You have to love the pope, the father of this family

April 8th, 2016

Pope Francis has once again uniquely, and seemingly in his own disarming style, demonstrated a pastor’s heart in his Apostolic Exhortation, “On Love in the Family” released this morning in Rome and in my hands only late yesterday. Let me begin by saying that the document is 261 pages long and I have only been able to give it the most cursory attention. It deserves and will receive far more from me as it should from every serious reader.

Here are just a few of my personal take-aways from my admittedly quick review:

  • Pope Francis embraces and expands upon the notion of the primacy of conscience which was begun to be examined by Pope Paul VI in the late ‘60’s and tells us that the Church and its ministers are “called to form consciences not to replace them.” What that seems to me to imply is that once a person has received the input of the teaching, believing and ministering Church, they should not be precluded from applying their experience along with the teaching to reach a conscience conclusion of something which bothers them.

 

  • As he often has, Pope Francis insists that Jesus healed, not judged the persons he met and confronted and that a Church which consists of a manual of don’ts and do’s is not helping people live but hurting or at least obstructing them from the truth.

 

  • In marriage, in procreation, in raising children, the Pope acknowledges and affirms traditional teaching as the ideal but acknowledges that not everyone reaches or can live at the ideal level. This man knows the common person’s struggles like many of our finest priests and deacons and carefully says, as they know, that no one size necessarily fits all human conditions.

 

  • Every married person should read his reflection on 1 Corinthians (89-119)

 

  • We priests will have to give additional time, reflection and prayer to Francis’ notions of accompaniment. This is particularly applicable in those sections which touch on the matter of those divorced and civilly remarried.

 

  • A Church which offers to those struggling with relationships, marriage and its definition, cohabitation, and contraception could use a larger spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down – the sugar being mercy, forgiveness, compassion, understanding, love, tenderness.

In conclusion, I find “On Love in the Family” to be an invitation not a rejection. It is an invitation to those who might have wished for a different result, a different message to hear that not only are you not drummed out of the corps, but the door is open even wider. Mercy trumps (sorry about the verb choice) judgment when your spiritual, mental and physical well-being are at stake. The Church wishes to accompany you as a friend on your journey and perhaps we as Church can and should learn to live with and accept a certain amount of messiness as we try to walk by light.

First read, first reaction. More later. I promise.

+RNL

 

CHRISM MASS 2016

March 22nd, 2016

 

Today was the Chrism Mass. You can watch a replay of the live video stream here and see more photos here. My homily is below should you wish to read it.

March 22, 2016 - Bishop Lynch presided at the annual Chrism Mass at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle in St. Petersburg. Priests of the diocese renewed their commitment to priestly service, the Oil of the Sick and the Oil of Catechumens was blessed and the Sacred Chrism was consecrated. (DOSP Photo / Maria Mertens)

CHRISM MASS HOMILY 2016
Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle
Tuesday, March 22, 2016
Most Reverend Robert N. Lynch, Bishop of St. Petersburg

            Twenty years ago January 26, 1996 at the end of a long ordination liturgy I spoke my first words to you as a bishop. I began my inaugural address, as it were, by calling to mind an old hymn entitled, “what a friend we have in Jesus.” Today, as at every Chrism Mass in the intervening years, we listen again to the inaugural homily, speech, or sermon of Jesus when at the very beginning of his ministry he reminds his fellow synagogue members in Nazareth of Isaiah’s depiction of the Messiah. From that moment forward Jesus fulfilled his ministry of mercy perfectly, just as the Father had commanded it and as the Son had embraced it.

At that precise moment, Jesus announced that a new era had begun, a time of God’s favor, God’s mercy. Jesus proclaimed a gracious God and a merciful God and both would be the hallmarks of his remaining life and ministry. He speaks of his “anointing” and the oils which today we bless and consecrate are reminders of God’s love and generosity. They will be used to remind parents of their children’s election by God in baptism and confirmation – they are anointed. They will be used to remind the sick and the scared that God often heals – they are anointed. And, thank God, they will be used in seven weeks to anoint the hands of five who will feed His people with the bread of life and the cup of salvation. That era begun in the Nazareth Synagogue that Sabbath has not ended, nor has its substantially changed in its essence. Each and every one of us has been anointed to bring the good news of God’s mercy.

Can it be that in 2016 the Church of Jesus Christ is the last hope for the poor? Who are the poor? They are indeed the needy, the homeless and the hungry, the vulnerable lonely and the parentless child, the wounded returning veteran home from armed conflict, the breathless masse yearning to be free and here in our midst, our brothers and sisters in the shadows fearing deportation, separation from loved ones and even exile. In his inaugural homily or sermon or discourse or teaching, Jesus makes it abundantly clear that these “poor” have first claim on his time and on his ministry and on his gifts. Francis, our Pope, says precisely the same thing and establishes precisely the same order for Christ’s church – the poor come first, whether it is the poverty of sins in need of forgiveness or the poverty of a paucity of love or the poverty of living in constant fear.

Jesus would go on to put flesh on every priority first enumerated by Isaiah in just the three years of his public ministry while we have struggled to do our part in twenty. Jesus taught us to build bridges and not walls. Jesus taught us to proclaim through our ministry what he carried out in the rest of this marvelous Gospel of Luke which graces us this year:

Blessed are the poor, the Kingdom of God is yours. (6:20)

The poor have the good news preached to them. (7:22)

When you hold a banquet invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind (14:13)

 And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus and covered with sores. (16:20)

“I tell you truly, this poor widow put in more than the rest. (21:3)

            Together for the past two decades we have tried in many ways to proclaim, spread and incarnate the good news in the life and ministry of the Church. One can become sadly disillusioned if and when one solely concentrates on the enormity of the challenge. Yet every new child baptized and confirmed, reconciled and fed with the bread of life, every couple married in Church because they wish God to be the center of their promise of fidelity, every infirm person prepared for the journey from death to eternal life, all testify to the presence of the Lord in our life and ministry.

Our mother Church gives us moments not just to reflect on the enormity of the challenge of evangelization, but also the success of many of our efforts and the communal act of gratitude for our ministry which this liturgy uniquely evokes. There is room for humble pride as we have born the heat of so many challenges in the last twenty years. But the people of this Church have never lost confidence in you, their pastors and priests. They still love you and are grateful for your priestly presence in their lives and let me say, perhaps for the final time, so am I and forever will be.

Sitting in this sanctuary this morning and watching livestream in Rome are five men, Deacons Felipe Gonzalez, Alex Padilla, Bradley Reed, Jonathan Stephans, and Kevin Yarnell whom I now call to ordination to the priesthood of Jesus Christ, eight weeks from now on May 21st. You are signs of hope and examples to all of us to God’s goodness. Additionally serving in the Sanctuary and sitting in the congregation are twenty-three others discerning God’s call at various levels of formation for whom we pray daily and are grateful always. You also are a significant part of our hope for the future.

The married deacons and their wives, here always in great number in support of our priests, are a treasure I failed to recognize when I arrived twety years ago but which I have grown to treasure more with each passing year. You are and will be a gift and legacy which I will leave to my successor with love and admiration and heartfelt appreciation.

Religious women and men, what a gift you are to our community. Substantially fewer in number than when I came, nevertheless the powerful witness of your consecrated presence reminds us all that sacrifice is still possible for the good of the kingdom of God.

And finally, people of God of the diocese of St. Petersburg. Pray for your Church often. Pray that we may reclaim those who have left us as we bring glad tidings to the lowly, heal the brokenhearted, proclaim liberty to captives and release to prisoners. Pray that we may continue to offer hope to our sisters and brothers who think they are at risk of deportation, to the pregnant mother who fears she cannot cope with giving birth to a child but finds us even more ready to help if she chooses life and pardon and forgiveness to the woman who was not able to make that choice, a sense of security to the school child who fears their parents are going to divorce, to the elderly who fear they will not be able to access medical care or prescriptions when they need it, the gay or lesbian who may have previously felt impoverished by neglect and scorn, those living in second or third non-sacramental marriage who long for the Eucharistic connection, women who seek to share their unique gifts with the Church they love. This is the modern poverty of which Jesus speaks and these are those whom we are called to serve with mercy. Pope Francis has changed the prescription of the lens through which we are to examine our ministry and mercy now enters our purview with even greater clarity.

However poverty is defined and it has many shapes and images, may we keep it before our face as Jesus did and Pope Francis demands, ready always to respond with mercy, love and compassion. My brother priests, deacons, religious and lay, let our past acts of mercy be the legacy of the last twenty years and the foundation of hope for the future.

+RNL

A FRIEND REMEMBERED

March 15th, 2016

When I awakened this morning, during my morning prayer I thought of writing a blog entry on the announcement earlier today in Rome that Mother Theresa of Calcutta would be canonized on September 4, 2016 by Pope Francis. No surprise there, of course, as both the votum of the Holy Father and the date have been expected for weeks. To me, early this morning, it was something worth pondering, and it still is.

But upon arrival at the office today, I received the news of the death by his own hand of Father Virgil Elizondo, a priest of the Archdiocese of San Antonio, Texas, and a distinguished professor of pastoral theology at Notre Dame University. He has been a friend for many years, at times close when we would see each other at meetings in the ‘80’s and ‘90’s, and at times distant due to my work as a bishop and his as a teacher. Generally, whenever I was on campus, I would try to see Virgil.

Born of migrant worker parents and raised in the economically poorest of circumstances, Father Virgil proved from the earliest age to have some genius qualities about him. After ordination, he would be sent to earn a doctorate degree at the Institute Catholique in Paris, France. In his home archdiocese, he would begin the Mexican-American Cultural Center where theology, language, Hispanic culture and pastoral outreach to the growing Hispanic population in the United States would be offered, studied and applied.

When I took Saint John Paul II to San Antonio on the hottest of days in September, 1987, he was the Rector of the San Fernando Cathedral where the Pope made a visit upon his arrival. On that occasion I had to referee a logistics match between my friend the Rector and my friend Father Roberto Tucci, S.J. (later a Cardinal), the head of the Vatican Advance and Planning Team about what the Pope might do once inside the Cathedral. It was awkward, difficult, and torrid, indicating the depth of feeling Father Elizondo held for what might end up being the Hispanic Catholic moment during the San Antonio visit.

I saw him only three times after he went to Notre Dame, having been awarded the prestigious Laetare Medal by the University previously. He was immensely happy at ND but flew home to San Antonio almost every week-end on Friday and back on Sunday to be with his people. For Virgil Elizondo, the Church was the only hope for a people desperately in need of hope.

Approximately one year ago, a lawsuit against the Archdiocese of San Antonio and against Father Elizondo was filed in which it was alleged that he had engaged in sexual misconduct with a minor over thirty years prior. He maintained his innocence but was personally devastated. Although at the time the allegation received wide-spread publicity throughout San Antonio and the church in the United States, it is my understanding that no one else has come forward to make a similar allegation (it is my experience that there is almost always more than one victim though one is one too many.)

As the movie SPOTLIGHT has pointed out, it does take a village and often more than one person to abuse a child. Father Virgil Elizondo took his own life with his own hands, also an unspeakable tragedy. Many, many victims have done the same in recent years, each a horrific tragedy and so have many perpetrators as well. I trust in the mercy of God to help each and every one and will leave it to God to judge. For me and this morning for many others, we shall always wonder but also remember.

+RNL

 

SPOT ON

February 29th, 2016

On Thanksgiving Day, I went to see this year’s Academy Award winning Picture of the Year, Spotlight. There was absolutely no one else in the auditorium that afternoon for the two o’clock showing, just myself and the images and story before me. What I witnessed that afternoon was one of the most fair and factual accountings of the tragedy of child abuse perpetrated by priests and others in the employ of the Church. It was also saddening and sickening, but well done. While the leadership of the Church in Boston and decisions made were the central focus of the film, it also acknowledged complicity by law enforcement, the legal profession and even the Boston Globe itself, albeit bit players in the overall tragedy. The editor of the Globe says both succinctly and correctly that “it takes a village to abuse a child.”

Briefly, the movie recounts how the “I-team” or investigative team is tasked with checking and tracking how the Archdiocese of Boston handled priests credibly accused of having abused children. If memory serves me correctly, four of the five team members were Catholic though some nominally. None embraced the project as an opportunity to embarrass the Church of their baptism. Simply, the deeper they delved, the more sickened they became with what they found. The end of the film, the day of the expose, ended not in jubilation among the five but a combined sense of relief that their work product was finally out there and a gut-wrenching sadness of what they found and its devastating effects and consequences on the victims.

Has the Church learned anything from the experience of the last twenty years? My answer would be “yes” and “no”. There should be no question that we have put in place at great expense protocols to protect children and vulnerable adults. Just ask any adult parent volunteer at their children’s parochial school or Christian formation program about the screening they were put through. In this diocese, safe environment procedures have added about 1.5 million dollars to the annual budget. It is money well spent, if it works.

Do bishops continue to shield and hide predatory priests and assign them knowing of their predilection? I doubt the assignment part. There is, however, a sort of demilitarized zone which is problematic. It occurs primarily when an allegation is made which is unable to be substantiated by the independent and mostly lay Abuse Review Committee. Some allegations, albeit very few, turn out not to be true. Those hurt the cause of every child, now an adult ever abused who wish that no one experience the life-changing trauma that was theirs. “Cannot be substantiated” does not sit well with this bishop and this is an area in my judgment still to be plumbed in how we handle allegations.

I also believe that too many seminarians, who are dismissed from seminaries, sometimes when they exhibit a certain predilection for adolescents over peers, are able to be admitted and picked up by other places. There is a mandate from the Holy See on this but I personally know from experience it is often more honored in the breach than the observance. Perhaps it is one more example of creeping “unable to be substantiated”. The four seminaries we use in this diocese would have no part of this I am sure.

I left the theatre on Thanksgiving afternoon giving thanks for a movie which laid bare the awful truths of the past and I was happy no one else was present in the auditorium to see me cry at times. For me, SPOTLIGHT may end up being the best picture of the decade.

+RNL

MERCY, MERCY, MERCY

February 26th, 2016

Regular readers of this blog know of my love for Pope Francis. So it is with unaccustomed temerity and alacrity that I have chosen in this diocese to highlight mercy in a different manner than Pope Francis has asked. Many of you know that he has asked that every Cathedral Church in the world be open this Saturday for twenty-four hours of confessional opportunity and we shall not be offering that at St. Jude’s as recommended. I hope what we will be doing will be found pleasing to him, to yourselves, and more realistic for our time and local setting.

You see, if we were to have at least one priest hearing around the clock at St. Jude’s, he would not be very busy – for a variety of reasons. Also, I would want to provide security for those who would come during the nighttime hours and that would mean hiring off-duty police, etc.

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God is pure mercy.

What we are doing beginning next Monday is offering eleven opportunities throughout the five counties for our people to experience the tenderness, compassion and mercy of our God.

Communal penance services will be held in each of the locations, which I will list below and will be presided over and preached by myself. In each of our deaneries, priests have been enlisted to hear confessions and absolve from sins. Many of them will help out at more than their own deanery.

To assist in hearing the sins and granting pardon and absolution, these penance services will utilize what is referred to as the “Second Rite of Reconciliation.” This is how it will work. The opening prayers, scripture reading, homily and examination of conscience will take about twenty-five minutes. There will also be a recited Act of Contrition after which those wishing to confess their sins will do so to individual priests who will be stationed everywhere. Let me emphasize several important things:

  1. Penitents should confess only mortal sins or those failings they truly believe to be serious.
  2. This is not a moment or a good occasion to seek counseling. If it is needed or thought to be needed by the priest, a recommendation will be made to return at a later time for a conversation with the/a priest.
  3. The priest will assign a penance to be said prior to leaving the Church but will not ask the penitent to say that Act of Contrition again.
  4. The priest will pronounce the words of absolution and the penitent will be sent forth assured that his/her sins are truly forgiven.

We used this form in 2000 during Lent of the Great Holy Year and several thousand people came to the sacrament or came back to the sacrament.

These diocesan-wide Penance Services should not be confused with the Third Rite of Reconciliation, which is called “general absolution.” In our form, every person approaches a priest, confesses their sins, and receives both absolution and a penance. My memory of the 2000 experience was that due to the number of priests hearing confessions each evening, we were able to reconcile and bring closure, peace and mercy to sometimes in excess of 1000 per night within about ninety minutes. At each service, if someone needs more time and attention, there will be one or two priests available to help.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation, aka confession, is one of Christ’s great gifts to us and it is within this context that we can most often and most appropriately extend the loving mercy of the Lord to many.

Try us – you will like us! Here is the schedule for the Diocese during the next few weeks of Lent- you can find parish addresses and directions on the diocesan website.

Mon, Feb. 29 St. Scholastica Lecanto 7:00 p.m.
Tues, Mar 1 St. Theresa Spring Hill 7:00 p.m.
Wed, Mar 2 St. Thomas Port Richey 7:00 p.m.
Thurs, Mar 3 St. Timothy Lutz 7:00 p.m.
Mon, Mar 7 St. Ann Ruskin 7:00 p.m.
Tues, Mar 8 Our Lady of the Rosary Land O’Lakes 7:00 p.m.
Wed, Mar 9 Incarnation Tampa 7:00 p.m.
Thurs, Mar 10 Cathedral of St .Jude St. Petersburg 7:00 p.m.
Mon, Mar 14 St. Jerome Largo 7:00 p.m.
Tues, Mar 15 Espiritu Santo Safety Harbor 7:00 p.m.
Wed, Mar 16 St. Rita (En Español) Dade City 7:00 p.m.

There will be other moments during this Holy Year of Mercy for other opportunities to experience God’s mercy. Like others, I am awaiting Pope Francis’ Post-Synodal Exhortation to perhaps shine some light on healing broken and re-marriages.

Come and join us during the next three weeks at the place most convenient to you to experience of your Church at its merciful best.

+RNL

MY ANTONIN

February 24th, 2016

 

Antonin_Scalia_Official_SCOTUS_Portrait_crop

Justice Antonin Scalia

I want to begin by suggesting that every class in homiletics given in the seminary should include as a model approaching perfect that given by Father Paul Scalia at this father’s funeral Mass last Saturday. At the Shrine Basilica of the Immaculate Conception and on national television, Father Scalia gave a textbook homily which combined very sound death/resurrection theology with artful application to his dad and did so with total control of his emotions under what any priest will tell you is a difficult setting and situation – the funeral Mass for one’s parent.

I had two opportunities in my life to be in close proximity with Justice Scalia. The first occurred during my first year as General Secretary of the NCCB/USCC, 1989. The Apostolic Nuncio at the time, Archbishop Pio Laghi had invited Justice Scalia and his wife to lunch at the Nunciature and somehow he also invited myself. When I arrived the Scalia’s were already present and Archbishop Laghi and the judge were engaged in some classic Italian boasting. A simple Irish monsignor could do nothing else but shut up and listen and hope it would end soon.

At the table, somehow the conversation managed to turn around to the pastoral letters on the economy and justice and peace and Justice Scalia articulated clearly and concisely that he was not a fan of either and was not looking forward to the third part of the triptych which was to deal with the role of women in society and the Church. As the rhetoric became a little more heated, the Nuncio, realizing for the first time that I was at table said, “Monsignor Lynch, what do you have to say to the judge?” Before I could answer Scalia piped up and said, “Don’t give me the line that those pastoral letters are really written by bishops. They are the work product of staff.” To which I responded, “and much the same way, Your Honor, as the decisions of the Supreme Court are written start to finish by the nine of you. You too have clerks.” There was muffled laughter from the others at table, including Mrs. Scalia, and the judge simply smiled and said, “touché.”

The second time was in St. Petersburg at the annual Federal Bar dinner. Apparently the Federal Bar dinners had fallen into some desuetude and the Chief Judge of the Federal District Court of Florida, Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich hoped to restore some pizzazz. She called me up one day and asked if I would be willing to write to Judge Scalia and ask if he would be willing to come to Tampa to give the principal address at the annual banquet. He responded affirmatively (I also wrote similar letters to Justices Thomas, Alito and the Chief Justice, William Rehnquist and all accepted the invitations and the number of lawyers attending the bar dinners dramatically increased). Judge Scalia arrived at the table and it was clearly evident that he was not in a good frame of mind. Testy might be a better word. It seemed that he came under the impression that he would be speaking to a mostly Catholic gathering of lawyers and was surprised to find that there was nothing distinctly Catholic about the event. Unhappy, he said that he would not deliver the speech he had come prepared to give but instead gave his stock speech on originalism. It was fine, well-received with a standing ovation, but he could not sit down fast enough. I was not blamed in any way but I wish I had been sitting at another table.

I was mostly an admirer of his intelligence and view of the role of law even if I would occasionally grimace the verbal attack on his colleagues, most often in the majority but occasionally in the minority. I also thought his positions on the framer’s wisdom on the death penalty and some social justice issues was nowhere as intelligent and thoughtful and committed Catholic as he should be. I need not add my insignificant name to the list of those who will miss him on the court, as I know his family will miss him in life. I am not proud at this moment of the Republican majority in the Senate who say they will not even interview any candidate proposed by the President. No one can tell how a person called to serve on the court might ultimately turn out: in my lifetime Justices Brennan, Souter, and Kennedy have been somewhat surprising. The Republicans recall the punches they took on the Bork nomination and they have always wanted to pay the Democrats back for that ugly moment. Imagine the punches they may have to take again after this debacle if they lose control of the Senate. Antonin Scalia was a master of statesman craft and I would hope that those we have elected to advise and consent might rise to this occasion with wisdom, magnanimity, and courage.

+RNL

FOUR DAYS AND TWO DECADES AGO

January 29th, 2016

Tuesday, January 26th marked my twentieth anniversary of episcopal ordination and brought to completion two decades of presence and, hopefully, service to this wonderful Church of St. Petersburg. For those who were here twenty years ago, it was quite a day. In attendance were six cardinals, fourteen archbishops, and sixty bishops from around the nation. St. Jude’s was filled to the rafters as I was and still am the first and only bishop to be ordained and installed in the diocese.

I have not been one for big celebrations of birthdays and anniversaries, having allowed my 25th anniversary of priestly ordination to pass largely unnoticed and we had small celebration of my tenth anniversary of episcopal ordination with only the priests of the diocese present in 2006. Last Tuesday I repeated the tenth year experience by asking my brother priests to join me for a simple celebration of the Eucharist and a simple dinner in the Cathedral hall. No gifts and no speeches being the mandatory rubric. About 137 priests were able to be present on Tuesday which was a gift and brought joy to my heart. A few photos are included below, you can see more here.

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Celebration of the Eucharist. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

 

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Starting from the far left of the photo: Msgr. Jude O’Dougherty; myself; Msgr. Daniel Hoye; Bishop Paul D. Etienne, Bishop of Cheyenne; Archbishop Emeritus John C. Favalora, the third Bishop of St. Petersburg and former Archbishop of Miami; and Bishop John Noonan, bishop of Orlando. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

 

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Talking to my brother priests. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

I also wished for one final time to have an opportunity to begin to say good-bye. I believe that on May 27th of this year, my seventy-fifth birthday, that we need to begin to prepare both our hearts and this church for its new shepherd, whomever that might be. I have outlined the procedure for the selection and appointment of a new bishop in this space and if you did not read it before, you may do so by clicking here now. However, I thought you might wish to read my homily to the priests last Tuesday (it’s far from “Lincoln-est” as the title of this blog might tempt you to believe) but it is my heart as I wind up my work among all of you.

Until my successor is named, expect more blogs but perhaps a few less as I am growing old and tired in unison – the only part of my life that works in unison at this age! God Bless.

+RNL

ORIOLES OR CARDINALS?

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.

 

+RNL

RACE TO THE FINISH

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.

+RNL

STILL NOT EXACTLY THE PREAKNESS

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.

+RNL