A Catholic priest has been placed on leave after exploding at mourners waiting in the sanctuary for a funeral, reportedly telling them to “get the hell out of my church.”
Footage of the incident shows the argument going on feet away from an open casket holding the deceased woman.
Rev Michael Briese, who is in his 60s, was filmed angrily speaking with people at St. Mary’s Church in Charlotte Hall, Maryland. In a June 28 letter to the local newspaper the Maryland Independent, Rev Briese talked about how his anger “spilled out in a torrent” after seeing a goblet used in the Mass to symbolise Jesus’ blood damaged by a funeral guest.
After the blowup between Briese and mourners standing beside the casket of Agnes Hicks, dozens of people streamed out of the sanctuary with the casket into a parking lot, where police cars called by Briese were arriving, according to a video report by Fox 5-WTTG-DC.
The details of exactly what happened during the altercation weren’t immediately clear, but church officials and Briese said in statements that nothing justified his reaction, and they apologised.
“What occurred at Saint Mary’s Parish this morning does not reflect the Catholic Church’s fundamental calling to respect and uplift the God-given dignity of every person,”
wrote the Rev. Michael W. Fisher, who was recently installed as auxiliary bishop for ministerial leadership of the archdiocese which covers the District and the nearby Maryland suburbs and exurbs.
“I want to reach out to you first to offer my prayers for your loved one that God will grant her a place in his kingdom of eternal light and love, and condolences to your family. On days such as today, our response should always be one of compassion and sympathy for the bereaved as well as prayers for the deceased. I reiterate and reinforce the sincere apology you and your family received earlier.”
Briese was placed on administrative leave while the archdiocese investigates what it called in Fisher’s note Wednesday a “serious misunderstanding.”
According to Fisher’s letter, another priest of the archdiocese, the Rev. Scott Woods, completed the service at a nearby funeral home.
Many of the funeral attendees were black, and a pallbearer reportedly said Briese — who is white — denied, unprompted, that racism motivated him.
Archdiocese spokeswoman Chieko Noguchi said Briese had been working with the family in the days leading up to the funeral to defray the burial costs.
A 2009 profile of Briese from the Catholic Standard said he grew up around Silver Spring and before becoming a priest he took into his home local homeless people, who he also fed, and had worked trying to help elderly and disabled people find housing.
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