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Nun, priest disciplined after she assists in baptism


A nun and a priest have been stripped of their duties at a Jesuit center in Boston because the nun assisted in a baptismal rite, performing actions normally reserved to priests.

Sister of St. Anne Jeannette T. Normandin and Jesuit Fr. George P. Winchester were removed from ministry at the Jesuit Urban Center in Boston’s South End after Normandin violated church rules by anointing and pouring water on one of the two boys being baptized and reciting a part of the liturgy. The ceremony was held Oct. 22.

Jesuit Fr. Thomas J. Carroll announced the disciplinary measures during Sunday Mass at the center on Oct. 29. Some members of the congregation responded by abruptly leaving, and others stood and shouted, “Shame,” according to the Boston Globe. That evening, about 100 parishioners attended an emotional meeting at the center.

Normandin did not return a telephone call from NCR.

The center, according to the Globe, has attracted liberal Catholics and gays and, partly through Normandin’s efforts, experienced dramatic membership growth in recent years. Normandin, a popular member of the center’s staff, is active in AIDS ministry in Boston and founder of Ruah, a center for women with AIDS.

The boys baptized in the Oct. 22 ceremony are adopted sons of gay male couples.

According to church rules, baptizing is restricted to priests and deacons, except in emergency situations when no priest is available. Jesuit officials told the Globe that Normandin’s actions had violated church teaching. The officials also objected to Normandin’s participation in a wedding this past summer at which she had worn an alb and stole, garments reserved to priests.

Normandin was fired from her position on the center’s pastoral staff, which she has held for 11 years. Winchester was not a member of the center’s staff, though he sometimes celebrated Mass there. Both the nun and the priest will also be required to move out of the center, where they live.

“I don’t think it’s possible that this was an accident. Certainly professionals here know the rules,” Carroll, director of the center, told the Globe. Normandin told the Globe the action had been “quite innocent. I wasn’t trying to make a statement. We were baptizing the two babies, and I blessed a baby with some chrism. I didn’t know it was a no-no,” she said.

One set of adoptive parents, Frederick P. Gabriel Jr. and Michael W. Deveaux of West Newbury, expressed dismay at the disciplinary actions. Gabriel said, “I love the Catholic church, but I’m embarrassed for what it’s doing here.” The ceremony, he said, had been a sign of the church’s acceptance for a family headed by two gay men.

Jesuits said the center’s officials had consulted with archdiocesan officials in Boston before removing Normandin and Winchester but had not been ordered to remove them. Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston told the Globe that he generally supports the center’s ministry but agreed that disciplining the priest and nun was the right thing to do.

The Globe reported that the archdiocese did tell the center months ago that Normandin should stop preaching homilies, as she had done for years, because it violated church practice.

National Catholic Reporter, November 10, 2000