GOODBYE NINE, HELLO TEN

January 13th, 2015

It’s past time for a little light relief in this space. A number of things happened outside of the life of the Church in recent days to set me thinking about the topic contained in the title to this blog entry.

First, there was the announcement that my favorite baseball player had been traded by my favorite baseball team – BEN ZOBRIST. That news was a bitter pill and hard to swallow. Like most RAYS fans, we hated saying good-bye to David Price two-thirds of the way through last season and it was really hard to realize that the team’s future would not include Andrew Friedman who I always thought was a “genius” and Joe Madden who I have long held was the best manager in baseball. But I took comfort that this year we would still have “Gentle Ben” and “Longo”. Especially the former.

I loved watching Ben Zobrist play baseball. But I loved even more Ben Zobrist watching with pride and love as his wife Julianna would occasionally sing the National Anthem before a Rays game. It was clear to me that he loved her more than he loved baseball as he shot her a sign of that love at the end of the song.  I sat in the waiting room of my doctor who was also Ben’s family doctor when one day he and she brought the children to the office. It was clear to me then that he loved his children even more than he loved baseball. And it has always been clear to me that Ben Zobrist loved God more than he loved baseball as he was ever ready to appear at a local Church to show the kids that real men could indeed love God and have faith.

Then I read their book, Double Play, co-authored by both which told the story of their meeting, their falling in love, their challenges living with the vagaries of professional sports. To me Ben Zobrist is not just a great baseball player but a great example for kids and adults. Toward the end of last season, a friend of mine whose father, a retired Florida judge, asked if I might secure an autographed baseball since his Dad attended the same Protestant Church in Eureka, Illinois where Ben’s Dad is pastor. I asked our common doctor and he approached Ben who gladly did it with a lovely inscription – more than just an autograph.

Madden gave him the nickname “Zorilla” but for me he will always be a great witness to love for and faith in Christ, a great husband and father, and a steady student of the fine art of baseball in all its manifestations. I personally will greatly miss him. I wish him well always and hope and pray that I will be found worthy to meet him again in heaven.

Having lived in Columbus, Ohio from 1957 until 1972, and also having attended the Ohio State University, the Buckeyes kept me up later last night than usual and I rejoiced at their convincing victory. Urban Meyer is a serious Catholic as well as a fine leader of men and football coach. I was happy for him and for his team.

I don’t have a dog in the NFL hunt though I am developing a great appreciation for Aaron Rodgers. I think I am going to need someone in the pro-ranks to root for as it appears that Peyton Manning may soon be fading from the scene. I will switch my quarterback allegiance, however, in a nanosecond if the Bucs draft Marcus Mariota, a truly gifted athlete for whom narcissism is simply a Greek root and humility is genuine and deeply appreciated.

Here I have mentioned men of discipline, character and faith. We need more of them – in life, in the Church, and in professional sports. By the way, a special prize to anyone who can tell me in the comment section the context of the title to this blog!

+RNL

CHALLENGING THE TRADITIONAL TEACHING ON MARRIAGE

January 7th, 2015

Everyone living in the state of Florida knows by now that various judicial rulings in recent months has led to a change in state law allowing same-sex marriages to be recognized as legal. I write not as someone schooled in the law, which I am not. Were I, I would love to study how courts can overrule a decision of the citizenry passed as a state constitutional amendment. I am also not a sociologist or psychologist. Were I, I would love to plumb deeper into my uncertainty about the consequences of this new definition of marriage for the future of society. I am rather a pastor and shepherd looking to the peripheries for people in the Church who long have felt alienated, unwanted, embarrassed, angry and marginalized.

In this moment in Florida, I take some comfort in that my beloved Church under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and the guidance of Pope Francis had already begun a discussion about how we might reach out in love to those same people in the peripheries while upholding the traditional sacramental definition of marriage even as the civil society appeared to be moving away from it. It is indeed a tightrope to be treaded but I find myself akin to the Wallenda family standing at one end attempting to gain some balance to begin a thoughtful journey across the seeming chasm.

As I was beginning yesterday to develop my first thoughts on what was happening for this space, I received an email from the editor of the “Perspectives” section of the Tampa Bay Times editorial section asking if I would submit my thoughts on all of this for publication this morning. He accepted that work product and I agreed that I would wait a day before posting it here and in our diocesan web page. What follows is what appeared in today’s Times.

In light of the judicial decision effective January 6, 2014, I wish to lend an additional voice to the discussion regarding the challenges we face as we strive as a Church to preserve the traditional sacramental understanding of marriage even as the law now accommodates couples of the same sex. 

As one of our seven sacraments, the Catholic Church upholds marriage as an indissoluble relationship between a man and a woman committed to mutual consolation and open to procreation.  Such a view is rooted not only in the Church’s longstanding theological understanding of married life, but in the Church’s understanding of Christian anthropology as well, which views the conjugal and complementary relationship between a man and a woman as part of God’s Providential design whereby human beings are able to be co-creators of life with God.

Therefore, any dialogue which reaffirms such a view of marriage and which seeks to ensure that such a view continues to be respected and enabled to serve and edify both the Church and the wider society is to be commended and supported.

However, together with Pope Francis and in light of the discussions at the recent Extraordinary Synod on the Family held in Rome, I also recognize that the reality of the family today, in all its complexities, presents the Church with pastoral challenges as the Church strives to accept people in the specific circumstances of their lives and support and encourage them in their search for God and their desire to be members of the Church.  Therefore, I do not wish to lend our voice to notions which might suggest that same sex couples are a threat incapable of sharing relationships marked by love and holiness and, thus, incapable of contributing to the edification of both the Church and the wider society.

In the midst of changing societal definitions and understandings of marriage, there may no doubt be some confusion.  However, with patience and humility, our Church must continuously strive to discern what the Spirit is saying and respond to the Synod Fathers’ suggestion to discern what pastoral response faithful to Church teaching and marked by respect and sensitivity might be appropriate for same sex couples, even as God’s creative designs for and the Church’s sacramental understanding of marriage are also affirmed.

Bishop Robert N. Lynch
Diocese of St. Petersburg

COME THOU LONG, EXPECTED REPORT ON U.S. RELIGIOUS

December 17th, 2014

Within days of opening the year of Consecrated Religious Life by Pope Francis and near the anniversary of the key document on religious life of the Second Vatican Council, Perfectae Caritatis, the Holy See yesterday published the concluding report of the “Investigation and Visitation of U.S. Women Religious”.

When the news broke that yet a second investigation of women religious, this time involving visitations of many of the religious orders, was to be begun, I remember writing in this space that our sisters should not worry about the eventual outcome. Like the first study, chaired and overseen by Archbishops John Quinn and Thomas Kelly and Bishop Raymond Lessard, no conclusion other than religious have been and continue to be a gift to the Church was possible.

What prompted me then to predict this week’s outcome? In our Church when there is a concern raised often enough and loud enough by certain people, the institutional response is almost always, “well, let’s have an investigation and visitation to fix what is either wrong or we do not like.” Twice in twenty years we bishops without asking for help have had to endure two long, expensive pontifical studies and investigations of our priestly formation programs (i.e., seminaries) and the result has always been the same. Not too much wrong, not too much that needs fixing, and nothing happens.

I think that my article at the time understood the angst of the women religious. They seemed to be singled out for no apparent reason, the decision was understood as coming from an all-male Roman Congregation leadership with little reason given for the action, there was no ground-swell of US bishops indicating even privately that “it’s about time” (the USCCB was never asked); therefore it did not seem to the women to be matter of high moment to most of the Church in the U.S. and probably a host of other reasons too long to spell out here. And, quite frankly, it did not help when Archbishop Joseph Tobin, C.SS.R. now of Indianapolis but then Secretary of the Congregation (appointed after the visitation and investigation was announced) who both understood and appreciated women religious was transferred from Rome to Indiana.

On Tuesday, the Congregation, now under a gentler, kinder administrative hand, introduced their final report which can and should be read in its eleven page entirety by clicking here. It is a sensitive and sympathetic assessment of religious life in the United States today. It rightly praises the work of religious women in US yesterday and today. It does not tilt at all in favor of what some call the more traditional religious communities over those who took Perfectae Caritatis seriously in the years following the Council and chose the path to renewal. Also it laments, as every Catholic should and as the religious themselves do, the declining numbers of women religious. So what happened to effect this kinder, gentler result?

I think much praise should be directed to the woman who was placed in charge of the project, Mother M. Clare Millea. At both the beginning and end she and her co-workers faced a monumental and thankless task. Suspicion in the early days ran so high that a few religious orders refused to cooperate, but most did. The visitations were largely affirming in their results (ahem, just like the two seminary visitations) and they listened, at least in part, to the “push-back” of many US Catholics who love the sisters. If there was indeed even-handedness about the project, I believe Mother Mary Clare Millea deserves the thanks of many.

 

Then, a new Pope did not hurt either. He must have known the skepticism and even distrust which was held throughout most of the world toward those previously charged with overseeing consecrated life. He appointed a new, savvy and sympathetic Prefect and Secretary. That did not hurt either as both quietly worked to turn the distrust into openness. How I hope that when their work is finished, these two men will be replaced by at least one, if not two, religious women. That would have helped a long time ago when this brouhaha began.

 

Finally, I wish that we lived in a Church when what happened on Tuesday is greeted with joy and not simply relief. Pope Francis is moving us steadily in that direction. And tons of people are ready to follow his example of mercy and forgiveness, especially U.S. sisters who have had to live it existentially in the Church for some time. While I do not personally know the sister who heads the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious in the U.S., I personally know and deeply admire Sister Sharon Holland, IHM who is the current President of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. She is more of a woman of the Church than I can be accused of being a man of the Church. Serving for years on the same Vatican Congregation as an intelligent and sensitive staff person, she lives, breathes and sleeps the Church and her religious vocation. LCWR’s membership is in awesome hands as the women prod the rest of us to live the Gospel ever more fully. I’ll say it again, the Holy Spirit is alive and active in the Church we love.

+RNL

PRIESTS FOR THE FLORIDA FUTURE

December 12th, 2014

On Sunday evening, the bishops of Florida joined St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary for a major moment, the dedication of two new residence buildings and the major remodeling of fifty year old existing buildings.

2014 Dedication and Blessing of the New Dormitories at St. Vince

The other FL bishops and myself ready to cut the ribbon in front of the new St. John Paul II residence hall. Photo kindness of Tom Tracy.

Catholics in the St. Petersburg diocese know that we have been raising monies in the FORWARD IN FAITH campaign to pay our diocesan share of the construction and furnishing costs of these new and remodeled buildings.

Two years ago, the Board of Trustees, consisting of the state’s bishops and other lay and ordained representatives from the seven dioceses made a major commitment of twenty-eight million dollars for construction and and endowment to guarantee St. Vincent’s as our choice for priestly formation for the next fifty years, at least.

The seminary was built and opened by the Vincentian Fathers in the early sixties and when it was no longer possible for them to run it, the Archdiocese of Miami purchased it for about two million dollars, if I remember right. It became an Archdiocesan seminary opened to students from Florida and elsewhere and the faculty were largely, though not entirely, Miami priests.

In 1981, Archbishop Edward McCarthy, the second Archbishop of Miami, and Bishops Larkin, Snyder, and Gracida agreed to change its status from an archdiocesan seminary to a provincial seminary, thereby incurring the financial and staffing responsibilities. The Orlando diocese, then shepherded by Bishop Thomas Grady, declined participation in the regional seminary concept, but around 1999, Bishop Norbert Dorsey, then of Orlando, agreed to “buy into” the agreement and the two dioceses of Palm Beach and Venice, established in 1984, were also a part from their establishment. So, St. Vincent’s is a truly provincial seminary for all the dioceses of Florida and it’s open to any other diocese that wishes to send their candidates there.

In the history of the seminary since its regionalization, our St. Petersburg diocese has provided priest personnel in the persons of Monsignor Robert Gibbons, Monsignor John Cippel, Monsignor Michael Muhr, Monsignor David Toups (the current Rector-President), and Father Robert Young ,who is an extern professor of Church History. All of this is to say that financially and with precious priest personnel, we have done our share and I am proud of that.

Currently the seminary enrollment stands at about 90 students and is reasonably projected to touch the magic 100 mark soon. The original design and buildings were horrible. The Albany based architect chosen by the Vincentians never came to Florida and designed the seminary residence buildings like they were motels along highway A1A. Students had to go outside to use the bathrooms and the showers in the residence area. Air-conditioning was challenging to say the least and the number of classrooms was and remained severely limited. But, there is a beautiful seminary chapel which came a little later and a large library/media center which was opened in the nineties.

Now, when the seminarians return to school in January following the Christmas recess, they will find larger rooms opening off an interior hallway with private bath and shower in every room. The design and space is comfortable, but far from extravagant.

2014 Dedication and Blessing of the New Dormitories at St. Vince

View of inside the new St. John Paul II residence hall. Photo kindness of Tom Tracy.

And those old buildings with the central showers and bathrooms are and will be remodeled in such a way as the double the size of the rooms and include a private bath and shower where one previously did not exist. All things made new! The seminary will soon be capable, if necessary, of accommodating something like 125 seminarians. They will be comfortable, but not spoiled. See more photos of the new residence hall here.

At the conclusion of the Dedication and Mass, the eight bishops gathered together for a meal and to begin our quarterly meetings of the Florida Catholic Conference. I proposed a toast to my brother bishops for two years ago taking a deep breath and making a sizeable commitment to the future of priestly formation in our state and elsewhere throughout the Southeast and Caribbean. They had the same courage as those who began the seminary originally and our forebears as bishops who spread the responsibility among all seven dioceses. I was proud of them and proud to be one of them.

To our own Monsignor David Toups, the President Rector, who now has in three years given birth to a new school building at Christ the King in Tampa and 12 million dollars of new building in Boynton Beach, I offer congratulations as “father” of the project and to the architects and Herman Construction Services who built it. I said when I came, soon to be nineteen years ago, that Vocations and Priestly Formation would be one of my highest priorities and the ordination of five men in May of 2015 and six in May of 2016 should be proof positive that we in St. Petersburg, ordained, religious and lay, are doing all in our power to provide priests for the future. Nine men are in the application process for the seminary next year to replace the five being ordained and then some. God is good.

+RNL

FERGUSON, STATEN ISLAND, TORTURE AND ME

December 11th, 2014

I am happy to once again be back online and also pleased to say that in the two weeks since my rotator cuff surgery, your prayers have helped me enormously.

My right arm is in a sling until January 5th when physical therapy begins – at which time more prayers for my patience will be greatly appreciated.

During my convalescence, the country has lived through Ferguson and Staten Island and yesterday the report of the actual torture inflicted upon detainees following 9-11. I have been thinking about all of this and offer these reflections, which are more my opinion than doctrinal reflections, although I suspect that I will also venture into that territory as well.

African Americans deeply believe that racism is alive and well in these United States and so do I. It is such a widely held belief and perception that it needs to be addressed for the common good of who we are as a people.

In the two cases to which I have alluded above, there is also the widely held perception by African Americans that there is a double standard of suspicion and reaction by law enforcement when our peacekeepers face similar situations in the white and black communities. Again, it is their perception and widely held perceptions need to be dealt with as they are rooted in some truth and reality.

On the matter of racism, which I said above that I believe to be still present, one of the arguments that advanced in the last two weeks is the fear and apprehension that one alone or a couple of black males experience often in certain peaceful situations when whites are present.

Let me ask you to ask yourself this question: do you almost automatically become anxious, nervous, afraid and threatened when you find yourself alone in a sidewalk, street or parking lot where there may be one or more black males present? Sometimes I am and I know better and should not be.

Sensing and experiencing this leads the African American community to believe that they are guilty until proven innocent in the minds of many. The Trayvon Martin case here in Florida is perhaps an example. And when confronted, questioned, harassed, the person who feels the heel of prejudice reacts in a hostile manner, often exacerbating the moment

We are all made in the image and likeness of God. We are all God’s children. Jesus clearly rejected the stereotyping of his time. Whether faced with a representative of Imperial Roman domination, or the sometimes dangerous and hostile Samaritans, he stood his ground on the principle of love for others.

There is no quick fix to the perceptions which gave rise to the reactions to Ferguson or Staten Island (Cleveland and Phoenix as well) but there has to be a national resolve to recognize the seeds of distrust and unrest within us all. Only then will the nation move on in addressing the issues of poverty, injustice, and racism.

As I hinted above, at the core of injustice, disrespect for human life can be found. I found the report of the imprisonment, torture and treatment of the detainees by the CIA to be almost a sin which cries out for vengeance. It sickened me worse than a repaired rotator cuff and, argue with me if you think I am wrong, but all the more likely more barbarian and inhumane treatment by ISIS to those held captive.

While we beheaded no one or murdered none, the world is going to think we stopped just short. They are the worst of very bad people to be sure, but when Senator McCain says that our treatment of these people rivaled that of the North Vietnamese to him long ago, we should stop and say no. I am grateful that President Obama ended the practice when he took office and hope that it never happens again.

+RNL

O.R. AGAIN

November 24th, 2014

This site has been unusually silent in recent days and I want to explain why. About seven weeks ago I took a spill (wet feet on a tile bathroom floor) and landed on my right side (my business side, of course). While there was nothing broken, thank God, I did manage to tear three of the four tendons in my right rotator cuff and partially limited my ability to do things I should and must do (give Eucharist on the tongue to those taller people who approach me, for example). The event gave birth to residual pain in the arm as well, far from excruciating, mind you, but enough to let me know it was there. Additionally, I had long ago made plans which could not be changed to be out of the country for the last two weeks, missing both the Fall USCCB General Assembly and the installation of Archbishop Blasé Cupich as Archbishop of Chicago. So tomorrow I pay the piper and rotator cuff surgery is scheduled for 800am EST. It will not require hospitalization but as most of you know, the recovery and rehab is quite lengthy, extensive and painful. Tonight I say farewell to my bed and hello to some motorized lounge chair which will become my home and throne for several weeks. I have an excellent surgeon in whom I have the greatest confidence and  he assured me that I need to brace myself (should have done that weeks ago in the bathroom). Anyway, prayers are welcome and if Siri can understand my English better, I may have some things to say in the next few weeks. Among the topics are: the St. Jude the Apostle Awards [until then see our website], the President’s Executive Order on Immigration [I strongly support it and wished mightily that it would have been a little more generous. It is not my intention to engage in the question of how it was done but something was long overdue], School Choice and the elections of 2014 [Hope some people in the Education world can read the tea leaves on public sentiment for choice]. Only God knows how with a combination of little to do for maybe two weeks and pain-lesseners, what else may plant itself in this fertile but inert mind. So it is off the see the wizard of orthopedics. Thanks for your prayers and the many good wishes already received from so many of you. +RNL

FATHER JOHN O’DONOVAN

November 2nd, 2014
Reverend John O'Donovan

Reverend John O’Donovan

On All Souls Day, the Lord came for the soul of another of our priests who will be well known to many, especially in St. Catherine of Siena parish in Largo, where he served for many years, and at St. Brendan parish on Island Estates and other parishes in the Clearwater area where he assisted after his retirement from active ministry. Father John O’Donovan battled cancer while living here and ultimately he returned to his native Ireland to finish his treatment and his life among family and friends. At 150pm GMT (Ireland time), the Lord came for him and said “enough, come now to the place prepared by my Father and enter into eternal rest.

A tall man with big heart, he came to our diocese to serve much of his priesthood with Father Michael Finnegan, pastor at the time of St. Catherine. They were both heavy smokers and both confessed to me at one time or another that they fully understood the risks they were taking. Father John had that innate Irish wit which so many of our priests had and a dry sense of humor. He was loved and appreciated by all who heard him preach or to whom he came in the times of their own distress.

I spoke with Father last week as he was leaving a hospital for a last time to enter hospice. He was comfortable knowing that death might be imminent but he never gave up hope for a miracle. Kind, consoling, compassionate, Father John O’Donovan helped us enormously here in the diocese.

If you read this and know or remember him, please keep he and his family in your prayers on Tuesday afternoon when there will be a wake service and on Wednesday morning when his funeral Mass will be celebrated. I had hoped that I might be able to fly to Ireland to celebrate his life and death but it is not possible for me. Perhaps it is just as well because his friend of many years, Bishop William Walsh, Bishop Emeritus of Killaloo will be present. I will offer Mass, however, for the peaceful repose of Father John’s soul.

+RNL

THE VIEW FROM OUTSIDE OF THE STADIUM

October 28th, 2014

I often like to quote the late Cardinal Richard James Cushing of Boston who once publicly pronounced, “The Church may be difficult but it is never boring!” My two recent blogs on the recently concluded Extraordinary Synod have drawn a good number of comments and just a few that contain the very condemnatory language which makes people want to leave the Church. They have consistently come from people outside of the diocese who do not know what we do to reconcile people to the faith here.

I will admit that in using the image of an athletic contest, especially a football game, I took some literary license in order to help the average reader understand what I think took place during those amazing two weeks. It was a stretch, to be sure but it certainly wasn’t boring to a lot of people who read it, though some found it difficult. So, to place some of what I said in another context and to make good use of the wisdom of a man I deeply respect, let me share with you some words of wisdom from a Synod participant himself, Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminister (that’s Catholic London) who in a pastoral letter said more clearly and perhaps more precisely what I meant in my analysis when dealing with two areas which my commentators found at a minimum neuralgic and at a maximum outrageous.

Speaking of co-habitating couples and the divorced and remarried, Cardinal Nichols noted that in these people there is often “real goodness” to be found. He noted that the Synod called on all of us “to walk alongside people in difficult or exceptional situations [and] to see clearly and with humility all the good aspects of their lives.” “This is especially true with regard to individuals who, for example, have decided to live together without marriage, or for Catholics in second marriages. . . .These realities are part of their journey in life and while not in keeping with the pattern the Lord asks of us, their lives are often marked by real goodness. . . .This is the basis for our care of them, for our approach to them, our invitation to them, to come closer to the church and deepen their faith and attend carefully to its call.” One would think that in this fourteenth year of this millennium no one would argue with such language or pastoral plan.

Speaking then of another neuralgic issue for many people, the Cardinal addressed those with same-sex attraction. He asked his Church to accept them “with compassion and sensitivity.” As I attempted to do in my two blogs but perhaps with greater brevity and clarity, Cardinal Nichols noted that in the Synod, there was “no suggestion that the teaching of the church might somehow give approval to the notion of ‘same-sex marriage” or that its teaching on sexual morality is to change.” He is also quoted as saying, I think what is important is that we keep the focus on the person and we keep recognizing and respecting and valuing and welcoming the goodness of every person whatever their sexuality, whether they are co-habitating or in a second marriage. Their lives continue to carry the hallmark of the Holy Spirit.”

This is precisely what I see as the challenge to myself as a bishop, to my priests, deacons, religious and laity which emanates from Pope Francis. Go seek the lost. Tell them they are loved by their God. Invite them to listen to Christ as did the woman caught in adultery and the woman at Jacob’s well, The same love and warmth of invitation needs to be offered to those women who have had abortions, prisoners on death row, God’s people who are hurting, feeling lonely and abandoned.

Many would love to enter the stadium but can’t get through the protesters outside blocking entrances and hurling epithets. Cardinal Nichols offers his ministry as an usher willing to deliver some one from the outside to a place of some type inside the stadium of God’s love. That is what I hope I can do as well.

+RNL

ps. I now have the benefit, thanks to the mother of all ecclesial blogs, of reading the entire pastoral letter of Cardinal Nichols and I think it is worth your time so you can access it by clicking here. My blog was written based on parts reported by Catholic News Service to which I am also grateful. I think with this third in a series, it is time for me to move on to other topics, for the moment.

 

 

VIEW FROM THE LOCKER ROOM

October 21st, 2014

A week ago in this space, I blogged about my reaction to the interim report of the Extraordinary Synod which had been working for a week in Rome. That blog, in case, you have not read it is available and entitled “The View from the Sidelines.” As you can tell, I enthusiastically welcomed the discussions which were taking place, the style and substance of the meeting format, and the marked changes in tone which were captured in that interim report. Now that the exercise is finished, at least for the moment, I want to take you inside the locker room and share with you what I consider the post-game highlights. Fortunately you and I can read the coach’s assessment (in this case, Pope Francis) and then continue to ponder the amazing two weeks. I remain as enthusiastic about the conclusion of the exercise as I was at half-time.

There clearly were two teams on the field for this encounter which I would characterize as Team A and Team B. Team A was enthralled by and anxious to play for and with Pope Francis primarily in helping the Church of the future seek out and return the “lost sheep.” Their game plan was aggressive, embracing and encompassing the lived experiences of the people from whom they came, and desirous of opening up a possible new  game plan for the Church they love and serve.

Team B was also made up of those who love the Church but wish to play a more cautious game plan, conceding as little precious yardage as possible and defensively holding the line against what they viewed as an aggressive offense pulled together by Team A. The difference that I saw during “play” and after the “game” was that Team B said they seemed not to understand clearly enough the coach’s (read that the Pope’s) game plan so they chose to play it “safe” or cautiously.

Just about two-thirds of those engaged in the Synod were on Team A and perhaps Team B felt so outnumbered that they saw a need to engage certain sectors of the media to help them play the game. How do I know this? Take a look at the votes on the three contentious issues (gay and lesbian Catholics, the divorced and remarried, and engaged couples living together) and you will find a majority in favor of stronger engagement in issues relating to these groups but short, and in one case only by the Holy See’s version of Florida’s “hanging chads”) enough to keep the majority from getting the two-thirds necessary to include an even more pastoral solution into the “game plan.” On those three issues, for the moment, Team B’s strategy won the day, but for how long?

The long final message is a very respectable and responsible work product and it should been seen as provisional, just like the previous week’s summary of what was seen and heard in the Synod Hall was provisional. I personally very much appreciated the Synod’s strong affirmation of married life and its words of comfort and support to married couples and I think the over-reaction of everyone, perhaps even myself, could have drowned out the support for marriage and those who are engaged in it which happily is in the final document.

Now “the game plan” goes to teams (aka (arch) dioceses) throughout the world for reflection, prayer, and possible revision prior to “the Super Bowl” on marriage and family life which begins in Rome on October 4th, 2015. If those who will be attending the next Synod are listening to the voice of the Church throughout the world, the final report next year will look an awful lot like the playbook for Team A. I know for certain that my diocese wants to see some form of relief to those who have divorced and remarried and that would be true of priests, deacons, religious sisters and laity. They and I want the principal of the indissolubility of marriage to be retained and upheld, but there are ways in which the Church can reach out to great people who erred in their first choice of spouse and now find themselves in a loving, caring, mutually trusting and  giving relationship.

I also know for certain that this local Church wants to see us welcome members of the Gay and Lesbian community. I cannot, we cannot promise them that we will ever be likely to recognize the nature of their unions as sacramental but if they are willing to accept that reality, then they can be full participants in the life of the Church. I know that many of my pastors have shared with me that Gay and Lesbian parents who have adopted children are wonderful, loving and caring parents and neither my people and my priests nor the laity wish to see the children punished by being denied baptism or the sacraments or being excluded from Catholic schools and religious formation programs because they have two daddies or two mommies.

I also know many parents who, while feeling some pain that their sons and daughters are “living together” with someone likely some day to be their spouse, understand they those same children now find it absolutely financially necessary to live together just to stay alive in the work place.

After the game was over last Saturday night, the Coach addressed both Team A and Team B in a post-game evaluation or “pep talk.” He criticized the more extreme offences and defenses of both teams and asked that in charity they sharpen their game plan for the Super Bowl next year. He chose not to hide the different strategies and statistics by publishing the whole Synod report and the votes for each part, including the three which were rejected by not achieving the two-thirds vote necessary. He said that he felt that at times some of the “players” seemed to be calling plays in desperation and desirous of winning at any cost which the Pope then said should not be a worry because he who occupies the see of St. Peter will listen to all and then decide for the best of the Church. What he was actually conceding, I think, is that certain of his players played as if they had little to no confidence in the coach. He used the very same words which I used in my blog on the interim report about walking sub Petro and cum Petro.

Finally, it was a great start to the “marriage and family life season”. There was a new openness in the Church and transparency has never been more apparent. That the neuralgic issues which I outlined above were even spoken of in public marks a new day for a Church which until now has thought that the best form of governance is secret governance. A retired archbishop friend of mine whom I respect very much said to me prior to the opening of the Synod that the “Church would cross the Rubicon at this extraordinary synod.” I think he was right. I think Blessed Pope Paul VI who envisioned synods as a manner of governance at the service of both Pope and universal Church must have been smiling from his place in heaven. It was collegiality exercised in its most pristine form and the resulting statement going forth guarantees that the next time the teams gather to play again, they will have had more time to pray, ponder and reflect on the Church in the modern day.

I have employed the image of the concluded Extraordinary Synod in “football” language because I think more readers can understand what was really at play the last two weeks. But I do not consider the Synod to be a game at all, but an opportunity for the Spirit to guide and direct the Church under the watchful eye and mind of our chief shepherd, the Pope, for a more effective spread of the Gospel in our day. Next October, you and I dear reader, will not be watching from the sidelines or the locker room, but we will be playing and praying for the Spirit of Pentecost to come upon our Church.

+RNL

ANOTHER GREAT PRIEST OF THE DIOCESE GOES TO THE HOUSE OF THE FATHER

October 15th, 2014
Father Chris Fitzgerald, I.C. conducts Benediction service at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Seffner. Photo kindness of Ed Foster, Jr.

Father Chris Fitzgerald, I.C. at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Seffner. Photo kindness of Ed Foster, Jr.

I am woefully late in posting this tribute to a great priest of the diocese who recently went home to the “house of the Father”. Father Christopher Fitzgerald, IC a priest for fifty-six years died just as I was leaving for Rome and the ordination to the diaconate of Rev. Mr. Ryan Boyle. It is interesting to me that on the very day I was ordained to the diaconate at St. Clement’s parish church in Fort Lauderdale by the late Archbishop Edward McCarthy, a wonderful Lithuanian priest with whom I lived at St. James parish in North Miami, suffered a major and eventually fatal heart attack (Father George Razutis) and I went right to his hospital room after the ordination and I have not forgotten what he said to me then: “It is all right, Bob, today God gives his Church a new priest and takes to Himself an old one.” When I arrived in Rome and learned of Father Fitz’s death, I immediately thought of that moment thirty-seven years ago.

Father Chris’ final years were spent in the loving care of his long-time Associate Pastor at St. Francis of Assisi parish in Seffner, Father Michael O’Neill. Aided by a staff which clearly loved their founding pastor, they were all able to take care of him until skilled nursing care was required but they never abandoned him to the loneliness of a nursing home but were present to him as often as they could be. Father Fitzgerald was ordained a priest in 1958 having been born in Ballyporeen in County Tipperary, Ireland on January 3, 1932. He was ordained as a member of a religious order called the “Institute of Charity” in Tanzania and served his first two years there before having to leave because of serious health issues. His order sent him to Florida where he first served for eleven years at Blessed Sacrament in Seminole and then briefly in Port Charlotte and then St. Paul, St. Petersburg.

In 1973, he became pastor of St. Anne Church in Ruskin where he served for fourteen years. While there he fell in love with the growing Hispanic population, mostly Mexican and strove not just to minister to them but to learn their language as much as he could. He was a faithful son of Anthony Rosmini who founded the Institute of Charity to serve the poor and needy in a diocesan priest-like formation and ministry program. Rosmini was ahead of his times in many ways and irritated the established clerical system of the time and found himself condemned in a way by the Holy Office (now called the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith). The fathers of his order, however, continued to pursue the charism of their founder despite the “cloud” under which Rosmini stood. Father Fitz gave me a copy of a biography of Rosmini when I first came and I found it fascinating. The I.C.’s staff the parishes of Blessed Sacrament Seminole, St. Theresa in Spring Hill, and St. Francis of Assisi in Seffner and they have been great priests in this diocese and we are indebted to them.

In 1987, Father Fitzgerald was made the first pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish, newly abuilding in Seffner with parishioners “cut off” from the then gigantic Nativity parish in Brandon (much to the chagrin of the Brandon pastor at that time, Monsignor Jaime Lara, who was still complaining about the “theft” in 1996 when I came here as bishop in 1996). St. Francis under Father Chris’ leadership became quite a faith community and the turn-out for this funeral (nine days after his death) attested to the love which they had for him. During his time there, his order chose him as Provincial of the Province in the United States and he had to travel more than he would have liked because he missed the parish so much. His contribution to Catholic Charities of the Diocese of St. Petersburg as my personal delegate placed him right where he and Rosmini would have liked him to be – on the front lines of charity. Father Fitzgerald would live to see the total rehabilitation by no less a person than Josef Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the same Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which once had condemned Anthony Rosmini and he was able to attend his beatification in Rome. Now Pope Benedict XVI would beatify Anthony Rosmini in November, 2007.

Every bishop when he buries a priest buries a brother in the priestly ministry and I am finding it increasingly difficult to preside over these moments because I am saying good-bye to my contemporaries who in so many ways have served the Church better than perhaps I have. Father Fitz and I had a special relationship and he asked that I both celebrate his funeral Mass and preach at it as well. Twelve hours after getting off the plane from Rome, I did as asked and I wish to share with you my homily for this great priest which you can read by clicking here.

+RNL