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opinion/commentary View Comments

Troubling Process
By Kevin Clarke
Source: America magazine
Published: Tuesday, December 7, 2010
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While New Yorkers can be gratified to see the U.S.C.C.B. presidency make a turn toward the northeast—and we at America can only be delighted that a friend of the House and contributor has been selected to head the conference (best wishes and congrats, Archbishop Tim Dolan)—I can’t help but feel a little sorry about the shabby treatment experienced by Tucson Bishop Gerald Kicanas. Surely after a lifetime of service to the church he deserved better than this.

The audacious campaign against him in the weeks leading up to the usually pro forma U.S.C.C.B. election had the disquieting appearance of a classic Lee Atwater/Karl Rovian takedown, as the Tucson bishop was forced suddenly to defend himself against charges of poor oversight decades ago as rector of the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Mundelein Seminary. The preposterous argument was that Kicanas would have a difficult time serving as president since he would be distracted by media attention to his 1992 decision to allow a seminarian in his charge, Daniel McCormack, to continue through to ordination. Kicanas ably defended himself against these charges, of course only after they had made it into print and done the damage they were intended to do to his reputation and opportunity for U.S.C.C.B. advancement. They appear to be without merit but more to the point, if the criteria for elevation to the U.S.C.C.B. high office will now be an absolutely spotless record on the sex abuse crisis, it may prove difficult to find anyone to stand for presidency in the future.

And why didn’t such scruples about background emerge before regarding other church figures who had a hand in the McCormack affair? Kicanas is not the only official with much to answer for regarding McCormack, who as a priest molested a number of children unlucky enough to be left in his care. The obvious answer is that Kicanas detractors were flinging whatever mud they could find at a bishop they deemed insufficiently confrontational; the sex abuse material proved the most toxic and “sticky.”

Adding to the hypocrisy and cynicism of the character assassination endured by Kicanas was one of its more surprising sources: the National Catholic Register. One wishes the Register had been equally as aggressive in reporting on the jaw-dropping parade of scandal and pathology within the high offices of its patron, the Legionaries of Christ, and its founder Marcial Maciel, a “priest” who stands alone in the pantheon of clerical depravity. The Register’s sudden attentiveness to the crisis of the clerical abuse of children is welcome, even as it deployment to degrade Kicanas's candidacy invites skepticism. One looks forward to more institutionally restorative exposés from the Register on the problem in the future.

The bottom line: Kicanas was outmaneuvered and humiliated by folks who thought his pastoral style deficient and social agenda suspect. The gloating and celebration among self-described orthodox media voices and their chortling site visitors only adds to the general unpleasantness. It is hard to know how to respond to these goading displays and partisan strategies that seem directly lifted from political playbooks, but deeply out of place in dialogue with people who are part of one’s own church community.

Kicanas's only true heterodoxy, even in analysis of the people who torpedoed his candidacy, appears to be his position on immigration reform (BTW: that of the U.S. bishops) and his lack of enthusiasm for using the Eucharist as a cudgel. Of course, his actual positions hardly matter to a lot of these folks since “lefty” Catholics such as Kicanas are not part of the “authentic” Catholic church, as they continue to pound down new fenceposts and shovel embattlements around it. Their eagerness for the coming de-evangelization of the American branch of our Catholic family is personally depressing and probably a little heretical. Gerald Kicanas and his good name have become the latest collateral damage in this sorry campaign.


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Martyrdom of John the Baptist: The drunken oath of a king with a shallow sense of honor, a seductive dance and the hateful heart of a queen combined to bring about the martyrdom of John the Baptist. The greatest of prophets suffered the fate of so many Old Testament prophets before him: rejection and martyrdom. The “voice crying in the desert” did not hesitate to accuse the guilty, did not hesitate to speak the truth. But why? What possesses a man that he would give up his very life? 
<p>This great religious reformer was sent by God to prepare the people for the Messiah. His vocation was one of selfless giving. The only power that he claimed was the Spirit of Yahweh. “I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11). Scripture tells us that many people followed John looking to him for hope, perhaps in anticipation of some great messianic power. John never allowed himself the false honor of receiving these people for his own glory. He knew his calling was one of preparation. When the time came, he led his disciples to Jesus: “The next day John was there again with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God.’ The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus” (John 1:35-37). It is John the Baptist who has pointed the way to Christ. John’s life and death were a giving over of self for God and other people. His simple style of life was one of complete detachment from earthly possessions. His heart was centered on God and the call that he heard from the Spirit of God speaking to his heart. Confident of God’s grace, he had the courage to speak words of condemnation or repentance, of salvation.</p> American Catholic Blog Just as my children become members of my family when I bring them into the world, so too our baptism incorporates us into the family of the Church. This supernatural membership prevents us from being orphans who have to fend for themselves in the spiritual wilderness.

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