Friday, July 19, 2013

A Study in Contrasts: The Pfarrer Initiative and the Association of US Catholic Priests

Fr. Helmut Schüller, the founder of Austria's Pfarrer Initiative, a movement by that country's Roman Catholic priests calling for church reform, is now touring the United States in a series of speaking engagements dubbed The Catholic Tipping Point. Prior to the tour, Fr. Schüller addressed the Association of US Catholic Priests (AUSCP) meeting in their second general assembly in Seattle in June via Skype. AUSCP held a similar teleconference via Skype with Fr. Tony Flannery of the Irish Association of Catholic Priests. The American priests' group drew its initial inspiration from these two European priests' groups...but that's where the similarity ends.

Whereas Fr. Schüller has been so courageous in his call for reform and for increased lay involvement in the church that two American archbishops, Msgr. Charles Chaput in Philadelphia and Cardinal Sean O'Malley in Boston, have denied him permission to speak in any Catholic parish in their jurisdictions, the AUSCP showed considerable caution in the resolutions passed by the 140 delegates who gathered in Seattle last month.

According to the Pray Tell Blog, AUSCP approved resolutions:

  • favoring exercise of authority in a collegial manner through consensus decision-making processes with councils and boards;
  • supporting Pope Francis in the reform of the Church to restore credibility, with participation of laity and clergy in the selection of bishop;
  • endorsing Cardinal Bernadin’s Common Ground Initiative to promote inclusive dialogue and collaboration;
  • supporting the ordination of women to the permanent diaconate;
  • encouraging the reintroduction of general absolution;
  • supporting the Labor Priests Project of the National Federation of Priests’ Councils and establishing its own Priest-Labor-Union-Friendly Caucus.

However, the group voted down resolutions:

  • asking the US bishops to work to resolve the problem of precipitous decline in number of active priests;
  • making the selection of bishops more transparent, with selection generally from the local presbyterate and proceedings not done in secret.
  • seeking permission to use the 1974 Sacramentary;
  • asking the US bishops to appoint a liaison to AUSCP and include an AUSCP delegate as auditor at its November meeting;
  • supporting a plan for evangelization including diagnosis of why Catholics leave;
  • calling for study and open discussion of women and married men in the priesthood;
  • promoting sufficient time for presbyterate to determine its own interim leader when a bishop reaches age of resignation/retirement.

Resolutions on selecting a Priest of the Month and one opposing the annual collection for the Archdiocese for Military Services were withdrawn. The full text of all proposed resolutions -- passed, rejected, and withdrawn -- are available here.

AUSCP's rejection of the resolution on the optional use of the 1974 Sacramentary is particularly ironic given that at its first meeting in 2012, the group called on the bishops to address the problems in the new translation, which most of them dislike. Obviously, there has been no movement from the bishops to do anything about the new translation and priests' individual responses have ranged from a weary acceptance of the inevitable to quiet refusal to use the worst parts of the new liturgy.

While the AUSCP's support for the admission of women to the permanent diaconate is laudable, it's disappointing that they could not bring themselves to even call for studying and discussion of opening the priesthood to women and married men -- especially given the fact that most Catholic priests support this. Contrast this stance with the Pfarrer Initiative's "Call to Disobedience" which says that signatories "will take every opportunity to speak up publicly for the admission of women and married people to the priesthood." As an interim step, the signatories also commit themselves to allowing non-ordained persons, both men and women, to preach and lead liturgies in the absence of a priest.

In explaining the vote against discussing the expansion of the priesthood, Fr. Dave Cooper, the head of AUSCP said that the group's objective was to dialogue with the bishops and "find bridges to do that.” Had the group adopted the resolution on ordaining women priests, he said, "it would have become an obstacle, a barrier, rather than a bridge." Cooper called the rejection of the resolution an act of wisdom rather than of lack of courage. "Wisdom" perhaps, but more likely the "wisdom" of self-protection since the Austrian priests have not had the experience of having one of their own de-frocked over the women's ordination issue, as happened to Fr. Roy Bourgeois in the United States.

And, of course, the entire Pfarrer-Initiative began, and is informed by, the Austrian priests' concern about the growing priest shortage in their country and the various means of addressing it, including parish mergers which Fr. Schüller's group vigorously opposes. When Fr. Schüller spoke against the Archdiocese of Boston's restructuring plan this week, which he likened to "downsizing a corporation", the Archdiocese was quick to defend its program.

In contrast, AUSCP declined to pass even a mildly worded resolution calling on the organization to express to the bishops "its pastoral concern about the precipitous decline of active priests available to serve the People of God. We ask our Bishops, as Shepherds of God’s people, to employ the power and the authority of their office and work to resolve the significant pastoral and sacramental challenges resulting from an expanding Church and a declining priesthood."

And, unlike the Pfarrer Initiative, the AUSCP doesn't even begin to address broader church reform issues such as communion for divorced and re-married Catholics, whereas the Austrian priests have publicly stated that they "will not deny Communion to faithful of good will, especially remarried people, members of other Christian churches, and in some cases those who have officially left the Catholic Church" (the latter category refers mainly to those who have formally left the Church to avoid having to pay Austria's church tax).

Even AUSCP's goals are stated in a vague and circumspect way and the emphasis seems to be more on providing spiritual and emotional support to the priests themselves than being a prophetic voice in the Church at large:

1.Establish a recognized forum through which priests can relate to one another.

2.Be an advocate for the spiritual, physical, and psychological needs of priests.

3.Foster a priestly dialogue with the women religious, the laity, the bishops, and their national organizations.

4.Be a prophetic voice of hope.

5.Continue to celebrate and implement the visionary concepts of Vatican Council II.

The Irish Association of Catholic Priests, in contrast, spells out a number of very specific church and societal reform goals in their Constitution:

2. Purpose of the association: To promote the aims and objectives, as laid out below:

Providing a voice for Irish Catholic priests at a time when that voice is largely silent and needs to be expressed.

Giving an opportunity for Irish priests to engage proactively with the crucial debates taking place in Irish society

Full implementation of the vision and teaching of the Second Vatican Council, with special emphasis on:
* the primacy of the individual conscience.
* the status and active participation of all the baptised.
the task of establishing a Church where all believers will be treated as equal.

A redesigning of Ministry in the Church, in order to incorporate the gifts, wisdom and expertise of the entire faith community, male and female.

A re-structuring of the governing system of the Church, basing it on service rather than on power, and encouraging at every level a culture of consultation and transparency, particularly in the appointment of Church leaders.

A culture in which the local bishop and the priests relate to each other in a spirit of trust, support and generosity.

A re-evaluation of Catholic sexual teaching and practice that recognizes the profound mystery of human sexuality and the experience and wisdom of God’s people.

Promotion of peace, justice and the protection of God’s creation locally, nationally and globally.

Recognition that Church and State are separate and that while the Church must preach the message of the Gospel and try to live it authentically, the State has the task of enacting laws for all its citizens.

Liturgical celebrations that use rituals and language that are easily understood, inclusive and accessible to all.

Strengthening relationships with our fellow Christians and other faiths.

Full acceptance that the Spirit speaks through all people, including those of faiths other than Christian and those of no religious faith, so that the breath of the Spirit will flow more freely.

To put things in perspective, it's important to realize that the American priests' association is the youngest of the three. And numbers count too. When we first wrote about the various priest associations in 2011, we estimated that 6% of Austrian priests had signed on to the Pfarrer Initiative and that number has expanded. Eight percent of Irish priests belonged to that country's ACP. Fewer than 3% of American priests (approximately 985, according to its web site) belong to AUSCP. We can only hope that as it becomes more established and its membership grows, AUSCP will adopt the bolder positions of its European counterparts and become a strong voice for Catholic church reform.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Nothing is more necessary

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
July 21, 2013

Luke 10:38-42

The episode is somewhat surprising. The disciples accompanying Jesus have disappeared from the scene. Martha and Mary's brother Lazarus is absent. In the house in the small village of Bethany, Jesus is alone with two women who adopt two different attitudes towards his arrival.

Martha, who is undoubtedly the older sister, welcomes Jesus as a housewife, and puts herself totally at his service. It's natural. According to the mentality of the time, dedication to household chores was the exclusive task of women. Mary, on the other hand, the younger sister, sits at the feet of Jesus to hear his word. Her attitude is amazing because she's taking the place befitting a "disciple" that beonged only to males.

At a certain point, Martha, absorbed by the work and overwhelmed by fatigue, feels abandoned by her sister and misunderstood by Jesus: "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me." Why doesn't he order her sister to devote herself to the tasks proper to all women and cease occupying the place reserved for the male disciples?

Jesus' answer is very important. Luke writes it, probably thinking of the disagreements and small conflicts that were occurring in the early communities when the time came to set the various tasks: "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her."

Jesus never criticizes Martha's attitude of service -- a basic task in any following of Jesus -- but he invites her not to let herself become absorbed by her work to the point of losing peace. And he reminds her that listening to his Word must be the priority for all, including women, and not some sort of male privilege.

It is urgent today to see and organize the Christian community as a place that takes care, first of all, of welcoming the Gospel in the midst of the secular pluralistic society of today. Nothing is more important. Nothing more necessary. We must learn to gather -- men and women, believers and less believing -- in small groups to listen to and share Jesus' words together.

This hearing of the Gospel in small "cells" could be today the "womb" from which the fabric of our parishes in crisis will be regenerated. If the common people know the Gospel of Jesus firsthand, enjoy it and demand it from the hierarchy, they will drag us all to Jesus.

Welcome, Pope Chico!

By Frei Betto (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Leonardo Boff Blog (em português)

Dear Pope Francis, the Brazilian people are waiting for you with open arms and hearts. Thanks to your election, the papacy has now acquired a happier face.

You have instilled in us all a renewed hope in the Catholic Church by taking actions that are closer to the Gospel of Jesus than the monarchical lines prevalent in the Vatican. Once elected, you returned personally to the three-star hotel where you had stayed in Rome to pay the bill; at the Vatican, you decided to live at Casa Santa Marta, the guest house, and not in the papal residence, almost a princely palace; you eat lunch in the staff cafeteria and don't have a reserved seat, changing tables and dinner companions every day; you had the priest director of the Vatican bank, who was involved in swindling 20 million euros, arrested.

In Lampedusa, where they bring the African immigrants who have survived the ocean crossing (in which 20,000 people have died) and are seeking a better life in Europe, you criticized the "globalization of indifference" and those who, anonymously, move the economic and financial indexes, condemning multitudes of people to unemployment and poverty.

A different Brazil awaits you. It's as if God, to brighten World Youth Day further, had mobilized our young people who, in recent weeks, have flooded our streets, expressing dreams and demands. Above all, hope for a better Brazil and a better world.

It's a fact that our ecclesiastical and civil authorities were careful not to leave you more time with young people. According to the official program, you will have more encounters with those who now govern us and lead the Church in Brazil than with those who are the focal point and protagonists of this day.

While our people are experiencing a moment of direct democracy in the streets, the organizers of your visit have taken care to imprison you in palaces and lecture halls. Just as your speeches are now being modified in Rome to be more attuned to the cry of Brazilian youth, hopefully you will change the program that they have prepared for you here and devote more time to dialogue with the young people.

It makes no sense, for example, for you to bless, in the city of Rio, the flags of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. They're sporting events beyond all religious, cultural, ethnic, national, and political diversity.

Why is the head of the Catholic Church making this symbolic gesture of blessing the flags of two events that have nothing religious about them, although they do contain gospel values because they cancel out the differences between nations and promote peace? Perhaps it will be the only time athletes from North Korea and the U.S. will fraternize.

How would we feel if they were blessed by a rabbi or a Muslim religious authority?

In the statements you'll make in Brazil, you'll make it clear why you've come. When you were elected and proclaimed pope, you told the crowd gathered in St. Peter's Square in Rome, that the cardinals went to "the ends of the earth" to look for a Pope.

Hopefully your pontificate also represents the beginning of a new era for the Catholic Church, free of moralism, clericalism, distrust in the face of post-modernity. A Church that puts an end to mandatory celibacy, the ban on condom use, the exclusion of women from access to the priesthood.

A Church that reincorporates married priests into the priestly ministry, that dialogues without arrogance with the different religious traditions, that is open to scientific advances, that assumes its prophetic role of denouncing, in Jesus' name, the causes of poverty, social inequality, migration, and natural devastation.

Young people expect a Church that is a joyful community, stripped, without luxuries and glitter, able to reflect the face of the Young Man of Nazareth, and where love always finds its dwelling place.

Welcome to Brazil, Pope Chico! If the Argentines justly boast of having a fellow countryman as the successor of Peter, know that here we are all pleased to know that God is Brazilian!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Christian faith and political commitment

By Victor Codina, SJ (English translation by Rebel Girl)

These remarks were offered by Víctor Codina, SJ at the presentation of Gregorio Iriarte ¿Quién fuiste y que dicen de ti?, Marta Orsini Puente's new book about the late Bolivian activist priest.

1. By Christian faith, we mean personal commitment to Jesus in the Church and by political commitment, we mean not only or primarily partisan commitment but commitment to the "polis", political society, citizenship, and ultimately commitment to justice and humankind.

The Christian faith and political commitment pairing is not as simple and obvious as it might seem, because many times Christian faith and political commitment have been -- and are -- separate and sometimes conflicting. There has been and there still is a divorce between Christian faith and political commitment.

Latin American dictators, who professed to be Christians, would take communion and attend the Corpus Christi procession, torture and kill political enemies; politicians professing to be Christian are corrupt.

In many Christians there has been a practical and theoretical deformation of the Christian faith that often reduces faith to the profession of a few truths (the creed and catechism) and compliance with certain rites and devotions, without any of it having moral consequences, much less in the field of social justice and commitment to citizenship. For many traditional Christians, morality is reduced to sexual and family morality, at most with some benevolent actions and charitable assistance. An individualistic faith that has little to do with life, or history or politics. In this case, Christian faith becomes a merely cultural act, a veneer to cover an individualistic, unsupportive and unjust attitude. It's what has been called bourgeois Christianity.

But in addition to this ideological distortion, there is a negative view of politics. For many Christians there is a dualism between church and politics, between the Church and society, the Church and world, between us and them, between right and wrong, as if the Church were identified with what is good and politics with what is evil, the Church with the culture of life and society with the culture of death, as if, to go to God, Christians had to flee from the world and take refuge in the walls of the Church ... No wonder Puebla states that there is a real divorce between Christian faith and social justice in Latin America, which, as Puebla states, is a scandal and a contradiction with being Christian. (Puebla 28).

Nor is it surprising that many think that religion, Christianity and the Church itself are alienation and opium of the people.

On the other hand we also find it very positive that there are many people around the world who practice justice and struggle for human rights with social and political commitment, without adhering to the Christian faith. For example, members of non-Christian religions such as Gandhi and the Dalai Lama, like the protagonists in the Arab Spring, like many young people and volunteers, often agnostic or atheist, who often do not want to know about the Church, but who nevertheless are very sensitive to human rights, to the fight for justice and political commitment to a just society. Political commitment to justice is not unique to Christianity but is an ethical dimension of every authentic human existence.

2. Nothing could be further from this caricature of Christianity alienated from history, justice and society, than the biblical vision of the Christian faith. Already in the Old Testament, Yahweh is revealed, especially through the prophets, as the defender of the poor, the orphan and the widow, the one who wishes that righteousness and justice be practiced especially towards the weak, the one who is moved by the suffering and the cry of the people and seeks their liberation, the one who does not want sacrifices or offerings, but justice and mercy, commitment and solidarity.

This revelation reaches its fullness in Jesus of Nazareth who announces the project of the Kingdom of God, a project of full life and fraternal communion for all humanity, for all of society, symbolized in the messianic banquet at which all will share in the goods of creation and at which the first recipients are the poor and weak whom society ordinarily excludes and marginalizes. Jesus gives his whole life to this Kingdom of God up to the cross, and through his resurrection by the Holy Spirit, the Father confirms the validity of this solidarity project, a project that, since Pentecost, the Church has been responsible for carrying out in the world -- a Church that must be a place of love and grace where all find reasons to live and hope.

3. But it would be unfair if we failed to recognize that throughout the history of the Church there have not only been deformations of the Christian life -- a divorce between faith and justice -- but also authentic expressions of the gospel, integrating faith and justice, faith and commitment to solidarity. Certainly at the beginning of the Church, more was done along the lines of welfare and handouts (alms, hospitals, nursing homes, soup kitchens, attention to slaves and prisoners, protection of women ...), but since sociology and modern economics have made us understand that poverty is not casual but has structural causes, Christian faith has acquired a clearer dimension of political commitment to justice and the fight against unjust structures that cause the deaths of people. The social doctrine of the Church, John XXIII with his desire for a church of the poor and his encyclical Pacem in Terris, Vatican II with its teaching about the signs of the times, have opened clear paths in the connection between Christian faith and political commitment to justice. The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the people, especially the poor, are the joys, the hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the Church (GS 1). Vatican II doesn't speak of the Church "and" the world but of the Church "in" the world, in political society. It moves from anathema to dialogue, knowing that the Spirit is present not only in the Church but also in society, which helps the Church but from which the Church also gets help, knowing that both in society and in the Church itself the wheat and the chaff are mixed, and we must all walk united towards the Kingdom of God. But also in the other Christian denominations, we have living examples of the connection between faith and politics. We could think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, Dorothee Sölle, and Nelson Mandela.

4. Along this line of relationship between church and politics lies the current Latin American tradition that creatively received Vatican II at Medellin through hearing the anguished cry of a people seeking justice, bread, land, health care, education, work, housing, respect for their dignity, their human rights and their cultures.

Beginning with Medellin, the Latin American Church re-integrated Christian faith and political commitment to justice -- a crop of bishops emerged, true Holy Fathers of the Church of the poor, who defended the people against injustice, committed thenselves to structural change, such as Helder Camara, Proaño, Mendez Arceo, Pironio Angelleli, Oscar Romero, Samuel Ruiz, Aloysio Lorscheider, Mendes de Almeida, Manuel Larraín, Enique Alvear and, in Bolivia, Jorge Manrique, Manuel Eguiguren, just to mention the deceased; base communities were born led primarily by women of the people with social and political commitment; religious life, especially women's, is integrated into the poorest and most working class sectors, among miners, peasants, indigenous peoples, accompanying the people in their struggles and demands; there are many lay Christians committed to justice and politics and the political transformation processes that are seeking a better world, because another world is possible; liberation theology emerges that, with its limitations and criticisms, is a prophetic and evangelical force driving political commitment. The option for the poor is implicit in our faith in Christ -- everything that has to do with Christ has to do with the poor, as Aparecida stated (Aparecida 393), all of which has social and political consequences.

But all this comes at a price. There has been persecution and martyrdom, from bishops like Romero and Angelleli, to priests and men and women religious, such as Mauricio Lefebvre, Luis Espinal, Ellacuría, Sister Dorothy Stang and many men and women of the people, holy innocents, killed for faith and justice, for their commitment to the people and politics, true Jesus-like martyrs...

5. In this Latin American historical context of Christian commitment to justice and politics one must place Gregorio Iriarte (photo), his missionary vocation to Latin America, his stay in Argentina and Uruguay, his arrival in Bolivia in 1964 to the Siglo XX mines and Pío XII radio, his shocking experience of the San Juan massacre of the miners, his defense of the persecuted miners, his struggle for justice and human rights in times of dictatorship, his analysis of the national situation, dissemination of the social doctrine of the Church and Latin American teachings, his preoccupation with changing the mindset of many conservative Christians (laity, priests, bishops and religious), his persecution, all his work as a lecturer and writer, especially ultimately from Cochabamba.

And all this because of his Christian faith, consistent with his commitment to and following of Jesus in the Church and in religious life, as fruit of the gospel read in today's world from the people, thus uniting mysticism and prophecy, love for the Church and service to the people of Bolivia, the Bible and the newspaper.

Monday, July 15, 2013

"Choosing to de-frock": A Jesuit resigns to protest injustice in the Church

But for our friends at Women's Ordination Worldwide, we might have missed this stunning story of solidarity -- a Jesuit priest who, at the end of his life, has chosen to renounce his ordained ministry to protest the injustice he sees in the institutional Catholic Church.

Fr. Bert Thelen, SJ, celebrated his last mass as pastor at St. John's Parish at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska -- a position he held for 14 years -- on June 16, 2013. In a letter to his family, friends and colleagues (full text below), Fr. Thelen announced that "I have decided to leave ordained Jesuit ministry and return to the lay state, the priesthood of the faithful bestowed on me by my Baptism nearly 80 years ago." Fr. Thelen was ordained to the priesthood in 1968 and enjoyed a 45 year career with the Jesuits, including a 6-year stint as Jesuit Provincial in Wisconsin.

In his letter of resignation, Fr. Thelen says that his spiritual journey has led him to the realization that "we need to end the world view that structures reality into higher and lower, superior and inferior, dominant and subordinate, which puts God over Humanity, humans over the rest of the world, men over women, the ordained over the laity." And he adds that "following my call to serve this One World requires me to stop benefiting from the privilege, security, and prestige ordination has given me. I am doing this primarily out of the necessity and consequence of my new call, but, secondarily, as a protest against the social injustices and sinful exclusions perpetrated by a patriarchal church that refuses to consider ordination for women and marriage for same- sex couples."

Before going on to criticize his former order specifically, Fr. Thelen asserts that he has "become convinced that the Catholic Church will never give up its clerical privilege until and unless we priests (and bishops) willingly step down from our pedestals." He adds that resigning would "put me in solidarity with my friend, Roy Bourgeois, my fellow Jesuit, Fr. Bill Brennan, the late Bernard Cooke, and many other men who have been 'de-frocked' by the reigning hierarchy. It will also support the religious and lay women, former Catholics, and gay and lesbian couples marginalized by our church." "I want to stand with and for them," vows the now ex-Jesuit.

Bert Thelen's Letter of Resignation

TO : Family, Relatives, and Friends, Colleagues and Partners in Ministry, CLC Members, Ignatian Associates, Project Mankind, Parishioners of St. John’s, St Benedict the Moor, Sacred Heart, Jesuit Classmates and Companions

FROM: Bert Thelen, S.J., June, 2013

Dearly Beloved,

May the Grace of Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the Peace of the Holy Spirit be with you! I am writing to tell you about what may be the most important decision of my life since entering the Jesuits. With God’s help, at the behest of my religious superiors and the patient support and wise encouragement of my CLC group and closest friends, I have decided to leave ordained Jesuit ministry and return to the lay state, the priesthood of the faithful bestowed on me by my Baptism nearly 80 years ago. I do this with confidence and humility, clarity and wonder, gratitude and hope, joy and sorrow. No bitterness, no recrimination, no guilt, no regrets.

It has been a wonderful journey, a surprising adventure, an exploration into the God Who dwells mysteriously in all of our hearts. I will always be deeply grateful to the Society of Jesus for the formation, education, companionship, and ministry it has provided, and to my family for their constant support. I can never thank God enough for the loving and loyal presence in my life of each and every one of you.

Why am I doing this? How did I reach this decision? I will try to tell you now. That is the purpose of this letter. For about 15 years now, as many of you have noticed, I have had a “Lover’s Quarrel” with the Catholic Church. I am a cradle Catholic and grew up as Catholic as anyone can, with Priests and even Bishops in our household, and 17 years of Catholic education at St. Monica’s Grade School, Milwaukee Messmer High School, and Marquette University. I took First Vows at Oshkosh in the Society of Jesus at age 25 and was ordained at Gesu Church to the priesthood ten years later in 1968. I have served the Church as a Jesuit priest in Milwaukee, Omaha, and Pine Ridge for 45 years, including 18 years on the Province Staff culminating in my being the Wisconsin Provincial for six years and attending the 34th General Congregation in Rome.

My last 14 years at Creighton and St. John’s have been the best years of my life. I have truly enjoyed and flourished serving as pastor of St. John’s. I cannot even put into words how graced and loved and supported I have been by the parishioners, parish staff, campus ministry, Ignatian Associates, and CLC members! It is you who have freed, inspired, and encouraged me to the New Life to which I am now saying a strong and joyful “Yes.” You have done this by challenging me to be my best self as a disciple of Jesus, to proclaim boldly His Gospel of Love, and to widen the horizons of my heart to embrace the One New World we are called to serve in partnership with each other and our Triune God. It is the Risen Christ Who beckons me now toward a more universal connection with the Cosmos, the infinitely large eco-system we are all part of, the abundance and vastness of what Jesus called “the Reign of God.”

Why does this “YES” to embrace the call of our cosmic inter-connectedness mean saying “NO” to ordained ministry? My answer is simple but true. All mystical traditions, as well as modern science, teach us that we humans cannot be fully ourselves without being in communion with all that exists. Lasting justice for Earth and all her inhabitants is only possible within this sacred communion of being. We need conversion – conversion from the prevailing consciousness that views reality in terms of separateness, dualism, and even hierarchy, to a new awareness of ourselves as inter-dependent partners , sharing in one Earth-Human community. In plainer words, we need to end the world view that structures reality into higher and lower, superior and inferior, dominant and subordinate, which puts God over Humanity, humans over the rest of the world, men over women, the ordained over the laity. As Jesus commanded so succinctly, “Don’t Lord it over anyone … serve one another in love.” As an institution, the Church is not even close to that idea; its leadership works through domination, control, and punishment. So, following my call to serve this One World requires me to stop benefiting from the privilege, security, and prestige ordination has given me. I am doing this primarily out of the necessity and consequence of my new call, but, secondarily, as a protest against the social injustices and sinful exclusions perpetrated by a patriarchal church that refuses to consider ordination for women and marriage for same- sex couples.

I have become convinced that the Catholic Church will never give up its clerical privilege until and unless we priests (and bishops) willingly step down from our pedestals. Doing this would also put me in solidarity with my friend, Roy Bourgeois, my fellow Jesuit, Fr. Bill Brennan, the late Bernard Cooke, and many other men who have been “de-frocked” by the reigning hierarchy. It will also support the religious and lay women, former Catholics, and gay and lesbian couples marginalized by our church. I want to stand with and for them. I am, if you will, choosing to de-frock myself in order to serve God more faithfully, truly, and universally.

But why leave the Jesuits? Make no mistake about it: the Society of Jesus shares in and benefits from this patriarchal and clerical way of proceeding. We still regard ourselves as the shepherds and those to whom and with whom we minister as sheep. I discovered this painfully when the Society of Jesus decided against having Associate members. We are not prepared for co-membership or even, it seems at times, for collaboration, though we pay lip service to it. “Father knows best” remains the hallmark of our way of proceeding. I can no longer, in conscience, do that. But I still honor and love my fellow Jesuits who work from that model of power over. It is still where we all are as a company, a Society, a community of vowed religious in the Roman Catholic church. Leaving behind that companionship is not easy for me, but it is the right thing for me to do at this time in my life. When I went through a formal discernment process with my CLC group, one member whose brilliance and integrity I have always admired and whose love and loyalty to the Jesuits is beyond question, said of my decision, “You cannot NOT do this!” He had recognized God’s call in me.

A few other considerations may help clarify my path. The Church is in transition – actually in exile. In the Biblical tradition, the Egyptian, Assyrian and Babylonian captivities led to great religious reforms and the creation of renewed covenants. Think of Moses, Jeremiah, and Isaiah. I think a similar reform is happening in our Catholic faith (as well as other traditions). We have come through far-reaching, earth-shaking evolutionary changes, and a new (Universal) Church as well as a new (One) World is emerging. My decision is a baby step in that Great Emergence, a step God is asking me to take.

Consider this. Being a Lay Catholic has sometimes been caricatured as “Pray, pay, and obey.” Of course, that is a caricature, an exaggeration, a jibe. But it does point to a real problem. Recently, the hierarchical church mandated the so-called revision of the Roman Missal without consulting the People of God. It was both a foolish and a self-serving effort to increase the authority of Ordained men, damaging and even in some ways taking away the “Pray” part of “Pray, pay, and obey.” No wonder more and more Catholics are worshipping elsewhere, and some enlightened priests feel compromised in their roles. I, for one, feel that this so-called renewal , though licit, is not valid. It is not pleasing to God, and I feel compromised in trying to do it.

Now, consider this. All of this liturgical, ecclesial, and religious change is located in and strongly influenced by what both science and spirituality have revealed as happening to our world, our planet, our universe. The very earth we are rooted and grounded in, as well as the air we breathe and the water we drink, are being damaged and destroyed even beyond (some say) our capacity to survive. And, as Fr. John Surette, S.J., has so wisely observed, “Injustice for the human and destruction of Earth’s ecosystem are not two separate injustices. They are one.” Biocide is even more devastating than genocide, because it also kills future inhabitants of our precious Earth.

It is time. It is time to abandon our refusal to see that our very environment is central to the survival and well being of ALL earthlings. It is time for the Church to turn her attention from saving face to saving the earth, from saving souls to saving the planet. It is time to focus on the sacred bond that exists between us and the earth. It is time to join the Cosmic Christ in the Great Work of mending, repairing, nurturing, and protecting our evolving creation. It is time for a new vision of a universal Church whose all-inclusive justice and unconditional love, an expression of Christ consciousness and the work of the Holy Spirit, empowers ALL and can lead to a future that preserves the true right to life of all of God’s creatures. This includes future generations who will bless us for allowing them to live, evolve, and flourish. Can’t you hear them crying out, “I want to live, I want to grow, I want to be, I want to know?”

In light of all this, how can I not respond to the call both Isaiah and Jesus heard, the call of our Baptism? “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me and sent me to bring Good News to the oppressed.” All creation will be freed, and all people will know the freedom and glory of the Children of God. Yes, Lord, I will go. Please send me.

And that is why I am leaving Jesuit priesthood. Since first vows I have always thought and hoped and prayed that I would live and die in this least Society of Jesus. But now, something unexpected! A real surprise! I HAVE lived and died in the Society of Jesus, but, now, nearly 80, I have been raised to new life. I am born again – into a much larger world, a much newer creation. I have greatly benefited from the spiritual freedom given in and by the Society of Jesus. I feel no longer chained, limited, bound, by the shackles of a judicial, institutional, clerical, hierarchical system. As St. Paul once reminded the early Christians, “It is for freedom that you have been set free.” And as St. Peter, the first Pope, learned when he said to Jesus, “You know that I love you,” love is all about surrender and servanthood.

Thank you for your attention to this self presentation. I am grateful that you have followed me in the journey described here, and I am sorry for whatever sadness, disappointment, or hurt this may have caused you. But what I have written here is my truth, and I can’t not do it! If you want to discuss this with me, ask questions, or give me feedback, I welcome your response, either by letter, e-mail or phone...Please pray for me, as I do for all of you, the beloved of my heart and soul.

Yours in the Risen Christ, Bert Thelen