Ascension walks afoul of Catholic establishment

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By Dan Haley

Editor and Publisher

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."

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Reader Comments

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Posted: March 28th, 2011 7:05 PM

Are there any serious Catholics in Park Ridge. All the whiners here wouldn't know their Faith if it fell out of the sky and landed on thier face. The Catholic Church CAN'T ordain women, it simply does not have the authority to do so. Period.

john murtagh from Oak Park  

Posted: November 16th, 2010 11:59 AM

Mark, No way was I putting Father Larry and Father Mike in the same category. I was pointing out that they faced the same situation.

mark from oak park  

Posted: November 16th, 2010 9:21 AM

I'm sorry I would NEVER say father Mike as you call him has ever been noble. If people truly knew father mike as I do....they would have a much different view of him. You can't ever put Father Larry in the same category as that fool Pfleger.

john murtagh from Oak Park  

Posted: November 15th, 2010 11:20 AM

Father Pfleger chose on many occasions to challenge the diocese when reprimanded. The diocese has backed down each time. Father Larry chose a different route in reply to the diocese reprimand than Father Mike. The comparison is not valid. Both took stands for their values. Both stands are noble.

megan from new lenox  

Posted: November 15th, 2010 9:12 AM

In a time where Michael Pfleger can say ANYTHING he wants and not be touched...this is ridiculous. Father Larry said nothing wrong. With all of the problems we are seeing with priests why not try to get women more involved in the church???I think SHAME on you Cardinal George...WAKE UP!

Joanne CE  

Posted: November 10th, 2010 8:18 PM

To "A Friend"...The church was not always ruled from the top down. It was ruled collegially. Peter may or may not have been considered the primary leader. All the first disciples of Christ were considered as leaders for they had known and traveled with the Lord. This is an interesting time of history to study the early church. You may want to look into that "hierarchical" structure and when it did begin to take hold and change the face of the RC Church.

Joanne Easton from Barrington  

Posted: November 10th, 2010 8:11 PM

Well, I am very proud of Fr. McNally the way he stood up for women. The cardinal bullies these priests & threatens them with all sorts of retribution. When are we lay Catholics going to step up to the plate? 1) Stop the money flow 2)Organize,plan & stand up to their lies and abuse of power. How do the prelates reflect the teachings of Jesus? They have lost all moral credibility. The laity need meet,discuss & take action. Maybe God wants to work through laity to make things right?

SarahTX2 from Houston  

Posted: November 8th, 2010 1:42 PM

By backing down, hasn't he just set the movement backward? Why bother if, as soon as you meet a challenge, you're going to give up? He's basically offered himself up as a precautionary tale for the others. This isn't brave. He ends up being a bigger tool than those who were merely too cowardly to say anything at all. I guess it kind of explains why this church can't stop the child molesting. There's just too much ingrained cowardice to be able to defend or protect women and/or children.

Jim Bowman from Oak Park  

Posted: November 8th, 2010 12:49 PM

My "Father McNally meets Cardinal George" at be of interest.

Gabe Azzaro from Carlsbad  

Posted: November 8th, 2010 12:19 PM

What a statement on the hierarchy of the Catholic church that doesn't allow any discussion on topics of which it assumes expertise. This same hierarchy can change the sacrament of Confirmation to suit a particular diocese or bishop, but it won't budge on the sacrament of Holy Orders. Why? That's simple. The pope, cardinals and bishops are afraid of women and of losing their power. Their authority no longer comes from the succession of the Apostles, but from their own greed and power-seeking

Skip Baum  

Posted: November 8th, 2010 11:13 AM

My deepest respect and thanks goes to Fr. Larry. It seems, since we've been praying for an increase in priestly vocations for over 30 years, God doesn't seem to agree with Rome's "males only need apply" doctrine either.


Posted: November 8th, 2010 11:00 AM

What discipline did I confuse with doctrine?I'll make these bets with any takers:-RC Church will never have female "priests"-RC Church will never condone homosexual relations or contraception-RC Church will be around until the end of time.

Mike Gill from Oak Park  

Posted: November 8th, 2010 10:57 AM

If Rome doesn't change their position on this critical issue the Catholic Church faces a dim future. In my opinion the very survival of the Catholic Church is the issue at hand.

JeannieGuzman from Plano TX  

Posted: November 8th, 2010 9:58 AM

Given his track record for supporting priests accused of acts of pedophilia, sodomy and the molestation/rape of children, I don't think that Cardinal George is in any position to demand feality from any priest or any member of his archdiocese. Sheer arrogance typifies Cardinal George's stance on most topics. One would almost think that He, alone, makes decisions for the Body of Christ in Chicago, and that the other People of God should just keep their mouths shut. What a blessing! Right?

Elizabeth Rees from Oak Park   

Posted: November 8th, 2010 9:40 AM

I don't believe Father Larry should apologize. But what I really don't understand is that if the good people of Ascension support the father and support the right of women to be ordained, why do they also continue to FINANACIALLY support a Church that refuses to make any changes that do not benefit its own rule? Take away the dollars flowing from churches like Ascension to Rome. Unfortunately, that seems to be the only way to make them pay attention to the real needs of their followers.

Mary Lu from Geneva,IL  

Posted: November 8th, 2010 9:22 AM

Thank you Father Larry for being open and honest. Thank you for trying to great a dialogue on this issue and others within our church.I hope more priests will join you. Most priests I know around the US feel the same way you do but are afaid to stand up.

Dan Steiner from Chicago  

Posted: November 8th, 2010 8:27 AM

Thanks to Fr. Larry McNally and the wonderful people of Ascension for your continued courage and faith. And shame on those who would try to bully them into submission.

dbnald dohr from las cruces, new mexico  

Posted: November 8th, 2010 8:07 AM

Ken shows a deficiency in dogmatic theology confusing doctrine with discipline.

Judy Lorenz  

Posted: November 8th, 2010 7:58 AM

Thank you Fr. McNally. After my recent trip to Rome I realized that the pope has no say in what Catholics actually do. Despite the resistence to give the ok to condom use in Afrcia to help in the prevention of HIV... condom dispensers are found on every other street in Rome outside the farmacias.The bishop of Rome can't stop condom use in his diocese and he can't stop Americans from discussing women's ordination. Sadly the charade of power continues because of our financial support.

CMHENRY from Havertown, PA  

Posted: November 8th, 2010 6:42 AM

One wonders when priest who have opinions like McNally are going to have the guts to organize and state their beliefs for the good of the entire church, the People of God.What thinking person could possibly agree with George's absurd statements?


Posted: November 8th, 2010 6:37 AM

Aww, did the baby throwing the tantrum get sent to his room? If you don't accept the teachings of the Church just leave; they aren't going to change doctrine to suit each member. Is it really that difficult to understand?For moderns who look to Luther for support, please Google to discover his view of women or homosexuals.

Carol O'Connor Ford from Oak Park Il  

Posted: November 4th, 2010 4:45 PM

Wow! Didn't take long for those on "high" to bring the hammer down on Fr. Larry for his "personal faith". How many children would have been sparred rape had the RC Church acted as swiftly on their behalf. I believe in you, Father Larry, and the way you live the faith is a daily inspiration to me. God Bless You

john murtagh from Oak Park  

Posted: November 4th, 2010 1:42 AM

Thank you Father McNally for taking a stand. You have my respect.

Priscilla Perkins from Oak Park  

Posted: November 3rd, 2010 1:17 PM

As an Ascension parishioner, I thank Fr. McNally for following his conscience and speaking out. Jesus and his apostles (male *and* female) did not stand for exclusion, and neither should the leaders of the Catholic church. When I talk with my children about why I remain a Catholic, I point to the example of people like Fr. McNally---people who act on their faith in the face of intimidation by bullies (yes, I said it) with institutional power.

Kevin O'Mara from Oak Park  

Posted: November 3rd, 2010 12:43 PM

Fr. McNally and anyone else who supports female clergy in the Roman Catholic faith have my support. Fr. McNally obviously loves his church and wants it to move into the 21st century. We have too many pederasts and not enough females involved in our faith. The former have been protected and allowed to hurt children for decades, while that latter are shunned. This is why many of the flock refuse to be part of the RC "faithful" any longer.

A Friend from Oak Park  

Posted: November 3rd, 2010 11:32 AM

The RC church has been top down since Peter. What the faithful were supposed to believe always was interpreted by the clergy. This made some sense when few but priests could read. With the printing press and wider literacy came lay interpretation of Christ's call. This led to protests during the reformation that forced those "protestants" outside of the church. Protest is still not welcome. I left for the Quakers who listen for God's word today, have a history of gender equality and no clergy.

bmr from oak park  

Posted: November 2nd, 2010 9:25 PM

Has no one in Rome heard of Vatican II? Promieses of reform died with JohnXXIII. Kudos for Fr.McNally and his courage to step up to the 21st Century.

Joe McDonald from Oak Park  

Posted: November 2nd, 2010 8:43 PM

I want to underscore the last words of Fr. McNally that are quoted in Dan Haley's article:"It is disappointing that we can't even talk about it." Perhaps so called "political actions," such as petitioning the Cardinal, would not be as necessary if the Vatican some time in the 90's hadn't prohibited even the discussion of women's ordination. What are the faithful to do when they can't even exercise their free will to talk a about a matter?

KathiS from Oak Park  

Posted: November 2nd, 2010 5:20 PM

Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenburg church almost 500 years ago. He didn't want to start a new religion, he wanted to show the Church the error of it's doctrine. Apparently the RC church hasn't gotten any better at accepting criticism. (Although I don't see them selling indulgences anymore - they seem to have switched to selling annulments.)

SMB from Oak Park  

Posted: November 2nd, 2010 5:18 PM

Cardinal George should know how many people who fill the pews "practice their faith in peace" by ignoring the antiquated and offensive teachings of the church in favor of the benefits of parish life. If only the true believers were let in the door, the church would be dead, or at least dead broke.

MD from Oak Park  

Posted: November 2nd, 2010 4:50 PM

Well-done, Dan. This is a great mix of news & commentary. Of course Fr. Larry had to apologize. That's not showing weakness; it's just playing by the rules. He, and many other parishioners, certainly made their point.The somewhat radicalized American RC Church has, overall, been the only part of the RCC to show compassion and be relevant in this modern age; the only branch to put its money where its mouth is. Ascension can hold its collective head up high with gutsy folks like this around.


Posted: November 2nd, 2010 4:09 PM

The petition might have been more warmly received if it was accompanied by a large financial donation.

Mom from Forest Park  

Posted: November 2nd, 2010 3:50 PM

If I was McNally, I wouldn't have apologized. He was one of the few with guts to confront the Church. Jesus has nothing against women and wants them to participate fully in the Mass. The dinosaur attitude shown by the Church is the reason I don't practice Catholicism anymore. I feel sorry for Ascension. That was my school and parish at one time...

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