William H. DuBay was born in Long Beach, California in 1934. From an early age he expressed interest in joining the Roman Catholic clergy; in 1956, after eight years of seminary training, he graduated with a B.A. from St. John's Seminary in Camarillo, California and went on to complete post-graduate work in theology. He was ordained in 1960, at the age of 26, and stood out as one of the youngest priests to serve in the Los Angeles Archdiocese.
In addition to serving as a priest, DuBay was also a social activist and a tireless advocate for civil rights. As such, he published articles and delivered sermons on the topic of racial integration, most often without the permission of the chancery office. Because the Roman Catholic church had not taken an official position on race relations at the time, DuBay's provocative opinions drew the ire of his superior, Cardinal James Francis McIntyre, who likened DuBay's proactive approach to insubordination. DuBay, on the other hand, likened the church's desire to review his articles and sermons to censorship.
McIntyre reprimanded DuBay for his outspokenness on the subject of civil rights on several occasions. In 1962, after DuBay published an article advocating racial integration in his parish's weekly bulletin, he was forbidden from publishing materials without the prior consent of the church and was transferred to another congregation. Shortly thereafter, DuBay was reprimanded again for delivering a sermon stressing the importance of racial integration. In 1963, DuBay requested a leave of absence from the Los Angeles Archdiocese to pursue missionary duties in Kenya; his request was denied by McIntyre, who instead transferred him to a parish in Compton, California, a predominantly African American suburb of Los Angeles.
The tension between DuBay and McIntyre came to a head in 1964. Frustrated that McIntyre neglected to publicly support civil rights, DuBay sent a telegram to Pope Paul VI and asked him to remove the Cardinal from office. According to DuBay, McIntyre was unfit to preside over the racially diverse Los Angeles Archdiocese because of his failure to exercise moral leadership among the white Catholics of this diocese on racial discrimination. DuBay went public with his message at a press conference the following day--a move that garnered national publicity and drew attention to a schism that had developed between the Roman Catholic establishment and a new generation of priests.
In response to his actions, DuBay was suspended from the priesthood by McIntyre but was soon reinstated after he agreed, albeit reluctantly, to renew his vow of obedience. Upon his reinstatement, DuBay was transferred to a parish in Anaheim, California, and was transferred once again to St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica, California, where he served as chaplain.
However, race relations continued to remain a sticking point between DuBay and McIntyre. In the wake of the 1965 Watts Riots, which were largely rooted in racial tensions, DuBay proceeded to write a book criticizing the Roman Catholic church, its antiquated practices, and its tendency to stymy freedom of expression. The book, entitled The Human Church, emphasizes the need to establish a balance between discipline and freedom within the church and offers a comprehensive program for church reform. Among the most provocative reform measures proposed by DuBay included the formation of a priest's union, which was intended to prohibit arbitrary transfers, enact a tenure policy, and guarantee professional salaries for priests. In his book, DuBay also suggests that bishops be elected to limited terms and calls upon the church to abandon its tax exemptions.
Immediately after The Human Church was published in 1966, Cardinal McIntyre suspended DuBay once again from the priesthood and also removed him from his chaplain post. The Vatican also demanded that DuBay end the sale and distribution of his book, as it was published without the church's imprimatur--a demand that DuBay declined to entertain. In response, DuBay remained on suspension indefinitely; he left the priesthood altogether soon thereafter.
DuBay continued to pursue his passion for social activism after he stepped down from the priesthood. For a year following his suspension, he lived and worked at Synanon House, a drug and alcohol treatment center in Santa Monica, and later worked for the anti-poverty organization Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA). He also continued to share his progressive ideas on church reform by delivering speeches at college campuses and contributing to newspapers, journals, and periodicals. In 1967, he successfully launched a workers union for clergymen, the American Federation of Priests, and served as its first president.
In 1968, DuBay again made headlines when he married Mary Ellen Wall, a divorcee with four children. The couple later had one son.
DuBay pursued a career in technical writing after leaving the priesthood. Between 1975 and 1987, he lived in Alaska and edited The Arctic Policy Review, a periodical about economic and political developments in the Arctic region. In 1988 he returned to Southern California and worked as a technical writer and writing teacher.
Aside from The Human Church (1966), major publications attributed to DuBay include Gay Identity: The Self Under Ban (1987), The Principles of Readability (2004), and Unlocking Language: The Classic Readability Studies (2007).