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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  • Posted by: - May. 05, 2005 5:28 AM ET USA

    Father Neuhaus, incidentally, offered his list of "John Paul II bishops" in last October's First Things (

  • Posted by: Fr. Walter - May. 04, 2005 10:22 PM ET USA

    His Grace was clearly moved by Rev. Father Neuhaus' observations, "I am aware that you have been critical of the USCCB on numerous occasions... I am... surprised that FT would imitate the secular press... I am troubled... by the use of the phrase "John Paull II bishops..." His Grace is troubled and surprised by anyone daring to question let alone, "GASP," criticize the venerable NCCB. As a long time member of "the chain gang" he is blind to the reality of episcopal failure... so very sad.

  • Posted by: - May. 04, 2005 1:33 PM ET USA

    Personally, if Neuhaus continues with his understated prose stylings, as he hammers them out like a great Miles Davis quintet from the 1960's (Kind of Blue), I think that everyone of the shaky Bishops will eventually take the bait, bite the hook, and then Uncle Diogenes can pull them out of the water and into the live well in the boat. Since those with little faith sank on the waters in the NT, its only fair to place the weak in a more accomodating environment.

  • Posted by: Brad - May. 04, 2005 10:15 AM ET USA

    McCarrick will be seeking retirement in July. Pope Benedict XVI has to decide whether to accept. My guess is he does and Neuhaus is right.

  • Posted by: - May. 04, 2005 9:17 AM ET USA

    I have commented times before at CWNews that the U. S. Church needs bishops who will govern, but a nameless governor is no governor at all. The absence of attribution of the complaints aired in Neuhaus' February commentary makes me wonder whether, even though at least one of the nameless reportedly would "refuse to play the debasing game of conference politics," First Things and CWNews are resolved to do just that for all as self-appointed proxies. Just how brave are these 'JP II bishops'?

  • Posted by: - May. 04, 2005 9:17 AM ET USA

    I am a great admirer of Archbishop O'Brien. Except for his defense of McCarrick's misrepresentation, I agree with him wholeheartedly. Father Neuhaus' February commentary would have been far more helpful had he named names of brave bishops stating that he had not gone far enough in condemning McCarrick's misrepresentation. On the same score, why disingenuously embrace the 'JP II bishops' characterization without attaching names to quotes? Who are all of these paragons of episcopal fortitude?

  • Posted by: - May. 04, 2005 7:32 AM ET USA

    For those unfamiliar with Trautman (called "Trautperson" b/c of his enthusiasm for "inclusive language" in the liturgy), he's the model of honesty who, when confronted by local media, said he had removed "a couple" of priests from active ministry. Later, he was forced to admit the number was more like ten. One of them, whom T-P said had been "acquitted" of kiddie porn charges, had in fact had his charges dropped only because the cops failed to preserve the superabundant evidence properly.

  • Posted by: Fr. William - May. 04, 2005 1:19 AM ET USA

    Can anyone defend the election of Bp.Skylstad? He was the previous Vice Prez, & well-known as Mahony's choice, but Skylstad didn't have to be elected; as the bishops tragically proved when they nominated from the floor & elected Bp. Trautman liturgy chair, rejecting Cdl. Rigali & Bp. Vigneron. Can anyone defend Cdl. McCarrick's lie? He withheld the Truth from his brother bishops, who had a right to know the Truth. Yes, Abp. O'Brien, some brs. have turned traitor (eg: Mahony, McCarrick...)

  • Posted by: - May. 03, 2005 8:23 PM ET USA

    Consider this, the official visitation is just eyewash but there is another plan to clean up the mass. I do not know any details but I firmly believe that the real Aegian cleaning job will be done behind closed the curtains.

  • Posted by: - May. 03, 2005 5:52 PM ET USA

    Archbishop O'Brien is simply "spinning" what is a plain fact to the rest of the Church--there are significant divides within the episcopal conference on fundamental matters of faith and morals. Such divides, short of conversion, are not bridgeable via some bureacratic solution. His Excellency has delivered a mortal wound to his reputation as a plain-talking man of faith and action. Thank God for Fr. Neuhaus' willingness to call it just like it is. That is never popular among the Bishops.

  • Posted by: - May. 03, 2005 3:51 PM ET USA

    If Fr Shaughnessy were ever appointed a Bishop I'd pack up my house, wife & children and move to that diocese. Besides a desire to keep their scalps, he's no small man. His sheer size alone should be enough to deter most of these people from wanting to deal with him. . Within the priesthood/episcopacy a new phrase would be coined; "Where is Fr. Lavender? I haven't seen him in a while." "Oh didn't you hear, he got Shaughnessy'ed and is now cleaning stables at some monastary in Tibet

  • Posted by: - May. 03, 2005 2:57 PM ET USA

    There's probably some type of limit on how many responses a reader can give, but if justice demands it, my pick for this task is: Fr Paul Shaughnessy, SJ. Elevate him to a Bishop's office and let things report to him. He seemed to have the right idea in his article, and his appointment would certainly make seminarians cry the way that Cardinal Pell did to seminarians in Australia. The perfect man to begin a Vale of Tears.

  • Posted by: - May. 03, 2005 2:47 PM ET USA

    "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." There's the money shot. We're immune from criticism because you can't criticize who appointed us. I'm no Porphyry or Isagoge, but even I can see a "Non Sequitur" in Peter Kreeft's Socratic Logic page 92. At leat make us *work* to find these!

  • Posted by: - May. 03, 2005 2:36 PM ET USA

    "I am aware that you have been critical" There's an eerie sentence. Hope he hasn't had much practice writing this circumlocution.

  • Posted by: - May. 03, 2005 2:27 PM ET USA

    I'm no artillery officer, but Archbishop O'Brien is teetering perilously close to being labelled "Captain Dunsel". I saw that on a Star Trek episode (1960's baseball shirt editon) rather than in the field. I'm on the verge of using unparliamentary language myself. However, if he chooses to fire back, I think he'll find that Uncle Di and his host of nephews and nieces on this blog are less understated in their use of metaphor. I'll stay with "less understated in their use of metaphor." For now.

  • Posted by: - May. 03, 2005 2:12 PM ET USA

    Many shots fired across the bow in a uniformly negative response...Who, then, would be a fitting candidate to direct the seminary visitations?

  • Posted by: - May. 03, 2005 1:26 PM ET USA

    With an angry "rally 'round the bishops" letter to the First Things editor from His Excellency to a rather mild, sardonic article by Father Neuhaus, I don't have much faith in the Archbishop opening a critical eye to the situation in seminaries. With some singular exceptions, so many of our bishops are like bishops in almost any denomination, at best passive bench-warmers, at worst, moral dangers to themselves and others.

  • Posted by: extremeCatholic - May. 03, 2005 1:12 PM ET USA

    "service to the conference" vs. "bankrupt diocese" -- what a peculiar set of priorities Archbishop O'Brien has. How does a "responsible" bishop bankrupt his diocese? What, then, would an "irresponsible" bishop do? In fact, there's nothing in Archbishop O'Brien's letter that addresses any of the substance of the criticism of the bishops. It's a pathetic "How Dare You" appealing to a episcopal deference in matters of trust which the bishops self-destructed in the scandal.

  • Posted by: - May. 03, 2005 11:52 AM ET USA

    Too much optimism over Benedict's self-characterized "short reign" is an understandable phenomenon. Neither the MSM nor the pervasive Lavendar institution would allow the MSM-sensitive Vatican to undertake the required cleansing of the priesthood. With the filthy Fifth Column of "allies" such as McCarrick, O'Brien and Flynn undermining the Holy Father, how can he possibly strike a hard blow in defense of holiness? Even our beloved Diogenes cannot steel Benedict's heart, I'm afraid.

  • Posted by: - May. 03, 2005 11:47 AM ET USA

    It's interesting to see the Archbishop express his agreement with Fr. Neuhaus in such a subtle manner: that is, by presenting counter-arguments obviously weaker than the paper they're written on.

  • Posted by: - May. 03, 2005 11:29 AM ET USA

    Neuhaus "imitating the secular press"- That's rich! Diogenes' presentiment is almost spooky. Again we have the episcopal hair trigger at any hint of criticism when it comes from the most faithful, most vigorous, most apostolic. The Conference Club still don't get it. Catholics fired them as authoritative leaders awhile back. Let's hope and pray for more bishops (like Chaput) to reclaim their own teaching authority and push beyond the lethargic "process" model and take action .

  • Posted by: - May. 03, 2005 10:41 AM ET USA

    Watching the summer grass grow will be more interesting and informative than than all the time, money and ink wasted on the upcoming seminary visitation.