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Santa Barbara Priest Removed from Parish After Sermon About Catholic Church Sexual Abuse

Father Juan Carlos Gavancho headshot.

A young priest was expelled from his California parish last week after he gave a heartfelt sermon on the sexual abuse scandal currently rocking the Catholic Church.

In a statement on his Facebook page, Father Juan Carlos Gavancho said that he was given a laundry list of mostly petty reasons for his dismissal but believed the real reason was his homily.

Gavancho, who was the assistant pastor at Our Lady of Sorrows in Santa Barbara, preached a powerful and resolute homily about standing up for the faith in the face of the evil infecting the church on August 26, one day after Archbishop Carlo Viganò's bombshell 11-page letter was published.

Partial transcript via Rod Dreher at the American Conservative:

The evil has found in the Church a hold. And it is natural for people to believe that there is nothing else to do in the Catholic Church. Maybe many are thinking of leaving the Church. After the terrible experience of 2002, with the abuses, many people left the Church. Now, another opportunity, many people are going to leave. I hope they don’t do, I tell them that they need to stay, that this is the Church of Christ. But if they do, believe me, I understand. Because it is very bad what we have allowed to take place in the Catholic Church in the world. Because this is not only America. In the world! Everywhere! Chile. Ireland. Australia. Everywhere.

If you are Catholic, and you love the Catholic Church, you cannot just say, “Well, let’s pray, let’s offer a couple of rosaries, and we’ll see what happens.” You cannot do that. You have to pray, but pray for truth. You need to pray so God can act. He has begun to act. Who may think that yesterday, that a former Vatican ambassador from the Holy See to the United States was going to write 10, 11 pages letter saying this — asking for the resignation of a pope?! Who may think that? If you had told me that yesterday morning, I wouldn’t have believed you. But that’s what happened.

So, what are we doing now? Where are we going from here? First of all, we must understand one thing. This Church, the Catholic Church, is the Church of Christ. It is the Bride of Christ. St. Paul is right when he said in the letter to the Ephesians, “He has cleansed the Church with His Cross, with His blood.” She is beautiful. We have betrayed her. This is not an abusive church. This is a holy church that has fallen into the hands of abusive, evil men, who are trying to destroy the Church from within, since they couldn’t do it from the outside throughout the centuries.

But you must be aware that Christ is in charge of the church. He is in charge. Sometimes on days like this, we may not see him. We may not feel him. And we may cry out like we did at the beginning of the mass, “Please, Lord, help us! Have mercy on us!” But he’s in charge, and he will bring justice. He’s already begun to do that. These things I have told you are just the beginning. Just the beginning. Many bad things are going to happen, and we need to be glad, because nothing is better than the truth. To know what is happening, even though it may be ugly, it may be painful, to know it is very good. So, Christ is in charge.

Second, pray. Do sacrifices. Pray the rosary. Come closer to the Lord. Ask the Lord to be part of his flock. Because you will see many wearing cassocks like this, or chasubles like this, many preaching from the pulpits. They are traitors. So you need to have something that in the Catholic Church is called discernment: the capacity to know where is God and where is not. Regardless of it seems like God is here or it seems like God is there. No, no — now you need real discernment, because the Devil has clothed his children with shepherd’s clothing, to make it more difficult to recognize him.

You need to pray for discernment, to pray for the Church, to pray for you, for your children. To pray for your priests, especially for so many bishops who are good, still, and priests who are good, faithful. Who have suffered greatly all these decades, and all these years, being moved from one parish to another because they were preaching the truth, and the pastor or the bishop didn’t like that, so they moved to another place, and another place, living a life of great suffering — they are there. And it’s not fun. It is difficult. You cry a lot, because you feel lonely. Forgotten. Despised. Only because you wanted to be faithful to Christ, but your speech, and your homilies didn’t fit with the ideas of these people who wanted to destroy the Church, and who wanted you to say nice things to the people. Don’t make waves. Just go along with everything. Don’t make people nervous. Just, you know, speak about general things, so people are not aware of what’s going on.

So my dear brothers and sisters, then we must act, which is part of a process of conversion. You must act. Bishop Fulton Sheen, one of the greatest bishops that America has ever had … said that: “Do not look for change in bishops and priests.” Do not. He was talking to you. The change in the Church … will come through you laity. When you don’t give up, and tell your pastor and your priest and your bishop: “Tell us the truth! Stop being just nice, and smiling to us, and preach the Gospel to us! We want to live a holy life, not the life that the world lives. Tell us the truth, and we will help you to sustain the Church with our money and other things. But you, you need to do your mission, you need to do your job, which is helping us to get to heaven. To be saved. To give us the Sacrament, to love Jesus, and not just to be politically correct. That’s not the Gospel.

But that’s the temptation that you laity have fallen into. … Speak out! Do you want the Gospel? Do you want Christ? Do you want heaven? Do you want the truth? Or do you just want what we find everywhere in the world, which is what we really want to hear, what is pleasing to our ears. Demand change in the Church. It’s not going to be enough, just adding a couple of policies to this taking care of the children. It’s not going to be enough just to see three, four, or five cardinals resigning, and ten bishops resigning — it’s not going to be enough. We need to see real change. We need to go back to be faithful to Christ, to Our Lord Christ, not the world. We are here to change the world, not the world to change us. We are the light of the world; we are not equal with the world. We have Christ. We have the truth. The world is helpless. The prince of the world is the Evil One, and we are hear to fight against him.

Now, what I’m saying might sound very hard for you, and I have to say I’m sorry, but I had to say it. Because I’m sick and tired of seeing my mother the Church being insulted and portrayed as an institution of criminals. Because it’s not. It’s my mother, it’s your mother! The one who gave you eternal life through baptism, who gave you the courage through confirmation, who gives you the Eucharist every Sunday you come. She’s our mother, and we need to help her in these dreadful times. So my dear brothers and sisters again, I have to say this because I am priest of Christ. Many people don’t say that, and I was afraid to say something like that. There are more things I want to say, but I don’t say it because I want to be here next week.

[Applause]

But I need to say this, and I ask the Lord’s pardon, because I’m a coward too. Sometimes I don’t say what I should say, because sometimes I’m more concerned about my position. Pray for me too so I may be a saint. But suffering is hard, it’s tough, you don’t want to suffer. Pray, my fellow Catholics, in these dreadful times. Demand from your leaders the truth — only then everything will be fine. With Jesus! Not with cardinals, not with popes. These are human beings. Some are wonderful, some are bad. Only with Christ. Only by doing his will. Only by staying next to him faithfully, everything will be fine. And I tell you this: everything will be fine. The Church of Christ cannot be destroyed through anybody, not for the Devil. They will not destroy the Church, but they will take some members of the Church away — yes, that he can do. And we pray that none of us will be one of them. So my dear brothers and sisters, may the Lord help us in these dreadful times to have courage. I have my hope in God, and in you, the laity. You will save the Church.

Audio of the entire homily is below. The most intense part starts at around 10:00.

Two days after his fiery sermon, Gavancho says he was called in to meet with Father Cesar Magañon, the pastor at Our Lady of Sorrows, and was summarily dismissed. According to Gavancho's Facebook statement, Fr. Magañon told him he was finished at Our Lady of Sorrows Parish, and to hand over the keys to the parish, the car, and the house. Gavancho said he was given one hour to pack his bags with clothing for a week. He has been living in a hotel ever since, apparently at the Archdiocese of Los Angeles' expense. Gavancho reportedly has no insurance, no salary, and no severance pay.

Here is where it gets complicated. According to a statement at the Our Lady of Sorrows Parish website, Fr. Gavancho was not asked to leave because of his homily:

Father Juan Carlos Gavancho, a priest originally from the Archdiocese of Chicago who had been serving at Our Lady of Sorrows parish in Santa Barbara since early July, was asked to leave that assignment on August 29 and will no longer be serving in our parish or in the Archdiocese.  Contrary to rumors and reports, Father Gavancho was asked to leave not due to the content of his homily on Sunday August 26, but rather because of issues with his interpersonal relationships with parish staff and parishioners. The Archdiocese is providing financial assistance during his transition back to the Archdiocese of Chicago, his home diocese.

Moreover, according to Dreher, several highly credible individuals have come forward to say that Fr. Gavancho could be hard to get along with. A "solid" priest said that Fr. Gavancho "has a hard time getting along with people, even those who want to help him."

Another credible informed source from one of Gavancho’s former dioceses said that "Gavancho does give solid homilies, but that he was bad with money, and difficult to get along with -- even alienating priests and laymen who supported his theological convictions."

(In my experience, priests with orthodox beliefs often have difficulty "fitting in" American parishes these days because congregations tend to be more used to liberal, easygoing priests.)

Whatever the case, it doesn't excuse the rather abrupt and harsh nature of his dismissal. As we keep hearing in the news, priests who have been guilty of much worse have not only been allowed to remain at their parishes for years, they've been promoted in the church to become bishops and cardinals. But perhaps they were more pastorally pleasing.

Father Gavancho now has a GoFundMe.

Gavancho claims in his Facebook statement that "if someone would have told me a week ago that I will be in this situation I would have not believed it."

Here is the bulk of Father Gavancho's Facebook statement, typos included. (English is not his first language):

On Tuesday August 28, Father Cesar Magallon, Pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows in Santa Barbara, texted me saying that he wanted to meet with me at 6:00 p.m. In the meeting there was a deacon as a witness. Father Cesar read from a piece of paper more or less the folling: “Father, this meeting is for you. Tomorrow in your meeting with the vicar for priests, they will let you know the reasons for this. Beginning now you are not to have any ministry in Our Lady of Sorrows Parish, please give me now the keys of the parish, the car, and the house, and everything that belongs to the Parish. You have now to go to your room pack a suitcase and take clothing for a week, you have a hour. We will hire a Moving Company, they will pack the rest of your things and they will be delivered to you to an adress that you can priovide us. This is all.” I did not ask any question because he told me in the beggining that he will not say the reasons. So I went up to my room and tried to staff my car with as many things as I could. I also took some impoprtant things from my office. Father Cesar was all the time watching me, probably making sure I leave. I left the Rectory totally ignorant of the reason and shocked for what just happened.

The following day, I went to the Archidiocese and met with the Vicar for Clergy, they informed me the following: “Father we are sorry, but things did not work out, so we already talk to the vicar for priests in Chicago, you need to go back, here is the letter that says that you have ended you ministry here in Los Angeles and therefore your faculties here are being withdraw.” I asked: “May I know why?” he said: “Cesar did not tell you? nobody called you?” I said: ‘No’. So he went into his office and came back with sheet of paper with some points, maybe three pages or so, and begin to enumerate several points. I will not waist time to mention them because they all were about so little things, some were true but exagerated, some were totally false. The last item written by Father Cesar in the list was the homily, about which the Vicard read: “I was in the rectory listening through the speakers in my room and he said the all priests are demons and that we should not look for the bishops for change, etc” Then he said: “Well father sorry but it did not work out” I said “just one question: do you think throwing me out of the rectory without any chance to collect my personal things was the best way to do this?” He said: “I would have done it diferently but what can we do? it is done.” I left.

It is clear that the reason that Father Cesar had to through me out in this way was not only the homily. It was also, I believe, the awareness he had from the beginning of the kind of priest I am, very different from him. He wanted me out and only was waiting for a bigger excuse, which was the homily. All the reasons in that paper are just excuses, the real reason, was the homily and what it represented. Indeed, on Sunday 26th, I delieved the homily, Monday he met with the Vicar for Clergy, I do not know if by phone or in person, then I received a phone call that very day about meeting with the vicar for priest, and then the next day, Tuesday, I was kicked out like a criminal. The way this was done, independetly of if he has reasons or not to do it, is just unnaceptable. No human being, priest or no priest, should be treated like that in the Church of Christ. But this only shows the hatred some liberal people have toward ortodoxy. It does not matter if one is obidient and nice, you have to believe what they believe and you have to hate what they hate. Some priests are good and orthodox but they have the gift of knowing how to be politically correct. I can be nice, tolerant, pleasant and polite, but I must confess, I am incapable of being politically correct.

I want to be very clear. I NEVER EVER had any kind of problem or argument or difficulty with any of the staff members. I treated them always with respect and love. They are good people as far as I know, they also, all of them, treated me with respect and charity, they are my witnesses, and I hope when they are asked, they choose to be faithful to the truth, even by risking their jobs. To them I am so greatful and I want them to know that I appreciate what they did for me in different ways, while I was there with them.

I also want to be clear about the following: I obeyed Father Cesar in everything he instructed me to do. He prefered to communicate with me through texts and emails. I asnwered them always and when he told me that I was not doing something right, I alwsys apologized and tell him that I will correct it inmediatelly. Some were things I desagree with. I wanted to wear cassock, and be available for confession during Mass, etc. I wanted to do that, but I did not do it because I obeyed him, always with respect and without arguing. Did I made mistakes? Sure I did, small ones but always apologized for them and try to do better. I asked him a couple of times: “How are we doing Cesar?” He told me “you are doing well, you are implementing my indications and that is good.” I said: “Please feel free to let me know what else can I change.” I have texts and emails that corroborates that. About the issues in that list that Father Cesar wrote, many of them I learned them right there for the first time.

About those people who very quikly called or wrote in the American Conservative Blog about my past assigments I have to say this. I did not come from heaven although I want to go there. I am a human being I have a history and I live in this world and in this Church and in this especific time. Yes, I have had my failures, I have learned from them. Sometimes I do not smile enough, sometimes I am tired or I may have not responded as nice as I should have to some people. Yes, that can be possible, because I am a human being, we all have people in our past who can say bad things about us. If I have offernded anyone some how in my past asigments, I apologize. But people need to understand that in a life of a priest in the context of the Church today it is impossible to please everyone. I found people who are liberal minded and just by knowing that I stand by the teachings of the Church, they hated me. With other who do believe in the teachings of the Church I may have had my differences in other issues and I probably could have done better with them. That does not make me a bad priest. What I can say is that I was never unpropose mean or unmerciful with anyone. I have many people in those same parishes that did appreciate me and love me and even today we are still united by a deep friednship. A priest is a teacher, some people like you, some do not, that is called life. I could be better? yes, I am not saint, but I want to be. My dissmissal from Our Lady of Sorrows does not have anything to do with relationships problems, but it has everything to do with my homily and my being a faithful catholic priest.

I do not have any intention to attack the Church. I will prefer to die before doing such a thing. As I said in my homily, “the Church is my Mother”, I love her and I would die for her. I thank the Archidiocese of los Angeles, Bishop Barron especially who was my Rector and my teacher, and an excelent one in Mudelein Seminary. However I do feel that the way things were handled were not right. I thank the Archidioces for offering me, after the people protested, to pay for two weeks hotel, I am in a motel that is enough for me. They did not have to do that because this is not my Archidiocese, but they did it and I am greatful. Having said that, we cannot treat people like I was treated in Our Lady of Sorrows and respond with burocracy and cold political and legal staments like nothing happened. It is easier to change the focus and just say: “It is not his sermon, he is just a troublemaker.” It was the homily and they know it. We are the Church of Christ we believe you are bishops and priests of God Almighty, be for us just that, sheperds, fathers, not diplomats or politicians. Be Christ for us.

The situation in the Church is a critical one. I stand by my words in my sermon: “A great change is needed” My brothers faithful priests acrosss the US and througout the whole world know very well of the suffering and pain that we undergo in the Church today, how we are silenced, sensured, set aside, persecuted because we want to preach the truth, of wear casick, or embrace tradition, they know. Some of them choose to remain quite, precisely because they do not want to go through what I am going now. I do not blame them I myslef do not want to be in the place where I am right now. This suffering is not absent, not even if a priest who is working under a bishop with resputation of being conservative; many times some of them are pressured by the situation and are forced by some people to play politics and to be willing to sacrifice one or two solid and good priests for the sake of being percieve as more moderate bishops. But I firmly believe, as God is my witness, especially in this particular case in Our Lady of Sorrows, that I did nothing to deserve bein treated like that. But I believe, God has allowed this to happen for two reasons. To purify my heart and make it like his, and on the other hand, to be a witness to his love in the Church in this specific context, like the one we are going through.

I beg all of you, pray for me as I am going through this calvary. Your prayers are suistaining me, I can feel them. Now I need discernment and wisdon to know where God wants me go. Wherever it is, pray that I may have the courage to: “Carry my cross and follow him” (Mt 16,24). May God bless his Church and may allow us to remain in her bosson, the only place where salvation can be found.