A Maryland priest angrily threw mourners out of his church before the start of a funeral last week after someone accidentally knocked over a chalice and reportedly broke it.
The priest's rant, captured on cell phone video, shows him arguing with and waving his arm at family members just a few feet away from where the body of Agnes Hicks lay in repose in an open casket.
The Rev. Michael Briese later wrote an apology published in a local newspaper that began: "Two minutes can change a life."
“This was uncalled for and it really hurt me, it really did," the deceased woman's brother, Larry Hicks, told the TV station.
According to The Maryland Independent, about 200 to 300 people were in the church on Wednesday morning for the funeral.
Renetta Baker, Hicks' daughter, told the Independent that before the funeral started she was hugging and greeting visitors when someone accidentally knocked over an empty chalice, which got damaged. She said she didn't realize at first that the cup got knocked over.
“One of the ladies (at the church) came out and saw it, and she went back and told him, told Father Michael," Baker told the newspaper. "He came out yelling at me. So I stood up and said we’re going to take care of it after the funeral."
She told the newspaper the priest went to the back of the church, then came back out again.
“That's when all hell broke loose," Shanice Chisely, Agnes Hicks' daughter, told Fox 5. "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.'
“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.”
A funeral attendant from the Briscoe-Tonic Funeral Home, Ed Hill, told the Independent he tried to intervene.
“I tried to calm him down, asked if I could pray with him, and he told me I need to get out of here, too," Hill said. "He told me ‘You need to get those people out of here, I want all their asses out of here right now.'
"He was cursing, he didn’t want prayer, he didn’t want anything.”
Funeral home owner Tony Tonic told The Enterprise newspaper he was "appalled" to hear the language the priest used.
“I spoke with my funeral assistant, and he explained to me that the words (Briese) used … he was calling the family everything,” Tonic told the Enterprise.
“I’m just appalled by what I heard happen and the language he was using when he addressed me, as the owner of the funeral home. It was just … it made me very angry, and it needs to be addressed.”
The family says the priest called the police on them.
Diane Richardson, spokeswoman for the Charles County Sheriff's Office, told the Independent that police received a call about 10:30 a.m. from the church about a public disturbance and destruction of church property.
Richardson said police, who tried to mediate the situation, couldn't make out what the dispute was about. She said no charges were filed and no one was arrested.
Fox 5 reports there were police cars in the parking lot as Hicks' casket was carried out of the church and placed in the funeral hearse.
According to Fox 5, police escorted the family to another funeral home in another county where a priest from another parish performed the funeral.
“My mom was supposed to have a great funeral and all this came up and I’m so traumatized by it. I'm going to be thinking about this every day. I’ll never forget this day,” HIcks' son, Davon Chisley, told Fox 5.
The Archdiocese of Washington wrote a letter of apology to the family that was shared publicly by local media.
“What occurred at Saint Mary’s Parish ... 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," wrote the Rev. Michael Fisher, secretary for ministerial leadership.
The incident is under investigation, diocese spokesman Ed McFadden told local media. “By no means should this indicate that we consider the matter closed,” he told the Enterprise.
Briese, a native of Silver Spring, Maryland, took over the parish in July 2017 after the previous pastor died.
In a story in the Independent last year, parishioners talked about the changes Briese brought to their church, including opening a food pantry. The story described him delivering food every day to people living in homeless encampments, hotels and apartments.
Briese wrote a public apology about the funeral incident that was printed in the Enterprise.
"Two minutes can change a life," he wrote. "In an emergency medical situation, two minutes can save a life. But can two minutes erase a quarter-century of a person’s life and commitment to serving and caring for his community and those entrusted to his care? I hope not."