Skip to comments.Newark bishop's legacy is mixed
Posted on 09/06/2001 8:58:09 PM PDT by ELS
Bishop John J. Myers -- who is about to become archbishop of Newark -- leaves behind a deeply divided diocese in Peoria, Ill., largely because of his strong conservative views and management style.
Many praise his leadership and say he champions authentic Catholic doctrine at a time when many feel Catholics are drifting from strict observance. But his critics describe a domineering bishop who places undue emphasis on the letter of the law at the expense of compassion.
In recent weeks, controversies over Myers' 10 years in Peoria have resurfaced in light of his appointment to the much larger archdiocese of Newark. He has been criticized for:
Myers, through a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Newark, denied Peoria is divided.
"For the vast majority of people in the Diocese of Peoria, the exact opposite is true," the bishop wrote in response to a question. "We live our faith in communion with the church in Rome -- something not unique to Peoria. It's sometimes difficult for us as Catholics to follow a way that appears to be different from what others in our society practice or believe. This can, understandably, cause confusion or frustration in some people."
In his letter to the Journal-Star, Collins said 30 of the 300 priests in the diocese have left since Myers became bishop in 1990. Catholic officials say the number is not unusual. Nine left for positions in other dioceses or religious orders, or to become missionaries. Twenty left to marry or for "theological reasons," said the Rev. Steven Rohlfs, chancellor of the diocese.
But one of the former priests said "what he [Myers] stood for definitely had a role in my leaving." Jack Real, now married and head of the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless in Denver, said the bishop "is committed to legalities that make it difficult to discuss and dissent."
The Rev. James Campbell, retired vicar general of the Peoria Diocese, disagrees with this assessment. He said the bishop does listen to others, but adds that "he will make his decisions in accord with the truth and the magisterium of the church."
Myers has ordained more than 90 priests in the past decade, an unusually high number for a diocese the size of Peoria.
His critics say those ordinations are of like-minded men and include some who had previously been rejected for ordination.
The Rev. David Kipfer, once director of vocations for the diocese and a supporter of the bishop, said it is true that some men sought ordination in Peoria after being rejected by their home diocese.
"In one case," he said, "the Diocese of San Diego told a man that perhaps he would do better in the Midwest." He said the diocese in Peoria sometimes accepted such candidates after making its own assessment of the potential priest. Some applicants were rejected, he said.
Myers said he has ordained men who found Peoria to be their "spiritual home," a place "where their faith came alive," even if it was not their geographic home.
Critics say Myers has moved aside longtime priests in favor of like-minded colleagues, known derogatively as the "bishop's boys."
"His first agenda was to replace pastors and chaplains that he did not trust," said one priest. Like many of the two dozen priests interviewed for this article, he requested anonymity because of the tensions in the diocese. He was quick to point out Myers' good qualities -- his intelligence and administrative skills, among them -- but criticized him for being "very authoritarian."
Another priest, the Rev. Gerald Ward of St. Patrick's Church in Bloomington, said Myers could be very compassionate if priests had personal problems, but said "he has not been strong in empowering the people of the diocese." Ward and other priests said Myers centralized the decision-making power in the bishop's office.
"If it got back to him that you opposed him, he held that against you," he said.
Those who accuse him of being arrogant and controlling, Myers said, "are people who don't agree with me on a particular issue."
"If you talk with people with whom I work closely," he said in an interview last month, "you'll find that I seek input and advice."
Myers disagrees with those who say he has emphasized the priesthood over the needs of the laity. But through the Newark spokesman, he commented: "Crucial to the present and future of this church is the role of the priest as minister and as spiritual leader of the parish. With more laity and fewer priests, it's only natural to try to place an emphasis on how the priest can be an effective minister to his parish."
Others in the church hierarchy have said the shortage of priests means that the church needs to place more responsibilities in the hands of lay people.
Margaret Hoerr, who has coordinated lay ministry training programs for the diocese, said she respects Myers, but thinks he has slowed down reform of the church, which began with the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s.
"The people who want to move ahead are being blocked," she said.
Progressives such as Hoerr favor more flexibility in Catholic practice, while Myers argues for strict interpretations of Vatican law. "A lot of us are very unhappy," she said.
"He believes in the institutional church," said one woman who recently has become less active in her parish. She contends that the church is also made up of its people, some of whom disagree with Vatican policies while embracing the faith.
"He'll give orders," said the woman, who asked that her name not be used for fear of jeopardizing the Catholic school scholarships her grandchildren receive. "He doesn't like to listen to the other side."
But Kipfer, now a priest in Ottawa, Ill., disputed the charges that Myers discourages dissent. "He is very respectful of persons, even those who disagree with him.
"But when it comes to the teaching of the church, he will be very clear," Kipfer said. "When he makes a decision, he is very firm and clear on it."
Maybe I need to move east to Newark. These criticisms to me read as a litany of the highest order of praise for an American bishop. I pray when my current bishop leaves, is removed or retires (how much longer, Lord?), we get one like Myers.
Oh, despite my own diocese's shortcomings, I love my mountains here in west central PA, and couldn't wait to return here from Philly/NJ. I couldn't go east again. Too scared of tsunamis.
Do I detect a hint of sarcasm? Maybe just a tiny bit of sarcasm?
Imagine the nerve of a Chatholic bishop standing up for Chatholic doctrine, of all the nerve.
Sinkspur, NB: Myers has ordained more than 90 priests in the past decade, an unusually high number for a diocese the size of Peoria.
Bruskewitz didn't just "threaten" to excommunicate CTA. He did it. Would that we had a couple dozen Bruskewitz's -- the AmChurch would die out in a hurry and we'd have a Catholic Renaissance right here in the New World.
Some of these guys were kicked out of other dioceses. It's good that they've found a home in Peoria unless, of course, the next bishop isn't a John Myers.
LOL! The archdiocese spans four counties, two of which are among the most affluent in the country. The city of Newark is only part of the archdiocese. However, it does have a beautiful basilica (go on a virtual tour) that is near public transportation.
Well no, not quite. They weren't exactly kicked out -- they were rejected as suitable priest candidates for their particular diocese. This is another reason why the heterodox bishops have a priest shortage: because the screen out those candidates with "unacceptable" views. Like what, you ask?
According to what I've read, men who believe in an overly "conservative" view of the Pope, Mary, the Saints, the magisterium, the Real Presence, etc. I've heard of men who were screened out simply because they subscribed to Latin Mass magazine. Any stuff like that will often result in being screened out by the wiccan "religious" who serve in these capacities.
I believe the so-called priest shortage is manufactured by people whose agenda is served by the lack of good priests.
The main "criticisms" of Bishop Myers seem like good credentials to me.Usual type of newspaper article on the arrival of a new "conservative" Bishop. They go to his old diocese, he's had some luck there (actually has ordained priests and people are returning to the pews, the whole point of the thing) but he's been horribly divisive and marginalized people (read non-Catholics who like to claim to be Catholic), etc., etc. All these articles start with a "many praise" type statement, though its usually longer then this one, and then immediately go into the "controversy." They find a few tired old liberal, at least one priest and one woman, and quote them about how the Bishop wouldn't listen to them (give in) etc. Same type of article when Egan went to New York, Pell in Australia, etc.
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