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Priest hopes Catholics unhappy with changes will join new community

Father Tom Sanford, a married priest and critic of contemporary Roman Catholic leadership, wants to create a new worship community based on Vatican II, but it won’t be in communion with the Church, say Catholic officials.

Staff Writer

Catawba County resident and Catholic priest Father Tom Sanford isn’t too happy about recent changes made to the Church’s liturgy and mass. As a result, he plans to start a new faith-filled community in the area disconnected from and without the approval of the Roman Catholic Church.
He said his new group will be a community that preserves the decisions of the Second Vatican Council in 1963, and is based on the 1973 translation of the Roman Catholic missal.
Sanford is strongly opposed to what the Church is calling new Latin translations of the Roman missal, which were implemented on Nov. 27, the first Sunday of the Advent season. According to him, the 2011 changes are almost identical to the ones the Church executed during the Second Vatican, when the mass was translated from Latin into various spoken languages, including English. A decade later, the liturgy received additional changes with the publication of a full English translation.
Sanford called much of the missal’s language from both 1963 and 2011 “awkward,” “archaic” and “cumbersome.”
“It’s nonsense,” he said. “It’s just back to the old liturgy.”
Sanford said he thinks the Church is slowly unraveling changes that resulted from Vatican II. One significant change forced priests to face their congregations rather than keep their backs to parishioners for the entirety of the mass. Many changes that came out of Vatican II simplified the Church and forced it to become more relevant to its laity, Sanford said.
He thinks Catholic churches across the country are reverting back to old traditions, performing masses in Latin, turning their backs to parishioners and filling their sanctuaries with “extravagant” displays of statues. Sanford said Vatican II is being daily “dismantled” and the Church is becoming “very irrelevant” to the modern world.
As bishops fail to lead, he said priests begin to “run amok” in their individual congregations, implementing whatever ideologies and practices they prefer.
According to a recent article from the Huffington Post, Sanford isn’t the only one who’s upset over the Church’s recent change in verbage. Several U.S. bishops are in disagreement over the matter, the article reported. Just weeks prior to introducing the new Roman missal to congregations, three in four Catholics were unaware of the issue, the Post reported.
“People just pay, pray and obey,” Sanford said, “and no one realizes what is going on.”
Therefore, in addition to preserving the teachings of Vatican II and the liturgy that utilizes the 1973 translation of the Roman Missal, Sanford said his purpose in starting his own church would be to “gather the scattered” — Catholics whom he said the Church has driven away. Sanford believes that by reverting back to unwieldy language, the Church is only taking more steps to push out parishioners, Catholics whom he said are “angry with the Church’s direction.”
“It’s detrimental to the church and pushing people away,” he said. “I’m hoping people will…recognize there are alternatives…The Church is going to have to do something to fix this. Priests are working so exhaustively, and they’re burned out.”
He dreams of a church that operates on a “collegial system” where both the laity and clergy work in harmony — a place where power is decentralized. Sanford noted how many priests in today’s Church are striving for absolute authority and people are rejecting that idea.
Sanford said that until he can gather enough people to start an area church, he’ll hold mass in individual homes.
It’s won’t be the first time he’s celebrated mass at someone’s residence. Good Shepherd Catholic Church, in Hope Mills, first began with Father Sanford holding weekly mass for he and a dozen other individuals in a person’ living room. Now, Good Shepherd boasts more than 200 families, he said.
Sanford was ordained by the Diocese of Raleigh in 1977 and this year celebrates his 35th year as a Roman Catholic priest. Throughout his more than three-decade career, he’s done social work, served as a hospital and prison chaplain, worked at a homeless shelter, founded a program for foster children and their families and served a number of churches, both Catholic and Protestant. He also holds a Bachelors of Science degree in Accounting.
Perhaps, the main difference between Sanford and other priests is that he’s married with three children. He said he chose to resign from the priesthood in 1984 after falling in love, and that despite his bishop’s attempts to change his mind, saying that he would eventually “get over it,” Sanford chose to marry.
It was until 14 years later that he received a dispensation from the Pope, and the Catholic Church granted him the sacrament of matrimony.
Sanford said he’s yet to lose sight of his mission to draw people back to the Church. He said he remains continuously encouraged by a bookmark in his Bible that reads: “With God, there is always a way ahead.”
Father Carmen Malacari at Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Denver declined an interview with the Times-News regarding his opinions on Father Sanford’s mission and recent changes to the Roman Missal.
According to David Hains, director of communications for the Diocese of Charlotte, Bishop Peter Jugis would have no authority over Sanford’s attempts at starting a new worship community since Sanford’s church wouldn’t be in communion with the Roman Catholic Church. Hains said each year area priests who are affiliated with the Church promise to obey the bishop.

Image courtesy of Nayeli Ramirez / LTN

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