Editorial: Pope Francis, pray for us

Gallup Independent

Published in the Gallup Independent, Sept. 26, 2015

By now, many people have seen the photo of Gallup Bishop James S. Wall greeting Pope Francis in Washington. But after enduring more than six years of Wall’s oppressive tenure in the Diocese of Gallup, we wonder if Wall really listened to the pope’s message that day. Or was it just a photo op for Wall?

Pope Francis had a lot to say about what a good bishop should be, and certainly the Diocese of Gallup is sorely in need of a good and holy leader.

While Pope Francis encouraged his bishops to be shepherds who selflessly devote themselves to their flock, the Gallup Diocese struggles under a bishop who has — in the words of the pope — given in to “the temptation of narcissism, which blinds the eyes of the shepherd, makes his voice unrecognizable and his actions fruitless.”

Just because Wall carries a bishop’s crosier, he’s hardly a pastor — a shepherd — who responds to the needs of his sheep. He’s not a shepherd who “smells like his sheep.” Instead, Wall is notorious for ignoring his own sheep. He ignores their letters, emails, phone calls, requests to meet and even their good-hearted invitations.

When officials at St. Bonaventure Indian Mission and School were fearful Wall was going to sell their property, the mission’s director couldn’t get his own bishop to answer a letter or meet with him. The mission’s attorney had to file a complaint in U.S. Bankruptcy Court to get Wall’s attention.

It’s a sad state of affairs when Gallup’s “airport bishop” has made more trips to Europe in six years than he has to St. Bonaventure, a Catholic mission just 30 miles from Gallup that serves needy Native American families.

While Pope Francis urged his bishops to “dialogue fearlessly” with others and not to “be paralyzed by fear,” Wall is a man who hides behind his own chancery walls. He rarely talks to anyone outside his elite conservative clique, and he appears paralyzed by fear — fear of making decisions, fear of controversies, fear of people who think differently than he does. When Wall made the ill-advised decision to shut down the thriving St. John Vianney Parish in Gallup, he didn’t have the moral courage to answer questions from frustrated parishioners. Instead, the Rev. Kevin Finnegan, then the vicar general and chancellor, was forced to clean up the mess.

Pope Francis warned bishops not to “fall into hopeless decline whenever we confuse the power of strength with the strength of that powerlessness with which God has redeemed us,” Wall forgets redemption and resorts to bully power and bully strength.

Just days before Pope Francis urged Americans to welcome immigrants into their midst and days before the pope blessed a luncheon for the homeless at Catholic Charities in Washington, Wall and his attorneys and auctioneers sold the Catholic Charities immigrant aid office and soup kitchen in Farmington. A report that the buyer is going to donate the property back to the charitable organization is the only thing hopeful in this pathetic story.

While Pope Francis made some very disappointing statements about the “courage” of bishops in dealing with the clergy sex abuse crisis, his misguided compliments certainly cannot be applied to Wall. Gallup’s bishop has not made any “great sacrifice” nor has he divested “whatever is unessential in order to regain the authority and trust” in this bankrupt diocese.

Wall has valuable property that he could sell, but he won’t. Wall could sell his and other private residences in Gallup, he could sell commercial property leased to a McDonald’s restaurant, a shopping center in Gallup or a sprawling ranch in Arizona. But he is not willing to make those sacrifices. He and his attorneys hold on tight to those assets and instead put the squeeze to nonprofit organizations like St. Bonaventure Mission and Catholic Charities. When those poor decisions generate bad publicity, the diocese stonewalls the media’s questions.

And what about the bishops’ “generous commitment to bring healing to victims”? There is very little healing in the Diocese of Gallup. For six years, Wall and his army of attorneys have blocked clergy abuse survivors at every turn. They battle them in court, and they wear them down with one legal delay after another. They have rubbed salt in the survivors’ wounds.

Jesus once asked what father would give his son a stone when he asked for bread, or give him a snake when he asked for a fish. When Wall came here, he promised transparency, but gave more secrecy. He promised unity, but produced more division. He promised to be a caring pastor, but is merely a small-minded church politician.

The Diocese of Gallup needed someone Holy, but we got someone Holy inept, Holy inadequate, Holy corrupt.

So, Pope Francis, pray for us. The devil is in our midst.

In this space only does the opinion of the opinion of the Gallup Independent Editorial Board appear.

Note: This is an Abuse Tracker excerpt. Click the title to view the full text of the original article. If the original article is no longer available, see our News Archive.