The pastor of a large Michigan Catholic church has alienated many of his parishioners by telling a long time homeschool group that that they were a "loose cannon" and could no longer use the parish facilities for their meetings.
Father Wayne Ureel of Holy Spirit Parish in Highland Michigan, met with surprised homeschooling parents in late spring and told them that he did not see “any value” in their group, despite the fact that Catholic leadership and canon law support homeschooling.
After this decision was made, there were many supportive parishioners who tried to speak to Pastor Ureel on the homeschoolers' behalf. After all, homeschoolers score higher than 88 percent of the population in core subjects.
However, Father made it clear to anyone who attempted to meet with him that he had made his decision. He also gave a controversial speech to his congregation, scolding them and telling them they need to accept his decisions.
“I want to remind you that the church is not a democracy.” he said. “It is an autocracy, and a benevolent one at that. The structure of the church is based upon that of the Roman Army. The person in charge is the pastor, and the last time I checked I had the key, and I have the paperwork to prove it.”
He continued. “Regarding the homeschool group, which is not a parish organization, there are circumstances to which I am not going to agree to speak that color the situation significantly, which led me to the decisions that were made.”
What really happened with the Holy Spirit homeschool group?
Leaders of the homeschool group say that six of them were called into a meeting with Pastor Ureel, who told them that they could no longer use the church's facilities due to scheduling issues.
During the meeting, the homeschoolers, who have met at the parish for more than 14 years, tried to convince the pastor of their worth and their scheduling flexibility. However, as the meeting progressed, Pastor Ureel told them that the group was a “loose canon” and that he had issues of liability and discipline.
“It was horrible, awful" stated one member. “When we asked Father Wayne if he saw any benefit at all of the homeschool families, he stated that he did not.”
After the meeting, individual members of the group made a statement when a Teen Mass/Swing Dance was canceled without notifying the pastor, who was scheduled to perform the Mass.
“Father stated that volunteers have no right to cancel events, but how could we continue when we don't feel welcome?” asked one parent.
The homeschool group leaders respectfully declined to say anything more about the issue, as they have left the parish after refusing the pastor's too-late attempt to offer a compromise.
“To say we are saddened by Father Wayne's decision is an understatement, but through much prayer and discussion with members of the group, we feel it is better for the church and our group to respect his decision,” stated Angela Vogel, contact person for the group.
“It is important to find a church home that meets our needs of being encouraged as homeschooling parents and children in our vocation to homeschool and allow us to contribute to the greater church community.”
The other side of the story
Father Ureel stated that he does not interact with the media, so Ned McGrath of the Archdiocese of Detroit spoke on his behalf.
“The Archdiocese of Detroit respectfully declines to participate in what you exaggeratingly (sp) describe as a 'national story regarding the fiasco with Holy Spirit Highland homeschoolers,' other than to correct and clarify your misinformed claims about the parish and the pastor,” stated McGrath.
“It is not, per se, a group of Holy Spirit homeschoolers. It is a group of some 20 homeschool families, about a third of whom happen to be parish members, who were meeting monthly at Holy Spirit. The group is not sponsored by or affiliated with the parish."
McGrath said that the group was offered the option of coming under the guidance of the parish’s religious education director, but declined.
"They also remain uninsured,” he said, explaining that coverage would be available through the Michigan Catholic Conference.
“Given these circumstances, they have been asked to find another location for their monthly meetings,” he stated.
“No homeschool parents or students have been asked or encouraged to stay away from parish liturgies and gatherings. No homeschool families have been asked or encouraged to discontinue their efforts at homeschooling their children.”
Jillian Peck, the Religious Education Director, also supports Father Ureel.
“A decision was made by Father Wayne after several discussions at staff meetings to no longer allow the homeschool group to use the parish for their meetings once a month,” she stated. “They were not told that they could no longer be a part of the greater parish community.”
Compromise offered to homeschoolers: too little, too late?
Ms. Peck says that Father Wayne concluded the meeting with the homeschoolers telling them that his decision stands, but that he would take their discussion into consideration.
However, in the meantime, a large number of parishioners, who were also angry about many other issues, called an "open forum" meeting with the pastor. Staff members were not invited to this meeting.
When Father Wayne found out about the open forum meeting, he asked Ms. Peck to call Bill Crantas, one of the homeschool group leaders, to discuss a compromise/negotiation for allowing the homeschool group to continue meeting.
“Bill listened to what I had to say, but said he had to consult others in the group,” explained Ms. Peck. “No one is paying attention to the fact that the church is open to allowing the group to stay, albeit under stricter guidelines.”
She said that the homeschool group rejected their offer to compromise. “Mr. Crantas emailed Father Wayne around May 28th announcing that a meeting was not necessary as the Home School group had found another church where they would meet.”
Ms. Peck also stated that she supports any family wishing to home school their children in general education as well as religious education, either using the same program used by the parish, or another approved program.
“I strongly suggest that children join the parish sacramental prep. for the community aspect,” she said.