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Catholic Vancouver March 22, 2019

Chilliwack parish responds to verbal assaults with prayer

By Agnieszka Ruck

St. Mary's preschool was closed and the school delayed classes March 15 after an individual repeatedly hurled verbal attacks at a priest and the school principal. RCMP have arrested the man. (BCC file photo).

Members of the Catholic community in Chilliwack are praying for a man who verbally attacked them last week.

Before Mass on the morning of March 13, an individual approached Father Mark McGuckin inside St. Mary’s Church. The assistant pastor said the man seemed mentally unstable and was verbally aggressive.

“He was upset about the abuse scandals” that have rocked the Catholic Church internationally, said Father McGuckin. That itself was not a surprise to the assistant pastor; he said many local priests have faced questions and anger about clerical sexual abuse in recent months.

“The real unfortunate thing is it happened to be our school Mass,” said Father McGuckin. 

He tried to deescalate the man’s outbursts, and it seemed to help for a time, but when Mass began, the man appeared at the back of the church and took to shouting again when children from St. Mary’s school and preschool were being given directions to go back to their classrooms.

“He’s not a Catholic, but he’s appeared here before, never without a degree of aggression,” said Father McGuckin, adding the students were visibly confused and affected by the outbursts.

The RCMP were called and a police report was made, but the man approached St. Mary's again the following day despite being ordered to stay away. According to the Chilliwack Progress, the RCMP escorted him off the premises, but not before the man threatened to return again Friday.

As a precaution, the preschool was closed and the elementary school delayed classes to 10:45 a.m. Friday, March 15. RCMP Cpl. Mike Rail told The B.C. Catholic the man was arrested the same day and taken to hospital.

Because young children were involved, “we’re taking it seriously,” said Rail. “We were at the school on Friday to ensure they were safe.”

Father McGuckin believes the man chose St. Mary’s because it was the nearest Catholic church, not because he had any particular animosity toward the Chilliwack parish.

The assistant pastor has visited the classrooms of every student who was at Mass during the verbal attacks and said he tried to calm the fears of the children by talking about safety and about praying for “those who make unhealthy choices in life.”

“We’ll keep praying for him and hope he gets the help he needs,” said Father McGuckin.

At press time, the RCMP confirmed the man was still in hospital and under supervision. Rail said the individual was arrested in 2016 for a similar situation.