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Bishop James Vann Johnston was recently appointed as the new leader of the Catholic Church in southern Missouri. KSMU's Greg Leuthen continues his conversation with Bishop Johnston.
Leuthen: When you were ordained as a priest 18 years ago, was it in the back of your mind that maybe someday you might like to take on these responsibilities and become a bishop?
Johnston: Well, no, my sole desire and great joy was serving just as a parish priest. There are great joys and rewards and satisfaction in helping people. At the parish level, you really do get to know people and develop friendships, form faith friendships, get to know families, so I had no aspirations to do anything but that.
Leuthen: You said traveling throughout southern Missouri was actually fun for you. How you faced any challenges since becoming bishop?
Johnston: Not yet. I guess one of the big things for me personally is the wide variety of demands. I was a pastor, so rather than having the responsibility of one parish, I have the weight of responsibility for being bishop for 66 parishes, 18 missions, and all of our schools. There's 66,000 Catholics in southern Missouri. It's a larger flock, and so the responsibility and the activities and demands that come from that are a bigger challenge in just the busyness of my life.
Leuthen: I was wondering what your thoughts were on St. Louis' Archbishop, Raymond Burke. He seems to speak out publicly on many things and has recently excommunicated a number of priests and board members in local churches. How do you think you might handle some of those situations or challenges?
Johnston: Well it's pretty clear the responsibilities that a bishop or archbishop have. They have to protect their people from falling into error. There are a number of steps bishops and pastors can use to persuade people in gentle ways. Very often, so of the other means used are last resorts, and that's the way the Catholic Church is set up. But ultimately, a bishop has to take steps to protect the faithful and the teaching of the faith. These are tough decisions that take courage, and I know Archbishop Burke has taken other steps prior to these last resorts to lead people back into the truth. So some of the decisions he's had to make are sort of things the church has to protect those falling into error and those being led into error.
Leuthen: So you think that prior to this he has given them a fair chance and now he is just protecting them and the other members in the church?
Johnston: I think he certainly, in a pastoral way, tried to meet with people and convince them of the error they're falling into. It's not totally accurate to say he excommunicated them. He is basically declaring the situation that they have put themselves in. I know that he has taken very prudent and pastoral steps to help them realize that some of their actions are leading them away from the communion of the Catholic Church. It's a very sad thing for a bishop to realize, but he's actually acting in charity to try to help them and help others from being led into error by their actions.
Bishop Johnston spends many weekends at different parishes throughout southern Missouri. To find out when he will be in your area, you can call the bishop's office at (417) 866-0841.
Bishop Johnston will be in Cape Girardeau next weekend (May 17-18) and will be in Springfield the following weekend.