Woman Episcopalian Priest Converts to Catholicism
Linda Poindexter Defends All-Male, Celibate Clergy
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WASHINGTON, D.C., AUG. 30, 2001 (Zenit.org).- In 1999 the wife of Rear Admiral John Poindexter, a onetime national security adviser to U.S. President Ronald Reagan, ended her 13 years as an Episcopal priest. Linda Poindexter became Catholic.
She spoke recently with the National Catholic Register http://www.ncregister.com.
Q: Your first "conversion" was from the Disciples of Christ Church to the Episcopalian Church. How did that come about?
Poindexter: John and I married in 1958. He had graduated the Naval Academy. The Protestant chapel services the midshipmen attended were always according to the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. You could attend another church in town, but at the Navy chapel the Protestant service was Episcopal. Back then, attendance at some service was mandatory.
I was down there most weekends when we were dating so I´d become quite accustomed to the services by the time we were married. John was raised a Methodist, so we looked at several churches when we married and quickly settled on the Episcopal Church, primarily for the liturgical part of the worship.
Q: What was your attitude toward the Catholic Church?
Poindexter: Growing up I always thought my Catholic friends had the neatest church in the world. Going to Mass with them in the ´40s and ´50s was so dramatic and so moving. I also thought, "Catholic kids really have to do something," and I found that very appealing. Something was demanded of them.
Q: You´ve said that the emphasis on the communion service in your childhood church prepared you for your conversion. What else did?
Poindexter: In this very Protestant church where I grew up they had a small chapel, and it was called "Madonna Chapel" -- a Protestant chapel called Madonna Chapel!
I can remember there was a painting of the Blessed Mother in the front of this little chapel. Somebody must have donated it and put it up there, but I found that unusual. It´s always been a Protestant thing that Catholics "worship" Mary, and it´s wrong. But to have this chapel in there, it just makes my mind click. I´ve been given an awful lot of gifts along the way. It´s amazing how long it takes for it to sink in.
Q: What finally led you into the Catholic Church?
Poindexter: There is a tendency among Protestants to "think for themselves" and that´s what´s led to so many differing denominations.
There is an unclear sense of authority. I was able to accept the structure of the Church´s authority more easily. Thus I am at peace, and because I believe, I don´t have to argue with others about it. It certainly makes sense that God would have chosen this kind of structure to let people know about him and about what they´re supposed to be doing.
Of course, Newman said it much better than I do. The first thing I did when I felt drawn to the Church was to buy Newman´s "Apologia." I guess he´s the standard for Anglicans who become Catholic. I had underlined the passage where he talks about authority.
Q: What was your next step?
Poindexter: When I was serving in a parish, I´d find it difficult to pray in the same place that I worked. There was a Catholic Church just a few minutes away, so I´d pop in there for some quiet prayer. I´d put a scarf around my neck to hide the clerical collar. I remember feeling something like a wish, "Maybe I could be here someday."
Q: In your studies, did you come across the Marian strains in Martin Luther´s writings? Apparently, the founder of Protestantism was very fond of her.
Yes, I know he was, though I didn´t really study Luther until seminary. In seminary we did some reading into Luther, and he certainly was Marian. As an Episcopalian I had no problem with that.
I was always very drawn to learning more about Mary. What I do then is buy a lot of books I don´t have time to read, thinking I´d develop a course on the Episcopal understanding of Mary. Many in the Episcopal Church are very dismissive about the Catholic reverence and devotion to Mary. A lot of people are now thinking the baby got thrown out with the bath water, that they´ve robbed themselves by not understanding and venerating the Mother herself.
Q: What is your perception of the all-male priesthood? Having been an Episcopalian priest, did this pose a problem for you later?
Poindexter: In the context of the Roman Catholic Church, I believe in and support the all-male, celibate priesthood. I find it difficult to accept intellectually all the reasons for this, but I am content to believe that the magisterium of the Church is divinely guided and inspired and perhaps may contain more truth than my own thinking on the subject. Within the Anglican Communion and the various Protestant communities, it is a different matter.
I do believe that many women are very gifted in many pastoral, educational and administrative capacities and I am happy to see that the Catholic Church is striving to allow those gifts to be used.
A: Should Catholics allow married clergy, as the Episcopalians do?
Poindexter: In our parish, we happen to have a married former Episcopal priest, and I felt very drawn to talk to him when I first considered converting.
That´s a tough thing, trying to support a wife and family and to change your whole life is very difficult.
I think the celibate priesthood is the way to go. I said that all the time I was actively in a parish, and I began to understand the gift. It´s tough to give your all to a parish and give your all to a spouse and family.
Then I see younger women with children and I don´t see how they´re doing this. Once you´ve taken marital vows you do have those obligations. It becomes most confusing. The way it seems to have worked out in the Episcopal Church is that people are overly concerned now with their contracts and their benefits, their time off and all the rest of it, because that´s necessary if you´re going to be part of a family.
But that means it becomes a 9-to-5 job, which means many of them won´t do anything on a day off. You´ve got to go find somebody else. If somebody dies on your day off, that´s too bad. It´s a very awkward situation. Granted everybody needs some free time, and I´m glad when they get it, but it is just very difficult when you have a family.
I see Episcopal priests taking off to pick up their kids from school, and they have this and that, and then I hear Catholics say we have to have married priests because we´re so short [of priests]. That´s just not a good reason. You don´t know what you´re asking for. For one thing, are you prepared to triple your parish budget?
It becomes a very different view of the priesthood. There´s just something very special about someone who has the gift of celibacy and is set apart for that reason. There again we get into the awe and mystery that I think contributes to that.
If our priest is just like us, why would I feel drawn to confession?