By Jay McNally
Any analysis of Abp. Allen Vigneron's track record since he became head of the archdiocese of Detroit (AOD) nine years ago shows he has made little public effort to defend Church teaching regarding homosexuality, same-sex "marriage" or against what Pope Benedict called the "filth" in the Church among promiscuous gay priests and prelates.
While Abp. Vigneron may have many strengths, as he has many defenders including prominent Catholic author George Weigel, fighting on the front lines against the broad Culture of Death is not one of them.
Indeed, the clarity of Church teaching on homosexuality is given little attention in Vigneron's 44-page pastoral letter, Unleash the Gospel, which is today a major theme in everything the AOD does. The word "homosexual" does not appear in Unleash even once; the phrase "same sex" appears once; and "heterosexual" not at all.
When the phrase "same sex" appears, the stress is not on enforcing or boldly proclaiming Church teaching on the sanctity of marriage, but rather on "breaking down barriers that divide us — including race, ethnicity, sex and socioeconomic status."
The text regarding "same sex attraction" is part of Vigneron's "charge" to his Central Services staff to "provide resources for developing a culture of empathy and understanding throughout the Archdiocese, according to the light of the Gospel, so that those who experience the challenges of gender identity and same sex attraction, will find support for growing as a human person in the virtue of Christ-like chastity."
Archbishop Vigneron had two dramatic opportunities to defend Church teaching boldly and with massive media coverage that would be befitting of a bold, forthright leader: Think of the powerful example of Cdl. John O'Connor, Cdl. Raymond Burke and Bp. Fabian Bruskewitz. But in both situations, he was nowhere to be seen or heard. Choose your metaphor: He was either a turtle in hiding in a strong shell, or a cockroach avoiding the light of truth.
The first and most tragic instance where Vigneron outright surrendered to both the local and national homosexual lobbies was during a November 2013 referendum campaign to pass a "sexual identity" ordinance in the Detroit suburb of Royal Oak.
The Catholic Church, thanks to Cdl. Joseph Ratzinger, is formally on record opposing such laws. In his October 1986 Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, Cdl. Ratzinger reiterated that the Church's "clear position cannot be revised by pressure from civil legislation or the trend of the moment. ... In assessing proposed legislation, the Bishops should keep as their uppermost concern the responsibility to defend and promote family life."
I witnessed this referendum tragedy as one of several pro-bono political consultants who assisted on the pro-life side, under the guidance of long-time pro-life strategist Gary Glenn, then-president of the American Family Association of Michigan, who had run more than a dozen similar campaigns, sometimes successful, throughout the state of Michigan.
For more than six months before the November referendum leaders on the pro-life side requested help from Vigneron, and he did not respond to any of the requests. Thus, there was no visible formal Catholic presence in the campaign whatsoever with the logical result that the homosexual movement won handily. Resources were committed from around the country from gay groups, with as many as 100 gay activists working the city the weekend before the election, according to local media reports.
Vigneron's failure to lead in that campaign is the primary reason the sexual identity ordinance passed. The final tally was 6,654 votes in favor and 5,670 against.
Vigneron's failure stands in stark contrast to what happened in the same city a dozen years earlier, in 2001 — when Cdl. Adam Maida was the Detroit archbishop — when the pro-life side won handily with more than 60 percent of the vote. In that case, we were able to rally more than eight priests who publicly defended the pro-life cause; additionally, the local Knights of Columbus helped out.
I know of this campaign because at that time I was executive director of a Catholic apostolate based in Detroit, Call to Holiness, which was committed to grassroots pro-life activity.
Father John Harvey, founder of Courage and an eloquent and indefatigable campaigner, came to Michigan for almost a full week to campaign against the Royal Oak ordinance as well as against two other similar measures in the state. Father Harvey spoke at a press conference at the Knights of Columbus Hall and did many radio, television and newspaper interviews.
Monsignor William Easton, pastor of Shrine of the Little Flower Parish, openly supported the pro-life side and more than a half dozen priests joined Fr. Harvey at the press conference, which got broad media attention throughout the region, including on the cover of the gay magazine, Between the Lines.
A prominent wealthy Catholic in the area donated more than $10,000 to the 2001 campaign; a Protestant church gave $5,000 and there were other contributions.
But under Vigneron's leadership, across the region, the Catholic Church did literally nothing related to the campaign: Not one priest or bishop spoke publicly against it. I contacted about a dozen priests and asked them to speak up. Following their boss, they all stood silent.
Shrine Pastor, Msgr. Easton, acknowledged to most of the campaign leaders from the city that he wanted to speak out during the 2012 campaign, as he did so, forcefully a dozen years earlier, but Abp. Vigneron would not allow it.
Meanwhile in other campaigns, opposing nearly exactly the same ordinances in Michigan, both the bishops of Kalamazoo and Lansing had issued statements supporting the pro-life side.
I have been friends for 23 years with a person who is close to Vigneron, having known the bishop for well over 15 years and who is in social contact with him frequently. I asked him, as a last-ditch effort about two weeks before the election if he would ask the archbishop to say something — anything — about the Royal Oak election. This person replied that it would be decidedly "unfruitful" to even mention the issue, and thus declined.
The 2013 Royal Oak defeat was a crushing blow to the conservative movement in Michigan. When asked how the city could have turned so dramatically against its former stance of a dozen years ago, pro-life strategist Gary Glenn said he sees within the Catholic Church's leadership "a spirit of surrender."
One of the bitter ironies is that while he was in Michigan for that 2001 campaign, Fr. Harvey asked that he be allowed to spend the night at Sacred Heart Seminary, as he always preferred to spend nights in Catholic settings rather than hotels. At that time, Vigneron was president-rector of the seminary and agreed to give lodging to Fr. Harvey. On that night, I drove Fr. Harvey to SHS and arrived at about 11:00 p.m., and we were greeted by Vigneron himself.
Additionally, it appears Vigneron had put the word out to other priests in the Royal Oak area not to support the pro-life side in that campaign. No other priests would return calls or emails for help, and no media — secular or Catholic — reported on Vigneron's refusal to participate in the campaign.
The widely publicized 39th university Mass of the homosexual group Dignity/Detroit was the second dramatic occasion when Vigneron had a chance to show decisive leadership by defending Church teaching against the homosexual movement, but instead he did the opposite and defended Dignity, through his spokesman Ned McGrath, in what ranks as one of the most profound betrayals by the archdiocese imaginable to laity who have been on the front lines defending Church teaching since Vatican II.
Dignity/Detroit, founded in 1974 only a few blocks from the AOD chancery, is opposed to Catholic teaching on sexual morals but nevertheless has always had broad support among clergy and bishops in the AOD, which continues to this day. Dignity has boasted of membership by 22 priests who say their Masses, as well as support by Cdl. Adam Maida. The group has credited Auxiliary Bp. Francis Reiss as being the catalyst for its founding.
The 39th anniversary Mass at Marygrove College in May 2013 was widely publicized in local media, including Church Militant (then Church Militant TV), with Bp. Thomas Gumbleton being the Mass celebrant. More than 40 faithful Catholics and pro-lifers picketed the event.
Throughout his tenure as archbishop, Vigneron has not uttered or written one public word about Dignity/Detroit. There are no known written or even verbal responses to the many letters of complaint he received, neither about the 39th anniversary Mass, nor at any other time throughout his nine years as archbishop. Here is some history about the group, published two decades ago in Catholic World Report.
The only comment about the event was from AOD Director of Communications Ned McGrath, who issued a statement published by The Detroit Free Press.
"Vigneron is aware of the weekly Dignity Mass at Marygrove," McGrath said. "There are hundreds of Masses celebrated in the Detroit archdiocese every weekend. It's always Abp. Vigneron's expectation that these liturgies are conducted in full conformity with the Catholic Church's teachings and practices."
Vigneron makes repeated references to his desire to create "a band of joyful missionary disciples" in the archdiocese. So far, there are not many pro-lifers who are joyful about his refusal to stand with the Church against the Culture of Death, outside of platitudes spoken on cue to pep rallies and in interviews with sycophantic media.