The Washington Times - November 11, 2008, 05:36PM

I spent much of yesterday sitting in a large ballroom filled with some 250 men all dressed in black. These were the nation’s Catholic bishops.

As I have been covering the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops off and on since 1986, I’ve learned there are small ways of learning who is in and who is out, who is rising in status and who is losing power. One thing reporters have learned to look for is who wins or loses yearly elections as chairman of a variety of USCCB committees. I have noticed, strangely, that the most outspoken bishops on the pro-life issue always lose these elections.


I first noticed this last year when St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke lost his bid for chairman of the Committee for Canonical Affairs to Chicago Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Paprocki. Now Archbishop Burke had famously told Sen. John Kerry during his presidential run in 2004 not to try taking Communion in his diocese. Usually archbishops don’t lose to auxiliaries, so the majority vote against Burke sounded like a message to me. But the archbishop got the last laugh. In June, he was named to the Signatura, the highest Vatican court and the highest church post possible for a canon law expert.

Still, Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput is another key bishop who has spoken out forcibly against pro-choice politicians. He too has lost out on some key leadership positions. Time magazine says he’s been “marginalized” within the USCCB for being “extreme” about denying Communion. That sure appears to be true and it was just yesterday that someone was telling me in the USCCB press room that’s the reason why Pittsburgh Bishop Donald Wuerl, not Chaput, got the coveted Washington see in 2006 after Cardinal Theodore McCarrick retired.

So that afternoon I was interested in seeing whether some of the outspoken pro-life bishops (I mean they are all pro-life, but some are more vocal than others) fared in the election cycle. Archbishop Wuerl was elected to head the Committee on Doctrine — no great surprise as Wuerl is known for his emphasis on church teaching and catechesis. He also has refused to close local altars to the many pro-choice Catholic politicians lurking about Washington, a policy very similar to what Cardinal McCarrick had.

Two other elections were very telling in who won and who lost. Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo. Bishop Robert Finn, who famously said before the recent election that Catholics’ eternal salvation may depend on whether they voted for a pro-life candidate, lost to a lesser-known auxiliary: Bishop Gabino Zavala of Los Angeles.

And Kansas City Archbishop Joseph Naumann, who has refused Communion to Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius because of her extremely liberal views on abortion, lost to Galveston-Houston Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, who has been a lot quieter on the issue. 

So what’s the message here? There were several speeches during today’s USCCB meeting about bishops needing to be “prophetic” in the face of a possible draconian pro-abortion law known as the Freedom of Choice Act. One bishop said that if FOCA passes Congress, one-third of the nation’s hospitals (which are Catholic) might have to close if the law mandates that all hospitals must perform abortions. 

Thus, the days are getting more desperate and bishops may need to be more outspoken than ever. But when they are, their own confreres punish them for it. 

— Julia Duin, religion editor, The Washington Times