Unnecessary controversy surrounding Fr. Gately’s transfer
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.