Parishioners, Bishop dig in heels on priest controversy

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - By Danielle Thomas – bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Protests, fighting, and now allegations of racial discrimination. Controversy continues surrounding the priest at Vietnamese Martyrs Catholic Church in Biloxi. On Thursday, some parishioners took their cries to have Father Jimmy Pham removed right to the Bishop's doorstep by protesting at the Biloxi Diocese's headquarters.

The protesters say they're not the ones stirring up trouble. Although months ago Bishop Roger Morin said there was no proof of embezzlement at the church, two recent articles printed in a Vietnamese-language newspaper accuse parishioners of stealing money. The parishioners say they believe Father Jimmy Pham is behind the articles.

"A lot of things that he said are not true. A lot of things that he's done are not right, and we just want the Bishop to do something about it," said parishioner Hoa Bui. "We want him to remove Father Jimmy from the church. "

In a letter to the parish, Bishop Roger Morin said, "Protest demonstrations staged for media attention will not alter my support of Father Jimmy Pham as he strives to carry out priestly ministry at Vietnamese Martyrs Parish. "

"Father Jimmy is not the source of recent disturbances and acrimony. This good priest will continue to serve as Pastor even though there are those few dissenters who attempt to disparage his efforts."

The Bishop also addressed a fist fight that broke out at the church a few weeks ago where one person was arrested.

"I was particularly appalled by the actions of the eleven men who came into Vietnamese Martyrs Church on September 19th to confront and physically assault Father Jimmy. The behavior of a few angry, belligerent and disrespectful individuals brings embarrassment to this parish community."

Protestors say tensions are high in part because  repeatedly requests for a meeting to discuss church finances that go ignored. They say they feel they're being treated unfairly.

Parishioner Joseph Bui said, "I think the Biloxi Diocese more like discrimination. We are Vietnamese and the Bishop just try to ignore us. He hides everything behind the Diocese for Father Jimmy."

"In my opinion, I think because we are Asian. Vietnamese," said Hua Bui. "I think if this happened in American community, I think he would take action faster."

These parishioners say they will not follow a priest they don't trust.

"As long as he's there, we're not coming back to the church. We want the Bishop to know this," Hua Bui said. "Our next step if he not do anything about what's going on right now, I think there will be something happen in our community and that's what I do not want to see."

Another protest is planned for Friday and the parishioners say they will continue until Father Jimmy Pham is removed. The congregation is also looking into making an appeal to the Archbishop.

Diocese spokesperson Shirley Henderson said Bishop Morin has worked for social justice for decades and to discriminate based on race goes against his character. She said any such claims are ridiculous.

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