Bishop gave priests 'oppressive,' Godfather-like offer they had to refuse | Jack D'Aurora

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Jul 3, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA;  Parishioners listen to a video taped message from Rev. Rene Costanza at the Newman Center, the parish and student ministry at Ohio State, letting them know that the diocese is being taken from the Paulist fathers during Catholic mass on July 3, 2022. Mandatory Credit: Adam Cairns-The Columbus Dispatch
Jul 3, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Parishioners listen to a video taped message from Rev. Rene Costanza at the Newman Center, the parish and student ministry at Ohio State, letting them know that the diocese is being taken from the Paulist fathers during Catholic mass on July 3, 2022. Mandatory Credit: Adam Cairns-The Columbus Dispatch

Jack D’Aurora is a partner with the Behal Law Group and produces the podcast, JUSTUS with Jack & Gonzo. He is a frequent Dispatch contributor.

In June 2021, when Catholic Archbishop José H. Gomez stated that President Joe Biden should not receive Communion because he is pro-choice, I wrote in an opinion piece, “Every day, someone in the Catholic Church’s hierarchy wakes up and says, ‘What can we do today to show how out of touch we are with our people and lose more of them?’”

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Joining the sclerotic hierarchy is Bishop Earl Fernandes. Installed as bishop of the Catholic Diocese on May 31, 2022, he did the equivalent of kicking in the front door of the Newman Center just three weeks later.

On June 21—without ever talking with the Paulists or members of our community—he gave the four Paulist priests, who served at Newman for 66 years, until June 30 to wind up their administration. He later relented and gave them until July 12, and permitted them to celebrate Mass until July 31. But the Paulists had to vacate their diocese-owned home by Aug. 31.

On Sunday, the Paulists, an independent order of Roman Catholic priests, including Father Ed Nowak, pictured, observed their final Mass at the St. Thomas More Newman Center in Columbus' University District.
On Sunday, the Paulists, an independent order of Roman Catholic priests, including Father Ed Nowak, pictured, observed their final Mass at the St. Thomas More Newman Center in Columbus' University District.

When interviewed by Collen Marshall of NBC4 on July 10, the bishop communicated he wanted to partner with the Paulists, but they declined.What the bishop offered was oppressive.

In the document given to the Paulists — I’ve read it — the bishop would permit only two Paulist priests to remain, but only as chaplains who would report to the bishop’s new executive director.

The Paulists would be allowed to preach and hear confessions, but would require permission before performing weddings and funerals — a one-year arrangement the bishop could terminate at any time.

Jul 3, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA;  Fr. Jimmy Hsu, CSP leads Catholic mass at the Newman Center, the parish and student ministry at Ohio State on July 3, 2022. The diocese is being taken from the Paulist fathers, an order of Catholic priests, who have run it for 65 years.  Mandatory Credit: Adam Cairns-The Columbus Dispatch
Jul 3, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Fr. Jimmy Hsu, CSP leads Catholic mass at the Newman Center, the parish and student ministry at Ohio State on July 3, 2022. The diocese is being taken from the Paulist fathers, an order of Catholic priests, who have run it for 65 years. Mandatory Credit: Adam Cairns-The Columbus Dispatch

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Remember the famous line from "The Godfather“: I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse?

Bishop Fernandes did just the opposite and made an offer he knew the Paulists could not accept.

Jack D’Aurora is a partner with the Behal Law Group and produces the podcast, JUSTUS with Jack & Gonzo. He is a frequent Dispatch contributor.
Jack D’Aurora is a partner with the Behal Law Group and produces the podcast, JUSTUS with Jack & Gonzo. He is a frequent Dispatch contributor.

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Remarkably, the bishop has expressed surprise at the negative response he received and says he wants the Newman community to be open to change.

His own actions reflect anything but an open attitude.

In his interview, the bishop referred to our members — some 800 Ohio State students and 600 residents of greater Columbus — as children who are upset with parental discipline. Which of these members is a child, and how is it the bishop imagines himself to be a parent?

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Bishop Fernandes' actions speak of arrogance, an aptitude for spinning facts, a profound lack of consideration for his people, and a condescending attitude. But you have to give him one thing: He has provided us with a shining example of how not be to be an effective leader.

The new bishop, Earl K. Fernandes, seated, is applauded by Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr, left, during his ordination and installation as the 13th bishop of the Diocese of Columbus on May 31, 2022.
The new bishop, Earl K. Fernandes, seated, is applauded by Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr, left, during his ordination and installation as the 13th bishop of the Diocese of Columbus on May 31, 2022.

Newman Center will now likely be less inclusive. Based on the document given the Paulists, Newman will endeavor to attract conservative groups such as FOCUS and Opus Dei. FOCUS advocates that gay individuals live chaste lives, and Opus Dei states that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.”

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The bishop has written that even priests who merely offer support to gays are to be dismissed.

And the bishop is a proponent of celebrating the Mass in Latin. Nothing like going nearly 60 years back in time to the days of pre-Vatican II.

On July 31, the Paulists, an independent order of Roman Catholic priests, observed their final Mass at the St. Thomas More Newman Center in Columbus' University District.
On July 31, the Paulists, an independent order of Roman Catholic priests, observed their final Mass at the St. Thomas More Newman Center in Columbus' University District.

The diocese communicated to the Dispatch that “Out of respect for the Paulists’ privacy in the final masses with the community on July 30 and 31st, no media will be permitted inside the center or on the property.”

The Paulists would have welcomed the media.

It’s the bishop who didn’t want publicity for a standing room-only Mass, where tears were shed, and Ken Watkins, pastor of the adjacent University Baptist Church, applauded the Paulists, saying, “Newman Center has been the starship of campus ministry.”

More: Paulist priests celebrate their last Mass at Ohio State's Newman Center

I will no longer attend Mass at Newman, and though a cradle Catholic, I may join a different faith tradition.

If only the Catholic hierarchy would jettison its hubris and constricted thinking and focus on the gospel’s simple message of humility and inclusion.

Jack D’Aurora is a partner with the Behal Law Group and produces the podcast, JUSTUS with Jack & Gonzo. He is a frequent Dispatch contributor.

This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Opinion: What Bishop Earl Fernandes offered Paulists at Newman Center