Nienstedt's Betrayal of Dearden


John Dearden chose John Nienstedt to aid him in his last three years as Archbishop of Detroit. From 1977 until 1980, Nienstedt served as Dearden's priest secretary, and, from 1979-1980, he was Vicar General of the archdiocese. 

"In 1977, [Nienstedt] returned to Detroit to become secretary to Cardinal John Dearden, described as a 'leading liberal voice in the Church' in his 1988 New York Times obituary. 

“'Cardinal Dearden was a very shy man, and I believe that he has been misjudged by those who did not appreciate the depth of his centrist views towards issues in the Church,' Archbishop Nienstedt says. 'Having been his secretary, I can say he personally always thought "with the mind of the Church."’ In 1979, at the age of 32, Father Nienstedt was named vicar general of the 1.4-million member Archdiocese of Detroit."

Whether Dearden was a centrist or a liberal, Nienstedt is not either--or, at least after the power-shift to John Paul II and Edmund Szoka, he is no longer. Dearden, the man who mentored and surrounded himself with the likes of Joseph BreitenbeckThomas Gumbleton, Joseph ImeschKenneth Untener (all former personal secretaries, vicar generals, and/or curial officials, like Nienstedt) and Joseph Bernardin (Dearden's secretary of the Bishop's Conference from 1966-1971, when he was its first president),--considered by many as some of the most liberal bishops in the world ever--would not have chosen to mentor and employ Nienstedt in the same capacities if Dearden had thought Nienstedt was not of similar ilk.

Although Dearden may not have been a natural liberal, as Ken Untener put it, he had a liberal reputation. Indeed, 
"John Cardinal Dearden ... won for himself the sobriquet, unobtrusive liberal, during the four sessions of the Second Vatican Council. Of all the labels ever applied to him, this is his favorite." [Jane Wolford Hughes, "In Memoriam, Cardinal John F. Dearden: Teacher," Living Light 25 (June 1989): p. 308; Dearden appointed Hughes Executive Director of the Archdiocese of Detroit's Institute for Continuing Education in 1966--she served in that role until 1985.] "He became known as 'the unobtrusive liberal' because his leadership style emphasized developing consensus. ... '[He] had that way of letting a discussion go and then being able to pull all the pieces together,' explains Archbishop John Quinn. Then he would 'point the direction toward a resolution that would be generally accepted and everybody would get along, and most people would be reasonably happy with it in the end.'" [Thomas J. Reese, A Flock of Shepherds (New York: Roman & Littlefield), p. 40.]

Moreover, beginning in the late 1960s, "Dearden bishops" was a phrase employed by some progressive bishops to distinguish themselves from others. "Among the progressives, ... Dearden supporters [in the late 1960s] were Ritter of St. Louis, Cushing of Boston, Sheehan of Baltimore, Hallinan of Alanta, Shannon of St. Paul, Primeau of Manchester, Buswell of Pueblo, Tracy of Baton Rouge, Dozier of Memphis, Gerety of Portland, Hunthausen of Helena and later Seattle, and Sulivan of Richmond. ... In 1968, Thomas Gumbleton and Walter Schoenherr became auxiliaries of Detroit and two more Dearden bishops." [Samuel J. Thomas, "Immanence and Transcendence: John Cardinal Dearden's Church of Tomorrow," American Catholic Studies 54 (Winter 2010): pp. 1-30.]

Ken Untener
In 1980, not long after meeting with John Paul II to ensure Kenneth Untener (left) would become the
Bishop of Saginaw (see the story below), John Dearden resigned as archbishop. John Nienstedt then went off to Rome to complete a doctorate in moral theology and to work in the Holy See's Secretariat of State. After witnessing first-hand in the Vatican the changes John Paul II sought in the church and the kind of bishops whom he wanted, Nienstedt was well-prepared and more than willing to serve John Paul II's man Edmund Szoka in Detroit, even if it meant destroying that which his former mentor, John Dearden, created or valued. In return, in 1996 Edmund Szoka and John Paul II gave Nienstedt what he had hoped for: the position of bishop (and they and Joseph Ratzinger kept on giving). In the church of John Paul II, Nienstedt knew that he would never obtain a pectoral cross, ring, mitre, and crozier by being loyal to Dearden.

Coincidently, Dearden suffered a heart attack two months after Nienstedt became his administrative secretary in 1977. And in 1988, Dearden died soon after St. John's Provincial Seminary in Plymouth, MI was officially closed by Szoka for being too liberal and Nienstedt began as Szoka's rector of the re-created Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. These are coincidences, of course. But perhaps Nienstedt really did hurt Dearden's heart in other ways. And Nienstedt continues to destroy Dearden's legacy today.

Note: Nienstedt became secretary when the Archdiocese of Detroit was restructured in 1977. By then, authority in the Archdiocese had already been decentralized, starting in 1969 with parish councils, vicariates/vicar foranes/vicariate pastoral councils, etc. In 1977, Dearden divided the Archdiocese into four regions, each with an auxiliary bishop. Joseph Imesch became the Northwestern regional bishop, Joseph Schoenherr became the Southern regional bishop, Arthur Krawczak became the Northeastern regional bishop, and Thomas Gumbleon became the Central regional bishop. Kenneth Untener became Rector of St. John's Provincial Seminary, Frank Koper became Rector of Ss. Cyril and Methodius Seminary, and Bernard Harrington became Rector of Sacred Heart Seminary. Hence, that's why Dale Melczek became Vicar General and John Nienstedt became secretary. In 1977, authority in the Archdiocese became devolved. Dale and John held limited influence and power--their roles were secondary or tertiary by then.

"...The church in Detroit was moving toward what Bishop Untener (at the time Fr. Untener) called 'a process of participatory decision-making,' a process that would come into conflict with a more authoritarian reading of Vatican II by Dearden's replacement, Bishop Szoka. Nevertheless, in an interview we conducted with Bishop Gumbleton, he substantiated Tentler's statement that 'the chancery had been abolished.' Specifically, asking the bishop about that statement, he replied:

"'Yeah. It was gone. We didn't have a chancellor or a vice Chancellor. We eliminated all of that structure. We tried to decentralize instead of having everything focus around the chancery which is like the downtown offices. So what we tried to do was to take those offices which had become the Chancery and put the decision making out into the parishes. We tried to emphasize that the church is actually where the people are, where the parishes are.'"

From: David R. Maines and Michael J. McCallion, Transforming Catholicism: Liturgical Change in the Vatican II Church (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007), pp. 23-24.

Some Catholic Organizations with Detroit Roots during Dearden's Tenure as Archbishop of Detroit
1968: William Cunningham and Eleanor Josaitis found Focus: HOPE
1972: Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit becomes first President of Pax Christi USA
1974: Dignity of Detroit is formed; Brian McNaught is President (later becomes President of Dignity USA)
1975: First national Women's Ordination Conference, Detroit
1976: First national Call to Action Conference, Detroit (Called and Chaired by Dearden)
1976: Thomas Lumpkin co-founds Day House, Detroit, the Catholic Worker House in Detroit


"In the Church, our concern is with persons. It is they that we serve in our ministry--in a service that reaches out to all. They, not institutions, are our concern."
John Dearden, 1969

"I can only say one thing with full assurance, and this is that there are no clear, ready-made answers to the problems of Church and society."
John Dearden, Call to Action Conference, Detroit, MI, October 21, 1976

"[If] as is true in every order today, authority is challenged, we must recognize the challenge for what it is. Most often it is not authority that is questioned, but the way in which authority is exercised. And it is one of the basic realities of our time that in the Church, as in other institutions, if authority is to retain its credibility, it must function in a matter different from that of the past."
John Dearden, 1969

"Catholic participation in the debate over abortion legislation can be hopelessly distorted if it is construed as an attempt to impose our own moral teaching through legislation. That context is far too narrow."
John Dearden, 1972

  • "No other hierarchy in the world has a better or more forthright and courageous leader than John Cardinal Dearden."
Theodore Hesburgh, then President of the University of Notre Dame
  • "There may be some who say that he was ahead of his time. Perhaps he was. But I think his genius was that he saw that time was running out. He had the courage to take a bold step—that necessary, decisive step needed to bring the Church into the mainstream of contemporary life. It is for this reason that he was a prophetic figure. It is for this reason that his influence will long be felt."
Joseph Bernardin, homilist, funeral of John Dearden, August 1988
(Dearden selected Bernardin as the first General Secretary of the US National Conference of Catholic Bishops (now USCCB); Dearden was the first President)
  • "[John Dearden] was what all of us in ministry strive to be."
Mary Ann Untener, The Michigan Catholic, August 12, 1988
  • "[It was a] great blessing [to work with Cardinal Dearden and] try to learn to be the way he was."
Thomas Gumbleton, The Michigan Catholic, August 12, 1988
  • "I am profoundly saddened at the death of one of this century's greatest bishops, a man of vision, courage, and faith."
John R. Quinn (former Archbishop of San Francisco), The Michigan Catholic, August 12, 1988
  • "Going far beyond simply accepting the involvement of women in the Church, Cardinal Dearden became a pacesetter among the hierarchy in actively seeking out women for key leadership positions."
Helen Marks, The Michigan Catholic, October 24, 1980
  • "That one picture on his dresser is a personal treasure, a silver framed black-and-white photograph of a smiling Detroit Cardinal John Dearden. In the mid-1960s, Untener was one of the late cardinal's secretaries.
"'I look at that (photo) each morning as inspiration and tell myself as I'm leaving, "Ken, don't foul up the church today,"' says Untener, who considers Dearden, who died in 1988, a mentor and hero. 'Dearden was such a moderating presence. He had such a balance and even in the midst of a crisis, he would remain calm. I tell myself I'd like to be like him.'

"Dearden, a widely-respected church leader and key player during the Second Vatican Council, saved his protege from a dangerous situation that could have ruined Untener's promotion to bishop. Shortly before his installation in Saginaw, Untener came under fire by traditionalist Catholics for a program on sex he was offering at the now closed St. John's Seminary in Plymouth Michigan, where he served as rector. The course was designed, Untener says, to teach seminarians about sexuality. Lay men and women were also invited to take part in the weekend-long seminar.

"'The purpose was to deal not in fantasy but in the reality of sexuality,' Untener says. 'We used various films - not "smoker" films - but films that were prepared for this purpose. They showed aspects of sexuality, some symbolic, some concrete, and then you broke up into groups for discussion with trained leaders.

"'But someone came in under false pretences. They had a camera and took still photos of the films. They sent the photos to Rome saying we were putting on this seminar to teach people that this is what they should do. What we were demoing was being twisted to look as though we were promoting promiscuity at the seminary, as though because women were there, we were trying to set up the dating game.'

"Untener was summoned to Rome to explain what happened. His best friend, Bishop Joseph Imesch of Joliet, Illinois, who had also been a secretary for Dearden, says he got a call from Untener the day he returned from Rome. 'He said he thought everything had turned out all right,' Imesch says. 'The next day, he called to say he was headed back to Rome. They had more questions for him. That's when Dearden and I decided to go back with him. Dearden met privately with the pope to settle the matter.'"

Kate DeSmet (from the Detroit News) profiles Kenneth Untener, "Ken, Don't Foul Up the Church Today," The Critic 47:3 (Spring 1993): pp. 17-19.
  • "[Margaret] Brennan [who was elected general superior--serving 1966-1976] was fortunate that her community [the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Monroe, MI] rested within the archdiocese of Cardinal John Dearden of Detroit, who had been a member of the commission that drafted Vatican II’s 'Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.' Dearden was a strong advocate of renewal in the years that followed the council. 
"When I spoke to Brennan recently, she recalled a piece of advice Dearden offered her: 'He said, "I ask you one thing. Do not ask me any questions."' Those words allowed and encouraged Brennan to lead her community as the Spirit inspired her -- and she said she remains grateful to the late cardinal to this day." [This was common of Dearden. He delegated and gave freedom; he did not micromanage and domineer women. And he said that if he did not know about "pastoral innovations," he did not have to do anything about them.]

Bush and Maida
  • "When Archbishop Dearden was a cardinal here in Detroit, I [Adam Maida] spoke with him and he said [to Adam], 'I ordained you a priest, not a lawyer.'" (Adam Maida and George W. Bush - right)

For further remembrances and quotations from Dearden, see compilation from Judy Holmes; also see: Dearden's Opening Address to the 1976 Call to Action

Dearden - Major Actions and Events in Detroit
  • 1949: Awarded Honorary Degree by Saint Vincent College
  • 1958: Appointed Archbishop of Detroit (December 18, 1958)
  • 1959: Awarded Honorary Degree by the University of Detroit
  • 1959: Awarded Honorary Degree by the Duquesne University
  • 1960-1961: Served as Chair of the Youth Department of National Catholic Welfare Conference
  • 1961: Awarded membership into the John Henry Newman Honorary Society
  • 1961-1951: Served as Treasurer of the National Catholic Welfare Conference
  • 1961: Presented Robert F. Kennedy with the Pro Deo et Juventute (For God and Youth) Medal at the National Catholic Youth Convention in Buffalo, NY
  • 1962-1965: Vatican II - Elected member of the Doctrinal Commission for Faith and Morals (only one of 19 US prelates elected to 10 specialized working groups) that elaborated the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, "Lumen Gentium" 
  • 1963: Named to the Secretariat for the Promotion of Christian Unity
  • 1965: Required all companies doing business with any Catholic institution or organization to advise the archdiocese of their equal employment opportunity policies and practices--first US diocese to do so
  • 1966: Selected by Paul VI to the Pontifical Commission on Birth Control that proposed artificial birth control was not intrinsically evil and that Catholic couples should be allowed to decide for themselves about the methods to be employed (Dearden voted with the majority)
  • 1966-1971: Elected and served as first president of the US National Conference of Catholic Bishops (now USCCB)
  • 1966: Launched the Institute for Continuing Education for adult religious education throughout the archdiocese
  • 1966: Citation of Appreciation by the Episcopal Church of St. Cyprian
  • 1967: Awarded Honorary Degree by the University of Notre Dame
  • 1967: Pax Christi Award
  • 1967: Selected member of World Synod of Bishops in Rome and all succeeding Synods in 1969 (member of the Preparatory Commission), 1971 (leader of the American delegation), 1974, and 1977 (could not attend 1977 because of health)
  • 1967: Began first informal session of the Detroit Archdiocesan Synod "Speak Up" -- invited all 1.5 million Catholic in the Archdiocese to participate; 250,000 ideas were tabulated
  • 1967: First bishop in the US to restore the permanent diaconate; ordained the first class of deacons--13 of them--in 1971
  • 1968: Named Chair of Detroit's Fair Housing Commission
  • 1969: Selected member of the Preparatory Commission for Synod of Bishops 1969
  • 1969: Named to Congregations for Discipline of Sacraments, Divine Worship, and Non-Christians
  • 1969: Promulgated documents of the 1969 Synod of the Archdiocese of Detroit, which involved the laity - the FIRST such synod in the US
  • 1969: Named Cardinal
  • 1969: Detroit Mayor Jerome P. Cavanaugh proclaimed May 7, 1969 as John Cardinal Dearden Day
  • 1969: Official Citation by the Senate of the State of Rhode Island
  • 1969: Instructed priests to elect vicar foranes for the newly formed vicariates; Your Parish Council is published and distributed to all parishes
  • 1969: Enacted a due process/grievance procedure for all clergy, lay, and religious; first time in the church such a procedure had been made available to the entire populace of a diocese 
  • 1970: Awarded Gold Medallion by the National Conference of Christians and Jews
  • 1970: Sanctioned the use of Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist throughout the archdiocese 
  • 1970: Established "Ministers of Service," a concept of lay ministry in the Archdiocese
  • 1971: Awarded Honorary Degree by the Catholic University of Leuven
  • 1971: Created a Black Secretariat in the archdiocese; first diocese in US to do so
  • 1971: Declared Catholic schools in the archdiocese would not become havens for segregationists; froze enrollments of schools and advised administrators to scrutinize the interests of parents seeking Catholic schools for their children
  • 1972: Elected to Administrative Committee and Committee on Liturgy, NCCB
  • 1972: Announced the "Church, World, and Kingdom" program to help educate persons about the post-Vatican II renewal of the Church 
  • 1973: Convened first Archdiocesan Pastoral Council at Sacred Heart Seminary--focus on shared responsibility
  • 1975: Selected National Chair, Liberty and Justice for All Bicentennial Program, NCCB
  • 1976: Founder and Chair of the Call to Action in Detroit: The culmination of Liberty and Justice for All; more than 1,200 persons from across the US met in Detroit to formulate a five-year social action plan for the church in the US
  • 1977: Divided Archdiocese into four regions, each with an auxiliary bishop
  • 1977: On April 27, suffered a severe heart attack
  • 1979: Extended the practice of receiving communion under both species
  • 1979: Awarded Honorary Degree by Marygrove College
  • Unknown Year: Abolished making monsignors in the Archdiocese, which Szoka overturned (in 2014, Pope Francis changed the rules to combat careerism in the clergy--only priests 65 and over may be named new monsignors)
  • 1980: Resigned on July 15, 1980 as Archbishop (72 years old); remained as Apostolic Administrator until Szoka was appointed on March 28, 1981
  • 1980: Executive Declaration by Michigan Governor William G. Milliken on October 22, 1980 for Cardinal John F. Dearden Week
  • 1980: Named Michiganian of the Year by The Detroit News
  • 1980: Catholic Schools Office Award
  • 1980: Tribute by Madonna College (now Madonna University)
  • 1980: Awarded Honorary Degree by Wayne State University
  • 1981: Awarded Honorary Degree by Georgetown University
  • 1981: Awarded the Siena Medal by Siena Heights College (now Siena Heights University)
    1981 President's Cabinet Award from the University of Detroit
  • 1982: Rhode Island Governor J. Joseph Garrahy proclaimed December 9, 1982 as John Cardinal Dearden Day
  • 1982: Greetings and congratulations by Providence College
  • 1982: Beginning of the annual Cardinal Dearden Lecture of Catholic University of America on the 50th Anniversary of Priestly Ordination from the bishops ordained by Dearden
  • 1983: Awarded St. George Emblem by the Boy Scouts of America
  • 1981: Awarded Honorary Degree by Catholic University of America
  • 1984: Awarded Distinguished Churchman by Marian High School
  • 1984: Awarded Honorary Degree by Nazareth College, Kalamazoo
  • 1984: Awarded Honorary Degree by Wheeling College (now Wheeling Jesuit University)
  • 1984: Distinguished Service to Children Award
  • 1985: Testimonial Resolution by Detroit City Council
  • 1985: Certificate of Appreciation by Boysville
  • 1985: Proclamation by the Office of the Wayne County Executive
  • 1986: Awarded the Juan Diego Prize by the Archdiocese of Detroit's Office for Hispanic Affairs
  • 1988: Died of pancreatic cancer close to when St. John's Provincial Seminary was shut down by Edmund Szoka and Nienstedt began as Rector of Sacred Heart Major Seminary

Excerpts about John Dearden

"A Man of the Council"

"No American prelate was more profoundly affected by Vatican II, and none dramatised more the capacity of American bishops to grow with the Council, than Cardinal John Dearden, who died last week at the age of 80. …

"… He served as chairman of the sub-commission that drafted the chapter on the People of God for Lumen Gentium, the constitution on the Church and in the aula itself his interventions were frequent and influential. During the crucial fourth and final session he emerged, in the words of the writer, Mgr Vincent A. Yzermans, as 'the great American leader', particularly effective in shaping the issues of marriage and the family.

"Perhaps his bravest hour was when he challenged Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani of the Holy Office during the debate on marriage and procreation. Anxious to steer away from new interpretations of old understandings about the ends of marriage, Ottaviani manoeuvred to alter wording approved earlier by the Council, claiming that he was acting on the Pope's instructions. Dearden questioned the claim and demanded the Pope's signature as proof of the authenticity of the claim. After a heated exchange Dearden won his point and the attempt to revise the council document failed.

"It followed from this history that Dearden would be quick and ardent to implement the Council's decrees, and he was — both as the first president of the United States bishops' conference, a post he held from 1966 to 1971, and as head of the Detroit archdiocese, where he was advanced from archbishop to cardinal in 1969. Dearden was among the first to use the services of permanent deacons, following Pope Paul VI's restoration of the order in 1967, and he was a prominent figure at several synods, notably that of 1971 with the twin agenda of the priesthood and the social imperatives of the Church. Later a national 'Call to Action' consultation which he sponsored in Detroit in 1976 came under fire for voting such controversial resolutions as local participation in choosing bishops and the ordaining of women. Nonetheless, the event stands as one of the most ambitious attempts to 'determine the mind of the Church' among Catholics of a particular country."

"Archbishop John F. Dearden, newly elected president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, is a theological scholar with a reputation as a liberal and an ear for grass roots sentiment within his church.

"Archbishop Dearden, 59, who was regarded by Vatican observers as a liberal at the Vatican council, also has gained a reputation for implementing the council's recommendations for change much faster than most of his colleagues.

"As spiritual leader of 1,500,000 Catholics in an eight county Detroit area, Archbishop Dearden has pushed liberal reforms which moved the Catholic church into civil rights and other areas, many of which have been copied by other archdioceses and by Protestants and Jews."

John Dearden voted with the majority of the Pontifical Commission on Birth Control that proposed artificial birth control was not intrinsically evil and that Catholic couples should be allowed to decide for themselves about the methods to be employed

"At the climactic meeting of cardinals and bishops, Grisez writes, there was 'little discussion, and no minds were changed.' On the crucial question of whether every contraceptive act is wrong, the vote was 9 no, 3 yes, and 3 abstentions.

"Of the commission’s three American members, Cardinal Lawrence Shehan of Baltimore and Archbishop (later, Cardinal) John Dearden of Detroit voted no, and Archbishop Leo Binz of St. Paul and Minneapolis voted yes. Archbishop Karol Wojtyla of Krakow — later, Pope John Paul II — who was expected to be a solid vote against contraception, had been prevented from attending the meeting by the communist authorities in Poland."

"A New Way of Doing the Work of the church in the US"

"At the end of the 1976 Call to Action conference, the American Catholic church’s first and only national convention, John Cardinal Dearden said that we had begun “a new way of doing the work of the church in the United States.” If we had carried out Dearden’s vision, if we had built shared responsibility in parish and diocesan pastoral councils, if we had formed self-confident associations of diocesan priests, religious and lay people, if Catholic academic, medical, social service and ministerial professionals had acted responsibly, the scandals of clerical sexual abuse would have ended between 1984 and 1993. Files would have been opened, new systems of accountability established, pastoral priorities reordered, and priesthood reformed. Criminals would have gone to jail and incompetent administrators would have been turned out of office.

"That did not happen. The moderate, realistic, non-ideological reforms of Dearden’s new way, reforms giving shape to those near cliches, “the people of God”, “we are the church”, those reforms actually for awhile were in place in a great variety of parishes, dioceses and institutions. ...
"...Cardinal Dearden said that in a free society like ours the church is “a community of faith and friendship.” Changing the church probably begins there, getting to know each other well enough to work together to make our church, to make us, the presence of Christ."
"The processes of professionalization and bureaucratization started with John Cardinal Dearden. As previously mentioned, he was an active participant in Vatican II proceedings and thus fully embraced the more democratizing directions of Vatican II. Returning to Detroit after the conclusion of Vatican II, he was determined to transform the Detroit Archdiocese into a genuine and fully functioning Vatican II diocese. He worked on this in a variety of ways until his retirement in 1980, and by all accounts it can be said that there was a growing collective effervescence among Detroit Catholics for Dearden and his overall vision, but certainly not without tension or conflict, as we stated earlier.

"...Locally and more specifically, lay professionalization was legitimized by Cardinal Dearden in the Detroit Archdiocese when he called for and oversaw Synod 69.

"...The church in Detroit was moving toward what Bishop Untener (at the time Fr. Untener) called 'a process of participatory decision-making,' a process that would come into conflict with a more authoritarian reading of Vatican II by Dearden's replacement, Bishop Szoka. Nevertheless, in an interview we conducted with Bishop Gumbleton, he substantiated Tentler's statement that 'the chancery had been abolished.' Specifically, asking the bishop about that statement, he replied:

"'Yeah. It was gone. We didn't have a chancellor or a vice Chancellor. We eliminated all of that structure. We tried to decentralize instead of having everything focus around the chancery which is like the downtown offices. So what we tried to do was to take those offices which had become the Chancery and put the decision making out into the parishes. We tried to emphasize that the church is actually where the people are, where the parishes are.'
"By the end of the 1970s, the Detroit Archdiocese had gained a national and even international reputation as an avant-garde diocese in liturgical renewal."
"But something else occurred at the August 1 press conference. Only July 31, the day after we [Charles Curran, et al.] had issued our statement, Archbishop John F. Dearden of Detroit, the president of the Bishops' Conference, issued, in the name of the bishops of the United States, a statement on the encyclical that declared, 'we, the Bishops of the Church in the United States, unite with him [Pope Paul VI] in calling upon our priests and people to receive with sincerity what he has taught, to study it carefully, and to form their consciences in its light.' At the press conference I [Charles Curran] was asked about Archbishop Dearden's comments and replied that our statement was in accord with his and not contradicted by it. The next day Bishop Joseph L. Bernardin, the general secretary of the Bishops' Conference, responded in a public statement. '[T]he bishops in no way intended to imply there is any divergence between their statement and the teaching of the Holy Father.' Bernardin did not want us finding shade under the U.S. bishops' umbrella

"Once again I learned more about these events only years later--in this case from the late (and lamented) Bishop Kenneth Untener of Saginaw and another bishop, both of whom were working closely under Dearden in Detroit in 1968. Dearden had appointed Bernardin the first general secretary of the Bishops' Conference. In the course of our conversation, I ventured that the greatest disagreement between Dearden and Bernardin must have been over the 1976 Call-to-Action meeting that Dearden promoted but that Bernardin, then the president of the conference, totally derailed through stalling tactics. Many of the proposals of the conference called for change in Catholic teaching, and Bernardin obviously thought they would be unacceptable to Rome.

"To my amazement, Ken Untener told me that, to the contrary, their most serious disagreement concerned me and the aftermath of Humanae vitae. Untener and his colleague had worked with Dearden on this statement and had purposely kept the statement somewhat vague so as not to condemn or even appear to acknowledge our statement. But once I had said publicly that the Dearden statement did not condemn ours, Bernardin issued his own press release without consulting Dearden. This action, according to Untener, had provoked the strongest disagreement between Dearden and Bernardin. What would have happened if Dearden's approach had prevailed? Who knows?"

John Dearden in Support of Raymond Hunthausen:

"At the 1987 NCCB meeting [the year before Dearden died], the assembled bishops were engaged in a long and intense discussion about the statement to be issued on the Hunthausen case. A statement had been drafted by the executive committee, and many bishops rose to remind us that the committee put hours and hours into this ... it was a very complicated and delicate matter ... and we should trust their wisdom. Others rose to object to various aspects of the statement and the debate went on ... and on.

"Toward the end of a long afternoon Cardinal Dearden raised his hand. He stood and turned, not to the head table, but to the body of bishops and said, "I, as you, appreciate the hard work of the executive committee, but I would be careful about putting too much emphasis on this. Remember, they work on behalf of the entire body, and at this moment we have the entire body gathered together. It is the wisdom of the entire body, not of the executive committee, that is important here."

John Dearden in Support of Thomas Lumpkin:

From: John Dearden on Thomas Lumpkin's Fast, Detroit Presbyteral Newsletter, October 1, 1972

"We cannot remain unmoved when one of our own brother priests has fasted from all but water for nearly forty days. And when he is a man of such clear motivation as Father Lumpkin, the effect on us is that much stronger. He has been on my mind and in my prayers frequently these last few weeks.

"I believe that Tom's prolonged prayer and fasting will have a lasting effect on the Church of Detroit. We are believing more fully in fasting as we share in his fast in some way ourselves. We see how deep our commitment must be if we are to engage in political and social action as Christians. We are forcefully roused from our 'business as usual' mentality by Tom's dedication to the 'one thing necessary'.

"His action is a strong reminder that the war goes on even though most of our American troops have returned home. The war goes on and our involvement in it continues. Tom says he is much more keenly aware, through his fasting, of his identification with the suffering Vietnamese. Each of them is a person for him, not just a statistic. He is conscious of having joined them as victims of the war.

"I pray that we in the presbyterate of Detroit may be open to the witness of Father Lumpkin and that we will share our feelings and concerns with our people. This is a precious opportunity - one of our own being deeply touched in his own life to respond fully to the assessment of the war such as the bishops of our country have made."

In Memory of John Dearden:

From: John Trese, St. Columban Parish, Birmingham, MI Bulletin, August 14, 1988

"I want to talk about a man who has made a great difference in the lives of all of us, Cardinal Dearden.

"The newspaper accounts have covered the facts. I want to talk about how Cardinal Dearden impressed me. He was a very reserved and shy person. He moved from parish priest to seminary rector to bishop because of his diligence, intelligence, and faithfulness. He was not a charismatic personality that would insist you notice him.

"This dutiful, thoughtful man became deeply involved in the design and operation of the Second Vatican Council. He did this with the same brilliant intellect and committed heart that he brought to all of his ministry.

"Cardinal Dearden returned from the Council with a total conviction that the church is the People of God. To him this meant that the people became involved in decision-making processes and their participation was respected. This meant the establishment of a parish council, the holding of a diocesan wide synod, and an archdiocesan council.

"What impressed me so deeply is that all of this was contrary to his personal instincts. I have heard him comment how much easier it would be to make decisions by himself at his office. Yet, he opened up the process and himself to the people of the diocese. I recall vividly how priests throughout the United States admired and envied the fact that I was from this diocese [i.e., Detroit].

"When the National Conference of the Bishops of this country was formed, Cardinal Dearden was elected its first president--not because of politics, but because he understood the mind of the Catholic Church as expressed in the Council.

"The priests and the people of the diocese were shepherded through the transition following the Council by a leader who had a clear vision and strong hand. He encouraged growth but always within healthy limits

"Although Cardinal Dearden's personality and mine have little in common, his approach to responsibility in the Church has been my model. I have wanted to understand the mind of the Church as expressed in the Council and to share it with the parish. I have always wanted to be responsible in the way that I did this. Encouraged by his example, I wanted to respect and respond to the Spirit of God as it is expressed in the hearts and the People of God.

"When I was assigned to be pastor at this parish I asked Cardinal Dearden just one question: What did he want me to accomplish as a pastor? He did not say, 'Pay off the debt.' He did not say, 'Maintain the school.' He said, 'Build a community.' We have been able to do that because of his example. Cardinal Dearden in his reserved, shy way built the community of the Archdiocese. ...

"This quiet old man was very ready to move on. He died peacefully as he had every right to do because he had created a community of peace and love. Almighty God, we thank you for John Cardinal Dearden."

Isadore Roberts,
Sep 9, 2014, 3:59 PM