Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

The USCCB: News from the Front

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Nov 16, 2010

I was reluctant to go beyond expressing a simple hope that Bishop Gerald Kicanas would be passed over for President of the USCCB. After all, there has been nothing but confusion surrounding the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) in Chicago since I boldly predicted that Fr. Larry Dowling’s protests wouldn’t influence Cardinal George, so I'm viewing limbs with renewed suspicion. But I'm happy to note that, in a dramatic protocol shift, USCCB Vice President Kicanas has in fact been passed over, and Archbishop Timothy Dolan was elected President instead.

This is important. As everyone knows by now, Bishop Kicanas had not only permitted—with full knowledge— the ordination of an actively homosexual seminarian (who lost all semblance of sexual control when drinking), but he continues to defend that decision even after this same priest has been convicted of multiple accounts of molesting boys. His sympathy toward homosexuality in the priesthood is so obvious that he was endorsed by the Rainbow Sash Movement.

It takes a lot to make the bishops break precedent within their club. It is encouraging to know that this, at least, was sufficient.

Meanwhile, it appears that the Chicago CCHD is changing again despite my prediction (Ecclesiastical Sea Change), but it is not at all clear that it is changing in an unCatholic way. It is not unCatholic for the Chicago CCHD to return to the CCHD’s tradition of funding only self-help programs in which the recipient organizations are composed primarily of those in need; this simply recognizes as worthwhile the defined purposes of the CCHD.

The key to making the CCHD right morally has never been to change its purpose. The key has been to put award decisions in the hands of people who care deeply enough about the full range of Catholic teaching—especially on the particularly neuralgic points afflicting our culture—to make sure that organizations which undermine Catholic values are not selected. An important prudential point, of course, is also to select self-help programs that actually make a difference in the long run. The moral effort (and the pragmatic discernment, too) has been far too weak in the past, and the needed reforms are still in progress.

But the USCCB has begun the necessary reform, and its departure from protocol in avoiding the leadership of Bishop Kicanas is another indication that the USCCB itself is changing for the better, even if its operations are not perfect. It is not unreasonable on its face for Chicago to once again work more closely with the USCCB in its implementation of the CCHD, since the USCCB has just implemented new measures to restore the CCHD’s moral integrity.

The proof of the pudding will be in the future grant recipients, so we’ll have to wait and see. But on the whole I believe our troops are advancing, and our generals are getting better.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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  • Posted by: - Nov. 17, 2010 5:36 PM ET USA

    CCHD has 2 basic problems: it funds non-Catholic organizations as if Catholic ones were in no need of more money; and it supports the ideological left, which is inherently anti-Catholic.

  • Posted by: - Nov. 16, 2010 11:22 PM ET USA

    CCHD's problem is more basic. CCHD sponsors community-organizing projects that aim for the "modification of existing laws and/or policies": that is, organizing to lobby government. This is the lay sphere of prudential political activism, and while the particular lobbying may be perfectly just, it should not be an activity of the bishops' conference, and should not be funded from a collection taken in church. CCHD needs to be separated from the USCCB -- perhaps endorsed by it, but separate.

  • Posted by: - Nov. 16, 2010 4:36 PM ET USA

    There is much good about the elections of Abps. Dolan and Kurtz. First, they're really capable guys. But more importantly their fellow bishops finally seem prepared to question their protocols about how they deal with one another (no more nod to one camp followed by a nod to another) and to pay heed to how their decisions in these settings are interpreted by the broader public. It's not "just about them" and their relations with each other any more.