Several St. Mary's Catholic Church parishioners were moved to tears when their pastor, the Rev. Richard Mickey, read his resignation letter during Mass on Sunday.
Mickey submitted his official letter of resignation to the bishop of Memphis last week, effective Monday, but he shared the news with his parishioners for the first time on Sunday, according to parishioners who spoke with The Jackson Sun on Monday.
"People were literally stunned. It was a complete surprise," church member Patsy Turner said.Mickey cited personal reasons and a pending lawsuit alleging sexual abuse as reasons for his departure after nearly three years at the church, said the Rev. John Geaney, spokesman for the Diocese of Memphis. The diocese confirmed Monday that Mickey would not be doing any public ministry and would no longer reside in Jackson. Geaney did not offer any further information other than that Mickey's address is in Memphis.
"Because of the multiple diocesan responsibilities and also because of the case, he (Mickey) thought it was best for him to resign to attend to those issues," Geaney said. Mickey also pastored St. John's Catholic Church in Brownsville and St. Mary's Catholic School, a co-educational institution for students in grades K-8, in addition to St. Mary's Church.
Geaney said the Rev. Thomas Kirk, current pastor of St. Mary's in Savannah and Our Lady of the Lake Mission in Pickwick, will replace Mickey on Saturday.
Mickey could not be reached for comment Monday.
In the pending civil case, two brothers, Blain and Blair Chambers, said Mickey sexually abused them in 1980 when they were students at Bishop Byrne High School in Memphis. At that time, Mickey was working as a counselor at the school.
After the lawsuit was filed, Mickey was reassigned to administrative duties in Memphis, pending an internal investigation by the diocese. Later, Bishop J. Terry Steib decided the allegations against Mickey were not credible, and the bishop allowed Mickey to return to Jackson after he accepted a report from the Diocesan Review Board. The board's task is to advise the bishop in his assessment of allegations of sexual abuse of minors.
Members of Mickey's congregation expressed sorrow about his departure Monday and hope that he eventually will be vindicated in the court case. No trial date has been set, according to Geaney.
"We pray that he is innocent," St. Mary's church member Sara Jojola said.
"We're devastated," Jojola said of their pastor's departure. "It was so sudden. We hope we get to see him again."
Tom Lovell, a member of St. Mary's since 1997, said Mickey will be deeply missed.
"I regret that he's leaving. I feel that Father Mickey made a very positive contribution to our parish and our community," Lovell said. "It's a sad time for us, but we'll move forward, and we wish him the best."
Turner said Mickey had a special gift for homilies and liturgies.
"Bless his heart, he was such a wonderful homilist and liturgist," Turner said. And she said he beautified the church spiritually and aesthetically during his tenure. "The grounds never looked so good. He was a great caretaker," Turner said.
Ann Brentwood, Southeast coordinator of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said she hoped Mickey's resignation will take him out of active contact with children.
"I am relieved that he has removed himself, but I would hope that the diocese would alert other parishes where he's going that he's a priest with an active case that is yet to be resolved," Brentwood said in a telephone interview.
Mickey formerly pastored the Church of the Ascension in Memphis. He began serving St. Mary's and St. John's Catholic Church in Brownsville in June 2004, replacing the Rev. Jim McCarver, who took a leave of absence from St. Mary's.
New pastor Kirk is the dean, or priest leader, of the Jackson Deanery and has been assigned in the eastern area of the diocese since 2000. Prior to that, Kirk was pastor of St. Joseph in Memphis, Sacred Heart Church in Memphis and St. Therese in Memphis. In 1988, he was appointed rector of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, a post he held for eight years.
Kirk also has been a diocesan consultor and served on the Presbyteral Council from 1984 to 1989 and again from 2000 to 2005. Kirk is 63 and was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Durick on May 3, 1969. At the time he was ordained, Kirk was a priest of the Diocese of Nashville, and when Memphis became a diocese, was incardinated there.
"He's a wonderful priest. He's a prayerful man. He loves people. He's got a servant's heart. I think we'll love him immediately," Turner said of Kirk.
Sister Mary Evelyn Potts, O.P., principal of St. Mary's Catholic School, said on Monday that she had "enjoyed working with Father Mickey." Now, she said, "we're looking forward to working with the new pastor."
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- Wendy Isom, 425-978
Originally printed on August 22, 2006