A suspended Catholic priest who founded a Gilbert parish has apologized for allowing an Anglican priest to participate in a wedding Mass and will take early retirement.
The Rev. John Cunningham, founder of St. Mary Magdalene parish in Gilbert, acknowledged that he conducted the wedding April 24, 2004, for a couple at St. Anne’s Catholic Community in Gilbert. The bride had requested that the Rev. Robert Haux, an Anglican minister from Georgia and a longtime friend, be permitted to take part in the wedding, and Cunningham consented.
Cunningham apologized to Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix in a letter dated June 20 and posted on The Catholic Sun Web site at www.catholicsun.org.
“I apologize unconditionally for conduct on my part which was in violation of Canon 908,” the letter states.
Four days after the wedding, which included concelebrating the Eucharist, Olmsted suspended Cunningham and forwarded the case to an office of the Vatican for direction.
The issue was whether Cunningham, a 30-year priest who also founded St. Bridget’s Catholic Church in Mesa in 1985, violated the canon that states: “It is forbidden for Catholic priests to concelebrate the Eucharist with priests or ministers of churches . . . not in full communion with the Catholic Church.”
The bishop was instructed to initiate an investigation. Olmsted appointed the Rev. Msgr. Brian Ferme, the dean of the School of Canon Law at The Catholic University of America, and the Rev. Msgr. Ronny Jenkins, a professor there and associate general secretary of the U.S. Catholic Conference.
Fifteen specific violations were found in their investigation.
They said they studied the wedding video that showed Haux extending his hands over the bread and wine of the Eucharist immediately before the consecration as the elements of the living Christ.
The two monsignors recommended Cunningham be permanently removed as priest of St. Mary Magdalene, suspended for a time to be determined by the bishop, spend a period in retreat and make a public retraction.
Olmsted, in turn, noted that Cunningham had already been removed from his pastorate and had spent two years suspended while awaiting a decision in the investigation. The priest subsequently fulfilled the retreat and apology requirements.
Cunningham also apologized to two employees of St. Anne’s, who took the complaint to the diocese and who were named defendants in a slander lawsuit he brought against them in March 2005.