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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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Apollonia: The persecution of Christians began in Alexandria during the reign of the Emperor Philip. The first victim of the pagan mob was an old man named Metrius, who was tortured and then stoned to death. The second person who refused to worship their false idols was a Christian woman named Quinta. Her words infuriated the mob and she was scourged and stoned. 
<p>While most of the Christians were fleeing the city, abandoning all their worldly possessions, an old deaconess, Apollonia, was seized. The crowds beat her, knocking out all of her teeth. Then they lit a large fire and threatened to throw her in it if she did not curse her God. She begged them to wait a moment, acting as if she was considering their requests. Instead, she jumped willingly into the flames and so suffered martyrdom.</p><p>There were many churches and altars dedicated to her. Apollonia is the patroness of dentists, and people suffering from toothache and other dental diseases often ask her intercession. She is pictured with a pair of pincers holding a tooth or with a golden tooth suspended from her necklace. St. Augustine explained her voluntary martyrdom as a special inspiration of the Holy Spirit, since no one is allowed to cause his or her own death.</p> American Catholic Blog We can find Christ among the despised, voiceless, and forgotten of the world. We have to move beyond that which we wish to ignore and forget about: embrace the seemingly un-embraceable, love the unlovable, and dare to know what we most fear and wish to leave unknowable.

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