When the president of the US bishops’ conference completes his term, the vice-president is elected to succeed him. That’s how the system always worked, until last year. But when they gathered in November, the American bishops faced a problem. The vice-president was Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, and Bishop Kicanas had an image problem.
Three years after he was quoted as saying that it would have been “grossly unfair” to bar the ordination of Daniel McCormack—who would go on to notoriety as a convicted serial molester— Bishop Kicanas reacted with some asperity to a National Catholic Register columnist’s suggestion that his handling of the case might prove embarrassing if he were to be elected as president of the US bishops’ conference.
In comments to the Register, Bishop Kincanas said that he would never have advocated McCormack’s ordination if he knew that the man would be accused of molesting dozens of boys. Well, yes. But did he have any reason—back when he was rector of Mundelein seminary—to suspect that Mc- Cormack might have troubles with sexuality?
At no time while McCormack was a seminarian at Mundelein did I receive any allegation of pedophilia or child molestation against him. I never received any allegation, report or concern about McCormack during his seminary years at Mundelein that involved sexual abuse of anyone.
Right. Understood. At the time, he was not a certified abuser. But was he troubled?
I never received any allegation, report or concern about McCormack during his seminary years at Mundelein that involved sexual abuse of anyone.
The Register correspondent, Tim Drake, posed the obvious question in an interesting way:
You said, “I was more concerned about his drinking.” You were more concerned about his drinking than what? Your statement seems to indicate that there were other problems/issues, more than just McCormack’s drinking.
Finally, after roughly 1,000 words, Bishop Kicanas divulged that there were concerns about McCormack’s behavior. There were reports of—can you guess?—consensual homosexual activity, which apparently took place after McCormack had been drinking. Thus the rector was concerned about the young man’s alcohol consumption. But there was never a hint that McCormack would be unfit for the priesthood.
Few American bishops are willing to entertain the hypothesis that there could be a connection between homosexuality and sexual abuse. But fewer still are willing to agree, at this late date, that it would have been “unfair” to keep Daniel Mc- Cormack out of the ranks of the Catholic clergy. The election of Bishop Kicanas as president of the episcopal conference had once seemed nearly a certainty, but now the seeds of doubt were sown.
The wrong answers
If some bishops arrived at their November meeting still uncertain about the presidential contest, the Kicanas candidacy was certainly not helped by the endorsement of a militant homosexual group that has specialized in disrupting liturgical ceremonies. In a statement marked by more ideological energy than literary style, the Rainbow Sash Movement announced:
We understand Bishop Kicanas understands that bishops are privately changing their position because input is bubbling up from the pews of our parishes in support of such issues as Gay Marriage, and Pro Choice.
Evidently most bishops find different input bubbling up from their pews. Because when the votes were counted, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York was the new president of the US bishops’ conference.
The Washington Post explained the surprise result this way:
Victims’ advocates spoke out against Kicanas, but the more significant opposition came from conservatives, who considered him too moderate in tone.
The use of terms like “liberal” and “conservative,” when applied to Church affairs, invariably introduces some confusion, since the Church is not a political institution. But leave that aside. “Conservatives” were concerned not by the tone of remarks by Bishop Kicanas, but by their substance. They were concerned about his track record—not a question of tone but one of past action— and just as importantly, inaction.
But even if it were a question of liberals versus conservatives, and even if it were just a matter of tone, the language of the Post analysis created an odd asymmetry. If there were conservatives on one side of an election contest, what would you expect to find on the other side? C’mon; it’s OK; you can say it. The sentence above begins to make sense if you report that conservatives opposed Bishop Kicanas because they considered him too liberal.
Pastors need not apply
Over at US Catholic, Bryan Cones didn’t merely inform readers that the upset victory of Archbishop Dolan was a “really big deal.” He demonstrates, with his own overwrought analysis, that the election has thrown the Catholic Left into panic.
“Catholic right-wing bloggers pull off nothing less than a coup,” Cones reported. Really? And here we thought it was the bishops who were casting ballots. Did the bloggers somehow rig the ballot box? Not likely. But Cones was hinting at an even less likely possibility: that conservative bloggers exercised undue influence over the voting bishops. Does the Catholic Campaign for Human Development still exist? Then conservative bloggers do not influence the bishops’ decisions.
The excitable Cones was consistent, however. Now that bloggers are pulling all the levers at the US bishops’ conference, he predicted:
There can be no doubt that the pastoral voices in the conference are now silenced, and the more confrontational figures appointed by Pope John Paul II are in the driver’s seat.
A few questions arise:
• Is there a necessary opposition between “pastoral” and “confrontational” figures? Is it ever appropriate for a pastor to confront anyone or anything?
• Do you promise that the “pastoral” voices in the USCCB are now silenced?