KC follow-up: "Jim decided that he could not just go through the motions of the ordination rite…"

Following the news I posted yesterday, about the deacon candidate who withdrew from his scheduled ordination, a reader alerted me to this posting below — the remarks the candidate’s pastor made at mass last weekend:

Jim decided that he could not just go through the motions of the ordination rite in which he would have to kneel before the Bishop and promise to respect and obey a person he no longer had respect for. And I say better that this faith community has lost a deacon than to just have one more person lose their integrity. Someone better than I once said that evil exists in the world because good people stand idly by and say and do nothing. So I say to Jim — and I hope it is with the backing of this community — thanks, Jim, for leading the way in not standing idly by.

Jim from the very beginning, and Cindy, almost from the very beginning, have been members of Holy Family. And so it is with a bit of pride that I hope in some small way it is due to the fact that Sunday after Sunday they were nurtured and formed by the Word of God in this place and were constantly being comforted and challenged by us – and this is what gave Jim the strength and conviction to do what he did. So standing among the poor, losing someone you love, and making a tough decision are all ways that we can tell if we stand for the things Jesus stood for: compassion, understanding, integrity, acceptance, forgiveness and mercy.

There’s more at the link.

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31 responses to “KC follow-up: "Jim decided that he could not just go through the motions of the ordination rite…"”

  1. I can respect someone who takes a vow seriously and would rather NOT make a vow he can’t keep completely, then just go through the motions. Like getting married — or not. It’s much better to back out before the wedding — admittedly, a painful decision for everyone — rather than just go through with it and end up divorced later.

  2. My husband was ordained a few short months ago. At times I feel that we made the wrong decision. We were told that the deacon is the conection between the priesthood and the laity and when push comes to shove the deacon should stand with the laity. I seriously doubt that it’s a possibility without putting your vocation on the line. I’m so proud of this couple who made the best decision for themselves and what they hold to be true and holy. Their actions speak for themselves–truly diaconate!

  3. Interesting, the deacon candidate’s pastor agrees with the man.
    SO, the question is, why doesn’t hehimself resign???

    With their notion of gangland obedience it seems that resignation of his pastorship is the only thing he can do to keep his own integrity.
    In fact, according to his view of respect and obedience he has already shown great disrespect to the bishop he promised to respect.

    Pray for that parish, especially those who are disheartened in the pews.

  4. Deacon’s Wife — “We were told that the deacon is the conection between the priesthood and the laity and when push comes to shove the deacon should stand with the laity.” That is so contrary to what I’ve heard that I wonder where the person who said that is getting his/her information.

    The deacons here can tell you what their understanding is, but I’ve heard the phrase that the deacon is “the bishop’s man.” So they could be the connection between the laity and the bishop. It is hard to imagine a push which comes to shove in which they would be obliged to stand against the bishop unless it were a case of a bishop using his office for immoral purposes and trying to command the deacons to do something immoral.

    In the archdiocese of Boston, when there was a closing of some parishes as part of an overall reconfiguration, one deacon I know decided that he needed to stand with the people of his parish, which was being suppressed. It seemed to me that he was betraying his order. Rather than leading the people in opposition to his bishop, he should have been doing all he could to keep them in union with their bishop by accepting his pastoral decision. It is not the place of laity, much less of deacons, to sit in judgment of their bishop’s pastoral decisions, IMO.

  5. Looking over the comments here and at the Distorter I have an uneasy feeling about this story. As a candidate for ordination in 2012, I agree that if you can’t pledge obedience and respect, not to mention fidelity to the teaching of the Church, you shouldn’t get ordained.

    However, I have always understood that pledge/vow as one to the office of bishop primarily and the current man in it a close second. I may be wrong there, but if you look at these promises as continually renewing promises (as in fora each office holder rather than when we are ordained) we have a problem with this thinking.

    What if Jim had been ordained prior to Bp. Finn being named Bishop there? Jim is now Deacon Jim when this story hits. What happens now? Does Jim request to return to the laity because he now has a bishop he doesn’t like or trust? What happens when the next bishop is assigned? If that one is trustworthy in Jim’s eyes, he is out of luck. His ministry as an ordained deacon is over and he can’t return.

    That’s why viewing obedience and respect to a person is dangerous. Bishops come and go, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. If a man is young enough when ordained, this is a question he will have to face each time he gets a new bishop.

    I just think the ramificaitons of the method here is greater than the loss or gain of one deacon.

  6. naturgesetz #6

    I’m confused. Are you equating a bishop who closes parishes with a bishop who covers up a pedophile controversy?

    Our town had to deal with a closing of a parish maybe 5 years ago and no deacon ever argued with the bishop on that decision. There really was no moral issue involved — it was all organizational and bishops do completely control the organization of their diocese.

    The problem with Boston is that it has a serious reputation issue to resolve — not only about Cardinal Law but also the wider presbyterate/ diaconate as well. If I recall correctly, no priest or deacon challenged Cardinal Law — but lay employees of their diocesan newspapers put their employment on the line to get the story out.

  7. Deacon’s Wife — One scenario where the deacon might stand with the people against the priest does occur to me. That would be where the priest is standing in rebellion against the authority of the bishop.

  8. If the deacon-candidate really felt as though his ordination would violate his integrity then he did the right thing.

    But I think the church needs more good people in it now, not fewer. Plus, realistically, how long is this bishop going to be around? Seems like a lame duck to me.

    Having eyed the diaconate myself the last few (many) years, I can imagine how conflicted he must have been over this. Prayer will help!

  9. Fiergenholt — I was responding to a very generalized statement which Deacon’s Wife had spoken of. I was in no way equivalating closing parishes with covering up sexual abuse.

  10. Fiergenholt — I’m glad that in your diocese, people accepted the exercise of their bishop’s authority. Unfortunately in Boston people rebelled, and a few clergy unfortunately joined the rebellion. I’m afraid that when people decide that a bishop has mishandled cases involving sexual abuse, they jump to the unwarranted conclusion that he he has lost all authority and any claim to respect in any exercise of his office. That’s what happened here, and it seems to be what happened with Jim and his pastor.

  11. The grace of ordination to the diaconate, for me has been life changing and sustaining. My areas of service have indeed been challenging and many times, I have needed all the grace that God could provide, (and God did!).
    We are called to sacrifical love, which is totally rooted in faith, hope, and charity in all things.
    When ordained, we are ordained to service in Christ. We are ordained to the Truth of the Gospel. We are ordained to the fidelity to the Magisterium. We are ordained to obedience to our ordinary, our bishop, AND his successors. We are also ordained to the Cross.

    (Each of us should and must be able to substitute here the word Baptism for the word Deacon and it would be as true and as necessary).

    The Diaconate is beyond the particular attributes, good or bad, of any bishop just as the quality of the Eucharist we receive is beyond the holiness or sinfulness of each priest.

    Pax et bonum

  12. Admire the remarks made by his pastor. He seems like a very understanding priest and an excellent representative of the RCC, if those remarks are any example.

  13. At ordination a deacon is asked:

    Do you promise obedience to me and to my successors . An auxiliary would ask: do you promise obedience to the ordinary.

    I would think that only a very serious matter of conscience would cause one to disobey!

  14. Fiergenholt: I’m confused. Are you equating a bishop who closes parishes with a bishop who covers up a pedophile controversy?

    I not sure that Bishop Finn can be accused of “covering up for a pedophile”. The letter sent by the Principal to the Bishop describes boundary violations–not sexual contact with a child. The priest’s behavior was inappropriate, unprofessional and unethical but it does not meet the legal definition sexual abuse (at least in the State of Illinois).

    I supervise mental health professionals. If one of my supervisees engaged in that type of behavior I could not report it to the police or Child Protection. No clear crime was committed. I could, and would, fire that employee (without verbal or written warnings) for unprofessional and unethical activity.

    Regarding the pictures found on the priest’s computer: it sounds like a gray area about whether they were pornographic. They were suggestive and inappropriate but may not fit the legal definition of child pornography. Several years ago Brooke Shield’s photos in Calvin Klein pants were inappropriate and suggestive, but not pornography. My understanding of the priest’s pictures is that they are in the gray area between decent and indecent.

    I think the Bishop should have acted because the priest was being incredibly inappropriate though not breaking laws. It’s not clear that anything happened that was against the law–but it’s clearly out of bounds for the kind of relationship a pastor should have with a child.

    The priest and bishop clearly crossed ethical boundaries. It’s not so clear about the legal boundaries.

  15. The vow of obedience is to the office of the Bishop, in the person who is in that office and his successors.

    It is a shame that the people of the Diocese of Kansas City will not have this deacon serving them as a voice for the voiceless (those who have been harmed by abusive priests). Had he asked me my opinion, I would have encouraged him to go ahead and be ordained and to do his utmost in his ministry to continue to protect the innocent children in his diocese and in the parish to which he would have been assigned.

    It is hard to be a deacon in the position of being in direct opposition to a bishop’s opinion, policies or actions, but it sounds like the KC Diocese could have used him.

    It’s not supposed to be about the individual bishop, or pastor or even deacon…it is about serving Christ in his people, the Church.

  16. Yes—there are some good thoughts being shared here!
    When a man is ordained, he promises to serve Christ and the Church. He does it, in obedience to the Bishop. The promise is to the office of Bishop. You don’t have to like the bishop or even agree with him, but, as long as he is not directing you to do something immoral, you are called to obey. I think it is a tragic conclusion reached by this deacon-candidate, that because this bishop mishandled cases of sexual abuse, he is now undeserving of respect and obedience. This man turned down a gift from God, to serve Christ and the Church in this cherished office of deacon. OK, he’s made his point, now what?

  17. You know, I’m getting a little concerned over all the judgment going on here about this man and his decision. Folks can disagree with the conclusion he reached all they want, but, really, gang, it’s none of our business!

    People preparing for ordination go through YEARS of discernment, study, prayer, prayer, prayer, and more prayer. This is more than just checking off requirements on a list and then being ordained. This is an intense and powerful journey, and until one goes through it, I guess it’s hard to understand. But the bottom line is: at the moment just prior to ordination, the bishop and the candidate have to make one final determination: is the Holy Spirit AND THE CHURCH calling me to service as a deacon, presbyter or bishop? At any point during this process, FOR ANY NUMBER OF REASONS, a candidate or the bishop may decide that this is not in the cards. It’s called free will, exercised for the common good of the Church. The bishop may determine that this should not happen, the community may decide (and recommend to the bishop) that this should not happen, or the candidate (and his family) may decide that this should not happen.

    I, and probably every other deacon and priest on this blog, have known men who have decided against ordination for reasons far less substantive than this candidate’s. The bottom line here, though, is that — however the man arrives at the answers to the questions he gets asked during ordination — they are HIS answers. Is any of us capable of PERFECT discernment? Heck, no.

    Now, let’s take a further look. People here have criticized the fact that he made the matter public. Well, for goodness’ sake, his whole participation in the formation process was public! The whole parish would have known about it, and I’m sure they were quite excited about the imminent ordination of one of their parishioners. HE PUT HIS ANNOUNCEMENT IN THE BULLETIN. This was not an op-ed in the New York Times or anything else. How else could he explain to his fellow parishioners the fact that he was not going to be ordained? If he had NOT said something, the rumors would have been even worse. Isn’t it better to be honest about his reasons, even if YOU don’t agree with them?

    I submit that this is really none of our business, ultimately, and unless a person has actually gone through this whole process of discernment, one really doesn’t understand the depth and soul-searching that goes on.

    God bless,

    Deacon Bill

  18. Deacon Greg,

    Please clear something up for me. What remains unclear to me is the understanding of “respect,” its operational definition.

    If the understanding of respect is the colloquial admiration, or honoring of the individual, then I see where the candidate has a point. If on the other hand the vow is the respect due the person as the embodiment of the office, then I don’t see the point.

    A bishop may be a detestable individual, but are we not governed by ex opere operato? My understanding of vowing respect and obedience is that the deacon and priest are showing respect for the office and obedience to the one who holds that office, insofar as obedience is given for morally just and lawful orders.

    So where is the moral issue here? I’m not seeing it.

  19. Wow, this bishop is guilty without trial and without all the facts being known. From everything I have seen of this bishop, he is doing a lot of the right things is trying to bring the dioceses back from liberal distortion of the liturgy and teaching of the church. I would want to hear more before I could take this guys position as being right about the bishop. Frankly, I have trouble with any priest or especially deacon who publically attacks the bishop in this way. I would call this trouble for the church in the future to have him as a deacon.

    If everyone is juiced up about this persons actions, I wish there had been a lot more priests and deacons make this choice in some of the districts being run by those who were complicit or silent about the election of the most pro abortion president in history. While someone might have not done as much as fast as they should have in this situation, millions of babies are not being slaughtered as those who support Obama will ensure. Imagine if a deacon or priest had made this statement because of a bishop being supportive in any way of Obama? The media would have crucified him right there.

  20. Gerard et al…

    Here’s an interesting take on the idea of priestly obedience, from the Vatican: click here. A small nuance, but one that may be significant (Bill can you help us here??) is the fact that the priestly promise includes the word “filial.”

    Dcn. G.

  21. I’m with comment #20. Respect the candidate’s conscience and free will.

    Probably would have helped not to put that particular Sunday bulletin on the internet, but that’s small potatoes.

  22. Lay people have the right and even at times a duty,

    to manifest to their pastors opinions on matters

    which pertain to the good of the Church.


    For all the Kool Aid drinkers here.

  23. Deacon Den — So he had a right, and maybe a duty, to write to the bishop, or request a meeting with him.

  24. Dr. Nadal,

    Your explanation was my understanding of the vow that I took at my ordination. I do not know the Deacon Candidate in this case nor the Bishop, so I am writing more from the standpoint that this is a “case study” rather than a real instance.

    What if the ordaining bishop was a saintly man and his successor was a dastardly dude? Surely every candidate for orders must realize during the time of discernment and formation that at least one Bishop of his diocese might not be so admirable and lovable. What then? Abrogate your vows?

    If, in this case, the candidate realized during discernment “Wow! I don’t think I can obey / respect the office of Bishop” then by all means, he should not go through the motions of taking his vows. And, if he did, although I am not a Canon Lawyer, I would say there would be a strong case for the ordination being invalid as he would have lied. This would be much the same as the case of Total Simulation in a Marriage, when for example one of the parties lies during the exchange of consent.

    Even with the information presented, I cannot really say if the manner of his withdrawal was right or wrong. What I can state is that were it me, I would have just quietly withdrawn.

    My cent and a half.


  25. I don’t know the candidate and what his real intentions were. However, the way the situation was handled has come across as grandstanding. Again, I don’t know him and this is just how I perceived it. In publishing his statement he was saying: “I am too good to obey someone so corrupt”.

    I know a number of priests, deacons, and candidates who are horrified at how over a million of innocent human beings are murdered in the womb each year and their bishops are silent. Even worse, the actions and coddling between the bishops and politicians who actively push for more abortions give the appearance to the faithful that what these catholic politicians are doing is ok. Killing a kid is worse than touching them inappropriately and yet, there is no outrage.

    I am not a bishop nor play one on TV. I may not agree with how they handle or fail to handle the situation but they are still the successors of the apostles and deserve our respect and obedience in matters of the faith, as long as they are not teaching error. Do they have human failings and will use the wrong judgment some times? Sure, but that is not a reason to throw them under the bus.

  26. Deacon Bill, AMEN! I’m in process of applying for our diocese’s upcoming formation class for the diaconate and I must agree that even the process of applying is one that is highly personal and gut wrenching.

    While I pray that God is truly calling me to the ministry, I also pray that if He is not that I will discern this PRIOR to ordination. Much better that Jim found out that this was not in the cards before being ordained, regardless of how that realization came to be. I applaud him for his courage to do what his heart told him to do. I only hope I will have the same courage to search my heart regarding the call with the same vigor he must have searched his.

  27. I’ve just been reading a passage in St. Beatus of Liebana’s commentary on the Book of Revelation, where he goes back to the earlier comparison of bishops to the eyes of the Church, priests to hands, and deacons to feet. He then has a little dialogue with a personally good bishop who has bad people working for him:

    “Do you not wish to feast together with the King? Are you not invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb? If you will have dirty hands, you will not be able to eat at one table with the King. That is, if your priests should be dirty, you will not be able to feast with the King at the same banquet…

    “As we have said, are you not invited to dinner? You will not be able to rest on the same dining couch with the King, if you will have dirty feet. That is, if you will have dirty deacons or negligent priests from your diocese — even if you may be seen to be holy in your works. Because you will suffer condemnation not for such things as you do, but by the flock committed to you.”

    So it would seem to me that a potential deacon would have a right to hang back, until the bishop cleans his “hands” and deals with this scandal. Even if it’s not the bishop’s fault per se, the buck stops with him. That’s a big part of what it means to be a bishop.

  28. The issue of obedience and the Catholic understanding of it desperately needs to be clarified here in this discussion.

    Obedience in Catholic understanding is similar to the way it’s understood in secular contexts, but with the added detail that God is real and His authority must be taken into consideration in the overall scheme of things.

    In secular contexts, it’s commonly understood and practiced that obedience is owed to one’s superiors according to the degree of authority they have over you. Sometimes different authorities give conflicting commands. In that case, the higher authority’s command supersedes that of the lower.

    (Contracts often spell this out explicitly (“the parts of this that conflict with state or federal law are null and void”), but they really don’t have to – it would be true whether they spelled it out or not. Another example is when an restaurant manager is outlining a plan of action, then the owner walks in and says the opposite. Everyone immediately understands who is to be obeyed in that situation – the owner’s authority supersedes that of the manager.)

    Catholics understand that God is the highest authority of all. If _any_ authority on earth, be it your bishop or your secular employer, or some other official somewhere, tells you to do something wrong, sorry, God’s command supersedes theirs.

    So, assume you are a deacon vowed to obedience to the bishop. The bishop is a very high authority and can tell you to do many things and you’re obliged to obey. He can contradict your personal taste and disregard your opinion in an arbitrary way that few other authorities on earth are entitled to do and you have to go along with it. And yet – and this is crucially important! – if he gives you a command that directly goes against God’s, you are in no way obliged to obey, in fact, you are obliged to disobey.

    If he tells you to steal or lie or to give aid and cover to sex abusers – then, plain and simple your vow of obedience to him in those cases means nothing, because his command is in conflict with God’s command and God is the higher authority.

    So where’s the problem with vowing obedience to even the most “dastardly dude” (to borrow a phrase from an earlier poster) of a bishop? How would it compromise your integrity?

    You’re only obliged to obey him as far as his authority extends – and it does NOT extend to commanding you to sin.

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