The Laghi Legacy: From June 23, 1990

Archbishop Pio Laghi, the Popes representative in Washington, D.C., has recently been appointed head of the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education (for Seminaries and Educational Institutions). Archbishop Laghi is leaving behind a hierarchy that he helped remake under the direction of John Paul II. As the Popes representative to the US. church he was intimately involved in the appointment of bishops (see "The Selection of Bishops," AM., Aug. 18, 1984). His legacy to the U S. church includes the bishops appointed during his tenure, some of whom will serve into the 21st century.

The bishops appointed under Archbishop Laghi are often compared to those appointed under Archbishop Jean Jadot, whom he replaced in December 1980. The consensus among journalists and nonepiscopal experts is that the bishops appointed under Archbishop Laghi and John Paul II are more "conservative" than bishops appointed under Archbishop Jadot and Paul VI. These labels apply primarily to church issues, not political or economic issues. Cardinal John OConnor of New York, for example, is frequently referred to as a conservative, yet he is very pro-labor and testified against the MX missile. He is more like a Kennedy-Johnson Democrat than a Reagan Republican, but his strong views on abortion make him anathema to some political liberals. The more thoughtful observers of the American hierarchy focus on internal church issues when comparing bishops, rather than on these political issues.

As Msgr. John Tracy Ellis told the National Catholic Reporter (April 20): "I would characterize the Laghi bishops as theologically correct, meaning that they follow the line of the Holy See. They dont vary or wander away.... I dont think a man of very liberal sentiments and views would have a chance at all." E. 1. Dionne Jr., made the same point succinctly in the New York Times (Jan. 30, 1987); The Jadot bishops "tend to be liberal... The Laghi bishops... tend to be more conservative."

Archbishop Laghi and Archbishop Jadot disagree with analyses of this sort. "There is no difference between the appointments made by Laghi and myself," Archbishop Jadot told me in 1983. "Most of the candidates appointed I would have proposed as my number-one choice. Some I would not have expected for the particular diocese they received. For example, I knew [Adam 1.] Maida was a man to keep an eye on, but I had never thought of Green Bay for him. I knew that [Anthony 1.] Bevilacqua would not remain an auxiliary in Brooklyn." It is interesting that Archbishop Jadot mentioned seven years ago men who eventually became archbishops of cardinalatial sees. Archbishop Laghi, it should be added, declined to be interviewed for this article.

Neither do the US. bishops agree with the medias division of the hierarchy into liberal and conservative. Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk, made Archbishop of Cincinnati under Laghi and now president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, refused to generalize on the difference between the Laghi and Jadot appointments. "There is the folk wisdom that it has all gone conservative," he told me. "I mistrust those labels for one thing."

It is probably impossible to resolve this debate. I would not deny the hypothesis that the Laghi bishops are more conservative than the Jadot bishops. But before I would accept it as proven, I would like to see more clarity in defining conservative and more than anecdotal evidence to support the thesis. It is not clear, for example, that the Jadot bishops were really that liberal. Archbishop Jadot told me that when he was in Washington: "If a priest had given a lecture or written an article against Humanae Vitae or for womens ordination, he would have had a difficult time becoming a bishop. He was saying the opposite of the magisterium."

"My perception is that Archbishop Laghi has tried to nominate the best possible men for the job," says Archbishop Pilarczyk. "He of course does not have the last word. He makes his recommendations, and then those recommendations are sent over to the Congregation for Bishops and ultimately a recommendation is made to the Holy Father."

Archbishop Pilarczyks comments point to the central problem in judging the Laghi legacy. The secrecy of the process for selection of bishops makes it impossible to know whom Archbishop Laghi may have recommended for a see. We do not know when he was doing what he was told and when he was acting on his own. One bishop told me the Pro-Nuncios appointments would have been better if he had not been constrained by Rome. Americans in Rome like Cardinal William W. Baum and Archbishop Justin F. Rigali are said to be very influential in the appointment of bishops. The final judgment on the Laghi legacy cannot be made until sometime in the next century, when historians have access to what are now secret files and correspondence. In the meantime, evaluations can only be tentative and impressionistic.

The second problem in judging the Laghi legacy is that we have little more than anecdotal evidence of the theological views of the American bishops. Most of these anecdotes are about archbishops of major sees. While the 32 Latin-rite archbishops make up only 11 percent of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (N.C.C.B.), they have an impact beyond their numbers. During Archbishop Jadots tenure, which began in 1973, 15 archbishops were appointed: William D. Borders to Baltimore, Patrick F. Flores to San Antonio, Peter L. Gerety to Newark, James A. Hickey to Washington, Raymond G. Hunthausen to Seattle, Francis T. Hurley to Anchorage, Oscar H. Lipscomb to Mobile, Edward A. McCarthy to Miami, John L. May to St. Louis, Edward T. OMeara to Indianapolis, John R. Quinn to San Francisco, John R. Roach to St. Paul, Charles A. Salatka to Oklahoma City, Robert Sanchez to Santa Fe and Rembert Weakland, O. S. B., to Milwaukee.

During Archbishop Laghis years in Washington, 18 archbishops were appointed: Joseph Bernardin to Chicago, Anthony 1. Bevilacqua to Philadelphia, William H. Keeler to Baltimore, Thomas C. Kelly, o.P., to Louisville, Daniel Kucera to Dubuque, Bernard F. Law to Boston, William 1. Levada to Portland, Theodore E. McCarrick to Newark, Roger M. Mahony to Los Angeles, Adam 1. Maida to Detroit, Eugene A. Marino, S.S.J., to Atlanta, Thomas 1. Murphy as coadjutor archbishop to Seattle, John 1. OConnor to New York, Daniel E. Pilarczyk to Cincinnati, Joseph T. Ryan to the military archdiocese, Francis B. Schulte to New Orleans, 1. Francis Stafford to Denver and Edmund C. Szoka to Detroit.

Discretion encourages me to leave the judging of these archbishops to the reader and God. It is clear, however, that Cardinal Hickey, a Jadot appointment, is no more a darling of the liberals than Cardinal Bernardin, a Laghi appointment, is a darling of the conservatives. Three of the Jadot archbishops (May, Roach and Quinn) have been elected president of the N. C. C. B. Two of the Laghi archbishops (Bernardin and Pilarczyk) have been president and another (Keeler) soon will be. A number from both groups have been elected by their peers to chair bishops conference committees.

It is also important to note that 13 of the 18 Laghi archbishops started their episcopal careers under Jadot: Archbishops Bevilacqua, Keeler, Kelly, Kucera, Law, McCarrick, Mahony, Marino, Murphy, OConnor, Pilarczyk, Stafford and Szoka. If these men had not become bishops under Jadot, it is unlikely they would have been appointed archbishops under Laghi. Thus both the papal representatives share the credit or blame for these 13 archbishops.

Often these selections for archiepiscopal sees are cited to categorize the entire U. S. hierarchy, but they make up only a handful of all the bishops appointed during Laghis and Jadots terms. In discussing the appointment of bishops, it is essential to distinguish between first appointments and promotions. Approximately 134 new bishops were ordained during Laghis tenure. These new appointees make up about 44 percent of the active members of the N.C.C.B. In addition, other bishops, appointed under earlier apostolic delegates, were promoted under Laghi.

One needs to focus on these 134 new bishops if one really wants to understand the Laghi legacy. In the analysis that follows below, I will compare the backgrounds of these 134 new bishops with those of the 103 new bishops appointed under Jadot. The analysis is based on my ongoing survey of U. S. bishops to which 97 percent of the bishops have responded (see "Survey of the American Bishops," AM., Nov. 12, 1983).

Laghi Myths 

There are a number of myths about the Laghi bishops that are clearly false.

Myth 1: "Under Laghi, fewer pastors were appointed bishops than under Jadot."

Fact: At the time of their appointments, 36 percent of the priests ordained bishops under both Jadot and Laghi were pastors. When one looks at the appointees entire careers, more had been pastors at some time prior to their appointments under Laghi (69 percent) than under Jadot (65 percent).

Myth 2: "Laghi appointed more bureaucrats and chancery officials than Jadot."

Fact: At the time of their episcopal ordination during the Jadot years, a slightly higher percentage of priests were chancery officials (38 percent) than was the case during the Laghi years (35 percent). Similarly, 44 percent of the Jadot appointees had at some time held a major chancery position (chancellor, vicar general, secretary to the bishop, moderator of the curia) compared to 42 percent for the Laghi appointees. Under Jadot, only 19 percent of the new appointees lacked chancery experience while under Laghi 28 percent had no chancery experience. Moreover, we also find that Laghi appointed more priests with experience as seminary teachers or administrators than Jadot did (48 percent contrasted with 31 percent).

Myth 3: "Jadot appointees were better educated than Laghi appointees."

Fact: Under Jadot 46 percent of the appointees had a higher secular degree (M.A., M.S.w or Ph.D), while under Laghi 55 percent had such degrees. Under Jadot 38 percent had ecclesiastical degrees, while under Laghi 47 percent had such degrees.

Myth 4: "Laghi appointed more canon lawyers than Jadot."

Fact: Under both Laghi and Jadot, 15 percent of the priests appointed bishops had a degree in canon law (lC.L. or lC.D.). The increase actually was in theological degrees (S.T.L., S.T.M. or S.T.D.) under Laghi (34 percent) as opposed to Jadot (23 percent).

This is an analysis of the data for all the priests who were ordained to the episcopate, either as auxiliary bishops or heads of dioceses, during the Jadot and Laghi tenures. Some might disagree with this approach and say that the bishops who really count are those who head dioceses.

But what differences appear when one compares those men (either priests or auxiliary bishops) who were made heads of dioceses under Jadot with those appointed to these positions under Laghi? (Canon lawyers used to refer to such bishops as ordinaries, but now the correct term is diocesan bishops.) Even in the appointment of diocesan bishops, the statistics go in the wrong direction for myths two and three: Laghi diocesan bishops are better educated than Jadot diocesan bishops, and they were less likely to have held major chancery positions than Jadot diocesan bishops (50 versus 62 percent). In fact, 23 percent of the diocesan bishops appointed under Laghi never worked in a chancery as opposed to only 16 percent under Jadot. Under Jadot, however, pastors were somewhat more likely to become diocesan bishops: 70 percent of his selections had been pastors as opposed to 63 percent of Laghis. On the other hand, canon lawyers were more likely to become diocesan bishops under Laghi (20 percent) than under Jadot (16 percent). Thus there is a small amount of evidence to support myth one and four when speaking of diocesan bishops appointed under Laghi.


Family Backgrounds

My survey of the bishops looks at their backgrounds, educations and work experience as priests. It does not delve into their theological views. In order to get a rough picture of their socioeconomic backgrounds, I asked the bishops about the education level of their fathers. I would expect that the education level would rise over time- later appointees would presumably come from better educated families as the level of education of Catholics rises nationwide.

This prediction is borne out in the case of diocesan bishops. The education level of fathers of diocesan bishops appointed under Laghi was higher than under Jadot; 47 percent of Laghis diocesan bishops had fathers who had at least graduated from high school as opposed to 41 percent for Jadots diocesan bishops. However, there was little difference between priests ordained bishops under Laghi and Jadot: 55 percent of the Jadot appointees and 54 percent of the Laghi appointees had fathers who never graduated from high school. The blue-collar roots of the American hierarchy are still intact.

The ethnic and racial backgrounds of new appointees have changed a little. Blacks have moved from 3 percent of the new appointees under Jadot to 6 percent under Laghi. The Hispanic proportion, however, has surprisingly declined from 9 percent under Jadot to 7 percent under Laghi. Other ethnic backgrounds are more difficult to measure, but it appears that the Irish are losing and the Eastern Europeans are gaining. Under Jadot approximately 40 percent of the new appointees were of Irish descent and 5 percent were of Eastern European background. Under Laghi the corresponding percentages were 26 and 16. The statistics on diocesan bishops follow the same direction as for initial episcopal appointments, except that the percentage of black diocesan bishops appointed also declined to 1 percent under Laghi from 2 percent under Jadot.

Religious Bishops

One of the largest statistical differences between Jadot and Laghi bishops involves the appointment of religious as bishops. Under Jadot, only 8 percent of the new appointees were members of religious orders or congregations. Under Laghi, that number jumped to 25 percent. There has also been a jump in the percentage of religious appointed diocesan bishops, from 8 percent under Jadot to 16 percent under Laghi. In some ways, the United States, like Ireland, was atypical in that it was almost impossible for a religious to be made a bishop 25 years ago. It is clear that Laghi has broken down the barrier barring U. S. religious from the episcopacy.

Likewise, fewer of the new appointees were local boys. That is, fewer priests were ordained bishops to serve in the diocese where they had been ordained priests. Under Jadot, 59 percent of the new appointees took up their crosiers in the diocese where they had been a priest. Under Laghi, the percentage has dropped to 42 percent. Likewise, 23 percent of the diocesan bishops appointed under Jadot were from the dioceses they served, while for Laghi diocesan bishops the percentage was only 11.

The importance of a Roman education has also increased slightly under Laghi: 35 percent of Laghis new appointees studied in Rome, up from 31 percent under Jadot. The difference for diocesan bishops is even greater with 44 percent of Laghis having studied in Rome, and only 27 percent of Jadots. Also significant is the decline in appointments for former student~ of The Catholic University of America, where Jadot found 35 percent of his new appointees and 39 percent of his diocesan bishops. Laghi went to this source for only 26 percent of his new appointees and 28 percent of his diocesan bishops.

The Laghi bishops were also older when appointed. Laghis new appointees averaged 52 years of age and his diocesan bishops averaged 54 years. Jadots new appointees had averaged 49 and his diocesan bishops had averaged 51. This increase is at least partially due to the overall aging of the clergy from whom the bishops are selected.

Finally, as a rough measure of peer evaluation, I asked all the bishops whether they had ever been elected to a priests senate or council. (I presume the clergy elects to their councils priests whom they respect.) One would expect the percentage of episcopal appointees who had been elected to priests councils to increase in recent years since councils only became common after Vatican II and were only mandated in 1983 by the new code of canon law. In other words, the clerical pool available to Laghi included more priests who had been members of priests councils than the pool of candidates available to Jadot.

Surprisingly, however, the statistics go in the opposite direction. Under Jadot 63 percent of the new appointees had been elected to priests senates or councils, whereas only 52 percent had been under Laghi. Likewise in the appointment of diocesan bishops, 61 percent had been council members under Jadot and 52 percent under Laghi. The religious appointees may be responsible for some of this decline, but even religious can be elected to priests councils, especially if they are involved in diocesan ministries.


What can we say, then, about the differences between the Laghi and the Jadot appointees? My survey does not deal with the theological views of the bishops. It was only a simple questionnaire about their backgrounds. What becomes clear, however, is that the episcopal appointments became less connected to the local diocesan clergy under Archbishop Laghi. The Laghi appointees also appear to have less credibility with their peers as measured by priests council elections.

Perhaps the so-called pastoral bishops appointed under Archbishop Jadot were primarily bishops who were good at dealing with priests. Jadot and Rome were responding to clergy-bishop conflicts of the late 1960s and early 1970s. For episcopal candidates, they looked for priests who were well respected and liked by their peers. With peace reestablished among the clergy, this is no longer a high priority.

Pope John Paul II told the American bishops in 1983 to look for "priests who have already proven themselves as teachers of the faith as it is proclaimed by the Magisterium of the church" (emphasis his). My survey indicates that these candidates are increasingly being found among religious priests, among priests who have studied in Rome, among priests who have worked in seminaries, among Eastern European priests and among priests serving in archdioceses rather than dioceses. How well they do will be reported by future historians.

It is clear, however, that Rome was pleased with the work of Archbishop Laghi. He now becomes Pro-Prefect of the Congregation for Education, which deals with seminaries and Catholic colleges and universities. His predecessor, Archbishop Jadot, was appointed to a less important office when he returned to Rome and never became a cardinal.

As an Archbishop, Laghi will be a Pro-Prefect of the congregation. He is, however, used to hyphenated titles. He became Pro-Nuncio after diplomatic relations were established between the United States and the Holy See in 1984 (see "Three Years Later: US. Relations with the Holy See," AM. 11/17/87). As a Pro-Nuncio he was the Holy Sees Ambassador to the United States.

Archbishop Laghi will be pro-prefect of his congregation until he gets a red hat because only cardinals can be prefects. Most observers believe that he will lose that hyphen at the next consistory-perhaps sometime this year or next-when additional cardinals are created. He probably has little chance of becoming Pope because at 68, he is only two years younger than the present Pope. He will, however, continue to have a vote in the appointment of US. bishops because as prefect of the Congregation for Education he is an ex officio member of the Congregation of Bishops.

His replacement probably will be appointed soon. The United States is a plum for the Vatican diplomatic corps just as it is for any foreign service. Archbishop Laghis replacement will therefore be someone senior in the Vatican service, who has already served as a nuncio elsewhere. He will have to be fluent in English, perhaps an Italian currently serving as a nuncio in an English-speaking country. And, of course, he will have to be well trusted in Rome. Whoever he is, he will continue to reshape the US. hierarchy according to the mind of John Paul II.

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