Another Martino over here, please…

Scattered reactions to Bishop Martino’s statements.  My comments are interlaced:

Local and national Catholics reacted Tuesday to statements by Bishop Joseph F. Martino apparently discounting teachings of the national body of bishops during a political forum at a Honesdale Roman
Catholic Church this weekend.  There’s only so much the “national body of bishops” can do, and they cannot usurp the authority of the individual bishop in his own diocese.  I may like or dislike ABP Chaput, like or dislike CDNL Mahony…point is they’re not my bishop, and I am not bound to obey them. 

Bishop Martino arrived unannounced in the midst of a panel discussion on faith issues and the presidential
campaign at St. John’s Catholic Church on Sunday.  Good enough.  It’s his diocese, he doesn’t have to announce himself.  According to people who attended the event, the Bishop chastised the group for holding the forum and particularly took issue with the discussion and distribution of excerpts from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ position on voting issues.  More likely, they were being chastized for purposely misinterpreting the USCCB document to get more people to vote for Obama, even though he’s the most adamantly pro-abort Senator in Washington.  The document defines abortion and euthanasia, as well as racism, torture and genocide, as among the most important issues for Catholic voters to consider.  When in reality, only one of those is the most important.

“No USCCB document is relevant in this diocese,” he was quoted as saying in the Wayne County Independent,
a Honesdale-based newspaper.  He has the authority to do that.  There are certain things that conferences have competence in, as delegated by the Holy Father.  None of them have to do with teaching faith and morals.  If a bishop doesn’t like the way a USCCB document is worded, he can inform his flock that it is not to be used in his diocese.  If it came down to it, conferences having no special claim to infallibility, a bishop could completely repudiate an erronious conference document. “The USCCB doesn’t speak for me.”  His prerogative.

Thomas Shepstone, a local businessman and Catholic who spoke about his opposition to abortion rights during the event, recalled Tuesday that Bishop Martino also told the audience that he voted against the U.S.
Bishops’ statement and described it as a consensus document “written to mean all things to all people.”  Maybe that is why he rejected it?  Duh.

According to participants, Bishop Martino expressed dismay that the panelists did not discuss the pastoral letter he directed all priests in the Diocese to read in place of their homilies on Oct. 4 and 5. So he saw through the agenda and nailed them.  Good.  In that letter, he called on Catholic voters to consider abortion above all other issues, except those he defined as having equal moral weight, like euthanasia
and embryonic stem-cell research.  That showed backbone.
“The only relevant document … is my letter,” he said at the forum, according to the Independent.
“There is one teacher in this diocese, and these points are not debatable.”  He was acting completely within his authority to do so.

According to the Independent, the Bishop also said he no longer supports the Democratic Party.  Gosh!  What heresy.

A diocesan spokesman on Tuesday confirmed the Bishop’s comments as reported in the Independent.

The spokesman, William Genello, also released a statement that noted the Bishop attended the event because he “was concerned because of the confusion and public misrepresentations about Catholic teaching on the life issues.  I wish more bishops were as concerned as he is.

“Certain groups and individuals have used their own erroneous interpretations of Church documents, particularly the U.S. Bishops’ statement on Faithful Citizenship, to justify their political positions and to contradict the Church’s actual teaching on the centrality of abortion, euthanasia and embryonic stem cell research,” the statement said.

“When Bishop Martino heard how some of these issues were being presented at the forum, he determined that he must address the forum to fulfill his obligation as the authentic teacher of
the Catholic faith in his diocese.”  Obligation.  He gets it.

When Genello was asked to clarify whether Bishop Martino contested “erroneous interpretations” of
the U.S. Bishops’ statement or believed that the U.S. Bishops do not have an equal teaching role in the local diocese, Genello answered, “It’s both.”

“The point that has to made is that people have purposely misinterpreted that document and purposely misconstrued its teaching,” he said of the U.S. Bishops’ statement. “Secondly, the bishop is the teaching
authority in his own diocese. All bishops are the teaching authorities in their own diocese.”  Again, a no brainer.

In their statement, the U.S. Bishops addressed the issue of teaching roles, noting the document is “intended
to reflect and complement, not substitute for, the ongoing teaching of bishops in our own dioceses and states.”  And if the local bishop wishes to nix it in his own diocese, he has that right.

On Tuesday, Progressive Catholics pointed to the section of the U.S. Bishops’ statement that notes that the church’s (sic) guidance on voting issues is “an essential resource (they say, and not infallibly),” but that Catholic bishops (as a conference) do not have the same moral authority in their political policy recommendations as they do in their universal moral teachings.  This doesn’t at all address the issue of a bishop acting within his authority in his own diocese.  Life issues are moral issues, whether or not they become political issues.

“The church doesn’t purport to speak with authority on political matters,” said Chris Korzen, executive
director of Catholics United.  So if a political matter happens to be a moral issue, the Church backs down?  Is that what he’s saying?  Quaint opinion he has there.

He said his group does not make statements about Catholic teaching (not correct ones, anyhow), a charge the diocese leveled against it on Tuesday. How does a diocese level charges?  Instead, it applies church (sic) teaching to the particulars of this election, he said.  I haven’t figured out yet, how one applies Church teaching to the particulars of an election “without making statements about Catholic teaching.  Obfuscation.  Look it up.

Professor Douglas Kmiec, a Catholic constitutional legal scholar who advises Democratic presidential contender Sen. Barack Obama, said Tuesday that he respects Bishop Martino’s passionate speech about life (no he doesn’t) and doubts the bishop intended to separate himself from the larger church (sic).  Ah, so it was the bishop who separated himself from the larger Church.  Just in case you’ve forgotten, the diocesan bishop’s boss is the Pope, not the national bishops conference.

“That said, we have to be faithful to the church (sic) as the church (sic) universal exists,” he said. True.  “And the church universal exists in places other than Scranton. Ah, but if you live in Scranton, you’re under the authority and care of the bishop of Scranton.  Not Abilene.  Not St. Augustine.  Scranton.  It’s everywhere. But the bishop’s authority is local.  Its teaching is timeless.”  And it’s teacher is the local bishop in union with the Holy Father.

He encouraged Scranton Catholics to be “particularly sensitive (what the hay is that supposed to mean?  and why would anybody listen so Kmiec instead of their bishop?) to Bishop Martino” but also insisted they cannot ignore that they are “involved in a timeless body of teachings” (?), including that of the Holy Father, the Encyclical (bishops conferences can issue encyclicals now?) and the conference of bishops.  Nope.  I’m bound to obedience to my local bishop.  Period.

“Only by thinking through all of those things are we doing our moral duty,” he said.  He would be one of the last persons I’d let advise me on moral duties.

Participants at the event described a spirited exchange of ideas that was either interrupted or invigorated by the bishop’s arrival.

Gene Tagle, the moderator of the event, said the bishop “torpedoed” the forum, even though he had been told about the event as early as May 27 this year.  Torpedoed is a nice, visual word, but it doesn’t mean much.  The bishop attended and spoke at an event at a parish in his own diocese.  I fail to find that unusual. 

“If the bishop disapproved, it seems all he had to do was have his secretary pick up the phone, call our parish pastor and tell him not to go ahead with the forum,” he said. I suppose he didn’t want to delegate it to a secretary.  “Instead he came in at the midpoint of the meeting and totally surprised everyone.”  Pleasantly surprised?  If you get a sick feeling when you see your bishop walk into your parish complex, theres probably a reason for that.  Ah, but the point was to fool people into thinking that they could ignore life issues in this election, and it is anathema to come right out and say that.

Tagle said the bishop criticized the resident pastor, Rev. Martin Boylan, for holding the forum and “seemed to justify his presence there by stating that he owned the building.”  Fr. Boylan is the bishop’s spiritual son.  Boylan works for Martino.  And yes, Martino owns the building.  He didn’t have to justify anything. 

He also described the bishop’s tone as “angry and admonishing” and said his words created a surprising level of emotion in the audience.  Well, we’re devolving into a soft and fluffy people who cry if anyone raises his voice to us, so this isn’t surprising.  I guess nobody is allowed to be angry anymore.  But it is the bishop’s responsibility before God to admonish his flock.

“When he left it was chaotic,” Tagle said. “He incited his supporters to wild applause and shouting. And
some individuals were castigating others for supporting pro-choice candidates. It was pretty wild there for a while.”  Incited his supporters?  That is a nice twist.  Once the bishop showed up and exposed the agenda of the meeting, and others saw that and were encouraged by the fact their bishop had a backbone, they rightly addressed the issue of support of pro-abort politicians.  That really is wild.  Somehow.  I guess.

The bishop left shortly after his remarks and many audience members — some put the number at two-thirds of the group, others say a quarter — left after him.  Okay.  Lets just say that some people left after him. 

Shepstone, the panelist, was one who left.

“I left because it was singularly inappropriate to continue the meeting after the bishop had spoken,” he said Tuesday, explaining that the bishop had made it clear he wanted the meeting to stop.  Great.  He acted out of obedience.

“He spoke eloquently and he spoke forcefully and there was nothing else to be said.”

Wendell Kay, another panelist and a Wayne County Commissioner, stayed for the scheduled question-and-answer session after the bishop left, despite being startled by the interruption.

“He’s my bishop and I accept what he says, but I was a little bit surprised at the turn of events,”
he said, “and thought if there had been an objection from the diocese in advance we probably would not have held the forum.”  Perhaps the bishop thought it would be a good teaching moment. 

He said “strong emotions” were evident from the start of the event, and not just after the bishop spoke.

Tagle, though, said he was subjected to angry reactions after the bishop left.  We’re not allowed to be angry anymore.

“One individual came up behind me and accused me of hijacking the parish on him,” he said. 

Just one?  Then how is this noteworthy?  I like the wording here, though.  He came up behind me.  Gosh.  With a hammer?  A gun?  He came up behind me.  That sounds threatening.  And then…he accused me!  Forcefully and with malice.  He accused me!  Wanna see the scar?  And not just any accusation…he accused me of hijacking the parish on him. 
I’m not sure what that means, but it sure sounds intimidating.  I would have cried.



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