By Frances Gumley Catholics in Cromer, Norfolk, are deeply upset because Fr Francis Hacon, their new parish priest, has put a ban on many of the new liturgy reforms, and they are split on what to do about it.
Fr Hacon, in his turn, complains of the state of belief among his parishioners. He speaks of "re-educating" them and will not allow communion in the hand or bidding prayers.
"Many people have had their faith weakened by mixed marriages" explained Fr Hacon on Monday. "I want to maintain Catholicism, not a bastard religion." Bishop Clark of East Anglia is aware of the friction caused by this "re-education" since Fr Hacon's arrival in the parish last September. He has visited the parish twice as a result of letters sent to him by worried parishioners.
Canon Edward McBride, the Vicar General of the East Anglia diocese commented, "Fr Hacon is a good priest but with idiosyncrasies such as we all have. People have to learn to work and pray together. This is not an isolated problem.'
Parishioners in the small seaside town, have been distressed by the lack of lay participation permitted by Fr Hacon, and by his reluctance to adopt Vatican II reforms. They complain of his refusal to allow lay readers, bidding prayers or Communion in the hand.
Fr Hacon accepts the criticisms but argues that his actions were necessary to prevent a "clique" of prominent parishioners running the parish according to their wishes.
He said, "I do believe in lay participation as far as the dialogue at the Mass goes. But I do not have lay readers because that leads to discrimination. I am not opposed to all changes. I accept the vernacular Mass. I am more or less traditionalist but I am pro-Pope not Tridentine." Opposition to Fr Flacon began when he arrived several months ago at Our Lady of Refuge to take over from Fr Joseph Parr. One 80 year old parishioner said: "When Fr Hacon came to this parish he got up in the pulpit and told the people, 'I am going to run this parish as I wish and I expect you to obey me'.
"Not receiving Holy Communion in the hand is the least of our problems. We did not have any Easter Vigil, no renewal of baptismal vows, This used to be an excellent parish. Fr Parr had brought us gently into the ways of Vatican IL Now all that good work is gone."
Fr Hacon agrees some sharp words were spoken when he arrived. One parishioner told him not to bother unpacking his suitcase. The officers of the Catholic Women's League had not presented themselves to him. Only three Volunteers had come forward to help with the church cleaning.
The local nuns had conducted a two week
boycott against receiving Holy Communion from him when he went to say Mass at their convent because of his unwillingness to administer Communion in the hand.
Fr Hacon has also been criticised for his anti-ecumenical attitude. It is claimed that he openly snubbed the Methodist minister at the local hospital when being introduced to him by turning his back on him and saying he had nothing in common with him. He does not hide his doubts about ecumenism. "I do not go out of my way to form relations with other churches. Our church door is always open. I do not approve of the self righteous attitude of those who join together for prayer." A significant number of parishioners resent Fr Hacon's intransigent views so strongly that they now attend the neighbouring parish of St Joseph's, Sheringham. Fr Flacon commented, "Bishop Clark is worried about me. 1 told him he needn't worry about me but about the others."