10/16/06 - Posted from the Daily Record newsroom, Morris County, NJ

Lay Catholic group aims to give a faith lift

Voice of the Faithful event will offer hope, guidance to disaffected Catholics

The lay Catholic group Voice of the Faithful, New Jersey chapter, will host a panel forum "Imagining New Ways of Being Catholic," on Oct. 28 at the Birchwood Manor in Whippany.

"We decided to put this meeting together because we thought it was time to start taking a look at the many ways Catholics are being Catholic and the ways they are staying connected to their faith, but are still honoring their conscience and integrity in light of what has been going on in the church in the last few years," said Maria Cleary, regional coordinator for the organization.

She said she understands many Catholics have been disaffected in some way, and have either walked away from the Roman Catholic Church or are angry and in denial.

The panel consists of the Rev. James Callan and the Rev. Mary Ramerman from the Spiritus Christi Parish in Rochester, N.Y.; Frank Dingle of the Catholic Community at Relay, Md.; Wayne and Rebecca Ortelli from the Inclusive Community in Nutley; and Kathleen Kautzer, Ph.D., sociology chair at Regis College in Weston, Mass., who will be introducing the panel. The event is to run from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Diversions from norm

"It's interesting to see Catholics who don't do Catholicism in quite the way that we are used to seeing it," Cleary said of the panelists. "These people are dynamic and faith-filled, and they were called to something different."

She said she is particularly excited to have Callan and Ramerman speaking at the event because they gained national attention when they broke from their traditional Corpus Christi parish in Rochester and succeeded at establishing their own parish, which they continue to bill as Catholic.

"(Callan) started doing things which seemed to the bishop there to be radical," Cleary explained. "He was offering communion to everyone in the church, Catholic and non-Catholic, he invited women up on the altar and he started blessing gay marriages ... and the bishop ex-communicated them."

Dingle also belongs to a group of Catholics who purchased their own church and now run a full-service parish without a priest in charge.

The Ortellis come from a community that seeks to heal the division between Christian churches by bringing Catholics and Protestants together to celebrate liturgy every Sunday.

Rebecca Ortelli said she was born into the Catholic faith, but fell in love with a Lutheran and had to witness his exclusion from communion and other traditions within the Catholic Church.

"I think it's wrong to be so exclusive," she said. "Twenty years ago, when the opportunity arose to have a place where Protestants and Catholics could worship together without giving up their traditions, I was a little hesitant because it was something so new and so different. But the more I explored it and meditated on it, it was the right thing to do."

Ortelli explained that joining the congregation has "been wonderful" for their family because they have the opportunity to uphold their traditions, and their children are able to participate in both faiths.

"I don't want to be Catholic, but I married a nice Catholic girl," said her husband, who is the president of the church council. "There's a period in our lives where the church is not as important ... but when you have a family, you want to get back to your roots. And the bottom line is that it couldn't be in one tree or another."

He said that he hopes the upcoming Voice of the Faithful event will open up a variety of choices and alternatives for Catholics who are "looking for a better way to do things."

Q&A, breakouts

Cleary explained that there will be an hour of panel, an hour of break-out sessions where people can learn more about individual groups and then a Q&A session to conclude the evening, which is free to anyone interested in attending.

"I think, for people who have been disaffected, this may be a ray of hope for them that they have some options," Cleary said. "Others have exercised those options, and came out with a product that is fruitful -- a place to live their faith and that even enables them to grow in their faith."