The Dissenters' Secret Meeting

CRISIS Magazine - e-Letter

July 11, 2003


Dear Friend,

You're about to get angry. Very angry. I'll tell you why in a 

But first, I need to apologize for not writing to you last week -- I 
was out of town, and ended up not having the opportunity to send you 
anything. Sorry about that. 

When I got back to the office on Monday, several people -- including 
Robbie George -- pointed out a mistake I made in my last e-letter. 

Unfortunately, in my rush to send you the update on the Lawrence 
decision, I overlooked a passage where I said that the Supreme Court 
could rule that an amendment to the Constitution is unconstitutional. 
Obviously, that's not the case -- the Supreme Court doesn't have that 
kind of power (thank goodness!) and isn't involved in the amendment 
process at all. 

It's up to Congress to vote on a proposed amendment and then a 
three-fourths majority of the states to ratify it. This is where the 
battle over a Federal Marriage Amendment would really take place and 
why it's so important that we encourage our representatives to 
support one.

Thanks for catching my mistake.

And now, let me tell you the news that'll send your blood boiling.

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 

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, aren'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 

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 

* 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." As you probably guessed, one of 
those tiresome "other issues" is abortion. 

* 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 

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.

I'll talk to you early next week,



One quick and important correction, though: In Friday's e-letter, I mistakenly imply that Peggy Steinfels is pro-choice. She is not. I actually caught the error and corrected it in the draft, but unfortunately, the uncorrected version was sent out. All of us here apologize to Peggy for the error.

The gathering, billed as a dialogue concerning ''The Church in America: The Way Forward in the 21st Century,'' was organized by Geoffrey T. Boisi, a former chairman of the Boston College board of trustees who was vice chairman of JPMorganChase and co-CEO of JP Morgan....

None of the bishops returned calls seeking comment, but a spokesman for the bishops' conference, Monsignor Francis J. Maniscalco, said by e-mail, ''The meeting was described by those who suggested it as an informal and confidential session for the sharing of some concerns. It was not an organizing or planning meeting. The bishops in attendance were not representing the conference but attended as individuals without any expectation that the meeting would lead to anything beyond the sharing that occurred during its course.''

So it doesn't sound like the bishops decided to consult this particular group, or chose who would be invited, but rather, some organizers put together the meeting, selected the participants, and invited the bishops to it. In fact, it's not a bad idea: other groups of Catholics might well consider doing the same.

As for meeting with "a group of dissenters", Jesus met (and ate with) with pharisees, prostitutes, extortionists (e.g. 1st century Roman tax collectors), and other unsavory characters, so even if the participants are dissenters, we cannot really fault the bishops over that, can we?