Catholics at Our Lady of Peace Participate in “Last Rites”

OLPIt is a sad state of affairs when motivated faith-filled Catholics cannot keep their vibrant parish open.  That is the story of Our Lady of Peace.  Under a diocesan plan “Making All Things New” parishes across the Archdiocese of New York have been merged or closed.  Catholics who once celebrated Eucharistic life together, who came together to baptize, marry, and bury their loved ones and who served those around them in need — will be no more.  And their faith in Catholic leaders who seem to operate out of a corporate model of governance rather than a pastoral one is diminished if not completely lost.  It does not have to be this way, and yet Catholic bishops seem determined to shut down parishes rather than opening ordination and using other tested and creative ways to keep parishes open.

Below is the press release from Our Lady of Peace as they participate in the “last rites” for their parish.  Our prayers are with all the people of Our Lady of Peace.  And our work continues to end this pattern of merging and closing parishes.


Of tombs and human trafficking: Cleveland Celebrates Mary of Magdala

Magdala CollegeIf you’ve stayed at a hotel, visited a nail salon, passed through a highway rest area, or flown on a plane, chances are you’ve crossed paths with a victim of human trafficking.

We were so honored to have Sisters Rosemary Powers and Josie Chroniak, both Sisters of the Humility of Mary, with us at our Mary of Magdala Celebration in Cleveland. Describing human trafficking as “a hidden problem,” these women have made it their mission to pull this modern day form of slavery out of the darkness and into the light.

Through their work with the Collaborative Initiative to End Human Trafficking, Josie and Rosemary are bringing their message to high schools, college campuses, and groups like ours. Besides making their presentersaudiences aware of the problem, they gently call everyone who will listen to conversion. They noted that “high demand” is the reason human trafficking is such a problem in our world, pointing out that much of the demand was for the laborers who make our clothes, clean our hotel rooms, do our nails, make our candy, and harvest our food — not just sex. In fact, the demand is so high that two human beings are sold into modern day slavery every minute. They pointed us to to help us see how we may unknowingly and unwillingly may be contributing to the demand.

Their message was all the more poignant within the context of our touching Mary of Magdala prayer service. As we heard the first-person accounts of victims of human trafficking paired with the John’s complete account of the exchange between Mary of Magdala and Jesus at the tomb.

And as I sat with the image of Mary at the empty tomb I couldn’t help but think of all the ways the victims are entombed by this modern day form of slavery: cut of from family, cut off from dignity, denied food, refused medical care, physically abused, raped, threatened with harm should they try to escape. All of them waiting to be pulled from the tomb. All of them waiting for their “easter moment.”

And I couldn’t help but think of the tomb of relative ignorance of the this problem that keeps all of us in the dark.

MM Relief Less BorderYet, the message of the Resurrection is one of hope; that the tomb is not the end of the story. I pray and hope that the work of Josie and Ruthmary, modern day Magdalas and disciples of Christ, will one day break the world free from the tombs of busy-ness, ignorance, inaction, and self-centeredness that allow human trafficking to be the “hidden problem” that it is. And more importantly, I hope that their work shines a light onto the systems and structures that allow for the entombment of these victims in this modern day form of slavery.

Like Mary Magdala, Sisters Ruthmary and Josie are visiting the tomb, equipped not with herbs and oils, but with knowledge, wisdom, and a mission. Let us pray and make the changes needed in our lives that one day they and the others who do this fine and important work arrive at the tomb of human trafficking only to find it empty.


Brendan Hoban (ACP) on New Momentum in the Irish Church

The Irish Bishops Inch Forward
Brendan Hoban of the Association of Catholic Priests in Ireland talks about some of the changes occurring in the Irish Church.  

Fr. Brendan Hoban, PP., Ballina. Picture: Henry Wills, Western People.
Fr. Brendan Hoban, PP., Ballina. Picture: Henry Wills, Western People.







Less than two years ago, in September 2013, representing the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP), I visited the diocese of Ferns (mainly the county of Wexford) to talk to the Council of Priests there. The ACP had requested a meeting with the Irish Bishops but this was refused and the bishops had suggested, by way of alternative, that individual Councils of Priests might extend individual invitations to us.
While we could have done without the further accumulation of thousands of extra miles driving around the country, we were happy to co-operate, on the basis that half a loaf, even when it’s doled out in minute portions, is better than no bread.
It took me four hours to drive to Wexford where I was welcomed by Bishop Denis Brennan and his Council. It was an interesting meeting. I presented the reasons for the founding of the ACP, the agenda agreed by our 1,000-plus priest-members, and our three suggestions for combatting the now mathematically certain disappearance of Catholic priests in Ireland: ordain married men; welcome back priests who had left the priesthood to marry; and ordain women deacons.
I ended my presentation by suggesting that while the ACP had been founded in less promising times three years earlier – during the winter pontificate of Benedict XVI – the election of Pope Francis earlier that year and his utterances in his first months in office were creating the possibility, even an expectation of real change. Indeed it could be said that if Jorge Bergoglio had been a PP in Ireland he could have been a founder member of the ACP!
Bishop Brennan asked me if I was suggesting that the ACP were now, because of Pope Francis, ‘becoming main-stream’. Most of the ten or so priests around the table laughed (as priests often do when their own bishop makes a joke) but I said, ‘Yes I was suggesting just that’, on the basis that, for example with vocations, there was simply no alternative but change. Every priest didn’t have to be a celibate but every Catholic had the right to Mass. And if the Church decided to change the church-made rule on celibacy, the Church could and would do that, if it had to.
In fairness to the Ferns gathering, Bishop Brennan’s was a predictable enough response because until Francis became pope, anyone, particularly any bishop who suggested that the celibacy rule should be looked at would have their knuckles rapped by Rome. No one was allowed to mention the elephant in the room.
A week, someone said, is a long time in politics. And two years, it appears now, can be a long time in the Catholic Church, which is supposed to think in centuries. But, less than two years on from my visit to Wexford, it is now beginning to appear as if a significant game-change in Catholic priesthood is now on.
It started with a meeting between Erwin Krautler, a bishop in the Brazilian rain-forest, and Francis. Krautler explained that with the small and declining number of priests in his diocese, he was unable to ensure that Catholics in his diocese would have Mass regularly. What would he do? Why not bring this to the Brazilian bishops’conference, Francis suggested, come up with a proposal and bring it to him?
In discussions with Catholics in different dioceses – listening exercises – meetings invariably conclude that Catholics would have no problem with married priests. This conclusion, of course, is often air-brushed out of the final document, as bishops invariably try to sing from the Vatican hymn-sheet. But not every bishop.
In a consultation with Catholics in Kilmore diocese (Cavan, and parts of Leitrim and Fermanagh) Bishop Leo O’Reilly promised his people a few months ago that he would bring their suggestion (about ordaining married men) to the Irish bishops. He has discussed it with some of his bishop-colleagues and it now seems that it will find its way on to a future agenda for a bishops’ meeting in Maynooth.
Last week, a retired bishop in England, Crispian Hollis, wrote to The Tablet, a highly reputable Catholic paper, supporting the case for ordaining married men in the Catholic Church and this week he was supported by two other retired bishops in England, Thomas McMahon and John Crowley.
Hollis has suggested that up to ten English bishops would support the move and Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor said that if he were a bishop in a diocese that needed priests he would ask Rome for permission to ordain ‘suitable married men’.
Cardinal Parolin, the pope’s right-hand man, said recently too that celibacy was ‘an ecclesiastical tradition’, and that modifications could be made in it to solve the problem of the shortage of priests.
So what does this all mean? Straws in the wind? Kites flying? Much more than that. In simple terms it’s what Archbishop Diarmuid Martin would call ‘a reality check’.
The bad news is that, despite all the huffing and puffing about vocations, the mathematical reality is that unless some drastic change happens and happens fast, priests and Mass will disappear effectively in Ireland in the next decade or so.
The good news is that such change has actually begun. Francis has created the freedom for cardinals and bishops to say what a few years ago was unsayable, to voice their opinions on what’s actually happening rather than to mutely pretend to Rome that what Rome wants to believe is happening. As in the predictable conspiracy to imagine that there are green shoots everywhere! As with the New Missal . . .
So maybe, just maybe, pace Bishop Denis Brennan of Ferns, the ACP might become ‘main-stream’ because Francis has decided to steal some of our clothes.
We live in interesting times.

Read the full text at ACP website:

Support our Troops: Open Ordination

militaryThe effects of the priest shortage in the United States are being felt everywhere. 1,750 parishes have closed across the U.S. since 2000. 1 in 5 parishes do not have a resident priest. But a new story just posted by the Catholic News Service in Washington, reveals yet another consequence of the shortage. “There is a tremendous scarcity of priests,” lamented Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio, the head of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services.

Indeed, the numbers are shocking. According to the archdiocese, the Army has 118 Catholic chaplains for roughly 100,000 active duty Catholic soldiers. The Air Force has about 60 for about 63,000 Catholic airmen. The Navy only has 52 active Catholic priests for its roughly 107,000 Catholic sailors and Marines.

In an effort to recruit more priests to the military chaplaincy, the Archdiocese for Military Services plans to hold its first discernment retreat weekend this October. And they’re apparently laying out the “red carpet.” The all-expenses-paid retreat will include housing in a Washington D.C. retreat house and visits to Joint Andrews Air Force Base, the U.S. Naval Academy, Fort Belvoir and the Pentagon. Attendees will also have the opportunity to meet with enlisted service men and women. Given that kind of treatment, the Archdiocese is clearly hanging a lot of hope on the retreat weekend.

But those hopes are misplaced. There’s a built-in problem: military age restrictions. New chaplain recruits to the Army must be less than 45 years of age; the National guard, 37; the Navy, 34; and the Air Force, 40. Among our youngest priests – those celebrating ordination in 2015 – the average age was 34. They’re not “old” by any means but they’re certainly pushing up against those age restrictions.

And the military has a mandatory retirement age of 62. The average age of priests in the U.S. is 63.

A handful of the younger priests might be interested. But it will hardly be enough to fulfill the demand. “It’s a priority to get more priests to serve as chaplains because we can still double the amount of priests in the military chaplaincy” and still have a need, according to Deacon Michael Yakir, archdiocesan chancellor.

Where do they think these priests are going to come from? It would be funny if it weren’t so sad.

The women and men who wear the uniform arguably stand in greater need than the general public of the kind of pastoral care that priests provide. They put their lives in harm’s way, are forced to make difficult life-or-death decisions, and witness an enormity of loss and devastation.

To tap an already rare resource isn’t going to solve the problem. The takeaway message for our bishops should be “Support Our Troops: Open Ordination.”

By: Russ Petrus, Program Director                                                             FutureChurch

Bishops in England speak up in favor of ordaining married men to the priesthood

meme-openordinationThe realization that the priest shortage is creating an enormous crisis in the Catholic Church is becoming more apparent daily – and not just in the United States.

In England and Wales, three bishops are sounding a clarion call for a new solution to the impending priest shortage.

Bishop Crispian Hollis is calling for his brother bishops to “take very seriously the need to extend priestly ordination to married men, before ‘our daily bread and the forgiveness of our trespasses’ become a distant memory (The Tablet, 4 July 15).”

Bishop Hollis knows of other bishops who agree – up to ten bishops (out of 22) across England and Wales.  He points out that, “a Church that cannot celebrate the sacraments for the people of God can scarcely be the Church that Christ founded.”

The following week two more bishops followed his lead.

“I would like to give my full support to the letter written by Bishop Crispian Hollis regarding the possible ordination of married men,” wrote Bishop Emeritus Thomas McMahon.  Having worked with a number of former Anglican and ordinariate married priests in his diocese he noted, “they were extremely well received by the people. It seems to me that what people are looking for above all else are good priests and whether they are married or not would appear to be secondary.”

Bishop Emeritus John Crowley agrees and writes, “providing regular access to the Eucharist for the faithful trumps holding the line in defence of a largely celibate priesthood” (The Tablet, 11 July 15).

Bishops McMahon and Crowley, say England and Wales are in a “unique position to approach Rome to lift mandatory celibacy for clergy” (The Tablet, 11 July 15). Not seen as extreme, Bishop McMahon suggested that their regional conference “would have a very sympathetic hearing…”

In the United States the number of diocesan priests in active ministry will be reduced severely in just four years as half of them reach retirement age.  A majority of Catholics support a married priesthood. Among Catholic leaders, there is a growing number speaking up in favor of a married priesthood.   Archbishop Blaise Cupich recently said that having married priests in his lifetime “wouldn’t suprise him” (

Catholics continue to call on the U.S. Bishops to open ordination rather than closing parishes.  Do your part.  Sign our Open Letter asking bishops to start needed discussions. Ask our bishops to take up the issue at the November 2015 meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Remind our bishops, now is the time to act!


Deborah Rose-Milavec
Executive Director

For they were like sheep without a shepherd

shepherd2Before arriving at FutureChurch, I served a parish as a pastoral associate and I’ll never forget the weekend that our pastor was in El Salvador when tragedy visited one of our young parish families. A husband and young father of three school-aged boys had died of a massive heart attack. All his widow wanted was her parish priest. She was grateful that I was there for her; to talk to her boys; to walk her through some of the funeral arrangements with her. Still, she wanted her parish priest.

This past week, I posted a survey on how the priest shortage is impacting you. As the responses rolled in, I was reminded of that young widow and mother and the pain it caused her that her priest couldn’t be there for her. First were the respondents who checked off “I am a Catholic who wasn’t able to receive a Sacrament when I needed it because there was no priest available.” Then came the personalized comments:

  • We desperately need a new pastor, but there’s apparently no one to assign.

  • Our one priest does not have the energy to say three masses on Sunday so we cannot have mass in Spanish

  • church has become more impersonal; unable to get a priest to give last rites in ER or hospitals

In this week’s Gospel the Apostles return to Jesus after having been sent off by him, two by two, to minister to the people in his name. They return, anxious to tell him all of the good work they had done – early versions of what we now know as Sacraments, notably Anointing and Reconciliation (see Mark 6:7-13). Crowds hastened toward Jesus and the Twelve, obviously hoping for their own experiences of God’s grace. And moved with pity for them, Jesus stays with them and teaches them.

Today, the crowds continue to press in. The Catholic population in the United States is growing. Yet, there are fewer and fewer priests and parishes to respond to their pleas for help – their pleas for the Sacraments. Unfortunately, stories like the one of the young widow from my days in parish ministry and the ones you have shared are becoming more common.

I know that — as a Church  — our collective heart is moved with pity for these people. But that isn’t enough. Like Jesus, we must take action. We must take the necessary steps to ensure that people’s pleas for the Sacraments can be heard and answered. We must open ordination.

By Russ Petrus
Program Director

Sr. Diana Culbertson Reviews: The Catholic Labyrinth

the catholic labyrinthCatholics interested in Church reform should know this book.  Be warned: it is not an easy read.  But it is a point of view that should be considered by all those who love the Church and want it to be more inclusive, more tolerant, more competently administered, and holier.  The author is not a theologian, ecclesiologist, or historian, but his competence as a social scientist gives him credibility as an analyst of  the social structure  of the Catholic Church and its limitations. He focuses not on the hierarchy or doctrine, but on efforts to manage  efficiently the  vast  human and financial resources of the Church.  Thus first consideration is given to SNAP (Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests).  As the author points out, SNAP’s stand is adversarial. (“The assumption is that the institutional Church is beyond fixing.”) Its focus on vindication and compensation for survivors  has been largely successful  even as it continues to keep up the pressure against administrative forces who –in retrospect—should have known better.  It cannot be considered a reform group interested in the Church as Church.  Its members and supporters are largely outside the Church, but the intensity of its efforts has instigated massive change in diocesan administration, personnel, and ethical oversight.

More benevolent in its efforts to reform financial administrative structure is the Leadership Roundtable.  It was the “managerial bungling” in the sexual abuse crisis that led influential civic leaders, entrepreneurs, and bishops to found an advisory group to address what they saw as managerial incompetence in the Church—or at least the American Church.  As the author points out, the word “reform” is nowhere to be found on their website, nor is theological “bickering” tolerated.  This advisory group simply wants to focus on the needs of diocesan and parish life, offering solutions for practical issues, but nothing that touches on doctrine (such as female deacons to relieve the priest shortage). The segmentation of institutional Catholicism makes their work difficult, and political will is weak.  The work of the Roundtable is hampered by the problem of who controls change and who benefits from it.

Chris Schenk and FutureChurch get good press in this book. The “selling point” is the causal connection between the shortage of priests and parish closings. FutureChurch has been “ahead of the curve,” the author argues, in challenging the hierarchy to get serious about the impending crisis in the Church.  “The clarity of FutureChurch’s program, the organization’s feel for political timing, and its mix of ambivalence and determination are rare qualities.”  The reforms agitated by FutureChurch would alleviate the current “logistical nightmares and the hemorrrhaging disappointment with leadership created by the shortage of priests.”  The question is whether being on the right side of history is enough.

Equally thorough is the author’s analysis of Voice of the Faithful.  When The Boston Globe broke the story of the sexual abuse crisis in the Boston archdiocese and the attempted cover up and misuse of money, 4000 Catholics   swarmed to the Hynes Convention Center to voice their protests.  Cardinal Law was forced to resign. VOTF was born. As McDonough argues, people wanted to express themselves, but that did not mean that they were heard. VOTF was banned in Boston. Part of the problem of VOTF, as the author argues, was the difficulty of bringing coherence to the mission. It eventually became an omnibus movement whose operative model is that of a “loyal opposition” group with no overtly  doctrinal disagreement with the Church.  According to the author, the weakness of VOTF is the lack of tangible objectives and the “local nature of parish life.”  Everyone agrees with the need for reform, but can a mass movement (such as VOTF) advance the kind of specific changes that are necessary ? Voice of the Faithful raises significant questions, but actionable agenda items are less clear—and thus success, however defined, is less measurable.

McDonough points out in this study of power and politics in the American Church that conservative  groups such as the Knights of Columbus, Opus Dei, and the Catholic League have deep financial pockets and thus extensive influence in the Church, influence that extends  beyond in-house politics.  How far that influence goes is difficult to determine, but a look at the chart provided by the author reveals how impoverished are the resources of Call to Action, VOTF and FutureChurch compared to the extensive financial resources of more powerful groups.  “The organizational arena of church politics does not encircle a level playing field,” says McDonough, “the tilt is toward the right.”  That observation alone should give us pause, but adversity—financial or otherwise—does not deprive us of hope.


jubileeofmercyPope Francis has declared the 2015-2016 liturgical year the Jubilee Year of Mercy in hopes of renewing the Church’s efforts of highlighting God’s infinite mercy. Here at FutureChurch we welcome a Year of Mercy and pray that the Church will be infused with God’s mercy at every level.

Materials are being released in advance of the December start and we’ve noticed one major problem with the prayer for the year: the reputation of Mary of Magdala, which we’ve worked so hard to restore, is being smeared yet again. The prayer, which you can view in its entirety here, reads in part: “Your loving gaze freed Zacchaeus and Matthew from being enslaved by money; the adulteress and Magdalene from seeking happiness only in created things (our emphasis); made Peter weep after his betrayal, and assured Paradise to the repentant thief.”

Now, FutureChurch has absolutely no problem recognizing the human faults and failings of our saints — in fact we can all draw personal strength and inspiration from recognizing that the saints who came before us weren’t perfect. But we do have a problem when those “faults” are works of pure fiction.

By lumping Mary of Magdala in with “the adulteress,” the prayer asks us to recall the reputation of the composite Mary of Magdala, rather than the Magdalene of scripture and history. We’re asked to recall the tale we were told years ago — that Mary of Magdala was a prostitute — and forget what we’ve learned since then — that Mary of Magdala infact was one of Jesus’ most influential apostles and she was not a prostitute.

Unfortnately, this prayer will be seen, read, and said by millions over the course of the Jubilee of Mercy and taken at face value. Catholic publishers have already begun sending out prayer cards, it’s being posted on websites, and religious education directors are ordering materials. FutureChurch is dedicated to restoring the memory of the true, scriptural and historical Mary of Magdala and will do whatever we can to continue to correct the record. And we invite you to join us in this effort.

We will start using the hashtag #ReclaimMagdalene when we post to Facebook or Twitter, whenever we correct the record, publicize our materials on Mary of Magdala, or when we promote your Mary of Magdala Celebrations this July. And we ask you to do the same. By using the hashtag #ReclaimMagdalene, Facebook and Twitter users will be able to easily search posts that put forward an accurate picture of Mary of Magdala and connect them with other users who care as deeply about this early church leader as we do.

Check out our resources on Mary of Magdala and keep an eye on our blog, Facebook, and Twitter to find out more about how you can #ReclaimMagdalene and help undo the miseducation of millions this year.

FutureChurch Calls on Bishops to Open Ordination Rather than Closing Parishes

SOPCThere is a severe crisis looming in the U.S. Catholic Church.   In just four years, half (nearly 9000) of our diocesan priests will retire.  New vocations will not even come close to replacing those retiring.

According to a 2009 study conducted by the Center for Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University (CARA), half – nearly 9,000 — of the 17,900 diocesan priests currently in active ministry in the US are expected to retire by 2019.   If new vocations maintain current levels – levels they have been at for decades – there will only be about 1,600 newly ordained to replace them.   That is a net loss of 7400 priests.

The response of our bishops, thus far, has been to close or merge parishes, build larger churches and import international priests.

Closing and merging parishes has resulted in a loss of 1,750 parishes over the last fifteen years while the number of Catholics has risen by 6.7 million.   This means fewer and fewer parishes to serve greater and greater numbers.  Further, the downsizing is debilitating.  Some parishioners accept the decisions of their bishops.  Others fight.  Yet after long and fierce legal proceedings no real “winner” ever emerges. The biggest “losers” are the parishioners.  Many become so disaffected that they simply walk away.  Forty percent of merged parishes report a decrease in size (  More closures and mergers will continue to alienate Catholics while failing to meet the sacramental needs of a growing number.

Recruiting international priests is a questionable practice. Language barriers and cultural differences make it difficult for these priests to effectively preach the Gospel and provide pastoral care in a culture far different from their own.  More importantly, this practice removes international priests from their homes and deprives these areas — where the Catholic population is often growing at rapid rates —  of the priests they need.

For 25 years FutureChurch has educated Catholics about the priest shortage and the calamitous impact it is having on parishes and the sacramental life of the People of God.

Pope Francis has made it known that he is open to receiving proposals from national bishops’ conferences that courageously address the clergy shortage — including consideration of ordaining married men.

Following Pope Francis’s lead, FutureChurch urges the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to undertake a fresh examination of:

  • restoring the early Church’s practice of ordaining both married and celibate priests
  • restoring our early practice of  ordaining  female and male deacons
  • inviting priests who left the active ministry to marry, to return.

FutureChurch further urges the USCCB to petition Pope Francis to open priestly ordination to married men and to restore the female diaconate.

Failure to act amounts to a failure of leadership.

Now is the time to take Pope Francis at his word and propose strategies that provide access to the Eucharist for all Catholics.

Now is the time to act.

Join FutureChurch’s efforts today by signing our Open Letter to the U.S. Bishops urging them to open a discussion of these issues at their next general assembly in November with a view to presenting concrete suggestions for opening ordination to Pope Francis.  Go to to sign the letter and forward it onto others.