Yesterday’s defeat of Bishop Gerald Kicanas is a huge win for those of us who feel the time has come to finish unraveling the late Cardinal Bernadin’s and Fr. Bryan Hehir’s “seamless garment” principles. This piece from George Neumayr at Catholic World Report said it well:
In the years following Roe v. Wade, the US bishops debated the place of abortion in their agenda. Cardinal John O’Connor of New York argued for giving primacy to the abortion issue, while Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago wanted abortion integrated into a long and dubious list of “threats to life.” The latter view prevailed in the USCCB, and became known as the “Seamless Garment.” The upset election of New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan to the USCCB presidency over Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, the media-described Bernardin “protégé,” is a posthumous victory of sorts for O’Connor.
Not that the Bernardin Left is now powerless in the Church in America. It retains plenty of influence in chanceries and Catholic classrooms across the country, not to mention—as evidenced by the close vote between Dolan and Kicanas—the episcopate itself. But the “Seamless Garment” bishops are running out of steam, stopped not only by their overtly political liberalism, which looks painfully passé in the light of the Democratic Party’s crack-up and the nation’s changing mood, but also by the moral fallout of their doctrinal liberalism.
Historians will likely note that what ultimately silenced and discredited the “Seamless Garment” bishops was not this or that silly political stance, but the sex abuse scandal. Before it erupted, bishops like Roger Mahony could command an audience on topics like amnesty; after it, their moral authority seemed shot. People were in no mood to be lectured on “justice” from bishops who hadn’t provided any to children in their own dioceses.
The irony of Bishop Kicanas’ defeat is that the fingerprints of dissenters are on the weapon that felled him: members of SNAP—who normally wouldn’t object to a politically liberal, doctrinally vague candidate like Kicanas—broadcast to the press his complicity in ordaining a priest who went on to molest minors. Kicanas’ explanation of the ordination to Tim Drake of the National Catholic Register managed to unite liberals and conservatives against him: SNAP found his refusal to apologize offensive, while his admission that he knew of the candidate’s homosexual experiences and ordained him anyway left conservatives dismayed.
The media casts Kicanas’ defeat and Dolan’s win as a “traditionalist” victory. But that is overstating it. For one thing, Dolan—though he sees himself walking in the footsteps of John O’Connor—is far from a confrontational conservative. According to the media’s telling, the “moderate” lost and the “conservative” won. But it is more accurate to say that the moderate won and the liberal lost. In reality, the immediate outcome of the USCCB election has to do primarily with the slow unraveling of the “Seamless Garment” and the aftershocks of the abuse scandal. Bernardin’s dream of the USCCB as a Vatican-resistant body of progressive political opinions was simply overtaken by the nightmare of clerical corruption.
Do re-read our “Seamless Garment” post that documents Bryan Hehir’s influence on Bernadin’s “seamless garment” if you have forgotten it, including some of the comments like this one from David:
His “seamless garment” approach has not contributed anything positive to the political process. Its’ legacy is that politicians who support abortion might invoke it to rationalize their support of the culture of death. By rejecting the notion that Catholics should adopt a single-issue approach to politics – even when that issue hapens to be abortion – Bernadin effectively undermined the pro-life movement in the United States.
Frankly, Bryan Hehir really has no meaningful job working for the Archdiocese of Boston any more, and we encourage him to take off to Harvard where he can work free from criticism by this blog. He was originally brought here by Cardinal O’Malley to be Secretary of Social Services, which meant, running Catholic Charities of Boston. (That’s what his predecessor, Dr. Joseph Doolin did). Hehir brought in Tiziana Dearing and now he has Debbie Rambo running Catholic Charities, so there is no job there. The Caritas Christi hospitals that he served as the liaison to have been sold off, so he has no work there either. For Hehir to be over the pro-life ministries adds no value and in fact is a scandal.
Fr. Hehir, with all of your speaking engagements around the country, think-tank board memberships, contributions to the left-leaning National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management, teaching responsibilities for 3 classes at Harvard, and who knows what else you are doing, why don’t you stop pretending that you are doing work to build the body of Christ for the Archdiocese of Boston, and instead just head off to Harvard full-time? With the “seamless garment” unraveling at a national level, now would be a perfect time for you to free yourself from criticism by this blog, keep teaching and doing all the other stuff you do, and keep collecting your six-figure salary and vesting in your Harvard pension as you’re doing anyway.
What would it take for you to leave voluntarily?