A note- I make reference to Protestant religious services several times, not in criticism, but to emphasize the formerly gigantic distinction between a Catholic mass and a Protestant Sunday service. If you don't know, the formality, ritual and familiarity of the mass is an essential identity of Catholicism.
Bishop Walter Hurley, the apostolic administrator of Saginaw, has relieved a priest from his assignment at a parish in Bay City, Michigan.
The reason? Not because of the theft of parish funds. Not for sexual or moral impropriety. Not for supporting ideas opposed to Church teaching like abortion, same-sex marriages, or female ordinations.
No, the priest was not guilty of any of these. This priest’s crime? Attempting to restore some tradition to the liturgy in an attempt to reinvigorate his rapidly dying parish.
A good summary of what happened can be found here:
Here is a copy of the letter I sent:
The Most Rev. Walter A. Hurley
Diocese of Saginaw MI
I read with great sadness of your treatment of young Father Edwin Dwyer. His removal has reached the ears of Catholics throughout the country.
Put briefly, I believe you have chosen a safe and utterly wrong action that does no service to our church. Sadly, this has not come as a surprise.
Two or three times a year, I attend Sunday mass at a beautiful big old church with a proper choir and organ in Brooklyn when we are in port and I am able to get ashore for a few hours. There is easily room for 1,000 people. There are usually less than 100 there, and at age 44 I am the youngest one there.
My own home parish in [redacted] is better attended. The mostly retired people there use the church as a social center, advertise for insurance, and to listen to tepid Protestant songs played on guitar and drums while a series of foreign-born pass-through priests try to shore up the dwindling attendance. The one thing missing is anyone paying attention to the priest or anything he has to say. But hey, plenty of free coffee and donuts for 80% of the parishioners to enjoy after walking out after communion and before mass ends.
The brand new parish next town over has a Latin mass once a week. There is nowhere near enough seating, and the sounds of crying babies, animated young families and plans being made brings an energy that I haven’t felt in the last 20 years. I will change parishes when I next return from sea.
With respect, I ask that you consider restoring Fr. Dwyer. He has inspired people to come back to church, the opposite of what is happening in the west right now. While I recognize that you have a duty to listen to the subset of parishioners who are unhappy with Fr. Dwyer, I do not believe that removing him represents a greater good than the alternatives available.
Above all other things, it becomes obvious that Fr. Dwyer believes that he has an obligation to his parishioners, to get them to mass again, to act like Catholics again. This resonated with people who weren’t going to mass!
I submit that the aging body of leadership within the Catholic Church represents both chicken and egg in fomenting the crisis that is rapidly becoming existential for us. Aside from the self-inflicted horrors that make the news, our bishops and priests do nothing to inspire the young and ensure a future for our church, save occasionally badly aping Protestant revivals for kids, which are rightfully mistrusted and tasteless from our tradition as worshippers.
The farmers have stopped planting seeds in favor of tending the dwindling existing crop. There is no secret that age is winnowing down the number of parishioners AND priests. Local actions, such as the events at Our Lady of Peace, where a reversal of this was happening, is a perfect example of why mob rule is not an effective managerial tool. Serving settled practicing parishioners is part of the job. But the church’s recruiting efforts, frankly, are awful, and I pray that this is not intentional. Young priests are a treasure, and it may be that there is something so horribly twisted and disordered and self-reverential in the chain of command in the Church today, that preservation of that management has become a more important goal than service to the people and service to the Lord. This is certainly a popular opinion, with reason. There are other, less tactful references to be made, to which we can not enumerate, but all, sadly, appear to be well-deserved. Let this not be one of those things.
I fear that there will be no church within driving distance of my home when I am your age. In 30 years the number of priests will be a fraction of what it is today. Possibly the number of Catholics, too. A VERY small number of priests and parishes are thriving- not fiscally, as elderly Catholics are certainly generous, and young families rarely have enough money to spare much, but in the spiritual sense- growing and tending to the next generation of us has become a ministry poorly executed, with evidence to be found at every single mass. Fr. Dwyer’s assertion that
“”Old ways” are quite popular among younger Catholics. Smells, bells, classic hymns, chant, prolonged silence, and, hold on for this one, LATIN are all largely embraced by the younger generations of the Church.
This is patently and obviously true. The gap between Catholic Mass and a Unitarian Sunday service has shrunk. The terribly sad belief that the church administrators are focused on preserving their perquisites and not on service has grown for a reason. I ask that you support and foster Fr. Dwyer’s efforts to return some reverence to the mass and thereby try to grow the church again.
Submitted with respect,