The following comes from a Mar. 5 story in the East Bay Express titled “Gay Priest Ousted by Conservative Bishop.”

During Sunday Mass several weeks ago at Newman Hall Holy Spirit Parish in Berkeley, Father Bernard Campbell spoke of anger, bitterness, and sadness. At the end of the service, the pastor read a short excerpt from a poem: “A friend once gave me a gift, a box of darkness, and it took me a long time to discover that even this was a gift.”

The quote was his way of helping parishioners process the surprising news he had just delivered: Michael Barber, the new bishop of the Oakland Diocese, had decided to remove him and another pastor, Father Bill Edens, from Newman Hall. The “darkness” appeared to be a reference to the fact that, as Campbell told the crowd, the bishop had not met with the pastors or given them any information on the reason for his decision. It was, however, the bishop’s direct order, he said. And yet more troubling was the fact that, according to the pastor, Barber had made it clear that the removal of these two priests supported his broader goal “to see a major redirection of ministry at Newman.” The bishop had apparently expressed this intention last fall to the leadership of the Paulist Fathers, the Roman Catholic order that has run Newman Hall for more than a century.

The details of this “new vision,” as Campbell also described it in his remarks, are not yet clear. In the weeks since the February 16 speech — a copy of which was posted on the church’s website — parishioners at Newman Hall have continued to send letters to the bishop demanding an explanation. A day after the news broke, hundreds of churchgoers met at Newman Hall to discuss the situation and ways they might protest. Campbell and Edens did not attend. The bishop and the Diocese of Oakland have not publicly addressed this backlash or responded to individual parishioners who have written letters.

While some are focused primarily on the loss of Campbell and Edens, others said they are equally worried about any larger agenda the diocese under Barber’s leadership may be planning for Newman Hall. While it is standard in the Catholic Church to move priests to new parishes, the situation in Berkeley came as a surprise and is controversial for a number of reasons, parishioners said. One notable fear is that Barber, who was ordained as the bishop of Oakland last May, could be pushing to make Newman Hall a more conservative institution. Fueling this speculation is the fact that Edens is an openly gay priest who came out to the parish a few years ago and speaks publicly about his sexual orientation. (While he identifies as gay — a fact that he has discussed in homilies — Edens, like all Catholic priests, is celibate.)

“The bishop hasn’t responded to any inquiries or letters or phone calls,” said Matt Werner, a longtime East Bay resident and Newman Hall parishioner since 1998. He wrote to Barber last month, requesting that he reconsider the dismissals. “He’s been completely silent on the topic.” Without any explanation from the diocese, Werner and others are left wondering whether the progressive ways of Newman Hall, which serves East Bay residents, including the UC Berkeley community, may be a contributing factor. “All are welcome here,” Werner explained. “Gays, lesbians, people who may not find a home at other Catholic churches. We want to make it a home for everyone.” For this reason, some are questioning whether Barber might be uncomfortable with Edens’ admission that he is gay, Werner said. But at this point, he said, “We’re in the dark. There are a lot of different theories and rumors and one of them is that [it is because] Father Bill Edens is an openly gay priest … and the new bishop is arguably very conservative.”

…Some parishioners are also concerned that the bishop could be looking to prioritize serving UC Berkeley students over longtime community members. A similar controversy erupted at UC Davis last year when the bishop of Sacramento decided to move liturgical services from the Newman Center chapel on campus to a nearby parish, a move which, according to a report by the National Catholic Reporter, angered non-students who felt they were being dismissed….

To read the entire story, click here.