Vietnamese Church Members Protest Priest - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

04/12/04

Vietnamese Church Members Protest Priest

An apparent long running feud between a few Vietnamese families and their priest, took a very visible turn Monday.

About 15 protesters carried signs outside the Catholic Diocese office on Popps Ferry Road, demanding that their parish priest be replaced. They question Father Dominic Phan's leadership and his handling of church finances.

Protesters say they've lost confidence in their priest. They say he's neglecting religious duties and has a gambling problem.

Father Dominic Phan says the allegations are untrue and are the result of a few unhappy church members trying to ruin his good name.

Protesters carried picket signs with provocative messages outside the Catholic Diocese of Biloxi Monday morning. They called the public demonstration a last resort.

Dien Nguyen is the translator for the group.

"These people have been frustrated. They have been putting up with this priest for the past 15 to 18 years. They're very frustrated," he said.

They claim their priest focuses too much on money matters, like a 150 dollar "membership fee" at the Vietnamese Martyrs Church, a fee that has since been dropped.

The demonstrators also say Father Dominic Phan has a gambling problem. They produced letters sent to Bishop Thomas Rodi and his predecessor Bishop Joseph Howze, outlining their concerns.

"His gambling has been a problem. It has been. It's not believed. It has been a problem," said Nguyen.

Father Phan says the concerns voiced by the protesters are the result of a long running feud involving just two or three families. He says their allegations are unfounded and he has the support of the vast majority of the 280 families who attend his church.

"We want all people, parish members, to cooperate with us, to support the church. But when we request them, they don't listen to. They give nothing. And that's the reason they don't like our way," the priest explained.

Father Phan says church money matters are handled by a financial committee, with appropriate accountability. As for the gambling, he denies he has a gambling problem.

"I don't have any problem. They just want to aggravate. They want to make a big thing, when they react," he said.

Bishop Thomas Rodi is out of town on retreat and could not be reached for comment.  However, the Catholic Diocese of Biloxi did release a statement.  Spokeswoman, Shirley Henderson, says Bishop Rodi did meet with a representative of the demonstrators last week to discuss their concerns.

The statement from the diocese says, "Bishop Rodi has met twice with the members of the Vietnamese community that wish to express concerns. Nothing illegal was alleged. Rather, all the complaints had to do with the leadership of the pastor. Sadly, although the concerns were addressed, this did not satisfy everyone. And we pray that a spirit of Christian unity, of Christian charity will prevail in this situation."

By Steve Phillips

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