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Priest Defies Archbishop Over Dress Code for Church

October 2, 1989

DAYTON, Ohio (AP) _ A priest has told parishioners he won’t back down from enforcing a dress code despite orders from the archdiocese that communion is for anyone, even those who wear shorts to services.

Some people among the 80-member congregation are rallying behind the Rev. Roger Griese, who has preached at Roman Catholic Sacred Heart Church for 21 years.

″I don’t think there is one person in our congregation that doesn’t go along with a person going to church ... looking like a person going to church,″ said Toni Bertran, 61.

Church officials said that while dress codes are permissable, it is the practice of the church worldwide not to deny communion on the basis of dress.

For about 20 years, the parish has had a dress code that bans shorts, miniskirts and halter tops. This summer, Griese posted signs throughout the church as a reminder.

Ms. Bertran said the rules have been bent for people who can’t afford dress clothes.

″We don’t mind polo shirts, because sometimes that’s all they’ve got,″ she said.

″By and large it seems that the atmosphere of the parish seems to be very supportive of father,″ said David Acanfora, an occasional churchgoer. ″I certainly am.″

Others, however, oppose the dress code.

″No one should be denied communion,″ said Nancy Sexton, 54, who attends the church but is not a member. ″If he denies communion to people, how do we know if we’re going to be denied the last sacrament when we die? I think the church should be more interested in saving souls than how people dress.″

James Garvey, 33, was turned away by Griese twice on consecutive Sundays in September when he came to church wearing shorts. The next Sunday, Griese served him communion after Garvey appeared in trousers and a dress shirt.

″It is people like him across this world that drive Catholics away from the Catholic Church,″ Garvey said. ″My faith was taken away from me by not giving me communion for two Sundays in a row for wearing shorts. ... That tells me he’s judging me based on what I wear.″

Elizabeth Corrado, 20, said she learned of Griese’s enforcement of the code in July when she and a boy friend went to Mass. She said she was wearing knee- length black shorts and a silk blouse with a collar. Her boy friend was wearing shorts.

″In front of the entire church, he says, ’Get out of my church. You’re not welcomed here,‴ Ms. Corrado said. ″I couldn’t believe he was saying this. Of course, everybody was staring at us.″

The couple left.

Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk, whose Cincinnati-based archdiocese includes the church, wrote Griese in September that the code should not be enforced to the extent of refusing communion.

″I have indicated this to you and pointed out that in the future you may not refuse Holy Communion or absolution in the Sacrament of Penance purely on the grounds of inappropriate dress,″ Pilarczyk wrote.

Ray George, an archdiocese spokesman, declined to say what sanctions Griese might face if he continues to refuse communion to shabby dressers.

Griese, 73, told his congregration last month he had been threatened with suspension but wouldn’t back down.

″I’m at peace with God as to what I’ve done and how I’ve done it,″ Griese said. ″And if that doesn’t please the archbishop, then I’m very sorry. But I have to follow my conscience.″

He did not return phone calls to The Associated Press.

Ms. Bertran said Griese’s manner of enforcing the dress code is part of his ″abrupt″ manner.

″That’s his personality,″ she said. ″You have to understand father, and if you were a parishioner you would know that.″

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