Controversial Scranton Bishop Resigns

Jacqueline L. Salmon As expected, Bishop Joseph Martino of Scranton, Pa.–a standard bearer of Catholic orthodoxy who has been vocal … Continued

Jacqueline L. Salmon

As expected, Bishop Joseph Martino of Scranton, Pa.–a standard bearer of Catholic orthodoxy who has been vocal in his criticism of Catholic public officials who support abortion rights–announced his resignation this morning.

He blamed “insomnia and fatigue.”

Martino’s resignation at the age of 63 is highly unusual because the Vatican does not require bishops to submit their resignation until the age of 75.

“As the song says, you have to know when to hold them and when to fold them,” Martino said at a news conference this morning. “And I think it’s time to move on.”

A statement from the Vatican this morning said the pope accepted the resignation under a provision of Catholic canon law in which a bishop has “become unsuited” to carry out his duties, because of illness or “some other grave reason.”

Martino, who has served as Scranton bishop since 2003, earned a reputation as a combative, conservative pontiff who never backed down from a confrontation.

At the meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops last fall, he called on the bishops to be more punitive against Catholic officials who are “stridently anti-life.”

“I cannot have the vice president coming to Scranton and saying he learned his values there when those values are utterly against those of the Catholic Church,” Martino said.

He made a rather spectacular appearance at a parish forum last year where members were discussing the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ document on political responsibility. He ordered the discussion closed, telling the group, “No USCCB document is relevant in this diocese. The USCCB doesn’t speak for me.”

  • CalSailor

    I have mixed feelings on his resignation. It leaves his church in without a leader and subjects them to a period of uncertainty. It also makes virtually every other Bishop more sympathetic as he no longer represents the far end of the far right. His orthodoxy has come at a high price: the demonstration that the highest privilege of the faith is that we love one another, as God loved us has been downplayed in Scranton. When Jesus prayed for his disciples in John 17 (the so-called “High Priestly Prayer”), he prayed for them to be “one”, but I don’t think an orthodox test of details was what was on his mind. He prayed for charity for them: That they love one another as they would face their most challenging days ahead. “I’ve got your back” would be closer to what he meant than “you passed the doctrinal test with 100%”. The church would be subject to incredible tests over the years, and they would virtually all be martyred over the decades to come. And yet, he prayed that they might be one with the Father. There are some bishops for whom doctrinal purity is a higher good than the support of the faithful for each other. The church can be strong in its doctrinal support, as long as the people know they are loved, respected, and supported. There are more than a few dioceses where this happens, but there are some where there is a constant threat of “comply or leave”. And I don’t think that Jesus would feel at home there.I hope the Bishop has a good retirement, and that, as he does, he finds the good hearts and confident faith that many of his followers know in their lives. Who knows, it might still be a learning experience!PR Chris

  • grossdc2

    I am glad for Scranton, He was a dictatorial hard-line bully who was no shepard for the flock, who would not even allow discussion about the USCCB statement for the elections. who strode in and shut it down without so much as a by your leave

  • Nosmanic

    Praise the lord.

  • jburnetti

    You’ve got the story all wrong. The Bishop’s resignation and the flock rebellion have very little or nothing to do with abortion rights. I’m from Scranton. There are ethnic churches and bars on every corner (Polish, Italian, Russian, Irish, etc.) The Polish people don’t go to the Irish church and vice versa. The economy of Scranton has tanked. The population is shrinking and aging. There are no more priests coming through the pipeline. The Bishop has been closing and consilidating the cas-starved ethnic churches and schools, and grandma and grandpa rebelled. No one will give to the Bishop’s appeal when their favorite church is being closed, and their favorite priest has been transferred. The Bishop was forced out by the flock (and I wonder if he was told to resign because revenues are down!).

  • jburnetti

    So after posting my previous comment, I wondered, “how could two intellingent reporters from the WaPo get the story so wrong?”. And I clicked on about this blog, and found that you have a bias, in that the purpose of this blog is to answer the question “What is the relationship between God and government?”I wondered if I had missed the point, and realized the story is a little more complicated than my previous posting suggests. Bishop Martino is indeed out primarily because he ticked off the flock in closing down the ethnic churches and schools (and therefore revenues were really suffering – and he couldn’t sleep), but…. at the same time he was railing against Democratic politicians, refusing to let them march in parades, threatening to not give them commununion, etc. Why? Because they had voted in favor of abortion rights.That’s the Bishop’s job. His guidelines, written in stone, say that if you kill the babies (or anyone else for that matter) – you go straight to hell – and he has to tell his flock that. The majority of his flock agree with him – many 100%, some who didn’t completely pay attention to Sister Innocent 95% (okay, so if the mother is going to die because of the pregnancy, we’ve got to make a choice here, and God will get over it.)However, those same Democratic politicians who vote for abortion rights also tend to bring home the bacon in federal contracts, earmarks, social security raises, Medicaid, etc. Remember, the economy in Scranton is pretty bad. People feel that you’ve got to care for the post-natal, as well as pre-natal people. The majority of ethnic Catholics would give the shirt off their back to save an unborn baby – but don’t like the Bishop trashing the politicians who bring home the bacon.If there were a party that were both pro-life and more amenable to providing for the post-natal population from the government tit (not a strong point of the Republicans) – the good people of Scranton would jump to it in droves.Which leads to an idea for a story/discussion thread. What happens when bad economic times, politics, and long-held religious beliefs conflict? What do you stand strong on? What do you compromise on? Call Bishop Martino, and I’ll bet he’ll tell you I’m spot on regarding this story.

  • jburnetti

    As long as I’m on a roll — what’s my advice for the next Bishop of Scranton? Leave the Cathedral and go talk to the people in the small towns. Use some Powerpoint. Show them the charts. Revenues are down, vocations are down, we can’t keep everything open. Then listen, and compromise. Explain that we are going to pick the biggest, most well maintained facility in each little town and keep it open. Spend a little money – move the statues from the other churches into the one you keep open. Call it the Polish grotto and the Italian grotto. Promise that at the 9:00 AM Mass, you’ll include a Polish hymn, and at the 11:00 AM Mass you’ll include an Irish hymn.Let them know that at the fund-raising picnic, you’ll have a Polish, Italian, and Irish co-chair, and you’ll have pierogies, Italian sausage, and ham and cabbage at the bazaar. They’ll come back. They’ll help you raise funds to save the babies. Stick firm on the abortion thing — after all, it is written in stone, and they’ll respect you for it. They still remember what the nuns told them.