Who is William Lori, Baltimore’s new archbishop?

In a bit of journalistic serendipity (or Providence), I was able to interview Bridgeport Bishop William Lori shortly before he was named the next archbishop of Baltimore earlier this week. Lori had long been rumored for the post, and news of his appointment made for a good hook, if a bit of a quick rewrite to the top.My principal interest in talking to Bishop Lori was of course to explore his role as the USCCBs point man on the religious liberty battle a fight that seems destined to continue for some time, and now with Lori leading it from an even bigger pulpit.My goal in writing the piece was to convey something of who he is as a person and as a priest, to perhaps better understand where he is coming from in this particular religious freedom fight. He was open and congenial fellow, and frequently displayed a sense of humor that he can deploy against himself, but also against those he disagrees with:

Despite the White House's assurances, [Lori] doesn't believe that compromise proposals will not force the church to pay for contraception.In that view of President Obama, Lori is voicing skepticism shared by the bishops but not necessarily their flocks. That sort of disagreement is the kind of thing that really gets his "dander up," as he said in explaining why he wrote a "nippy" response to an editorial in the Jesuit magazine America that had critiqued the bishops' wisdom in the religious freedom battle."I felt that an ironic -- some would say sarcastic -- little piece was a knife to cut through the fog," Lori said, relishing the memory of the exchange. "I enjoy a good piece of writing that has a bit of an edge to it, and other people do, too. We're all big boys and girls."Lori believes that exuding joy as a bishop, not to mention displaying a sense of humor, is key to preaching the gospel. But if Lori's approach and sense of humor isn't to everyone's liking, he insists that too much is at stake to let personal feelings get in the way."Once you have preached the principle that a government can define a church and tell a church what to do, well, it could tell us about contraception today, it could tell us about abortion tomorrow, and physician-assisted suicide the day after that. It is the principle of the thing," he said."We certainly have to speak reasonably and civilly. But we also have to speak prophetically. And sometimes prophets are thought to be strident."

Read it all here.By the way, the musings of Terry Mattingly, the conservative blogger and religion media critic, can usually be counted on to elicit a chuckle from those who practice daily journalism for a living. I take it as a sign of particular merit that this story made him dig extra deep to find a perceived gotcha to reinforce his biases.Tmatts lament in this case apparently hinges on my use of the word while to introduce a graf indicating that Bishop Lori received both praise and criticism from all sides for his approach to sexual abuse and clerical misdeeds, despite his reputation as a pretty down-the-line conservative. (Praise for Lori may also have been in part attributable to the fact that he followed Cardinal Edward Egan, whose remarks on his record continue to make Lori look like the gold standard by comparison.)The paragraph aimed to summarize Loris record on this topic, but Mattingly the Exegete thinks that word while utterly exposes my underlying prejudice against conservatives (which all media share except his own rightwing version, natch). Tmatt writes: "This giant scandal was too complex for simple labels."Indeed. Which is I guess why Tmatt had to invent something simple to pin on me. Simple labels are, after all, his bread and butter, which is why I especially like his intro of me as the well-known liberal Catholic blogger David Gibson of Commonweal, who also does news reporting for Religion News Service.Also does news reporting for Religion News Service? Oops, better end this post before the people who pay my salary figure out what I really do for a living!

David Gibson is the director of Fordham’s Center on Religion & Culture.

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