Saturday, April 21, 2007

A Father in Every Sense

The Pastoral Provision at work again! I just love the photo of Fr. Bergman and his daughter. Why can't such a loving relationship be the norm rather than the exception in our Church?

By Jody Roselle
The Times-Tribune

Deacon Eric Bergman will become one of the rarest of Roman Catholic priests today — a married one.

The former rector of Good Shepherd Episcopal Church will be ordained for the second time at St. Clare’s Roman Catholic Church today, nearly 10 years after his ordination in the Church of England.

After he takes his vows, he will be the first married priest in the history of the Diocese of Scranton, joining the 100 or so other married Roman Catholic priests in the United States.

“I’m very eager,” Deacon Bergman said. “This was a leap of faith. Two years ago, we had no idea what would be the end result.

“When I renounced my orders, I said ‘If it works out, it works out, if it doesn’t, it doesn’t.’ ”

Conversion for Deacon Bergman has been about spreading his feelings of unity and the welcoming atmosphere of the Catholic Church. “The church is pro-unity and the church does everything she can to welcome all her brothers,” he said.

Deacon Bergman, 36, and his wife Kristina, 29, grew up as an Episcopalians in Bethlehem. He attended James Madison University followed by Yale University, where he received his master’s degree in divinity. The couple met at the Cathedral Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and were married there in 1996. They have four children: Clara, 5, Eric, 3, Julia, 2, and Joan, 5 months.

Qualities that Mrs. Bergman sees in her husband also makes him a good priest, she said.

“He’s very caring, very thoughtful and he likes to take care of people and he wants to spread the Gospel and the truth of the Gospel and he doesn’t waver, just like the Roman Church doesn’t waver,” she said. “And he’s very dedicated. If he says something, it’s true. That goes for being a priest, and a husband and father.”

With many memories, friends and milestones wrapped up in their faith, leaving the Anglican Communion was not a rushed decision.

“We had been talking for a very long time about where the Episcopal Church was going and what we were going to do,” Mrs. Bergman said. “We thought, Eric and I thought, that one day we’d be united with the Catholic Church.”

The ordination of women, ordination of an openly gay bishop in 2003 and the increasingly liberal stance on birth control and abortion have led to great divisions within Anglicanism over the years. The Bergmans’ strong pro-life beliefs played a major role in their decision.

“The Catholic Church is pro-life, pro-responsibility and pro-unity,” Deacon Bergman said.

“The Roman Church hasn’t changed with the culture,” said Mrs. Bergman. “That appealed to us.”

The road has been difficult and uncertain for the once and future Father Bergman and his wife.

Renouncing his vows in late 2004, meant the loss of his salary. The Bergmans also had to move out of the Good Shepherd rectory, where they had been living, and rent a home.

“That was the scary part — not knowing how we were going to be provided for,” said Mrs. Bergman. “Fortunately, the children were young enough so they knew we moved but they didn’t ask a lot of questions.”

At least 60 parishioners left Good Shepherd and Anglicanism, following the Bergmans to the Catholic Church.

Ray Hays, 55, of Scranton was one of that flock. He said he was raised Episcopalian because his mother brought her faith with her to the United States from England.

“I never really felt comfortable in the Episcopal Church,” he said. Like the Bergmans, Mr. Hays found his beliefs at odds with the church, though he wouldn’t elaborate on specific complaints.

“I think things over the years built up,” he said.

Deacon Bergman became simply Mr. Eric Bergman again, but continued serving as a spiritual leader for the former Anglicans as they moved through catechism classes taught by the Rev. Charles Connor, pastor of St. Peter’s Cathedral, to confirmation by the Most Rev. Joseph F. Martino, bishop of Scranton, on Oct. 31, 2005.

In March, Mr. Bergman was ordained a deacon in the Catholic Church.

Through a diocesan spokesman, Bishop Martino declined to comment for this article.

The St. Thomas More Society, of which Deacon Bergman has been serving as executive director, was formed about the same time as the confirmations by Bishop Martino for those who left the Episcopal Church with the Bergmans.

The society is an Anglican Use group. Anglican Use refers to the liturgy used by the group and is similar to the services at Episcopal churches, approved by both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. An Anglican Use Mass is celebrated every Sunday at 1 p.m. at St. Clare Church. The society also pays Deacon Bergman’s salary, an arrangement that is planned to continue for the foreseeable future.

There are at least five Anglican Use groups in the United States and one in England, according to the Anglican Use Society.

The Bergmans and the society members hope that after his ordination, Deacon Bergman will eventually be given his own Anglican Use parish.

While she doesn’t see many things changing between their lives as Episcopalians and as Catholics, Mrs. Bergman is ready for more questions.

“When he was an Episcopal priest, people were always asking, ‘Oh my gosh, what’s that woman doing with that priest?’ ” Mrs. Bergman chuckled, referring to the Roman collar her husband has worn first as a member of the Anglican clergy and now as a member of the Roman Catholic clergy.

“I’ve known Eric for a long time and I’ve known him to be a good Christian and friend for many years,” Mr. Hays said. “I can say the Catholic Church is gaining a very faithful priest.”

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