Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

Bishop Clark’s Protective Umbrella

February 18th, 2011, Promulgated by b a

Following up on Mike’s earlier post, I thought another snippet of the “The Studentbaker Corporation” would be appropriate. As a reminder, the author of this book is Fr. James Callan (one of the founders of Spiritus Christ)

Inspired by John the Baptist, we saw ourselves among those who were called to go ahead and prepare the way. We often knew we were pushing boundaries, but never realized we were in ultimate trouble [I find that hard to believe]. Much of the reason for squeezing by these crises was the support we received, first from bishop Hogan [earlier in the book you can read about Fr. Callan being denied ordination and then Bishop Hogan’s change of heart.], and then Bishop Clark. They were progressive leaders who desired to move the church ahead [note: this isn’t just about pastoral questions – these progressive leaders wish to change fundamental Catholic doctrines]. One time Bishop Hogan told me Corpus Christ was “my kind of parish.” He sent me some of his personal money to help our programs with the poor. Bishop Clark, too, showed his support by sending notes of encouragement for our ministry. Diocesan officials told us how supportive he was when he had to answer Vatican inquiries about the video tapes or church bulletins that spies had sent to Rome [hmm – is it really spying to record public services and pass along public publications like bulletins?  It’s not like these are secret meetings.].  As one reporter said, Bishop Clark held up a “protective umbrella” over us for years [this protective umbrella continues to this day for the 1/3 who chose to remain in the Church and fight to change it from within. In fact the people running this diocese agree with Spiritus Christi. They just aren’t quite as blatant because they prudently push the envelope as far as they can without drawing too much attention. It’s 7PM on Wednesday night – Do you know what your Faith Formation director is teaching your children?]. Our people were very aware of his support. His visits to Corpus Christi were marked by standing ovations and expression of gratitude, for we knew we sometimes put him in awkward positions with the Vatican.

But everything changed on August 13, 1998. Father Joseph Hart, who had become Vicar General the previous month, asked me to meet him for lunch at the Highland Diner. There he informed me that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger from the Vatican wrote Bishop Clark a communique, dated July 25, demanding that I be removed from Corpus Christi within two months and that a “trustworthy priest” be put in my place to bring things in line with Vatican policies [notice he’s trying to label unchangeable Catholic doctrines as “Vatican policies” – as if these issues are open for debate].

Then I heard God say to me “I have a great plan.” That’s all. I listened for more, but that was it. Those precious words were enough to sustain me during the stressful months that followed. “I have a great plan.” As everything crumbled around me, my faith assured me that things were not breaking down; they were breaking through. Something good was coming, even though I didn’t feel it at the moment. (A few months later I wrote to Bishop Clark, saying: “One day we’ll look back on this time and realize we helped God work out a ‘great plan’ for the church we both love so much. [see video below to see if this prediction came true])

I think the best way to describe Fr. Callan is with the words Archbishop Chaput used to describe Kennedy’s famous Houston speech: sincere, compelling, articulate – and wrong.

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9 Responses to “Bishop Clark’s Protective Umbrella”

  1. Mike says:

    Then I heard God say to me “I have a great plan.”

    Callan may have heard “I have a great plan,” but the spirit who said it was neither divine nor holy.

  2. Mike says:

    BTW, I clearly remember watching that “Habemus Papem” announcement live on EWTN and hollering “YES!” when Jorge Cardinal Medina Estevez got to “Josephum” and “THANK YOU, LORD!” when he said “Ratzinger.”

    What a fantastic day!

  3. Eliza10 says:

    “It’s 7PM on Wednesday night – Do you know what your Faith Formation director is teaching your children?]”

    Yes, DOR Faith Formation. I have not found much written about this at Cleansing Fire. Is it because none of us want our kids in the DOR’s Faith Formation programs?

    As a parent and a new Catholic, this was very important to me. However, I subbed in one parish’s faith formation and was horrified at how shallow the texts were, and how they avoided essential Catholic teachings. I thought of all the busy parents getting their children weekly to and from these faith formation classes, and how it was such a waste of their time, how these children would be so easily distractd away from the Catholicism they had been taught – it was shallow and meaningless. This was a fairly orthodox parish at the time.

    About this same time, I picked up my child from a neighbor’s for a short trip to Saturday confession. The neighbor child asked, “What is confession?” This neighbor child’s mother had taken this child and all her children to WEEKLY to Faith formation at her parish!

    These were enough clues for me to avoid DOR Faith Formation. Later, attending Holy Spirit, I was hoping for good Faith Formation classes. Surely we would get it there! But when I inquired about the books used, I was told that the Holy Spirit was not allowed to choose any of the Faith Formation books – it had to be chosen by the DOR, and individual parishes had no say!

    (Yes, Ben, so much for Bishop Clark’s doublespeak – that he desires “Rome give more autonomy and authority to the local church” — what he really means is he wants Rome to give more autonomy and authority to the local BISHOP.)

    So I didn’t even bother to look at the books the DOR had chosen for Holy Spirit to use. I knew what I would find. Our Bishop has ensured that the Catholic Faith will NOT be taught in his diocese, not under HIS authority.

  4. annonymouse says:

    Since the Holy Spirit guided the conclave, it seems as if Father Callan was mistaken in exactly whose voice he was hearing! Perhaps another, very different spirit was speaking to him.

    “It’s 7pm on Wednesday night – do you know what your Faith Formation Director is teaching your children” – that made me laugh out loud but then made me cringe. The answer is exactly what the Faith Formation Director learned at St. Bernards on monday or tuesday!

    Spring is coming for the DoR – 2012. You know, you can’t hold back the spring!

  5. Mike says:


    I suspect you do not see us writing very much about faith formation for children (also known as religious education or, more simply, religious ed) because very few of us are directly involved as catechists (or teachers, as our kids call us). In fact, I believe I may be the only CF staffer so engaged.

    By way of background, I am now in my 7th year as a catechist at my parish (Holy Cross). I work with junior high kids and this year I have two classes of 7th graders – one Sunday morning and one Monday night. I first got into this only because my youngest granddaughter, along with about three dozen other then-6th graders, started the year with just one teacher and the then-brand-new Director of Religious Education (or DRE) was desperate to the point of being willing to take a chance on a rookie whose only prior experience was helping two of his grandkids with their Confirmation classes.

    I share your concern about some of the materials the diocese has approved for our use, so much so that I frequently ignore them and develop my own lessons along more orthodox lines (with the permission of my DRE, of course). In 7th grade, for instance, the over-arching subject is the life of Jesus. Therefore, I have been largely basing my lessons around various portions of variety of DVDs that deal with the historical and cultural setting in the Near East in the 1st century, the gospels in general, the parables, the beatitudes, the apostles, etc., etc. I find that my kids pay more attention to, and get more out of, this type of media than they do a textbook. Playing a 5 to 10 minute clip and then getting into something of a guided discussion works pretty well for me. During the year I also add a class or two on morality (what makes an act good or bad and why, sometimes, we need the Church’s help in determining this), natural law, and whatever other issues the kids themselves might raise.

    My biggest problem, however, is not the catechetical material the diocese would like me to use, by my kids’ parents. I once took a poll of a class of nine children and found that three of them attended Mass regularly with their families, one was there only when it was her turn to serve, and the other five and their families would show up on Christmas and Easter – if it wasn’t too inconvenient. That class was a little worse than most with regard to Mass attendance, but only a little worse. Another problem is that most of these kids do not go to Confession regularly. In fact, were it not for special religious ed Penance services each Advent and Lent, I do not believe most would go at all.

    With that kind of an attitude at home towards the faith and its minimum requirements, I sometimes think I’m just spinning my wheels. But, as my DRE likes to say, “Remember, Mike, were planting seeds here. The rest is up to God.”

    Ultimately, though, ever parent should realize that religious ed is a poor substitute for Catholic schools. I have roughly an hour a week, 26 or so times a year to cover the same subject matter as a religion teacher would devote 100 to 125 hours of class time to over the course of a school year. Furthermore, the idea of faith is infused throughout the rest of the day in other classes. There’s a good article from the Diocese of Tulsa on this subject here. It concludes with the following observations …

    CCD programs will never be enough

    It must be conceded that this is a task beyond even the finest parish religious education programs. No Sunday school program, no matter how complete the content of its textbooks, how deep the commitment of its volunteers or joyful they are in their service, is capable of building the kind of social community which is founded in this kind of culture and which is capable of revealing in itself the interior life and mission of the Church.

    They cannot do this because they will always be secondary to the primary education of their students, which is secular and relativistic.

    CCD classes add an additional class to the secular curriculum, but this one class, this one hour a week, is not capable of revealing the dangerous deficiencies of secular assumptions, because by adding one class in religious studies on Sunday or on Wednesdays, we actually reinforce the secular presumption that religion has both its value and place, but separate and apart from the things of “the real world.” We accept implicitly the world’s judgment that the things of God are one of its many categories of inquiry and God Himself just one “thing” among all the rest to be studied.

    I think it is imperative that we acknowledge and accept that our first and foremost effort in religious education must be to revitalize our Catholic schools and do whatever is necessary to make certain that every family in the Diocese has the right to this kind of religious education for their children.

    There’s not much more I can add to that.

  6. Jim Callan liked having his name in the paper and being on TV. That was his downfall. He had to go, he had put too much pressure on the DoR.

    As they say, the others who stayed are still getting away with it.

  7. Ben Anderson says:

    My wife taught FF to 6th graders for one year and had about the same experience – the kids’ parents obviously weren’t supporting their formation. I’m not gonna pretend to know the best way to address that issue. She also mentioned the materials were pretty lame and mostly supplemented her own. I do, think, though that Catholic schools aren’t the only answer (although they are a good one). I went to public school and knew many other good Christian kids that did. With the proper support at home, kids have plenty of time to learn their faith and they’ll automatically integrate it into all of their learning. I probably knew the Bible a lot better in HS than I do now and it was just from going to Church, Sunday School, and learning on my own.

    I’m saddened that I’m not more involved with a local parish, but that’s just the way things are. I was involved with the RCIA at my local parish for a couple of years. I’m sure I bored the heck out of those poor folks, but I think with time my style would’ve improved. Same story there – materials pretty lame, so I supplemented almost everything. When I told the “pastoral administrator” that I wasn’t attending mass there and that I wasn’t supporting the parish financially because I refused to support the Bishop’s progressive agenda, he asked me to stop my involvement with RCIA. Now I’m on the other end of town now and have considered offering to help w/ a local parish here, but it’d probably go about the same way because I would not attend mass there or support them financially. It’s just a sad situation all around. My major hope is to one day be an active part of a parish that is w/in 5 minutes of my house – to feel comfortable having my kids involved in its programs. Even a new bishop isn’t gonna be able to solve that problem unless he brings in more than enough decent priests to go around. Hope and pray… hope and pray.

  8. Mike says:


    When I got involved in religious ed at Holy Cross I was still a parishioner at Our Lady of Mercy, although I did have two other grandkids in the HC school and was involved somewhat there. HC didn’t seem to mind that I was attending Mass and putting money into the collection basket elsewhere but, as I said, they were in something of a fix. (They still are, BTW, which is why both I and another catechist are taking double shifts this year.)

    What to do about parents who don’t seem to care is the topic of a long-running, off-and-on discussion around here. No one I’m aware of has come up with a good solution. Even superb homiletics would do no good for the person who doesn’t attend Mass. We do offer a variety of adult-oriented faith formation classes, some one-nighters and some longer running, with a variety of subject matter and on various nights of the week – and all of them well advertised on our web site. No matter what we seem to try, however, we still seem get the same 2 or 3 dozen, mostly older folks to show up.

    What we’re dealing with here, I’m sure, is the effect of 2 generations of abysmal catechesis. What to do about it, other than prayer, remains a mystery.

  9. Eliza10 says:

    Mike, Thanks for explaining what you do. It is a noble way to serve. Particularly because it can be thankless! Yes, I noticed when I was subbing that most of the children weren’t getting much at home, and certainly not example. And when you teach at this age you often cannot count on the rewards of seeing that you are getting through to them. But you are planting seeds.* Maybe that thankless and noble task will be a way that I will serve in a few short years, when I am not in the thick of things that I am in now.

    Ben, if you serve again, don’t throw your pearls to the swine. They don’t need to know you don’t support the Bishop’s agenda! It pretty much challenging them to be loyal to their bishop and kick you out. They would probably be happier not knowing where you stand, anyway. But you probably already figured that out.

    I guess one thing I have learned overtime (some people are born knowing this but some of us have to learn it the hard way) is that I do not owe every just-met stranger complete transparency on where I stand on things. Because some of those people hold their own cards close while they peer at yours, just so they can us that info for their own interests (and maybe against yours). I know in the past I have been naive in projecting my own morality on others. Also I have been one to accept at face value the “picture of who I am” that some people construct for others but is not necessarily who they actually are. Actions tell more of who a person is and it takes some time around a person to see that.

    I guess that short of that tangent is I just don’t open up so very readily anymore. For me, little more listening, a little less talking than I might tend to is more prudent.


    * So shall my word be, which shall go forth from my mouth: it shall not return to me void, but it shall do whatsoever I please, and shall prosper in the things for which I sent it. -Isaiah 55:11

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