New congregation of Old Catholic Church in Oak Lawn provides home for gays, others who’ve felt rejected by traditional Roman Catholicism

FOUNDING FATHER  | The Rev. Carl Francis McGowan, co-founder of Our Lady of Consolation Old Catholic Church in Dallas, stands with relics he began collecting on a pilgrimage to Israel several years ago during which he also discovered Catholicism. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer

For Kyle Januszewski, Our Lady of Consolation Old Catholic Church fills a void.

“I grew up Catholic,” he said. “One day, a visiting priest talked about the moral decay of society. He was gay-bashing.”

He said church was a big part of his life growing up, but he hadn’t been back since that day in 2003.

“It’s great to go somewhere where our priest is gay, many members of the congregation are gay and we have shared experience,” he said.

Januszewski now attends Our Lady of Consolation, a congregation of the North American Old Catholic Church that holds Sunday worship services at the Interfaith Peace Chapel at the Cathedral of Hope.

The Rev. Carl Francis McGowan was ordained in October and helped found Our Lady of Consolation, which is not affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church or the Dallas Diocese.

“We want you to have the traditional Roman Catholic experience,” McGowan said. “Every baptized Christian is welcome. We don’t turn anyone away.”

McGowan said Our Lady of Consolation OCC is attracting Roman Catholics who’ve been distanced from the traditional church for a number of reasons — including those who’ve been divorced, had an abortion, use birth control or are LGBT. The congregation’s Sunday services typically attract 10-20 people.

Januszewski met McGowan at the Pride Festival in Lee Park in September. McGowan talked about the new church he was forming.

“It filled a big void for me,” Januszewski said. “I went and have been going ever since.”

Archbishop Michael Seneco, who’s also openly gay, said the North American Old Catholic Church, based in Washington, D.C., has about 20 traditional parishes and about 100 ordained clergy.

“We expect to start small and stay small,” he said. “Our largest congregation has 80 to 90 members, and we think that’s perfect.”

Old Catholic Church refers to groups that split from the Roman Catholic Church over the issue of papal authority beginning in 1724 in the Netherlands. After Vatican I in 1871, churches in Germany, Switzerland and Austria split over the issue of papal infallibility. By the early 1900s, the movement spread through Europe and came to North America.

While there are other Old Catholic Church groups in the U.S., Seneco said the North American Old Catholic Church was founded in 2007.

McGowan said Old Catholic priests have apostolic succession.

That means the bishops can trace their consecration to one or more of the Apostles and have the same connection to Jesus as Roman Catholic priests. Hands are laid on a priest by a bishop who was touched by a bishop whose connection goes back to the time of Christ.

However, Old Catholic priests are allowed to be openly gay and may have a spouse or partner, and the churches perform same-sex weddings.

An only child not raised in a religious family, McGowan was a minister in a Protestant church for two years. For five years he attended Cathedral of

Hope. But he continued looking for a better spiritual fit for himself. That journey included a trip to Israel to learn more about Christian history. He began a relic collection that now includes hundreds of items. And he discovered Catholicism.

“Catholicism seemed like home,” he said.

While McGowan loves the beliefs and rituals of Catholicism, he criticized some of the Roman church’s practices.

“The last thing we should do is send people away,” he said.

He said any Catholic would be comfortable in his church. The Old Catholic Church has brought back a lot of people who thought they weren’t good enough to be in a Roman Catholic Church, he said. For example, McGowan said that when Catholics divorce, they often flee to a Protestant denomination if they decide to maintain some form of worship. He believes they’d actually be more comfortable in his church, where services closely follow Catholic tradition.

He said the Old Catholic Church teaches unconditional hospitality.

“We would like to be a place where a mix — lots of people — recover some love for the church,” he said. “Sometimes I feel like I’m doing a favor for the Roman church.”

He said his congregation is made up of people who felt rejected by the Roman Catholic Church but retain strong bonds to it.

“For me, being Catholic, we’re celebrating God as a community,” he said. “I wanted more focus on God. A penitent turning away from ourselves and honoring God.”

Our Lady of Consolation Old Catholic Church, Interfaith Peace Chapel, 5910 Cedar Springs Road. Mass held Sundays at 10 a.m. Christmas Eve mass at 9:30 p.m.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 21, 2012.