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Church in Crisis

Priests, current and former, join voices in New York

New York

Three days before Pentecost, a group composed mostly of priests and former priests met here to discuss healing and reform needed in response to the church’s ongoing sex abuse crisis. Organizers spoke of their intention to form a permanent group to continue the conversation.

“We want to be able to speak out on issues, build alliances with similar groups around the country and invite women and the laity to join us,” said Tom McCabe, a former priest and one of the organizers.

Fifty people had been expected for the May 16 gathering at the Catholic Newman Center of Queens College (part of New York’s public university system), but about 120 showed up from around the city and Long Island. Another meeting is planned for the fall.

“I feel very optimistic about this group,” said organizer Msgr. Bryan Karvellis, pastor of Transfiguration Church in Brooklyn. “We’re not clandestine and we’re not going to picket or make protests. Our hope is to continue to grow while making the church a better place, making it gospel.”

Another organizer, Msgr. John Powis of St. Barbara’s Parish in Brooklyn, said, “We’re not looking to challenge anyone but to start talking among ourselves and perhaps pressuring for change in areas like optional celibacy, the position of women in the church and the selection of bishops and pastors.”

Eugene Kennedy, author, psychologist and former priest, gave a talk about the divisions created by the hierarchy and the kind of leadership that must eventually fill the vacuum: “holy, healthy, whole.”

Kennedy called the hierarchy “the controlling and corrupt reflection of an organization that has so divided people that it can’t even understand how it has so often demeaned and degraded people. And you don’t have to get them to cooperate with you or give permission in order to do something about this.”

Fr. James Sullivan, an 81-year-old Brooklyn priest who participated in the meeting, said priests have been “the most compliant of all during this scandal. They have not spoken up. This group could change all that.”

A New York priest who asked not to be named said, “This group of men could be another voice for the future of the church, but one of many voices. I see them filling the vacuum of credible episcopal leadership that was lost by the hierarchy’s failures during the crisis and was lost again at that Vatican meeting where the cardinals became emasculated Roman clones.”

Cathy Kelly, a former nun, said, “As a nurse, I see the scandal as a wound that is being drained, and the healing could come from this group that truly loves the church and the face of Jesus.”

Fr. Neil Connolly, pastor of St. Mary’s Church in New York who has refused the title of monsignor, said, “The hard truth is that we will probably always have bishops, but that’s fine as long as there is consultation and affirmation, and bishops who are better administrators. I hope this group perseveres in what they have begun.”

Dick Ryan is a freelance writer living in New York.

National Catholic Reporter, May 31, 2002