Ex-priest keeps the faith

Unable to deny his feelings, Father Jim resigns to be with the woman he loves

Like many Roman Catholic men who feel called to the priesthood, the Rev. Jim Hearne wrestled with whether ordination was right for him.

The youngest of seven in an Irish Catholic family, he saw the joy of family life firsthand and never could quite extinguish the desire to one day have children of his own. But spurred to help stem the priest shortage and strengthen the integrity of the cloth, Hearne donned a priest’s collar in 2005 at age 25.

Now he wonders if his six years in the pulpit as “Father Jim” might have been preparation to become Jim, the father. After a six-month leave of absence from St. Giles Roman Catholic Church in Oak Park, Illinois, Hearne decided not to return to the pulpit, but to stay in the pews and pray to one day start a family of his own.

He has no intention of turning his back on Catholicism. Rather, he wants to be more faithful to the church he calls home, and faithful to his feelings.

Hearne has fallen in love.

“To stay and bear and grunt it out I think would be unfair to God,” Hearne, 32, said during a recent interview at his childhood home in Dolton, Illinois. “It would be unfair to the people of God and would be unfair to me. … Perhaps God just wanted me to be a priest for six years. It’s odd. It’s weird. It’s mysterious. That’s our God.”

Hearne’s decision has sent a ripple through the Oak Park congregation, where many parishioners bemoan the Catholic Church’s celibacy requirement and the scarcity of men who want to become priests. Allowing priests to marry would bolster the dwindling ranks, many believe, and enable committed Catholics like Hearne to serve both God and family.

Meanwhile, Cardinal Francis George said he wishes Hearne would reconsider.

But Hearne’s tale is not about a loss of faith or a clash with church hierarchy. It’s about a man who believes he is following God in an unexpected direction. While he already misses his ministry, he does not resent his church for prohibiting priests from marrying. Celibacy is not necessarily a bad idea, he says.

“I think the spiritual quest or journey is our attempt to understand, freely receive, embrace God’s entering into our life out of pure love,” he said. “Am I to have a family? What kind of work will I do? Will I be seen as an outcast by other members of the clergy and even the cardinal for having left the ministry?”

Hearne doesn’t speak in simple sentences. He delivers sermons. After all, he spent most of his life training to become a priest.

That journey began at the bedside of his dying mother 21 years ago. As he waited for his six older brothers and sisters to arrive at the hospital, priests rotated in and out of the room, offering prayers and comfort to the 11-year-old son and his father.

Hearne believes he saw the best of the priesthood that day.

“I really saw God shining through all those people in a way I hadn’t before and thought: ‘Maybe I could do that. Maybe God is calling me in that direction,’ ” Hearne said.

His older brother John saw Hearne’s vocation then, too. While most of the siblings were angry with God for taking their mother at age 50, their youngest brother remained upbeat, he said.

“When I look back, my brother was probably the strongest of all. We all knew there was something there,” said John Hearne, 45, of Dyer, Indiana. “I believe he saw something that we didn’t: faith.”

Jim Hearne enrolled at Mount Carmel High School, an all-boys school run by the Carmelite religious order.

He later enrolled at St. Joseph College Seminary at Loyola University, where for the first time in years he attended classes with the opposite sex.

Several fellow seminarians disregarded the prohibition on dating and eventually dropped out of the program. Hearne adhered to the rule, but it was a challenge. When he reached Mundelein Seminary for his graduate work, a veteran clergyman offered some words of wisdom that helped. Every priest falls in love during the course of his priesthood, the clergyman warned.

“You praise God in those moments,” Hearne said. “Just because you have the blackandwhite collar on doesn’t mean you stop having feelings. That’s what he really got across. Now it’s what you do with that love that will determine your course of action.”

Just as seeing the best of the priesthood propelled Hearne toward the vocation, witnessing the worst of the clerical culture by the time he was ordained further fuelled his commitment. While he was still enrolled in Mundelein Seminary, the sexabuse scandal erupted in Boston and spread nationwide.

“It was going to be on my generation of priests to try and somehow, some way restore trust and integrity to the priesthood, remembering that [the] majority of priests are doing what they’re supposed to be doing,” Hearne said.

As an associate pastor at St. James Catholic Church, in Arlington Heights, Illinois, and also at St. Giles, Hearne was popular with young people and heavily involved in the youth ministries.

But as the young priest immersed himself in the daytoday demands of priesthood, he realized he was lonely.

“They can teach you all they want” about celibacy, he said. “You can read all the books about it that have been printed – volumes and volumes. Until you live it and experience it, it’s a far different thing.”

To protect her privacy, Hearne won’t say much about the woman he fell for. But he does acknowledge that it’s serious.

“A man doesn’t leave the priesthood just to date,” he said.

His brother John made sure of it, interrogating the woman the first time they met, to make sure she was equally committed and understood what his brother was willing to give up for her.

Jim Hearne emphasizes that he has “crossed no moral boundaries,” and he still upholds the church’s teaching on chastity.

Unable to deny his feelings any longer, he met with the cardinal last July and requested a leave of absence. Falling in love was not a legitimate reason to leave the priesthood, the cardinal told him, before granting him six months to give his decision more thought.

“Jim is a very fine man. He’s a really good man,” George said. “I hope with God’s grace that it will work out.”

The cardinal also warned him that if he left the priesthood and became a layperson once again, he could not immediately marry in the church – a source of heartbreak for Hearne, who wouldn’t want to marry anywhere else.

In a letter to parishioners at St. Giles, Hearne assured them that misconduct had not spurred his sudden departure. He also assured them that they had not forced him to leave.

“Please know that you have done nothing wrong,” he wrote.

“I love God. I love my faith. I love you. And it is because of this love that I need to do this for myself.”

Complete Article HERE!

Batley schoolboy with Down’s Syndrome barred from first Holy Communion

THE Roman Catholic Church is preventing a seven-year-old boy with Down’s Syndrome from taking his first Holy Communion.

Little Denum Ellarby goes to church, knows who Jesus is and is old enough to take part in the special ceremony.

But he will not be joining children of his age at Holy Communion preparation classes or on the big day itself at St Mary’s Church in Batley.

The diocese has written to Denum’s parents saying their son is not yet ready as he has ‘limited concentration’ and does not enjoy Mass.

His parents have now accused the Catholic Church of discriminating against him because of his disability.

Mum Clare, of Crown Flatt Way, Dewsbury, said: “I feel really let down by the Catholic faith. If I don’t stick up for him, no-one will.”

Seven-year-old Denum is a pupil at St Mary’s Catholic Primary School in Batley.

The Reporter Series understands that at the age of about seven, pupils from St Mary’s School are invited to take First Communion classes at St Mary’s Church.

But Mrs Ellarby said she never received an invite and by the time her family heard about the classes they had missed the first meeting.

Parish priest Fr Mungovin declined to comment about Denum, as did St Mary’s School and the Vicar General.

In a statement, a Diocese spokesman said: “Often Baptism is celebrated for babies in order to bring them into the life of the Church but they only proceed to the Sacrament of First Communion when they take part in the Church’s life and understand the Church’s faith in regard to these Sacraments. Denum’s family has not participated in the regular life of the Church or in the preparation preceding First Communion.

“We hope that this will change as Denum grows and we are working with him and his family to help him achieve this.”

Xanthe Breen, of the Down’s Syndrome Association, has been speaking to the family about their concerns.

She said: “It’s not something we have ever heard of before. It’s a shame all parties can’t come to a compromise.”

Complete Article HERE!

Priest who fathered child removed from New York church

A newly installed Roman Catholic priest has been removed from his suburban New York parish after church officials on Thursday said he secretly fathered a child while attending seminary.

The removal of Reverend Casmir Mung’aho, 34, from his post at St. Stephen the First Martyr Church in the Orange County town of Warwick, New York, comes two weeks after the resignation of a Los Angeles assistant bishop who admitted he had two children.

Mung’aho was asked to step down after officials learned he fathered a child in a consensual relationship with an adult woman during his first year of seminary school, Bishop Dominick Lagonegro said in a statement.

While Mung’aho was removed from the congregation in Warwick, it was not yet clear whether he will remain a priest or be defrocked by the New York Archdiocese, said archdiocese spokesman Joseph Zwilling. He said officials had yet to discuss with Mung’aho what action will be taken.

“Father never revealed this to our bishops or seminary authorities, which he certainly should have done,” Lagonegro said in a statement.

“Given the need for Father Casmir to address this matter and reflect on his responsibilities in a very serious way, his assignment to St. Stephen’s is now ended. Please pray for him, as well as for the mother and the child whose lives are so precious.”

The Catholic Church requires celibacy from its priests.

When asked how the church found out about the young child, the Rev. Michael McLoughlin, St. Stephen’s pastor, declined to elaborate to Reuters.

“We’re all sad and we’re all praying for him,” McLoughlin said. “Everything is out there now and other than that I have nothing to say.”

Attempts to reach Mung’aho were not immediately successful. According to his biography published in the New York archdiocese’s official newspaper last year, he grew up in Tanzania and came to the United States about six years ago. As a child, he had always dreamed of becoming a priest.

“The support and respect for the church in general is very high,” he said in his biography. “I see myself here being a model. It’s being an example every day.”

Mung’aho graduated from St. Joseph’s Seminary school in Yonkers, just north of New York City, last year before taking a position at the church in Warwick, a town about 60 miles north of New York City.

Earlier this month, Gabino Zavala, an assistant bishop of the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Los Angeles, resigned after admitting he had a secret family and the two teenage children he fathered were living with their mother in another state.

Complete Article HERE!

Minn. archbishop warns priests to toe line

Catholic Archbishop John Nienstedt has warned a Minnesota priest to toe the church line in support of a marriage amendment referendum or face the consequences.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported Sunday Nienstedt sent a letter last fall to the Rev. Mike Tegeder, the pastor at St. Frances Cabrini and Gichitwaa Kateri churches in Minneapolis who has voice opposition to the proposed amendment to the state Constitution that goes before Minnesota voters in November.

Nienstedt told Tegeder unless he desists in opposing the amendment that would define marriage as a union only between a man and woman he would strip the priest of his “faculties to exercise ministry” and remove him from his “ministerial assignments.”

Tegeder said he doesn’t believe the church should be actively campaigning in support of the amendment. Minnesota has about 1.1 million Catholics.

“That’s not the way to support marriage,” Tegeder said. “If we want to support marriage, there are wonderful things we can do as Catholic churches and ministers. We should not be focused on beating up a small number of people who have this desire to have committed relationships.”

But Nienstedt has told Catholic clergy across the state there is to be no “open dissension” of the church’s support for the measure. As the archbishop sees it, the very existence of marriage hangs in the balance.

“The endgame of those who oppose the marriage amendment that we support is not just to secure certain benefits for a particular minority, but, I believe, to eliminate the need for marriage altogether,” he said in a letter to the state’s clergy.

“As I see it, we have this one chance as Minnesotans to make things right. The stakes could not be higher.”

Nienstedt is marshaling his forces, sending priests and married couples to Catholic high schools to talk about marriage and having parishes organize committees to work for the amendment’s passage, the Star Tribune said.

Complete Article HERE!

For Priests’ Wives, a Word of Caution


WHAT will life be like for the wives of Roman Catholic priests?

On Sunday, the Vatican announced the creation of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter, a special division of the Roman Catholic Church that former Episcopal congregations and priests — including, notably, married priests — can enter together en masse. The Vatican has stressed that the allowance for married priests is merely an exception (like similar dispensations made in the past by the Vatican) and by no means a permanent condition of the priesthood. If a priest is single when he enters the ordinariate, he may not marry, nor may a married priest, in the event of his wife’s death, remarry.

Nonetheless, the Roman Catholic Church is prepared to house married priests in numbers perhaps not seen since the years before 1123, when the First Lateran Council adopted canon 21, prohibiting clerical marriage.

Now as then, the church’s critics and defenders are rehashing arguments about the implications of having married priests in an institution that is otherwise wary of them. But in the midst of these debates, we should pause to ponder the environment that the priests’ wives might expect to encounter. After all, the status of the priest’s wife is perhaps even more strange and unsettling than that of her ordained Catholic husband.

While the early Christian church praised priestly chastity, it did not promulgate decisive legislation mandating priestly celibacy until the reform movement of the 11th century. At that point, the foremost purpose of priestly celibacy was to clearly distinguish and separate the priests from the laity, to elevate the status of the clergy. In this scheme, the mere presence of the priest’s wife confounded that goal, and thus she incurred the suspicion, and quite often the loathing, of parishioners and church reformers. You can’t help wondering what feelings she will inspire today.

By the time of the First Lateran Council, the priest’s wife had become a symbol of wantonness and defilement. The reason was that during this period the nature of the host consecrated at Mass received greater theological scrutiny. Medieval theologians were in the process of determining that bread and wine, at the moment of consecration in the hands of an ordained priest at the altar, truly became the body and blood of Jesus Christ. The priest who handled the body and blood of Christ should therefore be uncontaminated lest he defile the sacred corpus.

The priest’s wife was an obvious danger. Her wanton desire, suggested the 11th-century monk Peter Damian, threatened the efficacy of consecration. He chastised priests’ wives as “furious vipers who out of ardor of impatient lust decapitate Christ, the head of clerics,” with their lovers. According to the historian Dyan Elliott, priests’ wives were perceived as raping the altar, a perpetration not only of the priest but also of the whole Christian community.

The priest’s nuclear family was also seen as a risk to the stability of the church. His children represented a threat to laypersons, who feared that their endowments might be absorbed into the hands of the priest’s offspring to create a rival clerical dynasty. A celibate priest would thus ensure donations from the neighboring landed aristocracy. Furthermore, the priest’s wife was often accused, along with her children, of draining the church’s resources with her extravagance and frivolity. Pope Leo IX attempted to remedy this problem in the 11th century by decreeing that the wives and children of priests must serve in his residence at the Lateran Palace in Rome.

Given this history, I caution the clerical wife to be on guard as she enters her role as a sacerdotal attaché. Her position is an anomalous one and, as the Vatican has repeatedly insisted, one that will not receive permanent welcome in the church. That said, for the time being, it will be prudent for the Vatican to honor the dignity of the wives and children of its freshly ordained married priests. And here, I suggest, a real conversation about the continuation of priestly celibacy might begin.

Until then, priests’ wives should beware a religious tradition that views them, in the words of Damian, as “the clerics’ charmers, devil’s choice tidbits, expellers from paradise, virus of minds, sword of soul, wolfbane to drinkers, poison to companions, material of sinning, occasion of death … the female chambers of the ancient enemy, of hoopoes, of screech owls, of night owls, of she-wolves, of blood suckers.”

Complete Article HERE!