Char­lotte Hall pri­est evicts con­gre­ga­tion be­fore funeral ser­vice

Po­lice called to Char­lotte Hall church af­ter cup was ac­ci­den­tally knocked over

The Enterprise - - Front Page - By JAMIE ANFENSON-COMEAU jan­fen­son-comeau@somd­news.com Twit­ter: @JamieACIndyNews

The Arch­dio­cese of Washington is is­su­ing a for­mal let­ter of apol­ogy to the fam­ily of a de­ceased woman whose funeral at­ten­dees Wed­nes­day morn­ing were abruptly evicted from a Char­lotte Hall Catholic church by the pri­est, the Rev. Michael Briese, who was to pre­side over a Mass of Chris­tian Burial.

In a let­ter shared with The En­ter­prise, the Rev. Michael Fisher, sec­re­tary for min­is­te­rial lead­er­ship, wrote to the de­ceased woman’s daugh­ter: “What oc­curred at Saint Mary’s Parish [Wed­nes­day] morn­ing does not re­flect the Catholic Church’s fun­da­men­tal call­ing to re­spect and up­lift the God-given dig­nity of ev­ery per­son nor does that in­ci­dent rep­re­sent the pas­toral ap­proach the priests of the Arch­dio­cese of Washington com­mit to un­der­take ev­ery day in their min­istry.”

Ed McFadden, a spokesman for the arch­dio­cese, said the in­ci­dent re­mains un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion and that he ex­pects fur­ther con­ver­sa­tions and de­vel­op­ments as the arch­dio­cese con­tin­ues to in­ves­ti­gate.

“By no means should this in­di­cate that we con­sider the mat­ter closed,” McFadden said.

Be­tween 200 and 300 peo­ple were at­tend­ing the funeral of Agnes Theresa Hicks of Char­lotte Hall on Wed­nes­day morn­ing at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, New­port in Char­lotte Hall.

Hicks’ daugh­ter, Renetta Baker, said that prior to the start of ser­vices, she was greet­ing vis­i­tors when one of them ac­ci­den­tally knocked over a cer­e­mo­nial cup used dur­ing Mass for com­mu­nion, dam­ag­ing it.

It was empty at the time. She said they ini­tially did not see that the cup had been knocked over.

“One of the ladies [at the church] came out and saw it, and she went back and told him, told Fa­ther Michael [Briese],” Baker said. “He came out yelling at me. So I stood up and said we’re going to take care of it af­ter the funeral. Then he went back, then he came to the mic and said ‘There will be no funeral to­day.’”

“Then he said, y’all get the H-E-L-L out!” added Hicks’ sis­ter, Mar­garet Holton.

Ed Hill, a funeral at­ten­dant for the Briscoe-Tonic Funeral Home, said he tried to defuse the sit­u­a­tion.

“I tried to calm him down, asked if I could pray with him, and he told me I need to get out of here, too. He told me ‘You need to get those peo­ple out of here, I want all their asses out of here right now,’” Hill said. “He was curs­ing, he didn’t want prayer, he didn’t want any­thing.”

Charles County Sher­iff’s Of­fice spokes­woman Diane Richard­son said po­lice re­ceived a call at ap­prox­i­mately 10:30 a.m. from St. Mary’s Church of a pub­lic dis­tur­bance and de­struc­tion of church prop­erty.

She said po­lice at­tempted to me­di­ate among the fam­ily, the funeral home and the church but that the na­ture of the dis­pute was un­clear.

Ul­ti­mately, no charges were filed, and no one was ar­rested or de­tained.

“Af­ter ev­ery­one cleared out, it was just the pall­bear­ers, he tried to ex­plain it that he wasn’t a racist,” said Theo Johnson, a pall­bearer and cousin of the de­ceased, who was African-Amer­i­can. The pri­est is white. “He said he put plaques on graves out there [in the ceme­tery], black and white peo­ple, he said he feeds the home­less. No­body said any­thing about race. We were just say­ing he was be­ing dis­re­spect­ful, that this could have been han­dled af­ter the funeral, and he said, ‘For­get it, just get that thing — [in­di­cat­ing the cas­ket] — out of here,’” Johnson said.

Funeral home owner Tony Tonic said he ar­rived on the scene, and was dis­turbed by what he found.

“I spoke with my funeral as­sis­tant, and he ex­plained to me that the words [Briese] used … he was call­ing the fam­ily ev­ery­thing,” Tonic said. “I’m just ap­palled by what I heard hap­pen and the lan­guage he was us­ing when he ad­dressed me, as the owner of the funeral home. It was just … it made me very an­gry, and it needs to be ad­dressed.”

Ul­ti­mately, the fam­ily and funeral at­ten­dees left, and po­lice pro­vided a funeral es­cort to the county line.

Calls to St. Mary’s Catholic Church to speak with Briese were di­rected to the Arch­dio­cese of Washington’s me­dia re­la­tions of­fice.

McFadden said a pri­est from a St. Mary’s County parish, the Rev. Scott Woods, com­pleted the ser­vice at the funeral home and of­fered apolo­gies on be­half of the arch­dio­cese to the fam­ily.

“On days such as to­day, our re­sponse should al­ways be one of com­pas­sion and sym­pa­thy for the be­reaved as well as pray­ers for the de­ceased. I re­it­er­ate and re­in­force the sin­cere apol­ogy you and your fam­ily re­ceived from Fa­ther Woods ear­lier to­day,” Fisher wrote in his let­ter to the fam­ily.

Shan­ice Chis­ley, Hicks’ youngest daugh­ter, said no one should have to go through what her fam­ily did.

“Ev­ery­one knew my mom, she was a well known woman. She would come to ev­ery­one’s funeral homes, she would pass out the obit­u­ar­ies, she would help at the repast. It’s just crazy that she was treated like this,” Chis­ley said.

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