Bishop Emeritus of South Bend Indiana and former Boston auxiliary bishop John D’Arcy passed into eternal rest on Sunday morning. BCI was saddened to hear of his passing and we pray for the repose of his soul.
This blog post could have also been titled, “What Cardinal O’Malley and all bishops can learn from Bishop John D’Arcy.” For those not familiar to him, we offer a few excerpts from articles as a tribute to his pastoral leadership–in both the sexual abuse crisis but also defense of the faith at Notre Dame and in the public square.
Bishop John M. D’Arcy, best known in recent years for leading an unprecedented wave of episcopal opposition against the University of Notre Dame’s 2009 honorary doctorate to President Obama, has passed away.
The bishop died Sunday, February 3, at the age of 80 after battling lung and brain cancer.
He won praise for his efforts to uphold Catholic identity at Notre Dame, located in his diocese. But he also locked horns with university administration over contentious issues such as the university’s decision to invite President Obama to offer the commencement address and receive an honorary law degree, and the school’s continued approval of the performance on campus of The Vagina Monologues.
In 2009, Bishop D’Arcy boycotted the University’s commencement ceremony due to the president’s pro-abortion policies.
In a statement released by the diocese at the time, D’Arcy said he would not attend the event because “a bishop must teach the Catholic faith ‘in season and out of season,’ and he teaches not only by his words — but by his actions.”
Eighty-three US bishops followed Bishop D’Arcy’s lead in expressing their disapproval of the University of Notre Dame’s invitation to President Obama.
This from ABC News:
D’Arcy received national attention when he was one of the few church officials commended in a scathing 2003 report issued by the Massachusetts attorney general about the widespread sexual abuse of children by priests in the Boston Archdiocese.
D’Arcy also made headlines for opposing some decisions by leaders at the University of Notre Dame, which is in the diocese. He wrote a nine-page “pastoral response” in 2006 criticizing the decision by the Rev. John Jenkins, Notre Dame’s president, to allow “The Vagina Monologues” to be performed on campus.
D’Arcy also boycotted Notre Dame’s commencement in 2009 because of the speaker, President Barack Obama, whose policies on stem cell research and abortion D’Arcy said ran counter to church teaching. But D’Arcy did attend an open-air Mass and rally on the campus that day, saying he wanted to support the students protesting Obama. “All of you are heroes, and I’m proud to stand with you,” he said.
D’Arcy was also outspoken against child abuse by priests through his lifetime. In 2003, he disclosed that 16 priests in the Fort Wayne-South Bend diocese had abused 33 children since 1950 — actions that ultimately cost the diocese more than $1.36 million in damages, according to a 2010 Tribune article.
D’Arcy said in a 2003 press conference that he decided to publicly announce the numbers because “there has been too much secrecy nationally.”
In fact, it was not the first time D’Arcy spoke up about the abuse — letters from D’Arcy to Catholic bishops as early as 1978 concerning abuse allegations have surfaced. While some have said D’Arcy was sent to Indiana from Boston because of his frankness about the abuse, D’Arcy always remained silent on the subject, according to Tribune articles.
D’Arcy was also one of the loudest voices against the invitation of President Barack Obama to speak and receive an honorary degree at the 2009 commencement ceremony at the University of Notre Dame. He stated he did not support the University giving Obama any honors based on his position on abortion. D’Arcy did not attend the 2009 commencement.
It was not the first time he disagreed with the actions of University President Fr. John Jenkins — a 2006 discussion of the performance of “The Vagina Monologues” on campus left D’Arcy and Jenkins at opposite opinions, though D’Arcy elected to attend the 2006 commencement exercises.
Disagreements with political leaders was not limited to just Obama, either. D’Arcy directed the leadership of St. Joseph High School to withdraw the invitation of then-Gov. Joe Kernan to speak at the 2004 commencement ceremony, citing Kernan’s stance on abortion.
He also didn’t attend the 1992 Notre Dame commencement ceremony because Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, that year’s Laetare Medal recipient, had a pro-choice stance.
Here are excerpts from a National Catholic Register interview with D’arcy entitled, “Bishop John D’Arcy: a Legacy of ‘Tough Love‘:
BOSTON — Ten years ago, Bishop John D’Arcy of the Fort Wayne-South Bend (Ind.) Diocese got an urgent call from lawyers representing the Boston Archdiocese, where he had previously served as an auxiliary bishop from 1975-1985. He learned that The Boston Globe would soon publish the personnel files of the alleged serial predator, Father John Geoghan, and that a plaintiff’s attorney had obtained a 1984 letter he wrote opposing the priest’s assignment to a local parish….
Bishop D’Arcy would emerge as an uncommon hero as the clergy abuse scandal unfolded in the media. While the published personnel files of the Boston Archdiocese exposed a legacy of episcopal negligence, Bishop D’Arcy’s repeated efforts to raise the alarm would lead the National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Young People to describe him as a “voice in the wilderness.”
Asked to discuss the reason why he spoke up when others remained silent, Bishop D’Arcy insisted that he should not be singled out for special credit. Rather, he viewed the 10th anniversary of the Boston crisis as an opportunity to reflect on both the vital role of the Catholic bishop, and the ongoing importance of screening candidates for seminary.
The safeguarding of the Catholic priesthood remains his primary concern, and bishops must act as loving shepherds and prudent gatekeepers for their seminary. They should know every seminarian under their jurisdiction, and ensure solid formation. Standards for admission should be high, despite the vocations crisis.
“It is important to have a healthy and beautiful sense of the priesthood — a shepherd after the heart of Christ.
In 1949, he entered the archdiocesan seminary, and then studied in Rome, receiving his doctorate in spiritual theology in 1968. But he received a shock when he returned to Boston to serve as the spiritual director and professor of spiritual theology at St. John’s Seminary.
“At the time, I was still learning what it means to be a spiritual director. But I soon realized that one of my jobs was to get people out of the seminary — while helping the good men become holy priests,” he recalled.
“We had some who should not have been there. At this time, the Vietnam war was raging, so some men were there for the wrong reasons. I was known by some of the seminarians as ‘D’Arcy the hatchet man.’ I was focused on whether their vocation was authentic.”
He continued to direct the office of spiritual development, organizing retreats and spiritual missions, even after he was made an auxiliary bishop in 1975, and then a regional bishop supervising appointments for 100 parishes in the northern part of the archdiocese. Throughout, he maintained a steady focus on the quality of pastors under his jurisdiction.
“If there was a pastor harming the faith, and if I found out that a parish had poor leadership, I would do my best with the personnel board to make a change. The parish is the heart of the diocese.”
During a time when the impact of clergy sexual abuse was poorly understood or ignored, Bishop D’Arcy also grasped its devastating, long-term consequences — whether victims were coerced or manipulated into accepting the advances of adult predators.
“Young people are open to priests and when assaulted in this way, their souls are often irreparably damaged,” he stated in one of several letters cited in the National Review Board’s 2004 “Report on the Crisis in the Catholic Church in the United States.”
That same report asserted that “Bishop D’Arcy appeared to be a voice in the wilderness, and shortly after he raised troubling questions about a number of priests he was asked to leave Boston and was installed as bishop of the Diocese of South Bend-Fort Wayne [sic].” Bishop D’Arcy rejected this assertion during his interview with the Register.
After he took charge of the diocese, Bishop D’Arcy acted on his understanding of a bishop’s role as a loving, but tough-minded shepherd.
One salutary lesson he absorbed from the abuse crisis was that bishops mistakenly ceded their judgment to others.
“That episcopal human judgment — not infallible, but enlightened by grace — was put aside.”
But those careful policies have been matched with a powerful awareness that a bishop must truly know and care for his seminarians and priests.
“The Greek word episkopein means to oversee. There are different models of management. The danger is keeping your distance from the crucial decisions.”
Sister Anne D’Arcy, for her part, is unsurprised by the attention her brother has received in the wake of the crisis.
“The thing about John is that he is not afraid to do the hard thing. If he feels it’s for the good of the Church, he will speak out,” she said.
BCI asks all readers to pray for the repose of the soul of Bishop D’Arcy. We also pray that we see Cardinal O’Malley and future leadership of the Boston Archdiocese learn from the pastoral leadership principles as Bishop D’Arcy and adopt them:
- “Bishops must act as loving shepherds and prudent gatekeepers for their seminary”
- “If there was a pastor harming the faith, and if I found out that a parish had poor leadership, I would do my best with the personnel board to make a change”
- “Bishops mistakenly ceded their judgment to others”
- “There are different models of management. The danger is keeping your distance from the crucial decisions.”
- “The bishop’s role is as a loving, but tough-minded shepherd.”
- “A bishop must teach the Catholic faith ‘in season and out of season,’ and he teaches not only by his words — but by his actions.”
- “It is important to have a healthy and beautiful sense of the priesthood — a shepherd after the heart of Christ.”