Independent Catholics to Launch Parish in Waukegan

By Judy Masterson
Lake County News-Sun

July 15, 2008,5_1_WA15_NEWCATH_S1.article

Offshoot of Vatican I breakaway church will be named St. Therese the Little Flower

MUNDELEIN - The Rev. Tim Ward, who on July 20, will celebrate his first Mass as pastor of the newly founded St. Therese the Little Flower parish in Waukegan, is not your typical Catholic priest.

First, he is openly gay. Second, he sees no sin in either his sexual orientation or in homosexual union. Third, the denomination he helps to shepherd upholds just two rules: love God and love your neighbor.

Those three realities guarantee that Ward, and whatever flock he leads in the future, will continue to worship at the fringe of mainline religion, a fact that does not deter him.

The Rev. Tim Ward stands in front of First Congregational United Church of Christ, where his independent new parish will rent space for Masses.

"We hope to minister to all of the people who have been judged unworthy by other churches, whether that's homosexuals, the divorced and remarried, or anyone who might just be a little too liberal on some issues," Ward said.

St. Therese will operate as an autonomous member of the Independent Catholic Church of the West, an offshoot of the European-based Old Catholic Church, which separated from the Roman Catholic Church over the issue of papal infallibility shortly after the First Vatican Council in 1870. There are an estimated several hundred members of the sect in California, Oregon and Arizona, where Ward last pastored a church in Phoenix.

The new parish will rent space from the open and affirming First Congregational United Church of Christ, 320 Grand Ave., Waukegan. Sunday Mass will be celebrated at 11:30 a.m.

Ward, 50, grew up in Westchester. He is a former Presentation Brother of the Virgin Mary who completed his novitiate in Cork, Ireland, in the 1970s. Back then, he believed homosexuality was a grave evil. But, gradually, he said, he learned to accept who, and what, he was.

Independent Catholic churches welcome everyone. They ordain women. They place no preconditions on reception of the Eucharist.

"We don't believe it is our right to deny anyone who comes in the door," said Ward, who chose the new church moniker because Therese of Lisieux, a 19th century French nun, was his late mother's favorite saint.

"We recognize that we all have a sacred obligation to prayerfully follow the dictates of conscience, and to be true to both God and self -- regardless of the judgments of others," Ward said. "Following Christ's example, we therefore respect and embrace those whom others look down upon. To exclude them from full participation in the church is immoral and certainly not Christian."

ICCW clergy are largely disaffected Roman Catholics, Ward said.

ICCW bishop, the Most Rev. Terry M. Boyer, OSB, said, "It is not our intention to draw people away from their current religious practices. Rather, we seek to minister to those who feel alienated, or are not being spiritually fed in their current denomination."

The Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago declined comment on the new church, according to spokesman James Accurso. And while an e-mail sent by Ward to area pastors in an attempt to form a Lake County Association of Inclusive Churches was all but ignored, St. Therese does not appear to be drawing opposition.

The Rev. Jorge Zayasbazan, pastor of First Baptist, a downtown Waukegan church that recently ordained two women, said that while he does not agree with the new church's acceptance of homosexuality, he harbors it no ill.

"The way I interpret the Bible, any type of sexual act outside of marriage between a man and a woman is not the life Christ called us to," Zayasbazan said. "But I also believe churches should be free to develop their own theologies, and I would never do anything to interfere."

Those visiting St. Therese will encounter a recognizably Catholic liturgy, including scripture readings from the Lectionary.



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