Father Van A Hagar did not come to Canada to sight-see nor did he come to attend a pro-life strategy meeting. In fact, if it was left up to him, he’d be back in Pittsburgh preaching the pro-life message and raising funds for third world countries.
But Fr. Hagar did not have a choice and because of his refusal to water down his pro-life massages, he was reprimanded. “If you step out of line,” says the charismatic priest, “you’re going to have to accept the consequences.” The Interim caught up with Fr. Hagar at a local pro-life strategy meeting.
To his chargin, he’ll be spending the next six months in Southdown, an Aurora, Ont. home for priests who suffer from alcoholism, depression, fatigue, and psychological instability. Fr. Hagar has been sent there by his order to undergo psychological tests.
Before being sent to Southdown, the middle-aged Consolata priest served as a missionary in Ethiopia. After being denounced by the government for speaking out against the slaughter of 30,000 children, he was forced to return to the U.S. His order then sent him to Sommerset N.J. where he raised funds for overseas missions, and began to advance his healing ministry.
In Ethiopia, the need for healing had always been evident: poverty, famine, disease, and war. Back in New Jersey the problems were less clear and Fr. Hagar devoted his work to the inner healing of the spirit. In the course of his work, he discovered that, among many women, a major cause for spiritual discomfort was abortion.
For the next while he concentrated on healing women who had had abortions and trying to persuade women entering clinics not to have abortions: “Once I learned the truth about abortion and what it does to the human spirit, I felt obliged to speak out.”
His problems really began when he was transferred to Pittsburgh. “Local pro-lifers warned me about Pittsburgh. They related the many problems they’d experienced with the police, the legal system and even the Church. I didn’t know what to expect.”
He continued his healing ministry, sidewalk counseling and preaching his pro-life message. However, some area Catholics became disenchanted with his words from the pulpit. Always considered a powerfully emotional speaker, Fr. Hagar spoke vigorously in defence of the unborn and, despite several warnings, he refused to dilute his message.
The bubble finally burst when some local Catholics called his superior and complained about Fr. Hagar’s sermons. Pittsburgh’s Bishop Donald Wuerl also became entangled in the conflict and, after a volley of letters between the parishioners, his superior and the bishop, Father Hagar was finally silenced.
Not knowing how to handle the priest who would not soften his message, his order decided that he should be given time off to sort things out and Southdown was chosen. He didn’t expect to be sent for psychological treatment and sees no need for it but will comply with the wishes of his superior. He bears no animosity towards the Consolata order and claims many of them were very supportive of his ministry.
Fr. Hagar is now in a new environment and will continue his ministry by trying to help heal the broken souls in Southdown. He has been assigned there for six months and, at the end of June, will have completed two. He does not know what the future holds for him and will return to the U.S. and wait for assignment, “Perhaps I’ll go back to mission work,” he says without animosity but with a slight trace of disappointment.
In the meantime, he is looking forward to the third month of treatment when Saturdays will be his own: “I’ll call and find out where the nearest abortion clinic is. I miss the opportunity of praying with pro-lifers.”