A reader in New York City kindly alerted me to a video he discovered on the website of one of the better known Episcopal Churches in Manhattan, Trinity Wall Street. In it, we see the December 6, 2015 appearance of Franciscan priest of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe (and noted writer and speaker) Fr. Richard Rohr. From the video’s description:
The principal Sunday liturgy at Trinity, with musical leadership provided by the renowned Trinity Choir, with regular participation by the Family Choir and Trinity Choristers. Webcast live each Sunday, and archived for on-demand viewing. Trinity Church, Broadway and Wall Street; 75 minutes. Webcast live and available for on-demand viewing.
Today’s preacher is Fr. Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest and internationally known writer and teacher. He is the founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and his books include The Naked Now, Everything Belongs, Falling Upward, and many more. His most recent book, Eager to Love, is about Franciscan spirituality and its focus on the Gospel, justice, and compassion.
I had never heard of Fr. Rohr before, but evidently his books are quite popular. They are also noteworthy for his involvement in New Age practices. This article about him on Women of Grace makes clear that he is known to be a less-than-orthodox Catholic. His Wikipedia page brings to light serious theological problems in his thinking:
He often refers to his position as being on the “edge of the inside”, as a prophetic place from which to challenge and encourage the Church. In a critique of Rohr, Fr. Bryce Sibley writes that Rohr asserts that God is neither male nor female, supports the mission of homosexual advocacy groups, asserts that the Crucifixion of Jesus was not necessary for the redemption of mankind, and criticizes Catholic rituals for a lack of efficacy. Rohr has been notable for his support of homosexual causes, attracting criticism from some Catholics. In 1996, Rohr presided over a ceremony for a lesbian couple, which has been referred to by a commentator as a “wedding”, during one of his retreats. In 1997, Rohr spoke at a symposium of New Ways Ministry, a ministry to homosexual people which was later condemned by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for not teaching in accord with the Catholic Church’s moral teachings regarding homosexuality. In 2000, Rohr publically endorsed Soulforce, an initiative to use “relentless nonviolent resistance” to encourage Christian groups to accept homosexual people. In a 2003 letter to his diocese, the Archbishop of Santa Fe, Michael Sheehan, wrote that Rohr had agreed in discussions to conform to official Catholic teachings in his presentations.
In his teaching on Scripture, such as in his book Things Hidden, Rohr describes the biblical record as a human account of humanity’s evolving experience with God, “the word of God in the words of people.” Rohr’s book Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self suggests Jesus’ death and resurrection is an archetypal pattern for the individual’s movement from “False Self” to “True Self,” from “who you think you are” to “who you are in God.” Rohr’s most recent book, Eager to Love, explores the key themes of Franciscan spirituality, which he sees as a “third way” between traditional orthodoxy and heresy, a way of focusing on the Gospel, justice, and compassion.
Also noteworthy is a 2003 letter written concerning Fr. Rohr by the previous Archbishop of Santa Fe, Michael J. Sheehan. In the letter, he says:
Father Rohr sometimes can be controversial and has liberal views on different aspects of the Church; but at the same time he is also quite capable of very traditional and inspiring talks. Several years ago I had to meet with him to have a frank talk, as bishop, on several matters that concerned me. He pledged that he would write articles that are faithful to the teachings of the Catholic Church and that his presentations would also carefully reflect sound Catholic teaching.
Since our discussion, Father Rohr has shown a positive response to the concerns that I raised regarding sensitivity to sound teaching. I have personally heard him give very solid presentations regarding the Catholic faith. I believe that he will be quite loyal to the Church in his presentation to the young adults at the National Conference in June.
It appears that twelve years is a long time to stay on the orthodoxy wagon.
In the video taken from Trinity Wall Street, the homily begins at about the 28-minute mark. It’s nothing spectacular one way or the other, insofar as he follows a fairly standard Social Justice Warrior (SJW) template, rambling on about the tendency of religious leaders to want to “tie God up” with limitations and “conditional clauses” and talking about how in politics and religion we like to set up “obstacles” so that refugees, the poor, people of colors, and gays can’t “pass through.” He also condemns the idea of meritocracy, setting it up as opposed to the “ocean of grace.” He makes a point of wanting to do away with the concept of “retributive justice,” and the need to replace it with “restorative justice.” There’s probably more that needs pointing out, but I couldn’t bear to listen to it too closely.
But then something else happens. At about the 1:03 time marker in the video, Fr. Rohr stands to receive “communion” within the sanctuary. He receives both bread and wine — this is all they are, since Episcopalian/Anglican orders are not valid — and then appears to receive instructions on distribution, at which point he begins to dispense the not-Eucharist to those in the congregation. To make things easier, I’ve grabbed just a short portion of the video to make his participation clear:
This is, of course, a serious violation of Church teaching. From John Paul II’s encyclical, Ecclesia De Eucharistia, #30:
The Catholic Church’s teaching on the relationship between priestly ministry and the Eucharist and her teaching on the Eucharistic Sacrifice have both been the subject in recent decades of a fruitful dialogue in the area of ecumenism. We must give thanks to the Blessed Trinity for the significant progress and convergence achieved in this regard, which lead us to hope one day for a full sharing of faith. Nonetheless, the observations of the Council concerning the Ecclesial Communities which arose in the West from the sixteenth century onwards and are separated from the Catholic Church remain fully pertinent: “The Ecclesial Communities separated from us lack that fullness of unity with us which should flow from Baptism, and we believe that especially because of the lack of the sacrament of Orders they have not preserved the genuine and total reality of the Eucharistic mystery. Nevertheless, when they commemorate the Lord’s death and resurrection in the Holy Supper, they profess that it signifies life in communion with Christ and they await his coming in glory”.62
The Catholic faithful, therefore, while respecting the religious convictions of these separated brethren, must refrain from receiving the communion distributed in their celebrations, so as not to condone an ambiguity about the nature of the Eucharist and, consequently, to fail in their duty to bear clear witness to the truth. This would result in slowing the progress being made towards full visible unity. Similarly, it is unthinkable to substitute for Sunday Mass ecumenical celebrations of the word or services of common prayer with Christians from the aforementioned Ecclesial Communities, or even participation in their own liturgical services. Such celebrations and services, however praiseworthy in certain situations, prepare for the goal of full communion, including Eucharistic communion, but they cannot replace it.
The fact that the power of consecrating the Eucharist has been entrusted only to Bishops and priests does not represent any kind of belittlement of the rest of the People of God, for in the communion of the one body of Christ which is the Church this gift redounds to the benefit of all.
Ecclesial communities derived from the Reformation and separated from the Catholic Church, “have not preserved the proper reality of the Eucharistic mystery in its fullness, especially because of the absence of the sacrament of Holy Orders.”239 It is for this reason that, for the Catholic Church, Eucharistic intercommunion with these communities is not possible. However these ecclesial communities, “when they commemorate the Lord’s death and resurrection in the Holy Supper . . . profess that it signifies life in communion with Christ and await his coming in glory.”24
This isn’t the Catechism of Trent, folks. This is one of the prohibitions that even the post-conciliar Church has preserved. There is no excuse for a Catholic priest to be doing something like this. And one can’t help but wonder if Pope Francis’s recent insinuation that Lutherans can receive Holy Communion in Catholic Churches if they first “talk to the Lord” may have emboldened Fr. Rohr to take this completely erroneous ecumenical step.
It looks like it’s time for our readers to contact Santa Fe’s new Archbishop — John C. Wester — and ask him to consider having another “frank talk, as bishop, on several matters” with Fr. Rohr, just as his predecessor did. I ask that if you do so, you do it respectfully.
The diocesan website is in rough shape, with some links going to the old Archbishop’s biography. The Archbishop has no direct contact information I could find, but his Executive Assistant’s name is listed as Dolores Cordova, who can be reached at 505-831-8100, or through this general contact form.
The Archdiocese also has a Director of Communications, listed as Celine Baca Radigan, who can be reached at 505-831-8180. She may also be reached through the same general contact form, but I found an old press release with cradigan (at) archdiocesesantafe as the contact address. I’ve not tried this address, so I don’t know if it will work.
The Archdiocesan mailing address is:
4000 Saint Joseph’s Place NW
Albuquerque, NM 87120-1741
Main Switchboard: 505.831.8100
I don’t know enough about the structure of the Order of Friars Minor to know who Fr. Rohr’s superior or provincial might be (I got as far as this before running out of time to keep digging), but if anyone knows, fill me in in the comments and I’ll update the post with that contact information as well.
At the end of the day, it’s hard to know how much effect we can have in situations like this, but respect for the Eucharist begins with the public recognition of what it is — Our Lord’s Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity — and why this reality is only found in churches with apostolic succession and valid orders. Receiving communion in a Protestant church is a lie — a lie about the sacrament, and about communion between Catholicism and other Christian denominations — and this is especially egregious for a priest to do. It must not stand.