The Catholic parish priest at Wells, Somerset is a burly man. His face used to be rather shiny - what we call 'baby-faced' - until he grew a beard which now makes him look somewhat like an Eastern Orthodox patriarch when he's dressed up in his robes. He freely admits to over-liking pie shops and has the grounded bonhomie typical of the ESTJ. The priest is a convert from Evangelical Protestantism and it shows.
Last week, as I reported in this bombshell, he spoke directly to the congregation about 'concerns focused on his own person' and suggested that if these were widespread he might resign. This week he reported that he would be staying after all: the 'Open Letter' below was distributed with the Bulletin.
As we understand it, the previous priest was forced out under mysterious circumstances. His replacement is obviously not finding things too easy - maybe there is a mysterious cabal in the local Catholic community which secretly comes to judgement and then begins its subterranean agitation: it's all a mystery to us.
I could believe that the priest's homespun homilies and literalist reading of the Bible might jar with an intelligent, sophisticated parish which expects its religion to be woven from allusion and metaphor. But trust me, Wells is not that kind of parish.
Anyway, here is what the priest had to say in his open letter today (slightly edited).
AN OPEN LETTER TO THE PARISH
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I want to take this opportunity to thank the parish for its response to my words last Sunday. I asked you to tell me whether I was “the problem” and you have told me. That now being an answered question, we can move on together. I am touched by and undeserving of your many kind words. I am truly sorry that, in the process, I have caused upset and anger by what I said. That was never my intention. Nor did I mean to make people fear that events are repeating themselves.
I need to say very firmly that events have not repeated themselves. There is no pastoral breakdown or falling apart. There is no problem between myself and the Pastoral Council. For good or ill, I am not my predecessor and that changes the complexion of things completely. Present difficulties are not insurmountable and offer us rich opportunities for growth.
I have to tell you what you already know - that I am not a perfect priest and aspects of my personality and thought processes are not always helpful. In these last few days, I have reflected on the sometimes flamboyant excesses of my outgoing nature. The Liturgy of the Church exists to enable the People of God to meet Him in a rich diversity of ways. I need to be aware that I can get in the way of that life-giving contact, if I am not careful. There is no place for a prima donna priest, entertainment or the cult of personality. I will try much harder in future by God’s grace to efface self and put on Christ in the offering of Sunday Mass.
I have a tendency to digress when preaching, which can be distracting and unhelpful. I cannot promise to eliminate this tendency, but I am aware of this aspect of who I am. I will attempt to stay focussed and to the point, but I crave your understanding of my faults and foibles.
Yours in Christ