About three dozen prominent local Catholics have asked Pope John Paul II's U.S. ambassador to remove Dallas Bishop Charles Grahmann, signaling the latest and most serious fracture between the diocese's leader and his laity.
"The current sexual abuse and leadership crisis in the Diocese of Dallas has become a scandal and an embarrassment to the Church," the group wrote in a recent letter to Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo. "The local diocesan leadership is isolated and in denial about the gravity of the situation, and our concern grows daily."
The group said it would launch a petition drive and Web site unless the ambassador asked them not to by mid-June. The deadline passed without word from Archbishop Montalvo, who did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
The archbishop is in St. Louis this week for a national meeting of bishops, who remain under fire for their handling of the church's sex-abuse crisis.
We, the undersigned, are faithful Catholics who believe with the church fathers that the bishop is the vicar of Christ in his diocese. As lay Catholics, we also understand the obligation the church fathers have placed on us to protect and defend the Catholic faith. In keeping with that trust and in order to restore the dignity of the sacred office of bishop in our city, we are compelled by conscience and by a pragmatic assessment of the damage to the church in Dallas to petition you to act. We believe that daily harm will continue to accrue to the church unless this crisis is addressed.
We have chosen to act only reluctantly, after despairing of being heard through conventional channels. The local diocesan leadership is isolated and in denial about the gravity of the situation, and our concern grows daily. We do not take lightly our plea for intervention, and make it only after much thought and reflection, and only for the purpose of seeking relief from an untenable situation.
We respectfully request that you meet with several of us so that we can present a first-hand report on the gravity of the situation. We request this meeting outside of the normal juridic procedures of the church because the situation has become so serious that it requires the immediate attention of the Holy See.
Realizing that the signatures of a few may count for little on such a serious matter, we plan to begin a media campaign and to establish a web site within ten days to solicit the signatures of our fellow laypeople and devoted clerics and religious in Dallas in support of our petition. We have secured funds in an effort to ensure that every Catholic in Dallas is made aware of this petition drive.
Unless you request us not to do so before a meeting with you, we will proceed to gather this petition citywide in order to present to you and to the Congregation of Bishops a full picture of how deeply the Catholic community feels about the urgent need for the replacement of Bishop Grahmann.
If you are able to accommodate us, we would hope to meet with you at your earliest convenience. Representatives of the undersigned will be available to travel to Washington for any meeting you suggest. ...
Thank you for your attention to this matter. We realize that other matters urgently seek your attention, but due to major missteps by the bishop that have received widespread media attention and due to the recent announcement that Bishop Galante is leaving, the situation in Dallas requires immediate action.
I really don't know what to think of this. On the one hand, I'm all for people with power using it for the good as they perceive it, but this move smacks of elitism and implies, "We're big donors, and we can make you do what we want because of it because if you don't do what I want I won't give my big bucks anymore." On the other hand, I've always been an advocate of lay Catholics using their donations or lack of them to send messages to The Power - not to make local parishes suffer, but to let diocesan structures know that their actions are not appreciated (and diocesan bureaucracies are like all bureaucracies and could all use a lot of pruning.)
But something about this gets my plebian mettle up. I'm open to having my mind changed on this, but at this point, that's what I hear.