Sunday, April 20, 2008

Father fills role of priest

We like to keep an eye on the Pastoral Provision...This article is useful because we've seen commentators who dismiss the paradox of the pastoral provision and the ongoing mandatory celibacy by saying that, well, these PP guys don't really serve in a pastoral capacity and they certainly aren't living in the rectory. Is that so? Well, somebody must have forgotten to tell the Diocese of Scranton.

By Roja Heydarpour
Scranton Times-Tribune

Parishioners recited Hail Marys in unison as they waited for their priest, and all the while, above the sounds of prayer, the alternating cries and yelps from a pew of fidgety children echoed through St. Anthony of Padua Church in North Scranton.

Soon, the Rev. Eric Bergman walked down the aisle with his hands clasped to begin his sermon, facing the altar.

“Da-da,” said 17-month-old Joan Bergman. “Da-da?”

She was referring to her father, who also happens to be the father.

The Rev. Bergman became the first married Catholic priest in the Diocese of Scranton on April 21.

He converted to Catholicism after being an Episcopalian priest for seven years.

Like the Rev. Bergman, most of his congregation are converts to Catholicism, although lifelong churchgoers at St. Anthony’s attend his Masses as well.

“We like him and we hope he will stay forever and ever,” said Angela Marino, one such parishioner.

Other parishioners, like Ed Jordan, of Clarks Summit, converted along with the Rev. Bergman because their conservative views worked better with the Catholic Church.

“It was a perfect fit,” said Mr. Jordan, 57.

“I love the sound of children in church.”

The adjustment from being an Episcopal priest to being a layman to becoming a married Catholic priest has been a relatively smooth one, the Rev. Bergman said.

“The adjustment has not been in being a married priest, but being a priest,” the Rev. Bergman said.

Celebrating daily Mass and hearing confessions has added a workload that did not exist before. He used to do a lot more administrative and evangelical work, which, for the most part, he can no longer do.

He converted through the Pastoral Provision of Pope John Paul II, which was established in 1980. The provision allowed for American Episcopal priests who were married to convert to Catholicism, thus forgoing the vow of celibacy. There are currently about 90 priests like the Rev. Bergman in the United States.

The Rev. Bergman renounced his orders as an Episcopal priest on New Year’s Eve 2004 and less than a year later, the Most Rev. Joseph F. Martino, bishop of Scranton, confirmed him.

For the Rev. Bergman, part of the appeal of Catholicism was its stance on what he calls “the culture of death.” The Episcopal Church had become too lax in its stances on abortion and contraception for the Rev. Bergman, so he renounced his religion. He was prepared to be a layman, if necessary.

His wife, Kristina, was an integral part of the conversion process, the Rev. Bergman said.

“She is a complement to me and the ministry,” he said. “She has a vocation, too.”

Mrs. Bergman also had to submit a letter to the Vatican saying she fully supported her husband’s calling to the priesthood and that she would raise their children Catholic.

Opposition to Rev. Bergman’s status as a Catholic priest with a wife and large family — they are expecting their fifth child at the end of the month — has been mostly anonymous, he said, noting an anonymous e-mail.

“Those people aren’t courageous enough to talk to me,” he said. “You can’t really respond to people who don’t show their face.”

The Rev. Bergman understands that people may be angry about the fact that the Most Rev. Joseph F. Martino made an exception for him, but again, there have not been any head-on conflicts.

For now, the Rev. Bergman is happy performing a daily Mass at St. Anthony’s for the St. Thomas More Society, which he runs.

On Sundays, he helps the Rev. Cyril D. Edwards and performs mass at either Saint Anthony’s, Saint Joseph’s or Holy Rosary in North Scranton. The partnership is valued during a time of pastoral consolidation that can wear priests in charge of multiple churches thin.

The Rev. Bergman says the majority of the Diocese’s clergymen support his conversion and lifestyle.

“They don’t feel ... deprived of something, just like I don’t feel deprived because I was not raised Catholic,” he said.

The Bergman family recently moved into the Saint Clare Rectory after living in an apartment on Adams Avenue for the past year.

“It’s an exciting time,” the Rev. Bergman said. “New home, new baby.”

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