Interview with Bishop Michael A. Saltarelli, Diocese of Wilmington, Delaware | Valerie Schmalz | September 28, 2005
Bishop Michael 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 Litany 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 days.
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, but "? 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 the Litany.
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.
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