By Ken Trainor
Rev. Larry McNally, pastor of Ascension Church, didn't plan to spend so much time in the limelight this past year. He had no choice when one of his "weekend assistants," Rev. Larry Reuter, a Jesuit who worked at Loyola Medical Center and filled in celebrating Sunday Mass at Ascension, was "disappeared" by the Jesuits because word got out about an inappropriate relationship with a student at Loyola Academy, where Reuter had previously served as president.
The media, of course, jumped all over that, but the Jesuits weren't talking, which left McNally in the uncomfortable position of having to explain to parishioners who, understandably, were demanding answers.
McNally organized a public forum at the parish in June, which the Jesuits didn't show for, but the archdiocese sent troubleshooter Jan Slattery (from the Office for the Protection of Children and Youth), and the issue got a thorough airing. Members of Voice of the Faithful, a Catholic watchdog group, representing victims of priest abuse, praised McNally for his forthrightness.
Then in August, McNally took the much more courageous step of sending a letter to the editor of the Chicago Sun-Times, criticizing the church hierarchy for investigating women religious orders and declaring the ordination of women a sin on the same level of magnitude as priest pedophilia. He took it a step further and, during the next Sunday's homily (and in the church bulletin), apologized to all the women of his parish for the insensitivity of the male hierarchy toward Catholic women.
Some 600 parishioners at both Ascension and St. Giles followed up with a petition supporting McNally's position. McNally personally delivered the petitions to Cardinal Francis George.
All seemed cordial at first, but eventually the higher-ups started lowering the boom in the fall — first with thinly disguised criticism from George in his New World column, then with an archdiocesan official telling McNally he would have to apologize and publicly support the church's position against ordaining women.
Despite the pressure, McNally continues to conduct himself with integrity, courage and candor, a genuine role model of grace under pressure.