THE BROKEN PATH
How Catholic Bishops Got Lost in the Weeds of American politics
A Review by Father James Buckley, FSSP
Spiritual Director, American Life League
Judie Brown’s latest book, The Broken Path: How Catholic Bishops Got Lost in the Weeds of American Politics, is an indictment of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as an institution and of many individual bishops—mentioned by name and deed—who have, by commission or omission, betrayed Catholic teaching on the sanctity of life.
It is also a panegyric for those bishops whose words and actions deserve thanks, loyalty, and respect from faithful Catholics. Among the latter, Judie singles out Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence and Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix. Bishop Tobin’s private letter admonishing Congressman Patrick Kennedy for his rejection of the Church’s teaching against abortion was not only presented unfairly by CNN, but was not supported by the USCCB. And when Bishop Olmsted announced that Sister Margaret McBride, who obstinately refused to seek pardon for approving a surgical abortion, had thereby automatically excommunicated herself, he was portrayed in both the secular and much of the Catholic media as heartless.
Intrinsic evils met with silence and acquiescence
Abortion confronts our bishops on several fronts, and their reactions to this holocaust reveal that too many of them address it in a way that minimizes Catholic teaching. Moreover, as Judie writes, “When state legislatures are pressured to pass pro-assisted suicide laws that would, in essence, decriminalize the taking of the lives of the ill and the vulnerable, the USCCB remains aloof.” Human personhood legislation would protect the right to life of such persons and all others who are now vulnerable. “So, why is it,” she asks, “that whenever a personhood proposal is considered by a state legislature, or as a state or federal constitutional amendment, Catholic bishops find it necessary to publicly oppose it?”
Catholic bishops are also confronted by abortion when it comes to voting for pro-abortion candidates and denying Holy Communion to “Catholic” pro-abortion legislators. Prior to the 2004 election, the USCCB strongly opposed the Voter’s Guide for Serious Catholics, a Catholic Answers booklet that explains that Catholics, “to the greatest extent possible,” should not vote for candidates who support abortion, euthanasia, human embryonic stem cell research, human cloning, or homosexual “marriage.” On the other hand, the USCCB’s guidelines, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, state, “[A] voter should not use a candidate’s opposition to an intrinsic evil to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other important moral issues involving human life and dignity.”
“Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion: General Principles,” a memo sent to the USCCB by Pope Benedict XVI in 2004 (then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith), clearly states that a Catholic politician who manifestly and obstinately supports abortion must be denied Communion. Nevertheless, Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore told the Baltimore Sun that “he opposes the attempt by some bishops to politicize Communion and deny the sacrament to politicians who support abortion rights” (“Cardinal Keeler calls for keeping politics out of Communion,” May 28, 2004). Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk of Cincinnati, Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany, New York, and Bishop John Kinney of St. Cloud, Minnesota, issued similar statements to the press.
The following examples of Catholic bishops shrinking from their duty to uphold Catholic moral teaching, when that teaching is aggressively attacked in institutions under their own jurisdiction, are shocking.
San Francisco’s Archbishop George Niederauer remained silent when Susan Sarandon, an abortion advocate and Planned Parenthood supporter, spoke at a March 2011 fundraising event at Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont, which is in his diocese.
Cardinal Justin Rigali, then archbishop of Philadelphia, made no comment when “Catholic” pro-abortion commentator Chris Matthews gave the commencement address at Philadelphia’s St. Joseph’s University in 2009.
In Buffalo, Canisius College “helped ’maximize [the] personal and company performance’ of Planned Parenthood of Buffalo and Erie County, according to the college’s website” (“Jesuit college’s management, fundraising programs benefited Planned Parenthood,” http://www.CatholicCulture.org, Dec. 4, 2009), but was not rebuked by Bishop Edward Kmiec. (As of May 5, 2011, the Cardinal Newman Society had reported at least 121 links between the websites of Catholic colleges and Planned Parenthood—a situation involving at least 43 Catholic colleges.)
Even more appalling was the action of Bishop Howard Hubbard and the neglect of Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Florida. In 2010, Bishop Hubbard approved a proposal from his diocesan Catholic Charities organization to distribute free needles to drug addicts, and Bishop Lynch refused the Schindler family’s entreaties to aid their effort to save Terri Schindler Schiavo’s life when a Florida circuit judge ordered her death by starvation and dehydration, which occurred in 2005.
An entire chapter of The Broken Path is devoted to the USCCB, whose existence is not doctrinally required, but which, nevertheless, wreaks widespread havoc in Catholic dioceses.
For example, we are still plagued by the deleterious effects of the dissident group Call to Action, which is the product of the 1976 conference by the same name that was organized by the U.S. bishops.
Catholic Charities, which has very close ties to the USCCB, receives two-thirds of its funding from the federal government and is, therefore, reluctant to criticize immoral aspects of certain federal programs.
The Catholic Campaign for Human Development is a USCCB program that has conned millions of dollars from unsuspecting Catholics and used them for operations inspired by the unethical teachings of radical organizer Saul Alinsky. Moreover, American Life League’s researchers have revealed that large amounts of the CCHD’s annual parish collection have been used to support pro-abortion organizations.
Another cause for concern is that the USCCB’s Safe Environment program is overseen by Teresa Kettelkamp (executive director of its Secretariat for Child and Youth Protection), who has served on the advisory board of the militantly pro-abortion Feminist Majority Foundation’s National Center for Women and Policing. Moreover, diligent research reveals that the “safe environment” concept originated in the radical homosexual movement’s relentless campaign to promote its agenda on school and college campuses.
The book also details the USCCB’s active cooperation in the passage of the disastrous Obamacare bill and the failure of most bishops to openly oppose the University of Notre Dame’s selection of rabidly pro-abortion President Obama as its 2009 commencement speaker.
The facts speak for themselves
In The Broken Path, Judie does not reveal any hidden faults of members of the American hierarchy. Rather, she calls attention to their transgressions simply by using the public record, reminding her readers of reported events that many will themselves recall. Her purpose is to help erring bishops become what they are called to be: courageous and faithful shepherds of the flock Christ Himself has entrusted to them.
Rev. James Buckley, FSSP, is American Life League’s spiritual advisor and the director of spirituality for the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter’s Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary in Denton, Nebraska.
One of the advantages of growing old (I am now 88) is that one has the opportunity to see and experience it all. I was born a Catholic and I grew up a Catholic. I have experienced the Church from pew to pulpit. Always an avid reader (I was a freshman in high school when I subscribed to Time magazine back when it was published by Henry Luce and was eminently readable), I tried to know everything about what was going on in the world.
The Catholic world of my youth was the world of Bing Crosby’s Going My Way. It was a world in which bishops did not tolerate nonsense in the Church and were not afraid to take controversial stands. I remember Christopher E. Byrne, bishop of Galveston, making a 1946 endorsement of a proposed legalization of horse racing in Texas saying, “Watching horses race is a morally good and pleasurable thing!” Now that took courage in a state that was dominated by Baptists at the time. Then, shortly afterward, Cardinal Francis Spellman, archbishop of New York, condemned the movie Baby Doll and called on all Catholics to boycott the movie.
As I write this, I am mindful that today is July 25, 2011, the 43rd anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, Humanae Vitae. I remember my astonishment when 27 priests of the Archdiocese of Washington publicly dissented from the magisterial teaching of the pope’s encyclical. I applauded when Cardinal O’Boyle suspended the priests, but was shocked when, on April 1, 1971, Cardinal John Wright, then prefect of the Congregation of Clergy, to whom the priests had appealed, overruled Cardinal O’Boyle and directed the reinstatement of the dissenting priests.
Two years later, in 1973, the Church was confronted with the U.S. Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade. I had only been a bishop for two years at that time, yet Archbishop Carroll appointed me Director of Pro-Life Activities for the Province of Miami. I soon became aware that the willingness to confront error as shown by Cardinal O’Boyle and Cardinal Spellman was a thing of the past.
In 1990, when I was bishop of Corpus Christi, I followed the procedure I subsequently outlined in my essay, “A Twelve Step Program for Bishops,” and issued three decrees of excommunication against an abortionist doctor and two women who ran abortuaries. Shortly thereafter, as a member of the NCCB/USCC Pro-Life Activities Committee, I attended a meeting of the committee. After we had finished the business of our agenda, I asked the chairman, Cardinal John O’Connor, if I could explain to the committee what had happened in Corpus Christi that led to the three excommunications. For some 30 minutes I spoke to a committee of seven bishops, including Cardinals O’Connor, Mahony, and Law, plus a dozen or so priests and laity. At the conclusion of my presentation I said that I would be happy to answer any questions. After about five minutes of very painful and embarrassing silence, Cardinal O’Connor said, “Well, if there is no further business, this meeting of the committee is adjourned.”
In retrospect, I can only conclude that my presentation of the facts surrounding the Corpus Christi excommunications was a source of embarrassment to the cardinals and bishops present, since they were surely faced with the same problems I had had to face in Corpus Christi. My presentation must have been a challenge to them as to why they had not done the same thing in their own dioceses.
How do we explain the apparent lack of courage and unwillingness on the part of most of the bishops of the United States to face up to the challenges increasingly posed to the Church by our secular society—not only regarding life issues, but now also by same-sex “marriage”?
That is the question Judie Brown courageously poses for all Catholics in the United States—clergy and laity alike. Judie Brown has probably experienced more frustration in dealing with the American hierarchy than most of us. Therefore, this book is a welcome addition to the debate and hopefully it will help point the way to solutions.
—Bishop Rene Gracida,
Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas