Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Chaos at a D.C. Parish

There was a Washington Post articles a few days ago (1/18) that detailed a disturbing chain of events occuring at a D.C. parish.

Before I start analyzing this, a disclaimer. Obviously I do not attend this parish. My comments are my take on the situation given the perspective presented in the article and my understanding of Catholic teaching as it pertains to this.

Apparently the trouble is at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Anacosta. It' s one of the D.C. Diocese's traditionally-black parishes and opened 85 years ago by black members of the community who wanted their own church. Black and white pastors have come and gone over the years, but none has brought so much controversy with him as Fr. Donald Fest, the current pastor at Our Lady. He is of an order of priests devoted to black Catholics, so you wouldn't think there would be a problem, even if he is white.

You'd be wrong. Protests, fliers handed out before Mass, and other disruptions, lead mostly by Bill Aston, a member of the parish, have led to major distress in the parish. Aston and other dissenters call Fest a "racists" and have submitted petitions to try to drive him out of the parish. They complain that he runs the parish "like a plantation." Fest, who has worked in Baltimore and New Orleans before coming to Our Lady, says that "If I'm a racist, the I've picked some--well, I didn't pick them--assignments."

The auxiliary bishop of Washington has said that the "upset group should obey the pastor or find another church." Alston, however, doesn't want to obey, saying that "it's not going to happen like that." There are issues with a brother, who is black and opf the same order as Fr. Fest, who runs parish activities and committees. The dissenters don't like his leadership style. They don't like the new rules for the church's famous "Panorama Room", which used to be available for unfettered access. Now you ust have a key and ask permission to use the room for church purposes only. You must alos acquire liability insurance. Members of the church finance committee didn't much like the change, but, as one mbmerr said, "the changes were necessary....this is an archdiocese church. It is not their church."

The Catholic Church isn't a democracy. Never has been. Seems like some of these folks have an issue with that. The dissenters call Fest a racist, and in p ublic there are "plenty of references to race." They've compared Fest to a Grand Wizard of the KKK and some believe that the Church isn't doing enough to satisfy the needs of black Catholics in worship,b y adding such things as gospel music and longer, Protestant-type sermons.

Not all the parishioners feel this way; it appears to be a relativly small minority that is disrupting the whole. There's an impasse--they won't stop protesting,a nd Fest won't leave until he's reassigned.

OK, my take: how can you accuse a priest who has dedicated his whole life to serving black Catholics a racist? He's white--that doesn't make him a member of the KKK! Let's get real! Just because he doesn't do things "your way" doesn't mean he's a bad guy. So you have to get a key to the room and use it only for Church purposes--geez, sounds pretty reasonable to me. Sounds like the way most churches and halls and things are run these days. Sounds like the "dissenters" don't like the idea of someone coming in and changing what they're used to. Sorry, guys, but that's life. What is he doing that so egregious?

And we've also got the whole I'm going to rebel against the Church vibe. Um, look. The Catholic Church is many things, but a democracy it ain't. The auxiliary bishop is right--if you don't like it, leave. Just because your ancestors built this church doesn't mean that you have a special right or ownership to it. Everybody's ancestors built a church building somewhere. That doesn't give you any cool authority.

And the part about adding stuff to the services? OK, gospel music (in correct, limited doses) is fine. We do plenty of gospel-inspired pieces in our choir and the congregation loves them. But "Sister Act" like stuff doesn't belong in the Catholic Church. We just don't do that. It's not our thing. Sorry. It would be like asking a Gospel Choir to sing Panis Angelicus--they'd probably look at you like you were nuts. And the "Protestant like sermons"? They have Protestant Churches for that. The sermon is not the main focus of Catholic Mass--the Eucharist is. And 99.9% of Catholics would jump out of their skins if we had long Protestant like sermons! My parish can barely stand 10 minutes!

I hope this has a peaceful resolution, but this is one strange situation. How can there be such vehement opposition to a pastor? Crazy.


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babove said...

Right On, Emily!!! The Church is one, holy, catholic and apostolic. As such, we are to OBEY the apostolic successors. In addition, I see the protestors as being in conflict with several commandments: #1 - elevating their own interests to God's; #3 - not keeping the Sabbath holy by their disruptions and #7 - stealing and/or disturbing the spiritual and worship time of others.

babove said...

Right On, Emily!!! The Church is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic and as such we are to OBEY the successors of the apostles! The protestor's behavior is in disobedience to their priest and BISHOP!!!

In addition, I blatantly see difficulties with several commandments: #1: elevating one's personal interests to those of God; #3: willfully NOT keeping the Sabbath as Holy and #7: stealing and or disrupting the spiritually worship time of fellow parishoners.

Me thinks these protestors really need our prayers.