Priest Wont Let Woman Who Criticized His Bigotry Sing At Friend’s Funeral

There was a funeral this week in the catholic church in Lewistown, MT, and the deceased’s family arranged to have a retired priest (and a favorite of the deceased) perform the service. The family also put together a small choir with singers of their choice.  Shortly before the funeral, the head of the parish confronted one of the singers as she was entering the church, and told her that she may not come in, may not participate in the choir.  Why? Because several years ago, when the church excommunicated two members for being gay, she had objected to it.

Next, the retired priest showed up to officiate the service, as requested by the family who had known him many years.  Upon entering the church he learned that the head of the parish had barred the would-be singer from the taking part in the service. The retired priest objected strongly to this, and said he would not countenance such a decision.  The head priest then told him, too, that he was not welcome, and evicted him from the premises, and then told the family that he himself would conduct the service.

So the family (and the deceased 92 year old woman) was stuck with having the old bigot preside over the funeral, minus one of the singers (an old friend).  A commotion ensued, with the family threatening to cancel the service. By this time the retired priest had already been sent away, and so a deal was struck whereby a third priest, who was on hand, led the funeral service.  The funeral was salvaged.  Then the head priest gave a sermon the following Sunday, which included a partial apology.  He admitted he shouldn’t have made a scene, but he defended his policy.

For anyone who saw the recent movie Spotlight, you might have noticed in the closing titles that the The Diocese of Montana was one of the top offending institutions in the child molestation epidemic.   The number of cases they settled was among the highest in the nation.  They have made strides in recovering from the dark history, but they should be certain that men such as Samuel Spiering, the head of the parish who behaved so outrageously, will do nothing other than retard the progress.  They should remove this man immediately from active duty, and he should be heard from no more.


13 Comments on "Priest Wont Let Woman Who Criticized His Bigotry Sing At Friend’s Funeral"

  1. There are two dioceses in MT, Helena and Great Falls-Billings. This bigotry occurred in the Eastern Diocese, but you’ve put the Cathedral of St. Helena over your story.

  2. Rev. Joseph L. Ponessa | March 21, 2016 11:44 PM at 11:44 PM |

    Most of the priest abusers named were Jesuits from Spokane who served in the Helena Diocese on loan. Either Spotlight got this wrong, or the author of the article read Spotlight wrong. The statement “The Diocese of Montana was one of the top offending institutions” is egregiously inaccurate, since there is no institution entitled “The Diocese of Montana.” Helena and Great Falls have been two completely independent dioceses under different bishops since 1904, even though inhabiting different sides of the same Great State of Montana.

  3. Old Line Democrat | March 22, 2016 7:17 AM at 7:17 AM |

    Please, a reality check. Several of the abusers in the Diocese of Helena were homegrown, Montana natives trained at Barromeo Hall and their assignments were controlled by the various Bishops of Helena over the years of their reign of terror over defenseless youth. I don’t know anything about the “Jesuits on loan” story but it is not accurate in the case of numerous priests. The abuse took place in both Montana diocese, on reservations and in small and large towns. Movies don’t tell the full story with any level of accuracy.

    Just don’t make excuses that it was a scourge from some outsiders. It was rampant, endemic and allowed to continue by people in power who were entitled to claim that “they spoke for God” and look what the did and said.

    • Rev. Joseph L. Ponessa | March 22, 2016 1:01 PM at 1:01 PM |

      The Reality Check should be based on the numbers. There is a good website listing accused priest abusers diocese by diocese. I think it needs updating, but still gives a generally good idea:
      For Western Montana it lists 39 accused, 7 of them nuns and 2 brothers, 10 of them Jesuits. (Disclaimer: I understand that the Diocese’s own list is longer.) So half of the accused were on loan to Helena from outside.
      For Eastern Montana the website lists 11 accused, 4 of them Jesuits and 3 Franciscan/Capuchin. So 7 of the 11 were on loan to Great Falls from outside. Of the 5 remaining, one of them clearly was a Jesuit, though not listed so (because the places of abuse were Jesuit parishes and prep school). Of the 4 remaining, one has been exonerated in more than one criminal investigation, but his name still appears on the list. Of the 3 remaining, one has been dead since 1999, and the other 2 have been out of the priesthood since the 1980s.
      In comparing the Montana, Washington and Alaska lists, one finds many of the same names recurring, for two reasons: First, the Jesuits rotated assignments throughout the Pacific Northwest, so abusers may have had victims in several states. Second, the lawyers who brought the cases against the Jesuits got lists of assignments, and fed those names into legal filings in all the dioceses where they may have ever worked. There may or may not have been victims in those other places. But the Diocese-by-Diocese lists are inflated by having Jesuits appearing in multiple locations, and sometimes being listed as Diocesan priests whom no one has heard of.
      These comments are merely the results of my personal researches online, without having access any official files, and so I cannot claim to speak for either Montana Diocese. If any victim of abuse reads this, I encourage you to contact your respective Bishop. I know both of them are most sympathetic and would want to help in any way possible.

      • “… I encourage you to contact your respective Bishop.” Can an abused child and the parents really trust the bishops? No. Contact the police and press criminal charges. No one in these United States — preacher, priest, nor street-corner soapbox profit — is above the law. Further, your argument that many of the accused priests, nuns, and brothers in orders are from out of state has nothing to do with whether they committed crimes in Montana. Whether the accusted were on temporary duty from Timbuktu or Tacoma, they were in Montana as functionaries of the Catholic Church. All your statistics and your numbers are irrelevant here.

        • Rev. Joseph L. Ponessa | March 23, 2016 10:33 AM at 10:33 AM |

          You are right to be outraged. I am outraged too, but the facts will define the nature of the problem and help to solve it.
          The Jesuits “owned” certain parishes and their superiors had the right to send whoever they wanted there, without clearance from the local bishops. They got into a bad habit of using Montana and Alaska as a dumping ground for problem priests. The Bishop of Great Falls was originally from Spokane and must have caught wind of what the Jesuit superiors were doing, because he expelled the order from the his diocese in 1965. He never explained why, but it has become clear in recent years. His action is largely the reason why the Eastern diocese has only 25% as many abuse cases as the Western, and has not yet gone bankrupt. So, there was at least one bishop in the old days who did take drastic action to defend the children. For the past ten years, the current bishops have not allowed any priest to enter the state, even for a single service, without a background check.

          • I gather from your messages that the bishops “dumped” the bad priests in other places. Did any bishop call the police? For umpteen years, Roman Catholic and protestant and evangelical Christians have swept their dirt under the alter cloths, and communicants and followers alike have failed their children in not calling the police. It is against the law to molest a child and no religion in the United States of America is in charge of the police and above the law. The whole barrel has filled with bad apples.

  4. I’m not Catholic and am only aware of abuse by priests from newspaper articles I’ve read. I’ve since moved, but lived in a small Montana town 30-40 years ago. I met the priest of the local Catholic church there, a man who had some characteristics I did not like; I also met his replacement, a man I did like. A few years ago, I read an article about abuse in Catholic churches in Montana, and recognized the name of the first mentioned priest as one who was accused by several as an abuser (I think the article stated the priest was deceased). In connection with a completely different matter, the memory of the first mentioned priest crossed my mind recently. I wondered, given what people know today about abuse, if this priest had been a victim himself. This is speculation; I doubt if there is anyone alive today who would know. However, abuse didn’t just start out of nothing 50 years ago, and I’m glad that a number of people have chosen to speak up. That’s a first step on the road to preventing abuse toward today’s and tomorrow’s children.

    • Old Line Democrat | March 22, 2016 9:44 AM at 9:44 AM |

      While there does seem to be some evidence that many sexual abusers had been abused themselves, it is simply not always the case. It is definitely not the only precursor to future abusive behavior nor is it the only psychological or social manifestation of abuse. Every circumstance is different in time, circumstances, extent of abuse, reaction, etc.

      The point is that those responsible for the placement and supervision of these abusing priests knew of their actions and continued to allow them to have access to children all over Montana, in both diocese, on reservation and off and to both male and female children.

      The active complicity in allowing this behavior and the abuse to continue without taking steps to protect the innocent is as much a crime as the abuse itself.

  5. Just because you are in a Church, don’t assume it will be full of Christians. That is if, your definition of a “Christian” is someone full of love for his or her fellow man and attempting to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.

  6. Every religion on this earth has an abundance of fools in the pulpit, and many more of religious faith embrace foolishness. We see a plethora, indeed a cornucopia of self-righteousness in the various denominations of Christianity, as this Cowgirl article, though flawed, does illustrate.

    The insufferable “God’s Plan” preachers are the worst. They tout a junk theology that is nothing more than belief in predestination designed by the Creator and orchestrated so as to send evil into the world to punish, tempt, and test, mall or mangle, even destroy those and that which, good or bad, the Creator created, anyway.

    Give us either the indefatigable believers, who value doing for others what they would want offered themselves, or the devout atheists, who otherwise think it’s the way to treat another; but, please, no static agnostics. Those are they who think immobility is a form of transportation.

  7. Can anyone be trusted anymore? This former Park County Sheriff is currently on parole after serving a five-year commitment to Montana State Prison for molesting his stepdaughter. The abuse started while he was under color of law.

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