New Episcopal bishop inspired by 'progressive Catholics'

by Maureen Fiedler

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I love telling people that I recently interviewed the new Episcopal bishop of Washington, D.C., who will be consecrated on Saturday, because many ask, quite innocently, "Oh, who is he?"

Then they discover that the new bishop is not a "he," but a "she." Her name is Rev. Mariann Budde, and she comes to Washington from Minneapolis.

Her election as bishop bolsters yet again the thesis of my recent book, Breaking Through the Stained Glass Ceiling.

Women continue to rise to new levels of leadership in the world of religion. As a Catholic, however, I find myself echoing the prayer: "How long, O God, how long" until we can celebrate such an event? Meanwhile, I rejoice with my Episcopal sisters and brothers.

Rarely have I interviewed a religious leader as impressive as Budde. She built a small, struggling parish in Minneapolis into a growing, vibrant spiritual community. In person, she comes across as a deeply spiritual woman: caring, articulate, knowledgeable, democratic in spirit, with a sense of where she hopes to take the diocese.

Later in the interview, I asked her about early influences in her life, and it did my heart good to hear her say that "progressive Catholics" were a major influence in her life in the 1980s. She was referring to those who opposed the Reagan wars in Central America and the folks in the Catholic Worker Movement. She actually lived with homeless people at a Catholic Worker house in Rochester, N.Y. She later related to a Catholic Worker community in Tucson, Ariz., a city where she also found local Methodists inspiring. She says she was moved by the willingness of both to identify closely with the poor.

The soon-to-be Bishop Budde clearly has a strong social justice agenda, something badly needed in the heart of our nation's capital these days. When I asked her about her plans for relating to the political establishment, she simply said that she would "be present" to them, and make her views -- and the progressive social justice views of the Episcopal Church -- known.

She sounds promising. Bishop Budde is someone to watch.
As of Friday, Nov. 11, you can hear my entire interview with Bishop Budde here.

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