Charlotte Hall priest evicts congregation before funeral service
Police called to Charlotte Hall church after cup was accidentally knocked over
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.