Dark Ages continue in Baltimore

mass painting 01For several days now, I have been watching for "dark ages" updates at the Baltimore Sun, in the wake of the disciplinary actions taken against Father Ray Martin by new Baltimore Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien, he of the military ministry background. Click here for the earlier post on this story. The Sun did not cover the Sunday services at the three parishes affected by Father Martin's departure. However, local television stations did and one has posted a video report on the turmoil. Also, over at ABC2News.com you can get some of the flavor of the reactions, which are consistent with what people said earlier -- only cranked up a notch or two by the presence of live microphones and cameras.

"We're pretty much being racist, that we can't accept other religions," said Parishioner Kristen Zygala.

It's the first Sunday Father Ray Martin hasn't presided over mass after being asked to resign. Protesters say it all stems from a funeral last month, that involved an Episcopalian minister. It was an interfaith service for Shirley Doda, who's family arranged the walkout Sunday morning.

"It's really hard for me to teach my children to go to reconciliation and to forgive for a mistake, when they can't understand why Father Ray can't be forgiven for a mistake that he may have made," said Anita Doda, Shirley's daughter-in-law.

We'll ignore the fact that "Parishioner" is not a formal title, with a large "P," in Associated Press style and that "Episcopalian" is a noun and not an adjective. The thrust of the family protest remains.

But the archbishop is now guilty of racism? And, again, we see the consistent blurring of the line between ecumenical cooperation and the violation of centuries of Catholic teaching about the Holy Sacraments. From a journalistic point of view, the important thing to note is that it does not appear we are going to learn any new information about what happened at the altar during the controversial Mass. There are crucial details missing -- primarily whether the Rev. Annette Chappell, rector of the Episcopal Church of the Redemption, was wearing liturgical vestments during the rite and whether she remained near the altar during the consecration prayers.

The ABC piece does note:

The Archdiocese says it's waiting to hear from Father Ray Martin on whether he would like to continue as a priest. A spokesman says they are willing to consider bringing him back to the parish.

Meanwhile, the Sun did offer another take on the crisis, by featured columnist Dan Rodricks. There really is not much in it, in terms of new information, but it does give you more of an idea why the newspaper is so fired up:

In its account of this story Friday, Catholic World News reported this as "liturgical abuse."

As distressing as this story is for the people of Father Ray Martin's three parishes, it was a relief to see the word "liturgical" between "priest accused of" and "abuse" in a headline. (Friday morning, when The Sun's report on Martin's dismissal appeared on our Web site, two of the Google ads that popped up next to it were for child sex-offender lists.)

Here, in the long wake of the priest sexual-abuse scandals, the Baltimore Archdiocese's reference to Father Martin's offenses as "bringing scandal to the church" seem almost laughable.

What were his offenses? Martin allowed other clergy to participate in the Oct. 15 funeral of longtime Locust Point activist Shirley Doda at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church on Fort Avenue. Among those at the altar was the Rev. Annette Chappell, the pastor of nearby Episcopal Church of the Redemption. Doda's son had asked Chappell to participate in the Mass.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. It is not unusual to see clergy of other churches and faiths at Catholic services. In fact, it was something for which O'Brien's predecessor, Cardinal William H. Keeler, was noted. Pope John Paul II praised Keeler for his ecumenical work toward "interfaith understanding." And two days after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Keeler convened and conducted a prayer vigil at the Basilica of the Assumption with an imam and a rabbi.

So many issues jammed into one place, it's hard to comment on them all.

Once again, popes, cardinals and bishops have taken part in all kinds of interfaith and ecumenical rites (some of them controversial), but that is not the same thing as having an ordained clergyperson from another flock take part in a Mass. This whole conflict is not over ecumenicism, it's over Catholic teachings about the Sacraments.

Rodricks ends with these simple words addressed to Baltimore Catholics: "Your country is a democracy. Your church isn't."

Clearly, that is a statement that pleases many Baltimore Catholics, while it causes others to mourn. That's the story. Can The Sun cover both sides of that story?

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