Thursday, January 7, 2010

Bishop of the Week: Bishop Robert Francis Vasa of Baker, Oregon

As the Bishops in California do less and less that is worthy of positive mention (making January 1st no longer a Holy Day? I have a theory on that and I sincerely hope that I am wrong... In our diocese at least, the individual parish is allowed to keep the entire offering on Holy Days... on other days a sizable portion is shipped off to Sacramento... I truly hope that was in no way the motivating factor that cause the Bishops in our state to come together to attempt to un-Holy Day January 1st this year....).

And so I find myself searching further afield for a recipient for the Bishop of the Week Award. This week I was not disappointed. Bishop Robert Francis Vasa of Baker, Oregon is a wonderful example of a shepherd who stands up for the truth and doesn't shrink from answering hard questions. In 2004 Catholic Online reported that when asked about denying the Eucharist to pro-abortion Catholic politicians Bishop Vasa responded:
"Absolutely. I would agree, certainly, with Archbishop Burke and Bishop Bruskewitz in their own actions in this matter. I literally could not give Holy Communion to a professed and actively committed pro-choice politician."
But it was the Bishop's own column that really impressed me:
"...Allowing error, publicly expressed, to stand without comment or contradiction is discouraging.

When that moral error is espoused publicly by a Catholic who, by the likewise public and external act of receiving Holy Communion, appears to be in “good standing” then the faithful are doubly confused and doubly discouraged. In that case, the error is certainly not refuted. Furthermore, the impression is given that the error is positively condoned by the bishop and the Church. This is very dis-couraging to the faithful. In such a case, private “dialogue” is certainly appropriate but a public statement is also needed. In extreme cases, excommunication may be deemed necessary.

It seems to me that even if a decree of excommunication would be issued, the bishop would really not excommunicate anyone. He only declares that the person is excommunicated by virtue of the person’s own actions. The actions and words, contrary to faith and morals, are what excommunicate (i.e. break communion with the Church). When matters are serious and public, the Bishop may deem it necessary to declare that lack of communion explicitly. This declaration no more causes the excommunication than a doctor who diagnoses diabetes causes the diabetes he finds in his patient. The doctor recognizes the symptoms and writes the necessary prescription. Accusing the doctor of being a tyrannical power monger would never cross anyone’s mind. Even when the doctor tells the patient that they are “excommunicated” from sugar it is clear that his desire is solely the health of his patient. In fact, a doctor who told his diabetic patient that he could keep ingesting all the sugar he wanted without fear would be found grossly negligent and guilty of malpractice.

In the same way, bishops who recognize a serious spiritual malady and seek a prescription to remedy the error, after discussion and warning, may be required to simply state, “What you do and say is gravely wrong and puts you out of communion with the faith you claim to hold.” In serious cases, and the cases of misled Catholic public officials are often very serious, a declaration of the fact that the person is de facto out of communion may be the only responsible and charitable thing to do.

Failing to name error because of some kind of fear of offending the person in error is neither compassion nor charity. Confronting or challenging the error or evil of another is never easy yet it must be done."
Read the entire column here.
I'm definitely bookmarking the Catholic Sentinel. The Bishops words are definitely worth reading on a regular basis. I just wish we had more strong, courageous leaders who were willing to speak out a little further south.


  1. Hey there, I like his explanation of excommunication. You won't mind will you, if I linkback to you for my post today? Thanks.

  2. Hi Cam. I've been out of the loop a bit but I'm thrilled to see Bishop Vasa highlighted! He's originally from my Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska (as a brand-new priest he baptized my younger sister!) and I can definitely recommend you keep checking up on his columns! I'm so happy to see you featuring those who set a good example!

  3. I'm probably going to make myself unpopular on your blog-- first defending bikinis and now California bishops!

    Bravo to Bishop Vasa! I must confess, I did not know there was so courageous a bishop in OR before I read this.

    This exceprt below is from installation homily of the new bishop of Oakland, CA, Bishop Cordileone. I must note that he is home-grown, as he comes north from San Diego.

    "It was close to one-hundred years ago that my grandparents came from Sicily and settled across the bay (before moving down to San Diego some years later), where my grandfather established his fishing trade. Like countless others, they labored under the hardship of immigrants – a new land, with a different language and different customs, struggling to be accepted and to fit in. Yet, somehow they found a welcome, and were able to make a better life for themselves.

    Of course, much has changed since then. It seems our nation has become a much less welcoming place, even, sometimes, downright inhospitable: unwelcoming to the countless new strangers seeking to come to this land to make a better life for themselves and enrich the lives of us all; unwelcoming toward those who may place a burden on us because they are terminally ill or otherwise “unproductive”; unwelcoming toward those who could be given a chance to prove themselves capable of repentance and rehabilitation for their crimes, and instead eliminating them from society; worst of all, a land that shows itself all too often unwelcoming toward the most defenseless of our brothers and sisters who are not even given a chance to be born, and so are eliminated from society even before they see the light of day. This inhospitality, this hostility, creates a tsunami of moral and physical violence which leaves countless damaged and destroyed lives in its wake – moral and physical violence which, as recent events have tragically shown, hits very close to home here in Oakland.

    This is not what God has created us for. Jesus makes that abundantly clear in the gospel for today’s Mass: “that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete.” He created us for joy. That is why he gives us the commandment to love one another, and teaches and models what love really is; that is the only way to the joy he wills for us. In other words, love cannot be separated from the truth. As Pope Benedict teaches us in his Encyclical God is Love, Christ’s death on the cross is “love its most radical form” (n. 12), and it is only through a life of fidelity to God that one can experience this radical love of God and thereby discover “joy in truth and in righteousness – a joy in God which becomes [the individual’s] essential happiness” (n. 9). This, then, is why St. Paul exhorts us in his Letter to the Ephesians to live the truth in love. Let us not be tricked by the imposters, which reduce love to a commodity and relativize the truth out of existence. Yes, we are now reaping the very bad, very strange fruit of counterfeit love and the trashing of the truth of who we are and are called to be as human persons.

    Christ is the answer. Let us draw near to him, and abide in him, so that we will not be tossed about by the waves of deception and swept along by the teachings of destructive imposters. This means that we must claim Jesus Christ as our only ruler; it means that we place ourselves completely under his dominion. Let there be no doubt: if, as his Church, we are to be his faithful bride, it means that Jesus Christ must have dominion over every aspect of our life. Nothing and no one may be exempt from his rule. Whether in public or in private, whether professional or personal, no matter how intimate, we must claim him as our Lord. "

    There's more here:

    There are good bishops in CA and they need our prayers.

    (And I'll never forget that Bishop Weigand, whatever else you might think of him, and God bless him, had at least the courage to tell Gray Davis not to present himself for Communion...)

  4. Hi Peregrinator-

    I'm actually glad you pointed this out. I'd wanted to look more into Bishop Cordileone after reading that his Masses were being threatened by extremists last month (usually a sign of a bishop standing up for the truth these days...). And my husband always speaks highly of Bishop Weigand!). Unfortunately they don't seem to be the majority when the CA Bishops are voting and making statements of support for rebelling religious. Hopefully that will change as some of these "heterodox" bishops retire.

  5. Hi Cam,
    Nice to see an article from the Catholic sentinel highlighted. My father-in-law works for Oregon Catholic Press (the musical side of it) and I have learned a lot about it from him. Oregon used to be very anti-Catholic and the KKK were very strong in these parts. Hence the Catholic Sentinel was started to correct the errors that were being told about Catholics and to support the Catholics who were living in that very hostile region.

  6. Hi Convenor-

    I did a quick post to tell my readers about the site (it looks great! The pictures were heartbreaking of the Church that burned two days after Christmas... Did they find the cause yet?). And I'll add you to my blog list.

    Thanks for the suggestion. I'm always looking for good blogs to read.


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