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placeholder August 8, 2011   •   VOL. 49, NO. 14   •   Oakland, CA
Berkeley parishioners mull response

Parishioners dissatisfied with the direction of St. Joseph the Worker Parish agreed at a meeting Aug. 2 to form a response to Bishop Salvatore J. Cordileone, who implored them to try to resolve their issues with the pastor, Father John Direen.

Mario Ibarra led a group of eight parishioners from St. Joseph the Worker who met with the Bishop.
JOSÉ LUIS AGUIRRE PHOTO

Eight representatives of Save/Salve St. Joseph the Worker, a group of parishioners at the Berkeley church, met with Bishop Cordileone July 25 to address the issues they say drove them from the pews.

Also present at the meeting with the bishop were Father George Mockel, vicar general; Father Ray Breton, vicar for clergy; and Hector Medina, diocesan coordinator of Latino ministries.

The eight representatives said they brought letters and petitions signed by 300 to 400 members of the parish. A meeting of concerned parishioners in June in a community center drew 200 people; most subsequent meetings have drawn about 40.

Parishioners keyed their presentation to what they said are the central concerns regarding the leadership, vision and communication of Father Direen, who has been pastor of the Berkeley church for the past two years.

St. Joseph the Worker, founded in 1879, has a rich tradition of social justice, and serving the needs of immigrants.

Parishioners began to express displeasure with Father Direen’s leadership of the parish, on issues including turning what had been a ground-floor conference room into a religious goods store; delayed planning of liturgies, including the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe; and changes in the councils that advise him.

After 150 people protested June 19 outside Sunday Masses celebrated by the bishop during a regular visitation to the parish, a meeting was scheduled with the group of eight people.

Raul Ramirez, a parishioner since 1958, described the group as “diverse in ethnicity, age and Mass attendance.” Over the course of more than 90 minutes, the eight people described — sometimes in English, sometimes in Spanish — their concerns about parish leadership.

They requested a financial audit of the parish, and sought to learn more about the viability of the store. They told of their work at the parish in various ministries, including social justice, lector, Eucharistic ministers and music.

At the conclusion of the meeting, they asked the bishop for a new pastor.

“I always prefer to try to work things out with the pastor,” said the bishop, adding that he had never removed a pastor, although he did not rule out the possibility.

The bishop asked the people to work with him toward a resolution of their conflicts, and said he would change a statement on the situation on the diocesan website.

The eight met with a large group the following night, and responded by e-mail. After thanking the bishop for the meeting, the group wrote: “Simply put, the loss of faith and trust in Fr. Direen is too profound; further, many doubt that Fr. Direen possesses the administrative skill requisite for such a delicate and difficult undertaking. The group continues to believe that only new pastoral leadership will assure a happy present and vibrant future for St. Joseph the Worker parish.”

The bishop responded by letter July 29: “This is the first time that I have had to deal with parishioners choosing not to try to cooperate with their pastor in this sort of a situation.”

“While I acknowledge the emotional impact of ‘the loss of faith and trust in Fr. Direen’ that you are experiencing right now, I would earnestly ask you not to let this impede the possibility of working together.”

After the July 25 meeting with the parishioners, the bishop and vicars met with Father Direen. The pastor later said in an interview he has some goals to help address the parishioners’ concerns: “When we have parish council and finance council meetings, publish the minutes to improve accountability.” He also plans to provide additional details on the ministries, and put a calendar of events on the website.

Among the events on the calendar may be a first-time event for the parish’s Filipino-American community honoring San Lorenzo Ruiz. His feast day is Sept. 28; the celebration will be held on the closest Sunday, Father Direen said.

The parish website, launched last fall, will continue to add information, including an area dedicated to the parish gift shop.

Father Direen said that some of the protesting members of the parish have continued to serve as lectors and Eucharistic ministers, wearing their white T-shirts with an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

While acknowledging that he is “walking softly” to avoid getting in the way of the bishop’s work with the group, Father Direen expressed his willingness to meet with the eight who met with the bishop, “to continue the discussion.”

 
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