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a DC insider recalls the bishops' acumen

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Apr 27, 2010

The story sounds implausible, frankly. In fact I'm inclined to believe it only because it's hard to imagine that anyone would make up such a tale.

Looking forward to President Obama's first nomination of a Supreme Court justice, the Washington Post collected thoughts, insights, and memories from several Washington insiders who had played some role in past nominations. Stuart Spencer, who was an adviser to President Gerald Ford, offered his recollections from 1975, and the involvement of the US Catholic bishops.

The bishops' approach was remarkably clumsy, as Spencer recounts the episode. His entire reminiscence is worth reading, but it boils down to this: a group of bishops gave him a list of three jurists who would, in their view, be acceptable Supreme Court justices. Spencer dutifully passed the list along to President Ford, and:

Ten days later he appoints John Paul Stevens to the bench. He was on the list.
Justice Stevens, of course, spent the next 35 years voting consistently against the interests of the Catholic Church on issues such as abortion, homosexuality, and religious freedom.

Did the US bishops really support the nomination of Justice Stevens? Most of the players in this little historical drama have left the stage. But Stuart Spencer was there, and he says the story is true. Credo quia absurdum

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Sed contra - Apr. 28, 2010 9:36 PM ET USA

    "Vatican II never called for bishops' conferences when it taught about collegiality." Huh? Reread "Christus Dominus" nos. 37-38, and Paul VI's motu proprio "Ecclesiae Sanctae" no. 41, in which he decreed that they should be established wherever they hadn't been already. Or are you suggesting that the Roman Pontiff's supreme, universal, ordinary, and immediate jurisdiction (Vatican I, DS 3064) doesn't include the authentic interpretation and implementation of the decrees of an ecumenical council?

  • Posted by: samuel.doucette1787 - Apr. 28, 2010 9:04 AM ET USA

    The USCCB needs to be disbanded. Vatican II never called for bishops' conferences when it taught about collegiality.