Oakland's bishop called 'racist' by Catholic pastor over Black Lives Matter

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- In a tearful Facebook live post, the pastor of a predominantly black Catholic church took on the leader of the Diocese of Oakland.

What happened to spur such a serious accusation? The controversy centers around Black Lives Matter protests that have filled the streets of Oakland.

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After Father Aidan McAleenan became pastor at St. Columba Catholic Church in Oakland 12 years ago, he changed the building to reflect his largely Black congregation. He hand-carved an African symbol for God, hung pictures of Black saints, painted angels he bought from Costco, even commissioned a new Black Jesus.

Father Aidan McAleenan, St. Columba Pastor: "It was very interesting when we put it up, people cried."
Dan Noyes: "They did?"
Father Aidan McAleenan, St. Columba Pastor: "It was so emotional to walk in a church and then see the artwork look like them."

He also puts up a cross for every homicide in Oakland each year, and after George Floyd's death and the protests, he joined his congregation on the street in front of the Oakland Diocese headquarters.

In a Facebook live at one of those protests Father McAleenan can be heard saying, "I'm a good priest. I love, I love my people (tearing up) and I want to do what is right for them."

Father McAleenan tells ABC7's I-Team he urged Bishop Michael Barber to also take action, had a face-to-face meeting, but it did not go well.

Their meeting last Friday spurred another Facebook Live video.

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"He said to me, 'Black people should be happy with the way the church and this country has treated them.' And and that moment, I got up and I said, 'I cannot believe what you just said. This meeting is over.' And I walked out," said Father McAleenan.

Bishop Barber's spokesperson tells the I-Team, "Bishop Barber did not say those words," but Barber declined my request for an interview. He did make a media appearance last month with other clergy, urging Governor Newsom to allow churches to reopen.

"Can't we reopen under the same conditions that the stores and supermarkets, marijuana clinics and tattoo parlors are opening under?" questioned Bishop Barber.

His spokesperson also pointed me to a video released Thursday in which California clergy come out against racism.

"So many of our brothers and sisters suffer daily from the injustice of racism," said Fr. Leo Edgerly, Corpus Christi Church, Piedmont.

Bishop Barber is there but does not directly comment. He did hold an online service the day George Floyd was buried.

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"We will observe a period of silent reflection and prayer for 8:46," said Bishop Barber.

Pastor McAleenan says that's not enough, and complains about a phone meeting Bishop Barber had with President Trump and other Catholic clergies in April, in which Barber praised the Trump administration.

"The bishops are more worried about white sensibility and the white European church, and they don't want to hurt their people. I think it's about this, if you're going to be really honest about it, money, at the end of the day," said Father Aidan McAleenan, St. Columba Pastor.

That Facebook Live video received more than 30,000 hits before the pastor took it down; he tells the I-Team he has made his point.

Through his spokesperson, Bishop Barber says he's wiling to speak to the St. Columba congregation any time he's invited.

Take a look at for a look at more stories by Dan Noyes and the ABC7 News I-Team.
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