About 30 people are gathered in a dark, makeshift sanctuary at St. Anthony of Padua Church as the sun dips into the horizon. The service follows the familiar pattern of a Catholic Mass, but something is different: The worshippers are dressed casually, many in jeans, and the priest speaks directly and informally to his parishioners. Even the words of the liturgy seem slightly off.
This isn’t a typical Roman Catholic Mass. The church is barely a year old, and it’s part of a new independent Catholic movement, the American National Catholic Church, and bills itself as a home for "Contemporary Catholics."
Founded in 2009 by a bishop and a group of priests seeking a more inclusive religious experience but not ready to leave the Catholic tradition completely, the ANCC aims to follow the spirit of reform established by the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965).
While the sacraments and many fundamental beliefs remain identical to those of Roman Catholicism, the ANCC presents a more progressive version of Catholicism: divorced members can take Communion, women and gays can be ordained, and priests can marry.