Archive for April, 2009

BISHOPS AND BULLS

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

The post below recounts my experience in my first visit to Biloxi, Mississippi for the installation of a friend as the third bishop. There is another hopefully amusing story to accompany the Monday installation. The papal nuncio was present as he generally is for the ordination of bishops who will head dioceses in the United States and their installations. Archbishop Pietro Sambi serves in this important position currently and he is simultaneously the eyes and ears of the Holy Father in this country, a representative of the State of Vatican City to the government of the United States of ambassadorial status, and a great help to the bishops of the United States in regular, commonplace, and sometimes not so commonplace communications with the Holy See and its offices.

At this particular installation on Monday, the Archbishop had to announce to the assembled, that the “bull” of appointment had not yet arrived in its original form at his office for presentation prior to the installation of the new bishop. The “bull” is the official parchment in Latin which announces the appointment by the pope of a new bishop and is required for the authenticity of the appointment. It contains a wax seal of the Pope and for centuries has been presented to those in charge of the diocese during the vacancy (the Administrator and the College of Consultors). The Archbishop drew a good laugh when he s
aid that the “bull” had not yet arrived and then a second good laugh when he said that so many new bishops were being made that the Holy See could not keep up with the demand for “bulls.” The installation, of course, continued because the Archbishop had a translation of the “bull” and also has the canonical power to install without the necessary documents until such time as they arrive and everything becomes kosher again.

Now the story. In the late ’80’s a new diocese in Colorado was formed and an auxiliary bishop from Denver was appointed its first bishop. The Diocese was Colorado Springs and the new bishop was Richard Hanifen. At the precise moment of the installation, the official “bull” having arrived, no one could find it – anywhere. With a mixture of consternation and some humor, the then nuncio, the late Cardinal Pio Laghi got up at the appropriate time and announced the “bull has been lost.” Later at the homily at the Mass of installation, the new Bishop Hanifen got up and said, “Archbishop Laghi, this is ranching country out here and it is a crime and expensive to lose bulls.” The place erupted in laughter spawned by local humor.

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KATRINA

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

On Monday I visited the city of Biloxi, Mississippi for the first time and it had nothing to do with gambling. A friend of mine, Auxiliary Bishop Roger P Morin of New Orleans was installed that afternoon as the third bishop of Biloxi. Bishop Morin and I became friends during the runup to the 1987 papal visit to New Orleans where he served as archdiocesan coordinator and helped me cope with the then archbishop, Philip Hannan who is still alive and was present at the installation at age 96. Visiting Biloxi reminded me of the incredible generosity of the people of this diocese in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. I was able to send about $250,000 to then Bishop Thomas Rodi for use in getting the Church back up and running and over a million dollars collected to Catholic Charities USA who helped those affected by the storm rebuild their lives. Evidence is everywhere in Biloxi still of the power of storm surge and its devastating effects. St. Michael’s parish church which is located on the beachfront remains pretty much in shambles although rebuilding is beginning to take shape in earnest. I was both happy for my friend Bishop Morin and proud of the goodness of the people whom I am privileged to serve.

Today (Wednesday) I held my twice annual mandatory meetings of the clergy to discuss matters of special import and interest. The priests are great fun to get together and the Bethany Center is a perfect setting for these meetings. Also, at this time, there is a week-long seminar for priests whom we have identified as soon to become pastors. They are learning the “ropes” and enjoying the camaraderie at the same time. I had dinner with them and then shared my top ten list of things new pastors should NOT do. They are in class all day but seem to be getting a lot out of it.

Had a huge confirmation last night at St. Paul’s parish in Tampa (161 were confirmed) only two hours after getting off the plane from the Biloxi installation. Great story comes with this. After arriving at the Tampa Airport from New Orleans on Southwest, a gentleman approached me and said, “Pardon me, but would you happen to be…….?” “Bishop Lynch, in the flesh, I responded. He gave me his name and said that he was rushing back to attend his child’s confirmation at St. Paul’s. He further said that his wife had given him a hard time for scheduling a meeting in New Orleans on the day of their child’s confirmation and that when he saw me standing in line to board the flight in New Orleans, he text messaged his wife: “Don’t worry, honey, the bishop is on my plane!”

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PENSIONS

Friday, April 24th, 2009

One of the things which I feel very strong about and always have in my years in management is the almost “sacred trust” which people place in their retirement/pension plans. After years and years of working hard, all of us look forward to that moment when we can step back from our daily labors and enjoy retirement. To do this, we must rely on the money which either we or our employers have placed in our pension plans. Most of us know that in today’s world, pensions and social security will barely get us through these days but both of those sources of retirement income must be safely secured to be there for us when our time comes to retire. Even before the present terrible economic crisis, it pained me to see major companies go bankrupt and employees and pensioners’ retirement benefits cast in serious doubt. Some major airlines went out of business and with that, retirement incomes were severely challenged. The federal government has a program to back portions of qualifying pension plans giving some security in an uncertain time but it does not apply to all pension plans.

In recent weeks I have announced a major development in our diocesan “defined benefit pension plan.” Since the establishment of the St. Petersburg diocese in 1968, this diocese has joined with the Archdiocese of Miami in a combined pension plan covering our lay and religious/clergy employees. In 1984, when we lost our southern counties to the newly formed Diocese of Venice, that new diocese joined the pension plan as a third member as did the new Diocese of Palm Beach but the latter a year later split off and began their own defined benefit plan. So since 1985, the Archdiocese of Miami, the Diocese of St. Petersburg, and the Diocese of Venice have participated equally in effecting stewardship and management over a combined plan. By the way, a “defined benefit plan” means that the employer funds the entire premiums of the plan (there is no employee contribution), defines the benefits to be received and when, and manages the plan to meet the present and future liabilities. Our plan is guaranteed by the three dioceses and not by the federal government so if it were to “go under”, the diocese would be responsible to those in the plan for their pensions.

Five trustees from each of the three dioceses (fifteen trustees total)  have managed the plan since its inception and they serve without remuneration. They have overseen the plan’s growth to a situation where the plan was comfortably endowed with more than enough monies to secure the actuarial expectations for the future. In the last year, the overall financial situation of one of the member dioceses has pushed their trustees to begin to look at a reduction in benefits and a change in the plan which would require all employees to forfeit some of their present benefits. The pension plan premiums currently cost the employers approximately 10% of lay salaries and this particular diocese was looking to reduce the premiums to 8%.  As one of the three owning bishops, I exercised a right of veto over two amendments to the plan which would have required that our lay employees work longer before being allowed to retire (the Social Security access years instead of age 65).

The Archdiocese of Miami announced that it was withdrawing from the combined plan effective July 1, 2009 and would proceed on its own. I was surprised by this announcement but I understand it. They contribute 65% of the premiums into the plan and felt very strongly that their financial situation as an archdiocese required that they quickly achieve the 8% premium level as soon as possible. The Diocese of St. Petersburg is the second largest stakeholder in the plan and Venice would be the third and smallest. Venice has chosen to ask the Archdiocese of Miami to remain with them and Miami has accepted but I am told  is requiring Venice to give up equal control of the plan in such a way that Miami could out vote them in the future.

Our five trustees met immediately and decided that this new albeit unexpected reality could be a good thing for our employees. We have retained expert pension counsel (attorneys) and also an expert actuarial consultant to monitor the impending division of assets to see that we receive what is fairly ours after these forty-one years together. Both consultants, legal and actuarial, have said that given the financial challenges facing one of the present members, it is wise and prudent to separate the assets at this time. I believe that the spin-off will be amicable, equitable, and swift. No current employee of the diocese should worry about their pensions as a result of this decision and action. There are no changes in benefits which I  or the five trustees are currently contemplating and that commitment of mine is what basically led to this moment.

Because of what is happening in the current economic climate and because of all the talk that surrounds the pension plans of some of the nation’s major corporations, I can understand why some of our diocesan employees are uneasy with this change. I can only assure you that your retirement future is likely more secure as a result of this action than it likely would have been without the spin-off and I consider your pension benefits almost a “sacred” trust.

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ANNIVERSARIES

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

In a few days  a number of our priests will begin in one fashion or another to celebrate different milestones in their priestly ministry. Whether it is 25, 40, 50 or 60 years of ordained ministry, anniversaries are times to pause and thank God for the good work of these men. Pope Benedict leads off the anniversary list by celebrating in short order not only his birthday but his fourth anniversary as pope. As I correctly foresaw at the time of his election, he has proven to be a patient and learned leader of the Church, ever the teacher. He has broken some traditional restraints  by writing and publishing a book on Jesus, perhaps one of the best books on the life of the Lord, and indicating that this is his personal opinion and work and is not intended to be a part of his magisterial collection of writings. The first two encyclical letters were on the subjects of love and hope and were eminently readable. Like most leaders in an era of instantaneous and mass communications, there have been some bumps along the road for the Holy Father (I would say less of his causation and more due to staff work and advice) but I think in four years the Catholic world has come to admire and love him in ways that many thought impossible for anyone to achieve following Pope John Paul II.

In the coming days I will mention our own jubilarians by name around the time of their anniversaries and talk about their gifts to this local Church. But during May, a month dedicated to the mother of all clergy and priests, I send an anticipated word of congratulations to all our jubiliarians.

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WHERE TO FIND THE TRUTH ABOUT OUR CHURCH?

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

From time to time, someone will approach me and ask, “Bishop, where in the media can I find the truth about what is happening in the Church today?” The question usually implies that the secular media’s coverage on the Church tends to focus on the negative or controversial and that even within the Church, there is sufficient polarization that in order to discover a kernel of truth, one has to plow through acres of planted grain.

The question has taken on significant import in recent weeks in certain sectors of the Church and with certain people because of the situation involving Notre Dame and Georgetown and the President of the United States. My take on all this is that the secular media quickly became disinterested and considered it an intramural fight and that most of the Catholic media and press considered it “interesting but not seismic.” Where the controversy remains, it is among a small group of strong-willed and strong-minded people but the debate and discussion has not and likely will not effect any change.

If you are reading this “blog” you already must have some computer savvy. I think a balanced picture of what is happening in the Church in the United States can usually be found on the internet at a blog site which I have previously mentioned entitled Whispers in the Loggia. The blog-meister, Rocco Palmo usually presents issues in a balanced manner and, I would say, reacts from a firm, healthy and good ecclesial perspective. He has good sources and is amassing a terrific understanding of the Church, how it operates, and what things mean. I do not find him desirous of being just another polarizing voice in the Church, but there is a lot of the journalist and occasionally the “gossip columnist” here.

Catholic News Service (CNS) is another reliable source of information on the Church in this country and in the world. Many of their “takes” on current situations can also be accessed through web portals like that of The Florida Catholic. Remember, they are a “wholesaler” of news items, not the retailer. They occasionally get into difficulty with one bishop or another because of that reality when the bishop or other critic thinks they have an obligation to “spin” a news item favorably toward the Church. They are like the AP, sending raw stories to customers who will choose either to pursue, comment upon or ignore this or that item.

The Holy See has a web-site that allows access to both the Italian daily newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, which publishes only in Italian or the weekly English language edition.

I don’t pay a great deal of attention to other news services because they have a mission to shade their transmissions to meet their own goals and objectives.

The internet is becoming the major portal for information on the Church and here one needs to be careful and skeptical. Bloggers like myself need to be read through the prism of fact versus opinion and information versus polemic. This blog is meant to share my opinions, insights, thoughts and commentaries on local, national and international issues facing the Church. You need to read it that way.

There are several weekly, monthly and quarterly  Church publications which I subscribe to and which serve my personal longing for information and intellectual challenge well, but I shall not list them because what satisfies my thirst and curiosity may not be the next person’s cup of tea.

In the end, there is something credible for everyone to be found beyond the secular media and if you are reading this on your computer, you can find them on the same computer with a little patience.

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PENNY FOR PINELLAS ANYONE?

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

Some of you may remember that the voters of Pinellas County a few years ago voted in favor of keeping the special penny sales tax which the State Legislature has allowed counties to collect for specific purposes, many of which deal with infrastructure. Late in the campaign leading up to the day of voting, I along with others began to raise serious questions about the wisdom of voting for the continuation for several reasons:

1. The county had serious other needs, like affordable housing (allowed for in the state plan but recommended to be funded at, to my thinking, a pittance of the revenues to be derived), services for the elderly, children, etc. which were not allowed for and could not be included.

2. Projecting even growth and development needs ten years out required a “crystal ball” of incredible acuity and accuracy.

3. Contractors, particularly road contractors, were more the principal beneficiaries than the people of the county.

I remember having an uneasy feeling at the time that the bottom just might fall out of the economy. I knew from my own Church demographics that people were leaving residency in the county and fewer were moving in. I just had an uneasy feeling that those millions, almost totaling a billion dollars over a decade could have been directed to better things in the future.

Look at what is happening in Tallahassee, in Pinellas county and in our cities and towns and tell me that those funds, with a change in law, could now be put to much better use in the service of our children, our low income, our homeless, our vulnerable elderly, our schools, our community. But, it is too late. The county is committed by the will of the voters and I accept that. I just hope that before the State Legislature renews this special sales tax exemption, they consider opening it up for other uses more related to the human needs of all and limits the term of engagement to something which is better able to be accurately foreseen.

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IT IS FINISHED. HE IS RISEN!

Sunday, April 12th, 2009

Happy Easter to all who read this blog entry. I joined a couple of my priests last night and they were all relating their experience of Holy Week 2009, mostly all pleased with attendance, the ceremonies, their preaching, etc. but all said in one way or another, “I’ll be happy when it is finished.” Easter always ends with great crowds overflowing our parishes following a generally sparsely attended Easter Vigil ceremony the previous night. Tempers run short when finding a place in the parking lot is almost impossible only to find all the places to sit in the Church are already taken. In the end, for some people the Easter experience is a nightmare and they promise never to come back to Church again, until they build a bigger Church some say. Well, one of the largest churches in Christindom is not big enough at Easter – St. Peter’s in Rome. So what is the attraction of Easter.

I think it is to be found in the heart and nature of the day itself. Christmas is a nice story and Jesus had to be born so there’s nothing really new about that, except the manner in which he was conceived. Easter is exceptional – a man dies like a criminal and rises from the dead like God! Now that’s something to recall and to celebrate it with others is really special. But there is more here than meets the eye or the ear. Something profoundly important was done for us and we need to hear its consequences. At the Easter Vigil ceremony I told a story which I found in a recent edition of AMERICA magazine (click here for the homily). I think as did the author of the article that it tells the story of what Easter is all about in imagery we can both understand and appreciate. I hope it helps unlock the secret of Easter’s meaning for you as much as it did for me.

We baptized quite a few at the Cathedral of St. Jude last night and welcomed several more into our faith. Some pictures of the special moment from the Cathedral are shown below. Think of them as being raised from the depth of the baptismal pool (I usually lift each one of them back to their feet after soaking them in baptismal water). Then read the homily if you have not already done so. So happy Easter again. There will be a one week hiatus for myself from writing in this blog and you can begin to look for new entries sometime around the 19th.

BAPTISM OF A CATECHUMEN AT THE EASTER VIGIL AT THE CATHEDRAL

BAPTISM OF A CATECHUMEN AT THE EASTER VIGIL AT THE CATHEDRAL

May the light of Christ be kept burning in your life. Father Tottle, the Cathedral Rector presents the baptismal candle to a new baptized

May the light of Christ be kept burning in your life. Father Tottle, the Cathedral Rector presents the baptismal candle to a new baptized

"Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit" - Confirmation of a newly baptized at the Easter Vigil

"Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit" - Confirmation of a newly baptized at the Easter Vigil

My thanks for these pictures to John Christian, my Master of Ceremonies for all the Liturgies of Holy Week.

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WERE YOU THERE WHEN THEY CRUCIFIED MY LORD? Good Friday Ecumenical Service at Pinellas Hope

Saturday, April 11th, 2009

Here are some pictures from an Ecumenical Good Friday Service at Pinellas Hope. This photo essay was taken by Mack Reeves, a junior at St. Petersburg Catholic High School.

The evening meal arrives for the residents of Pinellas Hope

The evening meal arrives for the residents of Pinellas Hope

St. Petersburg Catholic's Baseball Team volunteers to serve the Good Friday meal

St. Petersburg Catholic's Baseball Team volunteers to serve the Good Friday meal

The reading of the Passion of our Lord according to Mark - Two residents join me in proclaiming the Gospel

The reading of the Passion of our Lord according to Mark - Two residents join me in proclaiming the Gospel

An overflow congregation for the Ecumenical Service

An overflow congregation for the Ecumenical Service

Listening intently to the story of our redemption

Listening intently to the story of our redemption

Reverencing and embracing the wood of the cross on which hung our salvation

Reverencing and embracing the wood of the cross on which hung our salvation

The Pinellas Hope Resident's Choir led by Eric volunteering from Our Lady of Lourdes Parish

The Pinellas Hope Resident's Choir led by Eric volunteering from Our Lady of Lourdes Parish

One word, also nailed to a tree, that captures the end of Good Friday at Pinellas Hope

One word, also nailed to a tree, that captures the end of Good Friday at Pinellas Hope

OXYMORON – HARDLY

Friday, April 10th, 2009
A statue of Jesus carrying his cross - Jerusalem's Church of the Flagellation

A statue of Jesus carrying his cross - Jerusalem's Church of the Flagellation

Ever wonder why this day is called “Good” Friday when it recalls the most violent and hideous of tortures brought to bear on Jesus? Perhaps it takes its title from the fact that only God can make something truly good come from something truly awful. Awful this day was in the life of Jesus. Mocked, beaten, tortured, reviled, abandoned, betrayed, nailed to a cross, speared, hung until he could no longer breathe or speak – that was the price demanded to effect the good result of our salvation. That was what was needed to save humankind from itself. That was what was meant when it was said “no greater love anyone hath but to lay down his life for a friend.” There is no Mass today. There is nothing to celebrate, only things to recall. The bishop does not wear his ring today because the Church to which he is wed by his episcopal ordination is without its leader, its center. Catholics gather around the world to walk the Way of the Cross, to participate in the Good Friday Liturgy: a liturgy of the Word which includes the passion according to St. John with intercessory prayers, the veneration of the cross by all the faithful, and the distribution of Holy Communion consecrated the previous evening for use today. In silence, with austerity, we recall those momentous events in the final hours of Jesus. There is little need for music, except that which draws our attention to the fulfillment of centuries of prophecy and to the cross itself. The Church does not wish for us to go two days without the strength we normally draw from communion so the body of Christ is shared without the precious blood which was spilt. Isn’t “Good Friday” with all its recalls an oxymoron – hardly. God made it good by what he asked of his Son and what we learn tomorrow night at the Easter Vigil. If you wish to read the homily which I delivered at the Good Friday Liturgy this afternoon at St. Jude’s Cathedral, click here.

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Mosaic of the Jesus being placed in the tomb donated by Joseph of Arimathea at Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

With this act, the Scriptures fall silent. The deed is done. Now we wait.

PASSOVER

Thursday, April 9th, 2009

Tonight is the Feast of Passover throughout the Jewish world. This is one of those years when as we read, “Jesus went up to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Passover” it applies tonight as it did historically two millenia plus ago. Our brothers and sisters of the Jewish faith will gather throughout the world today and tonight to hear again the wonderful story of God’s intervention in the lives of their ancestors, how God saved them, delivered them, favored them. For the Jews tonight is a very Holy Thursday night. Since the first Passover celebration, the Jewish people have suffered much and have been the victims of the worst genocide in human history, the shoah, the holocost. On the receiving end of vile and evil forms of prejudice, they have remained faithful throughout the centuries and have formed a strong bond to protect their faith. Those of  us privileged to have close Jewish friends know how much their faith sustains them and tonight in a special way will bring families together at synagogues and in homes as have the days leading up to this moment. Let us pray for our Jewish friends, our ancestors in faith and deep believers in the same God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as ourselves. Blessed Passover, dear friends.