Because of a typographical error, a word was omitted from a story about Good Shepherd Roman Catholic parish on June 8. The sentence should have read that some members "continued in the parish under whatever priest the bishop sends." CAPTION: (NEW-LINE)Picture, The Rev. Gerard Creedon, new pastor of Good Shepherd Catholic Church, discusses problems faced by parish located near Mount Vernon. By Linda Wheeler - The Washington Post
An unexpected shift of pastors at Good Shepherd Roman Catholic Church near Mount Vernon appears to have opened the way to resolving a long and bitter dispute with the parish.
Earlier this week, the Rev. Gerard Creedon, 35, who has been associate became the senior pastor of the pastor of St. Agnes parish in Arlington deeply divided Good Shepherd. He is one of the youngest men in the diocese to assume such responsibility.
It was Creedon who, shortly after troubles began at Good Shepherd almost five years ago, quietly began moves that led to a temporary resolution of the conflict there.
In response to Creedon's appointment, the Good Shepherd Community for Shared Responsibility, a group of several hundred families that has been carrying on religious activities apart from the authorized program at the church, canceled its scheduled mass for this weekend and urged members to return to the parish Sunday for mass and a reception welcoming Creedon.
Troubles at Good Shepherd date back to 1974, when parishes in Northern Virginia were spun off from the Diocese of Richmond to form a separate Diocese of Arlington.
Bishop Thomas J. Welsh, the man named to head the new diocese, is regarded as one of the more conservative men in the American hierarchy.
Under the pastorate of the Rev. Thomas Quinlan, Good Shepherd parish had earned the reputation as the most progressive, if not downright radical, church in Northern Virginia. Quinlan, a long-haired iconoclast who believed strongly in the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, opted to remain with the Diocese of Richmond.
Lay members were vitally involved in everything from a Christian education program, which gave parents primary responsibility for communicating their faith, to inventive liturgies. The heart of the the operation was a parish council, elected by church members, who shared in the decision-making for every facet of parish life.
Welsh replaced Quinlan with the Rev. John P. Hannan, and backed his moves to cut back the role of parishoners, ultimately firing the parish council.
A substantial number of church members had become so committed to the new vision of their faith that they had experienced under Quinlan that they fought back.
The battle over the years has been marked by a high degree of sophistication among the parishoners both about the tenets of their faith and the machinery of the Catholic Church, from the Vatican down.
The specter of a local parish, in a church whose history has few chapters extolling participatory democracy, taking on their bishop and firing off appeals to the Vatican, caught fire with many both in and out of the church. In private conversations, other bishops of the church expressed admiration for the tenacity and faithfulness of the little band, though sometimes questioning their tactics.
The months and years of conflict brought ugly confrontations. Numerous attempts at reconciliation, including an unprecedented intervention of the Vatican, have failed.
The parish, which once numbered nearly 1,000 families has been fractured. Some have wearied of the battle and droped out entirely. Some have continued to be "good Catholics," in the pre-Vatican II sense of the word, and continued in the parish under whatever the bishop sends.
Still others - between 200 and 300 families - have organized a church-within-a-church, which they call Good Shepherd Catholics for Shared Responsibility. They have elected their own parish council, organized their own programs of religious education, social action and youth work and adopted and raised their own budget.
They gather each week in a nearby Episcopal Church for the contemporary style liturgies they favor, importing priests from nearby college campuses or other nonparochial sources. Although they claim to be members of Good Shepherd and live within the parish boundaries, Creedon's predecessor, the Rev. Frank Mahler, knocked many of them off the parish rolls for failure to make financial contributions.
This week the GSCSR's telephone tree, a highly effective communication system left over from the Quinlan days, is advising members that there will be no mass of their own, urging them instead to go back to Good Shepherd on Sunday and join in the welcome for Creedon.
At the same time, though, GSCSR is going ahead with its scheduled election of officers for next year.
"There's a great deal of optimism about getting things back together the way we would want them to be," explained Frank Hall, one of the GSCSR leaders. "But we are not dropping everything and going back to Good Shepherd."
Creedon, who is still unpacking the boxes he moved into Good Shepherd's rectory on Monday, said, "My plan is to listen to the people and learn, to identify what the concerns of the community are, to negotiate, and to reconcile."
The soft-spoken priest is well aware that he is the fifth pastor to serve the parish in five years. Before his first week on the job is up he will have held separate meetings with both the present lay representatives of the parish and leaders of GSCSR.
The latter are also well aware that there is animosity against them on the part of some members who stayed with the parish these last five years.
"There are feelings on the ot her side as well," Hall acknowledged. "We need to work it out, not just come walking back in there." But at the same time, he said, "it all seems to be looking up."
For his part, Creedon reported numerous rectory-warming gifts to welcome his arrival - food, flowers "even a bottle of Asti Spumonti." That, he feels, is a good sign.