An interview with the Most Rev. Liam Cary, Bishop of Baker (Ore.)
On Convocation Day (August 21, 2012), the Most Rev. Liam Cary, Bishop of Baker (Ore.) served as the principal celebrant at the Mass of the Holy Spirit and the speaker at the Matriculation Ceremony.
Q: You were ordained a bishop just this past May. What was your reaction to the news of your appointment?
A: It was a complete shock. The Apostolic Nuncio called and said, “The Pope has named you the Bishop of Baker. Do you accept? I said, “Well, yes.” It was as if Pope Benedict was sitting across the table from me, because it was he who chose me and asked the nuncio to ask me. If I were to say no I would be saying no to the Holy Father. I thought of the sacrifices that he has made in his life — that he has served for so long and that he was ready for a well-deserved retirement. But that was denied him, and now he serves to the end. So how could I say no? To say no would have been to say, “I have a better path. I thought about it, and my path is better than the one you are asking me to follow.”
Q: Dr. McLean mentioned in his introductory remarks at Convocation that yours was a “late vocation.” Can you describe your journey to the priesthood?
A: There are really two stages to my vocation. The first one was when I was just a boy. Our pastor was my father’s best friend, and he was at the house all of the time. My grandmother, my aunts, my uncles all revered this man, and this was the center of family life. So from a young age I was at ease with the thought of being a priest. It felt right to me. It didn’t have to; other people have had great conflicts. But I always wanted to be a priest. Even after I left the seminary the first time, I always said that I was still going to be a priest someday. But I put it off because I wanted to get more experience outside of the seminary.
The second stage in my vocation came many years later. When I got involved in my parish, I discovered that this is what I need to be doing. The desire to do more just flowed right into going back in to the priesthood. I have often thought that, had I been ordained in the normal course of events, I might have done a lot of damage to people. It was the 1960s, and I was very much a child of my times. As it was, though, I had the chance to think my way through all of that without being in the spotlight, so to speak. When I went back to the seminary in the 1980s, it was with a different mind. My only regret at being ordained at the age of 45 is that I wasn’t able to do more service as a priest.
Q: On YouTube there is a video of a sermon you gave on the 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, in which you allude to having first received that encyclical less docilely than you do now. Is that right?
A: That’s an understatement of the first order! I remember precisely when I learned about it. I was working in San Francisco in the summer of 1968 at Pacific Gas & Energy, and while on a lunch break, I noticed a newspaper headline saying, “Pope Says No to Birth Control.” I was very disappointed because I had been led to believe there was going to be a change in the teaching. Like so many other people, I resisted the teaching, thinking it was ultimately going to change.
After about 10 years, I went to Chicago to attend the Mass said by Bl. John Paul II there. This had a profound influence on me, as it did on many lay people and priests. It was then that I started to study the whole issue of contraception from a different perspective. I realized that I had been wrong and that the Church was right. And I figured if the Church could withstand the pressure of the world on something like this, then I could trust the Church on virtually anything. This is a kind of proof of the Lord staying with the Church.
People are still very much confused about the teaching. I think it is very important for us to recover a way of speaking about it that makes it clear that it is by no means an oppressive teaching, but rather one that is ultimately liberating. The fact is that contraception is the surest way to increase the suffering of women and to free men from any kind of sexual responsibility.
Q: In your homily you spoke of four cautionary prophecies that Pope Paul VI made if the teachings of Humanae Vitae were not followed. One was that there would be a coercive use of reproductive technologies by governments, especially on the poor. Could you say more about that?
A: Yes, that is in fact being done by governments elsewhere, in Latin America, China, India. Here in the United States we have the HHS contraceptive mandate, and on this issue the Church has taken a stand against the world. There is an effort here to drive the Church into complete privacy. It is as though it is inconceivable that anybody would object to the mandate, as though objections to it can’t be taken seriously.
Meanwhile we have all this evidence of family breakdown and the pauperization of women, single women who are left with children to care for when men abandon them. That this is the surest way to be poor in the United States is no critique of the heroic efforts of women to raise children on their own. This is heroism of the first degree. The problem is that people are getting poorer, and it might just be that contraception has something to do with that.
I think these kinds of connections need to be made not only as Catholic Christians but as American citizens, concerned about the future of our democracy and our government.
Q: The Holy Father has declared a Year of Faith starting in October. Do you have suggestions about how the faithful might profit from this occasion?
A: Faith is a real challenge in the world today, steeped as it is in secularism and relativism. We put our faith and our lives in a Man who was crucified, and in the people who associated with Him through time. This is no small thing. But we can take the significance of this for granted, especially when times are peaceful. When we start to realize, though, that there are threatening alternatives, it makes us wonder. During this Year of Faith, we should ponder certain questions: What is it we believe? What do I believe? How do we come to faith? What are the stages of believing?
By contrast it would be very helpful to think about the loss of faith, especially in our time. What brings about the loss of faith? How does one recover it? What is the role of prayer in faith? What is the role of hope? What is the relationship between faith and hope? What is the relation between faith and charity?
Frederick Ozanam of the St. Vincent De Paul society says, “Put your faith under the protection of charity.” This suggests to me that if you want to believe more deeply, or if perhaps you have lost your faith and you are recovering it, the best way to do so is to devote yourself to the service of the poor in charitable work.
Q: When you accepted Dr. McLean’s invitation to visit our campus for Convocation, you said you had known about the College for sometime and that you “thought we were doing something right” here. Now that you have spent some time here and visited classes, what do you think?
A: It starts with the physical location. Just to walk everyday amidst such beauty — the terrain is beautiful, the buildings are beautiful, and the campus is ordered and tranquil, everything is in the right balance — it gives a certain peacefulness to life. Then there is the centrality and prominence of the Chapel, which is a statement in itself that everything is ordered to the glory of God.
I have also been very much impressed by the joyfulness of the students. I visited classrooms and saw them really attend to these great works of the Western tradition, and engage them directly — not through a filter of textbooks and bullet points. And they engage each other directly, too, and learn how to articulate their thoughts with respect. The classroom setting is not some huge lecture hall, but small, rather intimate rooms with large round tables that gather everybody in. What struck me, too, is the very companionable relationship the students have with their teachers. They are sitting right there at the same level with them and prompting them with questions, not flooding them with information.
To be able to do all this over a four-year period — I think this would be, in itself, a wonderful education. All of this seems to be very, very desirable, and I was quite impressed. It has certainly been a joy for me to be here.
“We are studying to find the truth in each of the liberal arts, to see the truth in all of God’s creation. It helps you understand why we are here as rational human beings.”
– Thomas Lawlor (’13)
“Thomas Aquinas is already the preeminent Catholic college in the country.”
– John Cardinal O’Connor (†)
Archbishop of New York