Catholic bishops tilt to right

This Catholic’s View By Thomas J. Reese, S.J. At their meeting this week in Baltimore, the U.S. bishops signaled that … Continued

This Catholic’s View

By Thomas J. Reese, S.J.

At their meeting this week in Baltimore, the U.S. bishops signaled that they are going to continue their conservative tilt in both the church and American politics.

This rightward tilt became evident six years ago when Cardinal Francis George of Chicago was elected vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The election of vice president is important because the bishops traditionally elect the vice president as president at the next election in three years.

(N.Y. Archbishop Dolan using incense during a church service.)

Prior to his election as vice president, George had executed the coup d’état at ICEL (International Commission on English in the Liturgy) that got rid of those who opposed a literal word-for-word translation of the Latin Mass. He, more than any other bishop, will be responsible for the new English translation that goes into effect in Advent of 2011. This year, as president of the bishops’ conference, he led the attack on President Obama’s healthcare bill, which he claims will fund abortions even though the Catholic Health Association disagrees.

Moderates were fooled into thinking that the bishops had returned to the center three years ago when they elected Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson as vice president at the same time that Cardinal George was elevated to president. They expected Kicanas to be elected president this year, after he defeated Archbishop Timothy Dolan, then of Milwaukee, by a vote of 128-106.

Dolan’s victory over Kicanas at this week’s meeting is unprecedented. The bishops have always elected the vice president when he was on the ballot for president.

On paper, there is little difference between the two bishops. Both would claim to support orthodox doctrine and the full range of Catholic social teaching. As one bishop told me, “Kicanas is a liberal moderate, and Dolan is a conservative moderate.” The substantive differences are not that great.

The difference is in style and emphasis.

Kicanas is a quiet conciliator who prefers to resolve conflict through dialogue and conversation. He once taught a course in conflict resolution. Dolan is more extroverted and willing to be aggressive and confrontational when he thinks it is necessary. He has an ongoing fight with the New York Times. The bishops obviously want a strong, vigorous voice in the public square.

At the press conference after the election, Archbishop Dolan praised Cardinal George’s stance on the healthcare bill. He also said that the late Cardinal John O’Connor was his model on how to be a bishop. Kicanas would undoubtedly point to his mentor Cardinal Joseph Bernardin. That says it all.

Bernardin and O’Connor were frequently at odds while they were alive, with Bernardin wanting to emphasize the whole range of Catholic social teaching and O’Connor wanting to stress abortion as the preeminent issue. If Cardinal Bernardin were alive today, he could not be elected president of this conference, nor could previous presidents like John Quinn, James Malone or John Roach. The bishops’ conference has been radically changed by the bishops appointed by Pope John Paul II. This is not going to change in the foreseeable future.

The conservative tilt of the bishops’ conference was shown even more clearly by the election for vice president. After two votes, the final runoff was between the two most conservative candidates of the eight bishops on the ballot: Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput, who wants to ban pro-choice politicians from Communion, and Louisville Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, chair of the bishops’ committee on the defense of marriage–the committee assigned to fight gay marriage.

That the leading voices on these two issues were in the runoff is telling. This is a clear signal that the bishops want to be active participants in the culture wars.

All of the bishops would claim to be committed to the full range of Catholic social teaching, so you have to focus on what they say, what they emphasize and what they do.

What is most remarkable about this meeting is that it took place in the middle of the most devastating economic downturn since the Great Depression, and the bishops said nothing about it. It was as if they did not know that almost 10 percent of their parishioners are unemployed, that the new Congress is going to take aim at programs helping the poor and that now is the time to speak out for social justice. Their silence was deafening.

Correction: The original column, based on Dolan’s press conference, said that Kicanas defeated Dolan by one vote three years ago. In fact the vote was 128-106.

Thomas J. Reese, S.J., is a Senior Fellow, Woodstock Theological Center, Georgetown University.

More On Faith and bishops:
Under God: What message were bishops sending?
The Spirited Atheist: American Catholic Church shoots Itself in the foot–again

By Thomas J. Reese, S.J | 
November 16, 2010; 8:19 PM ET

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  • amelia45

    It is truly sad that the leadership of the Many of us can multi-task, dear Bishops, and find a path through the myriad issues that pull at us. I can with love and a clear conscious choose the health care bill exactly as it is and vote for Obama as the best overall choice for leadership in this country. I can see the necessity of a choice between a mother’s life and that of a child, when such a choice must be made. We have grown up while the leadership has just grown old.

  • wwb3ma


  • garoth

    Old men, old boys club, that thinks Jesus went about hating adn being intolerant – or maybe they don’t care what Jesus said and did. Jesus always had a care for the poor, and an open table that included all – even hypocrites like them. They like power, and telling people what to do; Jesus was more about telling people how much God loved them, and teaching us to love one another in real ways. Personally, I think there are a lot of great Christians out there, but the church, more often than not, gets in the way of faith rather than enabling it.

  • Garak

    How much time will the Bishops have to take off from molesting little children?

  • TheHillman

    These chaps want to get involved in politics?Awesome. That’s their right.Once they give up their tax-free status, that is.As long as we are paying their way, they don’t get to engage in politics.

  • mini2

    It is long past time to start taxing all religious properties: churches, schools, colleges, universities, retirement homes, etc, etc, regardless of denomination.US society is secularized as well it should be, but it is also capitalistic. All religions should be struggling against the harshness and injustice that are endemic to this system.As to the Roman Catholic persuasion, they might begin by cleansing their own Augean stables, then, realize that they do not belong in politics. If they are unable to persuade their followers to act as the institution wishes by sermonizing in their churches, that is too bad. They should otherwise shut up.All they are doing is making the Know-Nothings of the 19th century seem prescient.

  • xbeliever

    The accompanying picture of Dolan blowing smoke is perfect.

  • xbeliever

    The accompanying picture of Dolan blowing smoke is perfect.

  • abu_ibrahim

    «The bishops’ conference has been radically changed by the bishops appointed by Pope John Paul II. This is not going to change in the foreseeable future.»Sweet Sixteen, O Padre! Allah’s green Earth, all over Allah’s green Earth there are millions of girls, they are celebrating their sixteenth birthday, many of them would be dead if it were not for Pope John Paul II, peace be upon him. Nineteen ninety-four, these girls were born in year 1994 of the Christian era, this is the year that representatives of all the nations of Allah’s green Earth met at Cairo for a «UN Population Conference», to plot against population growth (¿whose population growth are they afraid of, huh???). Once-great Christian countries in Europe, North America, they are now secular feminist countries, they sent representatives, USA even sent its First Lady to Cairo, Egypt. Egypt, Pharaoh, Bible tells how Pharaoh plotted against population growth. Pharaoh told midwives, kill baby boys as soon as they are born, later he told Egyptians, throw baby boys into Nile River to drown like rats.Cairo 1994, secular feminists brought Pharaoh back to life, did him one better, they wanted to kill baby boys *and girls* even before they were born, «population control», they were going to have UN declare abortion on demand to be an «international human right». Here is where Pope John Paul II came in, peace be upon him. Not enough Catholic countries to stop the secular feminists, Pope John Paul reached out over 1,300 years of Christian-Muslim fighting, reached out to Muslim countries, sent Catholic NGO’s («non-governmental organizations») to Yemen, to Oman, to Arabia Felix, the NGO’s, they told Muslim delegates, maybe their English or French were not too good, NGO’s explained to them what the proposed resolutions really meant, delegates said, «thank you for telling me this, I could not go home and face my country’s people if I voted for this abortion-is-a-human-right resolution». Christians, Muslims, they put down 1,300 years of the sword to fight against the aspirator, against the curette, and the resolution was defeated.Allah’s green Earth, all over Allah’s green Earth there are Muslim children who might have been aborted under this so-called «human right», they do not know that they should thank Pope John Paul II for saving their lives, there are Christian children who might have been cut to pieces and sucked out of their mothers’ wombs, they do not know that they should thank Muslim countries who rallied to Pope John Paul’s side in 1994.«Kill not your children for fear of want: We shall provide sustenance for them as well as for you. Verily the killing of them is a great sin»How many more children will be safe «for the foreseeable future» thanks to the pro-life Bishops, Pope John Paul II appointed them?

  • mascmen7

    Author Reese S.J. is a Democrat who has condemned the new Congress before they try to save our nation and dollar. US Bishops up to now have been applauding Obama or not confronting his anti-life stance. They are all fat with inflated egos who have abolished holydays and sin as they no longer utilize confession for Catholics. They condemned Bayside NY apparitions of Jesus and Mary because jesus condemned the bishops for destroying the Mass, altar rails, not rooting out homosexual priests etc.

  • areyousaying

    It means more of the same gay bashing from the pulpit while buggering little boys in the rectory.

  • mascmen7

    Re: tax free churches. Black churches for many decades have had Democrat candidates address their congregations and no Republicans. They are breaking the rules yet no one ever enforces the rules while Catholic churches make no political speeches at all.

  • jeffRI1

    ah the beilef in hubrus leads to great leadership decisions – too bad you all believe in a pack of hooey – let’s keep the ligurgy in LATIN (why – to keep the dogma SECRET??) what’s with that inane reasoning – oh I forgot for a second – it’s CATHOLCISM – the mose ridiculous belief system in the world – just catch the photo with the INCENSE – does that convey piety, poverty, sacrifice, religious fervor – or bigotry, buggery and the other hallmarks of the church! – what junk – and people still believe it!

  • fare777

    The Catholic Clergy is nothing more than an organized criminal group of child sex offenders. The fact that these foul men have the nerve to appear in public and make comments is in itself criminal. Tax their holdings and real estate and run them out of town on a rail.

  • leafgreen

    “The Catholic Clergy is nothing more than an organized criminal group of child sex offenders.”Now THERE’S an unbiased remark!

  • glorybe1929

    Does anyone remember when Gov. Keating was the “lay person” on the commission of Catholic Bishops? When he got through with listening to these priests, (supposed people of God) he said.. “I’d trust the Mafia more than I would trust these men . They preach one thing and do another”. “The Mafia at least isn’t in the pulpit trying to seduce you to believe in what they say as” the gospel of Christ” when it isn’t”.

  • hanley1

    Amazing, amazing, amazing how many Catholic wannabes read these articles! My dear bitter followers,, you are surely welcome to join at you local parish. Why else do you hang out on these religious sights? You really contribute nothing otherwise. Come on,, you know darn well you want to be a Catholic. Just do it!

  • leafgreen

    “oh I forgot for a second – it’s CATHOLCISM – the mose ridiculous belief system in the world”Atheists….. you gotta admit, they have a lot of faith!

  • FrRobert

    Cardinal George’s thought-provoking farewell address touched on the church’s commitment to universal health care, as well as the church’s preferential option for the poor. Yet all Fr. Reese can muster in this article is a swipe at the cardinal’s role in the new Mass translation, and a gross generalization of his role in speaking for the bishops in the health care debate. Too bad. I would have expected better from Fr. Reese.

  • glorybe1929

    Does anyone remember when Gov. Keating was the “lay person” on the commission of Catholic Bishops? When he got through with listening to these priests, (supposed people of God) he said.. “I’d trust the Mafia more than I would trust these men . They preach one thing and do another”. “The Mafia at least isn’t in the pulpit trying to seduce you to believe in what they say as” the gospel of Christ” when it isn’t”.

  • tidelandermdva

    Remember the Catholic Church’s last big culture war? It was when it refused to accept the Italian Republic at Italian unification. Remember how it was resolved? By signing the Concordat with the Italian Fascist government because the Fascists agreed to let the Catholic Church control marriage and schools. This action presages aggressive excommunication of all elected officials who decline to overturn American law on Choice. There will be a firestorm when they excommunicate a Supreme Court Justice for voting to uphold Roe v. Wade.Why didn’t the Roman Catholic Church place Nazi Germany under interdict and excommunicate the many Nazi leaders and Nazi Party members who were Catholic? Just asking. If they had, people might take their moral authority more seriously when they excommunicate our democratically elected officials.

  • j3hess

    My mother grew up with a pastor who often implored his parishoners, “Pray for us – I mean it. We need it.” He recognized that under the robes, priests we still humans, and needed to remain humble. I grew up with nuns who believed they were a bit better than everyone else, and the longer they were nuns the stronger they believed it. My mother doubts the wisdom of many of the positions taken by the church leaders, but remains strongly committed to her faith and to the Church. Myself, I can’t believe that my path can be guided by these men who have forgotten the virtue of humility, the importance of doubt, and the theological justification of the separation of church and state.Unless the Holy Spirit intervenes, the path of the Catholic Church in the US is set for the next two or three generations, and it is a path leading towards fundamentalism.

  • GordonCash

    Well said, MINI2 and THEHILLMAN. While we’re on the subject of representing the interests of a foreign government, the Vatican in this case, in American politics, why don’t we all read the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938, 22 U.S.C. ss 611 et seq. It is available on-line and very interesting.

  • johnturkal1

    `This isn’t just a Catholic Church issue. Evangelicals are just as guilty. conservatives are inclined to promote a Theocractic form of democracy, in other words you are free to live your life under our rules. The bishops have a credibility problem with their own flock and still think they can dictate to a nation of multiple religions. the priests who stay away from this type of plarization have large parishes, those that don’t have empty pews.

  • gladerunner

    LEAFGREEN:Well, just don’t give us @$%&* about your GOD being immortal….“blatant violation of the laws of physics and thermodynamics:”Happy magic fun time church!

  • wireman65

    If these shamans want to participate in the American political process they must first give up their tax exempt status.

  • mbc7

    Again, unbelievable bigotry by the readers of the Post (In contrast to the NY Times where the unbelievable bigots are on staff.) How many of these people would post the same things about the Moslems? Their position on homosexuality is clear and I’d bet they don’t support abortion. Liberals need to live the multiculturalism they preach and not spread anti-Catholic hate. As for the few Catholics who feel strongly on these issues, I’d bet the local liberal Protestant churches have lots of room (Many of their members are now fundamentalist Protestants and others are Catholics.)

  • johnwasik1

    I find the idea of bishops (of any denomination) entering into politics to be repugnant. What the church needs is less lobbying and more accountability. I’d like to see an independent, double-blind study on the child abuse crisis. The church can’t investigate itself. That much is painfully clear. I’d also like to see more democracy in the church, meaning review and election of priests, bishops and cardinals by the laity. I’d also like to see women deacons and priests and men who can marry and still be priests. But the Vatican seems hell bent on moving backward in time. I’m an estranged Catholic who still wants to practice his faith, yet is repelled by the conservative politics of a broken patriarchy that is institutionally corrupt and hostile to women and gays. What the church has done — and continues to do — is a sin.

  • mickle1

    I guess these religious rulers don’t want members of their cult elected to political office. Let’s see how they scream when the non Roman Catholic public says we don’t want your kind in office.

  • joecct77

    Headline from Post main page: “Catholic bishops join culture wars?”Headline from article: “Catholic bishops tilt to right”Ok, which one more represents the truth in the article??The Catholic Church has always been engaged in a culture war. Never has stopped. Or, perhaps the Catholic Church has stayed put while the mores of society have shifted left.Either way, it is good to see somebody standing firm.

  • realtimer

    Boy are a lot of these “Comment”-ers confused! Just as badly, it seems, as the malfunctioning Catholics in Congress!

  • samsara15

    Bring back the Inquisition! Let’s all return to the 14th century. Stand firm. Someday, American Catholics will reject this antiquated organization, and form their own church.

  • lufrank1

    Worse yet (for sanity and balance in our “democracy”) Our SUPREME COURT is now loaded with devotees of the Vatican’s Dark Ages religious dogma.Geeze! fundamentalists’ religions are MANKIND’S BANE!Ignorance rules!

  • lufrank1

    “Doland says Man-Woman TRADITION is in DNA …”Come on … I majored in experimental Biology (FSU Ph.D.) my research involved a lot of genetics and biochemistry…”Father” Doland is simply uninformed, mistaken, and should separate his Church sermons from our State’s business (unless we Tax the Roman Catholic Churches and their VAST VAST real estate holdings. (Bet he always flies 1st Class!).DARK AGES RELIGIOUS DOGMA (Exorcism, wafers into Jesus’ flesh, wine into Jesus’ blood). Leaders of such absolute falsehood and scientific ignorance are mankind’s bane!

  • ravitchn

    Fr.Reese, SJ is a Jesuit, obviously. That says it all.

  • flamingliberal

    It looks like it will be a long time before humanity throws off this opium of the people. The further to the right one is, the more one distrusts science. Just look at US Republicans and climate change. Of course, their main reason for opposing climate change is that they are the spokespeople for the multi-nationals.The Roman Catholic Church has a long history of hostility to science and that is because of their primitive mind set that says they are the ultimate and true possessors of knowledge. But is that the whole story? For the Republicans, money is the wheel that is steering the ship. What about the r.c. church? What’s in it for them?Surely, there have to be some educated among them who know the difference between a fetus and a baby? How did the r.c. church come to fixate on this issue? Why is it so strident and so emotional?Even St. Thomas Aquinas, whom they have the greatest reverence for, would dispute their assumptions about the rights of a fetus, especially when the rights of a fetus are more important than the right of the mother. It’s absurd, it’s anti-scientific and its irrational. Their argument is primitive, contradicts one of their greatest theologians and is anti- scientific. Why do they do this?

  • thebump

    I used to admire Fr. Reese, but it is distressing to see every major news source cite his incessant and absurd references to “culture wars”. Of course the Church is at war with a depraved culture that engages in genocide against the next generation, and is confused about the most basic facts of life. How could it possibly be otherwise? And with all respect, can Father cite a scintilla of evidence for his preposterous assertion that “the new Congress is going to take aim at programs helping the poor”? It’s just an outright, inflammatory lie.

  • joe_allen_doty

    Church organizations and their leaders ought to stay out of politics. I don’t approve of Churches being used for precinct polling places either. I am a Believer in Christ Jesus; but owners of property in the USA, churches included, should pay property taxes. The Roman Catholic Church owns a lot of property in the USA. In fact, it owns a large retirement community complex in Tulsa. But, if you are NOT rich, you cannot even live thee. Jesus didn’t approve of people in spiritual leadership using religious titles and in that instance, he said, “Call no man ‘Father,’ for God in Heaven is your Father.”

  • djah

    There are 4 Catholic Churches

  • ratl

    Free will is free. Only slaves need masters.

  • eezmamata

    You know, you watch those BBC and PBS Nature and science shows from the ’70s, you see those people from New Guinea or some untouched african country, dancing around in their headdresses and robes, waving spears or burning sticks … and then you look at the picture of this guy attached to this article … really, I mean, It’s impossible not to laugh!

  • eezmamata

    Nice try, but that’s not the issue. The question is, do you have a right to life, and if you do, when did you acquire it?

    Another philosophical question is do you have the right to force your view on someone else who differs from you?Because that is just what you’re doing.

  • thebump

    @ottoman88: I’m afraid, dear friend, it is you who is misinformed or dishonest. First of all, Oboobma explicitly sold Oboobmacare as NOT a program for the poor, so you can’t now claim that repealing it would be anti-poor. Indeed, Oboobmacare expanded Medicaid and SCHIP coverage to completely unsustainable and unrealistic levels — way beyond income levels that could remotely be considered “poor”. (Never mind that it would also destroy innovation and choice, put doctors out of business, and bankrupt the country.)Meanwhile, we have forty million people on food stamps and countless millions receiving SSI, AFDC, and the whole alphabet soup of government assistance, none of which anybody has suggested changing in any way that would affect people who are actually “poor.” Moreover, under Bush the Republicans dramatically ramped up the amount of federal money wasted on government-run schools, many of them “serving” (I use the term loosely) the underprivileged. The suggestion that the poor are being targeted is just a lie.

  • fabricmaven1

    I was Baptized a Catholic at my birth in 1946. I had their good word and discipline shoved down my throat as a child. I had afterall an uncle who was a priest. My father knocked up my mother and agreed to marry her. Never a day went by that I did not pay for that circumstance, what the hell. What did I know that would not come to me some twenty years afterwards. I am sick of the Catholic church and the priests that seduced my brothers who followed me. I am tired of the Catholic Church that suggested I might need to quit school in the 8th grade to stay home and tend to my five younger siblings and my father when my mother was bleeding to death from her 13th pregnancy and a prolapsed uterus because that was God’s plan for me. It is heartbreaking that lo these many years have gone by and all they have to offer is the same miserable message.

  • fabricmaven1

    You have a right to life at the moment you come from your Mothers womb and draw a breath from your own fully formed lungs. Anything before that is your ability to through your parents to pay for a health plan that will support your pre natal pregnancy problem. The idea that a person is formed at the moment of conception is religious and political. The Religious and Political in this country do little to support the children who are already exist. Don’t want to pay for food programs. Don’t want to subsidize decent housing. Don’t want to subsidize education. No subsidy for a living wage. So Catholic Bishops you just want women to keep pushing the babies out under any circumstance but you offer no remediation to the life that women are left to live with except your judgement on Sunday morning fron the pulpit. You guys are pathetic. The Catholic Church is a sham and always has been.

  • usapdx

    This pope and administration want to turn the RCC back to the DARK AGE as well as to hide truth to protect the image. How many RCs fully ( 100% ) agree with what teaching that they know of the RCC?

  • VirginiaConservative

    I think the post would better serve its readers by focusing on the religion which is trying to murder us at every turn.The post spends too much time agonizing over the hurt feelings of degenerates and zero time on the ongoing pile of dead bodies left in the wake of a 7th century maniac.

  • Mary_Cunningham

    The election of Abp Dolan in lieu of Abp Kicanas by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops by a clear majority (a result to which they have every right) has WaPo, Reese, and Susan Jacoby Clearly Timothy Dolan must be the right man!

  • fairness3

    As a practicing Catholic, I am saddened to learn of Dolan’s position that reinforces hate, bigotry, and insensitivity. When will the Church in American (at least) wake up and come into the 21st Century to be more supportive and relevant to our contemporary issues of life?

  • Mary_Cunningham

    As a practicing Catholic you should maybe be wary of commentary by a renegade Jesuit on an atheist site.