Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Diocese of Baker Under Attack: The Skylstad Agenda

The Diocese of Baker is under attack – but not by the media, nor by any secular agent or agency.
If you are a Catholic of this diocese who is faithful to the Magisterium of the Church and who cares about the fate of this diocese and souls its serves, please read this post, then email it to like-minded individuals you know. And please please please consider writing immediately to the Papal Nuncio at the address given at the end of the post.
We are under attack from within. The attacks are ostensibly on our clergy, but they are waged the intention of undermining the Catholic identity of the faithful. The attack is against the liturgical life, the moral integrity, and the financial security of our diocese.
In the most recent skirmish, the Apostolic Administrator of our diocese, Bishop William S. Skylstad, has summarily dismissed from service Father Francis X. Ekwugha, the pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Bend. The only reason given for his dismissal – in violation of due process – was that the Administrator wanted to make "a change". Fr. Francis was not accused of any wrongdoing, nor was he ever counseled that there were problems needing his attention. In the seven years he has been serving as pastor in three different parishes in our diocese, Fr. Ekwugha, a solidly orthodox priest in love with his vocation and his Church, and always obedient to his bishop, sought and was granted American citizenship.
A few months ago, another African priest was summarily dismissed and asked to return to his homeland. That priest was accused of “violating personal boundaries”, but the accusation was never formally made by the party involved; the police were summoned by the apostolic administrator, counter to the intentions of the party, and no legal action was taken – since there was no case. The party involved has even expressed dismay that the priest was removed. The dismissal of the priest led to the loss of another priest as well, as the two priests were from the same religious order and needed to be assigned in pairs. While I think we all agree that we want the diocese officials to stay on top of potential abuse situations, there is a point where paranoia takes hold and innocent priests are accused and robbed of their good name. There is good reason to suspect that this is what happened here.
This type of administrative action is increasingly destabilizing an already precarious situation in the Diocese:  more than two-thirds of our 59 churches are currently staffed by priests who are not incardinated in the Diocese of Baker, and who – like Fr. Ekwugha – are subject to dismissal at the whim of the Apostolic Administrator…or may be intimidated into resigning of their own accord. Since most of them are from the same or neighboring dioceses in Nigeria, the likelihood of a mass departure is increasing with every passing day under the current administration. Since the Diocese currently has only one seminarian, this will be a significant problem in terms of staffing parishes.
If the Apostolic Administrator’s choice for replacing Fr. Francis Ekwugha is any indication, a mass exodus of the African priests here could result in an influx of priests with a decidedly “liberal” bent, and who will likely squelch any effort to return to liturgical practices more in keeping with the mind of the Church – such as returning to truly sacred music, or the use of Latin in the liturgy (even if limited to the Agnus Dei and the Sanctus – and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, your pastor has not done his job in carrying out the mandates of Vatican II!). The priest who has been appointed to replace Fr. Francis has openly expressed his animosity toward the use of Latin in the liturgy, and he is well-known for encouraging liturgical music that is in violation of key elements of Church teaching on sacred music. He is also a priest who has fomented dissent in parishes where he was substituting for a vacant priest, and in at least two parishes, the pastor decided not to allow him to return under any circumstances.
In addition, the apostolic administrator has publicly expressed the opinion that a priest with homosexual tendencies can still have an effective priestly ministry. He said this in response to the Vatican visitation of US seminaries which resulted in a ban on accepting homosexual men into priestly formation programs. The apostolic administrator also flatly denies that there could be any relationship between homosexuality and the sexual abuse of post-adolescent boys (the majority of the victims fall into this category), even though the John Jay Report gave clear evidence for the connection.
So, it seems likely that, given the chance to “import” priests of his own choosing, our apostolic administrator would not be very discerning in regard to the issue of homosexuality. This, of course, could have the potential of opening the diocese to more lawsuits involving clergy sex abuse. (Note: the current apostolic administrator bankrupted his own diocese, and was also named in a sexual abuse suit himself just prior to vacating his see.)
The Diocese of Baker clearly cannot afford sexual abuse lawsuits! The diocese is in dire financial straits, and has been for some time. The current administrator is not fully to blame for this; Bishop Vasa set the course by pushing through his capital campaign to build the Diocesan Center. The current “Bishop’s Appeal” is on track to reach a grand total of $150,000 – f ar below what is needed to balance the budget. Chancery staff is already working on the 2012 parish assessments, which will probably have to go up because of the low response to the Appeal.

I don’t know how these “appeals” fare in your parish, but over here in Baker City, there has historically been resistance to and resentment of these demands for money. The parishioners tend to see the parish assessment as highway robbery, since there is no choice in the matter; the parish is required to pay their assessment regardless of whether or not the people respond to the Parish Assessment Collection.

Generally, people who give responsibly want an accounting of where their money is going. The chancery office has made an effort to justify its expenses by printing in the
Diocesan Chronicle a listing of categories and budgeted amounts. However, I have been trying for three weeks to gain additional information about the budget, to no avail. I was met with more generalities, but no specific amounts for specific categories. For instance, I asked where the money for “National Collections” was going – this is an important issue, because the CCHD (Catholic Campaign for Human Development) has been under scathing attack for supporting agencies that run counter to Church teaching on issues like abortion and contraception. Here is the response I received:
"Regarding the National Collections, this item includes the following offices/organizations:  Missionaries, Peter's Pence, Holy Land, Catholic Relief Society, Latin American, Propagation of the Faith, Black & Indian Missions, Communications, Home Missions, Church in Eastern Europe, and Catholic University.  The Campaign for Human Development is no longer sent to the national office due to the reasons you mentioned, however, we have a local office that supports the needs at our diocesan level which we support instead.  This category also includes assessments which we as a Diocese are required to pay as our fair share to the global church (just as parishes support the Diocese in the form of PAC).  Finally, we also pay our fair share to Oregon Catholic Conference that works to lobby within the state government to protect our Catholic values as best we can at that level."
This only leads to more questions: How much is given in each area? Where is the “local office” that we support instead of the CCHD national office? Who runs it? What does it do? How much do we give? Who decides the amount of our “fair share” to pay to the Oregon Catholic Conference, which is supposed to lobby on behalf of the Church (but which has fallen short in that task time and again)? I asked these questions, but was told that the chancery staff does not have the time to find the answers for me.
I’m not an accountant, but I’ve been balancing my personal checkbook for years. I can tell you where my family spends its money. Wouldn’t you think that a Diocesan Chancery Office would have budget figures at its fingertips? How are they working out the parish assessments for 2012 if they don’t even know where the 2011 money went?! They have told me that “the diocese has nothing to hide”…but apparently it has nothing to show, either.
In other words, the downhill roll Bishop Vasa initiated with the Diocesan Center expenses has not been ameliorated by the current administrator. In fact, it appears to be worsening.
There is a lot more that can be said about the situation in our diocese…and I may say it later. This will do for now. I repeat: The Diocese of Baker is under attack, even if the Diocesan Chronicle tries to make you believe that we’re on board the Good Ship Lollipop.
If you are a faithful Catholic who cares about the spiritual, moral, and fiscal health of the souls in this diocese, please stand up and be counted.
Now is not the time to sit back, wring your hands, and say, “There’s nothing I can do about it.” There IS something you can do. You can write a short note to the Apostolic Nuncio to the US (usually we hear the term “Papal Nuncio”) expressing your dismay at what is going on here and asking that a new bishop be appointed immediately. We have been bishop-less for almost 10 months now.
Here is the contact information:
Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano
Apostolic Nuncio to the United States
3339 Massachusetts Ave., N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20008-3687
phone: 202-333-7l2l
fax: 202-337-4036


  1. At the rate Skylstad is going there will not be much left of the Diocese of Baker for the new Bishop to build upon.

  2. Father Francis, is one of the kindest men and most passionate teachers I've met. Shameful the conservative right wing minority in Baker is afraid of the opposite that most of us practicing Catholics are. We stand on the majority concerned but from the other side of the fence.

  3. I come from a generationl family of Catholics, going all the way back to Ireland in the 1800's. I've lived my life, some of it not so well, and drifted from the Church for many years. I missed my Catholicism. I was raised "old-school" Irish/Catholic and I felt that my errors were so grievous that there wasn't any way, I could make reparations and become one of the "flock" again. It is also noteworthy, that on some issus in my life, I was not prepared to apologize for-God gave me my life and I lived it-good or bad, it was mine. Many times, I would go and just sit in the back of the church, just to hear mass. I knew I wasn't welcome, but my heart didn't! Then after meeting my wonderful husband and moving to Oregon, I found myself so very grateful and I wanted to go to church, just to say "Thanks" in a Catholic Church, the only way I knew how. I sat in the back of the small church in Union, Oregon and the priest spoke- He looked right at me and said, "It doesn't matter, what you've done, it's what do you want to do NOW! Jesus doesn't care about the past, he cares about your soul RIGHT NOW!" He was looking right at me, and maybe, it was my mind playing tricks, but I felt that he knew my story and he had never seen me before- That priest was Father Francis. I thanked him after mass with tears in my eyes and he said "Welcome Back". I didn't say anything about my past. Several weeks later, Another preist said almost the same words- in that small church in Union, Oregon. I told him, with tears in my eyes, that I wanted to come "home", I didn't know how. Made an appointment in his office and He "took care of business". He had no patience for bureauocracy and made it happen- I was home! That priest is Father Christopher Agoha! Because of these two men, I have returned to the Church and two of my children were brought into the Church as well. So, Philothea- letter is already written! -My name is Bridget Thamert and Jesus does love a sinner.

  4. We the Catholic Church of Bend will be diminished by the loss of Fr. Francis who has served Central Oregon well over the years. Perhaps it is not ours to know the "why" of his dismissal, but God knows this seemingly "knee jerk" decision will have a negative impact on the faithful who love Fr. Francis. He left home and friends to come here and to be of loving service. He is loved.


Please be courteous and concise.