Bishop Walter Hurley, the apostolic administrator of Saginaw, has relieved a priest from his assignment at a parish in Bay City, Michigan.
The reason? Not because of the theft of parish funds. Not for sexual or moral impropriety. Not for supporting ideas opposed to Church teaching like abortion, same-sex marriages, or female ordinations.
No, the priest was not guilty of any of these. This priest’s crime? Attempting to restore some tradition to the liturgy in an attempt to reinvigorate his rapidly dying parish.
In a letter released Friday, Bishop Walter Hurley attempted to explain his actions in removing Fr. Edwin C. Dwyer, the parochial administrator at Our Lady of Peace Parish in Bay City, Michigan.
“For some time now I have been aware of a number of issues, particularly with the Liturgy, that have divided the parish community at Our Lady of Peace Parish, Bay City,” Hurley wrote. “This is a serious concern in that our worship should draw us together, rather than divide.”
The “issues” Bishop Hurley references are the slow introduction of some traditional elements to only one of the three weekend Masses celebrated at Our Lady of Peace. These changes were not offering the Tridentine Liturgy, or even offering the Mass Ad Orientem. The changes included placing candles on the altar, the use of incense, the ringing of sanctus bells during the Consecration, and reducing the amount of extraordinary Eucharistic ministers.
These changes were being instituted by Father Dwyer in response to the dire and crushing report released in October of 2018 that showed the across the Diocese of Saginaw, Mass attendance had cratered since 2005, dropping a shocking and precipitous 45%.
In a viral homily, Father Dwyer explained that to respond to these depressing realities with hope, he would attempt to attract new and younger parishioners by incorporating more reverence into the liturgy. In his homily delivered at the beginning of Advent, he said:
“Believe it or not, tradition works. So-called “old ways” are quite popular among younger Catholics. Smells, bells, classic hymns, chant, prolonged silence, and, hold on for this one, LATIN are all largely embraced by the younger generations of the Church. Furthermore, when younger non-Catholics experience these traditions they are struck by how different they are from everything else they experience in a noisy, secular culture. These “old ways” are beautiful to them, and beauty is a great place to introduce young folks to Jesus Christ. Thus, we are going to make Sunday beautiful at Our Lady of Peace.”
These minor and gradual changes were met with resistance by a small portion of entrenched parishioners at Our Lady of Peace, but met with joy and hope by younger members of the parish. The vocal minority forced a “town hall” parish meeting on Jan. 21 to complain, and the meeting was marked by acrimonious statements, sometimes becoming blatantly disrespectful, from a handful of discordant and disrespectful, mostly baby-boomer generation parishioners.
Just days after this town hall meeting, Father Dwyer was relieved of his duties as chaplain at Saginaw Valley State University (SVSU) without warning by Bishop Hurley. The reason giving was that his work at SVSU was causing “conflict” at his parish.
This sudden move was met with outrage by the Catholics at SVSU where Father Dwyer was very popular and well-liked, resulting in hundreds of calls and emails to the chancery voicing concerns and sadness over his sudden removal.
In two subsequent private meetings held with Father Dwyer on January 28th & 29th, Hurley “urged” Dwyer to take a three-week leave of absence. According to Bishop Hurley’s letter, Father Dwyer “declined” the request.
As a result, the bishop announced in his letter that he has “withdrawn his present assignment as Parochial Administrator, effective February 8, 2019. The Diocese will have responsibility for his salary, benefits and housing as he awaits a new assignment.”
Father Dwyer, who has declined to publicly comment on this story, has received a massive outpouring of support, both in his diocese and across the country. A “Mass Flash Mob” is being organized to attend his last Mass at Our Lady of Peace which will be Sunday at 10:30 AM.
Read the full letter from Bishop Hurley here: