Emphasis is mine in bold.
Archbishop-designate Vigneron aims to defend teachings, build harmony
BY NIRAJ WARIKOO • FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER • January 27, 2009
Allen Vigneron is a bookish man, a theologian with a doctorate in German philosophy who spends his spare time reading medieval history and British authors such as Charles Dickens.
All are tools he has used to aggressively defend the teachings of the Catholic Church in his decades as a clergyman. Vigneron has shown he is not afraid to act on controversial issues -- from removing teachers he thought strayed from church doctrine at Sacred Heart Seminary, to helping lead a massive protest against gay marriage in California. And he plans to continue speaking out as the next archbishop of Detroit.
In a wide-ranging interview, he said he also wants to boost Catholic schools, help needy people, continue the interfaith work promoted by outgoing Cardinal Adam Maida and create ethnic harmony. It will be a challenge given the diverse cultures and opinions that make up the 1.4 million Catholics of southeast Michigan.
Set to assume his new role Wednesday, Vigneron also said he plans to first spend a great deal of time listening, something for which he is well known, according to those who work with him.
"He's just a totally collaborative leader," said Sister Glenn Anne McPhee, chancellor of the Oakland, Calif., diocese where Vigneron is the outgoing bishop. "He takes ... advice. He doesn't make arbitrary decisions."
Speaking last week from California, Vigneron stressed the importance of Catholic teachings on issues such as abortion and stem-cell research, comparing them to slavery and racism. Asked about the success of a stem-cell research proposal on the Michigan ballot in November, he said: "Having lost a political battle ... we're not going to give up the war."
Slowing down to emphasize his views, he added:
"Once we begin to treat any one human life as if it could be put to the use of another human life, without any concern for the one we're exploiting, we're back to a place we really don't want to go."
He has a history of taking on contentious political issues. In Oakland, where he has been bishop for six years, Vigneron actively opposed a court ruling that allowed gay marriage, helping lead a march against the decision.
And early in his career, the Mt. Clemens native used his position to weed out errant teachers and speakers at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, where he was once president.
Strong beliefs, gentle demeanor
Born and raised in Michigan, Vigneron graduated from high school and college at Sacred Heart in 1970. It was a tumultuous time, with radical views sweeping universities across the nation and even parts of the seminary. But Vigneron held firm in his beliefs.
He then earned a doctorate in philosophy, studying an influential German thinker, Edmund Husserl, who tried to create an intellectual foundation for philosophy and science. Like Pope Benedict XVI, a German who appointed him to replace the retiring Maida, Vigneron is deeply concerned about the secularization of culture and academia in the West.
The pope recently told a group of German academics that Nazi rule might have been prevented had intellectuals held firm to certain truths, a belief Vigneron shares.
"The studies ... gave me not just a faith-based confidence," he said, but also a reason-based "confidence in the possibility of knowing real truth," Vigneron said. "Without that confidence, we're in trouble."
In a 1987 Free Press story, he criticized "cafeteria Catholics" who pick and choose which doctrines to believe in, saying they "are confused about what it means to be a Catholic."
His strong beliefs, though, come with a gentle demeanor, said those who know him and have followed his work.
In Detroit, he worked closely with the Muslim community on fighting a ballot proposal that would have made assisted suicide easier; one night in 1998, he spent hours in conversation with Imam Mohammed Elahi, head of the Islamic House of Wisdom in Dearborn Heights -- a discussion interfaith leaders recall as a pioneering effort in outreach.
In California, Vigneron was an effective administrator who was able to deal with the dizzying range of Asian and Latino cultures that make up a sizeable chunk of Catholics in northern California.
While the past three Detroit archdiocese leaders were golf buffs outside of work, Vigneron enjoys quiet contemplation. [hehehehe....]
"He's an introvert, and needs space and quiet," McPhee said. "But he also loves being with his people."
Diane Korzeniewski, 46, of Warren, who writes Te Deum Laudamus!, a Catholic blog at te-deum.blogspot.com, said she is pleased by Vigneron's appointment. She said he will stay true to Catholic teachings, but do it in a way that respects others.
Korzeniewski noted an essay that Vigneron wrote in 2005 titled "10 Rules for Handling Disagreements like a Christian."
"He's not going to compromise or back down on the teachings of the church," she said. "But at the same time, he will not be heavy-handed or condescending. That's a sign of a higher level of virtue."
Tomorrow is the installation Mass. It will be the memorial of St. Thomas Aquinas and I believe it will be noted by His Excellency.
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