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Bishop encourages Oregon priest to return to Roman Catholic Church

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Bishop Liam Cary posted a statement on the diocese of Baker, Ore., website Friday, saying he has written Fr. James Radloff to ask the priest to reconsider his recently announced departure from the Roman Catholic Church to seek incardination into the Evangelical Catholic Church (ECC).

"Out of concern for the confusion and sorrow this news has brought to Roman Catholics, I have written Father Radloff to encourage him to reconsider his decision in light of the detrimental effects it will have on him personally and on the Catholic faithful he served so long," Cary wrote, adding: "The doors of the Church are open to his return. I am hopeful that he will choose to walk through them into reconciliation and peace."

In an email to NCR on Friday, Radloff said he would respond to Cary "once I have actually received the letter from the bishop ... which I have not at this time."

In an email Monday morning, the priest wrote, "The bishop's letter was read at St. Edward in Sisters where I went [to] Mass. And Fr. Julian [Cassar] made the bishop's letter part of his homily at St. Francis in Bend." Cassar is pastor at St. Francis.

"I find it confusing that a bishop with some Scripture knowledge is so inept when it comes to the reconciliation process," Radloff added. "He should have taken it to me first before taking it to the Church." He suggested the bishop "re-read Matt. 18:15-17" on Jesus' teaching on reconciliation. *

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In an early morning email to "friends" on Saturday, Radloff provided an Internet link to Cary's statement and asked recipients to consider a question before reading it: "A woman in an abusive relationship leaves the man who is nothing like the man she originally married and files for divorce. She hears from others, because she herself has NOT [Radloff's emphasis] yet heard from this man, that he wants her back. Should she return?"

Following a nearly yearlong confrontation between the two clerics, Radloff announced publicly on April 22 his decision to end more than two decades as a Roman Catholic priest to become affiliated with the ECC.

Radloff "made his Profession of Faith and has renewed his Baptismal Promises to Bishop James Alan Wilkowski, Evangelical Catholic Bishop for the Diocese of the Northwest on April 23," according to an April 26 press release from ECC headquarters in Chicago.

It was unclear if Cary was aware that Radloff had made a profession of faith to the ECC before posting the public notice that the priest is welcome to return to the Roman Catholic Church.

An independent denomination formed in 1997, the Evangelical Catholic Church claims much theology in common with the Latin Rite church, but it ordains married or single female and male deacons, priests and bishops; accepts gay marriage; fosters the receipt of its Communion by divorced and/or remarried people; and allows birth control.

Headquartered in Chicago, the ECC has four dioceses in the United States and one in Ireland. It has about 1,500 members worldwide.

Radloff's announced move from the Roman Catholic Church came after nearly a year of confrontation between him and Cary. The tensions were punctuated by Cary's Oct. 1 formal canonical removal of Radloff as pastor of Bend's St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Radloff's Vatican appeal of that ouster, and the Jan. 31 rejection of that appeal by the Congregation for Clergy.

NCR asked Radloff more than a week ago: "If Bishop Cary called you today or tomorrow and asked that you reconsider, that he is having intense reservations on how the past year has unfolded, etc., how would you respond?"

Radloff wrote in response: "I would emphatically say, 'NO'! My eyes have now been opened to the reality of a whole new style of church governance. I have already found in my contact with Bishop James Wilkowski a form of leadership that builds up and serves the priests and the people of the Church. In a few days I have dialogued more with Bishop Wilkowski than I have ever done with Bishop Liam Cary. I am still getting used to going to him for approval of something and he is giving me advice and opinions instead. I have had to be turned around 180 degrees to ask the approval of the laity instead. I already knew that the laity are gifted and wise, but now I better appreciate how truly talented they are in creating Church in the best sense of what it means to be Church."

The Bend daily newspaper, The Bulletin, on Sunday quoted Radloff as saying: "I would still like reconciliation, but at this point, it may be between brothers, not necessarily me coming back to the Roman Catholic Church."

According to a Seattle-based canon lawyer consulted by NCR, a bishop has the authority to lift the excommunication of a priest who has brought it onto himself (latae sententiae) in a situation such as Radloff's. 

Calls and emails to the Baker diocese about the bishop's statement have not been returned. 

*The earlier version of this story had the incorrect Bible verses.

A version of this story appeared in the May 9-22, 2014 print issue under the headline: Bishop encourages priest to return to Roman Catholic church .

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