by Gillian Hugo
Recently I have been a witness to and have heard stories about parish priests and parishes that have been astounding, disappointing and that have left me angry and disillusioned. One hears more and more stories about the inhospitable way that people are treated when they approach priests and/or parishes, for help.
A dear friend, who also happens to be a priest, recently lost his mother. On approaching his parents’ parish priest, he and his father were treated in a most inhumane way, in my opinion. There was no comfort and consolation offered at all, just “business as usual”. In fact, the attitude from the parish priest was cold and detached. His primary concern was having the funeral service being conducted his way and he expressed his irritation at having to rearrange his plans in order to accommodate the mourners. He allegedly does not open the church on Saturdays for services like funerals. When he did capitulate to a Saturday, he made it known he wasn’t happy. Needless to say, the funeral was moved and held at a different parish with a far more understanding and hospitable priest.
I then heard a few other stories of what, I think, is pastoral neglect, from others living in the area of that same parish.
On a different occasion, I was made aware of another parish where a child of same-sex parents was denied receiving a sacrament of initiation. This child had attended mass and catechism classes – in difficult circumstances but as best they could. That a child be treated in this way by the church is painful and scandalous. Remember, for children, such exclusion lives with them forever. It was not only an exclusion from the sacrament but also being excluded or made to feel a misfit in their peer group. How do we expect to fill pews when we treat the future of the church in this way?
I have had the personal experience of a lay person within the church take it upon themselves to make decisions around when my child would receive his certificate commemorating his First Holy Communion. Imagine it: a beautiful service with these young children receiving the Eucharist, with family and friends as witnesses. A certificate and candle offered to them along with a blessing, in front of the whole church. A wonderful occasion and road mark on their spiritual journey. Then, they were told, to leave their certificates where they were sitting in a very bossy way. They were told they can only have their certificates when they returned the robes they wore for the occasion. They had no choice, they were told they had to wear robes. Besides this being an archaic tradition, in my opinion, such punitive ways of acting towards children does not make them feel welcome.
In a time when the world is in chaos, seeking for solace and comfort from their spiritual homes, should the church be treating people in these ways? I know that these are only a few examples – maybe extreme – and we should not generalise. However, how many people have been treated similarly: alienated and not embraced? So much of this seems to contradict the kind of church Pope Francis has been urging us to become.
A recent article in Christianity Today reveals that non-denominational churches are adding millions to their ranks while traditional mainline churches are declining. Granted, the data is from the USA but the non-return of many people to Church might also be because of the obstructionist and inhospitable attitudes they face.
As the idiom reads: “You can attract more flies with honey than vinegar”.