St. Catharine’s Standard
31 July 2010
Posted By GRANT LAFLECHE , STANDARD STAFF
Eganville is a study in contradiction. It’s the kind of place where residents leave their cars unattended with the doors unlocked and the windows down without a worry. Farmers who have worked the land for generations know their neighbours like family.
Other residents who live and work there couldn’t give you directions if you paid them. A significant number of the town’s 1,300 residents — a population so small the label “town” seems a bit grandiose — turn over fairly regularly. They leave, only to be replaced by newcomers.
It’s a farming community, but one marked by several fallow fields dotted with dandelions.
Traditional faith matters and the silhouettes of the old mainline churches from Catholic to Lutheran dominate the town-scape. Yet some of the churches are marked with unique, angular steeples that reflect more of a jazz architecture vibe than the mood of somber religion.
Eganville, two hours west of Ottawa, is a quiet, still place where life seems simple. But that quiet does little to hide the trauma suffered by the local Catholic church. One of its priests is facing sexual abuse charges, leaving his replacement to pick up the pieces.
However, silence is what defines the crisis facing another Catholic priest from Eganville.
Bishop James Wingle, former head of Niagara’s Catholic community, is one of the town’s favourite sons. Born and raised on a farm tucked away behind a wall of evergreens, he grew up to become an influential bishop who has the ear of popes.
“Father Jim,” as he is known in town, left his Niagara post without warning in April. In a short letter to the diocese, Wingle said he no longer had the stamina for the job, and was resigning for a period of personal reflection and prayer. What led to his decision has never been disclosed.
Officials at the local diocese say they were not told and Niagara priests are very reluctant to speak about Wingle on the record. Some recently spoke to other media outlets about Wingle, but when contacted by The Standard this week said they would be better off not commenting.
Even in Wingle’s homtown, where his sister Margaret Morris still lives on the family farm with her husband, the wall of silence remains. Morris declined to speak about her brother. The only person who can speak about James Wingle, she says, is James Wingle.
“Whenever the bishop decides to make a statement, if you are an honourable person he might talk to you,” Morris said, rebuffing an interview request. “I won’t say anything about him right now.”
To Morris’ unending chagrin, however, silence has not stopped rumours. In online forums where friends and foes of the Catholic church snipe at each other, Wingle has become a subject of fascination. Cloaked in the anonymity the web provides, some claim he is in drastically poor health. Others say he has been seen in Jerusalem. All of it is unconfirmed.
With no one who knows anything about Wingle talking, the closest thing to an explanation for what happened comes from the Eganville Leader, a weekly newspaper and the alpha-male of news in the town and surrounding county.
On April 14, the Leader ran a story about Wingle’s unexpected resignation.
Based largely on what had already been reported by other media, including The Standard, the story by co-publisher and editor Gerald Tracey contains a brief peek behind the curtain of silence around Wingle.
“Family members told the Leader in recent weeks that Bishop Wingle, 63, has been dealing with several health issues, some of them brought on they believe due to a busy and hectic schedule.” Tracey wrote.
Tracey says he didn’t know the specific nature of those health issues.
Health problems, whatever they are, might explain Wingle’s admitted lack of stamina and would undoubtably be part of a very difficult year for Wingle’s family.
In February, his sister’s son, David Morris, was killed in a vicious car accident near Alberta. His car collided head-on with a dump truck and exploded.
Wingle reportedly took his nephew’s death exceptionally hard. The grieving family only buried David Morris in Eganville two weeks ago.
Although Wingle’s presence could be felt during the funeral — he wrote what some in town called a moving homily — the bishop was conspicuous by his absence.
Even staff at St. James the Less Catholic Church in Eganville have no information on Wingle’s whereabouts, other than to say they haven’t see him. However, given that a former priest at the church is facing trial on four sex abuse charges, the fate of Wingle is not their top priority.
Tracey said despite Wingle’s deep connection to Eganville, the town is as in the dark as everyone else. If Wingle has ever returned since his resignation, Tracey is not aware of it.
“He is deeply respected in this community, particularly by Catholics,” he says.
Although Wingle’s career as a priest keeps him travelling and serving communities outside of his own, he never forgot his roots.
Tracey points to a story in the Leader’s archives as an example. In 1980, long before Wingle achieved his current rank, a local woman received the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, a papal medal awarded to lay members of the church.
Wingle was studying in Rome at the time, but arranged for the woman to come to the Vatican for an audience with the pope, John Paul II, Tracey says.
Yet, despite his deep connection to the town, Catholics in Eganville — like those in Niagara — wait for Wingle to break his silence and explain why he left the job he spent his career building for.
Comments on this Article.
This article gives no more information than what we knew from April. If Bishop Wingle does indeed have health issues this should have been given as a reason for his departure as his job would need his attention 100% and this may no longer be the case, instead he left in the dark of night. This extremely sudden departure only fuels gossip, the Catholic Church is in enough trouble, this only adds to it and I for one think there is a lot more to this than meets the eye. This smacks of a coverup.
Post #1 By dupers,
I keep waiting for the hammer to fall on this story. Clearly the press knows more and they cant say anything right now. They just want to keep it in the front of peoples minds until the next thing happens.
There is no way the Standard and the Star (which also featured this story last week) care about this story if there is not more news to follow.
Post #2 By Old Glenridge 2010,
judge and so you shall be judged. Watch what you say and think. It just might come back to bite you 10times more than you think.The man needs time to think, so why not let him do so. Bishop Wingle is a man, and yes his departure was unexpected. Only he knows why he left and one day I am sure we all will know as well. Until then we wait
Post #3 By sonnyboy5,
Catholic church, sudden departure, MIA….there’s a scandel abrewing…
Post #4 By canucks4,
” judge and so you shall be judged. Watch what you say and think.”
Ah, poppycock! I will say what I like and I don’t care about any veiled threats from the hardcore believers. Where there is smoke… there is likely fire. The press knows something or they would have dropped this matter long ago.
Keep on Tithing!
Post #5 By Old Glenridge 2010,
Waiting for the other shoe to drop…and it will. And the only judge I’m worried about looks back in the mirror at me every day. 2 + 2 = 4 in my world.
Post #6 By jameszot,
The `Cover-Up’ is animus persuading itself it is logic, and bile lathered on for the amusement of Catholic or anti-Catholic bystanders. And the piece’s chief function, at least for me, is as yet one more instalment of the remorseless insult-hurling innuendo at Wingle in particular and Catholica in general that the class of professional agnostics and atheists is so pleased to make its standard fare.
It’s a little more than tiresome, and certainly a hell of a lot (if that conception may be allowed here) less than brave coming out of the mouths or flowing from the digital pens of the pack of adult reason-worshipping evangelists who bemuse themselves with harsh and mean assessments of their differently-believing, more pacific brothers on this good earth.
Post #7 By buddhabob,
Although the media may just be looking for a story, if “old glenridge 21010” read last week’s article in the Sunday Star, priests pressuring the Bishop to “reinstate” a priest convicted of sexual abuse, and in possession of gay porn when he was arrested, (james kneale), that information is more than just looking for a story. If we have a “significant miniority’ of priests in the diocese thinking that a sex offender should be allowed back in the sanctuary and able to celebrate Mass, and be in a position of trust, this diocese needs a new bishop with broad shoulders. If our priests were the “ruin” of Bishop Wingle, I hope the new bishop gets rid of them; even if it means closing parishes due to a lack of priests. we don’t need sex offenders in position of trust, or people that advocate for them to be there.
Post #8 By wonttell,
If health is a problem why not just say so. You don’t sneak out of town -moving van and all and say nothing. I’m very disapointed with Bishop Wingle and the Catholic Church for allowing this situation to go on this far.
Post #9 By RCM2020,
The catholic church has a problem. . A billion catholics must wake up. They must recognize what is going on with that church. They must put a stop to it. Altar boys everywhere thank them in advance. Do not feel sorry for a “missing” priest. He either did something.. or he knows something. If not… why is he in hiding?
Post #10 By Railcar