Archdiocese picketed over priest's resignation

Protesters want church to reinstate him as pastor

June 27, 2002|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

About 70 people stood peacefully outside the Archdiocese of Baltimore's headquarters at Mulberry and Cathedral streets yesterday. Though they weren't chanting or making impassioned speeches, their signs conveyed a clear message:

They want the Rev. Thomas R. Malia reinstated as pastor of Holy Cross and St. Mary Star of the Sea Catholic churches. Malia was asked to resign last week by the archdiocese after he informed officials that in 1999 he hired Robert Gee, a friend he met when he attended seminary in Milwaukee, as interim music director of Holy Cross. Malia told church officials that he knew Gee had been convicted two years earlier of child sexual abuse.

Malia announced his resignation Sunday during his final Masses at Holy Cross in Federal Hill and St. Mary Star of the Sea in South Baltimore. He is scheduled to be reassigned as an associate pastor Aug. 1. His next assignment is unknown.

But if the people who stood outside in yesterday's sweltering heat - many took their lunch hours to join the effort - had their way, Malia would get to keep his job.

Church officials have said he will not be reinstated.

"Bring back Father Tom," read one sign held by a supporter. "Father Tom Did Not Hurt Us. You Did," read another.

And a sign that seemed to communicate the feelings of many assembled read: "Father Tom. Scapegoat for The Catholic Church."

Bill Romani, 34, a parishioner at Holy Cross, said a meeting has been scheduled for Monday morning with Bishop Gordon D. Bennett, the urban vicar. He said three delegates from Holy Cross and three from St. Mary Star of the Sea will attend.

Romani and others said they believe the church has treated them - and particularly Malia - unfairly. Some acknowledge Malia used poor judgment in hiring Gee, but they contend that he should not be removed because of it.

"Many of the people in this building in positions of authority have made worse mistakes, and the same rules of accountability have not been applied," said Jay Schwartz, 55, a Holy Cross parishioner. "This particular mistake didn't harm anybody, and I think it was designed that way. [Gee] was the music director. He came in, played on Sundays and left."

Schwartz and others credit Malia with "turning around" both parishes.

"He started all new programs and brought young people into the church," Schwartz said. "He doubled attendance and tripled collections. Isn't this a guy that you should elevate, not push down?"

Christi Craig, 32, said she feels the archdiocese has disrespected members of Holy Cross and St. Mary Star of the Sea. "We feel like they've been hiding from us," she said. "It's our right to have a say. ... We are a community that wants to be heard, and we need this priest."

Anne McFaul and her husband, Marc, both 31, were married by Malia and were among his supporters yesterday.

"I think it's wrong what happened," Anne McFaul said. "I think it's a hypocrisy. We have Cardinal [William H.] Keeler who placed a priest who was a known pedophile as a priest, but Father Tom had a minor infraction."

McFaul was referring to Keeler's handling of a case involving the Rev. Maurice J. Blackwell, who has been accused by Dontee Stokes, 26, of molesting Stokes when he was a teen-ager. Blackwell had been removed from St. Edward Catholic Church for psychological evaluation, but was reinstated by Keeler, a move that was later criticized by a lay review board. Stokes has been indicted in the shooting of Blackwell on May 13.

Marc McFaul said that if Malia has to be reassigned, he should at least be allowed to stay where he is.

"If they have to demote him, which I disagree with, and make him associate pastor, then why not leave him where he's needed and wanted?" he asked.

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