When I was asked to write on the topic of how to change or fix the independent catholic movement, I jumped at that the opportunity to write on many things I’ve experienced over the past 17 years; but each one carried with it a certain level of pain or animosity and I began to wonder if I was jumping at the opportunity for justice or to effect real change. You see, much of what I would change in the independent movement comes from some very deeply negative things I have experienced in my 17, almost 18 years, of ministry in the Independent Sacramental Movement.
In my first year, even before my own ordination, my own bishop engaged in sexual banter when he visited my home and came upon one of our laundry chute doors at “just the right height” for some sort of unnatural behavior whereupon someone climbs into the chute… well… I don’t think I need to go into graphic detail about his idea, but suffice it to say I felt violated and abused in that moment he looked at me suggesting I was the one to enter the chute. This was the man who was going to ordain me to the priesthood in the independent movement. Looking back, I admit I had second thoughts about joining that particular church; however, my archbishop was an incredibly beautiful soul who was very understanding and helped me walk through the process to charge that bishop with misconduct. He left the church rather than face the charges he knew would soon be filed.
Later on, that same beautiful man of an archbishop lied to me and his entire church about various, yet important things – I would have stood proudly beside him had he just come to me and spoken about his difficulties rather than conduct his own investigation that was allegedly against him. Half his church left at that time.
After leaving that church, I joined an order where a dear friend of mine from the previous church had gone – it was a religious order of Franciscans and for a while it was good. I was, at one point, tasked with the dubious job of collecting the historical records for the order and helping the order to grow beyond the few priests currently in its care. While researching the history of the order, I found some unusual claims by its founder. When I brought these things to the attention of my friend and bishop, he suggested I dig deeper. The founder was still a “quazi-bishop” of the order, though he seemingly changed his preferred religious affiliation. Soon after I began my investigation, he got wind of what was happening and threatened with the single most thing I hold dear and sacred to my soul – he threatened to shove the Eucharist down my throat. My friend and bishop turned his back on me because of his comfortable position as the newly installed archbishop of the church.
I could go on and on and on and on… I could talk about the bishops (and those posing to be bishops) who have engaged in attack’s and tirades. I could talk about the priests who hate celebrating the sacraments, but love collecting the fees. I could talk about the bishops who charge for ordinations and consecrations. I could talk about so any things that are rampant in the independent catholic movement, but ultimately none of that would serve any good.
So what exactly do I think I would do to change the independent movement? Me. I can no more suggest anything that could dramatically improve the movement other than to change me and my own awareness and mindset. I can no more change the movement itself than I can change my intense love of the Eucharist.
It has taken me over 17 years of service in the movement to realize there will always be those who flock to the independent movement because of the perceived power and control they think they wield. There is nothing I can do to ever change that. Instead, I need to change my observations and focus in on my own ministry – ignoring those who spew their vitriol and hatred for those who refuse to bow to their whim. In changing me, I have to return to being a minister and allowing the power hungry to live front and center in my mind. I have to remind myself that I am a servant to the People of God, not to the war-mongers and haters, megalomaniacs and charlatans.
I have to remind myself, that even though there have been struggles in the Church I celebrate the mysteries of my faith, I have found a home, not a hostel, where I can flourish and serve the people who long for love and forgiveness, compassion and understanding. I have to refocus away from those who would try to condemn and focus on those who would lift up and celebrate the mysteries of faith. I have to return to the teachings of my Christ and Savior, Jesus.
If there was one thing I would change outside of myself, it would be the infighting and power struggles. We are, first and foremost, servants to the people – not their masters. We have to return to the teachings we claim to espouse. I would remind my Sisters and Brothers of the meaning and mystery behind the priesthood.
The Rev. Father Kenneth Nelan is the pastor of the Sacred Wandering Pastoral Center in Milwaukee Wisconsin. He is also the celebrant of the Sunday Mass broadcast on Facebook.