GRAY SKIES ARE GOING TO CLEAR UP, PUT ON A HAPPY FACE

August 17th, 2016

There is a plethora of good news which I would like to share with you today. First, yesterday Florida’s First District Court of Appeals in Tallahassee ruled against the Florida Teachers Union and in favor of low-income and at-risk children whose parents can exercise “freedom of choice” in picking a private school for their children. The appeals court, like the trial court below it, found that the union did not have standing to bring the legal action since monies for this program come from private businesses directly to a foundation. In other words, those businesses get a tax credit and the children get a better chance at a future. The program is called “Step Up Florida”.

 

Eighty per cent of the students receiving this scholarship assistance are in private schools primarily serving African American and Hispanic children. While historically this is not an initiative of anyone to populate Catholic elementary and secondary schools, there are a small percentage of children in our schools who gain access only because of the law. Qualification and need is assessed by the private foundation which awards the scholarship assistance to the students.

 

A great deal of time, energy and money has gone into defending this program against the legal assault of the state teachers union and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The presence of the latter as plaintiffs baffles the black pastors of the state as well as the principals of largely black schools where the children are getting a better chance at success than they would elsewhere. The Florida Association of School Boards were initially plaintiffs but they subsequently withdrew.

 

Then there are the public school teachers whose union is spending a king’s ransom to overturn the law even though as both the trial and appeals court pointed out, there is absolutely no guarantee that the money now being used in the form of a tax credit would, if the law were to be declared unconstitutional, be directed to public education. I believe in teachers unions. I even started one in Columbus, Ohio in 1967. Florida’s union is rated as one of the most inefficient and unsuccessful unions among the fifty state teacher associations. On this law, they are out to prove their reputation correct. Drop the suit, teachers, and continue to enjoy the support of many for millage increases and other ways of assisting your school districts in raising standards and retaining good teachers.

 

Today word from Pope Francis brought the news that one of the more gifted bishops in the United States would be going to Rome to take a lead position in the curia as first head of a new department merging the Pontifical Councils for the Laity, Youth, Family and Life. Bishop Kevin Farrell will be leaving the Diocese of Dallas which he has shepherded for ten years to assume this position and thus become the highest ranking American in the Roman Curia. I admired Bishop Farrell from my perch as General Secretary of the USCC/NCCB and he was a gifted priest of the Archdiocese of Washington. We also served on the USCCB Finance Council together where I witnessed his wisdom and compassion. He writes, thinks, administers and dreams like Pope Francis and that is all good!

 

School is open in the diocese once again and I am happy to indicate that enrollment is slightly up which is far better than being slightly down. Among the high schools, there are significant increases at Tampa Catholic (its highest enrollment in my twenty plus years here), Clearwater Central Catholic and Bishop McLaughlin (also its highest enrollment since opening). While some of the elementary schools are down slightly, enough of them are showing enrollment increases to give a bishop temporary heart relief. Soon our Christian Formation programs will resume in the parishes of the diocese and I hope there will be more young people involved there as well.

 

Finally, in the category of “if you build it, they will come”, last week with a number of other people I broke ground for a new Catholic residence hall adjacent to the Catholic Student Center at the University of South Florida. To be built and opened in two phases, hopefully, the combined occupancy of the facility will eventually be over 416 undergraduate students (208 in the first building). The new hall has already been named and is to be called “Bellarmine Hall.” Each student will have their own bedroom in either two or four bedroom units with an efficiency kitchen and a common space and bathroom. There will be ample parking at the three story residence hall and easy access to the campus ministry chapel, and facility. Each of the two wings (two when totally built out) will have rooms for common activities, meetings, prayer services, etc.

 

The diocese is partnering in this effort with Newman Student Housing who has built similar Catholic residence halls around the country. Father Justin Paskart is the chaplain at the moment but this has been a dream of two of his predecessors, Father Alan Weber and Father Michael Smith. My successor will surely get to bless this facility as I suspect I shall be gone, but like that “field of dreams” in the baseball movie, I can’t wait to come back and behold what has transpired. Parents, if you have a son or daughter likely to attend the main campus of USF, and you will be looking for a faith-based residence facility for them, think Bellarmine!

+RNL

HELP FROM ABROAD

July 24th, 2016

Pope Francis gets (understands) the human condition as well as any Catholic I know. He also understands, appreciates and supports Church teaching and has changed nothing. Yet he gets a lot of flack from certain segments of our ecclesial community which is much more comfortable with “law and order” than “love and forgiveness.” Since the publication of his post-synodal exhortation, The Joy of Love dealing with love, marriage, family life, procreation, sexual attraction, doubts have been raised in certain sectors of our faith community about its teaching authority (is it a magisterial document?), its guidance in dealing with divorce, remarriage, and return to the sacraments, and voices have been heard questioning its authority as well as it meaning and interpretation.

I have now been a priest for approaching thirty-nine years and from the very beginning of my seminary training, I was introduced to something called “internal forum” solutions, which was available to me when I accompanied a divorced and remarried person or couple. We don’t talk about it or preach about it precisely because it is “internal forum” which means it is accorded the same level of secrecy as sins confessed in the sacrament of reconciliation.

I have always thought it is an inferior way to deal with these situations because almost inevitably a person in a second, non-sacramental marriage wants to remarry in a public ceremony which is not possible using this pastoral approach. Also for older Catholics something like this is not “real until there is a document saying that it is real” (a declaration of nullity, for example). Our diocesan marriage tribunals perform a needed, effective, and deeply pastoral ministry of mercy. The process is long, burdensome, almost always reopens old wounds, which have been psychologically cauterized following a divorce decree. The process is free in this diocese and has been for some time and thanks to Pope Francis, it has the potential to be speeded up.

But there are those cases where a previously married person deeply believes in good conscience that his or her first marriage was never sacramental but it just can’t be proven to or accepted by an ecclesiastical marriage tribunal. Pope Francis recently spoke a somewhat offhanded remark that a majority of young people getting married were probably in invalid marriages because they were incapable at the time of understanding the full measure and consequences of the sacrament into which they were entering. Many priests I know, and I myself, agree with that.

In the internal forum, priests for years have been accompanying the divorced and remarried back to participation in the sacramental life of the Church of their baptism. Probably not in great numbers (since it is internal forum or “under the seal” and there are no statistics), and I for one do not think the number is staggering because of the reasons outlined in the two proceeding paragraphs.

In the “The Joy of Love” I sense that this loving and caring pastor, Pope Francis, without changing any laws per se, wishes to remind priests of this option of accompaniment and accomplishment. So all of this is by way of sharing with you one of the best defenses of this document, which I have read since its publication, and it comes with the approval of the Holy See. It also joins a spirited defense of the same exhortation given by Cardinal Christoph Shoenborn of Vienna, no theological slouch!

As is often the case, I owe public thanks to the mother of all ecclesial blogs and to its doorkeeper, Rocco Palmo for making it available to me, to you and to a wider audience. A well-known and highly respected theologian Rocco Buttiglione worth your time to read the article pens it. It appeared last week in English in the normally all-Italian L’Osservatore Romano, and someone in our upper echelon of management had to look at it and approve it for publication. You may access it by clicking here.

I am going to begin a dialogue with the priests of the diocese about implementation of the apostolic exhortation locally and to see what, if anything. troubles them or excites them. It will also serve as a good reminder of a pastoral solution we have had for some time and which the Holy Father resurrects.

Please take time to read the article in its entirety. Thanks.

+RNL

ORLANDO, ORLANDO WE LOVE YOU

June 27th, 2016

Apropos recent comments concerning my last blog entry on the Orlando massacre I simply offer the following:

I think that the Church must not only ask forgiveness – like that “Marxist Cardinal” said (laughs) – must not only ask forgiveness to the gay person who is offended. But she must ask forgiveness to the poor too, to women who are exploited, to children who are exploited for labor. She must ask forgiveness for having blessed so many weapons. The Church must ask forgiveness for not behaving many times – when I say the Church, I mean Christians! The Church is holy, we are sinners! – Christians must ask forgiveness for having not accompanied so many choices, so many families… (Pope Francis’ in-flight press conference from Armenia, June 26, 2016).

The history of homosexuals in our society is a very bad history because we have done a lot to marginalize them, and so as church and as society we have to say, ‘Sorry’ (Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Trinity College, Dublin, June 23, 2016).

+RNL

ORLANDO, ORLANDO WE LOVE YOU

June 13th, 2016

Today I write with a heavy heart arising from the tragedy which occurred in the early morning hours yesterday at a Gay, Lesbian, Transgender night club in Orlando, our neighbor to the east. Yesterday, the best I could muster was to send these words by text message to my brother, Bishop John Noonan, bishop of Orlando: “John, I am so sorry. With love to and for all.” Today with a new dawn, I once again have some thoughts which I wish to share.

 

Our founding parents had no knowledge of assault rifles which are intended to be weapons of mass destruction. In crafting the second amendment to the Constitution which I affirm, they thought only of the most awkward of pistols and heavy shotguns. I suspect they are turning in their graves if they can but glimpse at what their words now protect. It is long past time to ban the sale of all assault weapons whose use should be available only to the armed forces. If one is truly pro-life, then embrace this issue also and work for the elimination of sales to those who would turn them on innocents.

 

Second, sadly it is religion, including our own, which targets, mostly verbally, and also often breeds contempt for gays, lesbians and transgender people. Attacks today on LGBT men and women often plant the seed of contempt, then hatred, which can ultimately lead to violence. Those women and men who were mowed down early yesterday morning were all made in the image and likeness of God. We teach that. We should believe that. We must stand for that. Without yet knowing who perpetrated the PULSE mass murders, when I saw the Imam come forward at a press conference yesterday morning, I knew that somewhere in the story there would be a search to find religious roots. While deranged people do senseless things, all of us observe, judge and act from some kind of religious background. Singling out people for victimization because of their religion, their sexual orientation, their nationality must be offensive to God’s ears. It has to stop also.

 

Third, responding by barring people of Muslim only faith from entering the country solely because of their stated faith until they can be checked out is un-American, even in these most challenging of times and situations. There are as many good, peace loving and God fearing Muslims to be found as Catholics or Methodists or Mormons or Seventh Day Adventists. The devil and devilish intent escape no religious iteration.

 

Will we ever learn? I hope so but until the above three points are taken seriously by society, sadly, tragically, we can expect more Orlandos. May the souls of those faithful departed who met their God early Sunday morning rest in peace, and those recovering from deep wounds heal, help and hope.

 

+RNL

 

SO NOW WE WAIT

May 26th, 2016
Bishop Lynch Retirement Letter to Pope Francis

The letter that was sent to Pope Francis today.

Today marks only the beginning of the end of my service as Bishop of the Diocese of St. Petersburg. It is not the end. That moment comes when my successor who will be the fifth bishop is installed at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle. But today is still a special moment and I sign the letter to Pope Francis asking to be allowed to retire as required by Canon Law and I thank him for the incredible privilege of serving this terrific local Church.

Twenty and a half years ago when I first appeared at the cathedral for a press conference accompanying the announcement of my appointment, my heart and mind were are odds with one another. My mind said accept the honor with dignity and grace and my heart said it was almost criminal to leave the people of St. Mark’s parish in West Broward who in six months I had come to love. Even after coming here and starting, there was still that strange feeling of almost a “divorce” in which both sides lost something valuable.

This morning I woke up with the same battle of heart and mind. The mind said, “Enough is enough and it is time for me to rest and another to lead, be creative, take this local Church to a new level of coming to experience the presence of the Lord.” But my heart said, how can I leave my collaborators in ministry, my priests and deacons and religious women and men, my seminarians, my schools and faith formation leaders and teachers? I love them too much!

If you know me as well as I think you do, you know that while I am relieved, I am not entirely happy. I cried when in July of 1984 I drove out of the gates of St. John Vianney College seminary in Miami to begin my new assignment in Washington. I cried all the way to Hollywood that day but no one was in the car to witness it.

On February 3, 1995 I cried walking from the chapel at the headquarters of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops through a wall of people lining the hallway all the way to the front entrance and the parking lot, all crying as much as I. I cried that time all the way to Lorton and the Auto Train depot where a train would take my car and myself back to Miami for a new assignment.

On January 20, 1996 I cried as I said good-bye to my parish staff and teachers grade school children at St. Mark’s and climbed into my car to drive to St. Petersburg and my new assignment. Those tears lasted half way across Alligator Alley until a Seminole tribe sheriff stopped me and warned me that I was pressing the speed limit a tad too close. Just a warning, not a tearful ticket.

If you get the picture, it is that I do not handle major change and the fondest of good-byes well. I was proud of myself that only once and then unnoticed during the ordination last Saturday of the five new priests did I break down and it was after the greeting of peace with Father Felipe Gonzalez whose parents and family were unable to be with him/us in that moment. But at the end, in my own sacristy I shut the door and let loose knowing that I had ordained to the priesthood for the last time and would not have that privilege for the incredible men coming along in the next few years. They are as close to sons as any unmarried male can have but when I leave, they will be my brothers no longer my sons.

Today is not the time for tears. Work continues unabated. You will see that I will be very reluctant to begin new major initiatives or to spend new monies. If the transition were to take place tomorrow, the new bishop would inherit a great diocese made up of talent and treasure – probably the best in Florida and maybe even in the country. We have accomplished something beautiful for God in the last two decades. And you have helped me even in ways of which you are largely unaware. Rarely disappointed and forever grateful, I cannot thank you enough. You have tolerated my eccentricities and peculiarities, you have been loyal even when I have done something which may have hurt. Together we have lived our mantra to this local Church, “how can I help you.”

Today I think of Sue Tully, Vivi, Carmen, Malissa, Maria, Joan, Betty, Frank, Deacon Rick, and Michael, our team in our version of the “West Wing.” Today at this Eucharist which means “thanksgiving” I think of Monsignor Brendan Muldoon, Monsignor Robert Gibbons, Father Alan Weber, Monsignor Frank Mouch, and Monsignor Morris, absent this moment only because his dear Mom has a doctor’s appointment which cannot be missed. I have been the luckiest person in the Church in the United States to have been assisted by these competent, loving, patient people. Thank you Jesus!

So today for this local Church the clock of expectation and hope starts to tick. We are like that parable in the Gospel waiting for the bridegroom knowing neither the day, hour or time of his arrival. But today we start to pray for him and he will remain in our expectation, hope and prayers until he comes. I shall not end as did President Obama at the National Press Club banquet a few weeks ago by simply dropping the microphone and saying “Obama, out!” Rather I will say, “Lynch, on hold.” Thanks and God Bless all of you.

+RNL

P.S. I want to share with you a video that my staff put together for me that you might enjoy. I did.

 

FIVE GUYS

May 22nd, 2016

Yesterday, Saturday, May 21, five men were ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of St. Petersburg. To a Cathedral packed to the rafters with a local Church loving and welcoming, these five men embraced the call to be good shepherds to the People of God whom they will soon serve.

May 21, 2016 - Fathers Felipe Gonzalez, Alexander Padilla, Bradley Reed, Jonathan Stephanz and Kevin Yarnell were ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Robert Lynch at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle. Please keep them in your prayers! (DOSP Photo / Maria Mertens)

With the newly ordained. Father Jonathan Stephanz, Father Felipe Gonzalez, myself, Father Alexander Padilla, Father Bradley Reed and Father Kevin Yarnell. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Elsewhere on the diocesan website you can see pictures of the ordination and, if you have 145 minutes, you can even watch the whole ceremony. Below I wish to share my words to the men, likely to be my last as the power and privilege of ordaining will pass to a new good, maybe even better shepherd.

ORDINATION TO THE PRIESTHOOD
Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle
St. Petersburg, FL
Saturday, May 21, 2016

Most Reverend Robert N. Lynch, Bishop

“It is a reality that God often interacts with humanity through the medium of dreams. While few of us have the experience of St. Joseph to whom an archangel, no less, appeared in a dream with life changing news, most of us who are ordained or to be ordained began to seriously develop our notion of priesthood through dreams of some day becoming one. Throughout formation, we sometimes made it through the more challenging and darker moments by dreaming of our ordination day or our first Mass or our own image of what kind of shepherd we might ultimately become. But as our five deacons soon to be ordained will find out, reality can and often does supplant dreams and today I would offer my counsel that this can be tragic when unforeseen and ill-prepared for.

When tomorrow afternoon, they literally roll the proverbial stone before the tomb and all your family and friends withdraw leaving you alone with your new reality, I would counsel it is precisely then that you need to begin to fashion new dreams in which you see yourselves, Felipe, Alex, Brad, Jonathan and Kevin as good shepherd of God’s people. What you are soon to become is far deeper, richer, transforming than what you have dreamed you might be on the day of your ordination.

Pope Francis almost daily reminds his priests of what God wishes them to be and what they may or may not have become. His dream is that we become so attracted and attached to Jesus, the Good Shepherd that “we press forward in faith, to advance in the spiritual pilgrimage which is faith that is nothing other than to follow Jesus; to listen to him and to be guided by his words, to see how he acts and to follow in his footsteps to have his same sentiments. And what are these sentiments of Jesus? Humility, mercy, closeness to others but also a firm rejection of hypocrisy, duplicity, and idolatry. The way of Jesus is a love which is faithful to the end, and even unto sacrificing one’s life; it is the way of the cross.” [Pope Francis, Marian Day, 10,12,2013].

Francis is redrafting the dream of priesthood. It is far from an office of privilege for the ordained, but rather a privilege which through ordination allows us to be Christ to the terrified immigrant father and mother facing deportation, to the confused and wounded young mother who has chosen to take the life within her womb for fear of being unable to care for the child once born, to pray with the condemned prisoner on death row or the overnight visitor to the county jail who has been arrested for a DUI or a lesser offence, to promise a parent that their parish will work hard to improve literacy at the miserably failing local public schools their children are attending by working with FAST or HOPE in two of our counties, to comfort a dad who has just lost his job that while searching for new employment, we will work to retain his children in our parish or diocesan school even though we might be at a loss also of how to make ends meet. These are a few of the pastoral realities which must reshape the dream of how we are to become that good shepherd tomorrow when all withdraw and a lifetime of priestly ministry awaits and begins.

“Being Church means being God’s people, in accordance with the great plan of his fatherly love. This means we are to be God’s leaven in the midst of humanity. It means proclaiming and bringing God’s salvation into our world, which often goes astray and needs to be encouraged, given hope and strengthened on the way…. The Church must be a place of mercy freely given, where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven, and encouraged to live the good life of the Gospel.” [Francis, JG]

It is almost the nature of dreams, especially about priesthood, to see us as ministers of the sacraments and indeed that is an essential part of the job description of today’s priest. But that you can accomplish in several waking hours, what are you going to do in the remaining time – wait for the phone to ring or the doorbell to sound? Pope Francis calls us to dream of using more of our time as good shepherds in a different way – as ministers of God’s mercy, taking the initiative to seek out the lost, recapture and reclaim the disenchanted and disenfranchised, to get dirty in the hubris of daily living by giving special attention to the poor, to the lonely, to the forgotten, to the angry,

If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, might and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them; without meaning and a goal in life.

            More than a fear of going stray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within the strictures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us, “Give them something to eat.” [Francis, JG]

Dear Felipe, Alex, Brad, Jon and Kevin, I wish I were younger and could join with you and my brother priests who may live the dream of a new form of priesthood born of the vision and the conscience of Pope Francis. It is far more challenging and exciting than anything I have experienced to date in my life and even somewhat scary. But it is more faithful to the image of Christ the Good Shepherd whom I was to become at my priestly ordination than the “dream I dreamed in times gone by” [Le Miserable]. It is the Good Shepherd who loved us to death, the alter Christus who in a few moments you are to become and I once became.

Today this Church is filled with love and great expectations. Your soon to be brother priests are renewed that in these times and with these challenges, you have already said “yes” to the call of Jesus, “follow me.” Together with me, they welcome you as brothers. God’s people whom you will serve will honor you as “father”. May Jesus welcome you many years from now as “faithful servant.”

+RNL

MADAM SECRETARY

May 16th, 2016

I am still on the airplane flight coming back from Minneapolis-St. Paul (see preceding blog entry) and there is yet a second topic which I would like to share with my readers. Several topics came together recently so I am “lumping” them together even though each could be treated separately and on their own.

The national Catholic media noted the passing of a “lioness in winter”, Sister Margaret Brennan, IHM. Her influence on post-Vatican Council II religious life was profound and her leadership of her community was quite simply extraordinary. I found myself the beneficiary of Sister Margaret’s vision and leadership in the Church and thought you might be interested in how that came to pass.

Shortly after the Council, Sister Margaret Brennan who was superior of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters of Monroe, Michigan knew that renewal and reform of religious life was going to happen and likely to usher in significant change. She also knew that many of her sisters while educated well enough to teach in elementary and secondary schools, could contribute far more to a post-conciliar church if they were even better educated so she started sending sisters off to obtain terminal degrees in theology, economics, education, etc.

She also saw that religious life was going to be challenged to its roots in its basic construct and she aided and contributed a great member of her community to something called “the Sister Formation Conference.” The purpose of this work was to prepare every religious of whatever community to be better prepared to accept, embrace and enhance what would become of religious life in the last decades of the twentieth century.

While a seminarian in 1976 at Boston’s Pope John XXIII National Seminary I found my way into taking two “moral theology” courses from an IHM sister whose name was Mary Emil Penet at the Weston School of Theology in Cambridge. Twice a week in my car to sit at her feet. She was teaching moral theology to Jesuit seminarians and an occasional “drifter” like myself after having spent a number of years in Rome assisting and learning from the great Jesuit moral theologian, Joseph Fuchs, SJ. She returned alive with the potential for applying moral theology to a church in the midst of renewal. Sister Mary Emil prior to her Roman “holiday” had been the head of the nascient Sister Formation Conference I mentioned earlier, travelling throughout the US to assist communities deal with what was happening.

This was no liberal nun but a deeply devoted woman of the Church who wished its priests would have a solid foundation of Catholic social teaching and moral theology to lead a changing Church. She continued to wear a veil and a blue skirt with a white blouse but the mind inside that whimple was bright, alert, challenging, penetrating and perceptive. What she was, I and the church partially owed to the vision of Margaret Brennan.

While Rector of St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami, I was fortunate to engage Sister Mary Emil Penet as a faculty member and at the same time to capture the retiring President of Barry College (now a University), Sister Mary Trinita Flood of the Adrian Dominicans to join our faculty. Those were the days and every seminarian who came under the influence of either of these two women would tell you that they became the “soul of the seminary.” Both are now deceased but their memory lingers, in my mind in gratitude and in the hearts and minds of many others whose lives they touched. To Margaret Brennan for one and to Mother Genevieve Weber for the other, I shall always be profoundly grateful.

They proved to a skeptical audience that smart women were a gift to the Church and their presence was genuine ministry to which all religious are called. So it was with some interest that I noted earlier last week that Pope Francis in responding to a question from a large group of religious women with whom he was meeting at the Vatican responded to a question about the possibility of women deacons in the Church. He simply said it was worthy of study and a commission might be formed to address the matter. All of a sudden we were bombarded with headlines and stories suggesting this major change was just around the corner.

The best analysis of what the Pope actually said and what he might do can, as usual, be found in the mother of all ecclesial blogs http:’’’www.whispersintheloggiablogspot. com. To what is there I would add several of my own reflections:

  1. Although I personally see no great problem in women in the diaconate for a local diocese like ours, if put to a vote in our episcopal conference at this time it would not stand a chance of passing;
  2. Pope Benedict XVI when he was Josef Ratzinger and prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had the matter studied under the lens of historically have there ever been women deacons, especially in the early Church and his study group could not find support for the affirmative
  3. Because we sometimes pay a heavy price for being a universal church (much, much larger than these United States) what might be acceptable in one cultural milieu would be unacceptable in another (think the Church in Africa on the homosexual matter, for example). The rest of the Catholic world generally is uncomfortable at best and openly hostile to exports from the United States and Canada (be it McDonald’s or women deacons). And we have the highest percentages of permanent deacons in the world!
  4. Large parts of the Catholic world are less interested in more clerics and more in greater engagement and involvement by a well trained laity (count the number of married deacons in Africa and Asia, for example).
  5. What Margaret Brennan and Genevieve Weber contributed was probably far greater than if they had been ordained. They sure had more freedom to lead.

All of which brings me to my third and final observation. Also from last week. Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, publicly exclaimed the obvious which was that there was nothing to exclude a woman from being “Madame Secretary” for the Holy See. What a TV series that would make and how I would love to be the script writer!! I know in my heart that Pope Francis wants to name a woman to a high curial position, breaking the glass ceiling of time and tradition. He even said that to those same religious who asked him about the chance of women in the diaconate, and that he had approached a women for a high ranking position and she had declined. It’s coming and to me it is more important than the ordination question. It might pave the way better for the ordination of women to diaconal ministry. This much I know and to this I can attest: if good things have happened in the Diocese of St. Petersburg much of it can be attributed to the presence of highly competent and capable women in the administration of the diocese and its offices. And they can’t take that away from me!

 

+RNL

 

THE SUN ALSO RISES

May 14th, 2016

 

I am returning to the bay area this morning having spent forty hours in the Twin Cities. When I arrived on Friday afternoon, it was cold, windy, gloomy and rainy. When my flight took off this morning, it was still cold, windy but the sun came out. The same reality happened for the church in the Twin Cities yesterday as it formally, canonically and enthusiastically welcomed its new shepherd, Archbishop Bernard Anthony Hebda.

 

There is probably no (arch) diocese in the US, which has had to deal with challenges, which this once great church has faced. About one year ago its Archbishop and Auxiliary bishop resigned under considerable fire, mostly for the manner in which sexual misconduct of priests with minors had been handled – by them and their predecessors. The ecclesial climate was dark, cold, gloomy, and sad. Like in Boston before, many Catholics, especially the millennials had enough with the Church and left. The priests and religious were embarrassed but they heroically carried on. Each day brought new revelations, the next more damaging than the prior.

 

Pope Francis acted quickly and snatched (great verb choice) Archbishop Hebda from his position as Coadjutor Archbishop of Newark (a Coadjutor is one who will inevitably replace a sitting bishop either upon his retirement or death). I had known Bernard Hebda for only a few years. He was the new, young (today he is only 56 –one year older than I when twenty years ago I became Bishop of St. Petersburg), ubiquitous bishop of Gaylord, Michigan where I spent a couple of weeks every summer. We were lucky if we could find one or two evenings in the month of July when we could have dinner but when we did it was the highlight of my summer.

 

Bishop Hebda was ordained a priest for his home diocese of Pittsburgh at the age of 29. Prior to ordination he graduated from Harvard and Columbia Law School. Prior to Gaylord, he worked for a number of years within the Holy See and was a spiritual director to many young US seminarians studying at the North American College. In Gaylord, he was adored (well maybe that is hyperbole but only slight hyperbole.) The diocese is quite small in numbers but relatively large in area encompassing the whole northern tip of the lower peninsula of Michigan. He was everywhere, approachable, remembered names and relationships, and reflected Pope Francis’ vision of a shepherd who mixed well with his sheep.

 

Gaylord was heartbroken when he was quickly reassigned to the Archdiocese of Newark. So was I and I have previously written of that moment in a previous blog at the time of his transfer. To Newark he brought energy and hope. He lived in a small apartment in a residence hall at Seton Hall. Though he had no real power other than the awesome gift of his presence, he brought hope to Newark. The priests and people of Newark today are angry that he was taken from their midst a year ago to help the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis deal with bankruptcy, healing from the sexual abuse crisis, and thirsting for transparent, honest and credible new leadership for a great Church. Originally that was believed to have been a temporary duty assignment but the Holy Spirit thought otherwise.

 

I went to his “reception” in Newark a few years ago and left mad and disappointed for reasons I will keep to myself. I left St. Paul-Minneapolis this morning with renewed confidence in the Holy Father’s choice of bishops in this country and certain that the sun will also rise on this troubled local Church.

 

In about ten minutes during his homily at the Mass of his Installation yesterday, Archbishop Hebda acknowledged the present reality and magnificently prepared his church for the pain likely yet to come. The Archdiocese has already sold the Archbishop’s house, the archdiocesan chancery building to pay costs arising from the sexual abuse crisis. He brilliantly made clear that all that counts is our trust in Jesus who is calling us to be a poorer Church ever more for the poor.

 

The Catholic Church in Minnesota is historically important for many reasons, not the least being that its first archbishop, John Ireland, was a major figure in our brief history on these shores. While James J. Hill was building his empire from lumber and railroading, his neighbor across the street was building an empire of faith among the German, Irish and Polish immigrants flocking to the land of 10,000 lakes. Ireland gave prominence to the emerging Church west of the Alleghany mountains and reminded his brother bishops who were comfortable in large east coast dioceses that life beyond the Mississippi was radically different yet full of promise for Christ and His church.

 

I am absolutely certain that the new Archbishop of St. Paul-Minneapolis will be one of the major leaders of the Church in the United States in the next two decades, like Dearden, Bernardin, Fiorenza and Quinn were for the ‘70’s and ‘80’s. He will lead his Church ultimately to the full sunshine of their faith and into the light of the resurrected Christ, which we proclaim in the darkness of the Easter Vigil. He will be a quiet voice but when he will rise to speak in the episcopal conference, all will listen intently because he will always have something of substance to say. He will be far more interested in bringing people to the Lord than losing culture wars. He will prove to a lot of skeptics that being Christian and even more so being Catholic Christian can be fun though one must always be ready to embrace the crosses of life. He’s a gift to St. Paul and Minneapolis, a loving memory to Gaylord and Newark and a bishop like Francis, our Pope, ready to bring hope to the peripheries while buoying the committed.

 

I left this installation with genuine joy in my heart, thankful to God and to Archbishop Hebda who has made a great sacrifice and proud of my Church. In the words of Ernest Hemingway who spent his youth in the Diocese of Gaylord (It was Grand Rapids then), “the sun also rises” after a long period of darkness.

 

+RNL

MIRACLE OF MIRACLES? WELL NOT YET BUT MAYBE

May 10th, 2016

In my younger days, long, long ago and far, far away I would never have imagined that I would see the destruction of the Berlin Wall, the dismantlement of apartheid in South Africa, an African American president and an American pope, yet all have come to pass. Now there is a glimmer of hope that in Florida there is a possibility, perhaps not yet a probability, that the death penalty will be abolished. I think of these words spoken by Simeon when Mary and Joseph presented Jesus in the Temple, “now Master you have kept your word, you can dismiss your servant in peace.”

Several things have come together which place the death penalty in Florida on a new trajectory. First there was the recent decision of the United States Supreme Court which ruled that Florida law which made a jury’s deliberations about the death penalty in a case merely consultative and not deliberative (leaving it ultimately up to the judge) was unconstitutional. Bundled within this decision was that merely requiring a simple majority of the jury to recommend execution to the judge was also unconstitutional? As I have pointed out so often when addressing this topic in previous blogs, this minimalist approach to a life and death decision cried out to heaven for vengeance. Happily heaven can wait, the SCOTUS found similarly.

Florida is one of only three states (Alabama and Delaware) which do not require a unanimous jury and earlier this year, the Florida legislature took an easy path in applying what they hope is a “fix” by raising the number from seven jurors to ten. SCOTUS did not set a size for the jury’s vote but made it clear the seven was a legally unlucky number. Last week the Florida Supreme Court heard arguments derived from the U.S. “Supreme’s” decision in the case of the inmate on death row whose appeal formed the basis of the latter’s decision.

Then, manna from legal heaven descended yesterday upon the state when a Miami judge found the death penalty fix also to be unconstitutional. Now, before deciding the case heard last week, the Florida Supreme Court knows that a more foundational issue is on its way to them which may just skew their thinking in the earlier case. Wow!

Our Attorney General, Pam Bondi, has often said publicly and in conversation with the state’s bishops that she fully supports the application of the death penalty, fully supported the simple majority allowance in the Florida law, and is fully against any effort to require a unanimous jury. I suspect that she was pleased to argue the case before the Florida Supreme Court last week. She would have me say: make no mistake about it; I am 100% in support of the death penalty application and hopeful that it can be attained with the minimum roadblocks possible. At least she is clear, if wrong-headed. She assures us of her unambiguous pro-life position, which is strong when it comes to abortion. But for me, it is like asking Mary Todd Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre, “other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the first act?”

Governor Scott is a more interesting case. After many conversations, he has said that he is very uncomfortable signing the death warrants but is obligated to do so by oath and office. He has intimated that were the Legislature to outlaw the death penalty he would likely sign and not veto the bill. He has also said that he only signs those warrants where the evidence is rock-solid that the person accused and found guilty actually committed the crime. He is also fully supportive of most other pro-life positions and I actually believe his wrestling with his conscience when it comes to executions. Equally candidly, he has said, that one cannot be elected to any office in Florida if one is seen as “soft on crime and/or criminals.”

That leads me to the conclusion of this reflection. Those of us who see the death penalty in America as a pro-life issue need to ratchet up our opposition to Florida’s inhumane approach to capital punishment, using whatever means might be available to us to make our case. We can think of the Baptist Church congregation in Charleston, South Carolina who earlier this year, including survivors of those murdered, went to the prison to forgive the perpetrator. They surely did not tell him that it was forgive and forget, for they will never forget his atrocity and they don’t ever want him on the street again. The same for the Amish community in Pennsylvania whose children were massacred but who also marched to the jail to forgive the aggressor. And how about the early Christian community who found it in their heart to forgive Saul of Tarsus, directly responsible for the death of Stephen and the torture of many others. If as we say so pointedly and well in our pro-life effort that God alone has the ability to choose when life begins and when life ends, then justifying capital punishment is beyond the logical pail.

Step up Florida. End the barbaric death penalty in the sunshine state. While I feel deeply for those whose lives have been changed, transformed, deeply hurt by violent crime and we must do everything to see that it does not happen again and those who committed the crime are never free to do it again, it is time to take a deep breath and do the right thing. Finally, if any Catholic wishes to use Saint John Paul’s minuscule opening against me, bring it on, but recall the words of Pope Francis to the US Congress on this very topic.

+RNL

 

 

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