Buffalo, NY Celebrates Mary of Magdala in honor of deceased Sister

Sister Mary ThompsonBuffalo, NY- At the end of July,  Sister Mary Thompson, SSMN, author of Mary of Magdala, Apostle and Leader (New York: Paulist Press 1995) passed away unexpectedly.

An interest in women of the gospel led her to write “Mary of Magdala: Apostle and Preacher.”  Women took a strong interest in this book because Sister Mary’s writing portrays Mary of Magdala as a leader of considerable influence rather than the erroneous identification of her as the sinful woman of St. Luke 7:36-50. Sister wrote:

“To have been the only person, male or female, listed in all four gospels as the first to realize that Jesus is risen and to have announced that message to the other disciples was to have reached undeniable prominence.”BuffaloMaryMag

Thank you, Sister Mary Thompson, for your ministry and your dedication to Saint Mary of Magdala! May you rejoice with Mary Magdala this day!

Synod Watch – Archbishop Cupich joins the delegation

Countdown to the 2015 Family Synod

cupichWith less than two months before the 2015 Synod on the Family opens, there is some good news.  Although the U.S. Bishops chose to make him an alternate and not a delegate to synod on the family, Pope Francis has tapped Archbishop Blase Cupich to be there.  Pope Francis has also chosen Bishop George Murry, a Jesuit and an African American, from the Diocese of Youngstown Ohio.

Synod delegates are chosen by their bishops’ conference, but Pope Francis also chooses a number of delegates.

From the U.S., the following bishops will attend.

  • Louisville: Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, USCCB president
  • Galveston-Houston: Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, USCCB vice president
  • Los Angeles: Archbishop Jose Gomez
  • Philadelphia: Archbishop Charles Chaput
  • Chicago: Archbishop Blase Cupich
  • Youngstown: Bishop George Murry

Also in attendance will be:

  • Washington D.C.:  Cardinal Donald Wuerl
  • New York:  Cardinal Timothy Dolan

Metropolitan William Skurla of the Byzantine Catholic Archeparchy of Pittsburgh will also attend.

The lay auditors and experts have not yet been announced.  Last year, Jeffrey and Alice Heinzen of Wisconsin attended.

How they are aligning

United States

While Cardinal DiNardo and Archbishops Gomez and Chaput will hold the line on Church teaching and pastoral practice, we will see greater flexibility from the more moderate Archbishop Kurtz.  Archbishop Cupich and Bishop Murry promise even greater alignment with Pope Francis’s vision emphasizing the Pope’s social justice approach to Church teaching.


There are a total of 40 African bishops attending the synod and most do not want Western values to influence their country or the Church.   In June, heads from 45 bishops’s conferences met and agreed to stand strong on traditional family values.

Kenya’s representatives, Cardinal John Njue of Nairobi and Bishop James Wainaina Kungu of Muranga hold tightly to current Church doctrine on homosexuality.

Archbishop Charles Palmer-Buckle of Ghana has appealed to Pope Francis to take a firm stand against homosexuality and communion for the divorced and remarried.  Cardinal Robert Sarah wants African values unversalized and has urged synod delegates to “speak with one voice.”  Still, Archbishop Charles Palmer-Buckle of Accra, Ghana has suggested he would favor new practices for those divorced and remarried.

Bishop Gervais Bashimiyubusa, president of the bishops’ conference of Burundi wants no change on the Church’s teaching on on contraception and Archbishop Gabriel Mbilingi of Lubango, Angol is urging African bishops to speak with one voice on these matters.

Latin America

Archbishop José María Arancedo of Argentina and Cardinal Mario Poli have alluded to “an opening on the issue of the divorced and remarried.”  Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati Andrello of Chile supports civil unions for same-sex couples.  But others are more conservative.  Archbishop Antonio Arregui Yarza of Ecuador, an Opus Dei member, has been a leading voice against progressive reproductive health measures and same-sex unions in his country and Mexico’s delegates will tend to oppose softening the Church’s teachings on marriage.


Bishop Heiner Koch, Cardinal Reinhard Marx and Bishop Franz-Josef Bode are supporters of Cardinal Walter Kasper’s philosophy for the synod and will represent Germany.


Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp has been appointed by Francis as a delegate.  In December, Bonny urged the Church to accept gay relationships as part of  the “diversity of forms.”


Archbishop Paul Bùi Văn Đọc of Vietnam seemed to take a more flexible stand on divorce and remarriage last year.


Archbishop Georges Pontier of France has aligned himself with Pope Francis and wants the Church to take a more open position on some of the issues related to marriage.

United Kingdom

Cardinal Vincent Nichols has signaled he is open to new measures for divorced and remarried Catholics as he urges Catholics to move away from the idea that the synod is a battleground.  In March he criticized 500 priests from England and Wales who signed a letter calling for synod leaders to stand firmly opposed to any changes to current Catholic teaching on marriage and family.

Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, one of the delegates to the synod, met with representatives from Faith in Marriage Equality (an ecumenical group) and We Are Church (a Roman Catholic church reform group) organizations at his residence in June. He continues to exhibit more openness to the issue of gay marriage that found majority support in his country.


Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki has stated that the Polish contingent will oppose any softening of the lines proposed by the German bishops.  Archbishop Henryk Hoser stands opposed to any Kasper reforms.

Who won’t be there

Cardinal  Raymond Burke will not be at the 2015 synod.  He did attend the 2014 Extraordinary Synod exerting influence prior to the opening by co-authoring the book “Remaining in the Truth of Christ” which was sent to synod delegates.  The book was reportedly intercepted by Cardinal Lorenzo Balidserri.  Not unexpectedly, Burke was a very vocal, sharp critic of the miderm document and one of the influencers who made sure any welcoming language for homosexuals found in the mid-term document was slashed.  He continues to make efforts to influence the 2015 Ordinary synod via the media, but he will not join the synod as a delegate during this round.



https://synodonfamily.wordpress.com/ (Catholic News Service)









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 slaveryfootprint.org 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:  http://www.associationofcatholicpriests.ie/2015/07/brendan-hoban-on-changing-times-in-the-church/

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” (http://chicago.cbslocal.com/2015/05/05/married-priests-wouldnt-surprise-archbishop-cupich/).

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.