There is an old story which probably most of you know about the kid feverishly shoveling his way through a huge and high pile of compost. When asked what in the world he/she was doing, the child replied, “with all this, there has to be a pony down here somewhere.” Today in Rome, the Holy See announced the expected pontifical visitation to the Church in Ireland in light of the horrendous revelations of sexual abuse of minors by priests, religious brothers and religious sisters which has devastated the faith in that country. Some must ask why now? Is it not too late? Is the horse not already out of the barn? Of course, it is never to late to confess one’s sins, personal and institutional, amend one’s life, personal or institutional , and agree to commit the sin no more, as a person or an institution. The Catholic Church in Ireland has basically asked the Holy Father, send us “good confessors” to whom we can confess our sins and who will guide us on reclaiming moral high ground we seem to have lost. The Apostolic Visitators to the four archdioceses in Ireland and to the dioceses are all from outside of Ireland but all have born the heat of the day in their own dioceses and can be good confessors to a Church seeking healing and redemption. From the United States, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston has been appointed by the Pope to perhaps the toughest of situations in the Archdiocese of Dublin and its related suffragan sees (ecclesiastical talk for the dioceses outside of Dublin which come under the loose supervision of the Archbishop of the capital city). At the same time as the whole Church in Ireland will be visited, there will also be a visitation to Ireland’s remaining seminaries led by our Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York. Archbishop Dolan spoke last week at Ireland’s major remaining seminary, St. Patrick’s in Maynooth and I encourage all of you to take the time to read his lecture by clicking here. Quite frankly, I think he has found the pony! It is a great synthesis of how I think my priests have suffered but made it through the last decade here, in St. Petersburg. Archbishop Dolan’s talk is lengthy but illuminating.
The bishops of the United States, some 210 strong, will be assembling in St. Petersburg starting Monday, June 14, 2010 at the Vinoy Hotel. 212 bishops have registered for an “assembly” which we hold every four years. It is not a business meeting so the media and observers will not be attending. It is closed to all but bishops. It is relaxed and informal. It is something like five days of continuing education and this year the general theme is “the bishop and his priests.” Archbishop Dolan will give the keynote address on Monday night to start us off. It has been my special privilege to be a part of every committee planning the agenda and topics for these assemblies since I was made a bishop and I was chair of the committee which planned the Assembly held in Tucson, Arizona, in June of 1998. We always invite a cardinal from outside the United States to spend the days with us and deliver the homilies at morning and evening prayer throughout the days and at daily Mass, lead our Hly Hours, and our Reconciliation and Penance Service. This year, our “spiritual father” will be Cardinal Peter Turkson who is from Ghana and was recently asked by Pope Benedict XVI to leave his archdiocese and come to Rome to head the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. I look forward to the Cardinal’s wisdom and insights into being a bishop in the Church and world today. He too will help us try and rediscover the “pony.” Our assemblies are as I mentioned relaxed. Evenings can be spent in informal conversation with others, there are even new or relatively new movies which the Hollywood studios make available for bishops to see in the evening. If you happen to be in downtown St. Petersburg from Monday, June 14 through Saturday, June 19th and see a group of men in the evening walking through Straub or Vinoy Park, it will likely be some of us.
Relationships between bishops and priests is an important topic because it has changed for the worse since the sexual-abuse controversy of 2001 and following. In many places priests don’t trust their bishops any longer and are terrified that they will receive a call and be asked to come and see the bishop for fear it might be a complaint or something of that nature. Priests and bishops need to search together for the “pony” that remains down there somewhere, as it was before.
I ask your prayers for our Assembly which is being held in our diocese in two weeks. May it be five days of grace, wisdom and insight for those of us who have been asked to lead the Church at this moment in history.