"Catholic" but not "Roman Catholic"
It was with fascination that I read the title of Deacon Greg Kandra's August 20th post "When is a 'Catholic' wedding not really Catholic?" And what did I learn? When I perform those weddings, I am Deacon Kandra's infamous "Chaplain Bill."
Deacon Kandra's post was in response to an alert he reportedly received about my wedding ministry. He informs his readers that instead of a ministry, I'm running a sham operation called "Progressive Catholics & Interfaith Weddings." I'm a fraud, or to use his phrase, "sort-of-maybe-not-quite [a] priest bedecked in a Roman collar."
He implies that I cajole those who cannot or do not want to be married in the Roman Catholic Church into letting me marry them. He alerts readers that while weddings that I witness are "legally valid, they aren't sacramental"—not a true "Catholic" marriage. "Buyer beware," he cautions, warning that those who think otherwise "are being duped."
Wow, am I glad it's not the Middle Ages! I can envision torch-bearing villagers, led by a burly cleric, whisking me away to be burnt at the stake. But before you scurry away, rosary-in-hand, chanting "Anathema sit," you might want to hear—in the immortal words of Paul Harvey—"the rest of the story."
I am a validly ordained Catholic priest in the independent Catholic tradition, formerly with the American National Catholic Church and now with the United American Catholic Church, another of the independent Catholic communion of churches. Regardless, Deacon Kandra's position is clear: the only valid Catholicism is Roman Catholicism; progressive or independent Catholicism is "schismatic."
The problem here is that the deacon's construct is faulty. His starting point is that all things authentically "Catholic" must be "Roman Catholic." Yet the "Roman" part of "Roman Catholic" is an adjective, not Catholicism's first name. There are many other types of Catholics, some associated with cultural groups such as Coptic Orthodox Catholics, Byzantine Catholics, or Polish National Catholics; others, such as Old Catholics, span all cultures.
Moreover, Deacon Kandra implies that progressive or independent Catholicism is a recent fad; however, history proves otherwise. We trace our roots as far back as the 1600s, beginning with the autonomy granted the Ancient See of Utrecht, Holland, solidified by a break from the Roman Church at Vatican I over papal infallibility.
As a priest in the independent Catholic tradition, my wedding ministry is open to all. Often, one of the couple is a former Roman Catholic who left the Church for a variety of reasons yet is looking for a faith-filled wedding ceremony. Scores have left because they disagree with the institutional church's official teachings, are troubled by an unrelenting worldwide sex abuse scandal, or have experienced rejection by the Church. According to a recent Pew Research Center study, "[A]pproximately one-third of those who say they were raised Catholic no longer describe themselves as Catholic."
These are the individuals who come to me to be married. They clearly understand that I am very much Catholic, just not Roman Catholic. For them, this is an attraction, not a hindrance. These are serious folks who aren't looking for an end-run around the Roman Church but a welcoming and joyful sacramental experience of God's love at this wonderful time of new beginnings. For many, their wedding becomes an opportunity for another conversation as they take a new look at faith. I am honored to witness their marriages and to celebrate God's all-embracing love in their lives.
Rev. William J. Freeman, a priest with United American Catholic Church, has an outreach ministry to Greater Washington, D.C.'s sick and dying. He also has an active independent-Catholic and interfaith wedding ministry. In the tradition of the worker-priest movement, Bill is a university professor teaching graduate courses in healthcare, ethics, leadership, and management. He holds an STM in liturgy, an MBA in finance, and a doctorate in business administration with a concentration in health services administration. He can be reached at WFreeman@FriarJudge.org.