Cardinal Hollerich urges caution, dialogue on women’s ordination

Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, the relator general of the 16th Annual General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. |

By AC Wimmer

In a new interview, Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, SJ, suggested that the Church’s position on female priests is not set in stone and should be discussed further, at the same time warning of triggering “a huge backlash.”

Speaking to the official Swiss Catholic portal kath.ch on May 17, Hollerich, who is the archbishop of Luxembourg, said the prohibition against ordaining women was “not an infallible doctrinal decision” and could be changed over time with arguments.

“The way I see it, most bishops are in favor of a greater role for women in the Church,” the Jesuit cardinal said. “I am in favor of women feeling fully equal in the Church. And we will also work toward this. I don’t know if that necessarily has to include ordination to the priesthood. You can’t tie everything to the priesthood alone. That would be clericalization.”

When asked whether he thought Pope Francis would introduce female priests, Hollerich replied: “It’s very difficult to say. The pope is sometimes good for surprises.”

The archbishop of Luxemburg added: “But I would actually say no. Shortly before the synod, there was a ‘dubia’ from a few cardinals. They asked whether John Paul II’s rejection of the priesthood of women was binding for the Church. Francis replied very wisely: It is binding, but not forever. And he also said that theology would have to discuss this further.”

The cardinal, who has previously courted controversy on doctrinal matters, emphasized the need for ongoing discussion.

“It means that it is not an infallible doctrinal decision. It can be changed. It needs arguments and time,” Hollerich said.

At the same time, the Jesuit cautioned against pushing too hard for changes, noting that “if you push too much, you won’t achieve much. You have to be cautious, take one step at a time, and then you might be able to go very far.”

The interview was conducted by Jacqueline Straub, who works for the official portal of the Church in Switzerland and publicly describes herself as “called to be a Roman Catholic priest.”

Her assertion to Hollerich that women were forced to take a back seat in the Church was “based on a typically European principle of the individual,” the cardinal responded.

Citing the example of blessing homosexual couples after Fiducia Supplicans, Hollerich warned of a potentially “huge backlash” if the Vatican were to introduce the ordination of women to the priesthood.

“We have to have these discussions with the whole Church; otherwise, we will have huge problems later. Then the Catholic Church will fall apart.”

In 1994, Pope John Paul II, citing the Church’s traditional teaching, declared in the apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis: “Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.”

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Orthodox Church ordains female deacon

Angelic Molen of Zimbabwe was ordained a deaconess in the Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria and of All Africa, a part of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

by Martin Barillas

The Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria and All Africa ordained Zimbabwean Angelic Molen as a deaconess in the Orthodox Church. Taking place on May 2, Orthodox Holy Thursday, the ordination was conducted at St. Nektarios Mission Parish near Harare, Zimbabwe, by the archbishop of Zimbabwe, Metropolitan Serafim.

The St. Phoebe Center for the Deaconess, a U.S.-based organization that has advocated for reviving the ancient female diaconate, said in a press release that Molen’s ordination would prepare the way for the restoration of the role in other branches of the Orthodox Church. The group’s board chair, Dr. Carrie Frost, wrote: “Being the first to do anything is always a challenge, but the Patriarchate of Alexandria has courageously chosen to lead the way with Metropolitan Serafim laying his hands on Deaconess Angelic.”

According to the release, Molen said: “At first I was nervous about going into the altar, but when Metropolitan Serafim blessed me to enter the altar as part of my preparation this week, those feelings went away and I felt comfortable. I am ready.” According to the St. Phoebe Center, Molen was well received by her community and parish.

“The Alexandrian Patriarchate in Africa felt the need to revive this order to serve the daily pastoral needs of Orthodox Christians in Africa,” the release read. Metropolitan Serafim said that Molen will have both liturgical and pastoral roles. He said: “She is going to do what the deacon is doing in the liturgy and in all the sacraments in our Orthodox services.”

Metropolitan Serafim said that Angelic Molen will have both liturgical and pastoral roles. Credit: St. Phoebe Center for the Deaconess
Metropolitan Serafim said that Angelic Molen will have both liturgical and pastoral roles.

Serafim added that “one of the most important fields of work of the deaconess was the exercise of the works of love. They were the angels of mercy and the visiting sisters of the sick, the ‘grieving’ and poor women, imparting to them the gifts of Christian love.”

One of the important functions of deaconesses will be to distribute the Eucharist, even while their role will not be identical to the work of their counterparts of more than 1,000 years ago. However, he noted that “we must admit that women can offer the Orthodox Church a great missionary work,” as well as evangelism and teaching, and highlighted their missionary, catechetical, and teaching work. After her ordination, Molen distributed the holy Eucharist, which in the Byzantine rite is given via spoon and includes the body and the blood.

The Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria and All Africa has been on the way to diaconal ordination of women for several years. At a 2016 synod in Alexandria, Egypt, the Patriarchate voted to reinstate the female diaconate. In 2017, the Patriarchate ordained six sub-deaconesses in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Among the functions of deaconesses may be baptism, which in Orthodox churches is conducted by full immersion. In the early Church, full immersion for adults was followed by anointing of the whole body, which required the assistance of deaconesses for the sake of propriety.

According to the 1917 Catholic Encyclopedia, the only mention of a deaconess in the Bible is in St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans (16:1), which refers to Phoebe as diakonos or “servant,” even while no official status was implied. However, citing testimony by Roman author Pliny, the encyclopedia says “there can be no question that before the middle of the fourth century women were permitted to exercise certain definite functions in the Church and were known by the special name of diakonoi or diakonissai.” The fourth-century apostolic constitutions include instructions for the ordination to the female diaconate.

Despite the ancient practice, Pope Francis has declared it is impossible for women to be ordained to the priesthood or diaconate.

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A dearth of priests suggests the Catholic church should widen recruitment

— It’s no wonder numbers training for the priesthood continue to fall when married men or any woman are still barred

Pope Francis has started a debate on the future of the global Catholic church, but does it go far enough?

by

Walking down towards the River Nidd in Knaresborough, the pretty North Yorkshire market town where I grew up, it would be easy to pass by St Mary’s Catholic church without noticing it. Built only two years after the Emancipation Act in 1829, the church was designed to resemble a private house in order not to offend local Protestant sensibilities. Two centuries later, sectarian sentiment is no longer a problem, but the crisis of vocations in the church certainly is.

Back in Knaresborough, over the bank holiday weekend, I was in the Sunday morning congregation to hear Father William pass on sad news. A letter from the bishop of Leeds informed us that when William returns to Ampleforth Abbey, after 12 years’ sterling work, he will not be replaced by a resident priest. Instead, the parish will share one with a church in nearby Harrogate. Inevitably, that will mean fewer masses, and it is hard to imagine that the new man (because, of course, it will be a man), will be able to devote the same level of pastoral care and attention to the town.

Such arrangements are increasingly common, as the numbers training for the priesthood continue inexorably to fall. But it still comes as a shock to think of an unoccupied presbytery in a town the size of Knaresborough. In Rome, Pope Francis has inaugurated a great debate on the future of the global Catholic church, which has been compared to the famous reforming Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. But the issue of allowing married priests has barely surfaced, and the ordination of women is not even on the table. For how long can that remain the case?

Complete Article HERE!

Meet some of the NYC Catholics who want to change the Church

Kenneth Boller

By

On a recent, sunny afternoon, 18 people gathered at a center for older adults in the West Village for a unique Sunday Mass.

The Rev. Anne Tropeano, an ordained female priest known as Father Anne, led the Catholic service. The homily, which was delivered by a layperson instead of a deacon or priest, criticized Pope Francis’ statements last month on transgender identity.

The cantor referred to God with female pronouns when singing. Communion was given to all willing participants, not just baptized Catholics.

The group, the Metro New York chapter of the national organization Call to Action, was hosting its first in-person meeting since 2019.

Call to Action has about 20,000 members nationwide. Its Metro New York Chapter, which has around 1,600 email subscribers, advocates for progressive politics within the Church locally. In New York, the group lobbied to pass the Child Victims Act, citing abuse by priests.

Although their Sunday Mass wouldn’t pass muster with the Vatican, it represents the kind of Catholic Church that Call to Action hopes to see one day: one that advocates for all marginalized people, openly welcomes gay and transgender parishioners, and encourages female leadership.

For supporters, this argument isn’t just moral, it’s also practical. As Catholic parishes continue to merge and shutter amid low attendance, progressive activists emphasize that broader inclusivity would be a win-win.

The Archdiocese of New York declined to comment on Call to Action, waning parish membership, and progressive practices at some Catholic churches in New York City, but said it generally does not exclude any demographic.

“All are welcome,” the archdiocese’s Director of Communications Joseph Zwilling wrote in an email. “The Church here in New York and around the world has sought to reach those who feel alienated or cut off from the faith, and will continue to do so.”

‘I’m exactly like a male priest, except I’m female’

Tropeano, 49, is a bit of a celebrity among progressive-minded Catholics. Call to Action Metro New York invited her to lead its annual meeting, even though she’s based in New Mexico. She made the most of the trip, speaking at Queens’ Ridgewood Presbyterian Church the same weekend.

Before Mass at the Call to Action meeting, her talk drew on the Easter season, using Christ’s resurrection as a metaphor for personal and social reform.

A woman priest poses in a black and white profile photo.
Father Anne

In an interview before the event, Tropeano said “an encounter with God” she had when she was 29 moved her to explore faith matters from New Age spirituality to Evangelical Christianity.

She earned her master’s degree in divinity from the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, California, in 2017, and watched from the sidelines as her male peers prepared to be ordained.

In 2021, she was ordained by the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests, a nonprofit movement focused on female ordination. Under Catholic canon law, any woman ordained as a priest is automatically excommunicated.

Tropeano pointed out that for a woman to become a priest, “it’s considered a crime as serious as the sexual abuse of a child by a male priest, but they’re not excommunicated.” (In those cases, canon law recommends “just penalties, not excluding” firing the offender from the clergy.)

“Being excommunicated means you can’t work for the Church, you can’t volunteer for the Church, you can’t receive any of the sacraments,” she said. “So I’m not allowed to receive the Eucharist. I won’t receive the Christian burial. I mean, I am so Catholic that I became a priest, and that’s how the institution treats me.”

Though she broke the Church’s laws by seeking ordination, Tropeano otherwise makes a point of respecting the institution. “So many people have terrible experiences in the institutional Church,” she said. “Mine was incredible. So I think that’s part of why I have a call within a call, which is Church reform. I see how good it can be when it’s operating with integrity.”

Unlike many other female priests within the women’s ordination movement, Tropeano wears the clerical collar, practices celibacy and leads her services by the book — with the exception that anyone can receive Communion.

“I’m exactly like a male priest, except I’m female,” she said. “That’s the only difference.”

Back at the center for older adults, the group silently reflected on Tropeano’s lecture before Mass. One woman sitting at the front wore a button in honor of the occasion. It read: “Ordain women or stop baptizing them.”

More than a ‘lavender mafia’

Among the crowd at the West Village event was Theo Swinford, a 26-year-old Borough Park resident who grew up devoutly Catholic near Phoenix, Arizona.

Swinford, who uses they/them pronouns, attended a Catholic university to study theology, where they read Catholic books and listened to Catholic music and podcasts in their free time. Swinford, who has been openly gay since 16, did their best at that time to make peace with the idea of lifelong celibacy and ignore their burgeoning nonbinary identity.

“I spent more and more time just kind of miserable, arguing with myself over whether or not it was realistic for me to live my life that way,” Swinford said in a phone interview. “The straw that broke the camel’s back was when the Pennsylvania grand jury report came out.”

A person poses by a fence
Theo Swinford, in Brooklyn.

That 2018 report, which detailed decades of abuse and coverups within the Catholic Church, found credible sex abuse allegations against 301 priests. Swinford expected their favorite scholars and pundits to pause and reflect on the Church’s wrongdoings. Instead, those people blamed homosexuality, and even referred to a “lavender mafia” at work within the Church.

Swinford took a break from Catholicism for nearly four years after that and explored other churches and religions. “But there was always something about Catholicism that really, like, tugged at me,” they said. “It’s just so much a part of who I am.”

Swinford is hardly alone. Groups including DignityUSA and Fortunate Families — as well as New York’s handful of gay-friendly parishes — demonstrate the persistent need for LGBTQ+ affirming Catholic spaces.

Although Swinford had not been to a Catholic Mass of any kind in years, they decided to attend the Call to Action event because of the group’s explicit pro-LGBTQ+ advocacy and their curiosity about Tropeano.

“The thing I’ve missed the most is not being able to receive the Eucharist,” Swinford said in an interview after the event. “And so getting to receive the Eucharist from a woman priest, who is an outcast in her own way, because she’s also not accepted by the Church, was a really powerful experience.”

Reforming Mass, just west of Union Square

Many members of Call to Action are also parishioners at the Church of St. Francis Xavier on West 15th Street, a Roman Catholic church known for its inclusivity.

Inside the Church of St. Francis Xavier, west of Union Square.

St. Francis Xavier, which the Rev. Kenneth Boller has led since 2019, has hosted robust groups for gay- and lesbian-identifying Catholics since the 1990s. A group called “The Women Who Stayed” has been working with clergy to adapt services and Scripture to include more gender-neutral language for God.

“Everybody has fundamental aspirations and rights, and you learn how to work together to achieve them,” said Boller, a Queens native who has been a priest for almost 49 years, in a phone interview.

A man poses inside a church
Kenneth Boller, at The Church of St. Francis Xavier, west of Union Square.

Although the Church of St. Francis Xavier is recognized by the archdiocese, it still has a reputation for unorthodoxy among many practicing Catholics. Swinford said peers once warned them to stay away from the parish, saying it was “not in line with Church teaching.”

Stephanie Samoy, 60, is a member of The Women Who Stayed and St. Francis Xavier’s lively Catholic Lesbians group. Samoy first attended the church in 2001, and she and her wife were married there. Samoy came out as a lesbian in Tucson, Arizona, during the 1980s, and said she never imagined she could feel so much love in a church.

“When I first got there, I just bawled,” she said in a phone interview. “It broke me and I was ready to be broken. My mom came to New York one day, and we went to Mass, and I was crying again that my mom was here and she could experience this.”

A banner that welcome immigrants and refugees hangs from a church wall.
The exterior of the Church of St. Francis Xavier, near Union Square.

But even at a church like St. Francis Xavier, progressive parishioners are always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Rosemarie Sauerzopf, 73, and her wife, Paula Acuti, 76, are also members of Catholic Lesbians, and Sauerzopf is vice president of Call to Action Metro New York. The two were married at St. Francis Xavier in 2004.

“All this can change tomorrow if we get a new pastor who’s not friendly,” Sauerzopf said. “My parish is an anomaly. It’s an oasis.”

Complete Article HERE!

Thomas Gumbleton, Catholic Bishop and a Progressive Voice, Dies at 94

— He was arrested protesting war and clashed with fellow bishops in supporting gay marriage and the ordination of women and championing victims of sex abuse by priests.

Bishop Thomas Gumbleton in 1992. He celebrated his 80th birthday in a pup tent in Haiti after delivering medical supplies following a devastating earthquake there in 2010.

By Trip Gabriel

Thomas J. Gumbleton, a Roman Catholic bishop from Detroit whose nationally prominent support of liberal causes often clashed with church leadership, but who grounded his views in the 1960s Vatican reforms that promoted social justice, died on Thursday in Dearborn, Mich. He was 94.

His death was announced by the Archdiocese of Detroit, where he served for 50 years.

Bishop Gumbleton protested the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War and U.S. foreign policy regarding Central America in the 1980s. He opposed fellow Catholic bishops by speaking out in favor of same-sex marriage and the ordination of women. He championed victims of clergy sexual abuse and blamed that advocacy for his ouster as pastor of St. Leo Catholic Church in Detroit in 2007, a contention that the archdiocese disputed.

A man with graying hair wearing a priest’s collar, black blazer and large, square-framed glasses sits at a table with papers in front of him. He is looking at the camera.
Bishop Gumbleton during the 1983 National Conference of Catholic Bishops in Chicago. In 1968, he became the youngest bishop in the nation at age 38.

As an activist for the sick and the poor, Bishop Gumbleton visited more than 30 countries, including Haiti, where he celebrated his 80th birthday in a pup tent after delivering medical supplies following a devastating earthquake in 2010. In El Salvador, he bore witness to the condition of villagers during the civil war there in the 1980s. He later protested outside the School of the Americas in Georgia, an Army facility that trained Salvadoran military leaders tied to death squads.

In the preface to a biography about him, “No Guilty Bystander: The Extraordinary Life of Bishop Thomas Gumbleton” (2023), by Frank Fromherz and Suzanne Sattler, Bishop Gumbleton wrote of a formative experience visiting Egypt as a young priest.

While looking for a place where Catholic tradition held that Mary and Joseph took Jesus after fleeing to Egypt, he entered a neighborhood in Cairo teeming with people living in the street, dressed in rags and hungry and thirsty. “I grew up in Michigan during the Depression,” he wrote. “It was a struggle for my parents to pay their bills and keep us dressed and fed. But our poverty was nothing like that which I experienced that day.”

“This was the first opening I had to the idea of trying to do justice in the world,” he added.

Bishop Gumbleton in 1972 became the first president of Pax Christi USA, a Catholic peace movement that promotes nonviolence and rejects preparation for war. In the preceding years, he urged the National Conference of Catholic Bishops to pass a resolution condemning the Vietnam War, but the majority opposed him.

“Obviously, for one who would follow the earliest Christian tradition, supporting the Vietnam War is morally unthinkable,” he wrote in an opinion essay in The New York Times in 1971.

He was later arrested at antiwar demonstrations, in 1999 protesting NATO bombing in Yugoslavia and in 2003 opposing the Iraq War.

An older man with glasses wearing a priest’s collar and a woman stand at a gate, speaking to a uniformed security guard, who is holding onto one of the wrought iron bars. Overhead, boom microphones hover, catching their words.
Bishop Gumbleton and a Dominican nun, Sister Ardeth Platte, of Baltimore, presented a letter to White House security for President Bill Clinton in 1999 to protest American involvement in the war in Kosovo. They were later arrested during a demonstration.

In 1979, Bishop Gumbleton was one of three U.S. clergymen who traveled to Tehran for a Christmas Eve meeting with captive Americans in the U.S. Embassy during the Iranian hostage crisis. They held religious services and sang carols.

Despite his globe-trotting, Bishop Gumbleton considered himself an introvert and lived a spartan existence. He would often stay at a local Y.M.C.A. when traveling to church meetings. At St. Leo’s church, he had a bed on the floor in a room next to his office. In his car, he kept cash in the visor to give to homeless people.

Thomas John Gumbleton was born on Jan. 26, 1930, in Detroit, the sixth of nine children of Vincent and Helen (Steintrager) Gumbleton. His father worked for a manufacturer of car and truck axles. Thomas and three brothers attended Sacred Heart Seminary, a secondary school, though only Thomas continued on to become a priest. A sister, Irene Gumbleton, who survives him, became a nun, according to the National Catholic Reporter.

Thomas was ordained in 1956 after completing college-level work at St. John’s Provincial Seminary in Plymouth, Mich. In 1961, the Detroit diocese sent him to study in Rome, where he earned a doctorate in canon law. In 1968, at age 38, he was named an auxiliary bishop, the youngest bishop in the country at the time.

Detroit Catholic, a digital church publication, wrote of Bishop Gumbleton last week that his “early life and ministry were significantly influenced by the Second Vatican Council, which called upon the laity to take up a greater role in the Church, and for the Church to take a greater role in speaking out against injustice.”

His pacifism and other views were part of a progressive tradition in the Catholic Church. He was one of five bishops who, in 1983, drafted a landmark statement by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops that excoriated nuclear weapons.

But in later years his views diverged more acutely from the church mainstream, and he stopped attending the annual bishops’ conferences. He was never promoted above auxiliary bishop.

His views on gay and lesbian people, which he acknowledged had been stamped with the homophobia of his time, evolved faster than church doctrine, beginning when his youngest brother, Dan, came out as gay in the 1980s in a letter to family members. At first, Bishop Gumbleton feared that having a gay brother might affect his standing in the church, he told PBS in 1997, and he threw the letter aside without reading it to the end.

But when his mother asked him if her gay son would go to hell, Bishop Gumbleton said no, and he began a journey of acceptance that led him to speak to NPR about “the beauty of gay love” and to urge the church to accept same-sex marriage.

A man in a priest’s collar with rectangular glasses and a hearing aid looks at someone speaking out of the camera frame. In the background, a backdrop reads “SNAP” and “Protect children,” and includes black-and-white portraits.
Bishop Gumbleton at a news conference in Columbus, Ohio, in 2006. He supported a bill in the Ohio State Legislature that would have extended the statute of limitations for sex-abuse victims to file lawsuits.

In the early 2000s, as scandals over sexual abuse of children by clergy convulsed American Catholicism, Bishop Gumbleton spoke out for victims and criticized church leaders for not openly confronting the problem. In 2006, he endorsed a bill in the Ohio State Legislature that would extend the statute of limitations for sex-abuse victims to file lawsuits.

Ohio’s bishops opposed the legislation, in line with Catholic leaders across the country who had resisted similar measures; they feared financial ruin, knowing that California dioceses were inundated with more than 800 lawsuits in 2003 during a one-year extension of limits on old sex-abuse claims.

In his testimony, Bishop Gumbleton revealed that as a teenager in high school he had been “inappropriately touched” by a priest.

“I don’t want to exaggerate that I was terribly damaged,” he told The Washington Post in 2006. “It was not the kind of sexual abuse that many of the victims experience.” But he said it had made him understand why young victims did not come forward for years.

In January 2007, during his last Mass as the pastor of St. Leo’s, Bishop Gumbleton told parishioners that he had been forced to step down in retaliation for speaking out.

The Detroit archdiocese disputed that assertion, saying that he had been removed because all bishops were required to submit a resignation at age 75, and that his had been accepted the previous year, though he had asked to continue as pastor of St. Leo’s. Replacing Bishop Gumbleton, a diocese spokesman said at the time, was not related to his political activity.

“I did not choose to leave St. Leo’s,” Bishop Gumbleton told parishioners. “It’s something that was forced upon me.”

Several accounts of his career emphasized that his outspokenness had thwarted his chances of ever being given a diocese of his own.

In a statement, Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, Ky., the current president of Pax Christi, the peace group, said Bishop Gumbleton had “preferred to speak the truth and to be on the side of the marginalized than to toe any party line and climb the ecclesiastical ladder.”

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