SPOKANE, Wash. — When Father Bob Dunn read the headlines sparked by his friend Spokane Bishop Tom Daly’s strong corrective for Catholic politicians who promote abortion rights, the New York City priest told his friends, “This is the type of witness we need.”
“Politicians who reside in the Catholic Diocese of Spokane, and who obstinately persevere in their public support for abortion, should not receive Communion without first being reconciled to Christ and the Church,” Bishop Thomas Daly wrote in a Feb. 1 letter to his diocese that referenced Canon 915 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law.
“Efforts to expand access to abortion, allowing murder of children up to the moment of birth, is evil,” added Bishop Daly. “For a Catholic political leader to do so is scandalous.”
Bishop Daly, 58, released his indictment of pro-abortion Catholic lawmakers just days after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Catholic, signed a bill that allowed abortions through nine months of pregnancy.
And shortly after Bishop Daly issued his statement, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., blocked proposed legislation that would expand protections for infants who survived late-term abortions.
“We have laws against infanticide in this country,” asserted Murray, another cradle Catholic, in a Feb. 4 statement from the Senate floor. She told EWTN News Nightly’s Jason Calvi, “Congress should not get between a woman and her doctor.”
A staunchly pro-life Church leader in a state that legalized abortion three years before the Supreme Court issued its landmark rulings in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, Bishop Daly is the only Washington state bishop to adopt such strong language amid a revived campaign to permit the killing of “viable” unborn children.
Esther Ripplinger, the executive director of Human Life of Washington, the state affiliate of the National Right to Life Committee, applauded Bishop Daly’s directive to pro-abortion Catholics as a “rather bold statement” and encouraged “other faith leaders like him to hold legislators accountable to the beliefs they profess.”
Taking a Stand
In an interview with the Register, Bishop Daly was clear about his reasons for taking a stand.
“There is a very aggressive pro-abortion movement that is steamrolling its way across the U.S.,” he said, noting that his diocese had heard from pro-life Catholics who were worried that their secular progressive state would soon adopt similarly extreme legislation.
“It is shameful and sinful that so-called practicing Catholics are, if not in the driver’s seat, at least on the ride for this,” he added.
Yet Bishop Daly has not restricted his unapologetic moral guidance to life issues. He has also weighed in on the clergy sex-abuse crisis. Last fall, he defended at least part of the testimony of the former papal nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Viganò, alleging a high-level cover-up of sexual misconduct by former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.
“I would not call Archbishop Viganò a liar,” said Bishop Daly during an interview with his diocesan newspaper. “[T]here are segments of that letter that … I can attest that are true.”
During the U.S. bishops’ tumultuous fall 2018 meeting in Baltimore, Bishop Daly went further and asked whether high-ranking prelates who ignored or shielded Archbishop McCarrick were believing Catholics.
“Did this come to be,” Bishop Daly asked the USCCB assembly, “because we have certain bishops and priests who don’t see anything wrong with consensual sex between adults?” — referring to the allegations of sexual misconduct involving seminarians and priests against the disgraced archbishop that dated back to 2005 and failed to result in his removal from public ministry.
He speculated that some bishops and cardinals remained silent because they were also “compromised.”
“There is truly a diabolical nature to this crisis. It is not clericalism,” said the bishop, who warned that faithful Catholic parents were losing patience and priestly vocations would be hit hard if the Church did not address the problem of homosexual predation in seminaries and rectories.
The frank language didn’t surprise Father Dunn, who has known Bishop Daly for many years, after the two joined forces during summer youth pilgrimages to the Marian shrine in Lourdes, France.
“He isn’t a people pleaser. He is refreshingly direct,” said Father Dunn, who has multiple sclerosis and now lives in the Cardinal Egan Pavilion, a home for retired priests in the Bronx.
Contrast to Cardinal Cupich
Indeed, Bishop Daly’s positions on the abuse crisis and life issues offer a remarkable contrast to the stance of his predecessor, now-Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, who previously served as the bishop of Spokane (2010-2014).
Cardinal Cupich took a lead role in the U.S. bishops’ discussions about proposals to promote bishop accountability, and he has also been appointed by Pope Francis to help organize the Vatican’s Feb. 21-24 summit on the sex-abuse crisis.
But while the Chicago archbishop has repeatedly framed the crisis as a problem of clericalism, his successor in Spokane has taken a different approach.
Likewise, while then-Bishop Cupich was once criticized for directing his seminarians not to join prayer vigils at local abortion facilities, Bishop Daly quickly agreed to his seminarians’ request that they take part in vigils and other pro-life activities.
The California native has surely made waves since his arrival in Spokane less than four years ago. But his open, candid demeanor has long been matched with a highly effective and popular pastoral style.
Born in San Francisco, Bishop Daly attended St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park, California, and was ordained to the priesthood in 1987.
Over time, he rose to become the director of vocations and the president of Marin Catholic High School, one of four diocesan high schools.
At Marin Catholic, he focused on deepening the school’s religious identity and invited the Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Dominican Sisters of Mother, Mary of the Eucharist to join the faculty.
His vocations initiatives included annual summer pilgrimages to Lourdes, where he donned the group’s official uniform of white T-shirt and khaki shorts to assist pilgrims.
“We have organized pilgrimages to Lourdes at least 15 times,” Charlotte Kiesel, a member of the Order of Malta who helped direct the vocations-oriented effort, told the Register.
“It was a gift to watch kids and seminarians grow in their faith. He didn’t make it easy for them and led periodic examinations of conscience,” said Kiesel, who estimated that the pilgrimages encouraged at least eight young men to become priests.
In 2011, Father Daly was named auxiliary bishop of San Jose, California, and in 2014, he was appointed the interim president/rector of St. Patrick’s Seminary.
“We are still reaping the fruit of his labors,” Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco told the Register, as he noted Bishop Daly’s past work as vocations director and then seminary rector.
“He inspired and gave young men good guidance to discern whether they had a vocation. The seminarians looked up to him so much, and he has a deep and broad experience with education.” Bishop Daly earned a master’s degree in education.
Turning to Bishop Daly’s recent statement on abortion, Archbishop Cordileone described it as a form of “catechesis,” rather than a political document.
Bishop Daly sought to “remind people to be in the state of grace when receiving Communion,” said Archbishop Cordileone.
But even as the San Francisco archbishop made clear that he had no prior notice of Bishop Daly’s timely letter, he acknowledged that it was fully in character:
“This is the sort of statement I would expect from him,” he said.
Now, Bishop Daly has brought the same energy and focus to his signature vocations and evangelization initiatives in a diocese that has just begun to rebuild, after a flood of clergy-abuse claims forced it into bankruptcy,
When Bishop Daly arrived in 2015, “there were four seminarians from two dioceses at Bishop White Seminary,” said Father Daniel Barnett, the rector of the college-age seminary program and the director of vocations for the Spokane Diocese.
“This year, there are 16 from eight different dioceses. Six are from our diocese, so there is slow and steady growth.”
Bishop Daly has focused on three key goals for his flock: growth in holiness, vocations discernment and the formation of young people.
The bishop’s public statements on life issues and the abuse crisis are linked to his ambitious pastoral agenda.
“When it comes to ‘social issues,’ some [bishops] try to be all things to all people,” said Brian Kraut, the director of evangelization for the diocese.
In Bishop Daly’s case, “the promotion of life is part of who he is,” said Kraut.
And as his statement at the USCCB suggested, “he yearns for accountability and for priests to live the holy life they are called to live — to be that shepherd, to be that example for the young.”
While busy with his daily responsibilities in Spokane, Bishop Daly will be keeping an eye on both the upcoming Vatican abuse summit and the ongoing political campaign to legalize late-term abortions.
He believes the laity have a key role to play in both cases.
Lay specialists need to be involved in diocesan review boards and other proposed reforms to oversee bishop accountability.
And lay activists and voters need to fight for laws that protect the unborn.
But he is very clear about his own responsibilities and the need for bishops like him to recommit to their vows with total fidelity.
“The laity have the right to expect their bishops to stand up for truth, and when we compromise and aren’t truthful, why should we expect them to do their part?” he asked.
“Priests and bishops need to recommit to supporting each other through prayer and friendship, so the fidelity to our vocation has the grace and strength required.”
Joan Frawley Desmond is a Register senior editor.