Bishop Accountability

Editorial: Defending Church by Attacking the Bishop?

By Bronson Havard
Texas Catholic
June 20, 2003

One of the tough jobs of being a bishop is to make decisions. There are some people who won’t accept decisions that they do not like.

Hence, there are small groups writing the nuncio — the papal ambassador to the United States — complaining about this or that bishop around the country. It is a common thing today.

Usually, they only tell their side of the story or they mask their agenda in some noble cause. The small group from the Dallas Diocese reported on Page 1 say it is their responsibility to “defend the sacred office of bishop from scandal and misuse.”

They intend to defend the office by attacking their bishop publicly and creating scandal. It is a political mentality that transfers political action to the church arena. In the Middle Ages, it would have been both political and Protestant.

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 and self-interest of anyone.

Barring doctrinal error or personal malfeasance, bishops are not removed by the pope for pastoral or management decisions, whether good or bad.

The 35 individuals who have affixed their names to a letter complaining about Bishop Grahmann do so under the banner of “abuse crisis.” It is disingenuous for many of them to be doing that because they are complainants about other things over the years.

None of the 35 came forward to help the church address the child abuse issue when it occurred. There are, no doubt, among them those who are sincerely concerned about the state of the church, but so are all the hundreds people of the diocese who have worked so hard to establish new policies, procedures, boards and offices to prevent abuse from ever happening again.

The 35 should reconsider their decision to create division, scars and long-lasting hurts in the Catholic community here. Their goal is not justified by the means they plan or the words they use.

The 'Expert' That Isn't

By Bronson Havard
Texas Catholic
July 4, 2003

One thing that happens to the Catholic Church today is that the nonchurch news media publish or broadcast the opinion of people who know little about the church, but nonetheless pose themselves as experts.

Such is the case of Kevin Orlin Johnson who is not an expert in either church (canon) law or liturgy, but has a track record of complaining about and misinterpreting these two important elements of church governance. He recently called the office of eucharistic ministers illicit in most parishes. He is completely wrong about that.

Apparently, The Dallas Morning News selected him to write a column in a coordinated plan to give a half-page promotion of a group campaigning against Bishop Charles Grahmann.

Johnson has been the bane of Dallas priests for years. He has been a self-appointed watchdog and has complained repeatedly about some of them. He has been told often that his interpretations are wrong.

We invite Catholics to read a letter written to Johnson in 1998 by one of our good priests who was often the target of Johnson’s criticisms. The diocese’s Pastoral Concerns Board, comprised of lay men and women, clergy and experts in canon law and liturgy, have found Johnson’s complaints invalid for the past six years.

Click here or on the picture above and read what Father Stephen Bierschenk wrote to Johnson about his complaints.

Bishop Garners Support
About 12,000 Petition to Keep Grahmann
Critics Undeterred

Susan Hogan/Albach
Dallas Morning News
August 15, 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: 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, 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.


Bishop Accountability © 2003