PETOSKEY, Mich. (ChurchMilitant.com) – The organizers of a resistance group formed nine months ago in the diocese of Gaylord, Michigan to defend a whistleblower priest are looking forward to the group's second Open Forum, which will be held Sunday afternoon in Cadillac.
"When we started Gaylord Diocesan Watch back in February we had no idea what to expect, none of us had done anything like this, and now it looks like we have a real movement going on," the group's spokesman, Dr. Richard Brenz, told Church Militant.
"Our first open forum in late June was a huge success with over 70 attendees, some of whom traveled long distances, so this time we have a larger hall," Brenz added. "Our basic agenda is to inform the laity about what is going on in the diocese and what they can do. We're also looking for input on what we need to do going forward."
The meeting will begin at 5 p.m. at Clam Township Hall in Cadillac.
The group was formed in January by four men who were appalled at the treatment meted out to a much-loved young and tradition-minded priest they all knew well, Fr. Matthew Cowan, who was suspended from ministry in January for publicizing the presence at his parish of a former priest who was defrocked for molesting a minor in 2000, but was nevertheless the teacher of new altar boys for at least eight years.
Father Cowan's complaints were ignored for several years by Bp. Steven Raica, but after the scandal became public the bishop came down hard on the priest, suspending him and citing his offense at a parish meeting attended by 400 people as "going against the unity of the presbyterate or diocese."
Father Cowan is forbidden to present himself in public as a priest. His salary has been slashed in half, and he now lives with his parents. He has hired a canon lawyer who is defending him with a lawsuit in the Vatican's Apostolic Signatura, which has agreed to hear the case. Neverthless, Brenz says Cowan is in "good spirits."
"When I learned about what happened to Fr. Cowan — he seemed to have just disappeared — I talked to two of my friends, Martin Dubravec and Chris Maciborski, and we decided we had to do something to defend Fr. Cowan," Brenz said.
In short order the trio connected with Bill DeLyon of Petoskey, whom they had never met before, and they formed the watchdog group.
DeLyon is known among Catholics in Petoskey for his grassroots leadership role 20 years ago in defending St. Francis Xavier Church from a radical and largely secret plan to destroy its historic architecture foisted on the parish by the chancery and the pastor. That effort, which stretched on for more than two years, was hugely successful and was documented in the magazine St. Catherine Review, which was edited by Michael Rose, who later wrote the groundbreaking book Good Bye Good Men.
"Now that our group is firmly established and we have a routine going among the leadership, we are working to continue to educate Catholics throughout the diocese with our website and our new Facebook page," De Lyon said.
"As it stands right now we are publishing important local news for Catholics that they will not find anywhere else," he added."We are always finding people who are amazed at what the situation actually is in the diocese."
One of the original news stories published by Gaylord Diocesan Watch includes a July 10 report about Fr. Cowan being shunned formally by the diocese:
As part of the gathering, priests who have had 5 year milestones are recognized. Noticeably absent is the 5 year anniversary of Father Matthew Cowan who was ordained in 2014. He is officially listed in the Diocesan website as being on leave, but his service to the Diocese was not recognized at the meeting as has been the case for any priest who had reached 5 years of service since ordination.
DeLyon continued, "One of the scandals we have uncovered is the background of the Director of the Marriage Tribunal John Amos, JCD. He is a married former priest who lists himself on his LinkedIn profile as a teacher of the Enneagram, which has been condemned by the Vatican."
Gaylord Diocesan Watch has published several articles about Amos, but so far Bp. Raica is holding firm. The first article about Amos, published July 18, quoted from a 2003 Vatican document that condemns Enneagram, and cited commentary by Fr. Mitch Pacwa about its philosophical errors.
"We also reported in September about the sad situation of Bp. Raica forcing older, retired priests into work they are obviously too sick to handle, even while he keeps Fr. Cowan suspended," Brenz said.
The article explained that only weeks before he died at age 78 on Sept. 7, Msgr. Francis Murphy was asked to conduct liturgies at parishes formerly served by Fr. Cowan, even though he was going blind and obviously getting ill:
The recent death of Msgr. Francis Murphy highlights a concern shared by many concerned Catholics in the Diocese of Gaylord. Although elderly and clearly frail, Msgr. Murphy, former Vicar General of the Diocese, was asked to help serve the parishes of St. Anne, St. Stephen and St. Edward due to the suspension of Father Matthew Cowan. On at least one occasion during mass, when they were concelebrating mass together, Fr. Michael Jankowski was noted to tease the elderly Monsignor Murphy and ask him if he was still awake. At another mass, Msgr. Murphy needed a lector to read the Gospel reading due to poor eyesight.
From the outset of their efforts, Bp. Raica has declined to meet with them and has denounced the group — and Church Militant — for criticizing his violations of local and national Catholic guidelines regarding sex abuse.
"We are always hoping Bp. Raica will someday agree to hear our concerns," De Lyon said. "We even invited him and his leadership to this forum."