Meeting Here Could Lead to Priest 'Union'
Organizers Have Met with Key Founder of Chicago Association

By Tom Heinen and Mary Zahn
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel [Milwaukee WI]
August 21, 2003

Concerned about the priest shortage and other issues, 14 Milwaukee-area Catholic priests have invited their fellow priests to a meeting that could result in the creation of what essentially is a union.

The leaders stress that they have no goals other than to provide a one-day forum for the airing of issues affecting the lives of priests and their ministries. However, they acknowledge that they have met with Father Patrick O'Malley, a retired priest who was instrumental in forming the Association of Chicago Priests 35 years ago.

Support for independent priest associations like the one that could result in Milwaukee has increased since the church sex scandals surfaced, said Father Larry Dowling, a 12-year member of the Chicago association and editor of its bimonthly magazine.

"Every cardinal has asked, 'What's the reason for the organization when there is a priest council?' " said Dowling, who said his association is often referred to informally as a "priests union."

"We are independent of the bishop. We can raise issues without his permission," Dowling said.

Father William Burkert, one of the organizers and pastor of St. Roman Church in Milwaukee, said that the meeting was not being called in opposition to Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan. Invitations were sent to more than 400 archdiocesan priests.

Both Dolan and Auxiliary Bishop Richard J. Sklba also have been invited, and Dolan has told the group that he wants it to proceed and keep him informed, the organizers said. Dolan couldn't be reached for comment.

"We've got to take responsibility for us being priests today, and we can't expect someone else to do it for us," Burkert said. "Let's get together and talk, and if there are issues, let's work together. We are pretty much individualistic, and we are saying, 'Hey, we've got to start pulling together.' "

Active and retired diocesan priests throughout the 10-county archdiocese were invited earlier this month to meet from 1 to 5 p.m. on Sept. 18 at St. Matthias Church, 9306 W. Beloit Road.

The letter notes that a number of priests have been discussing issues that affect them and their ministry and that they are concerned about the future. It says that Brother Paul Michalenko, a skilled facilitator, has been hired to lead the meeting.

"The purpose is to draw from us issues and ideas around which we might gather, organize and work in a mutually supportive way," the letter says. "The meeting will also help us determine if we should move forward with an organized 'Alliance of Archdiocesan Priests.' The process requires a commitment on the part of those who attend for the full four hours."

'We need a voice'

Among the issues for some priests is a feeling that bishops are making decisions without consulting their priests, said Father Steven Dunn, associate pastor of St. Gregory the Great Church in Milwaukee, and one of the organizers.

"I feel we need a voice for ourselves to bring up issues and discuss them in a forum where we can be open and honest," Dunn said.

Dunn, who said his comment was not directed at Dolan, cited as an example the new liturgical rules issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that require more kneeling during Mass and restrict laypeople who assist with communion from standing at the altar.

One of the reasons formation of the association is being discussed now may be because Dolan - unlike retired Archbishop Rembert Weakland - "is more sensitive to strict adherence to directives coming from Rome," said Father Andrew Nelson, former rector of St. Francis Seminary. However, Nelson stressed that the association was not being set up in opposition to the archbishop.

He said an association would be in juxtaposition to the priest council, where Archbishop Dolan is president and the ultimate decision maker.

Priests to set agenda

Burkert and other organizers who were contacted were reluctant to cite issues or goals other than that some priests feel overworked, lonely or isolated. They wanted priests at the meeting to determine what is discussed. The organizers hope to include a wide range of priests, young and old, conservatives and liberals.

Nelson said he supports the formation of a priest association because it would provide "a freer opportunity to discuss controversial issues."

"It's another avenue for priests to raise concerns and to talk about things together," said Nelson, who is not one of the organizers. "They can choose their own agenda and pursue their goals in the best interests of the church but not under the direct scrutiny of the bishop."

Dunn and another organizer, Father Joseph Aufdermauer, associate pastor of St. Matthias Church in Milwaukee, were also two of the organizers of a letter signed by more than 160 priests in the archdiocese urging that the priesthood be open to married men. The letter was sent to the U.S. Conference of Bishops this week.

Leaders of the priests' meeting said that they did not expect the gathering to deal with celibacy and other issues they cannot control.

Organizers of New Priest Initiative

Richard Aiken, pastor, St. Alphonsus Church, Greendale.

Joseph Aufdermauer, associate pastor, St. Matthias Church, Milwaukee.

William Burkert, pastor, St. Roman Church, Milwaukee.

David Cooper, pastor, St. Matthias Church, Milwaukee.

James Dammeir, pastor, Prince of Peace Church, Milwaukee.

Steven Dunn, associate pastor, St. Gregory the Great, Milwaukee.

John Endejan, retired.

Michael Erwin, pastor, St. John Evangelist Church, Twin Lakes.

Alan Jurkus, pastor, St. Monica Church, Whitefish Bay.

Dennis Lewis, pastor, St. Michael Church and St. Rose Church, Milwaukee.

Richard Liska, pastor, St. Stephen Church, Oak Creek.

John Lukaszewicz, retired.

Kenneth Mich, pastor, Good Shepherd Church, Menomonee Falls.

Lawrence Sepich, pastor, St. Bernadette Church, Milwaukee.

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