UPDATE: In an interview you’ll only see on NBC4, Columbus diocese Bishop Earl Fernandes says the Paulist priests asked to be separated from the St. Thomas More Newman Center after being told they would need to answer to the diocese. For more, click here.
COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Some members of the St. Thomas More Newman Center told NBC4 anchor Colleen Marshall they’re in shock after learning the Paulist priests who serve the center have been ordered to leave by July 31.
The priests have run the Catholic ministry at the Ohio State University for 66 years but claim the new bishop, Bishop Earl Fernandes, has a new vision for the campus ministry that does not include them.
In a videotaped message, the president of the New York-based Paulist Fathers told parishioners Bishop Fernandes no longer wants the service of the Paulist priests.
“To say the least our departure is heartbreaking to us Paulists after nearly 66 years of Paulist ministry with the people of God in Ohio,” said Rev. Rene Constanza.
Members of the St. Thomas More Newman Center said it’s heartbreaking to them as well.
“That was very evident after the announcement last Sunday at Mass. I mean people were openly weeping,” said Ronald Guisinger, a parishioner of the Newman Center.
The Paulists are an independent order of priests often viewed as progressive and well known for welcoming everyone to worship and take communion, including the LGBTQ community.
“I want [Bishop Fernandes] to know you are now the pastor of a large, diverse city and a large diverse diocese,” said Guisinger. “I know you were the pastor at a parish but now you are the pastor of a large city with a lot of people, including people who come from all walks of life.”
But a statement from the Diocese of Columbus said that was not a factor that affected Bishop Fernandes’ decision.
“This decision was absolutely not motivated by anti-LGBTQ sentiments, nor was it motivated by political reasons. Rather, it reflects Bishop Fernandes’ pastoral priorities of evangelization and promotion of priestly vocations, especially in the Diocese of Columbus,” the statement read.
The Diocese insists it wants to refocus the ministry on students.
“We reiterate that the Bishop wants to be close to young people and keep them engaged with the mission of the Church.”
NBC4 was told the decision came without a meeting with the Paulists and with no input from the parishioners at the Newman Center.
“There’s a time and a place to listen and to think through what your decisions are, how they are going to impact peoples lives,” added Guisinger. “Right now a lot of people are feeling like they are lost. We don’t know what we are going to do next or where we are going to go.”