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Kevin ClarkeJuly 08, 2010

The saga of South African Bishop Kevin Dowling's incendiary address, which was up before being down and then up again on the good old internet, took a step or two closer to truthiness when NCR was able to wrangle some kind of explanation from Dowling about the speech he presented June 1 before a small group of lay people. He says that he meant his pretty frank thoughts not to leave the room but was unaware that a reporter was present but did he really expect a room full of people to keep this to themselves and if so why did he send copies to other bishops and none of that explains why Independent Catholic News had the ups and downs with the post in the first place and why won't someone return a fella's email around here . . . oh, maybe I'll let him and NCR try to explain it:

Dowling told NCRin a telephone interview today that he gave the talk June 1 to a group of "influential lay Catholics" who meet periodically for lunch in Cape Town. The group, Dowling said, had asked him to speak "on how I view the current state of the church."

"In subsequent conversations, it became clear to me that the group of well-informed Catholic lay leaders wanted an analysis that would be open and very honest," Dowling said July 8. "Given the fact that it would be a select group with no media present, I decided I would be open and honest in my views to initiate debate and discussion."

A reporter, however, was present and what Dowling meant as an "off the record" conversation with lay leaders became local news. Dowling subsequently sent copies of his talk to his fellow South African bishops. NCR received a copy of the document and contacted Dowling to verify its authenticity.

I guess what's truly sad here is that Dowling felt utterly prevented from being "open and honest" and speaking his mind on the state of the church to more than a roomful of people he was foolish enough (crafty enough?) to think would keep it to themselves. Are there other bishops who share Dowling's insights and misgivings? Will we ever know? Here's to more openness and honesty without all the internet skullduggery and here's the rest of NCR's report.

Kevin Clarke


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Carolyn Disco
14 years ago
No truer words spoken, Jim, and thank you for the courage it takes to say so publicly in the always intimidating clerical environment. Thank you, thank you.
Bishop Dowling joins Geoffrey Robinson of Australia as one of the very few prelates with integrity and nerves of steel.
In my view, Tom Reese's example is never too far from view, is it? And who really believes Gerhard Gruber freely rescinded statements to his friends about basically taking the fall for Ratzinger/Benedict in the case of Peter Hullermann in Munich?
Jim McCrea
14 years ago
I'll add the name of Tom Gumbleton to the very short list (I'm sure there are others and it would be nice if they spoke up and out!) of prelates with integrity and nerves of steel.
It is particularly important that they all have spoken out BEFORE they retired!  There have been a few belatedly brave bishops, but their thoughts and impact have been diluted somewhat by waiting until it was reasonable safe to speak.
Not only are these men ordain to comfort the afficted but they must also afflict the comfortable if they are to regain the trust of the ever-increasing sadly disillusioned masses of "the faithful."
ed gleason
14 years ago
If we are making a list , Let's also put up the names Martin of Dublin and Schornborn of Vienna. Lynch of St Augustine head has also been seen above ground.
Adam Rasmussen
14 years ago
"I guess what's truly sad here is that Dowling felt utterly prevented from being "open and honest" and speaking his mind on the state of the church to more than a roomful of people..." I agree. A bishop should speak his mind, if he thinks it's important, even if he is disagreeing with the pope. Now that's not to say that I agree with him, but open communication would probably be helpful, if the bishop is serious (I'm not saying petty disagreements should be aired without good cause). If we got all this stuff out into the open, maybe we could move forward. The pope is not going to excommunicate a bishop for expressing opinions, even erroneous ones, that are routinely expressed by many theologians and priests.
Brendan McGrath
14 years ago
Are we perhaps witnessing the start of something, something good, with comments like those of Bishop Dowling and Cardinal Schonborn?  (By the way, how do you spell the latter's name?  I've seen Schonborn, Schoenborn, etc.)  We're sort of in the midst of night with lots of bad news recently, but I wonder if something else is starting without our noticing it; maybe it's only later that we'll be able to look back and trace it.  (I know I'm being optimistic here.)  But here's a few possible moments in this "start of something":
1) Peggy Noonan breaking the silence (at least what's always seemed to me as silence) among more conservative Catholics about accountability for bishops with her column several weeks ago, which culminated with the closing line that Cardinal Law should not be where he is, and should be "neither mitred, nor ringed."  Was this column the start of something?  Up until then, it always seemed to me (and I could be wrong) that more "conservative" Catholics - the EWTN, Knights-of-Columbus type crowd that the hierarchy cannot ignore as they can Voice of the Faithful, etc. - would only talk about addressing priestly sex abuse (which many linked to homosexuality), but never show any awareness about the need for bishops to be removed or resign, etc.  (Again, this is just my impression, and obviously there could be exceptions, but I haven't seen many high-profile ones.)
2) EWTN's Raymond Arroyo discussing the scandal with a guest on "The World Over," and reading quotes from Peggy Noonan's column, including the final "neither mitred, nor ringed" bombshell.  I.e., Arroyo FINALLY talked about the need for bishops to be removed and held accountable - it was significant in that someone on EWTN was criticizing bishops for something other than taking liberal positions, etc.
3) The resignations of Irish bishops, Archbishop Martin saying and doing the right things (wasn't Brady also pretty good on this, or am I confusing him with someone else?), etc. - basically, the Irish bishops seemed much less tone-deaf and willfully obtuse than the American hierarchy.
4) Cardinal Schonborn's comments.
5) That piece over at First Things saying that Cardinal Sodano needs to go.
6) The Belgian police raid - could this start to rattle Benedict and make him realize words aren't enough?
7) Bishop Dowling's comments.
Is something starting?  Or do these things seem more significant to me than they actually are?  I love the Church, believe in infallibility, etc., and it's precisely because I believe that the papacy and the episcopacy are divinely established that I am angry and frustrated at the pope and various members of the hierarchy whose actions or lack thereof have caused more and more people to reject the papacy, the episcopacy, and the Church as a whole.
Josephine Siedlecka
14 years ago
I have already sent you a comment about the Dowling story. I'm not sure why it has not appeared here. I published the story on ICN yesterday morning. There was an error. A couple of lines were missing. So  pulled the story for a few hours (after several thousand people had read it) . 
I re-posted it with the missing lines in the afternoon. Many more people have read it since on www.indcatholicnews.com
As i said earlier - I love the Catholic Church and I am not afraid it. My job as a reporter is just to tell the truth.  Jo Siedlecka editor  ICN
Bain Wellington
14 years ago
Bishop Dowling is not at all inhibited from making wild and irresponsible comments in public.  All the main elements of his "underground" speech had already been written by him in the South African Catholic weekly newspaper, The Southern Cross, as recently as January 2009.

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