Roman Catholic Bishop Walter F. Sullivan of Richmond has publicly criticized some of the actions of the fall meeting of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops here two weeks ago.
A front-page article in his diocesan newspaper, The Catholic Virginian, states that Sullivan was "out of sympathy" and "uncomfortable" with the bishops' discussion of government incursions into church affairs.
"We came across as being very institutional, rather than spiritual," the bishop is quoted as saying of the discussion, which despite efforts of conference leaders to keep it on a scholarly basis, at times rang with the emotion and the antiregulatory polemics of a businessmen's trade association.
The criticism by Sullivan, who is a relatively junior bishop in the American hierarchy, is the more unusual because the question of government interference in church affairs was raised by the Pennsylvania bishops, whose senior member is the influential Cardinal John Krol of Philadelphia, former president of the U.S. hierarchy.
Within the hierarchy, bishops rarely criticize one another publicly. Sullivan is generally considered to be one of the more liberal American bishops, with a strong commitent to the reforms of the Second Vatican Council and to social justice issues.
In The Catholic Virginian, Sullivan was particularly critical of the argument that had been raised by Bishop Joseph McNicholas of Springfield, Ill. McNicholas suggested that the bishops demand of President Carter that since they had supported his efforts to pass the Panama Canal treaties, the Carter administration should be more sensitive to Catholic concerns.
"I never knew we backed the Panama Canal treaties to help Carter," Sullivan observed acidly in his diocesan paper. "I thought we did it for justice reasons. I don't think Carter owes us any favors. We should't be in anybody's camp."
Sullivan also was critical of the fact that the bishops failed to enter into discussions with women who had come to the bishops' meeting to talk about ordination to the priesthood. A subcommittee, of which Sullivan was a member, was delegated to listen to the women but not enter into discussion with them.
"All of us felt the need for dialogue with Catholic women's groups," he said. "We dialogue with other religions and even unbelievers. It would be tragic if we couldn't meet with those whom we share the eucharist with. If you don't talk, all you do is alienate people," he said.