Corpus Christi Cathedral, Corpus Christi, Texas
The telephone call came like a lightning bolt from the sky. In the last week of May, 1983 Archbishop Pio Laghi, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States called me in Pensacola and told me that Pope John Paul II was transferring me from the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee to the Diocese of Corpus Christi in Texas. I was filled with misgivings. I loved the little Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee which I had founded and which was growing nicely under my shepherding. I had read about law suits in Corpus Christi involving the Diocese and I had no desire to become involved in them. But, the spirit of my Vow of Obedience kicked in and after only a brief hesitation I told Archbishop Laghi that I would accept the transfer.
On May 28, 1983 I flew to Corpus Christi and the next day we had a press conference at the Cathedral announcing my appointment. The press conference and announcement was overshadowed by the decision of the former Bishop, Thomas Drury, to absent himself from the city and the press conference; he had flown to Ireland. It is customary for the outgoing Bishop to introduce the incoming Bishop; I had to introduce myself. There were a few individuals who were unhappy with my appointment, they were expecting the Chancellor to succeed Bishop Drury and I was told that Bishop Drury had proposed such a succession to the Holy See, but it was not to be and I was welcomed by the vast majority of priests and people. After consultation with Archbishop Laghi I chose July 11, 1983, the Feast of Saint Benedict, as the date of my installation as the Fifth Bishop of Corpus Christi. The Installation was a great success.
All during the fourteen years I would spend as the Bishop of Corpus Christi I would be preoccupied with the John G. and Marie Stella Memorial Foundation. The Foundation was controlled by five persons who were the Members of the Foundation. At the time of my installation they were: Mrs. Elena Seuss Kenedy (the widow of John Kenedy, the brother of Sarita Kenedy East who had established the Foundation in her will), Judge Lee Lytton (the County Judge of Kenedy County and nephew of Sarita Kenedy East), Bruno Goldapp (President of the Alice National Bank which held all liquid assets of the Foundation), Kenneth Oden (attorney for the Alice National Bank and attorney for Mrs. Elena Seuss Kenedy) and the Bishop of the Diocese of Corpus Christi (who held his membership ex officio as Bishop of the Diocese).
Withing a month of my installation as Bishop, Bruno Goldapp died. That meant the members would have to meet and elect a successor to Bruno Goldapp. I learned that the liquid assets of the Foundation consisted in $20,000,000.00 of U.S. Treasury Notes and Bills held in a account at the Alice bank and that the Bank charged the Foundation a significant fee for holding those securities. The principal source of income for the foundation came from oil and gas production on the Kenedy Ranch (235,000 acres in Kenedy County) and the bank would collect those royalties and put the money into Treasury obligations. It was obvious to me that tremendous conflicts of interest existed in the Membership of the Foundation. Mrs. Elena Kenedy was over 90 years old and almost blind. She would give her proxy at meetings of the Members to Kenneth Oden and so she, Oden and Goldapp ran the Foundation and Judge Lytton and the Bishop were always out voted at meetings of the Foundation.
I was soon contacted by Kenneth Odin who suggested that we, the Members, should meet in September and elect a successor to Bruno Goldapp. He proposed that we elect the former Governor of Texas, Dolph Briscoe. I sensed immediately that he was trying to keep and consolidate his control of the Foundation. I told him I would have to think about it. I kept putting him off holding a meeting of the Members until February 13, 1984 when a judge in Austin, at my initiative, ruled that Oden could not serve as a Member. With the consent of Mrs. Elena Kenedy and the help of Judge Lytton we elected Sister Agnes Marie Borgmeyer, IHM and Doctor Ben Groner Members and a new era for the Foundation began. The story of the battles for the control of the Foundation from its beginnings in 1963 until 1984, and afterward, has been told accurately by Stephen Michaud and Hugh Aynesworth in their book, If You Love Me You Will Do My Will, and there is no need for me to retell it here.
Shortly after the new Members took control of the Foundation I called a meeting of the twelve priests who served as the Consultors of the Diocese. I told them that I wanted each of them to list on a sheet of paper in the order of importance needs of the Diocese that we could begin to meet with grants from the Foundation. In the twenty years that the Alice National Bank had controlled the Foundation the Foundation had never made any grants. Now the Internal Revenue Service ordered the Foundation to begin making grants. The consultors chose the construction of religious education facilities as the top priority for the Diocese and so we began to build such facilities and within five years every parish and mission had a building in which religious education classes could be taught in a proper environment.
One of the first things I learned about Corpus Christi was that the local newspaper, The Corpus Christi Caller-Times, like the papers I left behind in Miami and Pensacola, was hostile to the Catholic Church. The wife of the publisher, Janet Harte, was reportedly the founder of both the local chapter of Planned Parenthood and FAIR (The Federation for Immigration Reform). Planned Parenthood International was founded by Margaret Sanger to reduce the number of blacks in the United States and FAIR was founded to prevent anymore “brown-skinned Catholics” from coming to the United States from Mexico. It did not take long for me to clash with Janet Harte and the paper.
Corpus Christi had two abortion clinics and a doctor who performed abortions in his office. With the help of a recent Catholic convert, Rex Moses, and a lot of dedicated people we organized The Body of Christ Rescue and began demonstrations in front of all three locations. Eventually, after the directors of the two clinics and the doctor (all of whom professed to be practicing Catholics) publicly proclaimed their dissent from the teaching of the Church about the immorality of abortion and after months of trying to persuade them to renounce their support of abortion, I issued decrees announcing that they had incurred automatic excommunication by their performing abortions. Eventually the clinics and the doctor’s office were closed. Corpus Christi, named after the Body of Christ, is now abortion free.
Shortly after the excommunications I attended a meeting of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Pro-Life Activities of which I was a member.
The Committee consisted of its Chairman, John Cardinal O’Connor, and seven bishops among whom there was Bernard Cardinal Law and Roger Cardinal Mahoney. At the end of the meeting I asked Cardinal O’Connor if I could speak about the three excommunications in Corpus Christi. He granted me permission and for about ten minutes I told the whole story about the abortion clinics and the excommunications. At the end I said that I would be happy to answer any questions. After what seemed an eternity of silence in which not a single member of the Committee asked any questions or made any comment, Cardinal O’Connor declared the meeting ended. I was stunned! I can only attribute the silence of those cardinals and bishops to their embarrassment because they surely had abortion clinics in their own dioceses and what I had done in Corpus Christi showed them up for their failure to stand up for the sanctity of innocent human life.
When I became Bishop of the Diocese of Corpus Christi Laredo and the surrounding counties were part of the Diocese of Corpus Christi. The people of Laredo wanted to be a separate diocese and so I created the Vicariate of Laredo and appointed a priest its Episcopal Vicar. After years of planning and pushing the creation of the Diocese of Laredo it was finally approved by Rome and we installed the same priest who had been the Episcopal Vicar, who had in the meantime become an Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of Galveston-Houston, as its first Bishop. At the celebration erecting the new Diocese everyone publicly praised Archbishop Flores of San Antonio for the creation of the new Diocese when in reality he had opposed its creation; no mention was made of my work of several years in bringing it into existence. Such is life!
Because I no longer had to fly frequently up and down the Florida peninsula, I no longer had need of my Mooney 231 airplane. Besides, Corpus Christi did not have private hangers like Tallahassee for small planes and my airplane was sitting out on the ramp in the salt air. I knew that it would just be a matter of time before it began to have corrosion problems so I sold it. I sold it for a nice profit. But I miss it very much. From my retirement home on Corpus Christi Bay I can watch the Navy pilots fly their trainers on their final approach past my residence to the Corpus Christi Naval Air Station. I watch with envy, especially at night; I loved night flying.