A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors


Drunk Driving Was Only Part of the Bishop's Problem

Worcester, Massachusetts, Bishop Robert McManus was arrested Saturday night at his family's vacation home in Naragansett, Rhode Island, on charges of drunken driving, leaving the scene of an accident, and refusing a chemical test."I made a terrible error in judgment by driving after having consumed alcohol with dinner, McManus said in a statement. There is no excuse for the mistake I made, only a commitment to make amends and accept the consequences of my action."That's all well and far as it goes. I don't want to make more of this relatively straightforward DUI incident than necessary, but Bishop McManus's terrible error in judgment extended beyond driving while intoxicated. It also included his decision to flee the scene of the crime after, apparently, causing the accident by rear-ending the other driver's car. (A neighbor "noticed minor front end damage to McManuss dark-colored Honda Accord the following morning.")There are far bigger crimes and errors in judgment that occur in the church and the world every day, but it is at least somewhat troubling that neither Bishop McManus nor anyone on his staff seems to have grasped the extent of his errors in the immediate aftermath of his arrest.

About the Author

Luke Hill is a writer and community organizer in Boston. He blogs at dotCommonweal and MassCommons. 



Commenting Guidelines

  • All

Luke - it reminds me of an incident from Phoenix from about ten years ago. I never did hear the outcome of that one.

^Probation and community service.

I also noticed nothing on the hit-and-run aspect. Possibly it was minor damage--likely, if the driver followed the offender home.Bishop McManus was impaired by alcohol certainly. But also morally perhaps, even for that drunken moment.This is an opportunity. We all make mistakes in judgment. Will the bishop *show* a sense of sin rather than *tell* about it? That is his opportunity. Would that we all could muster grace under the pressure. I've been deeply critical of Archbishop Myers lately--a far more grave matter than bumping the rear of a car. But I'm willing to wait and see how the Worcester bishop handles himself.

"Will the bishop *show* a sense of sin rather than *tell* about it? That is his opportunity."Todd- meaning, will he try to make the other driver whole again, and accept punishment for his crimes?

I don't want to pile on because he is a Bishop. However, for anyone in a responsible position, and this includes politicians, professional athletes, etc. they need to understand that the privilege of their office also carries social responsibilities and one of those is role modelling.Drunkenness falls under the deadly sin of gluttony. Humility requires him to accept whatever is just under the circumstances. Refusal of chemical test is a problem as well. I suppose under the law he can, but this only confirms his guilt but raises suspicions in my mind of other illicit substances he might have used.At any rate, I agree with Abe, probation and community service. He has been humbled enough due to the publicity of this event so I don't think we need to get the sack clothes and ashes.Still, my suspicion and hunch is that this is probably not the first time and I hope he gets some help with the larger problem of substance abuse.

George, I was responding to Jim's reference to the case of Bishop O'Brien of Phoenix--he KILLED a guy in a hit-and-run, and got probation and CS.

In this day and age when we are so much more aware of drinking and driving the bishop's imprudence is more glaring. The fact that he did not stop indicates a lack of accountability. His reputation seemed more important. Clerical hubris. Again.

I'd wondered about the O'Brien case also... what became of him?That was too soft a punishment for that action.Whatever the extent of McManus' offense, I wonder how it'll impact his confirmation talks this season - with parents and kids.It is a compound issue with the flight and refusal exacerbating this in so many ways. I don't know the range of punishments for these charges, but it must be more than that! Do you also wonder about who he ws having dinner with...'Friends don't let friends -even bishops-- drive drunk." But maybe the clerical culture still does...

The bishop has just entered a plea of not guilty. What does that mean if he's already apologized for his "terrible lapse in judgment"?

Besides being a threat to public and personal safety, I've always considered a DUI a marker of personal devolvement. It's a sign that the individual has ever diminishing abilities to keep their drug and alcohol behavior "under control" and from public view.As stated above, McManus public drunkenness and leaving the scene of an accident is a jarring incident of a profound lack of judgement. When you layer this lack of judgement upon the already oversized narcissism of most hierarchs, you get a very volatile mix. McManus is yet the latest example of hierarchs, having been given unique positions of power and prestige, demonstrating in their personal behavior that they are under the illusion of being superior and impervious to the limits and boundaries that society places on individuals for the common good.I'm not holding my breath, but McManus should at least step aside while he undergoes treatment - if not resign his office. McManus' DUI is a salient marker that his judgement is impaired - not the kind of guy you want running a diocese.I also realize - and I'm resigned to the fact that - the chances of McManus stepping-aside happening are almost zero. Illustrative point: SF archbishop Salvatore Cordileone in his hometown of San Diego celebrating his imminent "elevation" to SF is stopped and booked for DUI by police. While Cordileone offered multiple public mea culpas - which had to be embarrassing as he was about to process down St. Mary's Cathedral at his installation [No public reports of his on-going treatment and therapy to date], Cordileone continues to demonstrate really poor judgement and almost non-existent pastoral sensitivity [especially given that a large % of his flock in SF is gay and lesbian] in pursuing his vehement anti-gay and lesbian ideology with frequent twisted non-sensical and crude statements about homosexuality and same-sex marriages. Leaving many of us to ponder Shakespeare anew: "The lady doth protest too much, methinks."

I know drunk drivers are a danger to themselves and others, but I also feel sorry for them. On grand jury duty, we saw so, so, many drunk drivers, often people who were driving with suspended licenses, with multiple violations. It seems so unreasonable to the rest of us that these people get in cars when drinking, but I think it might be beyond their control; I think they need to give up drinking before they'll be able to give up drinking and driving. And giving up drinking isn't the easiest thing for everybody.

Regarding the refusal of the field sobriety test and the not guilty plea - those may be legal strategies and I wouldn't necessarily assign undue moral importance to them. Still, his apology seems to indicate that he was drunk, and fleeing the scene of an accident is wrong whether the person fleeing is drunk or sober - and is pretty easily established in a number of cases.For a lot of sins and crimes - like the sexual abuse of a minor - there may be little or nothing that can be done to rectify the harm caused by something like that. In this case, though, there is: he can take responsibility for what he's done; he can accept a just punishment; he can pay for whatever damage he's caused. He can also use this as a teaching moment, if he's so inclined.

"Probation and community service."In defense of the bishop, that slap on the wrist was hard enough that he said "ouch".

"Regarding the refusal of the field sobriety test and the not guilty plea those may be legal strategies and I wouldnt necessarily assign undue moral importance to them."Well, I do.

For a minute I thought this was about Salvatore Cordileone. Evidently Sal has good company.I would love to see a valid study of the incidence of alcoholism/drinking problems among celibate men versus men of the general population.It could be parsed by age, education and ethinic background but there must be some general observations that can be drawn.Anyone who is stopped for susped DUI should know that that instant field sobriety tests are more likely to lead to a conviction, rather than waiting to be taken in and given a urine test. Time diminishes the effects of alcohol in the bloodstream ... up to a point, that is.I suspect that Bps McManus and Cordileone have short-circuited their ecclesiastical careers by virtue of their public failings. Going for the jugular smacks of something much beyond retribution.I'm a child of an alcoholic father, so I tend to be a wee bit more understanding of that weakness in human beings, even clerics.

Years ago, it used to be said that if a priest had a problem it was either "Punch or Judy."

Cordileone pleaded guilty.

I don't quite understand the not guilty plea unless the system is different in the US. Maybe he has to make a plea at his first appearance and this will just buy him some time for his lawyer and the Crown to make a deal. There is no doubt that he is in fact guilty of failing to provide a sample. That is a criminal offense up here and no doubt in the US as well. Insurance companies treat failure to provide a sample in the same way as being impaired. So, it is basically an admission of guilt in most instances.Leaving the scene of an accident is another no brainer. Unless he is claiming that he was not involved. But sounds like that is pretty open and shut.But why waste the taxpayers and diocese dollars any further in a long legal battle, the outcome of which is obvious beyond any and all doubt?He should just take ownership and responsibility for what he did. Make his mea culpas (oops.....need to be faifthful to the new translation of "mea culpa, mea culpa, mea mxima culpa'!!!!(

"Cordileone pleaded guilty." Yes, but it was to reduce the misdemeanor charge of driving under the influence to a reduced charge of reckless driving, which is an option frequently given to first-time DUI offenders in California.


Assume any of the three bishops caught with DUI's were poor, black and unconnected. Do you think they would have received a plea bargain deal from an 'understanding' public prosecutor? It takes some real two-fisted drinking to achieve a DUI level of intoxication. This in itself is a very good indicator of constant alcoholic behavior. The leaving of the scene is further evidence of panic, cover-up and realization that one has gone well beyond the pale. Perhaps a long, long stay in a rehab program would do more to gain grace than consecration as a bishop.

How tired do we grow of a hierarchy that thinks they are above the law? How sad is it that these poor men, with a shocking lack of emotional maturity and no clue about how the rest of us live, are put in positions of responsibility for which they are clearly unsuited, based on their ability to kiss enough posteriors to get a promotion. The drunk drivers, the pedophiles, the "so deep in the closet" homosexuals, the nay-sayers, the liars, the name-callers, the ranters, the 'I'm doing this because I CAN guys... the list is GK Chesterton says, "...and we are very sick and sad who bring good news to all mankind." If it weren't for the laity, the commited priests who hold no honors and the sisters, Christ's Church wouldn't have made it out of the 20th Century... May the Holy Spirit enlighten Francesco, AND give him enough time, to do what we were asked to do fifty years ago and that our current hierarchy is running scared to confront - CHANGE... as the Spirit says, "See, I am doing a NEW thing."

US Catholic bishops are not trained in moral reasoning, as demonstrated by the way they act. They seem to need a rule to obey. Since there was no rule that stated, "Do not reassign priest with child sex problems, get rid of them, and report any crimes to the police." There is no rule that says, "You should not drive intoxicated. You should not flee the scene of an accident."This "overseer" of religious and moral behavior showed the moral development of a badly brought up young teenager. If he could get way with it, no problem,. If he got caught, then an apology and a request for forgiveness would be in order. Then lots of self-pity.

There is no rule that says, You should not drive intoxicated. You should not flee the scene of an accident.

I doubt that there is anyone who thinks in this day and age and in our country that this is not a clear rule. And, it is not credible to me that the word is not out on this. And if there is any doubt then, the police and legislature can once again, increase fines and penalties.

Assume any of the three bishops caught with DUIs were poor, black and unconnected. Do you think they would have received a plea bargain deal from an understanding public prosecutor?

Exactly! I actually think that most prosecutors are sensitive to this fact and want to make sure that justice is not only done but seen to be done. Afterall most people in criminal court are poor and disenfranchised people (at least that is the case here). And it certainly does not resemble the tv shows!!

I just think we should be a little cautious about speculating about a drinking problem, the need for rehab, and so on. As I write this, it's three full days after the arrest, and I just spent a very little time in Google reading news reports of the arrest, and haven't seen any info that he is a repeat offender or that this is part of a troubling pattern of behavior with him. I'd think the media would have dug up and reported by now if this is part of a larger problem.He said the right things in his statement - 'I take responsibility; please forgive me.' Let's hope he carries through with those good intentions.

Jim- I think that when one's drinking gets them arrested, that qualifies as having a drinking problem.

A not guilty plea is standard. Leaving the scene of an accident is not, which is probably the reason for the higher than usual bail. In his released statement, it is noteworthy that he felt the need to add "with dinner" to his admission, as if a drunken hit and run would somehow be worse if he were doing shots at the bar.Still, these cases are sadly very common, and ultimately no one was hurt. It is very unlikely that he will ever make such a mistake again, so forgiveness should be the order of the day.

Not to pile on Bishop McManus, but as my father would have said, 'What the heck's the matter with you?" Leaving the scene is to me a bigger issue, in the sense that it so compounds the problem. It isn't that what he did was all that evil, but in context of all the other things going on it just shows more of the same attitude.

"I think that when ones drinking gets them arrested, that qualifies as having a drinking problem."Irene - if it happens one time, it is evidence that he made a grievous mistake. Or, if you wish, that he committed a sin and a crime. He certainly had *a* problem in that instance - and, to be sure, he caused problems for other people, too. But it doesn't (necessarily) mean that he has a persistent issue - a dependency/addiction problem for which treatment and rehabilitation are necessary. To be sure, this incident might be a symptom of alcoholism - but it might not. Rehabilitation programs are expensive and disruptive to people's lives, and there are only a certain number of slots available in those programs, and I believe they should be for the people that truly need that level of treatment.

To compound the problem of driving under the influence and leaving the scene of the accident:Bishop Mc Manus said that he had 1 Manhattan and 1 glass of wine with dinner, yet according to the arrest report the Worcester bishop failed 3 sobriety exams. is a post by Fr. Komonchak Whats needed in catechesis?Now it is a well established fact, one that many bishops make sure that the catechists in their diocese know, that the bishop is the primary catechist in his diocese.I would say that Bishop McManus has a long way to go to establish his credibility in that area.

I would hardly call this a hit and run. Once in the legal arena some argue it is better to refuse to blow. No one in their right mind would plead guilty to these very minor charges. He should have had a driver like Bishop Murphy has Fr. Bob Morrissey.Without a BAC it would be hard to convict him and I bet the conviction will not be a DWI

It is clearly a hit and run. The severity may be less and the sentence might reflect that but he did, in fact, hit and run. Up here violations involving motor vehicles such as hit and runs and impaired driving are taken seriously because by the nature of the offence, public safety is impacted and public safety is one of the major reasons for police and criminal courts.As for not providing a sample, that is clearly an admission of guilt. He cannot now reasonably say that he had a manhattan and wine with dinner and so wasn't impaired. If he believed that then, then why not provide a sample? The police officer may testify that he was swerving, slurring his words, and that he could smell alcohol on him. If that testimony is before a judge, it is beyond a doubt that he was impaired. The police officer would reasonably give the driver an opportunity to refute his observation on the spot. If he was so certain, then why not take the test. He might have blown .07 instead of . 08 and therefore have been within the legal limit.

Refusal to provide a sample is not an admission of guilt, suspicious though you might find it. The fifth amendment still applies.Regardless, he essentially admitted guilt to the press, so there is virtually no chance that the case goes to trial. They will work out a plea deal at the next court date, if not before.

Leaving the scene of an accident probably upped the gravity of the charges, and the not guilty plea was probably entered in order for the attorney to plead down and reduce ultimate consequences. Anyway, in this kind of thing, you always do what your attorney tells you to. One thing that strikes me, however, is that someone who declines blood or urine testing often does so because he has a good idea of the strategic decisions one can make when drinking and driving, and agreeing to be tested usually makes conviction easier (it also can elevate the offense if the level is way over the limit). Those who repeatedly engage in conduct that leaves them at high exposure tend to be savvier about what to do when they do get caught because they have already thought about such things and developed a plan.

dmatson;"...he essentially admitted guilt to the press... ." Guilt about what?Bishop McManus's statement:On Saturday evening, May 4, I made a terrible error in judgment by driving after having consumed alcohol with dinner . That's it.

"Error in judgment""Mistake""Effed up"How 'bout "I done wrong"?

Agree with Social Worker that he should have a driver.Let his priests and/or seminarians take turns. That would give him a chance for informal chatting with them.

Refusal to provide a sample is not an admission of guilt

But it is in most jurisdictions a criminal offence. And according to the Highway Traffic Act, your license may be suspended and insurance companies can rate you as a result.And besides, if you were not impaired, what reason could you have for not providing a sample? At any rate, if I were the prosecutor I would be delighted to take this before a judge. Proving beyond a reasonable doubt that he was impaired is certainly doable especially with the police testimony.

Have a driver? to drive him to family functions, social engagements and parties? I don't think so. Well, maybe to his official functions but that is so 1950s (wink). It would be much better if he would use public transportation like the new pope did in his archdiocese.

Something doesn't quite add up here.The effects of alcohol consumption will vary somewhat from person to person depending on weight, gender, medications taken, and other factors. But it is surprising that the bishop was still so clearly impaired by two drinks taken three hours or more before his arrest. I think a rule of thumb is that a healthy liver will metabolize about an ounce of alcohol per hour. Maybe they were unusually hefty drinks. Manhattans often are. Or maybe his statement about "driving after having consumed alcohol with dinner" needs to be carefully looked at as a possible example of deceiving with the truth.That would mean visiting the scene of the drinking and asking more questions, which may or may not be considered worthwhile.

" There is no rule that says, You should not drive intoxicated. You should not flee the scene of an accident. I doubt that there is anyone who thinks in this day and age and in our country that this is not a clear rule. "Could it just be the time-honored copout for ecclesiastics: mental reservation?(snip)"Mental reservation is a form of deception which is not an outright lie. It was argued for in moral theology, and now in ethics, as a way to fulfill obligations both to tell the truth and to keep secrets from those not entitled to know them (for example, because of the seal of the confessional or other clauses of confidentiality). Mental reservation, however, is regarded as unjustifiable without grave reason for withholding the truth. This condition was necessary to preserve a general idea of truth in social relations."

John Prior: I was composing a similiar post when yours popped up (out?). I agree with you 100%.The average adult should be able to consume that amount of alcohol over that period of time and not fail 3 sobriety tests. But maybe the good bishop is not "average."

How is this not a right to life issue? A friend of mine was killed by a drunk driver. A person who drinks and drives is putting their convenience above the lives of those his car may cross paths with.

Re: "the effect of alcohol consumption ..."Most measures of the level of intoxication can be influenced by a variety of personal factors depending upon the subject (height, weight, general health, blood absorption rates, individual history, etc.). [I once had a patient who was the most remarkable "maintenance drunk" I've ever encountered. That is, from all appearances despite heavy drinking patterns there was little or any decrement in physical skills and reaction times. This patient was policeman who hid his intoxication every day on the job despite that he had usually consumed a six-pack of beer just on his drive to work.] The "breathalyzer" test used by many police departments at the scene of arrest are supposed to be standardized so they can be used as evidence in court. I would think that a blood test indicating the presence and levels of alcohol would be the best screen to determine "drunkenness" or "impairment" (Other drugs or substances could then also be screened for).I have never had any clinical example in my practice where a person receives a DUI citation as the initial symptom of drug or alcohol abuse - obviating any excuses like "the bishop was just tried and didn't eat enough to balance out the alcohol". In my experience, DUI is usually a marker that indicates that the person has begun a serious devolvement in their drug or alcohol abuse. In other words, they have crossed a big line. ["Danger, Will Robinson!"] To me, my clinical sense tells me that Bishop McManus has had a drinking problem for sometime that needs to be addressed in treatment.An entirely different question is his fitness for office. I believe, I hope that one day there will be governing mechanisms where the PEOPLE of the diocese could determine IF someone like McManus is fit to continue in office.

George D. --Maybe the bishop refused to take the test because he had had so much to drink that he didn't realize he was drunk, which doesn't excuse him, of course.

Giving the bishop's defenders the benefit of the doubt, the fact of the matter is that the bishop has admitted guilt. There is much that is unknown in this case. I think it is naive to think that this is the first time the bishop has driven while drunk. We all know too well that we never think we are as impaired as we actually are when we get behind the wheel of a car. Without being unjust, or uncharitable, one can assume a pattern here that has previously gone unnoticed. What we know is that this time the bishop has gotten caught. So maybe all of the hairsplitting about the bishop's "punch" problem is a bit misplaced.

It would be also intersting to know what his disposition or diocesan policy or protocols were for clergy or diocesan employees around this issue if it were so public.

As I read in Commonweal once, "It's not easy to be humble while wearing a mitre."

It's not easy to be humble when you are called Your Grace, Your Lordship, Your Excellency.All titles should be absolutely abolished once and for all. A simple "Bishop" or "Archbishop" will suffice. It denotes the office and not any imagined degree of importance that hearkens to medieval royalty. of driver's license for 6 months for refusing the breath test10 hours of community service$900 in feesmandatory participation in alcohol education program

Add new comment

You may login with your assigned e-mail address.
The password field is case sensitive.

Or log in with...

Add new comment