Berkeley Parishioners Protest at Church

Contra Costa Times
June 20, 2011

Parishioners of a liberal Catholic Church demonstrated outside the facility Sunday, protesting what they say is a more conservative direction the parish has taken the past two years.

About 100 members of St. Joseph the Worker Church took part in the demonstration, timed to coincide with a visit by the Most Rev. Salvatore Cordileone, bishop of the Diocese of Oakland, which includes both Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

They were requesting the removal of the Rev. John Direen, the church's pastor, and objected to the ouster of the Rev. George Crespin, St. Joseph's pastor emeritus. Direen was appointed to the parish two years ago.

In the past, St. Joseph's has been used to plan antiwar protests and labor organizing drives; it once was used as a safe house by United Farm Workers founder Cesar Chavez.

The protesters objected to Direen's dismissal of the parish council and its Latino counterpart, the Consejo Latino. Membership of the parish is largely Latino.

In addition, parishioners assert that Direen has closed the conference room in the rectory to the church's Social Justice Committee, the St. Vincent De Paul Society and Berkeley Organizing Community for Action, an interfaith political action group that lobbies the city and the school board on issues affecting the poor.

Phone calls and emails seeking comment from Direen were unsuccessful.

Crespin was informed three weeks ago that he had to leave St. Joseph's by the end of this month.

The parishioners were silent until a Mass said by Cordileone was over. Then, as the church doors swung open, they began quietly chanting the Lord's Prayer.

They hoped the bishop would meet with them after the Mass, but he did not. Cordileone did meet briefly with a small group the night before, but he made no promises.

"This (protest) is very painful for us," said Delfina Geiken, chairwoman of the church's St. Vincent De Paul Society. "We were raised to be deferential to the hierarchy. But we have no choice. We have to save our church."

More than 250 letters from parishioners protesting the developments at St. Joseph's and Crespin's dismissal have been sent to Cordileone. A similar letter protesting Crespin's ouster was signed by 29 East Bay priests.

Mike Brown, spokesman for the Diocese of Oakland, said he would comment Monday, after he has a chance to talk with Cordileone.


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