A Michigan priest known for being a hugger to members of his parish will no longer embrace children during Mass, a Diocesan official told ABCNews.com today.
The Rev. William Langlois, who is pastor at St. Patrick and St. Anthony's Roman Catholic Church in Grand Haven, Mich., has never been accused of any wrongdoing, but he decided to stop hugging children because the practice was "out of step with, unfortunately, where were are in society," said Ed Carey, the chancellor of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Grand Rapids.
"From time to time, on a fairly regular basis, people would write and say, 'You know, I understand what he's doing. I think that it's perfect innocent, however the appearance may not be good for him and it may be sending, for some children, the wrong message,'" Carey said, adding that the diocese has had "ongoing discussion" with Langlois about the issue.
After 15 years of hugging, Langlois says he will now give children fist bumps, instead.
Langlois could not be reached at his church office this afternoon, but he told WOOD-TV in an interview that aired Tuesday that it was "painful" to have to end his tradition.
"When I would hug the kids, I would say, 'I am hugging you, you are hugging me and Jesus is hugging us,'" he said.
"We want [the children] to realize that there is good touch and bad touch, and we want their parents to reinforce that," he said, according to the WOOD report.
People had strong reactions to that report on Facebook.
"This is so sad, I grew up with hugs from Father Bill. It was comforting to know he cared for all of his young parishioners," wrote Jodi Rickfelder. "Hugs from him made St. Pats different and there is always a special place in my heart for him, and the church regardless of what has happened. It's a shame that future kids won't be able to feel the same connection."
And Kyle Reurink posted: "I understand the reasoning but it is still sad that this is where the world is at now."
Carey said the diocese has gotten several calls from people who were dismayed at what they viewed as a "terrible injustice" to Langlois, but added that other callers understood why the change was prudent.
Given the Catholic Church's recent history involving priests who have committed or been accused of sexually abusing minors, Carey said, the diocese spends a great deal of time creating safe environments and establishing proper boundaries, including a code of conduct for priests, volunteers and employees.