BRIDGEPORT—Bishop Caggiano met with the leaders of St. Charles Parish this afternoon to discuss circumstances surrounding the resignation of their former pastor, Fr. Frank Gomez, and ways the parish might move forward in the future.
In a candid and informal exchange that lasted an hour and a half, the bishop fielded questions from 20 parish leaders who gathered in the conference room of the Urban Retreat Center on parish grounds.
Parishioners thanked the bishop for meeting with them, shared their concerns and sadness over the loss of their pastor and their hopes going forward.
The diocese announced the resignation of Fr. Gomez from the priesthood on August 24 after he made the decision to discontinue evaluation and treatment at the healthcare center he had entered at the bishop’s request.
At the end of July the bishop asked Fr. Gomez to step aside from ministry and seek help when a few parents came forward to express concerns about his violation of diocesan Safe Environments policies relating to minors.
The bishop emphasized that there have been no allegations of child abuse and that the parents who shared their concerns also respected and cared for Fr. Gomez.
“The people who came forward deserve our thanks. They did not come forward to hurt him,” the bishop said.
Diocesan Safe Environment policies encourage people to report any potential concerns or warning signs of inappropriate behavior or possible abuse.
In a detailed letter issued to the diocese on August 24, the bishop explained that Fr. Gomez had texted and given gifts to minors without parental permission.
Erin Neil, Diocese Director of Safe Environments, told parishioners that the diocese has a “rule of two” related to online texting and meeting with minors. Two adults must always be present when meeting in person and parents should be copied on any texts or emails to minors.
She said that the Safe Environment handbook and regulations are posted on the diocesan website (www.bridgeportdiocese.org)
Parishioners said they were grateful to their former pastor for the work he did to revive the parish and for his personal ministry to them.
“People are angry. I understand that,” the bishop said. “The loss of a pastor this way is a wound to the parish and to the Church.”
When asked about the diocesan plans moving forward, the bishop said, “We have to talk about it together and work on a vision for the parish. The rebirth doesn’t have to end. This should not be a moment of discouragement. We are the People of God, and we will move forward.”
The bishop said he would return to the parish at the end of October to meet with young people and their parents.
Msgr. Christopher Walsh, who is serving as temporary administrator of the parish, is fluent in Spanish, said the closing prayer at the meeting.
St. Charles Parish, located on East Main Street, is the largest parish in Bridgeport with more than 3,000 registered parishioners. It offers Masses in English, Portuguese, Spanish and Creole to serve its diverse community.