Those following the blog know that we have had the pleasure of comments by Boston Archdiocese Vicar General, Fr. Richard Erikson and a request for dialogue. A post by Paul Melanson at La Salette Journey entitled, “Constructive Criticism or Condemnation” prompted us to now tell you exactly what has resulted from our interaction with him. Today’s blog was written last night and in our review queue ready for posting when we received an email back from the Vicar General first thing this morning. Advance apologies for the level of detail. Grab a cup of iced tea, iced coffee, or lemonade and read on.
When Fr. Richard Erikson was first named Vicar General in 2006, we were impressed by his background—former St. John’s Seminary instructor, and U.S. Air Force Lt. Col and chaplain for seven years who had been deployed to Ballad, Iraq to minister to injured soldiers at the center of the insurgency and most attacked sector in Iraq for a 40-day tour. What was not to like about this person coming back to Boston? But, now four years later, well, we’ll just say something about being in the Boston archdiocesan hierarchy must get to people and wear them out after a while.
On June 24, we wrote criticizing how Fr. Bryan Hehir helped reinforce a “wound to Catholic unity” by praising the Catholic Health Association’s leadership as they celebrated the passage of CHA-backed “Obamacare.” Hehir also suggested the CHA’s voice in the debate carried equal weight to that of the Catholic Bishops, and our post prompted a response from the Vicar General, who said our blog posts were disrespectful, inappropriate, and inaccurate in criticizing Fr. Hehir. Here is Fr. Erikson’s original public comment:
To the author(s) of this blog:
You have made many statements and assertions in the text of your blog that call for comment and engagement by the leadership of the Archdiocese of Boston. We are open to entering into serious and sincere discourse with individuals who have the confidence to identify themselves and engage in civil discourse with respect for all individuals involved. Such has not been the case with your blog. We have reached out to you before. I am reaching out to you again. You do not identify yourselves and you regularly engage in disrespectful, discourteous and inaccurate attacks including consistently inappropriate and cruel disparagement of Fr. J. Bryan Hehir. Should you be interested in coming forward for thoughtful and respectful conversation on issues that matter to you, we would be happy to reciprocate such courtesy.
Fr. Richard Erikson
Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia
We responded back immediately on the blog asking that Fr. Erikson “let us know any specific points or things we have posted here that you, Fr. Hehir, or the Archdiocese believe are factually incorrect…if there are any factual inaccuracies, they will be immediately corrected. Almost always when we ask this question, it turns out that there was not a factual error, but instead it was a complaint that the actual actions or words of the person described in the blog didn’t look so good presented publicly along with a logical interpretation of those facts.” We didn’t hear back, so we wrote Fr. Erikson an email. Here are excerpts:
As you know, the Bryan Hehir Exposed bloggers and others have sent you or copied you on well over a dozen messages at this email address, and we never received any response other than one short acknowledgment message from your secretary.
Fr. Hehir went on a string of public speaking engagements where he said or failed to say things that objectively undermined the Church. Recent examples: His comments about conscience protections for Catholic healthcare workers at a BC forum, his comments on WBUR about the Hingham situation that contradicted the Cardinal, his recent comments at the CHA. The issues we have raised are not “our” issues—they are issues for all Catholics, and in the absence of the archdiocese doing anything to correct Fr. Hehir’s statements and ensure he no longer is spreading inaccurate views, we had to say something. What we have posted is factually correct–and if there are errors in the facts, just let us know. It is also factually correct that he has been distorting and misrepresenting the truths of the faith and Church doctrine for nearly 40 years, and we are tired of letting this happen with no one in the church correcting it and preventing further scandal and confusion to the Catholic community at large. For the sake of our children and grandchildren, we are trying to help an Archdiocese–which many say is at the point of imploding–to uphold the fundamental truths of the faith. We are doing what we are doing because you guys seem increasingly incapable of doing this yourselves and have left a void. Six weeks have passed (actually eight weeks now) since Fr. Hehir publicly contradicted the Cardinal’s version of what is happening with Catholic schools in a situation with national visibility (that could affect Catholic education across the country for generations in the future), and archdiocesan officials have said NOTHING publicly. Are meetings being held to formulate a policy on whether to admit children of gay parents? If so, who is involved and what is happening?
If you and the Cardinal exercise strong leadership and ensure that the truths of the faith are taught and communicated in-season and out-of-season instead of letting the likes of Jack Connors, the Chancellor, Bryan Hehir, Neil Finnegan, and others who dissent from the faith (often publicly) run things, then we would have nothing to write about and the blog would fade away. Instead, all we see is the Cardinal blogging about his travels, places he goes, people he sees, looking more and more like an absentee archbishop. It is his responsibility to teach, sanctify, and govern. A huge number of priests, chancery workers, and laity are frustrated with the leadership void and see things in the Archdiocese getting worse and worse. Are you upset with us because we are simply blogging what is obvious and it’s troubling because we are exposing it publicly? Do you plan to do anything about the legitimate issues we have raised for the sake of millions of Catholics and their salvation? Or is the hope to just stop us from exposing the issues publicly as we have?
Fr. Erikson wrote back saying he did not wish to engage in an email conversations with people who remained anonymous, and said he welcomed the opportunity to meet with us. A few days later, on July 6, we wrote back:
We hope you had an enjoyable July 4 holiday weekend. The blogging team has discussed your offer to meet. We have several questions before agreeing to a meeting:
- What are your specific objectives for the meeting, and what would you propose as agenda topics?
- Who from the archdiocese would be present? Will anyone in a position to address the issues we have raised be in attendance?
- Since the issues raised on the blog have been brought up previously to Cardinal O’Malley and others over several years with no action ever taken, what is it about a meeting with you and your staff that will result in something different happening? If you have not yet seen the comments posted in follow-up of your original comment, we invite you to review those at: https://bryanhehirexposed.wordpress.com/2010/07/02/greatest-danger-to-church-is-internal-pollution/https://bryanhehirexposed.wordpress.com/2010/06/24/fr-bryan-hehir-wounds-catholic-unity-by-undermining-u-s-bishops-on-healthcare/
In case it was not clear to you and others, the key reason that we have remained anonymous up to now is because this archdiocese has a well-established history in recent years of retaliating against people and trying to silence them.
If the objectives in a meeting are primarily to identify the bloggers and extended team and have a meet-and-greet dialogue with years more of inaction on the fundamental concerns, then we’re sure you would agree it’s not worth it for our entire team to trek into Braintree and your staff to stay after hours to meet. Please let us know your thoughts on the above when you have the opportunity to respond.
Sincerely in Christ,
The Bryan Hehir Exposed team
We heard nothing back until this morning, but more on that in a moment.
We have known and continue to know that we are on solid ground with our blog posts and criticism. Paul Melanson’s excellent commentary “Constructive Criticism or Condemnation” puts it all in perspective and further explains the basis for what we are doing here. Here are some excerpts, but you should really read the whole post:
It is most significant that the Vicar General, Father Richard Erikson, doesn’t provide any specific examples of posts which he feels were “disrespectful, inappropriate and inaccurate.” For this would suggest a certain dishonesty on his part. It is important, especially for Christians, to be truthful in every communication. This because it is only by testifying to the truth that Christians can spread the truth of the Gospel and do their part to build up the Kingdom of God.
I suspect the Vicar General is confusing criticism with condemnation. Dr. Montague Brown explains the difference between the two nicely: “Criticism is the honest appraisal of the value of ideas or actions…Pursued in the right spirit, it is a positive undertaking whose purpose is to gain an accurate understanding for the sake of growing in wisdom and virtue….Condemnation goes beyond evaluation of an idea or action to a declaration of the worthlessness of a human being. It is never fair and is a wholly negative judgment, referring only to weaknesses. Because condemnation is unreasonable, it serves no purpose in our quest for wisdom and virtue.” (The One-Minute Philosopher, pp. 28,29).
Since Father Erikson has asserted that criticism of Father Bryan Hehir has moved beyond criticism and into condemnation, the burden is on him to demonstrate how this is so. Thus far, he has failed to do so. At any rate, the Code of Canon Law is clear:
ß2 Christ’s faithful are at liberty to make known their needs, especially their spiritual needs, and their wishes to the Pastors of the Church.
ß3 They have the right, indeed at times the duty, in keeping with their knowledge, competence and position, to manifest to the sacred Pastors their views on matters which concern the good of the Church. They have the right also to make their views known to others of Christ’s faithful, but in doing so they must always respect the integrity of faith and morals….
So, to readers of the blog and to Fr. Erikson and others in the Archdiocese, we hope it’s been clear and it remains clear that we are merely exercising our canonical right to make our views and needs known that relate to the good of the Catholic Church. And we are offering fraternal correction along the way as we are also called.
This morning we got an email from the Vicar General, just after we had given up on hearing back from him. He said nothing of a private nature that was not said publicly in his prior post, so here it is:
The objective of the meeting is to have a frank conversation about what is the best way to serve Christ and His Church. I believe there is much on your blog that is untrue and harmful to individuals and to the Body of Christ. I know of your convictions based on what you write in the blog. I hope our conversation would give you a broader frame of reference for future blog entries. I anticipate Fr. Hehir, myself and, perhaps, one or two of my colleagues from the Pastoral Center being present for this meeting.
We have promised our readers an update for a while, so now you have it. We appreciate the outreach from the Vicar General and opportunity for face-to-face dialogue with him and with Fr. Hehir, and have not yet decided on how to respond. We do pray that we can best serve Christ and His Church, so it is positive that we are in agreement on the end goal. Since starting this blog, we have heard from bishops, priests, laity, and well-known theologians who all say what we are doing is valuable, much needed, and is indeed serving Christ and the goo0d of the Church. But, the continuing statements that the blog has much “that is untrue” have not been backed with any examples, despite our asking several times. (Just for clarity’s sake, we will re-state and re-present the key facts in as objective a way as we can in the next weeks worth of posts.) In the end, it seems like the goal of a meeting is simply for them to educate us (without acknowledgment of the objective facts and truths we have presented), and for us to then moderate and tone-down legitimate, canonically-authorized and requested criticism–without the Archdiocese doing anything to address the concerns fundamental to faithful Catholics.
Readers, what do you think?