Toledo woman attempts to heed call to be priest

Beverly Bingle is on a mission impossible.

A “cradle Catholic” who retired from the Toledo Catholic Diocese after serving as a pastoral associate at Blessed Sacrament Parish, Ms. Bingle feels that God is calling her to be a priest — a Roman Catholic priest.

She knows the rules, of course, stated clearly and concisely in Canon Law 1024: “Only a baptized male validly receives sacred ordination.”

And she knows church tradition.

But the deeply spiritual Toledoan with a doctorate in ministry from Ecumenical Theological Seminary in Detroit has been unable to shake the feeling that God wants her to be a priest in the Roman Catholic Church, to which she has belonged for all of her 68 years.

A no-frills type who shuns makeup, Ms. Bingle lives in a scruffy part of North Toledo where she plants a huge garden in her backyard and gives the harvest away to anyone in need.

Her calling to the priesthood is something she has wrestled with for years, she said, but the feeling began to intensify about a year ago when she “stumbled across” a group called Roman Catholic Womenpriests.

Members consider the group a renewal movement that is fully and legitimately part of the Roman Catholic Church. Their motto is “a new model of ministry in a renewed church.”

The female priests and supporters assert that the women’s ordination was in proper Apostolic Succession because the movement started when a male Roman Catholic bishop ordained seven female priests on the Danube River in Germany in 2002. A year later, the same bishop ordained two women as bishops.

Members and supporters of Roman Catholic Womenpriests believe Canon Law 1024 is in error, and like other unjust laws in history, including slavery, will be changed — eventually. But they refuse to sit idly by, awaiting what would be a seismic shift in church law and tradition.

About 90 women in the United States have been ordained thus far in the Roman Catholic Womenpriests movement, and five women have been ordained bishops. There are other female priests and bishops around the globe.

Female priests serve their flocks in different settings, including hospitals and nursing homes, with many presiding at weekly liturgies in rented or donated Protestant spaces.

Ms. Bingle has applied and has been accepted into the organization’s priestly formation program and is on track to be ordained sometime in 2013.

Three other women in the Toledo area are studying for the Roman Catholic priesthood, according to Ms. Bingle, but they are not ready to go public. Two are likely to be “catacomb priests” who never go public, and a third now works for the Toledo Diocese and fears she could lose her job and retirement benefits if the church finds out, Ms. Bingle said.

Taking a risk

Anyone who openly defies church law takes risk, including punishment from the church and harassment from traditional-minded Roman Catholics.

The Vatican has forbidden discussion of women’s ordination and has ruled that anyone who takes part in the ordination of female priests is automatically excommunicated by that action.

Bishop Leonard Blair of Toledo, in a statement explaining the church’s ban on female priests, cited Pope John Paul II’s 1994 apostolic letter, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, which said unequivocally that women cannot be ordained.

“The church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and … this judgment is to be definitively held by all the church’s faithful,” Bishop Blair said in quoting the pope’s letter.

Anyone who attempts to confer a sacred order on a woman, and any woman who attempts to receive a sacred order, incurs “excommunication immediately,” the measures necessary “to protect the nature and validity of the Sacrament of Holy Orders,” Bishop Blair said.

“The ordination of women is not possible, not because women are somehow unfit to carry out the functions of a priest, but because on the level of sacramental signs it is not the choice that the Lord has made.”

Pope John Paul’s 1994 letter effectively closed the debate on female priests because the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith deemed it to have “definitive” status.

Some theologians question the Vatican’s finding, however, saying the late pontiff’s letter would be more appropriately defined as “authoritative” — a critical distinction in the church world that would give the document less weight.

Female priests and their supporters say they are not concerned by threats or acts of excommunication, the Catholic Church’s harshest penalty that deprives a person of all participation in church society.

“They probably would excommunicate me already because I’m attempting to be ordained,” Ms. Bingle said. “But they can’t put you in jail anymore. And they can’t burn you at the stake.”

And in Ms. Bingle’s view, she would reject excommunication because she believes it is based on an unjust law.

“I would not consider myself excommunicated. In my opinion, my conscience tells me I am still a good practicing Catholic in good standing,” she said.

‘Badges of honor’

Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan of Sarasota, Fla., said she has received several letters of excommunication.

She said she considers them “badges of honor” because Pope Benedict XVI has canonized two excommunicated nuns, Mother Theodore Guerin and Mary MacKillop. “He is making excommunication the fast track to sainthood,” Bishop Meehan said in an interview.

Sydney Condray, 72, a Toledo author who has a doctorate in education administration, is weighing whether to seek ordination as a priest.

A widow, Ms. Condray said she feels “a call to a leadership role, and the priesthood is a call to leadership within a community.”

She believes Canon Law 1024 is “based on wrong assumptions; therefore their conclusions are wrong. I am not under any obligation to agree with things that make no sense to me. We have women who are leaders of countries, leaders of corporations, doctors, lawyers, and Indian chiefs.”

“It is an anachronism to require that only people of the male gender can be priests. Why, because they have exterior plumbing? Yes, Jesus was a man. But he was a man of Aramaic descent. Why not limit the priesthood to males of Aramaic descent? It can get that ridiculous,” Ms. Condray said.

The Rev. Roy Bourgeois, a Catholic priest from Louisiana who belongs to the Maryknoll Missionary order, is one of the only Roman Catholic priests in the United States who has publicly supported women’s ordination. He told The Blade in an interview that he feels he has no choice but to speak out because church law is wrong.

“In Catholicism, we all learn about the primacy of conscience. My conscience compelled me to break my silence on this issue, on this teaching,” Father Bourgeois said. “Silence is the voice of complicity. Now, when I broke my silence, I of course got in big trouble with the Vatican. However, I have refused to recant my belief in support of the ordination of women. I believe that our church teaching defies faith and reason and simply cannot stand up to scrutiny.”

Father Bourgeois got involved in a showdown with church authorities after he gave the homily at the ordination of Janice Sevre-Duszynska in Lexington, Ky., on Aug. 9, 2008. The priest has been threatened with dismissal and excommunication but as of this writing, Father Bourgeois remains a Roman Catholic priest in good standing.

Shortly after participating in Ms. Sevre-Duszynska’s ordination, “I received a very serious letter from the Vatican stating that I would be excommunicated automatically if I did not recant my support of women’s ordination as priests,” Father Bourgeois said. “I responded by saying that I cannot recant. Sexism, like racism, is a sin, and no matter how hard we may try to justify discrimination against women it is not the way of God but of men in their quest for power.”

He has not heard further from Rome, he said. His Maryknoll superiors, meanwhile, sent him two warning letters last year demanding that he recant, which he has refused to do. The order took a vote earlier this year to dismiss him, Father Bourgeois said, but the motion did not have enough votes to pass.

‘A grave injustice’

For Father Bourgeois, 73, a Roman Catholic priest for 40 years, the ban on women’s ordination is “a grave injustice.”

“The question I had to ask myself and my fellow priests is an all-important question that they refuse to answer, and it’s who are we, as men, to say that our call from God is authentic but your call as women is not. Who are we to reject God’s call of women to the priesthood?

“What I discovered after a lot of study and reflection is that the root of our church’s teaching is sexism. A grave injustice is being done against women and against God, who I believe without any doubt calls both men and women to the priesthood.”

Bishop Joan Houk of Pittsburgh, who heads the Great Waters Region of Roman Catholic Womenpriests, which includes Ohio, was a Roman pastoral director and pastoral associate in Kentucky, where for 5½ years she ran two Roman Catholic parishes that had no pastors.

“I preached. I did funerals that did not have Eucharistic liturgies. I took my turn doing hospital chaplaincy, but I was not able to use holy oils. I was not able to hear confessions or preside at Eucharist. I did a couple of baptisms, but I could not do weddings.”

Bishop Houk, a graduate of the University of Notre Dame with a master of divinity degree, said the ministry restrictions placed on her because of her gender became increasingly difficult to bear.

“It was extremely painful,” Bishop Houk, 71, said. “I never realized that it would be that painful. … I thought, ‘If I was ordained I could give them the sacraments.'”

In March, 2005, she was inspired to pursue ordination after hearing Bishop Patricia Fresen, a bishop and a native of South Africa, talk about apartheid.

“I had believed that someday the Catholic Church would ordain women,” Bishop Houk said. “I had been waiting, and then I saw that things were getting more rigid against any possibility of us getting ordained. And then I heard Patricia say that when you try everything and it doesn’t work, then sometimes what you have to do is break the law. It became very clear to me right then that that was something I needed to do. I needed to break the law.”

Opening the door

Roman Catholic Womenpriests reject several other Roman Catholic teachings. They allow priests to be married, and they ordain homosexuals, for example.

Several married men have been ordained in the movement.

“The only thing that matters is that they are called by God to the priesthood,” Bishop Houk said.

She is a Roman Catholic Womanpriest for a small community in the Pittsburgh area.

“When I see what the sacraments can do for these people through me, it’s very rewarding,” Bishop Houk said. “Now when I see what I can do for other people, I cannot worry about the Vatican and whether they will someday validate women’s ordinations. I can’t worry about their theological arguments. What I am concerned about is what I can do for people today. And I am doing it and I am at peace with that.”

Bishop Meehan, 64, of Sarasota, Fla., was one of the first eight women ordained in the United States, in a July, 2006, ceremony on a boat at the confluence of three rivers in Pittsburgh. She was ordained a bishop three years later.

She grew up in Ireland in a devout Catholic family, where “faith was woven into everything you are, and everything you were about,” Bishop Meehan said. “It was part of your whole being.”

After years of struggling with a calling to the priesthood, she saw a door open when nine women were ordained Roman Catholic priests in 2002 in a ceremony on the Danube River. Among them was Dagmar Celeste, a former first lady of Ohio.

“We don’t have to wait for permission anymore, Bishop Meehan said. “We’re not putting up with second-class citizenship. We are refusing to sit in the back of the bus. We are taking our rightful role. We are not leaving the church. No, we are leading the church.”

Complete Article HERE!

Gaithersburg priest defends decision to deny lesbian Communion

A Gaithersburg priest who was put on administrative leave from his parish after a controversial funeral Mass at which he denied Communion to a lesbian said in a statement Wednesday that he “did the only thing a faithful Catholic priest could do” and suggested that archdiocesan leaders and the woman were lying.

The Rev. Marcel Guarnizo had declined to comment publicly since the Feb. 25 Mass at St. John Neumann Catholic Church, where Barbara Johnson was mourning her mother. Having learned just before the Mass that Johnson, a 51-year-old D.C. artist, was a lesbian living with her partner, Guarnizo refused to let her receive Communion. The story exploded on the Internet, triggering an emotional debate among Catholics and others about the church’s views on homosexuality and the priest’s role in determining who is fit to partake of the sacrament.

Guarnizo’s statement, distributed on the conservative news site, contradicts the account given by Johnson and her family about how the tensions that day unfolded.

He also said his parish priest and the Archdiocese of Washington were being dishonest when they told parishioners this past weekend that Guarnizo was being removed for intimidating behavior unrelated to the Communion standoff.

Guarnizo said he was removed as a result of two conversations he had with people from whom he was trying to obtain written comment about what happened at the funeral Mass: the funeral director and a parish staff member present at the funeral.

In announcing his removal, the archdiocese said it had “received credible allegations that Father Guarnizo had engaged in intimidating behavior toward parish staff and others that is incompatible with proper priestly ministry.”

In his statement Guarnizo takes his superiors to task, saying he was essentially being removed because he denied Johnson Communion.

“And indeed contrary to the statement read on Sunday, March 11th during all Masses at St. John Neumann, both instances have everything to do with the Eucharistic incident. There is no hidden other sin or ‘intimidation’ allegations that they are working on, outside of these two meetings,” he said.

“The meetings in question, occurred in our effort to document from people at the funeral Mass in written form a few facts about the nature of the incident. We have collected more than a few testimonies and affidavits, testifying to what really took place during the funeral liturgy.

“My personal conversation with both parties in question were in my view civil, professional and in no way hostile. I respect both individuals in question and really do not know the nature of their grievance.”

Officials at DeVol Funeral Home have declined to comment, as have parishioners, who were told to refer questions to the archdiocese.

The Catholic blogosphere has been ablaze with debate about the incident, in part because of the silence of Guarnizo and the St. John Neumann community.

Previously, the only other details about the incident came from anonymous sources on conservative Catholic blogs who said Johnson had outed herself to the priest for no reason, forcing his hand.

Guarnizo said in his statement that public pressure to give Communion to the wrong people will force “the cruelest crisis of conscience that can be imposed.”

“It seems to me, the lack of clarity on this most basic issue puts at risk other priests who wish to serve the Catholic Church in Washington D.C.,” he said.

Officials of Washington Archdiocese, which includes the District and the Maryland suburbs, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But Johnson’s brother, Larry, said the family is livid.

“I actually thought there had been some closure. He has ripped it apart and escalated it,” said Larry Johnson, a Loudoun County accountant. “It’s remarkable. I thought he was a reprehensible person, and he’s certainly confirmed it. The arrogance, the tone, the characterizations, the blatant falsehoods.”

In describing the incident, Guarnizo said Barbara Johnson and her partner came in “completely unsolicited” and identified themselves as “lovers.”

The Johnsons said the women’s relationship came up inadvertently when Guarnizo, during a discussion of pre-Mass logistics, asked who the other woman was, and the other woman replied, “I’m her partner.”

Larry Johnson’s voice shook as he described Guarnizo’s version of events.

“His premise of the whole thing is the most remarkable. . . . I witnessed the coldness of this man, the arrogance of this man,” he said.

Guarnizo’s status at the parish isn’t clear as the Northern Virginia native is attached to the diocese of Moscow. It wasn’t known whether he was still a parish resident or what his suspension means for his ministry.

He said he would defend himself.

“What happened I believe contains a warning to the church. Such circumstances can and will be repeated multiple times over if the local church does not make clear to all Catholics that openly confessing sin is something one does to a priest in the confessional, not minutes before the Mass,” he said. “I am confident that my own view, that I did the only thing a faithful Catholic priest could do in such an awkward situation, quietly, with no intention to hurt or embarrass, will be upheld.”

Complete Article HERE!

Inclusive ‘Old Catholic Church’ community formed in Saranac Lake

The Rev. Christopher Courtwright-Cox was at the heart of the Roman Catholic Church when he realized that he no longer could be affiliated with it.

It was at the height of the Catholic priest sex abuse scandal in 2004, and Cox was living in Vatican City. He had just completed his seminary training and been ordained as a deacon.

“I had this growing sense of anxiety and depression while I was over there, and I couldn’t really articulate it,” said Cox. “But when (the sex abuse scandal) happened, to hear behind closed doors the amount of secretiveness and homophobia, and the amount of misogyny within the hierarchy of the church, it dawned on me why I was struggling so much.

“I started thinking about the place of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people in the church,” said Cox, who is gay. “I got to thinking about the place of women in the church, and about divorced people and how they’re not allowed to receive communion. All these things started coalescing for me, and I realized I can’t do this because it’s destroying me and it’s destroying people I care about. So I decided to leave active ministry.”

That decision marked the start of a journey that would eventually bring Cox to Saranac Lake, where he recently founded the Crossroads Catholic Community, billed as an “ecumenical, inclusive, non-judgmental and independent” religious community that still retains most Catholic traditions and practices.

Cox credits the Rev. Ann Gaillard, rector of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, where Crossroads is renting space for its services, for coming up with the Crossroads name.

“Crossroads worked because St. Luke’s is literally at the crossroads of the community, at the corner of Main and Church (streets), in the heart of the village,” he said. “But it’s also at the heart of what I’m trying to do and what the Old Catholic Church is about, and that is being an ecumenical bridge among all of the Christian denominations.”

The term “Old Catholic Church” refers to a number of Christian churches that originated with groups that split from the Roman Catholic Church over certain doctrines, primarily the belief that the pope can make infallible statements on church doctrine.

Cox’s connection to the Episcopal Church is what led him to try to learn more about the Old Catholic Church. About a year-and-a-half after he left active ministry, Cox was living in Plattsburgh and was approached by a friend who encouraged him to visit an Episcopal church.

“I started attending the Episcopal church to check it out, and I was like, ‘It’s Catholic-lite, but it’s also Catholic right,'” Cox said. “It’s kept all the things about Catholicism that I love: the scriptures, the Eucharist, the priesthood, the ritual, the community. But it got rid of a lot of the moralizing.”

Cox became a member of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Essex. He later moved to Saranac Lake, where he worked as the spiritual director of St. Joseph’s Addiction Treatment and Recovery Centers, a position he held for four years until he recently stepped down. During his time at St. Joseph’s he received his doctorate in pastoral counseling and started work on a master’s degree in theology.

“It was then that I realized, while I was writing my dissertation, the call that’s always really been in my heart, that I want to be in active ministry again,” Cox said. “It was at that time that I brought it up to my spiritual director, and he said, ‘Have you ever heard about the Old Catholic Church?'”

Cox contacted Bishop Rose Tressel, head of the United Catholic Church, which describes itself as “an old Catholic heritage church for the church’s homeless.” After giving it a lot of thought, Cox reactivated his ministry in August 2011 and founded the Crossroads Catholic Community, a member of the United Catholic Church.

Its services – held Wednesdays and Saturdays at St. Luke’s – are almost identical to those of the Roman Catholic Church, Cox said.

“The only real difference is that in the Eucharistic prayer, the pope is not prayed for as such; he’s prayed for as the bishop of Rome,” he said. “And we have more freedom in our liturgy; it’s not as rigid. We can draw from Orthodox sources, Old Catholic sources, Roman Catholic sources, Celtic sources. But the basic structure is the same: There’s a gathering around the scriptures, a sermon and the liturgy of the Eucharist, where all believers gather around the table to receive the body and blood of Christ.”

Cox says he averages about a dozen parishioners at the Saturday service, but he said he isn’t measuring his success by the number of people who attend.

“If just one person finds healing or finds peace with their own struggles, then that’s enough,” he said.

Crossroads has also been taking its message to the street. Cox, Gaillard and several of the Crossroads Community’s parishioners provided “Ashes to Go” on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 22, outside the Saranac Lake post office and in the Sears parking lot. About 60 people received ashes and blessings, Cox said.

Cox stressed that he’s not out to pick a fight with the Roman Catholic Church and its local parishes, like St. Bernard’s in Saranac Lake.

“What’s unique about this is you are free to come and go,” he said. “You can be a part of this community and still be a Baptist, a Methodist, an Episcopalian, a Roman Catholic – whatever you want. Our object is not conversion. It’s just a matter of belief and practice, and we want to return to what all of Christianity held in common.”

The Rev. Mark Reilly, pastor of St. Bernard’s, was reluctant to speak about the Crossroads group, although he said he is aware of it.

“To the degree that we may share some things as common as Christians, that’s one thing,” Reilly said. “To the degree that it’s another form of schism, that it appears to be, I need to be very careful.”

Gaillard called what Cox is doing “very exciting.”

“I think that the idea of that very specific ministry of reaching out the marginalized – it’s a very important one,” she said. “All churches seek to do that, but when you’ve got a different sort of ecclesiastical structure that supports it, that’s a new way of doing things, and that’s what he has.”

Crossroads parishioners like Angela Estes of Saranac Lake are just as enthusiastic. Estes said she grew up in the Roman Catholic Church but became dissatisfied with the church’s hierarchy in the wake of the priest sex abuse scandal and because she said she was “treated differently” when she got divorced.

Estes said she likes the Crossroads Community because “there’s no judgment at all, and the rules are not the same. You can be divorced, you can be gay, you can be a woman priest. It’s just church. It’s wonderful.”

Complete Article HERE!

Priest Charged With Patronizing a Prostitute

Police arrested a Northeast Philadelphia priest after he allegedly solicited sex and drugs from a female officer posing as a decoy.

Forty-eight-year-old Patrick McCormick, of the 3000 block of Levick Street, was charged with Patronizing a Prostitute on February 23rd.

The alleged incident happened around 11 p.m. on the 3300 block of Kensington Avenue.

Police say McCormick was arrested after soliciting sex and drugs from a female officer posing as a prostitute. McCormick saw the decoy on the street and offered her $50 to perform a sex act. Police say he also told her to bring a joint, according to investigators.

McCormick is an assistant pastor with St. Timothy Rectory on Levick Street in Northeast Philadelphia.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia, calling the information “deeply troubling” says McCormick notified them on February 24th that he was arrested but that the charge was a DUI.

Church officials said McCormick was placed on administrative leave.

Complete Article HERE!

BC Won’t Renew Contract Of Controversial Professor

Several students are protesting the decision by Boston College to not renew the contract of an adjunct professor in its School of Theology and Ministry who has openly questioned why the Catholic church won’t ordain women.

The Boston College mission statement on its website talks about the Jesuit foundation of the school that makes it unique. It reads: “No other institution so explicitly embodies the fundamental human desire to know.”

But after Father John Shea, a professor of pastoral care and counseling, asked church leaders for a theological explanation for why women are not being ordained to the priesthood of the Catholic church, he was let go. After nine years, Shea will leave his position at the end of this semester. He refused to comment.

The school says, as a matter of policy, it does not discuss personnel decisions*. But several of the BC students who are protesting the decision say there’s a climate of intolerance at the Jesuit university around openly discussing sensitive issues such as the ordination of women.

“I think the reason he was let go was because he was causing trouble,” said John Falcone, who worked as a graduate assistant with Shea.

Last year Shea wrote directly to Cardinal Sean O’Malley, telling him that he would step aside from active ministry until women are allowed to be ordained. Falcone says Shea has since paid a price for this position.

“I think the university, by any means necessary, is tying to avoid any kind of trouble or implication that the School of Theology and Ministry is not impeccably right wing orthodox,” Falcone said.

Recently, after Shea was told his contract would not be renewed, he wrote again to O’Malley, and to other Catholic leaders across the country, asking why the church won’t let women be priests.

Boston College said Shea’s contract was not renewed because his position was changed to a tenure-track job, a change the School of Theology and Ministry has sought for some time. But students in the program, including Paul Shoaf Kozak, are protesting his termination.

“John Shea is a highly respected faculty member,” Shoaf Kozak said. “He is, in fact, one of the only members of our department who teaches pastoral counseling. His classes are always full. He typically receives high evaluations from students.”

Shoaf Kozak signed a student-drafted letter to Boston College President William Leahy expressing disappointment with the decision not to renew Shea’s contract. The letter says there is an underlying message in the decision: you can’t disagree with Catholic teachings.

“There’s some suspicion, for sure, especially given the fact of the atmosphere right now of our church,” Shoaf Kozak said. “And at our school we’re not fully permitted to discuss issues in the public forum about homosexuality, female ordination, those issues that are very important for our generation of Catholics, here in a North American context.”

Boston College says this is not true. Spokesman Jack Dunn says the school doesn’t shy away from any conversations.

“Unfortunately some students apparently are upset over a personnel issue and while I’ll never discuss personnel issues, I can assure you that anger is misguided,” Dunn said. “It’s a terrific school, it’s a school that’s embracing the issues of the day, as a school of theology and ministry should.”

The Vatican has been clamping down on priests who have advocated for the ordination of women. Last year, a priest from the Maryknoll order was excommunicated because he took part in a women’s ordination ceremony.

Suzanne Thiel is the president of an origination known as Roman Catholic Women Priests, and is one of approximately 100 women who have gone through ordination ceremonies and call themselves priests. Thiel said the Catholic public has accepted female ordination, but church officials won’t talk about it.

“I think we have plenty of male priests who are open to women balancing out the ministry but they just are afraid for all kinds of reasons,” Thiel said. “Probably their retirement, especially, and just their whole priesthood from being cut off, because that’s how this hierarchy has been functioning.”

The primary theological explanation the Vatican gives is that women can’t be priests because a priest has to represent Christ, and women can’t do that because they’re not male.

Students in Boston College’s School of Theology and Ministry say they expected an atmosphere that welcomes dialogue and values professors who embody the Christian spirit. They have asked BC President Leahy for an explanation of his decision not to renew Professor Shea’s contract.

Complete Article HERE!