Fr. Michael Briese, a Maryland priest who allegedly told a mourning family to "get the hell out" of his church and canceled a funeral after someone accidentally knocked over a sacred chalice near the altar, is now asking for forgiveness from the family after a video of the incident made international headlines.
"Before the start of a funeral mass on June 27, one of the guests in the church damaged a sacred chalice used for the mass. The sight of that accident made my frustration boil over. My anger spilled out in a torrent. I uttered words I never use, and treated people I have lived with and committed my life to serve in an unacceptable manner. Instead of care and compassion for the grieving family and friends, my focus turned to anger," Briese who leads the Saint Mary Catholic Church in Charlotte Hall, wrote in a letter to the editor of The Enterprise on Thursday.
"The man who canceled this family's funeral and dispatched them in anger, is not the man who hours before worked to minister to their needs in a time of grief. Instead of lifting them up, I let them down. For the anger and embarrassment I caused to that family, I am profoundly sorry," he wrote.
That day, hundreds of mourners had showed up at Saint Mary to say farewell to the late 54-year-old Agnes Hicks whose body rested in an open casket nearby. Hicks' family told Fox 5 that she was baptized at the church as a young girl and had expressed a desire to have her funeral there.
Briese's outburst left her family in shock and feeling unwelcome by the church Hicks loved so much.
"This was uncalled for and it really hurt me. It really did. To see your loved one come there to rest and to be shut down like that," Larry Hicks, the brother of Agnes Hicks, told Fox 5.
"He literally got on the mic and said, 'there will be no funeral, there will be no mass, no repass, everyone get the hell out of my church,'" Shanice Chisely, Hicks' daughter, recalled. "He disrespected our family, he disrespected my mother. He called my mother 'a thing.' He said, 'get this thing out of my church! Everyone get the hell out of my church!' It was very sad. I've never seen anything like that before."
Renetta Baker, another of Hicks' daughters, said Briese dismissed her mother as a "thing."
"Bad enough we had to bury our own mother yesterday but for you to say she's a 'thing' and there will be no funeral. You're not a preacher. You're not a pastor. You're not a father of the Lord. You're not any of that. You're the devil," Baker said.
When officers arrived on the scene of the incident they determined the family had not committed a crime and took them to a funeral home in a different county where another pastor performed Hicks' funeral rites.
In his public apology, Briese said he is aware that some people might not want to hear what he had to say after how he treated the grieving family and he is willing to accept that as a consequence of his actions.
"Some might dismiss these words, given the tenor of the words I uttered before the funeral that was to take place on Wednesday. That is a just part of the consequence I will bear for my behavior. Like all human beings, I, too, am broken in nature, make mistakes and, yes, I fail. My life has been, is now, and prayerfully will always be, a life in which my daily words and deeds exemplify the Gospel message," he said.
"My most recent actions do not reflect who I am as a priest. I have spent much of my life working to lessen the challenges and ease the burden of people whose lives are heavy with struggles. I understand that my recent actions have now added a burden to their lives — a sad consequence that I must confront and for which I take responsibility," he added.
The Archdiocese of Washington also issued an apology to the family, saying: "What occurred at St. Mary's Parish ... does not reflect the Catholic Church's fundamental calling to respect and uplift the God-given dignity of every person nor does that incident represent the pastoral approach the priests of the Archdiocese of Washington commit to undertake every day in their ministry."
Last month, another Catholic priest, Fr. Jacques Lacroix, 89, of France, sparked international outrage with his anger when he was caught on video slapping a baby in the face because he wouldn't stop crying during a baptism ceremony.