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Daniel Walters photo Spokane Bishop Thomas Daly in an interview last month at the offices of the Spokane Diocese.

By Daniel Walters, The Inlander, March 8, 2019

There’s a quote that Spokane Bishop Thomas Daly uses a lot that he attributes to his favorite saint, Vincent de Paul, from back when the church was experiencing another crisis of corrupt and abusive priests.

“’If you want to be one of the church’s enemies, be one of her priests’,” Daly said on his Bishop and the Vicars podcast last year. “And, of course, you could say, one of her bishops for that matter.”

It’s one of those quotes that can be read in two ways. You could read it as saying that it’s sometimes the job of priests or bishops to become the righteous enemy of a corrupt institution. Or you could read it as saying that the priests themselves had become one of the biggest problems in the church.

“The very men who are supposed to be the heroes, by their behavior, are the villains,” Daly said. “The very people who are supposed to lead people to Christ are harming it.”

And that’s the stance that Daly took in November at the bishop’s conference in Baltimore, when he stood up on the floor and condemned some of his fellow bishops for their role in the latest series of abuse scandals, arguing some bishops were morally compromised while others were so obsessed with climbing up the “ecclesiastical escalator” that they’d turned a blind eye to evil and degeneracy.

In our latest edition of the Inlander, our cover story focuses on the culture-war divide splitting the Catholic Church, with Daly representing the more conservative, traditional wing, while his predecessor, Cardinal Blase Cupich, representing the more moderate or liberal wing.

While Cupich’s prominent role in the American Catholic Church has made him a more visible lightning rod for debate, Daly’s role in Spokane has been particularly interesting.

He’s not the sort to shy away from controversial topics like exorcism. He’s mandated that congregants from every parish kneel during mass. He instituted a tax on local parishes for funding the diocese instead of relying on the “welfare” of the Catholic extension. And he got national attention after proclaiming that politicians who support abortion rights should refrain from taking Communion.

Last month, the Inlander sat down with Daly for over an hour, digging into some of the diciest topics facing the church.

Here are some of the key moments from that interview, edited for length and clarity.

Spokane’s Bishop Thomas Daly on the divide in the Catholic Church:

“An archbishop said to me a couple years ago — he’s an East Coast archbishop, he was ordained in the early ’70s — he said, ‘I’ve never seen the church this divided in my life.’ And this is a man who lived through the craziness in the late ’60s and ’70s in the church.

“And I would agree to that. I think there is a division.

“I believe the church is divided because we have people who want to compromise — and I’m talking about bishops — fundamental principles of morality that the church has remained very clear and steadfast on.”

On whether he sees that national division playing out locally:

“I don’t really think so. Maybe I’m a little naive, but I think this diocese has been so demoralized because of bankruptcy and abuse. In fact, I was asked by someone, ‘Why didn’t you, when you were installed, make reference to your predecessor at that time?’ My impression was that the people in Spokane, the Catholic community, including the press, went through such a dark moment in time with what went on. It was the winter of discontent. They wanted to move on. I don’t think this community now is divided.”

On how the church’s moral authority to weigh in on controversial issues has been deeply damaged by the sex abuse scandal:

“I think there’s a reluctance of certain bishops to teach what we believe is essential to society, because they have been afraid [of the impact of the abuse scandal]. ‘Who are you to tell us that life is sacred, when some of you have harmed children yourself or have allowed priests to have harmed children?’

“It was a crisis of confidence to step forward as moral teachers of the faith.

“An example where this was really obvious was in Massachusetts. Boston was the ground zero in ‘02 of the scandal, that lead to the resignation of Cardinal Law. The whole issue of gay marriage really flowed out of Massachusetts. The belief was the church’s moral authority to speak on moral issues was seriously compromised by the abuse scandal in Massachusetts. The people who thought the church was preventing legalization of gay marriage and abortion, suddenly, the floodgates opened up, and the church had no moral authority in people’s minds.”

On how the Catholic Church has been arrogant:

“The church when it’s arrogant is sinful. When it’s humble it grows in its holiness. And I believe the attitude of certain bishops and beyond has been one of arrogance.

“What does the church need to do? We need to be truthful. I don’t like the word ‘transparent.’ It sounds like our ad agency, our PR firm, polished us up. … We all understand the meaning of ‘truth.’ What is the truth? Regarding McCarrick, who knew what and why?

“What does arrogance look like? It’s not listening to people who are faith-filled — not people who are looking to destroy the church — faith-filled people who say, ‘We want to know the truth.’ We want to know that you, as our bishops and our priests, that you care about us, that you protect us, and that you shepherd us.”

On what causes sexual misconduct in the clergy:

“The sexual misconduct of the clergy, it may be caused by weakness. It may be use of drugs and alcohol and loneliness. It may be, in fact, evil and diabolical.

“There was a priest in California who would take kids out to his summer place, get them drunk, rape them, and then make them serve mass the next day. A lawyer who was initially asked to defend him said, ‘I can’t. This man’s evil.’ I believe that case is evil.

“A priest who gets involved with a woman in a counseling situation, I don’t think that’s evil. That’s weakness. Much the way a guy in a good marriage suddenly falls in.

“There is a diabolical element to this, I think, because a church weakened is a church who cannot proclaim the Gospel.

“You also have priests who do not take seriously what it means to be vowed. I think we’re seeing — and I have never been told this — some priests think the vow of celibacy is, ‘I do not get married to a woman. So, therefore, I can have sex with anybody,’ That’s wrong. That’s a violation of the vow.”

On what he knows to be true in the controversial letter from Archbishop Viganò, who accused major church leaders, including Pope Francis, in failing to act on what they allegedly knew about Archbishop Theodore McCarrick abusing an altar boy and seminarians: 

“It had to do with the appointment of a bishop in a diocese in the west, that their metropolitans were not consulted.

“As I said, I think Viganò is a man of integrity. I just know of an appointment of a bishop that was clearly dictated outside the normal channels. I’d like to get into it, but I know it gets a little controversial.

“To the ones [Viganò] spoke about, look at the way, they never address what he said. They just try to destroy him personally. I find that very troubling. I look at those guys who focus on what he raised, and not the person of Archbishop Viganò.”

“Some priests think the vow of celibacy is, ‘I do not get married to a woman. So, therefore, I can have sex with anybody,”click to tweet

On whether he agrees with Viganò that “the homosexual networks present in the Church must be eradicated”:

“I know that there have been situations — and I was interviewed by the Wall Street Journal about this — there are certain diocese and religious communities where there is a clique that runs things. Are they defined by their sexuality? They may very well be.

“The rector when I was in the seminary said, if there’s a gay subculture in a presbyterate or seminary, then the clandestine behavior leads to other clandestine behavior. You’re secretly living a double-life. And that is a recipe for disaster.

“If you look, historically, look at Lafayette, Louisiana, there was this scandal in the ’90s.

“They said that diocese was compromised because they took guys who had been kicked out of other diocese, and [a priest] said, therefore, I’m not going to crack down on you, because I know you’re fooling around with kids; you’re not going to crack down on me, because you know I’m involved in my secretary; and we’re not going to crack down on him because he got arrested somewhere.

“It was this culture of secrecy and scandal.”

On whether it’s OK for a priest to be gay:

“The Vatican document [prohibits] those with “deep-seated” homosexual tendencies. And they talk about those who live in a gay culture. All people are called to chastity — chastity is different than celibacy. A married person is chaste, in that you’re not breaking your vows of marriage.

“A priest is called to be chaste in that you’re not breaking your vows with sexual misconduct. The issue about homosexuality in the priesthood is that an individual who defines himself by his sexuality, and is not supportive of the church’s teaching on the call to chastity, marriage between a man and a woman, that becomes a problem. You’re asked to teach what the church believes.”

On whether gay priests can be open about their sexuality:

“The belief is and the experience has been, when they speak about that from the pulpit, there’s an assumption that people make that they’re sexually active. I was talking to a priest in California, he said, a priest was in the pulpit, and he was saying, ‘When God did not give me the man of my dreams, I decided to become a priest.’ There was a security guard at the church who said, ‘I’m not Catholic, father, but I don’t know if that’s something that I want to be hearing from a priest from the pulpit.’ And if that’s his motive for becoming a priest? If that’s his motive, for becoming a priest?

“A priest has to be a credible father. That’s that quality I look for. If a priest is defining himself by his sexuality, I think that’s not an integrated sexuality.”

On whether he ever discusses his own sexuality:

“People go, ‘I want to know if the bishop and all these bishops, are they homosexuals and are they fooling around?’ If I wasn’t a priest I would have married and probably have five kids and I’d probably be a prosecuting attorney.

“…The notion that somehow priests are robots — ordination did not mean castration. But we’re called to live a chaste life. So that requires a lot of self-discipline.”

On his reaction to the Cardinal Bea House scandal, where the Jesuits placed at least 20 credibly accused priests on “safety plans” on the Gonzaga campus without fully informing the Gonzaga community: 

“The procedure was, place someone accused of abuse in some centralized place where they can be watched. The belief was everybody on a college campus was over 18. So, I think that’s how it was handled. That was the procedure. Put them in a place, as long as no one is under 18, place them where we can watch them.

I watched that Frontline special, where this priest and this layman abused almost every minor in town. But what I saw about this is college students and seminarians are vulnerable adults. … The [Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People] in 2002, it was primarily about minors. But now there’s a heightened sensitivity for who was at risk.”

On whether the diocese had a responsibility to inform the public when it learned about the Cardinal Bea House situation in 2011:

“Did the church have a responsibility? Now, I think we do. But the Jesuits were responsible for their own men, as are the Franciscans and everyone else. Now, I believe, the people are asking us, is it up to the responsibility of the bishop of the diocese to hold the religious orders accountable to public declaration? I think I would agree with that.

On whether bishops should have close relationships with politicians:

“My main concern with a cozy relationship is it never ends well. There’s too much of a tendency to compartmentalize. The problem isn’t the church in the world, it’s the world in the church.”

On why he’s nervous about the Catholic agencies partnering with the government:

“In the ministries of education, health care and social work, there are secular parallels. We have to be very careful that we don’t allow the secular to overcome the sacred. And I see it: It’s the compromising of our mission. When you have government contracts you run the risk. ‘Well, you know, we can’t talk about this, because we have government money, and they won’t allow it.’

“I’m not in favor of government funding for our [Catholic] schools, for example. There’s always a price to pay.

“Who’s really running the show? It’s pretty much secular people. I think a lot of problems in our society have come from a breakdown in Judeo-Christian values. My experience coming from the Bay Area is ‘Compassion always, compromise never.’ [By compromising] you never win. Politicians will use you.

On whether that issue has ever played out at Catholic Charities in Spokane:

“There was a concern of the Women’s March, that there was an article in the Spokesman-Review that listed that the Women’s March was being sponsored by ‘Planned Parenthood, Catholic Charities…’ People started calling me. It wasn’t sponsored by it. They had a presence there. But we have to be very careful we don’t allow ourselves to be co-opted.”

On whether he sees any problem with gay people working at places like Catholic Charities:

“We’re not going to be going in and asking people’s sexual orientation when they work with Catholic Charities. I know there have been issues that have been brought to my attention in certain settings, where someone has wanted to marry someone of the same sex. I think that’s a challenge that that person be at a position of leadership in any [Catholic] institution. Charities, schools, hospitals. There is an issue there, where the church is very clear about a marriage between a man and a woman.

“When a church’s ministries are very clear in their identity, it helps people know, ‘Well, this is not a good fit for me.’ … It’s an important thing that the people who are in ministries in the church support the mission of the church. If somebody doesn’t agree with that or doesn’t abide by that, there are many other ways to serve society.”

On his conversation with Washington Democratic Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib when Daly visited the capitol, shortly after sending a letter announcing that abortion-defending politicians should not take Communion:

“The lieutenant governor wanted to meet with me. And I met with him. It was a very good meeting… He’s a convert to Catholicism at Oxford.

“He just said, ‘Bishop, do you think that the letter, rather than helping people, do you think for those Catholic elected officials on the edge, on the fringe, that you might have squashed their ability to come to see the truth of what you’re saying?’ I’m paraphrasing.

“And it was a very good question. I said, ‘I did not say I was going to excommunicate them.’ I basically called them to be reconciled with Christ and the church… and discuss them with their pastor.

“…On these fundamental life issues, you have to choose to live your faith and not compartmentalize your faith.”

On why he’s not denying Communion to politicians like Sen. Mike Padden, who supports the use of capital punishment, which is also clearly opposed by the Catholic Church:

“Capital punishment in the code — though the pope has changed it, and there’s controversy about the fact that it was just this unilateral change — allowed in very rare circumstances for capital punishment. I’ll use an example: to keep Osama Bin Laden alive had he been captured. Would his ongoing living be a risk to a great deal of people? There could be moral arguments about that.

“There are never moral arguments to justify abortion. It’s not there. The pope also speaks very clearly on abortion. No pope in the last 50 or 60 years has spoken more about the devil. That doesn’t get much play. I think people cherry pick the pope’s statements.

On why, though he issued a statement opposing Trump’s family-separation policy, he didn’t announce he’d refuse Communion to politicians who support Trump’s immigration policy:

“There’s a priority. We need borders. I said this in the meeting of the bishops of Washington state. I said, to just naively think we can open the border and let everybody come, that does not help the church’s teaching on the dignity of the person and the immigrant and the refugee.

“We were talking about the Syrian refugees, and I said, ‘I’m reluctant to sign this statement until I find out what I heard, about whether Christians are reluctant to go to these UN Camps.’

“‘Well, yeah, actually they are, because they’re being targeted by ISIS.’

“Well, then why don’t we hear that?! I’m not going to put my name on this, if in fact that’s true.

“I think there’s a naivete at times in the church. ‘Can’t we all just get along?’ No, we can’t just get along. It’s like my line about, ‘Jesus didn’t like everybody. He loved everybody.’ That’s why he wanted what was best for everybody.”

On whether divorced and remarried Catholics should take Communion:

“No. The thing is, we’re not going to be a [bar-code scanner] where we scan them on their commitment of the faith. The church can never lose its mission of mercy. That’s so crucial to the church. There are times the church has been harsh. I don’t think this is being harsh. I think we have to make sure we don’t compromise what Jesus taught….

“My goal as the Bishop of Spokane to help people seek God with a sincere heart.”

On striking the balance between being too soft and too tough:

“I had a young guy telling me he was giving these shotgun-blast homilies. That means, you know, ‘you’re all going to hell,’ fire and brimstone. He says, ‘When do you give those?’ When people know you love them first. It can’t be every single Sunday, someone is coming in with a shotgun blast. Every time you go to the church, they’re ranting and raving.

“You’ve got to give a homily on forgiveness. On family relationships. On what it is to try to live simply.

On why what makes him angry about the state of the church:

“I voted to ask the Vatican to release everything on McCarrick.

“We were accused by one bishop who stands up and accuses us of being disloyal to the Holy Father on this. It had nothing to do with disloyalty. We had to get to the bottom of this.

“You know laypeople, good faithful people — I’m not talking about disgruntled, twice-a-year angry-at-the-church-and-they-found-a-reason — they’re horrified that this would occur in the church.

“Just when we thought it was over, it comes out again. I was angry. The church is necessary. The church is weakened when they fall prey to the very things they’re supposed to avoid.

“We have gone through a period of time — for whatever reason: weakness, moral relativism, sin, even evil — that’s not the church that Christ founded. Yes, it can be sinful, because we’re weak human beings. But sin cannot drive or shame or cover-up the issue. Why I came across as angry is I have seen how important the Catholic faith is in the lives of people.

“I saw how much good the church does. And there’s a whole group of people who say, ‘You want me to be part of that? That group of degenerates? Who hurt our kids? Who lie about it? Who take our money?’. And then they never come to know Christ as savior. That’s when it hits me, the church needs a call to holiness and a reformation.”