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 (https://futurechurch.org/2003-study).  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 www.futurechurch.org/actions/openletter2014 to sign the letter and forward it onto others.

Mary of Magdala’s Best Friend and Advocate

Friendship is one of the most sacred relationships available to human beings.  We all probably know someone who has offered us true friendship; those who loved us, defended us, supported us and advocated for us till the end.
Rita Houlihan is just such a friend — to Mary of Magdala. Since retirement, Rita has devoted her life’s work to rescuing Mary of Magdala from the centuries-old slander campaign that has distorted her image in our collective memory and robbed all of us of the power of her witness and leadership.  She has worked to restore Mary of Magdala to her true role as a key faith leader in our salvation history – an “apostle to the apostles.”
On April 14 and 21, 2015, Rita organized and sponsored two lectures at Fordham University by none other than Dr. Elizabeth Johnson, csj, who went about setting the record straight about Mary of Magdala.
Sr. Johnson immediately got to the heart of the  issue stating, “Mary of Magdala was one of Jesus’ most

Photo: Dana Maxson

influential apostles-and she was not a prostitute. Mary keptvigil at the cross throughout Jesus’ crucifixion, discovered the empty tomb after Jesus’ resurrection, and was then commissioned to ‘go and tell’ the good news.”

The problem began in 591 when Pope Gregory characterized Mary of Magdala as a repentant prostitute, a label that “stuck” eclipsing her important leadership and apostolic roles, even today.

“Making her a prostitute has allowed her leadership role among the disciples to be generally forgotten,” said Dr. Johnson.  “For those who prefer a Church with an exclusively male hierarchy, it is easier to deal with her as a repentant sinner than as an apostolic woman who had a voice and used it.”

To that we say, “Amen, Sister.”

To see the entire lecture by Dr. Elizabeth Johnson, CLICK HERE.  Handout

(We recommend viewing the lecture in Google Chrome, if you are able to do so, if you are loading in another browser you may want to pause it for a few moments while it loads before pressing play.)


Lectures are not the only work Rita is organizing and supporting.  She also commissioned Sr. Peggy Beaudette, SC, to create a new work of art depicting Mary of Magdala at the resurrection with Peter, his wife and the small band of believers looking on in awe.  Sr. Beaudette beautifully captures the power of the moment when Mary of Magdala proclaims what she has seen and heard from the risen Christ. The image will stir your imagination and change your perception.


Rita’s passion for restoring Mary of Magdala to her rightful role in the Church is a force to behold.  Her love, solidarity and advocacy may well be born of the same spirit that we see in the very woman she defends.

I am happy to say, Rita is a member of the board of trustees for FutureChurch that is its 25th anniversary this year!
As many of you already know, FutureChurch has been leading celebrations honoring the feast of St. Mary of Magdala for nineteen years.  We have new resources to help your parish or community celebrate the July 22nd feast day. Click here to download these resources.


Truth about Mary Magdalene could open doors for women

Elizabeth Johnson Lecture on Mary of Magdala

Catholicism undervalues women by Frank Bruni, NY Times

Are things looking up for women? by Christine Schenk, NCR

Toward Women’s Equality in the Church; Beyond Complementary Roles (Deb Rose-Milavec speaks to Maria Johnson on WESU fm radio)

Kerry Robinson: The Church Deserves Women in Leadership by Jennifer labbadia, Huffington Post

P.S. We are nearing the end of our Women’s Equality fundraising campaign.  Please be as generous as you can!CLICK HERE to donate!  Your donation makes a big difference in our ability to reach out to Catholics who need support in saving their beloved parish communities! 

What happened in Limerick should not stay in Limerick: 2nd international meeting of priest associations and lay reform groups take up the tough questions

From April 13 – 17, 2015, thirty-eight Catholics from priestassociations and church reform organizations across ten countries met in Limerick, Ireland to discuss some of the most pressing issues facing the Church today and to work together for change.   Traveling from Austria, Australia, Germany, India, various regions in Ireland, Italy, Slovakia, Switzerland, the U.K and the United States, men and women, ordained and lay, familiar faces and new, came together around some of the most difficult and painful problems facing the Church today.

This was the second such meeting.  The first meeting in Bregenz, held in November 2013, was called by Fr. Helmut Schueller, the founder of the Pfarrer Initiative. It was the Pfarrer Initiative who issued the prophetic andcontroversial “Call to Disobedience” challenging Church leaders to halt the consolidation of parishes while calling for a “new image of the priest.”  Many who had been in Bregenz also came to Limerick and were joined by more than twenty new participants from four new regions.

The “Limerick 38,” as I affectionately like to think of them, called on bishops to courageously support Pope Francis’ vision for reform.  Fr. Tony Flannery conveyed the group’s sense of urgency at a press conference on the final day calling this “Francis era” our “last chance” to get renewal right.

Early on, a number of participants, myself included, raised the  issue of women’s equality and gender justice as central areas that needed to be addressed.  And throughout the conference, we worked in a small group to develop strategies that would advance those reforms including promoting a commission of women to work with Pope Francis on his desire to develop a “theology of women” and create a more “incisive presence for women” in the Church.  Had nothing else happened, I would have left Limerick with a strong sense of satisfaction in having created solid plans for working together across diverse regions with plenty of “to do” lists to keep us all busy for months ahead.  But, the real formative moment was still ahead.

On the third day, the group entered into the most poignant, painful and ultimately transformative moment of the conference.

A small group of women, myself included, had approached Tony Flannery with the idea that one of the women at our conference might co-preside with one of the priests at our shared Eucharist.  We reasoned, the Eucharist, the sign and symbol of our unity in the Church, should reflect our common work together in Limerick as co-equals working for change.  One person asked,  “After working alongside each other these last few days, how can we celebrate a Eucharist that isn’t a sign of our unity?”

Tony wisely suggested that we submit the question to the group. And we did.

On Wednesday morning, participant Kate McElwee, put the question of a woman as co-presider to the group.  And it started a conversation like no other I’ve experienced among priests and lay women and men.  Thirty-eight women and men wrestled with the question for several hours.  With the guidance of our skilled facilitators, we held the space open as each person expressed their support, concern, pain and, yes, fear.

Tears fell without shame.  The space became a sacred space…a transformative space…maybe not so unlike the Council of Jerusalem where Peter and Paul and the community wrestled with who was in and who was out in their day.

What happened in Limerick should not stay in Limerick.

After the long, deep and rich conversation, we decided to forego the celebration of the Eucharist in favor of a prayer service that would continue to help us hold the space and the pain felt around the issues of women’s participation.  A small group volunteered to coordinate it and it turned out to be a sacramental sign in and of itself.

The wine and bread placed on the altar was not shared, a symbol of the painful reality of women’s place in the Church and the divisions that tear at the heart of our communities.  And all thirty-eight of us took a candle and placed it on the altar, a sign of our solidarity with women in the Church and our hope for a healed, whole and just Church where women can participate fully as co-equals.

Even as I write these words, tears flow.  I was transformed…by the grace each person offered in that circle…by the authenticity and honesty of the conversation…by the tears of my dear friends and colleagues…and by the Spirit that washed over us as we struggled together to find a way to come together as a Eucharistic people given the realities of our roles, as well as the injustices in our Church so poignantly and personally felt in this cherished setting.

What happened in Limerick should not stay in Limerick

What happened among the “Limerick 38” was not just for the

Press conference- final day

thirty-eight gathered there.  It is my hope that the Spirit felt so deeply in Limerick will flow out of each one of us in a new way so we can create every space necessary to work with our differences and build on our common hope for a renewed and revitalized Church, not only for ourselves, but for those who will certainly come after us longing for a God and a community where justice, love, compassion and mercy are made real in each other.

I am grateful for all those who made the gathering possible, but also for those who participated with such courage and honesty. Every once in a while we get a chance to see the heart of God in each other.  Limerick was such a moment for me.

Deborah Rose-Milavec










“My Call to the Priesthood” by Jocelyn Collen

cropped-Rounded-logo-only-FC25years-e1437314895104.jpg“Body of Christ”

“Body of Christ”

“Body of Christ”

My sister, my brother, and I would play church at the bottom stair of our basement when we were very small.

We used Necco® wafers as our hosts. We all took turns presiding, made up our own Alleluia, and of course, used our long-handled basket for our imaginary collection.

We didn’t think we were profound. We didn’t think we were being sacramental. But, we knew we were not being irreverent. We knew, at ages 6, 4, and 2 that we were doing something important. We knew we were part of something greater than ourselves, and greater that our green basement steps. We liked playing church. We liked singing together, and standing up and down after we said Amen! We liked giving one another Eucharist.

That was my first call to priesthood. The Necco®  wafers just appeared to be created for the use of communion in our home.

I still want to be presiding at a Eucharistic celebration with my family and friends in a humble, familiar setting. A basement or a local church would do.

For the time being, I must find a Eucharistic table that is in the form of a side table with prayer cards, poems, a box of tissues, and a bowl of sea glass on top of it. My couch and easy chair are our basement step or pews. I share Eucharistic meals with the conversation as bread, and the tears, joys, desires, struggles, and passions as wine. My office in campus ministry is my small church.  The undergraduates at Fairfield University come by to talk, to visit, to cry, to ask for advice, to interview for immersion trips or leadership positions, to share good news, to nap on my couch, and/or to discuss God’s presence in their lives. Although our Eucharistic Food is not chewable, it is the connection that has been formed with the trust between the campus minister and the student that allows us to share together.

I am privileged to host our nourishing conversation. I am Blessed to be chosen as God’s instrument here in Coastal Connecticut. I only pray that I may hear the inner workings of God and Sophia in my Sacred Space disguised as my office.