The church, built on contributions by Vietnamese parishioners, survived Katrina. But now it appears the church may not survive the third pastor in its history.
Concern by the faithful over what happened to more than half a million dollars in parish funds led to a raucous meeting Sunday at a Vietnamese church in Biloxi, Miss., where police had to be called to keep things from boiling over, reports local TV station WLOX here.
Last October, Fr. Jimmy Pham arrived at the parish (pictured below at his installation, with the bishop). The Redemptorist priest, better known by his Vietnamese first name Bích, had been in Minneapolis before that.
Sometime after arriving, the priest found a contribution fund, worth $530,000, in a savings account under the parish name but is actually not controlled by the priest. The savings account was administered by a financial committee elected by the people.
So Fr. Pham disbanded the committee and had the half-million transferred to the parish account.
Parishioners also tried to find out what happened to profits from a recent festival. Instead of getting answers, they found the priest had changed the church locks.
That made people really mad. At a meeting Sunday, “shouts of anger rang through the house of worship,” reports WLOX.
With Biloxi police watching, Vietnamese Martyrs parishioners demanded Father Pham tell them what happened to more happened to $530,000.
Parishioner Siem Nguyen spoke through an interpreter. “We have a financial committee with the funds of the church. That has a responsibility. He (Fr. Pham) came in and within a short period of time, he’s removed the funds from one bank account to another bank account without consulting the financial council.”
The priest, however, has the backing of the diocese, which must be so happy to find the money under the mattress. Biloxi Diocese Bishop Roger Morin wrote a letter disbanding the parish financial council, and for good measure he disbanded the parish council as well.
Diocese spokesperson Shirley Henderson said the old way the church kept its money was not acceptable. “These parishioners put the parish money into secret accounts that the priest did not know about. When that was discovered, it was rectified. The priest is accountable for the parish moneys.”
So, what’s happening to the money? What’s happening to the profit from the festival?
None of your beeswax, says the diocese spokesperson. Or at least that’s how the Bolsavik reads her statement as reported by WLOX.
“Henderson says now only the priest and a Diocese official have the ability to access the account.”
The church has had only two previous priests in its history: Fr. Dominic Phan Đức Đổng, now retired; and Fr. Joseph Trịnh Quang Trường, now at Lumberton and Poplarville nearby. Fr. Dominic Phan was at the church during Katrina, and participated in the Mass that installed Fr. Pham.
Fr. Pham Jimmy Bích, despite his somewhat advanced age at 56, is a relatively new priest. He was ordained in 1996 in Carthage, Missouri as a member of the Congregation of Mary Co-Redemptorix, known as “Dòng Đồng Công” and is the site of the Marian Days festival. (The same one where Texas pilgrims died in the bus crash.) In 2001, Fr. Pham left the congregation and joined the Redemptorists.