Sunday, April 26, 2015

Coming and Going

Archbishop Cordileone celebrating
Mass in the usus antiquior 

Recently over a hundred prominent San Francisco area Catholics published an open letter to Pope Francis petitioning “Holy Father, please provide us with a leader true to our values and your namesake.  Please replace Archbishop Cordileone.”  The letter was signed by leading lay Catholics from the worlds of philanthropy, business, law, civil service, and education. 
Signers complained that the Archbishop is very much out of touch with his flock and is not providing the sort of leadership requisite to his office as he does not know “who the bedrock of the San Francisco Catholic community is.”  The signers also charge that the Archbishop is responsible for “an atmosphere of division and intolerance.”  The loss of confidence in Cordileone’s leadership is not related to a single issue but has been building ever since he was named to the See.  Nevertheless, San Francisco being, well, San Francisco, his attempts to impose a “morality clause” on diocesan employees, including teachers in the Catholic schools that requires not only their adherence to Catholic doctrine but conforming their lives to Catholic sexual ethics has met with considerable resistance.  Later the Archbishop supported local pastor, the Reverend Joseph Illo, in banning girls from serving at the altar during liturgical services at the Star of the Sea parish where Illo is pastor.  Father Illo also distributed a pamphlet to young students listing potential sins including masturbation, sexual acts, abortion, and sterilization.  The pamphlet, designed to help individuals examine their consciences prior to confessing their sins, was deemed by many parents not to be age appropriate to their children.  Illo, a priest of the Stockton Diocese, transferred to San Francisco in hopes of beginning “an Oratory.”  The Oratorians are communities of secular priests who live together in a scholarly and gentlemanly way and generally sponsor churches where there is a revival of the pre-Vatican II liturgy done with great splendor. 
Jesuit Father James Martin, on the editorial staff of America magazine, said that such petitions to remove bishops have not been uncommon over the past few decades but neither have they been effective.  What is interesting in this particular situation, however, is that this past week Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City MO, has “resigned” under pressure from the Vatican.  Bishop Finn had been found guilty of sheltering from legal proceedings a priest whom the Bishop knew to have been guilty of child pornography.  Strangely enough, under Missouri law, that is only a misdemeanor, but a Vatican investigation determined that Finn could no longer function effectively as the spiritual leader of Catholics in the 27 counties of western and north-western Missouri. The question will be does Cordileone have the confidence of his flock to lead.  Conservative Catholics have started a push-back campaign to support Archbishop Cordileone.
Like Finn, Cordileone has a misdemeanor in his background—Cordileone’s for a 2012 driving under the influence (of alcohol) charge.  Perhaps more interesting, both Finn and Cordileone are protégés of Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke who remains a Cardinal in good standing but certainly a prelate in bad odor in Pope Francis’ Rome.  In other words, Cordileone, like Finn, lacks a mediatrix of needed grace at a time most needed. 
Meanwhile, priests and people in the Southern Chile Diocese Osorno continue to protest the installation of Monsignor Juan Barros Madrid as local bishop.  Pope Francis appointed Barros despite the claims of three men that Barros had been present when they had been sexually molested by Barros’ friend Fernando Karadima in the 1980’s and 90’s. Barros denies knowledge of Karadima’s sexual abuse of the men. Although criminal charges against Karadima were dropped due to the statute of limitations, after investigation the Vatican stripped Karadima of his priestly status.  Barros had served as a chaplain to the Chilean military before being named bishop. 
So where will it all end.  It is anyone’s guess, of course, but I will be very surprised if any action is take against Archbishop Cordileone.  It would be a bad precedent to act on a public petition, especially one signed by only one hundred people and a somewhat self-selected group at that. On the other hand, the effort launched by conservative Catholics to support the Archbishop might in turn trigger a more popular response.  There is no doubt that if push were to come to shove, Cordileone would lack the support of the majority of Catholics in his Archdiocese.  This is not only due to his princely ways and dogmatic leadership.  Frankly, many American bishops could not win the support of the majority of their flocks.  People may not mount petitions or get out and demonstrate, but despite the great popularity of Pope Francis, and the loyalty that most give to their local parishes, Americans rarely get much positive energy about their bishops.  At the end of the day, American Catholics are (culturally) Protestants and have never understood the Catholic structure.  While the Popes, even the less popular ones like Pope Benedict, remain a strong symbol of our being Catholic, we really tend to congregationalism and somewhat resent a prelate who usually does not know us well interfering with our parishes and, even more perhaps, taking a percentage of our parish funds for his causes.  Given the size of American dioceses, a parish might only see a bishop once or twice in a year and then in a highly ritualized context.  As long as they are dignitaries they can’t function effectively as pastors.  The fact that so many appointed over the last thirty-some years were chosen not for their pastoral style but for their canon-law ability has not helped their estimation in the eyes of the rank and file.  In Cordileone’s case—as in Finn’s—their penchant for “rings and things and buttons and bows” has certainly not helped them establish the sort of genuine rapport that a few of their predecessors in the episcopal dignity—people like Bernard Topel or Tom Gumbleton or Ken Untener—were able to accomplish.  Archbishop Cordileone is particularly ill-suited for the Church of San Francisco yet I doubt that he will be removed.  On the other hand, as long as Francis is Pope, I don’t expect he will be upwardly mobile either.  But then, Francis is old and Cordileone is still young so que sera, sera.  


  1. Such initiatives are, as you note, rarely successful. Apart from the Finn debacle, I only recall the Martino resignation in Scranton as a probable response to protests from clergy and laity, but one never really knows how these things come about. What interests me in the Cordileone case is how he and Finn are theological and pastoral compatriots, the only real difference being the latter's role in a sex abuse case for which he was (probably) forced out. Apart from that, the descriptions of their episcopal style and their views on a range of issues are virtually the same -- as can be said about a number of other pre-Francis types like Matano in Rochester, Morlino in Madison, and Sartain in Seattle. It seems that no matter how much of a disaster these Burke proteges turn out to be and no matter how much damage they do, it takes an ecclesiastical tsunami to flush them out.

  2. I suppose Cardinal Law's resignation from Boston is unique, or nearly so; but the letter signed by some 60 of his priests asking for his resignation surely helped to bring it about, or at least to bring it about more quickly.

  3. well, I suppose you have a point but I think it was Law's arrogance and the consequent disaster it caused more than a letter from the priests. The letter the New York clergy sent to Rome over the late Cardinal Egan didn't result in any public action against him. I believe the clergy of Venice FL made a complaint about Bishop Dewane and he is still sitting pretty--though the word is he has come somewhat more down to earth. While I don't want to see a recall process in the Church, there needs to be some sort of way to address grievances. so we will see with Cordileone but I don't think this will be his undoing.