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Unnecessary controversy surrounding Fr. Gately’s transfer

May 26, 2008

At the conclusion of the Trinity Sunday liturgy at St. John Vianney Catholic Church in Houston, the retiring pastor, Fr. John Morfin, announced that the Archbishop of Galveston-Houston, Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, has transferred the current rector of the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, Fr. Troy Gately, to St. John Vianney to be the replacement pastor. Today, at the conclusion of the Corpus Christi liturgy at St. John Vianney, Fr. Morfin asked the congregation to pray that a peaceful and edifying resolution to the controversy over Fr. Gately’s removal from the Co-Cathedral may come. Stunned and intrigued, I looked into what appears to be, at least initially, a impasse among Fr. Gately, some important benefactors, and Cardinal DiNardo. Here’s what I have found thus far:

On Friday, the Houston Chronicle ran an article entitled “Parish donors angry over pastor’s transfer” in which it was revealed that a number of donors for the Co-Cathedral’s capital campaign have requested a private meeting with Cardinal DiNardo to discuss the transfer of Fr. Gately. Fr. Gately, rector of the old Co-Cathedral from 1999 through the dedication and opening of the new Co-Cathedral, has been overseeing its major fundraising projects. Here’s an excerpt from the Chronicle‘s article:

The pastor, the Rev. R. Troy Gately, spearheaded fundraising efforts for the new center, which will be in the old Federal Reserve bank building, catty-corner to the $49 million downtown Roman Catholic Cathedral that opened last month.

The Co-Cathedral is the official church of Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

Parishioner Doyle Drury, who made a five-figure campaign pledge, said he was stunned to read a farewell letter from Gately in the Sunday bulletin this week.

The next day, Drury sent a letter to Cardinal DiNardo, announcing he was stopping his pledge and requesting a full reimbursement of all money he’d already paid out.

“I want to make my point,” said Drury, a parts and service director for Texan Pontiac. “I don’t think it’ll change anything with the cardinal’s position, actually, but at least I want him to know we’re standing up for what we believe in.”

The Chronicle could not reach Cardinal DiNardo Friday.

Gately led efforts to construct the center and deserves to see his vision through, Drury said.

“Church decisions from the cardinal I feel must be based on prayerful or ethical reasons and not political or personal one,” he said. “Why not let him (Gately) enjoy the fruits of his labor? What does it hurt? I just don’t understand.”

He’s not the only one who’s angry.

Capital campaign chairman Patrick Pacheco said a dozen individuals representing about half a million dollars in campaign pledges have have asked him to arrange a meeting with the cardinal “to get clarification of why Father Troy was reassigned and why now.” These donors have either indicated that they plan to withdraw their pledges or are considering it.

If the decision to reassign is final, the donors want to know if the transfer can be delayed until after the dedication of the Cathedral Centre, Pacheco said. They also asked him to secure a written commitment from the diocese that the Cathedral Center will be utilized for parish activities and not chancery office space, apart from a half floor that has already been committed to the chancery.

This leads me to ask three immediate questions. First, are these donations for Fr. Gately or for the Co-Cathedral, which happens to be the Mother Church of all the clerics, religious and laity in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston and a symbol of the burgeoning Catholic presence in Houston? Second, does Drury assume that Cardinal DiNardo’s decision to transfer Fr. Gately was “political” or “personal,” or did someone involved with the transfer describe the transfer as such? Third, has Fr. Gately done anything to mitigate the controversy by defending the authority of Cardinal DiNardo, expressing his support for the Cardinal’s decision, and encouraging the discontented donors to fulfill their pledge for the good of the Catholic Church in Galveston-Houston?

The answer to the first question should be obvious to any good Catholic. To the second and third questions, I have only the “farewell address” from Fr. Gately, which ran in the May 18, 2008 parish bulletin at the Co-Cathedral. For the most part, Fr. Gately’s address was gracious and moving, as it highlights his great love, passion and service of roughly nine years to the Co-Cathedral community. However, one section of his farewell overshadows the rest of his words:

The Cardinal is transferring me to become the pastor of St. John Vianney parish in West Houston. I did not seek this move. In fact when asked to consider it, I said “No.” But when it was no longer stated in the form of a question my response was “Yes, I will obey and do what is asked of me out of love for Christ and his church.” St John Vianney is a wonderful parish. I was there as an assistant when I was first ordained. I have many wonderful memories of my time there and pray I can do well there.

The transferring of pastors and even rectors is a commonplace within dioceses, especially within those the size and standing of Galveston-Houston. I am sure these transfers are welcomed just as often as they are begrudged by the priest in question. But what purpose does it serve when a priest relates publicly his ambivalence toward the bishop’s decision to transfer him? Fr. Gately makes sure to note explictly that his acceptance was rendered only after Cardinal DiNardo’s request was “no longer stated in the form of a question.” Don’t get me wrong–I see nothing wrong with a priest rendering a negative response when asked by his bishop to consider a reassignment. Also, I commend Fr. Gately for obediently accepting Cardinal DiNardo’s order. What I have a real problem with, however, is Fr. Gately’s imprudence in relating to his entire parish community (and the whole world, should it happen upon the online bulletin) that Cardinal DiNardo did not accept his negative answer and turned a matter of proposal/consideration into one of order/obedience. I do not judge Fr. Gately’s intentions in publishing his account of his private meeting with Cardinal DiNardo. I do, however, take sincere and sober issue with his obvious lapse in judgment. Not only does Fr. Gately’s farewell disclose a conversation and exchange between him and Cardinal DiNardo to which the faithful of the Co-Cathedral need not be privy, but it also sends a message to the faithful of St. John Vianney that they certainly were not his first choice and that he is coming to them by order, not desire. Fr. Gately has managed to stir up passions in both communities–passions that are not of the sort that benefit the parishes, the clergy involved, or the greater Church in Galveston-Houston.

In closing this post (it will not be my last word on the matter), I want to state my disapproval of, and disappointment in, donors who threaten to withhold their pledged contributions to a parish in an effort to muscle their bishop into submitting to their demands and conditions. Such is not the trait of a generous Catholic who has been blessed by God financially. I sincerely hope Mr. Doyle Drury comes to understand that donating to the Co-Cathedral is for the benefit of the parish community and not for making a political statement on behalf of a preferred cleric. I also want to state my disappointment in Fr. Gately on account of his imprudence in disclosing a private matter that has disrupted the imminent transition for both the Co-Cathedral and St. John Vianney, has colored Cardinal DiNardo negatively, and has drawn undue attention to himself as he frequently does in liturgies over which he presides.

In the words of Fr. Morfin, who is handling this situation with class and grace, may the resolution here be “peaceful and edifying.” I hope that Fr. Gately is working to curb this controversy, for I believe it is incumbent on him to do so for the good of the Church in Galveston-Houston.

UPDATE: The Houston Chronicle ran another article late last night updating the story. Cardinal DiNardo has stated that the transfer of Fr. Gately is not a demotion (St. John Vianney is one of the largest, most vibrant parishes in the Archdiocese). The Cardinal sympathized with Fr. Gately’s reluctance: “There is never a time for a good move for a priest who loves his parish.”

As for what Fr. Gately is doing to mitigate the controversy, the article gives two hints. First, apparently Fr. Gately felt the need to point out to the Houston Chronicle that most pastors get to have two six-year terms at a parish and that he is being transferred three years into his second. Second, the article included the following terse line: “[Fr. Gately] says he is encouraging parishioners to stay committed to the cathedral.” As I indicated above, I believe Fr. Gately has largely sparked the problem, and suggesting that he is being transferred early in his second term only stokes the flames. He claims that he is encouraging the faithful at the Co-Cathedral to stay committed. I pray that encouragement is not only toward fundraising, but toward support for Cardinal DiNardo and the new rector of the Co-Cathedral, Fr. Lawrence Jozwiak.

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19 Comments
  1. Katerina permalink*
    May 26, 2008 10:36 am

    As a St. John Vianney parishioner, this whole situation really saddens me. It is truly unnecessary. In an Archdiocese where the Catholic population is growing considerably and the shortage of priests seems to be getting worse, this kind of situation does not help.

    For the donors: KEEP YOUR MONEY.

  2. Nick permalink
    May 26, 2008 1:08 pm

    The Archbishop has his reasons and we should all respect his decision. Christ alone should influence his decision making and not the money or hissyfits of disgruntled cafeteria Catholics.

  3. Mark DeFrancisis permalink*
    May 26, 2008 1:45 pm

    Cardinal DiNardo, originally from the Diocese of Pittsburgh, is a forthright, prudent and upright man and shepherd.

    While I can sympathize the the transferred priest’s human emotions, the public melodrama is completely unnecessary and unbecoming.

  4. Mike Enright permalink
    May 26, 2008 1:55 pm

    its unclear to me why the donors care so much

  5. May 26, 2008 5:21 pm

    Nick,

    Would you say the same if it were the sex scandal that were the issue? “The Archbishop has his reasons ….. Christ alone should influence his decision ….”

  6. BlazeAMDG permalink
    May 27, 2008 10:28 am

    The donors seem to care so much about this because they want their money used the way they were told it would be used:

    If the decision to reassign is final, the donors want to know if the transfer can be delayed until after the dedication of the Cathedral Centre, Pacheco said. They also asked him to secure a written commitment from the diocese that the Cathedral Center will be utilized for parish activities and not chancery office space, apart from a half floor that has already been committed to the chancery.

    I myself have organizations, Catholic organizations nonetheless, that I would like to donate money to but do not because I have seen how the people involved in these organizations are keeping the organizations from moving foward and living up to their mission. The difference is the organizations I would like to support are private Catholic organizations not run by the diocese. Please if you are dissatisfied with these turn of events don’t deny the entire diocese your donation but move it to a different diocese project because the point of making a donation is supporting the Church.

  7. June 2, 2008 1:32 pm

    Poli,

    I was to busy to post this on my blog, but was pleasantly surprised to see on a Google search that you did speak (write) about this.

    I came to the same agreement that what Fr. Gately wrote in the bulletin was imprudent. Obedience is difficult but it can be an edifying experience. Granted that Fr. Gately did obey, but by choosing to air his grievance like he did, I doubt that any ‘edifying’ experience can be forthcoming. But then he does have the possibility of rectifying this by choosing repentance and thus another opportunity to grow in God’s love.

    Nonetheless, the parishioners at the Co-Cathedral are either misled or incorrectly informed to why Fr. Gately is leaving. This may explain their uncharitable behavior toward our good Cardinal.

    From St. John Vianney’s Parish point of view, I can understand their concerns as being an unfavorable destination of Fr. Gately. I have many friends from SJV and have attended the church in the past and they are a vibrant and growing parish.

    I’m sure most hearts and minds will change in a positive experience for Fr. Gately and the parishioners of SJV eventually.

    A Well balanced and researched posting Poli.

    In Jesus, Mary, & Joseph,

    Tito

  8. June 2, 2008 7:22 pm

    Father Troy Gately worked hard in the fundraising of this Cathedreal and should be rewarded by enjoying the “fruits of his labor” for a few years!!!I am a Roman Catholic and this is just politics as usual, even in the Church , the cardinal wants to pick his own hand-picked people, Crist has nothing to do with this, POLITICS does!!!

  9. June 10, 2008 1:56 pm

    Although, I understand it is the right of a priest to express his concern about a transfer, to do so publicly serves only to cause controversy. What most parishioners don’t seem to know, is that a Cardinal/Bishop does not make the decision alone. The Donors may have a concern about the funding but to threaten withdrawal of the monies is a form of blackmail. The right road, I feel, would be to sit down with the Cardinal and express their concerns and obtain reassurances. We are, after all, followers of Christ, and must stop and think would would He want us to do? The money is for the Church, not for a specific person, no matter how involved in orgqanizing the funding.
    Carole

  10. bri permalink
    June 17, 2008 1:35 am

    i’m a sacred heart parishioner who is said to see father troy go, but anyone who knows him knows he is passionate about the church and loves his calling. i took several non-catholic friends to his services, and was always surprised to see how much they enjoyed it, despite their unfamiliarity with catholic mass.

    i agree that it was probably not best for him to post those words in the bulletin, but i think at worst it was as you said, a lapse in judgement. if anything, i think he could have found a more graceful way to express disappointment at having to leave without coming off as disobedient or a trouble-maker. i do think, however, that even if he hadn’t tossed in the line about it no longer being a question parishioners would have been upset or asked to know why he was moving and the nature of the thing would have come out anyway.

    i’m sorry if st. john vianney’s is hurt by the whole matter, but i hope that once he arrives there he becomes as much an asset to your parish as he was to ours, as i’m sure he will serve whole-heartedly and with the energy and joy he has shown at sacred heart.

  11. Becki permalink
    June 18, 2008 8:23 pm

    I am not sure if any of you that have posted your opinion of Fr. Troy actually have been in his presence. For myself, as a returning Catholic, was moved each and every time Fr. Troy gave his Homily. He speaks with great passion and intelligence that time in Mass passed too quickly. Every Sunday to hear him and share Mass with Fr. Troy became such a wonderful experience. Honestly, Fr. Troy gave me and my family a route in strengthening our faith. I am deeply sorrowed about his transfer. Like many of you that get attached to a leader of the church, and all so seeming without regard of his works with the new cathedral and works in increasing the number of parishiners at the Co-Cathedral (from what I understand 300 families to 3000 families) and raising the funds to build this new place, but then to be so disregarded to not even allow Fr. Troy and the people that are so connected to him and his message to just be disregarded, it is just not right. Yes, we are donors to the new cathedral. Were we a bit disappointed hearing the news of his unexpected transfer? YES. I may have to redirect my contributions to his new parish. In fact, I may just have to go to that parish instead. Honestly, I think you will see a decline in attendance without Fr. Troy…but, as mentioned earlier in another person’s blog, Fr. Troy will be an asset to St. John Vinney’s parish.

  12. Cindy permalink
    June 28, 2008 6:48 am

    Honestly, all of you people should grow up. Father Troy took Chris Popelka, the music director at St. John Vianney, to become the music director at the co-cathedral. Do you think we liked that at St. John Vianney? We hated it! Chris was absolutely wonderful and everyone loved him. I cried when he left. But did we have hissy fits and threaten people and try to change things to what we wanted them to be? No. So now Father Troy is being reassigned, and he doesn’t like it. Well, tough. That’s life. He needs to grow up, too. I’ve had my issues with Father Morfin over the years — after all, no priest is perfect, just as none of us is perfect — but he’s been a good pastor and I’ve never heard him purposely try to stir up controversy. That is hardly becoming to a priest and makes me wonder just how great Fr. Troy really is.

  13. June 29, 2008 10:06 pm

    The timing of the transfer is poor. A lot of people had a lot of emotions invested into this new church, Father Troy being at the top of the list. It’s easy to critcize Father Troy for speaking out but how would you ask if you worked extremely hard for multiple years to complete a project and when its finally complete you are removed for your boss’s top assistant.

    The people talking about pulling donations are most likely soured by the political feel of the transfer. The Church is built on love and the transfer looked like DiNardo wasn’t so loving to Father Troy.

  14. angie permalink
    July 2, 2008 10:59 pm

    A priest is a priest forever in the line of Melkezidek (probably spelled that wrong). When a priest is ordained he takes a vow of obedience. Fr. Troy took this vow when he was ordained. Some things should be accepted in silence for the good of our Church. As the spiritual shepherd of our diocese, Cardinal Dinardo has the right to assign a priest whereever he believes he will best serve the people of God. He does not make the decision alone, but with the recommendations of a committee of priests that consider these assignments prayerfully and I’m sure, very sensitively to the needs of the diocese. Poor timing? Maybe, God’s timing. Priest nor parishioners should never attach themselves to any particular church. We are passing through here on earth to get to heaven. The priesthood should never be viewed as a mere career move with the potential of enjoying the fruits of one’s labors. That is how the world views things, not God. The priesthood is the calling to serve God in any church that one is placed. I admit, as a Catholic, I felt disappointment to see that Fr. Troy was not at the ordinations of 4 new priests in his own Co-Cathedral where he was rector on May 31,2008. It was a joyous occasion. One he could have been a very important part of being that they were the first ordinations in the new Cathedral, his Cathedral that he worked so hard to build . I am sure that he had his reasons for not being there as did Cardinal Dinardo in his reasons in the reassignment of Fr. Troy to St. John Vianney. As far as the donors pulling donations. Donations should be made for the Glory of God and not man. If donations can be pulled that easily, they were not, I believe, pledged sincerely to begin with. Our diocese is extremely blessed to have Cardinal Dinardo as our spiritual leader. He has taught us the importance of putting our focus on God first and not any particular servant of God. Transfers of priests are a healthy part of the life of a diocese. I wish Fr. Troy well at his new assignment. I remember him when he was at Christ the King. Nice guy. Yet, to suggest that the move was political is to do a diservice to Cardinal Dinardo and to our great diocese. We all have work to do to build up the Church of God..so let’s do it! and cease to focus on perceived slights of specific priests. Angie

  15. Mary Louise permalink
    August 9, 2008 12:13 am

    Father Troy is an excellent person and a dedicated priest. I have known him since kindergarten. I too felt terrible for him, and the Co-Cathedral, when I found out about his re-assignment. After everything he did for the Co-Cathedral parish, I’m sure anyone could understand how difficult this decision was for him. Whether we supported Cardinal DiNardo’s choice or not, it is what it is and the decision was made. And who are we to judge how Father Troy reacted? St. John Vianney parish got the best of it all by gaining such a dedicated priest. I pray that St. John Vianney will continue to be such a vibrant and strong Catholic community, with Father Troy at the helm. As far as the Co-Cathedral, I pray that donors continue to provide the monetary support as Father Troy had initiated. And for Father Troy, I pray he continues the wonderful job of being a great priest and supporting his parish. May God bless him and give him strength during this transition.

  16. Scotti permalink
    August 9, 2008 3:29 pm

    Father Gately’s comments on the transfer did seem petty and uncalled for. Secondly, he sounds like a great fund raiser– but more importantly, does he put saving souls FIRST? Is he orthodox or just another “good old boy” type priest with a shallow, too friendly attitude, providing watered down liturgy?
    We know he is disgruntled about his transfer, but that is not the important issue here.

  17. Tommy permalink
    January 24, 2009 1:08 am

    Father Troy was removed from Sacred Heart because he wanted to save the old Cathedral the sits across the street from the new Cathedral. Here are comments that I got off the Co-Cathedral’s web site. “It is the hope of Fr. Troy and many others that our current church may be used as our chapel, but the decision is up to the archbishop. A master plan includes the eventual demolition of the former school building for surface parking and the removal of the parking lot behind the current church to replace the asphalt lot with a landscaped park to be known as Cathedral Green. There are currently no plans for the removal of the rectory or the present church building which was built in 1912. The hopes are that it may remain as a chapel for smaller liturgies and prayer services, such as weddings, funerals, vespers and Eucharistic adoration. The ultimate decision on the future of the old church resides with Cardinal DiNardo.” Father Troy voice his mind to the Sacred Heart Parishioners about saving the old Cathedral, and Cardinal DiNardo did not like that. The Cardinal’s wishes are for the old Cathedral to be demolished and in its place a parking lot and grass area to be built. Father Troy was removed from Sacred Heart Co-Cathedral because he stood up and voice for what he believe. I do not believe that the Cardinal has to right to tear down the old Sacred Heart. It may be old, but it is still our home. And most importantly it is the house of God. I for one praise Father Troy for his actions, I just wish that there were most priests like Father Troy in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. Do not worry Father Troy, I heard your message loud and clear. The Sacred Heart parishioners and myself will fight to save the old Sacred Heart. May God help us, Amen.

  18. Angela permalink
    February 15, 2009 2:44 pm

    Oh, this is long after the fact but I feel obligated, in Fr. Troy’s defense, to share what I know of his character and leadership.

    Fr. Troy has won many to accept the heart of Christ into their own. His method of gaining souls for Christ is his candid communication on what it means to live our lives as Christians. He teaches by example and is not afraid to admit the struggles of his own human heart. We, who have listened to his homilies for years, have been edified by the courageous transparency in which he delivers the Gospel from the heart. His testimony of the everyday struggle for conversion of heart speaks to hearts of those in the pew. He includes himself in the journey with his parishioners and leads as Christ did, by example.

    His comment in his message to the parish about the difficulty with which he accepted the decision of the Cardinal is nothing new to any of his parishioners. He always speaks candidly and with integrity, sharing the truth of his heart with his fellow brothers and sisters on the journey to Christ. And by sharing these struggles of his own human nature, we are called to join him in examination of our own lives asking Christ for true conversion of heart.

    Fr. Troy is a human being of integrity and he was able to accomplish the fundraising necessary because the people of his parish believed in his honest vision to build up the Kingdom of Christ. Anyone could see that he put his heart and soul into the mission of his Parish and the mission of our Catholic faith to spread the Gospel. That is why people gave generously.

    His leadership and his honest adherence and faithfulness to his priestly vows won many souls to desire conversion.

    It is difficult for many parishioners to continue to go to Mass at Sacred Heart with out him there, knowing the situation in which he was removed. He continues to encourage all to continue in faithfulness to Sacred Heart Co-Cathedral, but nevertheless it is obvious that the numbers have dwindled. Apart from major Holy Days and major Diocesan events many pews are left cold and empty. The warmth, love, and community which once flourished visibly with growth and good fruit is now obviously lacking the nurturing of great leadership and of the pastoral care it once had in Fr. Troy.

  19. Elena White permalink
    April 7, 2009 10:13 am

    I have been going to Sacred Heart since 2005 and was a dedicated member up until I moved to Dallas. When in Houston, I attend mass at the Co-Cathedral on Sundays and recently noticed that Father Troy had not been present during my past few visits. So I got worried. When I asked some fellow parishoners where he was I was shocked to find out that he is no longer at Sacred Heart. I have tried to be obediant in attending Sunday mass but Father Troy made it so much MORE for me. He was the reason I transferred from my old church to Sacred Heart. He motivated me, gave me confidence as well as great advice. Before I left for Dallas, he helped me in becoming Confirmed. It truly saddens me to hear that he is gone. However, as much as I love my church,Sacred Heart Co-Cathedral, next time I’m in town, I plan on attending one of St. John Vianney’s masses just to see how my old friend is doing. I’m sure by now St. John Vianney knows what a blessing it is to have such a great Pastor in their church and I pray that one day, Father Troy can come back to Sacred Heart Co-Cathedral.

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