Father Eddie Dwyer offered his final Sunday Mass today as pastor of Our Lady of Peace Parish in the Diocese of Saginaw, Michigan. His high-profile removal as both pastor of OLP, as well as that of chaplain for Saginaw Valley State University (SVSU), by Bishop Walter Hurley has garnered a great deal of Catholic media attention and outrage among the faithful. That this highly unusual removal was handled by an apostolic administrator for the bishop-less diocese only contributes to the controversy.
An announcement read before Mass this morning was also included in a public post at Fr. Dwyer’s Facebook page today:
I speak to you today in thanksgiving for the many blessings you have brought into my life these past 6 months. I also speak to you with a heavy heart.
On Wednesday, January 30th, His Excellency Bishop Walter Hurley, apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Saginaw revoked my appointment as chaplain of Saginaw Valley State University. The reason given in his decree of revocation is the following:
I have found it opportune to appoint another priest, Reverend Steve Gavit, as chaplain of Saginaw Valley State University (SVSU), effective today.
On the same day, Bishop Hurley also revoked my appointment as parochial administrator at Our Lady of Peace Parish, effective this coming February 8th.
It is very important for all of you to know that it was not due to any allegation of misconduct of any nature on my part that Bishop Hurley decided to revoke my appointments as chaplain of SVSU and as Parochial Administrator of Our Lady of Peace Parish. My appointments have been revoked, I am not being removed for any wrongdoing.
At the same time, out of complete respect for the ecclesiastical authority currently governing our Diocese, Bishop Hurley the Apostolic Administrator, I cannot comment on the decisions taken, nor on any private conversations held between His Excellency and me.
I have been assigned residence at Holy Family Parish in Saginaw, MI. None of my faculties as a priest have been suspended, or restricted. I will be awaiting a new assignment in the meantime.
Our time together was short, but I appreciated it dearly. This was a shock to me, and I’m sure it is to most of you. But Scripture teaches us “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:20) I simply ask you to pray for me, my family, this parish, and His Excellency the apostolic administrator.
Through the intercession of Our Lady of Peace may the Good Lord bless and keep you all the days of your lives.
Fr. Edwin C. Dwyer, JCL
Just to remind readers again, the only charge levied against Fr. Dwyer, and the only reason cited by Bishop Hurley for his removal: parish “division” caused by his very modest efforts to increase reverence and beauty within one weekend Mass time at OLP Parish. As reported by UCatholic:
The “issues” Bishop Hurley references are the slow introduction of some traditional elements to only one of the three weekend Masses celebrated at Our Lady of Peace. These changes were not offering the Tridentine Liturgy, or even offering the Mass Ad Orientem. The changes included placing candles on the altar, the use of incense, the ringing of sanctus bells during the Consecration, and reducing the amount of extraordinary Eucharistic ministers.
These changes were being instituted by Father Dwyer in response to the dire and crushing report released in October of 2018 that showed the across the Diocese of Saginaw, Mass attendance had cratered since 2005, dropping a shocking and precipitous 45%.
These minor and gradual changes were met with resistance by a small portion of entrenched parishioners at Our Lady of Peace, but met with joy and hope by younger members of the parish. The vocal minority forced a “town hall” parish meeting on Jan. 21 to complain, and the meeting was marked by acrimonious statements, sometimes becoming blatantly disrespectful, from a handful of discordant and disrespectful, mostly baby-boomer generation parishioners.
Indeed, the very minimal and modest efforts by Fr. Dwyer to return some reverence and traditional elements to the liturgy were on display at his final Sunday Mass as pastor. From the use of incense and the final blessing in Latin, to a couple traditional Latin chants & hymns during communion (such as Panis Angelicus), the rest of the Mass was, as one Catholic in attendance noted, a “pretty standard” Novus Ordo, including guitar and piano.
At one point during his homily the overflow crowd broke into applause for their pastor, who in turn reminded them of their mutual admiration for Cardinal Ratzinger who spoke against applause breaking out during the Mass.
Fr. Dwyer’s homily was brief and to the point. He referenced his Advent homily that had gone viral, in which he had laid out his goals, one of which was to “fill the church with crying babies.” Fr. Dwyer said he had envisioned this as goal of 3-6 years out, and was joyfully surprised that it had happened sooner than expected, referencing the packed church today.
Father also took a few moments speaking about truth, and how no matter what, we must speak the truth and do what is right. He reminded the faithful present that Jesus is THE way, truth and life, not simply A way, truth and life.
One final point, and it relates directly to Fr. Dwyer’s above statement. I have seen some online arguing that Fr. Dwyer was removed because of his disobedience, since the apostolic administrator had taken the (unusual) step of asking a pastor to take a leave of absence for no apparent reason. Those familiar with both the history of the Saginaw diocese, as well as Bishop Hurley, understand the injustice of this entire episode.
But let’s be clear about this: a Catholic priest never demonstrates disobedience by simply being obedient to his priestly duties. A bishop cannot demand a priest to remove Latin from the celebration of the Mass. Nor is the implementation of the proper use (as opposed to the excessive use) of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion at Mass a punishable offense. Further, the liturgical use of incense is a valid component of the Rite and is not something warranting discipline from a bishop.
To make an analogy, no priest is guilty of disobedience if he refuses a bishop’s “order” to avoid controversial topics in his homilies. If a new pastor were to irritate long time parishioners by preaching against contraception, abortion, or any other sins which endanger the souls in his care, no bishop should ever tell him to stop simply because a few boomers are triggered by the truth. The pastor’s obligation to his flock supersedes any unjust request by a bishop to forego this priestly responsibility.
At this time let us honor Fr. Dwyer’s request: pray for him, for his family, for the parish, and (yes) even for the apostolic administrator of Saginaw. But let us also pray for justice and healing.
David M. Williams of Michigan contributed extensively to the writing of this post, as well as providing the photos from today’s Mass.