Justice in the Church
Just Treatment for Church Ministers
Case Studies: Just Treatment for Church Ministers

Case Studies: "Just Treatment for Church Ministers"

(These are examples of real situations that come to the FutureChurch offices over the years, or that we have read about in the national media. Collated by Sr. Chris Schenk)

Cases Dealing with Parish Ministry and Employment

  1. December 1997 A pastoral musician in Florida with a Masters degree in Pastoral Ministry and an extensive academic and career history in education, music and business is hired as a part time musical coordinator and liturgist. She is paid $12.00 per hour for twenty hours per week as an independent contractor. Since the pastor insisted she live within the local area she sold her condo (90 minutes away) and moved nearby. After being hired she was also asked to function as an accompanist which was not in her contract. She acquiesced and the choir flourished, increasing by 2/3. She inaugurated a youth Mass and numerous special services that occurred during November and over the Christmas season. During this time the minister worked twenty-one days in a row. The day after Christmas, the pastor told her: “Your contract is invalid,” and the Diocesan lawyer stated that the IRS wouldn’t allow her to work as an independent contractor. Her last check had all the taxes removed and on January seventh she received a registered letter stating that her contract with the parish was terminated. No reasons were given. The choir stopped singing and sat in protest at the 9:30 am Mass for more than six months. The pastoral minister made an out of court settlement with the understanding that the pastor would meet to reconcile differences.
  2. (Per report to FutureChurch office)
  3. January 27, 1998 Lay Ministers Jim and Mary Jean Smith are required to resign from their positions as pastoral minister and associate in a Wisconsin parish. They were chosen for the position from 30 applicants and had moved from the East coast to serve the parish eighteen months earlier. Despite the fact that they were well liked by parishioners, and despite a signed “ministry agreement” which didn’t end until July 1998, they were told if they didn’t resign immediately, they would be denied six weeks severance pay and letters of recommendation. (As reported in National Catholic Reporter)
  4. June 1998 A Missouri pastoral minister with an MA degree, certification in Adult and Family Ministry and many years of experience, is let go from her job after a new pastor who has been ordained only five years takes over. Despite good prior evaluations, a 70 hour work week, and running a very comprehensive Christian formation program from infants to adults, she is first told her hours will be cut and then she was dismissed without severance pay. This occurred even though her diocese had clear employment directives to the contrary. Her work is now performed by volunteers. Even though 14 children were lined up for the catechumenate, the program is not held.
  5. (Per report to the FutureChurch office)
  6. November 1997 The Vatican releases an “Instruction on the Non-ordained Faithful” which is widely viewed as curtailing the ministerial scope of lay ministers. Seen by many as a rebuff to Catholic laity, the document, according to Bishop Reinhold Stecher of Austria, refused “to recognize the actual pastoral situation in so many countries ... and to recognize the theological importance of the Eucharist for the Christian community and the church.” (The Tablet, 12/27/97) Lay ministers of the Eucharist and lay preaching are stopped in a number parishes as a direct result of the letter. (Toledo diocese, Louisville diocese) (Per reports to FutureChurch office)
  7. Sometime in 1997 A new pastor arrives at St. Francis Xavier parish in New York City and many problems ensue. Parishioners hire an outside facilitator to deal with his non-collaborative decision making style, secrecy, high handed treatment of parishioners and the firing of a beloved female pastoral minister without due process. After the failure of year -long mediation and reconciliation efforts, parishioners finally establish an escrow fund for financial redirection. The fund is established in December 1997 and collects $28,000 in ten days. On January 4, 1998 the pastor is replaced.
  8. February 1998 Pastoral musicians and composers meet in St. Louis to discuss the repressive climate for inclusive language in the Church. Two veteran composers tell of being fired from parish music jobs because they were said to be out of step with “liturgical correctness.” (ie music should not be inclusive). Some even said bishops had asked people to report “abuses.”
  9. May 1998 Pastoral Life Director David M. Giusti is given no advance notice that his contract serving two Seattle parishes will not be renewed because a priest is now available. After serving three one-year appointments, Giusti said his 1997 contract negotiations were predicated on being granted a three year term. Despite an appeal by the parish council the decision stands. Many believe that the Vatican document on lay ministry led to his release since Giusti is the only layman among the archdiocese’s six pastoral directors.
  10. (As reported in National Catholic Reporter)
  11. September 1998 The new pastor (less than ten years ordained) in a Nashville parish yells at a family which kneels to receive communion: “I do not give anyone Eucharist kneeling; stand for the Eucharist.” Several other emotional outbursts, often directed at women, occur at parish council meetings. The DRE is publicly upbraided twice, resigns after the second episode, and leaves the parish. A nun working at the parish writes a letter of resignation because of the pastor’s behavior but the parishioners convince her to stay. The pastor threatens to fire the whole parish council and nine of the eleven members want to talk with the bishop. Parish attendance is dropping, income is dropping and the Knights of Columbus and Ladies Guild are upset. (Case telephoned in to FutureChurch office)
  12. October 1998 Corpus Christi associate pastor Mary Ramerman is fired from her position at Corpus Christi parish because she refuses to step away from her over five year visible liturgical presence at the altar. Ramerman says she cannot in conscience step away from the altar because to do so reinforces old notions that women are unclean and desecrate the sanctuary. Ramerman first learns that her liturgical attire and presence at the altar is problematic in July of 1998. Ramerman regularly wears an alb and a stole that is draped over one shoulder (different from the position of a priest or deacon’s stole). The stole had been given her by parishioners to recognize her ministry. After her dismissal Ramerman keeps a previously made appointment with the new pastor, who tells her he had read a thick folder at the chancerywhich said she had been told many times before to remove the stole. Ramerman insists she had not been told to remove it before July of 1998. She says she was unaware that there was a file about her, and does not know what other accusations it contains. (From media reports)
  13. Sometime in 1998
  14. In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, a Notre Dame nun loses her parish job because she advocates for inclusive language. (Reported to FutureChurch office)
  15. In West Virginia, two nun administrators of a poor parish must pay a circuit riding priest $300.00 every time he comes to celebrate Mass.

(Reported to FutureChurch office)

Cases Dealing with Academic Freedom (c.218)

1. May 1995 Tenured professor Sr. Carmel McEnroy is dismissed from St. Meinrad School of Theology for signing an open letter to Pope John Paul II asking that discussion continue on the question of ordaining women to the priesthood.( She does not identify herself as a theology professor or her place of employment). St. Meinrad is ultimately censured by the Association of University Professors for violating McEnroy’s academic freedom and for failing to follow the due process provisions in its faculty handbook.
(Per media reports)

2. February 1998 The Vatican overruled a 1994 imprimatur given by British Bishop Peter Smith to the book Roman Catholic Christianity. The author, Clare Richards, was accused of heresy in 1996 by conservative Catholics in England who didn’t like her innovative teaching style in which students were encouraged to think things through on their own. Bishop Smith strongly supported Richards, describing her as a highly respected religious educator in England and Wales, but withdrew the imprimatur anyway. (As reported in the Tablet)

3. April 1998 Professor Aaron Milavec receives a $72,000 out of court settlement from the Athenaeum of Ohio for breach of contract. Milavec was fired after a publicly known conservative student Thomas Ruwe, accused him of deviating from Catholic doctrine. Earlier Ruwe had himself been fired from a teaching position at a local Catholic high school because he accused six nuns at the school of not teaching Catholic doctrine.
(Per National Catholic Reporter and other media reports)

4. May 1998 Sr. Barbara Fiand is removed from her 17 year position as teacher at Mt. St Mary’s Seminary at the Athenaeum of Ohio, and her rolling contract is rescinded. Fiand was denied teaching faculties following accusations from unnamed sources that she did not support vocations to the ordained ministry as it presently exists. Fiand strongly denied the accusations. Fiand was the only remaining female full professor at the Athenaeum, had consistently high evaluations and had received the Excellence in Teaching Award on two occasions.
(From National Catholic Reporter and other media reports)

5. July 1998 Sr. Ruth Schafer from Essen, Germany is removed from her diocesan teaching position by Bishop Luthe because of her public advocacy for continuing the discussion about women’s ordination. Ruth holds degrees in philosophy and theology, and was doing doctoral studies in New Testament exegesis at the time. At the invitation of the Catholic Women’s Association, she had spoken on the question of women’s ordination in a number of German dioceses over several years. (Via Internet reports)

6. June 1998 Vatican releases “Ad Tuendam Fidem” which adds canonical penalties to those who cannot accept “definitive” Church teachings. Cardinal Ratzinger releases a commentary naming Anglican orders, fornication, euthanasia, and women’s ordination as examples of offenses for which sanctions could be applied.

Cases dealing with the Right to a Good Name and Reputation (c.220)

1. February 1997 New Orleans Archbishop Francis Schulte impugns the reputation of Notre Dame Theologian Fr. Richard McCormick leading to the cancellation of his invitation to speak to area Notre Dame alumni. McCormick had publicly disagreed with the theological underpinnings of Responsum ad Dubium which purported to make the teaching on the non-ordination of women infallible. (From National Catholic Reporter and other reports)
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2. November 1997 Patty Crowley, cofounder of the Christian Family Movement and member of Paul VI”s Commission on Birth Control is defamed as “a very old degenerate who roams about promoting sexual immorality” by the Southern Nebraska Register, official newspaper of the Lincoln diocese.

3. In 1997 Human Life International mails a book “Call to Action or Call to Apostasy” to every pastor in the United States. The book is filled with distorted quotations from individuals from some 200 “dangerous” Church reform organizations. Some of these include the Canon Law Society of America, the Adrian Dominican Sisters, Bread for the World, the National Catholic Education Association, Immaculate Heart Sisters, Pax Christi and many others. The book’s authors do not speak directly to the individuals misquoted.

4. October 2007 Well known international speaker and founder of the Volunteer Missionary Movement, Edwina Gateley, is defamed by church officials in two dioceses who bar her from giving retreat programs. In one diocese the Bishop accused her in writing of “challenging the deity of Jesus” and “promoting witchcraft.” The bishop never spoke to Gateley before making these defamatory accusations and did not respond to her request to meet with him. Gateley subsequently instituted civil proceedings and succeeded in forcing a retraction in a Canadian publication that first spread the egregious accusations. (Reported to the FutureChurch Office)

5. January 2008. A deacon in Fairbanks Alaska emails another Catholic to say FutureChurch cofounder Sr. Christine Schenk “is very heretical,” and accuses the organization of “denying the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and claiming the Last Supper never happened.” The deacon had never spoken to Schenk and refused to meet with her even though she personally invited him to do so during her visit to the area. Diocesan officials later personally apologize to Schenk for the deacon’s behavior.

6. January 2008 The Archbishop of Anchorage Alaska refuses the local Call to Action group permission to host Sr. Christine Schenk at a parish in the diocese. The Archbishop says it would be a violation of his oath as an archbishop to give such permission. He based his decision on the FutureChurch mission statement calling for widespread discussion of opening ordination to all those called to it by God and the people of God. Schenk’s topic did not deal with ordination but with biblical women leaders and the Synod on the Word. The Archbishop did not respond to Schenk’s invitation to come to the presentation.

Cases dealing with The Right to Associate and Assembly (c.215)

1. May 1996-present Bishop Fabian Bruskewicz threatens Lincoln Nebraska members of Call to Action with excommunication for their membership in an organization that advocates opening ordination. Diocesan appeals are not heeded. No other Bishops follow suit. Nebraska CTA members continue to publicly receive Eucharist without sanctions.
(Per National Catholic Reporter and personal reports)

2. 1996-2008 Bishops and pastors in many dioceses refuse to allow parishioners and Church employees who are members of church renewal organizations such as FutureChurch, Call to Action, Dignity and Voice of the Faithful to meet on Church property. Some bishops actively defend their right to meet on Church property. Others adopt a “don’t ask don’t tell” policy.
(From individual and organizational reports)

3. 1998 A woman minister working in Rochester is told that she may not send a letter inviting other woman ministers to a meeting to discuss the status of women in ministry in the diocese. (Reported to the FutureChurch office)