Update 8:30 a.m. Tuesday – After an online petition protesting the move, a beloved pastor at a Chevy Chase, D.C., church will no longer be transferred to another parish.
Rev. Percy D’Silva, a retired pastor who had remained active in The Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament, was told this month that he would be relocated to a parish in Kensington.
The announcement set off the petition – which garnered more than 650 supporters – and an outpouring of support for D’Silva, who many said had wanted to remain at Blessed Sacrament.
It also aroused suspicion among some in the community that the decision was motivated by D’Silva’s past statements. In 2002, he became national news for a sermon in which he was critical of the way the church was handling its child sex abuse scandal.
“Every parishioner I have spoken to is outraged at the insensitivity of the cardinal in moving this beloved, active priest yet once again,” Washington, D.C., resident Susan Feeley wrote on the online petition.
“It is in direct contradiction to the promise that he would remain at Blessed Sacrament until the end,” Feeley continued. “He is a cornerstone of Blessed Sacrament and he needs to remain there—as promised.”
A 2011 piece in the online news magazine of the Archdiocese of Washington said D’Silva, a native of India who was ordained in 1964, was due to retire later that year to Blessed Sacrament, a church in the Chevy Chase neighborhood of Washington, D.C.
Parishioners say it’s where D’Silva had spent most of his time since joining the Archdiocese of Washington in 1988, despite assignments at 11 different parishes. They also say D’Silva remains active in the church.
This month, the decision was announced that D’Silva would transfer to Holy Redeemer in nearby Kensington, where he served for two years until 2011
Chieko Noguchi, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese, said last week that D’Silva “is retired from active ministry and is in good standing.”
“Decisions about living arrangements for priests are handled as personnel matters,” Noguchi said, “and are therefore not publically discussed.”
D’Silva said he’d prefer not to make a statement about his reassignment.
Dave Byers, president of Blessed Sacrament’s pastoral council, said he was unaware of any controversy surrounding D’Silva’s transfer.
Many in the parish said it was understood that D’Silva wanted to retire at Blessed Sacrament.
Messages accompanying the online petition ask the “archdiocese to keep its commitments like they request us to keep ours,” and that “after 50 years of loving service, why would [D’Silva] not be allowed his choice [of where to retire]?”
Maria Olsen, a former Chevy Chase, Maryland, resident who regularly attended the church, said D’Silva is so popular in part because of his ability to relate to children.
He was known for his work as the liturgist at the parish’s Masses for children. Olsen said when her son was 4, he mistook D’Silva for Jesus Christ “walking down the street.”
“He’s so beloved that we don’t want to lose him again,” Olsen said.
In 2002, he delivered a sermon at Blessed Sacrament calling for the resignation of the Boston Cardinal Bernard Law amid accusations of covering up child abuse by priests. A column in the New York Times featured D’Silva’s remarks prominently. The sermon inspired a question to White House spokesman Ari Fleischer on whether President George W. Bush agreed with D’Silva.
When the news was announced during the July 12 Sunday Mass that D’Silva would be going back to Holy Redeemer, some said they were distraught.
“The decision has rocked the Blessed Sacrament community,” one petition supporter wrote. “He is [part] of our family and to lose him would be devastating.”
Monday night, the mood was a lot different.
“We did it,” read an update on the petition. “Father D’Silva is not going anywhere.”