Grading the USCCB Committee Picks
The bishops have voted, the tallies are in, and new sub-heads at the USCCB are chosen. Some good news; some bad from my perspective (take that for what it's worth). If I were grading the picks on a pass/fail scale here's what I would say:
FAIL -- The new Conference Secretary is Bishop George Murry, SJ of Youngstown who will continue in the position he took over last year when Bishop Gerald Kicanas was elevated to Conference Vice President. He beat Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton 150 to 69. While I don't know a lot about either bishop, Bishop Blaire was a strong and outspoken proponent of Proposition 8 in California. In view of the battle he definitely earned combat points.
On the other hand, the SJ behind Bishop Murray's name cannot, unfortunately, be taken as a good sign these days. As an order, the Jesuits are among the chief underminers of Church doctrine, particularly through their scandalous Catholic colleges. Bishop Murray has served on the Board of Detroit Mercy which is among the worst Catholic colleges in the country, but bishop board members are often mere figureheads. I pray that Bishop Murray is among the few (and lonely) holy Jesuits around.
PASS ++ Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas beat out Bishop Michael Bransfield of Wheeling-Charleston 139 to 84 to head the National Collections Committee. Thank God! Bishop Bransfield, former rector of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, was known for his lavish parties in Washington, D.C. The first thing he did in the See of Wheeling, my husband's home town, was to renovate the bishop's Victorian mansion to the tune of over a million dollars.
He called for every fireplace (I believe there are nine) to be brought up to working code and installed a wine cooler that cost tens of thousands of dollars and a large-screen plasma television. In a city where many workers are losing their jobs and pensions due to the collapse of the steel and coal industries, Bishop Bransfield's lavish spending on his personal comfort is a scandal. Some of the workmen on the renovation who were not Catholic were sickened by what they saw. Great ad for Catholicism eh? That 89 of his brother bishops thought Bransfield was fit to oversee national collections does not speak well of their discernment.
FAIL -- Archbishop Donald Wuerl of D.C. defeated Bishop Jerome Listecki of LaCrosse 140 to 85 to become head of the Doctrine Committee. I think this is another unfortunate sign of business as usual. Bishop Listecki has spoken clearly on Church doctrine relating to the life issues, chastising pro-abortion politicians like Nancy Pelosi. Archbishop Wuerl has frequently demonstrated that it's politics as usual (following the McCarrick model) since he took over Washington. He has made it clear that pro-abortion politicians will not be impeded from photo ops at the Communion rail.
FAIL -- Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston will preside over Pro-Life Activities beating Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City 165 to 59. Both bishops have been outspoken on the life issues, but Archbishop Naumann is a personal hero of mine since he has made it clear he will implement Canon Law 915 by refusing Communion to rabid pro-abortion governor Kathleen Sebelius. Sebelius is a fellow alumna of Trinity College in Washington, D.C. graduating two years behind me. I'm afraid the bishops' vote shows they don't want someone who takes Canon Law TOO seriously to be the national spokesman on pro-life. It might make their wishy-washy (political)positions obvious. Are they being pastoral when they let pro-abortion politicians receive the body of the Lord sacrilegiously or are they cowards? You can probably guess my answer to that question.
FAIL -- Auxiliary Bishop Gabino Zavala of Los Angeles beat out Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas 129 to 97 for the Office of Communications. Zavala is the bishop rep of Pax Christi, whose peace position never extends to the war against society's weakest members. Zavala falls short on communicating the fullness of truth about the pro-life cause. This was not a good pick for the unborn since Bishop Finn speaks with strength and clarity, perhaps more clarity than the majority of the bench of bishops will tolerate.
PASS ++ Coadjutor Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento beat Bishop Terry Steib of Memphis 134 to 92 to take over the committee on Cultural Diversity. Bishop Soto's strong and unequivocal address to the National Association of Catholic Diocesan Lesbian and Gay Ministries last September gives me confidence in his choice for this position.
Unfortunately, the bulk of the picks illustrate that, despite many bishops being a sign of contradiction to the world according to their evangelical calling, the old guard, the bishop-politicians, are still running the show. If they elevate Bishop Gerald Kicanas next year to president, which is almost certain, faithful laity (and orthodox bishops), will still be out in the cold. That Bishop Kicanas would not allow the distribution of the excellent voter guide developed by Bishop Olmstead speaks volumes. The Holy Family Society of Tucson has posted many articles about the troubling positions and actions of Bishop Kicanas. Start now to oppose his elevation as President of the Conference.
Pray for all the bishops, strong and weak, as they continue to lead their flocks. That Catholic voters ignored the teachings of the Church when they went into the voting booth this month is a sad reflection of the shepherding most Catholics receive today in their parishes and dioceses. Pray, fast, and work for Church renewal.
Mary Ann Kreitzer is a founding member of the Catholic Media Coalition and blogs at Les Femmes.