By Charlie Johnston
A week and a half into the accusations leveled by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, some patterns are becoming clear. Vigano and those who support him cite verifiable evidence, facts and timetables. The defenders of the Pope just smear the accusers and try to change the subject. Chicago’s Cardinal Blase Cupich said we don’t have time for this because there is important political work to be done on climate change and immigration. God save us from Bishops who think their primary job is to be junior politicians. The Pope took the opportunity in a homily to explain that Jesus responded to accusations with silence – and then smeared those who ask him to respond to the allegations as people who just want to divide. Well, let’s see, Jesus was accused of things like speaking the beatitudes with authority, performing healing miracles, and intimating that He was the Messiah. The Pope is accused of knowingly promoting and covering for men credibly accused of homosexual molestation, child rape, and creating a culture of assault and oppression. Yeah…all the same thing.
I know that things can sometimes be different than they seem, but unless the Pope and his defenders come up with something besides smears, deflection, and smarmily playing the martyr, I am going to presume the allegations are substantially correct. They actually make sense of a lot of strange things that have been going on at the top levels of the Vatican for some years now.
I was enthused early on about Pope Francis. As I noted, he had the swashbuckling style I had expected of the Pope of the Storm. For the last year and a half, when anyone asks me if I still believe he is the Pope of the Storm, I say that I certainly do, but have no certainty that he is the Pope of the Triumph. I was told that “…the Old World would be re-evangelized from the New World.” I regarded Pope Francis’ as the beginning of the fulfillment of that prophecy. I suppose that if the purpose of him being there was to reveal the rot that has infected the hierarchy, that is true in a way I did not expect…but that is a bit of a reach. I have come to think it more likely that the enshrinement and procession of Our Lady of America is the key to that prophecy and that glorious renewal. Once again, Dan Lynch has been tirelessly promoting her. (He is in the closing stages of his summer funding appeal. If you have a little extra, help him out. He has been a source of hope and fidelity to the faith for many).
For several years now, LifeSite News has been doing great work – reporting both on the life issues and on troubles in the Catholic Church. I do not regret giving things the most innocent construction I could for as long as I could do so in good conscience, but I do want to note that they were accurately describing serious problems two years ago. I have added a link to their site on the menu at the top right of the page. I have also added a link to Dr. Robert Moynihan’s “Inside the Vatican,” the best, most balanced site I have found on the subject. I have subscribed to his newsletter for several years. Unfortunately, there is a lag time between his letters and when they appear on his site. I find the latest letter, #51 (which is not up on the site as of this writing), to be particularly damaging to the Vatican’s stonewall strategy. Some wag said today that, whether on the Potomac or the Tiber, a swamp is a swamp. Yes, indeed, and I want both of them cleaned up.
As much as I want all the swamps cleaned up, I think it a good thing to reflect on some noble shepherds in our Church. Though it is by no means a comprehensive list, I have 17 Bishops in America whose work I am familiar with and who I admire and trust. LifeSite News has launched a bold new project, the website, “Faithful Shepherds.” It tells where each American Bishop stands on nine critical issues – whether they support Church teaching or not. It is a work in progress, but already it has a lot of critical information up. A donation to this site would be a helpful beginning to informing the faithful. Already, it is MUCH more comprehensive than my little list. When it is finished, it will be indispensable to Catholics who are serious about fidelity to the faith.
And now, in alphabetical order, the Bishops in America I most trust:
Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver: It is serendipitous that my own Bishop should be, alphabetically, the first on this list. His homilies are always solid, meaty and orthodox. He is a leader of great courage. When the Supreme Court ruled in favor of gay “marriage,” Aquila did not stick his finger to the wind to see how it was blowing. He issued an energetic defense of marriage and the family just a couple of days after the ruling. A little over two years ago, he organized and led the Jericho March which brought 2,000 people out to march around Planned Parenthood. He is not known for being a back-slapper, but when the faith needs to be defended, you can count on him to be at the front of the line. I pray in thanksgiving for having him as my Bishop, particularly in these times. Of course, he is the Bishop who convened the investigation into me several years ago. At the time, I was followed closely and constantly by a howling mob of critics. The Archdiocesan Board did NOT just listen to the critics’ description of what I said – they actually did the hard work of reading my actual words. They knew I was orthodox and obedient to legitimate authority. But, as with any controversial matter, the easiest course would have been to just shut me up. While putting some very mild restrictions on me, the Archbishop left me free to write and speak on these subjects, while offering some cautionary words. That, in itself, was a courageous decision. It guaranteed the howling mob would keep howling. I sure am glad to live in Denver.
Bishop Robert Baker of Birmingham, Alabama: Bishop Baker was briefly my Bishop – in the year before I set out on my pilgrimage. EWTN is located in his Diocese. I was once a guest at a luncheon at the Cenacalo in Birmingham, a project launched by Baker. It is a residential project to help men who have suffered from addictions to right themselves, to give them a new hope and a new life through Christ. All the men knew Baker, but that was not what most impressed me. Rather, as he walked around the table speaking with each of them, he knew them each by name. It was clear he had spent some time with and personally knew every man at that lunch. I do not expect Baker to lead any large theological charges, but he has become for me the very archetype of a truly pastoral Bishop. I don’t know whether he is an enthusiast for St. John Vianney, but I know that whenever I think of him, I think of Vianney, too.
Cardinal Raymond Burke: What needs to be said? Burke is the very icon of orthodoxy and charity. When, under Pope Benedict, he was the primary mover on the appointment of Bishops in America, we got nothing but solidly orthodox men who lived their faith with fidelity. Burke has lived fidelity to the faith, even as he has been restrained and charitable. If you have not actually read it, read the Dubia he and three other Cardinals submitted to Pope Francis. It was respectful and deferential even as it sought answers that Cardinals of the Church have the solemn right to receive. Then, as now, all the Cardinals who dared ask questions only got scorn and smears, not answers.
Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia: Chaput was the sitting Bishop of Denver when I launched my pilgrimage – and the Bishop who I thought I would be submitting to. He has been the popular and steady voice of orthodoxy in America. He has written several books expounding the faith, each of which are clearly written, simply stated, and filled with solid and hopeful teaching on both doctrine and how to authentically live the faith with fidelity.
Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco: Talk about being in the belly of the beast! Cordileone has done such controversial things in San Francisco as insist that Catholic Schools be faithful to Catholic Doctrine. You should have heard the howls of outrage! He stood his ground. He stands foursquare with Catholic teaching on all issues – most courageously on marriage and the family, and the sanctity of life from conception to natural death. I hope his patron is St. Patrick – for San Francisco is almost as pagan as Ireland was…and there are a lot of snakes to be driven out.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York: I know some will be surprised at this one. Cardinal Dolan made some significant missteps with the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York (the issue being, what else, homosexual activists in the parade). We have a close mutual friend and I have watched Dolan since he was in St. Louis. He is a solidly orthodox Bishop with some rare political skills (which he overestimated on the parade issue). In Vigano’s statement, he said that Pope Francis accepted Cardinal McCarrick’s resignation only because Dolan had forced his hand by announcing that a formal investigation had found credible charges that McCarrick had molested adolescent boys. During the time when he was briefly Archbishop of Milwaukee following the disgraced Bishop Rembert Weakland, Dolan accomplished a lot to rehabilitate that Diocese and seed it with orthodox Priests. He has not quite got his mojo and swagger back, but I am convinced he will – and that he is gutsy and has the heart of a shepherd. He is a gifted and important advocate for orthodoxy. I pray he takes the lessons needed from the purification on the parade and returns to prominence.
Bishop Robert Finn: Finn is the former Bishop of Kansas City, Missouri who was ousted because of his supposed mishandling of an abuse case. I did some investigative reporting because the controversy seemed pretty thin on facts. Finn made a few bobbles, but the reality is that if every abuse case had been handled as he handled it in his Diocese, we would not have a problem, much less a crisis, on our hands. No, Finn’s offense was that he was orthodox. He was getting a large number of vocations, (which always seems to be the case when a Bishop maintains fidelity to the faith). Local pro-abortion politicians, the National Catholic Reporter (NOT the National Catholic Register) and every harbinger of the left was screaming for Finn’s head from the time he arrived. He kept faith. What really frosts me is that, at the same time Pope Francis put a target on Finn’s back, he was allegedly covering for, elevating, and removing sanctions from actual vicious predators in cassocks. I pray that Bishop Finn will fully return to ministry after the Church is cleansed of all this ugliness.
Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles: When Gomez went to LA, he stepped into what I think is the biggest viper pit in the country. For years, homosexual activists held sway over the ordinations office. I sometimes disagree with Gomez on the best way to deal with immigration and the occasional other issue. His heart is true and devoted to the faith, though. We have some close, mutual friends, and I know that, confronted with a staggering mess of disorder, he has focused on developing solidly orthodox Priests through the Seminary. It leaves him open to criticism from some on other areas, but I believe it is a strategy that will pay dividends for LA and all of southern California.
Bishop Emeritus Rene Gracida of Corpus Christi: Regular readers know what a rewarding friendship I have with Gracida. He has become, in these last years, a serious traditionalist. It makes a lot of sense to me that a man who has lived through both eras in the Church would hearken back to the way things were in an earlier, more honest time. I love the rare occasions we get to visit in person, as he is very shrewd and sharp. He challenges, thus refining, my thought processes. Once, while sitting privately with me, he asked my thoughts on a tack he had taken, worrying whether it had been right or not. He misted up with worry over it. He speaks boldly, as a leader should, but I wish all could see how tender his heart is and how very seriously he takes his responsibility to minister to the faithful. When the terrible situation arose with young Joey Cronin years ago, it was Bishop Gracida who verified the facts on the ground, ministered to the family, and helped make sure that hospital did not pull the plug on the young man. It is a source of great joy to have such a friendship at this stage of my life.
Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison, Wisconsin: After the McCarrick Scandal broke, Morlino was one of the first to speak plainly and bluntly on the culture of corruption and decadence that has overtaken a chunk of the hierarchy. He has taken firm leadership – not by any plotting and scheming, but the way it should be done: by speaking and acting boldly and courageously on behalf of doing the right thing and living fidelity to the faith. He is destined for important things in a reformed and renewed Church, largely because he was full-throated on behalf of reform before it was cool. Fr. Richard Heilman, who is leading the charge on the Novena for Our Nation, is a Priest in Morlino’s Diocese. It is no coincidence that God has harnessed these two together in these times.
Archbishop Emeritus John Myers of Newark: When I first heard of the McCarrick scandal I was horrified. You see, I had known Myers 20 years ago when he was the Bishop of Peoria – and we had even collaborated on a few things. He was solidly orthodox and his Diocese produced an amazing number of vocations. In fact, he was often targeted for slurs by the modernist National Catholic Reporter because of his orthodoxy. He was at the heart of developing the Pastoral Provision in America, the protocol for bringing former Anglican Priests into the Catholic Priesthood. I deeply admired him. But as Bishop of Newark, he had to have known about McCarrick. That is what horrified me. I kept my mouth shut. And then, just about a week ago, an acquaintance mentioned quietly that Myers was one of the men who briefed Vigano early on. He tried to expose the rot. I breathed a sigh of relief, for that was the character of the man I knew two decades ago.
Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, KS: Naumann first came to my attention because he was one of the few men of stature who rose to the defense of Bishop Finn, when Finn was being tried for preaching while orthodox. It took guts when a lynch mob of the far left, aided and abetted by modernist clerics was looking for heads to mount on their pikes. I was delighted when, last year, Naumann ran against Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich to head the US Bishops’ pro-life committee. Normally in such a case, other Bishops defer to a Cardinal. That would have been a travesty in this case, for Cupich has been the single, most active Bishop in the country in restricting Priests from participating in pro-life activities and activism. Not only did Naumann do the unthinkable in running against a sitting Cardinal: he won. Naumann walks softly but carries a big stick.
Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix: Olmsted has been a beacon of orthodoxy in the southwestern United States for several years now. I have watched several of his magnificent homilies on video over the years. When the McCarrick Mafia tried to smear Vigano rather than responding to the actual allegations, Olmsted rose quickly to his defense. I have never met Olmsted, but as with all the Bishops I list here, I know some Priests and others under his authority who speak glowingly of his leadership. And ha! If a Priest is a friend of mine, you know he is orthodox.
Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois: Paprocki is one of the most notably outspoken and bluntly orthodox Bishops in the country, both on big things and little. The moment I became enamored of him was shortly after his appointment. More than a few Catholic Churches in central Illinois had succumbed to modernism in Church architecture – and moved the Eucharistic Tabernacle (the place where Christ’s body is stored) to side altars or rooms. Paprocki ordered that the tabernacle be returned to the center of the sanctuary in all Churches in his Diocese. It is the center of worship and that is where it belongs (except in the Cathedral Church in each Diocese, where it is placed in a separate chapel all its own). Paprocki has been involved in a few dust-ups with modernists, both in the Church and in the secular world. When he was a young man, he was an exuberant hockey player – and I understand he still plays in an adult league. This is what those modernists who want to play smash-mouth with Paprocki don’t understand: he thinks that’s just good fun.
Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland: Sample first came to my attention about a year into Pope Francis’ tenure. A friend of mine had been to the Vatican on business and told me an official, talking about the strategy for appointing Bishops in America, had said, “we don’t need any more Samples or Cordileones.” Since I thought Cordileone was exactly what we DID need more of, I checked into Sample. He was outspokenly clear and faithful to Church teaching on sexuality, marriage and family life. Since then I have gotten to know several people who work closely with him. I was delighted to see he was outspoken in calling for a full investigation into the scandals. While retaining the right to make final decisions, he has said that the investigations should be led by the laity. My sentiments, exactly.
Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas: Strickland was one of the first to demand a full investigation into Vigano’s accusations and has spoken passionately about cleansing the Church. He did not wait to see which way the winds were blowing. I will confess to some surprise, as he is from Texas. Texas has the most vicious anti-life law for people who are sick in the nation: hospitals can decide to deny basic sustenance to any patient they choose – and with 10 days notice, the family is powerless to appeal that death penalty for the innocent. It is as bad as England. Worse, that hideous law has the support of the Texas Bishops Conference. In a parody of reason, the Conference calls it a “balancing” of patients’ rights and doctors’ right of conscience. Evil nonsense: a doctor may have the right not to treat someone, but he does NOT have the right to refuse to let him be treated by someone else and insist he be killed by neglect. Just as bad, the Conference directed Parishes in the state NOT to work with Texas Right to Life, the only pro-life organization in the state that has fought that law – and largely BECAUSE it fights that law, doing the good work that Bishops in Texas refuse to do. (Since that decision, I have done substantial advisory work with Texas Right to Life). I am delighted to see a Bishop in Texas take a stand for something so clearly right and just, but I will remain a bit dubious until I see the Bishops there stand for life once more and quit persecuting those who do. But this surely brings a glimmer of hope.
Bishop Robert Vasa of Santa Rosa: I have some mutual friends with Vasa, who all testify to his fidelity and orthodoxy. What really moved me, though, was when I toured the sites of some of the fires that devastated Santa Rosa a year ago, burning entire neighborhoods to the ground. Because of hideously high housing prices in California, the state was very ineffective at helping those displaced by the fire find temporary housing. (California is big on collecting taxes, but not so big on helping those in real need with actual services). Vasa and his diocese took the lead in helping relieve the suffering, setting up an innovative matching program to pair displaced people with others who were willing to open their homes to them for a time. I know from the testimony of my friends of his fidelity to the faith; I know from my own observations of his gentle pastoral leadership.
I have been somewhat cynically pleased to see that some Bishops who prided themselves on their political progressivism are suddenly reborn as orthodox reformers. Many who have often been seen signaling to the press that they don’t actually believe all this Catholic superstition are suddenly born-again. I welcome their help, but they have a lot of wood to chop before I will believe it is more than just trying to anticipate the winds of public opinion. Still, it is a sign that public opinion is firmly set on reform.
Before the Novena for Our Nation began, I said frequently that I thought it might be the most important public devotion of my lifetime. When people asked me why, I could not say except that we seem poised for a great confrontation. Here we are. It is not too late to join in these great, sustained prayers for our country, our world, and our Church.
Again, this list is not comprehensive at all. It is just a list of those whose work I have had some familiarity with – and whose work has led me to admire them. There are more than a few others for whom I have deep affection, but these top the list for me. For a more comprehensive list of men committed to the faith, check out the Faithful Shepherds site.