ROME, STATE COLLEGE, BALTIMORE AND THE DIOCESE
Darkness has now descended on northern Florida after an incredibly beautiful sunset and I am comfortable in my small room on AMTRAK’S “Silver Meteor” bound for the fall meeting of the bishops of the United States held in Baltimore and beginning tomorrow morning. If all goes well, which means God and AMTRAK working together, I will just arrive at the meeting room as the assembly begins. So tonight seems like a good night to post some unrelated and unconnected thoughts.
POPE BENEDICT XVI on Wednesday at the General Audience seemed to me to be quite animated and well. I had been reading of speculation about his health for several weeks and when he was an almost unprecedented twenty minutes late arriving in St. Peter’s square for the audience (very un-German like) I wondered, but once there, save walking more slowly (which I find myself doing), he seemed little different in bearing than when I last met him five plus years ago. We reminisced for about a minute and the fact that he still recognized me was encouraging also. From the beginning of his papacy, he has set a pace for himself consistent with his age and wisely has not tried to imitate his predecessor in having every meal with guests, forty people for daily Mass and individual opportunities for pictures at the drop of a hat. He should not be faulted for that and I suspect we will never again see the likes of a public pope like Blessed John Paul II.
THERE ARE ONLY THIRTEEN MORE DAYS LEFT for “Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again.” The new translation will be placed into use in our parishes, schools and missions on Saturday night, November 26th, the Vigil Masses for the First Sunday of October. All of will have to adjust but adjust we will. It may take some time to do so but it will be the new translation of very familiar prayers. I ask all of our good people to be patient with their bishop and priests for some time to come. Two weeks ago today, when offering Sunday Mass at the Church of the Primacy of Peter along the Sea of Galilee, the Franciscans in charge of the church had only the new English translation with which to work. I found praying the Eucharistic prayer to be challenging and difficult. In fact, I would say that I did not pray it as I would the translations with which we are so familiar as much as reading it. The wording is challenging, new in many instances, and the temptation to slip back into the more familiar when I took my eyes off the text was present and palpable. Only the “Our Father” has been spared change, everything else will require you and I and our priests for some time to pay attention to the printed word. And on both of our parts, in the beginning, we are going to “slip” from time to time. Please don’t write me with complaints about priests and deacons “refusing to use the new translation” when all that is happening is a simple mistake in these early months. It is going to take some time. Perhaps at the end of a year if you wish to share with me your thoughts about the changes, feel free to do so and I will respond by mail but give yourselves and us some time to make the change. I wish to thank our priests, deacons, and lay leadership who have prepared the diocese for this moment and you for being open to see how it goes. I have said many times this year and here will repeat for the last time, the changes will be far harder and more challenging on we priests than on anyone else. Soon perhaps we will be able to stop reading and resume praying when we commit to memory the new translation.
THE BALTIMORE MEETING this year going into it has a thin agenda – so thin I was able to read all the action items between the Orlando AMTRAK station and the Winter Park AMTRAK station. I do not see anything fractious or contentious to be discussed in public session but your bishops like nature abhor a vacuum and who knows? Unless there are more substantive issues, which arise in executive session (I have not seen the agenda), I wondered if I should even go to the time and expense of travelling to Baltimore. There are the usual elections plus elections of delegates to next year’s Rome Synod on the “new evangelization,” several small liturgical matters like the approval of some Mass texts for new saints and one for Blessed Pope John Paul II, and the annual approval of the budget and plans and programs for the Conference. Since its reorganization about five years ago, there has been a decided decline in matters brought before the body of bishops for debate and vote, which I think, was one of the purposes for the reorganization in the first place. I never thought twenty to twenty-five years ago that if a bishop I would want to miss a general meeting or leave early, but now I find myself guilty on both counts.
FINALLY, PENN STATE UNIVERSITY, JOE PATERNO and the sad news that children, minors, had been violated in the worst ways by a member of the coaching staff and while authorities knew of it, nothing was done brings back the worst of memory recall about our own challenges in this regard for the past decade. Since it all happened in 2002 and our dark night of the soul began in 2001 one would think that in light of our poor performance, every other organization would have learned and gained from our calamitous situation. As a Church in the United States and as a worldwide Church, we are far from “out of the woods” on this matter but we are working on it. Two things are foremost in my mind: anyone who has reasonably certain knowledge that an employee of the church, ordained, professed or employed is engaging in actions which even suggest inappropriate behavior need to report it to the civil authorities immediately, and second, when notified, those of us responsible for the governance of the Church must act as we promised we would in Dallas and have reaffirmed repeatedly. Words without actions spell further disaster.
IN THIS REGARD, the Diocese of St. Petersburg has been found to be in full compliance with the requirements of the Dallas Charter by Stonebridge Associates who have been retained by the United States Conference of Bishops to conduct annual audits. They made several recommendations, which will be implemented like posting in public places the phone numbers of where people should call and report if they sincerely suspect sexual misconduct with a minor to be present. Most of our parishes, schools and institutions have done this but apparently some have not. There was also a concern about one parish where it was not clear that all parents and children had been given the instructions about creating and maintaining a safe environment. I wish to thank everyone in the diocese from pastors to lawn care personnel for being attentive to the needs of insuring a strong safe environment. But in the end, like Penn State, it all depends in the end on me to make the right decisions with the help of a truly independent diocesan Review Board, Victims Assistance Coordinator and alert people.
The “Silver Meteor” has just landed in Savannah and it is time for me to go to dinner in the diner and nothing could be finer. Prayers for all of you this week and please keep me in your prayers as well.