More bad news from the beleaguered prolife movement in the Spokane diocese

More bad news from the beleaguered prolife movement in the Spokane diocese April 10, 2012

Every couple of months I get a plea for help or a phone call asking me what on earth is the deal with Bp. Blase Cupich in Spokane–typically from people living in Spokane.  Not living there myself and only going on his mysteriously hostile actions toward the prolife movement, I tell people I don’t know.  But I’d be lying if I said I could interpret his behavior as being anything but unrelievedly hostile to the prolife movement. Again and again and again, he has taken actions that can only be described as acts of hostility and, when caught doing so, offered clarifications that only clarify how hostile he is.

I have heard from seminarians in Spokane who are forbidden from participating in 40 Days for Life (despite the approval of the USCCB). And I and others have personal experience with his absolute refusal to so much as reply to very respectfully worded requests for dialogue in response to manifestly unjust treatment. So it is, sadly, not a surprise that I just got another email from a prolifer in Spokane who has been completely stiff-armed by her shepherd and, in turning to the internet to try to figure out why he is treating this person and the rest of the prolife movement with such hostility, happened across previous documentation of his hostility to prolifers on my blog and elsewhere. This person writes:

I read with interest your post on Bishop Blase Cupich and his ban on prolife materials and activities. I have been writing to the Bishop for months asking him why he has banned prolife literature; his assistant, Mary Cole, accidentally sent me a message meant for Cupich, in which she mentioned he had instructed her not to answer me.

Note: The reader forwarded me the inadvertently forwarded communication from Cole to Bp. Cupich. It reads: “Bishop, in the past you have asked me not to respond to her emails. She is also not listed in our diocesan system. She emailed again last night. Please advise. ”

Once I wrote her that I had received that, she got rather testy, and after I asked some more questions about his anti-life policy and caught her in at least two apparent fibs— she said there was a 20 year ban on prolife literature, I could not find any evidence of it, and she wouldn’t provide any. Then she said that there was no difference between the policy of bishop Cupich and those of his predecessor. This was untrue, as Bishop Skylstad endorsed 40 Days for Life, and Cupich told his priests and seminarians that he didn’t want them to take part!–She then blocked me from emailing any one who works for the Spokane Diocese! Her “sit down and shut up” attitude towards the Prolife movement is…interesting.

Anyway, I’m trying to get together as many people as possible to email the bishop and request that he repeal his ban. They’ll be pretty busy trying to block us all.

If you know any one who’d join in, please let me know!

I can’t for the life of me understand why Bp. Cupich is treating the prolife movement in Spokane–surely some of the best and most devoted children and allies of the Catholic Church, with such cold contempt. What does he hope to accomplish beyond what this email evidences: namely the growth of a group of prolifers under his care who are coming to believe that their spiritual father regards them as enemies and not as his children? Are not these men and women members of his flock too? Do they not at least deserve to have their existence acknowledged? If he thinks them to be too in bed with conservative agenda items not to his liking, would he not do better to *teach* them to distinguish the prolife movement from secular (and often anti-Catholic) agendas rather than simply treat them like enemies to be ignored, undercut, defeated and, in my reader’s case, humiliated? Does he not realize that such treatment is almost guaranteed to drive lay Catholics further away from the bishops and into the arms of right wing demagogues who care nothing for the Church’s teaching except how it can be exploited from political gain?

I do not understand this man. I pray that the Spirit would move this shepherd to act like a shepherd toward people who love the Faith and who only wish to serve the Church he loves and is charged to feed.

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  • thomas tucker

    Good golly, this bishop needs a comeuppance.
    First, I would gather a group of people and ask for a sit down with the bishop. It would be helpful if the group included big donors to the diocesan annual appeal. Second, if that is refused, I would write Rome and ask for help, with copious documentation of how this bishop has been arrogant and obstructionist to the pro-life cause. I would also refuse to give any money to the diocese, but would support my local parish. This kind of autocratic ecclisiastical style is way past its expiration date.

    • Carbon Monoxide

      You will probably find that the big donors in this diocese are not pro-life.

      • Mark Shea

        I am told that this pattern is a continuation from previous dioceses, so that doesn’t appear to explain it.

    • WesleyD

      This won’t hurt, but I’m not sure it will help. These days, metropolitan archbishops have essentially no power whatsoever over their suffragan bishops. The rank is basically ceremonial. Back when communication was slow, things were different — for example, a metropolitan had certain authority over a suffragan see between the time that it became vacant and the time that the Vatican learned about the vacancy. And I think that a pope would mail his encyclicals to the metropolitans, who would then make copies and send them to their suffragan bishops. But obviously none of this applies anymore.

      If I had to guess, I would wonder if perhaps the Bishop of Spokane has some story about rude and disobedient pro-lifers that he uses to defend his actions when talking to other bishops. This is just my speculation, and even if it happens to be true, it obviously wouldn’t be a justification.

      • WesleyD

        My comment above was a response to Michelle’s comment (which appears below). Sorry for posting it in the wrong location.

  • Michelle

    At this point, perhaps those in the Spokane Diocese might think about sending very respectful and politely-worded emails to Bishop Cupich’s metropolitan, the Archbishop of Seattle, and whoever heads up the Washington State Conference of Catholic Bishops. They may not be able to directly interfere in this matter, but they may be able to apply some firm fraternal correction to a brother bishop. The advantage here is that they are more local to Bishop Cupich than the head of the Congregation for Bishops (who is next in the pecking order), and more local fraternal correction may be more fruitful than jumping straight up to Rome (at least at this point).

    • trespinos

      There is reason to believe that Abp. Sartain is indeed working behind the scenes to establish a helpful working relationship with his suffragan, Bp. Cupich. When the American bishops were issuing their statements on the HHS mandate, a number of people noticed that the Archbishop and the Bishop were among the very last to publish. It is probable that the Archbishop held off issuing a statement until he could reach full agreement with the Bishop. He may well have risked appearing dilatory in order to bring his brother bishop along. IMHO he does not need to be pressured toward fraternal correction; he is quietly on the case.

      • Mark Shea

        Seems reasonable. Abp. Sartain is the real deal. I like the man a lot.

        • Sandra

          We were blessed with Sartain as our bishop for a short number of years here in the diocese of Little Rock. We regret so mournfully losing him. But God’s will be done, he is amazing, and God is sowing his deeds in many places for many future harvests! My children still vividly remember his visits to our parish, and many of his sermons! I continue to follow his work.

  • thomas tucker

    Michelle- that sounds reasonable but the problem is that brother bishops are VERY reluctant to correct one another. It usually has to come from Rome, if it comes at all. There are cases in which the laity of the diocese have become so fed up and unhappy that Rome has intervened, however.

    • Michelle

      Thomas, bishops are reluctant to correct each other publicly, or in the view of others, which means that people are not likely to get responses back that say, “Thanks for the heads-up. On it!” But they do indeed offer private fraternal correction to each other.

      • thomas tucker

        I hope that is true, but do not know it to be so. My understanding was that each bishop was supreme in his own diocese. If you know otherwise, I stand corrected.

  • Irenaeus

    Archbishop Sartain in Seattle is awesome.

  • What Thomas said. At this point, there seems to be enough of a paper trail that appealing to Rome (the Congregation for Bishops in the Holy See, I think) is justified. Do some research on Google to find out the mailing address and the name of the prefect for the Congregation.

    • Michelle

      Unless Bishop Cupich has committed some public malfeasance, which does not appear to be the case (and possibly deliberately so), Rome will not involve itself at this point. A paper trail of hurt feelings from lay pro-lifers that the Bishop won’t respond to them is not evidence of malfeasance, and a bishop has the authority to restrict his seminarians’ public activities. That’s why private fraternal correction from the local metropolitan and brother bishops is more likely to yield fruit. Lay pro-lifers will simply have to pray and trust that the private fraternal correction will be done if the problem is brought to the attention of local bishops.

  • Br. Gabriel, OP

    The faithful deserve transparency from their clergy. I would hate to make judgments about the Bishop’s conduct. There is probably more to this than what we know. However, that is the problem. The reasons for these activities should be evident. If I were a layman in the Diocese and wanted to find out more information I would write letters (not emails) and cc the Congregation for the Laity and Bishops with attached copies of responses. Neither the Code of Canon Law nor the doctrine of Apostolic Succession provides a Bishop or any Ordinary the authority to be an autocrat.

    • Michelle

      No, but neither does it require a bishop to write to his laity. He’s required to teach, yes; but he is not required to engage in correspondence. If all that Bishop Cupich has done is refuse to write back to lay pro-lifers and to restrict his seminarians’ public activities, then he may be acting unjustly but he has not committed any breach of episcopal conduct for which Rome will slap him down. That’s why it is essential for the laity to restrain the impulse to beg Rome to get involved at this point. All it will do is to inspire greater bitterness when Rome does not respond in a manner hoped for.

      • thomas tucker

        I don’t know. Historically, that may be true but it seems lately that if too many people in a diocese get upset with a bishops’s behavior, Rome steps in ( e.g. Scranton, I think it was, is a recent example.) I don’t know what the tipping point is for degree of upset however.

      • Mark Shea

        It’s not a question of having to write everybody. It’s a question of treating prolifers as enemies and pursuing a consistent campaign of hostility against them while giving them absolutely no redress or acknowledgement of their confusion, pain, or existence. I agree with Rome is not going to micromanage this. But it’s still wrong and my reader’s note reflects the wrong done the prolifers in Spokane.

  • kmk

    Might be good to send a letter to the Apostolic Nuncio to the US, Bishop Vigano, with a cc to Bishop Cupich and the Archbishop of Seattle. Here’s a link to contact information:

  • Jack Swan

    The Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops is Cardinal Marc Ouellet, and the address for the Congregation is: Palazzo della Congregazioni, Piazza Pio XII, 10, 00193 Roma, Italy.

    Bishop Cupich will turn 75 on March 19, 2024.

  • Judith M.

    This is what you need to do. Ask the Bishop if he has any prolife literature he has written and whether that could be placed in the parishes. If not, ask him what the policy is for placing USSCB pro-life material in the parishes. The problem might be that the material people want to place in the parishes is not coming from Catholic sources.

  • Bryan

    Me being a non-Catholic and all, forgive my ignorance but what good is episcopal oversight and having a pope if he can’t or won’t step in and correct a bishop who behaves like this? I could get loose cannon, make it up as you go church leader from The First Church Of Holiness with Fire and Signs Following Non-Denominational Charismatic Temple down the road. If a bishop isn’t going to be held accountable and given some direction from his superiors when he pulls stunts like this, what good is the authority structure at all?

    • WesleyD

      Bryan, there are “pros” and “cons” to oversight in every structure — secular governments, corporations, families, and the Catholic Church. When oversight becomes too heavy, those in the middle levels become nervous about any possible action, and end up asking their superiors for advice all the time. Since the superiors can’t possibly micro-manage everything, this causes paralysis. At the other extreme, if there is no oversight, then those in the middle levels can do horrible things with no consequences.

      In the Catholic Church, oversight is strongest when it comes to doctrine. If a bishop in the United States were to publicly teach that Jesus did not rise from the dead, he’d be gone within a few days. Since 2002, oversight regarding sexual scandals has become much stronger. But when it comes to managing the day-to-day affairs of a diocese, oversight is very mild, since the general assumption is that the local bishop knows the people and issues in his diocese much better than people in Rome do.

      This case falls into that last category. The bishop is not teaching anything unorthodox — rather, he has made a series of rules about whether seminarians and lay people can participate in specific events. From what I have read, these rules are very unreasonable, and seem to show a pattern of hostility towars pro-lifers. But taken individually, any single one of these rules could conceivably have been made for a good reason.

      To take an even more extreme example: An individual bishop can ban a religious order from public clerical ministry in his diocese. Sometimes this has been done for good reason (e.g., the local leader of this religious order may be causing severe problems) and other times it has been done for bad reasons. But for Rome to judge such a case it would need to interview a whole lot of people, so usually such matters are left to the bishop’s discretion — until there are lots and lots of appeals from the people.

      While I hope that in this case Rome does intervene, I think that as a general rule, it’s good that a high bar is being set for their intervention.

      • Ted Seeber

        He’s lucky he hasn’t faced outright pro-life prayers of the faithful in the Cathedral (yet…hopefully I’m giving somebody an idea).

  • John L

    An obvious explanation for this behaviour is that the bishop is pro-abortion.

    • Mark Shea

      And yet also too simplistic, I suspect. My guess is that he’s leery of conservatives in some way, not “pro-abortion”. But it’s just a guess since he’s none too forthcoming with information.

  • Matt C

    Not familiar at all with this bishop (I live near Pittsburgh), I looked at his abortion/dignity publications referenced in his CV and also recent letters from his archives. To me, they appear to be overtly pro-life. Admittedly, I did not do exhaustive research, but in what I read, he stood for the protection of life at all stages. I hope that he is being judged fairly. Again, I am totally unfamiliar with the man.

  • Judith M.

    I think Mark is correct. I think the bishop is concerned about an overly narrow view of the pro-life movement being espoused. That’s why I recommend asking about the use of USCCB pro-life brochures. They are excellent and they cover the full spectrum of pro-life issues from the Catholic perspective. If he doesn’t allow these brochures, then I think you have a real problem.

  • And now the Bishop Cupich has indicated he supports Spokane’s Gonzaga University’s decision to invite a pro-abortion rights advocate to deliver its commencement address and honor him with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.

    The speaker, Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, performed good work helping end apartheid in South Africa, but his stance on abortion and several other issues should disqualify him as an honoree at a Catholic institution

    Click sign a petition protesting the invitation of this pro-life speaker

    The bishop says Tutu is being honored for his work on apartheid, but I wonder if he would think it appropriate for Gonzaga to invite a pro-life advocate to deliver the commencement address and receive an honorary degree if that person had been a supporter of apartheid–and never renounced that position.

  • I wish the bishop would just be more forthcoming about this whole situation. I so badly want to believe that there’s more to the story, that we just haven’t heard the other side. The more secretive he is, and the more he dodges the issue, the worse this whole thing works.

    Just tell us what’s going on!

    • thomas tucker

      That’s part of this thing- he doesn’t respond to communications from the faithful in his diocese. Now, I understadn that it may be impossible for the bishop to respond personally to every single email, but someone in his office should. It’s only right.

  • Brian G.

    The problems in the Spokane Diocese do not begin or end with Bishop Cupich but he has been selected to be our shepherd. As such he needs to take leadership when scandalous situations appear. Sadly he has been evasive at best in responding to the many issues of Catholic faith and morals brought to him to date. We are an apostolic church, are we what we say we are in Magisterial teachings? While the problems are certainly not unique to our diocese, it seems to be time to ask for clarity from Rome if Bishop Cupich continues to ignore. Maybe an apostolic visitation is needed?

  • Hm. In light of this, the Inlander’s write up of Cupich seems all the more interesting:

    “…Like other Catholic bishops, Cupich was opposed to the mandate and worried it would restrict religious freedom. That was expected. But what stirred some controversy was the way that, after repeating the church’s reason for opposition, he called for a “return to civility.”

    “While the outrage to the … decision is understandable, in the long run threats and condemnations have a limited impact,” Cupich wrote, cautioning that leaders should “always be leery of letting a situation escalate to an undesirable degree.”

    Observers took note. The National Catholic Reporter contrasted his “reasoned, measured tone” with the “hot, culture-warrior language” of Philadelphia’s archbishop, who told Catholics they should be “angry.” Reuters used his column as the lead example of how some bishops have become uncomfortable with the “biting rhetoric” of other bishops…”

    • Mark Shea

      This doesn’t surprise me.

  • I’m sadly assuming there is no Project Rachel outreach or ministry in the diocese either?

  • Elizabeth Lund

    Do you seriously think it’s OK to be writing about a Bishop in this manner, and based on hearsay?!?! I urge you all to examine your consciences for the presence of arrogance, self-righteousness, critical spirit, rash judgment, etc. and to repent. After that, I urge you to remove this sort of thing from you websites, fb pages, etc. How do you think God the Father and Our Lord view this behavior of YOURS? I submit that they see it has reprehensible, like Noah’s son advertising His father’s drunken nudity. Remember that in the eyes of God, His Bishops are ” other Christs”, and you are treating Christ scandalously here. Frankly, I am shocked to observe such behavior from such a quarter, not to mention ashamed.

    • Jodi

      A forwarded e-mail isn’t hearsay, it is written documentation.

    • Andy, Bad Person

      The response here seems pretty tepid compared to most issues. I haven’t seen anything on here that is rash judgment (most are just asking questions).

      Re: “Other Christs,” or more specifically in persona Christi (since we are all called to be “other Christs,” but not all serve in the person of Christ) is applicable to priests and bishops when they are performing their duties in the sacraments, not necessarily in their day-to-day living. It is the attitude that priests and bishops are always acting in the person of Christ that gave us the culture that led to the abuse scandal. Bishops’ and priests’ behaviors need to be examined, within the bounds of Christian charity, just like everyone else.

    • Lynn

      Perhaps another interpretation of what Elizabeth wrote is that as Catholics and followers of Christ we are asked to extend the Charity of Christ with all those we meet, Catholics and non-Catholics, Bishops and lay persons. We are not asked to share our individual ideas, feelings, or opinions about the perceived actions of our neighbors with everyone we meet. At one time what we are doing here would have been considered gossip because it took place in the privacy of our own gatherings and behind peoples backs. Now that we live in the age of the internet and this is all done in a public forum and sanctioned by a large group of anonymous individuals we call it, “asking questions” or “exchanging ideas.” Instead of taking our dinner table talk to prayer and spiritual direction we have taken it to the public market and announced it to all who pass by, “Have you heard the latest ‘bad’ news about the Bishop? I have written documentation to prove it.” Why do we relish creating scandal in our Church community? How does the publication that one pro-lifer’s emails about pro-life issues are not being answered by her Bishop, help the rest of us defend our Faith and spread Christ’s love in the world? More has been demanded of us. We are meant to be a light in the darkness, not in order to cast shadows but rather as a beacon of Hope for all those who encounter us including other Catholics.

  • Chad

    Bishop Cupich behaves passive-aggressively. I do not believe this is a proper means of pastoring… but it is important to realize the type of person the Bishop is, in order to adjust one’s expectations accordingly. A measured, consistent effort to dialog with the Bishop should be maintained throughout his episcopate… but I would suggest that it be done with little expectation of response or action from his part. So why attempt to dialog? Perhaps not for the Bishop’s sake, but for the sake of all who labor in the pro-life movement in Spokane.

    This all is oddly similar to the behavior of his classmate Bishop Zurek. Both exhibit distinct passive-aggressive behavior. It is not an ordered quality. It seems that the most appropriate prayer is one that asks for an increase in courage (fortitude) for Bishop Cupich. And that same prayer should be said for the pro-life laity… we will need it. Pro-life evangelization in the Spokane Diocese will not receive leadership from the Bishop, and it will only be accomplished through the dedicated actions of the laity. The adversity of this situation can be a blessing. You are on your own pro-life Spokane.

  • Loud

    She should forward that email to the Vatican.

    • Loud

      I mean, so they can determine if this guy is a first class wuss….. or worse.