Distinguished Pastor Emeritus Gets the Boot.

July 15, 2011 at 12:52 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Recently, a number of distinguished US Catholics have been condemned, or insulted, or excommunicated by the church to which they committed their lives. Among these are Mercy Sister Mary Margaret McBride of Phoenix, excommunicated for saving the life of a mother of four unable to carry a non-viable fetus to term; Maryknoll Father Roy Bourgeois, excommunicated for speaking publicly in support of women’s ordination; and Sister Elizabeth A. Johnson, whose book, Quest for the Living God, was condemned by the Committee on Doctrine of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for making God sound too connected to human beings.

I have met several of these folks, or heard them speak, but I can’t say that I know them well. Now, somebody I do know, somebody I consider a friend, has joined the list of the institutionally abused.  Father George Crespin, 75 years old, pastor emeritus of St. Joseph the Worker Parish, in Berkeley, CA, has been put out of the rectory where he lived for the past thirty years by the new pastor, Rev. John Direen. Since his retirement  as pastor in 2005, Father Crespin has been the primary minister to the large Latino community in the parish.

St. Joseph the Worker was for decades a hub of Catholic social justice activism in the San Francisco Bay area. The pastor who preceded George Crespin was Father Bill O’Donnell, a social justice icon and disciple of Cesar Chavez who was arrested approximately 250 times during his years as a priest. George Crespin became pastor in 1995, continued the parish’s commitment to social justice and the poor, and welcomed the presence of the admittedly feisty O’Donnell in the rectory for seven years, until O’Donnell died in 2002. Now, however, Direen has put Crespin out, though Crespin is downright mild compared to Bill O’Donnell.

To grasp what’s going on here, it’s helpful to know that Crespin, and O’Donnell before him, were appointed by Bishop John Cummins, a “John XXIII” bishop, widely revered for his Vatican II sensibilities and practice. In 2003, Bishop Cummins was replaced by Bishop Allen Vigneron, a “John Paul II” bishop, now the archbishop of Detroit (and one of the bishops who condemned Elizabeth Johnson’s book). His successor in Oakland, Bishop Cordileone, was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI.

The occasion for George Crespin’s removal from his home. according to a report posted on the diocesan webpage, was Crespin’s violation of  rules regarding the administration of the sacraments. Now two other things you need to know about George Crespin are that 1)he was the head of the Marriage Tribunal, and then the chancellor of the Oakland diocese under Bishop John Cummins and 2) he’s a Chicano. The odds that the former chancellor of a diocese is just breaking the rules are not high. Doubtless what’s at issue is a difference of interpretation regarding the administration of the sacraments, one exacerbated by ethno-cultural differences. But in the Catholic Church, the guy on top (and I use word “guy” advisedly here) always wins.

Having observed Crespin celebrate the sacraments over a number of years, I can guarantee you that his behavior falls well within the Catholic tradition, though perhaps not the obsessive-compulsive strain introduced by Bishop Vigneron. (Vigneron was noted for saying, when he was the rector of the seminary in Detroit, that it was the only orthodox Catholic seminary in the US.) The mistreatment of my friend George Crespin reminds me of a story told me by a priest friend here in Brooklyn: a younger priest, recently arrived in the parish, warned him that it was irreverent not to vest before returning the host to the tabernacle after  weekly all-afternoon exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. My friend told him God was more interested in his service to the poor. Luckily, the young priest was not the pastor.

My final reflection on the expulsion of a highly respected pastor and former diocesan chancellor from the rectory in which he lived for thirty years has to do with the declining number of vocations to the Catholic priesthood in the US. Anybody who would become a priest after witnessing this kind of spectacle is too dumb for us to have him.


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  1. You speak the truth Marian about Fr. Crespin.



    • Fr. Crespin is a priest that walked (walks) the talk. He has been an advisor, a cheerleader for the students at Berkeley High and UC Berkeley. And he has giving wonderful support to dying and ill: as he did for my mother.
      Thank you Fr. Crespin and all that work for the Church of Christ.


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