View from the choir

I am a Catholic layperson and Secular Franciscan with a sense of humor. After years in the back pew watching, I have moved into the choir. It's nice to see faces instead of the backs of heads. But I still maintain God has a sense of humor - and that we are created in God's image.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Spiritus Christi, Grosswirth and Womenpriests

I usually avoid dealing with Spiritus Christi - the schismatic church that broke from the Diocese of Rochester and the Catholic Church, and in the process damaged the Diocese and a lot of people.

Me included.

I was extremely active in that parish until it went too far, so I left. A few years later, Father Callan and Mary Ramerman broke with the Church and led a couple of thousand people astray.

I lost many friends due to that break-up - and, sadly, an ex-wife who went with them. The events of that time period - along with liberal doses of my own pride and spiritual immaturity, and feelings of loss and betrayal - set me adrift spiritually for a couple of years. I thank God that I was able to find peace again in the Church.

Talking about that sect usually brings up too many memories, and I still care about so many of the people there, so, I usually refrain from saying too much.

In the last few days, though, I've stumbled across items in the news and on blogs that got me to thinking about Spiritus again.

On April 26 the womenpriests movement ordained two women in Philadelphia - one a priest, the other a deacon.

The deacon is my ex-wife, Chava Redonnet.

Someone sent me a news article with pictures. Father Callan and Ramerman were there. No surprise.

Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphi noted that the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith decried in 2007 that women who present themselves for ordinations at such ceremonies, and those "who falsely claim" to ordain them, are automatically excommunicated. Some of the Spiritus participants were excommunicated already.

Meanwhile, I also found mention at other sites that Ray Grosswirth, a self-described married priest and the media liaison of CORPUS, and a Rochester resident, had written about the ordination of some womenpriest bishops. I decided to check out his blog to find out what he had actually said.

I went there tonight and found him writing about the bishops, and the Philadelphia ceremony. I also found him announcing the following today:

"After several years of discernment, I officially joined Spiritus Christi Church in Rochester today. As you know, Spiritus Christi is independent of Vatican rule, which suits me perfectly at this point in my life."

No surprise there, either. Actually, I'm surprised that he did not end up there years ago. I don't know if he will be actively involved there, though he did note, "...I will now have the freedom to engage in my ministries without the Vatican and ultra-conservative Catholic groups worrying about every move I make that is geared toward church-reform."

Of course, in some cases it could be that they are worring not about him and his every move, but for him and his soul.

I did discover in his blog that he said he will now be available to preside at same-sex weddings if New York approves it - something I would also expect to see at Spiritus. Again, no surprise. If you're going to go in for breaking Church rules, you might as well go whole hog.

My ex-wife is still involved with Spiritus. I don't know if she will now be actively involved there in a ministerial role as a deacon, or, eventually, as a priest. It wouldn't surprise me.

I have nothing to say about that, other than that I feel a great sadness tonight.

And that I continue to pray for many lost souls damaged by that schism that they will eventually return to the Church or find the healing they need.


Anonymous Mary Kay said...

will send up a prayer for you in your sadness.

10:57 PM  
Blogger Lee Strong said...

Thank you.

5:59 AM  
Blogger Joseph Fromm said...


You wrote about Reiki and Jesuits at another blog. Will you drop the Jesuit institutions and priests practicing Reiki in your area? Use my to combox.



8:13 AM  
Blogger Brother Charles said...

May God gather up your grief; it is His own.

"...suits me," says it all.

9:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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2:24 PM  
Blogger Lee Strong said...

Joseph - it was just one Jesuit - Father Richard Hunt, the chaplin at RIT - who is invovled in Reiki. I don't know of any others. I'm not sure from your message where you want me to send information.

4:50 PM  
Blogger Lee Strong said...

Dr. K. - On a positive note, I met a lovely woman - at a pro-life protest! - and after my anullment (a pretty clear case) we married. So even out of dark times there can be joy.

4:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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10:09 PM  
Anonymous Todd said...

Well ... Lee was there when I joined in 1982. He also seemed to have more of a stomach for the place, staying a lot longer than I did. I could say quite a bit, but I will confine my comments to these:

- Spiritus is not a liberal church by my definition. Way too much clericalism for my taste. The idealized preconciliar parish looked like this: three priests and what, two or three deacons now? What's that about?

- I brought my wife to SC once about ten years ago. I trust her intuition and discernment. She far preferred the "remnant" parish on Prince St. She didn't find liturgy at SC very uplifting, or even Catholic. I miss my friends there, certainly, but not much else.

- I didn't find the original parish terribly open to my ideas in the 80's. Lee actually cautioned me about speaking out too strongly against what I thought were significant flaws and biases. I never found parish leadership terribly open to either spirituality or an intellectual approach to theology. You'll never read in their books that the entire lay contingent of the liturgy committee resigned in frustration and protest after Easter in 1988.

- There certainly wasn't much openness to the notion that people grow and change. In a way, I'm surprised my friend Chava has found a degree of acceptance for her role in ordained ministry there. That it's taken thirty years is telling--she is a very talented and gifted person.

- To offer one telling personal anecdote, when I returned to visit a year or two after finishing my degree and moving off to parish ministry, Fr Jim asked me how and what I was doing, and asked if anything ever came of my taking courses at St Bernard's. He seemed dumbfounded I had actually earned a Master's degree and was serving in parish ministry.

11:36 PM  
Blogger Lee Strong said...

Todd said "Lee was there when I joined in 1982. He also seemed to have more of a stomach for the place, staying a lot longer than I did. ... Lee actually cautioned me about speaking out too strongly against what I thought were significant flaws and biases."

Ah, yes, the ACOA in me!

I saw much that troubeled me, too - the way the Garrisons were treated and left Dimitri House, Deni Mack being forced out, the attempted takeover of the school (I was on the committee that voted no to the first attempt. I spoke out strongly against the idea. I was not asked to be part of any subsequent decision!), and more.

Decisions were made, votes were taken (with a clear understanding of what Father Jim/Mary wanted, however) and if you did not go along, or at least keep your mouth shut, you were subjected to pressure and criticism.

I was out of the loop for a while due to the marriage issues, so I was not intimately involved with some of the decisions that really turned the parish. I left when the dust settled and I began to see what was really happening.

4:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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7:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, Ray will be the first male priest there since Fr. Enrique left Spiritus for the Episcopal Church.

They really haven't grown in numbers for quite a few years now. And with Jim close to retirement age, I'm not sure what the future holds for that community.

1:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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9:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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9:42 AM  
Anonymous Todd said...

"New people are joining Spiritus, but people are leaving as well."

This was happening twenty to twenty-five years ago. It was part of a phenomenon I first attributed to burnout: that volunteers were over-involved, and encouraged to be so. People got tired and frustrated. They left.

Not a real trust in competent laity, and it really does look a lot like pre-conciliar Catholicism: pray, pay and obey, though with a charismatic twist.

Lee may or may not have been ACOA, but he was a fine friend and confidante in the CC years.

11:15 AM  
Blogger Lee Strong said...

Thanks Todd. You, too, were a good friend, and I miss you very much.

5:35 PM  
Anonymous Annie said...

The Gospel is alive and well at Spiritus Chrisi Church. My experience of God there is less about people's dogmatic constructs and more about God. Maybe that's what's got Rome so ticked off. People made religion. God didn't make religion. People don't make matter how hard you try. I talked with Jesus today and he said we'll all be OK...with or without your approval. I feel better now.

6:49 PM  
Blogger Lee Strong said...

Annie ... Glad you feel better. Unfortunately, what the leaders at Spiritus did hurt a lot of good people.

6:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Spiritus Christi became an intimate part of my sprituality and did a lot to wound the emotional life of a lot of people. I ask God every week to help me to stop wishing those people in Hell!!

7:52 PM  
Blogger Lee Strong said...

Anonymous - I'm sorry you are still hurting. It was a painful experience for many. I can understand your anger. Many of us need healing - I know I pray for it for myself. I will keep you in my prayers also.

I also think that some of the people still at Spiritus have also hurt themselves and continue to do so. We need to pray for them.

6:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lee, I dont know you but I am ex-Roman Catholic who recently joined Spiritus catholic church. I was drawn to their acceptance of everyone and their kind works for the poor. I plan on getting married their and my wife and I plan on raising my our children there. First I must say it is nice to read a truly intelligent, heart felt dissenting opinion of Spiritus; so many others are so hurtful and quite frankly, anti-Catholic in their response. From your words, its obvious that you were hurt from the split. Im saddened to hear of your pain. I believe in my heart that the intention behind the split was not to hurt others though, but only to follow their hearts and what they believe the Bible teaches. If the leaders had admitted "wrong" and done what was necessary to not be ex-communicated, I believe it would have been more of a betrayal to the community and to the people who they had supported. I admit I did disagree with your comment about going "whole hog" on rule breaking and gay marriage. The truth is, the reason that Spiritus offers gay ceremonies is NOT just to tick off Roman Catholics and break as many rules as possible, but rather to truly follow what they believe Jesus taught. To listen to their hearts and stick to their motto; which is that we are ALL children of God and deserving of love. That is the difference that I found so enjoyable at Spiritus vs the Roman Catholic Church, and why I left the Roman Catholic Church. Ultimately the Judgment of these issues is God's though, and not ours to make. I also believe that Spiritus splitting from the Roman Catholic Church was the right thing to do; the beliefs of both organizations simply did not match. As a result, no matter what, there was going to be pain. But out of this pain, a wonderful caring Church has arisen; I see it every week in the people who attend. I love Spiritus, I could not be happier there. I do not feel that my soul is lost - in fact I feel I finally have found a Catholic Church that truly does live its mission of loving and accepting everyone. It has reawakened my faith and I believe it is a wonderful Catholic organization, that just happens to not Roman Catholic. I do not need prayer for a return to the Roman Catholic Church, just Im guessing you do would not require or need a prayer from me that you that the Roman Catholic Church will reform.
What I do pray for though, is that both sides will someday be able to co-exist more peacefully and realize that while they may differ on some issues, they share a common love of God and the teachings of Jesus. Peace to you and yours.

12:42 AM  
Blogger Lee Strong said...

r - I see that you tried to post several times. I have comment moderation on, so your comment could not get through until I let it. Sorry if it frustrated you.

One of the dangers of Spiritus is that its leaders have followed the examples of Adam and Eve from the Bible, of men such as Luther, Calvin, and Henry VIII, of so many misguided men and women from history: They followed the cult of self. They made themselves "god." It became an issue of what "I" want, what "I" think - not what God wants.

Many People who believe they are following their consciences as the Church teaches don't realize that what the Church says is that it must be a well-formed conscience. In other words you actually have to read the documents and teachings and writings before you can you can legitimatly claim to be following your conscience. You can't rely on what someone else tells you they say: You must read for yourslef. Thus, for example, on the issue of homosexual marriage, one must read the Catechism, one must read the documents issued by Rome and the Bishops BEFORE one can legitimatley claim to disagree with those teachings. At Spiritus, they pay lip service to following conscience, but neglect to point out what it really entails.

Yes, Spiritus does so many good things. But so do other churches, and when it comes to the Catholic Church, on an even greater scale. Yes, Spiritus is welcoming (unless you have the misfortune of disagreeing - as too many people found out) - but so do other churches.

No, Spiritus is not a Catholic Church; it is a Protestant Church that has retained some elements of Catholicism.

Yes, there are problems with the Catholic Church. But so many intelligent people throughout history - G. K. Chesterton, John Newman, Edith Stein, etc. - when they looked at the history of Christianity discovered that the Catholic Church was the true Church, and that what it really taught (as opposed to what its opponents, the media, and many ill-informed Catholics themselves claimedit taught) is the truth.

I hope you will not end us like so many other folks who embrace Spiritus - spirtually adrift or hurt or even churchless in the end. I pray that eventually you will become part of the genuine Catholic Church.

6:55 AM  

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