Petition Drive in Dallas Seeking Bishop's Ouster

By Bobby Ross Jr.
Houston Chronicle [Dallas TX]
July 19, 2003

DALLAS -- Attorney William McCormack, a lifelong Roman Catholic, says embattled Dallas Bishop Charles Grahmann is a good man, "maybe even a holy man."

Hotel owner Harry "Buzz" Crutcher, a prominent Catholic layman, agrees.

But both say the time has come for Grahmann -- unable to shake the clergy sex-abuse crisis that has roiled the church in Dallas and nationally -- to resign or be pushed aside by the Vatican.

McCormack and Crutcher lead a group of prominent Catholic parishioners who have started a rare petition drive to urge Grahmann, the Dallas bishop since 1990, to step down.

The action by the Committee of Concerned Catholics underscores just how much the 19-month-old national crisis has changed the relationship between American Catholics and their bishops.

"Traditionally, the American laity, they're fairly docile when it comes to the bishop," said John Allen Jr., Vatican correspondent for the independent National Catholic Reporter. "Historically, it has taken an awful lot to convince American Catholics to turn on their bishops."

"Obviously, you have a Catholic laity in the United States that is unusually activist in the wake of this crisis."

In recent months, Grahmann has come under fire for backing three Dallas-area priests accused of sexual misconduct. Many also still fault his handling of the Rev. Rudy Kos, a former Dallas priest who was convicted of molesting altar boys in three parishes from 1981 to 1992. Kos was sentenced to three life terms in 1998.

So far, more than 1,200 Catholics -- a tiny fraction of the Dallas diocese's roughly 800,000 parishioners -- have signed the online petition, which cites "embarrassment, lack of leadership and financial peril" suffered by the diocese under Grahmann.

The bishop's supporters have collected their own signatures: more than 5,000 on a recent weekend. Whether those signatures represent support for Grahmann or simply for Catholic doctrine is a matter of dispute.

For his part, Grahmann has relied on a spokesman to dismiss the petition organizers as discontents, despite that many of them have served in top leadership roles with Catholic charities and schools.

"In the orthodox teaching of the Catholic Church, the bishop is appointed by the Holy Father, the pope, not to be subject to the whims, pressures, politics or self-interest of anyone," spokesman Bronson Havard has said.

Some parishioners, meanwhile, find themselves in the middle.

"I think there are a small group of people on either side of this issue that are really plugged into it and are very concerned," said Matthew Wilson, a law professor who attends St. Joseph Catholic Church in suburban Richardson. "I think the average parishioner in this diocese does not see this as a really front-burner issue."


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