Monday, July 28, 2003

Papal Nuncio Letter 07/24/03

Letter to the Papal Nuncio

July 24, 2003

Most Reverend Gabriel Montalvo
Apostolic Nunciature of the Holy See
3339 Massachusetts Ave.
N.W.Washington, D.C. 20008-3687

The faithful parishioners at Holy Spirit Catholic Parish in McAllen, Texas have suffered a severe emotional loss as a result of actions taken recently by the Bishop of Brownsville, Raymundo Pena, and his surrogate, Reverend Ruben Delgado, against our four sisters in Christ.

The four women: Ann Williams Cass, Edna Cantu, Rosario "Chayo" Vaello, and Martha Sanchez, were fired by our new "Pastor", Reverend Delgado, who did not do the wrongful deed himself; rather, he used the diocesan workers supplied willingly by Bishop Raymundo Pena.

The Bishop Pena/Reverend Delgado conspiracy against our sisters has caused deep pain felt by all members of our parish family. We ask and pray that you will help Bishop Pena publicly admit his error and make good by reinstating the four women with full pay and benefits, and in addition, recognize the full legitimacy of all working parishioners in the Brownsville Diocese with any labor agreements under contract. To do anything less than returning these workers to their positions is a violation of what is ethical, legal and moral. We, the faithful parishioners at Holy Spirit, will accept nothing less. Their full reinstatement is, after all, the Christian thing to do.

We will provide you with the evidence of the Bishop’s malfeasance in the following manuscript:

First, we will begin with the background of the conspiracy by providing a brief history of the events leading to the firing of the four women.

Second, we will show to you the suffering and pain endured initially by the parish workers and parishioners and later exacerbated by the calculated and callous actions perpetrated by Bishop Pena.

Third, we have provided you in the accompanying attachments with letters, newspaper articles, and petitions to Bishop Pena to support our claims.

Finally, we will provide you with our map for healing the wounds that we as workers and parishioners have wrongfully endured.

Background of the Conspiracy.
On Wednesday, June 18, 2003 our parish, Holy Spirit Catholic Church in McAllen, Texas, was to receive a new pastor, Reverend Ruben Delgado. However, on that day several administrators from the Diocese of Brownsville arrived at the parish office in place of Reverend Delgado for the purpose of handing out termination letters to the entire parish staff.

Four Holy Spirit Parishioners (and United Farm Worker employees) were present: Ann Williams Cass, Edna Cantu, Rosario "Chayo" Vaello, and Martha Sanchez. All four received their termination letters that morning, while the other letters were not distributed.

Reverend Delgado did not meet with these women personally to tell them the bad news, nor did he offer them any counsel. Furthermore, the diocesan employees, at the behest of the bishop, brought armed-security guards and locksmiths with them, who immediately began changing the locks on the parish doors.

The four workers were informed by diocesan employees that they were to vacate their offices by the end of the day and they were denied the opportunity to meet and discuss the situation with Reverend Delgado. In fact, Reverend Delgado did not even come to the parish office during this time to offer any condolences to the women.

The actions of Reverend Delgado and the Diocesan administrators have deeply disturbed not only the parish staff, but also the majority of the parish faithful. The firings perpetrated by Reverend Delgado and the Diocesan employees have disrupted a parish that was once very actively involved not only with a growing Church community, but also in matters of helping the disadvantaged in our own Rio Grande Valley community.

The Bishop’s Role in the Conspiracy to Fire the Women.
Bishop Pena has feigned ignorance concerning any direct role in the firing of the parish workers. Rather, he has seemingly left Reverend Delgado completely culpable. However, the bishop is implicated because of the overwhelming evidence that points to the fact that his involvement was central to the conspiracy.

First, the diocesan workers, armed guards, and locksmiths, all paid for by the bishop, obviously had foreknowledge of the events that were to transpire on June 18, 2003. Ironically, the actions were "orchestrated" by the bishop’s office[1] on the fateful day to maximize the pain inflicted upon the workers and parishioners of Holy Spirit. The workers were treated in an un-Christian manner by the brutality of the cruel methods used by the diocesan employees in the firings. The women had no chance to plead their case to the new pastor. The treatment they were afforded has caused severe mental anguish for the family of Holy Spirit Parish. We may only surmise that the actions were designed to hurt the people.

Second, Bishop Pena assured the "marvelous people of Holy Spirit Parish" that a "good pastor" would be provided to replace Father Jerry Frank (Bishop Pena’s letter dated February 10, 2003). This supposed "good pastor" left a disaster in the wake of his short stay. One of the "directives" perpetrated on the parish was the firing of the women. Subsequent to the firings and the departure of Reverend Delgado, the Bishop has claimed that Church Law will not allow him to undo the wrong left as a result of the firings.

At his web site, Holy Spirit Parishioner Dr. Gerald Brazier notes from Canon Law (Canon 1286) regarding Administrators of temporal goods, that church administrators: …[In] making contracts of employment, are accurately to observe also, according to the principles taught by the Church, the civil laws relating to labour and social life… ( accessed July 22, 2003).

Furthermore, Holy Spirit Parishioner Mr. Rolando Gonzales notes in a letter to the editor in El Americano News (Segunda Edicion de Junio del 2003) that according to Canon Law, both "bishops and priests have ‘ordinary and extraordinary’ jurisdiction over their flock."

The bishop is obviously attempting to hide behind his narrow interpretation of Church law in order to not do what is right and just by reinstating the fired parish workers. Thus, one may only conclude that his decision to not take corrective action must reflect accurately his true intentions: to harm the workers and parishioners of Holy Spirit Parish.

In addition to the pain being suffered at Holy Spirit, the bishop has taken similar action against other parishes in the Rio Grande Valley. A pattern has developed that while the bishop says he is an advocate for social justice, his deeds belie his words.

The bishop claims to have "restructured" retirement benefits to help diocesan workers, but many, especially older retirees, have lost thousands in retirement income. This action, among others, has caused parish workers in the Brownsville Diocese to unionize.

The bishop makes public statements that he is supportive of unions and a friend of the late Cesar Chavez, yet he has behaved in a vindictive fashion by appointing priests to do his bidding by firing "at will", church employees in other parishes such as Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

In addition to Holy Spirit, Sacred Heart in Hidalgo, Saint Joseph the Worker in San Carlos, and Saint Joseph the Worker in McAllen have joined the United Farm Workers. In a letter to The Monitor (dated June 22, 2003), Holy Spirit Parishioner Dr. Terence Garrett has cited the bishop at his web site:

Catholic respect for human life and human dignity require also the safeguarding of the family, the protection of religious freedom, and a commitment to fostering peace and economic justice. Our faith does not permit a partial service which focuses narrowly on some of these goods at the expense of others ( accessed June 21, 2003).

Furthermore, the bishop has tried to make a virtue out of the fact that the average diocesan worker makes seven dollars an hour. This "virtuous action" makes the bishop look foolish and an object of ridicule. The Rio Grande Valley is one of the poorest regions in the country and the Church must do more to rectify this unjust situation. In addition to the lack of respect for unions in the diocese[2] the measly average diocesan wage hardly rises to real social justice.

The Bishop Refuses to Face the Parishioners at Holy Spirit.
Bishop Pena has consistently dodged meeting with parishioners at Holy Spirit Parish since the firings. The last time the bishop met with parishioners was February 15-16, 2003, where he openly declared at mass his admiration of the church for its Vatican II organization, programs, and emphasis on social justice for the Rio Grande Valley. However, at the time of the crisis in June 2003, the bishop has been suspiciously absent, though in a letter to Holy Spirit Parishioners dated June 21, 2003, the bishop "had planned to be with you at all the Masses to install and help you welcome your new pastor."

The obvious question is: Why didn’t Bishop Pena use the opportunity (already scheduled) to meet with parishioners and explain the situation? Instead, the bishop behaves as if he is in hiding, unwilling to face the parish. Despite all his admonitions for "healing," Bishop Pena has not made any real efforts to reach out, face-to-face, to his flock. This conscious attempt by the bishop to avoid direct communication with Holy Spirit parishioners has not served the diocese or the parish well.

The Road to Resolution of the Conflict between the Bishop and Holy Spirit Parishioners:
We, the parishioners of Holy Spirit, prayerfully offer our advice to obtain a peaceful and just resolution to the present conflict.

First, our sisters in Christ must be reinstated in their rightful positions in the church. These women have suffered needlessly and need help from everyone in the diocese in order to deal with the damage they have incurred.

Second, the bishop should meet with the faithful of the parish and thoughtfully explain his actions and apologize for the angst suffered by all in these awful circumstances. Healing will occur only with understanding.

And finally, the bishop needs to appoint a "good pastor" in order to properly lead the parish. The Holy Spirit Parish community needs to return to doing its good work regarding the Rio Grande Valley.

Please help us, your grace.

Respectfully yours,

Terence M. Garrett, Ph.D.
Cecilia M. Garrett
Gerald D. Brazier, Ph.D.

Committee for National Letter Writing,
Leaders for the Healing of Holy Spirit Parish

cc: Giovanni Battista Cardinal Re
Bishop Wilton Gregory
Bishop Raymundo Pena

[1] The irony is present here as Bishop Pena claimed subsequently that the parish workers had “orchestrated” actions against himself and Reverend Delgado.

[2] It is ironic and sad that the Vatican has extended unionization rights to their workers while the Diocese of Brownsville has acted against the rights of union workers at churches in the Rio Grande Valley.

Monday, July 07, 2003

Response to the bishop, 07/07/03.

In his news conference about the Holy Spirit Parish controversy, Bishop Pena said he did not understand why the fired parish workers had joined a union, since "they have excellent health benefits … ."

Sounding more like a coal mine owner than the champion of social justice that the diocesan website presents him as, the bishop should realize that the events of June 18th are the strongest evidence possible that unionization seems to be the only option for parish employees to gain protection from such an arbitrary exercise of raw power that deprives them of their livelihood.

In the Monitor of June 22nd, the bishop speaks of the parishioners' protest as "carefully orchestrated." The only "orchestration" in the events of the past week has been shown by the diocesan officials who carried out this putsch with all the style of a Gestapo raid or a Mafia hit—even down to the alarming detail of having an armed guard present.

In his letter to members of the parish, the bishop has the audacity to call upon the spirit of the Second Vatican Council to justify the destruction of the parish staff. In words that rival George Orwell's newspeak, the bishop says that dismantling the professional staff, which has been instrumental in creating the most vibrant and involved parish community in the diocese, will create more involvement and more effective ministries.

Such patent nonsense borders on blasphemy when it invokes the Council, whose documents describe a parish in terms that the bishop is either unfamiliar with or simply does not want to exist in his diocese.

Finally, in his news conference the bishop reminded the faithful of their obligation to attend Mass, implying that those who participate in alternative liturgies will be failing that obligation.

When the time for judgment comes, I have full confidence that my participation in an alternative liturgy will not place me in the same jeopardy that the Bishop Pena's role in this sad affair, either as instigator or enabler, will place him.

Gerald Brazier

[This letter appeared in the McAllen Monitor on July 7, 2003.]

Saturday, July 05, 2003

Washington Post 07/05/03

In Texas, Parishioners Protest Church Firings

Dismissed Lay Workers Accuse Bishop of Trying to Break Labor Union Contracts
By Lee Hockstader,
Washington Post Staff Writer

Saturday, July 5, 2003; Page A03

McALLEN, Tex. -- Nothing seemed amiss when 60 parishioners from the Holy Spirit Catholic Church here gathered at dusk the other day on the church's pink-bricked patio before a burbling fountain. They clasped hands in a semicircle, bowed their heads for the Lord's Prayer and, accompanied by two guitars and a tambourine, sang hymns in Spanish as the scorching Texas sun succumbed to an evening softened by shadows.

But the tranquility of the moment was deceptive, for the gathering was, in fact, a protest. The parishioners are at the forefront of one of the most venomous confrontations between the Catholic Church and organized labor since Cardinal Francis Spellman of New York faced down striking gravediggers in 1949, sending seminarians in to dig graves for 1,000 unburied bodies.

On one side of the dispute is a handful of parish churches in the Rio Grande Valley, including Holy Spirit, whose lay workers unionized last year -- a virtually unheard-of step in the American Catholic Church. On the other side is the powerful local bishop of the Brownsville diocese, Raymundo J. Peña, and his top aides, who condemned the contracts when they were signed and moved vigorously against the union.

It is an anomalous clash, casting the church and organized labor, traditionally warm allies, as rivals in one of the poorest and most heavily Catholic corners of the nation. And it is being played out in blazing local newspaper headlines and escalating mutual accusations, at a time when the Roman Catholic Church is trying to surmount the staggering effects of sex abuse scandals nationwide.

"It's almost like an intra-family dispute with some labor union trappings attached to it," said David Hall, executive director of Texas Rural Legal Aid, which is representing some of the unionized lay workers.

The family fight burst into public view June 18 when a parish priest, Ruben Delgado, newly assigned to Holy Spirit by the bishop, arrived at the church for his first day on the job and fired four of the unionized workers.

The fired workers received little explanation. One, Ann Cass, had been a key member of Holy Spirit's administrative staff for 22 years and played a central role in building the church's new building in the 1980s. Another, Edna Cantu, a young secretary who is several months pregnant, had been dismissed last fall from yet another parish church shortly after she and her co-workers unionized there.

The United Farm Workers (UFW), which represents the employees, received a court order temporarily halting the dismissals; the church then placed them on paid administrative leave. In the ensuing uproar, Delgado, the priest, resigned as pastor of Holy Spirit after a week. Aside from a written statement defending the firings as an administrative reshuffle designed to replace some paid staff with volunteers, he did not communicate with his parishioners and never celebrated Mass there.

Peña said he had no hand in the firings, noting he was out of town when they took place. He has reaffirmed his opposition to unionizing parish lay workers, whose minimum wage of $7, he said, is well above the average in the Rio Grande Valley.

"I honestly do not believe that is necessary or beneficial for church employees in the Valley to join a labor union," he said in an e-mailed response to questions from The Washington Post.

Hundreds of parishioners at Holy Spirit have accused Peña of engineering the firings to break union contracts that he publicly denounced as "invalid in church law" because he, as bishop, was not consulted and did not approve them.

To protest the dismissals, hundreds of Holy Spirit's parishioners have boycotted Sunday Mass for the past two weeks, holding communion services instead on the church patio and staging nightly candlelight vigils. They have urged other parishioners to divert contributions from the church to the Texas Civil Rights Project, which is representing the fired workers.

"It's one thing to suffer for the church; it's another thing to suffer at the hands of the church," said Dora Saavedra, a communications professor at University of Texas Pan-American who chairs Holy Spirit's parish council, an advisory body. "We want the staff reinstated -- period."

Holy Spirit was one of five parish churches in the Brownsville diocese that signed union contracts, but it has become the focal point of the dispute. In contrast with the mostly poor and rural churches of the area, Holy Spirit has a relatively affluent, well-educated congregation of 3,300 families.

From its perch in a predominantly middle-class neighborhood of McAllen, the church has been a vocal advocate for liberal causes in this city of 120,000 -- higher wages for low-skilled workers; an increase in the local sales tax; a reconfiguration of the town council to benefit poorer neighborhoods. It has also been at the forefront of demands that Peña disclose more information about priests accused of sexual abuse and about the diocese's finances -- demands that the bishop has resisted.

In the face of an open rebellion at Holy Spirit, Peña has condemned the protesters as a small group of firebrands who have challenged his authority and manipulated the parish. In an interview, Peña acknowledged he has become the lightning rod for the protests but said, "It's ridiculous to say it's me against them. I am their bishop, their pastor, and I have no ill will or animosity against anyone."

Peña, 69, was the bishop of El Paso before he arrived in Brownsville in 1995. His diocese is a long, thin strip running from the Gulf of Mexico west along the Mexican border, a sun-blasted, heavily Hispanic territory. Since his arrival, Peña has aroused resentments with a leadership style that is variously described as hands-on, micro-managerial, autocratic and preoccupied with secrecy.

The genesis of the current crisis can be traced to 2000, when the bishop abolished a 20-year-old pension plan for the diocese's approximately 1,100 paid lay workers, including administrators, religious education workers, secretaries and others. Rather than receiving monthly checks upon retirement, as many were expecting, they received one-time checks in early 2002 according to a formula that favored older employees over some younger ones who had worked longer.

The diocese did offer an alternative -- a defined contribution retirement plan, similar to a 401(k) -- which diocesan officials characterized as an improvement. But some church employees were indignant, insisting that the abolition of the pension plan would do particular harm to lower-paid workers.

Responding to those concerns, five parishes signed union contracts with the UFW a year ago, establishing pension plans and grievance procedures for approximately 50 lay workers. One of the parish priests, Jerry Frank, former pastor of Holy Spirit, said he did it to protect his staff from what he considered Peña's arbitrary management.

"I told him I had to protect my workers from him, and that he treats people as objects rather than as human beings," said Frank, 61, who has since been transferred by the bishop to a small, rural parish.

Diocesan officials denounced the union contracts, saying they corrupted what was akin to a marital bond between paid lay workers and the church -- even though parishioners point out lay workers at the Vatican itself are unionized. In a communique sent to all parishes, Peña warned them against further inroads by the union.

Unions "do not make sense in covenantal relationships of trust and love," Robert E. Maher, vicar general of the diocese, wrote last July in an e-mail to a lawyer who protested the diocese's policy. "There is no place in the Christian community for divisions along the lines of self-interest, and that means, among other things, no unions."

Maher, who is Peña's second-in-command, also threatened to slash funding for unionized churches, according to several pastors. He wrote to one pastor that the Catholic Extension Society, a grant-giving agency in Chicago that funds poor parishes, had also refused to help unionized churches -- an assertion that the Extension Society vigorously denied. Peña, saying his position was "misunderstood," reinstated the funding after he learned the pastor had ties with the Extension Society.

"It sounds to me like the vicar is trying to bring these guys into line by making that kind of threat," said Richard Ritter, the Extension Society's vice president. "Those decisions are up to the bishop completely."

Peña, in his e-mailed statement, said: "I have always been an advocate for social justice in Texas. I have supported labor's right to collective bargaining, and I support it now. Cesar Chavez [founder of the UFW] was my friend, and as a young priest I supported his organizing efforts."

© 2003 The Washington Post Company Posted by Hello