The title suggests a running confrontation between a subordinate and a superior. And while the dichotomy between two partners in faith may reveal how difficult change can be within religious orthodoxy, William H. DuBay’s “The Priest and the Cardinal: Race and Rebellion in 1960s Los Angeles” (CreateSpace, 2016, $12.45) offers a unique perspective of the Catholic Church in Los Angeles and what lengths one man will go to expose the social constraints of entrenched dogma.
DuBay, whose 1967 book “The Human Church” helped shine a spotlight on an often reluctant church to speak out on civil rights, this time takes the reader directly from the streets of poverty in Compton and Watts to the seat of power at Cathedral of St. Vibiana in downtown Los Angeles. The local archdiocese, then headed by the ultra-conservative Cardinal James McIntyre, was staunchly against any political involvement of the Church in matters pertaining to civil rights.
DuBay, a “head-strong” socialist priest to say the least, first incurred the ire of McIntyre while serving at Our Lady of Lourdes in Northridge when he had the temerity to make a plea in the parish newsletter regarding housing integration in the San Fernando Valley community. That didn’t score many points downtown and he was quickly reassigned to St. Bede’s Church in La Canada. There, DuBay continued speaking out on civil rights and found himself transferred again to St. Albert the Great in Compton where he may have sealed his fate with the archdiocese, when he helped to organize a small but vocal group called Catholics United for Racial Equality (CURE) that criticized Proposition 14, an initiative referendum that sought to outlaw fair housing laws in Los Angeles.
McIntyre was one of the last hold outs among the nation’s Catholic leaders that backed racial segregation. “How did you develop this interest in Negroes?” he asked DuBay. “I have no Negro friends.” And so goes the testy dialogue between the two men of faith. McIntyre constantly pressured and threatened his priests who opposed his stance on racial issues. DuBay’s appeal to Pope Paul V in Rome asking for McIntyre’s removal only met with endless red tape.
By then, many local Protestant, Jewish, Muslim and Hindu religious leaders began to speak out against Proposition 14, with the biggest backlash coming from the city’s Black Catholics who picketed St. Vibiana in calling for an end to “ecclesiastical racism.” That made matters even worse for DuBay. Now forced into a “formal profession of obedience” by McIntyre, DuBay was transferred to Anaheim. Essentially, McIntyre’s attitude largely hinged on the belief that discrimination against Catholics was a moral issue, whereas discrimination against African Americans was a political issue best “left to the individual.”
McIntyre watched DuBay “like a hawk” while in Anaheim, not allowing any Black persons from Compton or South LA in general to visit him, nor was DuBay allowed to speak to anyone—of any race—after Sunday service. However, DuBay’s work began a movement among the nation’s Catholics to reconsider their racial beliefs based on Jesus’ teachings. A small but effective reform movement had taken hold among Catholics across the land as DuBay wrote that the Civil Rights Movement had revealed “fundamental flaws” within the American Church.
As for Proposition 14, it passed by an overwhelming margin (later repealed in 1974), thereby causing priests and nuns from more than 60 dioceses (including DuBay) to travel to Selma, Ala., in 1966 in support of the Voting Rights Act. Around this time, DuBay again criticized the archdiocese, this time in reference to its treatment of Mexican Americans. He packed his bags again, this time headed to Santa Monica to serve as chaplain at St. John’s Hospital. “The Human Church” was penned during this period of reflection and disenchantment with the archdiocese; Dubay invoked a plea to the principles of accountability, due process and shared power within the Catholic Church.
The Church “held itself aloof,” DuBay wrote as the Watts Riots tore through South Los Angeles. And while McIntyre believed the uprising was nothing more than a communist plot among African Americans, most of the city’s churches, synagogues and mosques began “race-religion” projects and dialogues while the archdiocese remained largely silent, only issuing the terse statement: “Rebellion born of poverty can hardly be alleged as the root cause of the outbreak.”
McIntyre disciplined DuBay—ultimately suspending him from the priesthood—for suggesting the creation of a priest’s union, noting that his book was an affront and an “attack” on the central teachings of the Church. The most sacred being absolute obedience of priests to the hierarchy. A priest could not write a book on theology without prior consent of his superior.
Those years saw DuBay become much more secular rather than scriptural, even meeting a few times with Martin Luther King Jr. who told him in Chicago that “… priests should have the power and freedom to carry out the Gospel [in today’s terms]” in commenting about the proposed priest’s union. The idea began to spread nationally and into Mexico and Central America as DuBay began extensive travel to promote more cooperation of churches to eliminate prejudice and promote integration.
One prominent Black Catholic man who assisted DuBay during his civil rights work was the late Leon Aubry, a local business activist, and long-time proprietor of Aubry’s Barber Shop in Jefferson Park. DuBay said Aubry was “an essential voice” in rallying support for a more powerful presence of Black Catholics in Los Angeles.
DuBay’s book is valuable reading for persons imbued with youthful idealism who question orthodoxy, dogma and antiquated social beliefs. As a priest, DuBay had to endure the traditional dilemma of balancing conscious with authority. For the reader, the challenge may lie in accepting the consequences of an unpopular course of action—even if Jesus commands your stance.