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Black Priest Plans to Start Independent Congregation

June 20, 1989|From the Washington Post

WASHINGTON — A prominent black Roman Catholic priest, in defiance of Cardinal James A. Hickey of Washington, announced plans Monday to start an independent "African-American Catholic Congregation."

Father George A. Stallings Jr., archdiocesan director of evangelism for the last year, said he and "several hundred black Catholics" will launch the new congregation next month because the established church has failed to "meet the spiritual and cultural needs of African-American Catholics.

"We must now take our destiny in our own hands and create forms of worship and parish life attuned to African-Americans."

Although Stallings noted that he was sending Hickey "detailed plans" for the new congregation, members of Hickey's staff said no such word has reached the cardinal, who is out of town until Thursday.

Stallings has "no authority, no authorization to start this congregation," said Father Kevin Hart, who, as archdiocesan secretary for parish life and worship, is Stallings' boss. Hart said he could not say what action the archdiocese would take.

But in general terms, if a priest conducts a service that deviates "in liturgy or doctrine" from church norms, he is considered to be in a state of schism from the church, Hart said.

Stallings readily acknowledged that his new church, scheduled to begin July 2 at Howard University Law School, "does not have the approval, approbation or blessing" of Hickey.

He said the venture "is not a break at all" with traditional Catholicism, but an effort to develop "an African-American Catholic rite . . . with our own clergy" and the right to "determine our own parish life and ministry."

Development of a more meaningful ministry with blacks is one of the most urgent and sensitive concerns of American Catholic leaders, locally and nationally. At their semiannual meeting at Seton Hall University last weekend, the American hierarchy voted unanimously to implement a "Pastoral Plan for Black Catholics" developed by the 13 black bishops in this country.

Stallings, 41, a convert to Catholicism, attracted national attention as pastor of St. Teresa of Avila parish in southeast Washington by melding the gospel music and preaching and worship styles familiar to blacks with the traditional Mass.

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