From: Randy Engel, Director of the U.S. Coalition for Life
To: U.S. Pro-Life Community
Date: September 11, 2006
Subject: Bishop Sklba Responds to the Fisher/ Brickner Controversy

This is a follow-up memo from the U.S. Coalition for Life to the September 2005 e-mail alert concerning the issuance of an ecstatic, unqualified eulogy by Dr. Eugene Fisher, Associate Director of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, issued on September 2, 2005, in which Fisher praised the life and work of Rabbi Balfour Brickner — a pro-abortion and pro-homosexual activist and blasphemer of Our Lady.

Thanks to all those who took the time out to write letters of protest to the USCCB Administrative Board and to the bishops who are members or consultors for the Bishops' Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs and other members of the U.S. hierarchy. The fact that the bishops on the Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs were forced to confront the issue at their November annual meeting in Washington D.C. demonstrates that your efforts were worthwhile. We especially appreciate the fact that a large number of pro-life and Catholic websites carried the USCL memo thus keeping the issue alive and insuring the continuation of letters to American bishops well into the new year.

The original USCL memo on the Fisher/Brickner debacle was sent on September 10, 2005. It is now February 11, 2006. Six months after the fact, the USCL is able to present you with a follow-up response from the new Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

On February 6, 2006, after several weeks of inadvertent phone-tag between Randy Engel, Director of the USCL and Bishop Richard J. Sklba, Auxiliary Bishop of Milwaukee who took over the Chairmanship of the Bishops' Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the USCCB in November 2005 from Bishop Stephen Blaire of the Diocese of Stockton, Calif., the USCL received a response to the Fisher/Brickner controversy. Bishop Sklba was very cordial, but explained that his time was short as he was on his way to a pre-scheduled meeting.

The following letter has been forwarded to Bishop Sklba with copies to the members of the Secretariat and Bishops' Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, and Archbishop Pietro Sambi, Apostolic Delegate to the U.S. in Washington, D.C. If you duplicate or post this communication, please do so in its entirety.

Most Reverend Richard J. Sklba
Auxiliary Bishop of Milwaukee
Chairman, USCCB Committee for
Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs
2491 N. Murray Ave.
Milwaukee, WI 53211

February 10, 2006

Dear Bishop Sklba,

Thank you for cordial, albeit short, conversation of February 6, 2006 concerning the matter of the USCCB Media release of September 2, 2005 titled "Catholic Official Pays Tribute to the Life of Rabbi Balfour Brickner" written by Dr. Eugene Fisher, Associate Director of the USCCB Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. As far as I am aware, you are the first and only member of Committee to publicly respond to the controversy since it began six months ago. In answer to my question regarding the final outcome of the Fisher/Brickner matter, you explained first that it is a general practice of the Holy See and the USCCB to acknowledge the death of important people in the field of inter-religious affairs regardless of their differences on Church doctrine and morals. You indicated that this was a matter of simple courtesy. You went on to state that neither Dr. Fisher, nor the staff of the Secretariat, nor the bishops serving on the Committee knew of Brickner's past record going back more than thirty years. If they had known, you said, they would have acknowledged this fact in their release of September 2, 2005.

The following is the USCL's final response to the USCCB Media release of September 2, 2005 in praise of the life and work of Rabbi Balfour Brickner, and to your response and explanation as the Chairman of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

Had the official press release of the USCCB Office of Media Relations of September 2, 2005 simply acknowledged the death of Rabbi Brickner with condolences to his family and prayers for his immortal soul there would have been no objections to the statement. However, Dr. Fisher's public eulogy went far beyond any simple statement of courtesy and sympathy. The statement speaks for itself.

Rabbi Balfour Brickner was one of the great leaders of Reform Judaism and one of the greatest American religious leaders of the second half of the twentieth century. He was a man of social vision and moral courage who never backed down from the good fight for the rights of others, whether the cause was civil and religious rights or labor and Jewish-Christian relations. He was a mentor and a guide in these matters not only to many in his own community but equally to many within the Catholic community. As a leader of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (now the Union for Reform Judaism) and the Rabbi Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in New York, he participated in dialogue not only with Catholics in America but also internationally. He was a biblical prophet with a sense of humor. He was, in brief, a mensch. We in the Catholic community involved in interreligious and social work have lost a great friend. And the world has lost one of its most important voices.

May he rest in peace with the Lord, and may his name forever be a blessing.

You indicated that Dr. Fisher and the staff of the Secretariat and the members of the Committee have stated that they had no knowledge of Rabbi Brickner's record of anti-life activities due in part to the fact that his activism extended back at least three or more decades. In fact, Brickner's promotion of abortion and homosexual "rights" extended to the very year of his death in 2005.

In February 2005, just months before he died, Brickner gave a ringing endorsement to Rev. Tom Davis' book Sacred Work - Planned Parenthood and Its Clergy Alliances. Brickner, who had served for most of his clerical career on various boards of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and founded Religious Leaders for a Free Choice, praised the Davis work as one which "puts in proper spiritual context the supportive role of America's mainstream clergy in the struggle for women's reproductive freedom."

How is it possible that any human being, much less a man that Dr. Fisher calls "one of the greatest American religious leaders of the second half of the twentieth century," can support the claim that butchering unborn children is "sacred work"?

Just before the April 25, 2004 March for Women's Lives which took place in Washington, D.C., Brickner told the National Council of Jewish Women gathered in the nation's capitol that the battle for "choice" was a battle against "plain, damn-fool ignorance," and that it was "immoral" to prohibit same-sex marriages.and to deny women health care.

In March 2002 when the Department of Health and Human Services announced that unborn children were eligible for government-subsidized health care, Brickner issued a scathing attack on the Bush Administration for using "alchemy" to turn "a fetus into a child."

In 2000, Brickner helped draft the "Religious Declaration on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing" which upholds and promotes contraception, abortion, population control, and homosexual "rights" including the "right" to "the blessing of same sex unions."

In short, from the start of his rabbinical career until the time of his death on August 29, 2005, Rabbi Brickner was notorious for his outspoken views in favor of abortion and homosexuality.

The real issue is not whether or not Dr. Fisher or other members of the staff of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs knew of Brickner's anti-life positions [which, for the record, I believe they did], but whether or not high-ranking staff members of the USCCB representing the Catholic bishops of America have a right to be so uninformed or misinformed on matters of such critical importance to Catholics and the life of the Church.

It is also a matter of public record that since his early years as a leader of the Reform Jewish Movement, Rabbi Brickner did not hesitate to voice his anti-Catholic opinions.

For example, according to the well-informed Catholic layman Stanford Espedal, in 1952, only one year after the newly ordained rabbi helped found Temple Sinai in Washington D.C., Brickner blasphemed Our Lady and the Virgin Birth.

The incident was recorded by Dr. William F. Beck, a Lutheran Biblical scholar and translator who died in 1966. According to Beck, in 1952 when the Revised Standard Version of the Bible appeared, which translated Isaiah I7:14 as "a young woman shall conceive" (the Septuagint and Vulgate translate, "a Virgin" shall conceive), Brickner, declared, "I am delighted to know that, at last, this great error of translation has finally been corrected and that at least some segments of the Christian world no longer officially maintain that Isaiah 7: 14 is a prediction that Jesus was to be born from the Virgin Mary." Dr. Beck opposed the RSV.

In more recent times, Brickner was quoted by WOMENSENEWS as stating that "The media has played and pandered to the Roman Catholic Community and their position as though it is in some ways definitive toward reproductive choice."

How then, can, as Fisher suggests, Rabbi Brickner be held up as "a mentor" and "a guide" for any Catholic, especially an official representative of the USCCB?

When all is said and done, I believe the real heart of the controversy concerning the publication of the USCCB Office of Media Relations release of September 2, 2005 is not what the staff of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs or the bishops sitting on the Committee knew or did not know about Rabbi Brickner's anti-life advocacy and blasphemy, but what happened AFTER the well-documented facts was brought to their attention by the U.S. Coalition for Life.

Catholic News Service to which all Catholic dioceses in the US subscribe and which has worldwide circulation ran the USCCB's media release on Rabbi Brickner shortly after it was issued. Numerous diocesan papers including the Pittsburgh Catholic and West Nebraska Register picked up the CNS release. However, after being informed of Brickner's notorious history of pro-abortion, pro-homosexual and anti-Catholic statements, a representative of CNS said it was unlikely that the official news organ of American bishops would issue a clarification to the original USCCB release. No clarification was forthcoming.

Despite numerous contacts by the U.S. Coalition for Life and protests from hundreds of concerned Catholics around the country, no bishop sitting on the Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs including your predecessor, Bishop Blaire, Chairman of the Committee, or Bishop William S. Skylstad, President of the USCCB, saw fit to issue a public statement on the matter.

In a conversation I had with Dr. Fisher at the Secretariat in December 2005 following the annual bishops' meeting in Washington D.C., I asked him if any action had been taken against him as a result of the USCL protest. Fisher, a long time staffer at the NCCB/USCC [later USCCB] and the first director of the USCC Secretariat for Catholic-Jewish Relations, said that he was called into a meeting of the members of the Committee, presumably at the November meeting and questioned about the matter and then left. He did not indicate that he was reprimanded in any way or that he considered his job in jeopardy at any time. Although Fisher is a consultant to the Vatican's Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, there is no evidence that the Holy See has seen fit to terminate that relationship.

To go any further with this correspondence would be to beat a dead horse. For all practical purposes the issue is dead. However, it will always remain a permanent blot on the Catholic Church in the United States that no member of the American hierarchy, most especially the members of the Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, has had the moral courage to publicly correct this grievous injustice by the USCCB.

Randy Engel Randy Engel,
U.S. Coalition for Life
Box 315
Export, PA 15632

cc. Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs Members and Consultors Archbishop Pietro Sambi, Apostolic Delegate to the U.S.

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