I GET ALONG great with my boss, Gar Joseph. He's a smart, easygoing guy who lets me write about any topic that grabs my heart or boils my bile.
In the years he's been editing my column, we've never had a disagreement that wasn't resolved with more flexibility on his part or more elbow grease on mine.
That changed yesterday when we clashed so loudly, I'll bet the Broad Street vendors outside the newsroom heard our yelling.
At least we agreed on what started the fight: The Catholic Church.
I wanted to write about a provocative ad campaign launched this week by an independent church in Blue Bell, Montgomery County, called St. Miriam. It's an Antioch-rite Catholic Church, different from Roman-rite ones in that its priests can be male or female, gay or straight. Celibacy is not required, and marriage is allowed.
St. Miriam's ordained pastor, Father Jim St. George, founded the congregation three years ago, out of his own pocket.
He refers to his 180-member church as a "reformed" Catholic house of worship. His pithy ads, appearing three days a week in Montgomery County newspapers, make clear what "reformed" means.
"How could you say 'no' to your little girl if she wanted to become a priest?" reads one ad. "Could you really say that when God made us in His own image and likeness He forgot about women?"
Another ad notes that "being a good priest and a good family man are not incompatible things."
And one ad trumpets, "Our Catholic Church has never had a sex abuse scandal!"
It sent Gar into a fit.
"This guy is using the [Archdiocese] scandal to build membership in his own church!" thundered Gar (a non-Catholic, by the way; I am a recovering one). "He's using other people's pain to his own advantage. It's offensive. We shouldn't be writing about him!"
Gar's a reasonable guy, so his ferocity gave me pause.
I have written many columns excoriating the Roman Catholic Church's handling of its sex-abuse scandal. Especially in Philadelphia, where the release last week of a second grand-jury report details just how little has changed in the church's regard for victims of pedophile priests.
So scathing has my criticism been, I have been accused of being anti-Catholic. I always reply that I am actually pro-justice. I believe that children who were raped by a priest and raped again by a hierarchy that looked the other way, have a right, as adults, to a reckoning over what was done to them.
So I find St. Miriam's ads, which mince no words, to be a bracing counterpoint to the despicable dissembling of the Archdiocese.
Nonetheless, the last thing I want to do, in this column, is exacerbate the pain of those who have been harmed or give publicity to those who might exploit the scandal for their own gain.
But I truly believe that Father Jim, himself a victim of childhood sexual abuse by a Roman Catholic priest, is acting in a way that is the antithesis of exploitation. Unlike the worst of the Archdiocese higher-ups, Father Jim seems more interested in ministering to those in need than in cultivating power that is blind to pain.
"One thing I am called to do as a priest is speak the truth, and sometimes the truth doesn't go down easy," said Father Jim, who works as a hospital chaplain and takes no salary from his church ("I donated $14,000 of my own money to St. Miriam last year," he told me).
"I do not want to offend anyone who is a staunch Roman Catholic. But I think the scandal is based in the fact that the structure of the church is fundamentally broken, and so are the men who run the church."
And far be it for him to pretend otherwise. No matter who it may offend.
When Gar and I spoke, he said he felt bad for the devout Roman Catholics who would feel put off by Father Jim's invitation to leave their church for his, as though the only way for them to deal with the problems of the church is to join his.
"What's wrong with working out the problems of the church while you're in it?" Gar asked.
Nothing, I told him. And those who stay should not feel forced to leave.
But I think St. Miriam offers something important to those Roman Catholics who cannot stay in an institution they feel betrayed them, yet can't imagine ever not being "Catholic."
Father Jim's ads say that St. Miriam provides "a new way of being - and feeling - Catholic."
It's a promise that sure seems to be falling on eager ears. Since its founding just three years ago, the congregation has swelled to 180 members - growth that any church would envy.
I think Gar and I can agree on that.
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