Criticism Abounds At Bishops’ Meeting


Criticism Abounds At Bishops’ Meeting


November 23, 1972
(Special to The Wanderer)

ARLINGTON. Va. – The general meeting of the American Bishops, the second one they have held this year, convened at 9:30 a.m., November 13th, in the Marriott “Twin Bridges” Motor Inn, located in Virginia, just across the Potomac from Washington, D.C. The choice of site was dictated by the desire to escape the affluent image conveyed by meeting in luxurious downtown hotels, according to Mr. Russell Shaw, the chief information officer for the Bishops. At last Spring’s meeting, Bishop Thomas Gumbleton created some notice by staying in the local YMCA for the same motive. This year, Bishop Gumbleton is once again staying elsewhere, perhaps because the Marriott, though surely less grand than the Statler Hilton, is a poshy enough place in its own way.

A background press conference was held on the evening of November 12th. Msgr. Colin MacDonald, secretary to the Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Priestly Life and Ministry. Msgr. William Philbin, former secretary to the Permanent Diaconate Committee, Msgr. Olin Murdick, head of the USCC Division of Education, and others were on hand to answer questions. In the course of the evening, three important pieces of information emerged:

1. In response to rumors that Fr. Frank Bonnike, head of the radical National Federation of Priests’ Councils (NFPC), is seeking a job with the Permanent Committee on Priestly Life and Ministry to be formed next year, Msgr. MacDonald stated that he believed Fr. Bonnike “would serve as well as anyone, perhaps better than most, since he knows the needs of priests.” Msgr. MacDonald is probably the key man right now in the whole area of priest-bishop relations. He denied however, that he personally would play any role in making hiring recommendations to the Bishops.

2. The document of Basic Teachings for Religious Education, (formerly known as the Fundamentals of Religious Education), which has been prepared by Archbishop Whealon’s Doctrine Committee to serve as an interim catechetical directory for the United States, will not be voted on by the Bishops at this fall meeting. Rather, it will be voted on by mail over the next few weeks and promulgated as soon as the balloting is finished. Apparently there is no question but that the document will be approved.

3.) No one on the panel was able to answer the question of who actually wrote certain reports contained in the Bishops’ agenda documentation. I was particularly interested in the report of the Committee on Priestly Formation, a twelve-page single-spaced document and one of the worst examples of bureaucratese I ever hope to see. The ideas it put forward concerned the “continuing education of priests” and bore a remarkable resemblance to what the NFPC calls “evaluation.” One passage was particularly outrageous: “(The clergy’s) attitude may have been reinforced by an approach which stressed theology as a study of changeless and eternal truths. Once learned, these were forever unchangingly applicable. Today theology is conscious of its being conditioned by a moment or period of history, and, consequently, is aware that theological reflection on faith and its pastoral implications, is a work never finished.” What is vicious about this passage (apart from bad writing) is that it seems to say that the last sentence is true, whereas the two preceeding sentences contain falsehoods. In fact, all three sentences are true! It is exactly correct to say that theology is the study of changeless truths and it is perfectly consistent to add that theology itself is always changing (though not always for the better). So I naturally wished to know who was responsible for this sloppy, and possibly ill-intentioned, bit of drafting. But, of course, no one knew. The report had been a committee project, with input from nobody knows how many sources, and had been rewritten nobody knows how many times before its final appearance. This is incompetence protected by anonymity.


Two themes seemed dominant in John Cardinal Krol’s televised opening speech to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. One theme was the faith and zeal which he found in the Church in Poland. One sensed that he was holding up the Polish example as a foil for the doubt-ridden Church in America. The other theme was a public defense of the experts and bureaucrats who formed the Bishops’ staff and who, the Cardinal said, “are being subjected to reckless and irresponsible broadsides of criticism in some quarters.”

Such staff workers are not above criticism, the Philadelphia Archbishop continued, but “when criticism becomes exaggerated and unfair, when it is pursued with a viciousness and a vengeance which suggests that the divine law of bearing false witness — of slander and calumny — have been abrogated, then it is incumbent on those responsible for policy within an organization to speak on behalf of the staff. Some of the exaggerated criticism of the staff shows a crass indifference to the common good of the Church and to the efforts of the Conference of Bishops to promote the Kingdom of God.”

The Cardinal did not mention any names of attackers or victims.

It was widely speculated that he may do so at his closing press conference on Friday, November 17th, after the adjournment of the general meeting.

Some have thought that Cardinal Krol’s emphasis on “public” defense of the bureaucracy may have been a hint that he wishes to ward off any public scandal but privately entertains doubts which he will, equally privately, resolve.


Bishop Mark Hurley of Santa Rosa, California, is on the Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, where he serves as moderator for something called the “Secretariat for Human Values.” Despite its unattractive name, this Secretariat has been holding some extremely important conversations of late, on topics of vital concern for all American Catholics — so, at least, the Bishop told his spellbound audience on the first day of the conference.

It turns out that Bishop Hurley has been going around the Country, talking to scientists, Catholic and non-Catholic, about the moral implications of recent scientific and the technological research. The experience is evidently sobering. These scientists are serious men; and, according to Bishop Hurley, they are literally begging for clear moral guidance, as they stand on the brink of a new world of frightening possibilities.

Bishop Hurley called attention to eight areas as demanding urgent moral and theological attention. They were as follows:

  1. atomic, biological, and chemical weapons of warfare;
  2. environmental and “psychological” pollution;
  3. proposals for population control, such as placing contraceptives in the water supply;
  4. psychological and moral damage arising from sensitivity training and encounter sessions (this point raised a storm at the Monday noon press conference. In defense of his charges against sensitivity techniques. Bishop Hurley cited research published recently at Yale by a Professor Gottschalk and a book published this year by Coulson entitled Groups, Gimmicks and Gurus.);
  5. placing electrodes in the brain centers to control human behavior;
  6. immoral use of human beings in hospitals as guinea pigs;
  7. amniocentesis, cloning, test- tube babies, sperm banks, and the technique of deep freezing people alive (the Bishop emphasized that in his conversations with geneticists, he found that the experts had no doubt that the fetus is human from conception);
  8. the threat of electronic spying and the compiling of information about everybody in giant data banks.

Bishop Hurley said that his Secretariat would try to serve as a meeting place for scientists, theologians and Church authorities. In speaking of the need for moral decisions in these areas, the Bishop quoted St. Gregory Nazienzen ( De Ord. Theol., 22): “To form conclusions too quickly is unscientific; to avoid conclusions is atheistic.”

In a peroration which received a great applause, Bishop Hurley rejected both Modernism and Integrism. He said: “We reject Modernism as a heresy of surrender which ‘has seen the human face of the Church but has misconceived her divine nature’ (Suhard). At the same time we reject Integralism, a heresy which makes the Church, because of its transcendence, an out-of-this- world or other-worldly community, divorced from God’s own creation, divorced from history, divorced from the Incarnation.”

Several interesting points were brought out by the Bishops in their discussion of Bishop Hurley’s address. Bishop Andrew Grutka of Gary, Ind , was especially to the point in wondering why the Bishops were not doing more for the Human Life Foundation, which is directed by Edward B. Hanify, a speaker at the last Wanderer Forum.


Bishop Charles Helmsing of Kansas City, Mo., gave a brief report for the Ecumenical Affairs Committee, mentioning that studies on the feasibility of Roman Catholic membership in the National Council of Churches (NCC) were under study. At a subsequent press conference, a reporter from the New Haven Register brought up an interesting point. He informed Bishop Helmsing that many Protestants are eager to have Roman Catholics involved in ecumenical organizations because only the presence of large numbers of Catholics will overcome the in fluence of extreme radicals among the Protestants! Bishop Helmsing was noncommittal in response.


Shortly after Archbishop Daniel Sheehan of Omaha, Nebr., had finished his report of the woes and hopes of the permanent diaconate, Archbishop Timothy Manning of Los Angeles, rose to ask him a question. What, he wondered, does receiving the Order of Deacon contribute to the activities already being performed by these men? What is this diaconate for? His Excellency of Omaha believed that the matter required further study.


Debate on the Bishops’ pastoral letter, To Teach As Jesus Did, and the substantial revising of this now much-face-lifted text are reported elsewhere in this issue. But it is appropriate to make a note here of the doubts circulating as to the precise authority of this text. According to Bishop William McManus, the pastoral is not a collegial document. Cardinal Krol last spring emphasized that very few acts of the National Conference have real juridical authority or collegial character. But since the issuing of a pastoral letter is said to be the most solemn form of communication the American Bishops can make, I made inquiries into its status as a collegial act. The reasons, of course, that it has no such status is the absence of concurrence by the Holy See. In order to be collegial any act must involve a joint action of the Pope and the Bishop(s) in question.

Catechetics authority, Fr. Milan Mikulich of Portland, Ore., has pointed out that the content of this pastoral letter is really what one would expect to find in the programmata on catechetics called for by the General Catechetical Directory. But according to the same Directory, such programmata must be submitted for approval to the Holy See, whereas, of course, a pastoral letter need not be. It seems, therefore, that an ambiguous situation has almost deliberately been created: a document of lesser authority requiring no papal approval, is advancing plans which belong properly to a document of higher authority and requiring papal approval. The net result, according to one well-informed view, is that the new pastoral letter, To Teach As Jesus Did, has less authority than the statement of an individual Bishop in his own Diocese.

Readers of the Wanderer will be pleased to know that Farley Clinton, an expert in the history of Jansenism, deserves a share of the credit for convincing the Bishops to remove a paragraph from the new pastoral. The paragraph contained a reference to man’s creation as “implying” a supernatural fulfillment, an idea which Clinton attacked in a written memorandum to several Bishops as reviving the errors of Michael Baius.


Bishop Raymond Gallagher of Lafayette, Ind., who is retiring this year from the Social Development and World Peace Committee of the USCC, noted in the course of his report that the National Conference of Catholic Charities had reorganized itself so as to provide a representative voice, an assembly which would make statements in defense of the poor and in response to various issues of the day.

Several Bishops expressed grave doubts.

Bishop Guilfoyle, Camden, N.J., raised the possibility that this new representative body of NCCC might take a stand opposed to that of the Church. His fear is grounded, as the reader may recall, in the recent proclamations of the NCCC concerning its future social and political role. The tendency of the NCCC within the past year has been to move away from a Catholic understanding of charity in favor of a Teilhardian view of social development. The theoretical justification of this position was given at the latest NCCC convention by a Fr. Komonchak, an advocate of the so-called theology of liberation. Komonchak’s talk was denounced on the spot by Bishop Gallagher himself.

Joining in the attack, Bishop McNicholas, auxiliary to Cardinal Carberry of St. Louis, emphasized that the traditional charitable activities are as necessary as ever, implying that the NCCC might profitably stick to its business. Whereupon Bishop Szoka, Gaylord, Michigan, revealed that strong opposition to the new (i.e., Teilhardian) directions of NCCC had been voiced in his Diocese, and he questioned whether the leadership of that organization can be as “representative” as it claims to be.


In a series of elections, whose results can at best be called “mixed” the following Bishops have been elected to head committees for the next three years:

  • Bishop William W. Baum, new head of the Committee of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, replacing the very liberal Bishop Charles Helmsing;
  • Bishop Warren L. Boudreaux, Liaison Committee, replacing Archbishop McDonough of Louisville;
  • Bishop Walter W. Curtis, Liturgy Committee, replacing Bishop Malone of Youngstown;
  • Bishop William D. Borders, Education Committee, replacing Auxiliary Bishop William McManus of Chicago.

The two most crucial of these elections were those of Bishops Curtis and Borders. If anyone in the Church in America is more radical on the liturgy question than was the all-permissive Bishop of Youngstown, it is Bishop Curtis of Bridgeport. If anyone in the American hierarchy could be counted on to continue exactly the line taken by Bishop McManus, it is Borders of Orlando. As a well-known Croatian catechetics expert said, “the soup which Bishop McManus has made is the soup which Bishop Borders will stir.”

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