As a handful of faithful and committed persons work toward establishing a new, independent Catholic presence here in Fort Wayne, we are being greeted by many Roman Catholics with relief, excitement, disbelief and many probing questions. Many people who were raised Roman Catholic and genuinely loved their church’s faith have suffered rejection by their parishes, including divorced and remarried people, gays and lesbians, and those who have not been able, in conscience, to accept all of the official Vatican policies. Some of these have abandoned their spiritual roots altogether while others have found safe haven in other denominations, longing for a day when they might again be respected for who God made them to be in the Catholic Church. It is my hope that with the founding of an independent Catholic parish will come an outpouring of grace and healing for all those who hunger for a historically-based Christianity that is truly inclusive and affirming, a church that embraces the findings of contemporary social sciences and responsible scriptural research. The questions that follow are some that I find myself answering, in one form or another, almost daily.
What does it mean to be Catholic, but not Roman Catholic?
Like the Roman Church, independent Catholic churches maintain an organic, historical link with the origins of the Christian community of 2,000 years ago. Our bishops and priests have received Holy Orders (ordination) at the hands of other bishops who can trace their own ordinations back through many centuries, to apostolic times. Catholicism calls this apostolic succession and it simply means that through a living chain of human laying on of hands, we maintain real bonds with the earliest Church. We respect the office of the Bishop of Rome (the Pope) because the diocese of Rome dates back to antiquity, but we do not accept that he is in any way absolute ruler of the Catholic Church. He is one bishop among many and it is through the shared governance of bishops that genuine Church authority is exercised. Although we are not in union with the Roman Church, as recently as the 1990s Pope John Paul II recognized the existence and legitimacy of independent Catholic Churches in a document called Dominus Iesus. We are fully Catholic, but we are not Roman. We celebrate and cherish our Catholic heritage and we release all that is not for the authentic building up of the People of God.
How do you define Catholicism?
Catholicism is, at its core, not a denomination but rather an experience. It is not about following rules made by celibate males who are far removed from the lived experience of today’s Catholics. It is the human experience informed by and understood through the experiences of others, reaching back 2,000 years and beyond. Catholicism is about taking those experiences metaphorically and contextually, weaving the rich and diverse patterns of story and symbol, rites and ideas and interpreting and handing on those experiences. It is ultimately about the experience of God, source and continuing context of everything that exists. Through the historical and symbolic understandings of Jesus of Nazareth we find someone who shows us the way to live authentic human lives.
Catholicism is both a network of diverse communities stretching back to the community of Jesus himself as well as a spiritual tradition in progress. Nearly 20 % of the world’s population considers itself Catholic, but the vast majority of these are found increasingly in poor and underdeveloped countries. These peoples are highly diverse and pluralistic and their experience of Catholicism is also highly diverse and pluralistic. Catholicism is not a “one size fits all” proposition.
At one time Catholicism was a political empire that combined church and state to rule Europe, forcibly colonize much of the world, and usher in periods of grace and terror, healing and violence. It also served as a cultural synthesizer as it managed to integrate reason, commerce, the arts, government and even family life for many centuries. Catholicism also became a religious denomination, losing most of its political power in the rise of modern nation-states, and losing most of its moral influence in the period following the Reformation. In modern times, the 20th century proved to be crucial for Catholicism, which had to address the truth claims of the social sciences as well as political challenges, such as communism, that sought to undermine all religious faith.
Exactly how is an independent Catholic Church different from the Roman Catholic Church?
If one were to attend an indendent Catholic church, one would notice only minor differences in the Mass. Ironically, we are more completely true to the spirit and intent of Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) than the Roman Church is! For us, Catholicism’s new historical context is absolutely dependent on global pluralism, democracy and the rights of individual Catholics to make their own moral decisions in matters that impact them most. This includes the rights of married Catholics to determine the size of their family, the rights to divorce and remarriage and the rights of gay people to find love in fulfilling relationships. Catholicism can no longer claim political privilege, nor spiritual superiority. It can persuade and influence the world, however, and it has much to contribute to the dialogue of values and meaning. It can no longer pretend to broker God to the world, but it can invite people to a rich spiritual experience in which they discover God through Word and Sacrament. In short, our goal is to reconstruct a Catholicism that no longer clings to legalistic judgments, but rather embraces the very real numbers of hurting people in our world. The world around us is bearing unbearable pain: this is the time to break down the barriers to healing. There is room for everyone at our table.
We celebrate the same seven sacraments as the early Church and the core of our sacramental life is the Eucharist. We offer open communion, available to all Christians, reflecting in a tangible way the way Jesus lived his life. We are open to the ministry of women: we ordain women to the diaconate and priesthood and 5 years ago we ordained our first female bishop. St. Paul writes that in Christ there is neither “Greek nor Jew, neither male nor female”. We accept this radical teaching at face value, without qualification.
What is your stand on gays and lesbians?
We accept as absolutely true the idea that the God who creates gay people and straight people also made all of us equally precious and inherently worthy. We also recognize the validity and necessity of human love, therefore we extend the sacrament of matrimony to all people, regardless of sexual orientation. Although prevented by state law from using the term “marriage”, we nonetheless hold that a gay couple who enters into Holy Union partakes of the sacrament of matrimony in exactly the same way as heterosexuals do. Unlike denominations that simply tolerate gays or allow them to form special interest groups, we have no minority groups demanding full participation in our Church. We are not a “gay church” like the MCC because we are determined not to build any more walls or artificial barriers between God’s people. Gays and lesbians participate fully in our parishes, have full access to sacraments, as well as the nurture and love of our communities. This is our mandate, as the Gospel of Jesus demands.
Where can I find an independent Catholic parish or priest here in Fort Wayne?
At present we are still in the planning stages, but we expect to be up and running sometime in early November. The new parish will be called Holy Redeemer, and already a core group of people is serving as an ad hoc parish council. Pastoral decisions are made by the community because we believe very strongly in governing through the ancient principle of sensus fidelium, or the “faith as understood by the faithful”. People make our decisions, not the clergy, not the hierarchy. The parish anticipates being highly visible in the community through various outreach ministries.
For those who might like to speak to a clergyman, I can be reached at the parish phone number, 260.220.2716. I also have an email address at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Additional information at www.holyredeemerrcc.org