So did you see that bizarre story about the Roman Catholic priest who got way out of line? No, no, not that one. Not the priest who has been charged with stalking Conan O'Brien. I have no idea what that's all about and I'm not sure I want to know (check out the role that La Dolce Vida plays in this story).
No, I'm talking about the story unfolding here in Baltimore, where the brand new Roman Catholic archbishop is sending signals that that there is a new man in town. The Baltimore Sun is treating this like a major scandal and, no surprise, the newspaper seems to be shocked by the archbishop's actions. Here's the top of the story:
Baltimore's new Roman Catholic archbishop removed a priest who was pastor of three South Baltimore parishes for offenses that include officiating at a funeral Mass with an Episcopal priest, which violates canon law.
Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien personally ordered the Rev. Ray Martin, who has led the Catholic Community of South Baltimore for five years, to resign from the three churches and sign a statement yesterday apologizing for "bringing scandal to the church."
Martin led the funeral Mass on Oct. 15 for Locust Point activist Ann Shirley Doda at Our Lady of Good Counsel with several clergy, including the Rev. Annette Chappell, the pastor of the Episcopal Church of the Redemption in Locust Point, Martin said.
Now, the first sign of what's happening here is the name of Father Martin's operation in South Baltimore -- the Catholic Community. Everywhere I have covered the religion beat, the most edgy, progressive Catholic congregations have either had "community" or "center" in their names, as opposed to "church" or "parish." I am not sure why that is, but there you go. Think "Paulist Center" in the Boston area.
The good news is that the Sun story does a pretty good job of letting the reader know why the priest is in trouble, even though lots of people are quoted who are very upset with the archbishop for enforcing Catholic teachings. Here is some background:
Sean Caine, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Baltimore, said this was one example of repeated administrative and liturgical offenses Martin had committed in more than a year.
"Father Martin's received advice and counsel on numerous occasions from the archdiocese, and he has repeatedly violated church teaching," Caine said. His major offense was not complying with hiring and screening policies, but he also allowed dogs in the sanctuary and did not show up for a baptism, Caine said.
Dogs in the sanctuary? Is this a reference to some kind of hip St. Francis rite? However, this is not the key point. Here is the heart of the matter, describing the role of the female Episcopal priest:
Chappell did not participate in the consecration of the Eucharist but read the Gospel at the service, Martin said. Someone at the service reported to the archdiocese that Martin gestured to Chappell to take Communion, though Martin said he did not recall doing so.
Only ordained priests and deacons may read the Gospel at Mass, and non-Catholics may not receive Communion.
"I think that canon laws exist to protect the church from extremism. I don't find that this is such an extreme situation," Martin said.
The story does not give us two key details. It would have been appropriate, in this case, to have actually quoted some of the Catholic canon laws that were broken -- so everyone is clear that there were, in fact, laws broken.
I also wondered if Chappell was fully vested for the rite, or merely in clerical clothing. I have been present in Episcopal services in which Catholic clergy take part -- even very conservative bishops -- yet they are careful not to fully vest as concelebrants. They also remain in the congregation or are careful to leave the altar area during the consecration prayers.
I would think that the rules would be even more strict when the tables are turned and there are Episcopalians (from a church with open Communion) taking part in a Mass in a Catholic setting (a church that practices the ancient tradition of closed Communion).
One more key question: Did Chappell, wherever she was in the sanctuary, raise her hand in blessing during that part of the Mass?
So there are key details included in this story, but other details missing. It's safe to assume that Father Martin's supporters would consider these details to be picky or even trivial. After all, this is how the story ends:
Joyce Bauerle, a longtime friend of Shirley Doda, said having Chappell at her friend's funeral service was a beautiful, ecumenical tribute to a woman who battled the status quo.
"What, are we in the Dark Ages again? This is absolutely ridiculous," Bauerle said.
Victor Doda, who now operates the family funeral home, said he learned of Martin's fate after conducting a funeral with him. ...
"This ruins my mother's legacy," he said. "My mother would be turning in her grave to know that a priest was being victimized like this."
I hope the Sun will follow up with the archbishop's perspective when he is prepared to explain why he did what he did.
UPDATE: The Sun is back with an update on this story today. Once again, we can see the difference in how this issue is framed between what certainly seems to be the old Catholic guard in this progressive Catholic city and the new frame of reference (that would be Rome's point of view, we must assume) offered by the new archbishop.
The Sun makes that crystal clear:
... (The) news yesterday that the Rev. Ray Martin, pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel, was forced to resign for offenses that included officiating at a funeral Mass with an Episcopal priest, was met with outrage. Community members of all faiths decried Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien's action and vowed to protest, noting how sharply it seemed to break from the emphasis on religious tolerance by his predecessor, Cardinal William H. Keeler.
Note the use of the word "tolerance" and the equating of civic activities with the actual Sacraments of the Catholic faith. Surely the newspaper knows that this is an apples and oranges situation.
Meanwhile, we have another key detail of the actions by the female Episcopal priest during the Mass.
The Mass, led by Martin, included several clergy, including the Rev. Annette Chappell, pastor of the Episcopal Church of the Redemption, whom Doda's family asked to participate.
Chappell read the Gospel, which only ordained priests and deacons are allowed to do, and received Communion, which only Catholics may do, said Sean Caine, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
Caine said these acts "gave the appearance of concelebration of the Mass, which is a violation of Canon law and is also a cause for confusion."
The archdiocese received "multiple complaints" about the Mass, Caine said. "We have ministers of other denominations participate in weddings and funerals all the time. ... Their presence alone does not constitute a violation of the church. It's very common that they be present and that they offer words of prayer."
Correct. Canon law does not forbid participation. It forbids specific actions that require ordination into the sacramental priesthood of the Catholic Church.
Still no word on whether Chappell was vested as a concelebrant or if she remained in the altar area during the consecration prayers. Stay tuned.