Friday November 12, 2010

Updated: The Kicanas Conundrum: Catholics Concerned about Likely New U.S. Bishops Head

Update: See follow up National Catholic Register article, Bishop Kicanas Responds

See also I’m thinking of a word that begins with H by By Diogenes

Commentary by Thomas Peters,

November 12, 2010 ( – On the whole, it has been a good couple of years for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

Leading up to the election of President Obama, many bishops, on their own authority, issued letters to Catholics in their diocese, helping them to form a Catholic conscience when voting.

After President Obama was invited to deliver the commencement address at Notre Dame, almost 120 bishops issued statements critical of the decision – an unprecedented national display of their unified prudential opinion.

When the issue of abortion expansion in the Democrats’ health care bill came up recently, the bishops conference as a whole opposed the legislation because of this fatal flaw.

Now, however, I fear all of this progress in promoting vibrant orthodoxy within the bishops conference is threatened by the impending election of Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, AZ as the new President of the USCCB.

Bishop Kicanas has a troubling reputation. The arch-liberal Father Thomas Reese has described Kicanas as “the leading liberal hope” among the progressive wing of the Church. And for this reason (and others noted below) I believe Bishop Kicanas is not the right choice to lead the bishops during these next two critical years.

Tim Drake at the National Catholic Register has already pointed out Kicanas’ vulnerabilities when it comes to his proximity to clergy abuse scandal, a vulnerability the media and enemies of the Church are sure to exploit if he becomes President. This will further weaken the ability of the Church to transcend the demonizing stereotype as a “haven for abusers” that the media continually seeks to perpetuate.

What others have not written about but what I think is important to bring into the mix is the fact that Kicanas has a strong reputation for being a “Bernadin” bishop, in other words, a bishop in the mold of Cardinal Joseph Bernadin, famous for his close allegiance to progressive and liberal ideologies. This is not just a reputation, this is how it appears Bishop Kicanas has intentionally formed his Episcopal priorities since becoming a bishop.

Hilary White has written on Kicanas’ cozy relationship with pro-abortion politicans:

[Bishop Kicanas] specifically singled out Republican Congressman, Jim Kolbe, who, he said, “has been a good and faithful advocate of assistance to lift up the poorest of the poor.”

This “good and faithful” Congressional advocate of the poor and downtrodden is also well liked by American abortion organizations. His voting record on abortion has been rated 100% by the National Abortion Rights Action League for his abortion advocacy, including in foreign aid.

… Bishop Kicanas was praised by the aggressively abortion-supporting Governor of Arizona, Janet Napolitano, for his “softer” approach to pro-abortion politicians using Catholic venues to publicize their positions.

Not surprisingly, the liberal Catholics at Commonweal Magazine and National Catholyc Reporter are adamant supporters of Bishop Kicanas. He is their kind of bishop, indeed probably one of the most liberal bishops in America. And all of this should set off warning alarms for those of us serious about continuing to rebuild orthodoxy in America.

Kicanas is not only personally liberal, he is the rallying point for the left-wing of the Church. Within the bishops conference (echoed again by Fr. Reese), he is seen as the foil to Archbishop Dolan, that charismatic example of joyful orthodoxy. Rocco Palmo reports:

In the runoff [for the Vice-President of the USCCB election], Rome’s most cherished American alum, Archbishop Timothy Dolan, then in Milwaukee — faced Kicanas, the efficient, wonkish, strict vegan protege of the conference’s revered architect, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin. Though the ever-exuberant Dolan walked onto the Floor before the vote surrounded by a horde that memorably resembled a champion entering the ring, a difference of 22 votes (128-106; 55-45%) handed Kicanas the #2 slot.

So much for Kicanas’ reputation – how then do his liberal views play out when it comes to specific, practical questions?

During the previously-mentioned controversy caused by President Obama’s invitation to Notre Dame, Kicanas parted way with dozens upon dozens of his brother bishops who issued statements opposing the invitation. Instead, he chose to play semantics (much like how Notre Dame President Fr. Jenkings chose to respond to criticisms of the University’s move).

Earlier this year, Bishop Kicanas went a step farther: he invited Notre Dame into his diocese to designate three of his diocesan schools as Notre Dame feeders, the first in the country, representing a “significant deepening of the Notre Dame relationship with the Diocese of Tucson.” While the rest of the country has punished Notre Dame’s bottom line since they honored President Obama (to the tune of $120 million in withheld donations), Bishop Kicanas has doubled-down in his support of the institution.

I would argue this example tells us a great deal about how Bishop Kicanas will exert his influence on other controversial questions that are sure to come up in the next two years.

Consider this: one of the most important roles the President of the USCCB serves is to be the spokesperson for the Church to non-Catholics and political leaders. Cardinal George, during his tenure as USCCB President, pulled no punches with President Obama when it came, for instance, to the Church’s fundamental prioritization of defending unborn human life and the institution of natural marriage.

Can we expect Bishop Kicanas to defend the teachings and prerogatives of the Church when they come into conflict with the President and Democrats’ liberal agenda?

Can we expect Bishop Kicanas to come to the aid of brave bishops when they make hard, unpopular choices to defend the teachings of the Church in their diocese, especially when the nation goes back to the polls in 2012 to vote for a President and candidates for the House and Senate? Will Bishop Kicanas see to it that Catholics are not misled when they go to form a Catholic conscience when voting?

I believe that choosing someone else as the next President of the USCCB will send a strong message to those within the Church that continue to pine for the “good ol’ days” of Cardinal Bernardin, and will help put to an end – once and for all – this deplorable habit embraced by some bishops and priests of putting liberal and progressive priorities in front of the commitment they all must have to pursuing the true mission of the Church, in and out of season.

That’s the Kicanas Conundrum.

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