SAGINAW, Mich. (ChurchMilitant.com) - After being abruptly removed from his parish, a Saginaw priest is being housed at a church in one of the most dangerous sections of the city.
Bishop Walter Hurley, apostolic administrator of the diocese, announced Friday he was removing Fr. Edwin Dwyer from his role as parochial administrator of Our Lady of Peace Parish in Bay City, citing concerns over "division" caused by his liturgical changes. These changes, which took place gradually over the course of weeks and affected only one weekend Mass, included the introduction of incense, bells during the consecration, candlesticks on the altar and a few responses in Latin, among other things. Dwyer also offered homilies noted for their orthodoxy.
Although the majority of young parishioners and families welcomed the changes, a small and vocal group of primarily older parishioners began a letter-writing campaign to the bishop complaining. Bishop Hurley, appointed to oversee the diocese after the sudden death of Bp. Joseph Cistone in mid-October, heeded the complaints, abruptly removing Dwyer as chaplain at Saginaw Valley State University on Jan. 31, followed by his Feb. 1 letter announcing Dwyer would no longer lead his parish effective Friday, Feb. 8.
Dwyer has been directed to live in residence at Holy Family Catholic Church in downtown Saginaw, a historic church located off South Washington Street — one of the most crime-ridden areas in the city.
Holy Family is directly across the street from Hoyt Park, a place known for drugs, prostitution and even murder. The parish itself has suffered several break-ins, and rarely holds evening events out of concerns for people's safety. The area is only blocks away from East Genessee Avenue, a place riddled with multiple shootings, assaults, rapes and gang violence.
So notorious is the violence that the current pastoral administrator of Holy Family does not even live at the rectory, but off site. Saint Mary's Cathedral, only blocks from Holy Family, also has an empty rectory, the current rector, Vicar General William Rutkowski, choosing to live in the safer area of Saginaw Township. The late Bishop Cistone also avoided staying at the cathedral, instead choosing to live in a spacious home off a golf course in an upscale neighborhood.
But at the request of Bp. Hurley, Holy Family is where Dwyer is being assigned to live indefinitely. He is being given no current assignments and no duties.
Saginaw is among the top three most dangerous cities in Michigan to live, ranking third for number of homicides, after Detroit (first place) and Flint (second place). In 2009, the FBI designated Saginaw the most violent city per capita in the country — a position it held each year since 2003. Crime rates for 2018 show that, with regard to violent offenses, Saginaw has a rate 249 percent higher than the Michigan average, and 310 percent higher than the United States average.
Just since the beginning of this year, the area within a two-mile radius of Holy Family has already seen more than 200 incidents of crime, including several drive-by shootings resulting in death, multiple assaults, break-ins, drug dealing and larceny, among other things.
After news broke that Hurley was removing Dwyer from his parish, the Saginaw chancery was inundated with emails and phone calls from Catholics incensed by what they saw as the unjust bullying of a faithful priest. Hundreds of comments online also indicated outrage, with several noting Hurley's hypocrisy for accusing Dwyer of fomenting "division" through his liturgical practices, when Hurley himself was guilty of the same when he was assigned to Roseville.
One commenter wrote:
Bishop Hurley, do you remember when you were assigned pastor at Sacred Heart Church in Roseville, Michigan? Remember how beautiful the sanctuary was? A beautiful white marble High Altar, beautiful white marble communion rail, beautiful side altars to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus and Our Blessed Mother. Do you remember what you did to that beautiful church? You destroyed the interior of that church which was dedicated to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. You trashed everything, you tore out the high white marble altar, the communion rail and the ambo and put in its place a small wooden altar and ambo and put them on the right side of the church ... . You took the beautiful tabernacle which housed Our Eucharistic Lord and put Him in the back of the church, in the Ushers Room ... . Do you remember when you were pastor at Sacred Heart Church in Roseville, Michigan and how you divided that parish? I am sure that many parishioners were very upset when you destroyed their beautiful church that they, the people, built.
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
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