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William H. DuBay papers

Identifier: 0391

Scope and Content

The collection is comprised of correspondence, clippings, publications, and speeches pertaining to the controversy surrounding William H. DuBay, a priest who was disciplined by and suspended from the Los Angeles Archdiocese in the 1960s for publicly criticizing the Roman Catholic church. Included in the collection are letters, telegrams, cards, and postcards exchanged between DuBay and his parishioners, church officials, and members of the general public; article clippings about conflict and controversy within the Roman Catholic church during the 1960s; articles, pamphlets, petitions, and press releases related to the conflict that arose between DuBay and his superior, Cardinal James Francis McIntyre; and contracts that DuBay entered into with the College Association of Public Events and Services for speaking engagements.


  • 1955 - 1974


Conditions Governing Access

Advance notice required for access.

Conditions Governing Use

All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Manuscripts Librarian. Permission for publication is given on behalf of Special Collections as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained.

Biographical note

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).


3.42 Linear Feet (4 boxes)

Language of Materials



In 1966, William H. DuBay was suspended from the Los Angeles Archdiocese for opining his criticism of the Roman Catholic church. The collection includes materials related to DuBay's controversial tenure as a Roman Catholic priest and his suspension.


The collection has been organized into the following series: 1. Correspondence; 2. Article Clippings; 3. Publications; 4. Speaking Engagements

Related Archival Materials

Inventory of the Catholic Human Relations Council Collection, 1958-1992, Loyola Marymount University Department of Archives and Special Collections, CSLA-27.

Merton's Correspondence with: DuBay, William H., FR., 1934- , The Merton Collection at Bellarmine University.

Finding Aid of the William H. DuBay papers
Katie Richardson and Andrew Goodrich
2011 August
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
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The processing of this collection and the creation of this finding aid was funded by the generous support of the Council on Library and Information Resources.

Repository Details

Part of the USC Libraries Special Collections Repository

Doheny Memorial Library 206
3550 Trousdale Parkway
Los Angeles California 90089-0189 United States