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Priest reassigned after controversial Easter homily

Diocese says sermon on sex scandals divided Sewickley congregation

Thursday, April 11, 2002

A Catholic priest who gave an Easter Sunday homily advocating ordination of women and married men and said parishioners should be angry about the sex scandals rocking the church, has been reassigned from his Sewickley church.


This article was written by staff writer Ann Rodgers-Melnick, based on her reporting and that of free-lance writer Alisha Hipwell.


The Rev. William Hausen, parochial vicar at St. James Church, will move to Sacred Heart Church in Shadyside, where he grew up and had previously spent six years as a parochial vicar.

The reassignment was in response to the Easter homily but was not intended as punishment, said the Rev. Ronald Lengwin, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh.

Part of the reason for the reassignment was that the Sewickley parish has become divided over Hausen and his homily, Lengwin said. "Some support him and many do not. That is one of the reasons that contributes to such a decision," he said.

Hausen, who was assigned to St. James in June 2000, did not return phone messages.

In a letter dated April 4 that appeared in the church bulletin, Hausen apologized for using profanity -- he said parishioners should be "pissed off" about the scandals -- and "for bringing into the pulpit subject matter that should have been reserved to classroom discussion and as my personal opinion, especially on Easter Sunday."

However, Suzanne Ward of Sewickley said she and other St. James parishioners felt the reassignment was inappropriate.

"I think it's an absolutely ridiculous method of dealing with problems," Ward said of the practice of transferring priests. "If [Hausen] is inappropriate for us to have in our parish, then isn't he inappropriate for someone else to have in theirs?"

Last week Hausen met with Bishop Donald Wuerl, who offered him the reassignment, Lengwin said. Sacred Heart is one of the most prominent parishes in the diocese and is considered a good assignment.

"It was a pastoral response to a difficult situation, one which Father Hausen agreed with," Lengwin said.

Lengwin said he would not speculate on what would have happened had Hausen refused the reassignment. "I'm not sure what decision would have been made at that point."

Sacred Heart will not lose any of its current priests because of Hausen's move, Lengwin said. Lengwin expected Hausen to be replaced at St. James, although the meeting at which that decision will be discussed has not yet taken place.

Several Catholic dioceses in the United States have recently been embroiled in allegations of sexual abuse of children by priests and allegations of cover-ups by church hierarchy. During Holy Week many bishops and priests across the United States addressed the scandals during their homilies.

According to St. James parishioner Lisa Oliver, the pastor, the Rev. Raymond Rhoden, and the resident priest, the Rev. Benedict Mwangi, addressed the issue of sexual abuse on Holy Thursday and Good Friday.

Lucy Persuit of Leetsdale, a St. James parishioner who heard Hausen's homily, said Hausen stated that problems that accompany married clergy, like divorce, would be preferable to the church's current difficulties.

Persuit said she approved of Hausen's homily and that the majority of the congregation in attendance applauded his comments.

"I'm not saying I want anarchy in the church. I'm saying I want a priest who can talk to me in terms of what is going on in real life, and that's what he did," Persuit said. "This is an important topic and we need to discuss it. I don't think he should have been removed for that."

Ward and other St. James parishioners would like to see Hausen reassigned back to St. James, and distributed ribbons before Masses Sunday to be worn in support of him.

The group also is holding a meeting to discuss the situation at 7 p.m. Monday at Sewickley Country Inn. Lengwin said that no diocesan officials would attend because the meeting is not officially sponsored by the parish.

"If the pastor and the parish council decide to have a meeting, I would expect that there would be diocesan representation there," Lengwin said.

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