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Splinter flock moving into church

| Wednesday, July 13, 2005

A breakaway congregation led by a former Roman Catholic priest will move its services Sunday from a hotel banquet room to a vacant Episcopal church in Avalon.

Christ Hope Ecumenical Catholic Church is renting the former Epiphany Episcopal Church for about $1,500 a month. The Rev. William Hausen formed Christ Hope in May 2004, splitting from the Roman Catholic Church after 40 years as a priest. He has been excommunicated from the Catholic Church.

About 300 people have joined Hausen's congregation, many of them, like him, disaffected Catholics who chafed at the church's stances on homosexuality, ordination of women and other issues.

"We are interested in people who are 'recovering' Roman Catholics -- gays, divorced people or anyone who has ever felt burned by the church's absolutism," Hausen said Tuesday. "Anyone who professes absolute authority or absolute knowledge, as the church does, can lead people into tragedy."

The one-year lease with the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh is a business deal, not an endorsement of Hausen's theology, diocese spokesman Peter Frank said.

"We are responsible for using the diocese's property in the best way possible," Frank said.

The church on California Avenue has been unused for several years, Frank said. Hausen's congregation had been meeting at the Sewickley Country Inn, which also charged the group about $1,500 a month.

"I think the church is the people, not the building, but having an appropriate setting can be uplifting to people," Hausen said. "Also, there's an artificial barrier about meeting in a hotel that I think keeps some people away."

The Pittsburgh Catholic diocese plans to publish a statement about Hausen's church on Thursday, spokesman Bob Lockwood said. The diocese said last year that any Catholics who joined Christ Hope would excommunicate themselves.

Hausen, 67, favors marriage for priests, the ordination of women, debate on the subject of birth control and acceptance of gay, lesbian and divorced members.

Hausen says his church is based on "agapic," or self-sacrificial love, but doesn't assert the deity of Jesus Christ.

Hausen's church has incorporated 12-step methods into the services. Otherwise, services at Christ Hope closely resemble a Catholic Mass, he said.

The church has set up a foundation that has saved $40,000 toward someday buying its own church, Hausen said. The congregation's services will be at 6 p.m. Saturdays and 10 a.m. Sundays.

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