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CHEBOYGAN, Michigan (LifeSiteNews) — A layman restoring a Catholic church that was sold by the Diocese of Gaylord in the 1980s says the diocese is not telling the truth about their interactions. The man has also vowed to continue restoring the church despite the diocese’s apostolic administrator wishing he wouldn’t.

Bill Price is a former marine who bought St. Charles Borromeo in 2019 for $25,000. The building is located in the sleepy vacation town of Cheboygan, Michigan, just 15 miles southeast of Mackinac Island. Jesuit missionary priest Fr. Jacques Marquette converted thousands of Native Americans in the area to the Catholic faith in the 17th century.

Currently in his early 70s, Price has spent the majority of the last two years raising money and single-handedly fixing up St. Charles, which was built in the early 1900s and can hold up to 500 people. Many Catholics in the area who attended St. Charles before it was abandoned have privately told Price that they support his efforts. Thus far, Price has raised more than $8,000 on his GoFundMe page.

Price’s hard work paid off when on Sunday, July 11, a Solemn High Mass was offered by a priest of the traditional Catholic Society of St. Pius X. Over 300 Catholics from across the state attended the liturgy. A 30-person choir was present, as well.

Since July, St. Charles has hosted several Masses offered by various priests of the SSPX, sometimes seeing several dozen laity attend, but it’s currently without a regular Mass schedule. Price is the sole owner of the building and welcomes priests who want to say the traditional liturgy. St. Charles is not owned or operated by the SSPX. Price told LifeSite he has a special affinity for Fr. James Altman, and that he’d very much like for him to offer Mass at the church.

In a statement released on August 9, the Diocese of Gaylord officially condemned Price’s efforts. The diocese currently does not have an installed bishop but is run by Bishop Emeritus Walter Hurley, who is serving as apostolic administrator.

Hurley is 84 and was previously the bishop of the Diocese of Grand Rapids, Michigan. He has a reputation for being a liberal and has been accused of covering up priestly abuse in the Dioceses of Detroit and Saginaw. On January 30, 2019, Hurley removed a priest from a church in Bay City, Michigan because he instituted traditional liturgical practices. Several priests in the Diocese of Cheboygan, however, told LifeSite that Hurley has not been hostile to them offering the Latin Mass.

Hurley states that St. Charles is being restored “with no authorization from the Bishop.” He also says that Price never asked the Diocese to re-open St. Charles as a Catholic church and that “no permission was sought or granted” to conduct services at the building.

“Masses celebrated by the Society of St. Pius X or others at the St. Charles church site are valid but illicit,” his statement adds. Masses at the church “should be avoided.”

Price told LifeSite he adamantly rejects the claim that he never spoke with representatives of the Diocese. He says he tried to work things out with them over a period of many months.

“In 2020, Fr. Matthew Wigton contacted me via telephone on behalf of the bishop at the time, Bishop Steven Raica, in order to discover what my intentions were for this beautiful but severely neglected structure,” Price said via telephone.

“I stated my intention was to restore St. Charles in order to accommodate the beautiful ancient liturgy it was originally designed for. Father Wigton conveyed Bishop Raica’s very negative sentiments, alleging divisiveness, trauma, and emotional pain connected with our endeavor.”

Raica is no longer the Bishop of Gaylord. He was re-assigned in 2020 to the Diocese of Birmingham, Alabama, where Mother Angelica’s Poor Clare nuns reside.

Price further told LifeSite he personally reached out to other diocesan priests to get a blessing of the church after he discovered satanic graffiti painted on its interior belltower walls. Price says he spoke with several priests, but none of them ultimately came — potentially, he theorized, out of fear that the Diocese would punish them. Some of the priests, he said, offered words of encouragement.

Price also mentioned that Fr. Duane Wachowiak of St. Mary’s/St. Charles church, which is also located in Cheboygan, was telling Catholics on social media to not attend the re-opening liturgy on July 11, despite never personally contacting Price himself to learn more details. LifeSite called Wachowiak’s office but was told he is currently not in the diocese.

Price said that he ultimately spent at least eight months trying to hash things out with the diocese but turned to the SSPX in 2021 after it was clear the diocese was not willing to work with him.

“Thankfully, the SSPX immediately responded when I reached out to them for help,” Price said. “The chancery now acts hurt, snubbed and violated.”

LifeSite contacted several of the priests Price said he spoke to, including Fr. Wigton, who was Vicar General of the Diocese under Bishop Raica.

“When I heard about [Bill Price’s efforts], I informed Bishop Raica that I was going to just look into it and ask about it,” Wigton said via telephone. “I don’t remember if I was actually, exactly asked by Bishop Raica or just talking about it [with him]. It seemed like the right thing to do though, [to reach out to Mr. Price].”

“At the time, we had three to four churches that were designated for the celebration of the Extraordinary Form. Because those spots were designated, there was no idea of trying to start a new spot at that time.”

“I reached out to speak with Mr. Price. He had never reached out to speak with the Bishop for anything that I know of.”

Price told LifeSite he contests those remarks.

“Father told me directly that the bishop thought that restoring St. Charles would be ‘divisive.’ He came out and spoke on behalf of the Bishop.”

“I think the diocese is trying to do damage control,” he added. “Father Wigton contacted me and conveyed to me that Bishop Raica saw this whole thing as ‘divisive’ and that it could be emotionally ‘disturbing’ to the people living up here.”

“How can the beautiful, life-giving Traditional Latin Mass be the cause of such things?” he wondered.

LifeSite contacted the Gaylord Diocese for comment. LifeSite asked if the diocese had instructed Wigton, on Raica’s behalf, to reach out to Price. LifeSite also asked if Bishop Hurley thinks the Latin Mass is divisive and if he’s open to having more Latin Mass churches in the diocese. LifeSite also asked for clarification on whether Price tried to work things out with the diocese and if Hurley had any comment on the support Price is receiving from local laity.

Diocesan spokeswoman Mackenzie Ritchie replied via email, saying, “Thank you for connecting with us; I appreciate you sending over the below questions. The statement on our website should provide clarity to many of your questions, and there are no further details or comments to share at this time.”

Price told LifeSite there will be more Traditional Latin Masses held at the church, which is located at 221 N. Bailey Street, and that his restoration efforts will continue. Price has also issued the following statement to LifeSite.

As the private owner of Old St. Charles Church in Cheboygan, Michigan, this is my personal response to the Gaylord Diocese notice of August 9, 2021. Also, I am in no way representing or trying to speak on behalf of the SSPX in my following statement.

My family along with several others have asked the priests from the Society of Saint Pius X to start offering Masses at the old St. Charles church in Cheboygan.

Bishop Hurley thinks this would be divisive.

The Bishop admits these Masses are valid, yet tries to discourage Catholics from attending by claiming Traditional Masses are illicit if he personally does not sanction them.

On July 11, 2021, we had over three hundred people witness a beautiful Solemn High Mass at St. Charles in Cheboygan. This was the first celebration of that kind in almost sixty years.

Fr. Matthew Wigton told me the bishop at the time thought the celebration of the traditional Latin liturgy would be divisive.

How could so many receiving Our Lord be divisive? Salvation is obtained through the sacraments, yet 300 in attendance for a traditional Solemn High Mass is a negative? Why isn’t our bishop happy that so many Catholics want to worship Our Lord the way billions have done for well over a thousand years?

There appears to be no logical explanation for Bishop Hurley’s displeasure. Pope St. Pius V, in Quo Primum, guaranteed our right of worship in the Traditional Latin liturgy … forever.

The Catholic Church’s primary mission is the salvation of souls.

It’s commonly known that the Church supplies jurisdiction for the sacraments instituted by Christ through its bishops, but if the local ordinary (bishop) fails through error or deliberately chooses not to treat serious problems or doubt expressed by the faithful, the Church itself for the good of those souls supplies the needed jurisdiction through its “executive power of governance” (1983 Code of Canon Law #144).

A condition of serious doubt continues in the Gaylord Diocese with the suppression of Church history regarding the traditional liturgy.

Concerned souls are reaching out to priests that understand the nature and seriousness of their concerns regarding liturgy.

Several of the faithful here in Cheboygan have asked for priests to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in our ancient traditional Catholic liturgy, and also to hear our confessions. We are in very serious doubt by what is currently not being allowed, yet could be locally provided for in this Diocese.

There are Catholics in their 80s and 90s wanting to worship in the traditional Latin Liturgy. These souls have been and are being denied simply because Gaylord’s bishops refuse to consider their infirmity, inability to travel great distances, or allow other priests willing to accommodate.

St. Charles is currently privately owned for the purpose of restoration. The new owner along with several families in Cheboygan have reached out to priests trained in the Latin liturgy.

The Latin Mass missals we use also have the English translation for those that wish to follow the priest through this liturgical worship.

It’s exciting to once again have the opportunity to experience what our grandparents, great grandparents and literally tens of billions of Catholics for well over a thousand years, witnessed at least once a week.

Thankfully, there are good priests from the Society of Saint Pius X ready to help the families and grandparents here in Cheboygan, assuring us that the Church is here to generously minister not simply dictate through austere measures regarding the sacraments.

In 2020, Fr. Matthew Wigton contacted me, the new owner of St. Charles, on behalf of Bishop Hurley in order to discover what my intentions are for this beautiful but severely neglected structure.

I stated my intention to restore St. Charles in order to accommodate the beautiful ancient liturgy it was originally designed for. Father conveyed the bishop’s very negative sentiments alleging divisiveness, trauma, and emotional pain connected with our endeavor to restore Cheboygan’s architectural gem, St. Charles Borromeo.

Finally, due to some satanic graffiti painted on the interior tower walls at St. Charles, I personally reached out to five diocesan priests requesting a mere blessing of my building. I informed at least two of those priests of the disturbing graffiti.

This happened months before I contacted the SSPX, who thankfully immediately responded, unlike the diocesan clergy. The chancery now acts hurt, snubbed and violated.

Again, many of us are still attached to our traditional Mass, guaranteed to us in perpetuity by Pope St. Pius V in Quo Primum.