The day that six Protestant leaders issued their statement defending Catholic Bishop Charles Grahmann will be remembered as the day the ecumenical movement finally went too far. I don’t mind people holding hands and singing “Kum-Ba-Ya.” But when they’re issuing preachments against this publisher, it’s time to blow the whistle and stop the guitars.
For those joining the soap opera late: the bishop, I revealed last month, agreed to a series of demands in 1997 from a group of laymen trying to prevent further damage to the Church from the sex-abuse scandal. One of those demands was his resignation. He reneged on that agreement and now denies it was ever made. As the unseemly business has played out on the front pages and on TV in recent weeks, the bishop has stiff-armed the man sent to replace him and rounded up a posse of Protestants to circle the wagons around his beleaguered chancery.
Here’s what they had to say: We deeply regret and challenge the recent unwarranted attacks on churches and religious leaders based on inaccuracy and bias, particularly those on Bishop Charles V. Grahmann.
While it’s nice of these Protestant leaders to set aside all that old Reformation unpleasantness, and while I do appreciate their willingness to help run the Catholic Church, there are a few considerations they seem not to have taken into account. If I didn’t regard their lofty positions with so much respect, I might even think they allowed themselves to be buffaloed.
Their statement, which I’ll hazard to guess they had little hand in writing, fails to cite the examples of inaccuracy and bias that would make attacks unwarranted, and by the very use of the word “unwarranted” leaves open the possibility that some attacks are warranted. (Presumably including those made by Wycliffe, Luther, and Calvin.) If the mismanagement, obliviousness, and deceit that the Catholic Church has suffered in Dallas aren’t enough of a warrant, nothing is. If they are, the Protestant leaders owe an apology to the Catholic laity who are attempting to put our grand old house back in order. They may also want to explain to their own denominations’ laity just whose interests they intended to serve by this statementtheir flocks or a tight clerical fraternity.
I detect a Catholic hand in the drafting of this Protestant statement because the fallacies in thinking are so similar to our bishop’s. His statement, issued on the same day, makes assertions that are breathtaking in their audacity. Let’s start from the beginning:
I deeply regret the decision of certain Catholics to use their positions to take the internal affairs of the Catholic Diocese of Dallas into the public forum. It is my belief that this is an inappropriate use of the media and of their positions.
The bishop believes that the internal affairs of the Church are not to be discussed in public. Considering the disaster he made of the Rudy Kos trial, which was broadcast nightly into Dallas homes, I can understand why. But if the Church’s internal affairs are not to be discussed in public, where should they be discussed? Six years ago, a group of laymen met with the bishop, and, after prolonged negotiation over several weeks, forced him to take actions to save the Church from more shame than he had already caused. He never invited that group back for further discussion. In fact, the meeting itself seems to have embarrassed him more than the trial did.
The reason it embarrasses him is because he doesn’t want fellow prelates to know he caved in. For a man of the temperament and character of this bishop, to be seen losing control is a fate worse than watching one’s Church pilloried on the nightly news.
But it wouldn’t be a drama if there weren’t tension. It’s worth considering the tight spot the bishop finds himself in. He cannot dismiss the role of the laity in the Church publicly, no matter how much he ignores it privately, without contravening one of the chief tenets of Vatican II. The worldwide Council, pushed by a young bishop who would later become John Paul II, spoke emphatically of the role and responsibilities of the laity in the Church. Hence the next sentence: I met with the group at the Tower Club because I value the advice and counsel of the laity. In San Antonio (home of the archbishop and metropolitan), in Washington (home of the papal nuncio), and in Rome (home of everybody else who matters to the bishop), those words will receive a nod of approval. Consulting with the laity is a good thing. Unfortunately, those good gentlemen have no way of knowing that the bishop never does.
He also wants to make it clear that he can’t be pushed around. Unfortunately, recent media reports contain misstatements and factual errors which infer that outside sources can dictate to a bishop how he should govern the church. Among “outside sources” are the very laity whose advice and counsel he only a sentence before valued so highly. But who else do those “outside sources” include? After all, it wasn’t a publisher or any other member of the laity who sent an coadjutor bishop to replace him as bishop of Dallas. Those assignments are made and approved in Rome. So is it the Holy Father himself the bishop is talking about? By his refusal to resign, has the bishop placed himself in schism?
Somehow, I don’t think his Protestant friends can help him out with this one.