BLACK VOICES
07/02/2018 06:33 pm ET Updated Jul 06, 2018

Priest Kicks Out Black Funeral-Goers, Allegedly Calls Them 'Crackheads, Prostitutes'

The Maryland priest canceled the funeral and ejected mourners after one attendee accidentally knocked over the church's chalice.

Friends and family remember Agnes Theresa Hicks, 54, as a generous mother whose love of music was exceeded only by her zeal for cooking.

But her family didn’t have the chance to memorialize her as such at her funeral last Wednesday at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Charlotte Hall, Maryland. Instead of conducting the ceremony, Rev. Michael Briese ended up calling the cops on the 200 to 300 attendees ― many of them black, like Theresa Hicks herself ― after someone knocked over the church’s chalice, damaging the golden cup.

Funeral home owner Tony Tonic told HuffPost the damage was accidental. But that didn’t stop Briese from getting on the mic and canceling the service, reportedly telling mourners to “get the hell out of my church.”

“I’ve been a funeral director for 30 years and I have never experienced anything like that,” said Kim Briscoe-Tonic, who co-owns the funeral home with Tonic, her husband.

Tonic said they pulled the priest aside to try and smooth things over privately. “We wanted to know what was going on, why he was acting like this,” Tonic said.

“Maybe he was having a bad day,” Briscoe-Tonic suggested.

But instead of civility, the two say the priest privately referred to attendees as “crackheads, prostitutes, and thieves,” and doubled down on his demand that everyone leave the church.

Briese did not immediately respond to a request for comment about his alleged remarks. 

Police responded after they were called for public disturbance and destruction of church property, but ultimately no charges were filed. Tonic and Briscoe-Tonic found another priest who volunteered to finish the mass at a different facility. Police escorted mourners to the second site.

“When they left that church, people were in tears,” Briscoe-Tonic said. “They were really destroyed. They begged him to have that service and he told them no.”

The Archdiocese of Washington apologized to Theresa Hicks’ family in a letter, saying Briese’s behavior “does not reflect the Catholic Church’s fundamental calling to respect and uplift the God-given dignity of every person.”

Briese himself also apologized to the family and the funeral home, archdiocese spokesperson Chieko Noguchi told HuffPost. Noguchi couldn’t confirm whether Briese used the specific language that Tonic and Briscoe-Tonic described.

“We are unaware of such second hand information, but as our letter and previous comments make clear, Fr. Briese’s words and actions were totally unacceptable,” Noguchi said. “Nothing diminishes or undercuts that statement.”

Noguchi didn’t comment on what repercussions Briese might face as a result of his conduct.

In the aftermath of the incident, Briese wrote an op-ed that ran in the Maryland Independent over the weekend. It read in part:

Before the start of a funeral Mass on Wednesday, June 27, one of the guests in the church damaged a sacred chalice used for the Mass. The sight of that accident made my frustration boil over. My anger spilled out in a torrent. I uttered words I never use, and treated people I have lived with and committed my life to serve in an unacceptable manner. Instead of care and compassion for the grieving family and friends, my focus turned to anger.

The man who cancelled 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. Instead of lifting them up, I let them down. For the anger and embarrassment I caused to that family, I am profoundly sorry.

This story has been updated with additional comments from Noguchi.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story indicated Noguchi was a man.

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