Thursday, August 27, 2009

Reflections From My New Archbishop--Sheehan of Santa Fe

The spirit of St Francis alive and active in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe

First off I made it to New Mexico is good time with no hassles. I had to drug the cats though, they were not too excited about bouncing around in a U Haul in their cat cages. I sort of had my own little 'valley of the dolls'.

Last night I finally hooked up the PC and low and behold the first thing I read is an NCR article by Tom Roberts about my new Archbishop. I had to read it twice for his words to really sink in. Archbishop Sheehan seems to be exactly what this diverse Archdiocese needs. Someone who understands collaboration and doesn't judge people's spiritual life or individual conscience. To do otherwise would be a recipe for disaster in an area with the Catholic history and Catholic personalities which make up his Archdiocese. The following is an edited version of the NCR article.

In the Aug. 12 interview, Sheehan said the Catholic community risks isolating itself from the rest of the country and that refusing to talk to a politician or refusing communion because of a difference on a single issue was counterproductive. He described such actions as a “hysterical” reaction. (Finally a bishop admits the single issue strategy is counterproductive for the whole of Catholicism. I'm not entirely sure it's hysterical as much as it is premeditated in certain circles.)

The comments came in the course of an interview on a range of other topics, most of which will appear in subsequent stories in the ongoing series, In Search of the Emerging Church.
The archbishop was forceful in describing the manner in which church leaders should handle significant disagreements with elected officials. He said his approach – whether dealing with civic officials or church members, relied heavily on collaboration, a technique he said he learned from the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago......

“I believe in collaboration,” he said. “I worked under Cardinal Bernardin and he taught me how to collaborate, how to consult. So I am very committed to the concept called shared responsibility. I think involving people in the process all the way along – my priests, my lay people, I am open to talking to them, working with them. Consultation, collaboration, building bridges not burning them. And you can get so much done when you have collaboration and you build the bridge with other people, whether it’s priests or laypeople, deacons, whoever.” (Not only does this approach get more done, it's a lot less stressful.)

Sheehan said that in June he told his fellow bishops, “I don’t feel so badly about Obama going [to Notre Dame] because he’s our president. I said we’ve gotten more done on the pro-life issue in New Mexico by talking to people that don’t agree with us on everything. We got Governor Richardson to sign off on the abolition of the death penalty for New Mexico, which he was in favor of.” (Why is this so difficult to understand. You don't accomplish anything on a given issue by talking solely with people who agree with you.)

Gov. Bill Richardson, in explaining why he reversed his long-standing support for the death penalty, said he was persuaded in part by discussions with church activists and with Sheehan.
“We talked to him, and we got him on board and got the support in the legislature,” Sheehan said. “But you know, he’s pro-abortion. So? It doesn’t mean we sit and wait, that we sit on the sides and not talk to him. We’ve done so much more by consultation and by building bridges in those areas. And then to make a big scene about Obama – I think a lot of the enemies of the church are delighted to see all that. And I said that I think we don’t want to isolate ourselves from the rest of America by our strong views on abortion and the other things. We need to be building bridges, not burning them.” (And some of these enemies of the Church are actively fomenting these big scenes because Catholic Social Justice teachings are major threats to their exploitation of the rest of us.)

Asked if there were any other bishops who agreed with him, he said, “Of course, the majority.”
He was asked why none of the bishops who disagreed with the protests that dominated the news for weeks had spoken up. (That's my question too. It seems to me they are forming their own version of Nixon's 'silent majority'.

“The bishops don’t want to have a battle in public with each other, but I think the majority of bishops in the country didn’t join in with that, would not be in agreement with that approach. It’s well intentioned, but we don’t lose our dignity by being strong in the belief that we have, but also talking to others that don’t have our belief. We don’t lose our dignity by that,” he said. (In point of fact, one gains more respect and trust. Something sorely needed by American Bishops.)

“We’d be like the Amish, you know, kind of isolated from society, if we kept pulling back because of a single issue.”

He acknowledged the loudest voices were creating what appeared to be the Catholic position for the general public.

“Of course. I mean that’s always been the case,” he said. “That’s news, you know.”
He said that in speaking to the other bishops he wondered aloud what was so bad about inviting Obama and giving him a degree. “Last month,” said Sheehan, “the pope made the president of France an honorary canon of St. John Lateran’s -- and he [President Nicolas Sarkozy] is pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage, married invalidly to an actress, and the pope did that. It doesn’t seem that [the Vatican] had quite as big a concern about this matter of Obama and Notre Dame as some of us.”

Noting that the Vatican has consistently been more positive about Obama than some of the leading critics among the U.S. bishops, Sheehan said, “The Vatican is a little more diplomatically sensitive. But you’ve got to have the big picture.” (Which means you have to be open to entertaining a bigger picture than you currently have. That's a very scary proposition for some people.)

He also said given Obama’s association as a young man with priests and nuns during his time as a community organizer on Chicago’s South Side that the “issues of social justice that we teach and preach would resonate in his own work and in his own mind.”

If Sheehan disagreed with the tactics of some of his fellow bishops, he believes at least that Obama may have “a greater awareness now of how passionately and how deeply the church people feel” about abortion. “I think he probably had to come to grips with it in a way that, I suspect, has had a positive effect.”

He said the bishops might revisit a controversial statement on Catholic politicians but he said he opposes withholding communion based partly on the church’s own historic experience. Making reference to Giuseppi Garibaldi, who campaigned to unify Italy in the mid 1800s and who advocated abolition of the papacy, Sheehan said the church then said Catholics would be excommunicated or refused communion if they voted for him. “Well, it didn’t work.”
“Using sanctions – you have to be very careful about doing that.” (Revisiting a failed strategy is not exactly a creative thing to do.)

He said he was cautioned in seminary to be very careful when even considering refusing communion to someone. “And I’ve had occasions where I was wondering whether I should give communion to this person who had been in a quote bad marriage. I gave him communion and after Mass he came up to me and said Archbishop, I have such good news. Our marriage case was settled.”

With a bit of emotion, Sheehan said, “And if I would have refused him communion.
“You have to be very careful. The Vatican doesn’t do these big sanctions, you’re out of the church if you vote this way. They’ve tried it, it doesn’t work, and I try to learn from what the Vatican has to teach and to use that myself,” he said. “The primary responsibility for someone receiving communion is the person himself or herself and their conscience, to come forward to receive. The priest shouldn’t be like a watchdog, looking around and finding out who’s unworthy.”

Asked if he was concerned about reaction from those who seemed to consider opposition to Obama’s appearance at Notre Dame or refusing communion to a politician who differed from the church’s view on abortion strategy as proof of orthodox Catholicism, he responded:
“I seek to teach, to teach, and not to use sanctions. To teach, to talk to people. Like I say, we got more done this year with the state legislature by connecting with people and by saying our piece in a hopefully reasonable, and not an emotional and hysterical, way. Hysterical activity doesn’t bear fruit, and there’s been some hysteria in these areas.” (Jesus was not a priest or a bishop, He was a teacher. He did not brow beat or condemn, He taught and let people accept it or not. He lived His teachings, many people saw their fruit, and many people experienced a conversion---not unlike Governor Richardson.)


A week or so before I left for New Mexico, a Native friend of mine had me over for dinner. We had a great time reminiscing and talking about this that and the other thing. As I got up to leave she grabbed my hands and told me very intensely that I was embarking on a spiritual mission which would have major consequences for my life. One of the things she said, which I found interesting at the time, was that not only would I make important connections with the Navajo and Pueblo Natives, but also with in my own tradition from both the Anglo and Hispanic ends of Catholicism. She warned me I would be in for a ride, but to look for support in unlikely places and don't be afraid of where my path might take me.

I haven't been here three days and have already found spiritual support in one of the places I wouldn't have looked, the office of the Archbishop of Santa Fe. I knew very little about Archbishop Sheehan before reading Tom Robert's article. I had little interest in finding out about him because I was far more focused on Fr. John Dear and Fr. Richard Rhor. The idea that the Archbishop of Santa Fe would be of any interest was not on my radar. (note to self, remove beam from radar).

Of course, the big message for me is this whole notion of collaboration, and for all intents and purposes Archbishop Sheehan has identified the biggest obstacle in Catholics collaborating with each other, and that's abortion. Until the hysteria is removed from this area, well meaning Catholics who differ on various aspects of abortion will be walled off from each other. Catholicism doesn't benefit from this at all--- and neither do the unborn. No body wins except the enemies of Catholicism who use this issue to further the destruction of the Catholic voice on other issues. I hope other bishops take heed of what Archbishop Sheehan is stating here and take a glance at the bigger picture. It strikes me that Benedict has, and he does not exactly like everything he sees.

On another note, I also saw that the bishop of Tulsa, Edward Slattery, has opted for the ad orientam position for saying Mass. This has always struck me as being the school bus orientation with the priest as driver and the rest of us sitting in our rows as dociley as possible. Native spiritual ceremonies also use a form of ad orientam, with the principle celebrant facing a particular direction for some similar reasons as outlined by Bishop Slattery. The big difference is everyone else sits around in a circle which makes a completely different statement about the relative importance and contribution of all the participants. In my opinion some of the best of the new church architecture has featured a circular orientation. Whether we like it or not, we are all in this thing called life together, and also whether we like it or not, that's the way God designed it.


  1. Here I am again in all my flaming emotionalism. You gotta love me ;-)

    Abortion is not the biggest stumbling block. It is window dressing that is designed to divert attention away from something else. The question that needs to be shouted here is:

    HOW can one build bridges when the underlying foundational tenet of Catholicism is Catholicism is the ONLY religion, the ONLY path to God and the ONLY way to salvation?

    Answer: not possible

    The basic tenets and beliefs of the Catholic religion, and all religions for that matter are: OUR WAY IS THE RIGHT WAY AND THE ONLY WAY. The can be no opening for collaboration within that mindset. The pretense of collaboration is a deliberate deception.

    What does it communicate when other bishops do not speak up:

    It shows implied consent to the public position. If they do not speak up against it, then they in effect are supporting it. At best it demonstrates cowardice.

    People have asked why I respond the way I do. Simple. I have not tolerance for deception or cowardice, especially in religious leaders, who profess a faith who core teachings are integrity and courage. No wonder Jesus referred to them as vipers and hypocrites.

  2. Colleen, glad you are settled, and I agree with what was said, you are being guided to something grand. Wouldnt surprise me to see your name in the headlines in the very near future.

  3. Fr. Mickey, as some of us know him, is originally a priest of Dallas. He was the rector of Dallas' Holy Trinity Seminary back in the 80's and approved the candidacy/training/ordination of Rudy Kos despite evidence by his annulled wife of sex abuse with his own half brothers/sisters.

    Rudy Kos cost the Dallas diocese millions (even after the courts reduced the final award) and put the diocese into a basic depression for 10 years.

    From that sterling experience, young Mickey was made bishop of Lubbock, Texas. He appears to have done well there and when the Archbishop Sanchez scandal hit in Santa Fe, Mickey was moved to Santa Fe - all but bankrupt because of court cases from Sanchez.

    You are correct; over the years he has gained wisdom, patience, confidence, and the ability to walk a fine line between holding speaking and listening - basically, he has come to understand that the role of bishop as Teacher means both listening first and then weighing and speaking.

    Who knows, with today's news about Martino resignation (pressure from USCCB/Rome?), will we actually see a beginning of bishops being held accountable?

  4. Martino resignation is the best news I have heard out of the RCC in a very long time. Perhaps we are witnessing the beginning of a new era in the church. I certainly hope so.

  5. Carl, nice to see you back and contributing.

    You have a point about institutional religions and their need to pedal themselves as the one true path towards salvation. That is something of a major stumbling block. Not to mention it frequently spills into self idolatory.

    Sometimes though one needs to pull the limbs in front of a blockage before one can get to the main blockage. Abortion is one of those limbs, and it's a big one.

    Anonymous, thanks for the info on Archbishop Sheehan. It saddens me that he was so instrumental in the Rudy Kos fiasco. It's also uplifting to see that he has learned so much from mistakes.

    I once told my daughter, who was in tears over flunking some math test, that in my personal life, I learned a whole lot more from the F's I got than a whole host of A's.
    F's taught me what I didn't know, A's just confirmed what I already knew. The issue was learning, not confirming what one already knew.

    Too bad the Church has this whole sin thing, when in fact Jesus asked us to learn from and not repeat our failures. I think Archbishop Sheehan might be operating from this same understanding of sin as a learning/teaching opportunity. That's a good thing.

  6. There's another bishop who needs to resign:

    "Last month,” said Sheehan, “the pope made the president of France an honorary canon of St. John Lateran’s -- and he [President Nicolas Sarkozy] is pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage, married invalidly to an actress, and the pope did that. It doesn’t seem that [the Vatican] had quite as big a concern about this matter of Obama and Notre Dame as some of us.""

    What's that again ?

    "Pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage, married invalidly" ?

    Obviously no real Catholic bishop would honour such a man. He's obviously a flaming liberal. Turf him out ! :)

  7. I attended the Indian Council of Many Nations Powwow tonight. The ceremonies, drumming and dancing resonated and touched a receptive cord deep within me. It was a dance by the dancers for themselves, their ancestors, their tribe and the world. The energy was soothing, harmonious and inspiring. I completely forgot about everything else for a moment in time, allowing the drum beat and the songs to flow within and through me. It was very moving. Deeply moving.

    The council is working to bring unity, not just to the indian nations, but to the world. As one elder told me, it is the return to the old ways that will save us. The old ways of honoring each other, honoring the mother, honoring our integrity, honoring the creator and so much more. There was a deep sense as he spoke of rightness and truth.

    When I thanked him for his blessing, he corrected me, very gently and lovingly, corrected me to say "wado" - give thanks to creator.

    There was a healing for me tonight. While it is not my biological heritage, there is a resonance within me. I understand more deeply now Colleen, when you say it will be the indigineous cultures that bring about the restoration. I experienced a small glimpse of it tonight. Experienced inclusion instead of exclusion. Experienced acceptance instead of judgement. Experienced unity and harmony in a new way. It was a very powerful experience, and not doubt one that I will be integrating for several days.

    Synchronistically interesting, the verification word is "beading".