Dallas Resources – August 2003
Supporters of Catholic Bishop Charles Grahmann of Dallas have collected more than 12,000 signatures in a petition drive started six weeks ago to counter a drive calling for the bishop's resignation, the diocese said Thursday.
But that hasn't deterred Concerned Catholics, the lay group that wants the bishop to resign, in part because of his handling of cases involving sexually abusive priests. The group said it has collected nearly 1,500 signatures, including those of several priests.
"We've tried hard to be respectful and to focus on the bishop's leadership rather than him personally," said Bill McCormack, a spokesman for Concerned Catholics. "We're doing the right thing for the right reasons, and we're going to be steadfast."
Bishop Grahmann was out of town and unavailable for comment. His spokesman, Bronson Havard, said at least six parishes have circulated petitions. The petitions differ in their wording, but each calls for support of the bishop.
In addition, Mr. Havard and other supporters of Bishop Grahmann launched a Web site several weeks ago: pleasebishop.com. Many Catholics have posted messages to the site that herald Bishop Grahmann.
"The refreshing thing is that this has come from the heart of the people," Mr. Havard said. "It's been a wonderful outpouring."
In the end, the petitions don't hold much real weight, said Dean Hoge, a Washington, D.C., sociologist who gathers data on Roman Catholic life. The petition against the bishop is virtually meaningless, he said, because only the Vatican can force a bishop to resign. And the petition favoring the bishop does nothing to bolster his standing.
"The numbers don't mean anything, except in terms of their public relations value or the psychological effect it may have on Catholics in the diocese," said Dr. Hoge, who teaches at the Catholic University of America.
But Mr. Havard said the numbers are important.
"It means Bishop Grahmann has a lot more support out there than some critics have given him credit for," he said.
Lay Catholics in at least two other dioceses - Manchester, N.H., and Louisville, Ky., - are engaged in similar petition drives to oust their bishops.
Catholic observers were divided over the appropriateness of campaigns in support of bishops, such as the pro-Grahmann petition drive in Dallas.
"It cheapens the office of the bishop," said John Lynch, a retired history professor at the Catholic University of America. "It looks like he's lowering himself or certainly doesn't have much confidence in his position."
Deal Hudson, editor of Crisis magazine, said Bishop Grahmann had a right to defend himself, though the counterpetition drive may not have been the wisest of venues.
"I can certainly understand the impulse to counter an attack," he said. "But if his petition is a statement of general support for bishops, that's not really facing the grievances of the other petition. It's not really equivalent."
Concerned Catholics is gathering names primarily through a Web site, concernedcatholics.com. The site specifically calls on the bishop to resign. Mr. McCormack was unable to specify the exact number of priests who had signed.
He was critical of Mr. Havard's site in support of the bishop. He said the statement there seemed more a position about Catholic doctrine than a nod of support for Bishop Grahmann.
"It appears that they're taking a vote on the Apostles' Creed," Mr. McCormack said. "If a majority of Catholics in the diocese won't support the Apostles' Creed, then we have a much worse problem than anyone imagined."
But Mr. Havard said the preamble to his Web site was only meant to be an expression of Catholic tradition. The actual petitions being signed are being written and circulated in parishes.
Mr. Havard said several priests, deacons, nuns and a wide spectrum of lay Catholics had signed petitions. Some priests said they've chosen not to circulate petitions because they see them as divisive.
The diocese estimates that it has more than 850,000 Catholics.
Bishop Grahmann recently celebrated his 72nd birthday. He's required
under church law to submit his resignation to the Vatican in three years.
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