"I beg you to forgive me": priest who concelebrated with minister suspended

"I beg you to forgive me": priest who concelebrated with minister suspended February 22, 2011

This story sparked a lot of debate when it broke over the weekend.  Now, it turns out, the priest has been suspended — and has promptly issued an apology:

The priest who invited a Presbyterian minister to concelebrate a Mass at St. Norbert Catholic Church in Orange has written a letter of apology to his fellow priests and parishioners over the incident.

“Church law (canon 908) prohibits ‘Catholic priests from concelebrating the Eucharist with priests or ministers of Churches or ecclesial communities which are not in full communion with the Catholic Church,” wrote Fr. Agustin Escobar in a letter dated Feb. 15. “That is why last Monday, when he learned of my actions, Bishop Brown immediately suspended my faculties to carry out any priestly sacramental activities. That is why you will not see me celebrating Masses here at St. Norbert. The Bishop was right to do so. What I did was a grace error on my part.”

Some parishioners described themselves as “shocked and appalled” after Fr. Escobar introduced Pastor Steve Whitney of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Sacramento at St. Norbert’s 9 a.m. Sunday Mass on Feb. 13. Sources told California Catholic Daily that Rev. Whitney concelebrated the Mass with Fr. Escobar, took Communion, and was allowed to distribute Communion to parishioners – facts now confirmed in Fr. Escobar’s letter of apology.

“What I told the bishop, I wish to publicly say to you, the priests and parishioners of St. Norbert: I am very sorry for what I did,” wrote Fr. Escobar. “Although the great hope for all Christians is that we shall be one body as Jesus has asked us to be, we are not there at this time and it was not my place to take actions which only the leadership of the Catholic and Presbyterian Churches can sanction at such time as they agree to do so. I promise to do all I can to make amends for my actions and I am willing to be obedient to Bishop Brown in whatever recourse he or those at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith judge to be appropriate for me.”

“I hope one day to be allowed to serve as a priest again, which I will certainly do with a great deal more humility since I see the confusion and anger my actions have caused,” Fr. Escobar’s letter concluded. “I beg all of you to forgive me.”

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21 responses to “"I beg you to forgive me": priest who concelebrated with minister suspended”

  1. Unfortunately, the decision on when or even whether to return the priest to ministry is not one the bishop can make. Addressing this kind of violation of Church law is reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The priest’s apology and docile attitude are a good start, and one would hope the bishop would recommend continued ministry for him.

  2. Wow, glad I wasn’t at that mass. I suspect I would have walked out, had I known. The mass is pretty “priest-proof”, but seriously doubt how this mass could have been valid.

    Again it’s a good reminder as to how much our dear priests need constant prayers.

  3. I give the guy a lot of credit– it’s not often you get a genuine apology nowadays in a public setting. Usually it’s some mish-mash about “sorry that some people were offended at what I did”.

    So we ought to be grateful for what seems like sincere repentance and humility in the wake of a misguided act.

    On this Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, let us pray for Fr. Escobar, for all priests and bishops, for humility in both authority and obedience, and for Christian unity.

  4. I’m glad to see this follow-up reporting firm action by the bishop and an apology without any self-justification from the priest. Both have done well in the aftermath of the unfortunate event.

    @ Klaire — I’m not a Sacramental Theologian, but it seems to me that a Mass celebrated by a priest with bread and wine is valid, even if he does things (like having someone who isn’t a priest join him in the prayers) that make it illicit.

  5. I’m happy to read that action was taken and that the priest in question apologized.

    But … umm … what is a “grace error”?

  6. I do hope such a transgression receives a only temporary suspension considering his humble contrition. If priests (or deacons) are penalized for any infraction with total removal from ministry where would that leave us in regard to forgiveness, reconciliation and acceptance?

  7. Glad to see an apology but no explantion as to WHY he did it. What was he thinking?? It was not a simple infraction and until he understands the reasons for his mistake he should remain “off duty”.

  8. Bishop Brown’s actions were correct. Fr. Escobar’s apology strikes me as sincere. These are necessary elements in what I hope and pray will be a genuine reconciliation and turning point in the ministry of a man who I’m quite sure desires to be a good priest.

    This can’t be the end of it, however. We need a new culture among priests, deacons, liturgical ministers, etc… Too often, they assume the priviledge of making the Mass a reflection of their own personalities. What Fr. Escobar did, while wrong, was a sadly logical result of this attitude, which many of his confreres share. There is a priest in our diocese who has never prayed the same canon twice. He simply makes much of it up as he goes. They forget that the prayers are the prayers of the Church, and that the people of God have a right to the prayers of the Church.

  9. But … umm … what is a “grace error”?

    Probably a typo for “grave” error, considering that the V and C keys are adjacent.

    Obiter dictum.

    So now, how do we worship with our separated brothers and sisters on a Sunday, the main opportunity to have a critical mass of Catholics at a service but complicated by “Sunday obligation”? This meta-question, brought to mind by the particulars of this case, needs more extensive thought than simply saying we don’t do it this way and leaving it at that. What DO we do, that welcomes and is respectful of other Christians while being true to ourselves?

  10. What DO we do, that welcomes and is respectful of other Christians while being true to ourselves? _End Quote

    RP Burke, to your quesiton, I answer, “Be authentically Catholic!” Really, that’s the ONLY thing we have to do. If we really lived as the chruch taught, especially in regards to the Eucharist, our Christian neighbors would be beating down the down the doors for conversions.

    It’s when we forget that, as I suspect this priest did, and instead try to be “inclusive”, that we not only get ourselves into trouble but at the same time, just appear as another Christain “denomination” instead of the “source.”

    Natureg you may be right, providing Father didn’t feel the need to let the minister call Jesus to the altar.

  11. “how do we worship with our separated brothers and sisters on a Sunday”

    I don’t get the question? There are many opportunities for ecumenical prayer services throughout the year like the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Thanksgiving etc.
    When Catholics worship God at the Sunday Eucharist are we supposed to be including other denominations now?

  12. Klaire,
    Triumphalism is not the solution to the question I ask.
    “RomCath,” if you consider it important to worship, at least sometimes, with a reasonably large group of Catholics, the tradition of the Sunday obligation makes broad participation difficult except in the context of the required-for-everyone Mass. You may not think that broad participation is a desirable goal, in which case there’s no need to “include other denominations.”

  13. Catholics do not “worship” with those who doo not believe what Catholics believe. The Sacrifice of the Mass is Calvary made present so that we might offer ourselves through, with, and in Christ to our beloved Father. Those who do not believe this have no place at the altar of sacrifice, not because we don’t want them, but because they do not accept it for what it is

  14. “You may not think that broad participation is a desirable goal, in which case there’s no need to “include other denominations.”

    I don’t think broad participation in the Sunday Eucharist is a goal. The goal is “that all may be one”. Why would other denominations want to come to Sunday Mass if they are not Catholic other than to observe and not participate?

  15. Perhaps the Guidelines from the USCCB says it best. Maybe Father and all Catholics should read them again:

    “We welcome our fellow Christians to this celebration of the Eucharist as our brothers and sisters. We pray that our common baptism and the action of the Holy Spirit in this Eucharist will draw us closer to one another and begin to dispel the sad divisions which separate us. We pray that these will lessen and finally disappear, in keeping with Christ’s prayer for us ‘that they may all be one’ (John 17:21).

    “Because Catholics believe that the celebration of the Eucharist is a sign of the reality of the oneness of faith, life, and worship, members of those churches with whom we are not yet fully united are ordinarily not admitted to Communion. Eucharistic sharing in exceptional circumstances by other Christians requires permission according to the directives of the diocesan bishop and the provisions of canon law. . . . “

  16. “What DO we do, that welcomes and is respectful of other Christians while being true to ourselves?”

    I would think that the answer to being true to ourselves is to attend Mass, and the Presbyterians attend their services.

    Then we could gather together later in the day for ecumenical prayer and fellowship afterward. A good barbecue can do more to foster genuine common ground than contrived services. Once the human encounter is made and people come to know each other as individuals, there is a better context for addressing the theological divide as people can understand how Joe and Sally believe as they do.

    As for Father’s contrition, it’s a good start. I would imagine that the larger question is his overall disposition that gave rise to this abuse.

  17. In my humble opinion, Fr. Escobar should have invited the Presbyterian minister and his congregants to participate in an ecumenical prayer service. That would have been a beautiful celebration of Christian unity, which would not have lead to the commission of a heresy, intentional or otherwise.

  18. Am sorry to hear the priest was suspended—glad he apologized, but IMO (of course as a non-Catholic) suspension seems a bit harsh. Maybe his suspension won’t be too long. If I recall from the past, those priests that molested children were just transferred—this priest invites a Presbyterian minister to celebrate Mass with him, and he gets suspended? Strange priorities.

  19. It’s beyond my understanding why, since he accepts his suspension and the reasons for it, he invited it by taking this absurd action in the first place. Did he think no one would notice?

  20. In the confession, the repentant asked for pardon for the sins he committed that truly hurt God specially those mortal sins. The good thing in the sacrament of penance the repentant obtained forgiveness from God through the absolution given to him by the confessor. In that instance, the repentant is believed to have forgiven in the eyes of men and in the eyes of God. No doubt, it was truly forgiven for the sacrament of penance is the act of God so that in effect a sinner can still be reconciled with God.

    The absolution given to a repentant by the catholic priest, bishop, etc. posts no condition in dispensing the grace of forgiveness except the one which is essential in approaching confession, and that is sincere, heartfelt remorse for the sin committed and deeply engrossed with the spirit to love God by living in grace and stay away from temptation and to hate sin as an act of loving God to the fullest.

    Why do I say this. I am just confused when one has committed violation for instance that priest who invited one from the other community or sect which was really a great offense to our catholic faith and doctrines and asked for forgiveness he could hardly obtain forgiveness for the first offense committed and that the expression and willingness to be very careful next time and the humble apology and the desire and love to be in the ministry again was not heard.

    Sometimes, I wonder why the Lord is the only one who can forgive in the confession but why people who are the administers of those graces they themselves have found it very difficult to forgive and restore the person’s dignity and vocation with love and compassion, and are there to help the weak become stronger with love and trust in God.

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