Why Won’t This Bishop Go?

He reneged on a deal to resign. He stiff-armed the bishop sent to replace him. Now he says the News is trying to run the Church. For the good of the diocese, this prelate should pack his bags.

AS A CATHOLIC, I HAVE WATCHED WITH sadness the deteriorating morale of the Dallas diocese under Bishop Charles Grahmann (pictured at a confirmation on p. 59). The crisis that has engulfed the Church in the United States began with the largest jury award in Dallas County history—against our bishop. The drumbeat of bad news that began here doesn’t seem likely to end soon. Commenting on the continuing disarray, in November the Dallas Morning News called for the bishop’s resignation. His response, through a house organ called the Texas Catholic, has been to berate anyone who agrees with the News, based not on any refutation of its arguments but on the premise that the News, as a secular organization, has no business telling the Church how it should be run.

I beg to differ with the bishop’s assessment. He is not from Dallas, so he may be unaware of the history of his own diocese. Perhaps it would be helpful to shed a little light on it.

When the first bishop of Dallas arrived in 1891, he was greeted at the train station by a group that included the two senior pastors in town and a prominent Catholic layman named James Moroney.

The Moroney name would be associated with the Church for the next century, but never more urgently than in the 1920s. By that time, Moroney’s son had married a daughter of G.B. Dealey, publisher of the News. This was a dangerous era, when the Ku Klux Klan, riding a tide of anti-Catholic nativism, had become a potent political force in the South and the Midwest. Alone among the major newspapers in Texas, the News fought the Klan, debunking its nativist claims in editorial after editorial. Klan terrorists took their revenge by hijacking trucks carrying newsprint to the paper and beating the drivers. They firebombed the News building. The newspaper almost was driven out of business. But it didn’t relent, and the issue came to a head with the election of 1924.

As it happens, the lore of that election has been passed down in my own, mostly Protestant, family. On the Sunday before the vote, the News ran a front-page editorial pleading with its readers to defy the Klan and to reject its message of hate. As happened all over Texas, that morning white-robed Klansmen marched down the center aisle of the First Methodist Church in Corsicana to deliver the Klan’s get-out-the-vote message. My father was 9 years old, sitting with his five brothers and sisters and his parents in the Allison family pew. He had watched his father read the newspaper that morning and frown. Now he saw his father stand up and motion to the family to do the same. Behind his parents and siblings, my father walked out of the church his father had helped found. The entire congregation followed. Two days later at the polls, the Klan lost every race.

The bishop would have us think the News is part of a secular media opposed to the Church’s mission. But that’s not the case, as the bishop knows full well. On the day before the editorial calling for his resignation, News publisher Jim Moroney, great-grandson of the Moroney who met that train in 1891, visited the bishop and presented the paper’s case face-to-face. In the same issue of Texas Catholic that denounced the News, a separate story announced the donation of a new 49-bell carillon by another publisher of the News, Jim Moroney’s father, who is leading the campaign for the renovation of the bishop’s own cathedral. That cathedral might not exist, and Dallas might not even have a bishop, if a Moroney had not been here to raise the money for it, to campaign for it, to protect it, to fight for it.

But that’s not all to the story. In 1997, when a Dallas jury ruled against the diocese in the first sexual abuse case, the bishop announced he intended to appeal. That would have been a disaster. I went to the elder Jim Moroney to sound an alarm. He not only agreed with me, but also helped form an ad hoc committee. The committee met with the bishop and presented these facts: 1) There would be no appeal. 2) The lawyer who had bungled the case by taking it to trial in the first place, Randy Mathis, would be fired. 3) Monsignor Robert Rehkemper, who had publicly blamed the parents of the molested children, would be removed as pastor of All Saints parish. 4) When the dust had settled, the bishop would quietly step down.

His back to the wall, the bishop seemed to accede. He quashed the appeal, sent Msgr. Rehkemper to the hinterlands, and appointed Haynes & Boone to negotiate a settlement. The announcement of Bishop Joseph Galante as his co-adjutor seemed to pave the way for the final resolution.

But the bishop reneged. Once the heat was off, he decided to stay. He has now announced that he plans to hold on to his office four more years, until he reaches mandatory retirement age.

According to the bishop’s logic, I shouldn’t comment on this matter because D Magazine has no right to tell the Church what to do. So I won’t. Instead, I’ll advise my fellow Catholics what to do. Give your money to organizations like the Catholic Foundation, Catholic Charities, and the St. Vincent de Paul Society, which are independent of the diocese but faithful to the Church. Do not give money that will go to pay legal bills and cover up continuing blunders.

If the bishop thinks he can run this diocese by himself, let him try.

NOTE: To follow the controversy over the possible schism of the Catholic Bishop of Dallas, see the links below:

www.dallasnews.com/opinion/editorials/stories/111602dnedicatholiccrisis.139a1.html
www.dallasnews.com/religion/catholic/stories/012603dnprobishop.61a4c.html
www.cathdal.org/Bishop’s%20most%20recent%20statement.pdf
www.dallasnews.com/religion/stories/013103dnmetbishop.88f940c.html
www.dallasnews.com/opinion/viewpoints/stories/021303dnediallison.555e6.html