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Interview with Bishop Michael A. Saltarelli,
Diocese of Wilmington, Delaware | Valerie Schmalz | September 28, 2005
Saltarelli is outspoken in witnessing to the Gospel of Life to his
diocese and to the politicians in the Diocese
of Wilmingtonparticularly those who
call themselves pro-choice and Catholic. In Delaware, that includes two
nationally prominent figures, U.S. Senator Joseph Biden, a Democrat, and
U.S. Representative Michael Castle, a Republican.
Bishop Saltarelli believes in the power of prayer. During the month of
Octoberwhich is Respect Life Monthhe is asking Catholics in
his diocese to pray for a conversion of all politicians, statesmen, and
lawyers to an respect for life. He has composed a
to St. Thomas More, which will be distributed to all the churches
in the Diocese of Wilmington for the first weekend in October. The Litany
was first distributed to the diocese in October 2004. The diocese comprises
57 parishes, 19 missions, and 40 schools in the State of Delaware and
the nine counties of Marylands Eastern Shore. There are over 220,000
Catholics in the diocese.
In June 2005, Bishop Saltarelli led several dozen Catholics in praying
the Rosary outside the Delaware State House while state House lawmakers
inside debated the merits of the Delaware Regenerative Medicine Act, SB
80, which had already passed the state Senate. The embryonic stem cell
bill was postponed until January 2006.
Born in Jersey City, New Jersey in 1933, Bishop Saltarelli was ordained
to the priesthood in 1960. He served as a pastor in New Jersey for many
years, and was appointed auxiliary bishop to the Archbishop of Newark
in 1992 and bishop of Wilmington in 1995.
Bishop Saltarelli's pastoral letters, the diocesan newspaper, and newspaper
accounts of the bishops work make it clear that the bishop is first
and foremost a pastoran impression reinforced throughout my interview
with him. The Diocese of Wilmington is sponsoring a Eucharistic Congress
in Ocean City, Md. in October and the bishop is delighted that the speaker
will be able to address the group in Spanish and English so there will
be no segregation. And a glance at the diocesan website shows his schedule
for confessions and Masses.
Now 72 years of age, Bishop Saltarelli told Ignatius Insight how much
he enjoys being out and about. Few of his siblings are still alivehe
was the fifth of seven children born in Jersey City, New Jerseybut
he has 39 nephews and nieces and countless grands. Talking to the bishop,
despite his exalted office, I felt as though he would be a relaxed, almost
grandfatherly guy to have a cup of coffee with"an old shoe"
as the old expression goes.
IgnatiusInsight.com: What do you see as your role as bishop of Wilmington?
Bishop Saltarelli: The thing I try to do is to follow the job description
that was given to Peter two thousand years ago. Im not being flippanttwo
thousand years ago, Jesus told Peter and his Apostles to go out into the
world and proclaim the Good News, to teach what he taught them, and basically,
thats what I try to do. To proclaim to our corner of the world herethat
which is our diocesethe Good News, which is that we have a God who
loves, who cares, a God who has sent his Son to be Our Redeemer, to deliver
us from our sinfulness, and to have us follow a prescribed way of life.
I hope in my teaching that it is the teaching entrusted to us from
on high. The sacred deposit of faith given first to the Apostles and handed
down to us two thousand years later that we might entrust it to the hearts
of the faithful whom we are privileged to serve.
IgnatiusInsight.com: How do you see yourself as a priest? How did you
come to discern a vocation?
Bishop Saltarelli: I think my vocation was forced. A parish priest
kept insisting that I had a vocation and I fought it every step of the
way. I told him finally in frustrationbecause he kept dogging methat
I wasnt worthy to be a priest.
And he said to me, "Of course youre not worthy; that has nothing
to do it. Are you willing to serve Gods people?" That little
magic word there transformed my life. I think it was the ideathe
awesomeness of the priesthood, an awesomeness I still take with me. The
reverence for the priesthood, the sacred calling that it was. Certainly,
I was not worthynobodys worthy. But the Lord calls us and
He calls us to be willing participants in proclaiming the Good News and
sharing in His powerful ministry.
IgnatiusInsight.com: Did you enter after high school, or college?
Bishop Saltarelli: College. I delayed, I resisted, but the Lord, through
a wonderful hound of Heaven, through a wonderful holy priest, just kept
after me. Finally I relented and I praise God and thank God for the persistence
of that priest. And Ive done that ever since. I have dogged other
young people. You look around and you say, "This young man certainly
has the qualifications that were looking for." So you continue
and you reach out. I share that story over and over again. I think, sometimes,
some of us can be so caught up with the sacred calling that we forget
that its a calling to do some good, hard work. Are we willing to
do it for the sake of the kingdom? And I think most people find that a
little easier to respond to.
IgnatiusInsight.com: What are your biggest challenges n Delaware and in
Eastern Shore Maryland?
Bishop Saltarelli: The challenges are maybe universal challenges in
trying to proclaim the Gospel of Life and when we are surroundedusing
the words of the late Holy Father, John Paul IIwe are surrounded
and seriously mired in a Culture of Death. We find ourselves sometimes
submerged and mired and the challenge is to be able to lift up and proclaim
the dignity, the sacredness of life from its conception to natural death.
And that doesnt find easy ears, or ready ears.
Tragically, even some people who call themselves Catholic Christians,
I think, in some areas, have compromised themselves. And they have taken
on for themselves the ways of the world in which they find themselves;
its easier. When you try to proclaim life and its dignity and its
sacredness, that doesnt fall on too receptive an audience these
IgnatiusInsight.com: Last year, you wrote a statement on Catholics in
public life. [http://www.cdow.org/political.html]
You said: "No one today would accept this statement from any public
servant: I am personally opposed to human slavery and racism but
will not impose my personal conviction in the legislative arena.
Likewise, none of us should accept this statement from any public servant:
I am personally opposed to abortion but will not impose my personal
conviction in the legislative arena."
Bishop Saltarelli: We hear that so often. Its such an excuse;
to me its a cop out: "Im personally opposed, but
If someone would say Im personally opposed to slavery but its okay,
people would laugh at the ridiculousness of that statement. And yet we
tolerate, dont we"Im personally opposed to abortion,
"? That "but" is translated into the destruction,
the massacre, the holocaust of millions of innocent lives in our time.
IgnatiusInsight.com: You have lot of politicians in your neck of the woods.
[Among the pro-choice politicians who say they are Catholic in Delaware
are Sen. Joseph Biden (D) and U.S. Rep. Michael Castle (R)the bishop
did not want to discuss any politicians by name. Rep. Castle is the main
sponsor of a bill that passed the House and is now before the U.S. Senate
to expand the use of frozen in-vitro embryos for embryonic stem cell research.]
Bishop Saltarelli: Tell me about it, youve seen them on television,
Im sure. Thats what were dealing with.
IgnatiusInsight.com: How do you engage them?
Bishop Saltarelli: We do, again, without mentioning names. I have
been in conversation with them. I have invited them to dialogue and its
painful for them. It really is, theyre caught betwixt and between.
They somehow have bought the package: "You can be personally opposed."
And tragically, maybe some people who should not have been advising, have
advised, that it is alright to hold that opinion, even as a Catholic.
And I think some of these people are products of some of ourwhat
should I say?our theologians of the past who got away with proclaiming
this kind of stuff and they were their teachers. Tragically. And so, when
you get so caught up in that and convinced of the righteousness and the
rightness of your position, it is hard to dissuadeyou know"Who
are you, bishop, against this teacher of mine who said it was okay?"
Respectfully, as I said. And I will continue to engage. I wont give
up on that. We pray.
Were issuing once again on October 1st for Right to Life month the
Litany of St. Thomas More that we composed ourselves. It is a litany for
politicians, statesmen, and lawyers. And we hope by getting this prayer
into the hands of all of the people of our diocese that they will pray
that litany. More is wrought by prayer than by armies and battleships.
[The Litany to St. Thomas More that Bishop Saltarelli composed for the conversion of pro-abortion
"Catholic" politicians was first distributed to parishes last
October 2004. The litany asks St. Thomas More for his intercession
to make politicians "courageous and effective in their defense and promotion
of the sanctity of human life."
IgnatiusInsight.com: If you send
the Litany to your parishes, do the parishes automatically distribute
it and talk about it?
Bishop Saltarelli: Oh yes, it is distributed. There is no doubt about
that. Now, some will cast it aside, some will see (this is what were
dealing with) it as a violation of Church and state, the fact we even
dare pray for politicians. Because they get what they say is a hidden
message. But, thats okay; that doesnt stop us. Were
still going to do it. Were still going to ask our people to pray
I think for too long we have been silent and our people have taken that
silence as part of an acquiescence of the status quo. We are complicit
in this. So we have to step forward and say, "No, this is not rightit
is wrong, it is sinful"and somebody at least has to say it.
Not that Im being the brave man. I have a magnificent team here
with me and wonderful people committed to the cause of life and the Gospel
of Life and we push forward together.
IgnatiusInsight.com: In 2003, an English and Religion teacher at a girls
high school in Wilmington filed
a suit against the Ursuline Academy and you after being dismissed
for signing a full page newspaper ad in The Wilmington News
Journal supporting abortion rights.
The lawsuit itself is now on appeal, after an initial ruling in favor
of the girls high school.] How did that come about?
Bishop Saltarelli: She was one of the signatories to this ad in favor
of pro-choice, declaring herself pro-choice. It was picked up by the administration
of the school, tha nks be to God, and it was they who took action. And
I certainly support the action.
I would love to claim the credit for doing that, but I didnt. Ive
been blamed for it. Thats a feather in my cap, I love itI
love that accusation, the bishop did this. I wish I did. But Ursuline
is a private, independent Catholic school sponsored by the Ursuline Sisters.
And it was the administration of the school that took action.
I was at the school the day she was fired. It was the opening day of school,
and I take turns in going to different schools and I celebrate Mass with
the student body and the faculty. So the day she was fired is the day
the bishop was there. So people would naturally put one and one together
and get three. I have been credited with this thing and people have been
overly kind, but Ive sometimes kept quiet and gloated in it. I did
come out and affirm the schools action and applaud it, but it was
not I who did it.
Two of interview with Bishop Saltarelli
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