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Sermon prompts priest's transfer

| Tuesday, April 9, 2002, 12:00 p.m.

A Sewickley priest has been reassigned to a Shadyside parish after delivering an impassioned Easter sermon on the need for reform in the Catholic Church.

The Rev. Bill Hausen, parochial vicar of St. James Catholic Church in Sewickley, will be moving to Sacred Heart Parish in Shadyside, where he will perform the same role.

Hausen's reassignment is in response to statements made during his Easter Sunday homily, during which parishioners said Hausen called for women priests and the right for priests to marry, among other changes.

The Rev. Ronald P. Lengwin, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, said Hausen was offered an assignment as the chaplain for UPMC, but declined that post in favor of the Sacred Heart position.

"He's very happy to go there," Lengwin said. "He speaks of retiring there."

Lengwin confirmed that Hausen's transfer is in direct response to his Easter homily.

"If that homily had not been delivered, he may not be transferred now," Lengwin said. "There's no question that that was the catalyst."

Lengwin said that the national attention paid to the church — which has been rocked by allegations of sexual abuse, cover-ups and shuffling accused priests from parish to parish in various cities — is not an excuse for individual priests to use the pulpit to air their personal opinions.

"We have to be very careful at this time that we are fostering unity and not division by what we do," he said. "When people come to church, they're not looking for someone's opinion at the pulpit. They want to know what the truth is, what is the meaning of the revelations provided by God."

While some parishioners applauded Hausen for speaking his mind, others said Easter Mass was not the appropriate time for the sermon.

Sheila Lenehan, a 40-year member of St. James, said that Hausen's speech was met with applause, but she believes it might have been delivered at the wrong time and place.

"I did clap and thought things should be brought out that are never talked about," Lenehan said. "(But) I did think it was the wrong place to do it, even though I clapped."

Hausen, who was assigned to St. James in June 2000 from St. Mary of the Mount, did not return phone messages left to his St. James voice mailbox on Monday.

A church secretary said Hausen is on leave and would not be back to the rectory this week.

In a letter of apology to the parishioners of St. James, Hausen wrote that he "in no way intended to confront the Magisterium of the Church."

Lisa Oliver, a lifelong parishioner, said Hausen is an extremely passionate speaker and probably "got caught up in the moment."

"I've had Catholic education all the way through graduate school. To me, nuns and priests have always been held in the highest regard and esteem," Oliver said. "He said nothing that went against the dogma or doctrine of the church. (The question is) did he use the wrong forum?

"Father Bill didn't follow the party line," Oliver said. "He spoke out and the biggest one that got him in trouble is that he felt women should be ordained as priests."

Hausen's letter stated that his talk "should have been reserved to a classroom discussion and as 'my personal opinion.'" He also apologized for his first use of profanity in 37 years of preaching.

Oliver was more blunt and understanding about Hausen's homily.

"He told the people that they should be 'pissed off' and that they should voice their opinions," she said.

Oliver said the treatment of Hausen is an illustration of how the church treats its dirty laundry.

"Everything is brushed under the carpet or moved around," she said. "Did they come to me as a parishioner and ask me if I wanted (Hausen) removed• No. They don't care what the people feel."

Because of their discontent, Oliver and other parishioners of St. James are trying to get Hausen reassigned to their church.

The group has been collecting signatures all week to send to the diocese. On Sunday, they distributed ribbons to wear in support of Hausen during Mass.

"This is not a man who maliciously maligned the church. He sees the need for change in the church," Oliver said.

Hausen stated in his letter that he would be at St. James after each of Sunday's Masses to say good-bye to parishioners.

Oliver said the group of parishioners is holding town meetings to try to get Hausen transferred back.

Because they are not permitted to hold their meeting on church property, the group is meeting at 7 p.m. Monday at the Sewickley Country Inn on Ohio River Boulevard.

Diocese officials and community and church members are invited, Oliver said. Lengwin said he was not aware of the meeting.

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