e-mail us


Bishops miss opportunity in Euart episode

Several years ago, from the floor of the bishops’ conference, retired Fort Wayne Bishop William E. McManus proposed that Associate General Secretary Sharon Euart, a Mercy Sister, be the next general secretary of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“And when you’re appointed,” he told her from the microphone, “come and place a rose on my grave.” There will be no rose for McManus, who died in 1997. Euart, in many minds the leading candidate for the general secretary post when Msgr. Dennis M. Schnurr departs Feb. 2, 2001, after six years, was not permitted to apply.

That’s because the U.S. bishops’ conference asked Rome, “May we?” and the Vatican predictably said no. The episcopal conference, which can no longer see ahead because its neck is so twisted from looking over its shoulder, seemingly does not understand the unfortunate significance of this latest anti-laity farce.

It’s another example of the growing disconnect between the U.S. hierarchy and lay people. Too many U.S. bishops speak Roman to a nation of Catholics who speak American. The U.S. hierarchy appears to be orbiting around the pope, the laypeople, around their parishes.

In an earlier era, the U.S. bishops as a group were proud of the American contribution to the life of the universal church. They were willing -- even high-profile conservatives in the conference -- to make a strong case in Rome for new ways of doing things that were distinctively American. That episcopal will and imagination appears drained from the conference. Perhaps there is no alternative, given the nature of this papacy and the revisionist fervor it has unleashed.

Perfectly straight-faced papal pronouncements and episcopal declarations -- enthusiastically quoting Vatican II (1962-65) and other documents -- urge the laity to shoulder the challenges of church and world and take their place in both.

The words, nice though they sound, are hollow. And so few of our leaders are willing to name the sham. The hierarchical club and its Vatican masters do not trust the laity.

Trust is the issue. Of course Sr. Sharon Euart could do the conference’s general secretary job. It is not insignificant that several who have held the job, including two bishops, believe Euart would make a fine general secretary and that the position does not require an ordained male.

This papacy seems to have terrified the bishops’ conference. But the terror does not transmit to the Catholic community at large. That community loves the pope as Catholicism’s leader and global icon. Young Catholics love him because he gives them a Catholic identity in a church about which, the studies show, they know next to nothing.

They do know that their church doesn’t think women are good enough to be priests. Now those who notice will understand their church doesn’t think women are good enough to be even a general secretary.

It’s enough to make strong American Catholics weep.

If it weren’t so ludicrous.

In memoriam, Bill McManus -- and other Euart supporters in the conference -- deserve a rose for even proposing her for the general secretary’s chair.

Other current members of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops deserve a symbolic cactus on their chairs. A cactus for lacking the courage of their written 1994 convictions. Ours is a church of symbols. Euart would have been a fine person in the job and a clear symbol of commitment. Instead, the bishops have rolled the carpet back over the glass ceiling they only lately uncovered.

National Catholic Reporter, September 1, 2000