Peter L. Gerety, Oldest Archbishop Who Preached Social Justice, Dies at 104

Source: The New York Times


Archbishop Peter L. Gerety, who as a liberal leader of the Roman Catholic Church in America gave voice to the laity, to women and to lapsed churchgoers and preached for social justice, died on Sept. 20 in Totowa, N.J. He was 104, and the world’s oldest Roman Catholic bishop.

His death, at St. Joseph’s Home for the Elderly, was announced by the Newark Archdiocese, where he served as the archbishop from 1974 until he retired as archbishop emeritus in 1986.

By then he had erased a multimillion-dollar deficit in the archdiocese, in part by selling a lavish archbishop’s mansion in a gated community in West Orange and settling instead in a rectory in the North Ward of Newark, a city still scarred by the race riots of the 1960s.

Before arriving in Newark, Archbishop Gerety had been a priest in a predominantly black parish in New Haven and the bishop of Portland, Me.

In Newark he reached out to divorced, separated and remarried Catholics and conducted general absolutions at which he gave mass penance. He also embraced a broad-based program of spiritual revival suggested by Msgr. Thomas P. Ivory. Called Renew, the movement spread worldwide.

Archbishop Gerety spoke out against the war in Vietnam and nuclear arms, supported unionized workers, marched for civil rights in the South and ordained Newark’s first black bishop, Joseph A. Francis. In 1979, Bishop Francis was the author of a pastoral letter by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops denouncing racism as a sin.

While he acknowledged the church’s policy barring women from the priesthood, Archbishop Gerety urged that more women be named to leadership roles in local parishes. During the nationwide debate over the Equal Rights Amendment, before it failed to achieve ratification in 1982, he urged Catholics to vigorously support “legislation to correct inequality based on sex in employment, business, housing, welfare and family support.”

Archbishop John J. Meyers of Newark said in a statement that Archbishop Gerety had “served as shepherd of this great archdiocese during a time of spiritual reawakening in the years after the Second Vatican Council, and a time of deep financial difficulties.”

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