This article is going to read like it’s all about me. Please be patient. It’s not.
I am a cradle Roman Catholic. My family participated, as a family, in many of the Roman Catholic devotions and rituals of the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. I’m a product of 15 years of Roman Catholic formal education. 13 years of my adult work experience has been as a certified director of religious education in the Archdioceses of Detroit, MI and Baltimore, MD and the Diocese of Grand Rapids, MI. From ages 15 thru 35, I served multiple parishes as a catechist certified by the Archdiocese of Detroit, MI. Sacred Heart seminary, Detroit, MI was my home for almost 2 years. In 1968-72, I was initially a candidate for ordination to the permanent diaconate for the Archdiocese of Detroit, MI until Rome put the kibosh on Detroit’s request for an age dispensation from the 35 year age requirement. Rome did reduce the age to 32-1/2 years. I was tonsured and received all the minor orders, except sub-diaconate, by Roman Catholic bishops of the Archdiocese of Detroit but could not be ordained to the diaconate because I was only 28 when the first class was ordained in 1971.
For me, Vatican II was not just a breath of fresh air, it was a loving jolt in my mind and heart. I was ecstatic! There was no hesitation in me when opportunities for reform were made available. I was an organizer of a ‘floating parish’ which was non-geographical and self-governing. I jumped into the permanent diaconate with both feet. I was an extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist and Lector every chance I got. Thanks to John Cardinal Dearden, the Archdiocese of Detroit, MI was in the forefront of progressive Catholicism of that time. I couldn’t have been happier! Then came the push back.
Pastors and some parishes expressed uncertainty and resistance. Over the years, and with the appointment of regressive bishops of the Archdiocese, the momentum slowed considerably and eventually stopped altogether. In 1978, after being fired from the parish in Catonsville, MD where I was employed as the parish religious education director, I started a 24 yr funk.
I’m telling you all of this so that you might better understand why I claim to be an INDEPENDENT Roman Catholic today.
After my firing in 1978 along with my disappointment over the slowdown of reform in Detroit, I decided that I could no longer present myself in a leadership position within the Roman Catholic church (RCC). I tried to remain attached to a Roman parish for a couple of years but my heart just wasn’t in it any longer. I never lost my faith but my church participation was practically nil.
It was 2002. I had had a conversation with a boyhood friend who brought it to my attention that I was driving myself and everyone else crazy with my spiritual unsettledness over the church. Give it up or fix it was his advice. After some prayerful discernment, I decided to fix it. But how?
I have a cousin who was an independent Catholic priest and is now a bishop. So, I knew there was such a thing as independent Catholicism. Off to Google and the web I went. In 2002, my research left me with the perception that there were five kinds of independent Catholic jurisdictions: traditionalists, conservatives, moderates, New Wave, and the United Catholic Church (UCC).
At the time, Archbishop Robert M. Bowman was the UCC presiding bishop. He became my mentor and friend. He ordained me to the diaconate in 2002, and the priesthood in 2003. I remained an endorsed clergy person of the UCC until 2006 when I was forced out. During those years in the UCC, I maintained the view and conducted myself as an independent Roman Catholic while the UCC itself and most other independent Catholic jurisdictions claimed their orders thru the Old Catholic church. After leaving the UCC, I dabbled in Old Catholicism and considered incardinating into some jurisdictions Old Catholic jurisdictions but it just didn’t seem like a good fit for me. So, I and our community remain today totally autocepahlous. We are under no jurisdictional authority.
Finally, we come to the point of this article. After a lifetime of commitment to the Roman Catholic church, I finally worked it out in my head that I refuse to be put out of it by the Vatican. The RCC has always been my church home and remains so today. Some folks within the RCC define faithful dissenters as people who remain within the RCC but dissent from some of her teachings or practices. I say to those folks that I am also a faithful dissenter even though I have been put out of the RCC. I absolutely and unequivocally refuse to allow anyone, be they pope or bishop, to take my faith from me. While I respect and do consider the magisterium and tradition of the RCC, it is my informed conscience that will decide matters of faith and morals for me.
I am on somewhat of a crusade. I am calling on dissenting Roman Catholics, whether within or outside the RCC, to stand up and declare their dissent openly. But do not give up your Roman Catholicism. Claim it proudly and as a person of its faith. Do not hold to Old Catholicism, Episcopalianism, or other liturgical Christian faiths if, in your heart, you are Roman Catholic. Claim it; be loud and proud!
Our Blessed John XXIII Community is an INDEPENDENT Roman Catholic parish. We are not under the authority of the Pope nor the archbishop of the Archdiocese of Detroit, MI.
There’s no such thing you say! I say there is.
You, too, can continue your present independent catholic parish/ministry but do so as an INDEPENDENT Roman Catholic parish/ministry.
Peace and continued blessings.
Bishop Jerry is pastor of Blessed John XXIII Community in Wyandotte, MI.
The Right Rev. Gregory Godsey, OSFoc is the Managing Editor of Convergent Streams. He is the Presiding Bishop of the Old Catholic Churches International and the Bishop Ordinary of the Diocese of Saint Maximilian Kolbe (AL, FL, GA, and SC). He is also the Director of the Office of Communications and Media Relations for the OCCI. He lives in North Augusta, South Carolina with his wife and son.