A waterfront reflection


To the Editor:

I am a fan of movie classics. Hollywood is frequently criticized. Historically, though, Holly­wood’s portrayal of Catholic priests has been favorable.

The 1954 Academy Award-winning movie “On the Waterfront” comes to mind. In a stirring scene, a parish priest, Father Barry (played by Karl Malden), confronts corruption at a union local.

Fr. Barry is called to the scene of an “accident” that killed a worker. The deceased man was scheduled to testify about union corruption. Father tells the workers gathered, “Some people think the crucifixion only took place on Calvary.” He passionately cites misdeeds on the waterfront that also constitute a crucifixion.


Think of the many cases of crucifixion in today’s world. The sexual abuse crisis plaguing the church is a crucifixion. A mass shooting is a crucifixion. Drug violence is a crucifixion. Gang violence in Central America is a crucifixion.

Activism by priests and religious can make us uncomfortable. When their activism is grounded in church teaching, we should respect their efforts. Sometimes I catch myself thinking that the church should conform to my views rather than praying to understand and accept church teachings.

Despite the flaws, sins and crimes of a small number of priests, we believe that the church is guided by the Holy Spirit. Everything has its limits. When a cleric speaks out on issues that go beyond church teaching, his positions are fair game for criticism.

Back to the waterfront: A defiant man in the crowd yells to the priest, “Go back to your church, Father.”

Fr. Barry gestures to the deceased man and says, “This is my church!”

Fr. Barry is a fictional character. In our midst are priests and religious who are just as courageous. Let us not become so consumed with the negative that we can no longer see the many good people serving in the church.

Mike Streb
Iowa City

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