boston.com your connection to The Boston Globe

Exhibit depicts pioneering priest

Bullock known for fighting inequity

When he died 2 1/2 years ago, the Rev. Robert W. Bullock was widely known as a leader of the priests who called on Cardinal Bernard F. Law to resign because of his mishandling of cases of sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy.

But as Bullock's colleagues and friends said yesterday at the opening at Boston College of an archive of Bullock's sermons, correspondence, articles, and photographs, the late priest's forthright stand in the abuse crisis was just the last in a lifetime of occasions when he stood up for truth-telling, especially in the church he loved.

Bullock, they said, backed young priests who were under pressure for their anti-Vietnam War activism. He was instrumental in getting Cardinal Richard J . Cushing to affirm that Catholics could be conscientious objectors.

He delved deeply into the Holocaust and the roots of Christian anti-Semitism long before such explorations became popular.

To those who knew him, it was no surprise that Bullock was as outraged over the sexual-abuse scandal as he was about the Holocaust.

"Bob Bullock was passionate and fearless in identifying the hateful and murderous results of triumphalism, the claim of the church to possess absolute and exclusive truth," said Padraic O'Hare, professor of religious and theological studies at Merrimack College and a close friend.

"He felt this would always lead to the corruption of the religion that is triumphal," O'Hare said. "This is what led Bob into his passionate commitment to Holocaust education, for the Holocaust was in significant measure made possible by religiously inspired hate."

A Newton native who was appointed director of campus ministries for the Archdiocese of Boston in 1966, Bullock also served as Catholic chaplain at Brandeis University until, in 1978, he left those posts to become parish priest at Our Lady of Sorrows in Sharon.

He also became a leading light for Facing History and Ourselves, which in the 1970s was a federally funded project to develop a school curriculum on tolerance and justice based on the history of the Holocaust,

When the federal money ran out, Bullock urged founder Margot Stern Strom to create a nonprofit organization to continue the work, and he served for a time as chairman of the organization's board. Facing History now has a $15 million-plus annual budget and 155 employees.

"Father Bullock meditated on what it meant to be an individual in relations to the 'other,' " Strom said yesterday. "He believed in moral clarity. He gave redefinition to ethics and morality and held himself to a very high standard."

"Father Bullock cried out" when he encountered injustice, she said.

The disorganized plastic bags and cracked binders containing Bullock's notes, correspondence, sermons, and other writings now waiting to be processed by BC archivists into a publicly accessible archive contain much evidence of his lifetime preoccupation with ethical and moral conduct.

In one letter he gently chides the cardinal at the time for the Archdiocese of Boston's failure to rectify the climate that gave rise to the anti-Semitic priest Leonard J. Feeney. In another he questions the propriety of an internal church budget process in which he participated.

There are powerfully written sermons quoting scholars, theologians, prophets, and poets -- including Merton, Auden, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Tennyson -- mixed with thank you notes from battered women whom he counseled and homemade fan-club books from children who adored him.

"He was dogged and respected," said James Carroll, author of "Constantine's Sword," a landmark book on Christian anti-Semitism. Carroll, who also is a contributor to The Globe, was Catholic chaplain at Boston University in the 1970s when Bullock was director of campus ministries for the archdiocese.

Both in the midst of the antiwar movement of those days and later, when the book was a work in progress, Bullock gave him strong support, Carroll said.

"The book is established now," Carroll said, but before its acceptance, "Bob was out there."

"He affirmed it publicly," Carroll said. "It gave me serious credibility in the Catholic Church that Bob Bullock was standing with me."

Charles A. Radin can be reached at radin@globe.com.

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES
 
Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months
 Advanced search / Historic Archives