Bishop Robert Vasa on pro-abortion Catholics, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, and what authentic renewal of the Church will look like
Interview by Jim Graves, Catholic World Report
Bishop Robert Vasa has served as bishop of Baker, Oregon since 2000. On January 24, the Vatican announced that he will serve as coadjutor bishop for the Diocese of Santa Rosa, California. Bishop Vasa will assist the current head of the diocese, Bishop Daniel Walsh, and then succeed him as bishop once Walsh reaches the mandatory retirement age of 75 in 2012.
Bishop Vasa, age 59, has been outspoken in his defense of Catholic doctrine and moral teachings, particularly related to the life issues. He made news recently when he declared that a bishop’s authority in his own diocese supersedes that of the national bishops’ conference, stating, “It is easy to forget that the conference is the vehicle to assist bishops in cooperating with each other and not a separate regulatory commission.” He added, “there may also be an unfortunate tendency on the part of bishops to abdicate to the conference a portion of their episcopal role and duty.”
You have said that you would not give Holy Communion to a Catholic politician who supports legal abortion. Other bishops do not hold this view. Why do you believe as you do?
Bishop Vasa: It has to do with communion with the Lord. As someone I know said quite well recently, is this what the Lord wants you to do as a Catholic politician? If it isn’t, then you need to be honest and consistent about that and say you cannot claim a unity with the Church—a communion with the Church, a communion with Christ—when your beliefs, behaviors, and actions, particularly in terms of your pro-abortion stand, speak in absolute contradiction to that communion.
Denying Communion to such a politician is not something I would just casually do, though. I would first meet with that individual, offer them a warning, and tell them that their soul was in danger.
What concerns do you have about the work of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development?
Bishop Vasa: While I trust the bishops on the committee itself, I have many concerns nationally about how we as the Catholic Church interact with elements of our society that do not share our values. It is one thing to interact with those who do not share our values, but it is quite another to financially support agencies, individuals, or agendas which are absolutely, diametrically opposed to our principles and values.
Unfortunately, there are multi-layered corporations seeking funding that might have 90 percent of their activities perfectly in accord with the teaching of the Church, and they’re working in many areas and on issues for which the Church has a passion. Unfortunately, those same corporations may have a spin-off group that they fund which supports, say, population control, artificial contraception, and abortion. This would, in my mind, disqualify them from any support.
The question is how much of a link must exist between organizations seeking Campaign for Human Development funding and activities that as Catholics we find objectionable before we as a Church say, “No, I’m sorry, you are linked with immoral practices and we will not fund you.”
At some point, we must decide that their complicity with evil is too great, and we will not support them. Some people’s consciences may find some minor complicity acceptable, but for me, I believe that there are better places where our money can go.
How can we bring back a renewal of Catholic life in the United States?
Bishop Vasa: The renewal is already happening, but slowly. Young families and young adults in particular have sensed and experienced the emptiness of the promises of the world. They sense almost instinctively that there has to be something more.
Society looks at the human person, and it operates in regard to the human person with a philosophical base and foundation that is hollow and shallow. It treats us as a biochemical entity which is merely capable of pleasure and enjoyment.
But human beings are capable of so much more. We are spiritual beings. We are made in the image and likeness of God. We have a deeper component, a spiritual and supernatural component that is unsettled. As St. Augustine would say, our hearts are restless until they rest in God. Even though there has been a great attempt in society to alleviate that restlessness, it has been unsuccessful. And, that restlessness is rising up. People are asking, is that all there is?
The Church is the place where we say, “No, that is not all there is.” You are much more. You are created in the image and likeness of God. In baptism, you become a child of God. You are beloved of God, and you have been saved by the passion, death, and resurrection of the Lord. He lives with you today. He calls you to recognize your dignity and to live that dignity to the fullest. That’s a message that the world cannot offer and for which the world is hungry.
I always encourage Catholics to look forward and upward. I tell them not to be frustrated by a seeming lack of success, whether it be in the pro-life area, or in a desire for a stronger manifestation of Catholicism in political life, the health care world or other elements of our society. Such frustration is a sign that we want the success for ourselves.
What we are called to do, as Mother Teresa said, is be faithful. If we are faithful, then we are successful. That’s really the bottom line.