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Archbishop John R. Quinn: A ‘clear, powerful voice’

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Retired Archbishop John R. Quinn in an early portrait from his tenure as sixth archbishop of San Francisco. Archbishop Quinn, who led the archdiocese from 1977-95, died June 22 at the Jewish Home of San Francisco, the archdiocese announced. He was 88.

(Archives of the Archdiocese of San Francisco)

 

July 11, 2017
Catholic San Francisco

Throughout his nearly 19 years as sixth archbishop of San Francisco, John Raphael Quinn was a fierce social justice advocate who oversaw and at times was buffeted by tumultuous change in the global and local church.

Archbishop Quinn, who died June 22 at age 88, “spoke out with a clear powerful voice on the central issues of the day,” Jeffrey Burns, historian and former archivist for the Archdiocese of San Francisco, wrote in an article for Catholic San Francisco in 2009 on the archbishop’s 80th birthday. “Truly he was the archbishop with the heart of a deacon.”

The heart of his message was “concern for the poor and oppressed, concern about the misuse of power, and concern for the dignity of each person made in the image and likeness of God,” Burns writes in “San Francisco: A History of the Archdiocese of San Francisco.”

Just over a year after his installation, the city was devastated by the successive tragedies of the massacre at Jonestown, Guyana, and the assassinations of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. “As the sun sets over San Francisco tonight, it is a different city,” Archbishop Quinn said during the mayor’s funeral service, as reported by the Los Angeles Times.

Archbishop Quinn’s tenure included the onset of the AIDS crisis in the early-1980s, Pope St. John Paul II’s visit in 1987, the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and the rise of the sanctuary movement for undocumented immigrants.

On the feast of St. Francis, Oct. 4, 1981, Archbishop Quinn “made a powerful denunciation of the arms race” in a sermon at St. Mary’s Cathedral, Burns writes. “Though Quinn delivered the sermon with some trepidation, the reaction of the crowd shocked him – they rose to their feet and gave him a roaring standing ovation,” Burns writes.

He helped implement the 1981 creation of the Diocese of San Jose and in 1993 commissioned a controversial pastoral plan that recommended closing several Archdiocese of San Francisco parishes.

Archbishop Quinn published pastoral letters including “On Central America” in 1983, criticizing U.S. military involvement in Central America, and “The AIDS Crisis: A Pastoral Response” in 1986.

 

Pastoral care in the AIDS crisis
Archbishop Quinn initiated the Catholic Church’s first official response to the AIDS crisis in 1985, with outreach and services by Catholic Charities and support for Most Holy Redeemer Parish’s work with AIDS sufferers. Archbishop Quinn welcomed the Missionaries of Charity who established their Gift of Love AIDS hospice, a continuing legacy in the archdiocese.

“I always think it’s one of the great secrets of San Francisco County that Archbishop Quinn and Catholic Charities reached out very early in the epidemic to serve people who had HIV and AIDS,” George Simmons, former senior program director at Catholic Charities Assisted Housing and Health, said in a recent interview with Catholic News Agency. “I think it was a part of the faith of the Catholic community to say – I hate to use this cliche – but, ‘what would Jesus do?’”

The church must “walk by faith, not by sight,” Archbishop Quinn said in his installation homily on April 26, 1977. “And she is not a pilgrim church if her only goals are in this world. As Scripture says, ‘We are the most pitiable of all creatures if our hope in Christ Jesus is restricted to this world.’”

Archbishop Quinn displayed the heart of a pastor after little more than a year in office, historian Burns writes.

On Nov. 18, 1978, the city was rocked first by the Jim Jones’ People’s Temple massacre in Guyana. Most of the 909 victims, a third of them children, had recently moved from the Bay Area where the cult leader’s temple was located in the city’s Fillmore District. A week later, on Nov. 27, 1978, former city Supervisor Dan White assassinated Mayor George Moscone and its first openly gay supervisor, Harvey Milk. A shocked city grieved and demonstrators took to the streets.

Archbishop Quinn gave the benediction at City Hall the day before a memorial Mass that evening at St. Mary’s Cathedral. He visited Moscone’s wife and his mother, as well as Dan White in jail and White’s wife, Burns recounts. “We … must renew in this sacred place our firm resolve to spare no effort to return our city to its cherished civic peace, a true and noble justice with reverence for life and mutual respect for all,” the archbishop said in his homily.

Sanctuary movement
Archbishop Quinn was an outspoken critic of U.S. policy toward Central America and refugees. In his 1983 pastoral letter “On Central America” he called for an end to U.S. military intervention and assistance in Central America. In 1985, Archbishop Quinn endorsed the sanctuary movement to welcome undocumented immigrants and at least two parishes, St. Teresa of Avila in San Francisco and St. Bruno in San Bruno, became sanctuary parishes.

In 1994 he opposed California’s Proposition 187, which sought to keep undocumented immigrants and their children from receiving California social services, saying, “Efforts to make life more difficult and unbearable for immigrants and refugees is morally wrong and an offense against human rights and the dignity of the human person.”

He was present as president of the U.S. bishops’ conference during the Palm Sunday, 1980, funeral of assassinated El Salvador Archbishop Oscar Romero as gunshots and explosions panicked the crowd outside the San Salvador cathedral. “I was carried by the force of the crowd … and feared … I would be crushed by the crowds,” Burns quotes Archbishop Quinn. The archbishop made it inside the cathedral as shots continued and bombs exploded.

Archbishop Quinn was an early leader in combating clerical sexual abuse. The Archdiocese of San Francisco put into force in 1992 a sexual abuse and harassment policy, and at that time urged all victims of child sexual abuse by a priest or church worker to “come forward and tell us their story.”

In 1993, he commissioned a pastoral plan in response to San Francisco’s drop in church attendance and because of the city’s 1992 unreinforced masonry ordinance requiring seismic retrofits estimated to cost more than $70 million for all church buildings. Following its recommendations, Archbishop Quinn closed several local churches, which sparked acrimony that continued into the tenure of his successor archbishop, Cardinal William J. Levada.

Archbishop Quinn stepped down in 1995 at age 66, having asked St. John Paul II if the pope could appoint a coadjutor bishop so that he could retire early; the mandatory age at which a bishop is required by canon law to submit his resignation is 75. “I have served as a bishop for almost 30 years,” he said at the time. “In these turbulent times no corporate CEO or university president remains under the pressure of office anywhere near that time.”

 

Keen interest in Christian unity
A theology professor and seminary rector before he became a bishop, Archbishop Quinn maintained a keen interest in theological and ecclesial matters and pursued this in greater earnest after his retirement.

He took to heart St. John Paul’s call in “Ut Unum Sint,” his 1995 encyclical on ecumenism, that Christian church leaders and their theologians to help him find a way of exercising papal primacy that would better foster Christian unity. Archbishop Quinn gave a lecture the following year at Oxford University in which he called for major Roman Curia reforms, new ways of selecting bishops and a new ecumenical council.

The outgrowth of the Oxford lecture was a 1999 book, “The Reform of the Papacy: The Costly Call to Christian Unity.” The book won first place for best popular presentation of the Catholic faith in the Catholic Press Association’s 2000 book awards, but was reportedly received coolly at the Vatican.

Calling the Curia’s structure “a serious impediment” to Christian unity, “I firmly believe that if the politics and processes of the Curia do not change,” Christian unity will remain elusive, Archbishop Quinn said after the book’s publication.

He similarly called for a called for a re-examination of the role of the College of Cardinals, which he said presented a stumbling block to Christian unity. He made the comments in an interview with an Italian magazine that year. He added that future ecumenical councils of the world’s bishops should include other Christian leaders, especially Orthodox, as full members.

Archbishop Quinn’s second book, “Ever Ancient, Ever New: Structures of the Communion in the Church,” was published in 2012. “There is room for diversity, even on matters of major importance, within the framework of unity,” Archbishop Quinn wrote.

In a March 11, 2013, article in National Catholic Reporter, titled “Governance in the Legacy of Vatican Council II,” Archbishop Quinn advocated for a greater role for bishops’ conferences in communion with Rome. “Modern episcopal conferences in the Latin church of the West could be given the same powers and functions of patriarchates,” he wrote. “This means that the conferences would be empowered to deal with such things as the appointment and transfer of bishops, the establishment of dioceses, questions of liturgy and other matters of Catholic practice and observance.

“It goes without saying that any such provision is always within the framework of Catholic communion and unity,” he added.

Speaking at Stanford University in 2013 as the world’s cardinals were gathering in the conclave that would conclude with the election of Pope Francis, Archbishop Quinn again called for limits on papal authority. In a paper titled “Governance in the Legacy of Vatican II,” he criticized liturgical changes resulting in the new Roman Missal translation and argued, “I would say that a very large number of bishops are of the opinion that there is not any real or meaningful collegiality in the church today.”

In a July 21, 2013, interview with Vatican Insider, Archbishop Quinn mentioned meeting Pope Francis.

“When I met him he told me that he had read my recent book on structures of communion and without commenting on the book itself he mentioned how ‘important’ the subject of collegiality and synodality are for the church today,” he said.

 

Priestly readiness for prayer
Archbishop Quinn began writing for the Jesuit magazine America in 1968, covering topics including church governance and the priesthood. In an April 13, 2010, address to the National Federation of Priests’ Councils, published in America on May 3, 2010, Archbishop Quinn repeated the question once asked by the Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner: “Why would a modern man want to remain a priest?”

“This great theologian tackles the question with stunning simplicity,” Archbishop Quinn said. “He begins be saying that for him, it is not the great works of the church in the service of justice and peace, the great universities and the great movements and programs. ‘Rather,’ he says, ‘I still see around me living in many of my brother priests a readiness for unselfish service carried out quietly, a readiness for prayer, for abandonment to the incomprehensibility of God, for the calm acceptance of death in whatever form it may come, for the total dedication to the following of Christ crucified.”’

Archbishop Quinn continued to publish and at the time of his death had completed a book on the First Vatican Council of 1870.

10 PAGE with Obit - jump2.165thCeleb120615-305.sanrafael.dominicansThe Dominican Sisters of San Rafael commemorated their 165th anniversary on Dec. 6, 2015, with a Mass at St. Raphael Church and a reception at the Dominican Sisters’ Center, the site of their motherhouse since 1889. Archbishop Quinn, one of the presiders, is pictured with Sister Maureen McInerney, prioress general, at the reception. (Photo courtesy Dominican Sisters of San Rafael)

Close ties to women, men religious
Archbishop Quinn had a close working relationship with religious women and men. In 1983, St. John Paul II named him the Pontifical Delegate for Religious Life in the United States, which included all religious men and women, with the charge to bring the bishops of the country and the religious into a closer relationship and to examine the causes for the decline in vocations.

“Archbishop John R. Quinn has been a longtime friend of the religious in the archdiocese,” Presentation Sister Rosina Conrotto said in a message to Catholic San Francisco on Archbishop Quinn’s move to nursing care a few days before his death.

He named women religious from the archdiocese of San Francisco to his commission “and drew on the collective wisdom of women religious throughout the United States for input on his report,” Sister Rosina said. “Throughout the entire process he was honest, respectful and grateful for the help he received.”

Archbishop Quinn preached a memorable eight-day retreat three years ago at Vallombrosa Center, Sister Rosina said. “To this day I hear women religious say, ‘I wish it could have been eight days longer.’ One sister said to me, ‘When Archbishop Quinn speaks, my heart grows.’ These are beautiful tributes to a holy man of God.”

“I have been moved by his keen intellect, his deep spirituality, his wonderful sense of humor, his incredible memory and his skill at the piano,” Sister Rosina said.

 

Celebrating St. Mary’s Cathedral
His projects in retirement included supporting the 40th anniversary commemoration of St. Mary’s Cathedral in 2011. In a column in the Sept. 24, 2010, Catholic San Francisco, he called the cathedral “a window on the infinite, lifting the human spirit to the Infinite and Eternal Beauty which is God.”

He recalled a visit to the cathedral by Dorothy Day for a meeting called by the U.S. bishops on social issues. “Dorothy listened to vigorous criticism of the money spent on building St. Mary’s Cathedral,” Archbishop Quinn wrote. “When she finally spoke, she said, ‘I hope you bishops will not pay attention to this criticism. The cathedral in San Francisco is one of the few places where the poor can go and sit down and be with God in beauty.”

In May 2016, Archbishop Quinn was the homilist at the funeral of his former secretary, Sharon Suhr. “Something they shared was love of music and he wove that into the eulogy,” her daughter, Ellen Conaway, told Catholic San Francisco.

Conaway recalled how shortly after his appointment as archbishop, he walked down the hall into the office at the chancery where Mrs. Suhr worked and asked the mother of six, to her great surprise and that of others in the pastoral center offices, to be his administrative assistant. “He was very kind to my mother while they worked together,” Conaway recalled, saying that until her death, Mrs. Suhr had an 8-by-10 portrait of Archbishop Quinn prominently displayed in her home.


Catholic News Service contributed.

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