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GAYLORD, Mich. (ChurchMilitant.com) The new bishop of Birmingham, Alabama, Steven Raica, is bringing a sordid record with him to the hometown of Mother Angelica's Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN). EWTN was formed by Mother Angelica in large part to oppose much of the agenda of homosexualist and/or dissenting bishops.
Raica, who had served as bishop of the Michigan diocese of Gaylord since August 2014, will become the fifth bishop of Birmingham, replacing retiring Bp. Robert Baker, who reached the mandatory retirement age of 75. Raica's transfer, which was announced from Rome Wednesday, will be delayed until June 23 "given the current uncertainties," according to a press report.
Raica attended seminary in the scandalous St. John's Provincial Seminary in Plymouth Michigan (archdiocese of Detroit) in the 1970s, during the same period it earned a horrible reputation for being a homosexual hothouse — when homosexual pornographic videotapes were mandatory weekly viewing on Wednesday evenings as part of a so-called human sexuality class. Current Detroit Abp. Allen Vigneron, who was the main consecrator for Raica when he was made bishop in August 2015, was also present in St. John's in the same time period.
As has been chronicled extensively by Church Militant, Bp. Raica has been besieged with withering, non-stop public criticism, some of it prompted by Gaylord Diocesan Watch (GDW), a group formed by four laymen to shed light on Bp. Raica for his vicious treatment of 33-year-old priest, Fr. Matthew Cowan.
Father Cowan had complained that known pederast and former priest James Holtz was employed at his parish, where Fr. Cowan was associate pastor, and appeared to be grooming teenagers as he trained them to be altar boys. Cowan also filed a complaint of sexual harassment against top diocesan official, Vicar General Dennis Stilwell — an action that possibly led Bp. Raica to suspend him from his pastorship.
GDW has also worked diligently to inform Catholics not only about Fr. Cowan's removal from ministry, but also other scandals in the diocese and chancery.
Throughout it all, Bp. Raica has been steadfast in his punishment of Fr. Cowan and in his stern approach to GDW and its three other founders, Bill De Lyon, Chris Maciborski, Martin Dubravec and Dr. Richard Brenz, president of the group.
GDW and its supporters have concluded the only meaningful means available to communicate with the hierarchy is by withdrawing financial support.
"I really have a bittersweet feeling about this," Brenz told Church Militant. "While this [Raica's departure] is good news for the diocese of Gaylord, we feel sorry for the people of Birmingham, Alabama, where he is going. He will have significant control over EWTN."
Bishop Raica has refused repeatedly to correspond or to meet with GDW or its individual members and has always refused to answer inquiries from Church Militant. He also labeled GDW as well as Church Militant "agents of Satan" and likened himself to Jesus being besieged by Pharisees.
"I think all of Bp. Raica's pain over this is self-inflicted. He saw us as a thorn in his side, but we never intended to be a thorn in his side, or did we intend to create pain for him. Any ill feeling is on his part, not ours," Brenz said. "All I wanted all along has been to talk to him about our concerns regarding Fr. Cowan. My wife and I even drove 90 miles to the chancery to meet him and he refused to talk to us."
When asked for his reaction to the upcoming departure of Bp. Raica, De Lyon, who has attended St. Francis Church for decades and was once chairman of the parish's finance committee, said the starting point in understanding Raica's behavior is how he relates to ordinary people.
"Even before the controversy over Fr. Cowan, in the course of speaking to Bp. Raica, there was nothing from him. I talked to him once and he did not say anything; it was like there was a black hole. Many people have said he will not even look them in the eye."
Both Brenz and De Lyon expressed sadness that Raica is headed to another diocese.
"It is incomprehensible a guy like him would be a bishop," De Lyon said. "What kind of bishop refuses to talk to the faithful who ask repeatedly to discuss important matters?"
Brenz and De Lyon said they are committed to keeping their group active despite the financial burden each of the members face in keeping it going. "This group is not about Bp. Raica but is about informing the faithful about what's going on," he said.
De Lyon listed several successes for the group, including getting notorious bishop and sexual predator Robert N. Lynch banned from participating in liturgies in the diocese. Lynch vacationed for years in the northern Michigan diocese and was a regular at St. Francis parish in summer months.
"We are absolutely going to keep going and we think our presence is going to be more important than ever until the new bishop is named, which could be two or three years from now," De Lyon added. "Gaylord is not top priority and we usually wait a long time for new bishops. When the boss is gone that's when the rats come out of the woodwork!"
Brenz and De Lyon said they receive support and inquiries from others seeking to replicate GDW's successes, and they are eager to assist people in other dioceses in forming their own groups.