|PRIEST WITHOUT A PARISH|
November 23, 1998
JIM LEHRER: A priest and his divided parish. Phil Ponce reports.
PHIL PONCE: On a recent Sunday morning in Rochester, New York, Father Jim Callan did what he's done for years - celebrate Mass. But this service was in a private home because after 24 years as a Roman Catholic priest, he's a priest without a parish.
REV. JIM CALLAN: I'm not a revolutionary or firebrand. I'm a conservative Catholic priest for the most part. I do normal things.
PHIL PONCE: But for many in the diocese of Rochester what the 51-year-old Callan did was far from normal. By his own admission, while he headed Corpus Christi Church, he broke three basic rules. First, he named a woman, Mary Ramerman, associate pastor, a title usually reserved for ordained priests. She would stand with him on the altar dressed very much like a priest, say prayers, and even raise the chalice of wine before Communion. Second, Callan invited everyone to receive Communion, including non-Catholics and non-Christians.
REV. JIM CALLAN: Take this all of you - all of you - all of you. Drink.
PHIL PONCE: And perhaps most controversial of all, Father Callan blessed the unions of five gay couples.
REV. JIM CALLAN: We are only trying to say we're going to make the Church as Catholic as it can be, as universal, as all embracing, it's a simple point we're making, that Christ came for everybody. He said, "Nobody who comes to Me will I ever reject." So that's all we're doing.
PHIL PONCE: But the diocese, which is the regional church authority, felt Father Callan was rejecting the larger church and its 2,000 years of tradition. In August, Bishop Matthew Clark ordered Callan to leave Corpus Christi. The number two man at the diocese spoke for the bishop, who's currently recovering from heart surgery.
REV. JOSEPH HART, Diocese of Rochester: The bishop really felt after making several attempts to ask the community to respect the boundaries of what makes us Catholic that the way to make sure that that parish lived within those boundaries was to change the leadership of the parish.
PHIL PONCE: On September 6th, Callan said his final Mass at the church. It was an emotional ceremony. Callan's dismissal prompted rallies and prayer vigils outside the diocesan headquarters from parishioners who stood by Father Jim. Many American Catholics have been at odds with Church leaders for decades. The Pope, who recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of his tenure, has consistently emphasized traditional doctrine and centralized authority. But recent polls show more than 60 percent of American Catholics believe women should be priests; 80 percent individuals can decide whether to use birth control. Father Jim Callan was assigned to Corpus Christi in 1976. Back then, it only had about 200 members. It was considered a dying parish. Now, it's one of the largest in the diocese, with an active membership of about 3,000, with one of the biggest budgets and perhaps the highest number of outreach programs. There's the Corpus Christi health center, which treats about 15,000 people a year. Most have no health insurance. Doctors and nurses volunteer their time. Matthew's Closet sells used clothing for those who can't afford department store prices. And Rogers Restaurant provides jobs for ex-convicts and recovering drug and alcohol addicts. Corpus Christi's work in the inner city was welcomed by the diocese, which includes 160 parishes in the City of Rochester and 12 surrounding counties.
SPOKESMAN: We ask you to make them holy.
PHIL PONCE: The bishop's removal of the liberal priest is ironic, because the Rochester Diocese, which includes this suburban parish, has a reputation as one of the most liberal in the nation. For example, there have been altar girls here since the late 1960's, even though the Vatican didn't give its official approval of altar girls until 1983. And women have been visible at Masses here for decades, and the Bishop Matthew Clark, who removed Father Callan, his himself nationally known for reaching out to gays and lesbians. Some local Catholics felt that was going too far and are as concerned about their bishop as they are about Jim Callan.
MICHAEL MACALUSO: This is a crisis in the diocese number four.
PHIL PONCE: Michael Macaluso heads a group of conservative Catholics who have gathered evidence against the bishop and Callan and shipped it to the Vatican.
MICHAEL MACALUSO: We brought tapes and newspaper articles, photographs from the daily newspaper. The associate pastor, Mary Ramerman, was holding up the chalice at the point of consecration, which is certainly a clear violation of the teachings of the Church.
PHIL PONCE: Callan says he knew he was being watched.
REV. JIM CALLAN: Sometimes when we begin a service, we say we'd like to welcome the parishioners, our visitors, and also our spies, you're all welcome.
PHIL PONCE: Both Callan and Macaluso believe the Vatican had a hand in removing Callan from his job. The diocese insists Callan was removed by the bishop, not the Vatican.
REV. JOSEPH HART: To demonize the Vatican in this is somehow to take away from Bishop Clark's real role in this. He's the guardian of faith and practice in this diocese and was carrying out faithfully his role. This didn't come out of the blue. It was after long years of attempting to make pastoral changes there.
PHIL PONCE: Now, Corpus Christi has a new leader. Father Dan McMullin, a 44-year-old former Benedictine monk. He's trying to heal the split in the parish mainly by listening to angry parishioners, but the bitterness lingers.
REV. DAN McMULLIN, Pastor, Corpus Christi Church: The Sunday that I arrived, people were just waiting for me to prove myself. There were others that made comments back as I preached or presided, or who would just call out something that I disagreed with, or would storm out, or others, that as they came up to receive the Eucharist, had little speeches ready for me, or calling me names. A few people even tossed back the Eucharist at me.
PHIL PONCE: The divisions have even led some young parishioners to take sides in the dispute.
MARIA KOOMEN: It's not like quitting the basketball team or something. We can't quit. We have to - you know - we have to stand up and believe in what we have been believing in.
PHIL PONCE: Father Callan has taken his cause on the road. Last month, at a conference in Milwaukee, he received a warm welcome from a national group of liberal Catholics who consider his battle part of a larger struggle over what they consider Church reform. Back in Rochester, some parishioners worry that Jim Callan's activist stance is doing more harm than good. Larry and Rhonda Jones have gone to Corpus Christi for three years. They like much of what Callan has done but not how he's done it.
RHONDA JONES: One can work on changes without making sure you're - you know - at the forefront in the limelight.
LARRY JONES: This is not about Father Jim. These things are about Jesus Christ, and it bothers me - whenever I see that focus going on to the person, I believe a little bit worried, a little alerted to maybe something isn't going right.
PHIL PONCE: But some parishioners worry that with Callan gone, the Church's award-winning outreach programs will suffer if fewer people come to church. Joe Foley is a church usher. He estimates attendance may be down by a third since Father Callan left.
JOE FOLEY: There's an awful lot of people that come to the restaurant from the Church, and that - you know - as they sift away from the Church, this restaurant that supports people that have been incarcerated and give them a job out of prison, they simply wouldn't come here as well.
PHIL PONCE: Jim Callan says he's in limbo now, hoping the diocese will give him a new job, but he has no regrets about pushing the envelope.
REV. JIM CALLAN: I think the Church is a Cadillac with four flat tires. You know, it's beautiful; it's wonderful; it's not to be discarded; but we have to get the air pumped up in the tires.
PHIL PONCE: The diocese says Jim Callan has forgotten a key tenet of the Church, the need for unity.
REV. JOSEPH HART: How does change come about? It's still by the same - raising our voices, not implementing what we choose, but raising our voices, asking the great Church, which doesn't mean just Rome, but also Bombay, Shanghai, London, Paris, New York, not a little congregation saying, we've decided on the truth.
PHIL PONCE: Mary Ramerman is a mother of three whose title was associate pastor before she too was removed. She believes the larger Church will eventually end up where Corpus Christi was headed.
MARY RAMERMAN: I think we are a microcosm for many Catholics. Many people have felt that the Catholic Church is not reflecting what they - what their understanding of God is. And so many of those people just leave the Church, and they look for it somewhere else, and many of the people who stay are saying, when is the Church going to wake up?
PHIL PONCE: The conservative Macaluso, father of 12 and grandfather of 30, cites his children as the reason he fought what the parish was doing.
MICHAEL MACALUSO: I don't want anybody teaching my children from a Catholic pulpit that homosexual sex is okay, homosexual marriage is okay, anybody can receive the blessed sacrament.
REV. JIM CALLAN: All the issues I've been removed for will seem absolutely silly in 10 years, because we will have married priests, we will have married women priests, we'll have Protestants and Catholics receiving Communion together. Gay people will be getting married in church. Yes, I would not do these things if I thought they were - are so far off the mark.
REV. JOSEPH HART: No. Those things will not suddenly come true. It's not the right of an individual community to simply say that that teaching is a false teaching, and we've now set it aside. That's not our way of practice; it's not out tradition; it's not the faith of the Church.
PHIL PONCE: There are other Christian denominations that allow you to do the things you were doing at Corpus Christi. Is it possible you're in the wrong denomination?
REV. JIM CALLAN: No. I'm in the right denomination. I love the Church, and there's always been room in the Church for people like me and there always will be. I don't intend to leave.
PHIL PONCE: A banner remained over the altar after Callan's removal with a slogan his supporters rallied around - "Can't Hold Back the Spring" - the message: Change is inevitable.
REV. JIM CALLAN: You can't stop renewal in the Church; it's just going to happen. So you can slap somebody on the wrist, but you can't stop this movement. You can't hold back the spring.
REV. JOSEPH HART: What I myself fervently pray for is that this good priest, who has done so much good for so many people, can compromise a little, so that his voice might be still heard, that his impact on us will still be felt.
(PEOPLE SINGING AT MASS)
PHIL PONCE: Father Callan says the diocese wants him to take back what he has said about the Church's teachings that has caused the dispute. Callan says he cannot do that.
(PEOPLE SINGING AT MASS)