The Dissenter’s Secret Meeting

Deal W. Hudson

This morning, the Boston Globe dropped a bombshell of a story… though they seem to have little idea just how major it is.

The title was “Bishops seek out opinions, in private: conference focus is church future,” and began by explaining that some top bishops “met secretly with a group of prominent Catholic business executives, academics, and journalists to discuss the future of the church.”

The gathering was convened by former Boston College trustee Geoffrey Boisi and was called “The Church in America: The Way Forward in the 21st Century.” Cardinal McCarrick hosted the event at the John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington, DC.

The fact that any bishops were involved in a “secret meeting” is strange… but it gets a whole lot worse.

Reading through the article, the author refers over and over to the “prominent” Catholics – men and women, both lay and religious – who were called to the secret meeting. Some of them, it turns out, isn’t so prominent. In fact, I didn’t recognize half of the names on the list, and I like to think that I’m pretty familiar with the Catholic world.

As for the others – well, they’re prominent all right. The list is full of the kinds of liberal and dissident Catholics that would make a Call To Action conference jealous.

These are the people who are supposed to be representing the Church in a discussion about its future? Just look at a few of these names…and make sure you’re sitting down:

  • Monika Hellwig – director of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities. Dr. Hellwig needs little introduction. Most people by now are familiar with her infamous statement calling Humanae Vitae Pope Paul VI’s “personal opinion” and her questioning whether Jesus is the only savior.
  • R. Scott Appleby – left-leaning professor at Notre Dame and media darling who has been critical of Church conservatives for not being open to women priests and a married priesthood.
  • John Sweeny – president of the AFL-CIO and open supporter of abortion.
  • Kathleen Kennedy Townsend – former lieutenant governor of Maryland and an infamous and enthusiastic pro-abortion “Catholic.”
  • Peggy Steinfels – the former editor of Commonweal magazine, Steinfels is very open about her dissenting views. In fact, she laid them out in an article called “Holy Mother Church’s Loyal Opposition: Disagreeing with official Catholic teaching on birth control and other issues should not cut us off.”
  • Kathleen McChesney – executive director of the Office for Child and Youth Protection under the USCCB. McChesney has been reprimanded by some bishops for her willingness to meet with such dissident groups as Call to Action and Voice of the Faithful (VOTF), calling into question her impartiality when working for the lay review board. Her presence at this secret meeting certainly doesn’t help.
  • Mary Jo Bane – professor of public policy at Harvard. Also intimately involved with VOTF, she laid out her “personally opposed but publicly supportive” position regarding abortion rights in a paper presented at a Commonweal colloquium.

And these are just the names I recognize at first glance. If these people are representative of those invited to the conference, I think it’s safe to say that the real criterion for involvement was not prominence or influence in the Catholic Church but sympathy with dissenting points of view.

Other names seem to be big players in Catholic businesses and philanthropy organizations. Frank Butler, president of FADICA (Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities), is one such name. Why were these people there? You have to wonder if they’re being corralled in to fund a liberal reform agenda.

Another thing I notice when scanning the list is the number of names associated with Boston College and the city of Boston in general. More and more, Boston College appears to be the very epicenter of dissent. Should it be surprising that the home of VOTF is also the home of those convening secret dissenting meetings?

And that’s what’s so frustrating. Why on earth would high-ranking bishops – including the president of the USCCB, Bishop Wilton Gregory – entertain a meeting with such known liberals and dissenters…and do it in private? The author of the article mentioned the difficulty he had in finding participants willing to talk about the meeting in even the most general terms, let alone allow their name to be published. Those who participated were “sworn to secrecy,” he wrote.

Frankly, I find it ironic that the same people who lambaste the bishops for being “secretive,” the same people who want openness and transparency in the chancery, are now sneaking around behind the scenes, trying to escape the public eye.

In addition, these are the PRECISE questions about the future of the Church that liberals claim the laity has a right to address. (Predictably, the issues of women’s ordination and priestly celibacy came up in some of the meeting’s breakout sessions.) But how can we be a part of the great dialogue they champion when it’s held in secret?

This says nothing of the fact that there isn’t a single person on the list known for his or her stand in support of faithfulness to the Magisterium, the pope, and the teachings of the Church. If this was a meeting of “prominent Catholics,” where are the prominent orthodox representatives? Where are George Weigel, Michael Novak, and Father Neuhaus? Why fly in representatives from little-known colleges in Boston when the orthodox president of Catholic University in DC, Rev. David O’Connell, has his office literally right across the street?

It’s absolutely absurd to call the meeting a discussion of the direction of the Church and not include representatives from the very heart of Catholic thought. Apparently, those Catholics faithful to the Church don’t count.

Honestly, can you imagine these bishops holding a conference for a group of prominent conservative Catholics… listening to their concerns…noting their advice? Don’t hold your breath.

When the pope called on bishops to crack down on dissent after the sex abuse scandal, I doubt this is what he had in mind. One final irony to top off this nonsense is the fact that the meeting was held at the John Paul II Cultural Center – the Institute constructed in his honor as a testament to his life and dedication to the Truth.

But alas, the pope probably wouldn’t have heard about the meeting anyway. After all, it was supposed to be a secret.

Rest assured that we’re going to be following up with this story.

We’ve received some very reliable inside information that the cardinal was duped into attending the meeting, and was not happy with the way it turned out. I’m not sure he should be held responsible for it.

~ Crisis Magazine

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