Gaylord Diocesan Watch has been informed of a possible scandal involving Fr. Michael Conner, pastor of St. Augustine Church in Hillman, MI. Reports from concerned faithful indicate that a woman is living at the rectory. In addition to this allegation, she has been assuming a paraliturgical and managerial role. She is apparently in charge of preparing the altar for mass and has been acting as the Coronavirus response person for the parish. This has caused significant concern for at least some members of this parish.
Fr. Conner has a history of inappropriate social interactions, as similar concerns were raised years ago when Fr. Conner was pastor at St. Mary Church in Hannah, MI. At that time, Msgr. Francis Murphy (now deceased), the acting administrator of the Diocese immediately prior to Bishop Raica, spoke to Fr. Conner and instructed him to amend his public conduct.
Gaylord Diocesan Watch sent an Email to the local vicar on October 9. On October 12, Gaylord Diocesan Watch sent an Email to Bishop Hurley. On October 13, Fr. Conner replied and stated that he would like to meet with Gaylord Diocesan Watch representatives. We replied that we would be happy to do so and offered some options for meeting with Fr. Conner.
However, Gaylord Diocesan Watch then received the following response from Bishop Hurley (any misspellings are as per the original letter) the next day:
I write to acknowledge your recent communication regarding certain allegations you reported regarding Father Michael Conner and his administration of the parishes that have been entrusted to his care. It should be noted that the diocese to this point has received no reports from those parishes of the various matters to which you refer. That does not imply that the concerns are not valid but that the concerns of parishioners have not been brought forward by parishioners themselves.
It is the responsibility of the Bishop to investigate these allegations in accord with the provisions of canon law (C. 1339, 1341, etc.). I have already begun to undertake and fulfill that responsibility. I met with Father Connor and discussed these matters with him and indicated that there is no reason he or the local vicar should meet with you and representatives of the “Gaylord Watch” as you had requested. It would serve no useful purpose since addressing these matters properly belongs to the Bishop in addressing issues involving clergy and the parishes of the diocese.
I am grateful that you have brought these matters to my attention so they can be addressed in a manner respectful of all involved and in full accord with church law.
In previous times, a letter from a bishop would suffice in settling an issue such as this. However, the concerns of faithful regarding the behavior of Fr. Conner cannot be considered to have been addressed. It should be noted that Bishop Hurley was in charge of the priestly misconduct board for the Archdiocese of Detroit when the then Fr. Gerald Shirilla, a known multiple abuser pedophile, was transferred from the Archdiocese of Detroit to the Gaylord Diocese. Were it not for the national abuse scandal blowing wide open in 2002, leading to Shirilla being dumped by the Diocese, who knows how many boys would have been abused? This is just one example of the failed actions, and possible complicity, that Bishop Hurley has perpetrated in the past with regard to priests for which he has been responsible. The clergy of this Diocese, including Bishop Hurley, should be well aware that the days of blindly accepting a closed door discussion doesn’t cut it with the faithful. We have been dismissed, deceived, and outright lied to more than enough times. When the Diocese wants our money, our children as altar servers, and our faithful as volunteers, a measure of transparency and accountability must be present. At this time, as the above letter clearly shows, it is not.
Now back to the beginning – is there a scandal brewing in Hillman?
Parishioners with concerns should send certified letters to Bishop Hurley with a copy to the Papal Nuncio. We want to do what the Bishop wants with regard to this issue:
Bishop Walter Hurley
Diocese of Gaylord
611 West North Street
Gaylord, MI 49735
Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Papal Nuncio
3339 Massachusetts Ave NW
Washington, DC 20008-3610