Q: It is a fact that Ariel’s stepfather was excommunicated? I will look it up in the annuls of the Chancery Office of the Catholic Church. I should like to know more about this fellow–why he was excommunicated, for example.
A: Yes. He was excommunicated in 1976 for marrying my mother. I was five years old. I’ll paste his correspondence with the Archbishop of San Francisco below. If you want to know more about him, you should read his autobiography, Alive Into the Wilderness, or pick up his photo book, Father D in the High Sierra.
Archdiocese of San Francisco
445 Church St.
San Francisco, CA 94114
4 June 1976
Dear Mr. Duryea:
It is with deep sorrow that I am obliged to notify you that by attempting marriage you have incurred the automatic excommunication provided in Canon 2244 of the Code of Canon Law. In addition to the suspension which you have already received, under Canon 2244 you will be automatically excommunicated. Consequently, you are forbidden to celebrate holy Mass or to receive Holy Communion.
We have been saddened by the fact that many people are scandalized at St. Ann’s Chapel when they see you approach the holy table. I hope that you will respect the provisions of the law of the Church and not place any priest who is celebrating Mass under the disagreeable obligation of refusing you Holy communion.
Despite our sorrow over this situation, I assure you that we will keep you in our prayers, with the hope that through the grace of God you may be restored to full membership in the church and priestly activities, through your obedience to the laws of the church.
Yours sincerely in Christ,
Joseph T. McGucken
Archbishop of San Francisco
June 7 1976
Dear Mr McGucken,
Your letter, graciously timed to arrive on my wedding day, was so remote from the reality of the occasion that it could hardly arouse anger, much less fear. It reads like a document disintered from the age of the Inquisition, complete with stifling legalism, muted threats, and crocodile tears. I ask you to consider which spirit is represented by such a letter: the spirit of Christ, or that or the pharisees?
Your anxiety over scandal at St. Ann’s appears to be unwarranted. Some 500 people attended my “attempted” marriage in the Stanford Memorial Church. Most of them were practicing Catholics, and they made their warm support very evident.
I will continue to minister in all available ways, and my conscience is entirely clear in doing so. I am and will remain a priest; that is why I did not go through the procedure of laicization. I do not wish to be a layman. And I do not intend to admit the rightness of the law which denies the option of Christian marriage to priests. There are countless Catholics–I meet them daily–who are alienated by the rigidity and inhumanity of the official church and its representatives. I am finding a fruitful ministry among them.
Despite the hollow booming of your Automatic Canons, I am peacefully in communion with the universal Church, and shall receive communion when I please. If priests are too intimidated, I am sure the lay minister will not be.
John S Duryea