Biloxi congregation: protests will go until Bishop hears our side - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Biloxi congregation: protests will go on until Bishop hears our side

By Danielle Thomas – bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Dozens of protesters stood outside a Biloxi church Sunday demanding to have their voices heard. Parishioners of Vietnamese Martyrs Catholic Church pledge the demonstrations will continue every week until they get a sit down meeting with the bishop.

The dispute centers around their priest and mutual funds estimated to be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Protestors said it's time Bishop Roger Morin heard from them first hand.

"We want the Bishop to listen to our side of the story also even if we have to sit in front of the priest and the council members," said parishioner Vivian Nguyen. "We'll be more than happy to sit in front of them and explain our side of the story so that he can also get the truth instead of listening to one side of the story. We're all Catholic, and we don't want to put Catholic down. But I think that's always been the downfall of the Catholic organization, just listening to one side of the story."

Father Jimmy Pham walked in silence on Sunday as parishioners shouted at him outside of Vietnamese Martyrs Catholic Church. The congregation claims he also said nothing when they repeatedly asked why he ended a church tradition of giving quarterly financial reports.

"We feel like we have the right to know what's going on with our church," said Nguyen. "When we sit down with him, instead of him giving us any kind of answer, he would give everybody a stone face. No reaction. No anything."

Last week, Biloxi police were called to the church after some parishioners became upset by an announcement that the bishop had dissolved the parish and financial councils. 

A spokesperson for the Biloxi Catholic Diocese told WLOX that church money was moved from secret accounts the congregation had that the priest didn't know about. Parishioners said that's not true.

Estimates among parishioners vary, but ousted parish council president Joseph Pham said the amount in dispute is about $400,000. Pham showed WLOX documentation for a mutual fund account under the parish's name. The account documents bear the signature of Father Jimmy Pham dated August 2009. Another document had the signature of a previous priest dated May 2009.

"There was no secret account. It was a separate account," Nguyen said. "Even if it was a separate account, it was all under the name of the church. We did not keep it for ourselves."

In Sunday's church bulletin, Bishop Roger Morin said, "Father Jimmy Pham has the responsibility to administer church funds for the needs of the people and the parish entrusted to him. It will be up to him to provide a financial report to the Diocese and parishioners."

He continued, "Please be generous in contributing to your parish with the assurance that your gifts are used faithfully for liturgy, ministry, education, charity, and parish building projects."

The bishop said in the bulletin that several bank accounts had been properly consolidated into one checking account, one savings account and a Certificate of Deposit. He assured the people that no monies were missing from the consolidation.

"These funds, a majority of which comprises savings for a future building program, belong to Vietnamese Martyrs Parish to be used according to the purposes for which they were given or raised. Any allegation that the pastor improperly handled parish funds or that the Diocese has taken them is unfounded."

Parishioners said they want the bishop to meet with them face to face.

"When we go up to him, he just ignores us," Nguyen said. "Or he'll play the game of, 'Oh, we'll get to it.' It's a good few months already and nothing has been resolved. They have not helped a penny in helping us build this church. We've been financially very stable in what we've done just based on us working so hard every day, every day collecting money. For them to just take over like that, it's just not right. It's just not fair. "

Parishioners said they don't know if they can every trust Father Pham again.

"We have given him so many opportunities to sit down and talk with us to resolve things. He refused. It has been so long, I'm not sure it can be mended with this present pastor," Parishioner Sabrina Hoang said.

"We're not going to follow a leader that's lying, not telling the truth," said Vivian Nguyen. "Imagine how many things they don't listen to and I think they know what we're talking about.  They choose to neglect and push everything under the rug. The Catholic Church has been doing that for centuries. It needs to stop."

Father Jimmy Pham became the church pastor last year. Parishioners said they are upset that  he will not allow visiting priests to come to the church for funerals or weddings.

Biloxi Catholic Diocese Spokesperson said there is not a meeting planned at this time but between the Bishop and parishioners, but some people have already met with other church officials.

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