The Elephant in the Living Room – Part I

Vox Domini, We Pray

“a prophetic ministry of the Diocese of St. Benedict”


There have been several thoughts which have been on our hearts for some time now, and yet we’ve not had the courage to post these thoughts for several reasons.


  • We’re not absolutely certain it’s from God

  • We fear it might be construed as arrogant and haughty

  • Some of our fellow Christians might take offense

  • We fear we might be perceived as “an accuser of the brethren

With the consecration of Ed Jansen as Bishop of the Diocese of St. Benedict, and his appointment of Trish Gaffney to assist the work of the diocese through the office of Vicar General, we’ve been prayerfully encouraged to move forward in a prophetic way.   As we share these thoughts, we proceed with a sense of humility. We do not claim to be certain we speak for God; we are merely attempting to be a voice of God and leave the discernment to you.


The prophetic voice can come from each one of us who prayerfully listens and is willing to speak honestly where truth is not being considered. We are in a time of great turmoil as a Church.  Never has there been a greater need for discernment and dialogue, for looking at what we hold in common with the desire and commitment to live the Gospel.  This is a time of call, to create a new way.


Do we get it?  Or are we just “living it out”?  What seeds are you sowing, because this is a time of transition and new beginnings that need to be prayerfully seeded for our growth in the current times.  We are the bridge builders and transition-makers in the 21st century Church Catholic.  It is in this spirit that we write from a prophetic and prayerful voice.  And if the thoughts we share with you are indeed from God, we pray that those who have ears will hear.


The Elephant in the Living Room

(Part I)

by the M. Rev. Ed Jansen and the Rev. Dr. Trish Gaffney


One is hard pressed to pick up the newspaper today or turn on the news and not hear something about what’s going on in the Vatican. It is obvious to most, that the  Roman Catholic Church is in great turmoil today.  If it isn’t alienating the most Christ-like figures within its organization (women religious), it’s defending itself against the onslaught of accusations of sexual abuse of minors in dioceses after diocese, not only in the United States, but throughout the world.  Responsible curiosity and a spirit of compassionate inquiry rarely abound.  What is shocking to us is that the vast majority of people outside the Vatican have a clear understanding of what’s wrong and yet, for most Roman Catholics, they are like the family who has gathered together and refuses to acknowledge the elephant in their living room.  As we see it, there are not one, but three elephants in the living room.


  1. Male-only leadership

  2. Mandatory celibacy

  3. The ordained leadership of the Church (a celibate group of men) imposes its interpretation of sexuality on all people; specifically, but not limited to, the practice of artificial birth control, divorce and remarriage, and to whom people can make a commitment to love and who they cannot

Part I of this blog will address the first elephant (Male-only leadership) with the other two being addressed in future blogs.


Before we get started, let us encourage those who have lost any sense of hope for change. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is our deepest conviction that the Independent Catholic movement in the United States is a foreshadowing of what the Church Catholic will become, including those currently alienated Roman Catholics. In a recent article in the “Catholic Reporter”, Joan Chittister, OSB, noted that “the largest group of all the denominations in the church is now self-identified “ex-catholics.” Catholics in heart, spirit, and history who now have no place they feel can call home.  This is tragic.


We believe the changes begun in the Independent Catholic movement will come about in the larger Church Catholic before the end of this Century. Although the Independent Catholic movement is in its infancy in terms of recognition in the world today, there is an amazing response to its movement that is growing exponentially today.  People are seeking a Church that celebrates the holiness of God and offers the forgiving love of Christ in action and inclusion.  A Church where important questions are not only asked, but explored as an open dialogue of discernment.  This movement has a very long way to go, but it is what the Church Catholic will become in the future. It is a movement of the people who have elected their leadership to address the elephants in the living room.  Time after time, we have people ask us about the Old Catholic Church and they shake their heads in amazement when they find out that we ordain women and our priests are free to marry.  We also have an open table for baptized Christians to receive Holy Communion. We freely include those whose life choices have been used by others in the Church Catholic to withhold this Sacrament from them. People know, intuitively that what we practice is right. They know with certainty that this is one part of what’s wrong with their Church today.


So, let’s move into this first elephant:  Male-only leadership:


Ed:  When I was approached by Bishop Rick about entering a process of discernment about becoming a bishop myself well over a year before I accepted it, I knew then as I know now, that I was not, in any way, shape or form, qualified to be an overseer of God’s Church. And through time spent in prayer, God confirmed that belief. He instilled in me St. Paul’s admonition, “I can do all things through Christ, who gives me strength,” and my prayers also convicted me that I was not to attempt this calling alone.  Yes, God would make up any deficiencies I had, and one way he was going to accomplish that was through my wife, Trish.  Over the years, as Trish and I have ministered to God’s people together, I have seen where she makes up for my deficiencies, and I for hers. It has been THE most incredible experience of my life, to work alongside my partner, not only my partner in our personal life, but my partner in ministry.  Whenever I’m harsh, she softens me. Whenever I am blind due to my masculinity, she offers me her feminine sight. Oh, our ministry is far from perfect. But I believe it is whole. I believe we bring a balance because there is the strong male voice tempered by a gentle female one.  When God said, “The two will become one,” I think he also meant that “one” meant wholeness, completion.  I would hate to think about what my ministry would be like if it weren’t for Trish…for her wonderful woman’s perspective.


You know, sometimes I really blow it. Sometimes I don’t respond well to certain people or certain situations. And when that happens, Trish is there to offer me her perspective, even when the other guys have joined me in my thinking.  We will sit down and talk with open hearts and minds, we are able to bring our perspectives together and I often change.  And when I do, I know I become a better Christian, a better pastor, a better man. It is then I become very grateful to have her influence in my life and wonder with great amazement how the guys in Rome do it without ever hearing from the “other side” of them.


When I see any patriarchal structure it is often “linear” in its thinking. It appears logical and concise. It is task oriented and often accomplishes what it sets out to do.  The question is, “At what cost?” When my maleness is in full bloom, I am not easily distracted; I am focused and often have a task at hand.  And because of this male attribute, I realize that sometimes I run over people in making certain that my task is accomplished. The long and the short of it is I lack a heart. I put tasks above relationships. There is a harshness to me that comes naturally. Because of this sort of orientation, I have been able to accomplish much in life. I have been successful in most things I do….and if the truth were told, I have left a wake of people who have been either neglected, run over or forgotten in my desire to achieve. The female side of my personality, recognizes this characteristic and tells me to be sensitive to people, to my relationship with them….to put people above the task at hand. And sometimes I succeed and sometimes I fail, miserably.


It is the presence of a female voice that reminds me constantly about the importance of people.  So any organization that doesn’t have a feminine voice speaking as a part of them regularly cannot, in my opinion, maintain what does not come naturally.  And when a patriarchal culture quiets the voice of women, it may ultimately lose its credibility.


Trish:  Some years ago now, I followed a prophetic call to join work alongside Ed in ministry, a call that at the very least required relocating 1200 miles away from home and all that was familiar to me at that time.  The obstacles would have seemed insurmountable to any rational person. The costs were too high to imagine how they would be paid.  After many hours of prayer and discernment, however, I heard myself say simply “yes” to the question when Ed put it into words, “are you moving here?”  And so began a partnership in Christ in which we have both been deeply changed and continue to be.  God has carried us forward in union with one another and Him.  We are continually amazed at his presence in our ministry and the ways in which he uses the masculine and feminine natures he created to form a remarkable wholeness in our call together.


All things are indeed possible, with God.  We are one of the living examples of taking a faith walk along a prophetic path, often an unpopular one, with impassable chasms and obstacles overcome by God’s grace and direction. In 2007 we followed a call to Maryland, mutually saying, “yes” without knowing anything about ‘how’… to found and grow the Emmaus Center. God would make a way if we gave it our all.  Now, in 2012, we stand side-by-side as co-directors of Emmaus Center, and are moving forward into the prophetic call of the Diocese of St. Benedict.  We are blessed by the presence of all those he sends to us as fellow servants, people in need, and Christians who believe in the renewal of the Church Catholic.


So what does this have to do with male-only leadership?  Only everything.


I share the experience of our partnership and its balance that Ed has described so well here.  It is a partnership that derives its strength from a lived-out commitment to the synergy of male and female working as One.  Reflecting on the experience of growing up and living as a woman in our times, I admit that I have fought, fairly I hope, for the right I was not freely given by men to stand alongside of them and for equal participation in matters of mutual importance.  I have been a voice of heart and compassion at times when this has cost me credibility with male thinkers, and it has always confused me why this had to be a competitive, rather than a cooperative partnership.  In the Creation story, competition and exclusion is not how or why God created two genders in his own image.  Rather he created one as a part of the other, created  two made significantly whole by and through the relationship with the other, and incomplete, without it.


Bringing our two voices together again…

As we have wondered and watched the fruits of male-only leadership in our lifetime, we have been struck by the narrowness of male thinking on its own without the female perspective, and vice versa.  We believe we see this as a sizeable elephant in the living room of the Church today, taking form in the unintended narrowness and blindness to the heart of issues not resolvable by logic in the lives of the faithful.


Personally, Ed takes initiative when I may be still considering further the impact of doing so.  He will establish an order to manage a situation when I may be trying to discern its cause and the impact it is having on the feelings of those involved.  Men, it seems, were created by God well-equipped for action first, for linear direction, for a particular kind of focus that is blind to distraction.  Women, it seems, were created well-equipped for compassion first, for mutuality of direction, for a particular kind of focus that is sufficiently inclusive that feelings are as important as facts.


We do not mean to offend or speak stereotypically.  Trish is known to have declined participation in stereotypes all her life, and Ed has both lived and left behind participating in the male-only leadership.  No,  this description is simply intended to characterize the differences in natural gifts, as these are evident in cooperative relationships among men and women.  It is offered for the purpose of pointing to the essential nature of male-female synergy in accomplishing the work of God’s call.  We gratefully acknowledge those priests who work side by side with Women Religious and who place women in leadership positions in their parishes.  They are seeding a new future.


Opening the “rest of the story”… seeding the future …


We are simply raising the questions:

How is it that God made them both, male and female, in His image to work together in his name on earth?  How might we plant the seeds of the future, with an understanding of this essential and necessary union of male and female?  If one is created to stand alongside the other, complimentary in contribution and perspective, how might we construct this?  If both male and female are equally valid and valuable but not the same, how might they join in their stewardship and ministry?  In Christian life, how might we look into the deep struggles challenging the Church today? It seems that so much of male leadership holds fast to linearity and reason, defending decisions as inherently right by God’s decree without full regard for the impact of those decisions on individuals.  It seems that female leadership holds fast to a relational perspective, nurture, and decisions defended as humane responses to the lost, poor and needy among us.


Perhaps had there been women on the Vatican team, someone would have asked about an accused pedophile priest, “but what about the children in this parish” when he was transferred elsewhere.  Perhaps were there women on the Vatican team, someone would be asking, “and how do we care for those who do not follow our doctrine as Christ might have.”  Perhaps were there women on the Vatican team, no one gender would be waiting outside for the other to let them in for dialogue, rather there would be a visible expression of hospitality extended to family.  Isn’t that what characterized the times of Jesus?  Would he welcome the Women Religious who travelled long to get there to see him with their concerns?  Had there been women welcomed on the Vatican team, perhaps some of them would have called a Bishop her or his partner in ministry, as we are blessed to do.


The Church has many questions before her today, not the least of which is the exclusivity of male-only leadership and the handicap that presents to the expression of leadership in the union, as called for in the very act of Creation.  Let us create a dialogue of inclusion here…  let us be prophetic, prayerful, and plant the seeds of the future with wisdom, cooperation, and purpose as we believe it to be God’s purpose for us and his Church.


In Christ’s Love and Service,

+Ed and Trish+

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9 Responses to The Elephant in the Living Room – Part I

  1. Glenn Galtere says:

    Haven’t read the page in over a month. Ed from what I have researched of the Commissions study in the Catholic Church and a synopsis of such results by Bill Donahue’s newsletters I stand by my original observations.

    I prefer not to debate such an issue but would submit it is far more productive to follow a path that leads to Jesus’ instructions that “they all may be one.”

    Bless you in your new responsibilities.

    • Bishop Ed says:

      Glenn, our desire is to have an open discussion about things that matter to many people of faith. It is honorable to pray that “they all may be one;” we should do that, daily. (We can’t be one, by the way, if one part of the Church believes it’s the “One, true Church”). To avoid discussing issues that matter, to issues that are eating away at the very fiber of the Church Catholic today for fear of dividing the Church is exactly what we are attempting to address here. There is an elephant in the living room. We want to openly acknowledge it! We want people, good people to talk about their fears, their problems and their disappointments with their Church today.

      Discount the media all you want, but it was the media that brought many of these REAL problems within the Church to light. Without the media’s participation, it would seem that many of these abuses and subsequent cover-ups would have continued.

  2. Glenn Galtere says:

    I think the remarks made about the Roman Catholic Church are result of media misunderstandings of what the Roman Church is trying to do in being faithful to the Gospel. Reading their own documents about such matters might clear the air for many of us.If you want to know what any group is about read their documents about what they say they are trying to do and the why and how of doing the same. As I have read about all of these issues from the horses’ mouth I am able to say “well done good and faithful servant.”

    I am afraid so many people make their judgement calls based upon media misreporting and not about facts. The Catholic Church is in the sights of certain news media for their own purposes. As you know news reporting in our country long ago quit being objective reporting. Like it or not they are brothers in Christ and that we all are part of the same Universal Church.

    Child abuse is not tolerable. There must be zero tolerance. If you study this issue, as I have, you will find less than one tenth of one percent of all priests are or were involved. Even that small number is unacceptable. This is no attempt at justification. One also needs to note that about 70 % of those abuse cases were not against chilren but against teenagers commited by homo-sexual priests. Most of them came into the ministry in the 60’s and 70’s where screening was minimal. Entry standards have become more strict since then. This is not to be taken as a rally against homo-sexuals it is to clarify what really went on rather than what was reported.

    You will also note school teacher sexual abuse of children is at about 2% yet the media and the public just about ignore that statistic. There are many more sources of information I could share but the point is remember the major news media have a desire to fulfil their own agenda and don’t rely on such sources..

    Peace and good will.

  3. Sue Day says:

    Wow!!! What can I say after Deacon Glen said such kind and loving things about me. I think “we” do work well as a “team player” for our Lord, Jesus Christ. What Deacon said about himself is so true!!! He was a man about “me, me and me”!! As we have grown in our faith and marriage I can see how we both have helped one another. I may at times push a little too hard on him, but in the end we usually sit, talk and pray about our discussions whatever they may be. We still have a lot of growing to do as a team player for Christ, but we will make it because we believe and have great faith in what we do!!!


  4. Glen says:

    In being a Deacon for Bishop Ed and Amma Trish, I have found myself to be understanding of my wife. She complete’s me and has made me a better man. Before her I was not a very nice person to be with, or around because I was into a male-only life. I was incomplete and did not see or know it. I see the same thing happening in the Church Catholic today. With faithful prayer may they come to see the truth of their errors. It is not only about prayer, but also listening and then doing what GOD says. I saw a line one day a few years back that has stuck with me: “God says move, you move”.
    Love and Blessings,

    Deacon Glen

  5. Roger says:

    Thank you for having the courage to openly ask the questions that many of us lay people have privately asked; namely “what is the church thinking”? “Are they so blinded by their own sense of righteousness that they cannot see the simple truth; truth that makes some of their transgressions punishable by prison for the average person”?

    I have seen real world examples ( and have seen studies) that show how “the group mentality” can often have far more power than any individuals sense of “what is right”, leading individuals to accept things they know are wrong. The sense of community and belonging over shadows the individuals desire to stand up and say “hey this is not right”. I am sure in part that is what is going on here.

    In the case of women and the church, it is my belief that the Vatican truly doesn’t want it any other way. Why else would the church continue to portray Mary Magdeline as a prostitute when a lot of current literature speculates she may have been Jesus mate? Acknowledging the role of women and a woman in Jesus life means they would have to acknowlege the importance of and role of women even in the life of the one held with the most reverence (Jesus).

    Major change is often preceded by a period of upheaval. Maybe that is what we are seeing now.

  6. Barbara says:

    What an elephant! It is very easy to see the way that Bishop Ed and Amma Trish work together in their ministry. As a “new” Catholic it took me awhile to get used to the liturgy and mass, but having a female priest never seemed out of place to me. It seemed as natural to me as doing the mass seemed natural to Amma Trish.

    I find it amazing that men who believe in Jesus Christ and all He stands for could sit back and allow the RC Church to fall into such disarray. I am sure there were women (Nuns, Mother Superiors) who had the veracity to let the Vatican know what was happening with their priests. The fact that they covered it up and moved the offending priest to different places just shows that the Vatican has no compassion for the children,

    One of the most interesting parts of this discussion is the very last paragraph. “The Church has many questions before HER”. I have heard “The Church” referred to as HER many times. After seeing the significant contributions of women to Jesus’s ministry as well as in the Old Testament the RC should stop and think about WWJD. Then they should consider if their failing church is a warning, or knock on their door from God saying “Hey, open your eyes this is not the way!” I wonder if they would hear it??

    I only hope that Greg and I will be able work in unison the way you two can. I think we will, but we do still have work to do …

    Love and Blessings,

    • Bishop Ed says:

      Barb, the way you have taken to the Liturgy, one would never suspect you’re a “new” Catholic! I had quite the same experience, especially with the Eucharist. Even though I was baptized Roman Catholic, Dad yanked us out at an early age when the priest told my sister Mom and Dad were living in sin because they didn’t get married in the “church.” When I returned to my Catholic roots many years later, the Liturgy grew on me. There truly is something mystical about it and yet each time we pray it, it feels like coming home. I find comfort in the familiarity of it and it is what the Church has practiced in all places, in all times, from the beginning! I find comfort in that as well….being able to participate in a part of our rich heritage.

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