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Bend, Ore. bishop warns against attending breakaway congregation's liturgies

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Baker, Ore., Bishop Liam Cary made specific over the weekend what had been implicit in earlier public statements — that “for a Roman Catholic to receive Communion at a Mass where he (James Radloff) presides would contradict the meaning of Roman Catholic communion” and sever that person's full membership in the Roman Catholic church.

In the brief May 30 open letter to parishioners inserted into weekend Mass bulletins at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Bend as well as other parishes, Cary did not use the word excommunication, but:

  • Said he was greatly saddened that “on his own initiative” Radloff “deliberately stepped out of communion with the Catholic faithful of Central Oregon” to seek priesthood in the Evangelical Catholic Church;
  • Reminded Catholics, “Thankfully, the Lord invites us to pass through the gate of His mercy in the sacrament of confession to be welcomed back into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church”;

The statement came as those involved in forming an ECC congregation in Bend ran an advertisement in Bend's newspaper, The Bulletin, on May 31 promoting two inaugural events for ECC Holy Communion Church — a June 7 “evening of information and celebration with Bishop James Wilkowski and Fr. James Radloff” and a June 8 “opening Mass” with Wilkowski and Radloff as celebrants.

An ECC news release April 22 said Radloff was being “granted transitional faculties to function as a priest of the Evangelical Catholic Diocese of the Northwest” while the formal process for his incardination proceeded.

Meanwhile, on May 29 Wilkowski posted a public apology on the ECC website for controversial remarks he made in a May 22 statement in which he had criticized what he called Cary's “hyper-reactive responses” and “paranoia over having some of his people cross the street to the Evangelical Catholic Church ...”

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In the May 22 statement, Wilkowski alluded to Cary as a “bully,” repeated charges that Cary was motivated by “increasing loss of people and their wallets crossing the street to become part of the new parish community,” and said he was “prepared to welcome Bishop Cary for a one-on-one visit during my visit to Bend.”

Wilkowski concluded the May 22 narrative: “My only warning would be to all of the good members of the many Roman Catholic parishes of the Diocese of Baker is this: If you see delivery trucks bringing Kool-Aid to your parish, avoid the Chalice at the next Mass.”

Wilkowski reported that he had received complaints about the Kool-Aid allusion and the tone of his commentary.

In his May 29 “apologia,” Wilkowski defended use of “blunt and honest language” by saying his “promise to care, serve and protect the People of God must never be tepid or diluted — especially if I feel the People of God are being mislead [sic] or abused by a bully.” 

Wilkowski also used stark language at times in other writing about the Bend situation. In a May 10 website posting, he originally described Cary's emphasis on the Roman Catholic church as the one, true church as telling all others that they were “spiritually SOL.” Three days after the posting, the cultural shorthand was amended to read, “... spirituality and sacramentally ineligible for welcoming into the Kingdom of God.”

The formation of the Bend ECC congregation comes as a culminating development in a year-long confrontation between Radloff and Cary. Following public and behind-the-scenes tension between the two, last Oct. 1 Cary employed formal canonical procedures to remove Radloff as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish where he had served 21 months.

At the time Cary praised Radloff's work at the parish, said Radloff remained a priest in good standing, and stated Radloff had done nothing illegal. However, the bishop also said he would not release the reasons for the pastor's ouster saying he was not at liberty to do so.

Radloff appealed his removal to the Vatican in late October. Part of the filing asked that Cary's reasons for the dismissal be made public. Radloff and his canonical advisor, Fr. Thomas Faucher of Boise, Idaho, were required to sign a confidentiality agreement to view Cary's reasons and rationale.

In a Jan. 31 decision made public in Bend on Feb. 14, the Congregation for Clergy denied Radloff's appeal and allowed Cary to keep his reasons secret as well as continue the bar on Radloff's public ministry.

Radloff announced on April 22 that he was leaving the Roman Catholic Church for the ECC. An April 25 open letter on the diocesan website by Cary encouraged Radloff to return to the Catholic church. Radloff shortly afterward filed a demand order to have contests of his diocesan personnel file turned over to him.

On May 8, Radloff posted a 1,300-word open letter on his Facebook page in which he thanked supporters, expressed dedication to priestly ministry, and answered questions of why he decided to move to the ECC, why he rejected Cary's appeal to return, and why launching a new church in Bend should not be considered “vindictive.”

On May 10, Cary issued a parish bulletin message that cautioned Catholics to remain steadfast to the Catholic church “in light of recent events here in Central Oregon.”

Home to more than 2,000 registered households during Radloff's tenure, St. Francis of Assisi is the only Roman Catholic congregation in Bend although it supports two church sites — a large, new facility and school built in recent years and the historic parish church in downtown Bend. While the diocese's cathedral is in Baker, diocesan offices are located in Bend.

Former and current St. Francis of Assisi parishioners indicate that the parish is sharply divided in some quarters in the wake of the Cary-Radloff stand-off.

“It is sad that it has come to this,” a long-time parishioner told NCR on June 1. Asking to remain anonymous because previous comments had led to “some angry phone calls,” the parishioner added: “I still do not know what caused the disciplinarian action by Bishop Cary but at this point many are ready to move on and build on what good things we have as a parish. We have two wonderful priests who those who have stuck around are very much enjoying.

 “It is sad that Fr. Radloff has chosen to come back to this community and cause the rift that has occurred. ... The bishop’s most recent letter pretty much sums up my feelings. The new church is nothing more than just another liberal, Protestant sect and I fear that those who follow Radloff now will live to regret the day that they left a Church that is certainly not perfect but has the sacraments to join another one with as many imperfections and non-recognized so-called sacraments.”

 A St. Francis veteran who will be attending the coming weekend's ECC events wrote in an email to NCR: “Bishop Cary did what I fully expected, and he did it in time to give people the chance to weigh their options before they excommunicate themselves next Sunday, including the path of repentance and return. Fair enough. In his position he could not have done anything other, except he could have heated up the language, which he was wise not to do.”

Founded in 1997, the ECC claims much theology in common with the Latin Rite church, but it ordains married or single male and female deacons, priests and bishops; accepts gay marriage; fosters receipt of communion by the divorced and remarried; and allows birth control.

It reports about 1,500 members worldwide in five dioceses — four in the U.S. and one in Ireland.

The Bend newspaper advertisement on the June 7-8 ECC events lists a website for Holy Communion Church and noted, “All contributions including those made during offerings through July 6th will be matched up to $75,000.”

Scheduled to run again this Friday, the ad said weekly 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Sunday Masses will begin June 15 at a Bend senior center.

[Dan Morris-Young is an NCR West Coast Correspondent. His email address is dmyoung@ncronline.org.]

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