Feb. 25, 2013

WASHINGTON (CNS) - Bishop John M. D'Arcy was our bishop for five years when my family lived in Indiana. He was a great help to one of our boys. I attended his funeral in early February.

The media saw Bishop D'Arcy as a man who spoke his mind. In the 1980s, he was a lonely voice among the Boston church hierarchy, decrying the practice of reassigning priests who were credibly accused of sexual abuse. It made him few friends (if only more people had listened).

In 1992, Bishop D'Arcy declined to attend the University of Notre Dame's commencement (his diocese included South Bend) because the university was giving an award to then-Sen. Daniel Moynihan, who enthusiastically supported abortion rights. He did the same thing for the same reason in 2009, when Notre Dame gave President Barack Obama an honorary degree. In an open letter to the university on that occasion, Bishop D'Arcy speculated that Notre Dame had "chosen prestige over truth."

This sounds like Jeremiah. But surely, the prophet's funeral was poorly attended compared to that of Bishop D'Arcy. People waited for hours to kneel at his casket. Balding men in barn coats wiped their eyes with fat fingers. Mothers holding little babies cried; so did high school kids wearing letter jackets.

After kneeling for a moment, people walked past the open casket on their way out. What struck me was how nearly everyone reached in to touch him - his hand, the hem of his sleeve. Some touched their rosaries to his. One woman took a cross from around her neck and touched it to his hand. It was not just love; it was reverence.

On the flight out to Indiana, I read George Weigel's new book "Evangelical Catholicism." Weigel argues that there has been a deep reform under way in the church for some time. The particular problems and promise of our time were addressed 50 years ago at the Second Vatican Council.

Two of the council's documents - the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church ("Lumen Gentium") and the Decree on the Bishops' Pastoral Office in the Church ("Christus Dominus") - dealt with the three chief responsibilities of every bishop: to teach, to sanctify and to govern.

In the 21st century, Weigel observes, the scope of a bishop's administrative concerns can lead to an unhealthy stress on governing.

Before he became pope, Karol Wojtyla was an immensely successful archbishop of Krakow. He governed the archdiocese, not from his desk, but from his knees. He spent the first two hours of each day praying and writing before the Blessed Sacrament. Nor did he hesitate to spend days on end visiting the sick, blessing married couples, confirming children and saying the rosary with parishioners. Bishop D'Arcy was a bishop after that model.

In his concern for the souls under his care, he would rarely command or threaten. But he also never shirked his duty to preach the Gospel, even to those who did not want to listen.

The secular media praised his prophetic criticism of the church in Boston, but they were equally strident in deriding his "Jeremiads" toward the university in his diocese. Their coverage says more about media preferences than it does about Bishop D'Arcy's character.

A few years before he retired as bishop, Bishop D'Arcy spoke on his vocation at the Notre Dame Law School. He pointed out, as Weigel does in his new book, the impact of Vatican II on the role of the bishop within the church. "We see an attempt to move the bishop from being a CEO and administrator to a pastor and evangelist," he said.

Bishop D'Arcy gave us all a wonderful example of that positive transformation.