THE WANDERER INTERVIEWS CHARLES M. WILSON OF THE ST. JOSEPHFOUNDATION
Arthur J. Brew
Charles Wilson is the founder of the St. Joseph Foundation, formed as a nonprofit corporation in 1984 for the purpose of helping Catholics vindicate their rights through the means which the Church has established.
In one of its most notable cases, the St. Joseph Foundation helped alumni and friends of Georgetown University prepare an appeal to the Holy See when the university granted recognition of benefits to GU Choice, a pro-abortion student group. Three weeks after the appeal reached Rome, Georgetown decided that GU Choice would no longer receive benefits.
In this interview with <Wanderer> contributor Arthur J. Brew, Wilson answered questions on how to respond to the crisis in the Church in America, on the governance of the Church, and on conditions in religious life. Wilson also described how the St. Joseph Foundation carries out its mission.
For more information on the St. Joseph Foundation, readers can contact it at 11107 Wurzbach, #404, San Antonio, Texas, 78230-2553; 210-697-0717.
Q. What is your personal background and training, especially in canon law and theology?
A. I am a native Iowan who arrived in Texas in 1971 by way of Iowa, New York, Ohio, and California (where I was received as a convert in 1966), in that chronological order. For most of my business career, I was a sales executive in the printing and packaging industry. Soon after the St. Joseph Foundation was organized in 1984, I began graduate studies and received a master of theological studies degree from the Oblate School of Theology in 1991. My area of academic concentration was canon law and the title of my thesis was "The Rights of the Laity."
Q. When and where was the St. Joseph Foundation founded?
A. San Antonio, Texas; Oct. 2nd, 1984.
Q. Why was it founded?
A. The reason for the creation of the foundation became apparent during the years 1982 through 1984, when I worked with the Wanderer Forum Foundation and helped to schedule conferences and establish affiliates throughout the United States. I received an increasing number of pleas for assistance from faithful Catholics who were suffering from the kinds of abuses with which <Wanderer> readers are, unfortunately, all too familiar. With the promulgation of the current Code of Canon Law in 1983, we saw a possibility that many of these abuses might be remedied by using the Church's legal system.
Q. How is it funded and what is the size of your staff? Is there a fee for your services?
A. The operations of the foundation are funded by voluntary contributions from those who believe that our work is worth supporting. At the moment, our staff in San Antonio consists of two full-time and two part-time employees. We also employ the services of professional consultants outside our office on an "as-needed" basis. We do not charge any fee for our services, but we do keep a record of the time we contribute to each case and do inform our "clients" (for lack of a better word) of its value. They may choose to make a donation to offset all or part of this, but are under no legal or moral obligation to do so.
Q. How do you process a request that will eventually be brought to the attention of the Vatican? Do you always receive a response?
A. All requests for assistance are processed as if they will eventually be referred to the Holy See, even though relatively few of them reach that stage. We begin by asking the client to reflect and pray before drawing two extremely important distinctions: first, to distinguish between what he doesn't like and what's wrong and then to distinguish between the rightness of his position and the good of the Church. Once that is done, we try to approach the problem first at the lowest possible level and then move up the hierarchical ladder, building the best possible file at each level. If and when the case reaches Rome as a formal matter, the law requires a response. Considering the current sad state of affairs, however, this does not always happen, although in most instances it does.
Q. How many queries and requests for help do you receive annually? What percentage of these are you able to handle?
A. We receive approximately 1,000 queries or requests for assistance per year, less than one-tenth of which develop into actual cases. We do not turn away any legitimate case, but our very limited resources do not always permit us to provide the level of service we would like.
Q. What is your won and lost rate?
A. The foundation started handling individual cases in 1986. Since then, our records show that we have processed 341, 65 of which are open. Of those 276 which are closed, just 23 developed into formal canonical processes and we judged 13 of them to be "wins," eight to be "losses," and two in neither category. The remaining 253 are much more difficult to judge because of the subjective nature of the central issues, abandonment of the case by the clients, or the fact that, in many instances, it is not easy to determine when there is nothing more to be done.
Taking all this into consideration, I would say that slightly more than half of all cases that we are able to evaluate end up with a net gain for the client. Obviously, slightly less than half end up the opposite but, oddly enough, some 90% of the clients say that they feel better for having stood up for their rights even if the results were not in their favor.
Q. What is the most common or frequent plea or complaint coming across your desk?
A. About 80% of our cases involve liturgy or catechetics in roughly equal numbers. The remainder can be classified in approximate order of frequency as personnel matters, disputes over church architecture, problems with property, and miscellaneous pastoral abuses.
Q. Do most of your pleas come from orthodox Catholics unhappy with the modern "American" Church?
Q. Is there anything the Vatican can do to make the St. Joseph Foundation unnecessary?
A. The best thing the Vatican could do would be to reform the legal system of the Church so as to make it truly possible for the faithful to vindicate their rights. I realize this could be a more lengthy and complex process than the latest revision of the Code of Canon Law, which took almost 20 years, and my own suggestion would take more than six months of <Wanderers> to describe. The best thing the Vatican could do in the short run is to "ride herd" on diocesan bishops and make it more difficult for them to violate the rights of the faithful to true teaching and true liturgy, as many of them are now doing.
Q. What is your personal opinion on the condition of the Catholic Church in America today?
A. From an objective, human point of view, I would say that it is horrible and getting worse. We must remember, however, that our Church is Christ's Church, that Christ is God, and that God will not be mocked.
Q. Why has there been such a sharp decline in religious vocations in the United States?
A. The decline in religious vocations has not affected all communities in the same way. Those which still offer a true religious life have suffered much less of a decline in vocations than have those orders which have "renewed" themselves. In fact, I know of several communities which have retained their identities and have not only not suffered a decline but have increased in numbers.
Q. Whom would you like to see succeed Pope John Paul II?
A. I'm not prepared to say <whom> I would like to see succeed Pope John Paul 11, but I can offer my views on what <kind> of Pope we will need. Pope John Paul II is undoubtedly a great teaching Pope. Leaving John Paul I and his reign of 30 days out of the discussion, one could say that Pope Paul VI as well emphasized the teaching function of the papal office. Thus, for the last 30 years, we have had Popes who were, first and foremost, teachers. In my view, what we will desperately need as their Successor is a <governing> Pope: i.e., one who will not be as interested in issuing new documents as he is in enforcing the ones we already have.
Q. Why are so many Catholic institutions of higher learning losing much of their traditional Catholic identity and failing to adhere to <Ex Corde Ecclesiae>, the Pope's effort to define goals and policies that distinguish schools that call themselves Catholic?
A. I would guess that, in most cases, the reason is simply the loss of faith on the part of those who control and operate these institutions. In other words, keeping the institutions Catholic is not particularly important to them.
Q. What will be the effect of the Vatican's approval of altar girls'?
A. The potentially disastrous pastoral effects of the approval are obvious and have been discussed at great length by others. The legal effects may be, I would argue, even worse. The infamous interpretation of canon 230 by the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts seems to have swept aside, arbitrarily and without a scintilla of legal logic or due process, the views expressed by the previous president of that same pontifical council. Moreover, it seems clear to me that this was done for political reasons and I wonder what other canons may in the future be similarly deformed beyond their original and clear meaning. Any legal system which condones such manipulation is not worthy of the name.
Q. What do you think of the fast growing number of underground (samizdat) Catholic newsletters appearing from coast to coast?
A. All the ones I have seen are of excellent quality and serve a useful purpose. May their tribe increase!
Q. Who are some of the religious heroes in the Church in America today?
A. There are so many heroes that I hesitate to mention any names for fear of leaving out someone equally worthy. In general. I have the greatest admiration for those clergy and religious who have fearlessly defended the faith in the face of almost certain retribution by their ecclesiastical superiors. Most orthodox Catholic laymen are relatively immune from the wrath of the ecclesiastical gauleiters. Not so for our heroic clerical and religious allies.
Q. What is your opinion of sex education in Catholic schools?
A. Certainly, I am not opposed to teaching the <principles> of Catholic sexual morality nor to the inclusion of certain aspects of human reproduction in high school biology classes. But if you define sex education as the presentation in a classroom setting, as part of a regular academic course to members of both sexes, of explicit descriptions of human sexual anatomy or sexual practices, then I am totally opposed.
(Reprinted with permission from <The Wanderer>, Dec. 8th, 1994 issue.)