July 5, 2019 By Shane O’Brien
About 40 protesters have been turning up outside St. Sebastian’s Church in Woodside on recent Sundays accusing a priest of failing to disclose parish finances and for playing a role in the exit of a fellow clergy member.
The protests, which have been dismissed by the church as unfounded, target Father Kevin Abels. The protesters say that Abels has not been transparent about the amount raised from weekly church collections and was involved in the removal of Father Joey Francisco from the 58-02 Roosevelt Ave. church.
“Father Kevin, we want you out,” read one sign at last Sunday’s protest. “Father Kevin be a leader,” reads another. Another protester carried a sign: “Boycott Church Collection.”
Abels has also been the subject of harsh comments on social media.
In a statement, the Brooklyn Diocese, which serves the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, said that the allegations directed toward Abels were baseless. It noted that its financial reports are publicly available and that they are closely monitored by parish and finance councils, along with trustees and accountants.
“The 2017-2018 Annual Report has been issued and those leading the protests are now asking for the 2019 report, when the Diocesan fiscal year does not end until August 2019,” according to a statement issued by the Diocese.
The Diocese argues that the allegations about St. Sebastian’s finances are motivated by people upset by Francisco’s departure.
“The protests have been sparked by the fact that the diocese decided not to incardinate Father Joey Francisco and has asked him to return to his home diocese in the Philippines, which he has not yet done,” a Diocese spokesperson said.
Some protesters claim that the St. Sebastian’s used to disclose in its bulletin the amount of funds generated by its weekly collection but that Abels brought a stop to it.
The Diocese, however, says these allegations are untrue.
In a statement, the Diocese said: “In the five years that Father Kevin Abels has been the Pastor at St. Sebastian’s, and as was the case with the Pastor before him, there has never been a weekly or monthly publication of the finances in the bulletin. It has always been done on an annual basis.”
The church said that the protests have made no impact on its day-to-day operations or on its parishioners.
“Parishioners are not fazed by this small handful of unfounded opposition, nor has the weekly collection been affected,” the Diocese said. “The people who attend Mass regularly, and are part of the St. Sebastian community, know that the financials are monitored.”