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Group wants to nominate new archbishop

NCR Staff

As Archbishop J. Francis Stafford of Denver banned the We Are Church coalition from holding meetings on church property, a movement was underway to hold a convention of Denver Catholics to nominate his replacement.

Stafford, who leaves Denver this month to begin a new position at the Vatican, banned all Catholics in his archdiocese from participating in the We Are Church's signature campaign calling for church reform.

"It is my judgment that the petition sponsored by the We Are Church coalition is anti-ecclesial in its origin and spirit," Stafford said in an Oct. 23 editorial in the Denver Catholic Register. "It is a creature of contemporary political culture. It works against church unity and fundamentally misunderstands the nature of the church."

Stafford, who will become president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, emphasized that "The church cannot reinvent or reconstruct herself."

The Virginia-based coalition plans to protest Stafford's ban. "He's treating people like children," national coordinator Sr. Maureen Fiedler told the The Denver Post. "We have a right to present our concerns, and he has the responsibility to listen."

We Are Church supporters "have given their time, money, energy, concern and love to the church, but when it comes time for opinion, they are closed out. This is fundamentally not Christian," Fiedler said.

Gerry Frank, chairman of We Are Church in Denver, said the group would press on. Members planned to attend a Mass, possibly at the cathedral, Oct. 27, and collect signatures on the public sidewalk after the service.

"We're American citizens and we have the right to speak our opinion," he said. "We're simply not going to back down. I think this kind of heavy-handed strong-arm tactics are exactly what we have to get out of the church."

Giving people a voice is the idea behind Frank's other effort, announced shortly before Stafford's editorial was published: Frank is leading a movement to hold a convention to nominate a new archbishop of Denver. Frank and four other organizers met Oct. 19 to plan a meeting of delegates who will decide on three candidates to recommend to the Vatican. The date of the convention is tentatively set for Jan. 11.

Frank wants all points of view to join in the nominating process. "This effort is not to promote a specific individual and it's certainly not to promote the liberal Catholic agenda." He said that the group "will raise no issue of doctrine. We are simply extending the franchise, or more accurately returning it" to the people.

A letter will be sent to all parishes and Catholic organizations asking for criteria or suggested names to be sent by Nov. 30. Each parish or organization will be asked to send delegates based on .5 percent of their membership.

Two names Frank has often heard mentioned as possible nominees as he has been organizing the effort have been Colorado bishops Arthur N. Tafoya of Pueblo and Richard C. Hanifen of Colorado Springs. "Both of these men have a taste for involving the laity and ordinary priests in decision-making," Frank noted.

Nominations for new bishops are made by the Vatican ambassador in Washington, "after quiet and confidential consultation with bishops, priests, religious and lay people," Fran Maier, Stafford's spokesman, told The Denver Post. The ambassador then submits three names to the Vatican.

Maier said that Frank and any who participate in his convention "are out of touch with how the church operates internally. The church doesn't respond to the horizons of current political culture."

National Catholic Reporter, November 1, 1996