Ethnicity, Faith and the Future of Catholicism

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In this week's Faith Matters segment, Father Reynaldo Taylor talks about being the first black priest to be ordained by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati in decades. The spiritual leader discusses diversity in the Catholic Church, and whether the ethnicity of a priest should even matter to the congregation.


And now it's time for our weekly talk about religion and spirituality - Faith Matters. This week: ethnicity, faith and the future of Catholicism. Our guest, Father Reynaldo Taylor, is a new priest in Cincinnati. His ordination last weekend had all the pomp and majesty we've come to expect at these ancient rites.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: His ordination was significant for another reason. Last weekend, he became the first African-American priest ordained in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati in over three decades. He joined the tiny ranks of African-American Catholic priests nationwide. But Taylor and other priests are serving an increasingly diverse population. So, does the church need more priests of color to survive, or should it matter? We caught up with Father Taylor in Oxford, Ohio.

Father Taylor, thanks for joining us.

Father REYNALDO TAYLOR (Archdiocese of Cincinnati): Thank you. Glad I could be here with you today.

MARTIN: And congratulations.

Father TAYLOR: Thank you very much.

MARTIN: Now, you were a religious brother before you became a diocesan priest. Did you jump or were you pushed?

Father TAYLOR: That's true. I was a religious brother before I came to the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. I belonged to a congregation called the Brothers of the Poor of St. Francis. My years as a brother were - I was there for over 25 years in vows, and I was very happy as a Brother of the Poor. And I'm - as I looked at the future of my congregation and myself ministerially, I saw my lifestyle moving more and more into the direction of that of being diocesan.

So I think, there again, it was the Holy Spirit somewhat pulling me out of my comfort zone, and that's really for me, as I looked at my journey, this is what it is about as being a true Christian, a true follower of Jesus Christ, is that many times we do have to go outside of our comfort zones and leave what we are more familiar with, and hopefully respond where the spirit is leading us.

MARTIN: And we talked about comfort zone. I think we have to talk about race. Now, on the one hand, obviously, we say this is supposed to be the kingdom of God, it really isn't supposed to matter, these distinctions that's part of, I think you would agree, that's part of what I think people are seeking in terms of holiness, is an end to these distinctions. On the other hand, people are comforted at times by being served by people of their own race. How do you sort out those two different issues?

Father TAYLOR: The reality is, is that to reach out to someone who looks like you, who prays like you, who's familiar with life like you - it seems like when you come into a church and you see statues that are all Caucasian, European (unintelligible) identify that that's what Jesus must have looked like, but we have to remember is that is the interpretation of those people who were worshiping there.

So it is important that we do have people that look like us, who are African - African-Americans - when it does come to reaching out and evangelizing. It is a reality that we are a visual society and that definitely does help.

MARTIN: Some people might argue, though, that our concern - some people consider obsession - with matters of race and distinction is part of the sinfulness of our society, and that the best thing we could do is to try to ignore those distinctions as much as possible. What do you say?

Father TAYLOR: That is true. And that's usually people who are usually on the other side, those who have not had to experience the racism and the feeling of being a second-class citizen. Many times people who are saying that are people who don't have the history of what it is like to be excluded or to be considered even a second-class citizen in many situations. There again you're talking about people who have goodness in their heart and only want good things. But there again too, it comes with that perspective of understanding where people of African descent have come from. And only someone who looks like you and have gone through that with you really can truly identify with you on that.

MARTIN: Have you ever felt like a second-class citizen within your own church?

Father TAYLOR: Let me tell you, I've belonged to a congregation of brothers - basically it was all Caucasian men. My first assignment was in Brown County, Ohio, where I lived for five years, the only African-American in my part of the county. My first assignment away from my provincial house took me to the fields of Iowa, where I think I was the only African-American again in that part of the country.

There again, it wasn't a thought that I was being singled out, but it was the fact that people were not able to even to identify and say, gee, maybe (unintelligible) process and understanding, or adjusting to being in this environment, that being the only African-American here.

MARTIN: So you many not have felt discriminated against but you felt lonely?

Father TAYLOR: There was a sense of isolation. I couldn't even find a barber when I first got to town that was used to cutting African-Americans' hair. I mean, we just didn't exist in the county that I was in in Iowa. I actually had to go to Moline, Illinois, many times to get a haircut. There again, that comfort zone. But then again it's people who are not sensitive to who you are as a minority, as a person of color who would think that, well, what, you're just getting a haircut? It all should be the same. Well, it should be but if you've never been trained or have never worked or have never seen, it is kind of different.

MARTIN: Hmm. I see your point. No, I see your point. You know, the church faces many challenges and…

Father TAYLOR: It is.

MARTIN: Among them is - I don't know if you consider it a shortage of priests, but that men are not joining the priesthood in the numbers that they were a generation ago. Do you feel that your presence in the church leadership as a diocesan priest will possibly help to change that in some way?

Father TAYLOR: I think, there again, what we're experiencing in the church is not so much of a shortage of priests but we - the numbers are down, but we're looking at more quality. We're looking at also using our resource and our manpower in a more positive way; it's six of one, half dozen of another. It would be wonderful if we had men bursting out of the doors of the seminary, but what we have to remember, too, is that the Holy Spirit calls us in our vocations and if the Holy Spirit is not calling people and people were not responding, then the Lord will make a way definitely out of no way, whatever resources that are available.

MARTIN: And one of the challenges, of course, facing the church is the scandals that have tarnished the church's reputation over the last couple of years, where priests…

Father TAYLOR: Michel, as an African-American Catholic man, I always say what scandal? Is it the scandal of slavery and hatred that the church has promoted in some of our parishes? Is it the scandal of the fact that we have people that work for wages that are below. I go to a different level when we talk about scandals. People have made some mistakes in the church. We pray for them and we ask for God's forgiveness and love for them, and we try to correct them and go on.

But the church has many sins, because of the humanness of people that are involved in the church. I think that's one thing we have to keep in mind, that we're talking about a very small percentage of priests, but one priest who has sinned is one priest too many. One priest who has hurt a child is one priest too many.

MARTIN: That's why…

Father TAYLOR: And it's something we can't pass the boat on; we have to address it.

MARTIN: How are you adjusting to having your very own parish?

Father TAYLOR: I think I'm adjusting rather well to the approach of a parish life, a parish ministry. I feel somewhat overwhelmed with all the possibilities of what we can do. My thinking is, you know, the sky's the limit. All I can pray is that the Lord gives me the energy to process it all.

MARTIN: All right.

Father TAYLOR: My first night of ordination I heard two hours of confessions. But it's not on my schedule, on my ordination evening to hear confessions. But as a priest we are called to minister where we are needed. Let me tell you, I was truly blessed by the experience…

MARTIN: All right.

Father TAYLOR: …because that's what it's all about.

MARTIN: All right. Father Rey, come check back with us and tell us how it's going. Will you do that?

Father TAYLOR: Thank you very much, Michel. Definitely.

MARTIN: All right.

Father TAYLOR: Keep us in your prayers.

MARTIN: Thank you. That was Father Reynaldo Taylor. He joined us from member station WMUB in Oxford, Ohio. Father Rey, thank you.

Father TAYLOR: Thank you very much.

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