Saturday, September 25, 2010

Priest excommunicated for ordaining woman in Arizona

The Rev. Vernon Meyer (58), who had submitted his resignation to the bishop of Phoenix earlier this summer, became at least the fifth priest to be excommunicated from the church under Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted. He was not defrocked, which is a separate penalty. Fr. Meyer was penalized because of his participation in the ordination of Elaine Groppenbacher in Tempe, Ariz., last month.

Fr. Meyer was a longtime pastor and educator in the diocese. He most recently served at St. Patrick's Church in Scottsdale, Ariz. He founded the Arizona Center for Theological Studies, which offers religious-studies classes.

Meyer said he never doubted his vocation until Olmsted came to Phoenix. One of the bishop's initial actions was to order nine priests to recant their support of a statement supporting gay rights within churches. Meyer said he removed his name from the statement but began to question the bishop's actions.

Rev. Groppenbacher was not ordained in the Roman Catholic Church, which still does not allow women to become priests, but by Bishop Peter Hickman of the Ecumenical Catholic Communion, one of several liberal Catholic offshoots in the Phoenix area. The ceremony took place in late August at Guardian Angels Catholic Community. Rev. Groppenbacher is the fourth woman to be ordained as a Catholic priest in this area.

On September 1st, Phoenix Bishop Thomas Olmsted published a letter in The Catholic Sun about the ordination. Msgr. Olmsted wrote: "Actions such as these are extremely serious and carry with them profoundly harmful consequences for the salvation of the souls participating in this attempted ordination. To feign the conferral of the Sacrament of Holy Orders results in the penalty of excommunication. This penalty applies both to the person attempting the ordination and the person attempting to be ordained. The attempted ordination of a woman is a grave offense against a sacrament and the structure of the Church."

The prelate continued: "The Church’s position on the Sacrament of Holy Orders, of course, does not mean that women are of any less value or dignity than men...However, it is of paramount importance to recognize that the Catholic Church teaches that only a baptized man can be validly ordained to the ministerial priesthood. The Catholic priesthood, today as in ages past, mirrors the actions of Christ, who lived as a celibate male and chose to ordain only men...Please pray for all involved in this divisive, scandalous act against the Catholic Church."

None of the participants in the ordination ceremony appear particularly alarmed by Bishop Olmsted's words. Rev. Groppenbacher told the Arizona Republic that she no longer considered herself subject to the rules of the Roman Catholic Church and therefore could not be excommunicated. As for Fr. Meyer, he says he opened his letter of excommunication on the day he became pastor of Sun Lakes United Church of Christ.

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