Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Henrietta man's holy vows stir unease

Ordination invalid because it's outside church, diocese contends
by Marketta Gregory

The Rev. Ray Grosswirth's ordination to the priesthood followed all of the Roman Catholic traditions, except his wife helped him with his vestments.

That one change — and, more importantly, the fact the Henrietta man is not celibate — drew crowds of reporters and onlookers Sunday to watch as he and another married man were ordained in New Jersey by Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo. The Zambian archbishop married in 2001 and has ordained married men to serve as bishops, prompting the pope to excommunicate him.

For more than a decade, Grosswirth had been preparing for the priesthood, earning his master's in theology and a master of divinity from St. Bernard's School of Theology and Ministry. He has also served as a Eucharistic minister and lector, and at times he has taught adult education classes and visited nursing homes while attending St. Mary and Blessed Sacrament churches in Rochester with his wife of 12 years, Brenda.

But the Rochester Roman Catholic diocese said Monday that his ordination occurred outside of the Roman Catholic Church and is not considered valid.

Ordination has to happen "under the authority and blessing of the Church and by bishops in good standing," said Doug Mandelaro, spokesman for Rochester's Roman Catholic diocese. "Any sacraments would not be valid."

The diocese declined to comment further.

Grosswirth sent a certified letter to Rochester's bishop before he flew to New Jersey on Friday. He wanted Bishop Matthew Clark to hear the news from him, not the media.

"I have a great deal of respect for Bishop Clark," said Grosswirth, who is still getting used to the title of reverend. "But Clark may have to respond" and start the excommunication process.

Still, Grosswirth felt he had to take action.

"I came to the same decision that the folks at Spiritus Christi did," he said, referring to a congregation that split from the Rochester diocese in 1998 and ordained a female priest. "Why do we sit here and talk about it? Let's do it.

"I'm 57. If I wait for the Church to change its position on celibacy, I'll be dead."

In rare circumstances the Church has allowed married priests from other denominations to remain married and be re-ordained to become Catholic priests — a practice that Grosswirth calls hypocritical since married Catholics are not allowed to serve.

Now that he is ordained, Grosswirth expects to officiate at marriages, funerals and baptisms, though not in Roman Catholic churches. His ordination couldn't be held in one, either. Instead, he and Dominic Riccio of Barnegat, N.J., another married man, were ordained at Trinity Reformed Church in West New York, N.J.

Grosswirth will continue working full-time at the city of Rochester and serve as an independent minister after hours.

"I don't see myself as a heretic or as a schismatic," said Grosswirth, who is also the national media liaison for Corpus, a group that supports allowing women and married men into the priesthood. "I still consider myself a Roman Catholic."

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