Parishioners Pray Diocese Listening xxxx

By Jeff Haynes
Woonsocket Call [Millville MA]
April 15, 2003

MILLVILLE -- Feeling that the Diocese of Worcester has left too many questions about their church's future unanswered, some St. Augustine parishioners are trying to spark a dialogue with Bishop Daniel P. Reilly.

"What is going to happen to us?" asked parishioner Margaret Carroll. "We need to know if we are going to have a permanent priest in residence. We want to know what they are going to do to provide the parish with what it has always had."

Carroll and fellow parishioner Lois Salome said the church's members were in a "state of shock" last fall when a Worcester resident filed a lawsuit accusing the Rev. Jean-Paul Gagnon -- the parish priest for seven years -- of sexual abuse. Gagnon's duties at the church have been put on hold as he fights the allegations.

On the first Sunday in Gagnon's absence, the Rev. Rocco Piccolomini came down from the diocese and offered the parish words of encouragement, Salome said.

"That was the first step, but that was the only step," Salome said.

In the six months that followed, she said, the parishioners -- totaling about 450 families -- have been looking for the diocese to provide some guidance on what will happen with the church.

Salome and Carroll recently held a meeting with 50 parishioners, and said the consensus was that efforts to talk to the diocese -- via phone or letter -- on their church's future have not been successful.

Diocese spokesman Ray Delisle expressed surprise at the parishioners' reaction.

Bishop Reilly has a strong reputation for responding to parishioners' questions and concerns, said Delisle, adding that the real problem could be a communication breakdown.

Reilly is sensitive to the church's concerns, and is scheduled to come to the St. Augustine parish on Thursday for the 7 p.m. service, Delisle said.

The bishop's Thursday appearance could help boost service attendance, which has been sagging the past few months.

Two weeks ago, the 10:30 a.m. service on Sunday had 98 people, which is about a fourth of what it had been last year, Salome said.

After Piccolomini's service last fall, the Rev. Robert Loftus began filling in on Saturday and Sunday services, she said. The problem is "there's nobody here in the course of the week," she said.

As a result, she said, the church has lost daily mass services, the children's mass, consistent administration of the sacrament of reconciliation (confessions), anointing of the sick, visits to homebound parishioners and regular access to spiritual guidance.

In addition, scheduling funeral services has become more difficult, "and that adds stress to family when they don't need anymore," she said.

The absence of a priest in residence is puzzling to Carroll because the diocese was quick to appoint Gagnon in 1995 when the church's former priest in residence, Roland Chenier, became terminally ill.

"We've never been without a priest in residence," she said.

Salome added, "we're in a vacuum. You can't spend too much time there."

So when Carroll and Salome organized the meeting with the 50 other parishioners, the focus was the church's future.

"The goal of the meeting was to establish a dialogue," Carroll said.

To that end, the two women distributed 500 postcards at the meeting to be handed out to each of the parish's families. The postcards, addressed to Reilly, state "as a parishioner of St. Augustine's in Millville, I am concerned about the present and future status of our parish. We are a community of faith and commitment, a community in need of spiritual help. I call on you, Bishop Reilly, to meet with us for guidance and counsel."

As a follow up, letter and phone campaigns are also in the works.

Carroll and Salome are quick to point out that the church's deacon, William Lucier, and parish secretary, Carol Perron, have been "a lifeline to the parish" during the past six months.

"They have worked tirelessly to keep things working in a cohesive manner," Carroll said. "We wouldn't have been able to get through these past six months without them."


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