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DETROIT (ChurchMilitant.com) - Questions abound among faithful Catholics in the Detroit archdiocese, where a retired bishop has assumed the role of interim pastor in a parish after its priest unexpectedly withdrew from ministry.
"Reverend Ronald Richards, granted a personal leave of absence, effective October 1, 2023," states a recently published archdiocesan announcement.
The announcement further indicates that Walter Hurley, a retired auxiliary bishop of the Detroit archdiocese (2003–2005) and the Grand Rapids diocese (2005–2018), is currently overseeing Our Lady of Refuge in Orchard Lake, Michigan, where Fr. Richards was pastor until Sunday.
Catholics in the Detroit archdiocese, including parishioners close to Our Lady of Refuge, reported to Church Militant that, over the last several months, Fr. Richards was telling parishioners he is a homosexual. Some recounted overhearing him in the sacristy reveal he was caught using Grindr, a hookup app for practicing homosexuals.
Church Militant reached out several times to the Detroit archdiocese for clarifications regarding these reports but received no response.
Father Richards' own disclosure at the end of Sunday Mass regarding his departure was vague.
"In my homily, I spoke about vulnerability, and I think in most of my homilies, you many times got a sense of vulnerability," he said at the end of Mass on Sunday. "Many times there's underlying things within my homily that you may not even be aware of that's going on in my own personal life, but I do share it within those."
The now-former pastor became highly emotional, holding back tears as he continued, "So, this is my last weekend at Refuge."
He alleged the decision to leave was his own, emphasizing the decision had nothing to do with the parishioners. In fact, he underscored they have been a source of support for him.
"There has been a lot going on over the course of the last eight months," Fr. Richards explained. "I've been under a lot of external stress that I cannot handle by staying here."
I've made a choice to take a leave of absence from the priesthood. My personal health is not in good shape emotionally; spiritually, I think I'm OK, but it has nothing to do with anyone here. I never thought I would be at this point making this type of decision. But for me to be the person God wants me to be, this is what I have to do, and I recognize it may be selfish, and I'm sorry.
Again holding back tears, he then apologized for anything he might have done or said that harmed anyone. Fr. Richards attributed any such mistakes to his unstable emotional state.
"For the time being, a retired bishop who's a good, good friend of mine, Bp. Hurley, is going to come in just to pastor you all," he concluded.
Father Richards' farewell address has sparked more questions than answers. Why has he been so vulnerable? What has been happening over the last eight months? What are the many external stressors that Fr. Richards feels emotionally unequipped to handle?
Does any of what has been happening these last eight months have anything to do with reports of Fr. Richards divulging his sexual orientation in the last several months? Why does the archdiocese apparently ignore media requests for clarification?
Father Richards' LinkedIn page raises yet more questions.
The priest lists his pronouns as "He/Him," which, at the very least, suggests he accepts identity politics by participating in these pronoun rituals. One commentator for the Wall Street Journal noted, "Pronoun rituals are extremely effective at normalizing and institutionalizing the abolition of biological sex in favor of gender identity."
Furthermore, though he does list himself as a "pastor," nowhere in his profile does Fr. Richards specify he is a Catholic priest, and his profile picture shows him without a collar.
His short bio is:
Non-Profit Executive Director, Church and School | Pastor | Educator | Finance Head | School Operations | Community Outreach | Fundraising | Volunteer Management | Lead mission driven organizations to positive impact
His LinkedIn page also shows he spent four years in Guam (July 2018 to June 2022) where he acted "as the administrative head of the archdiocese in Guam, seeing it through Chapter 11 bankruptcy from the beginning stages to the final resolution."
While there, apparently, Fr. Richards also participated in COVID safety compliance, stating, "I worked directly with the Island of Guam's Governor and Head of the Department of Health throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Advocated for COVID-related policies."
Father Richards was in Guam's Agaña archdiocese, where it seems he wielded a significant amount of power. One author for the JungleWatch blog reported Richards held the second-highest position in the Agaña archdiocese.
In 2016, Abp. Michael Byrnes arrived in Guam with a mandate to address the turmoil caused during the tenure of Abp. Anthony Apuron, who was removed from Agaña by the Holy See in 2016 for child sex abuse. The local faithful, exhausted by five years of upheaval, welcomed Byrnes with hopes of renewal.
Although Fr. Richards' primary training is in canon law, JungleWatch noted that Abp. Byrnes relied on him as a "special advisor," and that he had "a very condescending, almost colonialist approach."
Although Fr. Richards has a history of fraternizing with high-ranking members of the hierarchy, as evidenced by his appointments and friendships with Abp. Byrnes and Bp. Hurley, it's unclear just as to how friendly he is with Detroit's current archbishop, Allen Vigneron.
But it is clear that Abp. Vigneron will turn 75 towards the end of this month, at which time he will submit his letter of resignation to Pope Francis. This raises one final question: Is there any connection between the overlap in timing regarding Richards' sudden departure and Vigneron's upcoming retirement?