- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 23, 2003

Forty conservative Catholic leaders are planning a Sept. 8 summit with several U.S. bishops to discuss their vision for the future of the church in the United States.

The meeting is in part a reaction to a July 7 confab five bishops had with 32 centrist and liberal Catholics — to which conservatives were not invited.

“We want to be helpful here, and we don’t want to just gripe,” said Deal Hudson, co-organizer of the summit and the editor of Crisis magazine. “We do not want to fit the stereotypes some bishops have of us.”

When Mr. Hudson learned six weeks ago of the July 7 meeting, organized by banker Geoffrey Boisi, who is former chairman of the board of trustees for Jesuit-founded Boston College, he said conservatives were being left out.

“That meeting confirmed a hunch I had that some groups of Catholics had more access to leaders in the church than others,” he said.

The group included Catholic lawyers, college officials, politicians such as former Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. It also included several journalists: Thomas Reese, editor of America magazine; writers Peter and Peggy Steinfels; and Cokie Roberts, a commentator for National Public Radio.

Mr. Hudson, who serves as an adviser to the Bush Administration, joined forces with Russell Shaw, a former spokesman with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, to assemble a more conservative guest list for the summit. Those invited are being asked to base their comments on Pope John Paul II’s teachings.

“These are people who are faithful to the magisterium [official Catholic teachings] and loyal to the Holy Father,” he said. “What we are basically looking at is the question of bishops and lay leadership, effective ways to deal with dissent, sexuality and gender issues, and how to strengthen the authority of the church in the wake of the scandal” of priestly sexual abuse that has consumed U.S. Catholics for the past 18 months, the Milwaukee statement said.

The Milwaukee statement is a letter sent last week by 160 priests in the Milwaukee archdiocese to Bishop Gregory, urging that the priesthood be opened to married men.

Bishops who will attend the summit include Bishop Gregory, Washington Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick and Bishop William Friend of Shreveport, La., the USCCB secretary.

Other guests include Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican; Princeton University professor Robert George; William Donohoe, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights; Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan; National Review Managing Editor Kate O’Beirne; Raymond Arroyo, news director of the Eternal World Television Network; Ave Maria Law School President Bernard Dobranski; Catholic University President the Rev. David O’Connell; Christendom College President Timothy T. O’Donnell; and the Rev. Owen Kearns, publisher of the National Catholic Register.

Mr. Shaw said he hopes participants will have concrete suggestions for the bishops. A pressing need, he adds, is a “serious, nonjudgmental analysis of the nature of the church’s problems with the media.”

“Many journalists are disposed to think the worst of the church,” he said. “So many bad facts have been uncovered that now you can say almost any outrageous thing about the Catholic church and a lot of people, including a lot of journalists, will believe it.”

Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice, gave a tongue-in-cheek approval for the meeting.

“The July 7 group were the moderates,” she said. “These on September 8 are the conservatives. I wish the bishops would meet with the far left. I am still waiting for my meeting.”

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