Copy of E-Mail from Deal Hudson
What Happened at the Meeting
By Deal Hudson
September 9, 2003
Well, things have finally settled down around here after the excitement of yesterday's meeting with the bishops. I want to give you my general impressions, but first I need to thank you again for your prayers and support. I think we were blessed with a fruitful discussion.
One of the agreements the attendees made during the meeting was to refrain from later paraphrasing or quoting the comments of others (though, of course, we're free to talk about our own involvement).
This was actually for the protection of those at the meeting: None of us want to have our comments or views inadvertently misrepresented by someone else (especially when the issues are as vital as the ones we discussed).
So, in the following report to you, I've gotten direct quotes today from a number of the attendees, along with their permission to use them in this letter.
With that said, let's get started...
There ended up being about 40 Catholic leaders and representatives, both lay and religious, who attended the meeting, in addition to five bishops (Wilton Gregory, president of the USCCB, Theodore Cardinal McCarrick of Washington, DC, William Friend of Shreveport, William Skylstad of Spokane, and Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg).
Some people have commented that the list, while having its share of impressive leaders, didn't have many representatives of regular Catholics. This is simply untrue: The attendees came from every walk of life and every part of the country... professors, businessmen, stay-at-home moms, journalists, presidents of Catholic colleges, priests and religious sisters... they were all there.
Unfortunately, we were limited in the number of people we could invite. And while a few of our invitees were unable to attend, we ended up with a marvelous group. (I emailed you the list of attendees yesterday morning.)
Gene Zurlo, the president of the Catholic Radio Association, said he was impressed by the "roomful of such smart people who love the Church, who believe in the fullness of truth, and have such an evangelical spirit.... These people are prepared to give their time and talent to the bishops to further the Church's interest."
I think the title of the meeting sums up the general tone of the day: It was definitely "A Meeting In Support Of The Church." Instead of pointing fingers and spreading blame, the participants were there out of love for the Church and a desire for constructive dialogue about the problems currently plaguing her. While attendees voiced their concerns and confronted the bishops with some pretty pointed questions, the meeting never devolved into a shouting match.
Truth must always be accompanied by charity, as indeed charity must always be founded on the truth.
We began the meeting promptly at 9:15AM in a second floor conference room of the Cosmos Club in Washington, D.C. The day was structured with five presentations, each followed by a moderated discussion. At the end of the meeting, we had a general question and answer session for the bishops.
Frank Hanna III, CEO of HBR Capital, Ltd. started the day with a magnificent presentation on leadership in the Church. It was the perfect way to begin the meeting. Frank was forceful and pointed, but his tone was generous.
The other attendees were impressed. Barbara Henkels of the Catholic Leadership Conference called it "a masterpiece... It was clearly inspired, but he obviously had worked a great deal on it."
Frank's central point was a vital one: "We believe our bishops are the successors to the Apostles," he told me. "We were there to encourage and support them in that role, and to let them know that when they are courageous and strong, the entire Church is courageous and strong."
The discussion that followed set the tone for much of the rest of the day.
The first question came from Bill Donohue, president of the highly effective Catholic League for Religious & Civil Rights. "I asked about the April 2002 meeting with the Holy Father, after which, [the bishops] released a statement in which they said they would deal with dissent in the Church and that there would be reprimands. Well, where were the reprimands for the seventy professors from Georgetown University who signed a letter of protest against Cardinal Arinze for stating Catholic teaching on sexuality? And where was the reprimand for Fr. James Keenan, S.J. of the Weston School of Theology who testified for gay marriage before the Massachusetts legislature?"
The discussion that followed continued in this vein. The point was made that speaking with charity means speaking out of love for the other person, which sometimes means confronting him when he's in error. This is the very thing the bishops are called to do: correct their flock when they go astray. If bishops lead in this manner, people will follow.
The second presentation was given by Dr. Robert George, professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University (you can read a profile of Robby in the current issue of CRISIS). He focused on the challenges the Church will soon be facing, especially in the area of bioethics.
George made a number of excellent points about the importance of life issues and why we must be unwavering in our dedication to them.
This naturally led to a general discussion of Catholics in the public eye who dissent in these areas. Many of the attendees questioned why pro-abortion Catholic Leon Panetta was asked to serve on the bishops' lay review board, sending mixed messages about our Church's dedication to the unborn.
Tom Hoopes, executive editor of the National Catholic Register, told CRISIS that the repeated attention brought to life issues and the scandal caused by Panetta's appointment just goes to show how deeply Catholics care about these problems. "If the bishops ever got the impression that pro-life Catholics are inordinately obsessed with one issue," Hoopes said, "George's comments went a long way toward explaining why we care so deeply about life issues."
Patrick Madrid, editor-in-chief of Envoy Magazine and popular Catholic apologist, then gave a well-considered luncheon presentation on the importance of priestly celibacy in the Latin rite.
Several of the attendees praised Bishop Gregory's recent letter responding to the 160 or so Minnesota priests who signed a petition advocating a married priesthood. For my part, Gregory's response struck the perfect balance between charity and correction. This is an example of the strong but loving leadership we so desperately need from our bishops.
As the discussion moved on, the topic of pro-abortion "Catholic" politicians came up. Especially troublesome was the appointment of Leon Panetta to the Bishop's National Review Board (Panetta has a long record of supporting abortion).
Kathryn Jean Lopez, editor of National Review Online, . "While I'm grateful the bishops who attended were willing to hear from some faithful critics, I don't believe the meeting can be declared a success until the likes of Leon Panetta no longer sit on the National Review Board -- and officials who publicly support abortion are never again honored by princes of the Church. For no matter how many strong pro-life statements a bishop or the bishop's conference may make, they're dramatically diminished by such public, blatant, inconsistencies. Until the sanctity of human life (and the preservation of marriage) is a top public-policy priority for the episcopal conference, I don't think the meeting is over."
Many of the attendees praised Bishop William Weigand of Sacramento, for his firm stand against Grey Davis, the pro-abortion "Catholic" governor of California. The discussion then moved to the question of whether or not an open condemnation from the bishops would end up sending MORE votes to a pro-abortion Catholic politician (people love mavericks, after all). Barbara Henkels noted that, among the attendees, "the consensus was that the local bishop HAS to speak out, and the other bishops have to support him. One of my comments was that we need to be thinking of the long term effect, not just the short term result. And, of course, it's a simple matter of the bishop doing what's right."
Peggy Noonan, a popular writer and columnist for the Wall Street Journal, gave the fourth presentation, focusing on the leadership of John Paul II. Peggy is always wonderful, and it was a joy to hear her speak forcefully on the pain and confusion many of us feel. But that wasn't all she touched on.
"Peggy Noonan's remarks were filled with open-mindedness, love for the Church, concern for the world, and care for the poor," Hoopes said. "She represented the best virtues of faithful Catholicism in America."
Bishop Gregory gave a brief wrap-up presentation, followed by a lengthy general discussion.
John Klink, former diplomat of the Holy See to the UN, noted the recent phenomena of anti-Catholic bias in considering judicial nominations. "My own comments focused on the danger of 'Catholics Need Not Apply' bias that's evident in the recent filibusters of all the Catholic candidates in the Senate," he noted. Few comments drew more nods from the other attendees.
Leon Supernant, the president of Catholics United for the Faith, made several important points. "I made a comment dealing with my interest and support for a plenary council as a opportunity for the bishops and Church to really seize the moment instead of continuing with business as usual -- and not simply in defense, but to make the most of the moment in a proactive way. Obviously, there's much to be done with respect to prayer and action and there's a spiritual and organizational dimension to address individually. But we also need to address it as a Church. A plenary council or a similar gathering can allow the Holy Spirit to get things going in a new way."
Patrick O'Meara, CEO of O'Meara Capital Partners, offered the final comment -- a fitting close to the meeting: "I spoke to the fact that we need to maintain our focus on the proper end, not to win the battle ground of the media or political elections. We need the bishops to preach the truth. The primary relationships they need to foster are the ones with their own priests. They won't win the New York Times but they WILL win Catholics by preaching the truth."
Most attendees thought the meeting went well. O'Meara told us that he was "tremendously grateful to the executive committee for taking the time out to meet and listen to those who love them. I'm very pleased with the fact that so many laity were able to express their support and give input on how to more heroically preach the Gospel.
The Church's fight today belongs to the laity and after listening to the luminaries in that room, I rest more assured that the laity are well-equipped for what lies ahead."
Klink noted that "The meeting offered an opportunity to express and demonstrate the unity which exists between faithful Catholics in the U.S., the Holy See, and the expressed positions of the bishops. I'm confident that it will produce a continued dialogue on crucial issues which affect the future of the Church in the U.S. between the USCCB and the faithful laity."
Carol McKinley of Faithful Voice in Boston agreed. She thought it was "A very productive and successful meeting where we established the groundwork and accountability for the dissent which caused this sexual abuse of our children. The silence, which has allowed Christ's Truth to be hijacked, is no longer acceptable. Illegitimate and dissenting organizations and individuals must be prohibited from plotting the destruction of Christ's Church."
Donohue called the meeting "one of the finest assemblies of faithful Catholics that I have ever attended. The tone was firm, yet fair.
Hopefully, what was said will be implemented."
And just how receptive were the bishops to our suggestions and comments? Well, there were some questions and concerns that they couldn't really answer, because there was no adequate answer.
But having said that, most of the attendees I talked to were cautiously optimistic. Suprenant thought "it was refreshing to hear the bishops give Catholics, who fully and unabashedly accept Church teaching, an appropriate place at the table. I like the point that was made [in the discussions] that while all people are welcome in the Church, when it comes to leadership positions with influence, we should be listening to people who support the Church."
Suprenant additionally felt that his comments were received "very positively."
Donohue agreed. "I think that Bishop Gregory proved to be very attentive and considerate of the sentiments expressed at the meeting."
So, what do I think? Well, all told, I think the meeting went better than I expected. In considering the day, we need to make sure our goals are realistic. It would have been great if the bishops loudly agreed with everything we said, and pledged to move forward on all our proposals. That obviously didn't happen, nor should we have expected it to.
In the end, I wasn't satisfied with everything the bishops said. But nor was I dissatisfied. They were there to listen, and they did so (providing some very good comments along the way). The point of our meeting was a simple one: We wanted to be heard. Too often, we complain that faithful Catholics get the short end of the stick. This is true. But if we give up the opportunity to speak to the leaders of the Church when we're given the chance, we lose the right to complain that we're ignored.
This meeting was a sounding board... a chance to let the bishops know that we want them to lead with courage and with truth. On that point, the meeting was a success. And I'm truly grateful to the attending bishops for giving up their day to meet with us. If we're going to criticize their mistakes, we must also praise them when they do something positive.
Let me close with something Father David O'Connell, the president of the Catholic University of America, told us: "I do not believe that anyone present could sense anything among the participants but great energy, love and passion for the Church. I left the meeting with renewed enthusiasm and hope, despite the recent crisis we've experienced. People spoke from the heart but also with a carefully considered point of view. I thought that the advice given to the bishops present was both respectful and courageous.
Participants spoke with refreshing candor about the things that were most important to them.
"After the meeting, I had dinner in my home with a group of bishops and priests. They were curious about the day and I remarked that 'if these folks are the future of the Catholic Church in the United States, we have nothing to fear.'"
Amen to that.
Talk to you soon,
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