I don't think much of the bureaucracy known as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. In fact, some days I think it should simply be disbanded. True reform, in my view, is not likely any time soon, if ever.
But I'm a realist. I know the USCCB will continue to exist. I know the corruption will continue. I know the pain will continue. It just...is.
That being the case, I hope Bishop Gerald Kicanas will not be the next president of the USCCB. Why?
Catholic journalist Tim Drake has a good overview of the situation on his blog. The following are excerpts of Drake's post:
When the U.S. bishops gather in Baltimore next week they'll be tackling a host of pastoral and social issues, but perhaps the most important thing they'll do is to choose whom among them will lead them as a body over the next three years. Who will set the tone, and be the public face and voice for the country's bishops? The big story next week will be, who shall lead them?
As a hierarchical body, the Catholic Church doesn't often have elections, but when it does, they're important. If the USCCB goes with reigning practice, they'll choose current vice president Tucson Bishop Gerald Kicanas....
Whether or not Bishop Kicanas is elected will be next week's story. If he isn't elected, the story will be why the bishops parted with recent practice. If he is elected, the story will be how the bishops treat their own, and the message the bishops are sending to society about their willingness to prevent sexual abuse. If Bishop Kicanas is elected it's likely to strain the USCCB's credibility....
To give some indication of what's likely to follow Bishop Kicanas' election, one only has to look at a couple of stories that have already been reported — one from Spero News, and the other from WBEZ, Chicago Public Radio. Bishop Kicanas' election is a potential powder keg.
In his story, 'Sex Abuse Lurks Behind Catholic Election,' Chip Mitchell tells the horrific story of Father Daniel McCormack, who molested at least 23 boys. The story demonstrates that Bishop Kicanas, while rector of Chicago's Mundelein Seminary, was aware of accusations of sexual misconduct against McCormack, but chose to ordain him anyway.
Asked about it, Bishop Kicanas essentially said that he would do it again.
'It would have been grossly unfair not to have ordained him,' Bishop Kicanas said shortly after being elected as vice president of the USCCB, in a quote that appears in the deposition of Cardinal Francis George. 'There was a sense that his activity was part of the developmental process and that he had learned from the experience,' continued Bishop Kicanas. 'I was more concerned about his drinking. We sent him to counseling for that.'
The Spero story goes even further. In 'Catholic Bishops to Elect Enabler of Child Molester as National Leader,' writer Mary Ann Kreitzer goes so far as to say that Bishop Kicanas' election is 'fitting' for what she describes as that 'vile bureaucracy.'
The blog Boston Catholic Insider has actually issued a 'Red Alert' asking readers to contact their local ordinaries to respectfully ask them to vote for a candidate other than Bishop Kicanas....
Illinois private investigator Thomas Hampson, head of the newly-formed Truth Alliance Foundation (click here for my column on TAF) — Hampson is dedicated to exposing sexual predators and is presently investigating the unsolved 1984 Chicago murder of Frank Pellegrini, an acquaintance of the ailing Father Andrew Greeley — says of Bishop Kicanas:
"It was an open secret that McCormack was involved with boys during the time he was in seminary. On the one hand Kicanas said there was no 'credible' evidence against McCormack. On the other he said that McCormack's involvement with two adult males and a minor, 'was a developmental process and he had learned from the process.' [A 2007 Chicago Sun-Times article] also reported that Kicanas sent McCormack to counseling for a drinking problem. What did he do about McCormack's involvement with the minor? Such involvement would have been a crime! Was he in the habit of overlooking criminal conduct that was brought to his attention? So, was there no credible evidence, or did he just consider it a developmental issue?"
For another interesting take on Bishop Kicanas, see this post on Tom Roeser's blog.
And faithful Catholics should take a look at this column by Barbara Kralis; it's the late Cardinal Bernardin all over again.
We'll see what happens. Perhaps one of the seemingly few good bishops will be the next USCCB president, and he'll right the ship.
Hope springs eternal.
Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic columnist with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication, Media and Theatre from Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago, and an Associate in Applied Science degree in Business Management from Triton College in River Grove, Ill. He has worked in the right-to-life movement and is a published writer focused on Catholic and social issues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.