Bishop Christopher Coyne’s letter to Holy Family Parish, Springfield/Chester
Dear Parishioners of Holy Family Parish,
After an extensive process and much prayer, it is with great sadness that I announce the decision to remove Father Peter Williams as pastor of Holy Family Parish for his serious disobedience and disrespect shown to the office of the bishop. I apologize for the length of time it has taken to reach this decision since Father Williams first made this matter public. I wanted to make sure that my decision was fair and that Church law in this matter was followed so as not to infringe on Father Williams’s canonical rights. All of this having taken place, Father Williams as of today, March 8, 2022, can no longer serve as your pastor. In the meantime, I have invited him to stay with me at my residence in St. Joseph Cathedral Parish in Burlington so that he and I can pray, dialogue and worship together to hopefully change the bad opinion he has of me as his bishop and to strengthen the bond of fraternity that should exist between a bishop and his priest.
May I point out that this is about the promise Father Williams freely made to respect and obey the bishop and his successors when he was ordained to serve the Church in Vermont as a co-worker with the bishop. A great deal of misinformation has been spread that has caused much division and concern within the parish and has impacted his ability to minister to all parishioners. The truth is no priest, deacon, employee, volunteer or parishioner of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington has ever been mandated to receive the Covid-19 vaccination. In my letter to pastors and deacons in September 2021, as the omicron variant began to surge throughout Vermont, I encouraged clergy to get vaccinated but acknowledged this was a personal choice. For those choosing not to get vaccinated, I required a mask when celebrating the sacraments and meeting with or visiting any individual(s) while carrying out their ministry. Additionally, non-vaccinated clergy were also required to be tested for Covid-19 infection every other week through regular testing out of charity for the high number of elderly people we serve who are most at risk. Please see my letter to priests and deacons: https://www.vermontcatholic.org/vermont/message-from-bishop-christopher-j-coyne-on-sept-30-2021-to-all-priests-deacons-regarding-covid-19-policy/
Pastoral and administrative provisions are being made so that the regular Sunday Masses may be celebrated and the sacraments offered as needed. I have appointed Father Henry Furman, pastor of St. Michael Parish in Brattleboro, to serve as administrator of your parish until another priest can be assigned on a more permanent basis.
Please know that I did not make this decision lightly nor with any personal feelings in the matter. My hope was that this situation could have been reconciled privately, but unfortunately it only escalated causing much angst within the parish. My fervent prayer is that Father Williams and I can still mend our relationship as priest and bishop and together continue our ministry to spread the Good News that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior. Please keep me and all clergy in your prayers.
Mary, Mother of the Church, pray for us.
Yours in Christ,
The Most Reverend Christopher J. Coyne
Bishop of Burlington