The late Archbishop Edward A. McCarthy of Miami who ordained me to the priesthood used to write letters to the people of the Archdiocese every time he was flying to and from Miami. Entitled “Devotedly Yours” even those like myself who loved him very much thought that on occasion the altitude was too high and the air pressure too thin as we attempted to glean his points. So here I am, at 39,000 feet just having made landfall over North America somewhere near Goose Bay, Labrador, writing some closing thoughts on my very, very brief to the “mother country” and the Church there. Over the years I and my successors as General Secretaries of the episcopal conference of the United States came to know a wonderful priest of the Westminster who was always a consummate host to us when we were in London. His rectory at Our Lady of Victories parish in Kensington-High Street saved all of us egregious hotel bills in the capital city of the United Kingdom. The newly installed Archbishop Vincent Nichols was in residence here until he became an auxiliary bishop to Cardinal Hume. Canon Adrian Arrowsmith
Canon Adrian Arrowsmith
was that host with the most and I visited him on Wednesday night after my arrival here. Now a wonderful 83 years old and sharp as a tack, he lives in retirement in Hertsfordshire, west of London. I took a commuter train for thirty minutes and then a taxi for ten to get to him.
Canons are mostly unknown in the United States although there is one in the St. Petersburg diocese who heads a parish mission community. They function something like consultors, advising the bishop on matters, and they have a hand, only a hand, in the selection and installation of new bishops. They wear an ecclesiastical garb which looks a like but is still different from the garb of a monsignor. Canon Adrian loved having +Vincent in his house and welcomed all his guests who quickly, like myself, became his friends. He is lovingly cared for now by his god-children whom I met once again and we had a splendid evening of sparkling conversation, wit, and some rumor.
There has been conversation during my time abroad (all forty-six hours of it) about the Church in the United States and President Obama. The rest of the Catholic world is far more enthralled with our new president than many Americans. The remarks of the editor of the Vatican daily paper and its treatment of the President are largely reflective of how he is being received overseas-with cautious optimism. Several bishops spoke to me about the approach of the Church in the United States to the new president, indicating what I believe to be a true reality, the abortion issue has become “a tale of two parties.” Here support for abortion on request is so broadly accepted by so many people and politicians, that it can not be defined as a political ideology or goal of any one political party. These bishops wondered if the Church in the United States was becoming an instrument of one party against the other. Like myself, they despise the thought of abortion-on-request but they are uneasy with the politicization of the issue.
Cardinal Sean Brady came from the Archdiocese of Armagh to the installation and I had a moment to welcome him next year to the Diocese of St. Petersburg. Most of the bishops of the United States will be visiting our diocese in June of 2010 for what we call a “special assembly.” During these assemblies, we have a number of speakers address the bishops on issues of our own lives and ministry in the Churches of the U.S. Starting in the mid-seventies with the late Basil Cardinal Hume, we have always invited a bishop (thus far always a Cardinal) from another country to serve as our “spiritual director” during our days together. Cardinal Brady said he was quite honored to be asked to come to St. Petersburg for this occasion although somewhat awed by the task before him. I assured him that the U.S. bishops don’t bite (most of them) and he will be much appreciated. He asked about his classmates and friends, Father Gerry Finnegan from the Venice diocese, Monsignor Aidan Foynes and Monsignor Brendan Muldoon. I promised the Cardinal that I would gather the three of them for a quiet dinner while he was in our town. This morning a devastating report of sexual and physical abuse in mostly boarding schools in Ireland was made public by the Irish government. Yet another sad day in the history of the Church but I hope and pray we have learned from the sins of the past and while no one can promise that they will never happen again, we can promise that every step will be taken to keep our children safe and such behavior will not be tolerated.
I also had an opportunity to spend a few moments with the Papal Nuncio to the United Kingdom and we talked about his service as papal nuncio to Cuba. He hated it when he was reassigned (to the Republic of the Congo) and saw in his four or so years on the island nation the birth of a growing, far more robust Catholicism, especially among the young Cubans.
The newspapers and their number seems to be legion from the staid London Times to the tabloids with all sorts of iterations in between proved interesting reading for me at Heathrow airport this morning and thanks to a quite late plane, I had plenty of time to peruse the papers. The UK is going through a period of scandals affecting certain members of Parliament who seem to be resigning from office, a few every day. Most of their sins seems to focus on the payment of real estate, property and capital gains taxes and many seem to think that the Labor party, ruling at the moment, is in trouble. The UK now has a third major party gaining strength called the Liberal Democrats(I think though I am not sure) and they are gaining on the Conservatives or Tories who have formed the opposition since the days of Lady Margaret Thatcher and the rise of Tony Blair.
I did not think the papers were particularly kind to Archbishop Nichols. As I listened to his homily I knew that the media would not likely get what he was saying and except for one or two sound bites, they did not disappoint. However, they jumped on something he said earlier in the day with regard to the Ryan Report of the Irish sexual misconduct in religious schools which had been issued that morning in Ireland. The Archbishop decried the events now revealed and expressed his abhorrence of them and then went on to suggest, “but we must not forget the great work done by the Sisters of Mercy and the Christian Brothers” during that time as well.” [not meant to be a direct quote but more a paraphrase.] The boom of journalistic criticism fell unfairly on him. Most victims of sexual misconduct by a clergyman or person of the Church, dreadfully painful and destructive as it is and was relates more to the actions of a very few. Their anger is more rightly directed at the Church which may have known about the behavior and did nothing. Now I understand that the Archbishop of Dublin is upset with Nichol’s interventions although I did not know how anyone could have dodged the issue yesterday either in Ireland or Great Britain. Anyway, that seemed to be Fleet Street’s slant of the Church news of the previous day and the fire is kept burning by internal ecclesiastical differences. Sound familiar?
Westminster Cathedral in London on May 21, 2009
My dear and good friend, Canon Adrian Arrowsmith - the new Archbishop's former "landlord"
Interior of Westminster Cathedral before Installation Mass - Main Altar - photo kindness of Anusha Everson