O'Brien urges priest back to fold

Pastor who resigned from 3 parishes can return after counseling, archbishop says

November 15, 2007|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,Sun reporter

The pastor of three Catholic parishes in South Baltimore is welcome to return to active ministry after undergoing counseling, said Archbishop Edwin O'Brien.

"I made it clear I want him back in active ministry," the archbishop said during an interview at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting at the Inner Harbor.

O'Brien made the Rev. Ray Martin resign last week after reports of liturgical and administrative offenses committed over more than a year. Since 2002, Martin had served as pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel, Holy Cross and St. Mary, Star of the Sea parishes, each of which has about 250 members.

Martin's reported offenses included hiring a maintenance man with a criminal record and allowing an Episcopal priest to read the Gospel and receive communion at a funeral Mass last month for Locust Point community activist Shirley Doda.

Martin signed a statement agreeing that he brought scandal to the church and was to go to a monastery in Pennsylvania for counseling. He cannot celebrate Mass publicly.

"We'd like him to think these things through so that we can work together," O'Brien said. "Right now, as a result of these actions, we were not working together."

Martin allowed Rev. Annette Chappell of Church of the Redemption in Locust Point to participate in the funeral at the request of Doda's family. Chappell wore vestments, read the Gospel at the funeral and received Communion, she did not pray over the Eucharist during its consecration.

Catholics believe that, during the consecration, the Eucharist is transformed into the body and blood of Jesus. Non-Catholics are not permitted to receive the Eucharist, nor are Catholics allowed to take Communion in non-Catholic services, said Monsignor Kevin W. Irwin, Catholic University's dean of theology and religious studies. Orthodox Christians also bar non-Orthodox from receiving the host, he said.

"Communion means you share unity with others," Irwin said. "To receive Holy Communion is to deepen that communion with God through Christ in the community of the church."

It is not a judgment or a statement about an individual's integrity or spirituality, he said. "You belong to different churches, you belong at different altars, unfortunately," Irwin added. "We all pray for the day we can all be at the same altar."

Evidence from as early as the second century indicates that deacons, and later priests, were the ones to read the Gospel, Irwin said, "as a sign of reverence for Christ and Christ's words and Christ's teaching."

The church's canon law summarizes its teaching about Communion as well as the penalties for violating the rules. O'Brien's action follows protocol, Irwin said.

"When it happens, you've got to say, `This is not what we do,'" Irwin said. "It comes across as being harsh and not respectful of people. But on the other hand, if you don't stipulate why we stand for these principles, then there really is an erosion of doctrine.

"We simply have a tradition whereby we say that, if you belong, then there are certain consequences and responsibilities," Irwin said. "If you chose to belong to one church or another, there are going to be consequences."

O'Brien said the archdiocese must take precautions with hiring. "We've got to vet every individual we hire, with responsibility to our people, to the public," he said.

Of the archdiocese's 4,800 employees and more than 50,000 volunteers who have been screened, it is unclear how many have criminal histories, said archdiocese spokesman Sean Caine.

But some people with criminal convictions have been allowed to work or volunteer in churches on a case-by-case basis, depending on the position and the person's particular offenses.

The church has offered many people second chances through programs such as the Christopher Place Employment Academy, Caine said. For example, Catholic Charities has hired 22 graduates of that program, now housed at Our Daily Bread Employment Center.

Our Lady of Good Counsel's maintenance man had been referred to Christopher Place but did not follow up, Caine said.

Martin had come after Rev. Thomas Malia, who was removed in 2002 as pastor of St. Mary, Star of the Sea and Holy Cross for hiring a music director who had been convicted of sexual abuse.

Martin had attracted Catholics back to his congregations. "Our little parish in Locust Point, we've long waited for someone who would heal us and bring us back together," said parishioner Sharon Markey.

liz.kay@baltsun.com

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