Cardinal Stays Course
Critics Have No Place Asking George to Quit, Spokesman Says

By Johnathon E. Briggs and Jamie Francisco
Chicago Tribune
February 27, 2006

People may not want to discuss politics and religion at parties, but that doesn't stop those issues from intersecting.

That happened last week. The scene was St. Joseph's Church in Mendham, and the players were Bishop Arthur Serratelli of the Paterson Diocese and a group called Voice of the Faithful.

The bishop's visit was advertised in advance, and many in the parish were looking forward to it. So was the Voice of the Faithful, a support group for those who have been abused by Catholic priests.

Word circulated that the group planned a "protest" when the bishop arrived. Why? The group says all it wants to do is discuss its concerns with the bishop, who is relatively new. Since the sexual abuse scandal was, or is, national news, that's not an outlandish request.

Still, protests in, or outside, Catholic churches are likely to annoy some attendees and can, in fact, hurt the cause the demonstrators are espousing. That's something group members have admitted.

"In deference to other parishioners who had misgivings about this strategy, the group canceled its initiative,".... two members of the group said in a letter to the Daily Record.

So, the bishop's visit, at least, would take place as scheduled and those parishioners who wanted to meet Serratelli would be able to do so.

Not exactly.

Last weekend, the bishop canceled his visit. The diocese said the bishop took that step because he feared a demonstration was inappropriate. OK. That's a legitimate view. But the Voice of the Faithful says it had canceled the protest prior to the bishop canceling the visit.

Do you get the idea the problem here is one of communication?

Surely, there was no reason for Serratelli to cancel his visit if there was going to be no protest.

There are two larger issues here.

One is, why would the bishop be intimidated by a planned demonstration? By definition, the Catholic Church is not a political organization. Reality is different. The church, through its leaders, often asserts itself in political affairs. Popes routinely condemn war and world poverty. Some bishops in the United States have tried to have an impact on elections by suggesting that Catholics should not support candidates who support a woman's right to an abortion.

Serratelli, in fact, has written to organizers of Morristown's St. Patrick's Day Parade to suggest that the National Organization for Women not take part.

When you involve yourself in public life by taking stands on political issues, or when far too many of your priests have abused young people, that gets the public's attention. And since we live in a democracy, people may want to protest.

A man who heads a diocese in an area of the country where there are many Catholics is in many ways, a political figure. Even if you dispute that, you have to admit that a bishop is a public figure.

That said, he should not beg off in the face of a protest.

More importantly, of course, why not just meet with representatives of Voice of the Faithful? That would do no harm and would eliminate the specter of a prospective protest keeping a bishop away from his flock.

The group certainly has the facts on its side. For instance, it quotes a document from Vatican II, which counsels bishops thusly, "Let him not refuse to listen to his subjects."

The annual Ronald Reagan party got a little larger this year. Jay Webber's annual tribute to the "Gipper" relocated from a firehouse in Parsippany to the Zeris Inn in Mountain Lakes. More than 100 people attended, including many Republican officials. Freeholder Frank Druetzler was there, as was Sheriff Edward V. Rochford, County Clerk Joan Bramhall and County Surrogate John Pecoraro.

So, was that because more people like Reagan, or because more people like Webber, who is expected to seek an Assembly seat in the 26th District next year? That's an open question, although not all people in the room were Webber supporters. One person there was Larry Casha of Kinnelon, who also is expected to run for the Assembly next year.

Fred Snowflack is editorial page editor of the Daily Record. Contact him at, or at (973) 428-6617.


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