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Garth wrote:

Hi, guys —

This isn't a deep theological question however since [priest|parishioner] relationships can make or break a parish, I thought it would be worth asking.

I want to start by stating that four or five months ago, I transferred to a local parish that seems to be doing many things right. The leadership has been successful in reaching out to the community by offering programs that are attractive to folks who embrace modern culture while simultaneously staying within the bounds of Church teaching. While I tend to be more of a traditionalist in regards to music and worship style, I readily support these new programs since the order of the Mass remains in tact in each and every case.

Recently, I have run across an issue that has left me reeling. The main priest, who is a very kind person, has somehow acquired a dog as a pet. For the most part, I'm happy for him as I can see lots of positive aspects of pet ownership for him. Last week, however, I attended early morning Mass in the chapel and was very shocked to see that the priest had, not only brought his dog with him, but was allowing the dog to roam freely both in the sacristy and around the altar while Mass was being celebrated. I abruptly left as allowing animals in sacred places is very offensive to me.

I returned to morning Mass a few days later and the same scenario occurred — I heard the dog's collar jingling then noticed him roaming around the ambo while the priest was reading the Gospel. When the Gospel reading was complete, I left Mass.

I attend a meeting every Saturday morning where this priest is present so we've been together in the same room since these events have occurred. I've said nothing to him about these incidences since we are in a group and it seemed inappropriate to do so with others present. He's said nothing to me though my leaving morning Mass was obvious and I'm convinced he understands why.

  • Am I wrong or over reacting to the presence of the dog during morning Mass?

It's a small crowd for this Mass and Mass is held in the chapel, not the main church. I will reemphasize that the priest has many good qualities still, a dog in sacred places is so shocking to me and his presence does distract from the Mass. For example, one parishioner was trying to get the dog's attention during the Gospel reading.

Currently, my plan for dealing with this is:

  • to pray for the priest every day this week
  • to seek God's guidance during my prayer time and reading of the Liturgy of the Hours, and
  • to make an appointment to see the priest so I can air my discomfort with the dog's presence during Mass — emphasizing to him that I am happy that he's found a pet that he loves.

I am not questioning his right to a private life however I do question his judgment on bringing the dog into the church.

My hunch is that we will have a discussion where we mutually respect each other but ultimately will disagree on what is right and wrong on this issue. Frankly, bringing animals in the church is so offensive that I am considering leaving this parish and searching for another.

  • Should I pursue the course of action outlined above or just quietly leave and find another parish?

Open communication is always a good idea but ultimately the only person I can change is myself.

Thanks for your consideration of my questions.

Garth

  { Am I overreacting to the presence of the dog during morning Mass and should I find a new parish? }

Bob replied:

Garth,

Your dilemma is understandable and definitely an unusual situation. Dogs are sometimes permitted (working dogs) at Mass, and even in the sanctuary. I knew a blind priest who had even trained his dog to genuflect — an exceedingly holy priest as well.

The idea of a pet, however, changes the context and is not appropriate (in our culture at least in the first world). It may be that your priest, having recently acquired him, is afraid to leave it alone without someone to assist in caring for him during his Masses, etc.

I suggest that you gently raise the issue with him and explain that you are concerned that something wrong is taking place and perhaps he could leave him in the sacristy (nearby but not in the church proper) until Mass was over.

You are right to raise the issue. You are also right that looking out for your relationship is key. Therefore you need to show sensitivity and remind yourself that priests are indeed human, not perfect, and lonely at times. This dog could truly be a God-send for him.

You have already shown great sensitivity in writing to us as you have. Carry that over into your discussion with him and it will be fruitful.

God bless you,

Bob Kirby

Mike replied:

Dear Garth,

As Bob has implied, unless this is an exceptional situation, your feelings are definitely justified. I would be just as upset as you are. An animal has no place within the sacred space while Mass is being celebrated.

We may not have all the nuances of your specific situation but I would recommend you follow Bob’s advice and if you sense the priest does not appreciate your feelings, at least notify the local bishop about the situation as he may not be aware of it.

When the sacred is allowed to become non-sacred, anything can be allowed over time and those aspects of our faith we hold as holy, become non-holy.

As to whether you should say at your current parish or find another parish, that requires personal prayer time and discernment on your part as to whether:

  • this is parish is meeting or exceeding your spiritual needs.
  • you are being called by the Lord to provide something this parish currently does not have, or
  • it's time to look for another Catholic parish that can better meet your spiritual needs.

Mike

Garth replied:

Hi guys,

Many thanks to all of you for your insight and guidance.

I am scheduled to meet with the priest next Wednesday. He actually offered to meet with me this coming Saturday morning after the Men's group but I'll be away on retreat this weekend.

I expect that our meeting will be non-confrontational.

  • If he agrees that keeping the dog out of the chapel during Mass is reasonable, our relationship will be all the better if I approach him in a spirit of loving communication.
  • If he disagrees and says that he sees no problem with bringing his dog to morning Mass, I will politely but firmly explain to him why I disagree. I'll then be honest and tell him that I feel I need to move on to another parish and ask for his blessing in doing so.

In the latter case, I'll move on with or without his blessing but it will keep the doors open for future communication if I can obtain it from him.

I'll be praying earnestly for my priest and our upcoming meeting in the days to come. At this point, I'm leaving it all in God's Hands.

The tricky part for me is that I'm meeting with the parochial vicar tonight on a different matter — ministry opportunities. This young priest brings me much hope through his reverence for the sacred and the authenticity of his faith. I have not made him aware of my difficulty with the senior priest, nor do I think it's my place to do so. I am confident that he would agree with me on the issue with the dog so I see no good coming out of playing one priest against another.

If the parochial vicar brings up the topic, I'll thank him for his interest but assure him that the matter is between the senior priest and myself. Somehow I think he's wise enough to already know this and therefore will not bring up the subject.

Thanks again for your guidance. It has brought me much comfort and peace.

Garth

Garth followed up later:

Gentlemen,

As a reminder, I submitted a question concerning a priest at my parish bringing his dog to the 7 a.m. Mass. The Mass takes place in the chapel, which is located off of the nave and on the way to the sacristy. The dog tends to roam freely throughout the chapel and the sacristy during the Mass.

I had a face to face conversation with the priest about it last night and wanted to provide an update as to the final outcome. We were both civil and kind towards one another but ultimately agreed to disagree on this particular topic.

I notice that the dog hasn't been with him for the 7 a.m. Mass the past few times and suspect that someone else in the parish had sharp words with him however the priest told me that he couldn't promise that his dog would never come with him again because he disagreed with my point of view.

He mentioned that he asked the regular Mass attendees if they minded that he brought the dog to the early morning Mass the first time and said that no one spoke up. Needless to say, I wasn't in attendance that day. Besides, this group of people contains some of the same ones who show up in the Adoration Chapel but

  • talk on their cell phones
  • eat their snacks
  • visit with people they know, etc.

while others are trying to pray. I'm not sure a priest should be making decisions based on a popular vote but saw no point in arguing with him on the matter.

My biggest disappointment is that our meeting together — which lasted just under 15 minutes — neither started nor ended with prayer. In hindsight, I wish that I would have asked that we start with a word of prayer however I made the mistake of expecting the priest to lead us in that direction when, in truth, I have responsibility for initiating spiritual focus as well.

I've also come to the realization that the dog issue was just one more indicator that perhaps I made a mistake in joining this parish. There have been other things that have stood out as red flags for me that aren't worth listing here yet there have been good things as well.

For example, the parochial vicar for this parish has been in the pastoral ministry for less than a year yet shows tremendous knowledge of the sacred combined with Christian maturity. My few encounters with him — which always start with prayer at his prompting — have done much to help me grow spiritually.

I'm at the point where I have to give serious consideration as to whether I should transfer to another parish or stay and continue to try to be a positive influence in any way that I can. Since there appears to be no role for me to play in my present parish and I'm anxious to be busy with my mind and hands — as a liturgist, sacristan, adult acolyte, gardener, cook, dishwasher, etc. — my hunch is that I should pull up stakes and head to a parish that is in need of workers and ministers.

While this isn't quite the ending I had hoped for, I also acknowledge that I am thankful that I prayed over the issue and waited so that I could verbalize my concerns respectfully yet honestly. While we disagreed, the priest and I parted in peace.

Again, thank-you all for your input and for the important ministry that you provide. It was a valuable resource to me during this trying time. I truly appreciate your assistance and will offer each of you and your ministry up in prayer the moment I am finished typing this e-mail.

Peace,

Garth

Bob replied:

Garth,

Thanks for the follow up.

The results of your meeting was a disappointment but whatever comes I'm sure God will lead you in the right direction.

Peace,

Bob Kirby

Mike replied:

Hi, Garth —

Thanks for the update.

There are times in life where our journey is just confusing and we have no idea what to do next.

I’m in that situation now. Just ask Him,

Where do you want me to be?
Where do you want me to serve your Church? . . .

Then follow where he molds your heart.

I was talking about my situation with a good friend from my parish and he shared with me the following proverb:

If God brought you to it, He will bring you through it.

Take care,

Mike

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