Cyprian Rowe; Left Church Over Treatment of Blacks, Returned

By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 13, 2008

Cyprian L. Rowe, 74, an outspoken critic of what he considered the Catholic Church's inattention to racial minorities and who had a public break and reconciliation with the church, died Nov. 25 at the Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care in Towson, Md. He had Alzheimer's disease.

Dr. Rowe was a member of the Marist Brothers, a Catholic order devoted to teaching, and spent most of his career as a professor of social work and African American culture.

From 1978 to 1983, Dr. Rowe was executive director of two church-affiliated groups in Washington, the National Office for Black Catholics and the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus.

He became known nationwide for his outspoken writings and speeches about the place of African Americans in the Catholic Church and the paucity of black leaders in the church hierarchy.

In a 1980 interview with The Washington Post, he challenged the church to "practice the universal principles it teaches," adding that "blacks have heard the promise but have never seen it delivered."

Dr. Rowe, who often wore African-style robes, publicly broke with the church in 1997 to join a movement called the African American Catholic Congregation, led by defrocked priest George A. Stallings Jr. in Washington.

Dr. Rowe said he joined the breakaway sect partly because its emotional liturgical style, based on traditions of black Protestant churches, allowed black Catholics "to grow in a way that does not ask them to be something they are not."

When Dr. Rowe was named priest and bishop in the splinter group, he lost his standing among the Marist Brothers. In 2000, he disavowed his association with the dissident group and returned to the Catholic Church.

Dr. Rowe later said he had gone through a personal crisis, precipitated by the death of his mother in 1996, that led him to leave the Catholic Church.

"I made a lot of decisions I should not have made during that period," he told the Catholic Review in 2000, "and joining the [African American Catholic Congregation] was one of them."

He was not allowed to rejoin the Marist Brothers but was otherwise reinstated as a Catholic in good standing in an emotional meeting with James A. Hickey, then-cardinal of the Washington Archdiocese.

Cyprian Lamar Rowe was born in Dalton, Ga., and grew up in Chicago and New York. He was in high school when he joined the Marist Brothers.

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