Forgiveness, Mercy, and Charity for New York City Saint James Parish

[Updates at the bottom of this posting; latest update on 1-26-2010 at 12:24pm CST]

The Catholic blogosphere is currently in an uproar over an event that occurred at Saint James Church on Friday, January 15, 2010 A.D. when a Christian youth group requested and organized an event to draw more young adults into the Catholic Church.  This seemed as an innocuous request since the parish in the past held a classical piano concert in honor of the church’s founder Father Felix Valera.

What actually occurred was a rock concert with various local indie bands from the area performing in the Sanctuary all evening long.

Father Walter Tonelotto, the pastor of Saint James Church, explained that the organizer of the event misrepresented the nature of the activity.  He was told by the Christian youth group that the event was to reach out to young adults and draw them into the church.  The event was going to be nice and dignified, ie, appropriate for the venue.  Father Tonelotto even inquired to the organizer what had happened when word reached him of the concert and was told nothing bad had occurred.

So as well as being misled about the nature of the event, Father Tonelotto was also misled by the organizer about what actually occurred.  Only after a series of email exchanges and web postings of videos exposing what actually happened did Father Tonelotto take action by canceling the next “Christian youth group event” that was billed as a fundraiser for the devastation in Haiti.

Father Tonelotto is deeply embarrassed and sorrowful for the turn of events.  He has written to the Archbishop Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York expressing his remorse by apologizing for this.  He also wants to apologize to the parish and everyone else that this has caused scandal to.

In light of what has happened I urge our readers to be forgiving, merciful, and charitable in their actions and in their thoughts.

Father Tonelotto recognizes what has happened, has taken responsibility and apologized for it.  Keep him and everyone else involved in your prayers.

_._

Update I: Father Walter Tonelotto will be holding a prayer vigil of reparation this Saturday (01-30-2010) at Saint James Church for what has occurred at the parish.  If you are a parishioner or wish to join in this prayer vigil contact the parish here.

Update II: The Archdiocese affirmed the actions of Father Tonelotto’s resolutions to the situation.

Update III: For me I am upset about the rock concert and how it occurred.

In the end the parish authorities acknowledged what had happened, corrected what had occurred, and have taken proactive measures of canceling all the events related to this Christian youth group that would cause scandal.

In addition they are holding a prayer vigil of reparation for what has happened.  Speaking with the pastor over the phone I sensed humility, contrition, and embarrassment.

I did not sense subversive or other hostile intents from him or any of the staff that I spoke with.  Yes it was wrong, but it was rectified in the end.

In my experience I wouldn’t even get my phone calls returned.  And if I did get a reply it would normally be in an email justifying their actions without a hint of remorse nor humility.  This pastor is rare for being brave enough to face the difficult facts of the matter.  He is even replying to as many emails as possible that he has received in his In-box.

I understand the concerns of many of my fellow Catholics and I have to say the anger is justified, but in this instance the situation has been acknowledged and corrected.  How many priests are willing to do the difficult task of fixing a problem?  This is a rare priest indeed.

So keep this in mind when posting comments.  I have not read any comments that have crossed the line, but reading some of the other comments on other websites and blogs I needed to say my piece.

In Jesus, Mary, & Joseph,

Tito

Update IV: It is being reported that the “Christian youth group” in question turns out to be an outfit called “Less Artists More Condos” run by Ariel Panero.  Ariel Panero and this group have been operating illegally with other venues before.  So if this is true it is becoming clear that this wasn’t a misguided young adult Catholic but someone who consciously was taking advantage of organizations such as this Catholic church to run an underground rock concert in order to avoid legal fees.

A biretta tip to Thomas Peters for cobbling together various contacts and getting to the bottom of this situation.  For the latest update on this by the American Papist click here.

_._

For the Saint James Church website click here.

For comprehensive coverage of this by Thomas Peters click here.

(Biretta Tip: Notes on the Culture Wars)

42 Responses to Forgiveness, Mercy, and Charity for New York City Saint James Parish

  • Why should there be any “events” at all in a Church? Did anyone bother to ask what the “event” – a word that can signify any number of things – would be?

    Did they know “music” was going to be performed?

    This is pathetic.

  • From the website evidence, the event was advertised weeks ahead of time.

    There was an advertised open bar for an hour and a half before the event, according to secular blogs written by people who were HAPPY about the event. That requires a liquor license, doesn’t it?

    The plywood stage that extended the sanctuary area was clearly pre-built for the event.

    The music was clearly not a piano concert.

    Even if, for the sake of charity, we grant that the fools who played made innocent mistakes concerning using the altar as a table, even if we grant that any kind of secular event (like a piano concert) is acceptable in a church, how did the parish staff and the pastor NOT know this was going on?

    Parish staff were certainly there DURING the event, right?

    I’ve worked in several parishes around the country. In EVERY parish, NOBODY could hold an event in the church without a parish staff member being present to open and lock up, help get last minute items, etc.

    THERE IS NO WAY this happened without the connivance of at least some members of the parish staff.

    It isn’t possible.

    I’m all for granting Christian charity, but there are limits to credulity.

    Sacrilege is worse than pedophilia.

    Someone needs to be fired here.

  • I forgot to add, of course, the kicker to the whole thing.

    This happened in New York City, the town that’s famous for being trusting, leaving doors unlocked all hours of the night, the gracious elegance and piety of the inhabitants, etc.

    Christian charity, remember?

  • Steve,

    I share your concerns about the mismanagement of this by the parish.

    Just one small point, they held a classical piano recital/concert two years ago.

    You may be confusing the concert of this year with that of two years ago.

    Nonetheless there was no one from the parish supervising the concert. The parish priest, Fr. Walter, doesn’t even reside there, he lives in downtown.

    It doesn’t excuse the behavior, just clarifying some points you made.

    As far as the pre-fab stage, I’ll assume your correct.

    Outside of my interview with Father Walter, my only other information comes from your site, which by the way is awesome!

  • Steve,

    I’m with you on this. The whole thing stinks. And just like the other issues I’m complaining about these days, we’re supposed to accept some official explanation from the authorities, some rationalization for their gross incompetence and failure.

    We can’t just admit that these people might have a) deliberately done something bad and b) lied about it.

    And if they didn’t lie about it, the degree of ineptitude is so severe that yes, as you say, someone should be fired anyway.

  • Joe, Steve & et al,

    Who do you fire?

    The priest?

    Joe,

    Monitor this thread if you can, I have to leave for Bible study.

    Everyone’s fired up!

  • It’s George Bush’s fault.

  • Mack,

    Why is everything W’s fault?

    Call a spade a spade, it’s a Freemason conspiracy.
    ;)

  • I realize the piano concert was a couple of years back, but apparently that is being used as some sort of comparison/excuse for this event.

    I don’t see how it matches, but I was willing to grant that there could be a comparison just for the sake of discussion.

    I just don’t believe that a priest in New York City would allow an unsupervised event to take place at his parish without any staff being present.

    If a priest in Podunk, Nebraska wouldn’t do it (and I’ve worked in everything from a parish in the sticks to a chancery office), I simply don’t believe a priest in NYC would do it. The “explanation” is not just absurd, it’s insulting.

    How stupid does this priest think we are, to try such an outrageous explanation as “Well, I was misled! And so were all of my staff!”

    How about he gives US a little charity and tells the truth for a change? Or maybe he could fire somebody? Or ask for a transfer to administrative work? Or have the archbishop remove him?

    But, in perfect charity, he can’t honestly expect anyone to believe neither he nor his staff are ultimately responsible for the objectively evil act of sacrilege that was committed.

  • A desecration took place at that church. Mass is not supposed to resume until it is reconsecrated. Any news on that?

  • FYI:
    Declaration on Concerts in Churches
    Vatican 1987

    8. The regulation of the use of churches is stipulated by canon 1210 of the Code of Canon Law:

    “In a sacred place only those things are to be permitted which serve to exercise or promote worship, piety and religion. Anything out of harmony with the holiness the place is forbidden. The Ordinary may, however, for individual cases, permit other uses, provided they are not contrary to the sacred character of the place.”

    The principle that the use of the church must not offend the sacredness of the place determines the criteria by which the doors of a church may be opened to a concert of sacred or religious music, as also the concomitant exclusion of every other type of music. The most beautiful symphonic music, for example, is not in itself of religious character. The definition of sacred or religious music depends explicitly on the original intended use of the musical pieces or songs, and likewise on their content. It is not legitimate to provide for the execution in the church of music which is not of religious inspiration and which was composed with a view to performance in a certain precise secular context, irrespective of whether the music would be judged classical or contemporary, of high quality or of a popular nature. On the one hand, such performances would not respect the sacred character of the church, and on the other, would result in the music being performed in an unfitting context.
    …….

    10. When the proposal is made that there should be a concert in a church, the Ordinary is to grant the permission per modum actus. These concerts should be occasional events. This excludes permission for a series of concerts, for example in the case of a festival or a cycle of concerts.

    When the Ordinary considers it to be necessary, he can, in the conditions foreseen in the Code of Canon Law (can. 1222, para. 2) designate a church that is no longer used for divine service, to be an “auditorium” for the performance of sacred or religious music, and also of music not specifically religious but in keeping with the character of the place.

    In this task the bishop should be assisted by the diocesan commission for Liturgy and sacred music.

    In order that the sacred character of a church be conserved in the matter of concerts, the Ordinary can specify that:

    a. Requests are to be made in writing, in good time, indicating the date and time of the proposed concert, the program, giving the works and the names of the composers.
    b. After having received the authorization of the Ordinary, the rectors and parish priests of the churches should arranged details with the choir and orchestra so that the requisite norms are observed.
    c. Entrance to the church must be without payment and open to all.
    d. The performers and the audience must be dressed in a manner which is fitting to the sacred character of the place.
    e. The musicians and the singers should not be placed in the sanctuary. The greatest respect is to be shown to the altar, the president’s chair and the ambo.
    f. The Blessed Sacrament should be, as far as possible, reserved in a side chapel or in another safe and suitably adorned place (Cf. C.I.C., can 928, par. 4).
    g. The concert should be presented or introduced not only with historical or technical details, but also in a way that fosters a deeper understanding and an interior participation on the part of the listeners.
    h. The organizer of the concert will declare in writing that he accepts legal responsibilities for expenses involved, for leaving the church in order and for any possible damage incurred.

    11. The above practical directives should be of assistance to the bishops and rectors of churches in their pastoral responsibility to maintain the sacred character of their churches, designed for sacred celebrations, prayer and silence.

    Such indications should not be interpreted as a lack of interest in the art of music.

    The treasury of sacred music is a witness to the way in which the Christian faith promotes culture.

    By underlining the true value of sacred or religious music, Christian musicians and members of scholae cantorum should feel that they are being encouraged to continue this tradition and to keep it alive for the service of the faith, as expressed by the Second Vatican Council in its message to artists:

    “Do not hesitate to put your talent at the service of the Divine Truth. The world in which we live has need of beauty in order not to lose hope. Beauty, like truth, fills the heart with joy. And this, thanks to your hands” (Cf. Second Vatican Council, Message to Artists, December 8, 1965).

    Rome, November 5, 1987
    Paul Augustine Card. Mayer, O.S.B.
    Prefect
    Virgilio Noë
    Tit. Archbishop of Voncaria

  • Contact the Thomas More Society (www.thomasmoresociety.org) and urge them to get involved. Contact the Archdiocese and St. James and urge them to contact the Thomas More Society. This group led by Panero needs to be brought up on charges and sued.

  • The indie groupies and fans who attended the event began predicting a huge lawsuit against Panero, the guy who organized the event, yesterday evening.

    Today, Catholics on the net are talking lawsuit.

    Videos of the event are quietly being removed from the internet in the hopes of destroying the evidence.

    The priest in question violated canon law by scheduling the event in the first place, just as he had violated it with the piano concert a couple of years ago. The difference here is that this violation is egregious, whereas the previous one was “in good taste” and therefore ignored.

    There’s only a difference in degree here, not in kind. This is what happens when pastors ignore or remain ignorant of canon law. The law exists for a reason. You break it, you own it.

    I’m sure the priest is quite repentant, I’m sure he’ll make a good confession over it. I certainly hope he and the archdiocese are successful in any lawsuits against the organizers.

    But there are temporal consequences to sin that has been forgiven. That’s the nature of sin.

    This kind of event has taken place far too often in far too many churches around the country. It needs to stop.

  • There seems to be no Podunk Nebraska. If there were, it is doubtful that such a “concert” would have proceeded under the watchful eye of Bishop Bruskewitz. They could happen only in hick places like Noo Yawk.

    Year ago Ned Rorem asked why churches would expect young people to come to mediocre concerts when they had good concerts of their own.

  • “Podunk” is a Midwestern technical term for “an extremely rural area.” I won’t name the exact town in Nebraska because it would identify the parish, and that’s not on point.

    As someone who worked in a parish that was under Archbishop Curtiss’ authority, let me assure you that this kind of event could only happen with the pastor’s approval. There’s no way it could take place unless the pastor or one of his staff were supervising the event.

    Pastors do not give out keys to the church to any Tom, Dick or Harry who wanders in off the street.

    The pastor, I am sure, is very remorseful, primarily because the video hit Youtube. If know one knew about it, and no one complained about it, he wouldn’t give a fig. The rule, whether in the parish or the diocese is “If no one complains, you have nothing to fear.”

  • I don’t get the problem. I mean, I do, but was this different from ‘Teen Life’?

  • I’m no lawyer, but it’s hard for me to imagine a lawsuit against the promoter having any success. Exactly what is the pastor supposed to in testimony? That he’s a chump who neglected even the most elementary standards of due diligence? Does the law indemnify for that? Can he make the court believe it?

    I appreciate the pastor’s remorse and his call for prayers of reparation, but face it: if you were Archbishop of New York, would you trust this man with the keys to one of your churches? If you do, Archbishop Dolan, can we expect the next underground concert to take place at St. Patrick’s Cathedral?

    So far as I can tell, there’s no accountability at any level of the American clergy. Apparently the only way to get fired is for a bishop to point out that he and not the USCCB is the Ordinary of his see.

  • Yeah, LifeTeen has it’s own problems. The founder is not only no longer a priest, he’s no longer a practicing Catholic. I’ve seen rock bands during Mass – a clear and damnable violation of the rubrics, but neither priest nor bishop were opposed to it, so it happened.

    This is really just a logical extension of LifeTeen.

    And, I agree with Romulus. It’s going to be darned hard for the diocese to prosecute this because the pastor gave permission for an event. The best they would probably be able to do is recover physical damages (cost of cleanup), if any.

    I keep running through all the salient facts, because I really don’t want to be uncharitable, but every time I run through the facts, I get the same conclusion.

    I don’t see how – when all the facts are considered – this priest deserves anything but the firestorm he has gotten. If this had happened in the sticks, in a rural parish somewhere, then you could argue the priest was naive – but it happened in Manhattan.

    You could say kids just got out of control – but where was the supervision? Where was the pastor? Where were the cops?

    You can say the pastor got misled – but who gave out the keys that allowed them into the church to begin with, who cleaned up and locked up that night?

    The pastor’s story just doesn’t make any sense, no matter his contrition level.

  • I am a 63-year-old conservative Cathoilc Christian. Like most of us, I’ve done my share of really stupid things. Only by the Grace of God have I gotten beyond some of my past errors and sins.
    Since I was not present when all this happened, I can’t say this pastor was any more wrong in what he did than some things I’ve done in the past. Mistakes have been made, it’s time to forgive and get over it. If Archbishop Dolan is satisfied, so should we all be.
    However, considering the “kumbayah” hootenanny music from the 70′s so prevalent in Catholic services these days, It’s just a natural evolution of the current music styles we see every week. What’s wrong with a little Rock & Roll on a Friday night if we allow such trash on Sunday mornings?

  • “What’s wrong with a little Rock & Roll on a Friday night if we allow such trash on Sunday mornings?”

    Both should be driven out of the house of God with the same fury with which Christ cleared the Temple of money-changers.

  • Tito you write “Nonetheless there was no one from the parish supervising the concert. The parish priest, Fr. Walter, doesn’t even reside there, he lives in downtown.” Surely you know the church IS downtown and the priest lives DOWN THE BLOCK!!!

  • My point is why would you take the liberty of making that statement if you dont know the facts. And I would like to know did the priest just hand over the keys to the church to this band and tell them lock up when they were finished??? Its a small community tito i am sure someone was there and knew what was going on.

  • Grace,

    I do know the facts and reported what was necessary.

    Fr. Walter told me he lives downtown and is a pastor in another church.

    What is the point of your comment?

    The pastor recognized the problem and has dealt with it accordingly.

    Your comment makes almost no sense.

  • He is tha pastor of St. Joseph down the block which merged with St. James last year… I think my comment makes sense and you are not getting all the facts. And what does your reported “what was necessary mean”?
    Tito the pastor made a big mistake..

  • I know that and most importantly the pastor knows that.

    Again, what is the point of your comment?

    I understand your frustration and displeasure, but now is the time to pray for him and the parish in order for them to move on and not allow this to happen again.

    Believe me most of us are not at all happy about what has occurred. But now is not the time to continue to vent.

    If he ignored and refused to acknowledge what happened, then you have a point about being upset and reminding everyone what has happened.

    But he has acknowledged it and is rectifying the situation.

  • So the fact the he knew what really was going on, said he didn’t live in the area and was not the pastor of the church is all rectified by him saying a mass. Okay Tito guess you did get all the facts. thanks for staightening that out for me…

  • Grace,

    He did not know what was going on.

    But if you want to believe that he did know, then that is between you and God.

  • and if the priest wants to believe what he told you thats between him and God…

    Thanks for your time Tito.

  • Grace,

    You are now antagonizing and unconstructive.

    Be careful what you post next or you’ll be placed on moderation.

  • Sorry if I offended anyone I did not mean to be antagonizing i was just stating a fact. I do apologize.

  • Grace,

    No worries.

    Have a great hump day!

  • Will this church be reconsecrated or not?

  • Even though the concert was wrong, it wasn’t enough that the sanctuary needs to be reconsecrated.

  • I think the short answer is “no.”

  • Steve,

    Why not paste a cool Catholic pic as your avatar?

    Makes this website look spiffier!

  • What’s wrong with that nice geometric Muslim design?

  • Steve,

    It’s actually a mudejar design, but I’m not really interested in inter-religious exchange when it comes to icons.

    Orthodox, Eastern Catholic, and gothic come to mind as superior replacements!
    ;)

  • I am saddened of the individuals who believe it is ok to desecrate a church and take advantage of our Parish Priest. It is easy for anyone, believing that this is supposed to be a Christian rock concert to fall for such a lie. I forgive my Parish priest, for anyone can be innocent to fall for such a lie. It would have been a great thing if our Parish had had a Christian Rock concert performed by Kutless to bring our youth to its feet. Seeing the amounts of youngsters in the Parish, I believe, we would have benefited. God states we must forgive, we are human and we are bound to make mistakes, no matter what title we have. This is a wakeup call that we are humans and that we must stay vigilant.

  • Anyone who believes that what happened at St James was caused by a deliberate disregard for the sanctity of the church is making a terrible mistake. I have known Fr. Walter, personally, for over 30 years and he has done all manner of good for countless people every day of his life — but no one blogs about that.

    The parishes he pastors are not cathedrals with big resources and a “grand staff”. The “grand staff” is a few good hearted local people and volunteers who try their best. St James and St Joseph are two, poor, tiny parishes on the lower east side of Manhattan. They serve four culturally diverse communities; a Chinese community, dwindling Italian and English communities, and a Hispanic community. This is the reality of Manhattan. Parish announcements have to written in English, Fujianese, and Spanish. Organizing a simple parish function can range from difficult to nearly impossible due to language and cultural disparity.

    Let’s recap: four different communities, two different facilities — and how many resident priests to serve them?— ONE — Fr Walter. CEO’s of major corporations don’t work that hard. How long can anyone work 24/7 under these conditions without making a single slip in judgement? A week? A month? As far as I know, Fr Walter hasn’t been declared a saint, so I guess bilocation is out of the question. He can’t be everywhere at the same time and has to trust people at some point. Probably the only misstep he took — yes that’s right ONLY misstep — was to trust someone under these circumstances who, unfortunately, failed him. Why has the Archdiocese abandoned St James and placed the burden on one man? After all, St James is a diocesan parish.

    Ok, so let’s witch hunt, without knowing the priest or the parish or “the staff” or how it happened. Let’s gaze into our crystal balls and tell everyone the priest is lying, “the staff” is lying, and someone should be fired. — THAT is egregious; THAT is a lie; and THAT is unkind. We follow the letter of the law and somehow manage to violate the heart of it.

    NO ONE likes what happened at St James. Fr Walter certainly doesn’t, I don’t, and neither does “the staff”.

  • I apologize for bringing this topic back up again, but I just found out what happened in my old parish and would like to add my comment.

    “Why has the Archdiocese abandoned St James and placed the burden on one man?” Fr.Corniel was a one man show in St. James Church prior to St. Joseph’s taking it over. Given the little resources that he had, he did an excellent job of keeping the parish running and the feeling of community within the parish. The Archdiocese should have left him there. I’m not sure how priests are relocated nor who decides, but why doesn’t the Archdiocese equally divide the number of priests amongst the parishes?

    Also, what some people above may or may not know is that St. James has a church hall. Why didn’t Fr. Walter rent that space out instead of the church? When I was an active parishioner in St. James, the church hall was rented out with rules and regulations. During the event, either the pastor would stop by to check how things were going, or he would send an active parishioner.

    With events of such grave severity, there’s always a lot of should have, could have, would have, what’s done is done, and it can’t be undone. Now is the time to rebuild the St. James parish and pray that we can all move on and get past this.

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