As I enter my 55th year as a convert to the Catholic faith, I have to thank Father Martin, the priest recently assigned to St. Isabel Church, for finally clarifying what it really takes to be a good and acceptable Catholic.  His recent note to an undefined audience could not have been clearer – respect and obedience!  Respect and obedience to the bishop, clergy and administration, that’s the essential element of being a good and acceptable Catholic.  Never mind years of dedicated service to the church, never mind a life committed to the wellbeing of those less fortunate, never mind the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, and never mind doing everything in one’s power to live Christ’s teachings of love, mercy and charity in one’s daily life.  Without respect and obedience to church hierarchy, there is obviously no room in the inn at St. Isabel parish.

I concur with Father Martin that certain positions by their very nature, whether they be in the church or in secular life, deserve certain up-front respect because of their apparent selfless commitment of the service of others – bishop, priest, physician, nurse, social worker, etc., all fall into this category.  But Father Martin makes one significant omission.  Although a position may in and of itself merit respect, the individual who occupies that position is not automatically entitled to it – it must be earned.

For the naysayer who disagrees, consider those religious who have been found guilty of criminal actions involving the sexual assault of young people.  Is it suggested that, whether cardinal, bishop or priest, they should continue to be treated with respect and obeyed?  And we face an equally troubling dilemma when it is claimed that parishioners should unreservedly show respect for a church administration that shows minimal or no respect for a significant percentage of them.

The last three years have been tempestuous at best within St. Isabel parish – a priest who suggested from the altar that parishioners who didn’t like what was happening should simply go to another parish or leave the church, a litany of punitive restrictions on parish organizations, and a my-way or no-way ethic by parish administration.

After the hasty removal of Father Gates from the parish under less than positive circumstances, Father Martin’s arrival should have provided the opportunity for reconciliation and healing.  Instead it appears to have done nothing more than foster an environment of vengeance and calumny against those dedicated Catholic men and women who have the justifiable audacity to ask reasonable questions and, in so doing, are defamed and castigated as showing less than the required degree of respect and obedience.

I can only continue to pray that Christ’s teachings of love, mercy and compassion will prevail, and that parish and Diocesan administration will recognize that the peace the parish so badly needs will never be achieved by an apparent ongoing and outmoded emphasis on authoritarianism.

Mike Baldwin

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