Monday, September 25, 2006


Ann Cass, Martha Sanchez and Chayo Vael

Three years ago, Bishop Raymundo Peña and his “transition team” forced us out of Holy Spirit Parish. It is interesting that on that day, all of the locks to the church were changed. Yesterday, our pastor again ordered that all of the locks be changed.

As you know, because of the efforts of the United Farm Workers, we were all able to go back to work after we were fired. But Bishop Raymundo Peña’s intense efforts to defeat us have continued.

We know from a letter sent to every Bishop in Texas from the Vicar General's Office (attached), that Bishop Peña has consulted with Canonical and Civil Law Experts to develop strategies to use against us and we feel that we have continuously been harassed and libeled and that our characters have been defamed because of this retaliation during the last three years.

Bishop Peña and Monsignor Louis Brum have refused to deal with our Union Contracts and our grievances have been totally ignored. For example: we were not even given cost of living increases which were called for in our contract, in spite of the fact that cost of living increases were given to every other diocesan employee. Our bookkeeper even told us that our phones were bugged.

Our Pastor refused, early on, to sit down with our union representative to review our contracts. To this date, our Pastor has not even read them. The Tribunal that was ordered by Bishop Peña found no fault with our contract itself, only with the addendum regarding our pension, which was an arguable point.

Most importantly, under directions from our Bishop, our Pastor has not allowed us to perform our ministries. We have not been allowed to do our jobs. We have been micro-managed by a person who was never here to make any decisions, by a person whose way of dealing with personnel has been passive-aggressive and by a person whose way of working with staff has been to simply ignore them. It is our contention that such poor management practices could only have come about through intention.

We cannot even begin to describe the stress that we have been under during the last three years. One of us was recently informed by her doctor that she needed to quit work or suffer grave consequences to her health. This is the reason that we have now all decided to resign our positions at Holy Spirit. It is not worth putting our health in jeopardy.

Our struggle has never been about winning or losing. Our struggle has been about being faithful to the Gospel, about speaking truth to power and about working for justice for all people who are employed by the Catholic Church. We leave here today with our heads held high, knowing that we did what was correct according to His teachings. We could not have found the courage to speak up against the power of our Church if it had not been for all of you, the people within our community that have supported us and have become our “Church beneath the Church.”

We apologize that our actions for justice have ended with so many being hurt, with so many experiencing pain and with the destruction of our parish. By neglecting the problem, our Bishop has encouraged this to happen. We do not buy his repeated statements that he is helpless to intervene in the operation of a parish or with its pastor.

Bishop Peña was appointed by our Pope to be our Head Shepherd. We feel that a wolf, rather than a shepherd, has come into our sheepfold. We never dreamed that a Bishop of the Catholic Church could retaliate against one of his own Church communities with such meanness of spirit and vindictiveness.

It has been part of our Catholic social teaching for over 100 years that workers have the right to organize. Our Bishop has even claimed to have "walked" with Cesar Chavez. Why has he been so afraid to embrace our efforts and to have it serve as a model for all of our church, as the Catholic Church so vividly teaches? Even the workers serving the Vatican are unionized.

It is unfortunate that Bishop Raymundo Peña and Monsignor Louis Brum have taken the route of ignoring this problem rather than addressing it. It is unfortunate that neither of them has responded to requests to bring someone in from outside, not to preach, but to facilitate healing in our parish. Monsignor Brum has even refused to allow prayer requests on Sunday asking for the healing of our parish. Outside of our maintenance staff, the only employee now remaining at Holy Spirit parish is our bookkeeper. All of our professional staff have now either been fired or have left our parish in disgust.

Our resistance has not been about accepting the change that comes with a new Pastor. We never had any problems accepting any of our four previous Pastors. This has been about resisting a Pastor that was sent here specifically by his Bishop to destroy our parish. It seems that our Bishop just doesn’t care that he is destroying a parish that has been the model for social justice, religious education and worship for over 22 years in this Diocese.

Now, however, our voices can be freer than ever. We are not leaving this parish; we are only leaving its employ. We will now be able to lift our voices even louder to our Pastor and to our Bishop in our continuing effort to bring about justice in our Church. That is the only way that the Church that we love so dearly can regain its integrity and can bring about the kingdom.

We now kick the dust from our sandals and ask for your prayers to insure that we love our new ministries as much as we have loved serving the people in this parish for so many years.

Ann Williams Cass
Pastoral Associate

Martha Sanchez
Family Ministry Coordinator

Chayo Vaello

Vicar General's Letter, July 3, 2002
(Click on image to enlarge, click on "back button" to return)

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Anonymous said...

Wow. Guess that letter from Fr. Bob Mahr shows with little doubt that our Bishop intended to vigorously fight any attempt of his employees to unionize from the very start. Rather comical that he would show such support for Cesar Chavez and his Farm Workers while he was alive, then do exactly the opposite after his death. Cesar probably rolled over in his grave!

Anonymous said...

My question is, "How can a Bishop of the Catholic Church hold such a grudge for over THREE YEARS?"

Ben Salinas said...

In reading this letter, and thinking about recent activities, I can't help but think of William Shakespeare's Hamlet
This is the play where there is a corrupt king (Hamlet's Uncle who married Hamlet's mother after his father died so that he could be king). The play ends with the corrupt king causing almost everyone in the play to die.

An abbreviated version of Hamlet's last line keeps running through my head:

LAERTES: It is here I lie, never to rise again.. I can no more... The king! The king's to blame!

HAMLET: Heaven make thee free of it! I follow thee...
You that look pale and tremble at this chance,
That are but mutes or audience to this act...
If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart
Absent thee from felicity awhile,
And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain,
To tell my story...
The rest is silence.

So while we might not be "mutes" we are "audience to this act." Hamlet in this scene, is talking about everyone who saw what was happening, but never did anything. He tells them that they must tell his story, even though it will be hard. He tells them that they must not give up. He tells them to keep going.

So must we.

Mark Peña said...

Fr. Bob's letter is yet another example of the disregard and disrepect by some in our Church for the laity.

Rather than explore the reasons for unions being formed in our parishes, it's a tragedy that Fr. Bob and others focused on the symptoms of the problem while ignoring the cause. History has shown that unions orgnanize when employers abuse the rights of their workers. More is expected from our Catholic Church.

It's clear that we can no longer depend on our clergy to be the real leaders of the Church. Future leadership must come from the laity.

Mark Peña, a fellow parishoner of Holy Spirit Parish

Anonymous said...

What a pack of fools these church hierarchs are! Now that Ann, Martha, and Chayo are free to speak and act we can all expect to learn more about the sordid inner life of the whitened sepulchre that is the Diocese of Brownsville. Follow these church ghouls at your own risk.

Anonymous said...

AMEN Mark! I think the rest of the Valley should see this letter from the Vicar General. It is time that all Catholic's eyes be opened to working of the church.

Anonymous said...

Funny how the bishop and Fr. Bob Maher tried to blame Valley Interfaith and the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) for their employees wanting to join the union.
In reality, it was the bishop's cashing in their Employee Pension Fund and his "fire everybody" policy that caused it. Then the bishop had the audacity to say, “I don't know why they need a union, they have good health care!" How stupid!

Anonymous said...

And the Bishop has yet to give his lay employees an accounting of the proceeds from their multi-million dollar Pension Fund. Some say that the Bishop used it to pay-off the actions of his pedophile priests in the dioceses. That being the case, we owe them much more than just our thanks,.. they paid the bill!

Anonymous said...

What doesn’t our Bishop and Vicar General not understand about a Lay Pension “Trust” Fund? “Trust” means: “I will not cash it in unless all of you agree!” Did anyone ask?

Anonymous said...

I have been absent from the Sunday services for several months due to illness and have missed reading Kanickers,too, but I'm a diehard Holy Spirit parishioner since the Sunday services at Rayburn Elem. so what a shock it was for me to attend Sunday services recently only to find a wretchedly sounding choir!!...albeit one trying very hard to fill the void left by Edward and the other more capable singers... and now to see that Ann and Martha and so many of our lay ministers too have left...What will become of our parish without the ministries that made Holy Spirit so unique and wonderful??
We have taken a wrong turn somewhere.