Saturday, August 27, 2005

Response Letter to Bishop Peña

Response Letter to Bishop Raymundo Peña

August 22, 2005

Bishop Raymundo Peña
Catholic Diocese of Brownsville
P.O. Box 2279
Brownsville, TX 78522

Dear Bishop Peña,

Below is the text (in italics) of the letter sent by Father Bert Diaz, Chancellor of the Diocese, to us, the five representatives of the 273 parishioners who addressed a letter of concerns to Father Louis Brum in April of this year.

Interspersed with the letter’s text is a commentary, providing context to Father Diaz’s remarks, indicating some of his omissions of important facts, and clarifying some of his misrepresentations.

August 11, 2005

Dear Mark, Michelle, Mirtala, Gerald, and Ana:

I received your certified letter yesterday, please be assured that I have not forgotten you; presently, I have a full work load on my hands. After my meeting with all of you, I met with both Fr. Louis and Bishop Peña and addressed your concerns at length.

Father Bert’s workload may be quite full, but the meeting he refers to happened on June 29, 2005—his response took a full 44 days. This sort of delay has been characteristic of the entire process, which began with the presentation of the letter of concerns to Father Louis on April 11, 2005.

Over one-third of a year (123 days) went by before this response was received. It is the first, formal, in-writing communication that has been received from anyone in authority in the Diocese that even purports to deal with the raised concerns.

At the meeting of June 29th, Father Bert pledged to communicate with the group, but did not do so until a second letter was sent in which alarm was expressed at the deteriorating situation in the parish, particularly relating to the religious education programs.

It is pure speculation as to when the promised communication to the group would have been received if the second letter had not been sent.

Father Louis has indicated that the concerns raised by the large number of parishioners “are not a priority” and in fact, he has said they represent an “agenda,” not concerns. The Diocesan administration appears to have the same mindset, given its dilatory behavior.

First of all, Fr. Louis has continued to repeat his pledge of meeting with you all, or any parishioner on an individual basis....

This “individual meeting” tactic of Father Louis is not only an illogical and inefficient way of dealing with a group communication/management problem but, more seriously, represents a faulty view of the nature of a parish community.

In this faulty view, the pastor precedes the parish community and there is no community except in the fact that each parishioner is connected to the pastor.

… We discussed the reasons why he feels reluctant to meet with you as a group. If you meet with him in a spirit of healing, and collaboration I am confident that you can work together in building up the body of Christ at Holy Spirit Parish....

First, it is nice to know that the Pastor’s reluctance to meet with groups of parishioners is actually based on some reasons, but it would be even nicer to know what those reasons are.

Secondly, Father Bert’s confidence in the success of our individually working with Father Louis is nobly expressed, but it is not based on his real understanding of the experience of those who tried this route in the first fifteen months of this pastorate.

Father Louis has refused to engage anyone on the set of concerns raised in the letter of April 11th, concerns that were brought to him time and time again by scores of individuals over many months prior to the presentation of the letter.

The signed letter did not arrive on Father Louis’ desk de novo, but was a compilation of things that had been presented to him repeatedly and had been repeatedly dismissed, sometimes with anger on his part and sometimes resulting in personal retribution on his part. “Building up the body of Christ” indeed!

… You must remember that he is not Fr. Jerry Frank, and comes to you with his own pastoral and leadership styles which can only compliment [sic] and enhance the direction of the parish.

It is important to understand that at no time in the meeting with Father Bert did the five representatives bring up Father Jerry Frank—his personality and style were introduced into the conversation by Father Diaz.

In his discussion with the group, Father Bert said "the parish used to have a 'social activist' priest, but now has one who is ‘spiritual and focused on the Eucharist."

Aside from being a false dichotomy that flies in the face of Church teaching, this comment amounts to a slander with its implication that Father Jerry was not spiritual and did not focus on the parish community’s Eucharistic celebration.

Pastoral and leadership styles will certainly vary in our diverse Church, but to say that Father Louis’ “styles” are “enhancing the direction of the parish” is to torture language in a way that reaches Orwellian heights.

The Gospel mandate of peace and justice is not a “style choice”, having a functioning Pastoral Council is not a “style choice”, characterizing parishioners as “evil” and banning people from ministry in the parish is not a “style choice”, allowing the day to day functioning of the parish to deteriorate into chaos with missed appointments, non-communication and even failing to sign staff paychecks is not a “style choice”. You cannot complement something by tearing it down; you complement something by building upon it.

Secondly, you all raised a concern that some members of the parish staff were being harassed. There are provisions in our Diocesan policies for employees who feel harassed, and it is up to them to take the matter to the appropriate channels.

The harassment of a staff member is, of course, a concern of the staff member that is experiencing it, and it is the decision of that person whether or not to pursue relief through the Diocesan Grievance Policy.

If the experience of a long time parish employee in Roma is typical of how this policy works, it is not surprising that a person might question the point of pursuing that route.

To imply that the only interested parties in the harassment of staff are the staff members themselves represents, yet again, a different understanding of the nature of the parish community.

Our community has a stake in a parish that is not only effectively managed but is managed in a way that reflects Gospel values. When parish staff members are mistreated and are prevented from doing their job effectively, the whole community suffers, not only because the work of the parish becomes substandard, but also because less than Christian actions are being carried out in the name of the Church.

None of us can change the events that happened in the past and healing will take time. I pray that all of you can approach your Pastor with helping hand to bring about that healing....

You, yourself, Bishop Pena, asked for “a plan whereby we both [yourself and the pastor] can reach out to all parishioners to help heal the wound that …the entire community at Holy Spirit [has] endured” (Message to Holy Spirit Parishioners, August 2003). Either this plan is a “stealth plan”, so subtle and cleverly devised that it is impossible to detect it, or there is no plan at all.

Father Louis has indicated that the parish’s past is not his problem and that “healing” is not required, just submissive compliance to his personal whims will be sufficient for the parish.

Even though the past cannot be changed, it cannot be ignored. That being said, the list of concerns presented to Father Louis is, in great bulk, not about the past, but about the present state of the parish.

We are concerned that the parish is collapsing through mismanagement, neglect, and direct attacks on vital parts of the parish life that Holy Spirit has experienced for over twenty years.

… I assure you that Bishop Peña and all of us are praying for Holy Spirit Parish and for all of you. I am confident that if each one of you approaches Fr. Louis in a spirit of collaboration and genuine concern for spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ, he will continue to receive you with open arms. May God bless all of you.

Again, there is no basis in the history of Father Louis’ dealings with individuals in the parish for Father Bert’s expressed confidence.

There has been no “reception with open arms” of anyone who has brought concerns to him. On the contrary, there has been dismissive condescension and even hostility.

For Father Bert to suggest that a failed strategy will suddenly be successful is ludicrous. In point of fact, after his meeting with the five representatives the situation in the parish has worsened.

Two examples illustrate the sad state of affairs:

First, Father Louis became highly agitated when parishioners took it upon themselves to promote Bishop Thomas Gumbleton’s visit by placing placards in their own cars.

This visit was sponsored by a neighboring parish and was advertised in the Diocesan Newsletter. Father Louis had their license numbers taken down and removed people from the lector ministry in direct retaliation.

Second, in three instances, Father Louis has left the impression with the gathered Eucharistic assembly that he was denying communion to parishioners who presented themselves to serve as Eucharistic ministers.

Whatever he might have been thinking he was doing, the parish community has been left with the impression that these three people are “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin.”

These events, among others, indicate that Father Louis has become even more entrenched in his unwillingness to deal with the concerns of hundreds of his parishioners.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Rev. Heberto M. Diaz, Jr.

Since you indicated to us that you wanted Father Diaz to handle this situation, then it appears that, in your mind, the book is closed on this matter.

As you can tell, we are not satisfied with Father Diaz’s response, the failure of Father Louis to face the situation, and the complete lack of progress in dealing with the parishioners’ concerns.

Father Bert’s response to the five of us is almost verbatim what he said at the close of our meeting with him in late June—his discussions with you and Father Louis have resulted in no movement whatsoever.

We now feel forced to pursue these concerns in other forums, both inside the Church structure and outside it.

Our initial request for the five representatives to meet personally with you is still on the table and we welcome an opportunity to do just that. You “offered to help in any way [you could] to bring about harmony and peace.”

What has been offered so far is not sufficient.


Gerald Brazier
Ana Hallman
Mark Pena
Michelle Peña
Mirtala Rodriguez

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