Batavia's Holy Cross parishioners in uproar as diocese replaces their beloved priest
The pending replacement of a beloved pastor after seven years at Holy Cross Catholic Church in Batavia has hundreds of its parishioners upset.
After getting news late May 24 about the Rev. James Parker, about 400 parishioners gathered outside his residence the next day to show their support.
"Father Parker is the greatest priest I have ever gotten to know and respect in my entire life of 58 years," said parishioner Kevin Callahan, Grand Knight of the Knights of Columbus Council 2191.
Callahan emailed 400 council members, suggesting they go pray the rosary with Parker. Parker prays the rosary for an hour each day at the rectory chapel and livestreams it on Facebook, Callahan said.
Parker did not return a voicemail or email message seeking comment.
Penny Wiegert, the spokeswoman for the Rockford Diocese, said in an email that Parker completed his six-year term at Holy Cross in 2020 but stayed on for an extra year. He does not have a new assignment.
"There is nothing unusual about a priest receiving a new assignment to a different parish, ministry or administrative post," Wiegert's email stated.
Catholic priests receive their pastoral assignments from the bishop of their diocese. The terms are renewable once, Wiegert said. "However, we know that such transitions are not always easy, especially where there is considerable affection for the pastor."
"The parish is in an uproar," Callahan said. "Everybody has a theory over why Father Parker is in trouble with the bishop (David Malloy)."
One is that Parker let more people inside the church than he should have during the COVID-19 pandemic last year. Another is that Parker is traditional and stands against liberal elements in the church.
A third is that last year, Parker involved himself politically from the pulpit, advocating support for a president who did not support abortion -- though he never stated the incumbent's name, Callahan said.
"I absolutely love him," Callahan said of Parker. "He has done nothing immoral or anything that would be considered against the church orders as of today, or two years ago. ... He is the most dedicated and loved priest that I know."
Some parishioners were concerned that Parker would be a priest without a home or an assignment come June 16. But Wiegert said Parker has been provided a residence.
In a letter to his fellow Knights, Callahan said parishioners should support the Rev. Andrew Dietz, who will become the church's pastor June 15.
"As the Diocese tears apart and chases away the flock, it will be the new priest's job to find a way to bring us back," Callahan wrote. "Please show our new priest the utmost respect ... "
In a statement posted Monday on rockforddiocese.org, the diocese said officials have tried to address concerns with Parker privately. "Father Parker refused to engage in that dialogue and so a just resolution of those concerns has not been possible," according to the statement. It said Parker declined housing.
But Monday night, Parker told parishioners in an email that the bishop refused to meet with Parker and Parker's canon lawyer in February. The priest and the bishop met several weeks later, without the lawyer. Parker said he has not been told why he is being reassigned, and that no alternative housing was offered to him.
"As pastor, I have a moral obligation to stay with my parish until the bishop puts something in writing to the effect that I am no longer pastor," Parker wrote. "In conscience, I will not abandon the flock until I receive a formal written notice. In fact, I have not signed any letters resigning my parish. And, until I do so, the pastorate of Holy Cross is not vacant."
• Daily Herald reporter Susan Sarkauskas contributed to this report.