RIP William R. Callahan: Champion of Social Justice


Rev. William R. Callahan, an international leader in movements for social justice, peace, and reform of the Roman Catholic Church,

died on Monday, July 5th in Washington, DC

In 1976, together with Dolly Pomerleau and Jesuit Bill Michelman, he founded the Quixote Center, where – as he put it – “people could dream impossible dreams of justice and make them come true.”

In 1980, Bill was silenced by the Jesuits on the issue of women’s ordination, but resumed his public stance a year later. 

In the late 1980s, he founded Catholics Speak Out, a project of the Quixote Center that encouraged lay Catholics to take adult responsibility for the direction of their church.

In 1989, the New England Province of the Jesuits, at the direction of the Vatican, threatened Bill with dismissal unless he severed his ties with the Quixote Center, Priests for Equality, and Catholics Speak Out, and returned to Boston.

He was dismissed from the Society of Jesus in the early 1990’s. 

Over the years, Bill guided many projects that the Quixote Center initiated.  These include: New Ways Ministry, a gay-positive ministry of advocacy and justice for lesbian and gay Catholics, the successful Karen Silkwood case on nuclear safety issues (completed by the Christic Institute), and Equal Justice/USA – a project opposing the death penalty.

Bill, far better than many Catholic leaders, understood the tension between laws and justice. Laws vary from time to time and place to place. Justice is unconditional. Laws are real but justice is a spirit that haunts laws and those who make and enforce laws.

People with enough power and influence often violate the demands of justice under the protection of the law and persecute the just.

The George W. Bush administration did it every day by unjustly making the poor poorer, by shrinking the size of the middle class, and by  filling the pockets of the rich with perfectly legal tax breaks.

The Christian Right — among whom are far too many prominent Roman Catholics — calls for law and order but makes hardly any mention of the biblical demands for social justice: justice for people forced to move to a foreign land to squeeze out a meager living. Justice for people caught in the poverty of inner-city life. Justice for people forced to work for below-subsistence wages and with no health care.

The God of forgiveness, mercy, compassion, and JUSTICE shines like a bright spotlight on the hypocrisy of those who, under the cover of God and in the name of Jesus, oppress the most defenseless people in our society.

In the Gospels the only time we see an angry Jesus is when he shows his anger at the hypocrisy of religious authorities who made a living denouncing sin while thriving in and concealing their own corruption. And they did it all, like those bishops today who cover-up sexual abuse of children, in the name of God.

A prophet is not someone who sees the future but a man or woman who warns about the consequences in the future of a present evil.

A prophet hears the call of justice as a human cry for help and the beating of a human heart.

Let us thank God for prophets like William R. Callahan and may we be inspired and encouraged by his example and memory.

 

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