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Batavia’s Holy Cross parishioners in uproar as Diocese replaces their beloved priest

‘Fr. Parker is the greatest priest I have ever gotten to know ... He’s a very holy man’

BATAVIA TOWNSHIP – The pending replacement of a beloved pastor after seven years at Holy Cross Catholic Church in Batavia Township has hundreds of its parishioners upset.

After getting news late Monday that Rev. James Parker’s last day would be June 15, about 400 parishioners gathered outside his residence Tuesday night to show their support.

“Fr. Parker is the greatest priest I have ever gotten to know and respect in my entire life of 58 years,” said parishioner Kevin Callahan, Grand Knight of the Knights of Columbus Council 2191.

Callahan sent out an email blast May 25 to the 400 members of the Knights’ council, and within hours, they gathered outside the rectory.

“Every single day, seven days a week, Fr. Parker does a solid one-hour prayer vigil of saying the Rosary,” Callahan said. “If he is going to do the rosary at 8 p.m., why don’t we all go to his property … and say it with him for that hour. … He’s a very holy man.”

Parker prays the rosary in the chapel of the rectory where he lives and Live Streams it on Facebook, Callahan said.

With hundreds of parishioners – many holding large flameless candles – outside, Parker actually did two hours of prayer that night, because he also prayed the five mysteries of the rosary, Callahan said.

“When it was all done, Fr. Moises (Apostol), the assistant pastor at Holy Cross, went down and told Fr. Parker he needed to step outside for a minute,” Callahan said. “He (Apostol) was outside with us, praying. He (Parker) couldn’t believe so many people came to pray for him and with him.”

Parker did not return a voicemail or email message seeking comment.

Penny Wiegert, spokeswoman for the Rockford Diocese, said in an email response that Parker completed his six-year term at Holy Cross in 2020, but stayed on for an extra year.

“There is nothing unusual about a priest receiving a new assignment to a different parish, ministry or administrative post,” Wiegert’s email stated.

Unlike Protestant churches, that have elected councils that choose pastors, Catholic priests receive their pastoral assignments from the bishops of their diocese.

“Currently the terms for priest assignments is six years, renewable once. There are times when a priest is asked to serve a shorter or longer term based on the needs of other parishes, schools, offices and ministries within the diocese,” Wiegert’s email stated. “However, we know that such transitions are not always easy, especially where there is considerable affection for the pastor.”

Callahan said parishioners have various other ideas about why Parker is being removed.

“The parish is in an uproar,” Callahan said. “Everybody has a theory over why Fr. Parker is in trouble with the bishop,” Callahan said, referring to Rockford Diocese Bishop David Malloy.

One theory is that Parker let more people inside the church than he should have during the COVID-19 pandemic last year.

Or while the church was shut down he had 800 to 1,000 cars lined up, causing a traffic jam, while he gave blessings.

Another is that Parker is very traditional and stands against liberal elements in the church, such as not offending Catholic women who have had abortions by preaching against abortion.

One theory is that last year, Parker involved himself politically from the pulpit, advocating support for a president who did not support abortion – though he never stated the incumbent’s name, Callahan said.

“Obviously, Trump was not a good, Catholic, moral individual, but he was the best candidate as a pro-life candidate,” Callahan said. “That offended a lot of Catholics who are Democrats.”

While Callahan said parishioners are looking for a reason why Parker is being removed – it appears that there is no reason other than the diocese is reassigning priests.

“I absolutely love him,” Callahan said of Parker. “He has done nothing immoral or anything that would be considered against the church orders as of today, or two years ago. … He is the most dedicated and loved priest that I know.”

Callahan and other parishioners were concerned that Parker would be a priest without a home or an assignment come June 16, and many are willing to have the priest come and live with them.

But according to Wiegert, that would be unnecessary.

“He has currently been provided a diocesan residence and any new assignment is to be determined,” Wiegert’s email stated. “More assignments are pending for the Diocese of Rockford as there will be three new priests ordained June 5.”

According to the diocese’s published list of new priest assignments, observer.rockforddiocese.org, the Rev. Andrew Deitz and Rev. Jared Twenty will be assigned to Holy Cross starting June 16.

“It is our prayer that while the change at Holy Cross, or any parish for that matter, may be difficult, that Catholics will give good prayer and energy in welcoming whatever priest is assigned to serve them,” Wiegert’s email stated.

In a letter to his fellow Knights, Callahan said of the new priest that parishioners “should provide him with our full support.”

“As Knights we stand up for our priests. … As the Diocese tears apart and chases away the flock, it will be the new priest’s job to find away to bring us back,” Callahan wrote. “Please show our new priest the utmost respect, we are Knights and leaders of our families.”