Irreconcilable Differences with the USCCB Bureaucracy
When Will the Faithful U.S. Bishops Ask for a Divorce?
by Mary Ann Kreitzer
Faithful Catholics following the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB) over the years wonder if the organization represents the views of the bishops – at least the orthodox bishops. The number of scandals emanating from the bishops’ bureaucracy is shocking! Truth and error cannot happily coincide. When the truth unites itself to the lie, it becomes a lie. So what is the proper response to the USCCB’s cooperation with evil? It may be the same one taken by another group in the Church – faithful vowed religious women who chose divorce rather than continue the connection to their sisters of the lie. Can the USCCB be reformed or should those bishops who love the truth separate themselves from what has become an evil bureaucracy undermining the Church? The precedent for such a divorce is found in the divorce of traditional religious orders of women from the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR). About fifteen years ago they decided to withdraw and form their own conference. Perhaps it is time for faithful bishops who adhere to the truth to imitate them and divorce the USCCB which has become little more than a mouthpiece for liberalism and dissent.
In many respects the current situation at the USCCB resembles what happened to the conference of women religious. In 1992 the orthodox nuns abandoned the LCWR. Its leadership and the majority of orders had increasingly distanced themselves from the doctrines of the Church and from the pope and magisterium. LCWR drifted more and more into leftwing political and feminist radicalism. Donna Steichen described it well in her 1991 book Ungodly Rage. After Vatican II, “LCWR encouraged the exodus from traditional apostolates, and initiated or supported many of the organizations and coalitions formed to hasten the radical ‘renewal’ of its members.”1 Not only did LCWR endorse the Equal Rights Amendment, they worked actively within the Church for its passage. They became advocates for women’s ordination, feminist translations of Scripture, and feminist spirituality including earth and goddess worship.
The group also became practically an arm of the most radical element of the Democratic Party inviting pro-abortion speakers to address them, engaging in leftist lobbying, and networking with pro-abortion secular organizations. Sr. Donna Quinn who recently made the news for serving as a deathscort at a Chicago area abortion mill is described by Steichen as forming a nuns’ lobby group “to harry the bishops” at their spring 1977 meeting.2 These feminist nuns successfully convinced the bishops to promote “women’s issues.” Their agenda, however, reflected only feminist concerns. Mothers agonizing over the loss of faith among their children and traditional laity and religious devoted to fostering the faith were ignored. Astonishingly, it was the “suffering” of the poor nuns, their grievances over being disenfranchised by a patriarchal Church that attracted the bishops’ attention.
There is little evidence that LCWR has changed over the years. The group still supports radical environmentalism and earth worship and demands empowerment. In 1997 Sr. Sandra Schneiders addressed LCWR saying that, for many nuns, "the God of Christianity seems too small, too violent, and too male; the focus on Jesus Christ seems narrow and exclusive; the resurrection seems mythological if not incredible and, in any case, irrelevant to a world in anguish.”3 Schneiders continues to be an influential voice for dissenting orders in the U.S. and LCWR remains wedded to its rebellious ways serving the politics of the world rather than Holy Mother Church. Today they promote comprehensive health care reform, oppose torture (except for the unborn), endorse blanket amnesty for illegal aliens, and work to reduce carbon footprints. Meanwhile they completely ignore fundamental life issues.
Is it any wonder orthodox orders fled this witches’ den? Traditional congregations, mostly young and vigorous, established a new conference, the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CMSWR) which was approved by the Vatican in 1995. CMSWR promotes the countercultural vision of religious life that fosters wearing the habit as a sign of vocation, the communal life and prayer, Eucharistic worship, and traditional apostolates. Their orders showed wisdom and discernment when they separated themselves from the bad companions in LCWR who had become strange bedfellows. These are the orders thriving and drawing in young women who share their vision.
Which brings us back to the USCCB. One could make a cogent argument that the same thing that happened to the LCWR is happening at the USCCB. The conference has become increasingly problematic in its approach to many issues more aligned with the political left than the Catholic Church. Many departments at the USCCB are mouthpieces for liberalism. Let’s examine a few to see how far astray the organization has gone.
The Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) is so infamous that a brief discussion should suffice. Thirty to fifty percent of the annual grants go to community organizing groups which are mainly networks of Catholic parishes with non-Catholic congregations that support abortion, contraception, same-sex marriage, euthanasia, and other moral evils.4 CCHD funds no direct agencies that actually serve the poor, but focuses on their “empowerment..” In reality, however, CCHD empowers organizations like the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) and the Gamaliel Foundation who are less concerned about the poor than achieving their own goal, power to the organizer. They use their networks to promote many issues that are diametrically opposed to Catholic teaching.
Most of the faithful don’t realize that CCHD also funds educational efforts that work to radicalize Catholics in the pew. “Social justice” trainers use the small group approach to educate participants in “social justice,” then funnel them into local community organizing efforts. But the social justice principles fostered are not those of Pope Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum or Pope John Paul II in Centesimus Annus. Rather they teach “social justice” in the image of the liberation theologians, a philosophy rejected by the Church.
CCHD is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to advancing liberalism at the USCCB. Some of the most problematic departments are involved in communications. For years Catholics have objected to the left-leaning articles published by Catholic News Service (CNS) and their terrible movie reviews. Fawning pieces on pro-abortion politicians are common. Catholic doctrine is usually ignored in articles on controversial issues and the spokesmen quoted often spout the dissenters’ spin. One example, was the article on Obama’s visit to the pope last summer. CNS quoted Patrick Whelan of Catholic Democrats who endorsed Obama’s dishonest abortion reduction strategy using the rationale promoted by Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good (CACG). His position was no surprise; Whelan was a signer of the Catholics United letter endorsing radical pro-abort Kathleen Sibelius to head Health and Human Services. He is also featured on the CACG blog. So CNS gave credibility to a man working with two George Soros-funded Catholic front groups to undermine the faith. CNS articles on Ted Kennedy’s funeral were primarily puff pieces and, while his pro-abortion record was mentioned in passing, it was overshadowed by praise from people like Cardinal Roger Mahony and Fr. William Byron, S.J. both Catholic liberals. You can tell a lot about a news outlet by whom they choose to quote and CNS regularly is a megaphone for dissent.
The only word one can use about CNS movie reviews is shameless. If it’s about homosexuality, a favorable review is pre-ordained. Brokeback Mountain, the story of two homosexual sheepherders, received an L rating (Limited audience) before the Catholic outcry led to its reclassification as O (morally offensive for all). The reviewer, Harry Forbes, who regularly gushes over outrageous films, removed his name from the amended review.5 Forbes also waxed eloquent over Milk, the biographical film about homosexual San Franciso supervisor Harvey Milk who was murdered in 1978.6
One of the most controversial CNS reviews was Forbes’ enthusiastic endorsement of the anti-Catholic hate film, The Golden Compass, whose evil organizational villain was the “magisterium,” an obvious reference to the leaders of the Church. It created a tsunami of protest that led to its withdrawal, but not before the film company used it to promote the movie. Canon lawyer Pete Vere was quoted by LifeSiteNews saying, "Several bishops have spoken to me about this review and they are horrified at what has been done in their name." Archbishop Raymond Burke then of St. Louis and Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver both publicly condemned the review. Fr. Thomas Euteneuer and other Catholic leaders called for Forbes removal,7 but he remains as CNS lead film critic.
CNS articles and film reviews aren’t the only scandals over communications at the USCCB. Recently, a liberal network, So We Might See (SWMS), contacted the Federal Communications Commission asking for legislation to control “hate speech.” The SWMS coalition includes the USCCB Office of Communications (OC) and bills itself as a “national interfaith coalition for media justice.” In addition to the OC, the coalition includes the United Church of Christ, the National Council of Churches, Disciples of Christ, and several other denominations noted for their liberalism. The USCCB logo is prominently featured on their website. The petition to the FCC specifically targeted Rush Limbaugh and, on other pages of SWMS’s website, they attacked other conservative talk show hosts for their “hate” speech. The petition was signed “by the So We Might See Coalition” which included the bishops’ office.
Angry Catholics responded to this with outrage which led Archbishop Chaput to issue a disclaimer on the part of the bishops. SWMS, he said, had “misrepresented” their position. The USCCB had not signed on to the petition drive. His statement begged the question however. Why are the Catholic bishops networking with liberal churches who oppose central doctrines of the faith who are clearly using the bishops? Obviously SWMS can’t be trusted to tell the truth. Also, besides holding pro-abortion and pro-homosexual positions, these network partners are working to pass Obama’s immoral health care reform package that will mandate abortion funding and force Catholic health care personnel to cooperate with intrinsic evils. Not only that, SWMS is another George Soros-funded initiative. Which leads one to ask why on earth the bishops would join this coalition in the first place? Who authorized the decision? Did the bishops vote on it?
The SWMS fiasco highlights another problem with the bishops’ bureaucracy: attributing actions and documents to the bishops without their vote or even notification. That’s how the infamous 1997 statement, Always Our Children (AOC), on homosexuality was released without the bishops’ knowledge or consent. One of its writers was Fr. James Schexnayder, a notorious dissenter from Church teaching who believes homosexual sex is perfectly fine and frequently lectures to that effect.
The firestorm over AOC led the bishops to require their vote on such documents in the future. The Vatican also mandated changes to AOC which was amended in 1998. It continues, however, to be used by gay groups to advance acceptance of homosexual activity. The evil done in the bishops’ name often outlives their correction. But how did Schexnayder get the assignment to write the document in the first place given his background? It is one more sign of a bureaucracy out of control and filled with moles who do not believe in Church teachings. That can only happen because many of the bishops are derelict in their duty. It also leads one to ask, “Do they really believe?”
Shexnayder is by no means the only dissenter to be supported by the USCCB. The bishops’ National Review Board (NRB) was filled with Catholics working for pro-abortion politicians in 2004. Leon Panetta, Robert Bennet, and Pamela Hayes were all exposed by Catholic World News for their connections and donations to pro-abort democrats.8 (None currently serve.) In 2005, Catholic sources revealed that Teresa Kettlecamp, Director of the Office of Child and Youth Protection, was on the advisory board of The National Center for Women and Policing, a division of the radically pro-abortion Feminist Majority. When her connection was exposed Archbishop Harry Flynn leaped to her defense. Would he have done so if she was an advisor to a KKK project? Kettlekamp continues to head up the child protection office and there is no evidence the bishops subsequently explored her views on abortion. Doesn’t child protection begin in the womb?
The fact is that Catholics in the pew, faithful clergy, and orthodox bishops simply cannot trust the USCCB not to provide cover (and salaries) to dissenters working against the doctrines of the Church. During the 2004 presidential campaign, a USCCB employee told me that dozens of cars in the parking lot sported Kerry bumper stickers. No surprise. One highly placed employee was an out and proud Kerry supporter. Ono Ekeh, program coordinator of the Secretariat for African-American Affairs, was also administrator of the Catholics for Kerry news group. On the website he stated, "John Kerry has recently made it clear that he will not be taking orders from the Vatican and rightly so... Senator Kerry made a prudent decision in rejecting the Vatican's demands. Such a rejection does not mean a lack of respect for the Vatican or the Church's teachings. Rather, it highlights that the man understands that his obligations are primarily to the people his [sic] serves and not the Vatican."9 Such doublespeak illustrates the hypocrisy of liberals working at the USCCB.
One bishops’ document, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, has become a primary reference for justifying Catholics voting for pro-abortion candidates. Last year before the presidential election, Bishop Joseph Martino of Scranton made the news for interrupting a pre-election forum at St. John’s in Honesdale where the USCCB letter was being used to defend voting for pro-aborts. Panel members based their opinion on paragraph 35 which reads, “There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position may decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons. Voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil.” This paragraph, like Cardinal Bernardin’s “seamless garment” rhetoric is commonly used to support voting for even pro-abortion extremists. Bishop Martino, who arrived while panel members were making opening statements, was angry that, while the bishops’ letter was distributed at the forum, his letter on the primacy of the pro-life issue was not. “No USCCB document is relevant in this diocese,” he told the audience. “The USCCB doesn’t speak for me….The only relevant document ... is my letter…..There is one teacher in this diocese, and these points are not debatable.”10 Sadly, this courageous bishop, has since been forced into early retirement. What does that say about the bishops’ good ole boys club?
One could write a book about all the egregious scandals related to the USCCB. But the biggest scandal of all may be that the bishops themselves, for the most part, do nothing about them. Dioceses continue to pour money into this bloated bureaucracy that occupies a multi-story building down the street from the National Shrine in D.C. How many of its hundreds of employees at that site and throughout the country, really embrace the faith? Judging from the on-going scandals, not enough.
In 1992, the orthodox women religious took the courageous step to withdraw from the LCWR despite being in the minority. They decided to stop supporting the majority of women religious who embrace the lunacy of the liberal left. Isn’t there at least a minority of faithful bishops who will imitate their sisters, recognizing the irreconcilable differences between what the Church really stands for and the wicked bureaucracy that claims to speak for them? If the truth is unevenly yoked to the lie, divorce is a natural and healthy choice. Silence and inaction, on the other hand, when it means cooperating with evil is wrong. Let us pray that the good bishops of the United States, few though they may be, recognize that to continue supporting the USCCB makes them complicit in the bureaucracy’s evil agenda. Your Excellencies, it’s time for a divorce. Send the shameless hussy packing. She’s hurting the true bride of Christ.
1 Donna Steichen, Ungodly Rage, Ignatius Press, San Franciso, 1991, p. 286-7.
2 Ibid, p.348.
3 Donna Steichen, The Goddess Project, Catholic Culture Library, 2000.
4 For numerous articles on CCHD see Catholic Media Coalition.
5 John-Henry Weston, USCCB Changes Rating on Brokeback Mountain to Morally Offensive, LifeSiteNews, Dec. 16, 2005.
6 Matthew Hoffman, Movie Reviewer for Catholic Bishops' Conference Praises Homosexualist Film – Again, LifeSiteNews, December 2, 2008.
7 John-Henry Westen, Archbishop Burke Calls USCCB Film Office Review of 'Golden Compass' "Most Defective", LifeSiteNews, December 14, 2007.
8 Catholic World News, 3 Members of Review Board Support Kerry, October 8, 2004.
9 LifeSiteNews, USCCB Employs Kerry Supporter in High-Ranking Position, March 2, 2004.
10 Steve McConnell, Bishop Stresses Abortion View at Political Forum, Wayne Independent, October 20, 2008.
Thank you for your masterly article about the USCCB and the need for another way. I think that regional conferences of bishops have outlived their usefulness (if, indeed there ever was any positive usefulness). And I believe that their faults and potential for dangerous consequences are enormous.
If you ask me, the regional bishops’ conference is a tool of hell.
It lets individual bishops avoid personal responsibility for things they need to be deciding individually – like making sure that heretics and apostates don’t use the Holy Eucharist as an ecclesiastical seal of approval for their actions (“Look, he’s a practicing Catholic. What he says must be OK with the Church, after all!”). What with all of the time-consuming duties a bishop copes with (by choice or just by dint of the nature of the office). It can be tempting to ignore a pressing issue on the basis that the USCCB is working on a grand proclamation on that subject that will somehow answer all questions clearly and authoritatively.
The roar of the crowd in the bishops’ conference often drowns out the lone voice of an individual shepherd who may be insisting on an unpopular but right path. And the group entity dumps lots of peer pressure on individuals or small groups to “go along” and “help get something done.” For example, the opportunity for a few bishops who oppose a trendy but ill-advised liturgical idea to persuade their brothers of the merits of their position before a vote is taken at a USCCB meeting tends to be extremely limited.
The bureaucracy of the bishops’ conference is influential in the process of clerical appointments and advancements. Someone who is not a “team player” in the conference may be at an extreme disadvantage when it comes to being recommended for a vacant see or being transferred effectively into oblivion. Moreover, the laity too often suffer under the leadership (or lack thereof) of men who are placed in dioceses more for their skill at political niceties than their holiness or ability to save souls.
These conferences contribute to the impression that geographical regions of the Church are somehow autonomous, like the organizations comprising the Anglican “Communion.” Sadly, there are Catholic bishops who believe (even if they do not articulate the position) that ours is (or should be) an episcopal church, in which the highest authority is not the Pope. A bishops’ conference is a very useful tool for such as these, in terms of resisting papal authority and pushing agendas that are at odds with stated positions of the Magisterium.
Along the same lines, the regional bishops’ conferences provide a fulcrum for radicals (so-called experts, task forces, sub-committees, etc.) to leverage their new theories of “church” into the local norms, and even into successful conflict with Rome. The revolutionaries (lay and clerical alike) know how to use the recent Vatican soft-spot for “collegiality” to win battles like girl altar boys, Communion on the hand and so on.
Most Catholics have a vague understanding, at best, of the degree of authoritative weight to be given to any particular announcement or document from the bishops’ conference. Often a document prepared by a department comprised of non-bishop staffers will be issued and publicized as though it were an official pronouncement, binding upon all Catholics. Often the document is completely without any real authority, but the Catholic in the pew has no way to know this, and unscrupulous folks freely exploit that ignorance (“Oh, we did that to the altar because “Environment and Art in Catholic Worship” said that we should.”)
Pope John Paul II tried to address some of the pernicious aspects of bishops’ conferences with Apostolos suos, but the tide he was fighting against was enormous, and is constantly increasing. Most of what he said fell on the willfully deaf ears of those he was patiently trying to persuade.
The ongoing bureaucratization of the Church outside the Curia goes much wider and deeper than just the bishops’ conferences. More and more I’m convinced that the average big-city chancery bureaucracy is a labyrinthine hall of mirrors, where you can’t tell for sure who can be trusted, who’s pushing an agenda and willing to use people in the process, and who is only in it for the gratification of their worldly desires. The more that bishops, especially metropolitans, must devote their time to preparing and attending bishops’ conference meetings and other non-local activities, the less able they are to mind their own business. A new bishop is appointed to a see like New York or Boston, and chances are he is from somewhere far away with little or no knowledge of the “lay of the land” in his new diocese. He doesn’t know who the power centers are, who can be trusted, who can get things done, who is really holy and whether anyone fits into two or more of these categories. More importantly, he doesn’t know where the land mines are buried, unless someone tells him or he knows ahead of time whom to interrogate.
This is my pleas to the bishops. If the job of a bishop is too big for one man to do it, then for the sake of the Church, nurture vocations, raise up good priests and consecrate auxiliary bishops to take some of the load. Don’t palm off Episcopal duties to lay (or even ordained) staff, departments or conferences. The shepherd of souls (and no one else) is personally responsible for each one of the souls in his flock. The job is hard, and it’s not intended to be a cushy sinecure or “plum.” And if it isn’t hard, you haven’t started doing it yet. Your number one task is to get people into Heaven, not end poverty, abolish nuclear weapons, become popular with politicians or academics, see your name mentioned favorably in the secular press, or create the workers’ paradise. And if you can’t submit to the Holy Father, please go somewhere else. Most of all, take your cues from the Good Shepherd and act like Him. There’s a saying attributed to St. John Chrysostom (though I’ve never personally verified the source) that “[t]he floor of Hell is paved with the skulls of bishops.” It’s a statement of just how hard a job it is, and the enormous consequences for not doing it well.
Those are my thoughts, for whatever they may be worth. We must seek out the good bishops, to praise and support them, and to learn from them. But we have to pray for all of the bishops, for their sake and our own.