Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Controversy over "Washing of the Feet"

From the Charlotte Observer March 31, 2006
Bishop: Foot-washing for men only
Some parishioners, priests question why women being left out

Religion Editor
The head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlotte is reminding priests that only men's feet are to be washed at Holy Thursday services, a move creating a buzz among many N.C. Catholics this Lenten season.

"I have vowed respect and obedience to my bishop. With sadness, I will obey Bishop (Peter) Jugis, with apologies to the women of St. Ann's parish," the Rev. Conrad Hoover of St. Ann Catholic Church in Charlotte said Thursday.

"I think it's ridiculous," said Jenifer Register, a member of St. Gabriel Catholic Church in Charlotte, who describes herself as "fired up" over the issue. "I feel that women are a huge part of the church. The church would not survive without women."

Jugis on Thursday designated diocesan spokesman David Hains to explain his position.

Hains said Jugis is following Vatican guidelines in reminding priests that foot-washing is for men only on Holy Thursday, this year on April 13. Holy Thursday, he added, reflects what happened at the Last Supper, when Jesus washed the feet of the 12 disciples, all men, as a symbol of servanthood.

Hains said Jugis issued the policy to the 46-county diocese for the first time under his leadership last year. This Lenten season, though, the reaction among many Catholics has been more pronounced with many priests and parishioners questioning the policy.

Asked if there is a mechanism in place for priests who choose not to follow the reminder, Hains said, "There is an assumption that the priests will follow the norms."

The norms vary from one diocese to another.

Bill Ryan, a spokesman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, said bishops in each of the nation's 195 dioceses can set their own foot-washing guidelines. The choices involve not just gender, but number. Some, like Jugis, remind priests that the ritual is to be limited to 12 men, while others welcome all who want to participate.

Ryan said his office doesn't keep track of how many dioceses restrict the practice to men.

It's men only in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston, which covers all of South Carolina. "The universal norm for the Church is that when a priest opts to perform the ritual of washing of feet, he is to wash the feet of men in imitation of Jesus' washing the feet of the Apostles," diocesan media relations director Stephen Gajdosik wrote in an e-mail to the Observer.

The Raleigh diocese allows each priest to decide whether to wash the feet of men only, or extend an invitation to women. Bishop Joseph Gossman washes the feet of men and women at the Holy Thursday Mass at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Raleigh.

In Atlanta, Archbishop Wilton Gregory extends an invitation to women -- reversing the men-only practice presided over by now-retired Atlanta Archbishop John Donoghue.

Donoghue, when he was bishop in Charlotte, created a furor in 1989 when his order to exclude women from foot-washing ceremonies led to protests outside St. Patrick Cathedral and a small alternative service in a home, where women's feet were washed.

James Patout Burns Jr., who teaches at Vanderbilt Divinity School in Nashville, Tenn., said the debate over foot-washing reflects a deeper rift in the U.S. Catholic church between conservatives and liberals. Beyond foot-washing, he said, the issue is the role of women in the church.

Charlotte, he said, may be welcoming a growing number of Catholics from other areas with less traditional views. But that likely wouldn't make a bishop budge.

"He doesn't work for them," Burns said. "He works for the guy in Rome."

Jugis' reminder is leading priests and parishes to embrace different strategies for what is considered an optional rite.

The Rev. Ed Sheridan of St. Gabriel Catholic Church in Charlotte said his Providence Road parish will drop foot-washing from Holy Thursday Mass.

David Pitt, who teaches theology at Belmont Abbey College in Belmont, said he hopes the controversy doesn't push Catholics in the 300,000-member Charlotte diocese to use public worship as a political tool one way or the other. Whether a parish washes the feet of men or women, whether they wash 12 men's feet or anyone who wants to participate, Pitt believes the deeper meaning is the same: "The intent really is to express continuing love and service."

Teresa Berger, who teaches theology at Duke Divinity School in Durham, questioned whether the rite should be restricted to men.

"If we are trying to duplicate what Jesus did," Berger said, "then we should find not only 12 men, but 12 Jewish men, preferably 12 first-century Jewish men."

Holy Thursday, also known as Maundy Thursday, is marked by observances in Catholic and Protestant churches. Though foot-washing is done in both, it generally is more prevalent among Catholics.

As described in the 13th chapter of John in the New Testament, Jesus washes the disciples' feet and says to them: "For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you."

I think this is getting way out of hand in the Church here in America. The Liberal Feminist Agenda needs to stay out of the Church. But, on the other hand, we are their largest target. Jesus washed 12 MALE disciples. Now, we can't go around digging up "first century Jewish men" now can we? And didn't Jesus say "Do this in Remembrance of Me" during the last supper? And doesn't he say "For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you?" So is the Church to "pick and chose" which acts of Jesus to adhere to?

The Bishop's Liturgy Committee issued the following statement on February 16, 1987: has become customary in many places [in the United States] to invite both men and women to be participants in this rite in recognition of the service that should be given by all the faithful to the church and to the world. the United States, a variation in the rite developed in which not only charity is signified but also humble service.

Why, Oh Why must women feel that they need to carve themselves a place out of the church? Women should not be priests, deacons nor have their feet washed. St. Paul actually tells us to be quiet in Church. I really don't like Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, but I know that it would take forever and a day to distribute it if the priest was the only one doing it (unless we went back to communion rails - which I would LOVE!). Now this is my opinion and probably that of my husband. I'm sure that many people disagree with this issue. If Jesus had wanted women - he would have chosen women! It was more acceptable in that time period to have women priests!!!

Laying down our beliefs to the culture and liberal movements is only going to destroy the Church.


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