Despite having ample evidence that Jesus will work it out, a Catholic priest halted a homegoing service in Maryland to have a black family removed from the church. The servant of God even kicked the dead body out of the funeral, proving once again, there is no sanctuary when it comes to racism.
Aside from the fact that she was no longer alive, Agnes Hicks’ Charlotte Hall, Md., mass was going along perfectly fine on Tuesday until an attendee of the funeral went in for a hug and accidentally knocked over a chalice at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, angering pastor Michael Briese.
“There will be no funeral, no repast, everyone get the hell out of my church,” Briese reportedly told the family. According to Fox 5, Briese then kicked the family out of the place of worship, telling them to remove the body of the woman who wished to be laid to rest in the church where she was baptized.
But Briese wasn’t done. Yea, though he walked through the valley of the shadow of death, the priest feared no evil, but he was a little bit scared of black people. Instead of getting Jesus on the main line, Briese decided to call his Lord and Savior from whom all white things flow: the police.
After the police responded to the call, the officers determined that the family had done nothing wrong and escorted the family to another church in a nearby county where they finished the service.
Following the incident, the Archdiocese of Washington issued a statement saying: “What occurred at St. Mary’s Parish this morning does not reflect the Catholic Church’s fundamental calling to respect and uplift the God-given dignity of every person nor does that incident represent the pastoral approach the priests of the Archdiocese of Washington commit to undertake every day in their ministry.”
Church officials said they are still investigating the incident. I haven’t checked the archives, but I’m sure the Catholic church has a spotless record of handling priest wrongdoing. An organization of this size wouldn’t have millions of followers if the church had a history of dismissing traumatic events. If you Googled “Catholic priest scandal” or “Catholic church cover-up,” I bet you wouldn’t get any results.
Although the family says they are still upset by the event, I’m sure they’ll be ok.
For 25 years, Jim Graham has tried to prove he is the son of a deceased Catholic priest who grew up in Lowell and graduated from Boston College.
He pulled old adoption records that mention his “alleged father.” He leaned on leaked documents from a friendly priest and petitioned Catholic leaders all the way to Rome, to no avail.
The quest continued Monday afternoon in a Catholic cemetery in Tewksbury, as a backhoe turned up earth on the Rev. Thomas Sullivan’s grave and promised to provide answers once and for all.
“We missed a lot, the two of us,” Graham said, fighting back tears after the exhumation. “Didn’t have much opportunity for father and son.”
Graham, his wife, and forensic pathologist Anna Marie Mires came to this cemetery on the grounds of an infirmary run by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate to take a DNA sample from Sullivan’s body. The sample will be compared with a sample provided by Graham and should offer a morbid capstone of Graham’s long search for the truth.
Children of Catholic priests live with secrets and sorrow: Jim Graham
“I never wanted it to come to this,” he said days earlier.
Graham, 72, had longed for some kind of confirmation from the Oblates, a 202-year-old Catholic religious order. He sought some acknowledgment that they knew and had tried to save face all these years.
“But they wouldn’t do that so I was left with no choice,” Graham said.
Although his quest appears to be unique, Graham is one of thousands of people around the world with credible claims that they were fathered by Catholic priests, often with no confirmation or financial support from the church. Frequently compelled to lead lives of silence and sorrow, they are the unfortunate victims of a religion that has, for nearly 900 years, forbidden priests to marry or have sex but has never set rules for what priests or bishops must do when a clergyman fathers a child.
Earlier this year, Graham received permission to conduct the exhumation from the Washington, D.C., office of the Oblates and had to overcome a variety of obstacles before the digging could begin.
He acquired a permit from the town of Tewksbury. Later, he went shopping for a drill bit that would be used to bore into Sullivan’s femur, an optimum location for retrieving DNA from a body that may have decomposed.
“So, there I was at Lowe’s buying some of the tools that the forensic anthropologist would use on my father,” said Graham, who was featured in a 2017 Globe Spotlight investigation into the children of Catholic priests. “I’m learning about all these procedures in ways I never thought I would.”
That drill bit came into play Monday. Mires, the forensic anthropologist, said the metal casket was raised from the grave. A nameplate identified the remains as the Rev. Thomas Sullivan, ensuring her that she had found the right body.
Mires said the remains were so well-preserved that she could recognize Sullivan from the photos she had seen. She took a sample from Sullivan’s femur, and three additional samples from other parts of his body, which was standard procedure for her. “From a DNA perspective, I was very happy about that,” Mires said.
The accelerated DNA testing will be done in Virginia, by Bode Cellmark Forensics, and Graham expects to receive test results in about a month. He said the total cost of the exhumation, the forensic anthropologist, a funeral director, and testing will exceed $10,000.
Coping International, a group that provides counseling and other support for priests’ children, has followed Graham’s case.
“I’m happy for Jim and I hope he finally finds closure,” said Vincent Doyle, the son of an Irish priest and the group’s founder. “But this was really a last resort and I can’t help but wonder, after 70 years, was there not a simpler solution?”
The Oblates say there was not. “Nobody is denying Jim’s idea that Father Tom Sullivan was his father,” said the Rev. Thomas G. Coughlin, the assistant to the order’s United States provincial. “We’ve been attempting to put his mind at ease. We just don’t have the information he wishes we would give him.”
Graham remains skeptical of that explanation, and for good reason. For a quarter century, at times working with the help of a detective agency, he has collected documents showing that Sullivan was almost certainly his father. The documents include more than 30 pages of records from a New York City adoption agency, which his mother used for day-care services after she left her husband, the man who raised Graham, in Buffalo, N.Y.
Those records refer to Jim as an “o.w. child,” or a child born out of wedlock, and mention a sympathetic “alleged father” living nearby.
Other records — church documents given to Jim by a friendly priest, and a transcript of his mother’s divorce proceedings — strongly suggest Sullivan deserted the Oblates and moved to New York City at about the same time as Jim’s mother.
The church records show that Sullivan was transferred from a church in Buffalo to the Oblate College in Newburgh, N.Y., about a 90-minute drive from Manhattan, “to protect him and save him” from “a serious occasion.” They also show that Sullivan left the college a month later, without leaving a forwarding address, saying he would never return.
If Graham’s mother and the Rev. Sullivan were attempting to start a new life as lovers and his parents, their plans were abruptly dashed when private detectives raided their New York City apartment. This, according to Graham, gave his stepfather the evidence he used to divorce his mother and retain custody of him and two girls that Graham now believes are his half-sisters.
After the raid, Sullivan rejoined the Oblates and spent the next 16 years doing penance — translating religious texts and performing menial tasks — at a shrine the Oblates maintained in upstate New York, according to church records reviewed by The Boston Globe. When the Oblates deemed him rehabilitated, he fulfilled assignments in far-flung regions of the country and eventually returned to Tewksbury, where in 1993 he died of melanoma in the infirmary overlooking the cemetery where he was buried.
Troubled by questions about why the man who raised him treated him so coldly, Graham carefully assembled the documents and interviewed clergy members, including a nun who knew the priest well. He petitioned Oblate leaders in Rome, asking that they formally acknowledge Sullivan was his father, but to no avail.
Then, last year, when Graham was prominently featured in the Spotlight investigation, he was contacted by a clergy abuse survivor from the Boston area who has been a vociferous advocate for other survivors.
Olan Horne, who was molested by the late Rev. Joseph Birmingham, offered to broker a meeting with Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the leader of a commission established by Pope Francis to study the issue of priests who sexually abuse children and young people. It was Horne’s hope, and Graham’s, that O’Malley would use his influence to push the Oblates to be more responsive.
O’Malley met with Horne in late December, Graham said, although Graham was not permitted to be there. As a result, Graham received a call from the Rev. Louis Studer, the head of the Oblates in the United States, though Studer offered little in the way of help.
“We’ve told him our records contain no reference to any offspring by Father Tom Sullivan,” said Coughlin, Studer’s assistant. “We have records but they don’t contain the information he’d like us to find there.”
But Graham persisted, until the Oblates agreed to allow him to exhume the Rev. Sullivan’s remains, leading him to pursue his quest to the end of the line – the small cemetery here on the grounds of the Oblate infirmary. “I’m pretty persistent,” Graham said. “I wasn’t going to go away.”
Pope Francis did an about-face last month and denounced the widespread coverup of sexual abuse by priests in Chile, prompting all 34 of the country’s bishops to offer their resignations.
He has said he was not receiving “truthful and balanced” information from the bishops, and on Thursday he released a letter to all Chileans declaring “never again” to “the culture of abuse and the system of coverup that allows it to perpetuate.”
The Vatican also announced the pope was sending a team of prelates to Chile to “advance the process of reparation and healing of abuse victims.”
But the pope has not revealed his plans for the church officials who ignored or actively covered up the abuse.
He faces competing demands. Prominent abuse-victims-turned-activists have demanded sweeping prosecutions under canon law, and some analysts agree that such accountability is the only way to restore public faith in the church. But one key figure in the scandal, Chilean Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz, is extremely close to the pope, and if church prosecutions stack up in Chile, Francis may find too few untainted candidates to replace the accused.
One senior Vatican official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Francis may start replacing bishops in the next few weeks.
The first to go, according to the official, are likely to be the four bishops who trained under Fernando Karadima, the Chilean priest at the center of the scandal, and have been accused of witnessing or covering up his abuse. Karadima abused scores of boys during the 1980s and 1990s and in 2011 was sentenced by the Vatican to a life of penance, banning him from public ministry to repent for his sins and pray for his victims.
One Vatican expert predicted Francis would ultimately accept the resignations of almost half of the bishops.
“To the four Karadima students, we can add four others who are over 75 and due for retirement,” said Luis Badilla, a Chilean journalist who lives in Rome and edits the website Il Sismografo, which reports on the Vatican. “That’s eight and that will happen fast, while another five or six replacements will take longer.”
Robert Mickens, editor of the Catholic newspaper La Croix International, said the Vatican’s ambassador to Chile was also in danger of losing his job for allegedly keeping Francis in the dark over the extent of abuse by priests in Chile.
The big question though is whether those moves will be enough to placate the victims and Chileans whose faith in the church has been shaken.
“Resignations are a good step, but that is the minimum,” said Juan Carlos Cruz, who was abused by Karadima in the 1980s and who over the last decade has emerged as a key advocate for justice. “If there is a case to respond to in canon law, I expect punishments.”
He and other activists said those punishments must also extend to Errazuriz, who was the top bishop of Chile from 1998 to 2010 and ignored reports of abuse by Karadima until the victims went public. He has been accused of actively covering up for Karadima and working to discredit the priest’s accusers.
“He is as evil as you can get, and I would like to see him punished,” said Cruz, 51, who now lives in Philadelphia and works as a brand manager for a multinational company.
In emails to Chilean Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati in 2013 and 2014, which were leaked to the Chilean press, Errazuriz refers to Cruz as a “serpent.” The emails seem to show the cardinal blocking a 2014 effort to get Cruz appointed to a papal commission on clergy abuse worldwide.
Marie Collins, an Irish abuse victim and advocate who served on the commission, also called on the pope to investigate and prosecute Errazuriz for his alleged role in the coverup.
“You can see from the emails he has no compunction in working behind the scenes at the Vatican to silence a victim,” she said.
But prosecuting Errazuriz may prove too much for the pope. The two men are close, their friendship dating to a 2007 conference of Latin American bishops that was held in Brazil. Since 2013, Errazuriz has been the pope’s right-hand man on the so-called C9 committee for Vatican reform, which Francis established to shake up the Vatican’s opaque bureaucracy.
Badilla said he expected Errazuriz would be eased off the committee when Francis next reshuffles members, though the pope may be less likely to single out such a high official for blame.
Still, the pope’s actions last month are part of a dramatic U-turn.
Francis is widely seen as a reformer working to bring the church in line with modern society, but he has long been criticized for paying lip service to combating abuse without truly understanding its pervasiveness.
In a visit to Chile in January, he accused Karadima’s victims of peddling “slander” and publicly supported Juan Barros, a Chilean bishop who faces accusations that he witnessed abuse by Karadima and did nothing to stop it.
A month later, Francis sent an investigator to talk to those victims.
In Cruz’s view, the pope realized the church was in danger of losing more followers if he failed to act.
The first indication of that came when fewer people than expected turned out for his visit to Chile. Another wake-up call came later that month when U.S. Cardinal Sean O’Malley said Francis’ “slander” accusation had created “great pain” for the victims.
After the 2,300-page investigative report was completed — its conclusions have not been made public — Francis invited Cruz and two other Karadima victims to meet with him in Rome.
Cruz said that he told Francis: “You could be the most amazing pope in the world if you stop this.”
“I think he was listening,” Cruz said.
Two weeks after the meeting, the pope met with Chile’s bishops and accused them of destroying evidence of abuse and putting church investigators under pressure to play down accusations.
Not only did that spur the bishops to offer their resignations, it also prompted calls for the Vatican to revive plans to create a tribunal within the church to punish bishops for covering up abuse. The pope dropped the plan in 2016, promising instead to beef up existing procedures for sanctioning bishops. Critics accused the pope of bowing to pressure from other Vatican officials.
In an editorial last month, the National Catholic Reporter wrote: “The shock of these mass resignations creates an opportunity and momentum that Francis should seize upon to implement the tribunal he proposed three years ago. No more delays. He should act now.”
Collins, who was serving on the papal commission investigating abuse, resigned in protest when the tribunal plans were scrapped.
She remained skeptical that the pope would act aggressively.
“If he won’t use that procedure to handle bishops in Chile, I doubt it will ever be used,” she said.
Collins pointed to Australian Archbishop Philip Wilson, who was found guilty in a civil court last month of covering up child sex abuse in the 1970s by a priest in New South Wales.
“Wilson has now been convicted but has yet to be sanctioned by the church,” she said.
Thirty-four Chilean bishops announced their resignation Friday over a child sex abuse scandal within the Church in Chile after three days of intense meetings with Pope Francis at the Vatican.
“We, all the bishops present in Rome, have tendered our resignation to the Holy Father so that he may decide freely for each of us,” the bishops said in a statement read out by a spokesman at the Vatican.
“We want to ask forgiveness for the pain caused to the victims, to the Pope, to God’s people and to our country for the serious errors and omissions we have committed,” the statement continued.
The striking announcement comes after Francis summoned the bishops to the Vatican over the scandal that has come to haunt his papacy.
Several members of the Chilean church hierarchy are accused by victims of ignoring and covering up child abuse by Chilean paedophile priest Fernando Karadima during the 1980s and 1990s.
“We thank the victims for their perseverance and courage, despite the enormous personal, spiritual, social and family difficulties they had to face, to which were often added the incomprehension and attacks of the Church community,” Friday’s statement said.
On Thursday evening, Francis promised “changes” to the Chilean church to “restore justice” following the private meetings with the delegation.