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Published: Sunday, June 30, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Even the Catholic Church undergoes changes

What does the ordination of a divorced man as a priest say about the church's attitudes toward marriage?

The newest Roman Catholic priest in Western Washington is a divorced man with a couple of grown kids. I'll get to that soon enough.
First, let's consider how concerned the bishops who oversee this area's Catholics are about marriage.
Expressing disappointment, the Archdiocese of Seattle issued a statement following Wednesday's historic U.S. Supreme Court decision to strike down the federal Defense of Marriage Act. That ruling allows legally married same-sex couples to obtain tax, health and pension benefits. A separate ruling cleared the way for same-sex marriage in California.
You know what I think. In 2009, I wrote: "I don't believe religious institutions should ever have to compromise their tenets, or be forced to perform or accept marriages between same-sex partners or any partners."
The legal, secular institution of marriage -- in Snohomish County it costs $64 for a license -- is something else altogether, a civil contract separate from religion. To deny one segment of the adult population the right to marriage and the government benefits it brings is simply unfair.
It seems long ago in light of the Supreme Court rulings, but I'm still stinging from Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain's 2012 push for parishes here to become signature-gathering sites for Referendum 74. That ballot measure could have kept Washington's same-sex marriage law from taking effect.
To disagree with same-sex marriage on religious grounds is anyone's right. But I saw it as wholly inappropriate to use our churches to gather R-74 signatures, and to announce that from the pulpit on Sunday mornings. Thankfully, not all churches in the archdiocese chose to be so divisive.
In the end, voters here favored equality. And equality was affirmed last week by the highest court in the land.
In their statement Thursday, Sartain and Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo used high-minded language:
"Liberty and justice depend upon laws at every level of government that recognize and respect the truth, including the truth about marriage," the bishops said. "And the truth about marriage is that it is the unique and irreplaceable union between one man and one woman."
Marriage is irreplaceable, but apparently not unbreakable in the curious world of Catholic hierarchy.
The Catholic Northwest Progress, the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Seattle, published an astonishing article June 13. Written by Kevin Birnbaum, it's the story of the Rev. Mark Kiszelewski, the newest priest in the archdiocese.
Kiszelewski, 58, was ordained June 8 at Seattle's St. James Cathedral by Sartain.
Married in 1984, Kiszelewski is the father of two sons in their early 20s. According to the article, the former financial adviser's marriage ended in divorce after his family moved from California to Seattle. A member of St. Therese Parish in Seattle, he received a church annulment of his marriage in 2001. In 2007, he began the application process to become a seminarian.
So yes, our newest priest was once a family man. An annulment in the Catholic Church, granted by a marriage tribunal, in essence says a Christian marriage never existed.
In the Progress article, Kiszelewski said he believes his past experiences will help him relate to parishioners. "I've been there," he is quoted as saying. Being married and raising teenagers no doubt deepened his communications skills and ability to understand family life.
Married Episcopal clergy are allowed to convert to Catholicism and be priests, but I must say Kiszelewski's journey surprised me. A Catholic priest who's a divorced dad? For many Catholics, that will take some getting used to.
Now that I've thought about it, I see something hopeful. Despite the odd irony -- a church's concern about same-sex marriage while its new priest is divorced -- Kiszelewski's priesthood does show that an ancient institution can change.
Other faith communities are way out front. At the Evergreen Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, 1607 Fourth St. in Marysville, wedding cake will be served after this morning's 10:30 service.
Unitarian Universalists, according to the fellowship's Rev. Linda Hart, have celebrated same-sex unions since the 1970s, and in 1996 took a formal stand to support marriage equality.
As for Father Kiszelewski, I wish him only the best.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, muhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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