September 18, 2009

Father Taylor elected vice president of national black clergy caucus

By Mary Ann Wyand

Father Kenneth Taylor joined the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus when he was a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis during the 1970s.

Now the pastor of Holy Angels Parish in Indianapolis—the near west-side parish where he grew up—and director of the archdiocesan Office of Multicultural Ministry, Father Taylor will also serve the Church in the United States as vice president of the national black clergy caucus for two years.

“The National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus is a gathering of all the African-American priests, brothers, deacons and their wives, and seminarians from around the country,” Father Taylor said. “The National Black Sisters Conference is a separate organization.”

Josephite Father Anthony Bozeman, the pastor of St. Raymond-St. Leo the Great Parish in New Orleans, was elected president of the black clergy caucus and Father Taylor was elected vice president during the organization’s national conference on July 27-31 in New Orleans.

The organization fosters the many gifts in the black community for the benefit and betterment of the Church.

“The caucus was started in 1968,” Father Taylor said. “It began at the end of the 1960s when the civil rights movement was very strong. At the time, the black priests of this country felt the need to become more vocal and visible about being a part of the wider Church in the U.S.”

For 40 years, the caucus has provided support, motivation and encouragement for black priests in their ministries, he said. “Over the years, a lot of the [group’s] focus was inward looking … because the number of [African-American] priests is so few and so scattered around the country. Now we’re going through refocusing the caucus again to look outward more, to look more at ministry.”

He said many discussions during the 2009 caucus in late July focused on the health and well-being of the Catholic Church within the black community.

“There are a number of issues that we face as black Catholics,” Father Taylor said. “Our parishes are closing, our youth are leaving [the Church] and our vocations are dwindling. So we are working on what we hope will lead to a summit, a gathering of black Catholic leadership, to address the issues that the black Catholic community is facing in the Church and to try to figure out what we can do to strengthen the Catholic Church within the black community.”

He said statistics indicate that the number of African-American priests has decreased in recent years.

“It’s always hard to get an exact number,” Father Taylor said, “but the last number I heard being circulated was that about 250 African-American priests are serving [the Church] in the United States. By contrast, there are over 800 African priests now serving [the Church] in the United States.”

During the Year for Priests, he said, the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus plans to focus more of its efforts on vocations and evangelization.

“Those are our top-priority issues,” he said, “especially vocations.”

With the institution of the permanent diaconate in the U.S. Church, Father Taylor said, the number of black Catholic clergy has grown because of the new deacons serving in dioceses.

“But we’re still struggling [with recruitment] on the priesthood level,” he said. “That’s one of the issues that we hope to face as we work toward the [national] summit.

“We’re looking at support for black seminarians as well,” Father Taylor said, “because one of the problems we’re seeing across the country is that, for the most part, a black seminarian may be the only one or one of only a few in his seminary. As a result, they experience a lot of cultural issues and tensions. A lot of our black seminarians really struggle through the seminary, and don’t quite make it to priesthood. So one of the issues we plan to address [during the summit] is how we can be a better support to our black seminarians to help them through the seminary process.”

Indianapolis will be the site of the Interregional African-American Catholic Evangelization Conference on Nov. 13-15, he said, as well as the National Black Catholic Congress in 2012.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of “What We Have Seen and Heard,” a pastoral letter on evangelization issued by the black bishops in the U.S. on Sept. 9, 1984, Father Taylor said. “So the National Black Catholic Congress is going to be doing a number of [activities focused] around the anniversary of that document. Locally, we will be able to do our piece of that.” †

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