FAREWELL FATHER TED

February 28th, 2015
Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh C.S.C. in his Hesburgh Library office. Courtesy of the University of Notre Dame. Photo by Matt Cashore.

Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh C.S.C. in his Hesburgh Library office. Courtesy of the University of Notre Dame. Photo by Matt Cashore.

Father “Ted” Hesburgh went home to the Lord on Thursday, having lived 97 years and acting as an agent of change for many of those same years. Theodore Martin Hesburgh or simply “Father Ted” as he was affectionately referred to by thousands of Notre Dame alums was a proud member of the Congregation of the Holy Cross, a religious community dedicated to education, higher and secondary, and to parish work. For thirty-five years he led Notre Dame to becoming certainly one of the, if not the, most prestigious Catholic university in the United States. In that role alone he became an icon of Catholic Higher Education.

The Jesuits also founded many fine universities in the US but it was Father Ted who through faith, grit, and sheer force of personality changed the face of Catholic Higher Education. Within two years of the close of the Second Vatican Council, Father Hesburgh convened a landmark meeting of leaders of Catholic Education at Notre Dame’s Land-o-Lakes, Wisconsin property. Certain that tough days were in store for sectarian higher ed., he outlined a new “idea of the University” in which trustees, not religious orders, would own and control their respective campuses. The canonical term for what he proposed was titled “alienation of church property” and the idea caught on both in academe and in health care. It was not well received by some in the hierarchy who smelled “loss of control” and “loss of Catholic identity.”

 

There are endless theories about what actually led Father Ted’s thinking. The ‘mid-60’s also were a time when the litigious nature of life in these United States was rearing its sometimes-ugly head and the potential of lawsuits against the university might bankrupt Notre Dame or the Congregation of Holy Cross. But I think he saw that with the close of the Second Vatican Council the Church was wrestling with its  new openness to the modern world and nowhere better should such debates take place than in a Catholic institution of research and education. Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman toyed with this notion in his The Idea of a University but it remained for Father Hesburgh and a few other Catholic University presidents to put flesh on Newman’s intellectual bones. Father Hesburgh was also aware that opening governance to the laity would bring to decision making for the future a world of worldly experience and wisdom and he was right.

Today Notre Dame has the largest endowment of all the Catholic schools and is closing in on Harvard and Yale. It has not lost its Catholic identity and I would argue that Father Hesburgh’s foresight strengthened the same and did not weaken it. It makes good sense to me that a university is exactly the right place where ideas are debated, research is pursued, and ideas and ideals are spread throughout the Church. ND has given much back to the larger Church since Father Ted began his presidency and it still does, in programs, which strengthen Catholic education, church life, and leadership in ethics through its business and law schools. If there were not the strong university which exists today precisely because of the Hesburgh vision, our beloved Church would be the worse for wear. It has perhaps the nation’s finest theology and philosophy departments among the major Catholic universities with Boston College in hot pursuit.

There used to be a saying about the difference between God and Father Hesburgh – God is everywhere including on the Notre Dame campus and Father Hesburgh is everywhere but Notre Dame. A tireless traveller on behalf of his beloved university, Father Ted was also an icon in the civil rights movement, thrust into that by appointment of President Lyndon B. Johnson to chair the nation’s new Civil Right’s Commission following Selma and Montgomery and whenever a President needed a mediator for some sticky wicket, they called on him. But coming back to South Bend was ever a joy for him and while away the University was watched over with diligence and care by his longtime priest friend, Father Ned Joyce.

One time Father Hesburgh

Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh C.S.C. in his Hesburgh Library office. Courtesy of the University of Notre Dame. Photo by Matt Cashore.

Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh C.S.C. in his Hesburgh Library office. Courtesy of the University of Notre Dame. Photo by Matt Cashore.

was in Paris and visited that city’s Cardinal Archbishop, Jean Marie Lustiger, himself a convert from Judaism. Father Ted bragged that his university’s Lourdes grotto was never without at least a hundred students praying the rosary to Our Lady. Lustiger disputed that assertion saying that young people of that era did not have great devotion to the mother of Jesus. Upon returning Hesburgh invited the Cardinal to come to South Bend for an honorary degree or something and on the way from the airport, keeping his fingers crossed or having pre-arranged it, no one knows for sure, the two drove right to the Grotto. There were hundreds of young people kneeling in prayer, lighting candles and Lustiger could not believe his eyes.

In the end, Father Ted’s eyes began to fail him and blindness enveloped him but it did not stop the inquisitive mind, which remained alert, bright and informed till near the end. Father Ted died a humble priest of his beloved Holy Cross. Always approachable, ever faithful to his priesthood and to his Church, he richly deserves the accolades, which are today coming his way. His two successors, Father Edmund “Monk” Malloy and Father John Jenkins know well of their predecessors shoes and they have measured up to the task admirably and the Irish remain a storied past, a very rich present, and a great future. He lived simply and died humbly as many of his contemporary Holy Cross brother priests had done. He knew his stature was high but he maintained a low profile in retirement. Father Ted, you served your Lord, your community and the Church brilliantly, now rest in eternal peace.

+RNL

STRONGEST CHALLENGE YET

February 16th, 2015

Yesterday in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Pope Francis gave the strongest, clearest, and most concise homily he has given yet of his vision for Church leadership and membership. In speaking on the occasion of the creation of new Cardinals from throughout the world, the Holy Father used the Sunday Gospel to remind them, the world’s bishops, myself, and all who are involved in the ministry of the Church of the Gospel account of the curing of the leper. in so doing he told  once again that maintaining what we have is not enough, indeed far from enough. Rather  the spread of the Gospel and the success of the presence of Jesus in our world must penetrate every corner of our world and force us to look to the peripheries for the modern day equivalents of the leprosy so that they can feel the healing touch of Jesus.

A local pastor shared with me before the weekend this point, which would be a part of his homily; “Such behavior [he was speaking of the Gospel note that the priests who thought that people had leprosy, banished them to the outskirts of town and forced them to announce their presence by shouting, ‘unclean, unclean’] is abhorrent to us. How could someone who is ill be treated so heartlessly? But perhaps we are no different than those priests of Levi. Think of how we treat or avoid those who are of a different race, culture, religion, sexual preference, political persuasion, age group or economic status. The list is endless.”

There is a natural tendency of all religions and maybe especially ours to “preach to the choir” or put another way to concentrate our ministry on those people and aspects with which we personally are most comfortable. For the last twenty-five years, we bishops in the United States spent perhaps entirely too much time on liturgical language, battling politicians, threatening sanctions (the result is driving more good people out of the church and into the peripheries), whining against an admittedly dangerous secularism and seemingly ever stronger perversion of our Judeo-Christian culture (should we not soon add “Islamic” to the preceding hyphen?).

Politicians and their advisers learned long ago that the majority of Catholics don’t listen to their leadership when we engage in what is mostly verbal sparing. They would be a lot more worried about us if we took to heart the social justice aspect of both the Gospel and our ecclesial mission. If we were unanimous, for example (or close to it since I think that even the Nicene Creed would garner two negative votes at USCCB General Meetings) in supporting President Obama’s first small step at immigration reform (how many homilies have you heard this mentioned in?). In my seventy-three plus years, the Church never had the credibility outside and within its own membership that we did in the 1980’s with the twin pastoral letters on War and Peace and Economic Justice for All. Even those who disagreed took us far more seriously that many do today.

For the last thirty years, the Catholic Church in the United States has been much too content to pitch its tent on a safe island assuming that the surrounding seas were serene. Fear took hold of bishops and bishops’ conferences, the theological enterprise, and relationships with exempt congregations of religious women and men. At the same time, truthfully we watched tons of people abandon the Church for many reasons. And here in the United States, we are told, the periphery became the second largest religion in the nation: lapsed Catholics.

Now there is a voice, Peter’s present successor, who challenges Church leadership to get off that island and listen to and heal, comfort and don’t condemn, the sores of alienation of many while all the time listening to the cries of the immigrants and others for help. Rediscovering the “soul” of Catholicism is what this pontificate is all about, with an enormous reliance on the Holy Spirit.

I suspect and am afraid that there are those within our ranks who hope and pray that this Pope does not live long. Sad, isn’t it, that we would wish that on the most popular Holy Father in recent history (he will eclipse St. John Paul II in the hearts and minds of the people of the world, believe me). His challenge is not with God’s people but with those of us who promised obedience and respect for him and his successors as well as those who promised the same for their local bishops and religious superiors. (For a masterful review of the present current of dissent and unhappiness with this Pope, click here for a blog posting this past weekend by Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington)

Pope Francis is dealing with major issues of humanity which preclude far too many from a relationship with Christ the healer. He basically said to the world’s Cardinals in his homily that maybe those rich red robes were fine for that occasion but get out of them as soon as possible and get to work touching people like Christ touched the leper. “Sir, I know you can heal me if you just touch me.” God’s people do not care what we wear but that we care. There is a new freedom in the Church of Christ and only we can determine whether we are “players” or content to simply “sit this one (papacy) out by sticking to the safer sidelines”.

The Holy Father’s homily, which you can read by clicking here, said to me: you have ears to hear but are you listening? In my following blog entry I shall attempt an answer as to what I as a bishop, my priests, religious and members can do to respond to the Holy Father’s challenge. It may take me a few days.

 

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I HOPE A FINAL GIFT TO A GREAT SISTER

February 8th, 2015

The content for this blog entry has been simmering for some time and, in fact, I wrote the first draft over ten days ago. Why the delay? I wanted to wait, think and pray about its contents, hoping beyond hope that I might simply stimulate others to prayerfully reflect on its contents and claiming only to be the teacher of this local church faith community who makes no claim to infallibility or even to profundity of theological thought. I simply am a pastor who attempts to discern the presence of Christ in the Church I am privileged to lead and to which we are all baptized into belonging.

In the last forty-eight hours I have been made aware that Sister Mary Ann Walsh, RSM, a former colleague of mine at the USCC/NCCB (I wrote about her departure from the Conference staff in this space sometime ago) is about to complete her earthly journey, having been diagnosed with a particularly virulent strain of cancer). Sr. Mary Ann, I dedicate this entry to you and I will see you soon enough with the Lord if I merit what will surely be your reward.

If you have been following the media’s reporting on “Catholic issues” for the past several months, you must have noticed that largely because of Pope Francis, great ink has been spilt on divorce and remarriage in the Church, artificial birth control, same sex marriages, and to a lesser degree women in the Church today. I thought the time might be opportune for me to share with you some of my own thoughts on these subjects which I hope and trust are in line with those of the Holy Father. But I begin with restating one undeniable truth – there has been no change in doctrine or Church teaching in regard to any one or all of these subjects.

On divorce and remarriage, I find it just short of amazing that this Pope is so “connected” with an issue that is largely of North American and European consequence. I say this because while I do not have the exact percentage figures, I would go to the bank with a number akin to 85% of all marriage annulment cases come from the above-mentioned geographies.

Twenty some years ago when I was General Secretary of the US Bishops Conference, I asked my Brazilian counterpart, Bishop Celso Quieroz about how many marriage cases were processed in Brazil, a larger Catholic country than the U.S. He looked at with me with utter amazement and said, “dear Bob, so do you know how long it would take a letter seeking testimony in a case to reach a recipient in Amazonas (the large northwestern state in Brazil) when the mail boat which is the only means of communication comes to the river village maybe once a month?” He led me to believe that in Brazil, there are few formal cases seeking annulments and people largely decide themselves how to deal with the matter.

That Pope Francis has shown interest in this matter I find amazing. Here in the Diocese of St. Petersburg the annual number of formal cases has gone down from approximately 600 per year to the present number of slightly in excess of 200. There are myriad reasons why Catholics no longer seek a review of a prior marriage by the Church, among which are fear of opening older wounds encountered during the civil divorce proceeding; the fear of getting a “no”; the time it takes (an average of slightly in excess of a year including the mandatory review of the first decision by an appellant court in Miami and much longer if one party appeals to Rome); one party believes that there truly was a valid marriage and so the whole process is suspect in their mind; and a general frustration and occasionally anger with the Church, etc.

Every pastor knows of wonderful married couples in his parish who remain faithful despite being denied Eucharist by Church Law and others who just don’t come but wish they could, and still others who having received a negative judgment readmit themselves to Eucharist sometimes with the counsel of a priest and sometimes without. When it works, the tribunal process can be very healing. When it is perceived that it does not work, it is one more source of great pain. I have had two marriages, which I witnessed, which ended in a negative decision (not from the St. Petersburg Tribunal) and in my heart and mind I know the decision was outrageously wrong but there is nothing that can be done. Restating what is clearly not obvious (even the vaunted New York Times a few Sundays ago got it wrong, again), no Catholic is excommunicated because they are divorced, but only when they remarry outside of the Church do they incur the penalty of being unable to receive the Eucharist for even then they are not excommunicated and remain members of the Church.

At a meeting two weeks ago, the pastors of our parishes asked me to abolish all costs associated with the work of the Tribunal and I did that effective February 1, 2015 so let no one here say, “I don’t seek an annulment because I can not afford it.”

What can and will be done this year about this situation. I can honestly say I do not know but I am comforted that the Vicar of Christ feels the pain of many in the Church in second, non-sacramental marriages and that of many priests who wish that at least the process were simplified, or speeded up, or both. Time will tell.

Now to the contraception question which Pope Francis raised himself in several ways during his trip to the Philippines? First, amazingly, he acknowledged that as a priest and bishop, he counseled a woman who was pregnant with her eighth child, all but the first two by caesarian section, that she should do nothing which might render her children motherless. I would bet almost every one of the priests of this country has on occasion offered the same solace and advice. It is now possible because of Pope Francis to speak of the modern day reality of pregnancy and childbirth without fear of ecclesiastical punishment.

Of all the popes of my seventy-three years, I would easily vote Pope Paul VI to have written the best encyclical letters to the whole church, on life, evangelization and the People of God in the post-Vatican II world. I would also proudly say that if someone asked me to direct them to the finest magisterial teaching on marriage, parenting, and conjugal love, without question I would send them to Pope Paul’s Humanae Vitae. So far there really is nothing better.

But what about those few what some consider tendentious paragraphs dealing with artificial birth control. Again, I can embrace Pope Francis who said that his predecessor was being prophetic. I had an uncle who was one of the most loved and best ob-gyn doctors in the Milton, Quincy, Dorchester area of Boston. When I was twenty-seven and Humanae Vitae was issued in a storm of controversy, my Uncle Ed called it prophetic and it confirmed his medical approach to pregnancy. It also cost him mightily not in patients (they still flocked to him) but in serenity in group practice.

However, as Pope Francis acknowledged, Pope Paul VI understood that many would find this teaching hard and would seek the comfort of their own conscience, often with the support of their priests. When Paul issued his encyclical he even allowed national episcopal conferences to demur from its teaching. He was a pastor who saw the need for marriage as a primary albeit only means of propagating the earth and from that every act should be open to propagation, but he knew the world of marriage and family was evolving. Mothers were beginning in great numbers to enter the workplace to support even small families and that was not likely to change. Will Church teaching and doctrine change on contraception; it is too early to tell. As the new Archbishop of Chicago, Blasé Cupich said recently in an interview in Commonweal magazine:

“The Pope has a firm belief that the Spirit of the Risen Lord is working in the lives of people . . . . Ours is a living tradition. It always has been. There is no moment in time that can be so idealized that it undermines the tradition is a living one. It is a living tradition not because of anything we say, but because the Risen Christ is always doing something new in the life of the Church. In Pope Francis’s Evangelii Gaudium , there is a whole section in which he talks about the idea that Christ is always doing something new in the lives of his people as he accompanies them.”

Unless and until there might be some change, Pope Francis is urging us to be pastorally sensitive, compassionate and understanding. What’s wrong with that? Our Holy Father is showing himself to be a deft pastor, a good gauge of the times and needs of people, and a defender of doctrine. It is not an east balancing act or tightrope to walk as some of his detractors are beginning to charge.

I note no Church change at all in approving civil society’s rush to legalize same sex marriage and I can assure all that I for one do not foresee it ever becoming sacramentally possible. However, I do hear Pope Francis in his constant refrain to bishops and priests, religious and laity, to be sensitive and caring of those who feel that they are not just on the periphery of the Church but are ostracized by it. Some of the vehement and I would term hateful language emanating from professed Catholics leads me to pray all the more for these zealots. Every gay or lesbian person is someone’s child and they are also children of God.

Finally [by now that adverb must be music to your eyes – a mixed metaphor if there ever was one], I know a lot of young women who still tolerate us but wonder about us. The news that a pastor in a parish far from here banned female altar servers is causing something of a current media storm and is just one more thing to make a loving, faith-filled mother cringe. I think Pope Francis has some surprises up his sleeve in positioning women in offices of great responsibility in the Church, which will lead to even greater utilization of their talents, gifts, and intelligence. Sister Mary Ann Walsh, Sister Sharon Euart (the first female Associate General of the USCC/NCCB), a religious sister who was General Secretary of an African episcopal conference are all pioneers in a Church structure which must to remain credible avail itself of women’s gifts and presence. Enough already.

+RNL

TWO THAT ARE WELL WORTH YOUR READ

January 30th, 2015

I have finished my first attempt at a new blog entry but I need at least another day to allow it to settle to be totally comfortable with it. In the meantime, I commend to your reading two excellent pieces.

First, the long interview with the new Archbishop of Chicago, Blasé Cupich, which appears in the current issue of Commonweal magazine.

The second is in my opinion the best homily I have ever heard delivered yesterday by its new bishop, +Christopher Coyne at his installation as Bishop of Burlington, Vermont. As a former English teacher and as an aging bishop, he hits a veritable home run – literally and ecclesiologically. Thanks are due to the mother of all ecclesial blogs, Whispers in the Loggia for making the latter available so quickly.

Two new bishops beginning their tenure as shepherds firmly rooted in the reality of today’s church and speaking from the lived experience of today’s Church. It is exciting.

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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