An alarming and all-too-familiar issue within the Catholic church has been the question of problem priests: seriously troubled men who are put in charge of parishes where they ride roughshod over the laity. Last month I wrote two separate letters on behalf of parishioners of Saints Simon and Jude church (SSJ), a Franciscan parish in Huntington Beach, California. In both letters, the subject focused on documented grievances of parishioners who spoke of being emotionally abused by their current pastor. My first letter was privately addressed to the Franciscan leadership of the Province of Saint Barbara, a governing body of elected friars, with a copy sent to the Franciscan minister general in Rome. My second letter was a public letter directed at members of the various staff, councils, boards and commissions of SSJ, and copied to the bishops of the Diocese of Orange, California.
When friar Michael Harvey replaced friar Larry Dolan as pastor in 2001, there was very little parish outreach at SSJ regarding this issue. Harvey was reassigned to Portland in 2012, but during his eleven-year tenure at SSJ he helped bring about a certain measure of understanding and healing in the parish by encouraging dialogue and discussions. Although he had his share of missteps, his pastoral approach was largely responsible for helping many parishioners deal with the crisis, stay with the Catholic church and reconnect with the Franciscans.
Like all things that seem to emanate from the strange universe occupied by the current leadership of the Franciscan Province of Saint Barbara, a decision was made to replace Harvey with friar Dan Barica, a priest with a troubled past. As pastor of Mission Santa Barbara (ground zero for the sex abuse scandal), Barica made no secret of his belief that the clergy abuse problem was blown out of proportion and that the spotlight on the sexual abuse of minors by Franciscans was far too bright. Barica went so far as to lecture Mission parishioners about putting the issue behind them and moving on--something, apparently, he himself had done.
Incredibly (and sadly), this was the priest the Franciscan leadership felt the parishioners of SSJ deserved as their new pastor. Instead of providing professional help for Barica, they removed him from Mission Santa Barbara (where he managed to divide and confuse parishioners), and rewarded him with a plum assignment: a high stress position as spiritual leader of one of the largest (and richest) parishes in southern California. The same parish that had struggled for years and fought back to renew itself had now been handed over to a friar with his own personal agenda.
To better understand this disturbing issue and the many challenges it poses for those who are attempting to make sense of it, my second letter (to SSJ) has been posted on SafeNet's website, and is presented below in its entirety:
A Letter from SafeNet
To: Parish Staff, Boards, Councils and Commissions
Saints Simon and Jude Parish, Huntington Beach, CA
Cc: Bishop Kevin Vann, Diocese of Orange
Auxiliary Bishop Dominic Luong, Diocese of Orange
Angelica Jochim, MFT, Franciscan Office of Pastoral Outreach
October 28, 2014
Dear Church Leaders of Saints Simon and Jude Parish:
Peace and all good!
Efforts by Pope Francis to move the church into the 21st century with respectful language, compassionate deeds and welcoming acts are clear reminders to the clergy that they are the servants of the people and not their masters.
In recent weeks, a growing number of parishioners from Saints Simon & Jude have contacted SafeNet to report feeling emotionally abused by their pastor, Dan Barica. They have made it clear that his insensitive remarks and dismissive manner have caused them to feel hurt, angry and confused. Numerous examples have been shared, but a common grievance has been Dan’s apparent elevation of his own importance above the pastoral needs of his congregation.
Some have raised serious concerns about parish expenditures under Dan’s leadership. They claim there is little financial accountability and transparency. Others have questioned his possible breach of canon law. They all report that his divisive policy of exclusion and isolation is responsible for creating a fearful and unwelcome environment at SSJ. In several encounters with churchgoers, Dan has apparently told people that they are either for him or against him. Those he perceives to be against him have been told to find a new parish.
Because of his behavior, some parishioners fear reprisals. Many have been reluctant to speak up and have requested anonymity from SafeNet. They contend that Dan is being enabled by those who are intimidated by him; by those who are afraid of losing their jobs; and by those who act out of obedience and misplaced loyalty. They believe all these factors have served to condone and embolden his behavior.
The Real Focus of this Problem
Unfortunately, this narrative is a familiar part of Dan’s history. Many people at Mission Santa Barbara expressed the same concerns to SafeNet when Dan was pastor there. They described his behavior in equal terms. Similar reports surfaced when he was pastor at St. Francis in Los Angeles before being transferred to Santa Barbara. Resistance to change, rejection of opposing viewpoints, and insistence on doing things your own way are all indications of a hurtful and disturbing policy.
On May 23, 2012, I sent a letter to the SSJ pastoral staff expressing my concern regarding the appointment of Dan Barica as your new pastor. In that letter, I stressed the need for SSJ to help Dan understand his obligation to serve all parishioners and to be mindful of, and sensitive to, the needs of a parish severely impacted by the clergy sexual abuse scandal. I believed then, as I do now, that the circumstances warranted your immediate attention.
In my view, the real focus of this problem is Dan’s private pain and suffering. Over the years, my work with wounded individuals has taught me to look for signs of acting out. Dan’s behavior fits enough of a recognizable pattern to suggest that his anger and apparent contempt for others is a cry for help.
Until he is able to resolve his personal issues, I believe Dan will continue to cause emotional harm to parishioners, the friars and himself. As a result, SafeNet has written to the Franciscan leadership in Oakland urging them to take the following steps: 1) relieve Dan of his pastoral duties and help him obtain the appropriate professional care he requires; and 2) get behind a series of healing and reconciliation forums for the parishioners and friars of SSJ, facilitated by independent counselors.
This second point is an important process that you, as a parish, can initiate and set in motion.
An End to Unnecessary Suffering
One of the greatest challenges facing the church today is overcoming public perception that it
doesn’t listen or, worse, doesn’t care. There’s no way of knowing for certain if the friars will take
this crisis seriously; no guarantees that they will respond in an appropriate and thoughtful manner. It’s vital, nevertheless, to go on record. And it’s equally vital to understand that this crisis is potentially explosive for your parish, the Franciscans and the Catholic Diocese of Orange.
This letter is a sincere appeal. It is also a red flag. As a group, you have the power to stand up and correct injustices. As stewards of the faith, you have the moral imperative to support all wounded parties and ensure that everyone’s well being remains your highest priority.
I urge everyone who cares about their parish to act with courage and compassion for all, without delay, and to help bring about an end to unnecessary suffering.
Paul Fericano, Director
The bullying and harassment that exists at SSJ is hardly an isolated occurrence. Catholics in parishes all across the country have experienced similar incidents, certainly for decades, and more likely for centuries. There are professional facilities that cater specifically to troubled members of the clergy. But priests who suffer from addictions, psychological wounds or mental conditions are often routinely assigned to churches where they immediately establish their own tiny fiefdoms at the emotional expense of their parishioners. To quote the Catholic blogger, ologsiquito, from "How to Handle Church Bullies": "When a priest has a personality disorder, the entire parish suffers. People tiptoe around him, living in fear of setting him off."
Thus far, the Franciscan leadership has not responded to any of this. Not publicly, anyway.
To do so would mean acknowledging mistakes, which would mean offering apologies. And according to some friars, they've already been there and done that. If all this sounds a bit arrogant and absurd, that's because it is. A friend of mine, a friar who isn't shy about speaking his mind, recently told me: "It's one of the perks of being elected to govern an exclusive men's club."
Ironically, this supercilious attitude has its roots in Mission Santa Barbara, a once-bright refuge that is now a dreary mausoleum, thanks to the incompetence of troubled Franciscans like Richard McManus, Brian Trawick and Angelo Cardinale. It should come as no surprise, then, that Dan Barica, who once lived with these friars and shared their views, would choose to export these dark circumstances to another parish. The spiritual depths of this, and any other religious community, can never be measured by the beauty of its physical surroundings, but by the very people who are supposed to be welcoming hosts charged with spreading peace and good will.
Over the past six years the Franciscan Province of Saint Barbara has unwittingly taught me ways to listen patiently to the language of deafening silence and to understand its deeper meanings. Problem priests are the next powder keg on the church stove. Like the clergy abuse scandal before it, there are many (perhaps too many) in the hierarchy of the church, and certainly in this religious order, who simply don't want to hear they are screwing up (again),
even when it's painfully obvious to everyone else that they are.