The Rev. Chris Carpenter, former pastor of Christ the King Catholic Church in Mesa, has informed Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of the Catholic Diocese of Phoenix that although his one-year leave of absence has ended, he has chosen to remain in Long Beach, Calif., and has no plans to return to work in the diocese.
In a letter to “friends, family and other supporters,” Carpenter, who for a decade also served as “Father Flick,” the movie reviewer for The Catholic Sun, said, “I have decided not to return to ministry as a priest at this time in Phoenix or anywhere.” He said he continues to have “unresolved concerns about the current state of the church leadership,” adding that some areas of concern “have actually worsened since I took my leave.” If he were to return to the diocese, he did not believe he could “continue to minister as a priest happily or with full integrity.”
Carpenter said the bishop has never responded to a letter sent to him in October declaring he would not be coming back. On Tuesday, James Dwyer, public information officer for the diocese, said Carpenter “is still a priest in good standing, and the bishop is not going to talk about any private conversations.”
“If he decides to come back, of course, he will have to sit down and have a dialogue with the bishop to resume some kind of public ministry, but if he voluntarily chooses not to, that is up to him,” Dwyer said.
Carpenter, 39, a Valley native, began as associate pastor of Christ the King in 1997 and, several years later, was made pastor. In mid-January 2006, he abruptly announced he was resigning, effective Feb. 1, and later said he took the post of development director for International City Theatre in Long Beach. Last May, Carpenter released a statement titled “Something Died,” a reflection on the second anniversary of being ordered along with eight other diocesan priests by Olmsted to remove their names from the “Phoenix Declaration,” a statement developed by pastors across many Christian faiths and organized as No Longer Silent — Clergy for Justice.
Pastors signing it called for churches and the faith community to fully receive homosexuals into the full life of membership and ministry. Carpenter and seven of the priests relented and removed their names at the bishop’s order. Only a retired priest from Phoenix refused to do so and subsequently had his priestly faculties suspended. Carpenter told how more than half of those priests saw their ministries negatively affected after that, including resignations and suspensions. Saying “part of me died” in that incident, Carpenter stated that “I refuse to serve as a priest in a church environment that is increasingly sending a false and destructive message that my LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered) brothers and sisters and I are little more than immature, defective sex addicts.”
In his latest letter, Carpenter said his decision to not return to Phoenix came through consultation with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the Western Division Franciscans. He thanked many priests, deacons, nuns and laity in Phoenix who have prayed for him.
Carpenter, who has left his fund development job but still helps the theater with writing grants, had taken a chaplaincy job with a nondenominational, interfaith hospice, which is expanding its territory. He said the work will make use of his 11 years of parish ministry and his “side ministry” of working with people with HIV/AIDS.
“Please be assured that there is no sin, shame or scandal in my decision to not return to ministry as a priest,” he wrote, adding that while he is “permanently marked as a priest ... we can be freed from ministering in the Catholic Church’s name and from our other promises and obligations.” He will not formally identify himself as a priest or dress as one, but will “in emergency situations, according to canon, hear confessions, anoint the sick and dying and baptize.”
He continues to write film and cultural reviews, has been working on a musical with a songwriter and may write another book.
“Through all this decision-making, God has been ever-present and God’s grace abundant,” Carpenter said. “I will continue to strive to please God first in everything I do.”