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Faith & Parish

Wisconsin parish worker fired for feminist views

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Madison, WI
Ruth Kolpack, pastoral associate since 1995 at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Beloit, Wis., was fired earlier this month after a brief meeting with Madison Bishop Robert Morlino.

No specific accusations supporting the dismissal have been publicly made. A news release issued by Kolpack supporters stated that over the past three years, Madison diocese officials received “several accusations” against Kolpack. It added that last January, Fr. Steve Kortendick, pastor of St. Thomas and St. Jude parishes in Beloit, met with Morlino about those accusations. Since then, the release said, Kortendick and the diocesan chancellor, Kevin Phelan, had met in an unsuccessful effort to find a “positive resolution.”

According to the release, the investigation shifted to a thesis Kolpack had written for her master of divinity degree that was granted from St. Francis seminary.

The thesis, written in 2003, evidently stirred little or no interest from church leaders until lately. Kolpack's main theme is on inclusiveness, and what she sees as a patriarchal tone in the church's liturgy, with an implicit exclusion of women from key roles, such as the priesthood.

Cleveland: 52 fewer parishes in 15 months

WASHINGTON -- Come June 30, 2010, there will be 52 fewer parishes in the Cleveland Diocese.

Under a plan announced March 15 following a two-year planning process, Bishop Richard G. Lennon said 29 parishes will close and 41 others will merge to form 18 new parishes during the next 15 months.

The realignment will leave the country's 17th largest diocese with 172 parishes serving 753,000 Catholics across eight counties in northeastern Ohio.

All of the closings and mergers affect parishes in the diocese's urban cores -- Cleveland, Akron and Lorain -- and in several inner-ring suburbs. Some mergers involve parishes within blocks of each other.

Meeting with reporters, Lennon called the realignment "a very difficult but necessary step" to carry out the church's mission in northeast Ohio.

He cited the movement of Catholics from urban to outlying suburban and rural areas of the diocese, the declining number of priests in the diocese and faltering parish finances as reasons for the realignment. He said population shifts have resulted in two-thirds of Catholics in the diocese being served by one-third of the parishes.

Phoenix diocese cuts 17 staff positions

PHOENIX -- Phoenix Catholic officials announced a major realignment of the staff structure at the central administrative offices of the diocese.

The recent changes at the Diocesan Pastoral Center have come on the heels of a projected decrease in revenue and resulted in 17 positions being eliminated and two full-time positions being converted to part time. Six of the 19 jobs were vacant.

Bill forces closed churches to keep up interiors

CLEVELAND -- Faced with closings of Catholic churches in their neighborhoods, frustrated City Council members March 4 moved to toughen the city's historical-landmark law as a way to preserve the empty structures.

Currently, the city's historical landmark law protects only exteriors of historic buildings, but a council committee voted to introduce by March 16 legislation to protect interiors of historical landmarks, including closed churches.

New Orleans Catholic church given reprieve

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NEW ORLEANS -- Three years after they launched a desperate effort to save their Catholic parish from closure, members of historic St. Augustine Parish got official word Sunday (Mar. 1): They are off probation and back on solid ground.

Fr. Quentin Moody made the announcement at the conclusion of 10 a.m. Mass to a crowd of worshippers who interrupted his announcement with shouts and applause.

Among them were lay leaders who three years ago dug in their heels and resisted Archbishop Alfred Hughes' decision to close the wounded 168-year-old parish in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

The resistance morphed into a 20-day occupation of the St. Augustine rectory by young hurricane relief workers sympathetic to parishioners' pleas.

Hughes relented after a bitter public standoff. He told parishioners they had 18 months to stabilize the parish and meet certain ministry, finance and education benchmarks indicating parish vitality.

The old congregation in one of New Orleans' most historic neighborhoods is a cultural jewel. In its earliest days, white merchants, free black artisans and slaves worshipped there together.

Art spurs debate over Catholic identity, open inquiry

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"Catholic College Hangs Crucifixes" may not come across, at first glance, as a "Man Bites Dog" kind of headline, but at Boston College, crucifixes affixed to classroom walls, following on recent installations of other Catholic art on campus, have raised a howl in some quarters claiming infringement of intellectual freedom.

The debate on the campus of the Jesuit-run school might be seen variously as one more skirmish in the Catholic culture wars, as an affront on campus to those of other faiths, or as a sign that Catholic institutions are entering a new period of post-Vatican II maturity in which Catholics no longer have to prove they are open to other religious traditions.

'By 2050, 10% of Americans will attend church'

Booming megachurches might grab headlines, but the bigger story of American congregations is one of accelerating decline, according to David T. Olson, director of the American Church Research Project. Based on data collected from more than 200,000 churches, he projects that by 2050, only 10 percent of Americans will be in church on any given Sunday.

Olson, who’s also director of church planting for the Evangelical Covenant Church, analyzes the situation in his 2008 book, The American Church in Crisis. Some answers have been edited for length.

Q: Why do you say the American church is in crisis?

A: The big problem is America continues to grow in terms of population, but the percentage of Americans attending church on any given weekend keeps declining. In 1990, it was 20.4 percent. In 2000, it was 18.7. In 2007, it was 17.

Q: Polls suggest more than 40 percent of Americans are weekly churchgoers. Why the discrepancy between those findings and yours?

The priests, the nuns and the people

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In the recent film “Doubt,” set in 1964, Fr. Brendan Flynn, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, pastor of a parish in the Bronx, wants to bring the church closer to the people. He tells Sr. Aloysius Beauvier, principal of the parish elementary school, that “we [the clergy and nuns] are really just like them,” meaning the parishioners.

But Sr. Aloysius, played by Meryl Streep, protests vehemently, “We are not like them. We are different, and we must be different. These working-class people depend on us” to be different, to be above and apart from them, to guide them and to care for their children whom they have entrusted to us.

Both were right.

Faithful Fools chip away at the boundaries

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SAN FRANCISCO -- It was nearing the end of the first day of Gillian Siple’s street retreat and she was hungry. Nervously approaching a homeless man standing on the corner, Siple asked him for directions to the nearest soup kitchen.

His news was not good. There weren’t any nearby. But the man, who later told her his name was Thomas, reached into one of the plastic bags he was carrying. “I can offer you this rice if you are hungry.”

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