Anglo parishioners vent frustrations to bishop, feel unloved
TULSA, Okla. - When Bishop Edward J. Slattery of Tulsa met with 60 Anglo parishioners of Sts. Peter and Paul Church over a potluck dinner in late June, he told them he had come to listen.
He got an earful, and he issued some blunt rebukes in response.
Many of the English-speaking parishioners -- some of whom were founding members of the 55-year-old parish in Tulsa -- said they have felt "a sense of disruption" since Father Tim Davison arrived as pastor two and a half years ago and intensified efforts to reach out to the growing Hispanic community within the parish.
As a result, some Anglo parishioners feel unappreciated and unloved, they told Bishop Slattery.
Their discontent boiled over this spring when Bishop Slattery came to confirm young people from Sts. Peter and Paul and St. Thomas More parishes and celebrated the Mass mostly in Spanish. Some people walked out, and the family of at least one confirmand left the parish over the incident.
During his June 29 visit, Bishop Slattery said he knew that the parishioners had given much to the parish over the years and acknowledged the sense of disruption created by the increase in Hispanic ministry. But he said he cherishes the great diversity within the church and the diocese.
While the bishop was talking about the political turmoil over illegal immigration and the U.S. bishops' response to it, parishioner Mary Ann Yarbrough stood up.
"You know the feelings that are in this room and what people are upset about," she said, citing the Spanish-language confirmation Mass.
Yarbrough said the English-speaking parishioners have tried to be welcoming to the Hispanics. But many feel the newcomers have not reciprocated and that the Anglos' contributions are not valued.
The bishop was told he had been insensitive, and he apologized, saying, "I never meant to be insensitive."
Much of the discussion during the 90-minute session touched on opinions about illegal immigration: People shouldn't break the law to enter the U.S.; people who do come here should learn English; people who want to live in America should not wave Mexican flags.
Bishop Slattery provoked vigorous "No" responses when he suggested that just as the Spanish speakers need to learn English, perhaps the English speakers could try to pick up some Spanish.
At one point, he asked if the parishioners believed there should be any Spanish Masses in the diocese. When a couple of people said "No," the bishop appeared stunned.
"You cannot tell me that," he said. "Let me tell you as a bishop, we are about the salvation of souls, not Spanish or English."
He agreed the U.S. immigration system is broken and said the U.S. bishops have endorsed a sound package of reforms. But what about the 11 million to 12 million people who already are here? he asked. Should they all -- mothers and fathers and children -- be sent back? he asked.
"Yes, and I'll drive a bus," one man replied.
This prompted an admonition from the bishop that some of the remarks "show a definite prejudice."
"You have something to learn here," he said. "You have something to learn here, and it's the Gospel."
When another parishioner said people have the right to their opinions, he replied, "No, they're not entitled to their opinion unless it's truth."
Several people said they were concerned that isolation between Hispanics and Anglos makes it harder for the immigrants to learn English. "You cannot build a community if it can't communicate," one woman said. "The Catholic Church should have a plan."
The demographics that are affecting Sts. Peter and Paul are occurring in many places, the bishop said, citing St. Francis Xavier Church, which absorbed the faithful of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish shortly before he was installed as bishop in 1994.
St. Francis Xavier Church and Diocesan Shrine, where eight of the nine weekend Masses are in Spanish, is perhaps the largest parish in the state of Oklahoma.
Megan Brungardt said the "harsh opinions" and "hateful" remarks of a few were prompted by concern for the parish's future.
"It's not what has happened so much as it's how it has happened. Give us a chance to take baby steps. We're scared, too," Brungardt said.
Bishop Slattery said he believes the problems aired that night "will only be solved by Our Blessed Mother. If you're looking for unity in this parish, look to her."
Father Davison said he would continue to explore ways to bring English and Spanish speakers together, through social get-togethers and days of caring. "Nobody quite has the full answer," he said. "I really feel a deep-down need is to grow in our charity."
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Copyright (c) 2007 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
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