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The Tentacle


February 26, 2008

Wayne, I Never Knew You

Roy Meachum

We saw each other on North Market Street; sometimes he was walking that obviously sweet dog. We nodded and smiled to each other. He was usually in black jacket and pants: the usual priest's "off-duty" attire.

Election Day 2001 he wore the full uniform, complete with bib and Roman collar. He was headed, I assumed, to the Armory to vote. His look was keen; that day Jennifer Dougherty succeeded in the second attempt to make herself Frederick's first Catholic mayor. With Wayne's help? We never talked local politics.

He would have been more supportive in the quest to put Ms. Dougherty into City Hall's top chair as the first woman in history. Editing the snips and snatches of our conversations, I have to conclude his spirit was the essence of the Councils of Vatican II.

Father Funk may have been just the most ecumenical of all the ministers, priests and rabbis I've ever known, and they number more than a few. They were all inspired by the "winds of change" that swept the ecclesiastical world; they were set in motion by Angelo Roncalli, the Italian peasant's boy who became Pope John XXIII.

Wayne Funk belonged to the generation that believed modernization was the way to save the church. The pope called it "aggiornomiente," which translates "up to today." It meant breathing new life into a structure that gagged under the ultra-conservatism of Pope Pius XII. The former Eugenio Pacelli was a direct spiritual descendent of Pope Pius IX who railroaded through the Councils of Vatican I the doctrine of Infallibility.

Pius XII's particular contribution to mankind's misery was the fawning pact he made with Hitler.

The Concordat Cardinal Pacelli negotiated took Christendom's most powerful church out of Germany's political game, enabling the dictator to persecute anyone he chose. The legal accommodation forged by the future pope rendered helpless the Catholic Centre Party, the country's strongest political power at the time. Priests and bishops were ordered to lay off criticizing Nazis and their leader; they were encouraged to join in the straight-arm salute.

Ignore the Vatican's post-war propaganda, without the continuing machinations of Pius XII, the Nazis would not have felt free to pursue the Holocaust and the concentration camps. Autocratic and extremely egocentric, he died in 1958.

Wayne Funk was studying theology at Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University at the time, which put the man from Baltimore at the center of the greatest intellectual ferment in the church's history. The peasant's son Roncalli was to blame.

Ordained in Rome, Father Funk brought back to Baltimore a bachelor's degree in philosophy and the equivalent of a master's degree in sacred theology, both from the Pontifical Gregorian University, where the curia educated the church's future leaders.

When he returned to Maryland after ordination, he met in Lawrence Cardinal Sheehan a full sympathy for change that matched his own. Baltimore's prelate sent him back to Rome where he lectured on theology: Paul VI was pope.

And conservative cardinals Alfredo Ottaviani and Amlet Ciccognani had taken control of the Vatican machinery. Again. The men who fought John XXIII's "modernization," especially Vatican II, embellished Pius XII's authoritarian tradition.

Wayne Funk's last sojourn in Rome ended when he was sent for by William D. Borders, the only Baltimore ordinary, in recent years, who was not given a cardinal's red hat.

Archbishop Borders presided at the funeral Wednesday; they remained close. I can imagine the adventure that flowed out of their time together. The archbishop and the theologian were quiet guardians of John XXIII's legacy for years after the pope's 1964 passing. Wayne both presided over a parish and counseled and directed priests of the archdiocese.

All that ended when William Keeler assumed the Baltimore archdiocese; bringing along the curia's dictatorial posturing. The new arrival slammed closed the hope that there could be substantive local change. The conservatives kept real power in exchange for saying the mass in English and other superficial changes. But there would be no ordination of women and no married clergy.

I knew more than several other graduates of the "Greg;' they led the American Catholics' short-lived revolution in the 60s. Not until last week's obituaries did I discover Wayne quietly but fiercely stood in the front ranks.

Moral theologians Charlie Curran and Bob Hunt brought down the curia's wrath by rejecting papal authority to forbid birth control. Wayne Funk felt as strongly about a married ministry. Given the opportunity, he repeated that the church's scarcity of clergy might be solved if the church would permit priests to take wives.

Bob Hunt left the church and married; upon his death he was survived by a wife, two children and finances to keep them comfortable. In our many conversations he never allowed as how he missed the priestly life.

Faced with an order that forbade him to teach in Catholic institutions, Charlie Curran wound up in an endowed chair at Southern Methodist University; he remains a priest.

Wayne Funk's story you and I knew, at least partially. I never suspected his darting wit and biting observations came from a theologian, shut down by church politics. I have absolutely no doubt that Frederick's St. John the Evangelist Church was a place of exile.

In a message from Dallas last week, Charlie Curran remembered St. John's late pastor as "tall and thin." Wayne came to Rome "four years later," as he remembered. By 1990, when Wayne Funk was shipped to Frederick, putting aside a Roman collar while remaining a church member was very difficult.

As said earlier, I liked the man but would have almost certainly loved him more if he had exchanged observations on Rome during those years I covered the Vatican. Knowing the curia and its devious ways, I suspect my Catholic pastor may have accepted silence as a price for keeping his Roman collar.

The Rev. Wayne George Funk remained to the end dedicated to his faith and flock. His quest for a better church and a more open authority evoked the very essence of Christianity.

Pushkin and I mourn the passing of a nice guy we met, with his lady dog, while taking our daily promenade on North Market.



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