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Charles Meredith: Religions in focus


Dear Friends,

Good morning. My friend Frank Licopoli knows that I have a high regard for Father Fred Riegler, the pastor of St. Isidore Catholic Church in Quakertown. Frank called to remind me that Father will retire in June. His years in the Quakertown area have been memorable.

St. Isidore’s has grown to 8,100 parishioners and will burn its $3.5 million mortgage this year. The church moved from downtown Quakertown to its present location in Milford Township in 2005. So in just 14 years, Father Fred has seen his church become debt-free. That’s an amazing accomplishment.

He’s a very young 77 and will be living on a family property near a lake in the Poconos. Father Fred is an avid fisherman. He told me that he’d be helping the Scranton Diocese when it calls him, as a retired priest.

I thought about him as I read a fascinating book, “In the Closet of the Vatican … Power, homosexuality, hypocrisy.” I delivered the book to Father Fred and look forward to hearing what he thinks about it.

“In the Closet of the Vatican” exposes the rot at the heart of the Vatican and the Roman Catholic Church today, the book’s cover tells us. “This piece of investigative writing is based on four years authoritative research, including extensive interviews with those in power.

“The celibacy of priests, the condemnation of the use of contraceptives, the cover up of countless cases of sexual abuse, the resignation of Benedict XVI, misogyny among the clergy, the dramatic fall in Europe of the number of vocations to the priesthood, the plotting against Pope Francis…all these issues are clouded in mystery and secrecy.

“The book reveals these secrets and penetrates this enigma. It derives from a system founded on a clerical culture of secrecy which starts in junior seminaries and continues right up to the Vatican itself. It is based on the double lives of priests and on extreme homophobia. The resulting schizophrenia in the Church is hard to fathom. But the more a prelate is homophobic, the more likely it is that he is himself is gay.”

I’m certain that Father Fred will have much to say about this book.

I asked about his take on the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report about sexual abuse among the clergy and the recent papal conclave in Rome. “I apologized for what the Church has done,” Father Fred replied.

“We need an apology from the pope and the bishops,” he continued. “Nobody wants to take responsibility for what happened to the victims. The problem is what I call ‘clerical culture,’ meaning protecting the institution rather than the children. Clerical culture will kill us,” Father Fred said.

Meanwhile, the Methodist Church is facing a crisis of its own. “The United Methodist Church, the largest mainline Protestant denomination, ended a pivotal conference in a seemingly irreconcilable split over same-sex marriage and the ordination of LGBT clergy,” according to the Associated Press (March 3).

“About 53 percent of the delegates voted to maintain bans on those practices and strengthen enforcement, dismaying centrists and liberals who favored LGBT inclusion and now are faced with the choice of leaving the United Methodist Church or considering acts of defiance from within.”

I’ll be speaking with the Rev. Lori Beth Wagner, who became the pastor of the United Methodist Church of Quakertown just four months ago. Will the local church experience membership erosion because of the national church’s position?

In the Philadelphia’s Germantown section, the First United Methodist Church of Germantown (affectionately known as FUMCOG) has been gay-friendly for years. But several years ago, Associate Pastor Beth Stroud announced from the pulpit that she was gay.

She had been an ordained United Methodist pastor for six years before losing her clergy credentials in a 2004 church trial. In the trial, she was found guilty of practices declared by the United Methodist Church “to be incompatible with Christian teaching” because she acknowledged living in a committed relationship with another woman.

The congregation offered nearly universal support, setting up a legal fund to assist with her defense and hiring her as a lay minister after she lost her credentials. The trial verdict was overturned on appeal, but the original verdict was reinstated by the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church in October 2005. The Judicial Council is the highest judicial body of the United Methodist Church. There is no further avenue of appeal.

One of our children is gay. I remember researching the four Gospels to see if Jesus had anything to say about homosexuality. I found nothing to support the clergy’s opposition to homosexuality. Further, I believe that being gay is determined before birth.

Sincerely, Charles Meredith

P.S. Robert Leight will give a talk about the Underground Railroad at McCoole’s Arts and Events Place at 7 p.m. on March 28. Bob will let us know about Richard Moore, a Quaker who lived just down the street from Richland Meeting. I look forward to hearing Bob’s talk. It is open to the public.