NEW YORK – A small religious community dedicated to the Traditional Latin Mass in the Diocese of Covington, Kentucky, that once had aspirations of becoming a religious institute, now finds itself in limbo after its two priests were barred from public ministry.
Last week, Bishop John Iffert of Covington requested the resignation of Father Shannon Collins, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Park Hills, Kentucky, and removed Father Sean Kopczynski as the parish’s parochial vicar, after the former spoke in a critical fashion about the current version of the Mass.
Our Lady of Lourdes is the only parish in the diocese that offered the Traditional Latin Mass.
Collins and Kopczynski are members of the diocese’s Missionaries of Saint John the Baptist, a religious community founded in 2015, and established as a public association of the faithful by Bishop Emeritus Roger Foys of Covington in 2019 to serve those “attached” to the Traditional Latin Mass, who, Foys said at the time, “so often are driven to the margins of ecclesiastical and civil life.”
In 2019, Foys expressed the hope that the new community would lead parish missions and retreats, teach catechism, serve in foreign missions and staff parishes, with the goal of eventually becoming a religious institute in the diocese.
Yet according to Diocese of Covington records, and as told to Crux by a diocesan spokesperson, Collins and Kopczynski are currently the community’s only official members, therefore its future is in question after Iffert’s decision.
In a Jan. 17 letter to Our Lady of Lourdes parishioners, Iffert said he’s had concerns about the parish’s leadership, meaning Collins and Kopczynski, for a while.
“For some time now, I had serious concerns about the parish’s pastoral leadership,” Iffert wrote. “I attempted to resolve those concerns in conversation and fraternal correction with these priests, who are brothers and sons to me. Regretfully I have been unable to do so.”
“I take this action after becoming aware that Fr. Collins had preached in the parish that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, as celebrated in the current Roman Catholic liturgy, is ‘irrelevant,’ preserves ‘literally nothing of the old,’ and that the reform of the liturgy was motivated by hatred towards traditional Catholics and the ancient liturgies of Rome,” Iffert wrote.
In addition to requesting Collins’ resignation and removing Kopczynski as the parish’s parochial vicar, Iffert removed their faculties to teach, preach, or celebrate the sacraments.
“They are to conduct no public ministry,” Iffert wrote. “They may celebrate a private Mass for themselves, immediate family members, and members of the Missionaries of Saint John the Baptist. They are not permitted to celebrate the Mass publicly.”
On Jan. 25, in response to Iffert’s letter, a website registered as belonging to the Missionaries of Saint John the Baptist, Inc., posted a news release describing the two clerics as “veteran Roman Catholic priests in good standing.”
“The Missionaries seek to be teachers of truth and have never, to the best of their knowledge, promoted any errors in regard to the Holy Faith or taught anything contrary to the perennial Catechism of the Catholic Church,” the news release states.
The Missionaries of Saint John the Baptist did not respond to a Crux request for comment.
The immediate concern for the diocese after Iffert’s decision was to find a home for the Our Lady of Lourdes parishioners, who could no longer go there because the Missionaries of Saint John the Baptist own the church building and the group was no longer willing to permit the diocese use of the building.
Ultimately, Iffert announced that beginning Jan. 21, local priest Father Matthew Cushing had agreed to offer two Traditional Latin Masses to the Our Lady of Lourdes Parish community on Sunday mornings at St. Ann Mission in Covington.
What’s still up in the air is what will happen to the Missionaries of Saint John the Baptist.
The religious community owns the Our Lady of Lourdes church building, purchased and renovated with over $2 million in donations in 2016. In the news release, it wrote that they’ve reached out to Iffert to offer Our Lady of Lourdes church as a home for the Traditional Latin Mass in the diocese.
A spokesperson confirmed Iffert is aware of the offer, and that he and his presbyterate council are “currently discerning what the path forward looks like for the stability of the parish.”
The religious community, meanwhile, said in the news release it will not alter its ministry.
“For the Missionaries, the ancient and apostolic liturgies of Rome are not just a preference, but a necessity of their charism. In accordance with their constitutions, the Missionaries cannot relinquish that liturgical charism in their community, nor within any pastoral work they do,” the news release states.
“Therefore, the Missionaries could not, in good conscience and in obedience to their charism, implement any plan of leading the faithful flock of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish away from the use of the older forms of Sacraments and Divine Worship,” the news release continues.
When asked by Crux, the diocesan spokesperson did not know how much, if any, progress had been made on the Missionaries of Saint John the Baptist becoming a religious institute.
They also did not know how much power Iffert has over the religious community. Its decree, published by the diocesan newspaper in 2019, states that “the association is subject to the authority of the Bishop of Covington,” which at the time was Foys but is now Iffert.
From the priests’ perspective, they said for now they will accept Iffert’s decision and weigh their options.
“In terms of next steps, the Missionaries are praying, consulting and weighing their options,” the news release stated. “Until there is more to say, please keep the faith, and continue to keep the Missionaries, as well as [Collins and Kopczynski] and in your prayers, as they will continue to do for their parishioners and their benefactors.”
Follow John Lavenburg on X: @johnlavenburg