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Bishop’s excommunicating the Rev. Vernon Meyer frees a gifted clergyman to flourish

Posted by on September 17, 2010 – 5:24 pm

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.


  • FreeThinker says:

    So long as people continue to profess belief in a magic man in the sky, whom they need to ask for forgiveness because an ancient fable says we NEED to because a woman made from a rib was tricked by a talking snake into eating a magic fruit…

    So long as people will believe in THAT, such nonsense will continue to be practiced.

  • Mike says:

    The rules by which the Catholic Church governs itself (i.e., Canon Law) state that any Roman Catholic who participates in the attempted ordination of a woman automatically incurs the penalty of excommunication.

    Bishop Olmsted excommunicated no one; rather, Rev. Meyer knowingly and willingly excommunicated himself by participating in a pseudo-ordination ceremony. The bishop was merely publicly recognizing the path Meyer had freely chosen for himself.

    BTW, the use of “attempted” three times in three sentences is perfectly correct terminology. The pertinent Canon Law (#1024) states, “A baptized male alone receives sacred ordination validly.” Since there is no way a female may validly receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders in the Catholic Church, it is quite proper to speak of the ceremony as an “attempted ordination.” Ms. Groppenbacher may now call herself a priest in a church that calls itself Catholic, but she is most certainly not a Roman Catholic priest.

  • Freedom of Religion says:

    Rev. Meyer knew the rules when he became a Priest. The author of the article is obviously anti-Catholic. That is the author’s right. Don’t condemn our religion because you disagree with its tenants an teachings. Here in the US you can go and practice whatever you like.

    The ex-communication had little to do with the ordination of women but more to do with Olmsted’s duty to follow Canon Law (and the whole gay letter thing a few years ago didn’t help. Rev. Meyer already resigned as a Priest and probably could care less about being ex-communicated. Now he can finally come out of the closet and be the person he has always been without having to put on a false front.

  • Jean Brown says:

    I pray for all of you who do not believe, do not adore and love God.

  • alejandro lopez says:

    I’m not a catholic and I believe that the bishop did the right thing by excommunicating what I would call a renegade priest. He totally knew the stance of his church that women cannot be priests. At least have the courage to resign your office then you can support whatever cause you want. Don’t undermine the institution you belong and vowed to support.

    The author of this article has no authority to speak on this issue, his conclusions are totally biased. He’s probably anti-Christian and he’s probably gay too.

    That is my judgement!

  • BJ says:

    Surely this church, like any other, has the right to define its precepts and also the right to condition the holding of a leadership position within its ranks on adherence to those precepts. If a church does not in the first place maintain that its teachings are a reflection of divine will, then what use it it? Its teachings can only be another man’s opinion, lacking ultimate moral authority. But if a church maintains that its tenets are a reflection of divine and eternal truths (i.e., the will of God), it should not matter whether its critics believe their own contemporary opinions on a particular doctrine have more merit. In fact, it would be inconsistent for that church to allow the contemporary thoughts of any particular generation to supplant truths it accepts as eternal. I am not a Catholic, but I do applaud a church that stands up for its beliefs even when the winds of societal change shift direction.

  • Joe W says:

    With all due repsect to the author of this piece: if you want to be taken seriously, write like a serious person. First of all, the letter from the bishop was not a “rant.” It was a composed, well crafted public statement. With five minutes worth of research, you could have discovered that the bishop did not excommunicate the priest in question. It was an automatic excommunication that the priest brought upon himself by acting as he did. Furthermore, the term “attempted” is a precise theological term that a serious columnist would have understood. It has to do with validity of the sacrament. For instance, if a person were already married, then tried to marry someone else, he or she might have gone through the motions of the ceremony, but isn’t married to two people. It was “attempted” but not valid. So it is with the attempted ordination. Going through the motions doesn’t make it so.
    None of this is to say that Fr. Meyer didn’t have his good points and strengths. But he chose to leave. Don’t blame it on the bishop.

  • Joe W says:

    May I also add: if anyone wants to make an informed decision about matters of women’s ordination, not just an emotion-driven comment, I would recommend a book by Sr. Sara Butler called “The Catholic Priesthood and Women: A Guide to the Teaching of the Church.” Sr. Sara was once so in favor of women’s ordination that she actually protested Pope John Paul II’s visit to the US. Later, in doing research she reversed her opinion on intellectually rigorous grounds that she explains really well. It’s a very ineresting story and one not based on shalow, secular political principles.

  • Gary Ringler says:

    I am saddened by the lack of understanding of exactly what happened. There was no attempted ordination. There was an ordination under the Old Catholic tradition — just like there are ordinations and different rules under the Orthodox rite. Bottom line is that the “Roman” Church is not the only ‘catholic’ church and does not have a monopoly, trademark or copyright on that term.
    The simple fact is that failure to recognize other catholic views is just another manisfestation of the “one true church” dogma which is so at odds with recognition and respect for other religions. In fact, if that is the stance, one has to wonder why the Romans even participate in the Arizona Ecumenical Council; and have opposed the admission of independant/old catholics to that organization.
    Perhaps they are afraid to recognize the distinction/legitimacy of this church since it presents a far more campassionate alternative to the current doctrine of the Roman Catholic church.

  • Sandra Currie says:

    Patriarchal religion has created a world where spirit is split from body, humans from nature, and the natural from the divine.

  • Joe W says:

    Sandra– it is just the opposite in the Catholic tradition! Because matter and spirt are intimately interwoven, it does indeed matter what we do with our bodies and how they affect the spirit! That is why ordinations can be valid or not valid–precisely because the condition of the spirit/soul is at stake! The Divine works in the spirit precisely through the material. This is why signs (material things) matter and Catholics get worked up about what is done (visible) as well as what is effected (invisible).

  • Catholic Boy says:

    Shame on the author of this blog post. How embarrassing to imply that the bishop’s behavior is based on a self-centered careerism and not on an honest desire to do what the Church asks him to do. Such writing is sloppy at best, libelous at worst. He should really be ashamed of himself – I would think that such writing is below anyone who would consider himself a journalist.

  • Oooh! Bad Scary Mean Bishop! Wonderful and Nice and Good Dissident Priest! Catholic Church is Nonsense! East Valley Tribune Columnist Pronounces Definitive Judgments upon Centuries of Catholic Sacramental Teaching and Juridical Process! What drama!

  • Atticus says:

    Is it too much for us Catholics to expect enraged critics to at least use good grammar when demonstrating our bigotry?

    So, the story here is what? That Bishop Olmsted enforced the Catholic Church’s code of canon law? Oh. I guess that is a story of some type. Carry on!

  • Atticus says:

    In all seriousness, for one who seems so very concerned with religious freedom, Lawn doesn’t appear to make much room for the Catholic Church in there. Shouldn’t that church, just like Mr. Meyer’s new one, be entitled to enforce its internal laws? And when it does, not be subjected to this kind of silly bigotry from non-Catholics?

    In all seriousness, Lawn, what is the issue here? That you disagree with the Church’s teaching on women ordination? Fine. But at least discuss it fairly. If only you could match your reasoning skills to your emotion.

  • Lawn Griffiths says:

    Support of religious freedom and accepting what religions do are not the same thing. The Roman Catholic Church can ban women from the priesthood, but it should not be immune from harsh criticism for doing so in light of the impact of that position, especially in denying half their people from leading roles of the church. Sexism is just one of the arcane positions that the Catholic Church should be rightfully criticized for. And we can condemn similar positions of other faiths that smack of injustice.

  • Denys Powlett-Jones says:

    Mr Griffiths:

    So what exactly is your standard according to which you will judge this or that religion and decide whether or not to lavish your “harsh criticism” upon it?

    Wait–let me see if I can answer my own question. Is it “What I, Lawn Griffiths, have heard celebrated as the enlightened popular opinion of a small segment of the population of the rich Western world, itself a small segment of the cultures of the globe, for the last 40 years, an even tinier segment of the history of peoples and ideas on the planet”?

    Mr. Griffiths, you are welcome to “condemn” anything you like.
    Intelligent readers have no reason to respect this particular condemnation any more than they would your preferences for ice cream flavors.

  • John says:

    Rev. Meyer is the worlds biggest hypocrite. He is gay, has lived with a partner for years, cruises the internet for men, regularily visits bath houses, etc.

    Shall I go on?

  • Nick says:

    I will no longer buy the East Valley Tribune because of its blatant bias of the Catholic Church. When will you Author the article about sexism in Islam and Orthodox Judaism? We all know that truth in media no longer exists, only the opinion they want me to believe in. Amazing is the day that the Author of the article defends his position, and laments about his non-beliefs yet ignores the millions that the Catholic Church has helped over the centuries. How many more bankruptcies will the EVT go through till they realize that the masses will not change, they must.

  • Lou Bator says:

    For Lawn Griffiths to be taken seriously as a journalist is laughable. I read the entire column, but when Griffiths mentioned Bishop Olmsteds’ “rant”, I had to roll my eyes. The Bishops piece was a news release. Your piece, Mr. Griffiths, is the rant. Your blatant anti-Catholicism is obvious. I am a church going Roman Catholic, and I have attended some of Rev. Vernon Meyers’ lectures. It is a shame about his excommunication, but he made the decision. Yes, Bishop Olmsted comes off as unemotional and uncaring, yet he upholds the law. Someone has too. Did you agree with your dad all the time when you were a teen, Lawn? I don’t particularly agree with Bishop Olmsted, but he has made it clear that he is not interested in winning a popularity contest. Mr. Griffiths, I have noticed that you have been spending a lot of time writing about the Catholic Church in the Phoenix area. How about doing a little investigative journalism, if you are up to it and can get out of the office, and look into the moslems who have been building mosks like crazy around the Valley? There’s that huge one off of I-17, and a smaller one in Chandler near Erie St. and Alma School. Let’s see how succinct you can be in writing about these folks. Will you be using the same pen that you use when writing about the Catholic Church? I look forward to your forthcoming articles. Peace.

  • I am having a weird problem I cannot link to your rss feed. i am using google reader Fyi.

  • craig says:

    @Mike it is nice that you can spout off cannon law. Because it is Cannon Law does not make it just or right. I admire this priest for taking a stand against misogyny. The theology behind not ordaining women is weak at best. It is more about a Boy’s Club and power and control. As a life long Catholic and former seminarian, I can say the whole system is dysfunctional at best and pathological at worst. If you want I can give you personal stories of what I witnessed and stories from classmates who left. It is interesting that most of the heterosexual men ended up leaving while the rest stayed. At the same time, homosexuality is frowned upon by the church what a dilemma. History is not on the side of the church and the hypocrisy is blatant. I feel like a kid that has been told a fairy tale of all that is good and wonderful and realize it was a myth. That is what the goodness of the Vatican, the curia, and the bishops are to me a myth….

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