Jesus Our Shepherd And The Catholic Herald

In a recent issue of the Catholic Herald (Oct 19, 2006) reporter Maryangela Layman Roman presented an exchange of views involving Ms. Zabrina Decker, vice-chancellor and canonist for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and Fr. Frank Baiocchi, JOS co-pastor. What follows is an elaboration of some of the views and quotes presented in this article. The article can be found in its entirety on the parish website:

#1. What Ms. Decker said: Canon 216 of the Code of Canon Law declares "invalid" a public Mass celebrated by a married priest. What Ms. Decker didn't say: According to Canon 843, married Roman Catholic priests are ordained for life with the responsibility to celebrate Mass and sacraments if and when asked by their communities or by anyone in need. Ordination is about spirituality and treating people as Jesus did; it's not about clerical positions in the church. Let Ms. Decker explain how and why an "invalid Mass" at JOS generates such deep joy, a profound sense of community and a healing spirit. Jesus says that by their fruits you will know them. Using Jesus' own criterion from scripture, one might wonder how many "valid" Masses celebrated by celibate males throughout this diocese generate similar feelings.

#2. What Ms. Decker said: Married priests have violated the obligation of celibacy and thus have their public ministry restricted. What Ms. Decker didn't say: Mandatory celibacy itself violates scripture, betrays a sound theology of marriage and vitiates a long-standing church tradition of married priests working with married people. Nor does Ms. Decker acknowledge that the compelling motivation for introducing universal mandatory celibacy in the 12th century was financial. The Catholic Church was then losing money and property because married priests were allowed by primogeniture law to pass on their earthly goods to their progeny. But if priests were no longer allowed to marry, there'd be no progeny so these estates would remain as church benefices for bishops and princes! Yes, follow the money trail!

#3. What Ms. Decker said: We are here "to protect the faithful and to look out for their concerns." Want Ms. Decker didn't say: "Of course we failed miserably to protect the faithful and their children when they were most in need of our protection from clerical sexual predators and from the many bishops who successfully hid them from prosecution. We do reserve the right to go after married priests with a vengeance!" What Ms. Decker might have added is that today's layperson is often better educated than celibate priest or bishop and thus is better able to determine what is in their best spiritual interest.

#4. What Ms. Decker said: The Canon (#216) restricting public Mass to celibate males must be obeyed if you are to be properly called "Catholic." What Ms. Decker didn't say: Independent Catholic canonists (i.e., those whose continuing employment and benefits don't depend upon the good will of their employer bishop) claim that canon laws have to be actively "accepted" or "received" by the people affected by these same canons. But the canons that restrict sacrament validity to celibates are effectually rejected by the more than 80% of today's American Catholics who would welcome married priests to their communities and by the 20,000 ordained priests who have walked away from mandatory celibacy because it is bad theology and bad psychology.

#5. What Ms. Decker said: Violations of Canon Law may effectively separate people from the Church. What Ms. Decker didn't say: Those who make/revise these canons are oftentimes themselves isolated from the people they ostensibly serve, as are many bishops who use the code to govern their "flocks" and excommunicate dissenters. These men are appointed bishops by Vatican officials who don't even begin to "know the territory." A long time ago, an outstanding bishop of the early church claimed it to be fully appropriate for local bishops to be chosen democratically by the priests and people of the diocese. Don't hold your breath waiting for this approach, common as it once was, to be put into the Code of Canon Law!

#6. What Ms. Decker said: These married priests (at Jesus Our Shepherd) have chosen to separate themselves from the church and are now trying to justify this. What Ms. Decker didn't say: The priests at JOS simply responded (in accord with Canon #843) to this community's desire for Mass and the sacraments in their own church to replace the pastor and parish taken from them by the archbishop. In so responding, these married priests are acting with canonical authority and pastoral sensitivity.

#7. What Ms. Decker said: "If you have well-meaning people who want to get married in the church and they don't know the difference [between "valid" and "invalid" ceremonies], that's the real dark side to this." What Ms. Decker didn't say (because she didn't ask us!): Every Catholic individual or couple coming to us for marriage is told in pre-marital counseling sessions that their marriage, though valid by state standards, is not considered valid by the Catholic Church. What Ms. Decker may not realize is that these couples aren't concerned about canonical validity, though they are deeply concerned about the spirituality of their ceremony. Might this itself be an indictment of the Roman Catholic Church and the losses experienced among the younger generation?

#8. What Ms. Decker said: "If these groups wish to reunite themselves with the Roman Church, it is their choice." She also said that the archdiocese harbors no negative feelings towards JOS and similar groups not in full Communion with the archdiocese. What Ms. Decker didn't say: "To be fair, we in the Milwaukee Archdiocese might have to make some accommodations in policies, canonical interpretations and discipline to be more open to the promptings of the Spirit." As for harboring "no negative feelings" towards communities such as Jesus Our Shepherd, Ms. Decker completely missed the mark. In memos emailed by the former archbishop to the priests and people, we were called "a fly-by-night organization," an "anything-goes" parish, likened to "the Baptists" : our apologies to any Baptists reading this! Then in neighboring pulpits and parish bulletins we married priests and our community were frequently ridiculed.


Fr. Francis F. Baiocchi

Co-Pastor, Jesus Our Shepherd

Nenno, Wisconsin

We people & married priests at Jesus Our Shepherd know it is difficult for canonists to speak familiarly in pastoral terms. We have a strong preference in our shared ministry for the compassion and generosity of Jesus Christ instead of the pharisaical legalisms that emanate from "above." [See Mark 9:38-40]

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