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The Bishop and the Jesuit: Robert McManus vs. Holy Cross

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Oct 16, 2007

One could fill a book with the ways in which schools “in the Jesuit tradition” have deliberately and defiantly undermined the Catholic faith of their students over the past forty years. The most recent example is the decision of Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts to host a conference sponsored by the Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy.

The Conference will include workshops by Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, both of which represent positions fundamentally at odds with the teachings of the Catholic Church (not to mention the requirements of human integrity, the family and a healthy social order). Lest there be any confusion that the hosting of the conference might have happened inadvertently, Holy Cross president Fr. Michael C. McFarland, SJ has personally defended it against numerous critics.

Happily one of the critics is the local ordinary, Bishop Robert J. McManus, who issued a statement on October 10th warning Holy Cross that “it is my pastoral and canonical responsibility to determine what institutions can properly call themselves ‘Catholic’.” The bishop urged the administration of the College to “unequivocally disassociate itself from the upcoming conference…so that the college can continue to be recognized as a Catholic institution.” However, Fr. McFarland has thus far defied even Bishop McManus.

Robert McManus, 62, was ordained a priest in 1978 and a bishop in 1999. First serving as auxiliary bishop for Providence, he was installed as head of the diocese of Worcester three years ago. As a bishop, McManus has demonstrated both his concern for Catholic teaching and his respect for Catholic tradition. For example, before Benedict’s motu proprio McManus celebrated the Mass of John XXIII under the indult of Pope John Paul II; and within a week of taking over the Worcester diocese, he issued a strong statement condemning same-sex marriages as “clear and serious violations of the law of God and moral teaching of the Roman Catholic Church.”

The Holy Cross conference is scheduled for October 24th. Some argue that it is too late for the College to backtrack, since it has already entered into a contract for the use of the space. But clearly McManus will have to apply some sort of ecclesiastical penalty if the College does not find a way to undo the damage it has done and, at the same time, convince the bishop that it is prepared to chart a more Catholic course. If President McFarland does not even attempt to satisfy Bishop McManus—and there are many historical and ideological reasons why he may choose not to do so—the Jesuit will be issuing a challenge that the Bishop cannot ignore if he wishes to retain his credibility.

Sadly, some bishop must decide sooner or later that a so-called Catholic college in his diocese has forfeited the right to call itself “Catholic”. When this happens, it could start a trend, or better yet serve as a wakeup call for Catholic institutions throughout the United States. At the very least, such a decision would set the record straight in one exceedingly obnoxious local situation. Of course it will also require an ongoing public relations campaign to keep the record straight: A quiet, little-known canonical decision will not serve. Whether Bishop McManus has the heart for this sort of protracted yet critical struggle remains to be seen. One can only hope—and pray.

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