Dissident Bishops Embarassing

Republican [Springfield MA]
January 24, 2004

The news that more than 90 percent of the Catholic dioceses are cooperating with the audit of sexual abuse cases by the clergy is a reflection of the good will and pastoral common sense of the vast majority of bishops.

Exceptions, such as the clamorous dissent of the clamorous Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Neb., embarrass the body of bishops as much as they do Catholics in general. Bruskewitz, who earned his reputation as a loose cannon years ago by threatening to excommunicate members of the Catholic reform group Call to Action, has exploded in a self-righteous denunciation of the procedures approved by the very body of bishops of which he claims to be a super-loyal member.

While Bruskewitz struts and frets in this brief moment on the stage, the important thing is to notice he is standing alone, that no other bishop has aligned himself with his erratic position, that he is, as he advertises himself, out of step with the bishops who are trying to manage their way through the greatest crisis in American Catholic experience.

The same goes for two other bishop musketeers who have blundered their way into press coverage recently. Bishop Andrew Burke of LaCrosse, Wis., might as well be speaking to the dairy herds that graze in his diocese when he proposes to deny the Eucharist to Catholic officeholders who support the "pro-choice" position.

Very few bishops have seconded Burke's motion and, although Archbishop Sean O'Malley of Boston wants to pressure Catholic politicians on this issue, as his predecessor, Cardinal Bernard Law, did, most bishops understand that this is a complex and sensitive matter that requires a pastoral response rather than a showy plunge into the headlines with edicts that demean Catholic officials while failing to advance the anti-abortion cause in any significant way.

Atlanta's Archbishop John Donoghue has forbidden the local Voice of the Faithful from meeting on church grounds or even advertising in the Catholic paper. Claiming that it may use meetings to talk about issues the pope has ordered Catholics not to discuss, he concludes, "I don't want them to get into stuff with other groups that are pushing for the ordination of women and married clergy."

Such charges merely reveal that this prelate is unacquainted with the principles of this movement which avoids advocacy of such positions, and that he seems marginally acquainted, at best, with the freedom of conscience Catholics enjoy to explore matters that are widely discussed within the church itself.

It is sad to see a bishop like Donoghue, who is soon to retire, shoot, like a panicky guard with broken glasses, at anybody who moves, including these Catholics who love and want to help their church.

Other bishops may share his ill-based misgivings about the Voice of the Faithful, but they know that their fundamental problem is to rebuild the bond of trust with their people that was shattered by the blunders from their on-high handling of sex abuse by priests.

Eugene Cullen Kennedy, a longtime observer of the Roman Catholic Church, is professor emeritus of psychology at Loyola University in Chicago.