Archive for May, 2011

SOME LIKE IT HOT!

Monday, May 30th, 2011

A crowd of about 600 people begin to arrive for the Memorial Day 2011 Mass in 87 degree heat and our patented humidity.

This morning I offered Mass at Calvary Cemetery which is located in Pinellas County or on the St. Petersburg side of Tampa Bay. It is the only diocesan cemetery of any size and therefore it is the “gathering spot” for Masses on All Souls’ Day and Memorial Day. When I am in the diocese, I am always the celebrant and homilist for both Masses. They are known for the dispatch in which they are offered and for the intense heat and humidity of a late May and early November central Florida Day. This morning they set 500 chairs out and almost all were taken and at least a hundred more chose to stand elsewhere, usually under a shade tree if they could find one. Memorial Day is an important day for Catholics to gather to remember generally the dead but especially those who gave their lives in service to their country or were wounded in the line of duty or were Veterans of the armed services. About fifteen priests joined me this morning in concelebrating the Mass and three seminarians were also present. I wish to share with you my very brief homiletic reflection on this occasion, hoping that perhaps you will find time to offer a prayer for the repose of the souls of those whom you love.

MEMORIAL DAY MASS 2011

Calvary Cemetery

I know that each year I come to celebrate this Mass with mixed feelings. There is the desire to recall in thanksgiving, at Mass, the sacrifices others have made so that we might live in a land of the free and a home of the brave. This is always coupled with the knowledge that it is going to be hot, uncomfortably hot. But you and I come each year, recalling the lives of those who are buried here and especially on this day those who have given their lives in service to our nation and to its people. I am painfully aware that in the last decade another 6000 young women and men have died serving in our armed forces around the world, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are our fallen heroes, worthy of our prayers and remembrance.

We need not dwell at length this morning on our Catholic and Christian understanding of death. It is a release into the life for which we all await – a life where every tear will be wiped away and we shall see God as God really is. It is a life where we will be in communion with the woman soldier, Joan of Arc, and Martin of Tours. But they are names only to us; names of those whom we can be safely assured are at rest with the Lord. There are the others, known only to us for whom we pray this day.

Fallen, wounded, returned – those whom we memorialize this morning are in the hands of God because they lived a life of justice. We know that none of the torments, which can accompany us on our earthly pilgrimage, can any longer touch them. For some their life journey on earth ended far too quickly and in what Jesus said was the greatest act of the love, they laid down their lives for their friends. They are now at peace, having made the greatest sacrifice in imitation of that of Jesus. They have served – their country, their branch of service, their families with honor and distinction.

In return they have been led by He who promised that He was the “way, the truth and the life” and no one who truly believed in Him would ever die but instead would live. We cannot hear these words or recall these images often enough and when we begin to own them as our own then the sting of death and the pain of our loss is lessened.

That is precisely why we gather in the heat of the day each year to recall in prayer the heroic virtues of service, to thank God for the presence of our heroes and loved ones in our lives, to receive the body and blood of He who made the ultimate sacrifice so that the enlistment center for eternal life could be opened for all of us.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual life shine upon them.

+RNL

LETTER TO THE PEOPLE OF THE DIOCESE OF ST. PETERSBURG

Saturday, May 28th, 2011

Dear Sisters and Brothers in the Risen Lord:

In May 2006, I issued a letter to the people of the Diocese of St. Petersburg regarding what we were going to do to protect children and vulnerable adults.  (That letter is available on the diocesan webpage under the Safe Environment Program Office).  Given the stories that have come out internationally and nationally regarding sexual misconduct by priests and others, I wanted to issue an updated report at this time.  The original letter issued in May 2006 reflected a commitment of our Church to protect children and vulnerable adults.  In this report, I will outline what has happened since my arrival in 1996 and hopefully, in the spirit of transparency, give you specific information regarding our Diocese and the issues we have faced in the past.

It should be understood first and foremost that, whenever an allegation is made against a priest and it is determined to be credible, he is removed from priestly ministry. Church law has the equivalent of a civil Statute of Limitations, which can prevent me from seeking laicization for a priest.  However, I take every reasonable step to be sure he is out of priestly ministry, and I will continue to do so whenever an allegation is deemed credible.

To date, we have had 59 credible instances of sexual misconduct with a minor involving 8 priests of the Diocese (49 instances against two priests alone) and 10 credible instances involving 4 priests, not of this Diocese, but who were in ministry within our Diocese at the time.  Since its beginning in 1968, our Diocese has had over 5,000 priests serve the people of God.  We have had 7 instances of sexual misconduct with a minor involving 3 lay persons serving in ministry.  The names of our diocesan clergy who have had credible allegations of sexual misconduct with a minor raised against them are published on the diocesan webpage under the Safe Environment Program Office.  This information will continue to be available on our diocesan webpage.  I continue to pray for the victims of priests and others who abused their trust and violated children.

The most important thing I can do as your Bishop is to take steps to ensure that we, as the Church here in the Diocese of St. Petersburg, do everything reasonably possible to protect our children and vulnerable adults.  The following actions have been and are being taken to achieve that result:

  • The Safe Environment Program office is established in our Diocese and conducts programs throughout the Diocese on a continual basis.  This office ensures that we meet our commitment that we have made to you in the past.
  • We have established a Victim Assistance Ministry.  We continue to have victims come forward who were harmed in the past, and we continue to follow our policy for the protection of children and vulnerable adults.  I am sure that there still remain those who have been harmed, and I encourage them to come forward to law enforcement and/or our Lay Victim Assistance Minister by calling 1.866.407.4505.  We remain committed to listening to them and to assisting them in their healing process.  When we do receive a allegation, our Lay Victim Assistance Minister offers immediate pastoral care while a preliminary investigation is conducted.
  • We have established a comprehensive Screening Process.  All employees, priests and deacons, and any individual who serves in a ministry and comes into contact with youth and vulnerable adults must be screened.  This screening process is redone every five years.  I and many of our priests who were screened when we began this program have just completed rescreening and recertification in our Safe Environment Program, including a combined FBI/Florida Department of Law Enforcement background check.  The screening process is outlined on the diocesan webpage.  We have screened over 18,000 people in the last five years.  This includes over 300 priests who serve in active ministry in our Diocese, all of whom have been screened and recertified.  Our Diocese, including our parishes and schools, has spent nearly $1,000,000 in the last five years to make sure this screening is comprehensive and our children and vulnerable adults are protected.
  • The Diocesan Review Board reviews all accusations of sexual misconduct with a minor.  (Complete description of this Board is under Safe Environment on the diocesan webpage). The first thing we do is report any accusation to the appropriate law enforcement/State Attorney’s Office.  To date, I have accepted the recommendation of the Diocesan Review Board in every instance.  For all instances in which the allegations are deemed to be credible, the individual is permanently removed from ministry.  No diocesan priest is serving in ministry within our Diocese against whom an allegation has been deemed credible.
  • A consistent Investigation Process is established and followed.  The Diocese uses an outside investigator, who is a former FBI agent, and the results of the investigation are then presented to our Diocesan Review Board.  When an allegation is deemed credible, our response is to offer pastoral care and assistance and to assist in the healing process.  We have been able to achieve reasonable settlements, not for legal reasons, but because the Church should offer care and assistance for those who have been harmed by someone serving in the ministry.

There is a cost above and beyond the significant physical and emotional impact on the victims and their families.  Over the past five years, the Diocese has expended $1,760,000 for settlements, and an additional $273,000 for counseling assistance to those who have been harmed as minors, as well as $123,000 in legal fees and costs.  Since 1990, the total expended for settlements has been $4,715,000.  Approximately 20% of this has been covered by insurance.  The remainder has been withdrawn from insurance reserves of the Diocese.  We have never appealed for special funds or conducted our Annual Pastoral Appeal to cover these financial commitments.

I think you know that, as your Bishop, this is a very difficult report for me to issue because it reopens wounds caused by those who have hurt our children.  However, I feel that being open and honest with you is necessary.  There are no real positives in this situation, but I do take some comfort in a number of things.  First, the number of accusations we have received alleging sexual misconduct for the abuse of minors has diminished.  Nearly all the claims we have received are more than 20 years old.  Our policies for protecting children and vulnerable adults began in 1996 and are updated to reflect best practice.  The lack of any recent incident is a clear indication that some of the actions we are taking are working to provide a safe environment for our children.  Second, we have never received a complaint regarding a vulnerable adult being abused.  Finally, I want you to know that I have the full support of all our priests in making sure our Diocese is safe for children and vulnerable adults.  I know even just one instance of abuse is one too many.  At some point, fallible Bishops and fallible Review Boards must sit in judgment of an allegation brought against a member of our family.  I can assure you that we follow the requirements of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.  The Diocese of St. Petersburg has been found to be in compliance after each of the five USCCB mandated audits conducted by their outside auditors.

My heart continues to go out to the victims of priests and others who have abused their trust.  No amount of money, counseling or emotional and spiritual support can right this terrible wrong.  In my talks with victims, the one promise which seems to bring the most and sometimes the only comfort is that the Church listens and continues to act in such a manner to do our best to prevent it from happening again.  While there have been so many good priests serving our Diocese throughout the years I, as Bishop, and my brother priests, regret that twelve of our number have had credible instances of sexual misconduct with a minor.  I want to close my report by emphasizing that we should continue to focus on what steps we need to take to continue preventing any future harm.  As a Church, we are deeply committed to this goal.

Sincerely yours in Christ,
Most Reverend Robert N. Lynch
Bishop of St. Petersburg

CALLED TO ACCOUNTABILITY

Saturday, May 28th, 2011

Beginning with today’s Vigil Masses,  every worshipping Catholic in our five county diocese will be receiving a letter from me outlining the work which we have done and the cost of dealing with past instances of sexual misconduct with minors by both priests and lay employees. My letter coincides with a number of other events within the Church in the United States on this sad topic: recent guidelines issued  by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to the bishops of the world for dealing with cases of sexual misconduct with a minor, the final report commissioned by the bishops of the United States by the John Jay College on The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010, and the tenth anniversary of the passage of what is called The Dallas Charter” which outlines what the Catholic Church in the US must do to protect children in effect since 2002. The “Dallas Charter” is scheduled for review and reexamination at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting next month in Seattle.

All of this is by way of rather lengthy preamble to several questions: can the Diocese of St. Petersburg be trusted to handle accusations of sexual misconduct with a minor or vulnerable adult in accordance with the promises contained in the “Dallas Charter” and have I as bishop done all that I can to protect children in the diocese? Each Catholic will have to make  up their own mind on these questions, hopefully after thoughtfully reading and reflecting on my letter and other resources. If you wish to read the John Jay study, you may do so by clicking here.

Too many young people have been crushed and hurt beyond belief in what was done to them as children by a figure as trusted as a priest. One case is one too many. To all victims, the Church today must join me as your bishop in restating once again our most sincere apology for what was done to you, for the psychological, emotional and faith harm which it caused you, and the deep pain and distrust which lingers. To my fellow Catholics, I beg you to accept that these feelings in victims of clergy sexual misconduct against minors are real. I fear that too many people think that the victims should “just get over it and move on.” It is never that easy and the profound harm done to them lingers in many throughout their entire life even if they wish to move on. All I can promise is to do all in my power to try and prevent it from happening in the future. Human nature is fallen and sinful and it is impossible to know what evil lurks in the hearts of every man and woman, but we are much wiser than twenty years ago, more careful and observant, attentive to warning signs and far, far more knowledgeable about the subject. Sometimes the only consolation we can give to a victim is that we are doing all we can to see that it does not happen again.

I believe that for at least the next decade and maybe longer, some victims will continue to come forward who were abused by a person of the Church (clergy, religious or lay) in this diocese but mostly from times long past. I encourage anyone harmed by a person of the Church to be in contact with our Victim Assistance Minister, contact local law enforcement, and begin some process of healing. I don’t want you just to go away unless and until the Church has had an opportunity to say it’s/we (are) sorry and help you deal with harm done to you.

My letter has been shared in advance with the Presbyteral Council of the diocese consisting of twenty-six representative priests and by the Diocesan Pastoral Council which is made up largely of lay women and men. Both consultative bodies overwhelmingly have encouraged me to publish the letter. We take no comfort in the statistics it will reveal and we claim no virtue in recapping the last fifteen years. They and I just feel that you have a right to know what we have done and are doing  and the victims need once again to hear our voice in profound apology for the harm done by a few. The harm done is disproportionately high compared to the small number of priests and lay employees credibly accused, some of whom are now deceased.

The John Jay study, last Thursday, was a thorough examination of both the causes of sexual misconduct (focused solely on priests) and is both scholarly and timely. From where I sit, I can assure you that the researchers were totally free to go where necessary to find out what we did wrong in the past and what we might have learned from the past which might help avoid a similar situation in the future. It already has its critics and I understand that but I am confident that it will withstand the intense scrutiny which it will be given by the psychological, social science, medical, and research communities for its extensive research into perhaps the darkest moment of Church history in the last sixty years. Please read my report to the people also with an open mind and if you have questions after reading it, then please send them to me and I will promise I will answer you as best I am able.

Soon, I pray, the Church will have the liberty to begin to return to the task of inviting back those who have left us and proclaiming the truly liberating and captivating Gospel of Jesus Christ. However, I do agree with my brother bishop, Blase Cupich, chairman of the USCCB Committee for the Protection of Children that we bishops will carry the shame of the past with us to our graves, even if we tried to do it right.

My letter will be posted here at four o’clock p.m. today (Saturday, May 28th) and will also be on the diocesan website should you not be in Church in this diocese this week-end. All parishioners attend Mass will receive the letter in their Sunday bulletins. Should it not be there, please use the comment section of this blog to inform me of the name of the parish. Again, please read it carefully and if you have additional questions, please write to me at Bishop Robert Lynch, PO Box 40200, St. Petersburg, Florida, 33743. I promise an appropriate response.

+RNL

Update: The letter is now available in the post “Letter to the People of the Diocese of St. Petersburg“.

COMMENCEMENT

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

The "cap toss" which has become a tradition at high school graduations. I have been cropped from the left side of this picture but I can assure you that with miters costing in the range of $500, I held on to my hat! Photo courtesy of John P. Christian

It has always been my custom except for one year to either celebrate the Baccalaureate Mass or attend the Commencement (Graduation) exercises for our six high schools in the diocese. Tomorrow night (Wednesday) I will have the privilege of doing the former at Tampa Jesuit High School and will then bring this high school graduation season to an end. I always begin with the actual graduation ceremony for the Academy of the Holy Names which by far is the most stylized graduation of the six. The young women all wear similar white floor length gowns and wear the most uncomfortable looking shoes I have ever seen. After receiving their diploma from me and posing for the official photograph, Academy’s graduates then go center stage and receive a dozen roses from flower girls chosen from the kindergarten class and both then curtsy to the audience and then the graduate returns to her place. It is a tradition at the Academy (and many private girls Catholic high schools throughout the country). Per graduate the Academy commencement ceremony easily takes the longest time but is very lovely. I was pleased this year that three young women from St. Peter Claver and two from Academy Prep received diplomas under the Academy’s “cultural diversity” program.

It is a work-out for me to attend all these end of the year ceremonies and sometimes can be quite challenging listening, as I have, to three salutatory and three valedictory speeches which often contain references that one can only understand if you are in the graduating class (even the parents often are clueless as to the allusions). I am always looking for references in the talk to their “faith formation” which the class has received or expressions of gratitude for having the chance to receive a Catholic secondary education. This year the three baccalaureate Masses which I have celebrated have been very prayerful experiences with super student participation. Last night at St. Timothy in Lutz, the students from Tampa Catholic provided a superb and very appropriate musical program and two of the graduates sang solos during the Mass and did an outstanding job. I was quite impressed.

It seems to me that this year’s crop of graduating seniors are far more serious and deferential to elders than some of my earlier experiences. The brief interchanges when I hand them their diploma or shake their hands at the end of Mass if it was a Baccalaureate moment have been far more substantive and gratitude far more genuine than in the earlier years. I hope I am on to something here in experiencing a trend of some kind.

Congratulations to our graduating seniors and heartfelt appreciation to the parents who made the moment possible and to the faculty and staff of our schools who sacrifice  great deal in order to teach our children. My interaction with all of you this year has been heartwarming and my prayers accompany the graduates as they move on.

+RNL

OUT OF AFRICA (EIGHT WEEKS FROM NOW)

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

Daniel Angel, Christopher Mertens, Robert Angel - Off to Africa With CRS

One of the greatest delights of my life as  both a priest and a bishop has been a long association with Catholic Relief Services. For twelve years I served on the Board of Directors of our Church’s overseas development and relief agency and for the last six I was privileged to be its Chairman of the Board and for a time, its President. During all those years I came to deeply appreciate CRS’s work throughout the globe to the poor, disadvantaged and ignored. Its staff, U.S. and international, are both committed and extremely competent. At the present moment I serve on a Search Committee seeking a replacement for Kenneth Hackett who is retiring after eighteen years at the helm of this agency which will approach one billion dollars in program services in the coming year. I was also on the Search Committee when chose Mr. Hackett. So my history, knowledge of and love for CRS runs very deep and is in my DNA.

Two years ago I invited a college Junior at what was then Loyola Baltimore and a graduate of St. Jude the Apostle elementary school and Jesuit High School to consider a summer internship with CRS. At the time I thought he would likely be assigned to Africa or South America, but instead the agency sent him to India for eight weeks. Brendan J. Stack who on Saturday graduated from Loyola Maryland had a great summer watching the Church work in an environment which was not easy and he came away with a deep respect for the work of CRS and a personal commitment to serve the poor as long as he might. This August he leaves for Idaho to spend a year with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps work with the homeless and undocumented in Boise, Idaho.

This summer I have invited two seminarians and one junior at Notre Dame University to take advantage of a similar opportunity and they leave shortly for their eight week assignments on the African Continent. Bob Angel is a graduate of Holy Family elementary in St. Petersburg and Northeast High School where he was a competitive swimmer. After graduating from the University of Florida he worked for one year as a fireman with the Tampa Fire Department where we won an award as the most spirit-filled recruit the department had in 2009. However, he heard the voice of the Lord suggesting to him that he might wish to try priesthood and he has spent the last two years in the pre-theology program at St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami and will enter St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach for his theology studies this August. Bob has been assigned to Sierra Leone where he will be involved in peace-building efforts in which CRS is engaged in a country that has recently seen the end to a long and bloody civil war. He will also work with children in a Catholic parish.

One year after Bob entered the seminary in Miami, his younger brother Dan who was halfway through  his college studies at the University of Central Florida decided to do the same and he joined his older sibling last Fall and finished his junior year a few weeks ago. Dan, like Bob, attended Holy Family Catholic School and Northeast High School where he also was a competitive swimmer. While attending UCF, Dan worked as a watchman and “friend” of Shamu at Sea World in Orlando. Dan has been assigned to a parish in Liberia, 100 miles outside of Monrovia, the capital. Liberia is also in the midst of reunification of purpose and people following a deadly and long civil war.

If it seems like all the CRS interns this year have swimming in their background, it is true but merely an accident. Christopher Mertens will be a junior in pre-med at Notre Dame University this fall as well as a student manager to the football and other varsity sports. He was the St. Petersburg Times “Male Scholar-Athlete” for Pinellas County in 2009, was captain for two years of the Palm Harbor University Swim Team, held a couple of school records and led his team to successful post-season competition in regional and state swimming meets. At Notre Dame, Christopher is one of the leaders in  his dorm’s commitment to Dismas House, a halfway house for convicted felons who have served their prison sentences, have been released and are looking for employment and some future better than what they have just left. Christopher has been assigned to Ghana and will work with a Doctor in an AIDS clinic in the northern small city of Tamale for eight weeks as a medical assistant.

If these three men have a great experience in the universal Church and a new appreciation of the role of Catholic Relief Services, then as long as CRS accepts young people in its program, I will be open to offering the opportunity to other young women and men who might wish to be sent to any where on the globe where there are people in need and suffering. Remember, however, it could be tough like Haiti and all the assignments have a certain amount of low risk and major inconvenience to the standard of living to which we are accustomed.

The Angel brothers are blogging their experiences this summer on http://african-angels.blogspot.com/ The first installment is up and ready for your viewing and I shall throughout the summer be posting from all three things I think you will be interested in reading and/or learning about our “three ambassadors to Africa” from the Diocese of St. Petersburg.

+CRS

CLOTHES MAY NOT MAKE BUT MAY DENOMINATE THE MAN

Saturday, May 21st, 2011

This morning (Saturday) at Sacred Heart Church in downtown Tampa, just hours before the Tampa Bay Lightning annihilated (for the moment) the Boston Bruins in the race to Lord Stanley’s Cup and within blocks of that arena, I ordained C. Timothy Corcoran III a transitional deacon for our Church. Tim is a former federal judge/magistrate and asked if he could be ordained in his parish Church and the place to which he would sometimes retire midday for Mass during the recess in his courtroom. Three weeks ago a second seminarian (Deacon Victor Amarose) for the diocese was similarly ordained a transitional deacon at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach with six of his classmates. Tim is an older vocation after spending all of his life as a lawyer and some as a bankruptcy judge in the Middle District Federal Court of Florida. Originally choosing to join first our Lay Pastoral Ministry Program to learn more about his Catholic faith, he first thought about the permanent deacon program which is open to married men (he is single) and then discerned a call to priesthood. He has been studying at my alma mater, Blessed Pope John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Massachusetts for the past three years. Both men will be ordained to the priesthood, God willing and their own sense of call still strong, one year from today for our diocese.

God's people implore the intercessions of the saints for the man who is to be ordained

Many of our seminarians were present today and from my vantage point I can see them intensely watch and ponder the beautiful ordination rite. Tim’s parents are both deceased and there were only one cousin and spouse present but there were friends from his judicial days among the several hundred in attendance. There is something about ordinations that make them special and today’s congregation joined heartily in participating in the ceremony, from singing loudly to responding in voice and applause at all the appropriate times. There was one moment when the applause went on so long that the former judge in Tim came out and he seemed to be signaling “order in the court, order!” Below is my homily for the occasion.

Homily at the Ordination of Deacon C. Timothy Corcoran III to the Order of Deacon

Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Tampa, FL, Saturday, May 21, 2011

Most Reverend Robert N. Lynch, Bishop of St. Petersburg

Mark Twain, the great American humorist of the 19th and early 20th century once said that “clothes make the man,. Naked people have little or no influence on society.”  Often we hear the reverse of what Twain actually wrote, “clothes DO NOT make the man.” Society certainly does acknowledge what one wears and in some instances, the sight of certain clothes be they uniforms, robes, or vestments can bring a sense of peace, a sense of justice, a sense of service.

I think of Twain’s cryptic comment this morning as our local Church prepares to ordain and receive Tim Corcoran as a deacon.  I remember well the first time I met Tim. It was here, at Sacred Heart, some thirteen years ago. On that occasion he and I both entered this sacred space vested according to our state and vocation.  It was the first Red Mass for me in the diocese and Judge Corcoran processed with his legal colleagues of the bench into Mass. On that occasion he was vested with a robe which signifies to we Americans, “justice is present, fairness and equality before the law will be observed, rich and poor mean nothing before the bar of justice.”

Soon Tim will be vested in another sign or symbol – the dalmatic of the deacon. It too conveys a meaning rich in both history and current praxis. In assuming the office, and its vestiture, the candidate for ordination as a deacon accepts a three fold responsibility before God and God’s people: to proclaim and preach the Word, to celebrate two sacraments and assist at the others, and to practice the works of charity. Judge Corcoran when soon ordained and vested once again in this Church which he loves and where so many wonderful moments of his life have transpired will set aside the examples of Thomas More, Thomas Jefferson, or Justice Clarence Thomas and put on Stephen the first martyr for the faith, Lawrence, and appropriately enough here in this place, Deacon Francis of Assisi. The poor should immediately see in the deacon a friend, a source of consolation and assistance, a helper and guide.

Old Testament prophets were understandably not deacons of the New Covenant but they were precursors. As we have so often heard it said, and may it never become a “throw away line”, the task of the prophet is to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.  The first reading this morning recalls Jeremiah’s call and commission. He was an unlikely candidate for office of prophet and while God may have waited a number of years before approaching him for the prophetic role and task, God makes it abundantly clear in the reading that God had God’s mind made up even before the prophet was born. We are pieces in the divine puzzle, put in place sometimes early in life and sometimes later.

Peter graphically sketches out in the second reading the perils of pastoring. The first Pope’s words would not make great print for vocation recruitment material as they spell out the challenges of ministry but they are a source of consolation for the minister. When you now preach justice from the sanctuary, Tim, instead of dispensing it as you did so well in a court of law, have the courage of the early Church, of Peter who has finally discovered his backbone, and be prepared for the predictable pushback if your preaching begins to cut close to the bone. In this moment in time, even the Ten Commandments can be a source of controversy but like Stephen, Lawrence and Francis, soon you will dispense on behalf of God true mercy and forgiveness. Use this time of transition to prepare yourself for the ministry to come.

Deacons Timothy Corcoran and Victor Amorose to be ordained priests in 2012

 

Thank you for responding affirmatively to the call of the Lord of the Harvest and today responding present. Preach well, celebrate with dignity as the presence of Christ in the sacraments deserves, and serve those whom the Lord sends to you in their moments of need. Your pastor for this past year, Father Frank Silva of the Archdiocese of Boston, wrote these words to me this week when responding to my blog on “priestly anniversaries”: “You and the Church of St. Petersburg will be blessed to have Tim as a priest when he is ordained in 2012. I believe he is ready now to embrace a life of service to God’s people given the extraordinary manner in which he involved himself in our parish community this past year.”

 

For my part I need hear no more. It is time to robe you in the mantle of deacon which is also the mantle of justice, confident that it is God who has called you to this moment and grateful for your response.

The Imposition of Hands - the moment of the conferral of the Sacrament of Holy Orders

Photos courtesy of Bill Peek

 

 

 

 

 

 

+RNL

 

 

ANNIVERSARY WALTZ

Friday, May 13th, 2011

May is the month when most of our priests celebrate the anniversaries of their priestly ordination. Now that I am on the “giving” side of ordinations as opposed to the “receiving” side (as pictured on the left), each year I ordain I  realize even more the grace of God in the moment and the joy and hope each ordination brings not just to the ordinand but to the whole Church. Sadly this year we have no ordinations but I can reasonably assure you that this is the last year for that phenomena. If God gives me the strength of days and good health, there is just the possibility that I will ordain just about as many to the priesthood in my final four years as in the sixteen years since my episcopal ordination. That thought alone is exciting and much of the future joy goes not just to the Holy Spirit but to Father Len Plazewski who worked the vineyard very hard searching for and cultivating vocations both to the priesthood and religious life. I think the Vocation Director(s) get about as amped at ordinations as the ordaining bishop. I know that Fathers Blum and Melchior await that moment with great expectation as do I.

Many priests allow their ordination anniversary to pass generally unnoticed. I realize that many married couples do the same, leaving the feelings, memories, joys and struggles to one another and moving on in their marriage without pausing to pay too much attention to the day they were married. Servant leaders usually take their cue from the Lord Himself who came to serve and not to be served and therefore any major acknowledgement or recognition of an anniversary day is the farthest thing from their mind. Sometimes priests will quietly acknowledge the day with a classmate in ordination, having dinner together and telling robust and raucous stories often centering on or about their bishops (just kidding). But I think every priest I know on the anniversary of their priestly ordination approaches the celebration of Mass on that day with a profound sense of thanksgiving and gratitude for the gift of priesthood. Some struggle, some rejoice, some are tired, some are renewed, some are worried, some are serene, some count the years until retirement and some fear the thought of retirement. But at the end of the Eucharist, perhaps in those few moments between communion and the closing prayer most priests thank God for the gift of serving as a priest. In my two rounds of overnights with the priests of this diocese over the last three years, many have in some way or another said, “if I had it to do all over again, I would do the same thing.”

Serving the people of God lies near the heart of our happiness, but making Christ present in the Eucharist and the other sacraments reserved to priestly ordination is the true epicenter of our joy and sense of satisfaction. For a priest, a day goes downhill from the moment he leaves Mass which is understandable in the light of our recent Eucharistic initiative where we clearly affirmed that the Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith and life in Christ. That certainly does not mean the day is not without its highlights, it means simply that particular moment of a priest’s life is likely not to be recaptured that day.

You can pretty much go to the bank that at least most of the diocesan priests at your service will be celebrating anniversaries of ordination in the next ten days and a  few in June as well. Except for the major milestones of 25,40 and 50 years of ordination, the day will pass with little notice and no attention. That’s the way we want it – just between us and Christ. But prayers for your priests this month are most welcome. I know each day of this season who was ordained on that date and check the list every morning with the intention of offering Mass for them for a bishop without priests is worse than a day without sunshine. Happy anniversary my brothers in priesthood! God’s people love you and so do I.

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SAD NEWS FOR WEST TAMPA

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

On Monday evening I did one of those things which no bishop ever wants to do. I along with the Superintendent of Schools and the Vicar General joined the principal of St. Joseph’s school in West Tampa for an emergency meeting with the parents of children in the school. Sister Luann Fantauzza, FMS, the principal, announced that her community was transferring her to another Salesian sisters’ school in New York. That news alone was devastating to the parent community and immediately gave birth to a full gamut of other fears (the school is closing, the sisters are all leaving, etc.) and hopefully I and others were able to allay those suspicions and fears in some manner. The meeting was chock full of genuine emotion with lots of tears, disappointment, some respectful anger. Clearly the school community loves Sister Luann and that alone was enough cause for disappointment. However, the parish is experiencing a double-whammie this Spring in that the much loved pastor, Father Felix Sanchez if also retiring from active ministry for reasons of health. So the parish is stunned and I needed to assure them that both in the rectory and the school, there would be compassion, continuity, and commitment.

Truthfully, although there had been rumors that the sisters would leave St. Joseph this summer, I did not learn definitively until around Easter that it would be the case. The provincial wrote to me and then came to see me at the end of April. I begged for the sisters to remain and it was agreed that while they might live at Villa Madonna, there would be at least two sisters for St. Joseph next year. Sister Phyllis Neves, the provincial, did emphasize that she did not have a principal to replace Sr. Luann. Father Sanchez had no idea the sisters might leave when he approached me for earlier retirement than expected either. Thus, St. Joseph’s parish was ripe for the “perfect storm” – beloved and admired pastor and principal both leaving.

All of this is happening in advance of something truly exciting to happen at St. Joseph’s school beginning with the next school year. Notre Dame has begun yet another program in education called “ACE Academy” which are Catholic schools serving poor to moderate income families. The ACE Academy designation indicates that Notre Dame is prepared to administer the schools in order to achieve two primary results: raise the educational performance of the students in these schools, while at the same time making enrollment in the schools more financially possible through the use of vouchers and programs like STEP UP FOR STUDENTS, the Florida program which provides tuition for true school choice. Notre Dame would provide an administrator to supervise the educational improvement programs in any local ACE Academies (and we are currently considering three schools for this designation) as well as an expert to assist parents in qualifying for every penny of scholarship or tuition assistance possible. There would be a school board which I would chair and which will include the pastors of any schools brought into the program. I was able along with Superintendent Alberto Vazquez-Matos to assure the parents of St. Joseph’s that their school indeed had a bright future but it was hard for the attendees to see that through the lens of the tears flowing at the news of the Principal’s departure.

Generally speaking, if Catholic education is to remain in this diocese with any future, a movement from parochial schools to diocesan schools is going to be required. The costs are exceeding the parish’s ability to maintain the schools, especially in light of diminshing enrollment. Catholic schools, if they are to continue, will require the financial support of the entire Catholic community, including parishes without schools. It is happening all over the United States and it is coming soon in all likelihood to a school near you. The Priest’s Council and the Diocesan Pastoral Council are at this time working on something of a transition model which beginning implementation will likely start with School Year 2012-2013. GOOGLE Catholic Schools and see for yourself what other local Churches are doing to meet this need.

So St. Joseph’s school will open again in August, hopefully with an increase in enrollment (something it has experienced in the last two years due to Sister Luann’s incredible effort to inform parents of the STEP UP option if they qualify) and could in a couple of years be one of the more financially stable schools in the diocese with a model enrollment. It is just a tragedy that Sister Luann and a Salesian principal will not be in place to see this dream come true. She knows of the love and admiration that the parents and children hold for her as does this bishop.

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ACTS OF THE APOSTLES

Friday, May 6th, 2011

One of the things which I enjoy the most about the six weeks of the Easter season is listening at Mass to the complete reading of the Acts of the Apostles. Since this is prime confirmation season in this diocese, the first reading from the Acts is always excellent fodder for the homily at the confirmation Mass. If courage is one of the gifts of the Holy  Spirit, no where is i t so consistently displayed in one book of the Bible than in the Acts of the Apostles. Listen to the same man who said to Pilate’s maid in the courtyard early on Good Friday when Peter is asked whether or not he is a friend of Jesus and he denies even knowing him to the Peter that in the synagogue and public places throughout Judea is preaching Jesus Christ as Lord, Messiah, Son of God. What got into him? Try the Holy Spirit.

Icon of St. Peter and St. PaulIt would probably be more appropriate to publicly proclaim Acts after Pentecost because it gives a great snapshot of the post-Pentecost, Spirit-inspired early Church. But coming now, after Easter and before Pentecost, is also an appropriate moment because the reality of the resurrection of Christ is so clearly on display in the faith of the Apostles and the early Church. in another couple of weeks, Saul a.k.a. Paul, will appear in the readings from Acts and the second part of the story of the early Church, namely proclaiming the Gospel to the Gentiles will begin. Peter becomes quite the preacher and Paul, probably the greatest theologian in the history of the Church, also proclaims the truth about a man who he never met in life before his crucifixion, with a passion similar to that of the first among the Apostles. True to most life, Peter and Paul have their moments, also recorded in the Acts of the Apostles but their disagreements always end in accord and harmony.

Statue of St. Peter in the Piazza in front of St. Peter's Basilica

Statue of St. Peter in the Piazza in front of St. Peter's Basilica

I find another proof of the Spirit in the words, especially of Peter who we must remember was largely an uneducated fisherman, but becomes simply eloquent in synthesizing the reality of Jesus’ resurrection into brief credal statements that almost everyone can understand while still remaining in the realm of profound ideas. Acts of the Apostles is the primer or basic textbook for studying the Christian era’s roots and beginning. When Easter season is over, our liturgy directs us back to readings from the entire Bible, Old and New Testaments which foretell the coming of the Messiah and apply that reality to our lived experience. But for the moment, the Church gives us one long narrative, the closest things we possess to a history book of the beginning of our Church and God acting in its midst.

If you are a reader unable to attend daily Mass during this season, but perhaps somewhat intrigued by this blog entry, try picking up the Bible and read Acts from beginning to end. It is not that long nor is it that difficult but it is foundational to our faith. Thanks for listening!

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BIBLICAL WOMEN

Thursday, May 5th, 2011

On Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, I had two occasions to reflect on the topic of biblical women, both in very different contexts and circumstances. The first, on Tuesday afternoon and evening, occurred in the context of the annual Diocesan C0uncil of Catholic Women’s convention which always takes place the first full week in May. Tuesday afternoon is always Mass with the Bishop which is followed later in the evening by the “Bishop’s Banquet” at which I am always present. I have written in this space in the past about the work of the DCCW which is so helpful in a number of ways.

This year at the banquet, the attendees and I heard one of the best talks I have ever heard on that occasion, including two banquet speeches which I have given in the past fifteen years. The ladies invited Pat Livingston who lives in our diocese to be the banquet speaker and she introduced the issue of “biblical women.” At times delightfully witty and always very incisive, she spoke both of women in the bible (Sarah, the wife of Abraham, for example) and the challenges of womanhood today. Pat Livingston has given talks to women all over the world just about and throughout the United States. She was at one time an Assistant Director of the Program for the Continuation of Priests and Religious Women which has housed out and supported by Notre Dame University and is now continuing at the Chicago Theological Union. She understands Church and she understands Sacred Scripture. On Tuesday night she was so spot on in addressing how biblical women confronted major challenges (the Samaritan women at Jacob’s well, for example), that the ladies and their priests and pastors and I gave her a standing ovation at the conclusion of her talk. I am very proud that Pat lives here among us and hope that we shall hear more from her in the future.

On Wednesday morning I joined a brother bishop in saying farewell to his mother who by all descriptions was also a modern biblical woman. Bishop Bernard Hebda is the bishop of the Diocese of Gaylord in far northern Michigan while still on the lower peninsula. I spend a couple of weeks every summer in his diocese and have assisted from time to time at the parishes in Petoskey and Harbor Springs. So, in a sense, he is my bishop when I am on vacation.

Bishop Hebda’s mother who lived with her husband of fifty-eight years on Siesta Key (off Sarasota) became seriously ill around the middle of Holy Week and the bishop missed the ceremonies of Holy Week to be with his mother, father, siblings and their children. I can only imagine  how painful it must have been for Bishop Hebda to be at the bedside of his mother and away from his diocese for the conclusion of Holy Week.

Mrs. Hebda died and was buried yesterday and I was happy that I could be present for the funeral Mass as the bishop described the life of his mother in biblical terms. He noted that like many people these days, phone calls would end with “I love you” being said and his mother responding “I love you more” and occasionally, “I love you most.” He then wonderfully connected that seemingly simple phrase with the death and resurrection of Jesus. I left regretting that I never had an opportunity to meet in life this extraordinary wife, mother and grandmother. By the way, two young grandchildren read the first and second readings flawlessly and in total control. I invite you to remember Helen Hebda and her family in your prayers.

Lest any reader think I am going too soft on the great gift of femininity, last night I went to Game Four of the Tampa Bay Lightning versus the Washington Capitols hockey game in pursuit of Lord Stanley’s cup. Macho enough, I think.

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