Federation of Christian Ministries

New Model of Partnership Ministry Needed in Catholic Church

The sexual abuse by priests of children and the sexual exploitation of nuns in 23 countries are connected and must be stopped. Both scandals demonstrate an abuse of power by a dysfunctional clerical system that values priest abusers over innocent victims.

In their Draft: "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People," U.S. bishops acknowledge their sorrow, promise pastoral care to victims and their families, pledge to dismiss priests in new abuse cases and appoint laity on review boards.

Missing is the ethical standard that states any priest convicted of physical or sexual abuse will have to resign. One act of sexual abuse against anyone, is one act too many. There should be no second chances for some abusers. One strike and you are out should apply to past and future cases not only in the U.S. but around the world. Bishops and cardinals who participated in cover-ups of crimes of sexual abuse should resign.

At the heart of this crisis is an abuse of power by priests and bishops that has threatened the moral credibility of the church. The dysfunctional clerical system must be reformed now. Needed are new structures of accountability that affirm laity as decision-makers in all areas of church life. In this context, a new model of partnership ministry is needed that affirms that the Spirit of God works through the people , not just the clergy. Such partnership ministry means that ordinary Catholics would be on independent review boards and possess decision-making responsibility to ensure that Catholic clergy not exploit their spiritual authority to gain sexual favors from children or unsuspecting nuns. Reports in the National Catholic Reporter in March 2001 allege that sexual abuse of nuns by priests, including rape, is a serious problem in Africa and other parts of the developing world. In some cases, priests have pressured nuns to get abortions. In one incident, a priest who got a nun pregnant , insisted that she get an abortion. She died during the procedure and the priest presided at her funeral. A Sister-victim of clergy sex abuse is often dismissed from her congregation, while the priest-abuser is simply changed to another parish. The Vatican is aware of the abuse of nuns, but has done little to stop it. The bishops need to confront Vatican intransigence, stand up for justice and reform in solidarity with victims and outraged Catholics around the world.

The Federation of Christian Ministries, (known as FCM) is a new model of partnership ministry founded in 1969 by Roman Catholic priests who chose both marriage and priesthood . FCM presents to the Roman Catholic Church a new paradigm for ministry. FCM emphasizes collegial decision making rather than hierarchical order, gender equality rather than clerical domination, openness rather than secrecy. In response to sexual abuse crisis, FCM calls on the bishops to do justice for victims, admit cover-ups and abuse of power, empower the laity with decision-making roles, and open the priesthood to married people and to women. Since 1967, 25,000 priests have resigned, the majority to marry. In an article on demographics, Terry Dosh observes: "There are as many married priests under age 65 as there are celibate priests." For thirty years, FCM has stood on the edge and provided a place where reform-minded Catholics could experiment with new models of ministry. FCM presented a picture of partnership ministry, women and men ministering as equals, as it might be lived in the church. FCM has evolved into an inclusive community to include people of various religious traditions and to affirm women as equals and partners in ministry. In all fifty states, FCM ministers can proclaim the Gospel, preside at weddings and funerals, lead worship and support human services.

FCM's Circle of Directors is elected by the membership. Each director's term is limited to no more than six years of continuous service and no more than nine years of total service as an elected member of the Circle of Directors. All members of FCM are eligible to be elected to serve on the Circle of Directors. Is the Roman Catholic Church ready to examine the experience of FCM governance and apply this inclusive model to a renewed structure of Church governance?

FCM's vision of ministry is rooted in the example of partnership ministry practiced by Jesus in the Gospels. Jesus invited married men and women to be his disciples. Priests, bishops and popes were married for the first eleven centuries of the church's history. Mandatory celibacy was not imposed until 1139. There is evidence that women were ordained in the early Christian Church. Scholars believe that Deacon Phoebe and women in the early church had equal standing as leaders of Christian communities.

Will Catholics demand serious reform by the church hierarchy in response to the sexual abuse of children and nuns? If so, preparation for Vatican III has already begun and partnership ministry can become a reality for the Catholic church in the twenty-first century. Bridget Mary Meehan, President of The Federation of Christian Ministries (p)703-379-2487 (c),703-967-6736 www.FederationofChristianMinistries.org , email:sofiabmm@aol.com