Angels of LA

Catholic Bishops

by John Tracy Ellis
Michael Glazier/The Liturgical Press, 182 pp., $8.95 (paper)

The Powers That Be

by David Halberstam
(out of print), 1,071 pp.

James Francis Aloysius McIntyre, Roman Catholic archbishop (and eventually cardinal) of Los Angeles between 1948 and 1970, is remembered today, if at all, as a cartoon of an ecclesiastical tyrant. It was McIntyre’s misfortune to be an old man, although more or less a vigorous one, when the winds of change stirred by Pope John XXIII and Vatican Council II whistled through the Church. Over forty years a priest, set in his ways and satisfied with Catholicism’s existing chain of command, McIntyre was not happy about changes in the Church. What he did not think broke, he did not want fixed, and he had the will to thwart those given both to fixing and, worse, to suggesting a degree of clerical independence and priestly collegiality that he would regard as a challenge to his governance.

In his own diocese, a bishop (or ordinary, as he is called in canon law) has virtual Caligulan powers; his word is law, and if, unlike Caligula, he cannot ordain a horse, there is little else not within his power and the reach of his discipline. McIntyre opposed many of the Council’s liturgical reforms, most persistently the replacement of the Latin mass with one in each country’s vernacular; his argument essentially was that the vernacular should be left to the Protestants. In the Council proceedings of 1962, he contended that a congregation’s verbal participation was, in his words, “frequently a distraction,” and warned that “grave changes in the liturgy introduce grave changes in dogma.” Only after Rome’s sternest urgings did McIntyre finally allow the vernacular English language mass in his diocese.

In Los Angeles, the last decade of the cardinal’s episcopate was marked by a series of undignified and unnecessary public disputes that McIntyre seemed to encourage less for canonical reasons than to establish the absoluteness of his prelacy. He fired a teaching order of nuns from diocesan parochial schools because the sisters wished, among other things, to make the wearing of their habit optional (in accord with the Council) and to require that classroom nuns be properly credentialed as teachers (many only had a high school diploma). An encounter that should have been settled quietly instead festered openly for three years until the nuns chose to become unaffiliated with the archdiocese.

The most egregious discordance occurred in 1964 when William DuBay, then twenty-nine, an activist civil rights priest, petitioned Pope Paul VI to remove McIntyre for “gross malfeasance in office.” The cardinal, according to DuBay, both was indifferent to the virus of racism and had mounted a campaign of intimidation against priests who disagreed with him. Always a loose cannon, DuBay was a difficult proposition even for the cardinal’s most energetic critics. He was the kind of priest, Garry Wills later wrote, who “makes one sympathetic with any superior who had to deal with him.” McIntyre’s response was to order official chastisement. As 231 priests looked on, he forced the mutinous DuBay to kneel before …

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Letters

Not Jewish March 4, 1999