The “mother of all ecclesial blogs” (http://whispersintheloggia.blogspot.com/) began my day today with some sad news, my colleague and friend, John Carr, will be leaving his long-held position as lead agent and spokesperson for international and domestic social justice at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops this summer. Monsignor Daniel F. Hoye, who was general Secretary of the then USCC, and I, as his Associate, hired John in the mid-eighties for roughly the same position he has held now for a quarter century. John has a great story about his initial and only interview with me for the position but my high standards of choice of words will not allow its replication here. He came to the Conference immediately from the Archdiocese of Washington with the strong endorsement of then Archbishop James Hickey and that was significant in itself. I suspect that in a moment of truth, John would say that the first decade of his service were the most rewarding and fun. My supervisees in that period of time, most of whom Monsignor Hoye and I hired, were Mark Chopko, gone now to private law practice in Washington, as General Counsel, Frank Monahan, now retired, as head of the Office of Government Liaison, then Monsignor (now Bishop) Nicholas DiMarzio as head of Migration and Refugee Services, Father Kenneth Doyle and Monsignor Frank Maniscalco in the Communications department, a succession of talented people as heads of the Education Department, etc. They were bright, brainy and dedicated Catholics and working with them was exhilarating.
As the principal staff person for the social justice agenda of the bishops’ conference, John Carr probably caught most of the flak from an increasingly polarized Church with right-wing mostly Republican critics shooting from the right and liberal mostly Democratic Catholics who always wished for more from the bishops shooting at him from the left. But the bishops trusted this team as well as this man and supported the Conference when it was occasionally under assault from friends and foes alike. At the intellectual level among these dedicated servants of the Church, I was outclassed by far and found my job to be more of allowing them to bring to the attention of the Conference as a whole the plans and programs of their bishop chairs or the Office of the General Secretariat. On Sunday night last, I had dinner with Father J. Bryan Hehir, now the principal social justice advisor to Cardinal Sean O’Malley and left the table thinking, how in the world did I one time serve as “supervisor” to this talented man? It was always humbling but heady and I loved it. The bishops of those days overwhelmingly had great confidence in the “team” at the Conference with a few exceptions beginning to form at the cardinalatial level. They were the best days of my life of service to the NCCB/USCC and it was all owing to women and men like John Carr.
Organizations change over time as they should and must and I perfectly understand and accept that reality. The bishops’ conference of today is vastly different than the one which I was privileged to serve and I also understand and accept that as well. John lasted longer than anyone in those positions, largely because he was an expert in reading and adapting to the “tea-leaves” of the Church in the United States. The poor, marginalized, underserved and not-served, voiceless and ignored, will be losing a great friend who helped the bishops to craft past positions which brought their plight to the attention of the larger Church. None of us are irreplaceable (that has been proved four times since I left the General Secretariat) but some like John will be hard to replace. He soldiered well, carrying the burden of proclaiming the armament of the Church’s social justice agenda and teaching and now it is time in the words of Ernest Hemingway to bid a “farewell to arms.” Thank you, John, for your faithful, significant, and strong presence in the Church in the United States and may the road indeed rise up to meet you and the devil never again be at your back. I know I speak for many today on this sad day.