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Immaculate Heart of Mary church members call for removal of priest

Several members of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church were part of a demonstration on...
Several members of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church were part of a demonstration on June 8 speaking out about their desire for Father Christopher Rhodes to be removed from the church.(WAVE 3 News)
Published: Jun. 8, 2021 at 11:05 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 8, 2021 at 11:12 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Several members of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church are requesting Father Christopher Rhodes be removed as its priest. Rhodes is assigned to three primarily Black Catholic churches in the West End — Saint Augustine, Christ the King, and Immaculate Heart of Mary.

On Tuesday, Immaculate Heart members told WAVE 3 News the church is being run by Rhodes with no input from the congregation. They also said several parish leaders had been removed.

“We are a West End poor Catholic African American Church,” a member of Immaculate Heart said. “We feel as if we have not been treated as if we are parishioners of a church we’ve attended for 67 years, and we have been faithful community people in our church and to the Diocese of Louisville. We expect better treatment and should have been given better treatment.”

Parishioners are calling for changes that include better financial oversight, compliance with guidelines and procedures, and inclusion in the long-range planning of the Archdiocese of Louisville.

They said attempts had been made to discuss concerns with Rhodes and the Archbishop of the Diocese of Louisville Joseph Kurtz but said conversations had been refused.

“You have put people in leadership positions that have no right to be there,” the church member said.

Cecelia Price, the chief communications officer for the Archdiocese of Louisville, told WAVE 3 News the diocese was unaware of the Immaculate Heart protest on Tuesday.

Price pointed out that despite the parishioners’ claims, Rhodes met with Father Jeff Shooner, who assists Archbishop Joseph Kurtz with pastor complaints. Additionally, Shooner met with several parish leaders and congregation members regarding complaints against Rhodes, and an audit for Immaculate Heart was conducted.

“Archbishop Kurtz met with Father Chris (Rhodes) and asked him to prepare a plan for addressing the concerns of parishioners and at that time, Father Chris expressed his commitment to leading the parishes,” Price said in a statement. “Archbishop Kurtz also responded to letters and emails he received from parishioners over the last two years.”

Price added that Rhodes still has a “strong desire” to lead Saint Augustine, Christ the King, and Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Read Price’s full statement below.

“We were not aware of the protest by Immaculate Heart of Mary parishioners at the Pastoral Center, and we typically do not comment on the details of internal parish or personnel issues.

Father Christopher Rhodes, ordained in 2012, is pastor of Saint Augustine, Christ the King, and Immaculate Heart of Mary Parishes in West Louisville. He was appointed pastor of these parishes in 2019.

Some parishioners from the three parishes have expressed concern about various issues, including governance, finances, and pastoral approaches.

The Vicar for Priests, Father Jeff Shooner, assists Archbishop Kurtz with pastor complaints. In 2019-2020, Father Shooner had meetings with parish leadership and Father Chris and individual meetings with Father Chris. He also made phone calls to several parishioners to discuss specific concerns and situations. A parish audit was conducted. Archbishop Kurtz met with Father Chris and asked him to prepare a plan for addressing the concerns of parishioners and at that time, Father Chris expressed his commitment to leading the parishes. Archbishop Kurtz also responded to letters and emails he received from parishioners over the last two years.

Father Chris continues to express his strong desire to serve these parishes well and has worked with Archbishop Kurtz and Vicar for Priests Father Jeffrey Shooner on a variety of issues related to the three parishes. At this time, Immaculate Heart of Mary is joining all of the West Louisville parishes in conducting a parish vitality initiative to build on the strengths of the parishes and develop goals and action steps to address parish vitality in the long and short term.”

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