The inscrutable Burke

womenpriests2 02We've seen many stories over the years of women proclaiming that they are Roman Catholic priests. In many of these articles, reporters forget to mention that the priests are in no way recognized by the Roman Catholic Church. Tim Townsend has been a notable exception to this rule, and he had a nice follow-up story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last week. So last month one of these ordinations by Roman Catholic Womenpriests took place in St. Louis. Since the group isn't actually Roman Catholic, it had to find a different place for the ordinations. Rabbi Susan Talve of Central Reform Congregation offered to host. This caused some major ripples in the St. Louis interfaith community, which had previously enjoyed good relations between the archdiocese and the Jewish congregation. Which brings us to the most recent story:

About 150 people from St. Cronan's Catholic Church huddled together for warmth under a huge tarp on the street next to their church Tuesday night. They prayed as the rain and wind whipped through their makeshift sanctuary.

Their church building -- big, warm and dry -- stood just yards away, but the St. Cronan parishioners had decided that they'd rather be cold and wet than without a woman they called their "friend and sister," Rabbi Susan Talve of Central Reform Congregation.

Talve has spoken at St. Cronan's, a parish known for its progressive social activism, during many previous prayer services during the Advent season. But this year, the pastoral leadership received a phone call from St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke, asking them to revoke Talve's invitation.

Talve infuriated Burke last month when she and her board hosted a ceremony for two Catholic women, Rose Marie Hudson and Elsie Hainz McGrath, who were being ordained into a group called Roman Catholic Womenpriests.

Townsend is such a good writer and manages to describe things so richly with a minimum of words. And this is precisely the kind of article that should be written in the ongoing story about how Archbishop Burke deals with those under his care.

I'll just note that this story is very sympathetic toward one side in this conflict. On the one hand you have this group of noble people willing to battle hardship for their friend and sister. On the other hand you have Burke, a meanie whose opposition to Talve's role in the November ordinations isn't explained at all. He's infuriated, we read. But why? Why does he think interfaith involvement with Talve -- previously a common occurrence -- is no longer a good idea?

Townsend attempted to get the archdiocese's perspective and got this comment, which struck me as somewhat funny:

A spokeswoman said it would be inappropriate for the archdiocese to comment on an event that took place off church property.

And that's certainly true. But Townsend has given the archdiocese perspective on the larger matter in previous stories. It might have been worthwhile to throw in a line. There are reasons why Burke opposes renegade ordinations, ordinations of females and participation with groups that work against the church. We should hear a bit about them. It doesn't need to be long, but it shouldn't be assumed readers know why Burke has decided as he has.

Townsend mentions St. Cronan's "progressive social activism," a good detail that probably explains some of the parish's interfaith political work. But he also mentions that the worship service included readings from Annie Dillard and a sermon from Talve. These details signal to the reader a bit about the type of congregation St. Cronan's is theologically.

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