Married Priests Group to Start Public Mass

By Jay Lindsay
Associated Press, carried in [Boston MA]
May 10, 2003

BOSTON (AP) Married Roman Catholic priests, considered apostates by the church if they continue to practice, plan to start a weekly public service where alienated Catholics can receive the sacraments.

Married priests have long been performing marriages, baptisms and other Catholic rituals, but none in Massachusetts has attempted to preside over a regular public Mass, said Louise Haggett, founder of the nationwide married priest's referral service, Rent-A-Priest.

The Rev. Ron Ingalls, a married priest who will lead the first service Sunday at the Framingham Elks Lodge, said he'd long wondered if a public Mass would work. The clergy sex abuse scandal created an opening to serve victims and disillusioned Catholics, he said.

The services are also aimed at divorced people and others who can't receive the sacraments under church law.

"There are a lot of people who are angry, people who are hurt ... We hear from them," Ingalls said. "They said if we had a Mass, they would come."

Ingalls said Sunday's service will follow the traditional Catholic liturgy, including a homily and communion.

The Rev. Christopher Coyne, a spokesman for the Boston Archdiocese, said the services may mimic Catholicism, but won't be valid in the eyes of the church.

Married priests have no authority to administer sacraments and those who do are committing "a sinful act and leading others into sin," Coyne said.

The married priests group is building a list of priests who will alternately lead services, Haggett said. She said similar services led by married priests are held in at least three states.

The married priests have not been exhaustively investigated for past wrongdoing, like those in the Boston archdiocese, Haggett acknowledged, but said the married priests have been checked out on lists of accused and convicted clergy. She said she couldn't rule out the possibility that a married priest has a criminal past.

"I don't think that's an issue," Haggett said.

Married priests are still priests under canon law and they say canon law also requires them to administer sacraments to anyone who requests them. But church officials say that's a misinterpretation.

Ingalls, who taught English in Newton for 30 years after leaving the priesthood in 1971, said he's not looking for the church's sanction.

"I'm not concerned about that," he said. "I'm concerned about the people who would come."

Organizers have no idea how many will attend the Sunday service. After Sunday, the group will move from the Elks lodge to one of two Framingham-area facilities that has agreed to host them weekly, Haggett said. She wouldn't say where the facilities were until a final choice was announced Sunday.

Ingalls said he's not interested in setting up a parallel church hierarchy, just offering an alternative that will keep some Catholics from slipping away from church altogether.

"I really feel that there are many Catholics out there who want more," he said. "They don't want the same old, same old."

Coyne said disenchanted Catholics at services led by married priests aren't choosing a true Catholic alternative.

"They're stepping away from the church," he said.

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