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Two Catholic parishes in Berkshires adjust their policies after 'imprudent' priest’s abrupt departure

St. Stans chaplet (copy)

A listing that the Rev. Barrent Pease placed in the church bulletin for Adams and Cheshire parishes called for a Midnight Mass on Christmas to support the conversion of Jews to Christianity. The Springfield Diocese stepped in to remove that "intention" for the Mass and its bishop decided, days before Christmas, to remove Pease as administrator.

ADAMS — Even before a new permanent leader arrives in two local Catholic parishes, change is in the air.

Days after the Rev. Barrent Pease was removed by his bishop for “imprudent” actions, parishes in Adams and Cheshire appear to be dropping unpopular policies Pease instituted, including what parishioners say were restrictions on eulogies and the use of music during funeral services.

At the same time, parishioners say they are feeling a sense of relief, as they reflect on Pease’s 10 months at the helm of two yoked parishes. They’re finding a new footing as a search continues for an administrator for the St. John Paul II Parish in Adams and the St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Cheshire.

Those who attend the St. Stanislaus Kostka Church in Adams, meanwhile, are contending with an ongoing mold problem that continues to restrict full use of the historic structure.

In interviews and emails in December and January, several parishioners reported to The Eagle that even before Pease listed the conversion of Jews as a “Mass Intention,” they differed with him about aspects of his leadership, which they characterized as impulsive and doctrinally traditionalist. Other say he lacked warmth, read from prepared homilies and declined to visit and shake hands with parishioners after services, saying, according to one, “I’m not a politician.”

Some also cited what they say was his opposition to allowing the late Capitol police officer, William “Billy” Evans, to be waked at St. Stan’s, before his April 15 funeral at St. Stan’s, reportedly saying that such an honor is reserved for priests.

St. Stan’s Church in Adams (copy) (copy)

A view of the southwest side of St. Stanislaus Kostka Church on Hoosac Street in Adams. The church, part of the St. John Paul II Parish, is now overseen by a temporary administrator, the Rev. William Cyr, following the removal of its former leader, the Rev. Barrent Pease.

They also said he discouraged the use of masks and vaccines to guard against COVID-19. Pease did not respond to questions about the Evans funeral or his position on masking and vaccines.

Parishioner Laurie Haas says she was upset by Pease’s attitude regarding COVID-19 measures, which he articulated Oct. 4, during a special Mass for the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. She said Pease proclaimed that he would not himself be vaccinated and questioned the credibility of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical advisor to the president.

“Our pastor spent his entire homily of over 10 minutes lecturing his flock on the evils of getting the COVID-19 vaccination,” Haas said. “He stated that the pope recommended that all Catholics should get vaccinated. He said, ‘However, the vaccine is not proven and it is not safe (and) people should not get it.’ ”

“I have known people who have been very ill with COVID and who have died due to this virus,” Haas said. “And this pastor is promoting death from the pulpit.”

‘Period of transition’

In a recent email to fellow leaders of the parishes, a financial official thanked the Rev. William Cyr for “leading us through this period of transition.”

“His experience, kindness, and familiarity with the people in our communities will surely be a comfort to many,” wrote Michelle Francesconi, the Cheshire church’s business manager and a financial assistant with St. John Paul II Parish.

James Loughman, president of the St. John Paul II Parish council, said he got along well with Pease.

“I could work with him and wish him well with his new endeavors,” Loughman said. “I’m grateful to Father Cyr for stepping in. Let’s leave it at that.”

Francesconi announced that along with adjustments in the scheduling of services at three churches in two towns, Cyr is reviewing sacramental policies with plans to “adjust if necessary.”

Already, changes extend to the funeral eulogies and music.

“Eulogies will be permitted at funerals and the specific guidelines will be added to the forms which are provided to the funeral homes,” Francesconi wrote in the email, a copy of which was obtained by The Eagle.

She said Timothy Rougeau, the St. John Paul II Parish music director, is working with Ann Cain, his counterpart at St. Mary, to update music options for funerals.

Eugene Michalenko, a parishioner, said he asked Rougeau about the policies that Pease put in place and confirmed that they included restrictions on eulogies and music.

“Father Pease did not allow eulogies during the funeral Mass,” Michalenko said. “Eulogies were to be (delivered) 10 minutes prior to the Mass. They are now allowed during the funeral Mass.”

In terms of music, he said Pease had “a short list of hymns that he considered appropriate.” Now, that list is being expanded by the two music directors to offer more choice.

“There was an uproar about him not allowing eulogies during the Mass,” Michalenko said. “He was more restrictive in funerals and people complained — and even wrote to the bishop about it.”

When asked by email whether he did not allow eulogies or music during funerals, Pease replied that the question was “leading” and false.

Barrent-Pease.jpeg (copy)

The Rev. Barrent Pease was removed late last month as administrator of the St. John Paul II Parish in Adams and the St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Cheshire.

“Respectfully, this is why people get on board with the fake news narrative because that is what it has become,” he wrote Thursday, in response to outreach from The Eagle seeking to verify what had changed.

“I was the one who brought the music back at all masses and I gave people 3 options within the funeral liturgy to deliver an eulogy, and one outside of the liturgy,” he wrote. “So they are not bringing eulogies back either, they are just doing away with the four options I offered and reverting to one particular option.”

Pease declined to be interviewed in person or by phone on Thursday, but agreed to consider written questions. The Eagle provided a list of questions about Pease’s time with the parishes in Adams and Cheshire, including about his decision to dedicate a Midnight Mass on Christmas to the goal of converting Jewish people to Catholicism.

Later Thursday, Pease said he was “not comfortable” answering the questions, which addressed not only the issues linked to his removal as administrator, but his wider Catholic beliefs and personal pastoral goals.

“I am currently in a time of prayerful reflection,” he wrote. “My superiors believe that this spiritual exercise needs to be completed first before I respond to anything. … I appreciate you informing me of what is being said. Please keep me in your prayers as I go through this transition.”

The Most. Rev. William Byrne announced Dec. 23 that he was removing Pease from his post as administrator, saying he had advised him to reflect on and learn from “this experience.”

In a recent email reply to a parishioner, Byrne said that he had been “working to find a priest who can help heal and build the community. This is not easy given we have such a shortage of priests so I humbly ask that you please pray for me in this regard.”

A spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield said Friday that Byrne and a clergy commission are “actively exploring options” regarding a new leader for the Adams and Cheshire parishes.

“It is a priority,” Mark Dupont said. “Given the shortage of priests, filling pastoral vacancies can be a challenge as reassigning priests can in turn impact clergy assignments at other parishes.”

In the bishop’s message to the parishioner, a copy of which was shared with The Eagle, the bishop explains why he counseled Pease to reflect on “a trying week” and would seek to keep him in the priesthood and of service to the Springfield diocese.

In addition to the Mass intention regarding Jews, which Byrne countermanded, Pease had recently told parishioners at two Masses in Adams that he viewed the eventual closing of St. Stan’s as inevitable because of the high cost of delayed repairs and the current problem with mold.

“Fr. Pease’s recent words and actions in Adams were understandably disturbing to many,” Byrne wrote to the parishioner. “While his actions were imprudent, they were not a violation of either canon or civil law. You may not like him, but he is not a criminal. I cannot ‘cancel’ him. There was no reason to remove his faculties as a priest. He was instructed about his actions and my hope is that he will learn and be a better priest. It is important to remember that through God’s forgiveness we all have the ability to be reconciled.”

Loughman, the parish council chairman, said a newly received report provides further information, and photographic evidence, on the mold problem at St. Stan’s.

He said the parish recently put out a call to members who work in the building trades to join with others to address the church’s physical needs, with mold in Kolbe Hall, the church basement, the most pressing problem. Loughman said one or two people have stepped forward to help. While the basement hall cannot be used, the worship space can — and will host its next Mass at 8 a.m. Sunday.

This story has been updated to clarify who received Michelle Francesconi's email about changes in parish procedures related to music and eulogies at funerals.

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com and 413-588-8341.

Managing editor for innovation

Larry Parnass joined The Eagle in 2016 from the Daily Hampshire Gazette, where he was editor in chief. His freelance work has appeared in the Washington Post, Boston Globe, Hartford Courant, CommonWealth Magazine and with the Reuters news service.

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