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January 18, 2006

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Jim

A puzzling story. There must be something more to it. It would be hard to figure that the pastor, a Josephite priest, would be some kind of crypto-racist. He has chosen to answer a call to serve the African American community for his whole life.

There are lots of parishes with autocratic pastors and overbearing associates, but they don't come unwound like this....there has to be something more to this story.

Al DelG

Why is this type of dispute newsworthy, let alone deserving of a front page article with a prominent photograph? (The photo at least showed the pastor apparently cordially greeting parishioners after mass).

This type of factional power struggle goes on in Protestant and other churches as a matter of course and seldom warrants even back-of-Metro section coverage. I guess it must be another example of the MSM's pre-programmed Catholic story focused on "dissent" or the Post's interest in deliberately stirring up trouble.

Denise

Remember this is the Washington Post. They made a big deal about a parish squabble in Alexandria,VA a couple of years ago. This paper loves to portray the Catholic Church in crisis. Since I live in the DC area, I read the Washington Post daily. Then I balance the politics by reading the Washington Times every day. Then I balance both of them with a weekly dose of the National Catholic Register and Our Sunday Visitor. It sure takes a lot of work to get the "real story" in this information age.

Tony

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.

This seems to be a common theme among "faith communities". "I paid my hard earned money, therefore I own it, or at least am some sort of part owner and you have to listen to me!"

Canon law begs to differ. The pastor is in control of the parish, granted authority by the Bishop. Of course you are welcome to contact the Bishop and make your views known, but if the Bishop comes down on the other side, and there are no improprieties or abuses, then you'll just have to deal with it.

And I'd like to know where the claim of racism comes from. Did the pastor utter racial epithets?

Jeff

This paper loves to portray the Catholic Church in crisis, Denise wrote.

My experience too. If the WaPo finds anything to throw toward or undercut the Church, it will. This organ of relativism will always be scandalized by the one Guardian of truth, the Catholic Church, which purports to hold out hope to a world awash in epistemological uncertainty.

What I can't do is read the WaTimes, owned and operated by the Unification Chuch ('Moonies').

Maclin Horton

We had a very similar situation here in a historically African-American parish. I was not directly involved and didn't know the details, but I am morally certain that the white pastor was not racist in any meaningful sense. He was in fact politically liberal and very concerned not to give even the appearance of racial insensitivity. As best I could tell it was just a huge and sad clash of personalities and cultures.

Sigh. The racial situation is so much more messy and complex than the still-dominant images of the Martin Luther King era portray it.

Jeff

Concern for victims is of primary importance, both for the prophets and the Gospel.

Skin color and ethnic groups aside, the feeling tone is one of power struggle, albeit one-sided. The parties playing the race-card and the use of victimhood here are, to paraphrase St. Paul, an instance of "sin taking advantage of the Gospel."

To demand that Father Fest relinquish his priestly authority is a questionably faithful demand on the part of the parish members; to accuse him of racism smacks of the many ganging up on the one, a very questionable practice, no matter what heritage one claims as certifiable victimhood.

John J. Simmins

The Post just had an article on another Josephite parish in Alexandria that I thought was glowing. It was back in the "B" section.

Jimmy Mac

" The pastor is in control of the parish, granted authority by the Bishop. Of course you are welcome to contact the Bishop and make your views known, but if the Bishop comes down on the other side, and there are no improprieties or abuses, then you'll just have to deal with it. "

Where this is going to get messy, however, are those situations in which, to shelter parish assets from being used to pay off priestly abuse awards to victims, the parishes have been made (or are claimed to be) individually incorporated entities. Once that happens, the claim that the parish members have no say over what goes on weakens.

I can see litigation taking place when conflicts arise between the wishes of the Bishop and the "Corporation" (even though headed by the Bishop).

Time will tell how this plays out.

Fr. J

No racist would want to join or be accepted by the Josephites. The charges of racism are...racist. This is a more typical dispute between a pastor and some parishioners from what I can see. Please, let's forgo the race card.

Tony

Where this is going to get messy, however, are those situations in which, to shelter parish assets from being used to pay off priestly abuse awards to victims, the parishes have been made (or are claimed to be) individually incorporated entities. Once that happens, the claim that the parish members have no say over what goes on weakens.

As far as I know, this is a violation of Canon Law. (A Canon lawyer would have a better grasp of whether that is actually true or not).

Pat

From my experience, the “more there” may be the crazy competition that occurs among parish groups for coveted parish common space. When my children were small, I was a member of many different (hostile to each other) parish groups and watched the craziness escalate. Every single group was sure the Pastor favored a different group- ergo it was his fault- the spirit of Christian Charity and cooperation was… well wasn’t.

We discussed the issue at length at Parish Council and made some changes that have had positive and long lasting results. The “space” calendar had been a first come first served operation. Go into the rectory and block out the open dates your group wants-(everyone blocked out the max- just in case…)

Our parish instituted a well-advertised yearly calendar meeting where representatives of every parish group meet to state their space needs and negotiate conflicts face to face. The calendar is set, and they are provided with the calendar and a contact list, so that they could personally negotiate changes as the year progressed.

It was a miracle! The head of the PTO could call the head of the CYO when the date of the plant sale changed. The Boy Scout Rep could call the Faculty Rep to see if the scouts could use the space the night before the assembly- if they set up the chairs before they left. The pastor was once again a wise and respected member of the Clergy, and blessedly left out of the whole thing.

Jimmy Mac

Tony:

Canon Law is evidently being set aside in Bend, OR, Portland, OR, etc., where the tack has been taken to divest the Bishop of title to the parishes and vest them in a parish-level corporation.

Canon Law doesn't hold much water in a civil court, if that court chooses to overloook it.

We shall see. My pastor is a canon lawyer and I intend to ask him when we next speak.

Ronnie Paul Floyd

It seemed clear in the story that the issue is this much sought after and very nice hall. The thing that stuck out to me in the article was the change in policy about allowing the hall to be used for partisan events. Anyone who knows DC, knows that the only party that would be affected in South East DC by this is the Democratic party, in which something like 90% of DC residents claim membership. Add to that the fact that the article identified at least one of the protesters as an activist and I am beginning to see a patern.

Theory: the Archdiocese was presured to maintain its political impartiality, esp. in light of the situation of the Cardinal and the communion/politician issue. As a result the policy at this parish changed, which resulted in DC democrats/activists loosing a nice free meeting space, which some of them felt entitled to. Being democrats, they think that everything can be manipulated by demagogary. They still haven't got it through their heads that that is not how the Holy Catholic Church is supposed to work.

The fact that the brother in question is black, as is the bishop overseeing the issue, and that the priest is a member of an order dedicated to African American Catholics doesn't stop the protesters from throwing around the word Racist because that is page one in their play book.

Bill Dunn

The article by the Washington Post was very unbalanced. The reporter, if you can call the article reporting, did not bother to "really" see what was going on. Instead the reporter crafted a well orchestrated attack with these men.

1. The pastor is a Josephite (this was curiously omitted from the article) who has dedicated his entire life to work in the African-American community. If he was racist, why would he be a member of a religious order that works exclusively in the African-American community. He has helped to shape a number of African-American vocations. How could a racist pastor inspire vocations from the African-American community if this were true? This is reverse racism. The group of men choose to defame Fr. Fest's character since he would not bow down to their demands.

2. The quote concerning the parish numbers is laughable. In every Church and Parish there is a large number of registered members and then the smaller number of those who actually attend. The membership at OLPH has not declined but increased. If the reporter had bothered to examine the parishes' contribution to the "Forward in Faith" campaign they would have seen that the parish exceeded its goal by 150%. Is this the work of a racist, overbearing pastor? Or a declining membership?

3. Did the reporter ever investigate the men of this group? They brought their concerns to the Diocese and were told to cease. They choose to respond by passing out racist flyers and other racist tactics. Is this the action of a Christian. To defame and attack?

4. Why would the post choose to run this on the front page of the Washington Post? We have the war in Iraq. Issues concerning the President, Congress, and other "newsworthy" events. Yet the Washington Post chooses to print a "yellow" article on the front page of its newspaper. It reveals the Washington Post's anti-Catholic sentiment.

5. This is not an issue of a racist, overbearing pastor, but one of a group of men who think the Church and its beliefs is like Burger King. "You can have it your way." And when you don't get it your way, you threaten, cajole, and make libelous charges.

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