Why I wanted to talk to the Bishop

Jeff vonKaenel

This week’s News & Review cover story is a lengthy conversation between myself and Sacramento’s Catholic Bishop Jaime Soto.

You may be wondering why SN&R, which has disagreed with the Catholic Church on so many matters, decided to give the bishop so much space in our paper. (You may also be wondering why the Catholic bishop agreed to talk to us—and to be honest, I’m not sure I can answer that question.)

But let me explain why I wanted to talk with him.

On September 11, 2001, like many Americans, I was devastated by the day’s events. Late in the day, I heard National Public Radio play “Amazing Grace,” sung by Judy Collins. Her music and words moved me. Recognizing the power of religious music to bring us together, I impulsively rented out the Memorial Auditorium for the following year’s anniversary of 9/11. I hoped that, rather than staying home, isolated and afraid, watching video of planes hitting the twin towers, we could bring people of different faiths together to find strength in interfaith music.

The next day, I began looking for music for this event. I began a fascinating journey, visiting local religious congregations to listen to their choirs. Many of these wonderful groups performed over the years at our annual A Call for Unity event. This event not only brought people of different faiths together, but also resulted in the building of many Habitat for Humanity homes. Looking for music, I attended more than 100 different religious services in Sacramento, from conservative Christian to a freewheeling spiritual services, from Muslim to Russian Baptist. I came to appreciate the tremendous diversity that we have here in Sacramento.

Through this experience, I saw how many good works are done by the Sacramento faith community. Not just charity work. People benefit by being involved with an empathetic group of people who want to do good. You can count on the people you worship with to be there, for a death in the family, a birth, or even to help your kids survive junior high.

However, I am aware of the strong love, as well as the extreme anger, that many people have for the Catholic Church. When my friend, Father Michael Kiernan, told me that Bishop Soto loves a good debate, I asked the bishop if we could get together. He agreed. I thought this would be an opportunity for him to answer some of the tough questions that his supporters as well as his detractors would ask him if they had the chance.

I certainly enjoyed my discussion with Bishop Soto. He was gracious, intelligent and at times funny. He was humble. And I came away with a better understanding of his viewpoints and the Church’s perspective. I appreciate him taking the time to talk with us. I expect you will, too.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.