The Bishop of New Oakland inherits huge debt, frustrated clergymen
Oakland, California – As a Jesuit, Br. Michael Barber will be consecrated as the fifth Bishop of Oakland on May 25th.
For the past seven months, retired Archbishop of Seattle Alexander Brunett, the diocese’s apostolic administrator, has been studying ways to reduce debt through a large fundraising campaign and reorganize some aspects of chancery management.
Appointed after Bishop Salvatore Cordileone crossed the bay last October to preside over the Archdiocese of San Francisco, Brunett, 79, quickly gained enthusiastic support for his financial expertise, administrative leadership, and warmth.
Many in the diocese now fear that elected Bishop Barber, who has worked primarily as a seminary teacher, spiritual leader, and naval chaplain, will have a steep learning curve, which he admitted much about the Church in during a press conference announcing his appointment on May 3 To learn Oakland, ”he said.
His Provincial, Jesuit Fr Michael Weiler, in a letter dated May 3 to his Jesuit colleagues stated that the new bishop, who has served as the minister of spiritual formation at St. John’s Seminary in Boston for the past three years, is “facing the challenge to become Ordinary of a Diocese immediately ”. without time to get used to his new role. “
Barber, 58, was a pastor in Western Samoa for two years after ordination in 1985 and lived in St. Agnes Parish in San Francisco while directing the School of Pastoral Leadership of the Archdiocese of San Francisco from 1998 to 2001 traditional diocesan structure.
Barber told the press that he first heard of his appointment through a phone call from his Boston office. A few days later, when he was in Washington, DC, accepting the appointment for military service on the 25th of Father Robert Coyle’s episcopal ordination as auxiliary bishop in the archdiocese.
“I don’t know how him [Pope Francis] got my name We have never met, ”said Barber, adding that he was“ humble ”to be appointed bishop by the new Jesuit pope. “Maybe he thought I could do in Oakland what he wants to do in the whole ward. I’m watching him very closely. I want to imitate him. “
Regarding his lack of administrative experience, Barber noted that the Pope (then Fr. Jorge Mario Bergoglio), unexpectedly appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Buenos Aires in 1992, “had to start somewhere too”.
The announcement of Barber’s May 3 appointment came as a surprise, especially to the priests who had been called to a May 6 meeting that many believed was centered on the administrative reorganization of the cathedral complex and some aspects of the chancellery. This meeting was canceled on May 2nd. “Although we were careful to name a replacement, the diocese priests were told that this would not happen until the fall,” Fr. Robert McCann wrote in the May 12th ward bulletin to his parishioners at St. Theresa Church, Oakland .
McCann questioned the timely scheduling of the episcopal ordination just a month after Barber accepted the appointment. “It’s amazingly quick,” wrote McCann, noting that Father Peter Loy Chong, who lived in St. Theresa while doing his doctorate at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, will not be ordained Archbishop of Fiji until June 8th, although he was appointed bishop last December.
Others, talking to NCR on condition that their names are not used, they fear that some in the diocese will be speeding up the barber ordination to block the implementation of the reorganization.
Some saw the reorganization as a partial response to an underlying dissatisfaction with Cordileone’s leadership in Oakland that surfaced during a priestly meeting in October 2011, two and a half years after he came to the diocese.
In two workshops, 59 priests identified topics that they presented to Cordileone. Summary documents received from NCR show that this included the perception that collaboration and consultation were undervalued in its administration, that an “ascending ecclesiology of the church” was imposed on religious education programs that “did not promote a broader ecclesiological framework or theological perspective,” and that morality had fallen short the staff of the office and the pastors worsened.
The priests also expressed concern about “a lack of awareness, attention and resources for the pastoral and multicultural reality of the diocese”.
The Diocese of Oakland is one of the most ethnically diverse in the country, with 550,000 Catholics. In the two counties that make up the diocese, less than half the population is Anglo. A quarter are Latino with an equal percentage of Asians. Sunday mass is held in Spanish in 39 of the 83 parishes in the diocese. Masses are also regularly celebrated in Cantonese, Ge’ez, Kmhmu, Korean, Mandarin, Polish, Portuguese, Tagalog, Tongan and Vietnamese.
“I look forward to working with so many wonderfully diverse ethnic communities,” said Bishop Barber, who speaks Latin and English as well as Italian, French, Samoan and liturgical Spanish.
Perhaps the most pressing problem for the new bishop will be reducing the $ 114.7 million debt incurred from building a new cathedral, settlements for clergy sexual abuse, cemetery rehabilitation, and other diocesan projects .
He will have to decide whether to proceed with an anticipated capital campaign. Mike Brown, director of communications for the diocese, said liquidation of marketable securities, sale of some properties and refinancing of some of the debt are also expected.
Barber said during the press conference that he wanted to follow the example of Pope Francis and focus on the needs of the poor and the marginalized. “He wants serving leaders,” he said.
[Monica Clark is an NCR west coast correspondent. Her email is [email protected].]