What To Do - Parishioners are Leaving

My parish is seeing the departure of many long-time parishioners due to the behavior of our pastor. He has been with us for just two years, and is the only priest in our parish - no associate. I have tried really hard to work with him, help others get to know him, and encourage him, but this man is really impossible. He has nothing good to say about any of our ministries, makes sarcastic and rude comments about different groups in the parish, and is generally dismissive of people when he is speaking with them. His comments at different meetings lead me to believe that he has no regard for The Blessed Mother (no May crowning this year, that’s for sure, and just a shrug when asked about it). Last week I was told by four friends who have been at the parish for 20 years each that they were all looking for a new parish because they are sick of this behavior.

So my question is, what can be done? I have a friend who just tried to speak privately with him about an incident that caused some upset, and he pretty much just told her off. She has since left the parish too. Do I write to the head of his Order and also the bishop? Any advice you can give would be really appreciated - it’s very sad to see the parish losing so many good folks.

Bring your concerns up with him, and then after that fails, go to the bishop.

As the previous poster mentioned, try speaking with him privately at first. If that doesn’t work, don’t just write on your own to the Bishop, but also try to get as many parishioners and former parishioners to write to the Bishop as well.

If he’s a religious priest write to both the Bishop and his superior (either the superior of his local community or his Provincial).

Pray, pray, pray, and keep your pastor in your daily morning offering- that is what I would do. My letter writing days are over.

That is an interesting comment; do you feel that writing letters has not been helpful to you in the past? Thanks.

I’m certain that my letter writing was helpful. I witnessed some changes as a result of my letters. But I no longer volunteer in a place where liturgical abuses abounded. And I no longer suffer directly from the personal attacks of those in charge.

Thanks for that clarification. And I am glad to hear that you saw changes as a result of your letters. It is wonderful that you have a better situation where you are now.

Hi KateD - I just wanted enforce the fact that letter writing does work by telling you a story that occurred at a parish in my diocese. The parish was very upset with their pastor. Many, if not all of the parishioners, got together and wrote to the bishop regarding the situation and got this pastor promptly removed and replaced in a matter of a few months.

That’s why I think it is important to get as many people from your parish to write to the Bishop. It will show to him that there really is truly a problem going around and he will want to get it rectified as soon as possible.

I am reminded of a young priest whom we were acquainted with who got his first pastorate at a liberal parish. He was a person who liked to be everybody’s friend but was honestly trying to do things the way that they were supposed to be done. He was making some changes to the liturgy perhaps a little too quickly after arriving there. Being new, he was also having some problems running the parish as far as finances and accounting and stuff go. He was learning and he needed the support of his staff. And he had his flaws as every person does, but he would not let the people run over him to do whatever they wanted. A letter-writing campaign was initiated and it sounded like much of the parish was against him. A lot of what was being said were falsehoods. The archdiocese had to intervene and as it turned out, he was not so bad a priest after all. It has been several years since this visitation but he is still the pastor and they are getting along better now and the parish is running more smoothely.

That is a sad story. In regards to the story I related, it was the opposite. The pastor who is there now (and is a close friend of ours) is much more orthodox of a priest and pastor and has revitalized the parish for the better. The other pastor allowed the parish to languish and suffer and he was there for years, at least over a decade. It was something that the parish had endured and tried to make work.

On the other side of the coin, I worked in a parish where the pastor was a very good man, very orthodox. When he left, a young (mid-40s), liberal, egomaniac priest became the pastor and he turned that parish upside down. There were too many baby boomers who thought he was great and was so happy that the parish was going to be hopping like a “Baptist” church, as one parishioner put it. The older ladies fawned and drooled over him, which I found very strange and a bit disgusting. He didn’t really care for the kids - acted like he did at mass, but when the children would try to come up to him one on one, he’d have this “Get away from me, kid. You’re bothering me,” attitude. That’s where I really saw his true colors. He boasted to me a few times how he didn’t prepare his homilies and then felt like he was inspired by God and really touched the people with his ad libs. (His homilies were fluff.) He had an entourage that he brought in from where he was before. They began “running the show” at mass. You’d see them come up to lector, bringing their coffee up with them. The parishioners started to take on these bad habits. It was so sad seeing all of this happen.

Because he was young, energetic and good-looking, he charmed mostly everyone there. As a young 20-something female, who was more traditional, I didn’t buy into the charm and fluff, and I know he didn’t like that. I got out of there as soon as I could. When I ran into a teacher a few months later, I asked her how things were going and it looked like the charm was wearing thin. “He thinks he’s Jesus Christ,” she said. I kept in touch with a couple of people there. The parish has changed a lot and the people who also didn’t buy into it have left, although he has his entourage and a following to help keep that parish flourishing. I look at the whole thing as tragic.

I agree.

OP gives no examples of any abuse with regard to liturgy and sacraments, wrongdoing over finances, improper behavior, but only provides instances of personality conflicts, difficult managerial style, and demeanor. I can tell you letter writing, to the bishop or religious superior, that does not give concise descriptions of real wrong-doing, with times and dates, and witnesses, and is signed will get very little attention. The very worst thing you can do is round up a gang of parishioners to harangue the bishop by phone, letter or email, individually or in a group. Bear in mind that in making complaints against a pastor you are also by implication directly criticizing the actions of the bishop who assigned him.

If you want to approach him privately as a friend and try your best to make him aware that his approach is losing parishioners, do it as prudently as you can, but it is highly unlikely that an orchestrated complaint to the bishop is going to have the results you want. Pastors do not grow on trees, and it is likely there are not enough priests in your diocese as it is, so there is no guarantee you will get a new pastor, let alone one you like, if this one leaves.

Has the Parish Council addressed the issue?

I don’t believe so, and, interestingly, the Parish Council is changing members. I know he has selected at least a couple of people to replace some of the Council members. I’m not really sure how a Parish Council should be selected, whether the parish should vote or whether pastor selects the members, but the pastor’s choice is how our new members are being added. The one I know of so far is perfectly willing to go along with him on whatever he wants.

There are no liturgical abuses that I know of; it is more a problem of him being an extremely rude man who seems to really dislike just about every ministry in the parish. He has nothing nice to say about any group. He is openly hostile to our morning group at Mass, and has nothing but criticism for altar servers, EMHC’s, lectors, etc. He is even critical of the way the seminary teaches - we have a young priest who comes to help, and our pastor says the seminary is teaching incorrectly. He seems to believe that he is the only person in the Church who knows anything.

People are tired of being treated so poorly and rudely, and they don’t want to stay around to work with him. I gave him the benefit of the doubt for quite a while, but his behavior is very hard to defend. And I am hesitant to speak with him after he told my friend off when she tried to speak with him privately after an unfortunate incident. But it is very sad and quite alarming when people are starting to leave in droves. We have three other parishes nearby, and it’s not hard to find other fine priests in the area.

Only problem is, although he may be moved, he probably won’t change, then he’s some other parish’s “problem”. :frowning: But changing his behavior is not something that the OP or others in the parish or even the bishop can accomplish…that’s where prayer comes in.

I was going to ask the same.

The Pastor can appoint members, however it is much better if they are elected by the parish so that they represent the parish cross-section. You diocese should have a specific policy on parish councils that should spell out how they are to be formed and their responsibilities.

Find people who could be representatives of the parish who feel the same way, and then, as a group, or one or two representatives, make an appointment with the bishop to discuss the matter, and please inform the priest that you are doing so. Going behind his back will only make it worse.

I found a great book online for parishioners called Catholic Evangelization: practical ways of spreading the gospel and building up the Body of Christ.

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