Many Losers in the Great St. Anthony Purge

“First we must cross the river,” Benito was saying.  “Do you believe me now when I tell you that you must not attempt to swim it, or even get wet from it, or must you try that too?”

“What happens if I just dive in?”

“Then you will be as you were in the bottle.  Aware and unable to move.  but it will be very cold, and very uncomfortable, and you will be there for all eternity knowing that you put yourself there.”

Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle Inferno  1976


Well it’s official, a letter writing campaign by a clique at my parish managed to get our 20 something year old pastor removed and transferred to Winchendon and replaced by the 60 something Pastor currently there..

When I first heard about this effort several weeks ago I figured it was just the normal ruffled feathers that come with a big change. After all our previous pastor had been at our church for 14 years and was both a strong speaker and a powerful force.  Any person replacing him would have some problems so when our new pastor came in, only a few years past ordination it was likely quite a shock to some of the older families.

However when I talked to Fr. Mike I found out this was a lot more serious than I thought. Despite the lack of anything resembling wrongdoing a concerted effort was being made to remove him. He noted that I was welcome to write a letter supporting him to the Bishop (which I did) but remembering that there were a few feathers ruffled when Fr. Bob first came in 15 years ago I figured it was going to be a lot of noise that the Bishop wasn’t going to take note of.

Boy was I wrong.  The Parish and the Diocese has managed to shoot itself in the foot big time.  The number of losers in this sorry affair  is rather numerous:

1. Bishop McManus:   By giving into a clique he not only gives the impression that he can be swayed over minor disagreements over staff & spending but he makes himself vulnerable to this kind of pressure from cliques in other parishes in the future.

2. The Priests of the Worcester County Dioceses: If a priest is guilty of misconduct the it is incumbent on a bishop to act quickly and decisively to remove him, but if the priests of the parish get the idea that the Bishop is going to melt over a few letters concerning parish operations & spending that can’t be good for either morale or operations.

3. The Seminarians: What do you think young men studying to be priests in this Diocese are going to think hearing about this?  Will they dare to be dynamic and challenge their flock to get out of their comfort zone and follow Christ or will they be inclined to play it safe, intimidated, worried that any move that might make those with money or influence in a parish upset?

4. Vocations: It’s hard enough to generate vocations in the east these days.  This example of a young priest being chewed up and spat out by a parish isn’t going to make it any easier.

5. Steve DiNatale Mayoral Campaign:  Steve has been a good state rep for the city and to my knowledge has absolutely no knowledge or involvement in any of this, but the facts won’t matter.  He is a lector at this parish and one of our most prominent members so people will assume he does.   It’s a no win situation. If he comments on this in any way he is likely to divide the people in his parish base,  If he says nothing than people will make assumptions about what he thinks, what he did or didn’t do.  And that’s just inside the parish, the rumors going around the Catholic community in town certainly aren’t going to help and gives an easy in if any of those running against him choose to use it.

6. St. Anthony’s Knights of Columbus Chapter: Our council is barely a year old, a divide in the parish can’t be good for recruiting within the parish and certainly isn’t going to make Catholic men from other parishes without councils anxious to join us.

7. St. Anthony’s School: Our Elementary School will be trading a young dynamic priest, who was the chaplain of the Fitchburg Fire Department.  A priest from the video game, email and cell phone era for a priest in his 60’s. Boy that’s going to be a draw for young families choosing between the catholic schools in the area. And hey, if parents if you have a choice between enrolling your kid in a Catholic school where the parish is divided or a school where it is not, where are you going to go?

8. Our incoming pastor: I’ve met Fr. Leblanc & know him slightly.  He seems a nice enough man but not only does he gets thrown into a now divided parish but he’s on the spot. Does he make his own decisions on how to do things, or is he looking over his shoulder?  Does he make changes, does he stand pat?  It’s going to take a lot of effort and prayer to get things where they should be. And what if the folks who got rid of Fr. Clements decide they don’t like what HE does? What if the money doesn’t start coming in? Does he get the blame?

But the biggest loser of all is St. Anthony of Padua Parish:

Our reputation among priests is likely shot (what priest will want to go to a parish that makes trouble for them)?

Our reputation with the Diocese is likely shot (Nobody likes to deal with whiners and given that we escaped the last church closings by the skin of our teeth, if there is a future church closing in town we’ve likely moved to the front of the list)

Our reputation among potential parishioners is likely shot (what Catholic moving into town will want to jump in the middle of this high school clique nonsense?)

And our reputation among ourselves is shot.  Who is going to want to get involved in any group or club or activity that they aren’t already part of?  After all if a pastor who makes a decision that somebody doesn’t like can be replaced,  how much more expendable is a mere parishioner? Much easier to just show up on sunday, put in the envelope and go home, or just decide to head off to a parish without High School drama queens.

All of this is a distraction from the primary duty of the church. To Teach and preach the word of God and put it into action in the community.

It will take an awful lot of prayer, supplication and humility on the part of the parish to recover from this disaster & if it doesn’t the worst part will be the knowledge that the responsibility for the fall of the parish and the waste of the hard work of Generations of faithful Sicilians who built up St. Anthony’s doesn’t fall on some outsider.

It will be because we put ourselves there.