Jesuit Pastor Resigns from Priesthood to Protest Patriarchy

Bert Thelen

Bert Thelen

A Jesuit priest who is almost 80 years old and who served in leadership roles in his province, including Provincial, has resigned from both his community and the priesthood as a protest against the patriarchal attitudes and practices active in the Roman Catholic Church.  He has mentioned the denial of marriage for same-sex couples was part of the motivation for his decision.

The National Catholic Reporter’s  Robert McClory reported this news:

“In a lengthy, moving letter to friends and colleagues, veteran Jesuit priest Bert Thelen explains his reasons for leaving the order and the priesthood and returning to the lay state. Thelen, who is almost 80 years old, has served as parish priest, provincial staff member and provincial during his 45 years of service.

“Thelen credits the example of Christian living he has experienced during the last 14 years working at Creighton University and St. John’s Parish for his decision. ‘It is you,’ he says, ‘who have freed, inspired, and encouraged me to the New Life to which I am now saying a strong and joyful “Yes.” You have done this by challenging me to be my best self as a disciple of Jesus, to proclaim boldly His Gospel of Love, and to widen the horizons of my heart to embrace the One New World we are called to serve in partnership with each other and our Triune God …

” ‘Why does this “YES” to embrace the call of our cosmic inter-connectedness mean saying “NO” to ordained ministry? My answer is simple but true. All mystical traditions, as well as modern science, teach us that we humans cannot be fully ourselves without being in communion with all that exists. Lasting justice for Earth and all her inhabitants is only possible within this sacred communion of being. We need conversion — conversion from the prevailing consciousness that views reality in terms of separateness, dualism, and even hierarchy, to a new awareness of ourselves as inter-dependent partners , sharing in one Earth-Human community.

” ‘In plainer words, we need to end the world view that structures reality into higher and lower, superior and inferior, dominant and subordinate, which puts God over Humanity, humans over the rest of the world, men over women, the ordained over the laity. As Jesus commanded so succinctly, ‘Don’t Lord it over anyone … serve one another in love.’ As an institution, the Church is not even close to that idea; its leadership works through domination, control, and punishment. So, following my call to serve this One World requires me to stop benefiting from the privilege, security, and prestige ordination has given me. 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 …’ “

The entire text of Thelen’s can be read in McClory’s news story.

Bert Thelen has been a good friend of New Ways Ministry.  In February of 2006, he hosted New Ways Ministry workshop entitled “Building Bridges:  Lesbian and Gay Christians and the Church” at St. John’s parish on Creighton University’s campus in Omaha, Nebraska, where he served as pastor and campus chaplain.  It was one of the largest programs we have ever conducted, thanks to Fr. Thelen’s outreach and personal invitation of many people–students, faculty, staff, and neighborhood people.

When word was announced that the program was going to be held, Omaha’s Archbishop Elden Curtiss had some concerns.  Fr. Thelen went to speak to the archbishop personally and convinced him of the pastoral need for such a program, and no archdiocesan intervention occurred.

New Ways Ministry prays with and for this courageous, pastoral soul.  Even in resigning, he is preaching the Gospel not only to his parishioners, but to so many other Catholics who hear his story.  We are saddened that the condition of our church has motivated such a good soul to make what must have been a difficult decision.

We hope that Pope Francis, a Jesuit, will take notice that one of his order’s most sterling members felt compelled in conscience to take such a strong action because of the institutional church’s practices.

We pray that Bert Thelen’s witness will be blessed by God, and that it will further the cause of reforming the Catholic Church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

9 replies
  1. Friends
    Friends says:

    This statement makes me proud and grateful to be an alumnus of a Jesuit college — in my case, Holy Cross. I will be posting the link to this item at the Holy Cross GLBTQ Alumni Facebook site. to make sure that all of the other members get to see it. And, yes, all of us have high hopes for Pope Francis, the first-ever Jesuit to assume the Papacy. May the Holy Spirit guide him well — as already appears to be happening, through the demonstration of his personal warmth, humanity and humility.

  2. Lydia Lombardo
    Lydia Lombardo says:

    God Bless Father Thelen!
    He is doing what many of us long to do. Walk away but find a better way to serve and live. I too am 80 and want these last years, in spite of the pain to be better.

  3. Magy Stelling
    Magy Stelling says:

    When I first put this story on my page a friend commented, “Does he have something put aside for retirement?” Since he took a vow of poverty, it makes me wonder!!! As a Jesuit he would have been provided with a retirement home and the necessities of life including health insurance. Any Creighton Alums able to help him out if necessary?. Or for that matter any of the commenters of this article?

  4. Bill deMello
    Bill deMello says:

    Congratulations to Bert Thelan. I hope he has plenty of support outside the Jesuit community. Life will be tough for this very brave man. My brother the late Anthony deMello SJ would have congratulated him too!
    My very warm wishes and vibes go out to Bert.


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