Questions for Bishop James H. Burch from Kathleen Kautzer, PhD,
on the faculty at Regis College in Weston, MA, and Program Chair.
Dr. Kautzer is active in a number of community groups involved in peace and justice issues. Before pursuing a career in academics, she worked as a union organizer overseeing campaigns for union representation among women’s services and clerical workers. Her research reflects lifelong involvement in social movements oriented toward an egalitarian and democratic transformation of social institutions. She is interested in spirituality and its relevance to social movements, and she has authored several papers examining newly-emerging women’ s spirituality groups.
Question: I did read the bios of the ordained priests listed on your website. The information given did not give me a very clear idea of how they performed their priestly role. I realize it is probably different for each person, but I was particularly curious about their relationship to communities. Do most of these priests serve some type of small intentional community? Do they form communities after becoming ordained? Is connection to some type of community a requirement for ordination?
Answer: I don’t mean this disrespectfully, but, first of all, your question presumes what all Catholics and all Christians generally presume: closeness to God / response to the message of Jesus = participation in organized Sunday morning services (Mass for Catholics). This is a “Christian myth” of enormous and erroneous proportions, I believe. It is akin to the “Flat Earth” belief of the early centuries in history; no other option was even considered. And yet, this “myth” is not evidenced in the message of Jesus, or the activities of the Primitive Church. For Jesus, “Eucharist” occurred only twice that we know of: at the Last Supper (where it was a raucous as any contemporary Thanksgiving dinner with lots of family and friends) and after the resurrection at a bonfire on the beach, where they recognized him at the breaking of the bread. In the early church, the breaking of the bread was integrated into the everyday activities of life, with even families doing it at home with the head of the household leading the occasion.
It is highly unlikely, I think, that Jesus had forgotten all about the Eucharist until the Last Supper and sprung what has become the centerpiece of Christian togetherness only at the last moment. It is also unlikely that he saved the announcement of the Eucharist as a “going-away present” for his followers, not telling them anything about it in his previous years of preaching. Much more likely is that what he gave them as a physical tool, a technique, was a method of remembering the essence of what he had been preaching all along: God is the “stuff” of which everything is made; if we could just see the presence of God as the life-giving energizer of all creation, then we could honor things and hold other people in awe and reverence, as Jesus did. Therefore, to make of Eucharist a set-apart, highly-ritualized, fear-inspiring (e.g., only “anointed” people can even touch the vessels!), object of worship (e.g., pressed into flat patties, kept in a golden “tabernacle,” and worshipped in Benediction services and all-night Adoration Vigils) is to distort it so much that Jesus’ original meaning is virtually lost. At least, it is clearly lost to the majority of Catholics, who generally have no idea what is going on there. It has also become the chief stumbling block to those who are not Catholics. And fails to animate virtually everybody with the substance of Jesus’ inspiration. To regain the effectiveness Jesus wanted, the Eucharist must once again become part of everyday life, used at small and large meetings of spiritually-minded people; it can be the conduit of Jesus’ essential message of divine presence. And it should often be made a part of family and community meals.
As another prelude before I answer your question directly, we should note that on any given Sunday, somewhere between 16% and 20% of the American public is actually in church. And yet, there is almost a church on every other corner. Americans have plenty of choices, and they largely choose: none. At least some of those who do attend church, we have to guess, go only out of fear. Most of those people who do not go to church, I have found to be generally wonderful people, as concerned about “spiritual” matters and loving choices as their “churched” neighbors.
This is not to say, of course, that relevant communities of faith are not wonderfully enriching for many; they are, of course. Perhaps, even, they are the ideal – but, unfortunately, they are an ideal that does not seem to fit most people at many points in their lives.
So, then, why would we as a diocese try to replicate for the 20% what they already have in droves of choices, that is: yet another church building with structured practices? Why don’t we try some other “structures” for the 80% who do not find church services to be meeting their needs? And so, that is in large measure what we do.
You will find that having a small community of faith is not generally our priests’ main ministry, although some of them do it together with other work. We are engaged in everything from weddings, to funerals, to pet bereavement, to education, writing, hospice work, prison chaplains, homeless and orphaned or probation homes, children services, counseling, etc. We hope to soon launch a daily spirituality email (nearly 10,000 email addresses gathered so far), weekly home liturgies to be created and sent out by email, quarterly self-directed retreats, etc. We are working on ways to assist non-appointed “chaplains” to all the various groups to which people already belong (e.g., VFW, PTA, Lions, little league, etc.).
We are working on ways to integrate Eucharist into everyday life. We are at the beginning of a never-ending and always-changing series of other structures to supplement or substitute for those who do not find Sunday morning services fulfilling enough to attend. We follow the assumption that there is not just one way to re-charge the batteries of one’s Christian faith, of enriching one’s spiritual life, but rather there are a myriad of them. We are always trying new ways to respond to people’s contemporary desires that spiritual enrichment and growth not be merely a series of outward practices, but rather an inward journey to greater joy, a blossoming of the God-Within.
Current or potential priests who come to us overwhelmingly are already engaged in a facet of this kind of spiritual work. They have recognized a call to clarifying their Christian role through ordination and participation in an affirming group of like-minded individuals, which is the Catholic Diocese of One Spirit (among others).
Question: Once a priest becomes ordained, what is his obligation to you and to One Spirit? Does he/she pays dues, attend meetings etc.? I was also wondering if maintaining connections is a problematic issue that may have inspired the consideration of the proposed vow renewal.
Answer: There is no “obligation” to the bishop or to the diocese. All people who are deacons, priests and bishops in the diocese joined voluntarily and remain voluntarily. There are no “assignments” and nobody has to ask anybody else if it is okay to engage in his or her ministry. There are no bosses and no gurus. No matter the role of the individual, all of us are equal. Some mentor others, but each helps the other to grow, always a two-way street. We recognize that we are all “broken” in some way, and are all in the process of healing toward our full selves, the recognizable and emanating presence of God. No matter our various Christian roles, we encourage and supplement each other.
We also recognize that there will be times when individuals feel called to disengage for a short period or for a long time from what is traditionally called “ministry.” This is accepted as part of each individual’s journey and blessed by the others. Deacons, priests or bishops may go inactive for a while or they may leave the diocese, either for good or to join another group which may resonate more closely with them at that point in their journey. This is the way life is. This is the way individuals grow and make choices, and it is the Holy Spirit working in each wonderful person.
At the moment, the diocese does not even have a check book or any income. Everything is done voluntarily. Perhaps in the future, this may have to change, but it works fine for now. There are no payments, no dues, no financial obligations, made by deacons, priests or bishops to the diocese. We hope to have annual or bi-annual councils/dinners/fellowships (what to call them that doesn’t sound too “churchy”?!), which we have already begun, but there is no rule that everyone has to attend, because that is unrealistic. We also note that people who are regionally close get together from time to time.
Question: Do you have local communities, small parishes, and what are they like?
Answer: We either have no small communities of faith, or they are quite small and not the essential part of our work. Gravitating more towards the works described above, we feel we are answering the call of the Holy Spirit for our times. As the 12 Step programs emphasize: when you do the same thing over and over and get the same response, what makes you think that if you do it the same way again the response will be different?
Question: I recall reading an article about one year ago in Corpus Reports in which you described communication with a very conservative Catholic priest in your area. He apparently admitted that his traditional version of Catholicism was not likely to survive among future generations in the U.S. I was wondering if you had any other dialogues with priests within the institutional church regarding the future of Catholicism or their view of One Spirit.
Answer: You mean “Roman” Catholic priest! I speak now mostly with priests who are not “Roman.” However, I have many friends who are canonical Roman Catholic priests, most of whom I was in the seminary with, and then a few others. I rarely speak with canonical Roman Catholic priests who are not friends of long-standing, I suppose because we are all very busy in our own strata, which rarely mix. Those I have spoken with seem to only look at things from WITHIN the framework of the church. They rarely understand people who are not Catholics and sort of view them as benevolent aliens. They don’t identify with them or reach out to them, and they speak only the in-club language of Catholicism. The old joke was that the largest American church was the Catholic Church, and the second largest was former Catholics.
Today there are significantly more “former” Catholics than “practicing” Catholics. (However, I tell those who say they are “former Catholics” that they are indeed good Catholics if they are working at becoming more loving people, and that going to church on Sunday is just a technique that they may or may not use in that process, as it meets their needs.) Few inside the Roman Catholic Church, it seems, know what to do about the dwindling numbers and the lowering of the percentage of people who are members, other than to grumble about their flocks and to blame those who reject church attendance as being morally negligent. They refuse to see the Holy Spirit at work at all eras and cultures, and their failure to respond to the needs of the times.
Question: What is the age composition of persons who belong to One Spirit? Are young people represented and/or active in your communities?
Answer: As to deacons, priests and bishops, we have all ages in the diocese. Two are in their twenties, two are in their seventies, and the others are spread out in between. As to communities, when we had small communities of faith meeting, these were – like all others similar to them around the country – largely populated by older people, a significant portion being senior citizens. Young people usually do not come to small communities of faith because they have zero interest. Families with children usually do not come because their children need services that only larger communities/parishes can offer. Now that we are engaged in everyday “ministries,” we, of course, are mixed in with all ages, just like society at large.
We are making a special effort to let women know what we are doing, so that they might feel opportunity and welcome. Women are the greatest blessing of the church today, its most unused resource, and its greatest promise of resurgence. We pray that as many women as possible who feel the call to ordained ministry will at least find out about the Catholic Diocese of One Spirit and know that this is an option for them, if they so wish.
We also suspect that we do not “teach” people anything. We put into words what already resonates within them. We articulate their goals and aspirations. We serve them and struggle together. It is simply amazing, and always personally inspiring, to hear so many times: “That is what I believe; I just never thought of it that way before.”
Question: Judging by what I have read from your website, I conclude that you value apostolic succession and “the real presence” in the Eucharist. Is that a correct assumption? I’m sure you are familiar with theologians who challenge these beliefs. For example, are you familiar with Eucharist with a small “e” by Miriam Therese Winter, who insists that “spirit of Jesus” is present when believers gather for worship. A number of Catholic theologians have skirted the issue, but come close to suggesting the Eucharist is merely a symbolic presence (for example, Bernard Cooke, Leonard Boff (no longer a priest) and Raymond Pannikar.) Where do you stand on this controversy?
Answer: I suspect that if 1,000 bishops, 1,000 baptized Christians, and 1,000 theologians were each asked that question, there would be 3,000 different answers. Because the Catholic Diocese of One Spirit has no dogmas or doctrines, we do not “define” or over-theologize on that one. We are aware of the range of opinions on this question, some of which you have alluded to above. My opinion is that, just mine. However, I suspect that most of the deacons, priests and bishops of this diocese would at least be pointing in the same direction as my answer to you on this question.
I do believe in the “real presence” of Jesus in the Eucharist, though probably in a more global perspective than most would presently hold. In the Aramaic understanding (Jesus’ spoken language) of his “stump speech,” the Beatitudes, it is clear that Jesus sees each of us engaged in the process of breathing in and out the universe.
In other words, every second in time and every choice is the process of our spiritual growth, the reason for our existence on this plane. His parables, used to explain this very mystical essential message, overwhelmingly talked about the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Heaven and the Reign of God – all of which meant, to him, the all-pervasive and life-giving presence of God within everything … “at hand” and “within.” To Jesus, there was no nook and no cranny not infused with the Energy, Power, Intelligence, Spirit and Life which is the Benevolent Force we call God. This was his constant and drumming message.
Today, in light of scientific discoveries, we know that beneath each atom is the Energy (vibrations which alternately look like particles, then back to vibrating energy, then particles again … so fast that the eye cannot see them, and at which point physical reality comes into existence), the Intelligence (even at its most minute, this new matter can hold itself together, identify what it is in relationship to other different matter around it, and somehow cluster together to ultimately form all the complexity of the universe), the Spirit (because it precedes matter) and the Life (because look what comes from it). This is what we call God – what Jesus would have called God, if he had known of these words and these concepts.
Therefore, everything already IS an individuated manifestation of God … every thing and every person. Everything already IS the “body” and the “blood” of God. At the Last Supper, Jesus took the ordinary elements of what humans do constantly (eat) and what family and friends do when they gather (eat) and identified them as his body and his blood. He said it IS “my body … my blood,” not that it would become such when magic words were spoken, rather it already is. It “becomes” the body and blood of Jesus for us, WHEN we recognize it as such. The family or community leader (often, but not necessarily, the priest) points that out for us and causes it, then, to “become” that for us through our acknowledgment. But he/she does not “change it into” the body and blood of Jesus from something that was not beforehand.
What has been largely camouflaged for many centuries as a magical tabletop trick, entrusted only to certain set-aside, elevated men (spiritual magicians?) is not that at all. It is more correctly an amazing, wonderful, enlightening gesture of reality. It is a magnificent tool, a wholesome process, for helping us to remember the most essential truth for our soul’s growth: the all-pervasive presence of God. The Eucharist is meant to be a significant and material teaching-aid to this core element of understanding our purpose here on earth.
In this light, it can be revitalized. With this understanding it can be made a part of everyday life – taken out from the dusty sanctuaries of irrelevancy. That is one of the things this diocese seeks to do.
Question: What is the purpose of the Association of Contemporary Catholic Life? Do groups join on a voluntary basis or is there some type of process involved in joining?
Answer: The Association for Contemporary Catholic Life was originally set up for individuals who mistakenly thought they were very alone in their progressive approach to spirituality … although they are actually in the non-verbal majority. However, it did not work well, because such an opportunity requires massive advertising to become known. The organization, a 501(C) (3) non-profit corporation, is now being revised to become a group of progressive Catholic organizations.
The purpose of this is to be recognizably more than the sum of the parts. There will be no litmus test of progressive orthodoxy, because the very nature of spirituality from now on will be that it changes constantly in each individual as that individual grows into the fullness of his/her recognition of Divinity Within.
Various known progressive Catholic dioceses and churches will form this union, and others will later be invited or evaluated to see that they generally fit the philosophic thrust. It may be difficult determining who fits, as there will be only amorphous criteria, but I believe it will be mutually obvious just by dialog. The other criteria will be that each joining organization will need to show that they are actually engaged in ministry, not just talking about it or looking for resume-enhancers.
Question: Are you or other members of One Spirit involved in Catholic reform groups such as Call to Action, Voice of the Faithful, Celibacy Is the Issue, Corpus, (I did see a reference to Dignity in the bio of one of your priests)? What is your view of prospects for reforming the church from within?
Answer: Although some of our members are heavily involved in Roman Catholic reform, we are generally not too interested in such “reform” groups as a diocese. None of us, however, are begging for acceptance from an established authority that just constantly rejects its most thoughtful and loving people and discounts their presence. We feel no need for a validation – because such validation simply is not needed. Our diocese simply goes about its spiritual mission and does not worry whether or not it is accepted by others. We reform by doing, rather than by asking permission.
Some of our members have been, in the past, active in Roman Catholic reform movements. Some of our members have never been engaged with them, having given up any hope of voluntary reform from the Vatican. We greatly honor and love the individuals who make up these reform groups, as they are extremely good and dedicated people, and they have usually fought this good fight for decades. Over the years, many of us who worked with them gradually came to feel that so much of the vast effort is a waste of time.
We really are no longer interested in asking an entrenched hierarchy to validate what God gives us as free gifts of ministerial calling. No one who views themselves as “up the chain of command” needs to authorize what God already has authorized. We give this arrogant hierarchy power they neither have nor deserve when we ask them to “please accept us.” There is too much good to be done, to waste time on these hollow control mechanisms they have puffed up out of need to be in charge. It is interesting to note that the only time Jesus ever got angry was when he went to church, and the only people Jesus ever directed his anger toward were the church people.
I understand that many of these reform movements and groups provide wonderful support to those already in the trenches, such as Voice of the Faithful and Dignity. To that extent, we honor such groups and recognize their usefulness.
There is one reform organization in which we actively participate and have great faith: the Women’s Ordination Conference. The reason for this is that they have three branches of efforts, and one of these is to encourage women who feel called to ordination now, to respond to that ordination call even if outside the Roman Church walls. We offer our diocese as one of the outlets for such priestly ministry for women.
On the other hand, we see ourselves, our diocese, as now reforming WITHIN the Church, as we are as Catholic as any Catholic rite. We hold no grudge with individual people such as the Roman hierarchy, who we, nevertheless, believe to be gravely mistaken in their authoritarian dictates … because we are all broken people in need of healing, and that certainly includes us. That is how God set this world up to work: that we make mistakes and learn who we are not from those experiences, so that we can more clearly understand the Christ-Consciousness within, which defines who we are. This process works its way out both in individuals and in institutions.
The structure of the Church as we see it today is crumbling all around us. One hundred years from now, institutional church – as defined by people tied to parish buildings – will be a pale shadow of what it is today. People will be much more interior-ly spiritual, seriously seeking to experience their best selves – which is, of course, that God-Within. Rome will recognize – both out of practical necessity followed by enlightenment – many various forms of Catholicism (such as this diocese) as legitimate, as they will recognize Orthodox and Protestant denominations as validly part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Litmus tests of orthodoxy will largely have melted away, and there will be a free-flow of ideas. In this unity will be great diversity, and it will be acknowledged as good.
But there will also be some furor on the way to that reality.
Question: You describe One Spirit as welcoming everyone and imposing no doctrinal creeds, etc. But aren’t there some core beliefs of Christianity, such as opposition to violence, greed, cruelty, the seven deadly sins etc.? Of course there is considerable controversy regarding how these principles apply to the modern world.
By the same token, however, could you condone a perspective of a post-modernist who insisted that there are no absolute values, and you can’t make any judgments about human behavior, even extremely destructive behavior like torture and genocide? I realize you probably don’t have persons with these perspectives flocking to your communities, but aren’t there some limits to your tolerance and openness?
Does the fact that you describe yourself as Christian and rooted in the Catholic tradition imply (however loosely defined) a core set of values and beliefs? For example, would you criticize on moral grounds the sexual abuse by clergy?
Answer: Organized Christian spirituality (religion) gets itself into trouble inevitably when it jettisons its main mission of spotlighting, articulating for others to consider, and presenting a living example of the beauty of Jesus’ wisdom and message – in favor of a set of time-frozen, culturally and historically locked, intellectually-confining, and dusty “magisterium-based” set of teachings. The juice from the sap of life just dries up. “Life and life more abundantly” wilts. The primitive church had no established dogmas or doctrines … in large measure because if they stuck their heads too high, somebody in the Roman Empire civil government would chop them off.
They were “Christians” simply if they thought Jesus had the right ideas, and so they wanted to be like Jesus and to follow him. They were known as “followers of The Way.” They were recognized by the evident respect and love they showed for one another. That surely sounds like a better model than a strict adherence to someone else’s list of theological positions. So, as a diocese, we want to be more life-like and less theologically rigid.
Given that, however, we deeply seek to follow the life principles of Jesus. We want to speak to the essentials, and hold them as a way of life. That implies, as you suggest, that love and compassion, care for the poor, seeing all of creation as a manifestation of God, and Jesus’ life as a model for our own are essentials to who we are.
We could not, for example, reconcile with the abuse of others; those who torture or sexually abuse others are simply incompatible with who we are as individuals and as a diocese. We do decipher whether an ordained person wishing to join our diocese or a person seeking ordination is compatible with our diocesan character, by discernment between the applicant and the discernment group of the diocese.
We do not have hard and fast rules for this, but want it to be a mutual, breathing understanding that emerges within the exchanges. Hopefully, this process will endure if and when we grow larger.
We would not condemn people whom we did not feel compatible with our diocese, should we determine that there was no fit for them with us, but we would rather suggest they look for another route in their spiritual journey. We do not think that we are “the only way,” or even “the best way;” we are just the best way for who we are as individuals and as a group organized as this kind of a Catholic diocese.
On the subject of “absolute values,” I would like to express my personal opinion, though it is not anything like an “official” position of the diocese. There is “absolute value”, and that is God. God manifests God’s self in all of creation, all of the universe, and in all people. But in those manifestations, the higher sentient portion of the very universe of creation itself (humanity) is gifted with a most extraordinary blessing: free choice.
All of the positive joys and beauties in this physical plane are God’s way of letting us experience Who We Are. All the difficulties of our own choosing (what others call “evil” or “sin”), together with all the negative occurrences in our lives (such as death of loved ones, financial ruin, loss of loving relationships, debilitating diseases, etc.) are God’s way of our ultimately experiencing Who We Are Not, so that we can more passionately chose our positive God-Life (“Christ-Consciousness”) out of revulsion to our negative experience.
Thus, all is good … eventually. We seek the Absolute, but we are very often misled by others or by ourselves, as long as we are in this world, given us for that purpose. We will not achieve the absolute until we achieve the perfection of Jesus, which Jesus assures us will eventually be ours. Our own individual assumptions about what is “absolute value” will necessarily slide and change, depending upon our sociological, historical and cultural context, and upon where we are in our soul’s journey.
And the WHOLE of that journey is “good” because it is what God gives us as the process of our self-redemption, our growing into our full Christ-Consciousness. At any given time, I believe, our best way to align ourselves with the Absolute Value that is God is to ask ourselves, “What would Love do now?”
Question: Do you have any contact with other non-Roman networks that claim roots in Catholicism. Are you aware of any effort to unify or bring together these networks of “underground” Catholic Churches?
Answer: Yes, I know many of them well. We don’t think of ourselves as “underground,” however, because we are very active and right out in the open. I have met with them and dined with them at various conferences and at some of their headquarters. I suggested to some that Catholic Dioceses which were progressive ought to band together in a loose confederation so as to have a greater solidarity.
At some future point, we hope to start off with a small array of Catholic dioceses who are progressive, and then invite others to join. We will only be inviting those who have a progressive theology and who are actively engaged in ministry (that is, many so-called Catholic “independent churches” are dress-up only). Any “Catholic” diocese could belong, including Roman Catholic, but we don’t anticipate many Romans … at least not initially (the first 50-100 years)!
I think very highly of many other non-Roman Catholic organizations. They are wonderful people and are highly dedicated in wonderful spiritual work. One difference between most of them and the Catholic Diocese of One Spirit is that many others model their ministry on the traditional Roman Catholic model of parishes. We do not. We are very secular … but then, so is God. The infusion of God into the material world is complete.
I should explain here that the Catholic Diocese of One Spirit does not view itself as an “independent Catholic Church.” In fact, we think that a contradiction in terms: you cannot be “Catholic” and “independent” at the same time. We are a part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church – just not Roman, Coptic, etc. We are generically Catholic, plain vanilla / no particular flavor.
We also have the same dogmas, creeds and doctrines as the first three centuries of the Church: none. We prefer the model of the Primitive Church (i.e., if you like the message of Jesus and want to be like him, you were a follower of The Way, and you were recognized as a Christian because you loved one another) rather than the model of the current Roman Catholic Church (i.e., a litmus test of “orthodox” beliefs, a stranglehold on religious practices, and a lock-step obedience to all from “above” in the “hierarchy”).
Question: How would you respond to the arguments of Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, a noted feminist theologian, who insists that ordination is “part of the problem,” in that it is inherently hierarchical and forms the basis for clericalism?
Answer: I would largely agree with her. “Ordination” is clearly not from Jesus … no need for me to replay all those historical reasons why it is not. However, it is both something the church has been using for a very long time to designate its servant roles (at least what should be “servant roles”), so there is some value to it … even if it is not a sine qua non.
And it is also one way to create at least the minimum structure that any organization needs to survive. I would argue that the structure must be very minimal – otherwise it creates clericalism, authoritarianism, hierarchical levels of “importance,” patriarchy (or, perhaps one day, matriarchy), and other senseless non-Christian forms of repression. But at least a minimal structure is needed or EVERYTHING gets diluted.
In our diocese we have apostolic succession, employed in such a way that
- Those who find it important can get that issue out of the way,
- Those that find it irrelevant will not find us using it as a club,
- We have a way of acknowledging various Christian roles, and
- It is a “way” that has a historical value.
Question: Could you tell me a bit more about it and how you came to be ordained, both as a priest and as a bishop?
Answer: I spent 9 years in the seminaries of the Missionaries of the Most Precious Blood, but was not ordained to the priesthood as a Roman Catholic. I left prior to ordination and later married. I now have five grown children and six grandchildren – and, of course (to make all that happen) a great wife, Patty, a nurse who heads the nursing section of the Interventional Radiology Department at our local hospital. I variously abandoned organized religion, then missed it and returned, then got fed up again and repeated the cycle.
When involved, I participated in parish ministries, for example, as lector or going to our parish’s Central American missions. I also continued to read new theology books coming out and went to spiritual lectures … never lost the thrill of the message of Jesus. About twelve years ago, I gradually felt the call to priesthood again, and was eventually ordained a priest in the Free Catholic Church by Bishop Tom Clary.
I was very active in the FCC, but eventually felt constrained to leave it because it was not encouraging the ministry I felt I was being led to. On March 2, 2002 I was ordained a bishop by Bishop Ken Maley, a wonderful and deeply spiritual person who has many dioceses throughout the American southwest and South America, with hundreds of priests. I then began the Catholic Diocese of One Spirit, with its own personality.
The Roman Catholic portion of the Catholic Church does not have the right to validate other portions of the Catholic Church, though they are the largest and claim this right. However, those RC bishops who have studied our Apostolic Succession, have all recognized that we are validly sacramental.
They also claim we are “illicit” because we do not follow Roman Canon Law – though that is exactly the purpose of WHY we are not Roman. As to the Catholic Diocese of One Spirit, we are in communion with all rites of Catholicism, Orthodoxy and Protestantism. How they feel about us is up to them, and does not worry us.
Question: I note on your website that you do wear clerical garb, including a bishop’s hat etc., at least on some occasions. Fiorenza and others do argue that clerical garb reinforces patriarchal and hierarchical assumptions and dualistic relations between clergy and laity. How would you respond to those arguments? (I note that your website site says your priests wear clerical garb only occasionally.)
Answer: We have no requirement for clerical garb, generally finding it a barrier, something that sets the wearer apart (not a good thing), and often conveys at least a little bit of an idea that the wearer is trying to maintain a “pedestal” position from times-past. We suggest our deacons, priests and bishops wear Roman collars and vestments as little as possible. Some of our priests find it more useful than I do and wear it more often than the rest of us, for the generally-given reasons: people will come right up to them and talk or ask questions or seek advice. Everyone is free to do whatever he or she wishes in this regard. We recognize the clerical garb as cultural signs of comfort for some and abrasive turn-offs for others. They are purely “tools,” and are certainly not essentials.
I myself wear a bishop’s collar and chain/cross at protests, where a random photograph might be published in the media and somebody would see it and think, “Look, a bishop supports this idea” (never guessing that it is a plain vanilla bishop, and not a “Roman” bishop). I also wear the bishop’s street outfit to some ordinations. I also usually wear vestments for ordinations, and there is a “comfort level” in that, and a sense for the participants that they are engaging in an act that has historical reach. Sometimes, I wear vestments for Mass. However, sometimes, I do not wear anything more than a stole for ordinations or Eucharists, because the participants (including me at some times) feel more in touch with the reality of what is going on that way. In all my weddings, I always give the couple getting married the option of my wearing an alb and a stole, a black suit/white shirt/tie, or the black suit/white shirt/tie plus stole. Surprisingly, the choices generally break down to 80% alb and stole, 10% each other choice. And this is from Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
Question: What is the future of the Catholic Church?
Answer: Article posted here
What is the Future of the Catholic Church?
by Bishop James H. Burch
(this essay won the CORPUS essay writing contest in 2005)
The Incredible Shrinking Church. In the third world regions of Latin America and Africa, where poverty creates connections between those in need and those who help, the church has been the champion of the poor. Here the ranks of the traditional church will continue to swell. But church membership increases will take place only while those regions and people are educationally and economically disadvantaged.
The ultimate process of the struggle for human justice is itself the institutional church’s undoing. The uncontested thrust of history is that as people become more educated and more affluent, they are concomitantly more put off by the church’s authoritarian dogmatism and unbending rules of behavior. The new middle class floods out the back door as fast as new poor recruits flood in the front.
In America, only between 16% and 20% of the population is in church on any given Sunday, and all across Europe the numbers are in the single digits. Clearly the model of church that we have used for centuries, while still working for a sliver of the population, is not the spiritual format of the future for current and future developed nations.
“Members” of the “Church” The divisions in Christianity are not only a scandal, they are a misrepresentation of reality. If an individual is baptized into one Christian denomination and then joins another, that individual is not re-baptized. This fundamental understanding of ONE baptism into Christ clearly indicates that there is only ONE Body of Christ, and thus only ONE church. Denominational differences – played out as essential – are really only housekeeping, relative ecclesiastical whims du-jour. The essentials of Christianity – the topics mentioned over and over again in the gospels – are relatively few, but vastly important.
And so it will inevitably come to pass that all Christians will one day be recognized as members of the one Church of Jesus. This thrust is the almost-visible movement of the Holy Spirit in our midst. Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Roman Catholics and most other denominations will eventually be considered one – welcome under the large roof of the “new” Church, equal brothers and sisters in Christ.
The command-and-control role of the pope will necessarily diminish, but the papal role of recognizable sign of unity will probably increase. This role will, by practical force of history, return to an early-centuries’ one of Unifier, Pontiff (“pons” and “factare” – Latin for “bridge builder”), the one who takes no sides but brings all together in loving acceptance.
The Institutional and Communal Life of the Church. What we have presumed for most of the life of the Church, but what was more culturally-related rather spiritually-required – that Church equals “ecclesiastical community” and scheduled-event liturgies – will change. The “Church” will ultimately become more what Jesus was initiating: a reminder of God’s pervasive presence in everything.
For the few, Sunday morning services at a local parish will continue to be a spiritual home. For the many, however, their sense of personal spirituality will lead them to integrate their spirituality into the “communities” or organizations to which they already belong, such as the PTA, VFW, Lions’ Clubs, neighborhood gym, etc. This is in keeping with the dominant message of Jesus, that the Kingdom of God is the all-pervasive and life-giving presence of God in everything and everybody now, at hand and within.
More home churches will flourish, although these also will only be a niche for a relatively small percentage of Christianity. The church will adapt – as the Episcopal Church has done – to ordaining average men and women to be priests for specific local groups only, in addition to its ordination of men and women to be pastoral leaders within the larger church community. The “local” priests will need less theological education, and arise from within the group itself and be ordained for the group itself. Priests of the future will be married or single, straight or gay, divorced or not. Leadership positions will become more democratically selected; popular voting will replace institutional designation.
The institutional portion of the future church will concentrate on ways to get the essential spiritual message of Jesus out to the general public, whether that be by advertising, encouragement of spiritually-based entertainment, education, speech bureaus, the increase in religious commentators on news shows, etc.
The institutional church will also figure out ways to train and sustain Christians from all walks of life to be “unofficial chaplains” to the secular organizations to which they belong, subtly and with encouragement, not with condemnation and vilification. These will be people who will know how to acknowledge and celebrate what Jesus taught us: the presence of God in All That Is.
The Church’s Body of Faith. The “Church” will ever so gradually return to its first centuries’ model: not defined by doctrinal purity or adhesion, or reigned-in by dogma, but rather infused with the lifestyle of Jesus, consciously tapped into the flow of Divinity within the universe.
As the church comes to embrace the world – God’s sustaining expression – and as it gains the benefit of the half of humanity it has shunned for most of its existence – women – it will gradually understand that frozen-in-time dogmas, doctrines and creeds are neither requirements to living life as Jesus recommended, nor benefits to believers. Thomas Aquinas, for example, in explaining the gifts of the Last Supper, talked of transubstantiation – which basically means nothing to people of our contemporary world – and he had no inkling of molecular structure. Dogmas, doctrines and creeds will ultimately come to be seen more as the cherished Body of Faith lived over the centuries, than as required perspectives on the Christian life.
The Church in the World. The Church will never include all the people of the world. That is because the “Church” is NOT the singular vehicle for “salvation” of the world; it is the wake-up call for the beauty of God’s magnificent presence … just as Jesus was. Other cultural spiritualities – themselves the blossoming of God-Within and arising from the experiences of regional histories and life-views – will also refine and flourish.
The Church will come to see its role as not “converting” vast cultures to the “belief” in Jesus, but rather to exert a wholesome and persuasive influence on others’ adapting and adopting the Good News that Jesus brought for all people: the living and loving presence of God within all, and the consequences of that reality.
All this will come about simply because it is the inevitable flow of history, ingrained as it is with the Holy Spirit.