Michigan Bishop Says Yes to Female Lutheran Bishop ‘Ordination’ in Cathedral

by David Nussman  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  October 16, 2017   

Bp. Doerfler approves Oct. 21 Lutheran ceremony at St. Peter's Cathedral in Marquette

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MARQUETTE, Mich. (ChurchMilitant.com) - A female pastor is being installed as a Lutheran "bishop" in a Catholic cathedral in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

Saint Peter's Cathedral in Marquette, Michigan will host the "installation service" for Lutheran Pastor Katherine A. Finegan at 1:30 p.m. Eastern Time on Saturday, October 21. Finegan is being appointed to a six-year term as "bishop" in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Another female minister, the ELCA's presiding bishop Elizabeth Eaton, will be preaching at the ceremony.

Church Militant reached out to the diocese for comment, and received an email from Msgr. Michael J. Steber, the cathedral's pastor. He clarified that the Lutheran service "will take place in the main body of the cathedral, utilizing the sanctuary and main altar (the Lutherans will provide their own vessels)."

"Our Tabernacle is located in a side chapel for perpetual Eucharistic Adoration," he noted, "so Our Eucharistic Lord will not be present in the main cathedral during the service."

The upcoming event has prompted public letters by Msgr. Steber as well as Bp. John F. Doerfler of the Marquette diocese, in response to expressions of concern. Bishop Doerfler's letter, dated September 26 (but listed on the cathedral's website as October 1), begins, "I invite you to join with me in welcoming our Lutheran brothers and sisters to the cathedral on October 21 when they will be celebrating the installation of their new bishop."

The bishop then points out, "According to the ecumenical norms of the Church, I am able to give permission for such a celebration."

He also notes that his predecessor, Bp. James Garland, made similar arrangements for a Lutheran bishop in 1999.

The occasional Protestant or ecumenical service is allowed inside a Catholic church, according to a 1993 document from the Vatican that established the exception in canon law. Catholics are questioning, however, the prudence of such events, owing to concerns about reverence and indifferentism.

The fact that there will be two female pastors present for Saturday's event raises further alarm bells for some Catholics, who fear that this could be used to push for the heterodox talking-point of women priests.

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Monsignor Steber's October 8 memo opens with Jesus' prayer to the Father at the Last Supper, "that they may be one" (John 17:21). The letter goes on to state, "Catholics and Lutherans share much in common, yet there are also important differences in theology, governance, doctrine, disciplines, and pastoral practices."

He then argues, "The permission Bishop Doerfler is giving for the installation does not imply acceptance of Lutheran teachings and disciplines that are different from Catholic ones."

The monsignor admits that the ceremony will also feature a Lutheran communion service in St. Peter's Cathedral. "They will be providing their own vessels for the Service," he notes, rather than desecrating the cathedral's Catholic liturgical vessels, like chalices and cruets. He then briefly cites some broad comments on ecumenism from Pope St. John XXIII and Pope St. John Paul II.

Bishop Doerfler has a generally good reputation among faithful Catholics. He gave voting advice in an October 2016 video that indicated that Catholic voters must not promote objective evils like abortion and redefining marriage.

Bishop John F. Doerfler in 2014

In January 2016, he issued An Instruction on Sacred Music in Divine Worship requiring parishes in his diocese to learn English-language liturgical chants, calling for the creation of a diocesan hymnal, and otherwise regulating the use of liturgical hymns.

Also in 2016, he issued a pastoral letter that affirmed perennial Church teaching on marriage, divorce and Holy Communion. The document, "Guidelines in Light of Amoris Laetititia," claimed that Pope Francis' controversial March 2016 encyclical was largely misinterpreted. Bishop Doerfler affirmed that civilly remarried persons, if they do not have a decree of nullity, must regularize their situation by obtaining a decree of nullity, going to confession and/or refraining from marital relations if they wish to be in the state of grace and receive Holy Communion.

"The sexual revolution and the breakdown of marriages lead to barrenness, broken hearts, broken lives and broken families," he declared in his letter. "The Church's teaching, in contrast, fosters steadfast love, fidelity, unity and fruitfulness. This is good news to a broken world! The way to healing is embracing Jesus and his teaching."

In the same memo, unfortunately, the bishop recommends the controversial Alpha Program: "In particular, I wish to recommend the program 'Alpha,' which centers on the proclamation of the 'kerygma' [the 'preaching' of the Gospel]."

Cardinal Raymond Burke has warned against the Alpha Program, arguing that it lacks authentic Catholic theology and over-emphasizes emotional experience while downplaying the importance of knowing the truth revealed by God.

In his 1928 encyclical Mortalium Animos (On Religious Unity), Pope Pius XI wrote, "[S]ince charity is based on a complete and sincere faith, the disciples of Christ must be united principally by the bond of one faith."


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