FAIRFIELD, CT (ChurchMilitant.com) - Bishop Frank Caggiano of the Bridgeport, Connecticut diocese is appointing a self-described "modernist" "feminist" laywoman to head a parish.
Nine months after the death of Fr. John Baran, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua parish in Fairfield, the bishop announced that, in lieu of appointing a new pastor, he is assigning the leadership role of the parish to Dr. Eleanor W. Sauers.
In his letter to the parish announcing a "new leadership model," Caggiano wrote that he spent a "great deal of time in prayer and discernment … to discern who should follow Fr. Baran as your pastoral leader."
This discernment included his observation that "many lay women and men are seeking new ways to serve their parishes, and, in collaboration with the clergy, to create vibrant and thriving communities."
As such, Caggiano — identified as a leading contender to replace Cdl. Donald Wuerl as archbishop of Washington, D.C. — decided to appoint Sauers as Parish Life Coordinator of St. Anthony of Padua parish.
While a "team of priests" will provide the sacraments for the parishioners of St. Anthony's, Sauers was granted "decision-making authority" for the parish with the responsibility of working "with the parish community to develop and foster its pastoral vision and mission."
Caggiano's plan for a "new leadership model" and appointing a woman as Parish Life Coordinator without assigning a pastor to the parish appears to follow a blueprint established by an organization of dissident priests.
Last year, The Lepanto Institute produced a report about the Association of U.S. Catholic Priests (AUSCP) and their plan for the creation of "priestless parishes." In the report, Lepanto cites an AUSCP document titled "Pastoral Care in and Through Priestless Parishes," which states that pastoral leaders will
take responsibility for the day-to-day coordination of parish activities, and take initiative as needed to motivate, to correct and to affirm persons who work in the parish ministries; and where needed, provide conflict resolution and reconciliation. To be a true pastoral leader he/she must lead worship where appropriate, and likewise break open the Word. In short, he/she would be in the role of pastor, excepting sacramental ministry, and under the supervision of the canonical pastor. (emphasis added)
This "new leadership model" of Caggiano's has all the earmarks of the priestless parishes envisioned by the AUSCP, and his choice of leadership appears to have been preparing the way for such a role since 2002.
In January 2017, Sauers wrote a review of a book titled Great Catholic Parishes. In her review, Sauers lauds the idea of reducing the role of the pastor while instituting a "shared leadership."
She wrote, "Allocating responsibilities broadly among parishioners and staff produces a more balanced and effective ministry, and keeps the burdens (and privileges) of leadership from concentrating on any one individual."
A couple of months later, the heretical organization Voice of the Faithful (condemned by Bp. William Lori in 2002) sponsored an event titled "A Woman's Place Is in the Church," and Sauers was a participant. Given her social media presence, this doesn't come as a surprise. On Facebook, Sauers displays a strong affinity for the political Left, "liking" the pages of socialist Bernie Sanders, pro-abort Elizabeth Warren and homosexualist Fr. James Martin, S.J.
Sauers' path to becoming the newly appointed Parish Life Coordinator with "decision-making authority" is the fulfillment of work she began 16 years ago. In 2002, Dr. Sauers followed Fr. Baran to St. Anthony's from his previous assignment at Our Lady of the Assumption parish on the other side of town. Within a few short months, Baran made her the director for religious education.
In 2007, Sauers wrote about her experiences and her work in transforming what had been a very tradition-minded parish into a haven of modernism. The title of her doctoral thesis is "St. Anthony of Padua Parish: A Case Study of the Transformation of a Roman Catholic Parish."
Sauers' dissertation contemptuously describes parish life prior to 2002 as "simple," "child-like," "clericalist," "authoritarian," "didactic," "pre-critical," "exclusivist," "dualistic," "rigid" and "harsh." Sauers bristled at the reluctance of the previous pastors to permit Communion in the hand, lay ministers of Holy Communion or female lectors at Mass.
Summarizing the situation, she wrote:
The parish presented itself to the world as an anachronism, a throwback to its earlier incarnation, out of step with the times, and with the greater church. Instead of opening the windows to a consideration of the roles of human experience, critical thinking, and dialogue in the life of faith, the doors were closed firmly against anything that might threaten the certainty of the Truth that was assumed to be self-evident.
The central theme throughout her dissertation is her desire to inculcate feminist ideologies in parish life through the leadership of selected members of the parish council. After identifying herself as a "white, middle class, Roman Catholic woman feminist," Sauers states on page 5 that she hopes that "feminist sensibilities can be integrated into the Catholic tradition."
"It is the assertion of the researcher that employing feminist thought can assist in creating environments within which contemporary Roman Catholics are able to find meaning and sustenance as they navigate their personal and communal lives," she argues.
Attempting to make a case for a feminized understanding of the Trinity as a pattern for the life of the parish, Sauers cites dissident feminist theologians like Sr. Elizabeth Johnson, who was strongly criticized by the Committee on Doctrine of the USCCB, and abortion-friendly nun Sr. Margarey Farley. She concludes by comparing herself and two other leadership partners in the parish to the Holy Trinity, and establishes the idea that she holds real authority at the parish:
Within the leadership team, the researcher [Sauers] is one of three equal partners. She did encounter some resistance from a few parishioners when first assuming the position of Director of Religious Education. However, for the most part, this has been replaced by an acknowledgment of and a legitimization of her authority.
Sauers' ambition for authority is exemplified by her disdain for the Church's beautiful traditions of eucharistic adoration, praying the Fatima novena and other common Catholic practices. On page 64, she writes:
Once a month, a Day of Prayer was held, with Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and Benediction. Every first Saturday the Fatima novena was recited. The rosary was prayed three times daily, complete with subsequent prayers and litanies the existence of which I had not been previously aware. Other devotions, such as that of Divine Mercy, were celebrated; none of these had been part of my recent Catholic experience. The language employed in the devotions was unfamiliar to me, and in some instances, managed to assault my decidedly post-modern, feminist and Vatican II-based Catholic sensibilities. Such phrases as "abyss of all virtue," "hammer of heretics" and "roaming the world in search of the ruination of souls," caused me to wonder if I had fallen through the looking glass and landed in a place where time had stood still.
The rest of the dissertation focuses on the various ways Sauers and her cohorts worked to change the environment and theological disposition of the parish from a traditionally minded parish to one practicing all manner of novel innovation, all by way of providing more and more authority and power to lay leadership. And now, she is the bishop-appointed leader of a priestless parish.