catholic reform

February 22, 1997


Staff Writer

Believing the Roman Catholic church was out of step with society when it rejected the idea of women priests, Donna Acquaviva came very close to leaving her lifelong faith.

Instead, she and her husband, Bob Naylor, who live in the Hedgesville, W.Va., area, decided they would try to change the church from within.

In January of last year, they founded the Shenandoah Valley chapter of Call To Action.

"We certainly believe in everything the church stands for in faith, but the man-made rules we believe are outmoded," she said. "This church is too much about rules and not enough about love."


Last Sunday, they and other liberal Catholics around the country passed around petitions calling on the church to relax its stance on the ordination of women, celibacy for clergy, homosexuality and other issues.

Leaders of the Fairfax, Va.-based We Are Church, an umbrella organization for groups like Call To Action, hope to get a million American Catholics to sign their referendum for change, said Sister Maureen Fiedler, the group's national coordinator.

Advocates for change believe that their reform has its roots in early Catholicism, when women gave Eucharist in their homes.

But other Tri-State area Catholics criticize efforts to change the church's strict teachings.

"Certainly I would not agree with it. Certainly I would not allow them to pass out petitions on my church property," said the Rev. George Limmer of St. Mary's in Hagerstown.

Women can be active in the church without being priests, said Laurie Austin of Rohrersville, administrator of religious education at St. James in Boonsboro.

"I guess I'm a little old-fashioned. I don't see any need for change," she said.

People who accept the Catholic faith must accept its hierarchy, said the Rev. Joseph Orr of St. Stephen Catholic Church in McConnellsburg, Pa.

"The Catholic church is not a Democracy,'' Orr said. "We don't get together and vote on what we believe."

Bill Blaul, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Baltimore, agreed.

"Some people want to superimpose contemporary American society on the church," Blaul said.

Most Catholics support the Pope's views and are more concerned about recruiting male priests and funding Catholic schools, he said.

The Wheeling (W.Va) Diocese, which oversees Catholic churches in the Eastern Panhandle, has been supportive of liberal groups, Acquaviva said.

The diocese has allowed Call To Action to meet at St. Agnes Catholic Church in Shepherdstown, W.Va.

The church's acceptance of different viewpoints has drawn parishioners from as far away as Alexandria, Va., said Acquaviva, who with her husband runs a charity for the elderly in Shepherdstown called Good Shepherd Interfaith Volunteer Caregivers.

Call To Action's membership recently doubled after a church banned a group of liberal Catholics in Nebraska for discussing change.

"You don't tell Americans you can't think about this, you can't talk about this,'' Aquaviva said. "We're too independent."

Call To Action's viewpoint is becoming more widely accepted, possibly because of the shortage of clergy around the country, especially in West Virginia, some members said.

Ordaining women and allowing priests to marry are reasonable solutions to the shortage, said the Rev. John DiBacco at St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church in Martinsburg, W.Va.

At 56, DiBacco represents the average age of American priests.

"I think the church is going to have to deal with it, one way or another, whether it wants to or not," he said.

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