Oregon bishop tells parishioners to 'take no part' in former priest's rites

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by Dan Morris-Young

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Baker, Ore., Bishop Liam Cary on March 10 posted an open letter on the diocesan website exhorting "faithful Catholics" to "take no part" in sacramental rites involving the Rev. James Radloff, a former priest of the diocese who left the Roman Catholic church in April 2014 following a nearly yearlong, highly public standoff with the bishop.

Formerly pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Bend, Ore., Radloff announced April 22, 2014, that he was leaving the Catholic church and would seek incardination into the Evangelical Catholic Church. Soon after, he became founding pastor of Holy Communion Evangelical Catholic Church in Bend.

Cary had canonically removed Radloff as St. Francis pastor on Oct. 1, 2013.

"By reason of the [automatic] excommunication that canon law itself imposes, therefore, James Radloff is forbidden to celebrate Mass, to baptize, to perform marriages, to hear confessions, or to anoint the sick," the bishop wrote, adding, "As canon 1331, §1 prescribes, all such actions on his part are illicit."

Cary explained that he wrote the letter because "as the months have gone by, uncertainty about James Radloff's status has arisen, prompting some parishioners of St. Francis of Assisi, for example, to receive Communion or Anointing of the Sick from him in the hospital and in nursing homes.

"Lest such confusion spread," he continued, "I wish to make it clear that James Radloff is not authorized or permitted to exercise the ministry of a Roman Catholic priest in the Diocese of Baker. He has entered into schism with the Catholic Church."

Radloff formally appealed his termination as pastor to the Vatican's Congregation for Clergy. On Jan. 31, 2014, the congregation ruled in favor of Cary and supported Cary's decision to keep the reasons for Radloff's termination secret.

In his appeal, Radloff had asked that the reasons for his dismissal be made public. 

At the time of Radloff's removal, Cary told parishioners that Radloff had done nothing illegal, praised his work at St. Francis, and declared he remained a priest in good standing.

Cary concluded his March 10 letter: "In the Catholic Church the door to reconciliation is always open. It is my prayer that James Radloff will one day step through it and back into communion with all who regret his departure."

Founded in 1997, the ECC claims much theology, devotion and custom in common with the Latin-rite church, but it ordains married or single male and female deacons, priests and bishops; accepts gay marriage; fosters receipt of Communion by the divorced and remarried; and allows birth control.

The new ECC Bend congregation celebrates a morning and an evening Sunday service in a Bend senior center. Each is attended by an average of about 125 people, according to Rod Wimer, who heads the assembly's council.

"I find it very upsetting that somebody of Liam Cary's stature would prepare and circulate something so threatening and hurtful during this season of reconciliation and forgiveness, and I suspect that many others will feel the same way," Wimer wrote in an email.

"I am encouraged by all the people who have contacted me with their love and support in response to Cary's letter. I appreciate the new members Cary's letter has already brought to Holy Communion Church," Radloff said in a Monday email.

Requests for comment from the Baker diocese had not been acknowledged as of Wednesday.

[Dan Morris-Young is an NCR West Coast correspondent. His email address is dmyoung@ncronline.org.]

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