Thursday, January 28, 2010

Music Director Forced Out Over Comments on Women's Status in the Church

Last Saturday the Washington Post ran an article on women's ordination beginning with local gal Bridget Mary Meehan (pictured below) who last year was elevated to "bishop" by Roman Catholic Womenpriests. Among those interviewed in that article was Sylvia Mulherin, 69, a former nun married to a former priest, who "said that Jesus was progressive in his treatment of women but that, over time, men unjustly pushed women out. 'Maybe the women don't have to come in the back door, but we still have to sit in the pews,' said Mulherin, who lives in Fairfax County."

Of Mulherin's remark, most of us would say: "This is news??" It barely passes for controversial these days. Problem is that Mulherin was also music director at St. Leo's and, according to another article in today's Post, her pastor, Rev. David Whitestone, called Mulherin into his office to discuss her comments with her.

What happened afterwards is a matter of dispute. Mulherin and her supporters claim she was forced out. Fr. Whitestone claims she resigned voluntarily and that he did not raise the issue of Mulherin leaving, but he said she had violated the diocese's rules for employees by 'advocating against church teaching.'" In our opinion and without going into details, Fr. Whitestone would do well to go back and meditate on the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matt 18:21-35). Those who have received second chances should extend the same to others, Father. What is indisputable is that this controversy has caused a huge rift in the St. Leo's community.

I, personally, find it really incredible that to simply make the obvious point that women have been discriminated against in the Roman Catholic Church while Jesus was more progressive and egalitarian, is considered to be "advocating against church teaching." And it is making me think twice about whether I EVER want to work for the Arlington Diocese or any of its parishes, schools or other institutions. It should give other thinking Catholics pause as well.


  1. Unfortunately this is another example of the clergy's inability to tell the truth. When will Catholics finally say enough is enough and hold these guys accountable for their despicable behavior?

  2. Anyone who has met Ms. Mulherin knows she is a person of integrity. Anyone who has met Fr. Whitestone knows that he is not.

  3. I didn't know about Roman Catholic WomenPriests. How could that be???
    Thanks for the link!

  4. With respect to the two anonymous comments:

    1. I too have met Fr. Whitestone but do not know the man well enough to say whether or not he is someone of integrity so I'm going to presume that both parties are normal human beings who have their strong and weak points.

    2. As someone commented on one of the news accounts of this incident: both parties may be telling the truth as they see it. As a former shop steward, I can tell you that bosses and workers frequently differ on whether or not a "conversation" was intimidation.

    3. While I would not go so far as to call Fr. Whitestone's action "despicable", I would call it "uncharitable" and, if he was acting on instructions from higher up, "cowardly". I wish Sylvia Mulherin would stand up and fight back because, as you say, our failure to speak out against injustice is how our Church has gotten away with so many abuses.

  5. As an addendum, those who want to communicate directly with Fr. David Whitestone about this incident can write or call him at:

    St. Leo the Great Catholic Church
    3700 Old Lee Highway
    Fairfax, Virginia 22030

    Phone: (703)273-5369

    And, as always, please be courteous and polite even if you are opposed to the way Mrs. Mulherin was treated.

  6. About Roman Catholic Womenpriests, I didn’t know either, but off course I wasn’t looking.
    These kinds of circumstances bring me to reflect on the question:

    What does it mean to be a priest/priestess(pastor, minister)?
    Who can be a priest or priestess and what exactly are the requirements to be one?
    What kind of knowledge and personal attributes does a priests or a pastor need to have?
    Just going to seminar or theology school and being full of knowledge of the scriptures, doesn’t make one a priest or a priestess.
    Being a wonderful administrator does not make a person a good priest or minister.
    Even I would dare to say, wearing the collar and or the stole doesn’t necessarily mean that that individual is a priest, at least a good one.
    I think that is time for a full an open debate, in what exactly consists to be a good priest, who can be one and what kind of personal attributes this person has to have, and I’m not talking about grades or being a good sermon maker.
    There is a spark, a special something that someone has to posses to be able to minister and to be able to extract the goodness and God attributes from a person who is hungry to fulfill his/her God given destiny and can’t or doesn’t know how.
    So…shortage of vocations? Please don’t go for the numbers, and try to recruit people as a company would do, offering fringe benefits.
    Rather go for the attributes and for the quality and real desire of someone to be a good minister.
    Perhaps one day, at the bottom of a priesthood application, if there is such a thing, we’ll be able to read the following statement:


  7. Rebel Girl: Is it really Ms. Mulherin's responsibility to "stand up and fight back" all alone? Or does that responsibilty fall on the shoulders of all Catholics in the Arlington diocese... which I imagine would include you too.

  8. Of course, I did not mean that Mrs. Mulherin should be alone in this, and, as far as I can tell from comments on this and other blog postings, she has many supporters, including me. She and I would probably not make common cause on too many things, judging from her Facebook page, but on this issue, yes.

    What I'm saying is that it is difficult to fight on someone's behalf if they are not speaking up for themselves first of all. Again, drawing from my union experience: if the aggrieved worker will not speak up, the boss doesn't take the matter seriously. The attitude is that it's just "outsiders" causing trouble since the worker isn't complaining. Without the active collaboration of the aggrieved person, supporters are limited in what they can do in a case like this.

    Parenthetically, her Facebook page still lists the pastor who forced her out as a friend...

  9. There are larger issues at play here. This is not simply one unjustly victimized woman. This event is emblematic of a culture of corruption in the Arlington Diocese. As long as Catholics remain silent and continue to put money in the collection plate, there will be no change.