A Hush Precedes Marshner

By Rev. Lester Kinsolving. Taken from the Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York), 16 Aug 1975.

The scene: The pressroom of the annual U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. At the head table are three bishops and two cardinals, each behind a printed name-plate and a microphone. They are facing some 100 reporters, from both the secular and the Catholic press: national, diocesan and independent (fiercely so, from the Catholic left as well as the right).

A hush comes over the room as a tweedy, pink-cheeked young man with a Meerschaum pipe raises his hand and is recognized by the able, affable and long-suffering National Catholic Conference PR men, either Russ Shaw or Bill Ryan. They seem almost to wince as they look towards this young man, standing almost defiantly, the gleam in his eye reflecting obvious relish in the anticipation of his annual inquisition of assorted prelates and princes of the Church.

“Mr. Marshner:” says Shaw or Ryan in a tone of voice suggesting either a condemned man or the recipient of a swift kick in the solar plexus.

Mr. Marshner is the Washington correspondent of The Wanderer, a weekly newspaper that is several degrees to the right of the Spanish Inquisition. He speaks in a completely confident and thoroughly challenging tone:

“Your Eminence,” he opens, focusing his piercing glare upon John Cardinal Kroll (former president of the Bishops Conference and overpoweringly conservative archbishop of Philadelphia), “would you be good enough to give us your estimate of the present extent of Jansenism in the Jesuit Order, and precisely just how much of this epidemic heresy is due to the politico-expediency of Fathers Drinan and Wassmer in their countenancing fedicide—on the one hand—as well as the influence of the Pseudo-Isadorean Decretals on the other?”

William (“Wild Bill”) Marshner—a sort of young Bill Buckley with a meat ax—has struck again.

As one of the most colorful of a wide resurgence of Catholic ultraconservatlves, Marshner travels about the nation smiting heresy In his own inimitable way. Like Buckley, his fellow Yale alumnus, Marshner is well laced with droll wit, however more frenzied.

Marshner’s headlines are classics: “Heretics and Buffoons Meet in Washington” . . . “Communion in The Hand Smashed!”. . . “Sexual Dysfunction At Loyola Medical School” . . .

Perhaps his most devastating was a smashing three-part series entitled “Saginaw: Portrait of a Collapsing Diocese” : “Under the first two bishops. Murphy and Wozniki, the new diocese of Saginaw, Mich., grew and prospered. Then came a third bishop, Francis F. Reh, followed by ruin.”

As examples of what he termed “tales of horror” in the Saginaw diocese, Wild Bill reported: “In (one parish) the collection is taken up by four girls in micro-minis. The offended parishioners have discussed various strategies of protest, including pinching, as well as depositing contributions marked as ‘cover charge for Father’s skin show.'”

One young priest “grabs his guitar and lets alter boys pass out Communion…” Another “parades around with a staff composed of palm branches, like a Druid, or a vegetarian god.”

One sister “teaches sex education but is scornful of existing books on the subject. So she teaches from mimeographed sheets, which are a complete how-to-do-it. when-to-do-it and where-to-do-it.”

“Bishop Reh’s pals among the clergy wanted to give him a nice present on his fifth anniversary as Ordinary of Saginaw. But what do you give a bishop? Think about it. What would you give a successor to the Apostles? Well, Bishop Reh’s friends gave him a barrel (that’s right, a barrel) of whiskey.”

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