Archbishop Mark Shirilau, a Riverside man who led a worldwide church geared toward gays, divorced people and others who felt unwelcome in traditional Christian denominations, died last week while in Italy.
Shirilau, 58, died on Jan. 12 during a visit to Sicily to ordain a priest, fellow bishops in the church said.
a 2008 interview, Shirilau said he founded the Ecumenical Catholic
Church in 1987 to provide a religious home to gays and lesbians who were
not comfortable in mainstream denominations.
The church uses a
blend of traditional Roman Catholic, Episcopal and Lutheran liturgy and
adheres to the majority of Roman Catholic teachings — although from the
beginning the church embraced marriages of same-sex couples and ordained
gay and lesbian clergy.
“Creating the ECC was a radical step” in
1987, when attitudes toward gays and lesbians were more conservative,
said David Kalke, a former San Bernardino Lutheran minister who Friday
was chosen by fellow bishops as acting primate and archbishop of the
The Ecumenical Catholic Church now has about 3,000
members in the United States, Italy and Latin America, Kalke said from
his home in Guadalajara.
The denomination did more than expand geographically. Over the years, it began serving more non-gay people.
James Wilkowski, who heads the Chicago-based Evangelical Catholic
Church, which has a similar mission as the Ecumenical Catholic Church,
said God called Shirilau to minister to a broader group of people.
Holy Spirit brought Mark Shirilau to a specific ministry,” Wilkowski
said, referring to gays and lesbians, “and over time because the Holy
Spirit was pleased with the work Mark did, it brought him to other
people, and so his ministry and the Ecumenical Catholic Church grew in
Bishop Donald Jolly of the American Orthodox Catholic Church ordained Shirilau into the priesthood in 1987.
Shirilau, who was born in Long Beach in 1955, died from heart failure resulting from pneumonia, Wilkowski said.
memorial service is tentatively scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 1
at St. George’s Episcopal Church, 950 Spruce St., Riverside. Burial will
be in Kaneohe, Hawaii, next to his late partner, Jeffery Shirilau.