Want a Faithful Mass? Visit the Boondocks
By Mary Ann Kreitzer
One of the realities of modern Church life is that orthodox priests often suffer persecution. While direct attacks aren’t uncommon (note treatment of seminarians and priests who blow the whistle on rampant immorality), indirect methods occur as well. A number of years ago my husband and I visited Chincoteague to enjoy the beach and the birdwatching. Chincoteague, famous for its wild ponies, is in the Richmond Diocese which at the time carried the derisive nickname “Wally World” after its heterodox bishop, Walter Sullivan. Needless to say, we didn’t expect much, but hated to miss daily Mass. So we attended with trepidation. What a surprise: a priest faithful to the rubrics, reverent, a faith-filled homily, and no showmanship on the altar.
After Mass I went back to praise Father for the way he celebrated Holy Mass. “I’m really surprised to find such an orthodox priest in the Diocese of Richmond,” I told the cheerful, young Italian don. He laughed and replied, “That’s why I’m here. I have thirty families in my parish.”
We recently met another exiled priest in the small town of Greenville, Texas. Fr. Paul Weinberger had served a Spanish/English congregation, Blessed Sacrament in Dallas, for over a decade creating what many Catholics would describe as a “model parish.” His friend, Fr. Joseph Wilson of Brooklyn, described his accomplishments saying, “Father Weinberger… revived a stagnant, troubled inner city Dallas parish… restoring buildings and grounds, retiring a million-dollar debt, and establishing a strongly liturgical, spiritually-focused parish program which included not just daily Mass but daily, generous confession hours, the full Liturgy of the Hours, devotions, Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and Benediction, and a ‘Center for Virtue and Learning’ that offered classes on myriad aspects of Catholicism including Scripture, lives of the saints, documents of Vatican II, spirituality, and other topics. At Blessed Sacrament one could easily find Spanish and English-language Masses, and a Latin Mass with Gregorian Chant.” In fact, Fr. Weinberger took a deteriorating parish with a crushing debt and turned it into a jewel where 1,000 baptisms are celebrated every year.
For Fr. Weinberger, the Latin Mass was a source of unity in his mixed language parish. As he told reporter Terry Mattingly, “What father does not want to see his whole family gathered around the same table? That has always been my goal. I want to see our whole parish there, from the first-generation immigrants who only speak Spanish to the native Dallasites who only speak English. I don’t want the language to divide us. I want it to unite us.”
But Fr. Weinberger’s vision of parish life apparently clashed with his spiritual father’s. Bishop Charles Grahmann dismissed Fr. Weinberger by decree in 2003, a move not permitted under canon law. Bishop Grahmann’s spokesman, Bronson Havard, also publicly slandered Father and indicated part of the reason for his removal was his celebration of the Novus Ordo in Latin. Havard told the press Father never received “permission” from the bishop. But permission to say Mass in Latin, the preferred language according to Vatican II, is unnecessary. Havard made other comments about Fr. Weinberger that were so offensive they sparked national outrage.
Fr. Weinberger was replaced at Blessed Sacrament by TWO priests who rumor says were told to suppress the Latin Mass. It appears to be true, since the diocesan website lists Masses in both Spanish and English, but Latin is no longer available.
Fr. Weinberger’s persecution appears in stark relief to Bishop Grahmann’s treatment of other priests. The bishop took no steps to remove notorious homosexual abuser, Rudy Kos, who molested hundreds of boys and is serving four life terms for his crimes. The diocese paid a whopping $119 million settlement in the case for their complicity in covering up his abuse. Grahmann also reinstated a priest who fathered a child by a nun whom he allegedly raped. Such is the state of the Church in Dallas.
To shorten a long and sordid story, Fr. Weinberger now pastors little St. William’s in Greenville, Texas, a far flung suburb of Dallas. His congregation is a quarter the size of Blessed Sacrament’s. The day my husband and I attended Mass, a Friday morning and the feast of St. Angela Merici, there were only about twenty in the church. A group of six reverent and well-trained altar boys assisted. We arrived half an hour early and found Father leading Liturgy of the Hours. The Mass was reverent and totally faithful to the rubrics. The homily, long for a daily Mass, focused on St. Angela who founded the Ursulines, a teaching order. Father reflected ruefully on meeting five of his cousins at an aunt’s funeral the previous week. Three attended the Ursuline Academy in Dallas. Only one of the five still practices the faith. He reflected on the disintegration of Catholic education at nominally Catholic schools and stressed the importance of the laity studying doctrine. A home schooling mom said to me after Mass, “He’s teaching us our faith.” She called Father’s homilies “religion lessons.” Another enthusiastic parishioner described people traveling many miles to attend Fr. Weinberger’s faithful Mass and the various activities offered at the parish including daily confession and a three-hour class on Saturday mornings where parents and children study Catholic doctrine.
Larry and I had the privilege of going to breakfast with Fr. Weinberger and Denise Wood who posts Father’s weekly homilies and photos of special events on her website: http://www.semperficatholic.com/index.html. We discussed the fact that forty years ago, permanent pastors were the norm allowing for a sense of family to grow between congregations and their spiritual fathers. The conversation recalled to mind my own early years at St. Ann’s in Cleveland where an elderly priest, Fr. John Powers, ruled with a firm, but loving hand. He built the beautiful church scavenging wonderful fixtures like the wrought iron Communion rail purchased at a bank auction. (In a sad turn-around, banks and other secular institutions now scavenge the pickings of closed and “renovated” churches.)
We also discussed the current national policy of “risk management” in dioceses around the country. Father believes pastors should use the policy to justify and defend the prudence of their own decisions. For example, Father will not offer Communion under both species. “Suppose I have a very devout woman who drops the chalice? That could drive her into a serious depression. Under diocesan policy, I’m responsible, not the bishop, and I can’t take that risk.” In most cases the risks involved in “safe environment” programs and other initiatives are shifted to the local parish which lacks the legal protection of the diocese. In some cases Father has asked the bishop to assume the risk (in writing) prior to the parish implementing a program or policy that he considers risky. [Les Femmes recommends pastors adopt this approach before implementing so-called “safe environment” programs which make employees and volunteers legally liable. Dioceses should assume any risks inherent in potentially damaging policies they impose on employees and volunteers.]
Another subject on the table was the serious public scandal of Catholic politicians who advocate abortion but continue to receive Communion sacrilegiously. Father asked what we thought would happen if a Catholic senator urged folks in the pew not to donate to the support of their parishes? “What would the bishop do?” We all agreed it would be taken very seriously indeed. You would not see a cardinal of the Church embrace such a politician and walk down the aisle with him as Cardinal McCarrick did with Senator Ted Kennedy at St. Matthew’s cathedral in Washington, D.C. the day after Pope John Paul II died.
Our morning with Fr. Weinberger ended with a defining event that revealed the kindness and concern of this admirable priest. While we chatted outside, an elderly woman pushed an old man in a wheelchair across the parking. I presume he was her husband. Father had his back to them, but the instant they entered his peripheral vision he excused himself, hurried over to the restaurant door, held it open, then went in and opened the interior door as well. That small kindness reminded me of Jesus saying, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must lead them too.” Clearly, Fr. Paul is a pastor for all the people of Greenville, not just his parishioners.
Fr. Weinberger’s exile is a blessed gain to the people of Greenville. There on the outskirts of a large diocese, a little jewel, a faithful city on the hill, shines for all. If you’re passing through Greenville stop for Mass at St. William’s. And keep your eyes open for other orthodox persecuted priests exiled to the fringes of heterodox dioceses. These are the places where the faith is indeed alive and well. Read Fr. Weinberger’s homilies and visit his virtual parish at Diane’s website.