Oak Park Pastor, Parish Send Message on Women's Ordination

Chicago Catholic News
September 27, 2010

More than 600 members of a Roman Catholic parish in Oak Park signed a petition expressing "solidarity" with "those who support women and married men who are called to ordination."

Among those to sign: the pastor, the Rev. Larry McNally, who delivered the signatures to his boss, Cardinal Francis George, earlier this month.

The Catholic Church only ordains men -- almost always unmarried men -- as priests. Women who go through "unofficial" ordination ceremonies are ex-communicated.

Earlier this year, the Vatican caused an uproar by releasing a document that seems to say sex abuse by priests is as serious a violation as the attempted ordination of women.

The petition signed by members of Ascension Parish takes aim at that notion, saying "we take great offense that good faith struggles for gender equality could be misunderstood as a sacrilege and placed on a par with the sexual abuse of children."

McNally (pictured above) said the petition originated with another Oak Park parish, St. Giles. Ascension tweaked that version, and parishioners signed it mostly over Labor Day weekend.

McNally said he put his name on the petition "in big red print" and felt compelled to deliver it in person to the cardinal at his Gold Coast mansion on Sept. 7, just before George was to embark on a trip to Rome.

It was largely a symbolic move, since the cardinal has no power to allow women into the priesthood.

McNally said the cardinal was gracious.

"He was having lunch so he invited me to stay," McNally said. George accepted the signatures and "said he was going to take them to Rome."

But the cardinal reportedly took McNally to task for publicly criticizing Cardinal Bernard Law, the disgraced former Boston Church leader who is accused of covering up sex abuse by priests. Some thought Law should have been prosecuted, but ultimately he was transferred to a plum post at the Vatican.

In a letter published in August in the Chicago Sun-Times, McNally referenced a Vatican-led investigation that focuses on American nuns and whether they're, in effect, operating in accordance with official teachings. "How else can one explain the inquisition of the religious women's lifestyle while the male hierarchy of our church allows Cardinal Law to live in the lap of luxury?" McNally wrote.

George told McNally something to the effect of, "Quit picking on him, he's been exiled to Rome," according to McNally.

George did not return a phone call from a reporter.

The Ascension petition focuses on "women's ordination and pedophilia" being mentioned "in the same breath" -- which McNally described as "nonsense" and "hurtful."

While the petition does not directly call for women priests, it was designed to ask, "Why can't we talk about women's ordination -- why isn't there dialogue?" McNally said.

"It really hit a nerve here."

But not all parishioners backed the petition, McNally said, estimating it was probably "80/20," 80 percent sympathetic, and 20 percent not. There are roughly 2,000 families at Ascension, representing perhaps 5,000 people.

The petition comes as another west suburban priest, in his church bulletin, recently criticized the cardinal for seeking out papal honors for a number of Chicago-area priests rather than spending his energy on seemingly more important things.

McNally said he wished more local priests spoke up about problems in the Church. "I'm disappointed that the guys don't speak up more . . . Chicago priests are not as vocal as we used to be."

Meanwhile, click here for an unrelated article on another Chicago-area priest who reportedly helped mentor a woman priest.


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