Thursday, November 16, 2006

Priest not afraid to advocate change

Priest not afraid to advocate change
St. Edward's Breen presses for all to be heard
The Tennessean (Nashville, TN)

At 71, Nashville priest Joseph Breen doggedly continues a years-long quest to challenge church teachings he says are driving more and more of the faithful away from the Catholic Church.

Officially "gagged" once for his outspoken advocacy for married priests, Breen has remained undaunted. He hand-delivered a letter to the Vatican last month asking the pope and top officials to revisit church teachings on married priests, artificial birth control, divorce and women deacons.

All are barred by the Roman Catholic Church and have been for centuries.

But Breen says he remains driven by his belief that the teachings are out of touch with ordinary Catholics, whom he has seen leave Midstate churches for years. Stretched thin as the only pastor for his 1,100-member congregation — once served by three priests — Breen said he is also acutely concerned that a shortage of priests threatens the ability of the church to pastor adequately to those who remain.

'Ordinary' Catholics' views

"There is a serious disconnect between the hierarchy and the people," said Breen, pastor of St. Edward Church in south Nashville. "And that is causing the church great harm. These are not my views. They're the views of ordinary Catholics. American bishops need to start listening to the people; otherwise they're going to lose them."

But just this week, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops voted to affirm church teachings that artificial birth control is against God's design and sternly counseled those who practice it to refrain from Communion.

And while Pope Benedict XVI is gathering his advisers in a meeting today to discuss the issue of celibate priests, Vatican experts call any change of policy a long shot.

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