In Good Standing …….. With Whom?

Mary Magdala Community

“In Good Standing……….With Whom?”©

by Rev. Jim Ryan,

A pastor at a Catholic Parish in the archdiocese of Milwaukee recently informed some of his parishioners that Jim Ryan is not a priest “in good standing.”  He arrived at that charge after researching me by consulting with the chancery office.  So, my question is, “good standing with whom?”

Do I choose to be in good standing with a community whose worship is a liturgical celebration of the One who is the Word of Life?  Do I choose to be in good standing with a community who takes seriously the advice of the One who says, “Go, and do likewise?”  Do I choose to be in good standing with a community whose arms are wide open to include all God’s people, especially with an invitation to share at the communion table of Love?

Or, do I rather choose to be in good standing with an institution whose views on community are clubbish, alienating, and exclusivist?  An institution whose criteria for clergy eligibility favors those who are authoritarian inclined, philosophically obtuse, and theologically misogynist – and, not to put too fine a point on it – absolutely male?

You won’t be surprised to know that I choose the former over the latter.

Come on, now, how does an institution get to say who’s in and who’s out – who’s in good standing and who’s in, what, bad standing?  Is it because that institution has a habit of speaking words, for example, of compassion for victims of clergy sexual abuse and then doing actions like hiding (as in the case of the immediate predecessor to the current head of the Milwaukee archdiocese), yes hiding, in excess of 50 million dollars of general funds and putting that money into restricted cemetery accounts so as not to be exposed to the liability for full reparations payments to those victims?  And now it is reported that the current head of the Milwaukee archdiocese proposes to ding the faithful yet again by increasing the cost of cemetery plots so as to add to already flush accounts.  How much do you want to pay to be buried in blessed ground?

(May I point out that, with a little google searching you also will find that shenanigans and misdeeds by bishops – e.g., Buffalo, NY, Boston, MA, Lincoln, NE, etc., are or have been going on in a diocese near you.)

Do I choose the former or the latter?

How does an institution proclaim its commitment to the educational and spiritual development of its members and then populate its pastorates with men who, to say English is their second language would be a misplaced compliment not to mention an altogether misleading statement, men who are certainly ill-equipped to guide or lead one of that institution’s best educated and deeply reflective national churches.  Perhaps now the faithful know how indigenous people felt when American missionaries went to evangelize and lead out of darkness their unenlightened souls.

Do I choose the former or the latter?

Who’s kidding who?  If it weren’t for the fact that parish members know that two levels of community exist in the Roman Catholic Church – the house of cards would come tumbling down.  There’s the local community of families who invest time, talent, and treasure in community life with their families, neighbors, and friends.  And then there’s the clerical community (although calling a collection of men who live in constant anxiety, if not fear, of being reported to the chancery a community is a stretch.)  As a wise parishioner told me 45 years ago at my first parish, “Father, you priests come and go.  We’re the ones who stay.”  Stay, might I add, to form and to build up the real community.

Do I choose standing with a community with whom I get to unencumberedly explore new realities, expanded ministries, and shared decision making?  Or do I choose an elitist club whose rules are restrictive and exclusivist and whose leaders are bullies who threaten to withdraw pensions, cancel health insurance policies and other quality of life supports from their club members who step outside the line?

I think you already know my choice.

You see, priesthood is a gift which the Holy Spirit gives to the community who chooses to act upon it.  We are a nation of priests, a royal priesthood in the words of St. Peter (1 Peter 2:9).  And when those who are in so-called “good standing” choose to exclude, bully, and disregard a Spirit-filled people, then they should go – as in, resign.  Cardinal Cupich of Chicago is by all accounts a good man, a leader who seeks to be a servant.  When he was in Ireland last August to attend the World Meeting of Families the time was fraught with ongoing reports of bishops – some located in the United States – who not only mismanaged but even acted with criminal intent in the matter of the reassignment of sexually abusive priests.  An interviewer on Irish TV asked the cardinal if the American bishops should resign as an entire body.  His response was that the situation would create anarchy.

Anarchy.  Really?  One thing I know of the clerics of the Roman Catholic Church is that there always are more candidates, particularly of the self-promoting variety, than there are final choices.  In this they are no different than any other hierarchical organization.  There is no shortage of “boss replacements.”  Besides, vacancies at the so-called “top” could serve the institution well by making it possible for local communities to find their own way to a new and revitalized Oneness in Christ.

Are you in good standing?  I mean, who even uses such terms these days?

I give thanks that I join with all members of our community of Mary of Magdala, Apostle to the Apostles in being a gathering of the followers of the One who shows the way.  We stand together in our sharing at a communion table of love.  We are adults in the room whose vision explores, seeks out, widens, and deepens with the guidance and the revelation of the Holy Spirit in whom All is Well and All will be Well!

Prayer of St. Hildegard of Bingen  (1098-1179)

Holy Spirit, giving life to all life,

moving all creatures,

root of all things,

washing them clean,

wiping out their mistakes,

healing their wounds,

You are our true life,

luminous, wonderful,

awakening the heart

from its ancient sleep.


One Response

  1. Well, Jim, if you are not “in good standing” with the institutional church, you have the company of most of your congregation. I was not in good standing (that’s putting it mildly) since 12-15-72, when I married Ken, divorced. At one time I felt we should fix it. But got a letter from the bishop – Learn to live with it. (Now I smile.) Then I got in good standing when my husband died. But then I got “not in good standing” by deciding to worship with a wonderful faith community, with Spirit-filled leadership. A community where we are encouraged to seek God in all things. Where worship is real, not just ritual.

    When the Spirit gets lost in “good standing,” it’s time to move on – follow the Light and be the Light.

    God bless and lead us all.

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