Friday, January 28, 2011


Like all of us humans, the late John Paul II was like the moon. He had both a dark side and a bright side. Advocates of his impending beatification focus on the light in his life (and there certainly was a good deal of it) while critics emphasize the darkness. Some wonder if the so-called Devil’s Advocate might have been asleep in the process. Others ask if the whole business of beatification and canonization should be shelved along with the triple tiara and the gestatorial chair.

The bright side of JPII encompasses his courageous opposition to Communism, his efforts to heal the Church’s chronic anti-Semitism, his many trips around the globe, and his outreach to youth. Also his pursuit of personal holiness by such means as the rosary, meditation and self-flagellation (although this latter practice may seem somewhat bizarre in our day and age.)

And what of his shadow side? Fundamentally, his style of governance was that of a commissar. Ironically, he was a mirror image of the Soviet system which he opposed so strongly. It featured a party line, which was non-negotiable. The supreme leader was engulfed by a cult of personality. Apparatchiks were rewarded and promoted. Dissenters were banished to the ecclesial equivalent of Siberia. A pervasive spy system monitored and reported instances of non-compliance, which were promptly corrected or punished. The chain of command featured lesser commissars who echoed the behavior of the man on top of the pyramid. And it was all sanctioned by Almighty God himself.

Like the Soviet system, this style of governance had strengths and weaknesses. It was rigidly centralized, clear, pervasive, and well defined. It inspired great loyalty among many and, of course, deep consternation among others. It paid lip service to Vatican II while subverting many of its key reforms which appeared messy and inefficient. It caused an existential schizophrenia among many clergy and laity.

It created a climate for the great failure of John Paul II’s pontificate – the clergy sex abuse crisis. The Pope was blinded to the predations of people like Marciel Maciel, who as founder of the Legionnaires of Christ, was a fellow commissar and thus above suspicion. Cardinal Law of Boston was rewarded with a sumptuous exile because he too was a loyal apparatchik. That trumped his ineptitude as well as that of numerous other bishops. And Cardinal Ratzinger’s eventual efforts to deal with predator priests were rebuffed because they too, for all their flaws, were sacred persons and valued cogs in the system. Only those clerics who married or veered from the party line were exiled. As long as everyone – bishops, priests, theologians, nuns, laypeople, children – remained observant and subservient, all would be well.

Having a big shindig on May 1st, printing holy cards, erecting statues and naming parishes after St. John Paul seems inevitable. However, the true sadness is the fact that his commissar system seems to have pervaded so many dioceses and parishes with similar regrettable results. Recently, Cardinal George, the retiring head of the American bishop’s conference, gave a farewell address which urged his fellow hierarchs not to shrink from being “strong” in their duty of governance. In other words, to be efficient commissars. So, we can expect a continuing stream of condemnations, punishments, excommunications, public apologies and all the rest of the sad paraphernalia which comprised John Paul’s soviet style pontificate. One wonders if and when his iron curtain will crumble.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Marty Hegarty: 40th Anniversary of WEORC Celebration

This is an testimonial to Marty Hegarty by John Horan at the recent WEORC Anniversary celebration. It is one of the articles on the event in our December newsletter. To receive a copy, just contact us at

Bill Keannelly, the finest Irish mystic, poet-priest, prophet and standup comedian the Archdiocese has ever produced once said that October is the month during which the membrane that separates the living and the dead is the thinnest and the most permeable.

Think about it. October’s membrane stretches between the bounty of summer and the barrenness of winter. All Souls Day, All Saints Day… the contingency of October makes us mindful of what happens on the dawn side of our last breath.

Membranes are holy places. They are the transition points when we pass from everything we have known to be true to a strange, new world with jarring truths, challenging rogue assumptions and undiscovered possibilities.

I left priesthood on the first Saturday morning in June, 1988 having just presided at my last Eucharist. I moved out of the rectory in a frantic headlong rage, dragging my belongings to a basement apartment on 35th and Seeley.

I’ll never forget grasping the doorknob of my underground residence and thinking, “What have I done to myself?” I had either been training to be a priest or was a priest for 20 of my 34 years. I was jobless, damn near penniless, my rolodex was wrecked (this being the time before Blackberry). I had one black suit that smelled like incense and not a clue about what to do with my life. I was a man up against a membrane.

So I did what everybody in my situation did. I went to see Marty Hegarty. He read me like the Sunday Trib - he knew all my sections; good priest, scared young adult, in love, consumed with guilt, rectory spoiled, clueless, but possessing a pulse.

And then Marty made my membrane thinner; he told me that he wouldn’t find a job for me but that he would help me find the confidence to find a job for myself.

He told me that my natural talents, my work ethic, my integrity, my spirituality - everything that helped me be a good priest; would help me be a terrific employee. He said I would stand out in any work setting but I would have to start at the bottom, and work my way up. He said that I would not get the perfect job right away, but I should start with something, with anything that would pay my bills, and take things from there.

He said that I should trust my ear for “vocare”, for the call of the spirit and that
God would be utterly faithful to me, always and everywhere, wherever and however I would go.

The conversation lasted maybe an hour. Never has someone been so right about so many things in so short a time. When I left Marty, I could see more. A barrier that I thought was impenetrable, was in fact a membrane I could manage through to something new, something equally of God, something essential.

How many thousands more of us has Marty done this for - many face to face, many through the extraordinary WEORC network that Marty and Jim have created and sustained these 40 years? I believe that God has very passionate opinions about how men and women transitioning out of ministry should be cared for, even though God’s church officials don’t necessarily agree and sometimes actually impede. WEORC is the incarnation of God’s loving care for those of us who have crossed through the membrane between our callings, and Marty and WEORC are the caretakers of that crossing.

Some five years later, Marty saved my life. I was fighting a losing battle with depression. Winston Churchill once called depression the black dogs that come at midnight - well, I was living in the kennel. It was a terrible time, a time during which I had to be hospitalized - what a house of horrors.

And when I was released from the hospital, strung together with spit and bailing wire, embarrassed, ashamed and scared as hell, who came to scoop me up and help me make that first unimaginably hard step to wellness, well it was Marty Hegarty - who else? Marty knows about the membrane between despair and hope, between being shattered and finding a way. And I think tonight, how many legions of the outcast, marginalized, broken, hopeless and wounded has Marty scooped up?

Marty has Jesus in his muscle memory. Marty cries easily. Like any Irishman he has bladders behind his eyeballs, but his tears are never trivial. He hungers for justice, he comforts the mourning, he rails against cruelty of stupid institutions. He bleeds daylight out of night.

Marty has Resurrection in his DNA. He knows that tombs are made to be opened and rocks to be rolled away. And he does this all the time. I believe he is in a three way tie with St. Francis and Mother Theresa for the all time leader in Corporal Works of Mercy. That’s our Marty. He knows the barrier between despair and hope is just a membrane to be managed.

And now Marty is engaged in perhaps his finest Opus Dei. He is trying to push through the membrane between our current confused and crumbling institutional Catholic Church and the new Church that is aborning. For Marty, leaving is no more an option than is settling for the current sorry state of affairs. As WEORC has helped men and women transition from ministry to employment, WEORC is now helping the Catholic Church transition to a richer expression of God’s kingdom come.

There are no easy answers. Too many of us are on the brink of calling it quits. But to listen to Marty talk Church these days is to be thrilled about the possibilities to come. He is a spiritual son of Bernanos* - he knows that grace is everywhere. He knows that the travails of today are a thin membrane, penetrable and manageable. Now, Marty always says that this all important transition has to be led by the young, but when Marty talks about the future of Church, there is no one younger in that room than he.

So everyone raise your glass to Marty Hegarty, our best bishop, our phoenix lifting us from our deepest holes, my spiritual dad with his Waterford crystal soul and irrepressible spirit.

Ad multos annos Marty – ad multos annos.

(*Georges Bernanos – author of Diary of a Country Priest)

John Horan was ordained for the Chicago Diocese in 1981 and is married. He was the chairperson of WEORC from 2001-2009. He is currently the president of a Chicago Charter school, North Lawndale College Prep

Friday, January 14, 2011

Saying bishops 'scared,' panelists urge laity to take lead

We have heard discussions before about the “Church Above” - the male, celibate hierarchy with their theologies and agenda, versus the “Church Below” – local level parish interactions, laity, and simpler spirituality. This is played out again and again.

Most recently, on the one hand, Cardinal George seemed practically gleeful in an interview when he spoke about bishops feeling their authoritative oats, saying “ bishops are more prepared to “take possession of their vocation,” not just as teachers and preachers, but as governors who exercise, however reluctantly, “the power to punish.”

On the other hand, a recent Woodstock forum headlined the concept that the Church can only be saved by the Laity. Bishops are unable or unwilling to meet the spiritual needs of the Church. Bishops are scared to enter into dialogue with anyone but themselves because “they do not trust the laity.” The feeling is mutual.

Speaking about the number of cradle-Catholics who are leaving active participation the Church, Rev. Thomas Reese, SJ puts part of the blame on the bishops. He said that church leaders want to blame the exodus of Catholics from the church on sinfulness, dissent, lack of commitment, or other factors, but they are ignoring a major issue. “If this was a retail outlet, we’d say we’re blaming the customers -- and that’s not a way to make your bottom line,” he said. They’re not buying what the bishops are trying to sell.

Here is a link to a cogent report by Jerry Filteau on presentations made by Fr. Thomas Reese, SJ, Dolores Leckey, and Fr. Raymond Kemp at the Philadelphia forum.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

New Book by Fr. Alberto Cutie

Rev. Alberto Cutie was not the first, nor the last priest to leave active ministry in the Catholic Church over celibacy. (Of course, anyone associated with WEORC is keenly aware of this). However, Cutie is one of the higher profile priests to recently marry and “swim the Thames” to become an Episcopal priest. He has just published a book on his dilemma and decision. Here is a brief review by Heidi Schlumpf

Fr. Albert Cutie, the Miami priest who left the priesthood after the paparazzi caught him with his girlfriend on the beach, is in the news again. Now an Episcopal priest, husband (to said girlfriend) and actual father to a teen-aged stepson and infant daughter, Cutie has released a "tell-all" book this month.

Nothing in "Dilemma: A Priest's Struggle with Faith and Love" will surprise veteran church watchers and reformers:
  • A number of priests are involved in heterosexual and homosexual relationships, in part because celibacy makes them lonely and starved for intimacy.
  • Some bishops are hardly the pastoral shepherds they should be to their flocks, including their priests.
  • Many in the church hierarchy are only concerned with the church's image in the sex abuse scandal.

(Disclaimer: I have not yet read the entire book but am basing this summary and my opinions on news reports here and here.)

Cutie claims he didn't write the book to "settle scores" (it's likely his publisher asked him to) and that he was disillusioned with the church and struggling with some church teaching long before his breaking of his vow of celibacy was exposed.

Yet Cutie had quite the platform even before his scandal. Nicknamed "Father Oprah" because of his successful television ministry, he was likely the most influential Hispanic priest in America. His first book was a bestseller, perhaps in part because it featured on its cover his "Father What-a-Waste" face (as does his new book).

I wish Father Cutie all the happiness in new life. But I wish he had revealed the things he's saying now back when he was part of the Catholic Church. That would have had real impact. Now, it unfortunately sounds like sour grapes.

Heidi Schlumpf is an accomplished journalist and editor. She is currently on the faculty of Aurora Univesity, located outside of Chicago. This blog entry can be found at

Rev. Cutie’s website is .