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Charles Buswell, at 94; was antiwar activist, Catholic bishop

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Virginia Culver
Denver Post / June 23, 2008

DENVER - Charles Buswell was not a predictable Catholic bishop: He believed women should be ordained, was arrested for protesting the Vietnam War, and often volunteered in soup kitchens.

Bishop Buswell, who lead the Pueblo Diocese in southern Colorado from 1959 until 1979, died June 14. He was 94.

He "never espoused to be important," said Richard Hanifen, a retired Colorado Springs bishop.

Bishop Buswell and other demonstrators were held only a short time after being arrested for protesting the Vietnam War and charges were later dropped. But he didn't drop the issue and continued marching against the war.

"He was ahead of most other bishops in coming out against the war," said Patrick Kennedy, a retired Denver priest.

Volunteers at soup kitchens often didn't know Bishop Buswell, dressed in casual slacks and a knit shirt, was a high-ranking clergyman. He told a reporter once, "I'm just a spare tire here [at the soup kitchen]. I just do whatever they tell me to do."

In 1994, when Pope John Paul II said there would be no further discussions about women in the priesthood, the bishop said, "I really think we're guilty of some sort of sexism if we refuse to allow women to be priests."

In 1995, he signed a statement, along with 39 other Catholic bishops, that said the Vatican and US bishops "have a credibility problem," alleging that church leaders refused to discuss some of the church's most pressing issues: pedophile priests, rights of women, abortion, and contraception.

He called the Second Vatican Council, a three-year meeting in the mid-1960s that modernized the church, a "dynamic organism to penetrate the world with the spirit of truth and light, not a static remnant of the past."

The bishop was more than a critic. He loved to tell stories about himself, once telling a Denver Post reporter that an Oklahoma friend called him "the accidental ecclesiastic."

He also liked to tell about visiting a parish in the Pueblo Diocese and attending a potluck dinner in the basement before the Mass. A preschool girl was wandering around visiting people. She stopped and asked him his name. "Charlie," he replied.

Later, the young girl was on the aisle in the nave watching the long procession, with choir, flags, candles, priests, and the bishop in an elaborate vestment and miter. When he walked by, the young girl reached out and pulled on his vestment and said, "Nice show, Charlie."

"He was a gentle person who led a simple life and always advocated for the poor and the immigrants," said his successor, Bishop Arthur Tafoya. "He loved being a priest. He was such a gentleman."

Charles A. Buswell was born in Homestead, Okla., on Oct. 15, 1913, studied at St. Benedict's College in Atchison, Kan.; St. Louis Preparatory Seminary in Webster Grove, Mo.; Kenrick Seminary in St. Louis; and American College in Louvain, Belgium.

He was ordained in 1939 and was pastor of Christ the King Church in Oklahoma. In 1959, Pope John XXIII named him bishop of Pueblo.

He leaves several nieces, nephews, great-nieces, and great-nephews.

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