A Kachemak City man who said he was only trying to exercise his right to pray was arrested Sunday afternoon at St. John's Catholic Church in Homer after refusing to leave to make way for a piano recital.
Church officials say the man was given plenty of opportunity to comply with the request and could have remained to pray silently, but he insisted on reciting prayers in a loud voice in what they said was clearly a determined attempt to disrupt the recital.
Glenn Traugott declined to comment about the incident or his arrest, deferring to his attorney, Wayne Ross of Anchorage.
"I took the case, first off, because I find it fascinating," Ross said Thursday, noting that defending someone hauled out of a church under arrest for attempting to use a church for its proper purposes was an attractive legal challenge.
St. John's has been without a resident priest since late summer. Instead, it has a pastoral administrator, Annemiek Brunklaus, who moved to Homer from Dutch Harbor in June to take the position.
"It sounds like they need a priest down there," Ross said. "The lay lady doesn't understand canon law and got self-appointed to a position of authority."
In defending Traugott, Ross said he would argue what the purpose of a church is.
"Is it to pray or have a piano recital?" he said.
"We submit that whoever gave the order that he had to leave didn't have the authority to do that, either moral or actual, and that that person, in effect, was using the church improperly."
Ross, a Catholic, said, "We Catholics believe in the presence of God in the blessed sacraments. They are supposed to be removed." Not doing so and using the church for secular purposes in the presence of the sacraments is a violation of church law, he said.
The arrest was unusual, said Lt. Randy Rosencrans, of the Homer Police Department.
Once on scene, Officer Andy Deveaux and Sgt. Joe Hamilton called the station for advice, unsure about escorting someone from the church under arrest -- someone who was attempting to pray.
"They saw it was a delicate situation," Rosencrans said.
The officers were told church officials had the right to ask someone to leave, and once that person refused, that he or she would be subject to arrest for trespassing.
"We were forced to place him under arrest and place him in custody," Rosencrans said.
Traugott has been charged with criminal trespass in the second degree, a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to $1,000 fine and 90 days in jail if convicted. Rosencrans said Traugott was cooperative.
Father Steven Moore, spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Anchorage, said Traugott has made a practice of challenging the authority of church administrators.
"He will say the rosary loudly and carry on," Moore said. "He's been disruptive for quite some time."
Moore said that when Traugott told the administrator he was going to say the rosary, he was asked to be done by 2:45 p.m. when the recital was to start. Moore said Traugott had ample time to complete the rosary, a litany of prayers that takes about 15 minutes. But Moore said Traugott told piano teacher, Carol Comfort-Waldorf, that he would be "maybe an hour or two."
Moore said the issue wasn't saying the rosary, which can be said anywhere, but rather Traugott's behavior. He said Traugott could have remained and prayed even during the recital, had he only agreed to do so silently. But for Traugott, the issue became a protest.
"It's been a pattern of unwillingness to accept that the administrator of the parish has the authority to run the parish," he said.
The issue of the use of the church for purposes other than strictly religious events is a decision for the archdiocese, not any one parishioner, Moore said.
Brunklaus said she had received a request from Comfort-Waldorf six weeks prior asking to use the church for a piano recital so that the children could show their parents how much progress they had made. Brunklaus agreed.
Services at the church are over shortly before 1 p.m., she said, and Traugott often makes use of the quiet time to use the church for further prayers. This day, she said, the church had held a Christmas party downstairs and the recital was scheduled for around 3 p.m. But at 2:45 p.m., "he was still going strong," she said.
Asked repeatedly to stop, or at least to pray silently, Traugott refused, she said. Delayed by the confrontation, the recital finally had to be moved downstairs, the players using a portable piano. Brunklaus called police.
She said that she has no problem with piano recitals occurring while the sacraments are in the tabernacle. She said God gave the children the musical talent and would enjoy listening.
Comfort-Waldorf declined comment for this story.
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