"I have decided not to accept the call to Holy Orders…" — UPDATED

"I have decided not to accept the call to Holy Orders…" — UPDATED June 7, 2011

A reader sent me the link to this bulletin, which carries the note below from a deacon candidate responding to the disturbing news in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.  He was scheduled to be ordained a deacon last weekend, but withdrew at the last minute.

His statement:

Dear Holy Family Parish:
After a great deal of soul searching, prayer and reflection, I have decided not to accept the call to Holy Orders that I have received.

Because of the recent disclosure of failures within the diocese to protect the people of St. Patrick Parish from harm, I cannot promise respect or obedience that is a part of the diaconate ordination. To me this breakdown in the system that was put in place to protect God’s children is inexcusable.

It is with great sadness that I must inform you that I will not be able to serve Holy Family Parish as your deacon. Holy Family has been my spiritual home for over 30 years, and I have received great love and support during many joy filled and sometimes very difficult events in my life. Cindy and I will continue to support Holy Family in what ever way we can and wish to express our appreciation and love to all of you.

Jim and Cindy McConnell

My heart breaks to read things like that.  I’m sure that was not an easy note to write, or an easy decision to make.  My prayers go out to him, and his wife, and the members of his parish family.

UPDATE: You can read more about Jim McConnell, along with other reaction, at this link.  And Fr. Austin Fleming has added his prayers and thoughts.

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82 responses to “"I have decided not to accept the call to Holy Orders…" — UPDATED”

  1. I feel sorry for him, too, and I believe he made the announcement in good faith and after much personal reflection.

    Having said that, I don’t understand his choice: It seems to me that the solution to “problem priests” or problems in the diocese is not to flee– rather, at least a part of the solution is for strong people to step and serve faithfully.

  2. Kathy…

    I know what you mean. I began my formation in 2002, at the peak of the scandal breaking in Boston. A few people asked me if I had any misgivings. I told them, “Of course. Everyone has misgivings about making a big decision. Is it the right thing to do? But I’ve decided to turn this over to God. He’s in charge. If He wants this to be, it will be.” And I added: “The church has a lot of problems right now. I’d like to be part of the solution.”

    I still feel that way.

    Dcn. G.

  3. While I agree in general with what you both say, Kathy and Greg, I will offer this different point of view… The deacon (and correct me if I am wrong, Greg!) has a special relationship, in terms of his ministry, with the bishop and service to that office. Perhaps this gentleman is reflecting upon that particular dynamic and that has caused to give him pause.

    So his desire to, using Kathy’s words, to “step and serve faithfully” might be called into question if he is to serve a bishop in whose particular confidence he has questions.

    Greg, wouldn’t that also mark your own decision, in NY and not in service to say, Cardinal Law in Boston, at that time?

    This scandal particularly touches Bishop Finn – who has admitted culpability in lack of vigilance – so I think that it is different.

    And very tragic.

  4. Deacon Greg,

    Yours is the best possible response. I can’t imagine where future obedience would come into play because of ongoing scandal. I do get the respect part, sort of. However…

    The only Apostle to stand tall with Jesus was John. Judas betrayed Jesus. Peter denied him three times. The other nine joined Peter and ran for the tall grass. Only John had the courage and fidelity to stand with Jesus at the foot of the cross, to be a comfort for Mary as her son was being murdered.

    Yet, Jesus didn’t take back the Power of the Keys from Peter, nor did he replace all who abandoned him. He didn’t reward John’s fidelity with Peter’s primacy. Eleven of the original twelve Apostles screwed up royally. Jesus warned in Matthew that whoever denied Him before men, He would deny before the Father. Still, He forgave them.

    If the people of God were to wait for perfect shepherds, the Church would have exploded on the launch pad. We need good men on the altar as the surest antidote to the problems within the clergy.

    The respect owed a bishop isn’t a personal affinity, but the respect due his Apostolic Authority. It seems that this candidate hasn’t made that critical distinction.

  5. It would seem that Mr Mc Connell would agree with the above comments, and it may have been part of the reason he entered formation.
    It seems to me, and i may not have this right, that the problem is making his solemn vow of obedience to a Bishop he has lost trust in because of his recent handling of the scandal in his diocese.

    If his conscience cannot make that promise in good faith, then he has no alternative. he can still be involved with the church in many ways and help to be part of the “solution” but at least he can live with his conscience.

    One of the biggest problems in the church is its lack of integrity in its leaders and the loss of trust. so if everyone will only make the promises they really mean to keep, that is being part of the solution!

  6. Fran…

    Absolutely. That promise of obedience is a tricky thing — and arguably the most challenging promise any ordained minister can make. I can appreciate where Mr. McConnell is coming from, and I can understand the thinking behind it. I hope that he continues the process of discernment. Maybe one day he’ll return to formation.

    I pray this doesn’t harm his faith, or drive him from the Church.

    Dcn. G.

  7. WOW…that took courage to do that and must of been very very difficult. Let us all pray for his continued vocation…hopefully his mind will change… we all need our priests and deacons.

    But I am afraid we will see more of this, when we have a church that responds with lightning speed to a priest or bishop that has a different opinion on issues such as married priests or women priests but does nothing or drags its feet until they are forced to with priests and bishops that harm children I can understand why some of our deacons may pause and reflect.

    Many of our deacons are married with families… I can only imagine that many have looked at the events of the past with some difficulty.

  8. Waz …

    Let’s try to avoid getting into theological debates of scriptural authenticity here. That’s not what this post is about. But this Wikipedia entry offers ample arguments and theories, for those who are interested. I like the reasoning put forth by Martin L. Smith:

    “Perhaps the disciple is never named, never individualized, so that we can more easily accept that he bears witness to an intimacy that is meant for each one of us. The closeness that he enjoyed is a sign of the closeness that is mine and yours because we are in Christ and Christ is in us.”

    Dcn. G.

  9. The problem with respect and obedience to the bishop is the way it is now used. One is expected to be a company man. A deacon who preaches prolife sermons is prevented from preaching at all. A priest who turns in an embezzling kiddie porn user is deprived of faculties. Such are the kinds of things that happen to clerics who don’t toe the clerical line in a particular diocese. The problem is that the clerical line is the bishop’s will. Whatever he wants. If he wants to cover up, you have to go along. If he wants to harass victims, you have to go along. You are bound. Obedience and respect are taken to Mafia-like extremes. Omerta is the rule. This deacon has seen that he can’t stomach what he would be required to go along with. The problem is not in him, but in a false use of obedience and a false understanding of respect.

  10. If anything I think these events are evidence that the system is working. Before the reforms the whole problem was that nobody was reacting to priests involved in suspicious behavior but now the school teachers were looking and acting. No system will ever be perfect, and the bishop may have made a mistake but I don’t understand why it would completely shake your trust in him. This wasn’t a mistake of actively doing something wrong like a coverup, it was a mistake in vigilance which we all make from time to time. We apologize, and we do our best to fix the situation. Unfortunately we will never be perfect.

  11. My heart goes out to the candidate but I have to say if you have a vocation then you have a vocation. External circumstances even terrible ones are not a reason for dropping it. ‘Not my will but your will . . .” God gave the vocation knowing the situation so . . .

  12. Here’s a man who can’t make the distinction between ex opere operato and ex opere operantis.
    Here’s a man who does not understand what clerical obedience entails. (He cannot see the divine office behind the fallible human called to it).
    Here’s a man who is full of judgmentalism towards his bishop. (Will he also leave his diocese so he doesn’t have to pray for the bishop.)
    The nebulous “system” did not break down, this man’s personal response to Christ call is a resounding “NO, only on my own terms.”
    Here we have a man who thinks he is called by God – and the Church has apparently determine so – and yet he rejects the call because he wants to be a neo-Donatist.

    It’s a good thing he is not being ordained.
    ut, let us pray for him.

  13. I wish we would be just as offended at our tax dollars going to public schools who use anti-catholic, very pornographic books in their liturature classes. No one is calling them on this. The AP courses recommend our high schoolers read Angela’s Ashes, and A Prayer for Owen Meaney. These are books that blashpheme God, attack the church, and have graphic sexual scenes. Yet nobody seems to care. Where is the outrage for this? This is abuse of our children too.

  14. I’ll take the standpoint that the deacon candidate’s reasoning is skewed. He states, “After a great deal of soul searching, prayer and reflection, I have decided not to accept the call to Holy Orders that I have received.” This does not make sense. He is claiming that he knows that he has received a call from God to become a deacon. Yet after praying about it, he is deciding to go against what God is calling him to do. It can at times be very hard to know what God is calling us to in life; decerning His will can be a very long, arduous, and often confusion process where we might not have clarity in the end. But if we know He is calling us to something, we must follow it. We cannot say that it is a conclusion of our prayers to go against what we know God is calling us to.

    I respect that this would be a very difficult thing for the deacon candidate and I am very glad that I am not in his shoes. I would not respond critically except for the fact that this reasoning needs to be pointed out as flawed so that others do not follow it.

  15. Fr. Bevil,

    I agree. It is said “I have decided not to accept the call.” The call, we would think, comes from God. To say you are called and then to say “no” is not something to be taken lightly or, I would think, to be praised.

  16. After reading some of these responses maybe I should leave. I have never heard of any cleric being silenced from a “Pro-Life” sermon. And when I say pro-life I mean the whole message not just the anti-abortion sentiment. Angela’s Ashes? Oh puhleeze. As for the scandal, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

  17. At the risk of sounding callous, my heart does not “go out” to Jim and Cindy. His decision is a good thing. To discover that you do not have a vocation before ordination, and to have the courage to overcome social pressure to continue to ordination, is admirable. Many issues arise throughout the candidacy period that cause reflection on the “call”. However, I do hope that it is just sloppy writing when Jim says “… I have decided not to accept the call ….” T

  18. I can respect his decision, even though I strongly disagree with it. Change in the Church must come from within, and that goes for clergy as well as the laity.

    The big issue for me is found later in his statement – he was going to be ordained as a deacon for the parish where’s he’s been for decades. I have an almost visceral opposition to this, but doesn’t this seem a odd at the very least? Many dioceses do assign new permanent deacons to places other than their home parishes for the sake of objectivity in ministry, but it isn’t universal. Not even priests, who are almost always rotated after “terms” of one length or another, have that advantage.

    In my home archdiocese, one man who had become very wealthy and “rose through the ranks” in the parish (Pastoral Council president, head of the Men’s Club, Grand Poobah of the Water Buffalo, etc.) went through formation and succumbed to the same “Post-Ordination Syndrome” experienced by many young priests, only made worse by his connections – and his own awareness of them. While this might be a “worst case scenario,” one could argue from this that men in formation with deep roots in a single community might learn and grow more in a new field – even if it’s the one next door.

  19. It’s a pity he couldn’t have simply and quietly not been ordained instead of making a show offy production of the whole thing.

  20. instead of focusing all of the attention on the failed candidate, why not talk to any or all of the other 8 members of that class that went thru with ordination last saturday? we drew no attention to ourselves thru facebook postings or media finger pointing. we remain quietly, faithfully in support of our bishop and our church. the great tragedy is that jim, our brother, will now most likely never experience the pure grace-filled joy of ordination. but maybe that’s the way it was meant to be all along…

  21. Dymph and Doug. Yes he could have kept quiet, but hasn’t that been a problem with this whole mess? People keeping silent? No, he followed his conscience and did what he thought was right. That is what we are called to do isn’t it?

  22. I admire and respect Mr. McConnel for his integrity in a most profound matter. Would that more would stand up beside him. Part of the difficulty comes from the fact that the clerical obedience in question is blind, expected no matter what. And, it is to the man, not to an empty throne.

    The military demands blind obedience because of underlying recognition of its importance when lives are at stake, which must be anticipated in view of their mission However, they also take great pains to explain to their (our) people that there are circumstances under which one is _obliged_ to reject an order from a legitimate superior. Such situations are rare and difficult to handle, but history shows that they occur and the moral integrity of the group demands that they be provided for. As far as I have heard, the Church hierarchy neither makes nor allows such provision in practice. If it did, we would know because the public history of sexual abuse coverups would be very different.

    If the Ratigan situation were to recur next year, there is little in recent words of Bishop Finn to convince one he would handle it differently. Perhaps his most persuasive words were the ones he spoke to 300 parishioners of St. Patrick’s: “Don’t trust me….”

  23. One can believe with the best of sincere intentions and personal discernment that one does, indeed, have a call to ordination. However, we can never be sure until the day we are standing before the bishop and we hear him call our name and we go forward to the altar for the laying on of hands. So I think it is very good that this candidate came to this decision beforehand. This was obviously part of his discernment process.

  24. “Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, ‘You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.'”
    Mark 10:21-22

    That rich young man too wanted to follow Christ’s call, but under his own conditions.

    (Congratulations to you Deacon Doug Hemke! God has a plan for you too which He will reveal in His time, not ours!)

  25. This gentleman is foolish and is on the wrong side of history. There will always be sin and sinners in the world and the Church. Plus, he is making a spectacle of himself.

    5 years or 500 years from now no one will know or care about some dust up in some American diocese. Do we know about some similar dust up in some random European diocese in the year, say, 957, and the bishop there and the would be deacon there who chose to be dramatic? No. Lost in the sands of time. We are dust and ashes. All that matters is if we answer God or pridefully, in a miff, turn up our nose at Him, his Church, his flawed servants, his people.

  26. A call to ordained ministry is something that must be discerned before it can be determined that the call is authentically from God.

    This discernment is NOT personal or private. The Church also discerns that call as well.

    I realize that this man is hurt, but he makes a grave error when he states that he is “not answering the call”. He may “think” he has the call, but until the discernment has been allowed to go through the formation process, he really doesn’t “know” if he has the call. the Church plays an important role in discerning that call.

  27. Dan…

    Based on a previous comment on this thread, the candidate in question had, indeed, gone through the formation process, and his call had been affirmed by the Church. He was scheduled to be ordained this month. He prayerfully decided not to go through with it.

    Dcn. G.

  28. The open-ended vow of obedience to the bishop’s successors is quite an act of faith. Especially in a smaller diocese where bishops come and go with some frequency. (Pope Benedict has now named the bishops in over half of the dioceses in the US in just 6 short years.) The phrase “buying a pig in a poke” comes to mind.

    I grew up in a diocese with a sociopath for a bishop, and watched in horrified fascination as our priests slunk around like abused children, constantly watching over their shoulders worried that something that they did might catch the cardinal’s attention. My takeaway lesson was never to get too close to the church. And certainly never to get attached to anything.

  29. At what point are the circumstances agreeable enough to warrant perfect trust? Without God’s grace, our ability to trust is severely impeded by sin. No bishop is perfect. Are we a communion of sinners in need of Christ’s mercy, or are we a society of the perfect? Would Mr. McConnell have walked away from his bride-to-be had she admitted to infidelity prior to their wedding? Would he leave his wife now if she committed a serious error in judgement? It sees a shame that he would run away from such a beautiful calling. By surrendering his calling in the manner he has done, he will be giving the devil the power to cause distrust to multiply.

    Mr. McConnell’s lack of response still constitutes a response – it’s called a protest, and his feelings have clouded his judgement. One could reasonably infer from his decision that he does not trust Christ and His Church enough to place himself under the obedience of one of the successors of the Apostles who, having committed and admitted to an error in judgement, still occupies the seat of Moses, as it were. It’s one thing to offer one’s bishop a little fraternal correction, but it is another thing entirely to levy one’s person (and one’s rejection of a calling) against the Church one would hope to faithfully serve. That’s tantamount to blackmail, to be blunt.

    It’s probably a good thing that he has removed himself before his lack of trust fuels a latent disobedience and he becomes a law unto himself. If he really considers himself called (by God, one assumes), then what is he really saying by not responding? “My way or the highway”? “I’m not going to forgive you and so I withhold myself from service”?

    The bishop’s actions may have been inexcusable. Does that mean his actions were unforgivable and thus one should punish him by committing another wrong? We, all, should be careful before we throw our convictions around in a manner that might cause significant collateral damage.

    It’s never too late, this side of heaven, to reconsider one’s actions and turn things around. Mr. McConnell should drop his complaint and get on with becoming a good deacon.

  30. US precedent exists for assessing a bishop’s capacity to provide “authentic spiritual leadership”. In Boston in 2002, 58 priests found the courage and virtue to write publicly to Law calling for him to go. They weren’t the first or most numerous to speak out, and some were excoriated at the time or since, but their joined voices then carried unique weight because of who was speaking. The letter is worth reading today, whether your view is that understandable mistakes were made or criminality is involved.
    (For actual letter text, use link under Law’s picture at:

  31. I will not enter into the substance of this debate, other than to say that I applaud the man’s decision. This isn’t a question of ex opere operato or anything else. Consider the way the ritual flows at ordination. The candidates are first questioned, and they respond AS A GROUP. But then comes this last question, and the liturgical action changes. Each candidate steps forward individually, kneels in front of his bishop, places his hands in the bishop’s, and promises respect and obedience to the bishop and all of his successors in office. It is a profoundly PERSONAL moment between bishop and candidate. If the man cannot, after wrestling with all of the issues in the crucible of his conscience, make such a promise, he is right not to do so.

    But the main reason I’m chiming in is to give a technical response to the question, “From whom does the call to orders come?”

    Overall, of course, the call comes from God, AS DISCERNED BY COMPETENT CHURCH AUTHORITY. Both aspects are necessary. I can’t simply say, “God is calling me to be a , , , and that’s all I need.” But what the candidate in THIS case is saying is technically quite different.

    See, shortly before ordination, the ordaining bishop will issue a formal document known as a “Call to Orders”; it is what officially informs the candidate that he’s supposed to show up at the ordination ceremony. For example, when I was ordained in 1990 by Cardinal James Hickey for the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, my wife and I went through our final round of interviews with him personally THE DAY BEFORE ORDINATION WAS SCHEDULED. At the end of those final interviews, the Cardinal opened his door, called in his photographer, and presented me with the official document calling me to orders. I was in the church the next day.

    When I read the candidate’s letter in this case, it seemed perfectly clear to me that he was not speaking theologically or sacramentally but canonically: he had in fact received the official “Call to Orders” from Bishop Finn, but that he was not going to accept it.

    Perhaps, in the future, he will.

    God bless,

    Deacon Bill

  32. I’m currently in formation to become a Permanent Deacon, and in my view, if this man felt this way, he could have made the decision in a less public manner. Announcing his decision in this way makes me think that the issue wasn’t a scandal, but was, rather, “all about him”. If he were truly considering a life of service to the people of God, a ministry to the “widows and outcasts”, wouldn’t his ministry be better served by following the example of Jesus, and picking up his cross and following the Lord.
    In formation, we’re always being reminded to watch for life’s “teachable moments”. He missed this one, big time!

  33. Deacon Bill

    I would say while you are correct, if this man can be condoned on a technical basis, does this diminish your position in the Roman Catholic Church? This man is questioning a conduct of a Bishop of Rome, for the failing of a man.

    The Church is under attack, the need for Her ministers to be supportive in times of crisis is imperative to the overall mission of the Church. This man chose to indict the Bishop due to peoples disgust with, and no one agrees with the Priest in questions weird behavior, but from what I have read Deacon the Priest has not been charged with any child endangerment, I think he was poorly formed.

    The Deacon hopeful has the same defect.

    We may disagree on this but the Bishop may be a jerk, may be remiss or culpable in a whole host of things, Rome needs to act. The call many seek and accept requires an almost blind allegiance, I am sorry for the Church loosing man who has come so far and pray that he may reconsider.

    I do not think he has acted properly but is acting as a catalyst for an uproar in the Parrish. Maybe he does not have the mettle.

    Sic Transit Gloria

  34. Two comments:
    Dave makes the obvious a good point, ie “I’ll take the standpoint that the deacon candidate’s reasoning is skewed. He states, “After a great deal of soul searching, prayer and reflection, I have decided not to accept the call to Holy Orders that I have received.” This does not make sense.

    I agree! How does such a mind work? If he really “has a call from God” then what is he doing exactly? telling God “no”, or what? This makes the notion of “called” kind of peculiar to say the least. It would make more sense to say he is not sure he is called. The whole letter has a bit of an overly dramatic self involved tone. Why not, about such a personal matter, just tell your parishoners you were still discerning if God called you to be a deacon, and to ask for some prayers and leave it at that. I do not fell sorry for him, Rather I am embarassed for him. Way too much Oprah here for my taste.

    Beyond this I can not help but take note of a particularly odd comment by Deacon Den, who states “After reading some of these responses maybe I should leave. I have never heard of any cleric being silenced from a “Pro-Life” sermon. And when I say pro-life I mean the whole message not just the anti-abortion sentiment.”

    What to make of this? It seems to me the “anti-abortion” sentiment should be perfectly adequate in and of itself, given the gravity of the evil. If I recall, in Evangelium Vitae: Blessed John Paul II states “Among all the crimes which can be committed against life, procured abortion has characteristics making it particularly serious and deplorable. The Second Vatican Council defines abortion, together with infanticide, as an “unspeakable crime” It seems to me preaching about this, the the “anti-abortion sentiment” if you will,would be a pretty excellent thing all by itself. It is a big chunk of the prolife message. Given how it is a particularly seriosu and deplorable offense against life. After all do we tell people preaching against other grave evils they need the “whole message”. Did we tell those preaching against segregation that they did not do enough because they were not against some other evil of the time?

    I have 2 questions for Deacon Den to ponder

    1) Why does this never work in reverse? Why are people who are preaching about some other issue, like say more spending on the poor, not chastized for not preaching against abortion?

    2) Can you give an unambiguous agreement to how John Paul II described abortion, that is, do you agree procured abortion is a particular serious crime… Are those who promote it engaged at least objectively in something morally sinful? Seem to me preaching against mortal sin is a good thing for a cleric to do.

    In any case not trying to change the subject but could not resist the comment.

  35. Jack B — A deacon of the Archdiocese whom I know told me that when that letter was published, he put the list on signatories on his office bulletin board under a header that said, “Judas Priests.” Opinions certainly differ about Cardinal Law.

    In the story which you linked, a Father Collins is quoted as speaking of “the revelations of the systematic failure of his leadership to stem this abuse, for many years.” Of course the Grand Jury which Tom Reilly hoped to use to take Cardinal Law’s scalp as a trophy found just the opposite. Over Cardinal Law’s tenure as archbishop the number of incidents declined from about 27 per year before he arrived to about 10 per year in his first 8 years, to about 4 per year in the next 8 years to zero per year in his final years in Boston. But the 58 priests, lacking the will to learn the truth or the courage to speak it to their people, caved in to the lynch mob mentality of the day and unjustly made Cardinal Law the fall guy for the transgressions of earlier times when the seminary formed the abusers and previous archbishops ordained them.

  36. Deacon Greg,

    Some have intimated here that open-ended obedience to a bishop can have dire consequences in the case of a sociopath.

    No cleric is bound to obey an unjust law. Can you think of how the moral turpitude of a bishop would cause a crisis of obedience for a deacon or priest?

  37. The way he speaks to the parishioners seem to me to be side issues not having anything to do with The Calling of God to bring Good News of Jesus Christ to people. It seems that his pointing fingers at The Diocese or a group or a circumstance is comparable to a Calling to The Diacanate. That is not the case. The Bishop ought to clarify this reasoning and the puropse of The Diaconate. Because the way I listen to his description of it, it doesn’t seem to be it.

  38. Since he is refusing the call he says comes from God, but will publicly repudiate it because he does not like the climate, he says, in the diocese—I cannot support this.

    What I know of Bp. Finn is that he is a strong and orthodox bishop. We may not know the whole story on this particular issue but he steps up and takes the heat.

    All this sounds like more of an excuse than anything else. And to do this very publicly so as to throw more stones at the bishop is not the way to bow out–at least not gracefully. If he truly, in conscience, cannot go forward, then he should privately go to the bishop at least in respect of the office. But he does not; he does it publicly to disparage the bishop. He is wrong to do this.

    I am glad he is backing out. This is not someone we want in the clergy.

  39. IMO, it was best for him to not be ordained than to have gone through the ordination and then decide to stop. I expect it was a very hard decision, since he had completed his training. Maybe one day he will change his mind, but I admire him for having the courage to go through with his conviction to not be ordained.

  40. He writes it as if he is being ordained for that parish. I have two years left and know I will not be in my home parish. A deacon is ordained for the diocese, not the parish. Why does he assume he would have been their deacon.

  41. Deacon Bill (#33) thank you for your comment re: the moment at ordination when the candidate puts his hands in the bishop’s and promises obedience to him and his successors being “… a profoundly PERSONAL moment between bishop and candidate.” I do remember that moment at my husband’s ordination very well. And I agree with you that if a man cannot wholeheartedly make that promise, then it is right for him not to go ahead with ordination. It is easy for those who haven’t been there, to say he ought to just suck it up and do it anyway. Would they say that to a prospective bride or groom who had doubts about their ability or willingness to carry out any part of the committment of marriage? Or a candidate for the priesthood who had serious doubts about his ability to keep the vow of celibacy?

  42. The scandals and corruption in the Church in the decades before the Reformation were far, far worse than anything today.
    Yet the Holy Spirit rescued the Church through the Counter-Reformation that followed and which was led by saintly popes, bishops, priests, and vowed religious. What would have happened to the Church if people like St. Ignatius Loyola, St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, etc. had fled to the” tall grass”??
    In other time periods the Church was rescued by the likes of ordained deacon St. Francis of Assisi.
    What the Church needs is ordained men and vowed religious who are willing to enter the battle against evil, sin, and the devil. People who, if they are convinced church leadership is doing a grossly incompetent job will have the courage to say so as did St. Catherine of Siena.
    Running away from the fray may seem at times to be what one should do. But that is rarely of any help or the best solution.

  43. Dave…

    It varies from place to place. It’s still customary in some dioceses for a deacon to be ordained to serve at his home parish for at least the first year, before being assigned elsewhere. In other places, like Kansas City, there are a small number of deacons, and many parishes don’t have them, so it’s just understood that a man will serve his own parish unless the need is greater someplace else.

    Dcn. G.

  44. This man is my new hero. I hope the bishop(s) will reflect on what was said and why it was said.

    Thank you for posting this.

  45. The Deacon is obsessed with the problem to the utter neglect of seeking and being part of a solution. An ordained person knows that he is taken from the community, consecrated and brought back to the community purely for service. This renders open that such a person carries on him the signs of the Good Friday cross (human weaknessess) to serve the hope of Easter Sunday (divine grace). It is this faith that should form any candidate for ordination that through our weakness God reveals his power to forgive and make new things , if not new beginnings. I believe he was calling himself to the ministry.

  46. The letter was in his parish bulletin to explain to his fellow parishioners why he would not be ordained. When I was Roman Catholic everyone in the parish knew who was in diaconal formation and when he was scheduled to be ordained. The letter was not a public manifesto to denounce the bishop, only an explanation to his fellow parishioners. He cannot be blamed for wanting to tell them. It was the Internet blogosphere that made this parish communication into news.

  47. @OurHost: Sorry, I wasn’t trying to engage in “theological debates of scriptural authenticity”, but to point out, as you did, that the there’s no scriptural basis to assume that the beloved disciple is one of the Twelve, specifically the one named John.

    And as for the original topic, the hands laid on me at ordination were the hands that destroyed letters about an abusive priest after that priest’s arrest. Knowing that gave me considerable pause, as did the explanation by the mouth behind the hands, i.e. he’d never had destroyed those records if he thought his actions could be misconstrued as spoliation of evidence. To find that explanation credible requires one to believe he’d remained mostly ignorant of a gentleman whose evidence-destroying actions preceded that priest’s actions by just a few months – Richard Nixon. Knowing all this, and knowing the ‘misconstrued’ priest was rewarded with promotion, was the hardest part of ordination. I took some comfort in thinking that the Dallas Charter would prevent this from ever happening again. Were I in Mr. McConnell’s shoes, I’d have even more powerful doubts about going through with it.

    And yes, I am (sadly) familiar with ex opere operato, having been “pastored” for something over two years by a priest well into Alzheimer’s, and having frequently attended Mass at in a church with deep familial roots where a priest was doing altar boys in the sanctuary.

    Finally, a word of unsolicited (and therefore likely ignored) advice to those who wave the flag of “ex opere operato” or “orthodoxy”. If you do so in the face of a victim of sexual abuse, be prepared for a taste of the torture that victim has gone through.

  48. Deacon greg,

    I was always under the impression that that a call by God was an invitation, not a demand, and that one was free to accept or refuse it without penalty. Certainly there must be people out there that had such a call and the Church refused to accept it, and I think just a certainly that some that were ordained might have severed the Church well by refusing it.

    I spent a year in the seminary and left after deciding that I probably could not meet the standards of living a priestly life. Of course, I will never know for sure if I had a calling, but have never felt condemned for not following it up. I have found my life living up to the standards of the sacrament of marriage has been rewarding and I feel close to God.

    I would appreciate any comments that you might have.


    Mike L

  49. I can’t beleive the comments of so many who have rushed to defend the bishop. He did not make a “mistake,” he has become part of the scandal that has enveloped our church leaders. He should resign NOW. Bravo to Mr. McConnell.

  50. Bill and Melody,
    I understand what you are saying about the personal nature of the promise of obedience to his bishop that a deacon makes. But really, is the promise to a man or to the office? Since the deacon is also promising obedience to any successor bishop, then it’s the office. It’s too bad this candidate wasn’t able to think in broader terms. Bishop Finn will undoubtedly be transfered someday anyway.

    But then again, maybe he WAS making a broader statement and questioned whether he could fulfill his promise at any time since the promise of change among the hierarchy is ringing pretty shallow right now. Why any bishop would not treat a report of suspected current abuse as a five-alarm situation is a ‘wisdom’ beyond my comprehension.

  51. Cardinals take an Oath on receiving their Birettas, part of which is

    “not …to divulge what may bring harm or dishonor to holy church.”

    This citation is from:

    And I assume that Bishops have that understanding as well.

    Therein lies the key to the denial and cover-up of clergy sex abuse by the authorities in our Church.

    Thus, I think that Mr. McConnell is to be applauded for his integrity.

  52. How sad. He might have been the one to “shore up” and participate in protecting those in his own diocese and parish. “Many are called but few are chosen.”

  53. I was curious to see what Catholic League (Bill Donahue) has to say about this whole Bishop Finn/Fr. Ratigan mess given how loudly he likes to state that the abuse problem is not about pedophiles and it’s not about current cases.

    Nope, nary a word to be found. Now if Bishop Finn or Ratigan had a reputation as a liberal modernist….

  54. Many of the above writers expressed. “The call comes from God.” In the present situation we may well raise the question is that so? Or does come from some people who are politically loaded. A reason why so many good man were lost. I have looked at the inside and have seen what is going on in our Church. I congatulate the deacon who said “no” not to God’s call but to the political situation in our Church. One is not allowed to have a different opinion. Or see things different, deacon blessings upon you who had the courage to say NO to politics in the system. John.

  55. I’m having a real hard time with this totally blame the bishop attitude. He should have done more but (1) the principal of the school is a mandated reporter, (2) the cop who was called to look at the first pictures is a mandated reporter, and (3) we’ve been teaching good touch, bad touch for years and every parent has the right to call a hotline. What am I missing here that makes me think that the Bishop is the lone guilty party? I feel bad for this deacon candidate but really, as a professional social worker, there seems to me to be lots of blame to spread around and there is lots of ambiguity about it. The Bishop is not only taking responsibility, he did act. We seem to be setting an impossible standard of perfection and responsibility.

  56. Dear momor,

    You ask if the promise of obedience is made to the man or to the office. It’s to the man. The language of the promise is actually quite clear on this point:

    “Do you promise respect and obedience to ME and to my successors?” And the response is, “I do”. It does not say, “Do you promise respect and obedience to the diocesan bishop and all successors to that office?”

    The fact is, folks, this is one of the most personal and intimate expressions of the relationship that should obtain between a cleric and his bishop. It would be a grave mistake to treat this in an INPERSONAL manner; this is not a theoretical or idealized commitment. It’s every bit as personal as is the exchange of wedding vows, in a way. We wouldn’t say, “I promise to love my wife (whoever she may be) forever, for the whole of life.” We make that exchange of consent from one person to another person. This is no different.

    God bless,

    Deacon Bill

  57. A point that seems to be lost on Jim McConnell and the folks who are objecting to the “obedience” thing is that no one (no priest or deacon or religious or anyone) is obliged to obey an order or a law if to do so would be to commit a sin. In fact, they’re obliged to disobey.

    This is elementary catechism stuff. Used to be taught as early as first, second, third grade. Don’t know what they teach now.

    I remember a certain thrill at learning that there was a loophole to always obeying my parents. (Never got to use it – somehow they never did ask me to commit a sin.)

  58. Sorry—it strikes me as a little too much drama. In Holy Orders, we ultimately commit to serving Christ— in the Church.
    As priests and deacons, the Bishop has VERY LITTLE impact on our day-to-day living out of our priesthood/deaconate. Bishops come and go— but the needs of the people of God are very real and are never-ending. The Church needs this deacon. I hope he re-considers.

  59. Thinking about this man’s decision over the last 24 hours, I can’t help but be impressed by his courage and conviction. This was just days before ordination, after four years of formation and preparation and prayer and involvement in a wide array of ministries. And yet, faced with the facts of the Rattigan case, he just couldn’t go through with it, and couldn’t pledge obedience to the bishop responsible. This is almost like backing out of a wedding at the last minute.

    While he might have handled it more discreetly, and reasonable people can disagree about whether he did the right thing, I can’t escape the feeling that this is the sort of person we need in ministry — someone who stands up for what he believes in, who is guided by his conscience, and who isn’t afraid to face the lions.

    Dcn. G.

  60. Some of the comments have gotten even more ludicrious. I am amazed that some self appointed inquisitioners are weighing in condemning this reluctant deacon candidate.
    I clearly remember making the same promise at the knee of our Archbishop. I am also reminded that he made a promise to us. That there would never be a scandal in our archdiocese while he was on watch. Any perp would be gone instantly. Two grand juries later, it is clear he did not honor his promise to us. I am not claiming that I am off the hook as 2 wrongs do not make a right.
    I can not climb into the head of Mr McConnell. Therefore I am not qualified to comment on his decision. At least as not to judge him as many inquisitioners have here. Maybe he does not have a call afterall. I can understand his reluctance. The Church will lose a good deacon.
    mrd, Yes, your points are valid. I was not clear in my post of mixed thoughts. The result made no sense.
    What I am referring to are Pro-lifers who are silent on capital punishment and unjust war issues. I see many of them today. Life issues should be a “seamless garment”, not a cafeteria choice. I agree that an anti-abortion sermon does good in that it exposes evil. I have never heard of a preacher being silenced for making one. Which was my response to an earlier post which claimed the opposite.

  61. Because the deacon candidate published a public letter, we are presented with one side of the story. But, it does happen that someone is called to orders and then by Providence something they have been hiding which would disqualify them is discovered just before ordination. Of course, the Church does not make that reason public, so the man refused orders can say whatever he wants.

    In any case, the deacon candidate’s apparent personal decision is irresponsible. He also could have been humble and not given the reason. He could have been charitable and not given the reason. (2 essential virtues of a deacon!) Proffering a reason only serves to make him look better in the eyes of the worldly and dissenters, as if he were a person of integrity.

    He has turned the sacred rite of ordination into a “personal statement” on one’s approval or disapproval of the bishop’s decisions. Ordination has never been that. It is not to this particular bishop that the ordinandus looks, but to the office of bishops (“me and my successors” says the bishop). Catholicism is not a personality cult. Ironically, by making his decision on his mafia-like notion of obedience, the deacon candidate only feeds into the problem that led to clerical abuse of minors. (It was not loyalty to the orthodox faith or holiness of sacred orders that those things happened, but personal loyalty to specific bishops and a sniveling desire to curry his personal favor.)

  62. To Dcn Bill,

    The promise is made to the office through the current holder.
    In Providence that man is the office, but not all his decisions are conformable to the office. We respect the man because of his office and not vice versa.

    “me AND MY SUCCESSORS” is a clear indication that the obedience is to the office. It doen’t go to the grave with the particular bishop. It does not have to be renewed to the new bishop.

    Also, if you’ve ever been at an ordination when men of a religious order are ordained, the bishop asks them to make their promise to their “superior” or the like. He doesn’t sake to “Michael, your superior.” That is, he names an office not a person. (Although we must admit the office is always incarnated in a person, for better or worse.)

    So, obedience is to an office, an office charged with passing on without adulteration the constant teaching of the Church on faith and morals.
    Here’s the key. Many problems would be cleared up among the clergy if they actually tried to promote the Church’s magisterial teaching rather than “personal” teachings of preferred bishops and theologians.

  63. Why is it that the Vatican will remove a Bishop who advocates dialogue about removing the practice of celibacy… but takes in Bishops like Cardinal Law and gives them refuge and status in Rome?

  64. Was this diaconate canidate buddies with the liberal wing that has been trying to oust Bshop Finn. We must know who his friends in the diocese are before we accept the sincerity of his not going forward. Bishop Finn made an error of judgement , not a deliberate attempt to cover up a crime.

  65. I sympathize with candidate McConnell. He is to be commended for taking the ordination vows seriously. On a personal note, I was a juvenile court judge for 25 years, enforcing Michigan’s Child Protection Law. I would have had a problem with promising respect and obedience to a prelate appearing to evidence egregious neglect of basic child protection. Thank God I did not have such a dilemma.

  66. I read with some pain the letter to his parish from Jim McConnell. Having been ordained in Boston in 1988 by Cardinal Law and served there for 18 years, the men I was ordained with and I discussed many times our thoughts and feelings regarding the crisis which came to be uncovered there. It was difficult to answer our parishoners and friends: How can you stay on? But we did stayed on because ours was a calling which reached into our hearts and refused to let us go.

    My answer was the same as I gave when asked why I served on a parish council through long, seemingly meaningless discussions and attempts to rejuvenate the parish: I love the church, and by that I mean the community of people who love God as I do and seek to know Him better through life in the parish and bringing that life with them into the marketplace. Doing what I can to provide faith, hope, and love to as many people as I can in the parish and marketplace is the food that nourishes my soul, and no body of people, along with their faulty decisions, can cut that off and make me walk away.

    Jim, I hope someday you have an opportunity to revisit your decision and determine that you can answer your call. I will pray daily for you and others facing that same dilemma.

    Deacon Russ

  67. I guess the previous years of formation never brought up the prospect of what the promise of obedience means and it was never considered that the bishop or his successors might make serious mistakes or be bad men?

    Two months (at most) of prayer and reflection, under less-than-ideal circumstances are not sufficient. Speaking personally, it literally took years for me to come to that conclusion.

    All this being said, I am glad this man is not being ordained.

  68. @61 M: Amen. The Angelic Doctor wrote quite a bit about the topic in Summa Theologica II-II Q. 89. This little tidbit gives a taste: “Wherefore an oath must not be kept when it involves a sin or a hindrance to good. For in either case its result is evil.”

    @62 TomKumar: Your diocese must work significantly different than mine. The decisions of the Ordinary make a significant impact in the daily life of the parishes I know, most significantly in the financial demands of the chancery which significantly impact parish finances. Placement of clergy is another huge impact the Ordinary makes upon the parishes.

  69. Catholics,

    We live in a world where a man can post his private thoughts, even if they appear sincere, and they spread all over the globe. Yet, in truth, this man should have kept his thoughts in his parish, and local church.

    Further, this becomes more obvious in considering how man is using the internet.

    We see also in the middle East how people are using the internet as an international stage to blackmail governments. It is almost stunning to see how Catholics are beginning to do the same thing in driving out their leaders.


    Christ renews all things. God can work through very weak instruments. If he couldn’t we would all be out of busines as Christians.

  70. It appears God is using the Internet to REFORM HIS CHURCH. It would also appear He is stooping to use very week instruments like Mr McConnell. Do tell!

  71. There is a very grave danger in these posts.

    Please pray for the Holy Spirit to renew the Church.

  72. Deacon Den — Is God using the internet to reform his Church, or is Satan using these people to sow discord?

  73. Jim McConnell, you are to be commended for following your gut feelings and standing up for integrity.

    That had to have been a very difficult decision to make. It is not easy to change your direction that you have longed to go.

    We understand. most of us have been there.

    I was a most loyal catholic, and then I found out that my brother and several of my relatives had been sexually abused by our long time parish priest. My mother was unable to go with her own gut feelings, she could not believe her own son. That is sad.

    You are admired by thousands. I hope you do not regret your decision.

    Thank you,
    Judy Jones, SNAP Midwest Associate Director, 636-433-2511
    “Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests

  74. It appears to me that some have decided on the propriety of Mr. McConnell’s actions, and I question the propriety of mere mortals sitting in judgment of him. Regarding the dilemma that Mr. McConnell defines (to the extent that he does so), the issue makes a great hypothetical for a theologically academic discussion, but God’s specific expectations of Mr. McConnell are known only to God and, to the extent Mr. McConnell has been able to discern them, to Mr. McConnell himself. I have no idea of what Mr. McConnell does for a living or what kind of education he received, but his comment “I have decided not to accept the call to Holy Orders that I have received” may have just been an inartful best-attempt to convey some closely related point that would be more palatable to those who sit in judgment of him here today; not everyone commands the English language and the art of argument with a general’s authority.

    Enjoy the exceptionally intriguing issues Mr. McConnell’s letter has raised, but I would urge my brothers and sisters in Christ to be wary of assuming the role of Mr. McConnell’s adjudicators – especially in this instance – based only on the scant insight we have into that decision. The corners of Mr. McConnell’s heart are known only to himself and God, and it is an exercise of supreme arrogance for us to pass on his fidelity to God’s expectations when we don’t even know what those expectations are.

    To the extent that Mr. McConnell has provided an explanation of his decision, I see no folly in scrutinizing that rationale against Catholic teaching, but any such discussion should be qualified as being based on the facts that we know and should not extend to anything other than how the rationale compares to Catholic teaching. Coming to any conclusions whether Mr. McConnell himself has acted in conformity with Church teaching in matters of his own conscience, though, would seem to be an encroachment into Divine province.

  75. Judy Jones.
    Are you still a Catholic? Or have you made the mistake so many others have made, including myself, and blamed God for the mistakes and failings of men? Have you let flawed men keep you from the sacraments? If you have, let God prevail and return to the sacraments or else you have let the evil one win.

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