How a father of three helped change the Church.

During the height of the sex-abuse scandal, how many parents wished they had the ear of their bishops — to express their frustration, to demand reform? One Belleville, IL, man did: David Spotanski was the chancellor to Bishop Wilton Gregory while the bishop was president of the USCCB, and a ten-page memo that he wrote to Gregory in 2002 ultimately helped shape the conference’s response to sex-abuse allegations in the Church.

The St. Louis Beacon tells the story:

In January 2002, Spotanski felt he had a special role as a father of three to help his boss lead the church and its children to safety.

The memo “served as a very important touchstone for me,” Gregory, 62, now the archbishop of Atlanta’s archdiocese, told the Beacon Monday in a phone interview. “I learned from David. I have had a world of respect for David Spotanski from the day we started working together. I think he is a great man with a great heart. He spoke to me on two different levels: as someone on my staff that I depended on but also as a father.”

Spotanski started his memo to Gregory as a father, “You should know by now that our children are more important to Sharon and me than anything in the world. … With all due respect, though you probably come as close to understanding the significance of that statement as any bishop in the Church, you don’t. You can’t.” 

Spotanski even went so far as to give the bishop copies of a picture of his three boys, asking him to take the picture to every meeting, “to remind [him] that the safety of real children was at risk.” The picture went with Gregory to Rome, where he met with then-Cardinal Ratzinger and Pope John Paul II, and back to the States to the USCCB’s semi-annual meeting in Dallas, where they adopted their “Charter for the Protection of Children and Youth.”

Spotanski is the first to downplay his influence over any of this, but Bishop Gregory put it succinctly back in 2002: “I listened to Dave.” The entire memo is worth reading; the 10-page PDF can be found here.

On today’s feast of St. Catherine of Siena, I can’t help but see Spotanski’s frank and forthright letter to his bishop, calling for renewal and healing in the Church, as one of a piece with Catherine’s own fearless but loving witness to the Church leaders of her day. And we can always use more Catherines.

[H/t Deacon Greg]

Margaret Cabaniss


Margaret Cabaniss is the former managing editor of Crisis Magazine. She joined Crisis in 2002 after graduating from the University of the South with a degree in English Literature and currently lives in Baltimore, Maryland. She now blogs at

  • Todd M. Aglialoro

    What a great rejoinder to the claim that the bishops need a woman around to teach them how to protect children.

  • Aaron


    I’ll never read Noonan’s stuff the same way after that gem.

    Now that I belong to a traditional parish with a Latin Mass, I’ve started to realize how important it is for priests (and bishops) to be a real spiritual father for their flock. There’s a reason we call them father. But that’s just another thing that was lost to a great extent in recent decades, so perhaps it’s not surprising that a biological father had to step up and explain a few things.

    • Tout

      I drove 40 km to the next town to attend Tridentine(Latin)Mass on Sundays. Saw the difference of the parishioners in such Mass. Have no more car. With no communion-rail, I always knelt on the floor, but am too old now. I still receive on tongue, always. God does not have to come in my unblessed hands. Am glad, the Popes prefer giving on tongue. I remember the lady, going to Communion, both hand in pockets of her shorts. When in front of the priest, hands came out of the pockets, put H.Host in mouth, hands back in pockets. And other ridiculous acts in receiving God in the hand. Where is the time when bishops refused fine(FSSP)priests in their parish, in Germany, America…..Now the FSSP have their own seminary in USA. and build an addition to their ‘motherhouse’ in Germany. There are several stories where Catholics had to turn to God to obtain their rights from stubborn bishops. On internet see and I give only 25 c in church till we get communion-rail. Please, receive on tongue, always !