Local Diocese Looking into Claim
21 Priests Forming Labor Group

By Felisa Cardona
San Bernardino Sun [San Bernardino CA]
Downloaded February 19, 2003

The Diocese of San Bernardino is investigating whether a group of priests has formed a union to register dissatisfaction with working conditions, a diocesan spokesman said Tuesday.

Bishop Gerald Barnes received a letter, purportedly written by a group calling itself the Priests Union of the Diocese of San Bernardino, that threatens to stage a sickout if working conditions do not improve.

A copy of the letter dated Feb. 4 was mailed to The Sun. It bears no signature, and the envelop had no return address.

"We do not know if it was even written by a priest, and we have no knowledge of any priests belonging to it,' said the Rev. Howard Lincoln, spokesman for the diocese. "We doubt that such a union even exists.'

The letter claims that the union has recruited 21 members and will continue to enlist priests in the diocese and nationwide.

"If it were determined that a union exists, the bishop would want to meet with the priests involved, and any disciplinary action would be decided by the bishop,' Lincoln said.

The letter criticizes Barnes, saying that he threw a temper tantrum during a regional meeting of priests earlier this month.

The bishop was said to be angry during the meeting because some priests failed to show the diocese's video about childhood sexual abuse to their parishioners, the letter says.

In a Feb. 5 diocesan memo sent to all priests and pastoral coordinators, Monsignor Gerard Lopez, vicar general of the diocese, said refusal to show the video was disrespectful to the bishop and his office.

"Several thousand people, our parishioners, some of whom are perhaps victims of abuse, have been deprived of this message of hope as seen in the video presentation,' Lopez's memo said. "This decision not to cooperate is harmful and detrimental to the spiritual life of our parish communities.'

The video was to have been shown Jan. 25-26 at all Masses celebrated in all parishes in the diocese, which covers San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

Lincoln said about 98 percent of the diocese's 1 million Catholics saw the videotape.

"There were a few pastors who misconstrued the bishop's instruction and showed it outside of Mass,' Lincoln said.

The letter says that priests who have decided to join the union are upset with the way Barnes has treated them. It likens Barnes to a corporate executive rather than a bishop.

"If you knew that some of the priests had not shown your video, you should have talked to them privately and not yelled at everyone present,' the letter says. "There was nothing Christ-like in you when you acted in that manner.'

The letter continues: "We are sorry to take these drastic measures, but are very frustrated in our relationships with you. A great deal of this hostility between you and your priests can be mitigated if you have a friendly relationship with us.'

The letter accuses Barnes of being inattentive to the needs of priests. It claims that the number of employees in the diocese has doubled since Barnes took office in December 1995, but that services for priests have deteriorated in that time.

"We do not receive return calls, sometimes for a week or two,' the letter says.

Lincoln said it's untrue that Barnes isn't concerned about the needs of the priests.

"He is always concerned for the morale of his priests,' Lincoln said.

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