PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Parishioners of a 152-year-old historically Black Catholic Church in Philadelphia allege segregation and want their priest removed.
One of those parishioners, Carolyn Jenkins, has been going to St. Charles Borromeo for her entire life.
"At one time, St. Charles was the social center of South Philadelphia," said Jenkins, 76.
But lately, she doesn't recognize it. During the lockdown, it was completely redone inside.
"We're losing it now when we don't have anything to say about what's happening in our parish," she said.
Six years ago, a new priest, Father Esteban Granyak, came in to advance the Neocatechumnal Way, an evangelical Catholic movement.
Black parishioners argue they've since been ostracized from their own church. Renovations were done without their knowledge; the gym, which was used for social gatherings and funerals, was transformed into a worship space for the Neocatechumnals; and the father holds separate service for the two groups.
"There's a lot of activities that are going on here at St. Charles that don't include the parishioners of St. Charles at all. So it definitely is segregation," said Jenkins.
"Archbishop Nelson J. Pérez delegated a liturgical expert to visit the church and report back to him on what the renovations entailed," said Archdiocese of Philadelphia spokesperson Kenneth Gavin.
He continues to say the Archdiocese instructed the father to restore the Sanctuary of the church and to meet with parishioners.
Gavin also says the separate services are common.
"In any parish within the Archdiocese of Philadelphia where the Way is present or a Neo-Catechumenal priest is charged with responsibility for the parish, the celebration of Mass is offered in both ways in order to provide for the welfare of all," said Gavin.
"Allegations of racism are not taken lightly by the Archdiocese. Racial hatred has no place in our church or in the hearts of people. Racism is a mortal sin and an attack on the gift of life," he said.
Parishioners, however, who have organized three protests this summer, say the only solution is to get a new priest.
"We want to see him gone. There's no way he can be a spiritual leader here at St. Charles Borromeo Parish," said Jenkins.
The parishioners say they have a meeting with the Archdiocese on Wednesday morning where they will ask for the priest to be removed.