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Faith & Parish

Harmed by church, faithful gather to seek healing

PITTSBURGH
They gathered quietly for the "Service of Apology."

The roughly 250 people who came together at St. Paul Cathedral did not share the usual greetings with fellow parishioners that can be seen before Mass on any given Sunday throughout the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

Many of these people were strangers to each other, but all were gathered for the service led by Pittsburgh Bishop David A. Zubik April 7.

Bishop Zubik had announced in a mid-Lent column in the Pittsburgh Catholic, the diocesan newspaper, that he would conduct the service for those "who have been harmed by the church in any way. There will be nothing expected of you but your presence and your willingness to pray with me."

Those who took their seats at the cathedral that evening were a mix of men and women, with the older more evident than the young.

As they came in, most dipped their fingers in the holy water font, made the sign of the cross, pulled down the kneelers in the pews and folded their hands in prayer. It was clearly a gathering of Catholics, comfortable in a Catholic environment, even though some may not have been in church for many years.

Parish groups seek mediation on church closings

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Catholics in eight U.S. dioceses who are fighting to keep their parishes open have asked the Vatican to suspend any actions to close churches as well as legal proceedings resulting from closings and to mandate mediation to solve the disputes.

Peter Borre, chair of the Council of Parishes, which describes itself as a support and advocacy group for Boston's Catholic parishes, hand delivered the "Request for Mediation" April 7 to the Vatican's Under-Secretary for Relations with States, a section with the Secretariat of State, on behalf of 31 parishioner groups in the dioceses of Boston, Allentown, Pa., Buffalo, Cleveland, New Orleans, Scranton, Pa., Springfield, Mass., and New York.

Madison bishop hears supporters of fired parish worker

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Madison Bishop Robert Morlino met in a packed church hall with parishioners of St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Beloit, Wis., Friday night to discuss why he fired Ruth Kolpack, a pastoral associate, last month.

He said little but listened to a number of Kolpack supporters who vigorously defended their dismissed parishioner.

In 2003, Kolpack wrote a thesis for a master’s degree in which she argued for more gender-inclusive language in Catholic liturgies. Last month, after meeting with Kolpack briefly, the bishop asked her to denounce that paper. When she refused, he fired her.

Details on what precisely led to the dismissal have not been divulged. However, a statement on the Madison diocese's Web site explained that the bishop acted because he could not trust her to teach authentic Catholic doctrine.

Kolpack has been a member of St. Thomas parish for 35 years and worked there for 26 years. Her termination upset many parishioners there.

Morlino had agreed to meet with St. Thomas parishioners and came to the parish Friday evening where an estimated 300 to 400 supporters had gathered.

Saving a 'fragile' Catholic school system

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Catholic schools in the United States are disappearing. Not entirely, of course, and no one is yet declaring them an endangered species. But the same demographic and financial forces largely behind the closing and mergers of hundreds of parishes during the past half century are the same forces driving the steady shrinking of the country's Catholic school system, a downsizing that has accelerated in some areas in recent months.

"It is worrisome and it's fragile," Dr. Karen Ristau, president of the National Catholic Educational Association, said of the Catholic education system. "But I think it is absolutely worth saving. We're seeing now very sincere efforts to do that."

'Thesis not sole cause of Kolpack dismissal'

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A 2003 master’s thesis of a pastoral associate in Beloit, Wis., was not, alone, the reason for her dismissal, according to a March 31 statement on the Madison diocese Web site.

The thesis, written by Ruth Kolpack, 64, who was fired March 12 from her position at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish by Madison Bishop Robert Morlino, had argued for more gender-inclusive language in the Mass and was critical of church structure.

Since her termination, the diocese has refused to discuss specifics in the case, saying it has wanted to protect Kolpack’s reputation.

Kolpack and her supporters have said that during a brief meeting Morlino required her to denounce her thesis, make a profession of faith and take an oath of loyalty to remain in her position. She told parishioners she could do the latter two, but could not denounce her thesis. To do so, she said, “would be dishonest of me.”

'Free God language': fired parish worker's thesis

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In the same way that God acted to save the Israelites from captivity, God is “acting now to free women from their captivity” and to free “God language from the captivity of patriarchy,” wrote Ruth M. Kolpack, the pastoral associate recently fired by Madison, Wis., Bishop Robert Morlino, in an academic paper six years ago.

Central to the firing earlier this month was Morlino’s claim that her views of Jesus were “off base,” according to Kolpack’s account of their 10-minute meeting, as well as his concern about the thesis that she had written. According to Kolpack, the bishop said he had read “bits and pieces” of the paper.

The document in question actually comprises three papers totaling 51 pages of text and footnotes that investigate a comprehensive examination topic under the heading, “Inclusive Language for Naming God: Challenge for the Church.”

The papers, dated January through March, deal with the subject, respectively, from the perspectives of scripture, systematic theology and moral theology. The papers were written to fulfill requirements for a master of divinity degree at St. Francis Seminary.

Madison's Morlino noted for othodoxy, controversy

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Madison Bishop Robert Morlino’s dismissal of a pastoral associate in a Beloit, Wis., parish for alleged breaches of orthodoxy might have surprised some, but not local Catholics who know their bishop’s mind and are familiar with actions he has taken in his five years in the diocese.

Ruth Kolpack was let go from her post at St. Thomas the Apostle Church, one that she held since 1995, after meeting with Morino for 10 minutes earlier this month. During that meeting he asked her for an oath of loyalty and to denounce a scholarly thesis, supportive of women’s rights in the church, that she had written in 2003.

She agreed to the former, refused the latter -- and she was out of a job.

The bishop’s action has touched off a firestorm of protest inside and outside the diocese, which refuses to offer specifics for the dismissal, citing the need to respect Kolpack’s privacy.

Brent M. King, director of communications for the diocese, in response to an NCR query, issued a statement March 17, saying that it is “out of respect for the dignity and good reputation of every person involved” that specifics cannot be discussed.

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July 18-31, 2014

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