Montauk parish protests impeachment of priest who spoke about communion vote on CNN

Priests Robert Joerger and Edward Beck arrived a year ago at Saint Therese of Lisieux, Long Island’s easternmost Roman Catholic Church, with Hope and Faith.

With Joerger, 71, as pastor and Beck, 62, in residence at the parsonage, the duo struck a chord with the flock, who praised their compassion and eloquence.

But now, despite petitions to the Rockville Center diocese, including one with 631 signatures, and a rally attended by more than 250 people – “WE HAVE BALNÉ,” one sign reads; “DON’T REPAIR WHAT IS NOT BROKEN,” reads another – the two clergy have left the congregation for a house in Pelham run by their Religious Order of the Passionists.

The diocese would not let Beck stay more than a year. And so Joerger left too, citing the constitution of their religious order. The departures sowed confusion and sorrow.

Beck said he suspected the diocese wanted to remove him because of his comment on CNN criticizing a vote of the American Catholic bishops this could lead to the denial of communion to President Joe Biden and other politicians who support abortion rights. Biden at the end of last month met Pope Francis at the Vatican and then told reporters that the Pope said he should continue to receive the sacrament.

But Beck doesn’t know why he was not allowed to stay in Sainte-Thérèse, he said, since neither he nor his religious order has received an explanation.

The diocese, which oversees Sainte-Thérèse and more than 130 other parishes on Long Island, did not respond to Newsday’s questions. But diocese spokesman Sean Dolan said in a statement Beck was still supposed to leave after a year, the decision to remove Joerger was the Passionists’ decision, and St. Therese was generally served by diocesan priests.

A Passionist priest, like a member of other religious orders, generally reports to a superior within his own order and not to the local bishop, but can only minister in the diocese at the will of that bishop. local.

In a press release, the order’s headquarters said its original agreement with the diocese was that the arrangement with Beck, who moved from Los Angeles to accept the post at Montauk, and Joerger would be renewable.

As for Joerger, the diocese said he was welcome to stay, but, says the order of the Passionists, his Constitution demands that priests live “in community” with at least one other member of the order, so Joerger had to leave too.

The two clergymen, whose order says he spent more than $ 30,000 to repair the rectory, say the diocese must have known that Beck’s departure would necessitate that of Joerger. Joerger said the diocese asked him to stay for three years – then six – after the parish didn’t have a permanent priest for a year and a half.

Father Liam MacDonald, who had been chaplain at Holy Trinity Diocesan High School in Hicksville, took over on October 19.

Since becoming pastor of Sainte-Thérèse last year, Joerger has more than doubled Sunday morning mass attendance and attracted more young people and families, said former administrator Jerry McKeon, usher at the 10:30 am service.

“This guy is electric. He speaks down to earth, in a language that people can relate to, and all of a sudden you can see more people coming back to church. word of mouth, ”McKeon said. noted.

McKeon, who resigned his trustee position – an advisory role that involves helping run church affairs, including finances – on the eve of Joerger and Beck’s departure, said parishioners from Sainte-Thérèse “felt mistreated by the diocese for about 30 years”. and “we basically had a revolving door of priests” up to Joerger and Beck.

Religious orders, such as the Passionists, founded in 1720, sometimes supplement the dioceses, which supervise the parishes.

Beck’s comments on CNN came days later the June 18 announcement of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to put forward a plan – after a 73% to 24% vote – to draft guidelines on who is eligible for communion, the rite in which Christians remember Jesus’ sacrifice made in death. The Catholic teaching is that the wine and the bread, in a process called transubstantiation, become the blood and body of Christ.

Beck, who has been a CNN religious contributor for nine years, appeared on the network on June 20 to criticize the bishops’ vote and to argue that fellowship is “supposed to bring people together … so base it on exclusion, I think. is barking the wrong tree. “

“People see it as really based on hypocrisy. And I can’t tell you – some people have said, you know, it’s the last straw for them. If the bishops go ahead, it ‘that’s it for them, “Beck also said. noted. His remarks were excerpted the following night on Fox News Channel’s “The Ingraham Angle” by host Laura Ingraham, a practicing Catholic, who said, “Wait a sec. Is that a priest? … Oh, my God.”

In September, Pope Francis, who opposes abortion and calls it “homicide”, say again his conviction that communion “is not a price for the perfect” but “a gift of the presence of Jesus in the church”. But Francis was unequivocal that the sacrament cannot be given to someone who is not “in communion” with the church; he declined to say whether being a politician who supports abortion rights means being out of communion.

Days after last month’s papal meeting, Biden said Pope Francis told him he was happy to be a “good Catholic.”

“He’s a man with great empathy. He’s a man who understands that part of his Christianity is to reach out and forgive,” Biden said. noted by François.

Last year, when the diocese asked Joerger to be the parish priest of St. Therese, part of the deal with the diocese was also to bring in Beck, according to a letter sent to parishioners by the superior of the Passionists, Father Jim O’Shea. The order said he paid an allowance for Beck’s residence.

With Joerger as pastor, Beck took on additional ministerial responsibilities, including elsewhere in the East End, in addition to writing for and appearing on CNN, after past stints on ABC and CBS.

And with Beck’s departure, “we had no choice but to withdraw as a community from the parish,” said O’Shea’s letter. He did not return a message requesting comment.

In May, said Beck, the head of the diocese, Bishop John Barres, visited the parish, celebrated mass, met the two priests and praised their work.

“It all looked wonderful,” Beck said. Weeks later, “I receive a letter from his vicar for the clergy stating that my contract is about to expire.”

He said the only thing that changed between May and the letter was his comment on CNN in June, which led him to believe appearance played a key role.

Barres declined an interview request via Dolan, who did not respond to questions submitted by Newsday, including Barres’ position on Beck’s comments and the issue of fellowship for Catholic politicians who take the same stance as Biden.

Dolan, in his statement, said Beck’s tenure was still to expire this year, according to a letter dated September 22, 2020.

“We understand that this causes the disappointment of many parishioners who deeply appreciate his service to their parish, as do Bishop Barres and the diocese of Rockville Center,” the statement said.

On October 17, at Joerger’s last Sunday Mass as pastor, he then invited the children to the altar for a blessing and held the baby of Alexandra Flaherty, 29, who has attended all her life. , she said. She remembered her tenure: “It’s been a long time since you’ve seen so many families and children in church.”

“If you didn’t know how to follow, he didn’t make you feel bad about it,” said Flaherty, whose now 10-month-old son Asher was baptized by Joerger.

She relished the way he coaxed her to come to mass – even though her son was making noise: “Father Bob said, ‘I don’t care if he’s loud. I recognize that voice!’ “

And so she attended more often.

Lynda Bostrom, a parishioner for 30 years, said that Joerger “has done so many small things, great things, to help bring our parish back to life,” after a succession of priests passed.

“You just had to listen to his first sermon, and I was sold,” said Bostrom, 89.

In an interview with Newsday before the clergy left for other positions, Joerger said, “Our suffering can make us bitter, maybe at first. compassionate, kind-hearted people, because we’ve been through something. “

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