the actions of LCWR. It was the bishops who, by protecting sexual abusers, betrayed core values of the church and caused scandal to the faithful. It is the institutional church that appears not to be able to reform itself and to be in need of outside supervision.

This fight with LCWR is a distraction from the work the bishops still need to do in order to bring about genuine healing in the church.

In response to the misdirected accusations and the severe punishment directed at LCWR, many Catholics feel outraged and want to fight back. But as we saw above, to do so stokes the fire and continues the distraction. We can all be grateful to the women of LCWR for their powerful model of non-reactivity and reflection in their response to this situation. They have spoken their truth, but have not thrown wood on the fire. Similarly, public statements of support from men religious — notably the Franciscans — are courageous and direct but nonviolent. I hope that all of us will follow their lead — speaking our truth with courage and nonviolence, and, like the sisters, keeping our eyes on the real work we are called to do as a church.

It seems the moment to say clearly to the Vatican and to the bishops, “This fight with LCWR is a distraction. The women are not to blame. The church is not the victim. There is still a great deal of pain to address. Let’s get back to work.” Let us hope that with our prayers and support they will be able to look more deeply. Let us hope they can return to and complete the work that is still theirs to do, and in that way bring about healing and transformation for themselves and for our entire church.

Complete Article HERE!

U.S. Episcopalians set to be first to bless gay marriage

On Monday bishops of the Episcopal Church in the United States – the 14th largest denomination in the country, with almost 2 million members – “overwhelmingly” approved a rite for blessing gay marriages, making it the first big U.S. church to say “yes” to gay marriage.

Speaking to Reuters, Ruth Meyers, a chair of the Episcopalians’ Subcommittee on Prayer Book, Liturgy and Church Music, said the Episcopal Church’s Chamber of Bishops agreed to the proposed blessing at a meeting in Indianapolis and its House of Deputies should formally approve it later this week.

“The decision would go into effect in December and make the Episcopal Church, an independent U.S.-based institution affiliated with global Anglicanism, the biggest U.S. church to allow a liturgy for same-sex marriages,” Reuters said.

Up until now, it had been the United Church of Christ, a mainstream Protestant denomination counting approximately 1 million members, which had done more than any other U.S. church to support same sex marriage voting in favour of it in 2005.

The new Episcopal same-sex liturgy is called “the Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant,” and would become the standard rite for same-sex marriage, Reuters reported.

In the past, it was bishops who showed the strongest opposition to such measures but the result of Monday’s vote showed a different attitude altogether, with 111 voting in favour and 41 against. Abstentions totalled 3.

The convention also approved inclusion of transgender people among those who should not be discriminated against, either for ordination or as lay leaders.

“Today the Episcopal Church affirmed the human dignity of a deeply stigmatized population that is far too often victim to discrimination, bullying and abuse,” the Reverend Lowell Grisham, a leader of the Chicago Consultation, a group that supports equality, said in a statement quoted by Reuters.

The Episcopal Church allowed gay priests 16 years ago and approved its first openly gay bishop 9 years ago.

Today, gay marriage is legal in six states and the District of Columbia and as Reuters reported, the legislatures of three states – New Jersey, Maryland and Washington State – approved gay marriage this year, although New Jersey Governor Chris Christie vetoed it. Governors in the other two states signed the legislation but there are attempts being made to block it through a referendum. Monday’s decision has nevertheless marked yet another victory for gay-rights advocates in the U.S., after President Barack Obama endorsed gay marriage in May.

Complete Article HERE!