Why Remove Father Chris?

Pasadena Star [California]
Downloaded March 18, 2004

WE are reticent to comment on personnel disputes involving any private organization because we can't be absolutely sure what is driving them. Still, some cases become so very public that they cry out for dialogue and clarification. So into those choppy waters...

Still, it is answers, that's what the public is looking for in the situation between the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the Rev. Chris Cunningham, the now ex-pastor of St. Louise de Marillac Catholic Church in Covina.

Father Chris was removed from the church by Cardinal Roger Mahony, setting off waves of protests from loyal parishioners who spoke of him as an authentic, caring priest who helped breathe new life into the congregation by drawing as many as 1,000 new youths and their families into the church of 5,000 families.

The parishioners say they will mail 10,000 letters to Mahony and continue their protest all the way to the Pope. Such public displays of outrage more than hint at a parish wounded by a move from headquarters, in this case by Mahony, whom they blame for robbing them of their beloved pastor without providing a reason.

The archdiocese released a statement, saying Father Chris's removal is not due to any allegation of sexual impropriety, and it is not retribution from his calling out Mahony in a public meeting to face allegations against the cardinal of sexual misconduct.

Of course, many see it as retribution. Cunningham spoke his mind and criticized his boss. Certainly, others have criticized Mahony's handling of the sexual abuse scandal that has shaken the church, but it may sting more coming from within. Still, we will stop short of drawing that conclusion because we just don't know for sure.

Worse, however, are ridiculous accusations that say Cunningham should leave because he once greeted a male parishioner at a restaurant with a kiss on the cheek.

But it was within this hostile environment, in part created by the archdiocese, that Mahony acted. The archdiocese should have known that this type of move would be viewed with distrust at a time when the Los Angeles Archdiocese alone is reeling from a sexual abuse scandal in which 244 priests, deacons and others in church positions have been accused of child sexual abuse over the last 75 years. Slicing into the heart of a healthy congregation and removing its beloved pastor, then specifically saying it has nothing to do with sexual allegations whatsoever, is either poor management or power politics or both.

Cunningham won't win any awards for diplomacy, nor will he practice the sacrament of silence. But it appears to be an overreaction to remove him as pastor and waste his gifts. The decision set off yet another firestorm from within the capital "C' church that was beginning to see other fires die down or go out.

Is this any way to take care of a flock?


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