The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has removed Father Jerry Zawada, a well known Franciscan peace activist, from public life as a priest for celebrating mass with a woman.
The 76-year-old Zawada has been ordered to a “life of prayer and penance” within the Wisconsin friary of his order for saying mass with Janice Sevre-Duszynska in 2011. Sevre-Duszynska was ordained a priest in the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests, a dissent women’s ordination movement in the Catholic Church that has ordained some 180 women as priests since 2002, when seven women were ordained in a ceremony on the Danube River.
The Vatican moved aggressively to tamp down any enthusiasm for break-away women’s ordination movements after the Danube River ordination received widespread media coverage. It said that any woman who claims to be ordained is automatically excommunicated and in 2010 declared women’s ordination a grave offense on par with pedophilia.
The Vatican’s equivocation of women’s ordination and pedophilia, and the relative speed with which it has disciplined dissenters, is ironic given its less-than-rapid response to actual pedophiles and the bishops who covered up their actions.
In 2012 the CDF expelled Maryknoll Father Roy Bourgeois from the priesthood four years after he took part in the ordination of Sevre-Duszynska and stripped 92-year-old Jesuit Bill Brennan of his faculties as a priest three weeks after he said mass with Sevre-Duszynska at an annual protest at the School of the Americas. Bourgeois founded the School of the Americas Watch, which seeks the closure of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation at Fort Benning, GA, formerly known as the School of the Americas, which trained notorious dictators such as Gen. Manuel Noriega and was implicated in a number of human rights abuses in Latin America, including the murder of six Jesuits.
In contrast to the relative alacrity with which the CDF moved against three elderly peace activists who celebrated mass with a woman, it took the Vatican 13 years to finally expel Michael Fugee from the priesthood in mid-March. Fugee admitted to fondling a 14-year-old boy in 2001 but his conviction was overturned on a technicality. Under an agreement with prosecutors, the archdiocese of Newark, NJ, agreed to supervise him and banned him from contact with children, but appointed him as chaplain of a hospital without informing the hospital of his history. Fugee continued to have contact with children, including traveling with them on retreats, until last year when a local newspaper brought his activities to light and a public outcry forced his ouster.
The bishop who was supposed to supervise Fugee, John Myers, remains as head of the diocese of Newark despite calls for his removal. A group of Catholics in Kansas City, MO, is pressing the Vatican to remove Bishop Robert Finn, who was convicted of a misdemeanor charge in 2011 of failing to report suspected abuse after he found pornographic images of a child on a priest’s computer. Monseigneur William Lynn, who was in charge of priests’ assignments and investigating abuse for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia from 1992 to 2004, was convicted of hiding reports of abuse and sentenced to three to six years in prison for enabling “monsters in clerical garb.” He was freed on bail when a court ruled that the state’s child endangerment law didn’t apply to those who didn’t directly supervise children; the diocese paid his bail and he remains a priest in good standing.
Polls show consistent support for women’s ordination among Catholics. A recent Pew Poll found that 68 percent of Catholics support women priests and 42 percent think the church will probably allow them in the next few decades, which is wildly optimistic given the canonical obstacles that have been erected by the two previous popes to any change to the teaching.
When he was head of the CDF before he became Pope Benedict, Joseph Ratzinger proclaimed Pope John Paul II’s ban on women’s ordination essentially infallible, a characterization that was disputed by progressive theologians. Such a designation means that women’s ordination is considered a closed subject. Pope Francis confirmed in his first apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, that the “reservation of the priesthood to males…is not a question open to discussion.”
Writing in The Week, Damon Linker predicts a “mass exodus” from the Catholic Church if it doesn’t revise the “stunningly unpersuasive” ban on women’s ordination:
American Catholics have become accustomed to worshipping in a state of cognitive dissonance, with a majority rejecting the church’s sexual teachings.…This is relatively easy to do, because these issues don’t come up very often in Mass. By contrast, the majority of Catholics who support women’s ordination are confronted on the altar with the all-male priesthood every time they go to church. At the moment, frustration about the issue is muted because Pope Francis has inspired so much good will among the faithful—and raised such high hopes for reform. That has given the church some breathing room. But it isn’t going to last….Sooner or later—and probably sooner—egalitarian-minded Catholics are going to lose their patience.
The Vatican is hoping it can delay that day of reckoning by removing the most visible signs of dissent on the issue. But as Linker says, sooner or later Catholics are going to figure out that the change they have been waiting for isn’t coming at all.
Correction: Thanks to Bridget Mary Meehan of the ARCWP for letting us know that rather than 160, as a previous version of this post specified, there are in fact over 180 in the International Roman Catholic Women Priests movement.