by Max Brantley
A reader's note Saturday night on the Arkansas Blog was probably the first regular media outlet mention of the removal of Msgr. Royce Thomas, a 40-year veteran of the priesthood, as pastor of the prominent Our Lady of Holy Souls Catholic Church.
Bishop Anthony Taylor of the Little Rock Diocese explained the decision at mass last weekend and took questions from unhappy parishioners. He's also posted the remarks he delivered on his Facebook page. He said that Thomas would retire as a result of unspecified issues related to a drinking problem. This didn't mollify Thomas' many friends, who felt, among others, that the limited disclosures were unfair to Thomas and only made matters worse. Thomas has not spoken publicly, but is said to disagree with the action.
This dialogue has continued on the bishop's Facebook page and he's also been writing to people in the church who've been raising questions.
Please find below my response to another person who wrote me a more
lengthy message that raised concerns similar to those you and others
raise. I think I can offer you five points of clarification that may
help put things in a different light for you and I hope that you will
have an open mind.
1. I discussed with Msgr. Thomas how we should characterize the problem
that required the is intervention. One concern was that if insufficient
information was provided, people would jump to conclusions far less
palatible than problems associated with a drinking problem. Since nature
abhors a vacuum, our fear was that people given no explanation would
imagine behavior far more scandalous than drinking, etc. and that this
would attract unwelcome scrutiny from the media, which would harm both
the parish and Msgr. Thomas.
2. We had not counted on Msgr. Thomas' own supposed supporters going to
the media themselves, in an attempt to redress a perceived injustice--I
had figured that they would be the ones who would most want to keep it
OUT of the news! The irony in this is that Monsignor's supporters are
unwittingly doing him the most harm. The media contacted us because they
had heard rumblings from Monsignor's supporters and so we had to issue a
statement in order to correct errors, which is what we did. Everything
in our statement is factually accurate and I believe it helped to keep
the story in the paper from becoming more sensationalized than it was.
3. I know that Holy Souls parishioners claim Msgr. Thomas as their own
and some believed that information should only be provided to the people
of that parish. But unlike others requiring intervention in the past,
Monsignor is truly a diocesan figure, hence the need to provide
information on a diocesan level. Not only has he served in other
parishes throughout the diocese, he has also served as Judicial Vicar
and on many committees.
4. Msgr. Thomas was a confidant in personnel matters and matters related
to the administration of the diocese, a man I trusted implicitly. But he
was not a confidant in any matters related to his own private life. As
bishop I do not hear the confessions of any priests or do anything else
with them in what would be considered the internal forum because I must
deal with our priests in the external forum and this would tie my hands.
I am not withholding any information from you or anyone else due to
anything he confided to me in confidence, but only out of a desire to
respect his right to privacy in matters of such a personal nature...and
also because I am convinced that only harm could come from an
unnecessary fuller disclosure than I have made. And lest there be any
confusion, Msgr. Thomas acknowledged the findings to be true--when
confronted with the evidence. This is not a matter of doubt.
5. Contrary to what some think, this is not a case of "casting stones."
This is a step that I would have done almost anything to avoid having to
take, but as bishop I had no other alternative than to intervene in the
way I did, given the specific circumstances of this case. I have told
people this every way I know how, in my homily, in my meetings after
Mass, etc. I know that most of the anger and resistance directed at me
is an expression of how much you love Monsignor and how shocked you are
and unable to imagine him doing anything that would require me to take
I know that at this point I may not be able to say anything that will
penetrate your disbelief, but I am convinced that in the end those who
are currently so upset will discover that they were mistaken and that I
indeed have followed not only the most appropriate--but indeed in
practical terms, the only--course available to me in this set of
circumstances. In the meantime I ask for your prayers, not only for
Msgr. Thomas and your parish, but also for me. I assure you of my
prayers for you and everyone else who is hurting so much at this time.
In Christ's love,