On Wednesday, October 2, CalCatholic reported on the September 15 pastor’s message by Father Brian Joyce of Christ the King Church in Pleasant Hill. In his message Father Joyce remarked “With the present shortage of vocations to priesthood and disappearing number of women religious (sisters), many feel this is a great loss. Frankly I feel just the opposite.” Our article then documented at least one “vocation” out of Christ the King:  “In 2004 Christ the King parishioners organized a group called Women of Magdala. The Women of Magdala group organized a Eucharistic Gathering in a house church in San Francisco’s East Bay, where lesbian womanpriest Victoria Rue would perform. One of the Women of Magdala, and a Christ the King parishioner Maureen Mancuso, has since been ordained as a deacon and then as a womanpriest in the association of Roman Catholic Womanpriests.”

The September 29, 2013 bulletin of Christ the King includes a schedule for their adult education series. The entry for Monday, October 7 reads “…at 7:00 pm, Parish Hall, “Mary Magdalene Today with Kayleen Asbo, (Exciting and inspiring speaker).”

On the Mary Magdalene page of Ms. Asbo’s website the reader finds information for a seminar on The Gospel of Mary Magdalene. The description reads: “The Gospel of Mary is an extraordinary ancient document of Mary Magdalene’s teachings rediscovered at the end of the 19th century in Egypt. In it, Mary Magdalene is depicted as the spiritual leader who guides the disciples after Jesus’ death. She strengthens their courage and reveals an inner vision and teachings that Jesus gave to her alone.  Harvard professor Karen King writes that this is a work that can ‘lead the reader inward toward the identity, power and freedom of the true self, the soul set free from the Powers of Matter and the fear of death.’  It is a book that has much to teach us about finding inner truth and the liberation from ignorance.”

From the (capitalized) “Powers of Matter” to the phrase “liberation from ignorance,” (rather than the Christian liberation from sin and from death) the expressions are not Catholic or Christian, but Gnostic. Asbo’s citing of Karen King as an authority is also significant. King, professor at Harvard Divinity School, has built her career around this subject. Her titles include What is Gnosticism?  Images in the Feminism in Gnosticism, Reading Judas: The Gospel of Judas and the Shaping of Christianity, etc.  An excerpt from a 2012 interview with Smithsonian Magazine, quotes King “You’re talking to someone who’s trying to integrate a whole set of ‘heretical’ literature into the standard history.”

King’s Gnostic orientation is echoed by Asbo’s. Asbo’s explanation of her interest in St. Mary Magdalene, given in a May 1, 2013 interview in Depth Insights: Seeing the World With Soul, reads like something out of Dan Brown: “Mary Magdalene appeared and said if I wanted to find the real Christianity, I should follow the trail from France to Wales. I took the dream seriously, and have been researching early Christianity and its manifestations in France and the British Isles every since.”  In the same interview she said “I think Mary Magdalene really could be the figure for our times who holds the key to alchemical transformation.”

Asbo herself is considered an expert on St. Mary Magdalene by others than the parishioners of Christ the King.  Earlier this year she was hired by the San Francisco Opera to “lead explorations” (for both audiences and actors) into their recent production The Gospel of Mary Magdalene.  According to San Francisco Opera Director David Gockley, the opera “debunks the virgin birth, the resurrection, and the celibacy of Jesus.” Asbo has a webpage about the opera on her website. One of her youtube webinars on the opera is headed “What do the various Mary Magdalene stories tell us about interpreting the Christian traditions? What is relevant in these stories to contemporary society and theological interpretation? What is the opera saying about this?”

Many reputable scholars have answered this question. One is Philip Jenkins, distinguished professor of history and religious studies at Pennsylvania State University , and author of Hidden Gospels: How the Quest for Jesus Lost its Way. In a column in Biblical Interpretation, Jenkins wrote “Far from being the alternative voices of Jesus’ first followers, most of the lost gospels should rather be seen as the writings of much later dissidents who broke away from an already established orthodox church. This is not a particularly controversial statement, despite the impression that we may get from much more recent writing on the historical Jesus…. Despite its dubious sources and controversial methods, the new Jesus scholarship of the 1980s and 1990s gained such a following because it told a lay audience what it wanted to hear. The hidden gospels have been used to provide scriptural warrant for sweeping new interpretations of Jesus. Generally, the hidden gospels offer wonderful news for liberals, feminists, and radicals within the churches, who challenge what they view as outdated institutions and prejudices….”

When one considers Father Brian  Joyce’s infamous Clown Mass, his attendance at Call to Action convention,  his parish’s support of the Women of Magdala, that group’s hosting of house masses with an open lesbian womanpriest, his RCIA instructor who was ordained first as a womandeacon then as a womanpriest, his recent statement that he is encouraged rather than troubled by the decline in religious vocations to the Catholic Church, and now his hosting of a Gnostic, Professor Jenkins description could not be more apt.

Contact: Bishop Michael Barber
Diocese of Oakland