Denver priests win first Colorado Priests Softball Game

Mark Haas

When shortstop Fr. Darrick Leier stepped to the plate in the first inning with the bases loaded, the former college athlete knew he had a chance to do something big.

“They were all playing way in, they were trying to feel everyone out to see how they could hit and I knew if I could get a decent one there it would go over their heads… and that’s what happened,” Fr. Leier said.

Fr. Darrick Leier hits a grand slam

Fr. Leier’s first inning grand slam was just the start of a big night for the bats of the Denver priests, as they outslugged the Colorado Springs/Pueblo priests 23-12 on Friday, July 15 in the first Colorado Priests Softball Game.

“You know we prayed hard before we showed up tonight…I bet they did too, so it couldn’t have been that,” said left fielder Fr. Mike Rapp with a laugh. “We were swinging for the fences, taking chances, a lot of hustle out there.”

The Denver team scored five runs in each of the first two innings (the max per inning), and when the Springs/Pueblo team made a rally in the bottom of the fifth inning, the Denver priests answered back with five more runs in the sixth inning to put the game out of reach.

“It was a nice break from the parish life and it was good to be with priests and the people of God,” said pitcher Fr. Nick Thompson. The game was played at the Colorado Sky Sox minor league stadium in Colorado Springs with over 700 fans in attendance at the inaugural event.

“They were doing the wave, cheering loud, and we heard some chants back and forth,” said Fr. Rapp.

Security Service Field (Colorado Springs)

The game was friendly, but also competitive. There was plenty of scoring, some highlight-reel catches in the field and only a couple of pulled hamstrings.

“I hope that everyone enjoyed seeing their priest in a different atmosphere,” said outfielder Fr. Scott Bailey. “So many people only see their priest at Mass and it is a formal setting, so to see us engaging each other – I hope they saw the human side of us that they sometimes might not get to see.”

The game was put on by the Catholic Radio Network to benefit and promote vocations.

“I think it is helpful for everyone to see the humanity of the priests, just like it is important for us to encounter the humanity of Jesus Christ,” said center fielder Fr. Ryan O’Neill, the Director of Priestly Vocations for the Archdiocese of Denver.

“If Jesus Christ is just this distant deity who is far away but we don’t have a personal relationship with him it is hard to engage your Catholic life,” said Fr. O’Neill. “But if you encounter the humanity of Jesus – he had a family, he wept, he was sad, he was happy, he slept, he ate, he worked – then you realize he is a human you can relate to, and the same thing with priests.”

Fr. O’Neill said that to see a priest playing sports, cheering for a teammate, hitting a home run, striking out and in general just having fun will hopefully make some people look at the priesthood in a new way.

“We don’t just sit around in an office all the time, working on sacramental records,” Fr. O’Neill said. “We like to live life to the fullest and that means having moments of fun and recreation and spending time with each other. So those things are a good opportunity for the world to see our joy, that when we are having fun they may say ‘wow, hey maybe the priesthood isn’t all doldrums.’”

And while the Denver priests walked away the winners this year, they say the event was a success regardless of the final score.

“We do it all for the Glory of God,” said Fr. Leier. “God has given us human bodies and free will and to use it for his glory is awesome!”

Archdiocese of Denver Roster:

Fr. Scott Bailey / Risen Christ
Fr. Darrick Leier / St. Clare of Assisi – Edwards
Fr. Ivan Monteiro / St. Thomas More
Fr. Joe McLagan / Holy Family High School
Fr. Ryan O’Neill / Director of Priestly Vocations
Fr. Mike Rapp / Casa Santa Maria
Fr. Roberto Rodriguez / Ascension
Fr. Ron Sequeira / St. Frances Cabrini
Fr. Nick Thompson / St. Rose of Lima
Fr. Chris Uhl / Holy Ghost
Fr. Brady Wagner / Formation Adviser
Fr. Jason Wunsch / St. Gianna Beretta Molla
Fr. Eric Zegeer / Risen Christ
Fr. Joseph Toledo (coach)/ St. Elizabeth Ann Seton

PHOTO GALLERY:

COMING UP: Catholic school teachers are ‘ministers’, SCOTUS rules

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The Supreme Court on Wednesday delivered a long-awaited religious liberty decision on the right of religious schools to hire and fire teachers. The court found in favor of two Catholic schools in California, ruling that a “ministerial exception” to government interference applies to teachers in religious schools.

The ruling came in the consolidated cases of Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru and St. James Catholic School v. Biel. The justices ruled in a 7-2 decision that teachers at Catholic grade schools qualified for the “ministers exception” established by the court in the 2012 Hosana Tabor case.

“The religious education and formation of students is the very reason for the existence of most private religious schools, and therefore the selection and supervision of the teachers upon whom the schools rely to do this work lie at the core of their mission,” wrote Justice Samuel Alito for the majority.

“Judicial review of the way in which religious schools discharge those responsibilities would undermine the independence of religious institutions in a way that the First Amendment does not tolerate.”

The two California Catholic schools did not renew the contracts of the teachers in 2014 and 2015. In separate cases combined by the Supreme Court, the teachers alleged that their dismissals were based on disability and age, not poor performance. The schools claimed they were exempt from employment discrimination laws under the ministerial exception, the legal doctrine under which government cannot interfere in the employment decisions of churches and religious institutions regarding the hiring and firing of ministers.

In both cases, the teachers’ suits were dismissed by federal courts, and then reinstated by the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeal.

When the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the combined case in May, lawyers for the schools argued that “for hours on end over the course of a week,” teachers in Catholic schools were the “primary agents” by which the faith was taught to students. Argument – and questions from the bench – focused on how broadly the ministerial exception could be applied to the employees of religious schools.

The decision comes just weeks after the court’s ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, that employers cannot fire employees because of their sexual orientation or “gender identity.” Justice Neil Gorsuch, who authored the majority opinion in that case, acknowledged that religious freedom cases related to the decision would probably come before the Court in the future.

The decision about who qualifies as a minister could directly impact future cases in which teachers might be dismissed for failing to adhere to Church teachins on same-sex marriage or transgender issues, both of which have been subjects of controversy in recent months.

“Requiring the use of the title [minister] would constitute impermissible discrimination,” the court ruled. Referencing the previous decision in Hosana Tabor, Altio wrote that there must be “a recognition that educating young people in their faith, inculcating its teachings, and training them to live their faith are responsibilities that lie at the very core of the mission of a private religious school.”

The verdict also explicitly referenced the policy of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, home to both of the schools designating all teachers in Catholic schools as being effectively ministers.

“Like all teachers in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Morrissey-Berru was “considered a catechist,” i.e., “a teacher of religion,” Alito noted in his decision for the majority.

“There is abundant record evidence that [both teachers] performed vital religious duties. Educating and forming students in the Catholic faith lay at the core of the mission of the schools where they taught, and their employment agreements and faculty handbooks specified in no uncertain terms that they were expected to help the schools carry out this mission and that their work would be evaluated to ensure that they were fulfilling that responsibility.”

The court concluded that “when a school with a religious mission entrusts a teacher with the responsibility of educating and forming students in the faith, judicial intervention into disputes between the school and the teacher threatens the school’s independence in a way that the First Amendment does not allow.”

Joining Alito in the majority decision were Justices Thomas, Breyer, Kagan, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh, as well as Chief Justice John Roberts. Justices Sotomayer and Ginsburg dissented.