On July 15, a birthday will be celebrated that has been awaited by local Catholics with as much anticipation as Christmas. On that day, Charles Grahmann will turn 75. By long-standing protocol, he will offer his resignation as bishop of Dallas to the Holy See.
But before anyone pops a champagne cork, I must report—it is my duty—that there is little likelihood he will step down this year. That’s the bad news. The good news is that he will be replaced sooner than he expects.
Rome has been embarrassed by the good bishop four times. The Rudy Kos verdict in 1997, of course, leveled against the Church the largest judgment ever against a diocese. In 2002, the Dallas Morning News called for the bishop’s resignation when he refused to dismiss Rev. Ramon Alvarez, rector of the bishop’s own cathedral, for sexual misconduct. (Alvarez abruptly resigned this April; no reason given.) In 2003, after even more embarrassments, a large and formidable lay group made national headlines by petitioning the Holy See for his removal. Then last year, there was the district attorney’s investigation. It’s not for nothing that the authoritative Belief.net named Grahmann one of the 10 worst bishops in the United States.
But more discomforting to Rome than even those public disasters was the bishop’s refusal to resign when a coadjutor bishop was appointed in 1999. Coadjutor bishops are named as successors to the sitting bishop. Church historian Rev. Thomas Reese believes Grahmann is the only bishop in U.S. history to have stonewalled his replacement. Such bad manners left Pope John Paul II with only two choices: send in a special squad of Swiss Guards with a wrench and a pulley, or let nature take its course.
Now, of course, there’s a new pope, and the bishop thinks his personal relationship with the pontiff will give him extra time. However, the new pope has moved expeditiously in replacing bishops. There are currently only seven recent vacancies out of 317 diocese.
Not only is he moving quickly, but Pope Benedict also seems to be paying close attention to the character and quality of the men he appoints as shepherds of his flock. The reign of goofballs, thumb-suckers, and brown-nosers finally may be coming to an end. One very encouraging sign, in the final days of John Paul II, was the selection of Jose Gomez as archbishop of San Antonio last year. Gomez was ordained as an Opus Dei priest after secular training as an accountant. The new archbishop is by all accounts orthodox, open, and competent. By virtue of his position in the elder see of San Antonio, he also has oversight of Dallas. That means he will have a say—one hopes an important say—in who the next bishop of Dallas will be.
I have one request of the archbishop and his Roman brothers. Choose a Dallas priest. Dallas has never had a bishop from Dallas. The elevation of a forceful, orthodox, and demonstrably competent local pastor to the episcopal chair would do wonders for morale. The Church in Dallas has grown tremendously—and suffered grievously. Now is the time for our good brothers in the faith to part the clouds and let in a little sunshine.
Miserere nobis. Have mercy on us.