Harrisburg Diocese: Catholic Church in Lower Windsor 'Not Authentic'

By Melissa Nann Burke
York Daily Record
July 30, 2011

The Rev. Virgil Bradley Tetherow blesses congregants at the new chapel of St. Michael the Archangel Roman Catholic Church in Lower Windsor Township, which diocesan officials say is not recognized by the Catholic Church. (Daily Record/Sunday News -- Kate Penn)

The Rev. Gabriel Tetherow sits between two altar boys during mass at St. Michael the Archangel Roman Catholic Church last Sunday. (Daily Record/Sunday News -- Kate Penn)

The Rev. Virgil Bradley Tetherow, known as Father Gabriel, prepares to celebrate Mass at St. Michael the Archangel Roman Catholic Church in Lower Windsor Township. The organization bought a church building previously occupied by Bittersville United Methodist Church. (Daily Record/Sunday News -- Kate Penn)

York, PA - An independent Catholic chapel has opened in Lower Windsor Township under the leadership of a felon barred from public ministry by the Roman Catholic Church.

Shortly after the Rev. Virgil Bradley Tetherow celebrated his first Mass at the chapel July 17, diocesan officials warned that the congregation is not recognized by the Catholic Church.

"An organization calling itself 'Saint Michael the Archangel Roman Catholic Church' has been advertising in York County, claiming to offer Catholic sacraments to the Diocese of Harrisburg," officials wrote in a memo to parishioners.

"Notice is hereby given that this is not an authentic Catholic parish," and Tetherow "does not possess faculties to celebrate sacraments licitly within the Catholic Church."

Six years ago, the Diocese of Scranton placed Tetherow, known as Father Gabriel, on leave after allegations involving the downloading of child pornography onto a rectory computer. In 2005, police in Monroe County charged Tetherow with 10 counts of possessing child pornography and 10 counts of criminal use of a communication facility, according to court records.

Tetherow later pleaded guilty to one charge of criminal use of a communication facility -- a felony. The District Attorney's Office dropped the other charges, and a judge sentenced Tetherow to two years' probation.

Roman Catholic officials decided Tetherow must remove himself from public ministry as a priest pending a final disciplinary ruling by the Vatican. The Scranton diocese is still waiting for a decision on Tetherow's case from Rome, spokesman William Genello said Friday.

Tetherow was dismissed last year from another independent congregation of traditionalist Catholics following disagreements with the board. He had served for several years as chaplain at Sts. Peter and Paul Roman Catholic Mission in York, which diocesan officials also consider schismatic.

Dr. David Drew , chair of the congregation's board, said Tetherow, with others, "opened a school on Mission property without board approval and in violation of city ordinances," and that helped lead to the board's decision to remove him.

In the past, Tetherow has declined to discuss his criminal history and his tenure at Sts. Peter and Paul in York. Through a church member, Tetherow declined to comment before Mass last Sunday at the newly refurbished chapel on Craley Road. So did several other congregants.

About 30 adults and 23 children -- including families who once attended Sts. Peter & Paul -- arrived for worship shortly before 9 a.m. Tetherow, praying in Latin, celebrated a version of the Mass that pre-dates the reforms of the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s.

The congregants are traditionalist Catholics, who typically favor centuries-old forms of worship; hew to traditional Catholic dogma on the unique role of the church for human salvation; and reject many reforms initiated by the church since Vatican II, including modern concepts of religious freedom and ecumenism.

The Society of St. Pius X, a religious community that sponsors 103 traditionalist chapels in the U.S., has no formal affiliation with Tetherow or the group at St. Michael the Archangel, according to the U.S. district headquarters in Missouri.

County records show that "Saint Michael the Archangel" purchased the property at 1943 Craley Road in June for $100,000 from the board of trustees of the Susquehanna Conference of the United Methodist Church. The former Bittersville United Methodist congregation worshipped at the little white church until it folded 18 months ago.

During Mass, Tetherow preached about God's forgiveness of sin and man's desire to emulate the saints.

"How we worship shows what we believe," Tetherow said.

"In this chapel, we believe Jesus Christ is God, and in this chapel we worship the way we believe he revealed the way he wishes to be worshipped. Here, it is all about God and not about us."

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