Archive for July, 2013

Former LCWR Leader Says Pope Should Open Door to Women Priests / National Catholic Reporter

A key former leader of U.S. Catholic sisters said Pope Francis should reconsider the Catholic church’s ban on women priests, likening the male-only priesthood to ‘a form of inequality which is a form of idolatry.’ Commenting to NCR on Francis’ remarks on the papal plane Monday (July 29) that the late Pope John Paul II had ‘definitively … closed the door’ to Catholic women priests, Mercy Sr. Theresa Kane said Francis has a chance to ‘begin a whole new movement and a whole new philosophy.'” By Joshua McElwee, National Catholic Reporter

Read McElwee’s entire article in National Catholic Reporter by clicking here.

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Priest Decides to Leave ‘Ordained Jesuit Ministry’

The following letter from Fr. Bert Thelen relates how he decided “to leave the ordained Jesuit ministry.” The letter was forwarded to Voice of the Faithful® by Patricia Edmisten, author of A Longing for Wisdom: One Woman’s Conscience and Her Church.

She said that, “Reading it, I realized the deep love Fr. Thelen had and continues to have for the Church. He has taken a stand that I hope resonates throughout the hierarchy, one that will create a catholic (universal) awareness of existing divisions among the hierarchy, clergy, and laity. Fr. Thelen grounds his letter in fundamental theological principles and acts upon his conscience. May God guide his footsteps as he joins the rest of us who labor in the field of the Lord. Perhaps you will want to send this on to your Catholic friends. Just think of the letter as a voice emanating from the Holy Spirit.”

With Fr. Thelen’s permission, we share his letter here with you. National Catholic Reporter also posted his letter and some comments online earlier this month, and you can read NCR’s article by clicking here.

TO: Family, Relatives, and Friends, Colleagues and Partners in Ministry, CLC Members, Ignatian Associates, Project Mankind, Parishioners of St. John’s, St Benedict the Moor, Sacred Heart, Jesuit Classmates and Companions

FROM: Bert Thelen, S.J., June 2013

Dearly Beloved,

May the Grace of Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the Peace of the Holy Spirit be with you! I am writing to tell you about what may be the most important decision of my life since entering the Jesuits. With God’s help, at the behest of my religious superiors and the patient support and wise encouragement of my CLC group and closest friends, I have decided to leave ordained Jesuit ministry and return to the lay state, the priesthood of the faithful bestowed on me by my Baptism nearly 80 years ago. I do this with confidence and humility, clarity and wonder, gratitude and hope, joy and sorrow. No bitterness, no recrimination, no guilt, no regrets.

It has been a wonderful journey, a surprising adventure, an exploration into the God Who dwells mysteriously in all of our hearts. I will always be deeply grateful to the Society of Jesus for the formation, education, companionship, and ministry it has provided, and to my family for their constant support. I can never thank God enough for the loving and loyal presence in my life of each and every one of you.

Why am I doing this? How did I reach this decision? I will try to tell you now. That is the purpose of this letter. For about 15 years now, as many of you have noticed, I have had a “Lover’s Quarrel” with the Catholic Church. I am a cradle Catholic and grew up as Catholic as anyone can, with Priests and even Bishops in our household, and 17 years of Catholic education at St. Monica’s Grade School, Milwaukee Messmer High School, and Marquette University. I took First Vows at Oshkosh in the Society of Jesus at age 25 and was ordained at Gesu Church to the priesthood ten years later in 1968. I have served the Church as a Jesuit priest in Milwaukee, Omaha, and Pine Ridge for 45 years, including 18 years on the Province Staff culminating in my being the Wisconsin Provincial for six years and attending the 34th General Congregation in Rome.

My last 14 years at Creighton and St. John’s have been the best years of my life. I have truly enjoyed and flourished serving as pastor of St. John’s. I cannot even put into words how graced and loved and supported I have been by the parishioners, parish staff, campus ministry, Ignatian Associates, and CLC members! It is you who have freed, inspired, and encouraged me to the New Life to which I am now saying a strong and joyful “Yes.” You have done this by challenging me to be my best self as a disciple of Jesus, to proclaim boldly His Gospel of Love, and to widen the horizons of my heart to embrace the One New World we are called to serve in partnership with each other and our Triune God. It is the Risen Christ Who beckons me now toward a more universal connection with the Cosmos, the infinitely large eco-system we are all part of, the abundance and vastness of what Jesus called “the Reign of God.”

Why does this “YES” to embrace the call of our cosmic inter-connectedness mean saying “NO” to ordained ministry? My answer is simple but true. All mystical traditions, as well as modern science, teach us that we humans cannot be fully ourselves without being in communion with all that exists. Lasting justice for Earth and all her inhabitants is only possible within this sacred communion of being. We need conversion – conversion from the prevailing consciousness that views reality in terms of separateness, dualism, and even hierarchy, to a new awareness of ourselves as inter-dependent partners, sharing in one Earth-Human community. In plainer words, we need to end the world view that structures reality into higher and lower, superior and inferior, dominant and subordinate, which puts God over Humanity, humans over the rest of the world, men over women, the ordained over the laity. As Jesus commanded so succinctly, “Don’t Lord it over anyone … serve one another in love.” As an institution, the Church is not even close to that idea; its leadership works through domination, control, and punishment. So, following my call to serve this One World requires me to stop benefiting from the privilege, security, and prestige ordination has given me. I am doing this primarily out of the necessity and consequence of my new call, but, secondarily, as a protest against the social injustices and sinful exclusions perpetrated by a patriarchal church that refuses to consider ordination for women and marriage for same- sex couples.

I have become convinced that the Catholic Church will never give up its clerical privilege until and unless we priests (and bishops) willingly step down from our pedestals. Doing this would also put me in solidarity with my friend, Roy Bourgeois, my fellow Jesuit, Fr. Bill Brennan, the late Bernard Cooke, and many other men who have been “de-frocked” by the reigning hierarchy. It will also support the religious and lay women, former Catholics, and gay and lesbian couples marginalized by our church. I want to stand with and for them. I am, if you will, choosing to de-frock myself in order to serve God more faithfully, truly, and universally.

But why leave the Jesuits? Make no mistake about it: the Society of Jesus shares in and benefits from this patriarchal and clerical way of proceeding. We still regard ourselves as the shepherds and those to whom and with whom we minister as sheep. I discovered this painfully when the Society of Jesus decided against having Associate members. We are not prepared for co-membership or even, it seems at times, for collaboration, though we pay lip service to it. “Father knows best” remains the hallmark of our way of proceeding. I can no longer, in conscience, do that. But I still honor and love my fellow Jesuits who work from that model of power over. It is still where we all are as a company, a Society, a community of vowed religious in the Roman Catholic Church. Leaving behind that companionship is not easy for me, but it is the right thing for me to do at this time in my life. When I went through a formal discernment process with my CLC group, one member whose brilliance and integrity I have always admired and whose love and loyalty to the Jesuits is beyond question, said of my decision, “You cannot NOT do this!” He had recognized God’s call in me.

A few other considerations may help clarify my path. The Church is in transition – actually in exile. In the Biblical tradition, the Egyptian, Assyrian and Babylonian captivities led to great religious reforms and the creation of renewed covenants. Think of Moses, Jeremiah, and Isaiah. I think a similar reform is happening in our Catholic faith (as well as other traditions). We have come through far-reaching, earth-shaking evolutionary changes, and a new (Universal) Church as well as a new (One) World is emerging. My decision is a baby step in that Great Emergence, a step God is asking me to take.

Consider this. Being a Lay Catholic has sometimes been caricatured as “Pray, pay, and obey.” Of course, that is a caricature, an exaggeration, a jibe. But it does point to a real problem. Recently, the hierarchical church mandated the so-called revision of the Roman Missal without consulting the People of God. It was both a foolish and a self-serving effort to increase the authority of Ordained men, damaging and even in some ways taking away the “Pray” part of “Pray, pay, and obey.” No wonder more and more Catholics are worshipping elsewhere, and some enlightened priests feel compromised in their roles. I, for one, feel that this so-called renewal, though licit, is not valid. It is not pleasing to God, and I feel compromised in trying to do it.

Now, consider this. All of this liturgical, ecclesial, and religious change is located in and strongly influenced by what both science and spirituality have revealed as happening to our world, our planet, our universe. The very earth we are rooted and grounded in, as well as the air we breathe and the water we drink, are being damaged and destroyed even beyond (some say) our capacity to survive. And, as Fr. John Surette, S.J., has so wisely observed, “Injustice for the human and destruction of Earth’s ecosystem are not two separate injustices. They are one.” Biocide is even more devastating than genocide, because it also kills future inhabitants of our precious Earth.

It is time. It is time to abandon our refusal to see that our very environment is central to the survival and well being of ALL earthlings. It is time for the Church to turn her attention from saving face to saving the earth, from saving souls to saving the planet. It is time to focus on the sacred bond that exists between us and the earth. It is time to join the Cosmic Christ in the Great Work of mending, repairing, nurturing, and protecting our evolving creation. It is time for a new vision of a universal Church whose all-inclusive justice and unconditional love, an expression of Christ consciousness and the work of the Holy Spirit, empowers ALL and can lead to a future that preserves the true right to life of all of God’s creatures. This includes future generations who will bless us for allowing them to live, evolve, and flourish. Can’t you hear them crying out, “I want to live, I want to grow, I want to be, I want to know?”

In light of all this, how can I not respond to the call both Isaiah and Jesus heard, the call of our Baptism? “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me and sent me to bring Good News to the oppressed.” All creation will be freed, and all people will know the freedom and glory of the Children of God. Yes, Lord, I will go. Please send me.

And that is why I am leaving Jesuit priesthood. Since first vows I have always thought and hoped and prayed that I would live and die in this least Society of Jesus. But now, something unexpected! A real surprise! I HAVE lived and died in the Society of Jesus, but, now, nearly 80, I have been raised to new life. I am born again – into a much larger world, a much newer creation. I have greatly benefited from the spiritual freedom given in and by the Society of Jesus. I feel no longer chained, limited, bound by the shackles of a judicial, institutional, clerical, hierarchical system. As St. Paul once reminded the early Christians, “It is for freedom that you have been set free.” And as St. Peter, the first Pope, learned when he said to Jesus, “You know that I love you,” love is all about surrender and servanthood.

Thank you for your attention to this self-presentation. I am grateful that you have followed me in the journey described here, and I am sorry for whatever sadness, disappointment, or hurt this may have caused you. But what I have written here is my truth, and I can’t not do it! If you want to discuss this with me, ask questions, or give me feedback, I welcome your response, either by letter, e-mail or phone, 402-305-2665.

Please pray for me, as I do for all of you, the beloved of my heart and soul.

Yours in the Risen Christ, Bert Thelen

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Reformist Priest Fr. Helmut Schuller Banned Again

Detroit Catholic Archbishop Allen Vigneron has banned an Austrian priest from speaking at a Westland Catholic parish today because the Rev. Helmut Schüller advocates allowing women and married men to be priests, in opposition to current church teaching … But Schüller said that the Catholic Church’s ban on women and married priests is a church order that can be lifted. It’s not an inherent part of the teachings of the Catholic Church, whose positions have varied over the centuries, he said. Church leaders ‘make a mistake’ when they say these are ‘the teachings of the church.’” By Patricia Montemurri and Niraj Warikoo, Detroit Free Press

Read the entire article, “Archbishop Allen Vigeron Bans Liberal Priest Speech from Westland Church,” by clicking here.

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Evangelizing the Institutional Church: An Interview with Helmut Schuller / National Catholic Reporter

Much has been written about Austrian priest and reformer Helmut Schüller since he opened his 15-city U.S. tour, called “The Catholic Tipping Point,” in New York last week. Hours before Schüller’s July 16 debut in New York City, he and I sat down for an interview. Since many of the goals and ideas we discussed — such as the plan for an international meeting of priests, the new evangelization, his thoughts about Cardinal Sean O’Malley’s barring him from speaking, and the institutional church’s treatment of same-sex couples — have not made it into most of the media coverage of his speaking engagements, I am offering the text of our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity. By Jamie Manson, National Catholic Reporter

Read Ms. Manson’s entire column by clicking here.

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Church Leaders Need to Re-Examine Response to Sex Abuse / National Catholic Reporter

Each time there is another disclosure of documents — correspondence, transcripts of depositions, diocesan memos — the reality of an insular, secretive, Renaissance court culture aggressively protective of its clerical status and privilege becomes more apparent.” Editorial in National Catholic Reporter

Read entire editorial in National Catholic Reporter by clicking here.

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Low-key Reformist Priest Fr. Helmut Schuller Talks of ‘Healing Our Deeply Wounded Church’

By Bill Casey, long-time Voice of the Faithful® affiliate leader, former board chair and trustee

Today (July 22), I attended a presentation by Fr. Helmut Schuller at the National Press Club in D.C. The venue was one of several stops in a multi-city tour, during which he is talking about a group of Austrian priests’ “Call to Disobedience.” Schuller is one of the founders of the group, which comprises about 15% of the priests in Austria but is supported by a large number of Austrian clergy and lay people.

Schuller is a low-key guy with some very insightful conclusions about the failed/failing state of parishes in Austria and throughout much of Europe. There are too few priests to properly serve too many parishes, and as a result, the faith communities suffer from a disengaged faith experience — those that still remain active, not to mention the droves of others, including the youth, who have no connection to parish life. In response, Schuller’s group calls for pastoral disobedience when responding on a personal level to those excluded from full faith experience, including the divorced and remarried who are precluded from Eucharist, gays and lesbians who are excluded officially or unofficially from parish life and sacraments, and women and married men who are excluded from ordination. His group calls for public prophetic disobedience in calling for reforms that are silenced or ignored by hierarchical positions.

Although we would expect any such priest in the U.S. to be silenced, banned, or excluded in some way if he did what Schuller has done, Schuller and the other priests are in good standing within their dioceses. Schuller himself writes a weekly commentary on the Sunday readings in the diocesan newspaper, and his bishop (Cardinal Schonborn) did not attempt to block his speaking tour on these topics. Of course, at the only Catholic parish which invited him to speak, Boston Cardinal O’Malley banned him. The President of Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia, however, ignored objections from Archbishop Chaput and hosted a talk anyway.

Some key comments that I heard from Schuller today included the following (my wording):

  • The Austrian clergy experience deep sorrow over the minimalist life of parishes where priests can barely cover a weekly liturgy and little else. It is a scandal when parishioners receive so little from their clergy.
  • What have lay people received over the last 40-50 years as a result of their “obedience” to hierarchical decisions? There are far more victims of “obedience” than disobedience in our faith communities.
  • The Church should fulfill an initiative of Paul VI who wanted to develop a “Constitution” for the Church that would distribute authority and hold those with authority accountable for exercising it.
  • The handling of the sexual abuse scandal in our Church would have unfolded quite differently if such a Constitution were in place ten years ago.
  • If reform were to take place, it would need to come out of the full collaboration of clergy and laity alike. Reform by lower clergy meeting with higher clergy is not a model to seek. A new Council at this moment in time would favor the latter.

Schuller struck me as a priest deeply concerned about the full life of Catholics, not as a headline-grabber for priestly interests. I hope that his movement infects priests in other countries to take a prophetic stand as a group and receive the fullest support and collaboration of laity in healing our deeply wounded Church.

Also see “Reformist Priest Sees Potential Ally in Pope Francis” by Kevin Eckstrom, Religion News Service, which reports on Fr. Schuller’s National Press Club talk. 

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Fr. Helmut Schuller Begins U.S. Speaking Tour

Voice of the Faithful® was the major sponsor of the first two stops, July 16 and 17, on reformist Austrian priest Fr. Helmut Schuller’s 15-city U.S. speaking tour this summer, “Catholic Tipping Point: Conversations with Fr. Helmut Schuller.” Here is are a couple of early news stories about his talk:

Fr. Helmut Schuller Kicks Off ‘Catholic Tipping Point’ Tour

Fr. Helmut Schüller should be on summer vacation right now. Instead, the Austrian priest, who gained international attention in 2011 for his “Call to Disobedience,” has chosen to spend his time off from parish ministry offering a presentation titled “The Catholic Tipping Point: Conversations” in 15 U.S. cities. The tour kicked off Tuesday night at Manhattan’s Judson Memorial Church, a historic community in Greenwich Village with affiliations to the United Church of Christ and the American Baptist Church.” By Jamie Manson, National Catholic Reporter

Read Jamie Manson’s entire article by clicking here.

Priest Says Grouping Parishes Will Weaken Church

An Austrian priest who advocates ordination of women and married men, a position that led Boston church leaders to bar him from speaking at a local parish, said Wednesday that plans like the one Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley has put forward to group parishes and priests into clusters weaken the church rather than strengthen it. The Rev. Helmut Schuller, who has long been concerned about how power is concentrated at the top echelons of the church hierarchy, is organizing a major priests’ movement in Austria that grew out of priests’ opposition to parish closings and restructuring plans that require clergy to minister to multiple churches. He argues that expanding the priesthood is a better answer than clustering plans that spread priests too thin, undermining their relationships with parishioners. By Lisa Wangsness, The Boston Globe

Read Lisa Wangsness’ entire article by clicking here.

Hundreds Pack Unitarian Church to Hear Reformist Catholic Priest

Hundreds of people, most of them Catholic, turned out Wednesday night in Dedham to hear a Catholic priest — a reformist — from Austria. The Rev. Helmut Schuller was scheduled to speak at St. Susanna Parish in Dedham, but was barred by Cardinal Sean O’Malley due to his positions on several issues which run contrary to official Catholic church doctrine. So the meeting was moved to a Unitarian church. By Fred Thys, WBUR-FM

Listen to Fred Thys’ entire story by clicking here.

Voice of the Faithful® and nine other Roman Catholic Church reform organizations have formed a coalition to support Fr. Schuller’s tour.

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