National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  July 4, 2003

Trading places, finding spaces

Despite bishop’s ban and bar tactics, questioning voices find forums


Catholics who want to discuss subjects church authorities find disagreeable or disturbing have found themselves barred from diocesan property. Some recent examples:

  • Author and theologian Anthony Padovano was to lecture on “Finding Optimism and Hope for the Future Church” at a parish in the Detroit archdiocese. Cardinal Adam Maida wrote the pastor and told him to cancel the lecture.
  • New Ways Ministry had registered to exhibit at the National Federation of Priests Councils annual convention in Kansas City, Mo., but federation leadership asked the group not to attend after Bishop Raymond Boland of Kansas City informed the federation that he had barred the group from using a parish for a workshop.
  • Eight bishops and many pastors in other dioceses have barred Voice of the Faithful affiliates from church property.

If such ban and bar tactics are meant to silence these voices, they don’t seem too effective. The meetings, forums and workshops go on, but at alternative sites.

Detroit Call to Action took over sponsorship of Padovano’s lecture and convened a meeting at Marygrove College an independent, Catholic, liberal arts school in Detroit. About 175 people attended.

New Ways Ministry moved its workshop to Community Christian Church in Kansas City, a Disciples of Christ church. Thirty-three people attended, “many more than we expected,” New Ways Ministry Executive Director Frank DeBernardo told NCR.

Voice of the Faithful groups meet in homes, libraries and schools. Less than two years after its founding, Voice of the Faithful claims 30,000 members in 40 U.S. states and 21 countries, plus 181 Parish Voice affiliates.

Coming together to pray

Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, N.Y, has kept the Long Island chapter of Voice of the Faithful off diocesan property. The group meets wherever it can. Finally in May it could celebrate Mass in a church when the Montfort missionaries welcomed the group to their Our Lady of the Island shrine in Eastport.

“These folks are not coming to do business. They are coming together to pray. Every group that organizes itself as people of faith is appropriate for us,” Montfort Fr. Gerald Fitzsimmons, who celebrated Mass for the group, was quoted in a Newsday story. He also said he advised Murphy of the Mass as a courtesy.

When the New Jersey chapter of Voice of the Faithful invited Kathleen McChesney, former FBI agent and head of the U.S. bishops’ Office of Child and Youth Protection, to speak May 13 they met at a parish in the Paterson diocese. They can’t meet in Newark because Archbishop John J. Myers has banned the group. Myers, in fact, criticized McChesney for meeting with the group (NCR, May 16).

Other groups formed in the wake of the sex abuse scandal, such as Faithful St. Louis, have not been banned but face stiff resistance. (See related story.)

Clash of the classmates

This spring, St. Mark Parish in Warren, Mich., hosted a lecture series with the aim of encouraging Catholics during trying times. A May 14 lecture titled “Finding Optimism and Hope for the Future of the Church” was to feature Padovano, founder of CORPUS, the National Association for a Married Priesthood.

About two weeks before Padovano’s lecture, Detroit Cardinal Adam Maida wrote the pastor of St. Mark to say, “Pastoral prudence and my obligation as archbishop require me to direct you to cancel Dr. Padovano’s conference.”

Maida cited Padovano’s “opposition to the authoritative teaching of the church,” his “doctrinal ambiguities” and his continuing public celebration of the Mass, although he was laicized in 1974 and later married.

“The potential harm caused to the lay faithful by his lecture … outweighs the potential benefit,” Maida wrote.

Padovano wrote a letter to Maida saying he was disappointed “because there was no effort to deal with me directly. I was never informed of your concerns or invited to address them. Did I not deserve that?” NCR was given copies of Maida’s and Padovano’s letters.

Padovano reminded Maida that they were students together in Rome. He concluded: “No doubt, you feel justified in what you are doing. The fact that so many others in your diocese disagree with you must cause you some concern.”

Detroit Call to Action stepped in and the lecture moved to a different venue. Interestingly, Detroit Call to Action -- which advocates for a married priesthood and women’s ordination, among other issues -- has not been barred or banned in Detroit, according to Marge Orlando, the local organizer.

“We have held events in Catholic parishes,” she said, “and we have not been told to stop.”

No stranger to bans

New Ways Ministry, a national Catholic ministry to gays and lesbians and their families, is no stranger to being barred and silenced. The Vatican ordered its founders, Loretto Sr. Jeannine Gramick and Salvatorian Fr. Robert Nugent, to separate themselves from New Ways Ministry in 1984 and permanently banned them from pastoral work with lesbian and gay people in 1999.

This legacy led to their being shut out of a parish in Kansas City, Mo., and the annual convention of the National Federation of Priests Councils, which met in Kansas City in May.

Bishop Boland told NCR that in late April he received phone calls complaining about a notice in his diocesan newspaper, The Catholic Key, about a New Ways Ministry workshop scheduled to be held at St. James Church in Kansas City. He said this was the first time that he was aware of the event. New Ways Ministry had written to the bishop about the event the month before, DeBernardo told NCR.

Boland called the Washington archdiocese, where New Ways is headquartered, to ascertain the group’s status. “New Ways Ministry is persona non grata with its home diocese,” Boland said.

“My policy is that I am not going to allow a group that is not recognized by its own diocese to have a platform within our diocese using our property.”

So, he said, “I told them over at St. James that I preferred that they didn’t give them the hospitality.” Then he learned that St. James had agreed to allow the workshop because New Ways was exhibiting at the priests’ convention.

“He [Ross Beaudoin, a permanent deacon and pastoral administrator of St. James] took that as an accolade of acceptance,” Boland said. Next, the bishop called the priests’ federation but, he said, he did not suggest any course of action. “I called to let them know that [New Ways] had applied for a place in my diocese and I was not giving them a platform. … That was it.”

“When [the federation’s executive director, Fr. Robert Silva] got back to me, he said [New Ways] put in an application but they are not exhibiting.” Boland added, “I don’t know who made that decision not to let them exhibit.”

When asked why New Ways had not exhibited, Silva told NCR, it was “an internal issue” and “not for public discussion.”

DeBernardo said Silva “told us that Bishop Boland had phoned him and told him they could not permit us to exhibit.”

Silva told NCR that it was “the prudent thing to do. We’re very supportive of that ministry, and we did not want to jeopardize work with that ministry in any way. There were some circumstances that if we had gone forward that might have happened.”

DeBernardo then called Beaudoin and learned St. James was off limits. Beaudoin told NCR that the workshop did happen and was well attended. “There was no prohibition. … Nobody was denied entry or anything like that. It was just a change of locations.”

Boland also noted that his diocese has two active ministries to gay and lesbian Catholics, one that meets at the cathedral.

Power plays

Writer and psychologist Eugene Cullen Kennedy connects bishops’ attempts to silence disagreeable voices to their failure to address the sex abuse scandal. Kennedy wrote about a recent personal experience in his syndicated column.

Scheduled to talk about his new book, The Unhealed Wound: The Church and Human Sexuality, at the University of California at Santa Barbara in mid-April, he learned that Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Curry had “issued a letter warning people about me.”

Curry later published his objections as a book review in the archdiocese’s newspaper, The Tidings. He wrote, “In [Kennedy’s] determination to present such a skewed and partisan version of Catholicism, he joins himself to an old tradition of American anti-Catholicism.”

Kennedy wrote that Curry “exhibits the very dynamics that are found in the way that church officials routinely deal with Catholics and that may have blinded or dulled them to the use of these same tactics by a small but significant number of clergy in seducing children. …

“The common element in all these power plays is the need to control others through demands that, sight unseen and request unexamined, they must first ‘submit’ to the power possessor’s ground rules” which conclude “by demanding that the other be silent about what has happened -- ‘Don’t tell anybody about this.’ …

“This classic ‘silencing’ is rationalized by the claim … that the agents of these tactics … want only to protect Holy Mother Church.

“So we may all be grateful to [Curry] for revealing how, without realizing it, so many bishops have become stuck in the sex abuse scandal and, by trying to control everything and everybody, have lost control, even of their moral authority.”

Dennis Coday is an NCR staff writer. His e-mail address is

National Catholic Reporter, July 4, 2003

This Week's Stories | Home Page | Top of Page
Copyright  © The National Catholic Reporter Publishing  Company, 115 E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City, MO   64111
All rights reserved.
TEL:  816-531-0538     FAX:  1-816-968-2280   Send comments about this Web site to: