Roman Catholic leaders have sent e-mails of warning to dozens of Washington and Maryland priests after protesters with bullhorns yelling anti-Catholic slogans appeared at several parishes and in a couple of cases “stormed the inside of the church just before Mass,” a bishop-administrator wrote in the e-mail.
A spokeswoman with the Archdiocese of Washington, which oversees 139 parishes in the District and suburban Maryland, said Wednesday that “really small” groups of protesters have appeared on the property of three or four parishes in the past couple of weeks near Mass time. They were shouting at parishioners going in and out and were handing out “fundamentalist” Christian literature, said Chieko Noguchi.
She would not identify the parishes or share the literature or what it said, saying it was unclear whether the protesters had created it or were using something they got elsewhere.
“It was disconcerting,” she said, that protesters would use a worship service as a time to protest.
Police were called Oct. 25 to at least one of the parishes, St. Pius X in Bowie, but the police chief there said no information was available about the group. Messages left with St. Pius staff were not immediately returned.
But the Rev. Mike Jones, pastor at St. Pius, described the incident in the parish’s Nov. 2 bulletin.
“We don’t have to go to the other side of the world to experience religious extremists,” wrote Jones, describing parishioners leaving Saturday’s 5 p.m. Mass. “We were assaulted by shouting and hatred being spewed by protesters standing at both our driveways. Armed with megaphones and brandishing signs, these ‘christians’ ranted for more than 30 minutes about everything they view as ‘evils’ of our Catholic faith. They attacked our dogmas, teachings, practices and leaders, including Pope Francis! Who are they? We don’t yet know.”
In an Oct. 30 e-mail to the archdiocese’s priests, Bishop Barry Knestout — its top administrator — laid out what had happened and what church staff and volunteers should do if the group reappears.
“From what we can piece together from witness accounts, the group is protesting the teachings of the Catholic Church, Church leaders and the Holy Father,” Knestout wrote in the e-mail. “In all instances, they appeared on parish property with bullhorns and began shouting at parishioners who were going into or coming out of Mass and handed out fundamentalist literature. In two instances, the group stormed the inside of the church just before Mass began and were promptly removed by attentive ushers and off-duty law enforcement. . . . Should you encounter such protesters at your parish, please do not hesitate to contact your local police.”
He continued: “Our pastoral response will be that we welcome everyone to the liturgy, but it is disrespectful to use the Mass as a venue for protesting. If possible, please consider having a priest available to speak with the protesters outside of church.”
Knestout’s e-mail also offered a sample message that could be read if a protester was removed from the service.
“The Catholic Church welcomes all people. There are those who oppose the teachings of the Church and are in need of our prayers. So let us pray for the conversion of their hearts and offer a prayer that they may find peace,” the sample message reads.
Jones offered St. Pius parishioners this advice:
“As I see it, the point is distraction and division and to that we say NO. . . . Let’s turn the other cheek, love ‘til it hurts.”