Thomas Lyons virtually grew up in the Catholic Church. He attended Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Chicago through the fourth grade and served as an altar boy at St. Edward, where he also sang in the choir.
Lyons still attends mass at Church of St. Peter in North St. Paul and he has contributed money to the many good charitable efforts of his parish and the church at large.
But after a string of allegations and subsequent resignations by some of the top officials of the archdiocese, Lyons is done giving.
“I used to contribute to the archbishop’s appeal,” said Lyons, a Vadnais Heights attorney. “But now I don’t want [Archbishop John Nienstedt] to have access to any of my money.”
Given his long-held faith, Lyons may be an unlikely church rebel. Like a lot of church members, however, he’s concerned that the archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis is not handling the crisis over allegations of priest abuse openly, and he doesn’t want his money used for damage control.
Lyons made the news last week when he took the dramatic step of starting a petition on change.org calling for Nienstedt to resign for the good of the church. As of Tuesday, it had 188 signatures.
These are tough times for many Twin Cities Catholics. They are facing a new wave of allegations of priest sexual abuse and accusations that some Catholic leaders ignored warnings. The scandal has prompted Nienstedt’s vicar general, the Rev. Peter Laird, to resign, along with two University of St. Thomas board members, former Archbishop Harry Flynn and the Rev. Kevin McDonough.
“I worshiped the priests who served us as a kid,” said Lyons, who thinks many of the good ones are being tarnished by a continuing failure to open up the vaults and fully investigate all allegations.
A few of those priests have also called for Nienstedt to resign, including Lyons’ own priest, the Rev. Bill Deziel (though Lyons says Deziel seemed to back off in his Sunday homily).
Meanwhile, another St. Paul priest, the Rev. Stephen O’Gara, said in his Sunday homily that “this is a big deal. It’s the first time, I must say, in 69 years that I’m embarrassed to be Catholic,” Minnesota Public Radio reported.
Lyons’ petition seeks to engage lay people like himself, using Pope Francis’ own standards as ammunition.
“The pope has warned the church hierarchy of its corrupting ‘worldliness,’” Lyons said. “He claims that those in power have shown vanity, arrogance and pride as signs of such corruption. Those who can’t accept that challenge from the pope need to step down.”
Lyons said he was especially upset by allegations that McDonough didn’t respond quickly to allegations because he admired the priest, who performed memorial services for one of Lyons’ sons.
“When these people get into the hierarchy, they change,” said Lyons. “They start protecting the church instead of the members. They act like princes and want to be treated like princes.”
Lyons dismisses the archdiocese’s admissions that “mistakes were made.”
“[Nienstedt] made the mistakes,” said Lyons.
Yet, Lyons said he will continue to attend mass, regardless of whether further action is taken in the archdiocese to fix what he calls “the scourge of worldliness.”
“My dad always said, ‘don’t confuse the message with the messenger,’ ” said Lyons. “If you are faithful you have to listen to the word of God. But you don’t have to listen to someone who is incompetent.”