A Gilbert Catholic priest, the Rev. John "Jack" Cunningham, founding pastor of two East Valley parishes, was suspended Wednesday afternoon pending further investigation for allegedly concelebrating a Eucharistic Mass with a non-Catholic clergyman.
Bishop Thomas Olmsted of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix ordered Cunningham removed from duties at St. Mary Magdalene Catholic Church parish in Gilbert, which the priest founded in July 2002. He previously spent 17 years at St. Bridget Catholic Parish in Mesa, which he organized in June 1985.
"In the language of the church, Father Cunningham allegedly engaged in the forbidden concelebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice with a non-Catholic minister," said a statement released by the diocese Wednesday night. It was termed "celebrating the Mass in a manner that is inconsistent with Catholic teaching."
The alleged incident is believed to have occurred during a recent wedding at St. Anne’s Catholic Parish in Gilbert in which Cunningham allowed a minister to join him in serving Holy Communion, or Eucharist, to Catholics on hand, said the Rev. Tim Davern, judicial vicar of the diocese.
Davern will lead the investigation with the Rev. Michael Diskin, assistant chancellor. Their report will be turned over to Olmsted for review and recommendations and then forwarded to the Vatican for final action.
Davern said witnesses at the wedding made diocesan officials aware of the incident.
Some 772 families are registered at St. Mary Magdalene, which meets temporarily at Williams Community School gym at the Arizona State University East campus in Mesa, pending completion of its planned campus at Williams Field Road and Parkcrest Street in south Gilbert.
Cunningham is one of nine Catholic priests ordered recently by Olmsted to remove their names from the "Phoenix Declaration," penned by No Longer Silent/ Clergy for Justice, calling for full inclusion of gays and lesbian in religious and community life.
Cunningham has contributed to the weekly "Clergy Column" in the Tribune for many years. He could not be reached for comment late Thursday.