A Jesuit priest who has been one of the most outspoken advocates of admitting women to the priesthood has been silenced and removed from his post here for allegedly criticizing the pope's refusal to ordain women.
The Rev. William R. Callahan was ordered by the Jesuits' worldwide director general, the Very Rev. Pedro Arrupe in Rome, to break his ties here with Priests for Equality and the Quixote Center, two unofficial groups that he founded, and to report back to his native New England for reassignment. The order came in a letter on Nov. 5 to Callahan from his New England provincial.
Last May 18, Arrupe wrote Callahan forbidding "any public criticism of clear decisions of the Holy See. Specifically, I want you to refrain from any public advocacy of priestly ordination of women."
The disciplining of the Jesuit, whose offbeat ministries here have often been criticized by the more orthodox elements of the church, has caused apprehension in some church circles.
"There is a general apprehension that criticism is to be muted," a Jesuit said yesterday in discussing the situation. He asked not to be identified.
In September, during preparations for the papal visit, Callahan sent to all priests in the Washington metropolitan area a letter that also touched on the role of women in the church.
The Vatican had directed that specially trained lay persons -- men and women -- who normally help distribute communion in their parish masses, not be permitted to serve at papal masses, since there would be more than enough priests available.
Callahan countered by calling on the American bishops to protest that order. Callahan also asked priests in the area to refuse to volunteer for the papal mass, so that authorities would be forced to call on the lay ministers and thus give women a role in the papal eucharists.
The priest said he had received no criticism from his superiors for this action, although it generated considerable controversy from fellow-priests.
Callahan's banishment from the two Washington area organizations -- one of which he founded precisely to advocate ordination of women -- came after the publication of a story in a Rome newspaper quoting Callahan's reaction to Pope John Paul's visit to this country in October.
This dispatch by the news agency Reuter was about the pope's assertion that exclusion of women from the priesthood is not a human rights issue. Callahan was quoted in the story as saying: "Perhaps this is not a human rights issue because women are not human or they do not have rights . . ."
Callahan says that, in talking to the reporter, he was citing someone else's comments rather than his own sentiments.
The disciplining of Callahan came only a few weeks after the first formal meeting of Pope John Paul with the national heads of Jesuit conferences around the world. That meeting took place just before the pope left for his American tour.
In his address to the Jesuit leaders, which has widely been interpreted as a diplomatic tongue-lashing, the pope referred to "the crisis" in the Jesuit as well as other religious orders, "causing confusion among the Christian people and anxieties to the church, to the hierarchy and also personally to the pope who speaks to you."
He called the Jesuit superiors to "a profound sense of interior and exterior discipline; doctrinal orthodoxy in full fidelity to the supreme magisterium (authority) of the church and of the Roman pontiff. . ."
The address has caused some concern within the order, which is looked to as something of a theological elite in Roman Catholicism.
Earlier this month, 180 Catholic scholars in the Chicago area issued a statement critical of "the vision of a monolithic church" presented by the pope during his visit here. There were no Jesuits among the signers, reportedly because of an order from Arrupe not to engage in public criticism of the pope.
One of the ironies of the Callahan case is that the Rev. Edward M. O'Flaherty, who as head of the New England Jesuit province administered Arrupe's disciplining of Callahan, was in 1977 one of a group of Jesuit theologians who signed a widely publicized statement disagreeing with Pope Paul VI's pronouncement banning ordination of women.
The group, part of the Jesuit theological faculty in Berkeley, Calif., subsequently was rebuked for the statement. O'Flaherty could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Callahan, who was a physicist with the National Aeronautics and Space Administrations weather Satellite program before entering the Jesuit priesthood, has been in hot water with the conservative Archdiocese of Washington before. Up to now, he has had the backing of his Jesuit superiors. In the years since the Second Vatican Council, Jesuits have been permitted wide latitude in the development of a great variety of unorthodox ministries.
In the catholic church, priests who are members of a religious order are responsible first to that order and second to the diocese in which they work.
Two years ago, the Washington Archdiocese sought, without too much success, to restrain Callahan from saying mass for a group of progressive Catholics who had been alienated from Good Shepherd parish near Mount Vernon.
Earlier this year, Callahan's Quixote Center -- an independent group that deals with questions from nuclear energy to homosexuality -- irked the archdiocese when it announced plans for a conference on homosexuality. The archdiocese sent a letter to every bishop in the country saying that the center is "in no way affiliated with the archdiocese nor are their publications approved."