Popular Priest Gets The Golden Handshake Despite Protests

Parishioners Petition To Allow Monsignor To Remain At Church

February 08, 1991|By Angela Gambill | Angela Gambill,Staff writer

In his 70 years, Msgr. Charles F. Muth has learned that life doesn'talways go according to plan.

At least, not human plan. So when the pastor of St. Jane Francis DeChantal Church in Pasadena learned recently that he was being asked to retire after 46 years in the priesthood, he grieved, but he didn't fight.

"I don't want to leave, but I've always been preaching to accept the will of God in all kinds of circumstances. That's what I tell my people; that's what we're supposed to do on earth," he says.

At 65, priests may request retirement for health reasons. At age 70, they must submit a resignation, and the Archdiocese of Baltimore can either accept or reject the resignation, says the Rev. George Moeller, director of pastoral personnel for the archdiocese. At 75, a priest muststep down.

Muth says the archdiocese has suggested he take a job as chaplain in a hospital or retire to part-time weekend work at other parishes.

But the church isn't about to let their pastor go without protest.

About 100 church members attended a meeting Thursday night to tell a committee representing the archdiocese they don't want him to leave.

George Wagner, president of the church's Society of the Holy Name, presented a petition signed by 2,123 parishioners last weekend requesting that Muth be retained as an assistant priest atthe church, but without the burden of administrative work.

The numbers represent more than 50 percent of the parish of 3,700 families,Wagner says.

"Most of the parishioners badly want to see the monsignor stay at the parish," Wagner explained.

The meeting's official purpose was for church members to tell the archdiocese what they believe the church needs in a pastor.

Muth, who did not attend the meeting, said, "I would like to continue doing the things I've been doing at the church, like visiting the sick, and that's a possibility but not a probability."

"The archdiocese feels I should retire and they have a younger man run a big parish like this," he explains. "They say they did it for my health --although I didn't ask for help -- and for the good of the parish."

The archdiocese's policy is to transfer a man who steps down from a pastorate or management position to another parish, explains Moeller.

"He moves on to another parishor place of his own choosing where he could continue ministry, but he doesn't stay in the same place with a new pastor coming on, with both feeling uncomfortable."

"I think the church understandably appreciates him and the wonderful work he's done there, but his health isnot the best," Moeller adds. "It's a huge parish, and it's just not fair to him to keep him on there beyond the time when we feel it's healthy for him to remain."

For the parishioners about to lose theirpastor of 21 years, none of this seems particularly comforting.

"He's very devout," says Wagner, who has attended the church for 35 years. "He's humorous. He lets us know what's going on by writing a pastoral letter every month. And he's a priest's priest -- he's what you'd want your priest to be."

The monsignor, who studied at St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore and St. Charles Preparatory Seminary in Catonsville, has lived and worked in the state his entire life.

For 22years, he served as associate pastor of St. Rita's Church in Dundalk, before becoming pastor of the Church of the Most Precious Blood in East Baltimore. After three years, he became pastor at St. Jane Francis.

Muth thinks he'll have to leave the parish. "I don't think there's much chance of their keeping me on," he says. "I hate to leave here, but you don't always get what you want in the priesthood."

But the elderly priest finds comfort in the thought that God's plans cannot be thwarted.

"I don't want to spearhead any rebellion," emphasizes the monsignor.

"If this is the will of God that I step down,I'm willing to do that."

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