USCC Watch: Bishop Revelo Speaks For Himself

The month of March brought El Salvador to the headlines, especially among religious groups in the political arena. While dozens of self-proclaimed experts claimed to speak on behalf of the Church in El Salvador, the American Catholic Conference took a novel approach: we actually invited a representative of the Salvadorean Church to speak for himself.

So Bishop Marco Revelo of Santa Ana, the president of the Salvadorean bishops’ conference, spent a few days in Washington, briefing members of the press, the Reagan administration, and (most important) the U.S. bishops’ conference. By all accounts the meetings were productive; Bishop Revelo conveyed a good deal of practical wisdom to an audience increasingly confused by the contradictory claims of American politicians.

Almost everybody seems to think that the Salvadorean Church opposes the government there, and wants an end to U.S. military aid. The opposite is true. Bishop Revelo, speaking on behalf of the entire bishops’ conference, explained that the Church opposes the guerrillas, and wants U.S. military aid continued (although not increased).

So the Salvadorean bishops are on a collision course with their American counterparts, right? Wrong. Again contrary to widespread belief, the U.S. Catholic Conference has called for a continuation — but not an increase — of U.S. military aid to El Salvador.

In other words, the USCC position matches the Salvadorean bishops’ position precisely. At least that’s what Bishop Revelo was assured when he conferred with USCC officials here, and that’s what he told the journalists who interviewed him.

Then, just before he left Washington, Bishop Revelo learned that the USCC had attached an all-important conditional clause to its support for continued military aid. In his testimony before a Senate committee Father Hehir had insisted, “The USCC stands in support of human rights conditions for any military aid to El Salvador.” As popularly interpreted, that means the U.S. should withhold aid until death-squad activities cease.

Bishop Revelo opposes the death squads as fiercely as anyone. He has seen friends and relatives threatened or killed by extremists on both sides of the political spectrum. But Bishop Revelo, the man on the scene, points out that the Salvadorean government does not control the death squads, and therefore cannot entirely eliminate them — any more than our own government can eliminate Mafia murders. Of course, Bishop Revelo agrees, the U.S. should keep pressing for progress against the death squads. But it would be unrealistic to expect a complete victory — especially if the government is hamstrung by the lack of military aid.

Bishop Revelo’s visit was indeed a success. In a few days’ time, he learned something about the Washington scene; journalists and politicians learned something about El Salvador from an unimpeachable witness. Perhaps we can hope that, with time, the statements of the USCC will come even closer to matching those of the local bishops.

To date, the ACC and the USCC have always maintained friendly relations, for which we are grateful. But every now and then something happens to remind us that — to put it mildly — we don’t see eye to eye. For instance, last year a Georgetown University undergraduate wrote his thesis on the diversity of political opinions within American Catholicism. Jeffrey Befort questioned a number of people around Washington (this writer included), soliciting their comments on how their faith affected their political outlook. Particularly revealing were the comments of Ron Krietemeyer, the head of the USCC Office of Domestic Social Development.

When Befort began his interviews, several groups of Catholic laymen were becoming involved in political issues, in effect competing with the USCC. Did Krietemeyer see this as a new development within Catholicism? No, he responded, “it is not a growth out of that new understanding from Vatican II. It’s more of just putting a Catholic name on the reaction to the conservative political trend.”

But the new lay organizations were charging that the USCC should stay out of partisan political battles. Did Krietemeyer see any substance to that suggestion. Again, no. “Frankly, I think people who disagree with the work or policy here at the Conference, criticize it in the way they do because they don’t like the results. Not because they don’t like the process; they disagree with the content.”

In short, anyone who disagrees with USCC policies is a political hack, acting with purely partisan motives. And what of the USCC staffers who shape those policies? Are they working solely for the good of the Church, or are they enamored of the USCC’s liberal political tradition? Krietemeyer leaves no doubt: “The staff are drawn here because they like that tradition and they work in the tradition. . . . If the tradition was contrary to their progressive views, they’d find someplace else to go.”

Now let’s get this straight. Conservatives are not authentically Catholic; their motives are entirely political. USCC staff “progressives,” on the other hand, are entirely above politics. But if perchance a conflict should arise between Church positions and “progressive” views, Krietemeyer warns us that the true believers of the USCC would be governed by the political beliefs, not their Church loyalties. Wait. That syllogism doesn’t work. Have I missed something?

Epilogue. Just several weeks ago, Ron Krietemeyer organized an annual conference for the USCC clients who man Social Development offices in dioceses around the country. As featured guest speaker, he invited Rep. Geraldine Ferraro (D-N.Y.), whose liberal political views make her a fine representative of progressive Catholic thought. Apparently the authentically Catholic USCC staff did not notice, in surveying Rep. Ferraro’s political career, that she has forthrightly sponsored federal government-supported abortion.

Now that Archbishops O’Connor and Law are in place, has the Vatican gone back to business-as-usual in choosing Americans for key Church posts? Hardly. Take the case of Monsignor John Foley. Former Monsignor Foley, that is. Future correspondence should be addressed to Archbishop Foley, care of Vatican City. That’s right: archbishop, not bishop; he skipped a grade. When Pope John Paul II reorganized the Roman Curia, he named Monsignor Foley president of the Pontifical Commission for Social Communications.

What had Monsignor Foley done to earn such a signal honor? He had been the editor of the Catholic Standard and Times in Philadelphia. Now to be sure the Standard and Times is an important newspaper, serving an important archdiocese. Still, from editor to archbishop overnight? Just imagine, dear reader, how surprised you would be if the editor of your diocesan newspaper suddenly became an archbishop!

Obviously, Monsignor Foley was not an ordinary editor. Under his guidance the Standard and Times was one of the nation’s most reliable moderate Catholic publications — one of the few that occasionally welcomed conservative viewpoints. He himself emerged as a strong defender of papal authority. He even invited controversy, by appearing on a program sponsored by Catholics United for the Faith, just at a time when some bishops were assailing that group for its adamant defense of Catholic orthodoxy. It is safe to say that “progressive” Catholics were not happy with Monsignor Foley. Evidently, the Vatican was.

By

Philip F. Lawler, a former editor of Crisis Magazine, is the author most recently, of Contagious Faith: Why the Church Must Spread Hope, Not Fear, in a Pandemic.

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