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Parting Shots From the Pastor of America’s Largest Parish 

After 40 years and 12 parish assignments, Monsignor John McSweeney is retiring from active parish life, but not before firing a few parting shots at the next generation of priests. As reported by the Charlotte Observer:

During an interview with the Observer, he (Msgr. McSweeney) spoke candidly about a Catholic Church he thinks has often put the Book of Law before the Book of Love.

Echoing Pope Francis – the fifth pontiff to reign during McSweeney’s time as a priest – he’d like the church and the diocese to be more about hospitality and less about judgment. That means, he said, being more welcoming: Of divorced-and-remarried Catholics, of LGBTQ persons, and of others who have long felt excluded by the church.


McSweeney said he’s also “very concerned” that many of the priests graduating from seminaries these days are too conservative and could spur a revolt by Catholics in the pews against the priests’ efforts to stifle the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. Also known as Vatican II, this council in the 1960s embraced church reform, including expanding the role for lay Catholics and celebrating the Mass in the local language more so than in Latin.

“The population that is the worshiping Catholic community have no understanding or history of pre-Vatican II,” he said. “They weren’t born (yet). The same with these young priests.”


McSweeney said Vatican II called for active lay participation in the liturgy, or Mass. “What I see happening (at some parishes) is that is not happening,” he said. “It’s being stopped.”

Lay people, particularly women, are not being permitted, for example, to dispense Communion as Eucharistic ministers. Altar boys are allowed, but not altar girls.

These young priests, McSweeney said, “are trying to reform the reform. … I don’t endorse what they’re doing to God’s people.”

Recently, at a Catholic church in Waynesville, which is part of the Charlotte diocese, the pastor resigned after many from the congregation left to protest his insistence, for example, of replacing popular hymns with the ancient Gregorian chant.

McSweeney said such rebellion could also happen in some Charlotte parishes, adding only half jokingly, “I’ll lead it.”

For many of us in the Charlotte diocese there is nothing surprising about the views expressed by the 75 year old McSweeney. St. Matthew’s parish is where I entered the Catholic Church in 2006. Indeed, it was Msgr. McSweeney who heard my very first confession back then. It has been widely known in the diocese that he is not a fan of the reemerging orthodoxy and tradition under Bishop Peter J. Jugis.

The end of an era at St. Matthew’s also mirrors the ecclesial changes occurring throughout the Catholic Church today. Retiring are priests who often failed to hand on the authentic faith to those souls in their care. Sloppy catechesis, anthropocentric liturgies, emptying pews, declining vocations, and parish closures and consolidations have been the (bad) fruit of the spirit of Vatican 2. 

As someone who has moved on to one of the “reform of the reform” parishes that Msgr. McSweeney rejects, let me address his comments. These parishes have seen the faithful flock to them looking for the true, beautiful, and good. The priests who pastor these parishes have become beacons for families desiring the restoration of the Sacred and orthodox catechesis.

Vocations are also booming at tradition friendly parishes such as St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Michael’s, Sacred Heart, St. Ann’s (home of the Charlotte Latin Mass Community), and the Cathedral of St. Patrick; the very parishes called out for their traditional leanings. Indeed, over half of the diocese’s current seminarians (10 of 18) come from these 5 parishes alone.

Much has been made by Msgr. McSweeney and others (such as the Jesuit journal America Magazine) of St. Matthew’s status as the “largest Catholic parish” in the country; and with over 10,000 registered families, it may indeed hold that title. What is seldom noted, however, is that Charlotte has seen a 40% increase in population just since 2000, the year after Monsignor became pastor of St. Matthew’s, with the biggest growth occurring in South Charlotte where the parish itself is located. Indeed, using the consumerist language of the market place, St. Matthew’s geographically faces no “competition” from other parishes, even opening a southern campus recently which pulls from the fast growing Union County just south of Charlotte.

Nevertheless, what is clear for anyone with eyes to see is that the parting shots of Msgr. McSweeney simply reflect the post-game comments made by the losing team. The long time icon for Catholic liberalism in Charlotte is seeing his vision for the future rejected…by the priests of the future. There will be no “rebellion” lead by Msgr. McSweeney against the reform of the reform in Charlotte. Thanks be to God.

Photo Credit: Jenna Eason/Charlotte Observer 

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