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Author Topic: Revolt Simmers at Catholic Church  (Read 2935 times) Average Rating: 0
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« on: January 18, 2006, 10:26:48 AM »

Revolt Simmers at Church
Race and Catholic Hierarchy Inflame Dispute in D.C. Parish

By Robert E. Pierre
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 18, 2006; A01

The order from the archdiocese had been clear: Stop the accusations, the name-calling, the disobedience to the authority of the Catholic Church.

But parishioner Bill Alston, bundled against the cold outside a church, didn't care as he passed out fliers alleging to his fellow Catholics that a leader at his nearby home congregation, Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Anacostia, was "disrespectful, insulting and profane" and that the diocese was sweeping it under the rug.

The Rev. Michael Jones poked half of his body out the front door and shook his head disapprovingly. "Shame, shame, shame," he said. "You were told to cease and desist."

"So, everything the bishop says is right?" Alston asked.

"Yes," the priest said. "That's what happens in the Catholic Church . . . . It's not a Baptist church. You obey the priest and the bishop."

"I don't think so," Alston said, turning away to hand out another flier.

The unusual public confrontation last month between priest and parishioner was one more point of friction in a year-long dispute -- Alston calls it a crusade -- in which a cadre of longtime members at Our Lady, one of Washington's historically black Catholic congregations, is in mutiny against the white pastor.

Those members contend that the Rev. Donald Fest has ruled by fiat and has refused to confer about decisions or seek compromise. They don't like the administrator he put in charge, and they don't like the new rules on using the church hall, the famous Panorama Room.

The year has featured shouting matches, a pre-Mass picket line, accusations that Fest is a racist and a petition drive to oust the administrator. A church meeting this month became so heated that one member filed a stay-away order in D.C. Superior Court, accusing Alston of threatening her, an accusation Alston denies.

Fest said he has talked to critics, heard their concerns and has the authority he has been given. He suspended 17 people, including Alston, from usher and church duties -- they can now attend only services -- saying they didn't follow orders or the chain of command. He rejects the contention that he runs the church like a plantation. As a member of an order of priests devoted to black Catholics, Fest has been assigned to black parishes in Baltimore and New Orleans. "This is not a plantation," Fest said in an interview. "If I'm a racist, I have picked some interesting -- well, I didn't pick them -- assignments."

The story at Our Lady is one of clashing opinions and, for Alston and his disgruntled brethren, an attempt to regain control of what they view as their church. Their ancestors built it, and generations since have maintained it, tithed to it, sent their children to its school.

What they have learned is that butting heads with a 2,000-year-old institution is no easy task. People at every level of church hierarchy have told them the same thing: The Catholic Church is no democracy.

Some denominations choose pastors and make decisions by popular vote, but the Catholic Church is among those in which church officials decide. Popes issue decrees. Higher-ups tell pastors when to move on. Parishioners, after having had their say, comply with the decisions of their priest.

But order has broken down so thoroughly in this case that the auxiliary bishop of Washington, the Rev. Martin Holley, has sent word that the upset group should obey the pastor or find another church.

"I have never seen a group of parishioners write a list of demands and take this approach," said Susan Gibbs, Holley's spokeswoman. "The people have had an opportunity many times to have their views heard."

Alston, a determined man, is just as adamant. "I'm supposed to sit down and shut up like a child?" he asked. "They think it's their way or the highway, but it's not going to happen like that. We're grown people."

The result is chaos.

"We don't know from Sunday to Sunday if this is going to be a peaceful Sunday or everyone is going to be in an uproar," said parishioner Carolyn Wheeler, 62, whose grandfather was a founder of Our Lady.

Unsettling Changes

Eighty-five years ago, black Catholics, relegated to the basements of segregated churches, founded Our Lady with the help of sympathetic whites. The church became a landmark, what the archdiocese calls one of its jewels, and the Panorama Room became famous for its hilltop vista -- with views of two states and the District -- and its cabarets, political gatherings and town meetings. In 1989, Ted Koppel brought ABC's "Nightline" in for a forum on urban violence.

Priests -- black and white -- came and went. Issues were resolved with give and take, Alston said, but when Fest arrived two years ago, the decrees started coming.

The one that perhaps disturbed some congregants the most was the one that put Brother Marx Tyree, the subject of Alston's flier, in charge of running a slew of church activities. Those who were disgruntled, mostly the suspended members, did not like that, either, even though Tyree, a member of the same religious order as Fest, has been at Our Lady for 17 years. They say he changes meetings at a whim and refuses to answer their questions, too.

"Brother Marx is arrogant, condescending and authoritarian in his demeanor," the suspended men wrote to Fest late last year. They demanded that he be sent somewhere else.

Fest said Tyree is a tireless worker who is well-liked by many at Our Lady and effective at the tasks he is given. He said neither he nor Tyree is going anywhere until reassigned. Tyree, who is black, did not want to be interviewed, Fest said.

"We've existed for 2,000 years," Fest said of the Catholic Church. "This parish has existed for 85 years. The pastor has certain rights and responsibilities. It's not a majority-rule kind of thing."

Our Lady has 1,500 members, Gibbs said, with attendance at Sunday services about 500.

The last straw for the disgruntled parishioners came when Tyree began implementing changes that Fest ordered for the Panorama Room -- changes that the archdiocese said has resulted in a healthier bottom line.

People who used to have keys and unfettered access now must seek permission to use the room, and only for church purposes. Events sponsored by partisan groups were banned, and Fest, in concert with archdiocese policy, required all groups to acquire their own liability insurance before renting the room.

Ronald Saunders, a member of the church finance committee, said the changes were necessary, although some didn't like them.

"Their parents and forefathers built the church, but you can't live by those regulations anymore," Saunders said. "They don't want to live by the laws that govern us now. This is an archdiocese church. This is not their church."

Parishioners See Racism

Don't tell that to Alston and the men who meet Monday nights in his Hillcrest basement, the mutiny's nerve center.

Alston, 60, a chauffeur, sits at a table where a Bible rests. A dozen others take seats on bar stools, benches and sofas. Sometimes, Alston's wife, Carolyn, comes. She's also suspended.

Ailing hearts, creaky joints and gray hair are common topics of discussion, as well as razzings and disagreements over how to make their case to the public. Letters have been sent to bishops and even to Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, archbishop of Washington -- irking church leaders who said it was rude of parishioners to take problems straight to the top.

They've debated their complaints with the council that helps run the church, though some describe the debates as more like shouting matches.

What got them all suspended was passing out fliers, with their names attached, making the allegations about Tyree and gathering 100 names on petitions seeking his removal. The suspensions infuriated the men.

"If that's not racism, I don't know what is," Alston said at a recent caucus. After several people made similar accusations, Paul Kearney, a former federal investigator and community activist, piped up: "I don't agree with you calling [Fest] a racist."

But the men made a pact to speak with one voice in public, and in public there have been plenty of references to race.

To the dismay of many parishioners, the group picketed on Morris Road SE in front of the church this summer. Its placards compared Fest to a grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, and they chanted slogans including "Jim Crow has got to go" and "Give us our church back."

The men view their fight as a symbol of larger injustices associated with being black in America. For more than a century, black Catholics have lobbied, with some success, for recognition of their unique cultural expressions within the church, such as using gospel music and Protestant-like sermons. Still, many believe the Catholic Church isn't doing enough.

At one meeting, Bill Shelton, a lawyer, shared a passage from Randall Robinson's "Quitting America," which chronicled his decision to move to the Caribbean island of St. Kitts rather than endure racism in the United States.

"I am convinced now that I cannot change them from within or without, and even attempting to from within is to run the risk of losing one's soul," read Shelton, a suspended parish council member.

All nodded their heads in agreement.

Search for Healing

On the morning of Alston's sidewalk encounter with the priest, the Rev. Sidney Speaks gave the sermon at Our Lady. Without acknowledging the fight directly, he seemed to talk to the parties involved. Being a Christian, he said, is like that moment when a household's credit cards are maxed out and there's no money to pay the bills. Nerves get frayed, he said, causing disputes between wives and husbands. Parents get tired of their children. The same thing, he said, happens with the church.

"Sometimes the church don't move fast enough for you," said Speaks, who is black, to amens and nods. "Your patience is running low. . . . Unlike in society, when the MasterCard runs out, God is always there to recharge you."

The parish family of Our Lady could use a recharge. Longtime members said they are weary of the fights at the parish council meetings, friends not talking to one another and showing up at church on edge. "I want to be able to come in on Sundays and be rejuvenated," said Wheeler, a lifelong member. "This is the place I go to for peace and quiet."

But neither the church nor the offended parishioners have shown any willingness to compromise, to the chagrin of local Catholics.

Angela Waters, a parishioner at a nearby congregation, kept up with the issue from afar until Alston handed her a flier after a recent Sunday Mass. Her friends honked their horn for her to get in the car, but she waved them off for nearly 15 minutes, searching for a more peaceable resolution.

"Have you gone to your parish council?" she asked. "Have you tried to talk to your pastor?"

"We've done that," Alston said, as other church members implored him to go home.

The next day, after thinking through the conversation, Waters said that Alston and the others handing out fliers seemed like nice people but that "it's sad to see things like that happening. It makes me feel that Satan is getting a foothold and breaking up the church."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company
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« Reply #1 on: January 18, 2006, 12:08:26 PM »

Bravo for the Catholic Church! This is a very encouraging article; I hope they crack down more on these weirdo dissenters.

Anastasios
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« Reply #2 on: January 18, 2006, 12:51:18 PM »

"Their parents and forefathers built the church, but you can't live by those regulations anymore," Saunders said. "They don't want to live by the laws that govern us now. This is an archdiocese church. This is not their church."

The men view their fight as a symbol of larger injustices associated with being black in America. For more than a century, black Catholics have lobbied, with some success, for recognition of their unique cultural expressions within the church, such as using gospel music and Protestant-like sermons. Still, many believe the Catholic Church isn't doing enough.

Sadly this group appears to be "innovating" their own version of Catholicism. 
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« Reply #3 on: January 18, 2006, 01:01:39 PM »

People who used to have keys and unfettered access now must seek permission to use the room, and only for church purposes. Events sponsored by partisan groups were banned, and Fest, in concert with archdiocese policy, required all groups to acquire their own liability insurance before renting the room.
How shocking!  Partisan groups not allowed to use church property?  Actually following Archdiocese policy?  How audacious! Roll Eyes

"Their parents and forefathers built the church, but you can't live by those regulations anymore," Saunders said. "They don't want to live by the laws that govern us now. This is an archdiocese church. This is not their church."
Well, those "old regulations" probably weren't in line with Archdiocese policy to begin with.  I'm guessing these dissenters are a bunch of old, senile fuddy-duddy's.

The men view their fight as a symbol of larger injustices associated with being black in America. For more than a century, black Catholics have lobbied, with some success, for recognition of their unique cultural expressions within the church, such as using gospel music and Protestant-like sermons. Still, many believe the Catholic Church isn't doing enough.
Well, ummmm....because gospel music and Protestant-like sermons are....Protestant? ÂÂ  Roll Eyes ÂÂ Puhleeeeze.

I'm afraid GiC's "Well, go to a ______ church then." statement applies here.  Very sad. ÂÂ

An idea....maybe, if the RC hierarchy in this area have any type of positive relations with the local Copts, they could invite one of them to talk to their council/dissenters at a meeting?  You know, some REAL Africans can share what traditional Christianity is, how it functions and what worship is about - even just a quick overview.  It may sound weird, but it sounds like these dissenters just don't "get it".
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« Reply #4 on: January 18, 2006, 01:02:43 PM »

Sadly this group appears to be "innovating" their own version of Catholicism.ÂÂ  

I've only been to maybe a half-dozen Catholic services in my lifetime, but from what people are saying, these don't seem that "innovative" anymore unfortunately.
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« Reply #5 on: January 18, 2006, 01:22:54 PM »

So you're saying it's a good thing that the bishop sends a priest who appears, from what I see, to be a high-handed pain in the batoosh.

Come on, guys. If this happened in your Orthodox parish, you'ld be out the door in a month.
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« Reply #6 on: January 18, 2006, 01:23:48 PM »

What else could be expected...exceptions & adaptations for converts plus very poor catechesis...pretty soon the original tradition disappears.

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« Reply #7 on: January 18, 2006, 01:38:53 PM »

So you're saying it's a good thing that the bishop sends a priest who appears, from what I see, to be a high-handed pain in the batoosh.

Come on, guys. If this happened in your Orthodox parish, you'ld be out the door in a month.


When priests shut down liberal dissent they are "high-handed."  When priests shut down conservative dissent they are "progressive."

If a priest went against the faith I'd be gone. But this priest clearly isn't. And if his bishop backed him, how do we know he is even "high handed" in the first place? Could just be a bunch of disgruntled people which is what I think is going on here.

A.
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« Reply #8 on: January 18, 2006, 01:53:27 PM »

If a priest went against the faith I'd be gone. But this priest clearly isn't. And if his bishop backed him, how do we know he is even "high handed" in the first place? Could just be a bunch of disgruntled people which is what I think is going on here.

Or... a massive conspiracy, penetrating every level of clergy in the Catholic church, to thus overrule those parishoners (which are really, the true kepers of the Catholic faith)  Wink

/end conspiracy theory
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« Reply #9 on: January 18, 2006, 01:55:34 PM »

If they think it's racial, by all means let Cardinal Arinze tend the flock...I'm sure they will be pleased...then again they might label him a "uncle tom"...

james
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« Reply #10 on: January 18, 2006, 03:37:53 PM »

So you're saying it's a good thing that the bishop sends a priest who appears, from what I see, to be a high-handed pain in the batoosh.

Come on, guys. If this happened in your Orthodox parish, you'ld be out the door in a month.


Singing Gospel music and preaching Protestant style in Catholic church is a good thing?  Not letting partisan groups use the hall and having some control over access to the hall and going through proper procedure for liability is bad?

Address the reasons, not the rhetoric.
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« Reply #11 on: January 18, 2006, 04:43:16 PM »

Bravo for the Catholic Church! This is a very encouraging article; I hope they crack down more on these weirdo dissenters.

Anastasios

Often it is difficult for a Serb to write anything nice about the RCC, but like Anastasios said, I agree they are spot on here.

I would hope for/expect the same reaction in our Church.

Elisha,

   I agree with your statements as well.
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« Reply #12 on: January 18, 2006, 06:19:13 PM »

Singing Gospel music and preaching Protestant style in Catholic church is a good thing?ÂÂ  Not letting partisan groups use the hall and having some control over access to the hall and going through proper procedure for liability is bad?

Address the reasons, not the rhetoric.

Well, I dunno-- even if the new priest is enforcing long-neglected rules, it's also possible that he's being an abrasive controlling jerk in doing so. I have enormous respect for McCarrick as a spokeman; he's very good at dealing with the press. I know nothing of him as an administrator, and being, a suppose, a corrupt protestant--

No, I take that back. Being a corrupt protestant who is also saddled with bishops, I am very sensitive these days to high-handedness. The day is long past when being right was a good enough excuse for being a jerk.

I'm also reading a subtext from both you and Anastasios that you would not have a problem here because the priest would be on your side.
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« Reply #13 on: January 18, 2006, 06:32:36 PM »

Quote
No, I take that back. Being a corrupt protestant who is also saddled with bishops, I am very sensitive these days to high-handedness. The day is long past when being right was a good enough excuse for being a jerk.

If my remarks are read in the context of my corpus of online writing (which is unfortunately large), they would be clear; I have often stated the same thing, namely that being right is not an excuse for being a jerk. In fact, I just said this on ecafe about an hour ago LOL.

Quote
I'm also reading a subtext from both you and Anastasios that you would not have a problem here because the priest would be on your side.

I'm sorry that you felt I was saying that but that is not what I was saying. I said, "If a priest went against the faith I'd be gone. But this priest clearly isn't." which to be clear I meant as "if it isn't a matter of faith, then you should stay put even if you don't like the guy."  I have suffered under liberal priests and not done what these people are doing.

There are cases where priests are heavy-handed; my former Byz. Catholic priest oftentimes behaved heavy-handedly.  But I find that far more often, it's disgruntled people who want a democracy in the church that use such lables.

Anastasios
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« Reply #14 on: January 18, 2006, 08:32:32 PM »

My opinion will be a bit tainted...the Archdiocese here in Los Angeles is very liberal and tends to ignore guide lines from Rome...unless it improves I will definitely will be seeking a move East...though how far is yet to be determined...and after 4 years of contemplating ya think one would know...

james
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« Reply #15 on: January 18, 2006, 10:28:37 PM »

My opinion will be a bit tainted...the Archdiocese here in Los Angeles is very liberal and tends to ignore guide lines from Rome...unless it improves I will definitely will be seeking a move East...
james

Get out of that ecumenical hot-tub and c'mon over!  Grin

I did. I don't regret it.
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« Reply #16 on: January 18, 2006, 11:19:20 PM »

"Brother Marx is arrogant, condescending and authoritarian in his demeanor," the suspended men wrote to Fest late last year. They demanded that he be sent somewhere else.

Sounds like the old adage is true: you get the priest you deserve.

Quote
To the dismay of many parishioners, the group picketed on Morris Road SE in front of the church this summer. Its placards compared Fest to a grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, and they chanted slogans including "Jim Crow has got to go" and "Give us our church back."

"Our church."  What a crock.  Why is it "yours"?  Because you put money down to build it?  Because you have some family legacy?  Because you're black, white, Greek, Russian, or whatever?  Granted, those things can, should, and even must be appreciated in their own right, but they are no reason to lay claim to the church as "ours."  Or, as said by one of the faithful --

Quote
"Their parents and forefathers built the church, but you can't live by those regulations anymore," Saunders said. "They don't want to live by the laws that govern us now. This is an archdiocese church. This is not their church."

The money donated, the time sacrificed, the family histories -- all these were supposed to be done for the glory of God, no strings attached, and submitted to the authorities instituted by our Lord: the bishops and priests.  The buck stops there, and if these prideful whiners don't like it, tough.  How's that for pastorally sensitive?   Grin 
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« Reply #17 on: January 18, 2006, 11:31:36 PM »

The money donated, the time sacrificed, the family histories -- all these were supposed to be done for the glory of God, no strings attached, and submitted to the authorities instituted by our Lord: the bishops and priests.  The buck stops there, and if these prideful whiners don't like it, tough.  How's that for pastorally sensitive?  ÃƒÆ’‚ Grin  

Do you know how many times I wanted to scream this at several of my prior Churches?  What is it about people donating to Church and then feeling as though that gives them the right to re-write 2000 years of tradition?

"Um, Joe Richguy has just donated $25,000 to the Church and asks if anyone would be upset if we ordained his wife.  We are also selling T-shirts with his company logo and an icon of Jesus kissing Britney Spears."
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« Reply #18 on: January 19, 2006, 12:04:18 AM »

Do you know how many times I wanted to scream this at several of my prior Churches?ÂÂ  What is it about people donating to Church and then feeling as though that gives them the right to re-write 2000 years of tradition?

"Um, Joe Richguy has just donated $25,000 to the Church and asks if anyone would be upset if we ordained his wife.ÂÂ  We are also selling T-shirts with his company logo and an icon of Jesus kissing Britney Spears."

All to often a sense of "Quid Pro Quo" exists in some parishioners who feel that since they have either contributed vast sums of monies or have been in seats of influence in the church feel that the church is a platform for their wants and needs forgetting what the church is there for.  The church needs to stand firm in these matters otherwise what we will have is just a social club run by the more affluent and influencial.

JoeS
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