After a presiding priest roiled a Berkshire parish by inserting an Intention targeting Jews for “conversion” into a church bulletin, The Eagle editorial board called on the Springfield Diocese to proactively address parishioners’ concerns. To the diocese’s credit, it does appear to be doing that.
In condemning the antisemitic church bulletin, which decency compels of the entire community, we also critiqued the diocese’s history of trying to make deep problems go away quietly in lieu of transparently working on them. The clergy abuse scandal was certainly the most calamitous example of this institutional shortcoming, which was not unique to the Springfield Diocese but has certainly proved corrosive here. It is only fair, then, to acknowledge when diocesan leadership appears to be moving against that troubling trend.
Catholics in Adams and Cheshire are feeling a sense of relief, as they reflect on a former administrator's tenure and abrupt departure. Several parishioners say that even before the Rev. Barrent 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 traditionalist.
Parishioners who spoke with The Eagle said the bulletin incident was not an isolated one in their rocky relationship with the Rev. Barrent Pease. They mentioned chafing at certain policies restricting eulogies and funeral music as well as more worrisome behavior, such as using the pulpit to discourage mask-wearing and baselessly question the safety and efficacy of COVID vaccines. For what it’s worth, those pandemic-related stances put the priest at odds with the pope.
A new permanent administrator will guide Catholic churches in Adams and Cheshire — and their former lead priest, the Rev. Barrent Pease, is out. Bishop William D. Byrne announced the changes in a letter to parishioners read aloud at Masses on Friday afternoon.
On the bright side, Bishop William D. Byrne took the parishioners’ complaints seriously — and acted on them. He removed the Rev. Pease from his position as administrator of the St. John Paul II and St. Mary parishes in Adams and Cheshire. The bishop also openly condemned the former presiding priest’s actions as “imprudent,” while acknowledging the “trying week” endured by the community in the run-up to Christmas following the aforementioned bulletin. The diocese brought in the Rev. William Cyr to temporarily lead the parishes through a “period of transition,” which also meant dropping the policies that proved unpopular with many parishioners.
We certainly agree with the bishop’s assessment that the former presiding priest’s words and deeds were imprudent. Acknowledging them does not erase them, and we reiterate our call for the diocese to substantively engage in interfaith dialogue with local Jewish community leaders.
Still, there is reason for some optimism in the wake of this shake-up in a small-town faith community. Parishioners felt empowered to speak up when their priest erred. The diocese listened, and did something about it quickly and transparently instead of sweeping it under the rug. While that does not undo the diocese’s history to the contrary, it is worth mentioning — and praising.
It’s also an encouraging sign that Bishop Byrne is willing to live up to his pledge to better serve a Western Massachusetts flock far too accustomed to sclerosis and opacity on part of the diocese. We hope it continues. Living up to that pledge consistently is the only way to meaningfully address the institutional issues beyond a single Adams parish and get to some badly needed healing.