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Parish integrity, witness too good to lose

Considerable attention has been given in NCR’s pages to the impressive ministries that have evolved during the past two decades at Corpus Christi Parish in Rochester, N.Y., and to its unusual and daring pastor, Fr. James Callan (NCR Feb. 28, 1997).

We have also given considerable attention over the years to the work and thinking of Rochester Bishop Matthew Clark, a model of the kind of courage, intelligence and pastoral care that has become frighteningly scarce in today’s church.

So we find ourselves in the same circumstance as must many in the diocese: uneasy with, but also understanding of the action the bishop feels compelled to take against the pastor.

Whether Rome called directly for the pastor’s transfer is almost immaterial. It is enough to know that the Vatican has made numerous inquiries based on the constant stream of complaints it has received from ultraconservative informants so ardently at work in the church these days.

Callan provided them with an enormous target. He may well have given us a view of the church of tomorrow with his parish’s incredible outreach to the poor and the otherwise marginalized. But he also pushed the limits in other areas such as his open invitation to inter-communion and in blessing homosexual unions.

Whether or not he is a prophetic figure, Callan clearly is way out in front of much of the rest of the Catholic communion, particularly in this rigorously regressive era.

In many ways, he left Clark no choice. The transfer was inevitable. We can just hope that if, indeed, a prophet has sown, what was planted will eventually flower in full form.

In the meantime, his parish seems to have drawn important lessons from his years of leadership. It appears that the parish is strongly rooted in a vision of gospel love and work and is not merely a Callan cult. We hope parishioners do not draw a battle line with Clark, but find an accommodation that will relieve some of the pressure from Rome while maintaining the integrity of the parish’s witness.

For it is in that last point -- as witness -- that Corpus Christi is most distinctive. One gets the sense that with the amount of feeding, sheltering and comforting of the poor, homeless, outcast and otherwise marginalized that goes on here, Jesus would not feel at all out of place in their poor Rochester neighborhood. And that is something that no band of reactionaries or Vatican congregation can disassemble.

National Catholic Reporter, August 28, 1998