They blame Franciscan priest for abrupt decision
Buffalo, NY. Vocal members of SS. Columba-Brigid Catholic Church are protesting the ouster of their beloved choir director of 30 years by a priest who they say will not listen to their concerns.
A group of parishioners from the Hickory Street church held a news conference Friday to call attention to what they say is the unjust removal of Lynda Martin, the choir director, by Fr. William J. “Jud” Weiksnar, OFM, who is the parish's pastor.
"I need answers, I need an open apology from Fr. Jud, and I need answers as to why," Martin said at the news conference.
The church is one of the few in the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo with a large Black and Latino congregation, and Martin was hired more than 30 years ago to arrange for the playing of Gospel-style music that is often featured in Black Christian congregations.
But the group said it believed Weiksnar did not like the music, so he abruptly fired Martin without notice or explanation and replaced her with a white choir director who sticks to the more subdued music style of traditional Catholic churches attended mostly by white people.
"I feel that unfortunately racism isn’t just black and white, it is also across the Catholic community," said parishioner Linda Lewis, who helped organize the news conference.
Asked whether race had something to do with the firing of Martin, parishioner Richard E. Baldwin said, "Everyone has to make their own conclusions, but yes, I have reached the conclusion that race did have something to do with this."
Weiksnar, who is a Franciscan priest, said in a Facebook message that he could not comment. He referred a reporter to the diocese's spokesperson.
Greg Tucker, interim spokesperson for the diocese, said in a statement, “The allegations pertaining to a personnel matter concerning an employee of SS Columba-Brigid Catholic Church are not something that we are able to discuss in any detail, given understandable privacy issues governing such matters. The Diocese of Buffalo takes very seriously these allegations, however, and will thoroughly investigate them with all appropriate individuals and protocols. The Diocese of Buffalo requires respect and fairness toward all employees and has zero tolerance for racism in any form.”
Parishioners also take issue with the way they say Weiksnar has handled the situation. They say he has refused to meet with them as a group to address their concerns and told parishioners that she retired, without mentioning that she was dismissed.
"Discriminatory conduct has been done," said parishioner Richard Clark. "She’s been denied equal conditions, terms of employment. The reasons [given] why she’s not around...people have been misinformed."
The group called the diocese and sent certified letters on July 14 to the offices of interim Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger in Buffalo and Albany.
"And since that time there has been no response from anyone; not even an acknowledgement of the letters that were sent," Lewis said.
The group is seeking a meeting with Weiksnar or diocesan officials and is pushing for Martin's reinstatement. Martin said she has always worked with pastors to tailor the music style depending on the needs of parishioners who attend the church's three services each weekend.
Press Release from Parishioners:
Another Buffalo Catholic Priest Behaving Badly, Members of the Church Cry Foul Play and call for Investigation
“The music is awful” said Fr. William "Jud" Weiksnar, ofm of SS Columba-Brigid Catholic Church over the phone on Sunday June 21, to Lynda Martin when she asked why she was being terminated effective immediately after faithfully serving as Choir Director for over thirty (30) years. We find this statement disturbing, lacking professional decorum, hypocritical and not behavior that should be associated with a man who is a representative of God. Especially considering over the past months during the world wide Pandemic, Mrs. Martin has performed her music ministry duties where the services have been recorded via livestream and Fr. Weiksnar has noted on several occasions how good the music was and provided ongoing compliments about the singing.
During Mrs. Martin’s tenure she has NEVER been given an unfavorable performance review, nor has she had any irreconcilable disagreements with any priest or choir members. In fact under the leadership, of Mrs. Martin, the Gospel Choir has made countless contributions to SSCB and the community, which expand over other religious denominations, cultures and ethnicities. She has always been inclusive. Also for the past twenty nine (29) years Mrs. Martin has Co-Hosted a traveling Harvest Fest Annual Concert to an audience packed room EVERY YEAR. We have been under the leadership of Fr. Weiksnar for a short period and during this time he has been insensitive, overbearing, manipulative and condescending. Fr. Weiksnar’s has pitted parishioners against each other, causing dissension and confusion amongst members. His condescending attitude has created conflict and unrest and he often makes comments stating he went to law school and he knows how to turn a situation for his favor.
After Fr. Weiksnar’s termination of Mrs. Martin, a SSCB member went to him advocating on behalf of the choir but unfortunately had an undesirable experience. During the conversation, Fr. Weiksnar stated if a letter was written to his superiors, regarding what transpired with Mrs. Martin, he doubt’s there would be a response. He stated he could step down from the church when and if he chose and if he did he would leave the church in turmoil then we’d be sorry. He also stated he’d give grace and if a church member requested Mrs. Martin to sing at a funeral, he would be receptive to the request. It was pointed out there was no HR representative and the Parish council wasn’t notified of Fr. Weiksnar’s unilateral decision, but Fr. Weiksnar was un-phased. The following Sunday Fr. Weiksnar introduced the new Choir Director of another ethnicity and alluded to the congregation Mrs. Martin quit and decided not to ever come back.
The SS Columba-Brigid Gospel Choir was shocked and appalled by these lies and decided to unanimously step down minus two members. The choir sent the letter certified mail on July 8th to Bishop Edward Scharfenberger, Apostolic Administrator asking for an investigation into Fr. Weiksnar as well as the unjust termination of Lynda Martin. On July 13th and 14th the Choir was notified of receipt for the Bishops Buffalo and Albany Office’s and since this time there has been no response. To add insult to injury Fr. Weiksnar on August 18, 2020, Fifty Eight (58) days after the unjust termination of Mrs. Martin sent a formal letter saying in entirety “Your employment as choir director of the 11:00 Sunday Mass was terminated because the music at the Mass was not up to the standard required for the liturgy. God bless you.” We are disgusted at his lackluster letter and attitude. When asked how she was doing Mrs. Martin stated “when it first happened I was frozen, I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what I had done andMission Statement: “We the church of SSCB are a welcoming, inclusive, multicultural Catholic community inspired by the Holy Spirit to celebrate the risen Christ in how we worship, love our neighbors, and work for justice in our daily lives.”