Father Chris Carpenter breaks with Phoenix Catholic Diocese
The Rev. Chris Carpenter was known as “Father Flick” in the Catholic Sun diocesan newspaper for his reviews of film and was pastor of Christ the King Catholic Church in Mesa from 1997 until January 2006. But he resigned at age 38 for what were called health reasons, moved to southern California to write and pursue other church work. Back and forth communications with the bishop have been cold since then. And Carpenter has been very public, along the way, with his displeasure with Roman Catholic practices and actions.
Over the weekend, Carpenter e-mailed an Easter letter to many friends, including those in the Valley. “I’m very happy to report that I have been accepted as a priest of the Reformed Catholic Church, effective today, Easter Sunday,” he wrote. He joins a Columbus, Ohio-based, Catholic movement. “We are a progressive, international, rapidly growing (including in the Phoenix area) communion descended from the ‘Old Catholics’ who broke with Rome in 1870 over papal infallibility.” Carpenter said the movement supports open communion, which permits non-Catholics and divorced/remarried people to receive it. It also supports the ordination of women to the priesthood, the full inclusion and participation of gay and lesbian people and the optional celibacy for priests. “We use the same liturgy, rites and prayers as the Roman church,” Carpenter noted. More can be found at www.reformedcatholicchurch.org.
“Their leadership has welcomed me with open arms, and I am grateful,” he wrote to friends.
Carpenter said he had been in the final stages of a three-year process of “dis-affiliating” with the Roman Catholic Church. “But I have had a fire lit under me in recent months via several critical letters from Bishop Olmsted of Phoenix,” the priest wrote. “Among other things, he disapproves of my ‘involvement in the homosexual community’ through the gay and lesbian ministry I chair in a non-clergy capacity at St. Matthew’s parish in Long Beach and has asked me to resign, even though the ministry is approved and supervised by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.’”
The former Mesa priest noted that he had requested sacramental faculties (the ability to celebrate Mass, baptize, do weddings, etc.) from Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles and Bishop Tod Brown of the Orange diocese. His work has bridged both dioceses. “My requests of over a year ago have gone unanswered, which seems unprofessional, at best,” he said.
“The Roman Catholic Church today barely seems like the same church I was ordained to served in 1995,” Carpenter wrote. “In the wake of the sexual abuse scandal and the death of Pope John Paul II, many of the church’s leaders seem more and more to me like the legalistic Pharisees whom Jesus condemned during his time.” He said Pope Benedict XVI “has revealed glaring insensitivity and potential incompetence through his welcoming of radical traditionalist bishops, at least one of whom happens to be an anti-Semitic holocaust-denier.” Carpenter further was critical of the pope’s “challenging the effectiveness of condom use for AIDS prevention while in Africa where millions of people have died.”
Carpenter said he will be the first Reformed Catholic Church priest in California and has additionally been appointed Vicar of California and will oversee growth in the state. “I will also begin the formation of a Long Beach-based parish that has been named the Community of the Resurrection. He will continue his full-time ministry as a non-denominational/interfaith hospice chaplain. “My employers have been very supportive throughout my vocation discernment,” he said. They even recently gave him a raise.
He said he had no choice but to “leave the Roman (not the Catholic) church,” Carpenter said. “I’m very excited about returning to public, priestly ministry.” He said he finds it likely that once Olmsted receives and reviews his letter, he could be excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church or be disciplined in some other way.
While at Christ the King in Mesa, Carpenter had joined some 160 pastors of all faiths in signing the Phoenix Declaration, developed by No Longer Silent – Clergy for Justice. It called for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people to have full acceptance in the Christian faith, including ordination. When Olmsted learned in April 2004 that nine priests had signed it, he ordered them to remove their names. Carpenter was one of eight who backed down and removed their names. The priest would write later, “Something died as a result of the personal and public showdown over the Phoenix Declaration. A chilling effect has been experienced throughout all Catholic parishes and institutions concerned about outreach and ministry to LGBT persons.”
“There is a growing number of disillusioned Catholics here and around the world who are eager for what the Reformed Catholic Church has to offer,” Carpenter concluded.