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First Among Equals

The U.S. bishops gather together in Baltimore Maryland for their annual conferences. But why there? Church Militant’s Sam McCarthy examines the rise and fall of Baltimore.

In 1789, the diocese of Baltimore was erected by Pope Pius VI, with John Carroll serving as the first American-born bishop. All other American dioceses — starting with Boston, New York and Philadelphia — were born from Baltimore. In 1808, Baltimore was elevated to the first metropolitan archdiocese in the United States.

Early archbishops such as Carroll and Michael Curley were doctrinally and politically conservative, but Baltimore fell under liberal influence during the era of the Second Vatican Council when Lawrence Shehan was named archbishop. 

Shehan had been bishop of Bridgeport, Connecticut, before being appointed to his hometown of Baltimore. He participated in the Second Vatican Council and sidelined faithful priests who disagreed with his liberal interpretations of conciliar texts. He also transferred abusive priests into other dioceses.

The next archbishop, William Borders, was accused of covering up clerical sex abuse. He never admitted any wrongdoing. 

His successor, Cdl. William Keeler, was among the first American prelates to release the names of clerics credibly accused of abuse; but after his death, it was revealed he’d covered for abuse in both Baltimore and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Baltimore’s next shepherd, Cdl. Edwin O’Brien, took a harder stance against child abuse but covered for homosexual misconduct among priests.

The archdiocese is still suffering under Abp. William Lori, who, like Shehan, had once been bishop of Bridgeport, where he facilitated a major gay hookup network.

Under Lori, heterosexual vocations directors have been sidelined and straight men discouraged from entering the seminaries. Parishes have dwindled, with fewer priests celebrating Masses, and the Latin Mass is only available in two locations in the entire archdiocese.

Baltimore was once known for its commitment to education, but schools have grown stagnant, with August marking the first Catholic school opened in the archdiocese in 60 years.

Under liberal leadership, Baltimore has fallen from the seat of Catholicism in the United States to a spiritual crater with a shiny veneer.

The archdiocese of Baltimore is also home to two major seminaries, including Saint Mary’s in Roland Park, where Pittsburgh’s Bp. David Zubik studied. Zubik has been accused of covering up sex abuse.


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