If I were a bishop ...

By Diogenes (articles) | Oct 28, 2005

If I were a bishop, I'd write the following letter to the Bishop of Spokane:

Dear Bishop Skylstad,

I confess I was dismayed to read the following words in your Inland Register column of October 20th:

There are many wonderful and excellent priests in the Church who have a gay orientation, are chaste and celibate, and are very effective ministers of the Gospel. Witch hunts and gay bashing have no place in the Church.

First, by referring to priests with "a gay orientation" instead of "a same-sex attraction," you cross the line from the descriptive and morally neutral to the political and morally problematic. This implies, even if it does not state, acquiescence in the self-understanding of those homosexual persons who call themselves gay. This is a disservice to those persons with same-sex attraction -- not only those in your own diocese -- who are struggling against enormous odds to live according to Church teaching, and whose resolve is seriously weakened by bishops who suggest "Gay is OK."

Second, it is hardly a secret that your own diocese is bankrupt -- and that because of your and your predecessors' catastrophically bad decisions about keeping sexually disturbed priests in ministry. Yes, I know some victims were female. Yes, I know most homosexual priests don't molest minors. But the fact remains that Spokane was buggered into bankruptcy by priests known to be deviant, and the underlying causes could have been avoided by unexacting prudential decisions well within the moral compass of an ordinary parishioner. Staggering naiveté is the kindest way of accounting for your own baffling action and inaction, and I think it behooves you, as head of a diocese bankrupted by sexual anarchy, not to touch on the subject of gay clergy at all, for any reasons. I say this with the good of the larger Church in mind.

Then too, Bishop Skylstad, the admonition against "witch hunts" comes ill from your mouth. Most Catholics who read that line will recall all too vividly your predecessor Lawrence Welsh of unhappy memory. They'll remember the police report concerning the male prostitute Welsh throttled during an act of fellatio in a Chicago hotel room back in 1986. They'll remember the fact that it was the terrified prostitute that went to the Chicago police, who in turn only contacted Spokane law enforcement because of a long-shot connection with the Green River serial killer. You were Bishop of Yakima at the time, of course, but your comments on Welsh's behavior three years ago -- "Obviously, he had a very serious drinking problem. Certainly, it's very sad behavior associated with that drinking. That would be my observation" -- render your recent "witch hunt" language farcical. If, confronted with a bishop's sodomy and attempted manslaughter, you can't do better than "drinking problem," would you be able to put the right name to a witch even after she'd turned you into a bat?

Let's face it: in the only relevant sense, there are altogether too many witches on the prowl, and indeed "the witches" are the reason Spokane is not a solvent diocese today. We have to bear in mind, moreover, that the faithful can't help but take to heart the news reports, inasmuch as they've gone unchallenged except on trivial points. They know that Archbishop Hunthausen promised the Spokane detectives to get Welsh into counseling, and they know that, in spite of Hunthausen's awareness of the Chicago episode, Welsh was back in the saddle for the next four years. They know Welsh's drinking caused him to be retired at Bishop of Spokane at age 55 in 1990. Worst of all, though, we have to deal with the fact that after Welsh was deposed from Spokane he was almost immediately made an auxiliary bishop of St. Paul-Minneapolis. So tell me: how do we explain to the laity why a bishop can pull that kind of squeeze-play, drink himself out the ordinary's job, and still end up ministering to God's people as an auxiliary?

When folks put the Welsh saga together with the reasons for the Spokane bankruptcy, they're going to think along these lines: "I can see a couple bad priests as an honest mistake. I can see a bad bishop as an honest mistake. Really stretching it, I could even see bounce-passing the bad bishop to another diocese as an honest mistake. But the mistakes all hinge on a particular misjudgment no normal person would make. It can't be a coincidence."

What answer can we make? Not only is such a suspicion wholly justified, to suggest that there is an "innocent" explanation borders on perfidy. Don't you see that -- against this background, and especially in view of the added embarrassment of your election to the USCCB presidency -- your remarks condemning "witch hunts" could hardly have come at a worse time? No one is taking a tire-iron to effeminate clergy; your "gay bashing" line is preposterous. Most of the faithful are not looking for vengeance but for candid explanations. Your saying, in effect, "There is nothing to find behind that door," inflames the very suspicions it was meant to allay.

Bishop Skylstad, I have my own diocese to run, my own faithful to tend to. Many are shocked and bewildered by the negligence of us bishops. My own moral authority, and hence my ability to guide my flock, has been weakened by our collective equivocation and especially by our inability to purge our own body of ineptitude, villainy, and sloth. How can we call others to make heroic personal sacrifices when we can't confront the unpleasantness that would attend telling the truth about ourselves? Ultimately I'm going to have to answer to a higher tribunal than CBS News, and when I do, I want to be able to say that I lost none of my flock through my own deliberate inaction. With that in mind, I plead with you: pay your bills, and keep your head down, and don't fret yourself about the witch-busters. The job belongs to others.

Your apostolic brother,

+Di

Richard Cross holds a doctorate in psychology, who has taught at the university level, including at Franciscan University. He is currently an educational researcher and consultant in the field of psychology and related disciplines.
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