Desire for change: Corpus Christi Church, Rochester NY:
Father James B. Callan became the parish priest at Corpus Christi in 1976. Membership had dropped to 200. Under his 22 years of leadership, membership has increased to 3,400. 750 to 1,000 church members volunteer in their many outreach programs. 3 Recently, he introduced some innovative practices:
None of these practices are particularly radical for Episcopal, United, or other liberal Protestant churches. However Corpus Christi is a Roman Catholic church; such activities are strictly forbidden under church rules. 5
Bishop Matthew Clark ordered Father Callan to be transferred, effective 1998-OCT-4. In the meantime, the Bishop ordered that there are to be no more disobeying of church teachings. Although there are rumors that Bishop Clark was instructed to "fire" Fr. Callan, he stated that the decision was his own. Parish members appeared to have ignored the instructions of the bishop. On 1998-AUG-23, they overwhelmingly approved a "Statement of Faith" in which they stated that they would not give up their beliefs and practices, even if they are in opposition to instructions from the Vatican. The vote was 3,022 to 7. The statement states that all will be invited "to share the Eucharist," that women will continue to offer the Eucharist "and be fully recognized for their calls to ministry," and that gays and lesbians will remain a "rich part of the weave of our celebration."
A rally and prayer vigil was held by parish members outside the diocesan offices. They sang "We Shall Overcome." Some wore T-shirts that proclaimed "My heart is broken, but my spirit is strong." Jennifer Donato, 17, attended the rally. She said: "I am very frustrated that the Vatican and the bishop cannot see that Jesus wanted and welcomed everyone, not just people who fit the category."
Bishop Clark appeared distressed at the business-as-usual activities of the parish. He said: "I have not heard much about the legitimate authority of the bishop of Rochester, or an that it is not the prerogative of a diocese to go off on its own, much less one of its parishes." Father Callan said: "The parish is struggling to keep me, but more, to keep their values. God is using this as an opportunity to speak clearly on the issues -- and the issues are discrimination against women, gays and Protestants."
The parish had several committees working, in an effort to keep Father Callan. They even considered a group visit to the Vatican and a guest spot on "Oprah!" They have established a web site. 6
On AUG-23, about 20 women from Episcopal, Free Methodist, United Church of Christ, and other denominations attended a meeting at Corpus Christi to review the status of women clergy in Christendom. Denise Donato, Corpus Christi's family minister, said: "The group spent some time discussing their own experiences and then talked about the larger issue of leadership roles of women in the church. It's an age-old problem, and this group sees this as a first step in addressing that." 7 Speaking of her own situation, she commented: "I do feel called to ordination, and I am not alone. There are many women who God has called whose gifts are not being used to minister, and some of the richness of ministering is lost in that process." 7
Father Callan left Corpus Christi parish after mass on 1998-SEP-6. During 1998-OCT, Pastoral Associate Mary Ramerman was fired. On 1998-DEC-7, he was stripped of his priestly functions for an indefinite period. He can no longer administer the sacraments of the church or celebrate Mass. He has been ordered to keep away from Corpus Christi Church property. Fr. Callan commented: "I have given my whole life to the church...As a boy, I dreamed of becoming a priest, ever since I was 5 years old. Now I will be faithful to God, ministering where I can. The church will change and it will welcome me back." At a "supplemental" religious service in the Downtown United Presbyterian Church, after a standing ovation, he told the attendees that he was unable to celebrate Mass. But he felt that God was close. He asked them to "focus on Jesus and on the issues...In the face of discrimination and injustice, we will never again be silent...Never again." 8
Canon 1024 is an Internet mailing list devoted to a discussion of women's ordination. Its name comes from that portion of the Roman Catholic church's canon law which discriminates against women in ordination. On 1998-AUG-6, they sent a letter to Pope John Paul II in support of women's ordination.
Links to other female advocacy groups are listed elsewhere.
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