Busted: Father Crunk

A young Atlanta priest uses a popular morning show as his hip-hop pulpit

by Is God using Naomi Campbell to teach us a lesson? The man Atlantans know as “Father Crunk” seems to think so. Here’s what he had to say about the supermodel, whose cell phone assault of her former maid resulted in “mop duty” at New York’s Sanitation Department this month—”We need to teach bullies a lesson. Bullies need to have the fear of God in them when they start trippin’. You can deal with bullies and still be loved by God.”

For those who may be hip-hop impaired, “crunk” is a type of hip-hop music that originated from the South. A fusion of the words ‘crazy’ and ‘drunk,’ “crunk” music is meant to be more high-energy than the typical hip-hop beat. You might not expect the man holding court as “Father Crunk” to be a Catholic diocesan priest, but the 33-year-old, whose real name is Father Ricardo Bailey, is the Parochial Vicar at Holy Spirit Catholic Church and the Assistant Director of Vocations for the Archdiocese of Atlanta. A priest for almost four years, the Atlanta native has strived particularly to impact the lives of young adults and he’s willing to meet them where they are, even if it means preaching from the pulpit of Q100, an Atlanta all-hits radio station, where he’s known as “Father Crunk.”

Initially approached by show producers to pray for the parish’s losing high school football team, Father Bailey’s appearance received such a tremendous response from listeners that he was asked to come back for a regular segment. These days, as a regular guest on “The Bert Show,” he uses the Gospel to comment on tabloid fodder and other pop culture obsessions.

BustedHalo recently spoke with Father Ricardo Bailey about his radio ministry, the priesthood, and the current state of the Catholic Church.

BustedHalo: What do you consider the main challenge facing the Catholic Church today?

Fr. Ricardo Bailey: I believe the challenge facing the Roman Catholic Church today is the continued challenge to be relevant to the wider society as well as continuing to do the work of evangelization. We need to continue to imitate the ethos of the Incarnation that calls all of us as the Body of Christ to enter into the very fabric and essence of the world that we live and work in.

BH: Reaching young adults is a challenge for most religious denominations. What is your strategy?

RB: One of the ways that you reach young adults is to meet them right where they are. However, that means that we do not “water down” the Church’s teachings in any form or fashion, but we use modern images, “baptize” popular music and lingos and then bring the Gospel message in a manner that will not alienate or even make people feel that they are not loved or even welcomed into the Church.

BH: How did your involvement with Q100 come to be?

RB: It came about as a joke about my parish’s high school football team. We had a losing team and one of the producers from the radio show thought that it would be a cool thing to have a Catholic priest come and pray for the team. Since it seems that went over well with the listeners, the producers of the show came up with an idea to have me give a bi-weekly or monthly message that will enable the audience to learn from the Bible and how not to imitate the dysfunction in Hollywood.

BH: Was radio and/or broadcasting ever part of the plan when you entered the priesthood?

RB: I never imagined or even thought that I would ever be involved with radio or the media in any way. As a matter of fact, I never trusted the media because it seems that we (as the Church) had been getting a bad rap in the popular media and that wasn’t fair at all. Therefore, I never had any desire to even be involved with the media.

BH: How do you prepare for your on-air appearances and choose the topic for any given day?

RB: We take the topics from Q100’s “Entertainment Buzz” and then I consult with the producer of the morning show to make certain that what I choose is relevant to the listening audience. Then, I take the Catechism and Sacred Scripture and pray that I can find something relevant with the many stories that tell of salvation history. There is a lot of research done and also the reality that I am going to make the message humorous as well as a learning experience for all who listen. I sometimes wake up around 3:30 a.m. and begin the writing of my piece for the live on-air segment. I have a total of ten minutes to get what I need said and that is pretty much the gist of what happens.

BH: Radio talk shows can sometimes cross the line between appropriate and inappropriate. Do you ever run into that kind of trouble on the air with your radio colleagues?

“One of the ways that you reach young adults is to meet them right where they are…we use modern images, to “baptize” popular music and lingos and then bring the Gospel message in a manner that will not alienate or even make people feel that they are not loved or even welcomed into the Church.”

RB: The people of “The Bert Show” are very respectful of my identity and work as a priest. There have been times that I have absolutely refused to speak about some things, but the folks with whom I work with are very mature and serious about my first and primary role and that is of a priest. They never want me to do anything that would make me feel in any way uncomfortable or uneasy.

BH: Tell us why the goings-on in Hollywood are prime fodder for your segments.

RB: As the producers of “The Bert Show” say so eloquently, there is so much dysfunction in Hollywood that totally amazes all of us on the other side of the movie and television screen. While it is true that we all are influenced by the way people in Hollywood make decisions and do certain things, we know that it is totally weird. Therefore, rather than scratching our heads and just dismissing it, we try to learn form that dysfunction and apply real lessons that will empower us in our lives to make good and intelligent decisions.

BH: These days, it seems that the fascination with celebrities has gotten out-of-hand. Do you find that unhealthy?

RB: Celebrities provide an escape for all of us, or for those who are actually interested in their daily lives. We cannot escape the power that television and radio has on all of us—the way that some people live their lives through the example of some star, the way that we seriously take the advice of Hollywood stars. Therefore, it is like anything else in life— we have to discern who are the good examples, the good role models or mentors for all of us. Now, this can be unhealthy, but as people of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we have to remember that we live in this world and we can learn from it by applying our Catholic-Christian ethos to assist us and guide us in making the right decisions.

BH: To those not “in the know,” how do you explain the “Father Crunk” moniker?

RB: The term “crunk” (a combination of ‘crazy’ and ‘drunk’) is a southern hip-hop term that was used when I was coming up to characterize a style that we have of music, clothing, or even partying. Because the radio folks feel that I am a bit “different” in the way that I convey my messages to the folks in Atlanta, they labeled me as “Father Crunk.”

BH: What is your opinion of the current pop music scene? Do you believe there are too many negative images being projected through music and/or other media?

RB: If you look at any genre of music, you will find bad and undesirable things. However it is important to remember that there are artists out there who know that the product that they put out there actually has an influence on the people who listen. I know many hip-hop, R&B artists who explicitly say they love Jesus Christ. There are artists out there who have hits who are very vocal about their support and stance on being pro-life. Of course, you have the artists who are socially and politically conscious; so, all of the music is not bad and it is our duty to hold the artists who produce crap to a higher standard. And, we must celebrate the artists (with our support) who take authentic moral stands in an industry that sometimes seems to be anything but moral.

BH: What is your advice for young people who are still searching or are unsure about their faith?

RB: For any young person who is searching or unsure about their faith, I would tell them not to give up on God because God has not given up on you. Seeking a wise person in ministry like a priest, deacon, consecrated religious woman or man, or even a solid lay leader to guide you spiritually is key before you ever formally leave the Catholic faith. Our lives are a journey—a pilgrimage of faith —and we must be patient with the Lord and with His will for us in life. We must trust in His love and in His promise that He will be with us always. We have a very rich faith in so many forms and fashions. Too many times, we as young people—or people in general—are too quick to make decisions when things do not go “our way.” We need to change that frame of mind and make certain that we are in line with doing things God’s way. That means that we must have faith and we must trust in Jesus and the place that He wants to have in our life.

BH: What’s next for “Father Crunk?”

RB: I would say that we all must remember that I am a Roman Catholic priest and I love every minute of that. I intend to keep listening to the Lord and doing what He and my Archbishop (the Reverend Wilton Gregory) call me to do. I pray that I can serve the Lord and His Church until He calls me home. Therefore, I guess I can say those words that Archbishop John F. Donoghue said to me when he ordained me to the priesthood of Jesus Christ, the words said to every new priest when he places his hands in those of the ordaining Bishop: “May the Lord who has begun the good work in you, bring it to fulfillment.”