Tuesday, September 16, 2014

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Catholic bishops to leave N.C. Council of Churches

nc-bishopsEcumenical group contradicts Church teaching on marriage, abortion

CHARLOTTE — Both North Carolina Catholic bishops are resigning from the North Carolina Council of Churches, an ecumenical organization comprised of Christian church leaders from across the state, because the group supports some issues that contradict Catholic teaching.

In a Sept. 27 statement, Charlotte Bishop Peter J. Jugis and Raleigh Bishop Michael F. Burbidge said they "deeply value the long standing relationship with the North Carolina Council of Churches and have informed the Council of their strong desire to continue to work together on issues where there is substantial agreement."

However, the North Carolina Council of Churches has taken positions contrary to Catholic teaching on marriage, and the council does not formally oppose abortion. Catholics believe marriage is a covenant only between one man and one woman, and that the evil of abortion must be opposed in every instance.

The bishops said they and the council's leadership were unable to agree on a way they could remain members while continuing to uphold Catholic teaching.

The two dioceses will end their memberships effective Dec. 31, when the first year of the two-year term of the council's president, Alberta Hairston, ends. Hairston will step down as president of the council, in accordance with the bishops' decision.

Hairston, a member of St. Pius X Church in Greensboro and council member representing the Charlotte diocese for about 16 years, said she is disappointed that the council and the bishops could not find a way they could remain members, but the issue has been something they have all been struggling with for "four to five years."

"It was given quite a bit of consideration," Hairston said, adding, "For me as a Catholic, it's been a very difficult time. I hate to see that there is an organization that is trying to do ecumenical things, but the Catholic Church will not be part of that."

Other Catholics in leadership positions with the council will also leave Dec. 31. They include at-large member Father Carlos Arce, vicar of Hispanic Ministry for the Raleigh diocese; at-large member Brother Bill Martyn of Cary, who chairs the Raleigh diocese's ecumenical commission; and the council's business and finance committee chairwoman, Marie Vetter of Durham.

According to its website, the North Carolina Council of Churches was founded in 1935 to promote Christian unity and justice. Membership includes 18 Christian denominations and more than 6,200 congregations, its website states.

The Raleigh diocese, followed by the Charlotte diocese, became full members of the North Carolina Council of Churches in 1977, under the leadership of Raleigh Bishop Joseph Gossman, who died in August.

Both dioceses have had a long history of supporting the council over the years. Father George Kloster, the recently retired pastor of St. William Church in Murphy and head of the Charlotte diocese's ecumenical efforts, served as council president from 1986 to 1988.

The Catholic bishops noted in their statement that they decided to quit the council only after "an extensive series of discussions" with the council's leadership, in which they had proposed remaining with the organization in a newly-created role as "observer." The council rejected that proposal, they said.

Hairston said the council offered to let the two dioceses shift from full membership to an existing loosely-defined category of affiliates called "Covenant Partners," but that was not agreeable, either.

Current "Covenant Partner" St. Pius X Church will also withdraw from the council, said its pastor, Monsignor Anthony Marcaccio.

In their statement, the North Carolina bishops emphasized they want to continue working with the council on shared interests that align with Catholic teaching – including comprehensive immigration reform, repeal of the death penalty, advocacy of just wages and working conditions, as well as efforts to eliminate poverty, hunger and racial discrimination.

Both bishops have publicly advocated for all of these issues, individually as well as through their public policy arm, Catholic Voice NC.

"While working with the administrative structure of the Council is not possible," they noted in their statement, "collaboration on these and other important issues with religious leaders throughout our State will continue. The funding paid to the Council for membership will now be redirected to support these essential initiatives."

The Diocese of Charlotte recently paid $6,000 to renew its membership for 2013, according to diocesan officials. Both the Charlotte and Raleigh dioceses withheld their membership dues last year in protest of the council's support for gay "marriage," during the statewide constitutional amendment campaign to protect traditional marriage. Both Catholic bishops supported the 2012 constitutional amendment and encouraged Catholics to do the same, and North Carolina voters approved the measure by a wide margin.

In their statement, the bishops stressed that they "will continue to embrace every future opportunity possible to stand side by side with religious leaders throughout our great State to address those issues which impact our community and with which we can speak as one voice, symbolizing the unity that is ours as members of God's holy family."

Hairston, a retired Catholic campus minister at NC A&T and Bennett College, longtime social justice advocate and past chair of the diocesan Catholic Campaign for Human Development advisory committee, said she hopes the council and the two dioceses find ways to continue working together on common concerns. She underscored the bishops' statement that there are many important issues on which the council and Catholics agree, especially when it comes to advocating for immigration reform, health care reform, human rights and environmental stewardship.

That interreligious dialogue is important, both to promote the common good as well as to evangelize to non-Catholics, she said.

"I always have hope because I am a woman of faith. Because if you have faith, there's always hope," she said.

— Patricia L. Guilfoyle, editor

Below is the full text of the North Carolina bishops' Sept. 27 statement:

"Effective Dec. 31, 2013, the Catholic Diocese of Raleigh and the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte will conclude their official membership in the North Carolina Council of Churches. This decision follows an extensive series of discussions by both dioceses with the leadership of the North Carolina Council of Churches regarding its administrative structure and its by-laws. This has resulted in religious leaders being associated, via the Council, with positions that are at times in contradiction with their practice and the teaching of their faith.

"In an effort to continue to actively participate in ecumenical dialogue and the important community activities where possible, both Catholic Dioceses proposed to the Council a new type of organizational membership, which would allow both dioceses to remain in direct and active participation with the Council through a proposed observer status. The Council did not approve this proposal.

"The Diocese of Raleigh and the Diocese of Charlotte deeply value the long standing relationship with the North Carolina Council of Churches and have informed the Council of their strong desire to continue to work together on issues where there is substantial agreement. Such issues include the implementation of comprehensive immigration reform, securing just wages for all employees, addressing the root causes of poverty and hunger, eradicating all forms of prejudice and bias and seeking the end of the death penalty. While working with the administrative structure of the Council is not possible, collaboration on these and other important issues with religious leaders throughout our State will continue.

The funding paid to the Council for membership will now be redirected to support these essential initiatives.

"In so doing, the Most Reverend Michael F. Burbidge, Bishop of Raleigh and the Most Reverend Peter J. Jugis, Bishop of Charlotte will continue to embrace every future opportunity possible to stand side by side with religious leaders throughout our great State to address those issues which impact our community and with which we can speak as one voice, symbolizing the unity that is ours as members of God's holy family."

FROM THE PASTORS

Read and listen to homilies posted regularly by pastors at  parishes within the Diocese of Charlotte: