When the history of the past conciliar Church in the United States
comes to be written, Bishop Joseph V. Sullivan of Baton Rouge,
Louisiana, will be one of the few American bishops whose name
will be remembered with honor. In some respects his position was
even more difficult than that of Archbishop Lefebvre. Mgr. Lefebvre
at least had the consolation of being surrounded by friends who
wholeheartedly endorsed his defense of orthodoxy. Bishop Sullivan
was virtually isolated within the hierarchy of the U.S.A., and
was treated with ridicule by many of his fellow bishops. He also
received considerable opposition, amounting at times to outright
defiance by Liberal priests within his own diocese. It is more
than probable that the stress he endured in fighting for orthodoxy
contributed to his early death. The report which follows appeared
in the 15 September 1982 Remnant.
Sullivan Laid to Rest
One of the
few remaining American Catholic bishops who spoke out consistently
on such topics as abortion, contraception, divorce and remarriage,
passed to his eternal reward on Saturday, 4 September. He was
Bishop Joseph V. Sullivan, 63, of Baton Rouge, La.
whose death was apparently due to a cardiac arrest, will be remembered
for, among other things, his singular role as the one bishop who,
in 1981, voted against giving NCCB USCC1
backing to the Hatch Amendment on the question of abortion. His
argument was that, where human life is involved, no compromise
is morally permissible. "Plain logic," he stated at
the time, "tells us [the Hatch Amendment] is a compromise,
and... I don't think we have to accept a compromise."
his fellow bishops to reject the Hatch proposal and back the Human
Life Bill sponsored by Sen. Jesse Helms, which would grant personhood
to children in utero.
that stand, Bishop Sullivan was repeating his position as enunciated
at the 1981 March for Life, a gathering held in Washington each
Jan. 22nd to mark the anniversary of the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court
decision legalizing abortion.
did not confine his pro life activities to the abortion issue.
He also taught clearly that which the Catholic Church has traditionally
held, namely, that artificial contraception is seriously sinful.
1980, he noted that confusion had arisen over an intervention
submitted to the Vatican Synod of Bishops on the subject of contraception.
To clear up that confusion, Bishop Sullivan wrote, in part: "The
[Church's] teaching is clear and enduring. It is this: that no
active means may be used by the marriage partners, either before
or after the conjugal act, to interfere with the course of the
It was Bishop
Sullivan's firm adherence to the Church's teachings on morals
which precipitated a conflict that drew national attention to
Baton Rouge in 1979.
of that year, the Bishop refused to permit Charles Curran, a moral
theologian who has dissented from Church teaching on many matters
including contraception, fornication, and homosexual activity
to speak at the diocesan facility at Louisiana State University
move alone, the Bishop was widely criticized, and again in March
1979, when Bishop Sullivan dismissed the Claretian Father from
the chaplaincy at LSU.
were critical of Bishop Sullivan, he attracted widespread support,
also because of his devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary whose
intercession he regularly invoked in public prayer and in pastoral
He also insisted
on emphasizing the centrality of the crucifixion in the Catholic
Faith. In February 1981, he decreed that all church altars under
his jurisdiction should have a "crucifix easily visible to
the congregation... in the near vicinity of the Altar of Sacrifice."
In a pastoral letter, also issued in February 1981, he pointed
out that ministries to the separated, divorced, divorced and remarried,
and the widowed, must take into consideration the fact that those
categories refer to people "in entirely different circumstances."
"Though support groups should evidence compassion and understanding,"
he wrote, "they may not witness, explicitly or implicitly,
that the living Church condones the marital lifestyle of those
living in an invalid marriage. To do so would be to betray them,"
was keenly interested in Catholic education. He demonstrated that
interest by backing the construction of new Catholic schools even
during a time when many such schools were closing. Two elementary
Catholic schools opened during his tenure, while a new diocesan
high school is currently on the drawing board.
evinced his concern for the spiritual welfare of children by insisting
upon First Confession prior to First Holy Communion, a practice
which has fallen into disuse in many quarters.
Mass was held 8 September in St. Joseph's Cathedral, Baton Rouge,
with the retired Archbishop of St. Louis, Cardinal Carberry, as
the principal celebrant, and hundreds of priests and laymen in
National Conference of Catholic Bishops and the United
States Catholic Conference.