Dear Holy Father,

Dear Brother Francis,

In just about two weeks, we will again celebrate Our Lord’s victory over death. For me it is a special kind of personal celebration, because this year I will celebrate my seventy-third birthday on Easter Sunday.

In two years, if all goes as planned (although as you will see I have some doubts about that) I will be sending you, or your successor, my “reached-the-age-of-seventy-five” letter of resignation.

Lent 2016 has been particularly poignant for me. It is not just that I realize that I am now an old man, with all the normal old-age infirmities. I also look at our church and see not the animated and life-giving institution to which I have given my entire life; but a church that has lost credibility and continues to live with an antiquated view of human reality. It is a church that is collapsing.

I often think about Jesus’ words about bread in the Gospel of Matthew. People are turning to us, asking for bread, and we continue to give them old stones.

In my little diocese, the median age of our priests is sixty-eight. Each year I am now burying more priests than I am ordaining. Yet, I will refuse to close parishes. There has to be a better way.

Another part of my Lenten reflection has been about today’s young priests. Not just in my diocese but across the country. They don’t inspire me. They frighten and discourage me. So many of them are arrogant young clerics more anchored in the ethos of 1950 than that of the third millennium. Our seminaries used to be vibrant centers of contemporary life and enlightenment. What happened?

Holy Father, I respect you. I enjoy your well-publicized inspirational words. Nevertheless, Holy Father, we need to do something more than make wonderful statements that make headline news.

When I last met you in Rome for my ad limina visit, you complimented me on my excellent theological formation. I chuckled and said “yes I am a Louvain-trained theologian and some of my professors were the formative theologians of Vatican II.” I told you I was concerned about the shortage of priests and that we should start ordaining young married men with proven ministry skills. We once called them “viri probati.” I told you that I probably have fifteen such young men in my diocese. They are bright, idealistic, well-educated, and burning with zeal for the Gospel. You smiled and said “the time is not yet ripe for such a change.”

You are a very busy man so I will keep this short. A few days ago, when I was sitting on a city bus, as you once did when a humble diocesan bishop like me, I looked at the faces of the young and old people around me. They looked so hungry for God’s bread, not hard old stones. I said to myself “it is time for a new Resurrection in our church.”

Hold on to your zucchetto Holy Father…..By the time you read this letter I will have ordained six young married men as Roman Catholic priests and six wonderful women as Roman Catholic deacons. They will join me and preside with me in our cathedral for Easter Sunday Eucharist. Twelve contemporary apostles, Holy Father! It fills me with great joy and consolation; and I see this as just the beginning.

On Pentecost (if I survive that long) I plan to ordain twelve women – some married, some single, representing all age groups – as Roman Catholic women priests. Wonderful pastoral women. One of them in fact is married to a fine young lady, who teaches social studies in a public school. (I told her, when I met her at their wedding reception, that she is probably lucky she teaches in a public school rather than a parochial school. Who knows what kind of bishop will follow me?)

We need to move forward with faith, hope, and courage Holy Father. Contrary to what is daily proclaimed in some contemporary political rhetoric, truth is stronger than fiction, love is stronger than hatred; and life is stronger than death. We need to practice what we preach.

You know as well as I that we do talk about many progressive ideas, but still behind closed doors. It is now time to move out of our theological closets (of all kinds) and walk proudly and courageously in the sunshine. As Jesus says in the Gospel of Matthew: “What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light. What you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim from the housetops.…” The message of Jesus is indeed our way, our truth, and our life.

I send my fraternal affection and every good wish for Holy Week and abundant Easter joy. Alleluia is still our song…..

Your brother bishop,

+ John W. Greenleaf


19 thoughts on “An Easter Letter to Pope Francis

  1. WOW!!! A huge THANK YOU!!! Praying that the Lenten “conversion”, the Holy Week walk to Calvary, and the Alleluia of Easter will happen at the highest levels of our Church. Wishing you a blessed Holy Week and Easter, Jack.

  2. Dear “Bishop Greenleaf,” Thank you so much! I have not been so inspired for many years. I bet the Holy Father would jump for joy, too, (if no one were watching.) I hope you will let us know his response (smile).

  3. Professor Dick, I wasn’t able to find much on Bishop John W. Greenleaf. Could we have a Little background on this very on target man, whom I suspect is no longer a bishop. I found nothing of recent vintage. All this to say is that his letter is not only courageous in word but in action as well and all sent to Roman Headquarters.

    Joyce GADOUA


    1. Sorry to disappoint……John Greenleaf is my former pen name. My reflection this week is a bit of devotional fiction….but I am a Louvain theologian and my 73 birthday is on Easter the year..”
      Many kind regards

  4. I don’t know how the Hierarchs have managed to do it, BUT they have made themselves as a class nearly obsolete in the spiritual lives of many of the People of God —
    1) They have no creditbility after their lack of moral courage & integrity in the CSA mess… The exceptions are bishops in modern martyr-zones — they have no time for such coverups in the face of the very struggle for survival!!
    2) The RCC is going to have to do with far fewer resources in money & people & staffers in the very NEAR future (10-15 years)… it’s time to jettison or outsource the artistic buildings (Cathedrals & shrines) to museum sponsors, etc… & move to decentralized or Internet based headquarters. Wealthy Catholics could now put their $$ into supporting these historical offshoots instead of accumulating papal knighthoods…
    3) After closing so many parishes — why not start closing some dioceses??? Or is the Peter Principle now noticeable in the RCC?? — “the top managers multiplied as the areas of responsibility contracted, eg the British Civil Service overseas increased as the Empire hastened to sunset after WWII.”
    4) When the Latin American countries were losing their priests to terrorists, many lay people stepped into keeping their parish communities going by becoming lay ministers of the Word & Deed, who were later made into lay deacons… THE TIME HAS COME TO ORDAIN EDUCATED WOMEN AS PERMANENT LAY DEACONS… in many areas, they are running the parishes now, with the people’s acceptance, why not make it official??

    1. I was never a bishop…never even ordained but came close to ordination. About ten years ago I learned that my bishop on Michigan had sent letters as a seminarian, in 1965, to Louvain ( where he had studied) because he wanted me to sole day become a bishop……. And now I understand why he was so furiously angry when I left the seminary one year begins ordination.

  5. John (or I guess you are Jack nowadays) I thank you for this intrigueing letter. It just so happens that my son’s birthday is this coming Easter Sunday, and I am eternally grateful for him and his family.
    I did get ordained, and then left the ministry. My observations about today’s new clergy would certainly mirror your as expressed in your letter. I send you good energy to keep at your work. It gives us hopeful pause.

    John Dubord

  6. This Easter letter is a heart-warming fantasy, but if Bishop Greenleaf really existed, and his letter came to the attention of the CDF, he would be out of a job before you could say “Bishop Bill Morris”.
    Regrettably, the fantasy – a Bishop openly ordaining women priests and remaining in his job – is likely to remain just that, a fantasy. However much we, the laity, and a number of brave priests, might call for a reconsideration of the question of women as priests, there is one obstacle which so far has proved insuperable: this is, that practically every serving bishop, and the Pope himself, are in thrall to the dicta (whether fallible or not) of previous popes. Asked about the possibility of women priests, Francis replied that “The Church has spoken and says no. . . . That door is closed.” As far as he was concerned, just one man, John Paul II, was the church. The possibility that John Paul II might have been wrong, never entered his head.
    The edition of The Tablet published today (18 March) contains a timely letter from one of Britain’s most distinguished theologians, Nicholas Lash, in which he argues that Ordinatio Sacerdotalis does not represent Catholic teaching. The key sentence is this: “Given that the question of the ordination of women has not been given serious and sustained consideration either by theologians or by councils and synods, it is clearly open for discussion, and a papal fiat closing down that discussion before it had really started was not an exercise in papal teaching.”
    Prof Lash’s letter is well worth reading, every Bishop in the world should read it; but that can we hope that it will be read and seriously reflected on in the one place that matters – the Pope’s study? Well, I’ve been around in this world even longer than you have, Jack, and I have learned keep my hopes under control!
    I wish you and yours a very happy seventy-third birthday.

  7. I love you Bishop Greenleaf! And you too Jack. Happy birthday! Have lots of cake!
    On my birthday, March 6th, my brother sent me the link to your site with your posting “Patriarchy-Privilege- Power” saying he thought I’d enjoy this. I emailed him back saying this guy (you) must also be my brother. He also attended Louvain.
    I think a lot of us wish that some of our Bishops would have a backbone and stand up and be the Christians they pretend to be.
    I love reading your stuff. Keep it up.

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