Detroit Catholics Clergymen Defy Bishop, Turn Out for Liberal Mass

Defying the Roman Catholic archbishop of Detroit, a priest led a Mass Sunday organized by the American Catholic Council, a controversial umbrella group of liberal Catholics. And dozens of Catholic priests and deacons from the Detroit diocese attended the Mass, said organizers.

They participated despite a letter from Archbishop Allen Vigneron ordering priests and deacons to not take part in the Mass because it was led by groups considered heretical by the Catholic Church and could violate Church law. Vigneron warned in a letter that clergy could be punished and defrocked for participating.

The Rev. Robert Wurm, 78, a retired priest, presided over the Mass to about some 1,500 assembled at Cobo Center. Wurm said afterward he was aware that Archbishiop Allen Vigneron had explicilty warned all priests and deacons to not participate. But he said he's not worried being punished.

“I don't see that happening,” Wurm said. “I'm older than he is. … “He was making a big mistake,” Wurm said.

A spokesman for Vigneron could not be reached for comment.

The Mass was part of a weekend conference of about 2,000 liberal Catholics who are upset at the rightward turn of the Catholic Church. They want lay people to have more say in church decision-making. Many also want discussion about women, gay, and married priests, and more accountability on the issue of child abuse by priests.

“Too many Catholics feel there is no hope,” co-organizer Janet Hauter said during the Mass.

Members of the crowd at the Mass wore stoles, usually worn only by clergy, to symbolize equality and the idea that all Catholics, not just its leaders, represent the church. On the red stoles, there was a drawing of a dove with the words: “Come Holy Spirit. Fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love.”

The liberal conference also adopted day a 10-point of bill of rights and responsibilities that calls for more democratization.

A conservative conference endorsed by the Archdiocese, Call To Holiness, was held over the weekend in suburban Livonia and put more of an emphasis on social issues.

Speakers at the conservative conference criticized as abortion, contraception, yoga and the gay-rights movement.