Bishop Liam Cary, 71, has led the Diocese of Baker, Oregon since 2012. He was born in Portland, the oldest of four children, and grew up in Prineville, twenty miles away from Redmond where he presently resides as diocesan bishop. In 1961, at age 14, he entered Mount Angel Seminary, where he studied through his college years. He left the seminary for 18 years, but returned and was ordained a priest at age 45 for the Archdiocese of Portland in 1992. He served in multiple parishes in the archdiocese before coming to Baker, which makes up the eastern two-thirds of the state of Oregon.
Bishop Cary spoke recently with CWR about vocations, the current scandals in the Church, the controversies over inter-Communion, the importance of reading Scripture, and recent 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae.
CWR: What influenced you to become a priest?
Bishop Liam Cary: I was impressed by the example of my pastor at St. Joseph’s Parish in Prineville, Fr. Thomas McTeigue, who died at age 45 in 1960. (He had a bad heart; I remember how he’d come to dinner and thoroughly salt his meat. I’m sure that wasn’t good for him!)
Fr. McTeigue was a very holy man. As a bishop, I think I can appreciate that better. He was highly respected and widely admired by both his fellow clergy and the people.
He died at age 45, and I was ordained a priest at 45. So, in effect, I think of myself as having taken his place.
CWR: Can you give an overview of the Diocese of Baker?
Bishop Cary: Land-wise, we’re about the 4th or 5th largest diocese south of the Canadian border. We have 66,800 square miles of territory east of the Cascades. But, population-wise, we’re about the 3rd or 4th smallest, with about 30,000 or 40,000 Catholics. Bend is our largest city, with about 95,000 people. We have many other small and tiny towns.
I live 20 miles from Bend. The area here is high desert, which means we have sunlight about 300 days per year. It is a wonderful climate, with no humidity. It is a beautiful country, and a joy for me to drive through. I can drive somewhere by one route and enjoy one kind of terrain, then come home by another and enjoy an entirely different kind of terrain.
We’re a mostly non-Catholic area. In fact, we have a history of anti-Catholicism going back to the 1800s. We live in a part of the state that once had KKK parades. We have a long heritage of suspicion towards Catholics.
We have 35 priests, who serve from 35 to 40 parishes and missions.
CWR: How are you doing for vocations for the priesthood and religious life?
Bishop Cary: We have three seminarians. I ordained a priest two years ago, and we’re on track to ordain another next year. We have programs to promote vocations, such as Quo Vadis Days, a camp for young men to learn about the priesthood.
In the women’s religious area, we have some Sisters of Mary of Kakamega from Kenya, who run a home for the aged in Bend. They’ve been here seven or eight years, and have been well received.
This year, we’ve also welcomed three Salesian Sisters of St. John Bosco who are teaching in St. Francis School, one of four parish schools we have in the diocese. They’ve been a wonderful addition, and our parents and grandparents are delighted to have the presence of religious in our schools again.
CWR: You regularly write letters to Catholics in the Diocese of Baker. Some of your most recent letters are about scandal in the Church. How do you think we’ve come to the place we are, and what do you think can or must be done?
Bishop Cary: It is a mystery, as the evil of sexual abuse is so often a hidden activity. The 2004 John Jay Report studied this topic as regards to priests and deacons, but did not examine why it happened with bishops: how it came to be, the extent to which some might be actively involved or helped cover it up.
We need to have a better view of what went on specifically among some bishops, so that we can take effective measures to prevent it from happening again. I believe the 2002 Dallas Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People was successful in combating sexual abuse by priests and deacons; we now need something similar for bishops. At our upcoming USCCB General Assembly in Baltimore [November 12-14] we’ll be looking at some proposals involving third party mechanisms to ensure that bishops are not complicit in sexual abuse, and that someone can report an allegation of sexual abuse involving a bishop and not have a fear of being retaliated against. And, we need to ensure that allegations are not merely reported, but that action is taken, something like a priest before a review board.
As I reflect on cases such as the one involving the former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, I am reminded of apostolic betrayal in Scripture. Both words are crucial. The Apostles were the witnesses at the first Eucharist. Betrayal is linked to the Eucharist, for as we say at Mass, “the night before He was betrayed …”
Our Lord knew who his betrayer was. He knew they were coming for Him in the Garden of Gethsemane and could have easily avoided capture, but He didn’t. When His name was called, He stepped forward out of the darkness. Why? Had He not allowed Himself to be betrayed, it would have suggested that betrayal was one sin God can’t forgive, and Satan would have won. When we reflect on our own experiences of being betrayed, we can begin to appreciate all the Lord has done for us.
I’d also add that Satan wants to destroy the Eucharist, and he can do that by trying to destroy the priesthood, and the bishops as well. If he can do this, he can ruin the faith of the people.
CWR: Pope Paul VI has been canonized and this year marks the 50th anniversary of the papal encyclical Humanae Vitae. What are your thoughts on these two events?
Bishop Cary: Humanae Vitae is the defining statement of the Church against the modern world. Artificial contraception is taken for granted by so many; they believe it is the way to go. But the Church replies no, it’s not.
Catholics need to consider that if the Church is wrong on this issue, why wouldn’t it be wrong on any other issue … say, that Christ is present in the Eucharist or that Jesus is God made man? Humanae Vitae is linked to the nature and the authority of the Church.
I’d also note that the discussion of contraceptive use so often focuses on the circumstances of the individual couple, but overlooks that what they do has social and cultural consequences. Contraception separates sex from reproduction, and reproduction from sex. Once that has been accomplished, considering modern reproductive technologies, young people can no longer see the connection between the two.
It suggests that the responsibility of the child is the woman’s alone. So, if a man and a woman, who are unmarried, have a child together, he’ll often take on the attitude: that’s your business, not mine. This can lead to abortion.
Contraceptive use indicates that we can’t expect people to be chaste—or to practice “restraint” as they called it in the 19th century—it’s too much to ask. Chastity, this line of thinking goes, is not necessary for the moral perfection of the individual and society. It began with married people in the 19th century; now we can’t expect our 8th graders to be chaste.
And, the mentality that goes with contraceptive use is that it is needed to prevent overpopulation. A couple should have no more than two children; it is wrong to have a large family. Couples who do want many children must overcome the opprobrium of others.
CWR: In 1946, Pope Pius XII said that the greatest sin in the world today was that men have lost the sense of sin. Was he right? And, have we lost the awareness that there are devils who do tempt us to sin?
Bishop Cary: Yes, Pope Pius XII was right. We do sin, and then we try to justify our sins. And yes, we’ve lost awareness of the enemy. Let me revisit the McCarrick case. The diabolical aspect of his betrayal is crucial. It goes beyond human frailty, it is a deep-seated evil, and a betrayal of the Son of God.
CWR: Some German bishops said that they were going to allow intercommunion for Protestant spouses earlier this year. You published a column stating your disagreement with this practice. Can you explain?
Bishop Cary: People have told me at funerals that I should invite everyone up to Communion, whether Catholic or not. But, when you receive Communion and say “amen,” you are saying that you are a Catholic. You are saying “amen” to the Body of Christ, to the priest who put that Host in your hands, to your belief in the Mass itself, to the Creed recited at it, to the sacramental life of the Catholic Church and to your belief in the special role the Blessed Mother plays in that Church. If you can’t say “amen” to these teachings of the Church and all the others, that you believe and profess them, you shouldn’t be receiving Communion.
We have a 500-year-old disagreement with Protestants on a number of issues. We need to respect their decision not to be Catholic. By inviting them to Communion, we are putting them in a situation of declaring themselves to be something they are not.
CWR: We just had a midterm election. You asked Catholics in Baker to vote yes on Measure 106, which would have stopped taxpayer funded abortions. What other public policy issues are of importance to you?
Bishop Cary: First off, Measure 106 did not pass, which was a disappointment, but not unexpected.
In Oregon, I’m increasingly concerned about the bureaucratic imposition of a secular morality. We had a state bureaucracy make a change to our state insurance that would allow 15-year-old children to have sex reassignment procedures without the approval of their parents. The bureaucracy made its decision, and everyone is expected to get in line.
Or, there was a bakery outside of Portland that refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding. The state fined them $135,000 and drove them out of business. They are trying to force citizens to do something that goes against their conscience.
CWR: You have a strong background in Scripture. Why is it important for the ordinary Catholic to regularly read the Bible?
Bishop Cary: It is foundational. It is God speaking to us, in the world as it is, and to us as we are. This is the place to find the truth, directed at our minds and hearts.
We need to receive that Word in a communal form, in the liturgy, and privately, as we close the door of our room, and let it assimilate within us. In this way, the Lord will speak to us on the details of our lives.
Jesus offers us peace: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you …” (John 14:27). One way we can have that peace is from the Word of God. My favorite saint, St. Francis de Sales, reminds us that it is most important that we find and keep our peace of soul. That is one of the functions of the Word of God.
CWR: What basic program of spirituality would you recommend to the typical layman?
Bishop Cary: There are many good programs out there. But to be serious about the spiritual life, we need to start small and regular. I was raised near a Benedictine monastery. The order of the day was to say short prayers at regular intervals, rather than long prayers right off the bat.
I would find things that speak to you. I would make use of holy images, and have them in a small space conducive to prayer. I would consider doing the Liturgy of the Hours, either the whole thing or small adaptations.
CWR: Who are some of your Catholic heroes?
Bishop Cary: Fr. Thomas McTeigue would be one, as well as another pastor I once knew. I also admired my aunt. She never married, and died at age 55, but was a very holy person. I can also think of other holy people who were part of my life that I’d like to be like.
As far as saints, I mentioned my fondness for St. Francis de Sales. I love his writing style. He was very good at connecting spirituality to the daily life of lay people.