SPEAKING AS A CATHOLIC: CHURCH ISSUES AND ACTIVISM [HUNTER GRAY 4/27/02]
Speaking as a Catholic [Catholic dad, Episcopal
I'm not at all sure that all or even most of the sex charges being made
against Catholic clergy and the Roman Catholic Church have validity.
Profiteering rip-offs and fantasy-types can certainly sprout fast in this
kind of swirling and oft-hysterical atmosphere. Most Catholic priests and
brothers and nuns -- and Protestant ministers, and all other clergy, as far
as that goes -- are quite OK.
And the gay world certainly bears no blame whatsoever for any of this.
The embattled Cardinal of the Archdiocese of Boston, Bernard Law -- accused
of "cover-ups" and with many demands now for his resignation -- was once a
Diocesan staffer out of Jackson, Mississippi. The Church, all things
considered, has been pretty good always on racial issues -- even in places
like Magnolia-land --but out in the Deep South hinterland there were always
risks. Bernie Law ran some risks on behalf of civil rights -- as did
courageous Mississippi Episcopal leaders such as Bishop Duncan Gray. I'm
not shooting at Cardinal Law.
But, obviously, many of the sexual abuse charges do have substance.
Any thoughtful Catholic ought to be well aware that one basic approach to
all of this is simply to end the celibacy requirement. The Eastern
Church -- Orthodox -- far more conservative theologically than that of Rome,
hasn't had mandatory priestly celibacy for eons.
I have many friends who dropped out of seminary to get married. And I have
many who left the priesthood for the same reason -- sometimes after many
years of the cloth.
And, although it isn't talked about that much, there are now many Roman
priests who are married -- and have children. The Roman and Episcopal
churches are, of course, very similar theologically -- but the Episcopal
clergy can marry. About a quarter century ago, the Episcopal church [and
the comparable Anglican in Canada and Church of England in UK] moved to
allow the ordination of women. At that point, some conservative Episcopal
clergy moved -- with their wives and children -- into the Roman church as
full fledged Catholic priests.
In 1977, [under my original name of John R Salter, Jr] I was Director of
the Office of Human Development for the very large [12 county] Rochester,
N.Y. Catholic Diocese. We were its social justice arm. I had a staff of
about 24 persons, half of them priests and nuns and half laypeople. When I
came in late 1976, I shifted the focus of the office away from "safe things"
into broad-based community organization of "the people of the fewest
alternatives" -- regardless of their particular religious perspective or
lack of it.
We organized a successful strike of Native mink workers in a rough rural
setting, developed a myriad of multi-issue block clubs in the inner-city
regions, pushed farm worker rights and unionism in the rural areas, broke
new ground on Native rights, worked very closely with all facets of the
labor movement and with the Catholic Worker activists. And much more. And
we pushed for socialization of public power -- since RG&E [Rochester Gas and
Electric], whose board chair, BTW, was the biggest single contributor to our
Diocese, was gouging the hell out of virtually everyone.
And, one day, along with all other Diocesan departmental heads, I received
a large packet from Rome via our Bishop's office. This was the official
Vatican position against the ordination of women. Carol Schwartz and Tim
McGowan and Kevin Cullen and I sat at a table and read through all of it.
They were among our strongest staff supporters of militant organizing.
Carol, a layperson, and a sworn foe of Rochester Gas & Electric, had been
one of our secretaries when I had arrived. I learned of her many volunteer
evening hours spent doing grassroots organizing -- and, when our Urban
Ministry slot opened, I unilaterally moved her into that key position. That
angered some staff of mine -- several priests and nuns -- but I gave no
ground and, with the backing of other staff [including priests and nuns] and
community people and her good friend and mine, Monsignor George Cocuzzi,
Canon lawyer trained in Rome! -- we kept Carol in her very meaningful Urban
When she and I and Tim and Kevin finished the Vatican's long list of reasons
blocking the ordination of women, we agreed there was not one that had a
shred of any validity. If I had any lingering, traditional subconscious
hesitations about women's ordination, they were gone forevermore when I
finished the last Vatican page on the issue.
The faster the celibacy thing is ended and the quicker the ordination of
women, the clearer the Catholic skies will be. All of this is complex, for
sure, but those long overdue Mountain Roads would be a big part of a
And it would also be a huge step toward addressing
another super-crisis area in the Roman Catholic Church: the very rapidly dwindling
number of ordained priests -- and, via closures and/or mergers -- the very sharp decline
in numbers of parishes, closely related structures, and programs. This has been
especially pronounced in the last generation. Other factors -- e.g., demographic
shifts -- are often involved in closures/mergers but the extreme shortage of priests
is the basic causal factor.
An added note: Monsignor Cocuzzi and I were the Diocesan delegates to the
regional Genesee Ecumenical Ministries. Again in 1977, the two of us and
the Episcopal delegates and several others pushed successfully for GEM to
adopt a gay rights position -- which George, as Canon lawyer, drafted very
nicely -- with respect to employment, housing, justice. When this finally
passed, it was then incumbent on the leaders of each participating
denomination to convey the GEM position to their respective flocks. Our
chancery leadership balked at this -- but, in such a fashion, that it was
clear if George and I wanted to risk our necks, we could go ahead and send
the GEM gay rights statement with our two names as signatories out to the
several hundred parishes and related structures in the Diocese. It was up to us.
We were game. We worked all day at my office to put together a very solid
letter encompassing the GEM gay rights position and giving our reasons for
it. As Canon lawyer, George very adeptly brought in very solid and
supportive theological grounds. We signed: he as Monsignor George Cocuzzi
and I as Director of OHD -- and each of us as Diocesan GEM delegate. The
letter went to several hundred parishes and related organizations. Virtually every priest read it that next Saturday evening and all through Sunday at the [theoretically] obligatory masses.
The sky did not fall. We received many good words. More than that, we
broke some new ground -- back then, 1977.
It can be done. Even in the Church.
Less than a year later, I was axed -- "for insubordination" -- by the
Bishop and his circle. That led to one hell of a massive protest [and a
good part of one issue of the National Catholic Reporter covered it all ]
but I was never reinstated. Most people blamed Rochester Gas & Electric. In
the end, some of my enemies resigned and the Bishop took very unexpected,
early retirement. With my family, I, still a Catholic of course and always,
went back to Northern Arizona and the Navajo Nation -- but continue to keep
in touch with Rochester and occasionally speak there on social justice
issues. For an interesting discussion of our turbulent experiences at
Rochester, see this page [which also includes news story and photos] on our
Yours, Hunter [Hunterbear]
Hunter Gray [ Hunterbear ]
Protected by Na´shdo´i´ba´i´