Archive for July, 2010

Today,  I read two important articles regarding the crisis created for many when the Roman Catholic Church [RCC] seemed to be equating child sexual abuse among its priests and women being ordained to the priesthood. The first was an article sent to my Bishop by one of our new deacons, Kedda, from WA and then forwarded to me by +Peter. This piece was written by Jamie Manson, a lay minister working among the homeless in NY, entitled, “New norms are much more than a PR disaster.” It also appeared in Mirabiledictu, a daily publication of David Gawlik on behalf of thousands of ex-RCC priests and others in the Catholic reformation movement.

Bishop +Peter was too busy to write but he kindly gave me permission to publish his comment to this article, so here goes:

I read this with keen interest. I was especially pleased with the mention given to the importance of the creation of alternative intentional Eucharistic communities that retain the Catholic identity and yet are not affiliated with Rome and the Roman system. I am grateful that the Ecumenical Catholic Communion was named as one of those. This is precisely what Charlie Davis had predicted would eventually happen and why he advocated for the ECC among the Catholic Reform Organizations for the past several years. Increasingly, reform minded Catholics are coming now to the ECC.
+ Peter

The second publication is actually in  two rather lengthy segments by David Sylvester, a long-time San Francisco Bay area journalist, and an active RCC parishioner in Oakland. He received a Master’s in Theological Studies from the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, and is now studying rabbinic Judaism and Hebrew at the Graduate Theological Union’s Center for Jewish Studies.

His articles were published on line in the Tikkun Daily Blog — ['te-kun' = to mend, repair and transform the world]. His articles are: The Catholic Crisis: Part I: How pop culture gets it wrong and distorts the truth (7/26/10). Part II: When faith is challenged, Catholics must grow up (7/27/10). These run over 12 pages in 10-point type and take a bit of time to wade through, but are well-worth it. The Part II, I will tell you, after his incisive analysis, will bring you to reflection and prayer. It is a powerful homily to all of us no matter which side of the fence we sit on. Sylvester’s worldly sophistication about the realm of journalism and how we are shaped into accepting  morally simplistic “meta-stories” that somehow satisfy what we may prefer to believe, and the whole process of exercising conscience should move us to another whole level in this discussion.

in the 2nd part Sylvester describes conversation he  had with Fr. Roy Bourgeois+, a 36-year Maryknoll priest, who was excommunicated within 4 months of having attended and given the homily at the ordination of Janice Sevre-Duszynska+ as a Catholic priest on 8/9/08. He contrasts this lightening-speed Vatican response with the frozen molasses movement in the case of Stephen Kiesle, a former RCC priest for whom it took the Church six years to act even after his Bishop had begged the Vatican to approve Kiesle’s request to leave the priesthood. Then Cardinal Ratzinger wrote back to the Bishop asking that a longer period of time pass for the good of the Church and for the good of then Fr. Kiesle, because he was “still a young man.”  During his 15 years as a priest, he reportedly had molested at least 15 children, including several after criminal convictions and while waiting for Vatican action.

We wrote about Fr. Bourgeois+ on this blog last month. He was one of the keynote speakers at the FCM/CORPUS Meeting in Dallas. His photo is posted in our photo file for that meeting, and you will be able to see how animated and intense this man is. I also purchased a copy of a DVD that documents his work in social justice issues in the School of the Americas Watch , which can be borrowed (see Library on our webpage). In ex-communicating Fr. Bourgeois+, the RCC seriously damaged one of the most important witnesses to Catholic Christian values in opposition to U.S. militarism. He has led a yearly vigil to bring attention to the victims of U.S. trained counterinsurgency campaigns in Central and Latin America, held at Fort Benning, GA where those forces were trained.  You will recall that four nuns were raped and murdered in South America and this is what started Fr. Bourgeois’ protest work.

This year, I noted recently from the on-line journal, Mirabiledictu, that the School of Americas Watch protest begun by Fr. Bourgeois+  has lost the annual $17,000 which was essential  in their budget that had been donated by the Maryknoll Brothers, due to the excommunication of Fr. Roy.

It is a very complicated mess.  But these articles are very worth the time to read them. I will have them posted on this website.

Both of these articles led me to the same place, that informed conscience is ultimately the final arbiter in these conflicts between the People of God and the institutional churches.  Fr. Roy+ has concluded that there is the church of the people and one of the hierarchy. And as I’ve said before on this blog, the problem is not limited to the RCC, although obviously,  proportionately many more people have been harmed simply because of their size.

Fr. Roy quotes Pope Benedict XVI who said, “Over the pope, there still stands one’s own conscience which must be obeyed before all else.”  The problem occurs when, as Sylvester concludes, we never grow up to be spiritual adults, engaging in passive submission, deferring without going through the discernment process. He also makes the point that American Catholics comprise only 6% of the world’s Catholic population, so the magisterium has to deal with the realities of the rest of the world, not just the small fragment of liberal U.S. Catholics.  He concludes that there is a tension between the priestly (maintaining stability) and the prophetic functions (challenging the status quo and indifference)  in the church as well as for each of us individually. Sylvester says “I think we avoid this interior civil war between priest and prophet at our peril.” We have to give up half-truths perpetrated in the media.  We have to give up self-serving egotistical distortions, and we have to give up safety in entering into the spiritual purification process necessary to form conscience.

The articles have been added to the website.  You will be able to find them by going to the first page of our website, and clicking on Books, Seminars, and Articles  which will take you to the pdf files:  Manson 2010 New Norms and Sylvester 2010 Catholic Crisis.


I would like to commend to you the daily Torah readings to be found at the American Jewish University site. There is a link provided on the St. Junia’s webpage, under favorite links. You should also take note of their three Walking with God study series, including a Walking with Justice series. These are pdf files available for download. They could be used for individual or group study. Click on their link that says “Torah area,” to the left of the daily reading and it will take you to this study series.


Today, quite by accident, I gained a new perspective on the controversy about women’s ordination, which seems to be mainly an American or European movement. I happened upon a Jewish Torah site that I sometimes read:

Shabbat Parashat D’varim – 6 Av 5770 – Taking Responsibility
July 17, 2010 – 6 Av 5770
By: Rabbi Gail Labovitz
Associate Professor of Rabbinic Literature

I will not quote the entire piece, but encourage you to go to the website which I will cite below. But here, in part, is what Rabbi Gail wrote:

As I sit to write this drasha, it is Rosh Hodesh, the 1st of Av. I woke this morning to hear that Anat Hoffman, one of the leaders of Women of the Wall and a tireless advocate for religious and gender rights in Israel, was arrested today at the Kotel for carrying a Torah scroll in the women’s section, questioned by the police for five hours, fined, and barred from the Kotel for 30 days.

…So what did we see in Jerusalem this morning? We saw the leaders of the city and the state choosing to drag a woman away from the very site of the great destruction for the mere act of wanting to hold a Torah scroll – not even to read from it; at the time of the arrest the group was in the process of moving to another site because reading from the Torah scroll is currently forbidden in the women’s section. Because of leaders who fail to stand up to forces of extremism and intolerance, or who actively collude with them, the message coming out of Israel today, for all to see, is that the Torah – which according to rabbinic tradition was read in the women’s section of the Temple, to the entire people, during the hakel ceremony once every seven years (see Deut. 31:10-13; Yoma 69b and Sotah 41b; I thank my friend Rivka Haut for this insight) – can no longer be allowed to belong to the half of all Jews who are women. Or the great majority of Jews who are not haredi Orthodox. This is a public message with potentially grave import, as the large majority of Jews in Israel and across the world come to experience themselves as less than equal in the place they should be most equal before God. Will our leaders, or we who are leaders, accept responsibility for the consequences?

The site for reading the Rabbi’s entire piece is:

Except in the most reactive conservative Christian communities, women are allowed to hold the Bible and read the scripture lessons in public.  And they are allowed to study scripture, a privilege that has not existed for women in some faith traditions although we can see that the heat is on for change — as the Rabbi says — it is no longer acceptable that people are experiencing themselves as less than equal “in the place they should be most equal before God.”


When I returned from the FCM/CORPUS Meeting in Dallas last month — my first exposure to these groups — a lot of ideas and feelings were running through me which I have just begun to “sort through.” I came home and immediately ordered a copy of Anthony Padovano’s+ plays: Conscience & Conflict: A Trilogy of One-Actor Plays: Thomas Merton, Pope John XXIII, Martin Luther. NY: Paulist Press, (1988). As I described in an earlier post, the performance of “Winter Rain” depicting Thomas Merton’s life was very powerful for me. The book was just received and I am in the process of reading it. And I just received an electronic copy of Anthony’s+ keynote address given at FCM/CORPUS, which I will place on my website under the section, Books, Articles, and Seminars. I strongly recommend that you look at this because I know that I cannot begin to give it justice in a summary.  For someone who did not “grow up Catholic,” its historical sweep and perspective of change  was stunning.

First, the feelings that I’ve tried to process about this experience. I noted a sea of gray hair in the group and scarcely anyone under age 50…and most in their 60′s and above. What will happen to this movement for allowing a married priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church [RCC] when this cohort passes from this earth? It seems that Rome has been very adamant about women and the priesthood, writing recently in such a fashion that child sexual abuse and “attempting” to ordain or be ordained are spoken in the same breath (See prior post on Ordinations of two women deacons into the ECC). I haven’t met many of the RCC Womenpriests, but looking at their photos on line, I see the same sea of gray hair. Women who waited and waited. I see men and women holding on to their allegiance to the RCC even as many have reluctantly moved on to worship in other ways and settings. But even then, many of them still painfully  identify as Roman Catholics, aspiring to recapture their youthful idealism and hopefulness for transformation.

As an individual who did not grow up in the RCC, it was difficult for me to emotionally understand the depth of feeling and allegiance, as well as why RCC women insisted upon ordination as Roman Catholic Womenpriests? Why not just be ordained as an Anglican, an Episcopalian, an Old Catholic, an Ecumenical Catholic?

I “grew up Southern Baptist” in the south where there was almost nothing else but Baptists of one stripe or another. I never met a Roman Catholic or Jew until I was in high school! And although I have had to deal with plenty of emotional and spiritual baggage from my fundamentalist roots, I had no trouble finding my boots made for walking and leaving my childhood church. Oh, yes, there was plenty of sexism there too.  I was pondering about and praying for my RCC brothers and sisters  on the road early this morning as I drove to Riverside to testify  in a court hearing.

On the way home from court, I got an answer in a very unexpected form. In front of me on the freeway was a very strange sight: A huge truck with bales of hay piled up 15 feet high. I’ve never seen such a sight in southern California! Even though my car windows were closed because my AC was running, I began to smell the hay. As the unmistakable and well-known scent permeated my car, tears began to trickle down my face and I felt this deep sense of sweet reminiscence — remembering the symphony of frogs and crickets at night.  Then the intrusive recall of sweat running into and burning my eyes, insufferable heat, interminable itching  — remembering the hay harvesting season on our farm. I wasn’t strong enough to lift the bales, but I drove the tractor for the men to pick them up and stack them. I realize that there’s deeper emotional connections and ambivalence tied to my familial farming roots than I wanted to admit to myself — and, yes, anger and frustration too.

But I could not verbalize at all why I was crying today. I don’t “miss” the farm — at least I thought I didn’t. I have never had the slightest desire to ever again grow a vegetable garden — flowers, yes, vegetables, no!  Not after all the dawn to dusk days of labor on the farm. As a youngster, my only thought was to someday find a way of making a living that removed me as far as possible from this lifestyle.

But the connection is deep in ways that I cannot articulate, in ways that are not even fully conscious. There is a core connection to the earth, to living in the midst of growing things that still resides in me. I recapture some of that good feeling without the baggage whenever I visit my cabin in Big Bear, where the conifers smell so sweet and the sound of rustling wind in the trees always evokes a sense of awe and a call to prayer and worship.

And so, it must be so for those who grew up in the RCC, those who call themselves “cradle catholics.”  The deep desire to be part of its transformation lives on and can never die. And the Holy Catholic [universal] Church does live on, even as institutional manifestations of all of our church bodies — not just the RCC — are vulnerable to the same self-serving human motives as we see in the ancient Tower of Babel story. They are like all human organizational systems that start out hopefully and optimistically.  At the beginning, all are welcome. There are few rules and anyone who desires to work can work; every “body” is needed. Then as they grow, rules develop to decide who can do what, to set limits, to “veto” or control those who are less desirable for whatever reason. Competition increases, turf wars begin, both within and without.   Those who have “veto power,” make the rules and increase their control.  The system begins to rigidify.  They may lose sight of their first love, their first calling and maintenance of the system becomes more important than the early idealism.  Corruption sets in, perhaps because the system becomes more impersonal and the left hand doesn’t always know what the right hand is doing. Some systems seem to be capable of change where there’s more responsiveness to internal and external events. Some rigidify, then eventually implode, divide or die.  I suspect that those which are too “top down,” be it governments, industrial entities, churches, or other organizations are more at risk for “civil war” as it were.  Perhaps “civil war” of some form is almost inevitable in larger systems, where factions develop and they cannot get anything else done because they’re so preoccupied with the ongoing battles.

While I am thinking of larger systems as I write the above, let us not think for a minute that “younger,” smaller systems are not vulnerable to the same problems.  Perhaps the analogy for small systems is “divorce.”  Sometimes, very nasty divorces! Personalities play a much bigger role, and implosions are common. I have lived through such endings in several small independent catholic jurisdictions.

These meanderings are not just out of my head — Allan W. Wicker (1984) wrote a little book: An Introduction to Ecological Psychology (Cambridge Press). In it, there is some very interesting research on big and little schools, big and little churches in which the ecology of organizations is described.

So, let us seek to become more sensitive to what our sisters and brothers have gone through, whatever tradition from which they came, and as part of  emerging Christian churches, to remain conscious of the risk of seeking to climb to heaven by our own abilities, instead of trusting in the Holy Spirit at all times. And let us not forget the essence of hay.


On Saturday, 7/10/10, I was privileged to participate in the ordinations of Elaine Groppenbacher, from the Guardian Angels ECC community in Tempe, AZ and Kedda Keough, from the Emmaus ECC community in Lacey, WA to the diaconate. This was very powerful for me. It is still rare for one woman to be ordained, but two at one time was awesome. I hope that Elaine and Kedda will find the time to write a comment in the near future and fill us in on their local ministries. This is indeed a very exciting time. Both of them are “transitional” deacons and will probably shortly be ordained priests, as they both have labored for decades in the church so they don’t really require a long time in service as deacons. Elaine just recently completed her M.Div. from Claremont Divinity School but she’s been “in the saddle” in her ministry for a long time. This is a very exciting time in the ECC! I look forward to getting to know these women as well as other folks from their communities.

It is interesting that while we were at St. Matt’s, we learned that just the day before our ordinations, an announcement from the Catholic News Service said there are soon-to-be released documents from the Vatican which will update norms for dealing with priestly sexual abuse. In the same breath, as it were, it was announced that there will also be heightened penalties for the “attempted ordination of women,” which will now be on the list of the most serious crimes against church law, known in Latin as “delicta graviora.” Attempting to be ordained as a Catholic priest or being a person who attempts to ordain a woman results in automatic excommunication. The ban against women priests was made “definitive” in 1994 by Pope John Paul, and “not open to debate among Catholics.” The paired announcement on 7/9/10 was very offensive to many people. Hopefully, criminal acts of pedophilia will not actually be equated to women’s ordination in the forthcoming documents. It is reported that no priest pedophiles have ever been excommunicated nor any bishops who were responsible for the musical chairs placements of pedophiles and hebephiles in parishes after their deviant sexual history was known. Additionally, the excommunications of four conservative Lefebwrist bishops who were ordained without papal sanction in 1988 were lifted. One of them denies the Holocaust.

I probably read 50 posts to these articles on the internet and of those writing, the majority of Roman Catholics seem to support the Pope’s actions, even though they are distressed by the failure to curb child sexual abuse. If there are many Roman Catholics clamoring for the ordination to the priesthood by married men or by women, it certainly was not evident in this one sampling. Evidently, those who do not favor these changes are more motivated to write?

The issue of women’s ordination will not be resolved by further biblical or theological studies. We’ve plenty of New Testament evidence as well as early church history to justify ordinations of married people and women. The fruit of the spirit will ultimately be the acid test rather than how well we can argue theologically — pro or con — on women’s ordination.

When I first met Bishop +Peter a few months ago, he said something like [not exact quote - blame me, not him, if I didn't get it right]:  “We ordain married people, women, and gay persons; we accept divorced and remarried persons to the Table, and integrate gays, lesbians, and transgender folks into our communities, …so, there’s nothing left to fight about. So we have saved a lot of energy that can be used just getting to work in ministering to the people of God.” These issues eat up a huge amount of energy in other Christian jurisdictions — not only in the Roman Catholic Church, but also among Anglicans, Episcopalians, as well as various mainline protestant and evangelical denominations.  And we pray for them in our Masses, as the torrential downpouring of social change erodes their future. The changes will take place with them or without them.  Shouldn’t the people of God lead? We pray that the people of God will listen to their consciences and make these decisions in their faith communities. They are increasingly well-educated and sophisticated about theological issues, and theirs is the voice that will change things, one congregation at a time.

I cannot help but think of an elderly man who attended Mass here at St. Junia’s House for the last three years of his life. He had grown up Roman Catholic, was an altar boy, and even at age 86, could recite the Mass in Latin. He had been told as a boy if he touched the chalice that it was a mortal sin.  A priest finally married him and his wife of 50 years shortly before she died (she had an early divorce in her youth).  They raised their adopted son in the Roman Catholic Church, attending and participating faithfully, even though they could not receive the Sacraments. He told me one day that he knew that if he were to go to a Roman Catholic priest, he would be told that coming to St. Junia’s House would be “an occasion for sin.”  We discussed my having become a priest in 2006 and I told Joe that I would leave it to him to decide the validity of my ordination. I guess he decided.  When communion took place, I always made sure that Joe held the chalice.  He was our “bell ringer” for the elevation of the Body and Blood. Joe continued to be a “regular” here, and within the last month of his life, gave me wise counsel on an issue that had threatened our little community. He decided again about my being his priest.  He died on 4/19/10 and you can see his photo in the St. Junia’s House photo album. I miss him very much.

I hope to hear from some of you who track with us on the website. We have lots of photos now! And I hope to get some more substantive conversations going on this blog.

Peace and blessings,


Dear friends of St. Junia’s House,

I have now begun placing our weekly homilies on the website in pdf files by date should you desire to read them. All the homilies since Easter are available. Or if you’d like to receive them as a weekly email, just drop me a note.  I will also post biblical studies developed by others. A recent powerpoint file of teaching on impermanence, which Fr. Jim Farris+ wrote in response to exchange we had regarding a homily a couple of weeks ago is included.

Additionally, on the page for books, seminars, and articles, I have placed comprehensive electronic notes for several biblical studies-related seminars. These include two seminars with Bart Ehrman (Gospel of Judas 2007, Suffering 2008), one with Hebrew scholar Robert Alter on Job and Ecclesiastes (2009), one on the Wisdom books held at UNC and involving several UNC-Chapel Hill  or Duke Divinity School faculty (2007). There is a UNC seminar with Professor Nord from UNC-Chapel Hill overviewing the controversies of the New Atheism (2008).  These notes were taken contemporaneously with the sessions, and while not precisely verbatim, they’re pretty close. You’ll be able to follow the sessions quite well. Questions and answers from the participants are also included.

I have also provided a chart that I developed showing how appearances and interactions of Mary Magdalene and the Apostles are depicted across the 4 canonical gospels and some non-canonical sources,  outlining how women’s roles and authority were eroded which is apparent from the canonical gospels alone.  The chart was based on a book by Ann Graham Brock (2003), from her Harvard dissertation:  Mary Magdalene, the First Apostle: The Struggle for Authority. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Theological Studies. This book examines how conferral or withholding of apostolic status operated as a tool of persuasion in the politics of early Christian literature. There are some very interesting correlations between prominence of Peter in a text with a corresponding diminishment of women’s leadership and apostolicity.  If you’ve never read her study, it will blow your mind as to how Brock has mined the gospels and shown how Mary Magdalene’s role was progressively depicted across them. The chart may help you keep track the information as you read. The chart will make sense by itself, but I strongly encourage you to get the book.

If you look under the section labeled “Library” on the website, you will see a growing list of Teaching Company DVD courses and Now-You-Know audio CD lecture series on various religious topics. These are available for anyone in the ECC, clergy or lay, to borrow.  Instructions for doing this are on the website.  There is no cost involved.

I am also very excited that on Saturday, July 10th, at St. Matt’s in Orange, two new transitional Deacons will be ordained by Bishop +Peter Hickman:  Kedda Keough of the Emmaus Community in Olympia, Washington and Elaine Groppenbacher of the Guardian Angels ministry  in Tempe, Arizona.  +Peter ordained the first woman priest in the ECC ten years ago, Rev. Kathy McCarthy+, who co-pastors with Fr. Ned Reidy at the Pathfinder Community in Bermuda Dunes, CA.  And there are quite a few awesome women and men who are priests in the ECC. I have not counted them, but there are 30-some parishes or communities and specialized ministries and seventy-some clergy at this point in time.  You can find them on the ECC website.  I will be attending the ordination on Saturday and will write about it as well as put some photos on the website next weekend.

Blessings and prayers,


We hold in prayer and lament this day
the terrible suffering of all life-forms in the Gulf of Mexico.
We grieve the profound marring of your creation,
and the threat to coastal ways of life.
Have mercy, O God, have mercy.
Grant wisdom and perseverance to all who struggle to contain this disaster.
Let those who lost their lives rest in peace.
And send out your Holy Spirit, to create anew the face of this earth.

Dear friends,
A book which I’ve held in pre-publication format for quite awhile was just published. This book by Leland “Ed” Wilshire, a retired professor from Biola University, has analyzed the word usually translated as “to have authority” in this passage, using the resources of the TLG, a data base of all Greek manuscripts. Ed looked at the use of the word from 200 BCE to 200 CE. There’s a short description of it on the website under my section “About us,” in the article on “Who was Junia?” This will be updated today with the citation for anyone interested in obtaining the book.

There’s probably no single biblical passage that has so heavily influenced women’s leadership roles in Christian churches, so this research is very important. I’ve sent out copies to several scholars in ECC and hopefully we will have one or more reviews of the book in the near future on the St. Junia’s House website.

Thank you, God, for bringing just a toehold of justice into the world, through Ed’s research!

I pray that you have a good weekend!