Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Tone Deaf Bishops and Swan Songs of a Dying Newspaper

First, let me say that I am no fan of Governor Chris Christie.  I mean I was impressed by his “Good of New Jersey trumps Republican Party Interests” in the whole Sandy debacle, but at the end of the day I am a Democrat and am interested in what the labor unions, the police and fire, the teachers, and the guy down the street have at interest.  And Christie is a Republican—he doesn’t represent the interests of the proletariat.  I mean I would love to have a beer and a brat with him and am sure I would like him just fine for company, but he won’t get my vote.
I am also no fan of Archbishop John Myers of Newark.  I knew Myers when he was Bishop of Peoria.  I liked him.  I knew him to be a kind man, overly pious to my taste and without a surplus of intelligence, but an approachable enough fellow—for a bishop that is.  Not great social skills but a certain self-conscious awkwardness that I found authentic.   I was surprised when he was translated to Newark.  I remember the (I think it was 1991) Time Magazine interview where he declared “Rome has bigger things in mind for me than Peoria.”  You might as well go ahead and buy your cemetery plot at Peoria Gardens when you say that.  But somehow, he slipped the cords of rural Illinois and sits enthroned in the mighty Cathedral-Basilica of the Sacred Heart in downtown Newark NJ.  I should not  be surprised.  Myers was—quite against the current fashion of Pope Francis—a relentless climber who glad-handed his way through the Sacred College and through every dicastery in the Roman Curia.  Andrew Greeley spoofed him as the dumb-as-shi* auxiliary aspiring to the See of Chicago in The Bishop and the Missing L Train. Cardinal Bernardin used to tell anecdotes about a famous faux-pas of Myer’s secretary when he betrayed Myer’s conviction that he would come to Chicago to “clean up Bernardin’s  mess.”  Socially awkward  but not without chutzpah.
Once in Newark Myers has been somewhat of a non-entity.  He has had some health problems, but more seriously is that he was totally outclassed by what I have always seen to be the most remarkable presbyterate on the East Coast. 
The Archdiocese of Newark maintains Seton Hall University and so has always sent a number of its priests on for graduate work—principally in theology but also in secular fields.  This cadre of degreed priests has acted as a leaven as friendships and classmate networks have sparked conversations and debates that have made the Newark clergy—by and large, not universally—a pretty sharp and savvy crowd and which has overflowed into some really marvelous parishes.  Good things are happening there independent of Episcopal leadership and so Episcopal leadership, or let’s say Arch-episcopal leadership, became somewhat irrelevant to the day to day life of the Church.
Myers made some mistakes—as all bishops, even the best—do.  A particularly distressing one was how he handled the case of one Michael Fugee, a priest accused of fondling a young man.  The legal complexities of how the case unfolded in the courts left things somewhat ambiguous and in the end Fugee was not removed from ministry although, in an agreement with the prosecutor, he was prohibited from working with youth.  The supervision was lacking however, Fugee transgressed the legal boundaries placed on him, and the Bergen Record, a local newspaper sounded the tocsin last year and raised quite an anti-Myers sentiment among even the more devout members of the faithful.  Myers, to distance himself from the problem, did not take the blame but threw his Vicar General under the bus, earning the resentment of the clergy and the contempt of the faithful.  It was clear to Rome that the time had come for Myers to go.
Rome does not remove bishops except for heresy or personal gross conduct.  What Rome does with its velvet glove is to appoint a “coadjutor” bishop or, in the case of Newark, Archbishop, who will share the duties of the Diocesan administration.   It is a clear sign for the incumbent to pack his bags and move on—slowly so as to save face—but with due haste. 
Myers has chosen to ignore his coadjutor, Archbishop Bernard Hebda.   The auxiliary bishops have more responsibilities than the coadjutor.  Myers has no intention of packing up his pallium and moving aside.
This isn’t to say that Myers isn’t thinking of retirement.  He is expanding his weekend country retreat from a 4500 square foot bungalow to a 7500 square foot cottage.  When completed—architectural fees paid, furnishings in—it will cost over a million dollars.  This isn’t the Pope Francis style, but Myers has never been one to downplay the dignity of an Archbishop, even the Archbishop of a poverty-ridden city like Newark. 
Well the Bergen Record is beating the tocsin again.  Leftie Catholics of my Woodstock Generation are banding together to resist giving to Catholic Charities—you know the strategy, “we can’t hit Myers directly, but we can hurt the poor and feel good about it.”  Archbishop Hebda, good guy that he is, tried to defend Myers, and now the Record is tar- and-feathering him, saying that he is as tone-deaf to his flock as Myers. 
Well, speaking of tones.  Let’s look at the Records’s tune from another angle.  I am no fan of Myers.  I could care less about his house.  I would just like to see him retire.  I would make a contribution towards a sofa or a chair in his house if he would just go away.  But this isn’t about Myers any more than the Record’s blowing up the Bridgegate issue was about Christie.  It is about the Record.  A local rag that fewer and fewer people are reading.  Let’s face it.  I read the Times and the Washington Post.  There ain’t much out there worth reading beyond them.  We all have alternate sources for our news today.  The print media will survive—the best ones—but the Record, and hundreds of papers like it, are in their death throws.   So going after Myers and Christie can sell some copies and keep the death agony going a week or two longer, but frankly I won’t miss the Record any more than I will miss His Grace, John Joseph Myers, aka Farmer John.  In fact, I will remember that Myers is a good man, though in over his talents, while I will remember the Record as little more than a cheap rag that I read to keep abreast of the death notices. 

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