A Bishop in the Tradition of Cardinal O’Connor

Deal W. Hudson
February 9, 2009

Recently I’ve begun to notice a resemblance between Scranton’s Bishop Joseph Francis Martino and another Philadelphia-born bishop, John Cardinal O’Connor. Bishop Martino is outspoken, and his direct, almost pugnacious, criticism is reminiscent of the late cardinal of New York.

Both Martino and O’Connor attended St. Charles Borromeo Seminary before seeking graduate degrees – Martino at Rome’s Gregorian University, in church history; O’Connor at Villanova, in ethics, and Georgetown University, in political science.

Pope John Paul II appointed both as bishops – O’Connor in 1979, Martino in 1996. O’Connor, like Martino, would go to Scranton but remained there only one year (1983-84) before being chosen, to everyone’s surprise, as archbishop of New York.

For a Catholic bishop, O’Connor, at 64, was still a relatively young man when he left for New York. Martino will turn 63 on May 1.

Am I suggesting that Bishop Martino is destined to follow his predecessor to New York? No, that isn’t likely to happen; controversial bishops rarely receive prestigious appointments. O’Connor’s relatively low profile early in his career (thanks to a lack of public controversies) made it unlikely he would be blackballed in the selection process.

Bishop Martino’s presence in Scranton is a case of being in the right place at the right time. First of all, Scranton’s moderate size and its location in northeastern Pennsylvania give Bishop Martino the opportunity to bring about substantive changes in the Catholic culture of his diocese and state.

In addition, Scranton is the hometown of Vice-President Joseph Biden. Bishop Martino’s stated position that he would deny communion to the vice president of the United States stands as a constant reminder of the dilemma facing Catholic Democrats with the Obama administration’s efforts to remove all legal restrictions to abortion.

“No Catholic politician who supports the culture of death should approach Holy Communion,” Bishop Martino said, regarding Biden. “I will be truly vigilant on this point.”

Bishop Martino’s pro-life leadership during the election has been cited as an influence in getting Pennsylvania Catholics to buck the national trend and vote for John McCain, 52 to 48 percent. The story of his crashing a seminar on the USCCB document “Faithful Citizenship” at one of his own parishes was easily the most dramatic, and colorful, Catholic moment in the campaign. “People, this is madness,” he said after hearing a panelist explain how Catholics could vote for a pro-abortion politician in good conscience.

But when he told those gathered at St. John’s Parish, “The USCCB doesn’t speak for me,” Bishop Martino could have been channeling Cardinal O’Connor of the 1980s when he (and Bernard Cardinal Law) battled the “seamless garment” message emitted from the bishops’ conference.

More recently, Bishop Martino has shown some of Cardinal O’Connor’s willingness to take on Catholic politicians by name. It was the latter’s 1983 face-off over abortion with vice-presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro that came to mind as I read Bishop Martino’s public letter to Sen. Bob Casey Jr.

In his letter, Bishop Martino asked Senator Casey to reconsider his vote against affirming the Mexico City Policy. Casey had voted against an amendment offered to a children’s health insurance bill by Sen. Mel Martinez (R-FL):

It is the height of irony that this amendment was defeated while the Senate passed legislation to provide health insurance for children who would otherwise be without it. What hypocrisy offers health insurance to children in one part of the world when children in another part will be deprived, by the stroke of the same pen, of their first breath?

The local media have been reporting a decline in Bishop Martino’s popularity due to his “interference” in politics, but he pays no attention to such criticism. In a 2004 interview in the Scranton Sunday Times, he explained:

All these bugaboos about separation of church and state are brought up, which are just not true. What that really means is, “Shut up bishop, shut up.” I have a right to speak up like any other citizen, and I have a right to remind Catholics – that’s my duty – to remind Catholics it’s not what they can do but what they should do. I think that’s something that they haven’t heard enough of, and they’ll hear it from me.

What Bishop Martino promised four years ago, he has delivered. Over the past decade, Catholics have been blessed with the leadership of several notable bishops, but with the emergence of Bishop Joseph Martino, we are witnessing the bold style of a fellow son of Philadelphia, the late Cardinal O’Connor.

By Deal Hudson

Deal W. Hudson was born November 20, 1949 in Denver, CO, to Emmie and Jack Hudson, both native Texans. Dr. Hudson had an older sister Ruth, and eventually, a younger sister, Elizabeth. Emmie Hudson, Ruth Hudson and Elizabeth Hudson now live in Houston, TX; Jack Hudson passed away some years ago. The late Jack Hudson was a captain for Braniff Airlines in Denver at the time of Dr. Hudson’s birth. Later the family moved to Kansas City when his father joined the Federal Aviation Agency. From Kansas City, the Hudson family moved to Minneapolis, then to Massapequa, NY, and finally to Alexandria, VA, where they first occupied a home overlooking the Potomac River adjacent to the Mount Vernon estate. After a year, the family moved to a home on Tarpon Lane a few houses up the street from the Yacht Haven boat docks. Dr. Hudson attended Mt. Vernon Elementary School from grades 4 to 6 and has a special gratitude for the teaching of Mr. Hoppe who first told him was a ‘smart lad.’ Having moved with his family to Fort Worth, TX in 1960, Dr. Hudson attended William Monnig Junior High and Arlington Heights HS. In high school, Dr. Hudson was captain of the golf team, editor of the literary magazine (Guerdon), and performed the role of Peter in the ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ during his senior year. Dr. Hudson graduated cum laude with a major in philosophy from the University of Texas-Austin in 1971 where his undergraduate advisor was Prof. John Silber. His teachers at the University of Texas included Prof. Louis Mackey and Prof. Larry Caroline. Dr. Hudson minored in both classics and English literature. Dr. Hudson lived in Atlanta from 1974-1989, where he attended Emory University, receiving a Phd from the Graduate Institute for the LIberal Arts. He also taught philosophy at Mercer University in Atlanta from 1980-89. In 1989 Dr. Hudson and his family left Atlanta when he was hired to teach philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx. Dr. Hudson taught at Fordham, and also part-time at New York University, from 1989 to 1994. Dr. Hudson first came to Atlanta in after graduation from Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) with an M.Div. While at PTS, Dr. Hudson managed the Baptist Student Union at Princeton University and became its first director. Dr. Hudson also was licensed at a minister in the Southern Baptist Convention at Madison Baptist Church in Madison, NJ. Dr. Hudson’s primary area of study at PTS was the history of Christian doctrine which he pursued with Dr. Karlfried Froelich. In 1984 Dr. Hudson was received in the Catholic Church by Msgr. Richard Lopez, with the special permission of Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan, at the chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cancer Home in Atlanta. Dr. Hudson has been married twenty-five years to Theresa Carver Hudson and they have two children, Hannah Clare, 23, and Cyprian Joseph (Chip), 15, adopted from Romania when he was three years old. The Hudson family has lived in Fairfax, VA for more than fifteen years, after having lived five years in Bronxville, NY and a year in Atlanta, GA, where Theresa and Deal were married.

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