Below is Archbishop Schwietz’ letter to the parishioners of Holy Family Cathedral concerning the upcoming visitation. This letter starts by addressing concerns about “parish heritage” and ends with not-so-veiled accusations of embezzlement. Emphases in bold and comments in red.
July 8, 2010
Dear Holy Family Parishioners:
One of the more difficult tasks of a diocesan bishop is the exercise of his responsibility to oversee the proper administration of the parishes under his jurisdiction. Each pastor has the responsibility to wisely care for the shared life of the people entrusted to him in the parish and all the facets of parish life. [But, as the good Archbishop knows, some facets of parish life are more important than others, as “priests exercise their sacred function especially in the Eucharistic worship or the celebration of the Mass by which acting in the person of Christ and proclaiming His Mystery they unite the prayers of the faithful with the sacrifice of their Head.” Lumen Gentium, 28.] Every pastor brings his own unique gifts and style to this role. At the same time each parish has a distinct history, heritage, and style that pastors must respond to and respect. [Recalling Fr. Giebel’s forced “rehab” as pastor of St. Benedict’s – which was against the general will of the parish and dried the coffers right quick – this appeal to “parish heritage” rings pretty hollow. And if you’re looking for a junior priest who changed the “parish heritage” behind a senior cleric’s back, you might check out this link.] The often made analogy of pastor to people as a marriage is an apt one in the give and take that both require.
Over the course of time bishops are told lots of things about pastors by many people. Some of these concerns can be dealt with on an individual basis. Some are simply differences in styles or opinions. Many lack any basis in fact. However there are occasions when enough concern is expressed on a wide basis that a systematic review is in order so that a proper and informed response might be made. Wisely the Church provides a canonical process for this called visitation. [So the Archbishop is aware that sometimes parishioners “blow smoke,” and not all complaints have equal gravity. This is a good point to make. But how does the “concern” at Holy Family reach the quantum necessary to provoke the visitation? More specifically, how has Fr. Francis disrespected the “parish heritage”?]
I write today to inform Holy Family Parish that such a moment is upon us and that I have called for a formal visitation of the parish. This is necessary so that I might have accurate and complete information in order to make appropriate decisions for the future direction of the parish. [Here’s where things start getting 1984-ish. “Appropriate decisions” and “direction” are not given any objective qualifications. What exactly are appropriate “parish heritage” decisions and directions for Holy Family Cathedral? One in which the Catholic pro-abort mayor and local TV news are invited into the sanctuary to discuss the homeless? With interviews given in the sacristy? Is it appropriate “parish heritage” to remove Jesus from the tabernacle for the sake of an AFACT colloquium?] In doing this, I have been working in close collaboration with the leadership of the Western Dominican Province and their Provincial. They have been generous in their support and openness.
[ . . . ]
It is important that everyone understand what a visitation is and is not. In the first place it is a fact gathering process. It is neither prosecutorial nor fault finding. [Unless of course there is fault to be found. Then the fact-finding becomes fault-finding.] The visitation is meant to provide a process conducted by individuals with some objectivity so that they can determine and report an accurate picture to those charged with responsibility. The current situation involves the staff of the parish and the visitation will be primarily with them. It is not intended as a process that will involve the whole parish. [How can the “parish heritage” be determined by only examining the staff? Does the staff have a heritage in need of protection? Is the Spirit of Vatican II in danger of being extinguished at pastoral council meetings?] At the conclusion of their work the visitors will present a report of their findings to me and the Dominican Provincial so that we can move forward for the parish.
In preparation for the visitation I have asked that two things be done. The first is that a public accounting firm [???] be engaged to do a compilation and audit of the sources and uses of funds for the cathedral center renovation projects. [What does this have to do with “parish heritage”? If the Archbishop wants to conduct a detailed financial investigation of a parish in his diocese, he might consider some of the concerns voiced by parishioners here at St. Andrew’s.] I wish to stress that this is being done so that an accurate presentation of the finances of the center can be given to everyone. There is no implication of wrongdoing on anyone’s part. It is simply to get a clear and independent presentation of the expenditures and funding of the project. As well I have asked that the Parish Administrator be place [sic] on paid leave until the conclusion of the visitation. [Hmm. I fail to see how placing the Parish Administrator on paid leave will help Fr. Francis better address the issue of “parish heritage” at HFC.]
[ . . . ]
When a decision has been reached it will be communicated directly to the parish. In the meantime I ask for your patience and prayers for this process.
Sincerely yours in Christ and Mary,
Roger L. Schwietz, OMI
Archbishop of Anchorage
It is no secret that Fr. Francis has made changes to the catechesis going on at Holy Family Cathedral. But given the fact that the previous pastor announced from the pulpit that “the fact you are here makes you Catholic,” it seems that this was a needful change. And the Archbishop is well aware of the fact that this diocese has a whopping total of 2 seminarians currently in formation. Hard to remove the title of “mission territory” with that dubious distinction, and it’s hard to get young men to give their lives for a faith which they do not know, much less understand.
Given the recent history of the Archdiocese, there is a presumption that Fr. Francis is simply being harassed – and possibly run out of town – because he is orthodox. Despite stating that the “parish heritage” of HFC must be respected, the letter above fails to list how this heritage is being abused or neglected. Moreover, there are broad and needless implications of financial misfeasance or malfeasance. Therefore, pursuant to this layman’s obligation to express his opinion concerning the good of the Church, I recommend that the Archdiocese withdraw its planned visitation and reinstate the Parish Administrator forthwith.
Please pray for Archbishop Schwietz and Fr. Francis Le.