Who Speaks for Catholics?

FATHER JACK MORRIS was one of those Catholic priests who ruined a lot of people for life. I'm one of them.

Father Morris passed away Sept. 30 in Spokane, Wash. He was working with the Catholic sisters and others who ran the highly regarded Copper Valley School in Alaska in the late 1950s when he took the idea of young people volunteering their time with and for Native Alaskans and helped turn it into the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. Since then, more than 12,000 people have served in the JVC, whose motto "ruined for life" reflects the fact that voluntary service often makes enduring changes in the way participants view the world. (A few years ago, Father Morris told Sojourners that the motto is "a resurrection statement"—through volunteering, he said, "you're transformed.")

I spent my first two years after college as a Jesuit Volunteer, first at the Oregon Center for Peace and Justice in Portland and then at Georgetown University's Center for Peace Studies. My mentor and boss in Portland was the center's director, Sister Michele Phiffer. She worked for years helping Catholics in Oregon understand the church's social teaching on the common good and the preferential option for people who are poor.

Perhaps needless to say, the local bishops weren't always on her side. In fact, it often appeared—even to my young eyes—that the bishops were more interested in protecting their own privilege and power than in genuinely working for the marginalized. And Sister Michele's gender seemed to be a factor in the lack of support she received from the episcopal powers that were.

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