WPost further expands borders of postmodern Catholicism

For several decades now, people linked to Jewish institutions have debated whether it is possible to be a Jew and, let’s say, a Southern Baptist, or a Buddhist, at the same time. This is even the kind of question that has made it to high courts in Israel.

Not that long ago, journalists in the Pacific Northwest were faced with this question: Can one be an Episcopal priest and a Muslim at the same time? It’s hard to say whether that issue has been settled or not, since Episcopalians in different zip codes often do not agree with one another.

It’s obvious that Catholics, especially here in America, have been arguing about some similar subjects in recent years. For example, does someone need to be a Catholic in good standing — in terms of basic beliefs and sacramental practices, such as Confession — in order to take Communion during an actual Catholic Mass? Under Catholic doctrine, it’s clear that this is the kind of issue that is settled at some level of the official hierarchy, meaning Rome, bishops, confessors, etc. However, some Catholic insist that (here comes the spirit, or Spirit, of Vatican II) that individual Catholics should now decide that kind of issue for themselves.

Now, The Washington Post has printed a story that raises another issue of this kind, one that, frankly, stuns me, taking the whole Catholicism-as-democracy concept to a new level.

I am not surprised, of course, that this story is about same-sex marriage, but let’s set that aside for a moment.

The story focuses on Chip DiPaula Jr., a somewhat symbolic figure in Maryland and national politics for reasons explained at the top of the story:

A decade ago, Chip DiPaula Jr. was the architect of Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s unexpected victory as Maryland’s first Republican governor in a generation.

Today, he is part of something that might seem just as unlikely: a political alliance with the Democratic governor who ended Ehrlich’s tenure. DiPaula has been working alongside Gov. Martin O’Malley since this summer on the campaign to uphold Maryland’s same-sex marriage law.

It is a cause, DiPaula says, that transcends partisan politics — and for him is personal.

“The current governor and I don’t agree on a whole lot of other issues, but you know what? That’s beside the point for me,” said DiPaula, who talked openly for the first time in a media interview about being gay. “I’m involved to make our lives better.”

Like I said, I am not concerned about the fact that there are liberal Republicans who back gay marriage or even that they back it for person reasons. However, there is one key word in the very next sentence that interests me, to say the least:

DiPaula is not on the cusp of marrying anyone himself but said he greatly respects the institution, and he has officiated at the weddings of a few straight friends and family members.

DePaula has “officiated” at weddings? In what role? Later on in the story readers are told:

DiPaula, a Catholic, came out as gay to his family and friends a few years earlier, while in his mid-30s. His orientation wasn’t exactly a secret in Annapolis — Ehrlich “absolutely” knew, DiPaula said — but it was something he did not talk about publicly. …

Though he cannot legally marry in Maryland himself, DiPaula is an authorized nondenominational Christian minister and has officiated at the weddings of a few family members and friends. In 2010, he officiated at the marriage of two longtime Democratic staffers: Kristin F. Jones, chief of staff to House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel), and Joseph C. Bryce, chief lobbyist for O’Malley.

So here is the issue for the Post copy desk: DiPaula, we are told, is both a Roman Catholic and an “authorized” — I read that as “ordained” — clergy person in a Protestant denomination or sort-of-denomination. So, not only is he a Catholic and a Protestant at the same time, but he is a Catholic (in some sense of that word, almost certainly including the reception of Communion) and a Protestant minister at the same time.

Is this possible? Is this possible for the simple reason that DiPaula says so? At this point, in other words, in the eyes of Post editors, does the Catholic Church itself have any say in deciding whether a person is or is not a Catholic?

Just asking.

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  • liberty

    I am thinking that he was ‘raised Catholic’ but is now some sort of non-denominational protestant minister. This just seems like a misunderstanding by the reporter.

    Either that, or it is a profound misunderstanding by Mr. DiPaula himself.

  • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

    Ask away, tmatt, because the answer is clearly “yes.” Canon 751 reads, “Heresy is the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith; apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian faith; schism is the refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.” So in the case of Mr. DiPaula, we have someone who is either a heretic or a schismatic or both. Canon 1364 reads, “…an apostate from the faith, a heretic, or a schismatic incurs a latae sententiae [automatic] excommunication…” So it seems as though Mr. DiPaula, through his own actions, has cut himself off from the Catholic Church.

    But I guess we shouldn’t expect a WaPo reporter to go to, say, a canon lawyer who teaches at Catholic U there in Washington, D.C. to find that out.

  • Joe

    The use of “authorized” rather than “ordained” might reflect the reporter’s ignorance, but when I first read it I wondered whether DiPaula might actually have obtained some kind of online ministerial credential, like the people we often read about who become Universal Life ministers online so that they can officiate at friends’ weddings. Somehow I can more easily believe that a Catholic who became a minister online would still think of himself as Catholic, since doing so probably doesn’t require one to actually join another church – unlike going to another denomination’s seminary and seeking ordination there, which would be hard to pull off without leaving the Catholic Church and joining the other church.

    • deiseach

      I wondered about that also, since it does mention that he officiated at the weddings of family and friends, and he’s not said to be working as a minister in addition to his political work. So maybe it is one of these ‘sign up online’ things just for the official paperwork when registering the weddings?

  • Julia

    The article only says he is “Catholic”. Nowadays there are lots of people who claim to be Catholic, who are not and never have been in communion with the church of Rome.

    So – maybe somebody should ask him about that. He may not be what you folks call “Roman” Catholic.
    Maybe he’s a Catholic Anglican or a member of the National Polish Catholic Church or one of the many others who call themselves Catholic.

  • Perhaps someone better versed in canon law than myself will chime in… in agreeing with Thomas’ observations, I think it is still true that one remains Catholic — in some sense — despite being an apostate. One can never fully leave the church such that one has to be, say, (re-)baptized as if one were a cradle non-believer. Baptism is indelible: Once baptized, one remains baptized for eternity. So, once a Catholic, always a Catholic, whether you like it or not, and regardless of what you do — in some sense. On the other hand, there is a practical sense, which is where Thomas’ observations come into play. If one is an apostate or heretic or schismatic, one is no longer Catholic — in some sense. So it is possible for DiPaula to be Catholic (in the sense of indelibly baptized) while not being Catholic (in the sense of being an apostate, heretic, and/or schismatic) or while also being something else. But the distinction is highly technical and probably not top of mind for the reporter, so I would bet there’s something else at work here. Either there is a mix-up in terms (the reporter meant to write “Christian”), or left out a word or two (like “raised”), or just goofed. (Or the reporter is lying to make waves, but let’s not go there….)

  • Julia

    The president of a group called Catholics for Choice writes that nobody has the right to say who is Catholic and who isn’t. Seems like it’s a popular name for some reason.


    • Yes I read that too. He argues for the “indelibly baptized Catholic” factor. He is evading the “heretic/apostate/schismatic no longer Catholic” factor. In the latter sense, “Catholics for Choice” is absolutely not Catholic, even if he himself and the membership and administrators of the organization are “still” Catholic in the former sense. Michael Voris, who no one believes to be a “non-Catholic” in any sense, regardless of whether one agrees with his approach or his opinions, was prohibited by his bishop from using “Catholic” in the name of his organization. http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/archdiocese-of-detroit-asks-michael-voris-to-stop-using-the-name-catholic
      The article in the link makes the ironic point of how many dissident groups get to continue using “Catholic” (like “Catholics for Choice”) while Voris was asked to stop using it.

  • Julia


    I read recently that the previous Code of Canon Law, compiled in the early 1900s, had a procedure for formally leaving the Church of Rome. The newer one leaves that out. Contrary to what some assume, excommunication is not kicking one out of the Church, it bars one from the sacraments and is like contempt of court that is meant to change behavior.

  • sari


    Is non-denominational, the word used in the article, equivalent to Protestant?

    • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz


      • Matthew B

        It shouldn’t be. Presbyterians are not non-denominational, but are Protestant. As are Methodists, Anglicans, Lutherans, and even Baptists! Why think the reporter made such a silly mistake?

        • Jon in the Nati

          Are there non-denominational folk who are not Protestant? Certainly not all Protestants are non-denominational, but it is almost a foregone conclusion that when we are talking about non-denominational churches we are talking about a variety of Protestant church.

          Unless someone can show me some non-denominational Catholics…

          • Dom Crossan ??

          • Matthew B

            This means that nondenominational implies Protestant, not that they are equivalent.

          • HB

            Mr. DiPaula, like JoBi, seems to be a non-denominational catholic.

  • Julia

    Here’s pretty article in the Wisconsin State Journal about are they Catholic or aren’t they Catholic.
    The writer doesn’t take sides and lets lots of people talk on the variety of opinions, which are more than just yes or no.


  • Julia

    emend that to: a pretty good article

  • Most people actually DO know what the Catholic Church teaches about a lot of things – clerical celibacy, abortion, birth control, homosexuality, and yes, I think so: keeping Catholic includes not being ordained as a “Protestant”. See, how most of the Protestant people here on this blog immediately asked the correct question – how can a Roman Catholic also be an “ordained” non-denominational minister?

    And this is because – in most denominations – the process of becoming ordained is more than just going to a website and printing a certificate (hey, even I am ordained by the Dudely Lama!) or creeping tearfully backstage at a revival and confessing your intuition that you are called…but as part of a DENOMINATION – read – an active Christian Community – there are steps toward ordination designed to help people discern a call in a responsible way. As I recall, in the Methodist church, it was a multi-year process. Not just Catholics take ordination seriously.

    And, yeah, by his action, he excommunicated himself. But that really should not be news to the average reader. Except that in this “enlightened age”, people then smirk to themselves about those antique men in Rome who still adhere to some kind of “standards.” And for dang sure, the reporter knew that. He just chose to write around the obvious, creating the cognitive dissonance that sells newspapers and sticks in the craw of hidebound conservatives like me. Because you can play fast and loose like that now, and everyone calls you cutting edge.

    Bleh. Reminds me of the kind of mind games I used to play on my parents as a young, philosophically challenged teen.

  • John M.

    Universal Life Church. Bet on it.


  • Marge

    The question of whether the Catholic Church has authority to state whether or not a Catholic remains a Catholic or is excommunicated is a rhetorical question…? Of course the Catholic Church has the authority (meaning the Pope has the authority). The real question is: when will the Pope assert and exert his Petrine Primacy even if it means he is martyred for it? (And I do mean martyred –wet or dry.) As to whether the Washington Post Financiers (read international banker-swindlers)/editors/staffers/bloviators/janitors/readers/hangers-on think the Catholic Church has the power matters NOT ONE whit. Kyrie Eleison.