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Letter  from a Hawaiian Priest
Editor's note:  This letter was forwarded to me by Rev. Msgr. Michael Higgins, J.C.D. who heads an independent canon law group dedicated to defend the canonical rights of deacons and priests. 
Phone: 619-280-7500, Fax: 619-280-8400



95-370 Kuahelani Avenue, Mililani, Hawai'i 96789-1103

Facsimile: (808) 623-3286; Telephone: (808) 623-3332

Members and Interested Parties of  St. John the Apostle & Evangelist Parish.

This letter is a poor method, but unfortunately a necessary one, by which to say "good-bye." For a year, you have been very kind and encouraging to me. I came to this parish under a sort of forced obedience having not been consulted by bishop, personnel director or personnel committee and, having no alternative.  I was quite upset over a whole host of problems in church governance, management and internal politics, problems which are real and grave although many have differing perceptions of them.  I've truly enjoyed being with the people of this parish, but other, larger issues predominate.

Let me explain a bit.

On July 7,  1999 I resigned from the office of  Pastor of  St. John the Apostle and Evangelist Parish and from the active presbyterate of  the Diocese of Honolulu, and I've placed myself on a 'personal leave of absence" from the active priestly ministry. I did this after thinking about it for some years.  I did it because I have arrived at the point at which I am no longer able to keep a most important promise I solemnly made 21 years ago at my ordination: to render 'obedience and respect" to my bishop and his successors.  I made that promise to Bishop John Scanlan and happily kept it with him and with Bishop Joseph Ferrario.  I have become over the most recent 5 years, however, completely unable to keep that solemn promise with the current bishop.  It's not simply a matter of differing opirions; it's a matter of integrity.  I am unable to respect and obey him because my conscience doesn't allow me to cooperate in his methods.

Frankly, I am exhausted to the core over the intensely negative relationship -that exists between the bishop (and some of his closest staff and advisors) and me.  I am freely choosing, therefore, to depart Hawaii and to try to re-assemble my life in a new setting.  It is clear to me that this bishop does not want a priest like me.  He firmly denied me permission (in March 1998) to relocate as a priest to a diocese elsewhere yet he has boasted to me that he has 'gotten fid of more than 25 priests.

It seems to me that he wants priests who simply offer Mass in a routine style, who preach uncontroversial piety or popular psychology, hear Confessions passively, answer the phone and door, and pay the diocesan assessment (the tax on parish income).  In my experience he does not want priests who ask thoughtful and probing questions, who expect truthful and accountable behavior, who wrestle with the complicated challenges of life, and who behave in a principled manner.  My relationship with this bishop has forced me to re-examine everything I understood about the meaning of priestly ministry in my life and in Hawaii.  My conclusion is that I must get out of the way. To be clear: I am not leaving the Catholic Church; I am attempting to take a 'personal leave of absence from active ministry.'

I thank you for being so supportive and encouraging.  I apologize for keeping you 'in the dark' about my intentions and for such a sudden and impersonal departure.  It's not the way I would prefer.  I am not impulsive or secretive by nature; quite the contrary.  But. to make such a move as I must, from the situation in which I find myself, requires complicated  planning and I simply had not the energy to engage in months of conversation about the present situation as would have occurred had I announced my decision in advance.

For a diocesan priest there really is no practical appeal beyond his bishop. And, when the bishop's staff is so completely aligned with the bishop philosophically, then that some priest really has no advocate or trustworthy advisor in the diocesan curial administration.  He is quite alone and therefore forced to be most private.  I had never experienced church life to be this way until this current administration.

I have spoken with the bishop and have told him face-to-face what I think and where I stand.  My position was familiar to him already.  I also told him that you at St. John's have been extraordinarily supportive and kind, and have assisted me in praying and thinking about the present situation, even though you didn't know what I was considering.  I wrote in my letter of resignation about St. John's parish members: "They deserve a pastor who is an excellent homilist, thoughtful, wise, theologically and liturgically astute, intellectually sound and of the highest integrity.  They deserve a full  time priest who is NOT shallow, silly, insecure, self absorbed, fiscally irresponsible, rude or greedy.  Please be careful which priest you appoint here.  I pray you send the best the Church has to offer." I've quoted that to a number of good priests, as well.

This letter is made available to you in hopes of preempting a certain negative speculation, comment, opinion, nuance or 'spin' that some persons might well attempt to put on my departure.  I leave ONLY for the purpose of self-maintenance and self-preservation because in conscience I am unable to "respect and obey"the bishop.  I feel that l am becoming dried up and bitter inside. L don't want to be that way. It was at one time a privilege to be a pastor in this diocese.  It's stil la privilege to serve the people.  What I find unbearable is the necessary association with the highest levels of diocesan administration that so often contradict the Church's very stand on human dignity.  In other words, I must make a choice between (a) maintaining my integrity,,or (b) giving in to what I consider a very, very destructive situation.  I know that I couldn't be comfortable with myself  if  I compromised at this stage. Perhaps you have been in such a difficult dilemma.  One must resolve that kind of problem in the best way one is able; perhaps it would be different for each of us.  I'm remarkably free to choose integdty over compromise, and so I must. I don't know what the future holds.  I am a little anxious, but I fear nothing.  I hope you grow and thrive in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  In Him alone is our hope.  I've been made to seriously examine nearly all my ideals by the present bishop, so I am unable to take part In what I hope will be a bright future for you.  There is no reason for the Master Plan to slow down or stop; that is necessary no matter who the pastor is.  Please be brave and march forward.  But, it's clear that my presence is also an impediment for the parish in the eyes of the bishop.  In February he suddenly and without reason wrote to me that he forbids me to spend any money on the renovation of St. John's Church, even though I had no near-term plans to do so, and by implication, he threatened to withdraw his "charity and cooperation" from me and the parish.  That letter and others, and meetings between me and him, have made it clear that one of us has got to go. So as you might suspect, my departure is necessary.  I shall continue to pray for you.  If I have offended or disappointed anyone, please know that such was never my intention.  I ask your forgiveness in absentia.  If you pray for me, I know I shall be the better for it.

Most Sincerely In Christ Our Savior,

Nathan Mamo

July 7, 1999

Other voices

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(Bishop Geoffrey Robinson in converation with Dr Ingrid Shafer)

Ingrid H. Shafer, Ph.D.
e-mail address: ihs@ionet.net
Posted 7 July 1999
Last updated 10 March 2001
Copyright © 1999-2001 Ingrid H. Shafer
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