Statement of the Archdiocese of Washington on Funeral at St. Mary’s Church in Charlotte Hall
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Archdiocese of Washington was made aware of an incident last week at a funeral at St. Mary’s Church in Charlotte Hall. Immediately following the incident, the archdiocese issued an apology to the family, and the text of the letter is shared below. As well, Father Michael Briese, the pastor, expressed regret and apologized to the family, and he submitted a letter expressing this to the local newspaper. The text of his letter is also shared below.
In his time as pastor of St. Mary’s, Fr. Briese has accomplished a great deal for the local community, welcoming and helping people from all walks of life at his parish with support through his work with the local community food bank and offering employment assistance. While acknowledging the gravity of this incident, it also does not reflect Fr. Briese’s ministry as a priest who serves the most vulnerable in the community. Pending the outcome of the archdiocese’s investigation of this issue, Fr. Briese has been placed on administrative leave.
Letter from the archdiocese to the family:
June 27, 2018
Dear Ms. Chisley and Family,
It has come to the attention of my office as Vicar for Clergy that a funeral scheduled for your loved one, Agnes Hicks, at Saint Mary Parish, Newport, Maryland, did not take place due to a serious misunderstanding.
I have been informed that following the incident at Saint Mary Parish that one of the neighboring pastors, Father Scott Woods, completed the service at the Briscoe-Tonic Funeral Home and offered his sincerest apologies. What occurred at Saint Mary’s Parish this morning does not reflect the Catholic Church’s fundamental calling to respect and uplift the God-given dignity of every person nor does that incident represent the pastoral approach the priests of the Archdiocese of Washington commit to undertake every day in their ministry.
With this letter, I want to reach out to you first to offer my prayers for your loved one that God will grant her a place in his kingdom of eternal light and love, and condolences to your family.
On days such as today, our response should always be one of compassion and sympathy for the bereaved as well as prayers for the deceased. I reiterate and reinforce the sincere apology you and your family received from Father Woods earlier today. Should you wish to discuss this matter further, I would be happy to set up a meeting for a fuller conversation.
Tomorrow, I will celebrate a memorial Mass for the repose of the soul of your mother, Agnes.
Sincerely in Christ,
Most Reverend Michael W. Fisher
Secretary for Ministerial Leadership
Text of the letter to the local community from Fr. Briese, published in The Independent:
A PASTOR CAN FAIL
Two minutes can change a life. In an emergency medical situation, two minutes can save a life. But can two minutes erase a quarter century of a person’s life and commitment to serving and caring for his community and those entrusted to his care? I hope not.
I am a Catholic priest and pastor at St Mary Catholic Church in Newport, MD, and as reported elsewhere in this newspaper and on its website, I lost my temper at a moment when anger was the most inappropriate response to those people entrusted to my care at that moment of ministry.
Before the start of a funeral Mass on Wednesday, June 27, one of the guests in the church damaged a sacred chalice used for the Mass. The sight of that accident made my frustration boil over. My anger spilled out in a torrent. I uttered words I never use, and treated people I have lived with and committed my life to serve in an unacceptable manner. Instead of care and compassion for the grieving family and friends, my focus turned to anger.
The man who cancelled this family’s funeral and dispatched them in anger, is not the man who hours before worked to minister to their needs in a time of grief. Instead of lifting them up, I let them down. For the anger and embarrassment I caused to that family, I am profoundly sorry.
My vocation as a Catholic priest is not merely a job or a career. My calling to Catholic priesthood is but the summit of a life lived in service to those in need, who feel lost or are abandoned, those who are vulnerable. For more than 25 years, I have lived to offer my hand to countless men, women and children, who could not speak for themselves. I have sought to serve as an advocate, a voice on behalf of others. I remain a person whose deep desire to serve others is firmly rooted in my heartfelt desire to serve Our Lord.
Some might dismiss these words given the tenor of the words I uttered before the funeral that was to take place on Wednesday. That is a just part of the consequence I will bear for my behavior. Like all human beings, I too, am broken in nature, make mistakes and, yes, I fail. My life has been, is now, and prayerfully will always be, a life in which my daily words and deeds exemplify the Gospel message. My most recent actions do not reflect who I am as a priest. I have spent much of my life working to lessen the challenges and ease the burden of people whose lives are heavy with struggles. I understand that my recent actions have now added a burden to their lives – a sad consequence that I must confront and for which I take responsibility.
My recent actions words were not borne of kindness but a failure of my vow to serve the Lord and those entrusted to my care as a person and as priest. I am profoundly sorry for my words and actions. I pray for all in this community every day, and I can only ask that you pray for me, but also for other priests and ministers, and all who seek to serve those who suffer and struggle as we strive to build up the kingdom of God.
Father Michael Briese serves as pastor for St Mary Catholic Church, Newport.