The loudest bishops in the u.s. are a minority

The loudest bishops in the u.s. are a minority September 1, 2009

During the last presidential election it became clear to many of us that despite their overwhelming presence in the media the american bishops making the most noise in their opposition to Barack Obama reflected a minority view within the conference. A necessary tactic, then, for republican Catholics was to amplify their voices even more and even to claim that their numbers were larger than they really were. I exposed one such effort for what it was here.

It seems that now we are beginning to see some more visible, public responses to the scandalous behavior that we — we Catholics, and sadly the rest of the world who could not help but watch and be astonished at american Catholic “discourse” — witnessed during that election cycle. Santa Fe Archbishop Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan has publicly criticized the “combative tactics” of these right-leaning bishops, assuring that the majority of u.s. bishops disagreed with them.

David Gibson now reports on the sudden and shady resignation of Scranton bishop Joseph “The USCCB doesn’t speak for me” Martino, claiming that “there are strong indications that Martino was pushed before he jumped.”

Whatever the ins and outs of the internal church maneuvering, the upshot is that a leading voice in the anti-Obama wing of the church hierarchy has been silenced while both Obama and Biden continue to take center stage.

Although the efforts seem to me a little late coming, it is refreshing to see signs that, despite republican efforts to increase the volume of these marginal and extreme views, someone — maybe a number of someones — is finally reaching over to turn the amplifier down saying “Enough already.”

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  • It is pretty clear that Martino was removed by the Vatican. It’s pretty remarkable. Has this happened before — removing a youngish bishop without appointing a coadjutor? I know the nuncio has been very concerned about the excess partisanship of a minority of US bishops.

  • Here’s a question. When Saint Athanasius made his famous statement, “the floor of hell is paved with the skulls of bishops,” was he speaking of a majority of bishops or a minority?

  • Kurt

    It really is next to unheard of for the Vatican to fire a bishop (other than for heresy). Even Burke and Law were simply moved to cushy jobs in Rome after it was determined that pastoring the souls of the local church was not the place for them to be.

    While Church officials will be tight-lipped on any further public commentary on this, I am sure it has already sent a huge message to chanceries from Atlantic to Pacific.

    I’m sure this was an unpleasant task, but I am thankful to the Holy Father for addressing the problem of the Church of Scranton.

  • Matt

    Martino made his share of mistakes, but I don’t think he was removed. If they wanted to silence him he would have been given some low key, out of the way job of some sort that would keep him very busy. That was not done.

    Also, do coadjutors even get appointed much these days? I can’t think of single recent case even when bishops were retiring due to the normal age. Most diocese seem to go months on end before something is done about replacing their bishops. Only the very high profile places seem to get quick turnaround. Of coarse the fact the Rigali (or however that is spelled) is one of the king makers for bishops at the Vatica means this will get taken care of in short order compared to your average case.

    I suspect the bishops in the US fall into three basic catagories. Those are the right leaning ones such as those who have recently been more outspoken. Those who try to keep a low profile on politics, often having rather conservative tempermaments but sypathetic to the left on social justice issues, and with the right on “values” issues. Then there are the Democratic party at prayer bishops.

    Martino made a name for himself in some less than artful ways on the national stage. He also faced a tremendous amount of difficulty within his diocese. We should not overlook the possibility that those home front issues were in fact the driving forces.

    Finally,
    “Whatever the ins and outs of the internal church maneuvering, the upshot is that a leading voice in the anti-Obama wing of the church hierarchy has been silenced while both Obama and Biden continue to take center stage.”

    This quote should not gladden anyone who is Catholic of any political stripe. It certainly doesn’t represent the thinking of any Catholics I personally know, and I know quite a few Catholics who were on both sides of the last election.

  • Matt

    A short amendment, I think the quote is correct in that Obama does continue to take center stage, in the context of the thinking of Catholics and in the “political manaveurs” of the American church. However, it is not just the bishops who opposed Obama openly that must now be decreasing so he can increase, it is in fact all of the bishops.

  • This quote should not gladden anyone who is Catholic of any political stripe.

    I think good and faithful Catholics could find something in that quote to make them happy. But I agree that the “Obama and Biden taking center stage” part should not necessarily gladden us.

  • Gabriel Austin

    The loudest bishops at Nicaea were also in an apparent minority. The others did not want to upset the emperor.

  • The loudest bishops at Nicaea were also in an apparent minority.

    Yes, let’s compare the Council of Nicaea with the absurdities of Obama-rage. Do you really want to go there?

  • Kurt

    do coadjutors even get appointed much these days?

    I think not, though incumbent’s push for it because it gives them more of a say in picking their successor. Its not done just for that reason.

    Martino made a name for himself in some less than artful ways

    No doubt there.

    He also faced a tremendous amount of difficulty within his diocese.</i.

    Yes. Busting the union, his fight with the Irish-American organizations, with other ethnic groups, general rudeness to people, etc…

    the bishops who opposed Obama

    Those bishops who are anti-Obama should decrease. They are unworthy shepherds.

    Those who are anti- Obama’s policies, or some of his policies, can be a helpful voice in the public square.

  • phosphorious

    The loudest bishops at Nicaea were also in an apparent minority. The others did not want to upset the emperor.

    The loudest bishops this time around certainly want to upset the emperor.

    Not the last emperor, whose unjust invasion of Iraq they more or less supported. . . but this new emperor? they’re all over it!

  • Matt

    Hold it, lets be fair.

    The loudest bishops on Iraq were against the war, at least of the ones I heard.

    I don’t think a bishop must speak at full volume 100% of the time on 100% of issues to be taken seriously. There are certain issues that failing to speak on seems rather strange. There are other issues that emphasising may seem a bit out of place to our individual priorities. I often thought my former bishop was a bit off base on several issues and the priority he placed them in, but it was his legitimate choice to make those decisions. In the end each bishop, like the rest of us will have to face up to what we did and did not do.

    (In my former bishop’s case it was a seemingly never ending focus on immigration and the promotion of rather specific, particular notions of how to deal with it as being the only possible moral solutions. I respected his right to expound those views, and in fact I agreed with the basic principles he promoted. However, I thought his particular policy ideas on how to apply those principles were a bit off, and I thought he turned it into some attempt to set a new record on beating a dead horse to the exclusion of other topics. That being said, it was his job to teach. He taught as best he could. It was my job to try to give a full and fair consideration to him, and while I tried to do this, I am sure I could have done better.)

    The case can be made that certain bishops are intentionally partisan in their statements. However, the burden of proof is squarely on the person making the charge, and this must be done case by case, not with a broad brush.

  • ben

    I think Matt has a good point. I know that my local bishop, Abp. Chaput, has a reputation for being one of the loud ones. But he has been very vocal on more than just one issue. He has made many public statements concering the need for immigration reform, the importance of caring for the poor and in opposition to the war in Iraq that are very much at odds with mainstream republicanism. These statements simply don’t get national media attention.

  • The USSCB has no special Teaching Authority that one bishop alone does not already have.

    Right?

    So what’s the big deal here? The Church is not a democracy.

  • standmickey

    I’d like to second Ben. Archbishop Chaput often gets a bad rap for allegedly being a hyper-partisan tool of the Republican Party. But he has upset conservatives by loudly condemning draconian immigration enforcement measures, and intervening personally (and often, unfortunately, unsuccessfully) to attempt to halt executions. I like Chaput because I do not want bishops who are shills for the Democratic Party any more than I want bishops who are shills for the Republican Party. I want bishops like him who are loudly, uncompromisingly, and unapologetically Catholic, in every sense of the term.

  • Kurt

    With Martino and Burke gone, Chaput will be a little easier to deal with.

  • Chaput is more mild than Martino. But in my opinion his version of church teaching is often skewed.

  • M.Z.

    I’d like to second Ben. Archbishop Chaput often gets a bad rap for allegedly being a hyper-partisan tool of the Republican Party.

    You must be implying that being a “hyper-partisan tool of the Republican Party” is being perceived as a bad thing. You cannot be implying that Chaput isn’t a “hyper-partisan tool of the Republican Party.”

  • The loudest bishops on Iraq were against the war, at least of the ones I heard.

    Well, not so fast. The bishops made a few statements on the war, but they were relatively quiet statements. And they certainly didn’t let their (correct) opinions spill over into actual concrete pastoral suggestions, e.g. “Maybe you Catholic soldiers should at least give two seconds of time to think about conscientious objection.” I can think of maybe 2 bishops who made such concrete suggestions. The loudest bishops when it came to the Iraq War were the “un-american” ones, including that pesky Bishop of Rome and his successor!

    On the other hand, the bishops on the right are not shy about making concrete suggestions, e.g. “Don’t show up for communion,” “The USCCB does not speak for me, all of their documents are irrelevant, do not vote for Obama,” and “You should change the name of your university to Northern Indiana Secular Humanist University.”

    See a difference?

    The USSCB has no special Teaching Authority that one bishop alone does not already have.

    Right?

    Well, that’s precisely what is debated. But even JPII’s statement on episcopal conferences, intended to clarify things and “restrict” their ability to generate authoritative teaching, did not say that they have no teaching authority. They certainly do have teaching authority, at least, when they reiterate the constant teaching of the Church. I see no evidence that this past version of Faithful Citizenship strayed from “universal” Church teaching. Do you?

    So what’s the big deal here? The Church is not a democracy.

    Nor is it a confederation of mini-dictatorships! No one is suggesting that the Church is a “democracy,” Zach, although there certainly ARE democratic elements in the Church’s structure. The concern some of us have is that bishops like Martino have shown a profound disregard for anything resembling collegiality, or episcopal “communion” if you prefer that term.

  • Liam

    Chaput went overboard in 2004 but (correctly and rather transparently) trimmed his sails afterward.

  • So now we’ll be hearing even *less* homilies on contraception now?
    Does the Church oppose the evils ravaging our society, or not?

  • Gadfly – This post and thread don’t have anything to do with contraception. Please stay on topic.

  • Brett

    Does anyone know exactly where Martino will be going now? It seems to me likely that he was ‘pushed before he jumped’, but where he ends up will be important in assessing the truth of that statement.

  • I think the reports say he’s just going to “chill” as the “Retired Bishop.”

  • digbydolben

    Michael J. Sheehan, the Archbishop of Santa Fe, should not be held to have any credibility regarding matters of pastoral integrity. He is a vengeful, authoritarian tyrant who has, throughout his tenure in New Mexico, abused his position as an employer.

    He is also a harbourer of criminal pedophiles and a liar on the subject of the cover-ups by the Catholic hierarchy of such violations of trust:

    http://nmsavanarola.livejournal.com/

  • Despite such allegations (on which I have no comment whatsoever), he could certainly be correct about the matter of outspoken politically right-wing bishops.

  • Gabriel Austin

    Michael J. Iafrate wrote September 1, 2009 at 4:46 pm
    “The loudest bishops at Nicaea were also in an apparent minority”.

    “Yes, let’s compare the Council of Nicaea with the absurdities of Obama-rage. Do you really want to go there?”

    If I could understand your question, I very well might want to go there.

  • Gabriel Austin

    Kurt writes September 1, 2009 at 8:29 pm
    “With Martino and Burke gone, Chaput will be a little easier to deal with”.

    Sounds like a threat, Mafia style.

    Michael J. Iafrate writes September 1, 2009 at 8:39 pm
    “Chaput is more mild than Martino. But in my opinion his version of church teaching is often skewed”.

    Why do you never give specific examples? [without losing your temper].

    And, would it not be a matter of simple courtesy, to use their titles. They are not your neighborhood pols.

  • Gabriel, I blogged about Chaput a while back. Two posts in fact. The first was appreciative of something he said, but critical of how he was interpreted by the right. The second post was a response to/critique of his lecture here in Toronto a while back. Sorry if you missed those. You might check them, though, for specific examples.

  • Kurt

    Kurt writes September 1, 2009 at 8:29 pm
    “With Martino and Burke gone, Chaput will be a little easier to deal with”.

    Sounds like a threat, Mafia style.

    If you think so, I will re-phrase. With Martino and Burke gone, the loud minority of the episcopate spouting worthless chatter will be small enough to be an insignificant irritant.

  • Matt

    “spouting worthless chatter”

    Wow.

    That has to be one of the most disrespectful things I have ever heard regarding the teaching of a bishop. (Though certainly the condemnations of the damnable heresies taught be some in the past were stronger, but also more just.)

  • Kurt

    Matt,

    I stand by my statement.

  • ben

    M.Z.,

    As someone who actually lives in Denver, let me assure you that the local republican party can’t stand Abp. Chaput.

    Several of you here really seems to have a very one-sided view of him. Yes, he is very strongly pro-life, but he also tells people publically that they will go to hell if they don;t adress the needs of the poor. He has, with great opposition from the lay faithful, directed the resources of the Archdioces to serving the needs of the illegal immigrant population. He has required that all of the men in the seminary learn Spanish.

    He also allowed, amidst very vocal criticism, the current Governor of Colorado, a Democrat supported by Planned Parenthood, to have an inauguration mass in a prominent downtown parish.

  • ben – It is encouraging to hear some of Chaput’s other activities and opinions. Hearing them, though, makes me even more disappointed in his behavior during the last presidential election and some of the statements I heard him make at his public lecture in Toronto.

  • Zak

    Ben,
    Isn’t Ritter pro-life? I thought I remembered the pro-choicers didn’t like him when he was running for Governor.

  • ben

    Zak

    Ritter describes himself as Pro-Life.
    He provides some details about his views in question 4 of this interview:

    http://coloradopoliticalnews.blogs.com/colorado_political_news/2005/06/bill_ritter_qa_1.html

    However, one of the issues in the 2007 Colorado election concerned state funding of Planned Parenthood to the tune of about $400,000 anuually, Our previous governor (a catholic republican who Chaput clashed with numerous times on the issue of immigration) had eliminated the funding. Ritter, in an effort to reach “common ground” on the abortion issue made restoration of this funding a campaign issue. Chaput was unhappy about this, but he nontheless made sure that one of the most beautiful churches in town was available to celebrate a special mass the morning of Ritter’s inauguration.

  • Kurt

    I’m not happy with some of Ritter’s policies on labor issues, but I appreciate his pro-life positions.