Bishop’s excommunicating the Rev. Vernon Meyer frees a gifted clergyman to flourish
The Rev. Vernon Meyer ranks near or at the top among theologians and Christian educators in Arizona. The founder and director of the the Arizona Center for Theological Studies has been a popular teacher of scripture and Christian history. Bright, articulate and progressive, he has been THE Catholic educator who has reached more non-Catholics through his teaching.
Until early this month, he was a highly respected Catholic priest who had maintained a rigorous schedule of teaching workshops at parishes and the Franciscan Renewal Center, as well at ACTS, whose classes are at CrossRoads United Methodist Church in Phoenix. Currently, for example, he is doing a three-week series titled, “Prophets, Biblical Justice and the Challenge of Justice for the Church.” He had resigned July 2 as a priest in the diocese, but retained the privileges of a priest.
During the past week, Bishop Thomas Olmsted of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix excommunicated Meyer. It’s a process that Olmsted is well-practiced in. By one count, it was the fifth priest the bishop has excommunicated. Why was Meyer, 58, booted from the Catholic fold? Nothing really big as issues go, but don’t tell that to Olmsted, who cuts no slack and rules his diocese with the swift sword of obedience. (Some believe Olmsted’s eight-year reign of rigid enforcement of Rome’s rules is an all-ought quest to get a plum role in the Vatican hierarchy, like maybe a cardinal job one day.)
Meyer participated in the ordination of a female priest in an indepedent Catholic church in August. He joined five independent Catholic priests in the rites for Elaine Groppenbacher. It took place at the Guardian Angels Catholic Community in Tempe on Aug. 29. She was at least the fourth woman to be ordained as an independent Catholic priest. The Roman Catholic Church, of course, has itself positioned to be centuries away from doing the same thing — impermeable to reason as it is.
Olmsted issued an immediate rant on the diocese’s web site on Sept. 1. Here’s how it started out: “Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ. As reported in the news this week, a schismatic group in Tempe, known as the Ecumenical Catholic Communion attempted to confer the Sacrament of Holy Orders upon a woman. It was also reported in the news that Father Vernon Meyer, a priest in our diocese, participated in the attempted ordination. Actions such as these are extremely serious and carry with them profoundly harmful consequences for the salvation of souls participating in this attempted ordination…”
What’s with this “attempted” used three times in the first three sentences? Look, Groppenbacher has been ordained. Period. She is an independent Catholic priest. They got her gifts and talents, and the Roman Catholics didn’t. Pity the big priest-starved Roman Catholics. In his message, Olmsted so much as said Meyer was doomed to excommunication. “To feign the conferral of the Sacrament of Holy Orders results in the penalty of excommunication. This penalty applies both to the person attempting the ordination and the person attempting to be ordained.”
So what was the letter of the law cited here: #1577 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Only a baptized man validly receives sacred ordination. The Lord Jesus chose men to form the college of the twelve apostles, and the apostles did the same when they chose collaborators to succeed them in their ministry…”
Yes, and there were no women signing the Declaration of Independence or ratifying the Constitution or yet to be president of the United States, but, folks, we, long ago, rejected the silly and sexist notions that genitalia should determine vocational or leadership roles. In his statement, Olmsted shows how wonderful the diocese is as an equal-opportunity employer of males and female. Women hold administrative and professional roles in the diocese and make up 80 percent of lay parish ministers. So? Why in just about every other sector of American life, we’ve gotten smart and rejected such nonsense that only men can do the job?
Fortunately, the Rev. Vernon Meyer is free now to showcase his considerable talents even more. This week, he joined the staff of the Sun Lakes United Church of Christ. That’s the denomination where “God is Still Speaking,” the first mainline denomination to ordain women to the clergy, the first to drop all ordination standards related to one’s sexual orientation and ordain gays and lesbians as ministers. They are light years ahead of the Catholics on human justice.
Meyer, who holds his doctorate from the University of Dayton and two master degrees, had the considerable courage in 2004 to be one of nine priests in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix to sign “The Phoenix Declaration,” in which more than 180 Arizona pastors developed and signed a definitive statement calling on the faith community to fully receive gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgendered people into the full life of their work and ministries. Olmsted came down hard on those priests,and all but one agreed to take their names off of it.
It is the same Bishop Olmsted who demonstrated his legalism and intractable ways earlier this year when he excommunicated a Catholic nun with St. Joseph’s Hospital for having an advisory role in the abortion of a seriously ill woman whom doctors said would die if the pregnancy was not ended. The bishop’s unyielding position drew wide national disdain.
Meyer believes his excommunication may be the first that is based on a new canon added by the Vatican to protect “The Sacrament of Priesthood.” Under it, it now becomes an excommunicatible offense to participate in a woman’s ordination. In essence, it is a crime against the church to speak out for the ordination of women into the priesthood in Catholicism.
Tell me that this really is the 21st century. Tell me that such nonsense is no longer practiced especially in the noble human effort to do God’s work on a troubled earth.