In Formation

Saturday, June 29


Rebels reject the Church they claim to love

Five years ago, Christine Mayr-Lurnetzberger, wrote this:

Precisely as regards the ordination of women, this freedom is of the greatest importance. If a community, a group, �two or three� should ask me to celebrate a Eucharist with them, I shall do that. I have talked to women who already do this. They and I are empowered to do so by baptism and confirmation, that is, through the gifts of the Holy Spirit. I�m aware that this is forbidden by Church law, and can draw down ecclesial punishment. But what can separate me from the love of Christ? (Rom.8,35,39) These words of Paul have encouraged me. I was able to talk to women employed by the Church. They put their hopes in women like me, who need not fear for their livelihoods if they do what the Lord has instructed us to do - celebrate his memory.

By now I am 40, and for 25 years I have fought for my dream of being a women priest. I have hoped so very much that the time after the Second Vatican Council would remain a time of awakening and renewal. I was so happy to be young just then. I rejoiced in the renewal of the liturgy, and was full of hope that things would continue. John Paul ll was elected Pope while I was a nun, and almost from that very day the forward surge was halted; and since then it has been in continual retreat. I left a convent that was different from the one I had entered.

Evidently, she was tired of waiting, and didn't want to play priest anymore. Today (if you believe their website) or tomorrow (based on news reports), she and up to ten others will be secretly "ordained" to the priesthood in Austria or Germany.

"Women make up half of all Christians. If this ordination does not effectively conform to the laws of the Church, it goes against tradition and not against faith," said Christine Mayr-Lumetzberger, a former nun who is now a teacher and spokeswoman for the group.

Unsurprisingly, the officials of the Roman Catholic Church reject the planned "ordination."

In a message which was read out in all the churches in his diocese last week, Aichern warned the candidate "priestesses" against "a simulated ordination which would create a fundamental split with the Church".

"If they go ahead with their plans they could be excommunicated," said the bishop of St Poelten in eastern Austria, while the bishop of Feldkirch, western Austria, told the weekly Profil it was a "serious violation of the rules of the Church which threatens to draw in other believers".

"If a woman celebrates a mass she will be automatically excommunicated," predicted Bruno Primetshofer, an expert on Church law.

The controversy comes as Austria faces a crisis in its priesthood. Last year just 23 priests were ordained in a country which officially counts six million Catholics in a population of eight million.

"I believe that the male priests in the church are getting older and older and fewer and fewer. If they want to keep staffing the church they will have to have women," said Mayr-Lumetzberger.

Mayr-Lumetzberger evidently thinks she (and other women) need to help out the Holy Spirit. The recalcitrant Church has, she supposes, dropped the vocations ball, and she and her cohort are ready to come to the rescue. This group of rebellious women is living on the negative energy of frustration and pain at what they consider an unjust, male-dominated Church. Sadly, by tomorrow, their lives are going to be filled with more pain (and potentially more judgment), not less. May God help them and convert their hearts!

No rebels, these women

In stark contrast to the priest-wannabes, consider this group of four novices who will profess their vows today as members of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.

As an antidote to the depressing news of women taking the Church into their own hands, consider the testimony of these four young, beautiful, and godly women, who today become espoused to Christ. Congratulations to Sister Mary David, Sister Teresa Benedicta, Sister Annunciata, and Sister Mary Magdalene!

Take a look at the faces of these women, read their testimonies, look at the apostolates in which they are engaged. Then compare them and their countenances with those of the schismatic "reformers" described above.

Is there any doubt which of these two groups will be truly happy after today? Is there any doubt which of the two liturgies will warm the heart of Christ and the Communion of Saints? None whatsoever.

I only wish I'd have been able to be in Ann Arbor to rejoice with these four women and their families, to witness and celebrate their espousal to the One who loved them enough to die for them.

The way forward, as these four women know, is self-donation and self-sacrifice. It's never self-promotion.

posted by Fr. Steve | 6/29/2002 |

Friday, June 28


Capitulating to the Culture

Last night on NPR's All Things Considered, in a piece entitled "Dissatisfied Bishops," Bishop Joseph Sullivan of Brooklyn argued, among other things, for a reconsideration of mandatory celibacy (link requires Real Audio Player). Bishop Sullivan argued that earlier generations valued the commitment to celibacy and the sacrifice priests made for the Church, but the current generation does not understand it. Instead of approving of priests' sacrifice for the Church, this generation is asking what's wrong with those who would willingly give up a wife and family, who would willingly give up sex.

I think Bishop Sullivan is largely correct in his description of how the culture views celibacy, but his solution seems particularly problematic from a Catholic point of view. It is easy to agree with him that relatively few Catholics, let alone non-Catholics, understand the Church's teaching about celibacy and the priesthood. Furthermore, many do, as he said, believe it is "unnatural" to give up sex.

Regrettably, instead of engaging the culture with the teachings of the Tradition, Bishop Sullivan capitulates to the culture. From the fact that this generation doesn't seem to understand celibacy, he concludes that the culture can't understand celibacy. He goes further, recommending that we get rid of mandatory celibacy, as if doing so would make the priesthood less strange, more "natural" to this generation.

There's no use pretending that celibacy is an easy teaching, because it's not. But it comes in a long line of difficult teachings. "Love your enemies, and do good to those who persecute you" is no piece of cake.

Among Christ's difficult teachings, the most conspicuous--the one that sent quite a few would-be followers packing--was what he taught about His Body and Blood in John 6. After he said shocking things to his followers (about eating his flesh and drinking his blood), many of them walked away in disgust and disbelief. In response, Christ did not temper his teaching to satisfy them. Instead, he proclaimed the truth more boldly.

Difficult teachings, like those concerning the Eucharist and the discipline of celibacy, may drive persons away, but popular rejection of a teaching is no mandate for change. So, if "this generation" doesn't understand celibacy as a gift (as Jesus taught), the way forward is not to jettison the teaching, but to teach the truth and live it well.

posted by Fr. Steve | 6/28/2002 |

Thursday, June 27


Cardinal George praises High Court ruling

School vouchers are a step in the right direction, says Cardinal George. And there are plenty of parents across the country who agree with him (and the five Supreme Court Justices).

posted by Fr. Steve | 6/27/2002 |

Rose is feeling a few more thorns

Amy Welborn links to a couple more takes on Michael Rose's Goodbye, Good Men. Be sure to check out the comments on Amy's blog. They are, unsurprisingly (given the book), getting a bit heated.

For what it's worth, I offered my own critique of Michael Rose's book (and his response to Fr. Rob Johansen's review) here.

posted by Fr. Steve | 6/27/2002 |


George's surgery (see previous post) to replace a valve in his heart went well. He is in the ICU, and should be able to return home as early as Sunday. Thanks to all of you who joined me in praying for him!

posted by Fr. Steve | 6/27/2002 |

Wednesday, June 26


What we do best

Catholics, that is. As part of the five week African-American ministry program, I am living with a group of five other seminarians. One of them, an African who is a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Chicago, will have open-heart surgery tomorrow morning to repair a congenital heart defect.

This evening, just after dinner, the pastor gathered all of us together in the chapel in the rectory to pray with George and to give him the Sacrament of the Sick. The priest began by stating the obvious--that George would be having major surgery tomorrow. Then he said something that wasn't obvious, but became obvious once he said it. He said "we gather to do what we do best."

Of course, he said, we do a good job feeding the poor, a good job teaching, and he listed many things the Church does well. But, he said, what we do best is pray. And then we did. We prayed.

What a consolation it was for me, and I'm sure doubly for George, to have this time of prayer and anointing. The prayer included a penitential rite, a responsorial psalm, a Gospel reading from Luke, and a short homily. Then we all laid hands on George, and prayed two litanies, one with the response, "Lord, have mercy," and the other, "Thanks be to God who heals us in Christ." What better words could one possibly have on one's lips before surgery?

After that, the priest anointed George with oil, we prayed the Lord's Prayer, and the priest gave him the Eucharist. What a privilege it was to be present, and to be Catholic at that moment.

Tonight was a great reminder for me. It showed me again why I love being Catholic and why I want to be a priest. Like the pastor here, I have no doubt that praying--in all the ways Catholics pray--is what we do best.

With that in mind, if you think of it, please keep George in your prayers. And not just George, but also the myriad men, women, boys, and girls who need healing of any kind. The Great Physician longs to make us whole. And that's my prayer for George and for all of you.

posted by Fr. Steve | 6/26/2002 |

The Strengths of Priests Today

A reader sent me these reflections by retired Archbishop John Quinn of San Fransisco in America magazine (link requires registration). He reflects on the state of the priesthood after 32 years as bishop, and concludes with these encouraging words:

Studies and other indicators seem to show that by and large priests love their ministry, that their lives are in fact centered in faith, and that the majority of them find a deep, quiet joy and satisfaction in the celebration of the Eucharist. Somehow, in face of all the challenges, these priests are finding a way to cope with the serious problems that worry them, demoralize them at times and weigh them down. Many priests say they experience strong support and love from their people, and they do not feel they are carrying the burdens of their life in isolation. The picture is not all dark.

I believe, in fact, that this is the best time in the history of the church
to be a priest, because it is a time when there can be only one reason for being a priest or for remaining a priest-that is, to "be with" Christ. It is not for perks or applause or respect or position or money or any other worldly gain or advantage. Those things either no longer exist or are swiftly passing. The priest of today is forced to choose whether he wants to give himself to the real Christ, who embraced poverty, including the poverty of the commonplace, rejection, misrepresentation-the real Christ of the Gospels-or whether, with the mistaken throngs of Jesus' time, he wants an earthly, worldly messiah for whom success follows upon success.

The priest, for whom Christ Jesus is the true and living center of his heart and life, is the one who can bring the church and the world what they need more than anything else today-hope. The church needs teachers. Yes. But more than ever it needs witnesses to hope. The world, cynical as it may be, wants to touch God and to see the face of God.

posted by Fr. Steve | 6/26/2002 |

Tuesday, June 25


Another account of DePaul Conference on Abuse

This time from the Chicago Tribune (link requires free registration).

posted by Fr. Steve | 6/25/2002 |

Bishop Dolan on the scandal, holiness, and hope

In an interview with National Catholic Register, excerpted by Zenit, Bishop Dolan, the former North American College Rector, offers words of wisdom and hope. Here are a few excerpts:

Q: What is your assessment of this crisis and its meaning in the life of the Church?

Bishop Dolan: I would say we�re people of hope, and we�ve got to look at this through the lens of what the Lord is inviting us or challenging us to do at this moment. I think obviously everybody�s saying that he is calling us to cleansing, purification and renewal.

I really think we�re at a moment somewhat similar to the Catholic Reformation after the Council of Trent . . . . I really think what we�ve got is a privileged moment of grace when the Lord is inviting his Church to intense renewal and a call to sanctity.

Q: At this time the laity are asking their shepherds to be not merely administrators but true pastors. How do you see that being lived out from this point on?

Bishop Dolan: As my own Archbishop Justin Rigali often says, there is no way that we can get by with anything less than holiness of life, which shows itself in integrity and fidelity.

I think for us as bishops, it�s starting with us. And it�s starting internally. We see that our people are calling us to be shepherds, our people are calling us to be pastors and our people are calling us to be men of prayer and heroic virtue; men firm about the pursuit of perfection.

Sounds to me like he really gets it. Not only that, he really seems to believe what he says. And, in my book, that makes him a Bishop for the Third Millenium.

And there's more! He's been named Archbishop of Milwaukee

At least so says A Saintly Salmagundi. Congratulations, Bishop Dolan! Congratulations, Milwaukee! What a gift in difficult times. I suspect there are men and women in Milwaukee seeing a bit of Easter Sunday after their long Good Friday.

posted by Fr. Steve | 6/25/2002 |

Back in Chicago . . .

And things are kind of tough. When I arrived for the program on African-American ministry, I learned that one of the Black priests who would be part of our experience (he would spend time talking with us, we would visit his parish, etc.) years ago had confessed to some abuse, gone through penance and therapy, and been restored to ministry by Cardinal Bernardin. Now, with the new policy in place, this pastor is being removed from ministry. (I'll be visiting his parish on Sunday, the first since the announcement of his departure.)

Today, the Sun-Times reports what Cardinal George had to say about the effects of abuse at a conference at DePaul:

Victims of sexual abuse by priests lose their hearts, souls and, in a way, their sense of time.

"It could have been 30 years ago, but it's as if it happened yesterday," Cardinal Francis George said Monday. "It stays with them for life."

[Here's a story in the Washington Post that confirms this claim.]

The cardinal spoke at a daylong seminar sponsored by DePaul University's Center for Church/State Studies and the Cook County state's attorney's office.

George announced on Sunday that eight priests accused of sexual misconduct will be withdrawn from the ministry. Two have resigned and a third has retired.

Asked how he would look back on this period in years to come, George said, "Hopefully as a moment of purification."

I suspect that this "moment of purification" will be particularly painful for the members of the priests' parishes and the priests themselves. Our prayers for the victims should be supplemented by prayers for those in parishes and the (often penitent) abusive priests who are being forced out--admittedly because of actions of their own--regardless of whether they have been converted.

The Cardinal said before Dallas that a "zero-tolerance policy would require sacrifice," and he was surely right.

posted by Fr. Steve | 6/25/2002 |

Monday, June 24


Learning from Black Catholics

Today I begin a five-week program on the Southside of Chicago to learn about ministry to Black Catholics. I'm letting all of you know because my blog will include some reports about what I'm learning. It might also take me some time to get connected electronically.

In the meantime, for those who are interested, here is a Pastoral Letter on Racism written by Cardinal George and published on the 33rd Anniversary of the Death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Finally, here's a question to mull over: Is the Catholic Church in America Black enough? You may have strong opinions, no opinion, or you might think it's neither important nor appropriate to ask such questions. But, whatever your view, I'm interested in what you think. Add a comment or send me an email. I'll keep you posted about what I'm learning (from your comments and my experiences).

posted by Fr. Steve | 6/24/2002 |

Increased scrutiny of homosexual priests

A rather balanced piece today in the Washington Post about the implications of the Apostolic Visitation, "Gay priests," and fidelity to Church teachings.

The [Apostolic Visitation] will examine the schools' "fidelity" to the church's moral teachings on sexuality, according to the communique the U.S. cardinals issued after their April meeting in Rome.

The Rev. Edward J. Burns, executive director of the secretariat for vocations and priestly formation at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said that details of the inspection will be worked out in a "dialogue" over the next several months among the U.S. bishops, the Vatican's ambassador to Washington and the Congregation for Catholic Education, the Vatican department that oversees seminaries.

While "there are still a lot of unknown variables," he added, the ordination of gay men "will be an issue" on the program.

Gay men who become Catholic priests . . . must accept and preach moral teachings that do not affirm their sexual orientation. "If you're someone who believes that heterosexuality and homosexuality are equally valued, then that's not the teaching of the church and you're probably going to be in a life-long frustration as a priest," said the Rev. Stephen J. Rossetti, a consultant to the bishops on treating sexual offenders. But, Rossetti added, "personally, I know some homosexuals who are priests who do embrace the church's teachings, and they are wonderful priests."

The important word here is embrace. The standard (on all moral teachings--for hetersexual and homosexual priests) cannot simply be the "acceptance" of Church teaching. It must be the embrace of Church teachings and willingness to proclaim them. On this question, homosexual priests must be especially purposeful that they will speak the Church's teaching most lovingly and fully to those who struggle with same-sex attraction. There can be no compromising asides uttered in hushed tones, such as "I'm gay too; though the Church doesn't understand you, I do, etc."

One way to discern a priest or seminarian's view of Church teaching on homosexuality may be to ask what they think of Courage, a ministry to homosexuals endorsed by Pontifical Council for the Family. If they scoff at Courage or dismiss it as "naive," "unscientific," "homophobic," or "old-school," there's reason to suspect they dissent from Catholic teaching on homosexuality.

The Post article also includes statements of concern about ordaining homosexuals and those supporting homosexual priests:

Some heterosexual priests also object to what they see as a preponderance of homosexual men in their ranks. A priest in Northern Virginia's Arlington Diocese, who spoke on the condition that he not be named, said he has felt uncomfortable living in some parish rectories with homosexual priests.

"It's totally unfair to the laity," he added. "They should know that the man hearing their son's confession has a different view on sexuality than they do" and that "their daughter is being counseled by a gay man who doesn't understand marriage."

The hierarchy's failure to openly address the issue also complicates life for homosexual clerics, said the Washington area priest who is gay. "The struggle that some priests have with acknowledging their own sexuality has been terribly burdened by the church's customary avoidance of open and honest communication in this area," said the priest, who agreed to be interviewed on the condition that he not be identified.

"I see sexuality and spirituality as very interwined, and the acceptance of oneself as a sexual being, even if that is lived out in a celibate commitment, is a very, very important part of the process," added the [homosexual] priest, who has been ordained for more than 20 years and whose sexual orientation is known to the archdiocese.

"Accepting myself as a gay man has deepened immeasurably my encounter with Christ and my ability to serve the church authentically and from the heart in His church."

This homosexual priest is absolutely right when he says that sexuality and spirituality are "very intertwined." And, in that comment, he has raised the question clearly for our bishops: Does "gay spirituality" comport with the priesthood of Jesus Christ?

Though it's admittedly a dicey and politically incorrect question, it's one the Church needs to have answered. Until we get one from the bishops, we need to make sure that all our priests--heterosexual and homosexual--embrace all the Church's teachings about faith and morals. Because if they don't believe the Church offers men and women the truth that sets them free, it's hard to imagine how they could ever serve the Church in persona Christi.

posted by Fr. Steve | 6/24/2002 |

Sunday, June 23


Should it now read "Musings of a transitional deacon"?

Congratulations to St. Blog's newest deacon! Blessings, Todd.

posted by Fr. Steve | 6/23/2002 |

Bishops Are Not Above 'Corrective Action'

Let's keep Governor Keating (and, of course, our bishops) in our prayers (NY Times link requires free registration).

As a chauffeur drove him to tape a television talk show on the church crisis, Mr. Keating described in a cellphone interview with The Sooner Catholic, an Oklahoma newspaper, how Bishop Gregory phoned on June 8 to ask him to head the national board. "I'm a very independent person," Mr. Keating said he told Bishop Gregory. "You may not like what you get." "No, that's what we want," Bishop Gregory replied, Mr. Keating said."

The document in Dallas was silent as to prelate involvement and responsibility," [Keating] said. "I regret that."

Mr. Keating read aloud from a June 18 letter to him in which Bishop Gregory said the annual report should "make recommendations regarding actions for each diocese."

"So if a particular diocese is corruptly indifferent to addressing criminal action by priests and or cover-ups by bishops, this task tells us to recommend actions against abusive priests, or actions for removal or discipline of negligent, indifferent, or criminally sanctionable bishops," Mr. Keating said.

Several prominent Catholics noted that Mr. Keating's panel lacks formal power to sanction bishops but could likely muster enormous support among American Catholics. Mr. Keating acknowledged his panel's limitations, but said "this is a challenge that requires toughness and a remorseless focus on what is right."

"For us to get up on the mountaintop and shout into the darkness the need for corrective action against a clearly indifferent, negligent or corrupt bishop, we'll be heard by someone."

I doubt the shouting will be necessary. A lot of faithful Catholics (bloggers included) will be listening closely in case he and his panel have any criticisms to make. Bishop Gregory is right. Independence for this panel is what we all want.

posted by Fr. Steve | 6/23/2002 |