NEWTON, Mass. – A Wisconsin woman fired for no apparent cause from her parish position has been awarded $10,000 in the third round of grants from the Voice of the Faithful’s Emily & Rosemary Fund for Women in the Church. These grants support women who have lost employment in the Catholic Church because of injustice or discrimination.
Grant winner Ruth M. Kolpack, Beloit, Wisc., said her grant will fund a documentary “telling of the injustice I experienced when I was fired. I am very excited about receiving the Emily & Rosemary Fund grant. We are just beginning fundraising for the filming and production of the documentary and hope there will be more grants and individual supporters to help us move this project forward.”
Most Rev. Robert C. Morlino, bishop of Madison, the Roman Catholic diocese that includes Kolpack’s hometown of Beloit, fired Kolpack from her pastoral associate position in March 2009. She had been pastoral associate at St. Thomas the Apostle parish in Beloit since 1995. According to Kolpack, she was never given a definitive reason for the dismissal. Morlino was quoted in the media at the time as saying that his action was a personal matter, that a certain mentality on Koplack’s part was troublesome and that her thesis, of which he had read bits and pieces, was not the only issue.
The 51-page thesis to which Morlino referred was “Inclusive Language for Naming God: Challenge for the Church,” which Kolpack wrote in 2003 to help fulfill her master’s of divinity degree from St. Francis Seminary. In her thesis, Koplack argues that “language shapes what we consider to be reality, in this case, the reality of who God is.” She said Church scholars like Augustine and Aquinas have promulgated a “pattern of patriarchal anthropology” that maintains “the inferiority of females,” so “there will be no chance that female images will be acceptable language for God. Calling God ‘She’ would bring us face to face with our own sexism.”
The diocese had not formally objected to her thesis until just before her dismissal. The bishop asked her to take an oath of loyalty, make a profession of faith and renounce her thesis in order to retain her position as pastoral associate. She said she would take the oath and profess her faith, but she could not, in good conscience, renounce her thesis, which had been accepted by the seminary. She also had received her master’s of divinity degree.
“My firing took me totally by surprise,” Kolpack said. “As we continue shooting for the documentary, we hope to dispel some of the mystery. When my pastor and boss told me Bishop Morlino wanted me fired, something from deep within led me to say, ‘If I get fired, I will not be quiet about it.’ I believe I felt this so intensely because I knew it was not justified, and I could not be silent about this injustice.”
Despite repeated attempts at redress from Church hierarchy in the United States and Rome, Kolpack was ignored or told to take up the matter with her local bishop. This past February, the Vatican’s Congregation of Clergy wrote, “Regarding your request, this Dicastery has nothing to add to our previous letter of 10 November, 2009. With assurance of prayers and cordial best wishes, I remain, sincerely yours in Christ.”
“How sincere can this be when I was effectively ignored?” Kolpack said. “I am very disheartened about our leadership. But I will not be silent, and if no one in the hierarchy wants to listen, I’ll take it to film and let the world listen.”
Kolpack became a volunteer catechist at St. Thomas in 1971. After attending workshops and conferences for religious education certification, she was hired in 1983 as part-time youth minister. She was hired full-time after receiving her bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin. After obtaining a master’s degree, Kolpack became involved in diocesan educational programs. She also was a leader in establishing a program called “Hands of Faith” that involved several churches in providing housing for homeless families, and she helped establish a Hispanic ministry for Beloit's three Catholic parishes.
“True justice does not stop at gender boundaries,” said Dan Bartley, VOTF president, “and our hope through these Emily & Rosemary Fund grants is to help address injustice to women in the Church.”
Lynette Petruska, formerly a Roman Catholic nun and now a St. Louis attorney, established the Emily & Rosemary Fund in 2009. The fund helps support women who lose employment in the Roman Catholic Church as a result of injustice or discrimination and also supports women who are working to bring about justice and equality in the Church. Petruska said she experienced injustice and discrimination after opposing sexual harassment and other sexual misconduct by priests at Gannon University, Erie, Penn., where she was appointed the first female chaplain in 1999.
“I was fortunate to have a profession to which I could return, but many women serving the church find themselves and their families at great risk when targeted by discriminatory practices or when they stand up to injustice,” she said during a ceremony when the fund was established.
Emily & Rosemary Fund for Women in the Church grants are awarded in October and April. Grant applications are available at http://www.votf.org. Completed applications are to be returned to VOTF, P.O. Box 423, Newton, MA 02464.
Voice of the Faithful
Voice of the Faithful is a worldwide movement of concerned mainstream Roman Catholics working to support survivors of clergy sexual abuse, support priests of integrity and shape structural change within the Church. More information is at http://www.votf.org.
Nick Ingala, 781-559-3360, 617-291-3495