By Dan Haley
The giant hammer of the Roman Catholic archdiocese has landed at Ascension Church in Oak Park. On the pastor.
How else to explain the odd apology in the Sunday bulletin from Rev. Larry McNally? This summer McNally got way out front on the third rail issue of ordaining women. He also criticized Rome's inquiry into America's female religious orders. He spoke from the pulpit, wrote a letter to the Sun-Times, and allowed/encouraged a petition drive outside the church doors calling on the church to change its stance and allow women priests.
He signed the petition himself — in red marker, he said — and in August delivered the 600-plus signatures personally to Cardinal Francis George at his home on the city's North Side. He told me Monday that he had been cordially received by the cardinal, was invited to stay for lunch, and that the two had a good discussion of the contentious issue.
Then, in late September, McNally knew he was in trouble. He got the word from on high. Not directly from the cardinal but from a church official above the rank of pastor.
And on Oct. 10 in the New World, the official Catholic newspaper in Chicago, George wrote his column on the subject of "Gifts and rights: The nature of the sacrament of holy orders." Talk about the brick wrapped in velvet. McNally said it was clear to him that the column was directed at him and at Ascension.
"Catholics who want to live their faith in peace should not be subjected to organized protests by others whose personal faith is not adequate to the faith of the church ... Using political tactics to change church teaching to what one would like it to be is inconsistent with one's continuing claim to be Catholic," wrote George.
Not subtle. Your faith is inadequate and you can get on board or we'll toss you. The word excommunication was not used, but rather implied.
Being left alone to live their faith unchallenged isn't much of an advertisement for the dynamism of the Catholic Church in my view. It's akin to the view that the U.S. Constitution was set in stone in the 1700s. Things change. That's good not bad.
So on Sunday McNally quoted the verse from the catechism about Jesus having chosen only male disciples and "for this reason the ordination of women is not possible." He then apologized to those he had offended and confused. And he closed with this heartfelt but, to me, doubt-filled line: "With the help of the Holy Spirit, I will do my very best to support this Church Doctrine."
On Monday he acknowledged that the reaction of his parishioners to his advocacy continued to be "overwhelmingly positive." But, he said, the parishioners "opposed are really making noise."
Next Sunday a version of George's New World column will run in The Dome and that will be that. Except, of course, that it won't. Ascension Church is not going to be easily shushed. With its pompous declarations and thinly veiled threats, the official church just veers further toward irrelevance in the faith lives of many honorable people.
Said the pastor, "It is disappointing that we can't even talk about this. That is very annoying to me."