The election of Pope Benedict XVI, the continuing controversy over gay marriage and the divisive issues of abortion and research on embryonic stem cells are just some of the issues facing the modern Catholic church. With many congregations losing members and with the Catholic church increasingly embroiled in politics, it has been left to the footsoldiers of Catholicism to lead the way for their flock through challenging times.
The Rev. John G. Proctor is one such footsoldier. The straight-talking priest has been the spiritual leader at All Hallows Catholic Church for a little over four months. A trained lawyer, Proctor has taken over the helm at All Hallows with what he calls a centralized leadership, borne from almost 20 years as the pastor at Corpus Christie Catholic Parish in Bonita, a congregation far removed from La Jolla in many ways.
Proctor has known he wanted to be a priest since fifth grade.
He explained that this desire grew out of a tradition of the grammar school he attended, whereby after an alumni became a priest, he would return to the school and offer his first blessing to the children.
“When I was in the fifth grade,” Proctor explained, “Father Sidney Peter Hall, the priest, came and he gave us his blessing. I went home that night and I said that I wanted to be a priest.”
When the laughter had died down, Proctor explained to his mother - the primary Catholic influence in his early life - that he was indeed serious. In 1972, Proctor was ordained and in turn paid a visit back to his grammar school for his first blessing.
Proctor is the first to admit that La Jolla is very different from the community in which he spent most of his time as an ordained minister. In Bonita, his congregation was about 60 percent Filipino.
“This has been quite a change,” said Proctor, adding that there is a certain amount of give and take between a priest and his congregation. He said a congregation must come to terms with a different style of leadership, while a priest must mold his methods to suit his audience.
Proctor’s arrival in La Jolla has come at a time when the Catholic church’s highest echelons are also undergoing change. The priest said he supports Pope Benedict XVI, whose election was not much of a surprise.
“Going into the conclave, there was no clear front-runner,” Proctor said of the election process. “However, as soon as it became obvious that they had elected a pope in only four ballots, then I knew it had to be Ratzinger, because he had the highest profile.”
Proctor said that Ratzinger, a conservative cardinal who acted as Pope John Paul II’s prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith for many years, should be a strong leader.
“We knew that he had a important career in front of him when Pope Paul VI named him Archbishop of Munich and then, within a couple of months, cardinal. ...” he said. “It was said many times that as Cardinal Ratzinger, Benedict XVI was a moderating influence on John Paul II. John Paul II was a philosopher, Ratzinger was a theologian of enormous sophistication.”
Discussing the issue of gay marriage, Proctor said this would continue to be a matter of debate within the Catholic church in countries where the homosexual community has an active political agenda.
“I have a sneaking suspicion there isn’t much of a gay activist political agenda in Afghanistan, for example,” he said. “It’s going to be an issue to which the church will try to respond pastorally. But from a doctrinal viewpoint, there can be, in our mind, no such thing as a gay marriage.”
Proctor’s doctrinal, by-the-book views on such issues seem to mirror elements of his personality and leadership. He is a private man, and his colleagues said that they welcomed him to the community, but that they were still getting to know the priest.
“I think he’s a good homilist. I think he understands the workings of the Catholic church from the top down. He’s clear and he’s available. ...” said Cindy Barry Bosh, All Hallows’ stewardship coordinator. “I think he’s engaging, I think he likes to engage with you, and yet, I think he probably does have a private side.”
Proctor said he relishes being in La Jolla and has always had a fondness for the community.
“I like to say that I was in the Village a lot more when I was not pastor here that I am now,” said Proctor, laughing. “La Jolla’s a delightful community. Lovely restaurants, wonderful shopping, beautiful weather, just wonderful ambiance.”