Burlington priest asks parishioners to tell bishop of his pastoral care, mental health

Fr. Peter Williams, pastor of Holy Family parish in Springfield, Vt. Fr. Peter Williams, pastor of Holy Family parish in Springfield, Vt. | Holy Family Parish Springfield Vermont screenshot via Youtube.

Father Peter Williams says the Diocese of Burlington is trying to remove him as pastor of his parish because he will neither be tested regularly for COVID-19 nor be masked. He is asking his parishioners to testify on his behalf, because he says the diocese, and his family, are trying to prove that he is physically and mentally unfit for the job.

The priest, who is not vaccinated against COVID-19, is pastor of Holy Family parish in Springfield, Vermont, 120 miles southeast of Burlington.

“Being more of the ilk of a patriot and being one who is in support of freedom and personal rights, I balk at any incursion into my rights as a human being, certainly a U.S. citizen, and that was my objection when the bishop started directing matters of my health,” Williams said in a Jan. 5 video.

Williams is referring to Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne’s September 2021 letter to clergy in which he requested that they all be vaccinated. Coyne said that alternately, any cleric who choose to remain unvaccinated must test for COVID-19 every other week and be masked during ministry. Williams, who chose to remain unvaccinated, refused.

Williams said that he then received correspondence from Coyne which stated that he had 14 days to comply, or Coyne would suspend him. 

Williams, who maintained he has canonical rights as a pastor to remain in his post, has since hired a canon lawyer and said he will fight the case until Coyne officially removes him through a canonical process. 

“I have no intention of resigning as pastor because that is my job,” Williams’ said. “That is what I do.”

Now, he said, his family and the diocese are trying to prove that he is physically and mentally unhealthy. But he maintains he’s as healthy as ever. 

“Now, I’m not aware of how my family members made that assessment,” he said. “All they needed to do was to watch the videos of Mass that we have ongoing or give me a call, none of which happened.”

Now, he said, “the case seems to be revolving around my health and my mental health.”

Williams said that for the sake of maintaining normalcy in his parish, he chose to keep his correspondences with the bishop to himself. But the pressure became too much of a burden. He added that it broke his heart when his family got involved.

Williams said that his canon lawyer suggested that he gather some names of people who would be willing to testify on his behalf to Coyne.

“So I'm asking all of my parishioners, if you are inspired or if you are interested, to write a letter on my behalf stating how you think I’m doing as a pastor and how you would evaluate my mental health,” he said. 

In the diocese’s statement issued to CNA, Coyne declined to speak on the contents of the video “in order to protect the good name and reputation of all involved.”

“The present pastoral situation in Springfield is a sad and difficult situation that Bishop Coyne is addressing with care for all concerned, most especially the people of Holy Family Parish,” the statement said.

“The number one priority of the Diocese of Burlington is to offer the Sacraments and the fullness of parish life to the Catholic community in a safe environment that protects the health and well-being of our priests and parishioners,” the diocese said.

When asked if Williams’ claims are true, the diocese told CNA it is not commenting on the content of Williams’ video and added that personnel issues are confidential and it cannot discuss any details.

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