Report: priest "concelebrated" mass with Protestant minister

Report: priest "concelebrated" mass with Protestant minister February 20, 2011

It reportedly happened last weekend, in California.


Some parishioners at St. Norbert’s Church in Orange describe themselves as “shocked and appalled” after a priest there allowed a Presbyterian minister to concelebrate a Mass and receive Holy Communion on Sunday, Feb. 13.

Sources from the parish told California Catholic Daily that Fr. Agustin Escobar (shown in the picture) introduced Pastor Steve Whitney of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Sacramento at St. Norbert’s 9 a.m. Sunday Mass. The sources said Rev. Whitney concelebrated the Mass with Fr. Escobar, took Communion, and was allowed to distribute Communion to parishioners.

The parish’s pastor, Fr. Pat Rudolph, was away at the time and did not participate. Parishioners who tried to contact him about the situation were told he would not be back at St. Norbert’s until March. But, said sources at the parish, Fr. Escobar admitted he did not have the pastor’s permission to invite the Protestant minister to concelebrate Mass and receive Communion.

One parishioner fired off an angry email to Bishop Brown and other high-ranking diocesan officials, calling the occurrence at St. Norbert’s “a travesty.”

“Shocked and appalled,” said the email to the bishop. “That was how I felt, and continue to feel…” The writer said Fr. Escobar is “unrepentant,” and yelled at his wife when she spoke to him about what had happened after Mass. Fr. Escobar, said the parishioner, told his wife “she isn’t a true Christian because Jesus would love everyone.”

“Our missals even have the admonition inside the front cover welcoming non-Catholics to our parish and the Mass, but informing them in no uncertain terms that they are not allowed to receive the Eucharist,” the email to Bishop Brown pointed out.

“Canonical law is clear,” said the parishioner’s email to the bishop. “Can. 908: Catholic priests are forbidden to concelebrate the Eucharist with priests or ministers of Churches or ecclesial communities which do not have full communion with the Catholic Church.”

“Fr. Agustin should be censured — strongly — and our parish should be taught that what he did is wrong,” said the parishioner’s email to the bishop. “Fr. Agustin should also apologize to the parish for breaking faith with us, and trampling the Church’s rules.”

Check out the rest.

There’s more, too, over at GetReligion, where Terry Mattingly is frankly amazed that this hasn’t gotten more ink.

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14 responses to “Report: priest "concelebrated" mass with Protestant minister”

  1. Several people in Orange County, California are interested in starting an Anglican Use society that could possibly become a mission of the Ordinariate one day. I anyone who lives in the Orange Country area (especially if you have an Anglican/Episcopalian background, or are currently and are interested in the Ordinariate) is interested, contact Fr Andrew Bartus: fatherbartus [at] stmaryoftheangels [dot] org

  2. Power to the laity. While we are obligated in the Catechism to ensure the sacredness of out liturgy, it’s a sad irony that we’re the ones who have to know our Canon law and fulfull our duties to the Church in enforcing Canon Law.

  3. IF the priest didn’t do anything else, he got people talking in his community! Obviously I don’t find anything wrong with it, as one can go from one Protestant church to another and take communion, (if baptised in a Christian church, which only the person knows). But apparently one can’t take communion if not Catholic—which I knew. 10 years teaching in an RC school and going to mass with little kids, I, of course, didn’t take communion due to the fact I”m not Catholic. But such a fuss over this one time event?

  4. Susan, if you want to disagree in some substantive way with what “pagansister” said, then do so, but don’t make an obnoxious correction of a non-Catholic’s failure to use perfect Catholic phrasing. That’s not a “teaching moment.” That’s just being unwelcoming and unfriendly.

  5. The fact that pagansister knows better than to receive (by whatever verb she uses to express it) Holy Communion in a Catholic Church shows that Fr. Augustin and Rev. Whitney should have known enough not to do what they did. And unless they are extraordinarily ignorant, the fact that they went ahead and did it shows their disrespect for the Church.

  6. The fact that the priest made this terrible error in judgement is one thing, but then to “yell” at a parishioner who questions him about it is outrageous. What will the Bishop do to him?

  7. Is it possible that Reverend Whitney believes in the true presence in the Catholic Eucharist? How else could he offer the Body of Christ knowing what that means to those who received?

  8. OK,OK, I didn’t “receive” Communion, Susan. :o)

    Though I think the priest should have known better, my guess he did it with the best of intentions, and not with disrespect. Perhaps, just perhaps, he felt it was reaching out to help promote understanding between faiths. Just a thought. Yes, in the whole scheme of things, he should be brought to task by his Bishop. Yelling at a parishioner was so not necessary—I agree RomCath.

    Wonder how the minister feels about all this?

  9. What would Jesus do? Given Jesus’ own track record of disobeying law to minister to the greater charitable act at hand, I believe Jesus would be proud to see someone do the same.

  10. Pagansister, you are correct that Fr. Escobar felt he was reaching out to help promote understanding between faiths. But Catholicism is not congregationalism, where every local group has final say over its own teachings.

    The Catholic Church teaches that the Eucharist is the consummation of unity among Christians, not the prerequisite for it. Fr. Escobar’s action disrespected the sacrament of Holy Communion objectively (i.e., whether he intended it to or not), in the same sense that premarital sex disrespects the sacrament of marriage. It’s wrong for the same reason: it simulates a unity that does not completely exist in reality.

  11. Since forgiveness is taught in the RCC, perhaps he could be forgiven by confessing and do his Hail Mary’s and Our Father’s to make up for his “disrespect” of the sacrament of Holy Communion. Having read that he was suspended for his actions—guess confession is out—though he did apologize.

  12. Hello!

    I am a long-time parishioner at St. Norbert, and a great admirer of Fr. Agustin.

    Along with many others in the church’s local community, I believe that what Fr. Agustin did was wrong, but that it was simply a mistake, or lapse of usual good judgment, on his part. He has always been so welcoming to all parishioners, whether they were raised in a Catholic environment or not. In this way he expressed an unusual (but refreshing) openness to those who are intimidated by the rites and sacred practices of the Church.

    At a time when so many Catholics are leaving the Church, I am sad to see that his (perhaps misguided) effort to embrace ecumenicalism has been derided so strongly by one or two members of our own parish.

    We at St. Norbert feel that we are being punished by the suspension of one of the best priests we have ever had in my several decades of worship there. All of our prayers go out to Fr. Agustin and those who are charged with making a decision on this matter. We hope to see him back giving the homily soon!

    God bless!

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