U.S. Bishops Make Right Turn
Longstanding precedents can be broken, but it requires considerable compulsion, internally or externally, for us to take a step away from the beaten path. This is especially true of bureaucrats, whether ecclesial or governmental, for whom inertia is a guiding principle.
So the election of conservative New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan to the presidency of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is an anomaly that invites analysis. The heir apparent was the liberals' favorite, Gerald Kicanas, the bishop of Tucson, Arizona, who served as USCCB vice president these past three years under Cardinal Francis George.
Dolan's election marks the first time since the founding of the U.S. bishops conference that a sitting vice president did not succeed to the top post.
Kicanas defeated Dolan for the veep spot three years ago in a close election, besting him by 22 votes. Dolan pulled off his upset victory on Nov. 16 in Baltimore with an even slimmer margin of 17 votes — 128 to 111. So there has been a slight shift in the balance of power, with the "progressive" party among the episcopate being put slightly in the shade by their more conservative fellow bishops.
And while the forces for conservatism may be popping champagne corks, their celebration should be tempered by some sobering realizations. Dolan barely won, and the USCCB is sharply divided, almost down the middle.
Kicanas' election was considered problematic despite the fact that he had long been the presumptive successor. He has a strong following among the bishops, and an even stronger following among groups of dissenting "Catholics," such as the pro-homosexual rights Rainbow Sash Movement, who described Kicanas as "a reasonable public voice" for the bishops. See: "Bishop Kicanas endorsed by Rainbow Sash Movement as next U.S. bishops' head
In their endorsement of him, Rainbow Sash wrote: "Bishop Kicanas understands that Bishops are privately changing their position because input is bubbling up from the pews of our parishes in support of such issues as Gay Marriage, and Pro Choice."
Father Thomas Reese, who never met a dissenter he didn't like, is the most quoted writer for the Jesuit magazine America
and an enthusiastic supporter of Kicanas, whom he described as "the leading liberal hope" for the U.S. Catholic Church. See: "Father Reese SJ Says Rome Favors Traditional Religious Orders
Kicanas is vulnerable to media attack for an incident that occurred when he was rector of Chicago's Mundelein Seminary. According to some reports, he knew of the homosexual activity of a seminarian and allowed him to be ordained despite this knowledge. Kicanas classified the ordinand's perverse actions as "developmental."
The same seminarian, Daniel McCormack, after he became a priest, was charged with molesting boys at his Chicago parish. He was convicted and sentenced to prison in 2007. See: "Elections Do Matter...Especially Among Bishops
Kicanas still defends his decision to ordain McCormack, which is worrying, to say the least, and outrageous, to speak plainly.
Kicanas is also known for his "soft" position on abortion and his cordial relationships with pro-abortion politicians such as Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security, and U.S. Rep. Joe Kolbe, who has a 100 percent approval rating from abortion rights groups.
Despite these liabilities, Kicanas almost won, which should indicate that the Rainbow Sash Movement's claim that many bishops are "privately" re-evaluating their moral judgments about homosexuality and abortion has a basis in reality.
Dolan, on the other hand, has positioned himself as a high-profile fighter in the culture wars that have pitted the entertainment media against the Catholic Church. See: "New York archbishop likes being on the front lines 'with the folks
'". He has shown himself willing to oppose the secular liberal establishment where principles of Faith and morals and respect for the Church are at issue.
To what extent Dolan will be able to steer the USCCB in the direction of doctrinal orthodoxy and traditional morality remains to be seen. Certainly, Dolan will have the support of Pope Benedict, but that may prove a liability with many of his "progressive" USCCB colleagues as well as with the media.
One thing that may help Dolan is the scandal involving the USCCB's Catholic Campaign for Human Development. See: http://www.reformcchdnow.com/
After it became known that the CCHD was funneling money to several pro-abortion groups, a conservative theological advisor was appointed to provide counsel to the organization and, presumably, make certain that Church funds do not go to those who oppose Church teachings. See: "Left-Wing Radicalism in the Church: CCHD and ACORN
The national parish collection this month for the CCHD is expected to be down, which may be seen as a repudiation from the pews of the liberal leanings of the Kicanas wing of the bishops conference and the need for a course correction, which Dolan can provide.
We must work and pray ever more fervently that the Holy Father and the bishops will heed the requests of Our Lady of Fatima. (See: Petition to Our Holy Father — The Consecration of Russia
and Petition to Our Holy Father — The Release of the full Third Secret
Pope Weighs in on Bishops Conferences
As the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops was opening its fall conference on Nov. 15 in Baltimore, Pope Benedict was addressing a group of Brazilian bishops during their ad limina
visit to Rome. The subject of the Pope's address: the subordination of the authority of bishops conferences to that of individual bishops. See: "Pope cautions: episcopal conference must not erode bishop's authority
In fact, the Pope said pointedly that "the counselors and structures of the episcopal conference exist to serve the bishops, not to replace them."
The Pope's remarks seem long overdue, as the bishops conferences have in many cases usurped the authority of individual bishops. The conferences now issue pastoral letters that purport to reflect the consensus of all their member bishops, but in reality are the composition of the usually left-leaning bureaucrats that constitute the various committees within the conference bureaucracy.
It's time the tail stopped wagging the dog. And the Pope's remarks could not have been more opportune, coming at a time when the USCCB was considering which direction to take in the election of a new president.
One result of the Second Vatican Council that may be insufficiently appreciated is the emergence of "collegiality." The challenges to orthodoxy during the past 45 years tend to obscure the no less significant shift in the balance of power in the hierarchy. In fact, doctrinal dissent and disciplinary changes are closely connected, with the latter frequently abetting the former.
"Collegiality" is among the more important shibboleths to be coined at the council, ranking alongside "dialogue" and "ecumenism" as terms pronounced reverentially to establish one's bona fides as a "progressive" churchman.
And while the purpose of "dialogue" and "ecumenism" is never clearly specified, the intent of "collegiality" is more plainly understood: a lessening of the power of the papacy and an increase in the power of bishops' conferences.
The Pope's remarks will help to strengthen those in the hierarchies of various nations who support the Holy Father in his attempt to establish a "hermeneutic of continuity," i.e. to return the Church to its traditions. See: "Pope Benedict XVI on the hermeneutic of continuity
Bishops conferences are historically tied to the rise of what might be called the "hermeneutic of discontinuity" that arose following the Second Vatican Council and has since tried to dictate to the bishops in the name of the conference.
The desire to return to orthodoxy in doctrine and discipline may be stronger among the bishops than is supposed. So we can hope. So we must pray. And a lifting of the leftist totalitarian grip of the conferences may move us closer to the Consecration of Russia, which we know the Pope desires. But he cannot do it alone. He needs the bishops with him.
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