By William J. Manseau

During 2004, the Roman Catholic Faith Community Council of the Federation of Christian Ministries, the Women’s Ordination Conference and CORPUS, a National Association for an Inclusive Priesthood, agreed to participate in the National Catholic Ministries Alliance (NCMA). The purpose of the Alliance will be to facilitate collaboration and coordination of efforts in promoting the grassroots re-formation of ministries in the Roman Catholic Church. It proposes to do that, in part, by the encouragement, promotion and enablement of renewing forms of Catholic ministry in the Church at large as well as to the unchurched.

Renewing Forms of Ministry

These renewing forms of Catholic ministry called forth by the Spirit and the people of the Church include the ordination of women to the diaconate and priesthood and their nurturance and sustenance in those ministries. Those ministries will be both congregational and specialized, e.g., house churches, chaplaincies, etc. They also include qualified married and other resigned Catholic priests not currently recognized as being in the canonical service of the Church but who recognize a continuing call from the Spirit of God to serve the people of God as presbyters and laypeople called to a wide variety of service and witness.

The Spirit Breathes Where It Will

The history of the Church beginning with the New Testament recognizes that ministry in the Church is called forth by the Spirit of God through various means. Jesus himself was called forth not by the Temple authorities but by the Spirit of God to minister to God’s people. So also, Saul of Tarsus was not called forth by the Twelve, but by the Risen Lord, to be his anointed vessel.

A Contemporary Historical Example

It is perhaps a little known fact that the Roman Catholic hierarchy in the United States resisted the promotion of Polish priests to the episcopacy until some Polish Catholic communities in various parts of the country sought the assistance of the Old Catholic Church of Utrecht in Holland. From that effort Francis Hodur was consecrated a bishop in 1907 by the Union of Old Catholics. This gave birth to the Polish National Catholic Church in the United States. Bishop Hodur was subsequently excommunicated. In 1992 Pope John Paul II sent Edward Cardinal Cassidy, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, to that church based in Scranton, Pennsylvania to discuss reunion. Today in Roman Catholic churches across the United States, missalettes announce that Polish National Catholics are welcome to receive Holy Communion as a result of Vatican II since it has a valid, apostolic priesthood.

Expressions of New Life

In recent years Catholic communities with Roman Catholic roots of varying sizes have been emerging which value linkages with older Catholic bodies not in full communion with the See of Peter, which demonstrate a high level of spiritual maturity, an apostolic commitment to the deposit of Catholic faith, and its implications and a willingness to share their spiritual gifts. Some of these new communities have been content to simply establish and maintain relationships which have enabled the sharing of ecumenical faculties for the valid and licit celebration of sacraments, that is, the International Catholic Apostolic Vicariate of the Good Shepherd. The Vicariate was organized by the International Society of the Apostles, Sts. Mary Magdalene, Peter and Thomas with the agreement of several Syrian Orthodox bishops.

Other groups have taken things a further step and have accepted the offer of sharing in the gift of apostolic succession for their pastors and other ministers, for example, the Celtic Christian Church (CCC), founded by Bishop Joseph Grenier and priest Cait Finnegan Grenier. Both persons are well known in CORPUS and Federation of Christian Ministries (FCM) communities and are highly respected. Another example is the Old Catholic Church which has a related congregation referred to as the Ecumenical Catholic Communion (ECC), based in Orange, California, led by Bishop Peter Hickman. The ECC was recently accepted on November 4, 2004 as a member of Catholic Organizations for Reform (COR) and that speaks to the respect in which its participants are held by the Catholic reform community and to COR’s recognition of the catholicity of the ECC.

Still another example is the Spiritus Christi community in Rochester, New York, which is known throughout the country for its courageous actions, Gospel commitments, and the leadership of Revs. Mary Anne Ramerman, James B. Callan and Denise Donato.

It is these examples of faith and leadership, in concert with mature and well-qualified Catholic women presenting themselves for ordination as deacons and presbyters in the Catholic Church in various venues across the country and the world that have been responsible for the establishment of a National Catholic Ministerial Alliance.

Sacramental Mentorships

The first concrete collaboration for the Alliance, which was initiated last summer, is an emerging national network of sacramental mentorships between married or resigned priests and Catholic women preparing for ordination as deacons and priests. The purpose of the sacramental mentorships is to provide a collegial relationship around the practicalities of sacramental celebrations and related pastoral care which gives the aspiring ordinands some hands-on familiarity with liturgies and rubrics of baptism, reconciliation, Eucharist, anointing, funerals, etc. There are currently half a dozen such mentorship relationships around the country.

Emmaus Catholic Communities

Another NCMA initiative will be the establishment and coordination of Emmaus Catholic Communities in cooperation with the emerging new ecumenical Catholic ministry networks with relationships to bishops in apostolic succession. These communities will provide settings for congregational ministries by women Catholic priests and married Catholic priests who are men and others and will be eligible for recognition as FCM affiliate communities. The ministerial faculties to be granted by the Catholic bishops in these ecumenical Emmaus Catholic communities who are not in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church will be ecumenical in nature and will recognize the continuing Roman Catholic identity of those receiving them.


Specialized Ministries Endorsements

Endorsements required for specialized ministry settings such as hospitals, hospices, and other civilian, institutional and military chaplaincies, pastoral and professional ministerial associations will be available through FCM’s Committee on Specialized Ministries in cooperation with its new Roman Catholic Faith Community Council. FCM is an active member of the national network of Religious Endorsing Bodies of the COMISS Network, formerly the Council on Ministries in Specialized Settings. The COMISS Network is recognized by the major mainline and other denominations and faith groups in the U.S. as the coordinating center for information exchange and collaboration on issues of common concern.

The COMISS Network includes the professional ministerial certifying associations such as the American Association of Pastoral Counselors and the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education which certify individuals for the practice of and training for professional pastoral care; faith groups or denominations recognized as religious endorsing bodies (REBs); accrediting organizations which accredit institutions, facilities, centers, or systems for the practice, education, and training of chaplains, pastoral counselors, or other pastoral care professionals; and chaplain and pastoral counselor employing organizations which employ chaplains and/or pastoral counselors who are certified by one of the certifying organizations of the COMISS Network.

North Atlantic Federation for a Renewed Catholic Priesthood

Both CORPUS and FCM/RCFCC are participating members of the North Atlantic Federation for a Renewed Catholic Priesthood. At the North Atlantic Federation’s annual meeting in August, 2004 a report was given on the emergence of the Alliance and of the interest on the part of some of the WOC leadership in its participation in the North Atlantic Federation for a Renewed Catholic Priesthood along with a message of support from Evelyn Hunt, WOC President.


NCMA Coordinating Committee

NCMA institutional representatives who serve as its coordinating committee are Evelyn Hunt for WOC, William Wisniewski for CORPUS and William Manseau for FCM/RCFCC. They may be contacted for additional information on the Alliance. William Manseau is serving as Convener at this time.

Bill Manseau has a Doctorate of Ministry and has served on the boards of Priests for a Free Ministry, FCM and CORPUS.