THE VIEW FROM OUTSIDE OF THE STADIUM

October 28th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

+RNL

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

 

 

VIEW FROM THE LOCKER ROOM

October 21st, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

+RNL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

+RNL

A VIEW FROM THE SIDELINES

October 13th, 2014

As one who was somewhat skeptical ever since Pope Francis unveiled his intention to call a synod to address the issue of marriage and family life in our day, I must say that the work product from the first week of Part I of the currently convened Extraordinary Synod exceeds my fondest hopes and prayers. And while it is still, as the song goes, “A Long Way to Tipperary”, I find my own skepticism giving way to genuine optimism that our beloved Church is turning a corner on pastoral sensitivity. My initial skepticism was based on two assumptions: first any real pastoral progress develops very slowly in the Church and advances at the same speed as a glacier. Second, no matter what wonderful pastoral ideas the world’s bishops may offer, when they pack up and leave Rome there remain behind in the curia many who usually manage to dilute, diffuse and dissemble the pastoral solutions agreed to. So what’s different this week and wherein do I find my new optimism.

The bishops and laity attending this synod are speaking the truth in love before a Pope who told them, “don’t tell me what you think I want to hear, but tell me what you think.” [from his opening words last Monday]. When Church leadership puts ambition aside and speaks from the heart and soul about everyday problems of humanity throughout the world, a different world view and ecclesial view results.

Today’s report on the first week of deliberations is the most open and honest and pastoral document I have ever seen or read. It really indicates a Church leadership which is seeking to reconcile, love and pastorally care for many who have felt mistreated, disowned or unwelcome: those divorced and remarried outside of canonical form (in civil second marriage, for example) can see in the document a genuine care and concern for them which has not previously been seen. Gay and Lesbian Catholics can find the beginning of a call to them: don’t leave us and give us a chance to find both the right and charitable vocabulary as well pastoral openness which makes the future better than the past. Young people preparing for marriage can find our Church leadership acknowledging the real challenges of living in this moment (cohabitation is an absolute economic reality for many, for example) and asking what can the Church do better to prepare them for marriage in their lived reality today? Perhaps it is with unholy glee that I found in Cardinal Erdo’s synthesis of the first week of the Synod almost a carbon copy of what the people of God of St. Petersburg said in the pre-Christmas and pre-Synod survey of local Catholic opinion on these and other matters. Our Church is listening the voice of the people! That’s why my skepticism gives way to optimism on my first point from the paragraph above.

But, given our history the last thirty-five years, what happens when this Synod concludes it work and goes home? What about those persons in the service of the Holy See who will remain? Some of them have been heard from prior to last Monday’s opening preaching the gospel of doom and gloom and a couple have been providing certain outlets a running commentary, what in my opinion, the late Vice President Spiro Agnew once described  as “nattering nabobs of negativism.”

First of all, I think they know that with Pope Francis, this Synod and those which may follow are providing him with some real opportunities for exercising the collegiality and subsidiarity envisioned at Vatican II. It is pretty clear that the previous methodology of “you discuss and I will decide” is giving way to a synodality model which suggests that moving sub Petro et cum Petro ["under Peter and with Peter"] means that we will walk together but ultimately “the buck will always stop with the Holy Father.” For those on his staff who don’t like it, there is an exit strategy. He  is slowly and patiently assembling a team which is attempting to do what we have tried to do (not always totally successfully in the diocese, I might add) of asking “how we can serve the universal Church” more than “how do we shape up the universal Church since we know best.” Here, it is indeed a “long way to Tipperary”, and we need to patiently give him time to implement the vision in the bodies and minds of individuals. Those who don’t like what is happening these days probably know their “shelf-life expectancy” is limited. More reasons for optimism and less skepticism.

So I begin this calendar week with genuine optimism that the Holy Spirit is guiding the majority of those attending the Synod to walk the path of reality and openness which Pope Francis issued forth on that first night the world saw him in March of 2013. They will chart a roadmap for next year’s regular assembly. For those of you old enough to remember the American Automobile Associations “TripTik” for taking trips by automobile in the U.S. this Synod is using a “highlighter” to map out the most direct and fastest way between two points, as well as to point out where construction of the roadway is taking place” and even warning where there might be “speed traps” to be encountered. The next Synod will have this triptik with perhaps even an alternate roadway or two, and they will make the final decision to leave home and journey to a new place. My God, what a great Church we can become!

+RNL

HOPE IN ABUNDANCE

October 7th, 2014

One of the surest signs that it is Fall finds me visiting both of our seminaries, the college program, St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami, and the Theological program, St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach. At conclusion of the second, each September, the bishops of the province of Miami meet for several hours as the corporate members of the Catholic Conference of Florida. Thursday, September 25 was the meeting in Miami, Friday, September 26 was the meeting for the Board in Boynton Beach, and Saturday morning, September 27, saw me exit the Florida Catholic Conference meeting to catch a plane to Rome to meet with our two seminarians at the Pontifical North American College and to attend the ordination to the diaconate of one.

I almost always take AMTRAK to Miami and Monsignor Robert Gibbons who is on the board of the St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary usually accompanies me as far as West Palm Beach. I had hoped to take sixteen seminarians at the college in Miami out for a light dinner but AMTRAK’s tardiness killed that good idea. We have sixteen men studying in six different years of the program. In recent weeks, Father Art Proulx has moved in as a house Spiritual Director and he is doing just great. So are our sixteen fine seminarians who come from three cultures with four native languages.

The men attending St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami with Father Arthur Proulx, Monsignor Toups and myself.

The men attending St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami with Father Arthur Proulx, Monsignor Toups and myself.

The seminary has plans for expansion, as they are too full this year with 97 seminarians living in space maximally designed for 72. The Miami Archdiocese has monies to fund these projects whole and in entirety so we will see what happens. They were in great form and fun to be with when I was not otherwise occupied in a meeting.

Thursday night we left St. John Vianney College Seminary for St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary (about eighty minutes north) where all the seminarians were waiting for dinner and received sad news. One of their brothers, second year theologian Tim Williford’s mother lost her valiant battle against cancer. Here was to be found a group of men so close to one another that the pain and loss of one affected the others. We immediately prayed for Lisa Williford and had a special, second Mass the next morning for her and her family. Our meetings were properly sober and when she was buried on Friday at St. Paul’s St. Petersburg, all of his fellow diocesan seminarians (34) and nine (9) others were present at the Mass to pray and sing.

Our own Monsignor Toups has a mostly new faculty at St. Vincent’s this year and is in the in finishing stage of his twelve plus million construction project which will be ready for occupancy in late November. He has some 87 seminarians on campus and about fourteen in Pastoral Year programs in the dioceses, which send men to St, Vincent’s. They seemed a happy lot and Friday night was devoted to their major fundraiser, FRIENDS OF THE SEMINARY.

With the understandable and lovely exception of Lisa Willifords’ death, the men at St. Vincent de Paul seminary were enthusiastically well into their school year. Please remember that in God’s grace and assuming no departures, our diocese will ordain five men to priesthood in May 2015, seven men to priesthood in May 2016, two in May of 2017, and four in May of 2018. At no time in its fifty year history will this diocese see so many ordained in a four year window – something to be proud of, thank God and these young men and their families for, and continue to encourage others to think of a life of service to God and neighbor in religious life or priesthood. I also with to mention that another seminarian is studying at Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Massachusetts, and will, God willing, be ordained a deacon this coming Spring. Kevin Yarnell previously was on the faculty of Tampa Catholic.

Earlier I mentioned that I was in Rome for the diaconate ordination of Ryan Christopher Boyle. Home grown in the Diocese (attended Bloomingdale High School), Ryan graduated from the Air Force Academy and began flying the air forces’ version of the Boeing 767 which serves as a “gas truck in the air to refuel” air force jets as they fly their missions. Along, among and in the “wild blue wonder” Ryan began to see the call to life as a priest, made the decision with the encouragement of his military superiors and with my permission entered that could be called a “co-sponsorship” between our diocese for which he would be ordained and the Military Archdiocese as an Air Force Chaplain. He loves our diocese and its parish work but he knows he must meet his promise to the Air Force for at least seven years.

Thursday morning last (October 2) dawned absolutely beautiful in Rome and several thousand people crowded the area known as the Altar of the Chair behind the Main Altar of St. Peter’s Basilica. Cardinal Donald Wuerl was the ordaining prelate for the occasion and gave a magnificent homily.

The “laying on of hands” by Cardinal Wuerl on Ryan Boyle with a proud bishop looking on.  Photo credit: Daniel Hart, PNAC Photo Service

The “laying on of hands” by Cardinal Wuerl on Ryan Boyle with a proud bishop looking on.

Photo credit: Daniel Hart, PNAC Photo Service

See more photos from Deacon Ryan’s ordination here. Later the same day, Deacon Ryan assembled his family and friends for a Mass of Thanksgiving at Santa Maria in Trestevere, one of Rome’s oldest and in some ways loveliest Churches and the parish of the Saint Egidio community in Rome, which is quite active for social justice.

At the Mass of Thanksgiving, the new deacon and Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Military Archdiocese and myself.

At the Mass of Thanksgiving, the new deacon and Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Military Archdiocese and myself.

It was a great day and week for our still young seminarian and this morning he put his family and us into cars and buses for the airport breathing a great sigh of relief and likely climbing into bed for a long and well deserved Fall nap. Tanti auguri, Ryan!

So I am back and have Father Chris Fitzgerald’s funeral tomorrow (Monday, October 6) followed by our annual priests convocation at the Bethany Center.

+RNL

*Note: This blog was originally written on Sunday, October 5.

A “FAMILY” FEUD

October 6th, 2014

I write this from a Delta jet flying at 34,000 feet just west of the French coastline headed for Atlanta where I will surely miss my connection to St. Petersburg and an uncertain future on a Sunday night. This morning I awakened in Rome having spent a week there for the ordination to the diaconate of our Ryan Boyle, a resident of the North American College and a student this year at the Angelicum (last year he graduated from the first cycle of theology at the Gregorian University). My next blog, coming very soon, if not tomorrow, will give more details about my visits in the last ten days to three of the four seminaries where our men study. Even as Ryan’s ordination in St. Peter’s Basilica along with forty-two of his fellow classmates was a major moment, for him and for them, the major happening in Rome began last night with tens of thousands again gathering in St. Peter’s Square with St. Peter’s successor to pray for the Extraordinary Synod which began this morning, just as I was leaving.

On the “street” where I live on the fifth floor of the North American College were to be found Cardinals Wuerl, Dolan, and Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, our current President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, all members and participants in this papally called “Extraordinary Synod on Marriage and Family Life in our Day.” A great deal of print has been spilled in the secular and Catholic media in the last week about the event beginning today and being there among all these “heavy hitters” gave me pause to reflect and pray for this first exercise by Pope Francis in the “Synodality” envisioned by the fathers of the Second Vatican Council and for the gift of the same Spirit inspired wisdom in their deliberations.

In those reflective moments, I thought about what I might say, had I the opportunity to speak to the Holy Father and those gathered around him for the next two weeks. Slowly this thought came to me and I could not put it away. Our beloved Church is itself a family – a family of faith, of practice, of divine creation. And like most modern families, we have our share of disfunctionality at times, disagreements at other times, digression at times, and differences of opinion at times. The synod fathers are going to be talking about real challenges to marriage and family life in our time and culture. I would love to see at least an hour devoted to a dispute, which has taken far too much energy in our Church in this country than I think it deserves. While praying during the ordination of the 43 men in St. Peter’s last Thursday, I asked what Peter would have done and what Peter now might do with the current disagreement between certain Roman offices of our Church and the religious sisters of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (hereafter “LCWR”). The thought occurred to me that if Pope Francis could coax the leaders of Hamas and Israel to meet for prayer in the Vatican Gardens during which each side spoke respectfully of each other, could not the family of the Church try a little harder to settle something of a “border dispute” between the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (hereafter “CDF”) and the major branch of religious women in the US?

In popular Catholic opinion in the United States, I think clearly that the sisters in LCWR have conducted themselves quite admirably in avoiding the same heated rhetoric which came a couple of weeks ago from CDF. They are facing a mandate that they find very hard to swallow which is at its base, “Shape up or ship out.” In the late eighties the USCCB had a similar mandate come down from another Roman office and we politely ignored it and it went away. While the sisters have largely remained cool, calm and collected, the other side in what was perhaps a momentary (one might hope) peak of anger or frustration responded by saying “we are not misogynists” – a principle I would not wish to defend for the universal Church at large. Then there is the preposterous proposition that the LCWR does not represent American religious women. Had CDF said “all religious women” I would have had no qualms. But LCWR sure has a heck of a lot more religious sisters in its communities than any other body of religious women. As a local bishop, I love my sisters. Most could have retired to the motherhouse long ago but they long to help in many ways. And while I am at it, while my own USCCB was bound up for the last decade in liturgy and culture wars, those same members of our family, the sisters, kept the social justice agenda alive for which their leaders seem to now being blamed. These women are neither terrorists nor heretics and while some of the older sisters may not follow the drift or direction of some of the major speakers at the LCWR annual leadership assembly, they hang tough for their leadership and the most of the rest of the “Catholic” family supports them. Ask most of our priests about whether or not they support our sisters and the response will be positive. Ask the same group if this wing of the family ought to be taken to the woodshed for introducing topics of interest to them, and most of the rest of the family would likely say no. The Church at this moment in time does not need an internecine war between two respected bodies that love the same God, serve the same mission, as did our Lord.

I said at the time that the secret to success in getting this matter to go away was found by Pope Benedict XVI in the person of Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle, a good, fair, nonideological man. Sadly, he is required to take his marching orders in this family feud from CDF. So if I had five minutes on the Synod Floor to talk about families and the Church in the next two weeks, I would ask the Holy Father when he has time to empower Archbishop Sartain to find a way to gain a truce on his own which the Pope could himself embrace which respects the interests of both but resolves disputes before they become, at least by one side, a soapbox gone too far. This seems in the political world to be a time of truce and peacemaking, why not also within our family. If the battle continues, there will be no winners, and I would opine that the Church may well lose more respectability and credibility.

Much of this extraordinary synod’s time is going to be devoted to best practices in keeping people within the family circle. How then about the good sisters who worked for decades at less than subsistence wages, taught us about God, bound up our hospital wounds, ran free clinics for the poor and homes for the aged. Let’s love them to death, not beat them to death. Please, Fathers of the Synod and Holy Father, take this contretemps for yourself and solve it for all. The Church as family would rejoice.

+RNL

A NEW BREEZE FOR THE WINDY CITY

September 20th, 2014
Bishop Blase Cupich. Photo courtesy of the Diocese of Spokane's website.

Bishop Blase Cupich. Photo courtesy of the Diocese of Spokane’s website.

Many of you may not be all that aware of Simeon and Anna in the New Testament. Simeon was an official at the temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Lord’s birth. When Mary and Joseph brought the infant child Jesus to the Temple for the Presentation, Simeon exclaimed with great personal joy, “Now, Master, you have kept your word. You can dismiss your servant (meaning himself) in peace (meaning Simeon was ready to go to his death), your word has been fulfilled.”

That’s is somewhat how I felt last night as word began to spread that this morning Pope Francis would be announcing that a wonderful friend of mine of many years and a great bishop was being named to the great Archdiocese of Chicago. That person is Bishop Blase Cupich about whom I have written previously in this space.

He worked at the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington while I was working at the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference and shortly after I came to St. Petersburg as bishop, he was made Bishop of the Diocese of Rapid City in South Dakota. More recently he was transferred to Spokane, Washington where he has spent the last four years.

He has addressed the priests of the St. Petersburg diocese twice at my invitation, first as Spiritual Director for our annual October convocation and then at the time of the implementation of the new translation of the Roman Missal. He is 65 years old but with the energy of a much younger person. He will need it in Chicago which has had a succession in recent decades of very fine archbishops (Joseph Cardinal Bernardin and Francis Cardinal George). The former preached at my episcopal ordination in 1996 at St. Jude Cathedral and the latter has been in the diocese on several occasions, including more recently, four years ago as President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops when they held their Spring Assembly in our fair city.

Cardinal George reached the mandatory retirement age of 75 two years ago and is currently quite publicly dealing with an aggressive form of cancer. Through it all, gallantly like his predecessor Cardinal Bernardin, he has witnessed beautiful Christian faith and hope as  one experimental cancer drug after another has been tried out on him. Let us pray for Cardinal George, that the Lord’s will be done for him and that he be spared every suffering possible. Tonight, I suspect, that Canticle of Simeon which I quoted above will be recited with added meaning by Cardinal George.

Bishop Cupich has shown wonderful leadership skills in so many areas but his appointment to Chicago will be quite a test. It is a large and culturally and linguistically diverse city consisting of just two counties and two million Catholics. The last two Archbishops of Chicago have also been tapped for national leadership positions as well as international congregational and council assignments within the purview of the Holy See.

It is much like New York, where Cardinal Timothy Dolan has either been called to national leadership (President of the USCCB) or chosen to accept a time-consuming outside the Archdiocese of New York responsibility (Chairman of the Board of Catholic Relief Services) or papal appointments which require his presence in Rome on a regular basis. These duties often lead the local churches they serve to complain that their archbishop is always away which is one way of looking at it but I prefer that the particular talent of the Archbishop is a gift to be shared with the larger church. New York, Chicago and Los Angeles would be full-time responsibilities for any human, but the burdens of these places are larger.

I mentioned Cardinal Dolan above and one interesting fact which I can share with you which I have not seen elsewhere is that Cardinal Dolan, Archbishops Cupich, Schnurr (of Cincinnati) and Bishop Cote (of Norwich, CT) were all staff to the late Cardinal Pio Laghi at the Washington nunciature, mostly at the same time. Only one US member of that staff from that time period has not made it to the hierarchy of this country and all of the aforementioned colleagues of his, as well as myself, would say that he would have made a great bishop. Monsignor Bernard Yarrish, a priest of the Scranton diocese, who from his room in a Carmelite Sisters of the Aged and Infirm Assisted Care facility in Wilkes Barre, PA must be smiling at the latest news of one of his friends. Monsignor Yarrish whom I think the world of has been dealing with a debilitating disease for some time, but he especially was a jewel of this quintet. Cardinal Laghi and Cardinal Bernardin must have had some reunion last night and today in heaven.

So why am I so excited about this news? I think it is but one more, albeit very important, sign of the seriousness with which Pope Francis takes his mandate to recapture the spirit, vision and direction of the Second Vatican Council. Though I have never asked him this directly, I know the new Archbishop of Chicago would say that he admires deeply the ecclesiology and vision Archbishops John Raphael Quinn (ex of San Francisco), Archbishop Joseph A Fiorenza (ex of Galveston-Houston), Cardinal William Keeler (ex of Baltimore), Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk (ec of Cincinnati), Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, Bishop Anthony Pilla (ex of Cleveland), and Bishop William Skylstad (who on November 18th when Archbishop Cupich is installed in Chicago will share with the new Archbishop the moniker of “ex of Spokane”).

There is a plethora of things to be read and watched about today’s happenings and as always I recommend to you the mother of all ecclesial blogs, Whispers in the Loggia as well as a piece of reflection which I think is spot on written by Michael Sean Winters for the National Catholic Reporter and if you go to the websites of The Chicago Tribune or The Chicago Sun Times you can find almost everything you want to know about this new “breeze” blowing now in the Windy City and soon to visit the places where you live and pray and play. For myself today, the Master has indeed kept his word.

+RNL

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BEING CAREFUL ABOUT WHAT WE HOPE FOR

September 15th, 2014

In just a few weeks now, the principal focus of Pope Francis’ vision will begin to take place in Rome. In Church language it is called an “Extraordinary Synod” and it in the Holy Father’s mind is a necessary preamble to an “Ordinary Synod” which will also be held in Rome in 2015. “Synods” are a consultative device used for centuries by our own Church and by many other churches as well. Dioceses hold synods to plan and prepare for the future of local churches. Implied in the word is “consultation” with priests, deacons, religious and especially laity and the process implies openness,honesty, collaboration and even “thinking outside of the non-definitive theological box.”

I wished to hold such a gathering in the Diocese of St. Petersburg about nine years ago and because everything at the time was focused on the clergy sexual abuse scandals, my priests and other consultive bodies I spoke to said, “this is not the time.” I firmly believe that my successor in office in a few years should and will likely call for a synod process to chart the path for the future of this local Church.

For the universal Church, the fathers of the Second Vatican Council envisioned an “Ordinary Synod Process” which would be convened in Rome by the Holy Father every three years and its membership would be elected bishops from each of the world’s national episcopal conferences, representative bishops from the Eastern Rites and a few other papal appointees. The ordinary synods were envisioned to focus on a particular topic of Church life in the modern world, meet for four weeks, hear endless five-minute speeches (often off-topic), vote for a final set of conclusions and then leave Rome and leave it to the curia to draft a response to the conclusions and then the Holy Father would in a year or two publish a “post-synodal exhortation” which often to those attending did not look an awful lot like their conclusions. Both Pope St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI gave the plenary sessions a lot of their time, being present, listening, and in the case of Pope Benedict, occasionally offering a comment or two of his own to the discussion. No bishop of my acquaintance who was elected to an Ordinary Synod speaks too highly of the process as hopes were often dashed and dreams were often unrealized.

Now, however, not unlike everything else he attempts and does, Pope Francis has instilled new energy in the Synod process. Already he has taken the initiative to go back and revisit the disappointing theme of “Marriage and and Family Life” which was first addressed in the Ordinary Synod of 1980 (the second year of Pope John Paul’s pontificate). This time he gave all the local dioceses and eparchies (Eastern Rite dioceses) throughout the world an opportunity to “vet” the theme of Marriage and Family Life in our Day with everyone who wished to participate.

As you know, in this diocese over 7000 Catholics participated in and responded to the first ever online survey of questions raised by the Pope/Holy See for the coming synod. Very few dioceses in this state or in the nation gave their people this opportunity, often limiting the input to diocesan Pastoral Councils or Presbyteral Councils. The Synod office in Rome was inundated, flooded may be a better word, with advice apropos of the topic. Universal responses tended to focus in real-life and real-time challenges: the effect of the culture on the notion and institution of marriage, readmission of the divorced and remarried to the sacramental life of the Church, most especially the Eucharist, living with same-sex civil marriages, etc. My suspicion is that Pope Francis has been amused if not energized by the attention given to both the topic of the Extraordinary and Ordinary Synods as well as pushback the topic has given birth to.

First, the Extraordinary Synod will meet in three weeks for three weeks. A very good Archbishop friend of mine whose theological and ecclesial opinions I admire very much says that this Synod will mark a “crossing of the Rubicon” for the Church. I hope he is right. I hope that a vast majority of the bishops present will affirm that the topics, especially the more neuralgic ones, will be vetted and addressed in the Ordinary Synod to conform to this Pope’s ardent desire to become a Church of mercy, compassion and forgiveness.

I see hard lines developing against any effort to find a way to readmit divorced and remarried Catholics to Eucharistic communion. The punishment is more important to some cardinals than the moment. I recognize that changing the praxis of the Church on this means finding a way to reaffirm the indissolubility of marriage which has been and must always be true of our ecclesial communion but at least being open to those who have failed.

Think about it for a moment, I can absolve the most heinous of criminals who seeks God’s forgiveness for the sin of murder and give him or her the Eucharist, but let a twenty-one year old who made a mistake in choosing a spouse for a bevy of reasons return to the Eucharist – no way says the Church and I pray instead for some way. Pope Francis has instilled in my heart a desire for reconciliation of all, forgiveness, mercy and compassion for those who need it and seek it, and a Church which is itself a beacon of hope to those who walk in the darkness of this day and age.

So let’s pray that the Extraordinary Synod will be open to a full and active participation by the Church universal in not just repackaging the age-old method of dealing with modern day challenges but is open to that same spirit who gave us this extraordinary pope. But then again, we must always be mindful and careful of what we hope for as it has been tried before and has, in the minds of many, not worked. This one hangs in the balance of the hands of a man who subscribes to that part of the prayer of St. Francis which says, “give me the grace to accept those things which I can change”. Prayers for the Extraordinary Synod are welcome!

+RNL

GOING TO POT! REALLY?

September 4th, 2014

The topic/subject of this blog has been tossing around in my mind for several weeks. At first, I was not going to address the issue of Constitutional Amendment Two on the November ballot which would legalize the use within the State of Florida of “medical marijuana” but then after consulting with friends in the medical field, in the law enforcement field and in two states, California and Colorado, I decided to share with you my thoughts. Please bear in mind that in all likelihood the Church will not “have a dog in this hunt” so today what I am sharing with you is the prayerful conclusion of simply one voter – myself, and is not Church teaching. The whole issue entered the political process due to the determined doggedness of one person, attorney John Morgan of Orlando. His passion, he says, came from the palliative relief given to his brother or another close relative by the use of marijuana. Morgan became a believer and an advocate for change in the law.

Florida was breaking no new ground in this initiative because other states and particularly California and Colorado had already paved the way. It is hard not to like something which claims to remove the physical pain from certain illnesses when nothing else seems to work. I must admit, the claim caught my interest and I suspect it would have won my ballot support if that was all that was involved. However, what law enforcement in this state as well as the medical associations point out is that there is “wiggle room” language in the proposed amendment which would extend the use to “other needs.” The docs say that they do not need such an amendment and that there are less risky ways of achieving the same goal of pain alleviation and law enforcement which has a tough time, they claim, dealing with instances of illegal use of marijuana and its “effects” on human behavior don’t even want to think of wholesale marijuana becoming available in the state.

So how about my Church friends in California, what do they think of “weed availability” in their state? The camel’s nose and neck under the tent they would say. Californians are among the first to take on anything controversial and experiment with it and usually they find a way of accommodating “California dreaming” into their daily and civic life. They also have generally developed a somewhat defeatist attitude that if it is going to happen anyway, why not in California? My friends in Colorado are a slightly different story. They long for the days long ago when one went to Colorado to buy Coors beer and export it back into the Eastern states where it was not commercially available. Now the state is seeing a lot of buying and exporting of marijuana and some of them say that the social dangers of this new reality are alarming.

There is a fine reporter for the TAMPA BAY TIMES by the name of Stephen Nohlgren and he has recently completed extensive research into almost every aspect of the issue. This morning he notes for the first time that the amendment may not be the “slam dunk” which it has previously appeared to be and last week-end and during this week he has authored a series of very fine pieces on both the truths and myths of the issue. At the end of the day, I was left with enough  uncertainty about the issue to decide to vote “no” on the amendment myself. I remain unconvinced of the medical argument at least as a necessity and am a vigorous opponent of smoking anything, legal or illegal. It seems to me that what John Morgan and the other proponents are proposing, albeit somewhat silently, is the decriminalization of marijuana and that is what I wish the electorate was truly deciding on this issue, not some back door proposal.

This may, however, be one issue where reasonable people can differ. I trust the doctors (Lord, knows I see enough of them personally for one thing or another) and not the ads that this amendment is not necessary for palliative care and while personal experience may be helpful in something like this, the research is still lacking. Amazingly I find myself thinking a “no” vote is really “for the people.”

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A FACE WORTHY OF NORMAN ROCKWELL

August 27th, 2014
Most Reverend John J. Nevins, D.D. Photo courtesy of the Diocese of Venice's website.

Most Reverend John J. Nevins, D.D. Photo courtesy of the Diocese of Venice’s website.

Last night around 930pm, Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice called to inform me that Bishop John J. Nevins had just gone home to the Father. Bishop Nevins was the first bishop of Venice when the diocese was  established  in October of 1984. He and I lived on the same property in Miami for five years as I succeeded him as Rector of St. John Vianney College Seminary in 1979, but he remained on property as Auxiliary Bishop of Miami till his appointment to Venice in 1984.

An only child of first generation Irish parents, the bishop grew up in New Rochelle, New York where his education was largely in the hands of the Irish Christian brothers. Graduating from Iona College (also run by the Irish Christian Brothers) he entered the seminary for the Fathers of Mercy, a religious order of men, and studied at the Catholic University of America. Just before his ordination to the diaconate, the Fathers of Mercy were disbanded, leaving young John Nevins with no place to go.

A wonderful Sulpician priest recommended that the “homeless” seminarian contact Bishop Coleman F. Carroll who was in his second year as bishop of the new diocese of  Miami and upon doing that he was accepted as a seminarian for Miami and ordained to the priesthood on D-Day the sixth of June 1959. He held many positions in Miami including pastor of several parishes, director of Catholic Charities, and Rector of St. John Vianney College Seminary from 1974 till October 10, 1979. Venice was made a diocese in June of 1984 (along with Palm Beach) and he was installed as the first bishop in October of the same year. He served as active bishop for twenty three years until succeeded in office by Bishop Dewane.

I remember very well the consultation which preceded the decision to erect Venice as a diocese. Many people pointed out that it would be a challenging diocese to administer for a number of reasons, the major being that the population of the expected counties to be included consisted of many seniors and finding enough priests from within the diocese would be unlikely. True to predictions, the diocesan population grew very quickly and the need for priests increased even more exponentially than predicted.

It was also a large diocese. Since Bishop W. Thomas Larkin was a classmate in graduate school of St. John Paul II (he taught the pope his English), he was in the driver’s seat in shaping the size of the new diocese, ninety per cent of which was formerly the Diocese of St. Petersburg. Bishop Nevins, faced with these foreseen challenges and many more unforeseen led the diocese often by sheer force of his wining, loveable, Irish personality. He was always a good priest and a person of the people. He was also at the top his game when a priest was in trouble, caring for them and trying to get them the help they needed. In Miami and in Venice, he will be fondly remembered until we all die off as a “priests’ bishop”. Lay people and religious also responded to him well.

He could occasionally be unpredictable as when presiding at the funeral of Dr. Ben Shepherd, the seminary’s doctor, in the seminary chapel during the homily he walked down placed his hand on the casket and told the grieving widow in these precise words, “you know, the shell is still here but the nut is gone!” She shrieked in grief while the rest of us struggled to control our laughter. On the occasion of his 25th anniversary of his ordination, also in the seminary chapel, he began his homily with this line: “my mother and father were peasants” and I thought his mother, Ann, was going to come right out of the pew and “crown” her son.

John Nevins lived his life for his God and for his mother. He began to change and age and start his own walk to heaven’s gate when his mother died. I accompanied he and the casket on a bitterly cold December 27th to Kilkar, County Donegal, where she is buried. When the two of us climbed in the car to leave for Shannon and the next day’s flight home, it was akin to his spirit dropping like low blood pressure. He was a hoarder, never throwing anything away, but were you to visit his home, you had to be struck by the number of pictures of he and Pope John Paul II and he and his mother. It was like he was in love with both.

His period of declining health was long and drawn out and very sad. Bishop Dewane and the Chancellor, Dr. Volodymyr Smeryk took great care of the bishop. He had no other family than the Church and the Church cared deeply and lovingly for him. Many of us, bishops of Florida and priests, have missed him the last seven years during his declining health and next Wednesday at 11 a.m. when we gather at Epiphany Cathedral for his funeral Mass, everyone will have their own memories and recollections. I have shared only a slither of what I could say about this good man and I thank God for coming for him last night and ending his confinement.

Norman Rockwell once painted a picture of a very young John Nevins for the cover of THE SATURDAY EVENING POST magazine. Young Johnny was a red-head with freckles looking expectantly for something coming which was not there. Now he has seen the Lord and the same broad smile as in the Rockwell painting must be on his face.

+RNL