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Spotlight Report

US bishops plan new gathering

This one geared to conservative Catholic laypeople

By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff, 8/20/2003

A month after the leadership of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops met privately with a group of prominent Catholic laypeople, the conference president has agreed to hold a second gathering with a group of conservative Catholics concerned that the first meeting was dominated by liberals.

The next gathering, to discuss issues facing the Roman Catholic Church since the clergy sex abuse crisis, is being put together by Deal Hudson, the editor of Crisis magazine, and Russell B. Shaw, a former spokesman for the bishops' conference. Hudson, whose weekly e-mail alerts are widely circulated among conservative Catholics, had been quite critical of the initial meeting because, he argued, the lay people had not represented the breadth of Catholic thinking.

''Obviously this particular meeting would not be taking place unless that earlier meeting had occurred,'' said Shaw, a freelance writer who served as spokesman for the bishops from 1969 until 1987. ''It's not set up as a response or a rebuttal, but we thought it would be helpful to the bishops, having heard from a group of Catholics who most people would describe as more or less liberal, to hear from a group of comparable Catholics who most people would describe as more or less conservative.''

Hudson and Shaw said that, unlike the gathering held July 7, participants in their gathering Sept. 8 in Washington, D.C., would be free to discuss the proceedings with the news media. They said they would limit the group to 40 participants that would roughly parallel those at the July 7 gathering, in that the group would be a mix of academics, journalists, and business people.

They said they expect to release a list of participants, but yesterday would name only a few, including Robert P. George, a professor of politics at Princeton University; William Donohue, the president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights; Raymond Arroyo, the news director of EWTN, a Catholic television network; and Kate O'Beirne, the Washington editor for the National Review.

''I was surprised by the first meeting -- I didn't think the bishops were giving away the store, because I know them too well to entertain those kinds of fantasies or suspicions, but I was surprised about a meeting apparently limited to one end of the spectrum,'' Shaw said. Asked what the difference between the people he identified as liberals and those he identified as conservatives is, he said, ''conservatives put a stronger emphasis on fidelity to the Catholic tradition.''

Hudson said the next meeting, which is to be held in Washington on Sept. 8, ''is in response to those dissenting groups who are providing the wrong answers to serious questions.'' After the July 7 meeting, he had declared that ''it's safe to say that the real criterion for involvement was not prominence or influence in the Catholic Church but sympathy with dissenting points of view.''

Hudson said participants in the meeting will be ''people who are faithful to the magisterium and loyal to the Holy Father -- people who are not dissenting on important issues such as the nature of the priesthood, issues of sexual ethics, or the issue of gay marriage.'' He said speakers will be asked to reflect on the teachings of Pope John Paul II, and how they apply to various issues facing the church.

But Shaw and Hudson both said the participants of their meeting, like the participants on July 7, generally agree that the church mishandled sexual abuse by Catholic clergy.

Some, such as Donohue, have been outspokenly critical of the conduct of some church leaders.

''We are all in agreement that there was a serious problem,'' Hudson said.

And Shaw said, ''I'd venture to say that everyone participating would recognize that there has been, and still is, a crisis in the Catholic Church in the US.''

A spokesman for the bishops conference, Monsignor Francis J. Maniscalco, confirmed yesterday that Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, would attend the gathering.

A spokeswoman for Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington said he, too, would attend the event. Both men attended the July 7 meeting, which was organized by Geoffrey T. Boisi, a former chairman of the Boston College board of trustees who was vice chairman of JP Morgan Chase and co-CEO of JP Morgan.

Michael Paulson can be reached at

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