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criticism beyond what is helpful

By Diogenes ( articles ) | May 03, 2005

In last February's First Things, Fr. Richard Neuhaus vented his disappointment with the USCCB's November 2004 meeting, while delivering himself of some mordant commentary:

On Bishop Skylstad:

While bishops, needless to say, are immune to the lures of ambition, the general rule for getting ahead is not to blot one's copybook, and Skylstad had been less than a success even on that score. Spokane is, for instance, racked with priestly sex abuse scandals and the consequent lawsuits and financial settlements.

On Cardinal McCarrick:

I had [earlier] written that McCarrick had been less than straightforward with his colleagues in representing a letter from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger on the subject. A number of bishops have said that I greatly understated what McCarrick did, but I'll stay with my formulation that he was "less than straightforward."

On one faction of bishops:

They are called [John Paul II bishops] because they see John Paul II as an exemplar to emulate rather than an aberration to be endured.

These comments provoked the following letter to the editor, published in the May 2005 First Things:

As a devoted reader of First Things, I am aware that you have been critical of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on numerous occasions. Such criticism can be beneficial, but in the February issue this criticism went beyond what is helpful.

Among the many points I could cite, I will emphasize four. First, the description of the election of Bishop William S. Skylstad as president of the Conference is seriously uninformed. Bishop Skylstad has been active in the Conference for over twenty-five years. His election as both vice president and president resulted from the bishops' first-hand knowledge of his abilities and dedicated service to the Conference. Cardinal Francis George took the time to acknowledge this dedication from the podium shortly after Bishop Skylstad's election.

I am also surprised that First Things would imitate the secular press by relying on innuendo instead of facts. The unfounded implication that Bishop Skylstad was irresponsible, if not worse, in governing his diocese is unworthy of First Things.

So, too, is the claim that Cardinal Theodore McCarrick was less than straightforward at the bishops' June 2004 meeting about principles for worthy reception of Holy Communion sent to him by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. One would think that this canard had been dispelled by the subsequent letter from Cardinal Ratzinger affirming that the statement drafted by the task force chaired by Cardinal McCarrick and adopted by the bishops is very much in harmony with these principles.

I am troubled as well by the use of the phrase "John Paul II bishops," with its implication that there are bishops in the Conference who are not faithful to the Holy Father. Since most of the bishops in the Conference were appointed by this pope or received subsequent appointments from him, this claim amounts to a criticism of John Paul II himself, passing judgment on the pope's ability to discern who should be made bishop.

+Edwin F. O'Brien
Archbishop for the Military Services

I expressed some hesitations below concerning the choice of O'Brien as coordinator of the Apostolic Visitation of U.S. seminaries, wondering whether he had the stomach to call ugly realities by their right names and take the necessary scalps, especially where this entailed conflict within the Brotherhood. Those doubts have all but disappeared.

Still hope I'm wrong.

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