If you’re up on the news this morning you’ve heard that the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops went against
Gerald F. Kicanas, who came to Tucson to lead the diocese’s 350,000 Catholics nearly 10 years ago, received 111 votes to the 128 votes received by New York Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan. The Times called it a “surprise pick” and labeled Kicanas as representing the “more liberal ‘social justice’ tradition of the American Church.” Normally, I think New York Times reporter Laurie Goodstein is spot-on on her reporting, and maybe she’ll fill out the piece more as the day goes on, but right now it is in great need of some nuance. Let Godblogging supply just a tad.
First, Kicanas is about as “liberal” as I am pope. He’s a moderate that leans slightly right. Trust me, I used to write for the Catholic paper here, and as a columnist, my views were moderate and leaning slightly left. I’ve spent plenty of time chatting with him about various issues and more times than not, Kicanas sides with (or at least gives in to) the more “conservative” wing of the Church.
Second, saying that a Bishop who supports the Church’s longheld teaching on sheltering the homeless, feeding the hungry and welcoming the immigrant is “liberal” is just poor reporting. Kicanas is right down the middle on that one; simply because some conservatives see abortion as more important than other forms of social justice doesn’t mean other forms of social justice are liberal – or, God forbid, less.
Let’s give Kicanas the liberal test: Does he support women’s ordination? Nope. Optional celibacy for priests? Nope. Married clergy? Nope. Ordaining openly gay men? Nope. Does he fight abortion? Yes. Does he fight euthanasia? Yes. Does he fight war? yes. He is, in other words, pro-life, not just anti-abortion, and sits – for the most part – squarely in the moderate middle, for which many a Tucson Catholic is grateful.
But because he doesn’t fall off the cliff and refuse communion to politicians who support abortion rights, apparently some in the conference think he’s too liberal. That and the fact that groups like BishopsAccountability.org reared their heads and brought up the one thing they could find on Kicanas – that he approved the ordination of a man whom BishopsAccountability.org says Kicanas knew molested a minor. Kicanas denies knowing about the minor and knowing Kicanas – and having held him over a hot iron as a pretty aggressive reporter myself – I’m certain he didn’t. Did he make a stupid decision (as so many priests in leadership did 20 years ago) in allowing a guy was caught having sex with other seminarians to stay in the seminary? I’d say yes. But you know what, then I’d be accused of being biased against homosexuals in the priesthood. You can’t win for losing with that one.
But I digress. Point is, the conference may or may not have wanted to have the whole sex scandal brought up again and that may be why they voted for Dolan (although he’s obviously not clean as a whistle in that area either). But more likely than not, this vote has to do with abortion, homosexuality and politics. Kicanas has not refused communion to politicians who say they support legalized abortion rights in some form or fashion, unlike other bishops who have said they would deny communion to such politicians. Ditto for politicians who are out and proud with support of same-sex marriage.
I’m fairly certain that if a group of let’s-abort-all-the-babies-we-can politicians showed up at the Cathedral en masse to make a statement by trying to receive communion, Kicanas would deny them. He would not be denying them because they were pro-abortion rights politicians, per se, but because they were showing up to mock the sacrament.
Some may say that a politician who supports abortion rights (or, the other bugaboo in the Bishops’ Conference, same-sex marriage) is mocking the sacrament. Yet, that is not the case. One can personally be against an evil and still think there is another way to end it other than ONLY through legislation. (Yes, really, people can think this.) In the end, the receipt of communion is between every individual and God. Period. Kicanas gets that. Apparently, the Bishops’ Conference – full of completely sin-free men, no doubt – doesn’t.