Unity church to host convicted priest

Ex-pastor on leave after marijuana case will speak in Tallmadge services

The Rev. Kathleen McKenna is willing to risk criticism and controversy to help someone build a stronger relationship with God.

That’s why she didn’t hesitate to invite the Rev. Richard Arko — a Roman Catholic priest convicted of growing marijuana in his church rectory — to preach to her congregation.

“It is a little bit risky, but I don’t judge him. I can’t,” said McKenna, pastor of Unity Chapel of Light in Tallmadge. “I have never had a feeling of doubt about him coming to speak. I believe only good will come from it.”

Arko, who will speak at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. Sunday at the church, was arrested in January after Norton police searched the Prince of Peace rectory and seized 35 marijuana plants. Arko contends the plants were being grown for medical use. In April, he received two years probation on convictions of illegally cultivating marijuana and possession of criminal tools used to grow the plants.

Prosecutors and a review board of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland are also investigating sexual abuse allegations against Arko, who could not be reached for comment.

After his conviction, Arko resigned as pastor of Prince of Peace. He remains on a voluntary leave of absence from the diocese. Under the terms of his leave, Arko is not allowed to perform his duties as a Catholic priest or live on church property, according to diocesan spokesman Robert Tayek.

Arko has said it is unlikely that he will return to the priesthood.

McKenna said a Unity parishioner questioned whether it was a good idea to invite Arko. That parishioner was apparently worried that Arko’s appearance in the pulpit might add to the misunderstanding of what the Unity spiritual community believes.

Explanation of Unity

Unity breaks from traditional faith because it has no creedal requirements, rituals or clerical garb. Its doctrines are a combination of borrowed teachings from various religions and philosophies — Hinduism, Spiritism, Theosophy, Christian Science and Christianity.

There is no connection between Unity and Unitarianism or the Unification Church.
Unity emphasizes the divine potential within everyone and teaches that anyone can realize a happier life through a practical understanding and application of what Jesus taught.


Theologically, Unity School of Christianity (the movement’s full name) is a cult of Christianity

Unity’s publications include the Daily Word, Unity Magazine and Wee Wisdom. All are published at Unity world headquarters in Lee’s Summit, Mo. Its prayer ministry, Silent Unity, has maintained a round-the-clock vigilance of prayer for more than eight decades.

“We believe that the kingdom of God is within, and we are accountable for practicing our spirituality,” McKenna said. “We don’t have a lot of rituals, but focus more on self-accountability for your relationship with God. Rev. Arko seems to speak those same things, and I believe our congregation can relate to him.”

Others praise Arko

McKenna has not met Arko but has spoken with him on the phone. Prior to that, she heard his praises from congregants and their family members.

“People have always told me about the love he exudes,” McKenna said. “They said, `If you watch for the man who exudes love, that’s Father Arko.’ ”

Arko was assigned to St. Mary’s Church in Barberton in 1994. In 2001, he was named administrator of Sacred Heart in Barberton. The two parishes merged in July 2002, and Arko became pastor in March 2003.

Dam Halm, a parishioner at Prince of Prince, said that under Arko’s leadership, the parish thrived. Halm said he plans to visit Unity Chapel of Light on Sunday to hear Arko speak. His wife, Fran, is a member at Unity.

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone who is as sincere as he is. He is able to capture the audience and get his point across,” Halm said. “He just has a way of taking a spiritual message and relating it to everyday life. The man has a gift, and I’m glad he is continuing to share it with people who appreciate it.”

Halm said that although he doesn’t condone what Arko did, he doesn’t condemn him, either. He said Arko’s felony conviction shouldn’t detract from his message.

Arko’s focus for his Sunday message is “Sacred Aloneness.”

McKenna said she does not share Arko’s stance on medicinal marijuana but believes it is good for him to share his experience.

“I teach overcoming. Rev. Arko’s story is about overcoming,” McKenna said. “If he can help one person in my church overcome something they’re going through, then it’s worth it. I truly believe something great is going to come from this.”

[keyword: Richard A. Arko]

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Beacon Journal, USA
July 24, 2004
Colette M. Jenkins, Beacon Journal religion writer

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