e-mail us


Holding out hope for reconciliation

There was always a certain inevitability to the clash set off at Corpus Christi Parish in Rochester, N.Y., last August when its charismatic pastor, Fr. James Callan, was notified that he would be transferred.

Callan had led a spectacular renewal of an inner-city church that had all but collapsed.

There was also always an edginess to the place, a pushing at boundaries: Pastoral associate Mary Ramerman led Communion services dressed in alb and half-stole; Callan blessed gay unions; and the community announced that all, regardless of denomination or belief, were welcome to receive Communion.

In the air there was always a wondering about when it would “go too far.”

“Deep in my heart I always knew this day would come -- and was always hoping it wouldn’t,” Callan said (NCR, Aug. 28, 1998) when notified of the transfer. “We used to joke about it, and the longer I stayed here, I think, the more everybody hoped that Bishop [Matthew] Clark would just keep covering. He’s always been good [at] holding the umbrella over us -- I hope he continues doing that.”

Clark has done more than hold an umbrella. He is that rare church leader these days, unafraid to advocate for women in the church and other causes unpopular in Rome. He is one of the few bishops with the courage to conduct services for gays and lesbians and their families, making himself a target of the far right. He does not go about wielding an ecclesial club, pronouncing mass excommunications. If anything, he is forbearing to a fault.

But, as he said in a recent interview, there were limits to what he could support. “In meetings with priests, with Jim present, I have said, ‘I want to back you in all ways that I can, but please do not take me to places that I cannot go.’ “

And Callan clearly did. He jumped the boundaries he had been pushing against. Perhaps Callan, Ramerman and others who have broken from Corpus Christi to set up a separate community have no recourse, in conscience, but to do so.

There is, however, another model of dissent, one that remains faithful.

Perhaps no better example exists than another priest of the Rochester diocese, Fr. Charles Curran, who lost his position at The Catholic University of America in January 1987 because of his dissent from some church teachings on sexuality.

Yet Curran elected to stay.

His own words on the matter are instructive. In his 1986 book Faithful Dissent, he writes, “I have been tempted in the past, but not for long, to think that belief in God would be so much easier if it were not mediated in and through the human as in Catholic ecclesiology. However, the human aspect is so important, though at times it can get in the way.”

As human, the church is also sinful, Curran states. “Yet the Holy Spirit is God with us in the church. In recognizing the sinfulness of the church, we must be conscious of the danger of our own self-righteousness, for we, too, are sinful human beings who never respond fully to the gospel. There will always be tensions in this pilgrim church. ... All of us at times exacerbate these tensions. So with this realistic understanding of the church, I am able to accept what is happening to me.”

For many reasons, we are not a congregationalist denomination; matters become something other than Roman Catholic -- good though they may be -- when groups split and go their own ways.

Our hope is this group will deeply reconsider the path it is taking and find some way back to reconciliation.

National Catholic Reporter, April 16, 1999