Parishioners say priest conflict leads to fist fight in church

By Danielle Thomas – bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) -A house of God is a house divided. Church members at the Vietnamese Martyrs Catholic Church said tensions are so high the situation has turned violent. Biloxi police said one person was arrested after a fight broke out at last Sunday at the church. A week later, some church members staged a protest to urge the Biloxi Diocese to oust a priest they said is divisive.

Some members of the Vietnamese Martyrs Catholic Church said they've had enough of Father Jimmy Pham. They said after repeated verbal and written requests for a meeting to discuss church finances, they sent the priest a letter.

A portion of the letter read, "Our patience is limited. If any unfortunate things happen, it is not my intention."

When the priest announced in church two weeks ago that he'd been threatened, church members said they met with him privately to clear up the misunderstanding.

"He said 'You know I apologize for looking at it that way,'"said Vivian Nguyen, parishioner. "So last week the man was trying to get him to apologize in church like he had announced in church the wrongdoing of everybody threatening him. That's when the chaos rally up last week."

There have been protests over the priest before. However, during Sunday's march Biloxi police stood close watch. Church members said officers have made other trips to the church lately. One was after bank statements with member's personal information, including Social Security numbers, were posted in the church for anyone to see.

Nguyen said, "Police had arrived because someone had called concerning that was their Social Security on there and everything like that. The priest had said, 'You know what the Bishop has allowed us to do that. What kind of Bishop is allowing people's financial information to get out there with all the frauds that's going on right now?"

Those same bank statements are published in the September issue of Little Saigon News, a national Vietnamese-language newspaper. Church members said the article alleges that when the congregation bought a truck for the church a few years ago, members paid $9,000 and pocketed $9,000. However, parishioners showed WLOX a bill of sale proving the truck was bought for $18,000.

"He is an instigator and that's why we want to get rid of him," said Nguyen. "He is causing both sides of the church right now that worked in harmony back then to get into fights."

Parishioners said the people of the church are taking sides and they're saddened.

"It's very wrong. True. It's very wrong," said Nguyen. "But they're sick and tired. We still believe in the Catholic Church. We believe in God and Jesus but it's the people that's running the Diocese right now. I'm sorry. We lost faith. I hate to say that but we lost faith."

WLOX was unable to reach the spokesperson for the Biloxi Catholic Diocese for comment on Sunday. Parishioners said if their concerns are not addressed they will protest at the Diocese headquarters on Thursday.

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