Man starts independent Catholic church

SCRANTON, Pa. (AP) — Until about two weeks ago, Bill Mentz was a full-time liturgy director for the Roman Catholic Church.

Now the 32-year-old from Dunmore is starting a new church, one that dispatches uncertainty in traditional Catholicism about welcoming gay people, divorced people, and women and gay clergy.

It’s also one with which his former employer wants nothing to do.

SS. Francis and Clare Independent Roman Catholic Community planned to begin services this month, but since Mentz is not yet ordained through the Independent Roman Catholic Church, it was to be a Sunday celebration in absence of a priest at the Providence United Presbyterian Church in Scranton, which has opened its doors to the congregation.

For now, Mentz serves as the parish administrator, and expects to be ordained as a deacon in the fall. Pending a deep-dive ordination process that includes a background check and psychological evaluation among other things, he is set to be ordained as a priest next year.

In a statement, the Diocese of Scranton draws a hard line between itself and the independent church, which Mentz expected.

“The Saint Francis and Saint Clare Independent Roman Catholic Community is in no way affiliated with the Diocese of Scranton nor in communion with the universal Catholic Church,” the statement provided by spokesman Bill Genello said.

The independent community celebrates the sacraments or ceremonies such as baptism and communion and observes apostolic succession, or an uninterrupted line of authority from Jesus’ 12 apostles, just like the Catholic Church. The Sunday celebration in absence of a priest was to include Scripture readings, a sermon and Holy Communion.

SS. Francis and Clare is under the Diocese of Michigan, the independent community’s seat in Wyandotte, just south of Detroit. It’s there that the Eucharist is consecrated until Mentz gets ordained.

Given its name and similar traditions, at first glance the faith group could be mistaken for having ties to the Vatican.

“Our idea is to use language and structures that Roman Catholics feel comfortable with and recognize,” Bishop Gerald Brohl, Diocese of Michigan, said. He started with the independent church 13 years ago.

Plans for the new church come at a time when congregations, not just Catholic ones, across the country are shrinking or closing amid widespread secularization.

Last week two Scranton churches, St. Paul’s United Methodist Church and First Christian Church, held their final services as expenses piled up and membership thinned.

The leaders of SS. Francis and Clare say rigidity in the Catholic Church has something to do with that.

“The Roman Catholic Church has a lot to offer society and the world,” Brohl said. “And, if it’s ever going to be in a position to have a forum that people are going to listen to, they’re going to have to make some reforms and they’re just not willing to do it.”

The community follows an older Roman Missal, the text that guides the rites of Mass, from before 2010, when the text changed as part of a decades-long revision process.

“These people who have left the church, if they were to even walk into a Roman Catholic Church right now they feel out of place,” Mentz said. “The wording is different. The responses are different.”

Instead of using the third edition of the Roman Missal, they’ll use the second edition from 1969, which may be more familiar to someone who left the church before 2010.

For example, “And also with you” follows the prompt “Peace be with you” instead of “And with your spirit,” Mentz said.

Use of the older missal reveals a deeper rift between the independent church and the Vatican.

A consensus of church leaders agreed upon the 1969 text.

The third edition was rolled out in 2010, under Pope Benedict XVI, who dismissed translations proposed by a conference of English-speaking bishops.

Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, the independent community believes that the pope, a single man, is fallible or susceptible to error, however, infallibility is found in consensus, Mentz explained.

He said he believes text agreed upon corporately is better than one decided upon by a single person, regardless of his position.

“We don’t believe, necessarily, in the infallibility of the pope,” he said, adding that the church leaves it to members to decide for themselves.

Mentz takes no pay from the church. Since leaving his post as director of liturgy at St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church in Matamoras and the Church of St. Patrick in Milford, he works full time for Lowes and runs a small stage company called Covington Studios. He said he is not trying to assail the church or steal away parishioners who are content.

“But, we also believe there are people in the pews right now who are not comfortable,” he said.