The Bishops according to Bill

William Donohue, the outspoken head of the right-tilting Catholic League, has a neat thumbnail sketch of the politics of the bishops conference. It is contained in an email message he sent to USNews’ Dan Gilgoff, apropos of Dan’s post arguing that “the silent majority of U.S. Catholic bishops are embarrassed by conservative bishops’ outspokeness on developments like President Obama’s recent Notre Dame address.” Donohue writes:


The real story here is not that most [bishops] said nothing, it’s about the 80 or so who spoke out. In my 16 years in this job, I have never seen that many bishops go public about an issue like this. In any event, from my perspective, we have more bishops willing to speak out now on matters that conservative Catholics want them to address than we’ve seen in a very, very long time. The ’60s was a decade in transition, the ’70s and ’80s were ruled by liberal bishops, the ’90s was a decade in transition, and now it’s the conservative bishops who are leading the flock.

That’s about as pithy and political–and politically correct, in the sense that it’s a right-on analysis–as it gets. Whether those conservative bishops are leading the flock, or even the hierarchy, is an open question, I’d say.


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posted June 22, 2009 at 3:41 pm

Is it accurate analysis? I have no idea. Mr. Donohue doesn’t have a particularly good track record, his recent attacks on the Irish government for doing a thorough job of research on the mistreatment of children who were the responsibility of the Irish government shows that he doesn’t always pay attention to what has happened before he speaks up.
Does the fact that some conservative Bishops are willing to speak up in an intramural battle with Notre Dame really tell us anything? There have been battles between bishops and colleges for decades. The unusual results here were that other bishops felt that they were free to second-guess the university and, to an extent, its bishop, while ignoring the indifference of their laity to their pronouncements.

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posted June 22, 2009 at 6:02 pm

Donohue is probably more correct than not in terms of the number of bishop’s who spoke out against Obama at Notre Dame. I’m not sure we should be surprised. We’ve had conservative Popes for a very long time now and I presume they have been influencing heirarchy selection. The bottom-line, however, is that given by both Freelunch and Mr. Gibson. The flock that the conservative bishops are leading are a relative small percentage of their total flock. Recent polls, like the Gallup poll in April, show that most Catholics support abortion in some form. Most Catholics support Obama.

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Frank Clyburn

posted June 22, 2009 at 6:56 pm

Many Catholics are Christian in name only in this progressive “modern” world. I think that all Bishops should speak out on the issue of saving our unborn children! It seems to me that any Christian who really believes in Christ and partakes of the sacred bread and blood called Communion would.

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posted June 22, 2009 at 8:02 pm

How come ONLY 80 bishops spoke out? What about the others? Do they agree? Do they disagree? The US episcopacy has a definite image problem (viz. pederasty) and yet it cannot get its act together enough to speak out as a unified group, one way or the other?

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posted June 22, 2009 at 9:37 pm

The best priest I ever had the honor of knowing once said, after I jokingly offered to put in a good word for him for the seat of Bishop, “God forbid, then there is no way I could do my work.” It took me years to really understand that statement. But I get it.

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posted June 23, 2009 at 12:29 am

If the 70-80 bishops thought they had won at ND you would have heard bragging at their meeting.. A silent locker room means the team knows they lost..

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posted June 23, 2009 at 7:38 am

The problem with being identified as either conservative or liberal usually means that the positions adopted leave no room to find common ground to work from. The 80 bishops who opposed President Obama’s visit to Notre Dame were silent when speakers in the past had views in opposition to Catholic teaching. Where was their outrage then? Their hypocrisy created huge divisions in the American Church.
It is possible to find common ground without compromising on matters of faith. In doing so, it is then possible to engage in a dialogue which will result in growth for parties on both sides of an argument. Not doing so leads to polarization and entrenchment where the victim is progress and true spiritual growth. When will both conservatives and liberals be able to admit that neither side has all the answers?

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Bob Nunz

posted June 23, 2009 at 1:16 pm

It should be noted that ND just met its huge fund raising goal early. Obviously, folks are not upset with ND. The Bishops meeting was at best desultory on dealing with issues of a Church deeply divided.
William Donahue is a partisan in the divide and does little except preach to his choir -he also continues to be more of the problem and not the answer.

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posted June 23, 2009 at 4:15 pm

I don’t understand why individuals unwilling to follow the teachings of the Catholic want to dictate their views to the Church why don’t they join another Church.

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Jim McCrea

posted June 23, 2009 at 6:11 pm

Which teachings, Carl: those about Creed? Code? Cult?
The church has to realize that not very many members anymore qualify as “sheep”, bleating to be told what, when, where, how and (rarely) why to do things. Most are as educated and intelligent as many members of the clergy, including the bishops.
People will follow teachings that are compellingly taught and sensibly relevant. The church’s stand on abortion is an abysmal failure because while the hierarchy are convinced that their arguments are persuasive, most of the world (including many Catholics) do not find those arguments compelling. As such, these teachings are, at best, given lip-service and, in reality, ignored.
A good teach is also a good listener. The hierarchy, if they ever knew this, have long-since forgotten it. Until they learn that ordination does not ipso facto impart wisdom and knowledge on everythings, they will remain increasingly irrelevant in the lives of so many of the Catholics who are willing to stick around … a number becomeing smaller by a ratio of 4 leavers to 1 joiner each year.

The problem of clericalism is composed of several problems. It is the problem of a caste that arrogates to itself undue authority, that makes unwarranted claims to wisdom, even to having a monopoly on understanding the mind of God. The consequence is the great weakening of the Church by denigrating or excluding the many gifts of the Spirit present in the people who are the Church. The problem of clericalism arises when ‘the church’ acts in indifference, or even contempt, toward the people who are the Church.”
Richard J. Neuhaus, June 1989.

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