SAGINAW, Mich. (ChurchMilitant.com) - The bishop of Saginaw, Michigan is removing a priest from his parish for his promotion of traditional liturgy and sound teaching.
Bishop Walter Hurley, appointed apostolic administrator of Saginaw after the sudden death of Bp. Joseph Cistone in October, published a letter Friday explaining his actions towards Fr. Edwin Dwyer, parochial administrator at Our Lady of Peace Parish.
"For some time now I have been aware of a number of issues, particularly with the Liturgy, that have divided the parish community at Our Lady of Peace Parish, Bay City," Hurley wrote. "This is a serious concern in that our worship should draw us together, rather than divide."
Father Dwyer slowly started implementing more traditional liturgical practices after giving a homily during Advent that went viral, reported in media in glowing terms for its beauty and hopeful message.
"There is always hope in Christ! There is always hope in Christ! Advent is a great season of hope," the homily began. "I want you to remember that hope remains as I go into the next part of my homily because it is going to sound quite bleak. It is going to sound as if we are in the midst of a tribulation, and we may very well be."
"Nevertheless, the call to live as saints remains," he added, going on to recount the October data for the Saginaw diocese showing sharp and continued decline in Mass attendance: a stunning 45-percent drop since 2013.
"Roughly 22,700 fewer souls attend Mass in this diocese than did when I graduated from CMU," Dwyer said. "I'll say that again: 22,700 fewer souls are being fed by the Word of God, and the Holy Eucharist on Sundays since 2005."
Dwyer proposed that the way to bring Catholics back to the pews was to promote tradition.
Believe it or not, tradition works. So-called "old ways" are quite popular among younger Catholics. Smells, bells, classic hymns, chant, prolonged silence, and, hold on for this one, LATIN are all largely embraced by the younger generations of the Church. Furthermore, when younger non-Catholics experience these traditions they are struck by how different they are from everything else they experience in a noisy, secular culture. These "old ways" are beautiful to them, and beauty is a great place to introduce young folks to Jesus Christ.
He continued, "Thus, we are going to make Sunday beautiful at Our Lady of Peace."
Since then, Dwyer has corrected liturgical abuses at the parish, reducing the number of extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, as mandated by Church law, which only allows such ministers when the number of communicants is so large that the priest needs assistance. He also slowly introduced more traditional practices, including, among other things, using Latin for the Agnus Dei and Sanctus, placing two candlesticks on the altar, ringing bells during the consecration and using incense. These changes took place primarily at one Sunday morning Mass; the other Masses remained largely as they had before he arrived.
Even so, a handful of parishioners complained to the diocese about the changes. Dwyer's homilies were also a cause for complaint by some older Catholics, unaccustomed to the orthodoxy and sound teaching that marked his preaching. The younger parishioners and families, however, welcomed the changes.
The growing discontent from a vocal minority led Dwyer to hold a parish meeting on Jan. 21, where he explained the minor changes and allowed parishioners to air concerns. The meeting was marked by rancor, with outbursts from a handful of angry parishioners.
Days after the meeting and without warning, Hurley removed Dwyer as chaplain at Saginaw Valley State University (SVSU), where he had spent several years overseeing a growing Catholic chaplaincy. The bishop's ostensible reason was that his work at SVSU was causing "conflict" at his parish.
Catholics at SVSU immediately expressed outrage at Hurley for removing a popular and well-liked priest, with hundreds of calls and emails to the chancery voicing disapproval at what they saw as Hurley's strong-arming of a good priest.
In two private meetings with Dwyer on Monday and Tuesday, Hurley pressured Dwyer to take a three-week leave of absence. According to Hurley, "He declined my request."
As a result, the bishop announced in his letter that he is removing Dwyer from his post effective Feb. 8 and forcing him into a leave of absence for an undetermined period of time "as he awaits a new assignment." Father Patrick O'Connor, a senior priest, will be temporarily assigned to the parish.
The diocese of Saginaw has been wracked by scandal ever since the Feb. 25, 2018 arrest of Fr. Robert DeLand, a popular senior priest who served as judicial vicar for the diocese and judge on the marriage tribunal. After a four-month covert operation spearheaded by Detective Brian Berg of Tittabawassee Township, DeLand was arrested for sexually assaulting a male minor at DeLand's private apartment. Since then, at least two other young males have testified in court hearings against DeLand, accusing him of sexual assault. DeLand has since been arrested again on another charge of sex abuse, and is out on bail awaiting jury trial.
After law enforcement were flooded with tips indicating far more widespread clerical sex abuse and cover-up in Saginaw, the local prosecutor conducted a surprise raid on the chancery, cathedral rectory and home of the late Bp. Cistone, seizing his electronics. The criminal investigation is ongoing.
After the sudden death of Cistone — he was found collapsed on his bathroom floor the morning of Oct. 16 — Hurley was sent to Saginaw to temporarily oversee the diocese. A number of Catholics were critical of the move, as Hurley is tainted by scandal, accused of covering up the serial sexual predation of Fr. Gerald Shirilla, one of Detroit's most notorious pederasts, who abused multiple males throughout his decades in Detroit.
In a pledge toward transparency, Cistone had announced the role of an independent delegate, Judge Michael Talbot, in April to serve as liaison to the media and law enforcement during the criminal investigation, and to oversee the investigation as an impartial observer. Hurley announced in his latest missive, however, that Talbot's role had essentially been abolished.
"Since my arrival in October, I have been handling personally the matters that Bishop Cistone had delegated to Judge Talbot," wrote Hurley. "I will continue that practice during the time I am here."
Bp. Walter Hurley: firstname.lastname@example.org
Msgr. William Rutkowski, Vicar General: email@example.com / firstname.lastname@example.org
Fr. Ron Wagner, Vicar for Priests: email@example.com / firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com
Sr. Mary Beth Curtiss, Bishop's Liaison: MCurtiss@dioceseofsaginaw.org
Mary Piechowiak, Bishop's Secretary: firstname.lastname@example.org
Erin Carlson, Communications Director: email@example.com
Chris Pham, Communications: firstname.lastname@example.org