A Catholic priest in Charlotte Hall, Maryland, flew into a rage and abruptly halted a funeral attended by hundreds on June 26, for a African-American woman whose dying request was to have her funeral in the same church where she was baptized as a child, according to a report by Washington, D.C., TV news station WTTG. The priest, Rev. Michael Briese, has since written an apology for his bizarre outburst, in which he kicked the family of the deceased Agnes Hicks out of Saint Mary’s Catholic Church — along with the casket containing Hicks’ body.
Even after stopping the funeral, causing the family great distress according to an account by The Root, Briese still wasn’t finished. He then called the police on the mourners. Fortunately, officers quickly determined that Hicks’ grieving loved ones had not committed any wrongdoing, and escorted the family to a nearby funeral home that enabled them to complete the service for Hicks, who had passed away at the age of 54.
According to an account by The Maryland Independent, Briese was triggered when he heard that a mourner who was greeting Hicks’ daughter with a hug had accidentally knocked over and broken a ceremonial “chalice,” or drinking cup, used during mass services at the church.
The Archdiocese of Washington issues apology after pastor Michael Briese kicked a mourning black family out of church and called the cops on them because an attendee accidentally knocked over a chalise during funeral. #MourningWhileBlack #orangeChristian > https://t.co/yVgGZBmnXK pic.twitter.com/m3Fakeo7yc— Jeffrey Guterman, Ph.D. (@JeffreyGuterman) July 2, 2018
“One of the ladies came out and saw it, and she went back and told him, told Father Michael,” the daughter, Renetta Baker, told The Independent. “He came out yelling at me. So I stood up and said we’re going to take care of it after the funeral. Then he went back, then he came to the mic and said ‘There will be no funeral today.'”
But Briese wasn’t finished, and the situation was all downhill from there, as Briese cursed and told the family to remove Hicks’ casket from the church, referring to the coffins and Hicks’ body within it as a “thing,” according to accounts by family members.
“All hell broke loose. He literally got on the mic and said, ‘there will be no funeral, there will be no mass, no repass, everyone get the hell out of my church,'” said another of Hicks’ daughters, Shanice Chisely, to WTTG. “He disrespected our family, he disrespected my mother. He called my mother ‘a thing.’ He said, ‘get this thing out of my church! Everyone get the hell out of my church!’ It was very sad. I’ve never seen anything like that before.”
The outrageous incident was captured in a shocking cell phone video by one of the estimated 300 mourners at the funeral. View that video, included in the WTTG report, below.
Briese later wrote a letter of apology for the incident that was published in a local newspaper, The Enterprise.
“The man who canceled this family’s funeral and dispatched them in anger, is not the man who hours before worked to minister to their needs in a time of grief,” Briese wrote in the letter. “Instead of lifting them up, I let them down. For the anger and embarrassment I caused to that family, I am profoundly sorry.”
The Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., which oversees the Charlotte Hall church, said that it was investigating Briese’s outburst, and also issued an apology to the family.
“What occurred at St. Mary’s Parish this morning does not reflect the Catholic Church’s fundamental calling to respect and uplift the God-given dignity of every person nor does that incident represent the pastoral approach the priests of the Archdiocese of Washington commit to undertake every day in their ministry,” the archdiocese wrote in a statement.