Thursday, January 29, 2009

New Archbishop of Detroit known as conservative activist

When the debate over gay marriage was heating up last year, Archbishop Allen Vigneron was arguably the most vigorous among the Catholic bishops in California who united in their opposition.

In a pastoral letter -- a direction for behavior in the diocese of Oakland, Calif. -- he instructed Catholics that same-sex couples can not enter into marriage and that it was their duty to resist.

"God gave you the mission to configure the civil order to his design," then-Bishop Vigneron asserted in his letter on May 16.

Earlier this month, he was named Archbishop of Detroit. Conservative Catholics posted photographs of Vigneron celebrating the Latin mass that some progressive Catholics view as a return to the rigid construction of the liturgy that existed before the epochal reforms of the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s.

As he prepares for his installation today as the fifth archbishop of Detroit, Vigneron arrives with a reputation as a conservative activist who is not only a traditionalist in his approach to the church, theology and liturgy, but a cleric who has no qualms with asserting that point of view.

Coupled with a personality that is more scholarly and introspective than his predecessor, Cardinal Adam Maida, observers say the tenure of the 60-year-old prelate is likely to be defined by how he uses his philosophy and personal traits to guide one of the most economically challenged, racially divided and religiously diverse dioceses in the nation.

"Given the major issues of the church today, the challenge is to provide the kind of leadership that does not deepen division and polarity," said the Rev. Christopher Viscardi, a professor of philosophy and theology at Spring Hill College, a Jesuit university in Mobile, Ala.

"A desirable leadership finds the heart of what the Catholic vision and the Catholic faith is about and brings a sense of unity into that diversity."

Some, especially more conservative Catholics, thought Vigneron was highly successful in Oakland.

"I was impressed that he was on the board of directors of Ave Maria University (the conservative school established by the former owner of the Tigers, Tom Monaghan), so I knew he was more of a traditionalist," said Paul Vargas of San Leandro, Calif.

"Last weekend, we had a March for Life in San Francisco, and he is one of the organizers of that, which we'd never had before in the diocese."

But Mark Gotvald of Pleasant Hill, Calif., said he and other more progressive Catholics blanched when Vigneron discussed re-establishing traditions like monthly confessions.

"Another thing that really bothered me was one of the Christmas letters he had published in which he basically said that when you become a Catholic you have to check your private judgments at the door," Gotvald said.

"Part of the Second Vatican Council was the freedom of conscience. And if the church knows better, then what about the history of its support of slavery, of usury, and at first allowing married priests and then disallowing it, and once saying that eating meat on Fridays was a mortal sin, when it isn't anymore?"

In the past three decades, nearly every bishop appointed by both the late Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have followed their conservative approach. And while Vigneron may more actively assert his prerogative than some, he also wins plaudits for emphasizing consultation.

"He's a good listener and he would want to hear all of the different angles and opinions on an issue," said the Rev. John Zenz, pastor of Holy Name Parish in Birmingham, who was a seminarian with Vigneron in Detroit and Rome.

Well before the economy crashed, Vigneron installed legal and health clinics for the poor in the huge cathedral he built in Oakland.

"One of the big concerns he will face is the very question of a sustainable community, and Detroit is at risk because of economic, political and social issues that need to be addressed," said Sister Joan Mumaw, vice president of Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the so-called IHM nuns who have educated generations of Catholics in Metro Detroit.

Members of the local Jewish community also expressed hope that Vigneron will build on Maida's work, and the immediate challenge may be significant.

Pope Benedict XVI has recently alienated many Jews by furthering efforts to make Pope Pius XII a saint and reversing the excommunication of a British prelate who said that 6 million Jews were not slaughtered in the Holocaust.

"I am interested in seeing how the new bishop is going to navigate that territory," said Rabbi Joseph Krakoff of Congregation Shaarey Zedek, who is active in interfaith efforts in Metro Detroit.

"I think Cardinal Maida did a very good job and certainly made it one of his priorities. And my hope is that a new person coming in can take it to the next level."

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(Source: DNC)