November 19th, 2015

I have a “blog-pal” who is a retired physician who commented today that after a dearth of entries during this past summer, I now seem to be back to snuff with stuff. I suppose four in four days is more than alarming but good doctor, don’t get used to it.

I want to offer some personal thoughts about the USCCB meeting just concluded as I had two hours on a quite turbulent flight back from Baltimore to do little more than think about it. The Francis vision of Church will require much more time to morph from the John Paul II view of Church just as it took the late Pope a decade to partially morph from the Paul VI/ II Vatican Council view of Church. No one should be alarmed at this. If anything, those looking to a more responsive, less rigid approach to ecclesial life need to take heart that for an organization which normally moves at glacial speed, Francis has the machinery of the present Church running in overdrive. He is moving from “monarchy” to “synodality” with an alacrity and rapidity unseen and unheard of for centuries. Structural change is at the top of his agenda and then it will be followed by personal and personnel change. That the need for this has not yet reached the episcopal conference of the United States was apparent to me this week in Baltimore. We discussed, acted, voted like we have for the thirty-five years I have been attending these meetings. The Conference remains largely unchanged even though the times, they are a-changing.

So what will it take to bring the structure in line with the present Pope’s vision? That one is simple for me to answer, a new cast of bishops willing to acknowledge that we need not lose the faithful in the numbers we are losing while holding the line on clearly definitive doctrinal teaching. Let me give an amateur’s example of what I am thinking and writing about. When we were kids we learned that the seven sacraments were “outward signs instituted by Christ to give grace.” Right?

We spoke a lot at this meeting about the sacrament of marriage. Each sacrament consists of two parts: matter and form. Traditionally, matter consists of something tangible like water in Baptism, chrism in confirmation, etc. In marriage the matter is the man and woman and the form is their exchange of consent (the vows) in the presence of the Church’s minister. Where in the Gospels does one find the text of Christ’s words or even his actions instituting marriage (the power to forgive sins like the institution of the Eucharist, by way of example is very clear)?  Indeed, with his mother Jesus attended a wedding at Cana and was a great help to the families of the newlyweds. In fact both the understanding and teaching of marriage as a sacrament evolved over a long period of time and centuries passed after the death of Christ before the theology of marriage as a sacrament became full-blown and a part of Church doctrine.

Now before my critics take aim, I also need to point out that in at least two instances  in the Gospel Jesus made it very clear that multiple marriages were wrong and that living with another person’s spouse and having sex with them was also a violation of the sixth commandment. So there is central teaching (which I do not believe will change) that sacramental marriage is between one man and one woman. But Jesus did not envision an annulment process for either his time or the future. Our disciplinary practices have evolved.

Today’s argument in the Church is partly between those who believe that the indissolubility of marriage reigns absolute overall and allows of few to no exceptions and those who are trying to get into the mind of Jesus and ask what would he do if he were to encounter this moment?

The Catholic leadership (Cardinals) in Germany argues for a compassionate response to a growing problem. The Church leadership in Africa says that one of the things which works well on their continent is marriage so please don’t introduce a theology and/or praxis which would weaken what they enjoy and is largely a first world issue.

The bishops’ conference of the United States (Orioles) is struggling between towing the line and formulating a compassionate response to those whose marriages have failed. There is a division of the house. The same struggle can be said to be true for matters like same-sex civil marriages and a number of other “hot button” issues. It is simply a “battle” (used loosely by myself) between doctrine and accompaniment with Pope Francis prodding us to embrace the latter which is by no means easy.

So, in conclusion, Catholics should not hit any panic buttons from what did or did not happen this week in Baltimore. Approximately two-hundred and thirty-five good bishops from various personal histories and theological education met to try to find a path through which many are considering a “swamp”. The pendulum is swinging again towards the center which makes some of us older people nervous but which gives courage and comfort to a younger generation.  The Conference is not yet ready to begin to debate the important issues for the future and for myself, for the moment, I far prefer waiting to retrenching.




November 17th, 2015

The bishops of the United States completed the public portion of our annual fall meeting in Baltimore at 5:35 p.m. today. We killed a number of trees today when our electronic voting apparatus failed to work and we were left to paper ballots on all issues stuffed into signed envelopes. Results of voting, normally available in two minutes time took two hours to record and count. Some of our votes required two-thirds of the membership in order to pass. If an issue does not reach that magic two-thirds number (one did not), then a mail ballot is sent to all the absent bishops capable of casting a vote. So each ballot needed first to have the name of the bishop recorded as voting, then the vote tallied, then the results shown to three bishops acting as official tellers and finally announced to the assembly. The process took about two hours for each of the thirteen ballots, though counting staff worked several votes at the same time.

We began with elections and there is not much of a story to tell there. My dear friend and former colleague, Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr of Cincinnati won election to a three-year term as treasurer which will begin next November. He knows accounting and finance and will be important as the Conference is quickly running out of money, approaching a deficit situation, and attempting to meet new goals and objectives while maintaining the standard ones. The motion to raise the diocesan assessment to the Conference failed to gain the two-thirds of diocesan and eparchial bishops and will require a mail ballot. There were more “no” votes on this issue today than I can ever remember. Some commentators look to the elections as signs of shifts in the episcopal college but the more knowledgeable ones have already written today that there is no clear shift manifest in today’s elections.

Then we directed our attention to establishing goals and objectives or “priorities and plans” in episcopal lingo. They passed easily. The statement on pornography passed easily. A motion to allow for a condensed book for use at the presider’s chair at Mass (current practice requires Arnold Schwarzenegger to hold the weighty book up for the celebrant) passed. And the statement which we call “Political Responsibility” passed after a somewhat lengthy and for one brief moment nasty debate (forget my earlier words from Sunday’s post saying that bishops are always nice to other bishops). For those who have followed this discussion with at least a modicum of interest, I would offer my opinion that the drafting committee did precisely as they were asked to do and a wholesale rejection would have been an embarrassment and a remand would have been impossible. No deep intrigue to be found here, just a momentary lack of good decorum.

Later in the day the body of bishops was asked to approve for submission to the Holy See two priests and a band of Florida martyrs which included our own Father Luis de Cancer, O.P., who was murdered for the faith in the Tampa Bay area. We also had a stellar presentation by Catholic Relief Services, one of the loves of my life, and by Catholic Charities, U.S.A.

With the exception of the Political Responsibility statement, this was another somewhat ho-hum meeting. Tomorrow we will spend all day in Executive Session with only the minimum support staff present in the room. In the early seventies following the Second Vatican Council, the late Archbishop Philip Hannan, whom I mentioned a couple of days ago, asked the bishops to consider opening their previously completely closed meeting to the media, observers, and other interested people. Monsignor Paul Tanner, my predecessor five times removed actually had to sit outside the room where the bishops were meeting and if the body needed any information, a questions was slipped under the door to be answered and returned under the door (that was the case through 1965 at which time the General Secretary was allowed inside the meeting room. At my first General Meeting I attended in 1992, the Executive Session lasted two hours. Almost everything was done in the open.

Then Mother Angelica and her ubiquitous cameras arrived on scene, as did CTNA (the short-lived Catholic Television Network of America). Some bishops began playing to the cameras, speeches got windier, the meetings began to take on a significant interest and many bishops became nervous. Executive Sessions were stretched to one full afternoon or one full morning and now they are a whole day. Most of what we discuss would be inspiring to Catholics and God knows we need to inspire, at least once in a while.

So with this lament, I conclude what is likely to be my penultimate report from a plenary meeting of the USCCB. The only real race run here was to get to the finish line (aka “adjournment”) and that we did thirty-five minutes late. There are some really good things, though, which I have not reported: I get to see bishop and other friends; there are some committee meetings, which I appreciate very much; and bishops, as a whole, are a friendly group. Thank God. So, no “Black-Eyed Susans” for us but no real black eyes either.



November 16th, 2015

Our annual meeting began with what we call “regional meetings”. There are fourteen regions of bishops in the United States and the Eastern Rite bishops of the entire nation compose a fifteenth. Our region, which happens to be “Region 14”, encompasses every diocese from Raleigh and Charlotte in North Carolina to Miami in the south, or perhaps more easily visualized, the states of North and South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. We were asked our opinion about a number of matters related to our current practice regarding sexual misconduct with minors by church employees.

We unanimously in our region agreed that the mandated annual audits have been necessary and are important. We suggested that when a diocese experiences an on-site audit (once every three years currently) and several of its parishes are visited as a part of the audit process, that they not just be those physically closest to the chancery office. We unanimously agreed that our respective Diocesan Review Boards should meet at least once a year, even if there are no new allegations and that bishops should alert at a minimum the chair of the Review Board if and when an allegation is made which highly likely is either frivolous or less than serious. None of this is new to the normal modus operandi in the Diocese of St. Petersburg.

This one hour discussion was helpful to me in light of the opening this weekend of the feature film entitled Spotlight.  The movie focuses on the work of a team of four reporters for the Boston Globe who are assigned the task of investigating claims that the Archdiocese of Boston had been covering up and reassigning priests who they knew had violated children in the worst way. All four reporters were Catholics and none of them were anxious to dig into this issue initially. I am glad they did because I truly do not believe that the Church in the U.S. would have come as far as it has in protecting children and embracing transparency without what happened in Boston. The work is not completed and complacency is always just around the corner so the movie is a painful reminder to the victims of sexual abuse by a priest when they were children that all we have done cannot erase the pain of our past.

When we finally assembled in plenary session, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville and currently the USCCB President began by having two statements on the Paris massacre and other atrocities, which have occurred in the recent past, read aloud. They are quite good and can be accessed here. This Sunday on the Solemnity of Christ our King, I hope all parishes in the diocese will find an appropriate way to pray for the victims of this senseless violence, their families and loved ones and also pray for peace.

The Holy Father’s ambassador to the United States, whom we call the “Papal Nuncio”. Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano then addressed the assembly, which what are likely to be his parting words since a recent protocol of Pope Francis calls for all Nuncios to vacate their positions on their 75th birthday and his is in mid-January. His speech largely centered on Catholic education’s role in the history of the faith in the United States and the need now for greater Catholic identity in the colleges and universities.

Archbishop Kurtz then delivered his annual Presidential address to the body. He chose as I would have also the inspiring words of Pope Francis to the US bishops in Washington in September and the importance of accompaniment for each bishop – walking with his people, all his people.

There are two major documents being presented for approval by the body of bishops (requiring two-thirds of all bishops). The first is a statement on pornography and the second is the once every four years statement on “Political Responsibility” which was originally intended to heighten the awareness of every Catholic and simultaneously to familiarize themselves with moral issues when approaching elections. This particular statement comes forth one year before presidential elections. I will treat these two documents tomorrow in this space, after they are debated and voted upon. Neither appears to be in any serious trouble and this morning was simply devoted to a brief introduction of the two documents with an opportunity for any bishop to ask questions for clarification. After sitting for two hours and thirty-five minutes, the bishops ravenously attacked lunch. Indeed, lunch might have been the highlight of the day so far.

The afternoon was spent listening to presentations by bishops to bishops allegedly for bishops. We heard first about a national convening that is slated to take place in 2017 in the only other kingdom on earth I know of: Disney World. This consultation is meant to listen to many voices in the Church to help us understand better why we are not communicating well to the Church. On its face, it is a good idea. But central Florida during the Fourth of July holiday at a minimum of $1500 per person is a bit of a stretch. The plan comes from the chairs of a number of our standing committees: Pro-Life, Evangelization and Catechesis, Domestic and International Justice and Peace, the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty and the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth. It will be interesting to see how this develops next and who the presenters will be.

We also heard from Archbishop Lori of Baltimore, chair of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty and an impassioned appeal from the Archdiocese for the Military Services for more priests to serve as chaplains in the armed forces. We have two of our younger priests now either serving or preparing to serve as Air Force chaplains but I clearly recognize that they need more men and hope that our diocese might help. I would go into the Navy if I were younger, freer and fitter.

The best section of the day was a last minute forty-minute addition to the agenda when all of the delegates to the recent Synod on the Family and Married Life shared with us their impressions of the recently-completed Synod in Rome. I could tell the assembly had awakened from the mid-afternoon slumber that accompanies too much food at lunch and were listening intently. We read and heard a lot about the synod from a variety of sources while it was going on but our eight U.S. delegates were most helpful to me in separating the wheat from the chaff about the Synod.

At four o’clock, the bishops boarded buses (which we mostly hate to do) and took ourselves off to the Basilica of the Assumption (aka the “old Cathedral”) in downtown Baltimore for Mass.

Today was far from the excitement of Baltimore’s other major yearly event in addition to our annual meeting, the Preakness.  But with one day down, the horses are still in the stalls and have not yet made it to the paddock.  I will blog tomorrow but will end the reports there because Wednesday is when the Executive Session will take place; and while I personally think we do way too much behind closed doors, I have always respected the confidential nature of that part of our regular business.



November 15th, 2015

It’s Sunday night and I am in Baltimore for my thirty-fifth November General Meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (three as a very young lay employee, twelve as a priest working for the Conference, and twenty as a bishop member). There were the eleven years when I served as an Associate General Secretary and as General Secretary. Typically we would move staff, machines and three forests of paper to the Washington, DC (now Baltimore) hotel and await the arrival of the bishop members. The Administrative Board led things off with a meeting on Saturday when the final agenda was agreed upon and then various committees would start meeting on Saturday afternoon, all day on Sunday. Monday brought the opening Mass at the hotel followed by the first general public session and a half day of Executive session and we were lucky to end our deliberations by noon on Thursday. I defined happiness then in seeing the bishop members leaving for their homes and staff tearing down and moving everything back to headquarters.


Times have changed, even for the bishop’s conference and our business meetings usually end by Wednesday night with most of the last day spent in Executive Session. We find ourselves often headed to the local Cathedral (or in Baltimore’s case to the beautiful Basilica designed by the same architect as the US Capitol) for the opening Mass and now as I mentioned we spend a whole day behind closed doors. There have been some enhancements to bring better order to what can sometimes become a debating society such as colored lights, which tell you when your time is up and now electronic voting which delivers results instantaneously.


We differ on some things but all of us love the Church. Long before I entered the episcopal office, I admired the nation’s bishops. Keep in mind that my earliest days were spent while the Conference attempted to implement the vision of the Second Vatican Council. There were differences of opinion on many things in those days but there was always a healthy respect for one another. No one ever spoke unkindly of another bishop (it still does not happen) but there were strong differences of opinion.


The bishops’ conference has always had its cast of characters, some of whom love the microphone. One November meeting during my time as General Secretary I timed the interventions of ten bishops, who took up 85% of the public discussion periods. There was no limit on how long an intervention from the floor could last and only a firm chair was able to get some bishops to sit down. Only about 8% of the bishops speak at these General Meetings but the silent majority takes it all in, making their feelings known in votes. Archbishop Philip Hannan, then of New Orleans, once took the floor seriously to object to a section in the proposed pastoral letter on the economy and chose the moment to call our attention to the fact that Maryland raises chickens with the largest breasts in the United States. It took the President, the late Archbishop John May four minutes to gain control of his own laughter and another two minutes to calm the house down and return to business. I recall many such moments.


Witty chairs (the President of the USCCB) help long, tedious sessions pass. Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk and Cardinal Dolan had a wonderful ability to lift with levity. Sometimes our discussions reveal fissures within the body of bishops. In the early going of the endless arguments over the translation of the Roman Missal (the Mass texts) the body of bishops differed even on words. Eventually the body became tired of the endless debates and acknowledged that the Holy See had issued new guidelines for translation and it grew tired and threw in the towel. Only slightly more than thirty of us in the end voted against the translation we now use. The body had tired of the liturgical language wars.


This week’s agenda is not overwhelming or overpowering. It’s doubtful there will be much in the way of argument. An undercurrent for some will be to what extent has the agenda and vision of Pope Francis become a working agenda for the second largest episcopal conference in the world. More about that in this space tomorrow night (Monday) and Tuesday. I began these blogs following the November meeting about seven years ago and they will end when my successor is installed as the fifth bishop of St. Petersburg. I hope you enjoy them but keep in mind I am one vote and one voice and I don’t want to be among then ten bishops who occupy the floor 85% of the time.




November 6th, 2015

On Wednesday night, November 4th, Rabbi Jacob Luski, my dear friend, was honored along with two others by the Bon Secours Health Care System and its St. Petersburg units, Bon Secours-Maria Manor Nursing facility and Bon Secours Place Assisted Living and Alzheimers Care Unit for his presence and service in our community. I was there, proud of both my friend and the recognition our Catholic community would shower on him. It marked the third straight Wednesday night that the Rabbi, his wife Joann, and his parents and I spent together.

Readers of this space perhaps read my talk delivered at Rabbi Lusky’s Congregation Bnai Israel marking the fiftieth anniversary of the document of Vatican II on the Church and its relation to non-Christian religions.

Rabbi Jacob Luski giving his talk. Photo kindness of Dr. Michael Tkacik

Rabbi Jacob Luski giving his talk. Photo kindness of Dr. Michael Tkacik

On the following Wednesday night, Rabbi Luski came to the Cathedral of St. Jude  and spoke as I did and from his perspective of that significant watershed moment. Below is to be found his talk in its entirety. I recommend you read it in its entirety for further insights into this moment in Catholic-Jewish relationships and I renew my profound respect and affection for Rabbi Jacob and his family (natural and congregational).


Shalom! I am most honored to be here today as your guest. I was so pleased that Bishop Robert Lynch accepted the invitation to address our community, as he did last week at Congregation B’nai Israel. Your most eloquent and bold remarks presented a unique historic opportunity for our religious communities to address the state of Catholic-Jewish relations, fifty years after Nostra Aetate. This golden anniversary is an opportunity to encourage Catholics, Jews and all people of good will to learn more about Nostra Aetate and educate others, while celebrating and offering thanksgiving that we live in a post – Nostra Aetate world. We must nourish this achievement.

Bishop Lynch, I have enjoyed our relationship both on a professional and personal level. For almost twenty years we have shared so much, which brings us to this exciting evening. Joanne and I have enjoyed your warmth, friendship, openness, and sincerity throughout the years. We pray for your continued good health and enthusiasm as you lead the Diocese of St. Petersburginto the future. We appreciate you! And we love you!

Nostra Aetate is named for its opening words, “In our day.” Today, October 28, 2015 marks exactly fifty years from October 28, 1965, the date of the Nostra Aetate declaration by the Second Vatican Council, under the imprimatur of Pope Paul VI. Now dialogue and partnership among religious groups and religious leaders assume new urgency. There are representatives of religion in this country and throughout the world, who believe and proclaim that faith in God requires them to disrespect, oppose, persecute, or kill believers in the name of God. Torah, the foundation of the Jewish people, teaches respect for other faiths and other ways of practicing Judaism. Now, as ever, religious leaders must raise their voices for interreligious respect as loudly and persistently as we can.

A battleship was out on the high seas and there was a very heavy fog in the area. The visibility was so poor, the captain stayed on the bridge to make sure that everything was all right. Shortly before midnight, the lookout came to him and reported: “Sir, there is a light directly ahead of us.”

The captain asked: “Is it steady, or is it moving away?”

The lookout replied: “It is steady, captain, and it is right in front of us.”

The captain called the signalman and said: “Signal that ship ahead to change course by twenty degrees.”

The signalman did. And back came the reply: “You change your course by twenty degrees.”

The captain was insulted. He said: “Send back a message, ‘I am a captain, and so you change course by twenty degrees.’”

Back came the message; “I am the lighthouse.”

The captain changed his course at once.

I share this story, for it explains why we have come here tonight. We live in a foggy world, a world in which it is very easy to wander off course, and not even know it. We have learned the hard way that the lighthouse sees things more clearly than we do. That it has the power to cut through the fog that beclouds our vision, better than we can. These two weeks, Catholics and Jews in St. Petersburg, come together in order to check with the lighthouse, to make corrections in our course, as we move forward.

For that is what the Torah and your tradition are, they are lighthouses. They have been cutting through the fog and illuminating the world for all these centuries, and it behooves us, when the fog is thick, and we cannot find our way, to check our course with the help of the lighthouse.

Bishop Lynch, the message you presented fourteen years ago to the Jewish community in 2001 at Congregation B’nai Israel of St. Petersburg was an important one for Catholic-Jewish relations in the Tampa Bay area. The first time a Catholic Bishop, a religious leader made such a positive statement about the future relationship of our religious local communities.

The gathering in October 2004 for priestly renewal, where over 100 priests spent a day learning about Judaism with a dozen Tampa Bay Rabbis was an enormous step in creating understanding and newly found working relationships amongst our religious leaders.

Your message of continued support for such exchanges created avenues of discussion for our religious leaders of Tampa Bay.

And your message last week, enumerating the successes and challenges fifty years after Nostra Aetate was again a unique historic moment for our religious community. We have come a long way.

Let us review some of the milestones in modern Catholic-Jewish relations which have improved tremendously on local, national and international levels since the Second Vatican Council.

Many have noted that there have probably been more positive encounters between Jews and Catholics in the last fifty years than in the previous fifteen hundred. These years have been a time of renewal, hope and growing cooperation between our faiths, evidenced by the multitude of Catholic-Jewish dialogue groups, organizations and institutions that emerged throughout the world since the Second Vatican Council.

On October 28, 1965, fifty years ago today, the Second Vatican Council and Pope John Paul VI issued Nostra Aetate, the declaration on the relationship of the church to non-Christian religions.

This document in chapter four addressed the issue of Christian attitudes towards the Jewish people. This document marked the end to a long era in the history of Catholic-Jewish relations, and the beginning of a new age of dialogue between our two ancient communities.

What did Nostra Aetate say about Judaism? Why was it such a historic declaration?

It repudiated the long standing charge of deicide, that the Jews killed Jesus.

It affirmed the religious bond and spiritual legacy shared by Jews and the church.

It implied that God and the Jews abide in covenant, the brit, a recognition that was made explicit by John Paul II and subsequent Popes.

It deplored “all hatreds, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism directed at Jews at any time or from any source.”

It stressed the need for accurate biblical interpretation and religious education, so that negative views of Jews and Judaism are not presented as biblically based or as authentic Catholic teaching.

It called for respectful dialogue and collaborative biblical and theological inquiry between Jews and Catholics.

It expressed no interest in further efforts to baptize Jews.

It relegated the resolution of the Jewish and Christian disagreement over Jesus’ significance, to the end of history.

Nostra Aetate has been described as a “sea-change,” effectively reversing centuries of the teaching of contempt for Jews and Judaism, which held that the Jews were collectively and perpetually accursed for the death of Jesus, and that God replaced them with the church, as the new “Israel.”

Fifty years later, we can ask, did Nostra Aetate resolve all the issues between Jews and Catholics? No.

There are defining differences in how Jews and Catholics understand and relate to God. Nostra Aetate started a new age of respectful interaction, in which distorted and polemical claims about each other’s traditions can be corrected, while cherishing the distinctive identities and insights of each community.

In 1965 Nostra Aetate did not explicitly discuss certain topics, such as the State of Israel, the Holocaust, and whether Catholics should seek to convert Jews.

Since then, many have been the milestones.

In 1974 a new Vatican commission was formed and guidelines and suggestions for implementing the declaration were presented.

In 1978 Pope John Paul II began a twenty six year pontificate, and set out to build a new relationship between the Church and the Jewish people. The conciliatory 1965 document inspired Pope John Paul II not just to tolerate Jews, not just to have theological discussions with them… not just to meet with them… but to invite them into a providential, emergent partnership.

In 1980 pope John Paul II addressed the Jewish community in Mainz, West Germany, insisting on the eternal validity of God’s covenant with the Jews, a theme repeated in subsequent church teachings.

In 1986, John Paul II became the first Pope in history to visit Rome’s Great Synagogue. He reiterated the Second Vatican Council’s condemnation of all discrimination toward the Jews. He stated: “The Jewish religion is not ‘extrinsic’ to us, but in a certain way is ‘intrinsic’ to our own religion. With Judaism therefore we have a relationship which we do not have with any other religions. You are our dearly beloved brothers, and in a certain way, it could be said that you are our elder brothers.”

In 1993, Israel and the Vatican established full diplomatic ties, easing decades of diplomatic tensions between the two states.

In 1997 at a Vatican symposium “roots of anti-Judaism in the Christian milieu” John Paul II stated: “In the Christian world…erroneous and unjust interpretations of the New Testament regarding the Jewish people… have circulated too long, engendering feelings of hostility toward this people.”

 In 1998 in the long awaited document on the Holocaust, “We remember: a reflection on the Shoah”, the church expressed repentance for those Christians who failed to oppose the Nazi persecution of the Jews.

In the year 2000 Pope John Paul II undertook a historic visit to Israel, during which he visited Judaism’s holiest site, the Kotel Maaravi, the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

Fifteen years ago a historic scholarly document ‘Dabru Emet’ presented suggestions about how Jews and Christians might better relate to one another.

In 2005 Pope Benedict’s first official correspondence as a Pope was a letter of congratulations to the Chief Rabbi emeritus of Rome’s Great Synagogue, Dr. Elio Toaff, on the occasion of his 90th birthday.

Pope Benedict visited synagogues in Cologne, West Germany, New York City, and the Great Synagogue in Rome in 2010, repeating the historic visit made there by his predecessor.

 Just ten years ago, Pope Benedict on the fortieth anniversary of Nostra Aetate wrote: “The Jewish Christian dialogue must continue to enrich and deepen the bonds of friendship which have developed, while preaching, we must be committed to ensuring that our mutual relations are presented in the light of the principles set forth by the council.”

In 2009 Pope Benedict visited Israel meeting with religious and political leaders in both Israel and the Palestinian territories, expressing the solidarity of the Catholic Church with the people of that region.

In March 2013 Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected as Pope Francis. One of his first acts was to send a message to Rome’s Jewish community informing them of his election, and inviting their presence for his Installation Mass.

We quickly came to know that Pope Francis had a long standing and warm relationship with Argentina’s Jewish community and he had just published a book of his conversations with Rabbi Abraham Skorka, a close friend and colleague. “On heaven and earth: Pope Francis on faith, family and the church in the twenty-first century.”

A year into his papacy, Pope Francis paid his first papal visit to the holy land, visiting Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories accompanied by his good friend, Argentinian Rabbi Abraham Skorka, Rector of the Seminario Rabinico Latinoamericano.

These are some of the milestones in modern Catholic-Jewish relations.

Many rabbinic leaders and scholars have been involved in this Catholic- Jewish dialogue over the last five decades. Outstanding Jewish leaders as Rabbis Abraham Joshua Heschel, Leon Klenicki, Marc Tannenbaum, Mordecai Waxman and David Rosen.

Rabbi Irving Greenberg laid out the need to create a theology that acknowledges that both Judaism and Christianity are God’s messengers to humanity. Both communities must recognize that God has broadened the channels of redemption and that we are partners in spreading divine teachings and joint witnesses to modernity, adding our input of morality and the ethical, to science and democracy.

The ADL, the Anti-Defamation League sponsors the Bearing Witness program where Catholic educators travel to Israel, in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, improving Jewish-Catholic relations, teaching about Jewish theology, and anti-Semitism. A group was set to travel in the summer of 2014, but the rocket fire from Hamas in Gaza postponed the trip until this past summer. This program ensures that the next generation of Catholics, born decades after the Second Vatican Council and its Nostra Aetate declaration, understands its significance. The hundreds of Catholic educators who participated in the Bearing Witness program, influenced tens of thousands of young minds over the years.

There is much to build on here. The ancient Jewish text, the Tosefta, clearly states that the righteous of all nations have a place in the world to come. Jewish sources repeatedly proclaim the doctrine ‘mipnei darchei shalom,’ or for the sake of peace, which enjoins Jews to “seek peace and pursue peace” with everyone, including our non-Jewish neighbors. The rabbinic teaching of the Noahide commandments is relevant as are other such teachings, which are building blocks by which we can develop further dialogue.

Nostra Aetate has been liberating for both Christians and Jews. It has enabled Christianity to advance beyond its burdensome past regarding Jews and Judaism. It represents for Jews the possibility that Christianity would no longer threaten their security and well-being. For creative religious thinkers, it facilitated consideration of a positive role for Christianity in the divine plan.

Pope Francis emphasized commonalities between Judaism and Christianity in a meeting with members of the International Council of Christians and Jews, this July. He stated: “Christians, all Christians, have Jewish roots. Both faith traditions find their foundation in the one God, the God of the covenant, who reveals himself through his word. In seeking a right attitude towards God, Christians turn to Christ as the fount of new life, and Jews to the teaching of the Torah. This pattern of theological reflection on the relationship between Judaism and Christianity arises precisely from Nostra Aetate, and upon this solid basis can be developed yet further. Pope Francis once again declared, that Nostra Aetate is a “document which represents a definitive ‘yes’ to the Jewish roots of Christianity and an irrevocable ‘no’ to anti-Semitism.”

Just last month, Pope Francis met with Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin in Rome. In the exchange of gifts President Rivlin gave the Pope a replica of a tablet with the inscription “House of David,” the earliest known mention of King David that has been found outside of the Hebrew Bible. Pope Francis presented President Rivlin with a bronze medallion featuring a rock split in two held together by an olive branch emerging from the fissure, inscribed “look for what unites, overcome that which divides.”

A few weeks ago in Philadelphia, Saint Joseph University unveiled a new sculpture, “Synagoga and Ecclesia in our time.” The title is reference to a sculpture that adorned many medieval churches. It depicted the victory of Ecclesia, the church, over Synagoga, a blindfolded woman who, looking down, represented Judaism. In the new sculpture, both women are equal, sitting together and looking at each other’s holy text. Rabbi Abraham Skorka, Pope Francis’s good friend unveiled the statue. Pope Francis, Rabbi Skorka at his side, made a surprise visit to bless the sculpture symbolizing catholic unity with Jews, and to convey his own message of respect for the Jewish people. As Rabbi Skorka said, “Our friendship is a paradigm of what has to be the great relationship between Jews and Christians.”   The two religious leaders shared a moment at the new sculpture, as the pontiff blessed it with holy water. We witnessed another example of both their friendship and their shared commitment to bridging their distinct religious beliefs.

Just think, Bishop Lynch you began this process in St. Petersburg, on October 28, 1999, when His Eminence, William Cardinal Keeler, a member of the United States Bishop’s Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, and your good friend and mentor in interfaith relations visited our community. You invited the Tampa Bay Rabbis to lunch, a kosher lunch catered by Jo-El’s Specialty Foods no less, here at the Cathedral, to meet with Cardinal Keeler. That afternoon a process of change began in our Tampa Bay area. Who could have predicted all the ensuing opportunities for dialogue and learning that have taken place, right here in our back yards?

As we stop and view the last two thousand years of history, one can proudly acknowledge that the Church has taken extraordinary steps at many levels, in a very short time, fifty years. We find ourselves in an extraordinary moment in Catholic-Jewish relations. There is a growing harmony and very satisfying level of discourse. The Catholic Church is working hard to make certain that the positions it has taken filter down to the parish level and are communicated sincerely and effectively. We want to be your partners in helping you make this happen.

As the fog continues to lift, as long-fraught relations between Catholics and Jews dramatically improve, we mark fifty years after Nostra Aetate. We look out into the future.

Bishop Lynch, as a Rabbi in the Jewish community and your friend, I declare that we are grateful and acknowledge the many advances that have been made. Your invitation tonight on the golden anniversary of this historic declaration, we graciously applaud, as another major positive effort.

In our Jewish tradition, we always conclude with a prayer, a request for peace:“Oseh shalom bimromav hu ya’aseh shalom, aleinu v’al kol yisrael, v’imru, Amen….” May He who establishes peace in the heavens, grant peace for us, for Israel and for all humankind, and let us say, Amen.

Talk given by Rabbi Jacob Luski



November 2nd, 2015

Saturday morning was particularly special at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle. We celebrated jubilees or anniversaries of a number of our religious women and men, which we annually do, but this fall has a special import. The Second Vatican Council issued its important document on religious life in the Church called Perfectae Caritatis. In a sense this particular document was the Magna Carta for many communities of women and men to examine their life and evaluate their future.

From this document came vast changes in religious life. Large houses or convents gave way to small communities of sisters living in apartments or small homes. A plethora of religious garb called “habits” gave way to simple suits and similar attire. Community prayer gave way to a more private form of praying and the sisters began to examine their apostolates and presence in the traditional ministries of education, hospitals and health, and charities. Many left following the Council and its call to review and reform, but many also left the priesthood during those days as well. Religious men’s communities were not as directly affected as their female counterparts but there were changes there as well.

Over the past fifty years the number of religious sisters, brothers and priests has steadily and dramatically declined. When I arrived in the diocese, soon to be twenty years ago, there were approximately 350 nuns living in the diocese, the vast majority in semi-retirement, enjoying the climate and the opportunity to continue to volunteer in ministry. Today there is almost one-third that number. With the death or departure of even one, we as a local Church are deprived of a spirit that religious uniquely can bring. They are in many ways the leaven of the Gospel.

Some observers point to the Council documents in religious life and blame every thing they don’t like on it. Such an evaluation is specious. What has happened in the last fifty years was bound to happen and especially the sisters managed with the approval of the Holy See all the revisions of their community constitutions and the rules by which they live. I think religious women took the renewal and reform envisioned in the Council document more seriously than other sectors of the Church has taken the rest of the vision of Vatican II.

To recall and reflect on the 50th Anniversary of Vatican II, I invited Archbishop Joseph Tobin to come to Saturday’s celebration. Why him, one might ask? For one thing, he himself is a member of a religious community, the Redemptorist Fathers (remember when they were responsible for St. Joseph’s parish in West Tampa and Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Ybor City?). Archbishop Tobin was also provincial of his community in the United States and General of the worldwide Redemptorist congregation in Rome (eighteen years of his priestly life in Rome either as Associate General or General). Pope Benedict XVI appointed him as Secretary for the Congregation of Consecrated Life and Religious Institutes and elevated him to the dignity of Archbishop. Supporting the sisters and with his congregation with sole competence, he was appropriately and honestly critical of the actions taken in the investigation of American religious women and the study of their canonical organization, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and suddenly found himself on his way to Indianapolis as their new Archbishop. He was the principal celebrant and homilist at Saturday’s Mass (my first foray to what life will be like for me when I too sit on the side at Cathedral liturgies!) and spoke lovingly, realistically and optimistically of what religious life can be like in the future. All in all, it was a great morning and afternoon and we honored our own jubilarians from the diocese as we always do.

Do I wish we had more sisters? Who would not! Do I see encouraging signs? Yes, in several places. First, there has been a growing tendency to try out a briefer commitment in apostolic work rather than having young women make a lifetime commitment. In some places, albeit few, this has been successful. Secondly, the sisters themselves are working hard to see that their founding charism and principal witness remains, even when a community might cease to exist. Thirdly, for young women who seek a more structured life mirroring the traditional, there are some communities in the country for them to choose. While some point to them as indicators that the majority of sisters got it wrong, I would note that these efforts remain small but they are there for a good candidate seeking structure.

I count it as having been a blessing have lived during the period I have and I count the religious women and men of this diocese as more than simply co-workers. They are friends.



October 28th, 2015




Why was the synod of the family and married life so successful? And why do I think it was successful in the first place? The synod process envisioned by the bishops attending the Second Vatican Council foresaw, as did Popes John XXIII and Paul VI, a church so large throughout the world and yet so close due to advances in communication that the one chosen to lead the Church would need guidance from time to time from those chosen to lead the local churches. Cultures often clash, languages often divide, custom often prevails in a polyglot mosaic which is the Church today. Peter needs to hear from the equivalent of today’s Paul, or today’s James,  Andrew,  Jude, etc. who lead the local churches. Except for the strictest of doctrines which form the core of who we are as Catholics and have been clearly defined as such, necessity has always been the mother of invention and the universal Church has often too slowly accommodated itself to the needs of the outliers.

Since the first Synod following the Council, these opportunities for collegiality have been manipulated, not by Popes particularly, except perhaps through disengagement, but by those charged with organizing them. I have already written that many of those serving closest to St. John Paul II believed they served him best by sheltering him from the truth which was often seen as shaking belief. “Please don’t upset the Holy Father” was a curial mantra for thirty years. So past Synods were carefully crafted to control the end-product, limit discussion in assembly, and, I am afraid and ashamed to say it, stifle genuine discussion among the leaders of the Churches.

Not this time, however! Pope Francis came to listen last year and this year. He wanted to hear the truth of the lived experience of the local churches which are his also by divine commission. He even said, don’t hold back for fear of upsetting me if you are yourself upset. He gave me, a local bishop of a mid-size U.S. diocese, the encouragement and opportunity to poll my people on their thoughts on the very hot-button questions which were at the core of the most animated and watched topics of the two synods. My people spoke, 9000 of you, in English and Spanish, and you confirmed what I already knew as a pastor how you felt about divorce and remarriage, marriage itself, co-habitation, lesbian and gays in the life of the Church and the Church in their lives. We were told not to publish the results but I had already promised as you were completing the surveys that I would share the results with you, long before the prohibition came. I did share the result and I have heard nothing from the Secretariat for the Synod either castigating me or complaining that I jumped the gun. I guarantee you I would have heard, quickly and strongly, from a less open process in the past.

So some of the discussion was messy. Most of us knew that would be the case before the Synod began but then life is often messy, the Church itself can be messy. Our Pope sat and listened to opposing viewpoints without flinching. He wanted to hear the hurts and hopes of the local churches as best as they could be expressed by their representatives. Most good pastors listen. I attempt to when it comes to my Presbyteral Council, my Diocesan Finance Council and my Diocesan Pastoral Council. They don’t hold back and I don’t hold their truthfulness and belief against them. Most of the time, they are right, as I have learned.

So the assembled Synod participants presented to the Pope their best thoughts on messy topics. Intelligently and fittingly, they left the sorting out, cleaning up, and eventually promulgating the fruits of their labor to him, to Peter. Wisely, they left ambiguity where some thought there needed to be certainty. He loved that! Did he not tell them a year ago that they have nothing to fear for Peter is listening, learning, and leading the Church? But he is not going it alone. Nor is he solely reliant upon those in the Curia though he knows the very talented ones who share his vision for the Church of the future. The synod’s work product is his now, and that is precisely what he wished for in calling this extraordinary approach to critical issues in the world today.

Pope Francis is merciful. We should expect that from the pope of mercy. As he admitted in his closing speech to the Synod, he heard some hurtful things coming from the minds and mouths of some, though, in “church-speak” not directly aimed personally at himself. He won’t punish, penalize, or push them out. Truth arises best from a diversity of opinion. Some people are scared of change. I am scared of not changing. Fifty more years of feel-good, manipulated and managed synods would definitely produce a Church more out-of-touch with reality. Even doctrine evolves, don’t let anyone tell you it hasn’t and doesn’t. The core remains intact more often than not but the application has changed over the centuries. So does language change, even if we regress in our public prayer. You won’t hear this Pope and I hope you never hear me speak of people living in second, non-sacramental marriages as “adulterers”. People of genuine mercy watch their language, always. Our language in dealing with people on the margins will change as a result of this Synod.

Finally, there is the near-reality that there will be no going back from the amazing progress made in the last two and a half years. Church leadership at all levels will continue to morph into more of a mirror image of Francis. Future popes will no longer come from the Roman Curia but rather, like Francis, will more likely come from farthest corners of the globe and how they lead will reflect in large part on their experience of living with Peter and under Peter. I noticed how quiet and reflective the synod members were this year chosen by the Pope from the Curia, save one and it is better having that one arguing inside the “tent” rather than outside it. The bishops of the world definitely won because Peter is leading us into a more discerning and reflective Church, free of fear, and interested mainly in being agents of mercy. The people of God won!



October 25th, 2015

Photo via Google Image search

The very title of this blog entry contains the name of two of my heroes and a baseball team that for years has tried the patience of many and disappointed more than a few. Ben Zobrist is my favorite baseball player in the major leagues for a myriad of reasons. I was broken-hearted when the Rays traded him, even more so when it was to the Oakland Athletics. Last week I delighted in seeing Ben  shining once again on the diamond like a diamond. From midseason with the Kansas City Royals, Ben proved his staying power and then hit the home run in the final game with the Blue Jays his first time at bat,  often coming through in the clutch. Throughout the playoffs, Ben Zobrist was the consummate utility player, capable of playing at almost any position on the field, save catcher, and doing it well. He has always been and remains a player for all fans.

He and his wife are deeply devoted and committed Christians. They believe in God, live each day by God’s law and embrace the person of Jesus Christ as their savior. They make no bones about their Christian faith but they never boast or brag about it. Rather they live it. While among us here in Tampa, Ben visited the classrooms of children in what we now refer to as  ” failing schools”, giving them encouragement and hope. He could be seen from time to time at All Children’s’ Hospital spreading his message of mercy, hope and happiness. His priorities were always in this order, his faith, his family and baseball. Now he is off to the Big Show, baseball’s equivalent of the Catholic Church’s just now completed Synod on the Family. Read the book written by he and his wife, Julianna, (Doubleplay) and you will immediately notice the comparisons. The Zobrists live a family life lived with an abundance of mercy and forgiveness.

He reminds me in some ways of Pope Francis who had the courage to call these last two synod meetings to discuss both the family and family life in our day. This Pope understands the challenges of living in the real world and the necessity of the Church moving to understand, embrace and support those most in need of our presence and help, precisely as Church. Six weeks of his time in the past thirteen months have been spent listening to bishops from around the world describe the challenges of marriage and the family, from Africa to Asia to the Americas and all points in between. He listened, spoke only rarely but when needed forcefully, and I believe the Pope received from the assembled exactly what he wanted: namely enough room to take on some of the more challenging aspects of marriage and family life in our day in the months ahead. He did not ask for, want and probably would not have countenanced doctrinal change. Rather, he asked those present to hang out the dirty laundry of living marriage in this age and increasingly secular society and instead of condemning it, give him room to apply his two fold commitments to the applications of mercy and forgiveness.

I wasn’t there and most of the world’s bishops were not there either. No one who was there from the United States, nor did our national episcopal conference, ask for my guidance or that of the body of bishops as to how we felt about the problems and their possible solutions, but the Holy Father did in 2013. Yet I believe the innermost longings of my heart for my Church were spoken and heard. I have been on a three-week high just because that reality was finally being discussed and dissected. Who could ask for anything more?


Photo via Google Image search.

Pope Francis is a utility infielder capable of playing any position which will help his church race across the three pastoral bases: mercy, forgiveness, healing which will ultimately end in a home run for God’s people. And the Church today, Sunday, October 25, 2016 is like the New York Mets. Good things do come to those who patiently watch, wait, renew, rebuild, change managers, and eventually make it to the previously unthought-of – in baseball, the World Series, and in ecclesiology adapting to the present without forsaking the past.

Photo via @newsva Instagram

Photo via @newsva Instagram

Here are some take-home words from our manager as he sent his team home this morning, leaving to himself how to take advantage of all the possibilities and openings the Synod has given him:

This is the temptation: a “spirituality of illusion:” we can walk through the deserts of humanity without seeing what is really there; instead we see what we want to see. We are capable of developing views of the world, but we do not accept what the Lord places before our eyes. A faith that does not know how to root itself in the life of the people remains arid and, rather and oases, creates other deserts.

Moments of suffering and conflict are for God occasions of mercy. Today is a time of mercy!

Pope Francis is an incredible leader. He has the serenity of a man who does not worry about petty bickering but places great trust in the presence of the Spirit in all people, friend or foe. He got precisely what he wanted from these two gatherings – an opening to further his and our ministry of mercy, which is I believe, precisely what Jesus would want of his Church. I am in charge of the triage unit in these five counties and together with our priests, deacons, religious and laity, we shall step up our desire to stop the bleeding, heal the hurting, and show all that the Church is like the Mets, rising to the national championship of kindness, compassion, forgiveness and mercy. It is what the “emergency room” doctor, Pope Francis, asks of us at the end of the listening.

We are a family, sometimes dysfunctional but also desirous of welcoming more and more back, or for the first time to the family table of the Eucharist. The Synod was merely grace before meals for the Church family. Bless us O Lord for these your gifts, which we have received through your goodness and through Christ, our Lord.



October 22nd, 2015

Agatha Christie, that marvelous writer of mystery fiction and plays once wrote for the stage a mystery play entitled “Ten Little Indians” about ten friends who gathered for a reunion and one by one they disappear, victims of murder perpetrated by some one among them. As in another of her dramatic mysteries entitled “The Mousetrap” she was clever enough to write several endings so that if you saw the play on Broadway and attempted to give the finale away to someone who was going to attend the play, there was a one in three chance that the ending would not be the same. Great stuff.

On Saturday last, I ordained ten married men to the order of deacon at St. Jude’s Cathedral in an ancient ceremony made new every time by the excitement and participation of those in attendance.

View of the Litany of the Saints from inside the Spirit FM 90.5 radio booth. Photo courtesy of John Morris.

View of the Litany of the Saints from inside the Spirit FM 90.5 radio booth. Photo courtesy of John Morris.

Prayer of Ordination over Mark Manko. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Prayer of Ordination over Mark Manko. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.


Prayer of Ordination over Jorge Suarez. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Prayer of Ordination over Jorge Suarez. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.


Prayer of Ordination over Elix Castro. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Prayer of Ordination over Elix Castro. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.


Prayer of Ordination over Joe Zucchero. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Prayer of Ordination over Joe Zucchero. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.


Prayer of Ordination over Glenn Smith. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Prayer of Ordination over Glenn Smith. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.


Prayer of Ordination over Tony Quattrocki. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Prayer of Ordination over Tony Quattrocki. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.


Prayer of Ordination over Ted Martin. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Prayer of Ordination over Ted Martin. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.


Prayer of Ordination over Steven Girardi. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Prayer of Ordination over Steven Girardi. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.


Prayer of Ordination over Greg Nash. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Prayer of Ordination over Greg Nash. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.


Prayer of Ordination over Frank DeSanto. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Prayer of Ordination over Frank DeSanto. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

For most of these men, and their wives, it was the culmination of eight long years of preparation, some first in the Lay Pastoral Ministry Institute and then in the deacon formation program.

The wives bringing the newly ordained deacons their stole and dalmatic. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

The wives bringing the newly ordained deacons their stole and dalmatic. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

While it is always a joy to see the pride and happiness on the faces of parents, grandparents and siblings when I am ordaining priests, it is even more of a “kick” to witness the same on the faces of spouses, children, and even parents of married men being ordained.

Seminarian Elixavier Castro greeting his father, the newly ordained Deacon Elix Castro. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Seminarian Elixavier Castro greeting his father, the newly ordained Deacon Elix Castro. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.


Newly ordained Deacon Glenn Smith offering the Blood of Christ to his father-in-law. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Newly ordained Deacon Glenn Smith offering the Blood of Christ to his father-in-law. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

We have a great diaconate program in this diocese and the formation is about as good as it can get given the first and overriding obligation of the candidate to his family. The path to priesthood is much longer, more intensive, and delves much deeper into the wonders and mystery of theology, scripture, and pastoral practice. But the four years of education and formation for these ten men was demanding and no small accomplishment, given their work and family responsibilities. Most of you who read this blog posting will encounter them on Sunday and when they are exercising their preaching office so I thought I would share my homily for the occasion with all of you. Men who get ordained in their own mind just to preach and teach do not comprehend the awesome nature of the order to which they have been ordained. But preaching is integral and should  be a small part of “witness.” Here is my homily for last Saturday and I hope it lived up to the high standard God’s people have a right to expect.

           Ten men supported by ten women have just responded that they are both present and willing to assume the ministry of deacon in our beloved Church. For each it has been a long journey and I am certain that on many occasions there must have been doubts in their minds as to whether or not this day would ever come. Well, dear brothers, never forget that on this, your ordination day, the New York Mets and the Chicago Cubs will be playing their first game in the National League Championship Series. Who would have thought?

            This morning I wish to devote a few moments to a sacred trust, which will soon be yours – the gift of preaching that accompanies this ministry in the Church. Preaching is a privilege. It often defines our ministry. We can have the finest bedside or graveside manner but if we strike out in the twelve minutes or so that are ours on Sunday, we have likely failed in the exercise of one of the most important aspects of our ministry.

            Good preaching begins with four verbs: receive, believe, teach and practice. Put another way, as you will hear when I place the book of Gospels your hands: Receive the Gospel of Christ whose herald you have become. Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.

            The prophet Jeremiah in the first reading of your ordination received from God the task of preaching to a resistant people. Each of us should be like Jeremiah and doubt whether or not we are truly up to the task for we certainly are not worthy. Yet faith affirms that God has chosen us for this task. Each of us must receive and embrace this privilege with genuine humility, knowing that only God can open our lips and invade our hearts.

            We do not approach preaching operating from a tabula rasa. We preach from the experience of the Church in defining and developing its beliefs over the course of two plus millennia. It is not the duty of the deacon, priest, or for that matter even the bishop to share his own personal core beliefs but rather to adopt, adapt, and apply the insights of God’s people from Abraham to the last apostle as well as the understandings of the faith community to the present moment. Breaking open the Scriptures means wrestling every time we preach with a well-defined belief system and making application to the present moment. Trust me, this task is not easy, and success is not guaranteed by the grace of ordination but most likely born from an acquired ability of trial and error. You must share with God’s people to whom you preach timeless truth and also present reality. That struggle is mirrored every day in the Synod on the Family now meeting in Rome on this weekend of your ordination. It is not an easy task but it is an essential task.

            Preaching is teaching and not just proclaiming. The best teachers we have had in our lives have reached that status because they inductively led each of us to a conclusion that we likely could not have acquired on our own. No one in your congregation is going to learn just because you said it. They will learn when like the wise teacher you lead them on a journey of discovery to a point where they say, “ah, now I get it.” Pope Francis on several occasions has reminded us that more often than not, those to whom we preach are likely smarter than ourselves. And, successfully teaching through preaching, today, is more Montessori than Mueller. Apodictic, non-apologetic statements of perceived facts are dismissed by today’s well educated Catholics as simply one person’s opinion where a didactic teaching, breaking open of the word has a better chance of ultimately taking root.

            However, the best weapon to be found in the arsenal of effective preaching and proclamation is to be found in the witness of your own personal faith practice. God’s people know a genuine article when they see one and even more when they hear one. “You are the light of the world” today’s Gospel quotes Jesus as saying. Jesus did not say, “You are the voice of the world.” He was pointing out that example trumps words on most occasions and here, dear soon-to-be-deacons, you have an advantage over we non-ordained clerics. Your love for your wives and children should always be the “take away” from those whose lives you will soon touch in your ministry. Your wives have accompanied you in this journey with loving patience, generous support and constant encouragement. They preach so eloquently as you will by continuing to live fully your first vocational commitment – together for life, practicing what you preach, loving one another constantly as the prophet Micah says.

            Finally, as the second readings from Acts notes, the early Christian church and its leaders needed help. It needed assistants. It needed workers and not itinerant preachers. It needed lovers who could lead if they must but who were more interested in helping the members on the margins. So it chose seven whose task was not specifically preaching but rather doing the ministry of mercy. I think it can be fairly said in this moment in the life of the Church in the world as said in Acts, “brothers, select from you seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task, whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word.” Today we have ten such men and brothers, as important as preaching may be in your ministry, practice what you preach in the less glamorous but more grace-filled ministry of caring for those on the periphery of society and our Church.

With the ten new deacons and members of the Office of the Diaconate. Deacon Peter Andre, Deacon Greg Nash, Deacon Jim Grevenites, Deacon Joe Zucchero, Deacon Mark Manko, Deacon Steve Girardi, Deacon Ted Martin, Deacon Tony Quattrocki, myself, Deacon Frank DeSanto, Deacon Jorge Suarez, Deacon Glenn Smith, Deacon Elix Castro, Deacon John Alvarez, and Father Ralph Argentino. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

With the ten new deacons and members of the Office of the Diaconate. Deacon Peter Andre, Deacon Greg Nash, Deacon Jim Grevenites, Deacon Joe Zucchero, Deacon Mark Manko, Deacon Steve Girardi, Deacon Ted Martin, Deacon Tony Quattrocki, myself, Deacon Frank DeSanto, Deacon Jorge Suarez, Deacon Glenn Smith, Deacon Elix Castro, Deacon John Alvarez, and Father Ralph Argentino. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Maria Mertens, who superbly manages our diocesan website and use of digital/social media, has some spectacular pictures of the event beyond those shown within this text, which you can see here. You can watch the video replay of the ordination ceremony here.

These were not “ten little Indians” ordained last Saturday but the latest additions to a “tribe” of incredible deacon ministers in the diocese. Blessings on their ministry.



October 21st, 2015

Last night (October 21, 2015) at the invitation of my great friend, Rabbi Jacob Luski, I had the privilege of joining with our Jewish sisters and brothers at Temple B’Nai Israel in St. Petersburg a reflection on the fiftieth anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’s document on Catholic/Jewish relations entitled Nostra Aetate.

Giving my presentation. Photo kindness of Dr. Michael Tkacik.

Giving my presentation. Photo kindness of Dr. Michael Tkacik.


With my good friend Rabbi Jacob Luski. Photo kindness of Dr. Michael Tkacik.

With my good friend Rabbi Jacob Luski. Photo kindness of Dr. Michael Tkacik.



A wonderful evening. Photo kindness of Dr. Michael Tkacik.

A wonderful evening. Photo kindness of Dr. Michael Tkacik.

I have invited Rabbi Luski to present his reflections, fifty years out, next Wednesday at the Cathedral of St. Jude at seven p.m. and I hope you might think of attending his presentation as he reflects on that moment five decades ago from his, Jewish perspective. Below is my presentation as delivered:

The 50th Anniversary of the Promulgation of The Second Vatican Council’s Nostra Aetate: Declaration on the Church’s Relationship with Non-Christian Religions—Highlights and Ongoing Contemporary Challenges presented by Bishop Robert N. Lynch, Roman Catholic Bishop of St. Petersburg, at Temple B’Nai Israel, October 21, 2015 

Among the many gifts that Pope John XXIII, now a saint,  provided the Church via his call for aggiornamento, i.e., “renewal”, when he announced the convening of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) was his guidance in seeking a new disposition on the part of the Church towards our Jewish brothers and sisters.  Pope John’s personal experiences as an apostolic delegate in Turkey from 1935-1944 informed his commitment to the Council’s statement on the

Church’s relationship with Judaism articulated in section 4 of Nostra Aetate, i.e., The Declaration on the Church’s Relationship with Non-Christian Religions, as did his visit with the noted Jewish historian Jules Isaac during the Council’s preparatory phase in 1960. Isaac’s presentation to the Pope regarding Christianity’s history of Anti-Semitism via its perpetuation of a “teaching of contempt” which suggested Providential punishment of the Jews for the crucifixion of Jesus—with the accompanying charge of deicide—as well as Christianity’s supersessionistic tendencies (suggestions that Judaism had been eclipsed as God’s promises were diverted unto Jesus and as Jesus’ teachings replaced/fulfilled the teachings and prophecies of Judaism) had a transformational effect upon the Pope who, in turn, utilized the Council as a means to move the Church beyond a teaching of contempt into to a teaching of respect.

Producing a Conciliar text on Jews and Judaism was a priority of Pope John XXIII and he utilized the leadership genius of Cardinal Augustin Bea, S.J. (one of whose main advisors was Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel) and the Council’s Committee on Christian Unity to ensure that the question of the Church’s relationship with Judaism remained a focal point throughout the various stages and draft documents of the Council.  Their efforts gave us Nostra Aetate #4 which, in turn, ushered in an attitude of respect towards Jews and Judaism within Catholicism.

(See Elena Procario-Foley’s, Heir or Orphan? Theological Evolution and Devolution before and after Nostra Aetate in Vatican II Forty Years Later edited by William Madges).

This new attitude of respect towards Jews and Judaism outlined in the seminal document we recall this evening outlined for we Catholics a new appreciation for Judaism which can be said to be nothing short of a conversion of heart, mind, theology and Church. Pope Francis recently stated that the document represents a definitive “yes” to the Jewish roots of Christianity and an irrevocable “no” to Anti-Semitism. Nostra Aetate, in contrast to the historical attitude of contempt mentioned moments ago, acknowledged and affirmed that Judaism:

  1. Provides Christians the beginnings of our understanding of God’s revelation and Providential designs for the redemption and salvation of all people via the promises and word God spoke through the Jewish patriarchs, matriarchs and prophets


  1. Is the root from which Christianity derives its sustenance for from Judaism comes God’s promises and covenant…and for Christians it also yielded Jesus, Mary, the disciples and the apostles


  1. Has not been deprived of the call and gifts God issued to its people


  1. Ought not be charged with Jesus’ Passion nor attributed guilt associated thereunto


  1. Has not been rejected nor cursed by God in light of the Jesus Event


Additionally, these few paragraphs of such significance called upon Catholics to:


  1. Ensure that our teaching and preaching convey this new attitude of respect


  1. Oppose any and all forms of persecution and expressions of Anti-Semitism


  1. Engage in dialogues such as this very one tonight which seek to advance mutual understanding and respect between our two great faiths

With Nostra Aetate and its inspired renewal of our relations with one another as our springboard, may we now consider some of the advances that the Catholic Church has made towards a teaching of respect toward Judaism in the 50 years since its promulgation. These focal points are by no means exhaustive of the great work towards greater respect, understanding and reconciliation between our two faith traditions that has been made over the past 50 years but, rather, highlights which not only illuminate the progress we have made but also shed light on the challenges we still face:

Vatican Commission for Catholic-Jewish Relations (CCJR) and International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee (ILC)

1974 Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews Guidelines for Implementing Nostra Aetate

1985 Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews Notes on the Correct Way to Present Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis

1998 Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews Reflections on the Shoah

Each of these three documents produced by the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews continues and expands upon the positive trajectory towards Jews and Judaism introduced by Nostra Aetate.

Each of the documents:

  1. Increasingly emphasize that Jesus, Mary, the disciples and majority of the early

apostles were Jewish so as to accentuate the Jewish origins of Christianity…

  1. Therefore, call for expanded dialogue and joint theological undertakings between the two faiths
  1. Repudiate characterizations of the Jewish people as Christ-killers with accompanying charges of deicide and/or suggestions that Jews are cursed by God
  1. Affirm that the Jewish people remain dear to God for the sake of the patriarchs/matriarchs and maintain that God has not taken back the gifts He bestowed upon the Jewish people nor His choice of them as His people
  1. Call for an appreciation of the liturgical links between the two traditions and cautions Catholics against liturgical aspects which might present the Jewish people in an unfavorable light
  1. Affirm the theocentric anthropology and commitment to social justice shared by the two faiths
  1. Consistently reject Anti-Semitism of any kind

The ILC has met regularly since 1970, drawing together the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations (including participants from the World Jewish Congress, Synagogue Council of America and American Jewish Committee) together with the Vatican’s Committee on Catholic-Jewish Relations in order to improve mutual understanding between the two religious communities and to exchange information pertinent to greater collaboration. A most significant outcome of the work of the ILC is a renewed understanding of the Church’s missionary and evangelization efforts which precludes seeking to proselytize/convert Jews.


Pope John Paul II

From his 1979 prayers at Auschwitz…to his 1986 visit to the chief synagogue in Rome (the first pope in history to do so and which spawned a life-long friendship between John Paul and the Chief Rabbi of Rome, Elio Toaff)…to the establishment of diplomatic ties between the Holy See and Israel in 1993…to his prayers for forgiveness offered at Yad Vashem and before the Western Wall in Jerusalem in 2000, the late Pope utilized his papacy to help build a new relationship between the Church and the Jewish people. John Paul II frequently referred to the Jewish people as the elder siblings of Christians, noting that the Christian relationship with Judaism is unlike its relationship with any other religion—Judaism is intrinsic to Christianity and to be ignorant of Judaism is to be ignorant of Jesus, Mary, and the disciples. Perhaps most powerfully, John Paul II consistently insisted on the eternal validity of God’s covenant with the Jewish people—a covenant, the pope maintained, never revoked! The pope consistently affirmed the ongoing validity of the divine election of the Jewish people—an existence he attributed to a supernatural commitment.

Additionally, under John Paul’s leadership, the Bilateral Commission of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate and the Holy See was established has met annually since 2002.

A challenge moving forward entails significant theological inquiry regarding soteriology— theology of redemption and salvation—in light of covenantal theology and Christology and understandings of God’s Word (Logos/dabar)…While the enduring nature of the Jewish covenant has been consistently affirmed by the Church, the Magisterium nonetheless rejects theological explanations which suggest that there are two distinct covenants—Jewish and Christian—which serve as equally viable means of salvation. Therefore the contemporary theological challenge is one confronted with the challenge of considering how Jews and Christians are united in a single covenantal relationship with God which is meaningful and salvific to both traditions from their respective experiences and convictions (Cardinal Kasper).

Moving forward there can be no place for any trace of former supersessionist, replacement or fulfillment theologies and the Christ Event cannot be used in any way which devalues Judaism.

Exclusivist covenant language cannot be placed in opposition to God’s creative and redeeming love which is universal in scope.]

(See Elena Procario-Foley’s, Heir or Orphan? Theological Evolution and Devolution before and after Nostra Aetate in Vatican II Forty Years Later edited by William Madges).


Pontifical Biblical Commission

The Pontifical Biblical Commission’s The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scripture  (2002) challenges Christian readers to appreciate the dignity of a Jewish reading and understanding of the Bible as well as addresses how Christians ought to address certain New Testament passages which convey anti-Jewish sentiments. This text expands upon Nostra  Aetate’s directives regarding Church teaching and preaching to encompass each and every Christian’s responsible reading of Scripture thereby rendering an attitude of respect and understanding a duty incumbent upon every Christian to be assimilated into one’s own reading of Scripture and personal piety. Additionally, the document offers an appraisal of messianic expectations within Judaism acknowledging that the messianic character of Jesus was a possible interpretation but not the sole nor necessary interpretation of messianic prophecies, therefore suggesting that Jesus is not the only possible fulfillment of messianic expectations.

The challenge moving forward is empowering each and every person with the wherewithal to critically read, interpret and understand Scripture sensitive to issues such as context, climate, culture, respect for respective religious sensitivities, etc. Institutionally, greater sensitivity to potentially anti-Jewish sentiments in preaching (stereotypes of Scribes and Pharisees; Lenten devotions which may depict Jews as hypocritical; characterizations/presentations in the Liturgy of the Hours which are suggestive of Jews lacking faith), liturgical art, etc. is also warranted for what the Church prays is an expression of what the Church believes (Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi).  On the theological level there is much to consider in terms of messianism and eschatology, i.e., as God draws us all proleptically to His consummating designs for humanity might we all be drawn unto Him in ways yet made known? .

(See James M. Barrens’ In Our Time (Nostra Aetate): How Catholics and Jews Built a New Relationship; The Catholic and Church and The Jewish People: Recent Reflections from Rome edited by Philip A. Cunningham, Norbert J. Hofmann and Joseph Sievers and Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue by Edward Cardinal Cassidy).

Local Steps Toward Mutual Respect

Walking God’s Path

Closer to home we, too, have experienced the fruits of what Nostra Aetate began.  Within the Diocese which I shepherd we have partnered with numerous Jewish communities to advance mutual respect and understanding by teaming with one another in parish/synagogue hosted considerations of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Walking God’s Paths  (2004) series which draws us together in order to realize Nostra Aetate’s instruction to dialogue and learn from one another. Walking God’s Paths is a six-session process to stimulate candid conversation between Jewish and Christian congregations. Produced by the Center for Christian-Jewish Learning at Boston College on behalf and with the oversight of the National Council of Synagogues and the Bishops’ Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the series enables participants to experience each tradition’s understanding of how it walks God’s path and how the two faith communities could relate to one another in positive ways (See Walking God’s Path website).

The Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops together with The National Council of Synagogues USA and other Jewish bodies have worked together to produce over a dozen documents over the past 35 years alone—Uniting our faith traditions in efforts to promote peace, protect children and the environment, combat religious intolerance, end the death penalty and promote moral education within schools. (See the USCCB website).

A challenge moving forward is maintaining such grassroots efforts as the zeal and fervor of the Vatican II generation wanes. How do we continue to foster and promote continued dialogue whereby we authentically strive to enter into the experience of the other?  How do we accentuate our commonly shared commitment to preparing for God’s Kingdom?

We must also broaden our dialogue to include other faiths and people of good will.

A Blessing to One Another: Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People

In 2008 the Diocese of St. Petersburg helped to sponsor the exhibit: A Blessing to One  Another: Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People at the Florida Holocaust Museum. The exhibit illustrated the steps Pope Saint John Paul II took to improve the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people noted above, and reflected the continuing relevance of Nostra Aetate.

Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies

Together with my fellow Bishop from the Diocese of Venice, the late Bishop John J. Nevins, the American Jewish Committee and the Catholic University within our Diocese, Saint Leo University, the Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies was established in 1999 with the mission of building mutual respect, understanding, and appreciation between Jews, Catholics, and all  people of good will by providing opportunities for interfaith education and dialogue. The objectives of the Center are to educate the public on issues germane to both religions and to foster intellectual discussion, as seen from both points of view. Together in the spirit of the Hebrew Tikkun Olam (trying to repair/improve the world), the Center models and promotes tolerance, justice, and compassion in a world torn by strife and prejudice among religions and nations. These objectives are met through conferences, town hall meetings, interreligious dialogue, and gatherings of young Jews and Catholics sharing their faith together.

Over the course of the next 8 weeks the Center is sponsoring a series of events much like this one devoted to understanding contemporary interfaith challenges in light of the seminal teachings of Nostra  Aetate. (See Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies website). Over 40 such centers now exist in the United States.

As the sun more rapidly sets on my privilege of serving my church in the five counties, I see God’s hand in my presence among you this evening. Twenty years ago this coming January 26th, Jacob Luski patiently set among an overflow crowd at St. Jude’s Cathedral for my ordination as bishop. He was among the first I greeted. He and JoAnn have had me as a guest in their home and at the one child’s wedding I was able to attend. When the moment arrived two years ago for the rededication of the remodeled Cathedral of St. Jude, I came here to learn from the master how to interpret the scripture passage from Nehemiah about the Temple and he taught me well enough that citing my source, I used his material for part of my homily that evening. I learned from him that one never answers a direct question if one can first tell a story.

Above all, he taught me how to be reflective, reconciling, and renewed in understanding contemporary Judaism in America. Little wonder that at my invitation he spent a morning with seventy-five per cent of my priests which they still remember with fondness and gratitude. For myself, he has been my Rabbi Skorka. Though our schedules often preclude many opportunities to meet and share, I will walk into retirement and eternity forever grateful to my personal rabbi and friend, his wife and family.

Pope Francis

I think it appropriate that we gather this evening—not only to celebrate the gift that Nostra Aetate has been to our two faiths over the past 50 years and to consider the contemporary challenges which still confront us– but also as we look ahead in the midst of new leadership within the Catholic Church under Pope Francis on the eve of what he has called to be an upcoming year of mercy! Like both Pope John XXIII and John Paul II before him, Pope Francis is truly a people’s pope—a pope pastorally inspired to discover new ways and means to convey the love, mercy and joy of our God unto greater inclusivity and solidarity among all peoples. A jubilee year reminds us all of God’s ultimate sovereignty over all and calls upon us to surrender anew unto Him and His Providential designs.  It is a call for forgiveness, new beginnings and humility before God and one another.  It is a call to discover how we are to understand our relationship with one another through the lens of our relationship with the one and same God whom we serve.  Towards that end, allow me to close with the words of Pope Francis voiced in his first apostolic letter which summarizes succinctly and well the attitude of respect that Nostra Aetate inspired 50 years ago:

  1. We hold the Jewish people in special regard because their covenant with God has never been revoked, for “the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” (Rom 11:29). The Church, which shares with Jews an important part of the sacred Scriptures, looks upon the people of the covenant and their faith as one of the sacred roots of her own Christian identity (cf. Rom 11:16-18). As Christians, we cannot consider Judaism as a foreign religion; nor do we include the Jews among those called to turn from idols and to serve the true God (cf. 1 Thes 1:9). With them, we believe in the one God who acts in history, and with them we accept his revealed word.
  2. Dialogue and friendship with the children of Israel are part of the life of Jesus’ disciples. The friendship which has grown between us makes us bitterly and sincerely regret the terrible persecutions which they have endured, and continue to endure, especially those that have involved Christians.
  3. God continues to work among the people of the Old Covenant and to bring forth treasures of wisdom which flow from their encounter with his word. For this reason, the Church also is enriched when she receives the values of Judaism. While it is true that certain Christian beliefs are unacceptable to Judaism, and that the Church cannot refrain from proclaiming Jesus as Lord and Messiah, there exists as well a rich complementarity which allows us to read the texts of the Hebrew Scriptures together and to help one another to mine the riches of God’s word. We can also share many ethical convictions and a common concern for justice and the development of peoples.

Evangelium Gaudium