Richard McBrien’s favorite bishops! Make popcorn.

When John Paul II came to the See of Peter in 1978 the Church was in the verge of splintering.  One of the late Pope’s greatest accomplishments was to drag us back from the edge of schism. 

Over many years, John Paul shifted the balance of the world’s episcopate.  He slowly began to approve the nominations of men who were more men of the Church than men of the world.  He could not simply do his own thing in the case of nominations, in my opinion, because there was for a long while a real danger of revolt from the left, the liberal camp in the episcopate, not just in the academy or rank and file of clergy.  This explains in part why the late Pope seemingly inexplicably was willing to promote men he had to have known were something like enemies to his views about the direction of the Church and her teaching, especially about human sexuality.  Thus, he had to work slowly, over the decades he seemed he knew from the very beginning of his pontificate would be granted to him. 

John Paul II slowly shifted the episcopate, focusing especially on regions such as the central part of the USA (in the vitally important anglophone world), and spreading outward from there.  He made incremental changes and, over time, they worked. 

The episcopate and college of cardinals as of April 2005 was quite different from that of 1978.

Joseph Card. Ratzinger was a close adviser to John Paul II.  I cannot help but think that his influence figured in some of what I suggest above.

And so we turn to that increasingly mawkish dissident Richard McBrien, inexplicably still on the faculty of Notre Dame.

Last week McBrien, perennial property of the National Catholic Fishwrap, whines that his sort of Catholic hasn’t been appointed as bishop in the USA for far too long. 

McBrien says that the bishops appointed by Pope Benedict, and John Paul before him are "ciphers at best, hopeless reactionaries at worst".

After an encomium of the late Archbishop Jadot, erstwhile Apostolic Delegate in the USA from 1973-1980, and in great part responsible for disaster in these parts, McBrien lists his favorite bishops, whom he "fondly and gratefully" remembers:

Let’s have a look.  You won’t be surprised at either his choice or his mawkish nostalgia.  He adds a caveat: perhaps from his "innocence or ignorance" he might have included a bishop who didn’t belong… in other words a bishop who was perhaps not liberal enough: 

  • Leroy Matthieson, Amarillo, Texas, 1980-97;
  • Francis Hurley, archbishop of Anchorage, Alaska, 1976-2001;
  • John McCarthy, Austin, Texas, 1986-2001
  • Richard Cushing, cardinal-archbishop of Boston, 1944-70
  • Lawrence Shehan, cardinal-archbishop of Baltimore, 1961-74
  • William Borders, archbishop of Baltimore, 1974-89
  • Francis Mugavero, Brooklyn, 1968-90
  • Albert Meyer, cardinal-archbishop of Chicago, 1958-65
  • Joseph Bernardin, cardinal-archbishop of Chicago, 1982-96
  • William Hughes, Covington, Ky, 1979-95
  • Victor Balke, Crookston Minn., 1976-2007
  • Maurice Dingman, Des Moines, Iowa, 1968-86
  • John Dearden, cardinal-archbishop of Detroit, 1958-80
  • William McManus, Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind., 1976-85
  • Donald Pelotte, S.S.S., Gallup, N.M., 1990-2008
  • Lawrence McNamara, Grand Island, Nebr., 1978-2004
  • Joseph Breitenbeck, Grand Rapids, Mich., 1969-89
  • Joseph Imesh, Joliet, Ill., 1979-2006
  • Michael Kenny, Juneau, Alaska, 1979-95
  • Thomas Kelly, O.P., archbishop of Louisville, 1982-2007
  • Cletus O’Donnell, Madison, Wis., 1967-92
  • Rembert Weakland, archbishop of Milwaukee, 1977-2002
  • Peter Gerety, archbishop of Newark, 1974-86
  • Raymond Lucker, New Ulm, Minn., 1975-2000
  • Terence Cooke, cardinal-archbishop of New York, 1968-83
  • John Cummins, Oakland, Calif., 1977-2003
  • Victor Reed, Oklahoma City, Okla., 1958-71
  • John McRaith, Owensboro, Ky., 1982-2009
  • Charles Buswell, Pueblo, Colo., 1959-79
  • F. Joseph Gossman, Raleigh, N.C., 1975-2006
  • Walter Sullivan, Richmond, Va., 1974-2003
  • Francis Quinn, Sacramento, Calif., 1979-93
  • Kenneth Untener, Saginaw, Mich., 1980-2004
  • John May, archbishop of St. Louis, 1980-92
  • John Roach, archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis, 1975-95
  • Patrick Flores, archbishop of San Antonio, Texas, 1979-2004
  • John R. Quinn, archbishop of San Francisco, 1977-95
  • Raymond Hunthausen, archbishop of Seattle Wash., 1975-91
  • Bernard Topel, Spokane, Wash., 1955-78
  • John Leibrecht, Springfield-Cape Girardeau, Mo., 1984-2008
  • Frank Harrison, Syracuse, NY, 1976-87
  • Bernard Flanagan, Worcester, Mass., 1959-83
  • James Malone, Youngstown, Ohio, 1968-95
  • Robert Joyce, Burlington, Vt., 1957-71
  • Paul Leibold, archbishop of Cincinnati, 1969-72
  • James Casey, archbishop of Denver, 1967-86
  • John Whealon, Hartford, Conn., 1969-91.
  • Ernest Primeau, Manchester, N.H., 1960-74
  • Carroll Dozier, Memphis, Tenn., 1971-82
  • Thomas Grady, Orlando, Fla., 1974-89
  • John Snyder, St. Augustine, Fla., 1979-2000
  • Thomas Murphy, archbishop of Seattle, 1991-97
  • William Friend, Shreveport, La., 1986-2006
  • Joseph Maguire, Springfield, Mass., 1977-91
  • John Nevins, Venice, Fla., 1984-2007.

And I love this direct shot at Bp. Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph:

Then there were the three bishops of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., whose good work the incumbent has done so much to undo: Charles Helmsing, 1962-77, John J. Sullivan, 1977-93, and Raymond Boland, 1993-2005.


If this is what McBrien, perennial property of the National Catholic Fishwrap, thinks of Bp. Finn, then you know Finn must be one of the best appointments in recent decades.

Think about this.  Why the special dig at Bp. Finn? 

In which Missouri city is the National Catholic Reporter’s HQ?

McBrien concludes:

If anyone wants to know why there has been so much hemorrhaging from the Catholic church in recent years (the Pew Study of U.S. religions has put the number at 3 in 10) and why there is so much demoralization among those who have thus far remained, we need look no further than the general pattern of appointments to, and promotions within, the U.S. hierarchy over the past three decades.

It will immediately occur to the reader to wonder if perhaps the very list McBrien praises might not be the reason for the hemorrhaging and the demoralization.

Just for McBrien, I include here a snap of His Excellency Most Rev. Robert Finn, Bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph in his cappa magna:

This week in NCR McBrien describes Charles E. Curran as "the leading Catholic moral theologian in the United States and one of the Catholic church’s most distinguished moral theologians worldwide".

You just have to smile.

[Send comments to my email…. think about it….   Put "McBrien’s Bishops" in the subject line without the " "]

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. From readers:

    Fr. Z: another reason for the dig is that HE Bp. Finn took the step shortly after his installation of dropping McBrien’s Essays in Theology from the Diocesan paper, The Catholic Key (thank God!).


    One of the first things Bishop Finn did after his installation as bishop of our Diocese was to eliminate Fr. McBrien’s syndicated column from the diocesan newspaper, The Catholic Key. Here is Bishop Finn’s explanation of this in a Key article from that time ( ). I’m sure it did not make Fr. McBrien too happy then.


    Fr. Z, in your post about McBrien’s list of bishops, you begin with a summary of pope John Paul II’s strategy to pull the Church back from schism. This summary answers the many questions in my mind about the seeming inaction of the Holy Father while the “spirit of Vatican II” was turning so many of our parishes into something more similar to Protestant churches than Catholic ones. And many other problems that it seemed that JPII was turning a blind eye on.

  2. From a reader:

    What a wonderful column. I used to wince when I’d see McBrien coming on television. Now I just avoid programs he’s on. He has nothing to say that’s of interest to me. I had to look up mawkish just to be sure what it meant. Perfect!

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