Ousted Priest Still Has Support

By Marianne Love
Pasadena Star-News
August 30, 2004

COVINA -- The Vatican has ruled a popular priest at St. Louise de Marillac Catholic Church will not return as pastor.

The Congregation for the Clergy in Rome upheld Cardinal Roger Mahony's decision to remove the Rev. Chris Cunningham from the 5,000-family church and reassign him as associate pastor at Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church in Ventura, where 3,000 families attend.

In a letter to church members in May, Mahony said Cunningham, 42, was emotionally unstable, harsh in exercising authority and interfered with an internal church investigation.

Mahony alleged Cunningham withheld information about two parish accounts and convinced others to keep silent. He also accused Cunningham of secretly recording a meeting.

Archdiocese officials did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Cunningham, who did not return two phone calls, wanted Mahony's decision reversed.

Church officials in Rome received hundreds of pages of documentation from Cunningham and his canonical attorneys, church members said.

The July 31 decision was rendered in five days.

"We were surprised and disappointed they didn't take more time to deliberate. Father Chris is a wonderful priest and will be an asset wherever he's serving,' said Karen Baldacci, who attended St. Louise for 22 years.

Supporters doubt whether anyone took the time to review the massive paperwork.

"It took five days to sort through five pounds of information. It sounds like they had their decision made before the case even arrived,' said parishioner Mike Del Muro, 26, of Baldwin Park. "I hope the cardinal leaves him alone. He won.'

Cunningham, forced to resign, celebrated his last Mass at St. Louise March 10. Supporters complained a handful of angry parishioners had the clout to get Cunningham removed although hundreds disagreed.

Supporters sent 8,000 letters to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles pleading not to oust their pastor. They protested at Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles and held meetings to come up with a plan to save Cunningham.

Some withheld weekly offerings, hoping to send a message.

"Friends of St. Louise Parish,' a grass-roots effort, was formed.

"We are rethinking what direction we are headed in now. We decided to stay in existence,' Baldacci said. "It may not be possible for Father Chris, but we want more of a voice in decisions that affect our parish. We didn't feel we had a voice in what happened with Father Chris.' Marianne Love can be reached at (626) 962-8811, Ext. 2108