His Excellency Most Reverend Alexander Sample, the next Archbishop of Portland, was interviewed by The Oregonian. They didn’t lob him softballs.
After an introductory paragraph or two in which they tee the reader up with the news that he is a rising star and that he likes the pre-Conciliar liturgy.
Here is the business end of the piece. I think you’ll find that he acquits himself very well.
In a telephone interview Friday, Sample talked about his experience handling clergy sex abuse claims, his “obvious fondness for traditional liturgy” and how open he is to the diversity of Western Oregon’s Catholic community. His answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Q: What did you know about the Archdiocese of Portland when you received the call about becoming the next archbishop?
A: I knew about the bankruptcy. The archdiocese was the first to go through with that. It was huge news. But other than knowing about some of the past archbishops, I didn’t know a whole lot. As soon as I got off the phone, I pulled the National Catholic Directory off the shelf.
Q: A priest of the Archdiocese of Portland is facing criminal charges related to sexual abuse. What does an archdiocese owe to a priest in that position? For example, is it appropriate for an archdiocese to give or lend an accused priest money to cover his defense?
A: I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to comment on that situation. I’m not the archbishop there yet and don’t know all the details. But I can answer from my own experience.
A lot of people in the church don’t understand the implications of what we call incardination, the attachment of a priest to a diocese. The church has certain obligations. If a priest is completely dismissed from the clerical state, the responsibility of the archdiocese ceases. But if he is removed from ministry, but not dismissed from the clerical state, canon law requires that the church provide some sustenance, some decent support of living to that person. Not that we have to support them in luxury, by any means, but health insurance and a minimal stipend to live on is required. Many of these men are elderly and not able to find other employment.
This causes great concern from people used to a more secular mode, where a person is fired and you’re done with him, you have no other responsibility.
Q: The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, says you’ve “done nothing to distinguish” yourself from “the overwhelming majority of Catholic officials who continue to minimize and hide clergy sex crimes.” How could you be more transparent in regard to this issue?
A: It’s a very tricky minefield I have to navigate. There are competing interests at stake. First and foremost are the interests of those who have been victimized. But there are also the interests of the accused. We live in a system, in a church, where the accused has a right to defense. And, in civil cases, we have to be concerned for the patrimony of the diocese and the interests of the folks in the pews.
Sometimes the bishop is in the middle. People are angry because he hasn’t done enough for the victims or hasn’t been just to the priest. Parishioners are mad because we’ve removed their beloved pastor and the charges couldn’t possibly be true and why are they bringing it up 25 years later. And the issues of confidentiality and the right to privacy apply to victims as well.
I mean to be as open as we can, saying as much as we can, keeping people as informed as we can without getting into confidential details. If a priest is removed for some kind of misconduct, we used to say he had health issues. We wouldn’t give the reasons. That’s what we have to get over. If father is removed because of an accusation, we need to tell the people straight out. They are adults, they have a right to know this information. We can’t afford to forget about the victims, they need to be informed and brought along through the process.
Q: Catholics in Western Oregon are divided between those who long to return to traditional liturgies and strict adherence to official church teaching and those who are critical of church teaching, often presenting their cases with careful historical and theological reasoning. What do you have to say to these two groups?
A: I am called to be the shepherd of all of those people. I probably Google-up as a more traditional, strong defender of church teaching kind of person. That shouldn’t communicate that I’m not willing to engage in dialogue. I want to understand people’s perspectives.
Q: Are you bringing a more conservative point of view to the archdiocese?
A: I don’t come in with any sense of stridency. It will take me some time to get to know the church, the people there, the culture of Portland and other areas. My first task is to learn, to listen, to observe, not be like a bull in a china shop.
Q: Why are you a fan of the old rite, or Latin Mass?
A: I am completely a product of the second Vatican Council. That period of renewal and reform in the church is part of who I am. I was in college before I really knew what that older Mass was like. I took a music appreciation class and heard Gregorian chant for the first time. Then five years ago, the holy father asked his bishops to be generous with the traditional liturgy for people who were attached to it. I was a bishop, I needed to know both forms. I got my videotapes and learned to do it privately. I’ve had three opportunities to celebrate it as a bishop. From my experience, the old Mass enriches my understanding of the ordinary, or English, Mass. People don’t need to be worried that I’ll suddenly introduce the traditional liturgy in every parish of the archdiocese. But I will be generous with the folks there who request that form.
Q: Women are active in the archdiocese, as teachers at every level of education, as parish administrators and volunteers. Catholic sisters have played and continue to play a major role. Some of these women have organized to challenge the church to use their gifts more effectively. How do you see the role of women in the church?
A: Aside from the issue of women’s ordination, I’m comfortable, supportive and encouraging. I’ve worked with a lot of women in leadership and we’d be lost without them. The feminine genius needs to be part of the conversation.
Q: Some people wonder if you’ll be here in Western Oregon very long. They’ve read that you are a rising star and might move on quickly to another church post. Cardinal Francis George was here for about a year.
A: Listen, that is the farthest thing from my mind. I wasn’t looking for a move. I have every intention to be there for a long time. I’m even thinking of relocating my 84-year-old mother there.