Rebel Priests Push Pope on Daily Heir

New York Daily News [New York]
May 24, 2003

If the Pope is having trouble selecting a successor to Bishop Thomas Daily, some priests in Brooklyn and Queens are more than ready to help - in fact, they've already told the pontiff what kind of leader they want and nominated five candidates.

It's only their opinion - priests don't get to vote for bishops - but behind it is a lively, larger issue that has Daily at odds with a group called Voice of the Ordained, which was organized a year ago to give metropolitan-area priests a greater voice in decision-making.

Daily turned 75, the mandatory retirement age for bishops, in September. But he will continue to run the Diocese of Brooklyn, which includes Queens, until the Pope names a successor.

The Vatican can, and often does, consult with priests when it begins the lengthy and very hush-hush procedure for choosing bishops. But the final decision is left to the Pope alone, and this is what bothers the Voice of the Ordained.

"Priests and laity should elect bishops," says the Rev. James Sullivan, a retired Brooklyn priest and member of the group's steering committee. "That's the way it was done in the early days of the church."

Not only that, but Sullivan says bishops should serve fixed terms - six years, with a second six if everybody agrees. And most audaciously, he and other like-minded priests want all bishops, not just cardinals, to elect Popes and to limit their reigns to 12 years.

It sounds like a pipe dream and, Sullivan concedes that at the moment, it is.

"The main problem in the church," he says, "is abuse of power. Electing bishops is a step in the right direction, but it will take time and plenty of hard work and prayer."

In the meantime, the group asked priests in Brooklyn and Queens to choose a candidate to succeed Daily. Fifty-one priests and bishops were nominated. The names of the five mentioned most often were sent to Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, the chief papal envoy in Washington, with a request that he forward them to Rome.

Backhanded slap

Four of the five names were published - the other was withheld at the man's request. Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Sullivan, a nationally known spokesman on human and social services, was on the list, along with three pastors - Msgr. Martin Geraghty of St. Francis de Sales in Belle Harbor, Queens; Msgr. Raymond Chappetto of Our Lady of the Snows in Floral Park, Queens, and Msgr. Peter Kain of St. Ephrem in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.

But perhaps even more important than the names were the qualities priests said they wanted in the next bishop. The most notable was that he come from within the ranks of Brooklyn priests - an indirect slap at the Vatican's choice 13 years ago of Daily, whose previous job was bishop of Palm Beach, Fla.

"We do not want a stranger from outside the diocese," Voice of the Ordained said.

Most bishops are wary of what they see as unsanctioned interference by priests in church governance, and Daily is no exception. Two months ago, he barred the group from meeting on church property but did not say why specifically.

"I really don't get it," said James Sullivan, who met with Daily to protest the ban. "These are guys who care about what happens to the church."

One factor, not mentioned publicly by anybody, is that 59 of the 200 members of the Voice of the Ordained are married. Some left the priesthood voluntarily, while others were suspended from priestly functions, but technically, all remain priests. This has caused some disagreement and friction within the group.

The rest of the membership includes 55 active priests from the Diocese of Brooklyn, 41 from the Archdiocese of New York and 45 from the Diocese of Rockville Centre, which covers Nassau and Suffolk counties.

Even while criticizing Daily's ban, some Voice of the Ordained members applaud another action he took this month. He lifted a ban against the reform lay organization Voice of the Faithful, which is still barred from using church property in Newark, Rockville Centre, Bridgeport, Conn., and several other dioceses.

"That was a courageous act," said Tom McCabe, a married priest in Brooklyn and member of the Voice of the Ordained steering committee. "We're a parallel group, so maybe there's hope for us, too."


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