Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

When a priest is “gender confused” about God….Part II

February 26th, 2014, Promulgated by Diane Harris

For Part I, please see the parish bulletin cover letter  shown here:  From a DoR parish,  OLOL 3-2-14 cropit was published on February 16th.

At the time it was posted, I did not identify either the parish or the priest’s name.  I still am not doing so here.

However, given the encouragement by those who responded to the Part I post, I decided to write to His Excellency, Bishop Matano.  Before I was able to complete that effort, that parish’s bulletin for distribution this coming weekend, March 2, 2014, was published, further escalating the matter to include His Excellency, Bishop Arthur Serratelli of Paterson, NJ.  (!)

The bulletin has not yet been distributed in the parish.  My hope is that even further escalation can be avoided.  If the bulletin is actually distributed, I will post the identity of the priest and parish, because it would mean even greater cautions and concerns are warranted.   (Note: yes the bulletin was distributed, but I am not planning to expose the situation further, thanks to prayer, many thoughtful comments below, and my belief that the situation has now been resolved by higher authority.)

In the meantime, hoping that will be averted, here is the front page of this weekend’s cover letter on the planned bulletin for that parish. 

I can confirm that the Catechism quote is accurate, but only a part of the paragraph.  Does it mean what the bulletin author seems to want it to mean?  Check out the greater context.

Again, I am interested in what you think, and whether or not the content of this weekend’s letter makes any difference (pro or con) regarding  how such a matter might be handled.




24 Responses to “When a priest is “gender confused” about God….Part II”

  1. Abaccio says:

    I cannot speak to whether then-Father Serratelli said this, but in the times in which I have met His Excellency and heard him speak, I have found him to be a holy and orthodox prelate.

    My problems with that statement can be summed up as follows:

    1) We don’t have the Gospels in Aramaic, so determining this would seem to be a fool’s errand. We have no evidence that they were ever composed in Aramaic.
    2) One word we do know that Our Lord used was “Abba” which, as we know, is a…gendered term. (Contrary to every single sermon on this passage of scripture, Abba does not mean “Daddy,” a claim initiated in the 1970s by a Lutheran.)
    3) While it is certainly true that The Father is not male in a strict sense, it would be unequivocally false to refer to The Father as “she.” Quite frankly, there is no instance in either Scripture or Tradition in which the female pronoun is used to denote any of the three persons of the Trinity.

  2. BigE says:

    This priest doesn’t seem to be at all confused about God’s gender as his explanation indicates. For me (and I’m willing to bet for many), this whole issue falls within the scope of Pope Francis’ quote “The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules,” he lamented. “The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the church must be ministers of mercy above all.”

  3. militia says:

    “Small minded rules” to me might include something like requiring a priest to leave a parish after 6 or 12 years, not about whether or not God has chosen to reveal Himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit! But IMO what BigE wrote shows the precise danger of a priest writing bulletin covers like these two, without regard to how it might damage souls. Why, they might even begin to see essentials of the faith as “small minded rules.”

  4. snowshoes says:

    Thank you Diane,

    A quick review of linguistic studies of “abba” indicate that it indeed means “father”, not mother or parent. The other obvious thing to mention is that in three of the places where “abba” is used in the NT, the gospel and epistle writers immediately follow it with the Greek word for Father, o pater. And oh by the way, Abba does not mean Daddy in aramaic, but rather Father, it is not a diminutive, but more like a vocative in the way Our Lord employs the term. So whenever you hear someone say Abba means Daddy, please gently correct them. The good pastor should know this, it’s his job.

    It is always important to point out poor job performance, especially when Father Pastor is attempting to teach his congregation. This sad ignorance is bad enough, but when Father employs what can only be described as flippancy in his reference to God the Father, it is heartbreaking. Pope Francis would never do such a thing, and he would indeed make the specific effort to correct this error in those who have pledged their obedience to him.

    I trust your judgment, Diane. Casting light on error is always a good thing. Father is a servant of the servants in his parish, and so our prayers and good efforts on his behalf are for the building up of the Church. Correcting errors is one of the Spiritual Works of Mercy. If this had been said in private, then of course we would begin by going to that person in private. As it has been written in a public bulletin for anyone to read, then it is proper to address it in public, so that anyone can be edified with the truth of Catholic teaching, specifically in this case, that it isn’t okay for Catholics to think of God the Father as “she”. If a Catholic has a problem with God as Father, he needs to get to know Him through study of Catholic teaching and through prayer!

    And so, while I’m happy that Father agrees with the Church on calling God the Father “God the Father”, and, I assume, will refer to Him as “Him” and “He”, he confuses the matter by using an old memory of bad teaching by then Fr. Serratelli. We certainly have to give the good Bishop the benefit of the doubt, but that kind of squirrelly thinking and teaching was pandemic “back then”…

    AND there are still parishes out there the priests, deacons, administrators, etc, do not refer to God as Father even in certain parts of the Mass, and they are still changing the bible readings to eliminate the masculine pronoun in reference to God! This tampering with Scripture readings is a very serious thing, indeed, a mortal sin for those who know better.

    So that is why dealing with this specific example is necessary. If it were the ONLY error in the whole diocese, then, okay, maybe we could chill for awhile, but the diocese is still awash in goofiness like this. And it is the childish goofiness which drives the young men and women away from the Church. So it is not just goofiness, when we look behind the goofiness, we find Satan himself attempting to destroy the Church. The young men and women are looking for the Goodness, Truth and Beauty of the Blessed Trinity, but when they are confronted by such foolish statements on the part of the Pastor, it makes them cringe, and it repels them, how can one respect such a man? St. John Vianney pray for us.

  5. christian says:

    I know the Roman Catholic Church is not the only denomination which struggles with an ultra-feminist movement trying to change the gender and pronoun of God.
    Some years ago at St. Andrew Church, (when it was open), we had a renown Presbyterian Church Choir come to perform a program of hymns as part of St. Andrew Music Program. I was shocked and discomforted when I heard their beautiful voices with accompaniment, continually addressing God as “She.” The 23rd Psalm had an entirely different effect on me as sat very discomforted in my pew. Hymn after hymn addressed God in the gender of a woman and mother. In their printed program, they had also changed the terminology of the Holy Trinity. There was definitely a female spin and a rewording of the persons of the Trinity. (It made me wonder how babies, children, teens, or adults were baptized in their church congregation. Was it just a matter of the choir director changing texts, or was the pastor and assistant pastor making these changes also). I had seen some of the same terminology used in some Roman Catholic parishes as a result of progressive feminist pastoral leadership.
    One of the ushers told me how he was also offended and made uncomfortable by the changing of the pronoun of God from He to She in all of their hymns, and regarding God as a Mother rather than a Father. I complained to the director of the St. Andrew Music Program after the concert regarding the purposeful gender change of God from male to female in all of their hymns, and how offended and uncomfortable I felt. The director of the program, who is a conservative Catholic, stated that he felt the same way as I did. He said he had no idea that they were planning to do that. He stated the choir had never given him a preview of their printed program or made it known that they had made a purposeful gender change in regard to God, in addition to changing the formula for the Holy Trinity in their printed program. He said after they had handed out their printed program and began singing, it was too late. He made a comment that it was probably a Presbyterian thing. I corrected him and said no, it was not a Presbyterian thing. But it is obviously a thing with that particular church choir.(This Presbyterian Church Choir had sung throughout the world as well as the United States and had also recorded CD’s. They were talented musically, and apparently they were popular and sought despite their rewording of hymns and terminology of the Holy Trinity to make a gender change of God).
    They never came back to St. Andrew Church to perform again.

  6. 14860 says:

    This seems like a personal concern between the priest and the writer. Contact the priest, have your conversation and stop this “bottom feeding.”

  7. Hopefull says:

    From the National Catholic Register, 2008:


    Church Teaching Q&A | Liturgy Explained: Baptisms Must Be Redone (said Pope Benedict)

    Vatican says ‘Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier’ not Baptism.
    by Stephen Mirarchi

    “As specified by the Vatican’s response, those baptized invalidly must be baptized in forma absoluta (the valid form). According to Edward Peters, who holds doctorates in both civil and canon law and teaches at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, that means conditional baptism will not suffice.”

    “If you’re not baptized, you’re not Christian,” Peters said. “When Rome says they’re invalid, it means they have zero effect. It takes the mandate of Jesus very seriously. …Additionally, any further sacraments would have to be conferred, since one may not receive a sacrament without baptism (Code of Canon Law, No. 842.1).

    The invented formula of Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier — which does not appear in any approved liturgical book — was denounced as the Modalist heresy in the third century. “The error,” Peters explained, “is identifying the persons by what they do, not who they are. You can even go back to the burning bush: ‘I am who am.’ God gives his identity — who he is — not what he does.”

    “Why some priests and deacons chose to deviate from the proscribed formula is actually mentioned in the Vatican response as the “so-called feminist theology” of non-biblical denotations of the persons of the Trinity.”

    “This is an agendized formula,” confirmed Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo. “I’ve heard it used even in the proclamation of Scripture. This sort of thing does not happen haphazardly or by mistake. Every Catholic school child learns how to baptize, in case of an emergency, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

    “One of the casualties of this kind of language is that we ignore one of the most fundamental revelations of Jesus Christ: that he has a Father, that we have a Father, and that the relationship between them is the love that Christ bore to the world.”

    Obviously, is one has taken their children to a priest who plays loosey-goosey with the words of baptism, there is some risk that their child is not actually baptized.

  8. y2kscotty says:

    I agree with BigE. I hope Bishop Matano and Bishop Serratelli never see the proposed letter about this priest. What do you want either Bishop to do about it?

    I agree that a Baptism that does not use the Trinitarian Formula is, on its face,invalid – however, the parish records will state that the person has been baptized. Can this baptism be challenged? What is certain, however, is that if that person later wants to enter into a Sacramental Marriage or Holy Orders, the proof of his baptism is in the statement in the Parish register. So, would this “dodgy” baptism mean that the person’s marriage or his admittance to the Diaconate or Priesthood is null and void? Should we worry that some priest may have been baptized in this dodgy form (but with no proof or evidence) may be saying invalid Masses?

    If a letter is to be written, l with an invitation to et it be directly to the priest himself.

  9. snowshoes says:

    Y2K, Excellent question. Indeed, the question of what we would want Bishop Matano to do about it is most relevant at this point. As Pope Francis has said, we must object to any man who is a “Fomenter of coprophagia!”, and we must ask the good bishop to make him cease and desist. You see, this is what the good pastor is doing, and he is tempting his children to do this detestable thing by printing such garbage. Make him stop and make him apologize and ask forgiveness and make him never do it again!!!! AMEN.

  10. Scott W. says:

    You uppity laity need to remember the Catholic code of silence.

    Seriously, sunlight is a disinfectant and only shadow skulkers have anything to fear from a politely-worded and truth-based communication of concerns to the bishop. Time to end the reign of “Oh the [priest/bishop/etc.] is [too busy/has more important things to think about/etc]. Don’t bother him with that.”

  11. gaudium says:

    Actually, Scotty, it would mean that those other sacraments would be invalid. That’s why the Church doesn’t mess with the essential elements of the sacraments. It’s not to be mean or picky. In fact, the Church is very generous theologically in presuming the validity of a sacrament ex opere operato and does not accept a scrupulous approach to small errors such as a mispronunciation of a word, the sinfulness of the priest, a non-deliberate omitting of a sin in Confession, etc. But you can’t mess with matter, form, and intent.

  12. Diane Harris says:


    Obviously the words about “personal concern” seem to apply to you, 14860, more than to me. I do not even know the priest, and even if I did, it would not be a reason for challenging or for not challenging what he has done. But by your using a zip code in his defense, you’ve gone a long way toward “outing” the author of those remarks, which I understandably think you meant to do, although the parish in question is not directly in 14860.

    You are correct that when it is a personal matter between any two people, then personal discussion is warranted. But this is not a personal matter, and it is not a private matter; it is a very public departure from Church Teaching, and is no different from criticizing Cardinal Dolan’s shout-out to Joe Biden from the Sanctuary, or criticizing the Bishop of Bling in Germany. Moreover, regarding this particular situation, the priest (instead of apologizing or recanting) simply went ahead and added to the damage in his second bulletin.

    We are not talking about his expressing a personal opinion on the color of the church doors, but rather about teaching the flock, which is his obligation to do properly as a priest. Those are the souls he is responsible for, and about whom he will be judged. They have a right to know the Church’s teaching. The presence of children in the equation makes quite a bit of difference in acting quickly to repair the damage. How could one in any good conscience at all not reprove these two writings? To better explain than perhaps I have been able to do, I recommend the following clip from my speaking with Bishop Bruskewitz, a fine bishop now retired, who was not afraid to speak candidly when so many here were in denial.

  13. y2kscotty says:

    Gaudium, you haven’t addressed the problem of having a “Father” X in parish Y who may have had a dodgy “Baptism”, who has been saying “Mass” for years and those poor parishioners for years have not been attending a valid Mass. The record would show that “Father” X was legitimately baptized. Or, are we in fact assuming in good faith that his baptism was OK (by desire or otherwise, perhaps?).
    I still think the priest who wrote those bulletin articles is orthodox and I believe that Bishop Matano would not chastise the priest. All he will do is send a “thank you for your kind letter” letter to Diane. Or he’ll direct the Vicar General to send the reply (“Bishop Matano thanks you for your letter.”)
    Diane, I am “in good conscience” and that’s why I am giving you my advice. Reply to the priest and engage him in extended fraternal correction. The effect may be salutary.

  14. Diane Harris says:

    Thank you, y2kscotty, for your advice. I’m sure it is given, as you say, “in good conscience.” However, I do not see anything to be gained by a confrontation or further escalation. As Abraham said to the rich man who died and went to Hades and wanted someone to go warn his brothers about the risk they were taking: “… ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if some one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.’” In addition, the priest in question has a Catechism of the Catholic Church, all his seminary training in Theology, the charisms of ordination, and a pastor and a bishop in authority over him. However, it is his choice to use them or not. And implicit in his reply with a second bulletin, asserting his personal opinion, is that he chooses not to do so.

    Fortunately, I am not in charge of conversions. I have only done what I was called to do. And I know that I am not the only one who has expressed concern or written to the bishop. It doesn’t matter to me if my letter is accepted or blown off. I have done my part. As Mother Teresa said, “We are not called to be successful. We are called to be faithful.” There is nothing more I need to do in this situation (at least for now) and there is no reason to put myself at risk by arguing against a perverse spirit. I suggest we both pray for the priest, and for the souls in his care.

  15. snowshoes says:

    Thank you, Diane, for your charitable action on behalf of the Church. To me, the reason the time of going to the priest-writer is over because he had evidently already been approached, and he chose to refer to that Catholic with the off-handed remark, “It seems someone took offence (sic) at the line…” While I do not know how Father found out, this is certainly at least a dismissive way to refer to that person or persons. So, that step has already been taken. Let us pray that, on this day before Lent, we may repent and do penance, and ask mercy for our sins and the sins of the whole world. [emended on request]

  16. annonymouse says:

    I have a friend who grew up in a home with an abusive, alcoholic father, leaving her very bad memories of her childhood and, more specifically, her father, and making it very difficult for her to relate to, much less love, Our Father. Thinking of God in maternal terms has been very helpful to her faith, and indeed scripture in more than one place uses maternal metaphors to describe the qualities of God. I think that is all this unnamed priest is attempting to say. He is not advocating for a change in prayers, the catechism, or any Church teaching, as he’s made quite clear. But what he’s written, which has so upset some on these pages, might just be what some poor soul in his congregation needed to hear to grow in her or his relationship with God.

  17. y2kscotty says:

    Thanks, anonymouse… you hit the nail on the head. I would hope that will be the attitude of Bishop Matano.

  18. Diane Harris says:

    I don’t think we can be concerned about this priest’s motives, because we can’t know or judge them anyway. Perhaps we can even allow that there might be, for a few souls, some transient receptivity to God which results from such a feminist approach, but that doesn’t make it right; i.e., the end never justifies the means. God is Truth, and to make Him “more attractive” by misrepresentation is neither loving that soul, nor serving God by distorting His image. God does not have to be made more “palatable” by recasting him in a female image, nor does conversion require seduction of souls with untruth.

    Truly, I agree, there are many women who have been injured by men, and are put off by any male image, just as there are many men who have been injured by women. Both, at times, even nurture the distancing. But distorting the image of God leads a soul astray, into yet another deception and hurt. Another abandonment. To truly know the embrace of true and perfect Fatherhood cannot be less than joy. To reshape God in the image created by a false teaching is to miss the central gift being given to us, by deliberately choosing blindness and deafness.

    I would like to offer the words of Pope Benedict XVI in his first Jesus of Nazareth book, in Chapter 5 which is on the Our Father. I will try to post some excerpts soon.

    We sometimes need to be reminded that God the Father is a Person, and the relationship of the created to the Creator is a real person-to-Person relationship. And real relationships are not fostered except through coming to know the other and, in this case, to embrace His complete and perfect Fatherliness, surpassing even the best earthly fathers, healing all that has gone awry in prior relationships. How could anyone block this grace and gift to a person by causing them to misunderstand Him to Whom prayer is directed? It is like sending a traveler down the wrong path, from which they may not be able to return, or at least requiring a painful retracing of steps, of traumatic unattachment in order to find the the perfect, necessary and only fully satisfying attachment. It is made all the worse, when such deception and distortion is at the hands of a man we call “Father.” I have no specific desire for how Bishop Matano handles this; I trust he will do so as a true spiritual father.

  19. Scott W. says:

    Thanks Diane. We’ve really entered strange lands when God as Father is a hard teaching for Christians.

  20. Scott W. says:

    P.S. If someone wants to cavil that God the Father is part of the Trinity is a hard teaching, I am already aware. My point is that it is already enough of an inscrutable mystery without muddying the waters with a bunch of PC hoo-haw, so kindly put a sock in it.

  21. Richard Thomas says:

    According to Church Militant TV, this feminization of the Church has been responsible for the po=romotion of “girly Men” as priests and an avoidance of “Manly” men for the priesthood.

    The feminization, as manifested by women in leadership roles in parishes, exclusively, has resulted in the avoidance of Church by males.

  22. Diane Harris says:

    I would have posted this sooner, if I had picked up my mail sooner. The following is the virtually IMMEDIATE response I received from my fax letter to Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli, Bishop of Paterson, NJ:

    February 28, 2014 on Diocese of Paterson letterhead, Office of the Bishop

    Dear Diane,

    Many thanks for writing. Please know that whenever I was teaching Scripture, I never referred to God as Divine Parent.

    Also, I taught that Jesus addressed God as Father or intimately as “Abba” — meaning Father. God is above human sexuality, but the language Jesus used, the language of the early Church and the language of the Church today refers to God as “he.”

    With every good wish, I remain

    Sincerely yours in Christ,

    [original signature]

    Most Reverend Arthur J. Serratelli, S.T.D., S.S.L., D.D.
    Bishop of Paterson

    [There were no cc’s shown]

  23. JLo says:

    Remember when The Shack was such a popular read? I made it through maybe a couple dozen pages and grew VERY uncomfortable with the portrayals of the Trinity. So many people loved that book, but it made me feel ill, so I never finished and actually didn’t get very far into it: threw it away. Just one person’s experience of putting a gender other than male on God.
    (BTW, I have friends I love and respect who loved that book, who said they finally “got” who the Holy Spirit is. Go figure.)

  24. Diane Harris says:

    FINAL COMMENT on this matter:

    Thank you to all who commented, gave advice and assisted in this situation. I want to give you a ‘final’ summary. In addition to my writing to Bishop Serratelli about whether or not he had actually taught the priest as claimed (see comment on the prompt and fruitful response, above), I also copied that letter to Bishop Matano, more as a courtesy than expecting a response.

    Yet, I did receive a wonderful and thorough response. He has indeed dealt with the situation precisely as we would hope and expect a Shepherd of Souls to do; indeed, as we have longed to have our bishop do. He was gracious, kind, caring, pro-active, precise and effective. And I have good reason to believe (though not told so)that it was not my letter to Bishop Serratelli that prompted his action, but rather that the parishioners who were upset had been sending the earlier bulletin to Bishop Matano. Therefore, I want to encourage people who have a distressful situation in their parish (not resolved by their own pastor) to not be afraid of our new bishop, but to write to him as a true shepherd, and trust him to do the right thing. He had not a single word of criticism for my or others’ having brought the situation to his attention. He absolutely acted paternally, with care for all.

    In the spirit of putting this resolution behind us, and as my own personal decision without any request or hint from anyone, I am shutting down comments to both Part I and Part II of this series, as nothing more needs to be said. We are indeed blessed. Let’s keep praying for our new Bishop, who has such great challenges and responsibilities.

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