[Editor’s note: This is part two of a Crux interview with Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore. Part one can be found here.]
ROME — Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore says the Church must “make darn sure” any bishop of the Catholic Church who served from the 1960s to 1980s, now understood to be the statistical peak of the clerical sexual abuse crisis, didn’t mishandle an abuse allegation – a test, he said, that must apply even “for someone as good as Fulton Sheen.”
Lori spoke one day after the diocese of Peoria announced the Vatican had decided to postpone the Dec. 21 beatification of the late American archbishop, who was once a nationally known figure and Emmy-award winning pioneer of radio and television evangelization.
Lori said he hadn’t been given an explanation for the delay, nor had he heard any buzz regarding the fact that some U.S. bishops reportedly asked for it. He also said he “hoped and prayed” the question of any mishandling of abuse cases had already been thoroughly investigated as part of the sainthood process.
Sheen’s main claim to fame was as a TV personality, but he served as the auxiliary bishop of Rochester, New York from 1951 to 1966 and as the bishop from 1966 until he retired in 1969 as his 75th birthday approached.
The Baltimore prelate also spoke about racism, saying that it’s “pervasive” in society and even in the Church, where people of color still encounter those who refuse to share the sign of peace during Mass.
“One of the things that we have heard in our listening sessions is that the people in the pews will make a point that they won’t sit with you if you are a person of color, or they won’t shake your hand,” he said.
The archbishop conceded it’s common practice for there to be “specialized” parishes, serving the Vietnamese community, for instance, or the Hispanic community, with a style of worship “appropriate to different ethnic and racial groups.”
“Nonetheless, if you’re not of that group you want to be able to go there and feel at home,” Lori said. “Otherwise, you’re not behaving like a Catholic.”
The archbishop spoke with Crux at the North American College, the Roman residence for American seminarians, on Dec. 4. What follows are excerpts of that conversation.
Crux: On Tuesday the Vatican announced that the beatification of Archbishop Fulton Sheen was suspended. Did you receive an explanation?
Lori: Not yet.
Had you heard some U.S. bishops requested the delay?
No, actually that was news to me. I must confess, I thought it was unusual that the beatification would occur so close to Christmas and in a diocesan cathedral that seats less than a thousand people, Peoria.
I think that any of us who’s been around the block for some time has to wonder if, even for someone as good as Fulton Sheen — and it applies to anyone who was a diocesan bishop in that period — you have to make darn sure that there isn’t a mishandling of a case of any kind. And you don’t know that unless you look at all the documentation from that period.
I had hoped and prayed that [the thorough investigation] already had been done. But there are some things for which there is no documentation. But someone can come out of the woodwork and say that he hadn’t dealt with their case right.
You’ve dedicated a lot of attention to the issue of racism. Have you seen any impact from that effort?
I think so. But, I mean, racism is still embedded in the culture.
We have all seen the tweets coming out from the White House …
Yes, that was a big surprise, a big surprise. It was a very unhappy moment for us. What I really objected to there, is that if he [President Donald Trump] and representative [Elijah] Cummings, God rest him, wanted to go at it over their issues, fair game. But dragging in the people of Baltimore and denigrating their city … I’m not going to sugarcoat anything in Baltimore, but dragging them in and using them as a weapon against the political enemy, instrumentalizing people, is not good.
A lot has been done in the archdiocese to try to address racism. I wrote a pastoral letter on Martin Luther King and the principles of non-violence. And we also studied the involvement of the Church in the institution of slavery.
We put together a state-wide study group and we looked at our own history pretty critically. We called it “Journey to Racial Justice” and we talked about the steps that have been taken historically, but also where we need to go from here.
And we are putting into place the circles and discussions all around the archdiocese, saying “let’s talk about this.”
When you look at the congregation from a pew, it is diverse. You look at it, and think the Church is a picture of diversity. But one of the things that we have heard in our listening sessions is that the people in the pews will make a point that they won’t sit with you if you are a person of color, or they won’t shake your hand.
Even in this day and age. I hadn’t seen it, but enough people have said it, that I believe it to be true, and I believe that there is a lot of work still to be done. A lot of people look at the violence and poverty in Baltimore, and this is a platform to do racial stereotyping.
As an Argentinian, whenever I visit the U.S., I find it strange when people tell me “this is a Hispanic parish,” or a Vietnamese, and so on. Shouldn’t parishes be for everyone?
It’s a funny thing. I mean Argentina and the United States are very similar that we have people from all over. But I think our experience of immigration is a little bit different. We used to refer to ourselves as the melting pot. I don’t think we melt as well as we did before… There are lumps in the pot.
And there are neighborhoods that are predominantly African American or that are predominantly Hispanic. And we have our Vietnamese and Korean churches that are designed to make people feel at home in their own culture.
There are specialized sorts of parishes but the general principle is being able to make everybody feel quite welcome. And there will be the styles of worship that are appropriate to different ethnic and racial groups, but nonetheless, if you’re not of that group you want to be able to go there and feel at home.
Otherwise, you’re not behaving like a Catholic.
Is there something of Pope Francis’s message or priorities that has proven particularly useful or inspiring for you?
By far, everything he has written about evangelization. Evangelii Gaudium has really become the whole basis for our pastoral planning in the archdiocese, and we have drawn our pastoral priorities from it. I wrote a pastoral letter called “A light brightly visible,” and it really is a Baltimore reflection of Evangelii Gaudium. It really is the blueprint that is driving us forward.
And even a free-standing parish that doesn’t have to merge with anybody else has to go through this process. We have six pastoral priorities that are drawn from the Church’s scripture tradition and from Pope Francis, but every parish has to pray and discern and ask itself how well is it doing and what should it be doing in its particular place in time, to live these priorities more robustly.
Is there something the pope has said that was challenging for you, or that you feel you have had to overcome?
I think that something that has proven challenging in a lot of areas is that while the pope would speak against relativism and doctrinal relativism, he is urging us in a way that is perhaps a shift in papal magisterium to proclaim the Church’s teaching and to administer the Church’s discipline discerningly.
But not everyone knows how to discern …
That’s correct, and it would be helpful if you were a disciple of Ignatius of Loyola in doing that because discernment, though we understand to be true, we also understand that there can be misinterpretations and that’s probably a challenge for us.
But that doesn’t mean the pope is wrong. It means we just have to do this prayerfully and intelligently.
Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma
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