Friday, August 6, 2010

Fr. Joseph Patrick Breen: The Parish Website as Bully Pulpit

UPDATE 8/21/2010: See Nashville priest apologizews for remarks

UPDATE 8/15/2010: "Thus goes an old saying: 'The Roman Catholic Church always arrives 50 years late and out of breath.' Thank God that Father Joe Pat Breen is not late and has courage and breath enough to speak many truths about the state of the church and our world..." Thus begins a spirited and wholehearted defense of Fr. Breen in today's Tennessean. What makes the column noteworthy is that its author, Joseph Sweat, once served as the first lay editor of the Tennessee Register, the official newspaper of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Nashville. Sweat later was executive secretary of the Catholic Public Policy Commission of Tennessee. He is a parishioner at the Cathedral of the Incarnation. This is a practising Catholic who is knowledgeable about his Church and his faith.

UPDATE 8/12/2010: Nashville's NewsChannel 5 and WSMV Channel 4 report that the anti-Breen campaign instigated by the conservative Catholic blogs has been ample and frequently harsh. Fr. Breen commented that this has upset the bishop, which he finds regrettable. However, he does not intend to apologize for the stance he has taken on these issues. "I got to do that, whether some people agree or like it, or not. Otherwise I'm just blowing in the wind, you might say. That's not my life, that's not how I am going to end my life," the priest explained.

UPDATE 8/10/2010: An article in The Tennessean confirms that Nashville's bishop Mons. David Choby asked Fr. Breen to take the video off his church's Website and Facebook page, which Fr. Breen did. The article suggests that further disciplinary action against the priest is being contemplated which, in Rebel Girl's view, is sort of like killing the messenger, given the fact that nothing that was said in the video is new. Rebel Girl has heard all of it before and from much more prominent Catholics than Fr. Breen. Fr. Breen explained his reason for making the video, that he wanted to show that people who disagree with the church are still welcome at St. Edward. "Our spiritual life committee wanted to reach out to those Catholics and bring them home...For them to know that their views are not radical, that they can believe the way they do and still be part of the church's community." To Fr. Breen: Please don't apologize for your words. Apologize, if you must, for causing problems for your bishop or for not making prudent use of your parish's communications media, but not for your words. Our Church would be a better place if we had more priests like you.

UPDATE 8/7/2010: The video, which was on the parish Web site yesterday, seems to have been removed today.

I'm pretty sure that when Pope Benedict XVI exhorted priests in his 44th World Communications Day message earlier this year to "proclaim the Gospel by employing the latest generation of audiovisual resources (images, videos, animated features, blogs, websites) which, alongside traditional means, can open up broad new vistas for dialogue, evangelization and catechesis," this was NOT what His Holiness had in mind.

The video that follows was posted by Fr. Joseph Patrick Breen on the home page of the website for the parish where Fr. Breen has been pastor since 1984, St. Edward Catholic Community in Nashville, Tenn. The video was put on YouTube by some folks who found, and were scandalized by, Fr. Breen's assessment of the "State of the Church". In the video, Fr. Breen is being "interviewed" by a deacon.

Fr. Breen, having been ordained in 1961, is not some young upstart, nor is he a stranger to controversy. In 1993, he wrote a letter to the bishops, strongly urging them to deal with optional celibacy for priests, noting that the shortage of priests was increasingly causing serious problems. That was 17 years ago and history continues to prove him right. Fr. Breen's bishop at that time, Mons. Edward Kmiec, required him to sign a pledge that he would not speak to the media or criticize the bishops' actions. Kmiec later moved on to Buffalo where his downsizing and merging of parishes there caused considerable anguish. Prior to the 1993 letter, Fr. Breen had sent a petition to Rome with 1,100 signatures he had gathered from Catholic faithful supporting a married priesthood.

In 2006, Fr. Breen sent a letter to Cardinal William Levada reiterating his support for a married priesthood as well as calling for diaconal ordination of women and a change in the Church's policies towards divorced and remarried couples and on artificial contraception. He also protested the disciplining of theologians Charles Curran and Hans Kung.

Most of the issues Fr. Breen outlined in his 2006 letter are mentioned and elaborated upon in this video, and he also complains about the lack of democracy and leadership in the Church and essentially expands his call to include women in the priesthood, as well as the diaconate. He calls for a new lay petition drive for a married priesthood.

He makes two points in the video about Hispanic ministry: 1) That the lack of Spanish-speaking priests is leading Hispanics to leave the Catholic Church for other denominations, and 2) That we wouldn't lose as many Hispanics if married Hispanic men could become priests. For those who wonder what a blue-eyed Irishman knows about Hispanic ministry, the answer is: plenty. Fr. Breen and St. Edward's were instrumental in helping to start Our Lady of Guadalupe, the first Hispanic parish in the Nashville diocese, back in 2007.

Bottom line: It's impossible to dismiss this guy as just some ignorant malcontent. This priest has paid his dues and he knows whereof he speaks.

Photo: Fr. Breen gives communion at Our Lady of Guadalupe in Nashville


  1. Hmm... either we believe in one holy, catholic, and APOSTOLIC church, or we are lying when we recite that phrase in the creed. APOSTOLIC means that we submit ourselves to the authority of the successors to the apostles, the bishops. The issue is not only Fr. Breen's ideas, but his lack of submission to the Magisterium. Last time I looked, someone who denies the authority of the Magisterium is still a Christian, but they are simply a Protestant Christian.

  2. Well, then, I guess we have a Church full of Protestants! That would include the 80% of Austrian priests who believe the Church should allow priests to marry. It would include the great majority of American Catholic couples who use artificial contraception. Not to mention those of us who think that we should have the right to choose a completely natural death without feeding tubes or other artificial means of receiving sustenance (which are mandated under the current Catholic bioethical directives) when our bodies are no longer able to tolerate eating and drinking.

    If you polled the world's Catholics to see who is in line with the Magisterium on everything, the number would be close to zero. That includes priests, men and women religious and quite a few bishops too, BTW.

  3. It doesn't matter whether you are Catholic or Protestant our only obedience is to GOD and HE alone. As far as Fr Breen's remarks regarding married priests, he is absolutely right. If we allow married men from other religions into the Catholic church and allow them to be priests then we should certainly allow our "own" priests to be able to marry. This is only fair or does that matter to anyone in Rome? RL

  4. Father Breen is an courageous, inspirational man, who has always spoken truth to power. I wish we had many more like him.

  5. And it just might work. His mission was to show fall away Catholics that they could at least come to St. Edward's and be accepted. I guess I'm a fall away Catholic, and a lot of what he said hit home. For those who cling to the idea of a perfect adherence to the hierarchy, IO would remind them of the Church's history. At one point, the Church had four popes at the same time. The Church changes slowly, but it does change. Men like Fr. Breen play a small but necessary part in that change. WHatever "disipline" comes to Fr. Breen will really only prove many of his ponints. Anyway, the only Church I ever attend is St. Edward's, and this action makes me want to go more often.

  6. Shame on you for not accepting Roman Catholic Tradition & Teachings. PRIDE is how Satan fell, or is it you do not believe in that either? Maybe you think that is just another fairy tale, like in the garden where Eve takes a bite of the apple. I will continue to love and honor the Pope and his Authority! When you question his Authority and Church Teaching why not look for the answers where you will find the real truth. Read about the Saints! They have been there and lived it! On another note; I know of way too many families who have left their parish church because of priest like Fr. Breen. Although, they did not leave the Catholic Church, but instead found another Catholic Church that was in line with the Pope and true Church teachings. I will continue to pray for Fr. Breen's soul.

    1. I will not hide by the name "Anonymous" My name is Jimmy McNamara and Fr. Breen was one of my instructors in high school. I graduated 43 years ago - Fr. Joe Breen taugh integrity, character, and truth (along with the assigned courses.) He could foresee a problem and the Catholic Church is lacking in a leadership area that must keep up with the current times. Tradition is one thing - do you not think that Satan is "up with the current times?" Do you see the good in the internet but are you blind to the evils the enemy has instilled as well? More people need to spread God's Word! If it means allowing priests to marry and to bring their ENTIRE FAMILY in one accordance then so be it! Sorry people - Jesus Christ did NOT die on the cross for a religion - He died for a church! The church is the people and He did it so we could share eternal life with Him. I graduated high school in 1969 - I'm just NOW exercising what was instilled in me by a man of God. I left the Catholic church many years ago and am a Christian Minister spreading the Gospel. I am not a heritic but a true believer. Father Breen is not a heritic either but a true believer and wants to see the church move in peoples' lives. I pray he never retires but continues to be a front line soldier for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

  7. I am just one Catholic (31 yr old male) who is full communion with the Mother Church. I have found that the only people who say "most Catholics are not in total communion with the Church" are those who aren't and reach to justify their behavior though commonality. Historically, that is how protestant schisms occur.
    The forbidden apple that Adam and Eve ate was from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, forbidden because by eating it, they too can become like God deciding for themselves what is right and what is wrong.
    The Magisterium exist to teach (the truth) and to aid people against the half-truths. A Catholic can either follow the Magisteriums teachings or they believe the half-truths which can lead them down a dark and dangerous path.
    It is a grave offense to gain the trust of Christian Catholics under the flag of the Magisterium and then lead them down the dark path of half-truths. Guidance is given in Matthew 7:15.

  8. Oh dear, Sa, please give us credit for basing these assertions on more than just personal opinion. We prefer surveys and facts. For example, this 2008 survey of 1,500 Catholics in England and Wales done by "The Tablet", a Catholic publication, on the 40th anniversary of "Humanae Vitae" about attitudes towards artificial contraception and premarital sex (see Largely non-compliant, and probably even more than the survey actually indicates given that some respondents will lie to make themselves look good.

    A summary of the key points of the 2009 Pew survey to which Fr. Breen alludes in the video can be found on this blog: Faith in flux. Remember that this survey only includes fallen away Catholics, not those who just stay in the pews, roll their eyes, and ignore what seems outdated to them.

  9. Jesus said to "judge the tree on the fruit that it produces" not judge the tree by the fruit the surrounding trees produce. Fr. Breens' fruit sound very confused if they are looking toward surveys for guidance. If it is facts you are looking for, then the Magisterium can help you. If you are concerned with the future of the Mother Church, look toward the words of Jesus "And so I say to you, you are "Rock", and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it." Mt 16:18

  10. Father Breen has seen it all, and he knows the suffering of so many people who are just trying to live their lives as best they can. He has the wisdom to see what the problems in the Church are. If the Pope and the Bishops cannot accept genuine feedback from one of their own who has truly tried to pastor the flock, then God help us all.
    A convert from Cleveland, Tennessee

  11. god bless father breen for serving as a strong voice for many catholics. birth control is NOT abortion! current priests are threatened that gay priests would be exposed if priests are allowed to marry! we are already struggling to get more priests. there are already some married priests, and prior to the council of trent they did marry and had children. finally, catholic education has become so expensive that many catholics with several children cannot afford to send their kids to catholic schools. we need to get our heads out of the sand and stop allowing this male dominated bastion to continue. jesus loved all of his children--including women!

  12. Father Breen is only stating true facts that need to be addressed. He knows what he is talking about and he is a wonderful priest and pastor to his beloved St. Edward. I am a Catholic and I love my church but I can honestly say that I do not "obey" the pope. If I did then my husband and I would have many more children than we already have (we now have 4). Really? We CAN'T "obey" no birth control...what middle class family can afford 8-10 children AND afford to send all of them to Catholic schools? So, yes, Fr. Breen is exactly right when he says thats it's okay for Catholics to practice birth control. And as far as married priests go....if they're not allowed to be married then there won't be any priests around anymore. I strongly believe that if priests were able to marry then maybe, just maybe, the outbreak of the sexual abuse scandal would have never happened. I come from a long line of a great Catholic family and now my own children are growing up in the same Catholic upbringing. We are a very loving, Christian family and NO, I do not "obey" the pope. Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior and every night I pray to Him that I am a follower of Him. I KNOW HE LOVES ME!

  13. anne rice is correct to say it is sad when christians are not christian when they persecute and exclude those persons who do not conform to their own beliefs. i will no longer continue to give money to any religion that uses this money to persecute gays and those who cannot afford to raise a houseful of children. when the church makes catholic education free and stops being oppressive to women and gays, i will reconsider coming back. and, the irony is that the church is spending money to exclude gays, when there are many gay priests that the church funds and protects within its ministry. thank god for fr. breen for speaking for us.

  14. Respectfully Rebelgirl:

    It's time to put down the surveys and pick up your Bible.

  15. Anonymous @ 12:08 a.m.

    Since when is correction and guidance persecution?? Was Jesus persecuting the Jews when he corrected their errant behavior in the Temple?

  16. How in the world do you use something like the Breen video to attract fallen away catholics?? Was Fr. Breen attracting or airing out his laundry? This video is more of a rant than an invitation.

    We need to pray for Fr. Breen and the Church. It is the people that need correcting, not God's Church. Sheesh.

  17. So let me get this straight. RebelGirl and others agree with this:

    The Church is errant in spite of Christ's promise. The Church is currently ordaining priests coming from dysfunctional families. There are not enough 'smart' priests to go around. The Church is completely nonresponsive to priests and bishops.

    Ohay, come back though. It'll be great if all you people who don't really want to be catholic can once again refill the pews.

    Let me ask this question: These dysfunctional families that are spitting out their substandard sons for the priesthood, could THEY be the ones who are using birth control, getting divorced and not annulments, etc. etc.?

    The next thing you know, unwed mothers will be a 'good' thing.

    Rediculous. I'm not judging Fr. Breen, I think the poor man needs counseling. He seems to be battling something very deeply spiritual. The problem is, he's battling satan and every word that's coming from his mouth currently is the Dark One's voice.

    You people had better be on guard. This is what happens when we let social commonality and social reform infect the Church. The Church stands on Holy ground, not on common ground. The Church does not have to apease every social outcry for change!

    The Church is our example. We are not the example of what the Church should be.

    God Bless.

  18. To the Anonymous commenter who said I should put down the surveys and pick up the Bible: I read the lectionary readings every day, I usually go to Mass once a week and I am a lector, I also pray the Rosary every day. I have a strong interest in theology and Christology in particular and often read -- and translate -- articles on those subjects for this blog. But the Bible doesn't tell me what contemporary Catholics are thinking and doing with respect to the Church and its teachings. Surveys do, so I read them as well. This is why nothing that Fr. Breen said in the video is particularly shocking to me.

  19. All of this and not one quote from the Holy Sriptures. Tell me ONE thing Fr. Breen supports that is in opposition to the Word of God. My church is full of Christians that previously attended a Catholic Church.

    "Traditions" means handed down beliefs and actions. Maybe it is time to go back to the original writings and start over. Show me where the Bible teaches that every sexual act between a married couple has to result or have a chance to result in pregnacy. Show me where the Bible teaches celibacy of the clergy.

    Men have taken the yoke of Christ and again made it heavy. Read God's Word. Forget what any man says and know the truth and the Truth will set you free.

    God has blessed Joseph Breen with both sight and courage.

  20. I have attended St Edwards for 49 years and have seen several priests come and go. I have not always agreed with Fr. Breen, however, I have had the honor and privilege of having a priest who listens to his parishoners and who respects their right to question and to have an opinion. He accepts all and welcomes those who have fallen away from the church and who are troubled in their beliefs. He is a good and caring man who has done so much good in his life. Please do not judge this man by 14 minutes of video. Be a Christian and do not judge him, that is for God.

  21. I personally don't judge Fr. Breen on just the video -- although he articulates things that I and many other Catholics agree with. That is why I wanted to do this blog post, to counter the conservative bloggers and show Fr. Breen through a different lens. The comment of the last "Anonymous" confirms something I suspect, that when Bishop Choby tallies up all the responses he has received to Fr. Breen's video, he will find that virtually all of the negative ones come from people outside of St. Edwards parish and even outside the diocese. Those who know Fr. Breen and work with him appreciate his candor and value his years of service to the Catholic Church in Nashville. Hopefully the bishop will take this into consideration and the matter will end there.

  22. Harrah for Fr. Breen and all he stands for ... many polls have shown that 85% of people who attend Mass regularly (30 or more times a year), are cafeteria Catholics on one or more issues.

    Having said that, we must remember several things. The Church has always been in a state of flux ... what was a sin hundreds of years ago, no longer is today, and vice versa ... in the very early years, women priests were not unheard of, and priests were allowed to marry ..

    When I was a little girl, it was considered sinful for a woman to wear slacks to Church, and to enter the Church with head uncovered ... just look around you at Mass next time you attend, and make note of the attire of the congregation ...

    Fr. Breen has been faulted for following his conscience when it went against the teaching of the established religious powers that be ... 2000 years ago, another so-called malcontent did the same thing ...

    When people don't question authority, when they blindly follow the dictates of those in authority, horrible things can happen ... the Holocaust and 9/11 are just two examples ....

    God doesn't expect blind obedience to the Church ... in fact, although I am a devout Catholic, I just bet He doesn't give a fig about churches at all ...when push comes to shove, the Golden Rule just about covers it all ...

    It's time we opened our eyes ... use the brains and intellect that God gave us ... work from a position of compassion for all, and use our common sense ... just because we've been told one thing from the cradle, doesn't mean it is necessarily so ...

    God bless the whistle blowers ... they are the ones who keep blind old men in Rome honest.

  23. Rebel Girl, I couldn't agree with you more on many of your points. It is no secret that Choby is not a beloved bishop here in the diocese ... he is a strictly by the books guy, who prizes his position above all else, and will do anything it takes to remain Bishop and hold the seat in the Cathedral where he was baptised ... he also has no control over his priests, so his only resort is the smack down ... Popular opinion will not sway him .. Fr. Breen will be history, sadly ... as many wise men in history have been ... if Fr, Joe Pat ends up working in a soup kitchen in some inner city, a good many will follow him ...

  24. Father Breen is truly a servant of God. So many families, young and old alike, have been truly blessed with his care and continuous efforts to minister to their needs. He is truly a spiritual man who goes out of his way to bring comfort and inspiration to those within the Church and in the communities he has served. God knows who he is, even if those eaten up with rigid dogma do not. He dares to be a real leader. That takes heart, conscience, and a willingness to serve God's people in spite of the slings and arrows.

  25. Father Breen sounds like he is speaking with a lot of wisdom. The Catholic church would be wise to listen to him.

  26. I know this is SUPER late, but I just came across this. I will be moving to Nashville in a few weeks for work and WILL NEVER ATTEND THIS PARISH!!!!!!!!!!!!
    This priest seems to be a heretic and it shows in the people that attend this "catholic" parish.

    Michael Voris would have a field day with ya'll