Word that Bishop Thomas Olmsted has ordered nine priests, including five from the East Valley, to remove their names from a clergy statement calling for acceptance of homosexuals in religious and community life drew mixed reactions from Valley Catholics on Wednesday.
"Whatever the bishop says has got to be the law of the church — I believe in the church that much," said Eileen Esch, a member of Holy Cross Catholic Church in Mesa, who calls Olmsted "a bishop right out of heaven."
"I back the bishop fully because it is the right thing to do, and it is according to the Bible," said Bev Fay, a member of St. Bernard of Clairvaux parish in Scottsdale.
But John Rusnak, a former Catholic priest and president of Arizona Call to Action, issued a statement Wednesday saying "these courageous priests" who were among 120 interfaith clergy who signed the Phoenix Declaration are emulating Jesus "who welcomed all to his table and extended fellowship to all members of the community."
Rusnak asked Olmsted to reconsider demands that the priests, five from the East Valley, take their names off the declaration, penned in January 2003 by members of No Longer Silent/Clergy for Justice, an Arizona alliance of faith leaders.
Several pri ests have acknowledged receiving the "personal and confidential letters" last week from the bishop saying they should remove their names from the Phoenix Declaration "under obedience" to him, but they were not told of any consequences if they did not comply.
The priests who backed the declaration are the Rev. Scott Brubaker of St. Bridgett parish in Mesa; Rev. Chris Carpenter of Christ the King in Mesa; Rev. John Cunningham and Rev. Mathew Mampara, both of St. Mary Magdalene in Gilbert; Rev. Vernon Meyer, St. Patrick’s in Scottsdale; Rev. Andre Boulanger of Phoenix, retired; Rev. Ray Ritari and Brother Doug Zlatis of St. Matthew in Phoenix; and Rev. Hugo Gonzalez, St. Charles Borromeo, Peoria.
Neither East Valley priests who signed the letter nor the diocese returned calls Wednesday for comment on the bishop’s letter.