An elderly priest at Creighton University has chosen to leave the Jesuit order and laicize himself at least partly over the Church’s refusal to ordain women and endorse same-sex marriage.
In an open letter to friends and supporters that appeared in The National Catholic Reporter, the 80 year old Fr. Bert Thelen, S.J.,announced his decision and said that it was Creighton’s community that “freed, inspired, and encouraged” him to renounce his vocation.
Thelen stated plainly his reasons in his letter, saying, “I am doing this primarily out of the necessity and consequence of my new call, but, secondarily, as a protest against the social injustices and sinful exclusions perpetrated by a patriarchal church that refuses to consider ordination for women and marriage for same-sex couples ."
He explained that his actions put him “in solidarity” with others such as Roy Bourgeois, who was relieved of his priestly responsibilities for his public support of female ordination.
“It will also support the religious and lay women, former Catholics, and gay and lesbian couples marginalized by our church,” he wrote. “I want to stand with and for them. I am, if you will, choosing to de-frock myself in order to serve God more faithfully, truly, and universally.”
He admitted that for the past fifteen years he’s had what he called a “Lover’s Quarrel” with the Catholic Church. Sadly, he’s been at Creighton University for the past fourteen of those years. In fact, in a 2009 piece in The Creightonian he said, “I just want to be available to students and parishioners who want to talk to someone about the struggles of their faith.”
Thelen credits his parishioners, parish staff, and campus ministry at Creighton for helping him with his decision. “It is you who have freed, inspired, and encouraged me to the New Life to which I am now saying a strong and joyful ‘Yes,’ he wrote.
In his letter, he strongly argues that the Church should place a much greater focus on environmental concerns, even stating that the Church should turn its attention “from saving souls to saving the planet.” He goes so far as to write, “Biocide is even more devastating than genocide, because it also kills future inhabitants of our precious Earth.”
In 2011, he served his last mass as pastor of St. John’s parish on Creighton’s campus, according to the Creighton Jesuit Community website. He is still listed as a “faculty ally” of the Gender and Sexuality Alliance on the university’s website.
The bulletin of Saint John’s parish dated June 30th announced Thelen’s departure and extolled him for his “prophetic witness.” The bulletin also said, “Bert has helped us dream what church can be where love of God and love of neighbor are taken seriously.”
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