Deaf priest: "I want to be a bridge…"

Deaf priest: "I want to be a bridge…" August 17, 2011

He is that rarity in the Catholic Church: a deaf priest, embarking on an extraordinary ministry  that seeks to preach The Word to those who cannot hear.

From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Father Christopher Klusman stands at the back of St. Roman Catholic Church on Milwaukee’s south side and greets worshippers after the Saturday night Mass.

This is no ordinary receiving line. The well-wishers are smiling, beaming even. Some embrace him. Others cry. Few words are spoken. But much is said.

Klusman is deaf, as are many of those who’d gathered to take part in this Mass celebrated by the newly ordained priest in American Sign Language. It is a first for many, to experience the sacrament in their own language, signed by a priest they consider one of their own.

“It’s so important to have a priest who understands our language, our culture,” said Karen Lausten of West Allis, one of about two dozen well-wishers who attended a reception for Klusman after Mass.

“I feel like I’ve learned more about my faith from him than I have my whole life.”

A Milwaukee native, Klusman is among fewer than 10 profoundly deaf priests in America, and he is the first to come through the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s St. Francis de Sales Seminary.

He splits his time between St. Roman’s, where he is associate pastor, and a new ministry he’s developing to better serve the deaf and hard-of-hearing.

The 6 p.m. Saturday Mass, in which an interpreter voices Klusman’s signing for the hearing in the pews, is a first step in that direction.

“I want to be a bridge, to bring deaf people and hearing people together,” said Klusman, who moves easily between both worlds, in part because of his strong oral language and lip-reading skills.

Most important, Klusman said, he hopes to be a pastoral presence for a people often marginalized in society and their faith communities. That brings inherent challenges in Milwaukee, where many deaf Catholics still resent the church for its failure to act against the late Father Lawrence Murphy, a hearing priest adept at sign language who is believed to have molested as many as 200 deaf boys during his career.

“I want to be there for them – anything they need,” said Klusman, who attended an international conference at Marquette University this spring to better understand the sex abuse crisis and minister to its victims.

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2 responses to “Deaf priest: "I want to be a bridge…"”

  1. This raises some questions that the Journal neglected to include:

    Is he saying the words of consecration or is he signing them? If he’s signing them, has the CDF ruled on whether that is a valid sacrament? I don’t know that the CDW has competence to rule on that. Worse, if he is signing the consecration, did it even occur to anyone to verify the validity?

    It would seem that the prayer at the elevation would be awkward to say the least if he’s signing it. I’d hope the elevation would not be dropped.

    Hopefully he’s just doing the homily in sign.

  2. I trust that the questions of guestures, hand positions, and validity were answered before the bishop approved this (probably before he was ordained since that would be a logical question regarding his ministry). My question is, does anyone know if is there an “official” or even unofficial translation for an ASL (or other sign language) Mass? Sign language can tend to be more…poetic? conceptual?…than English. As I understand it, it’s not always a direct, word-for-word translation.

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