Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Paying the price for resistance: Fr. Greg Reynolds' advocacy for women's ordination ends in excommunication

Back in November 2010, Fr. Greg Reynolds, a priest in the Archdiocese of Melbourne, Australia, delivered a homily in the three parishes in which he was serving, a homily which he then mailed to Archbishop Dennis Hart and made available to the press. "I am convinced in my heart that it is God's will that we should have women priests," Fr. Reynolds told his flock, "I believe certain women are being called by God to the ministerial priesthood, and our official church is obstructing the work of the Holy Spirit. I feel I can no longer sit back and remain silent."

Archbishop Hart gave Fr. Reynolds a choice: be silent about women's ordination or resign. After many months of reflection, in August 2011, Fr. Reynolds chose to resign from the Roman Catholic church which he had served as a priest for 32 years and start a new ministry, Inclusive Catholics. He says that he was moved to do so because of his "growing conviction that the institutional Catholic Church was wrong in its teaching on women's ordination and on homosexuality" and "a personal calling to minister to and with Catholic people who share these beliefs and have been longing for a community that celebrates the Catholic Eucharist in ways that support these beliefs." Inclusive Catholics, which meets twice a month for Mass at Glen Iris Road Uniting Church, says its mission is to "welcome all Catholics, especially the disenfranchised, the disillusioned and the excluded."

After an article about Inclusive Catholics appeared in The Age in August 2012, Archbishop Hart sent Fr. Reynolds a letter warning him that if he persisted in celebrating the Eucharist after the suspension of his priestly faculties, the Archbishop would be "forced to take further canonical action." The priest was offered $5,000 in severance pay for his 32 years of service, an amount that continues to be the subject of a dispute between Fr. Reynolds and the Archdiocese since the usual practice is $1,500 for each year of service. Given the priest's refusal to abide by the suspension, Hart asked the Vatican to release Fr. Reynolds from his vows and excommunicate him.

Last month, Fr. Reynolds received the decree from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, dismissing him from the priesthood, dispensing him from his vows, and excommunicating him from the Church. Fr. Reynolds told The Age that, while he had not expected to be excommunicated too, the order would not affect his ministry. "In times past excommunication was a huge thing, but today the hierarchy have lost such trust and respect," the priest said. "I've come to this position because I've followed my conscience on women's ordination and gay marriage."

And Fr. Reynolds says that his position on these issues is shared by most Australian Catholics, even many priests. "Just from my own experience, I’m aware of a number of priests who share my belief and my guesstimate would be well over half of the Australian clergy would share that belief. Understandably none of them have spoken out publically about it because they fear they will suffer the same fate as myself," he told The Standard.

Fr. Reynolds is not the first Australian religious to be excommunicated for insubordination. In 1871, Sister Mary MacKillop was also excommunicated for a time. She was not only later absolved but in 2010, she was canonized as Australia's first and only saint. Perhaps history will one day hold the same fate for the priest whose only aspiration is to encourage reform and renewal by highlighting some of the failings and limitations of the Church as it stands today.

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