Longtime peace activist removed from ministry after concelebrating Mass with woman priest

Brian Roewe  |  Mar. 28, 2014

The letter removing the 76-year-old’s public priestly faculties — a copy of which NCR obtained March 21 — came from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which reviewed documentation related to the Nov. 22, 2011, liturgy Zawada concelebrated with Roman Catholic Womanpriest Janice Sevre-Duszynska.
“Having carefully examined the acts of the case, and the vota of the former Minister General and the Rev. Zawada’s Provincial Superior, this Dicastery has decided to impose on Rev. Jerome Zawada, OFM, a life of prayer and penance to be lived within the Queen of Peace Friary in Burlington, Wisconsin,” the letter states.
In addition, Zawada cannot present himself in public as a priest or celebrate the sacraments publicly; however, he can concelebrate Mass with other friars at the friary and in private.
“I don’t mind the prayer part,” Zawada told NCR Monday, “but when they called, when they say that I need to be spending time in penance, well, I’m not going to do penance for my convictions and the convictions of so many others, too.”

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Fr. John Puodziunas, provincial minister of the Franciscan Friars of the Assumption BVM Province, said he has not yet discussed the letter with Zawada but plans to in the coming weeks. He confirmed the letter removes him from his public priestly ministry but said it hasn’t been decided how it will restrict his movement outside the friary. At the same time, he said, “Friaries are not jails.”
“I can’t imagine us approaching it from a perspective that this would be, ‘He’s restricted, he cannot leave the friary’ type of thing,” Puodziunas told NCR. “I think the letter is pretty clear that he’s not to act publicly as a priest, which he hasn’t done in years anyway.”
Zawada has not held a parish or chaplain assignment for years, Puodziunas added, and he agreed following the 2011 liturgy not to act publicly as a priest until the matter received clarity. In June, Zawada will celebrate the 50th anniversary of his ordination.
Speaking from the Wisconsin friary, Zawada said the letter “sent me for a loop,” even though he anticipated a response at some point. “But nothing has changed in terms of my own commitment and belief” concerning women’s ordination, he said, adding that they have only deepened.
“I do feel strongly in support of women priests and married priests in the Catholic church,” he said, adding that he felt compelled to be transparent with his views and that he has learned much from ministers of different denominations.
“I know that they don’t think I observe obedience very well through these years, but I have to use my conscience. I have to listen to other people who also speak the voice of God,” he said.
Despite receiving the letter from the doctrinal congregation, the still-pugnacious priest took comfort from the pope’s supposed remarks in June to the Latin American Conference of Religious, that should such a dispatch come, “Do not worry. Explain whatever you have to explain, but move forward.”
“Even Pope Francis told Latin American religious not to worry about the congregation. Well, why should I worry, then?” Zawada asked.
As for what he will do next, Zawada said he plans to take it step by step and would like to visit his family in Indiana during Holy Week. From there, he said he feels “a strong hunger” toward migrants, prisoners and others on the bottom rung of the social ladder — all groups he also considers “my family.”
“Every single one of my dreams at night are dreams about living and sharing life with the poor, with people who are destitute, and I sense I have a strong calling for that,” he said.
“I feel ready to move on,” he said. “I want to move on and be able to take some risks. And I have to and I’m called to do so.”
Zawada received his letter, dated Feb. 19, in early March through Puodziunas, who also sent him a letter. The Vatican letter is addressed to Franciscan Fr. Michael Anthony Perry, an American and the minister general of the Order of Friars Minor, and is signed by Archbishop J. Augustine DiNoia, an official with the doctrinal congregation.
The concelebration in question occurred during the 2011 SOA Watch, the annual protest of the U.S. Army School of the Americas, now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.
Zawada told NCR he also concelebrated with Sevre-Duszynska, a close friend and fellow activist, at the previous year’s protest but has not done so since, believing the concept of concelebration singles out ordained clergy and excludes the rest of the worshiping community. He told NCR in November 2011 that the liturgy offered him an opportunity to follow his conscience and address injustices he saw in the clergy structure.
Sevre-Duszynska was ordained in August 2008 a priest in the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests. The participation of Roy Bourgeois in that ceremony led to his excommunication and eventual dismissal in November 2012 from the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers. The next month, Jesuit Fr. Bill Brennan of Milwaukee had his priestly ministries removed by Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listeki for also participating in a liturgy with Sevre-Duszynska at SOA Watch.
“They’re holy men,” Sevre-Duszynska told NCR. “They’re men with the strength and grace that Jesus had, speaking truth to power. And I’m grateful they’re my friends.”
She said she was saddened by the ruling on Zawada, whom she considers a mentor, but predicted it would not stop the ministry of a man “whose voice is one that gives direction to so many.”
Zawada, who turns 77 next month and suffers from neuropathy and some mild memory issues, said he lacks the energy to take a larger role in the women’s ordination movement, though he will openly discuss his beliefs when people approach him or if it comes up in the context of peace and justice issues.
The latter have largely served as the priest’s primary dwelling the past four decades.
His actions at SOA Watch have placed him in the crosshairs of not only the Vatican but the federal government. He estimates he has been arrested there five times, twice serving six-month prison sentences for trespassing.
He participated in the 1988 Missouri Peace Planting, where protesters visited nuclear missile silos in the state. Zawada, who celebrated Mass atop a missile lid and also broke a ban-and-bar letter by visiting a silo for the fifth time, was convicted of several misdemeanors and served a 25-month prison sentence. In 1991, he received an additional five and a half months after he was arrested for protesting the Gulf War while on probation.
More recently, he joined 22 other people in July in crossing the property line of a nuclear weapons facility under construction in Kansas City, Mo., and was among the “Creech 14” arrested in 2009 at Creech Air Force Base outside Las Vegas after peacefully protesting the use of drones. He remains under a two-year probation sentence for trespassing with six others at Naval Base Kitsap in Washington state, where Trident submarines carrying nuclear missiles reside.
He has also advocated for migrants’ rights and immigration reform, making frequent trips to the U.S.-Mexico border.
In all, Zawada has served nearly five and a half years in prison. In an August 2006 interview with the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, he estimated he has been arrested “well over a hundred times maybe, maybe two hundred times,” admitting he has lost count.
[Brian Roewe is an NCR staff writer. His email address is broewe@ncronline.org. Follow him on Twitter: @BrianRoewe.]

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  1. Every organisation on earth has rules and disciplinary procedures when folks break them. Can you imagine what would happen if a newsreader went off script on the BBC? They might get away with it once, with a warning, but continuously going off on your own agenda would get you sacked very quickly. Businesses are the same. Can you imagine if a Google employee, say a spokesman, constantly bad-mouthed the company in public and said that Yahoo! was better and Google need to be like Yahoo! – how many minutes do you reckon that person would have a job with Google?

    The Catholic CHurch has a faith that is handed down through the ages directly from God through the hands of the Apostles and their successors who are the guarantors of truth. Not everyone likes the Deposit of Faith, and that’s fine, but I don’t think it is at all unreasonable that the Church tries to enforce norms, standards, and disciplines, and have the representatives of the religion be faithful. If they are not faithful, then they need to be honest and move on. And the Church has full right to compel them to move on if they are intransigent.

    It’s totally unprofessional to do what this priest did. I worked briefly for a government agency and when I was there, I was loyal and faithful. This does’t mean you are stupid or can’t think or make legitimate criticism of things that are actually wrong, but the Faith of the Church is what it is and we all need to accept it, struggle to accept it, or have the honesty to move on to other pastures where perhaps we’ll like the grass better. I think this priest did pretty well considering his actions: he still has a roof over his head and free food and gets to continue the work he was ordained for. Meanwhile, our Google and BBC ex-employees are heading down the dole centre!

  2. Shaun
    I would first of all invite you to perhaps reflect a little more on some of what you wrote. In your first paragraph you stated:
    “Every organisation on earth has rules and disciplinary procedures when folks break them. “ You are absolutely correct. And there is a hierarchy of those rules. Franz Jaggerstatter, after seriously examining his conscience over the morality of war and specifically of fighting for the Nazis was sentenced to death by a military court and executed in 1943. He got very little support for his stand from the clergy and hierarchy. Today he is revered as Blessed Franz Jaggerstatter.”
    You begin paragraph two:
    “The Catholic Church has a faith that is handed down through the ages directly from God through the hands of the Apostles and their successors who are the guarantors of truth.” As a retired teacher I would often suggest to my students that we Catholics are very good at using words, not so good at pushing back and asking what exactly do those words mean. I am not exactly sure what you are intending to say with that first sentence of paragraph two. Are you suggesting an unwavering, one-way route from God (by the way where exactly was God when he started this hand down?) straight to today’s guarantors, because evolution is not just about us and monkeys.
    You write of the Church’s reasonableness in enforcing norms, standards and disciplines. Again are you suggesting that norms, standards and disciplines are all of equal significant, or if you are aware of what those words actually designate? And where was that Church reasonableness when Franz Jaggerstatter chose to take seriously the teachings of the non-violent Itinerant Jewish teacher from Nazareth.
    Intransigent is an interesting word, often applied to so-called heretics (Pelagius comes to mind) or people who disagreed with church officials and who were following their church-formed conscience in doing theology – faith seeking understanding – and who in the case of Jaggerstatter is now beatified and Pelagius is now being looked at as someone whose teachings were orthodox but misunderstood( perhaps his gaelic).
    In paragraph three you continue “the Faith of the Church is what it is and we all need to accept it, struggle to accept it, or have the honesty to move on to other pastures where perhaps we’ll like the grass better.” Do you mean like that Jesus fellow who challenged the leaders of his Jewish religion, or Catherine of Sienna, quite vocal in challenging popes, Mary Ward excommunicated by her local bishop for not having her nuns wear habits or live in convents; Francis of Assisi challenging his church leaders about both war and lavish lifestyles, the Berrigans and the Catonsville Nine protesting the Vietnam War and the lack of prophetic witness from the Catholic Church…and now we have the Roman Catholic WomenPriests and men like Jerry Zawada and Roy Bourgeois, all members by Baptism of the Roman Catholic Church, ecclesia semper reformanda.

  3. Joe O'Leary says:

    The trouble is that these questions of church order touch directly on the sacraments. The church just cannot countenance Eucharists that are not validly celebrated.

  4. richard o'donnell says:

    Aah Joe (3), What is Eucharist and what did St. John say about it in his Gospel?

  5. Joe O'Leary says:

    Richard, the Bread from Heaven that came down for the life of the world is in Catholic understanding the most sacred reality there is. Yes, to welcome Christ in the Eucharist is also to wash one another’s feet, but the Real Presence is not reducible merely to the practice of communal love. If we are to argue for women in the presbyterate we need to be sure our argument is based on a thoroughly grounded understanding of the Eucharist.

  6. Richard’s question remains unanswered. I think he has raised a question that nobody who contributes to this site is capable of answering except reopeating some technical stuff they don’t really understand. However, may I pose a question. When Jesus said “When two or more are gathered in My Name I am in the midst of them” was He offering an instance of “real presence”?

  7. Joe O'Leary says:

    Some might claim that the Eucharist was originally just a love-feast or “agape” in which the participants shared an ordinary bread and cup in memory of Jesus. Catholic theology today differentiates between Christ’ presence in the world, in the Word, in the community, and in the breaking of bread — the latter being the supreme form of his presence, completing all the others. The term “Real Presence” is used to refer to the latter and to deny that it adds nothing to the others. Anglicans, Lutherans and Calvinists also believe in the Real Presence in this sense.

  8. Kevin Walters says:

    John @3
    When Jesus said “When two or more are gathered in My Name I am in the midst of them” was He offering an instance of “real presence”?
    The fruit The Eucharist is the absorbance of God’s living Word (Will) into our hearts and this absorbance leads us into communion with the Holy Spirit
    “When two or more are gathered in My Name there I am in the midst of them”
    We see and know, as now we are aware of His presence working in each other, as his Word (Truth) is now tangible to us. As now His living Word has been absorbed into our hearts and lives as we live.
    “The world will see me know more but you will see me”
    It is not just an instance of “The real presence” It is “He” the “Real Presence” living in our hearts, as it is the fruit of the “Real Presence” the bread of life.
    “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. ”After a little while the world will no longer see Me, but you will see Me; because I live, you will live also.” In that day you will know that I am in My Father and you in Me, and I in you”
    I hope this helps John
    kevin your brother
    In Christ

  9. A simple, direct answer would have been clearer. I wanted to find out does anyone know what the word “real” means and what “presence” means. What we have here is convoluted expressions taken from a book, not something felt as real and experienced. I don’t consider this an answer to the question. Anyone else care to try?

  10. Joe O'Leary says:

    Kevin, you seem to use the phrase Real Presence in a devotional sense, but as bandied about in theological discussion it refers to the specifically eucharistic presence. I said that Anglicans, Lutherans, and Calvinists also believe in this — hence the possibility of agreed ecumenical statements on the Eucharist (once thought impossible); the quarrel is about the mode of the presence and it is partly a verbal quarrel. The Real Presence makes more sense, I think, if we see the entire meal event as what is transformed (“transubstantiated”) into an intimate sharing in the Paschal Mystery, so that it is no longer just a meal event or a prayer and scripture meeting cum meal but one in which the Lord becomes present in a maximal and corporeal way.

  11. Kevin Walters says:

    Thank you for your comment.
    John, I thought that I had given you a direct answer, as my answer was not taken from a book but from a reflection within my own heart. What I have said is real to me.
    kevin your brother
    In Christ

  12. Joe O'Leary says:

    John 13-17 is perhaps the best guide to the presence of the risen Christ to his community as something real and experienced. It is not a matter to be defined but to be apprehended with the heart.
    For the Eucharistic use of the term “real presence” a starting-point is the Catechism:
    1374 The mode of Christ’s presence under the Eucharistic species is unique. It raises the Eucharist above all the sacraments as “the perfection of the spiritual life and the end to which all the sacraments tend.” (Aquinas) In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist “the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained.” (Council of Trent) “This presence is called ‘real’ – by which is not intended to exclude the other types of presence as if they could not be ‘real’ too, but because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present.” (Paul VI)

  13. richard o'donnell says:

    Joe (5). I presume you mean Roman Catholic understanding based on the teaching of the magisterium (should that be a capital m?)-a tiny minority of the overall church membership-rather than catholic understanding.
    Personally I prefer St. John’s understanding, at least as I understand St John. The “real” presence when combined with male only ordination merely amounts to job demarcation, based on gender inequality, akin to protectionist union rules and the various professional vested interest practice rules of the secular world. The only difference is that those in the secular world do not (usually) claim to have a divine right to make up these rules.
    Perhaps Christ himself foresaw all this nonsense and in a shining example of sheer simplicity told us how to experience his presence as John (6) reminds us. “When two or more are gathered in My Name I am in the midst of them”
    This reminds me of the discussion which Pope Francis is reported to have had with some of the leadership of the Religious Confederation of Latin America and the Caribbean.
    He is reported as having advised them that if they receive a letter from the CDF because of some mistake they may have made, that they should not let it bother them. But to explain what they have to explain and keep going forward to where life is calling them.
    We experience God as we want to experience her/him and nonsensical rules can only prevent us from this experience if we let them

  14. “When two or more are gathered together in My Name I am in the midst of them” The question was : Was Jesus offering an instance of real presence? The text suggests the answer is “Yes”. Similarly the description of Pentecost seems to be one of real presence. The idea of partial reality or partial presence seems to be an invention. Perhaps an expert in philosophy could clarify whether the notion exists in the sphere of philosophy. There is no mention in the Bible of degrees of presence or degrees of reality. Jesus I think did not talk about degrees of His presence.
    Perhaps the reason why the presence of Jesus in the formal celebration of Eucharist is elevated above all other instances of His presence is that this idea makes the priest absolutely indispensable, elevation of the temple priests. And it consequently lowers the ordinary people correspondingly. There is thereby no point in their coming together in small groups of two or more to ask for Jesus presence, or for calling on the Holy Spirit, because this will be of little value compared to a celebration Mass led by a priest. And it might threaten the power of the temple priests.
    The celebration of the Last Supper was a celebration with a small group of friends, a real community. The Roman ritual has turned this into what is often or perhaps usually a cold ritual in a large, sometimes barn-like church in front a very large assembly of people who, especially in cities may not know each other and are often not a real community of prayer. I suspect many people have taken a reality check on this. One thing that’s usually missing is community and a strong living spirit. What you have looks usually like a cold, repressed gathering.
    I would add that the church authorities appear to have little understanding of community, its value and how it is created and sustained. Ireland’s communities appear to have been created by the GAA and other social and sporting and neighbourhood organisations.
    It’s almost unknown in a Mass celebration of any words of prayer for specific issues or people in the congregation or district or of thanks to God for prayers answered. There is a generalised kind of prayer with no sign of real expectation and no thanks. There is almost never a sense that people are really praying for each other. Why would they when they often hardly know one another? This and the frequently dreary nature of the music and “liturgy” would suggest that usually neither priest or congregation really believe that they are in the presence of God, or are experiencing the presence of God. Or perhaps either God or congregation are only partially paying attention to each other. Who knows, maybe God turns up and decides not to stay very long. The church does not lack for definitions. However definitions aside, doing and experiencing are another matter.

  15. Joe O'Leary says:

    Degrees of presence is a reality in everyday life. How much more present people are to one another when the are in love than when they are mere casual acquaintances, for example. John 1:1-18 talks of the Word’s presence in the world and then of its fuller presence when it becomes flesh and dwells among us. The same pattern is repeated in John 6, where Jesus presents himself in general terms as the bread from heaven and then in more concrete and startling terms when the speaks of his flesh and blood being eaten and drunk.
    In philosophy, I think you will find degrees of presence in Husserl. He talks of “living presence” as that of “the ultimate transcendental I or Ur-ego, absolute subjectivity as constituting and no longer constituted”, and of course Heidegger is constantly inquiring after the true presence of being, usually hidden, for instance in a technological world in which beings become mere objects of manipulation and consumption.
    Clearly there is a lot of dislike of the Eucharist in Ireland today, because of long routinization of the mass and the dreariness of our liturgies. To restore some sense of what the Eucharist is supposed to be, I think we should drastically cut down on the frequency of celebration and devote ourselves to getting to know the presence of Christ in his Word, his community, and his Spirit in prayer.
    And we should have the humility to learn from other Christian churches — Anglicans especially frequently meet all the desiderata listed by John above and celebrate the Eucharist in a very meaningful way.

  16. Joe O’Leary @15, As for cutting down on our celebrations of the Eucharist in order to “devote ourselves to getting to know the presence of Christ in his Word, his community, and his Spirit in prayer”, aren`t those supposed to happen at Mass? What is it about if not that?

  17. Joe O'Leary says:

    “What is it about if not that?” Yes, all those things should happen at Mass in a supreme way. But they should also be happening outside the Mass setting so that they can happen better in that setting. When the Mass has developed in such a way that they do not happen at Mass, then we need to put the Mass on hold and get back to its preconditions. It would be magical thinking to imagine that just because we consecrate and distribute the hosts we have created a vibrant eucharistic community. There were traditions of sacramental discretion in the past that we might perhaps consult again. (I would add, though it hardly needs to be said, that the Mass is “about that,” but not ONLY “about that”, since there are specific matters about re-presenting the Sacrifice of Christ, a re-presenting in which he is present in a richer way in the power of his Paschal mystery.)

  18. Joe O`Leary ’17 Agreed, all of what you say.
    The way Mass was celebrated in the parish I belong to, up to the introduction of the new translation, was all of that and the more you are referring to-and I think we may have constituted that “vibrant eucharistic community” as you describe it. (Perhaps our priest would have wished us to have been a bit more vibrant, but, nevertheless..) As parishioners we were engaged by the liturgy, involved in every possible way through the various ministries and by the gradual assumption of responsibilities appropriately in the celebration of the Mass, and in parish roles and duties. But then, our priest at the time was a bit of a visionary, in that he set out to try to be responsive to Vatican 11, one who had the courage to swim against the current of practices in neighbouring parishes.
    In the wake of his departure we`ve had a resumption of the old style, “Father knows best” and “Father can do it all himself” approach. Mass is far quicker that way too. The only gratifying thing in all of this for me is that I know quite a few fellow parishioners still remember those days with great fervency and sadness, as something wonderful and beautiful that we had and now have lost.
    My basic point is that if Mass is celebrated as it should be, with a congregation who have been well educated in its meaning, and a priest who understands and respects the norms of the liturgy, then everything else that`s good can flow from there.

  19. patrick dacey says:

    I admire Fr Zawada, he has courage. Did not the Gladiators and slaves rise up against the corrupt Romans in 74BC and pay with their lives? Did not the Jews rise up against the corrupt king Alexander Jannai in 80BC and pay with their lives? Fr Zawada is as brave as these men were.

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