Archive for January, 2012

FAITH IN PRISONS

Sunday, January 29th, 2012

Friends of the Women's Faith-based Correctional Institute in Riverview protesting the closing of this highly successful experiment. Photo from Google Images and WTSP, Tampa Bay

For a number of years, if you wanted to find me on Christmas morning you just needed to come to the Women’s Correctional Facility (aka “prison”) in Riverview (Sun City Center) in southern Hillsborough County. I found the true meaning of modern Christmas there with about fifty inmates who would come to Mass on Christmas morning and a cadre of incredibly dedicated women and men, mostly from Prince of Peace parish in Sun City Center. There was more “joy to the world” to be found in that facility on Christmas day than I or anyone else ever had a right to expect. I was unable to make it this year which I now regret more than ever as Governor Rick Scott’s administration has decided to close the facility for lack of funds. What made this prison so different?

During the administration of Governor Jeb Bush, it was decided that the state would experiment with “faith based” prison facilities. Its population would consist of men and women (separate facilities around the state) who petitioned to be sent to an incarceration facility during the time  of serving their sentence where they could do a number of things to prepare better for the time when they would be released or paroled. In the case of the Hillsborough facility, the women applied, were recommended by their present prison staff, and allowed to transfer to not exactly a minimum security facility, but one which would allow them more freedom inside and give them an opportunity to deepen their faith and their skills. I think it worked beautifully and so would many of those volunteers in prison ministry who went there every week to meet, pray with, and support the prisoners. How I will long remember the great Gospel choir that would spend time every December preparing to sing Christmas carols at the Catholic Mass. Several of the inmates were confirmed by me while present and others entered the Church. It was all good from my perspective and for the state spending money on a type of prison where select inmates could prepare more easily for the day of their release. Governor Bush’s idea worked in Riverview by almost everyone’s judgment.

Now it is to close and the women returned to the more challenging environments from which some of them already had come. While not privy to the details of daily life and working, I am under the impression that there were far less inmate problems there than in the other state facilities. And to add insult to injury, in my judgment, some local politicians see the possibility of an empty prison as an answer to Hillsborough county’s woeful neglect of the homeless. If I had a wish, it would be that this facility not close but should it that a prison is the worst place to house the homeless, especially one which can only be reached by transportation in a police car or van.

Why do great ideas seem to fall as first victims to the budget axe? Heartfelt thanks to the volunteers from Sun City Center who befriended these women behind bars, led them back to faith, and lightened their lives not just on Christmas but throughout the year. Our state is making a bad mistake closing these facilities and it is a tragic and almost heartless consequence of these times in which we are living.

To the women of the Riverview Correctional Facility, thanks for the wonderful memories and the most precious Christmas gift I have received over the years, spending that morning with you praising God and searching for peace on earth and good will among all women and men.

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I AM SIXTEEN GOING ON SEVENTEEN

Friday, January 27th, 2012

Yesterday marked my sixteenth anniversary of ordination as a bishop and the same for my service to this wonderful local church. I try to ignore these occasions and usually only a few friends with really good memories interrupt my private reverie. However, there is a little book published each year called an ORDO which while it mainly serves as a reminder of which Mass and Prayers of the Divine Office one should pray each day, also includes information like the anniversaries of the deaths of all priests in the province of Miami and other useless facts like which bishop was ordained and/or installed on which day. Were that information not there, then the day would pass a little more quietly.

There is also the challenge of a loving staff which though they know I wish such occasions to pass generally unnoticed still find some way of spreading the news. Yesterday the whole student body and most of the teachers of the adjacent St. Petersburg Catholic came secretly (500 strong, but traveling secretly into my office area), set up a sound system and had the Glee Club then sing my favorite song from the TV show GLEE entitled “Don’t Stop Believing.” In true GLEE style I could not restrain doing a typical “dance” which at my age and stamina lasted all of twenty-seconds. But to be truthful, I loved it.

There was a confirmation last night at St. Francis of Assisi parish in Seffner and prior to its start I had a chance to visit with its pastor emeritus, Father Chris Fitzgerald, a prince of a priest. The years are not all that kind to Father Fitz these days but we exchanged some thoughts of the challenges of getting older and quite simply told each other how much we loved one another. That affirmation from him, one of my heroes, was enough to make the day memorable and special. To all those who remembered and sent e-mails of good wishes thanks. To all those who were unaware or unable to acknowledge the day, even more heartfelt thanks.

Going to bed last night, tired but also exhilarated somewhat, preceded by Night Prayer in the chapel, gave me some moments to thank my God that if one had to be called to the ministry of bishop, this lovely church was and remains pure gift. There are other signs also that I have been blessed thus far with a “good ride” and for that my heartfelt thanks to my priests, deacons, religious women and men and the greatest accumulation of faithful and faith-filled laity one could ask for. In the words of that lovely lyric from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s THE SOUND OF MUSIC, I am “sixteen, going on seventeen” and still in love with my Lord and those whom He has sent to “dance” with me. God Bless You All.

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MAN WAS I EVER HACKED OFF!

Friday, January 27th, 2012

Some of you are surely saying to yourself, “what now, my love?” and others are probably saying, “uh-oh, Obama again!” (more about that later). But what I wish to convey in this entry is that I have been literally hacked off for the last week. Someone, somewhere, managed to hack into the large server which WordPress uses for many of their blogs and randomly render them ineffective and inaccessible. It has taken the host servers and my wonderful dedicated IT staff here at the diocese a week to restore what little you see here and allow me the opportunity to start sharing again.

At the moment, your ability to send me your comments is not possible but it will return. Also, the archives which date back to the beginning of this effort seem at this writing to be unrecoverable but they are still working on it and hope springs eternal. I want my postulator for sainthood to have access to my writings but not the devil’s advocate (I hope you know I am kidding!) All joking aside, I have learned a few things about patience in this last week and a deeper admiration for those who work for and with me in making this blog possible.

So, slightly wounded but still kicking, here we go again.

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AN AMAZING ANNOUNCEMENT

Thursday, January 26th, 2012

*Originally posted on the Diocese of St. Petersburg website on Friday, January 20, 2012.*

The White House announced this afternoon that there would be no change in the regulations issued previously by the Department of Health and Human Services which would require the Diocese of St. Petersburg to change its existing health care plan that presently covers all employees (including priests and religious) to include provision for contraceptives and contraceptive and aborti-facient procedures. These prescriptions violate our institutional and personal consciences and I have warned before that this bishop and this diocese will not accept nor provide them. The callous disregard for long held personal and ecclesial beliefs augurs a chilling moment for believing and practicing Catholics in these United States. It is my hope that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops will immediately challenge these regulations in court and right up to the highest court and that a stay of their implementation will await final judicial disposition. Our forbearers left Europe because of religious intolerance such as this and founded this nation promising religious tolerance and freedom.

I will write a letter to be read and/or distributed in every parish in the diocese next week-end and I hope that no Catholic voting adult will soon forget this egregious and insensitive intrusion by our government into our rights of conscience.

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AN ALMOST ICONIC MAN OF FAITH

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

Death came yesterday morning to William T. Tapp. For more than twenty-five years, Bill Tapp was Director of Music and organist at the Cathedral of St. Jude in St. Petersburg and after his retirement and following the death of a dear friend, he took on the responsibilities of directing the choir and organist at the same city’s St. Paul Church for an additional ten years. Every priest of this diocese ordained prior to 1998 has good memories of working with “Mr. Tapp” on the music for their ordination and many married couples will remember him for his presence at their weddings. Born, raised and educated in Philadelphia, Mr. Tapp served in the army during World War II and was wounded in the invasion which followed D-Day. He loved his regiment and faithfully attended annual reunions until he was no longer able to do so. Returning from the War, he pursued his love of music, particularly Church music in Philadelphia and while being the organist and director of music for Our Lady of Ransom parish, he taught and assisted throughout the archdiocese including occasionally even St. Charles Borromeo seminary and Villanova University. He was that good!

Bill Tapp with Kathy Ayo, his daughter in 2009

Responding to an invitation to audition for the Cathedral of St. Jude position and being given it, Mr. Tapp moved his wife and family of eight children (Kathy, Terri, Bill, John, Jim, Christopher, Mike and Mary Elizabeth) to St. Petersburg which would be his and their adopted home for the rest of his long life. I came to know him very well and wish to share with you one of the many things which I so admired about him. After the War when Mr. Tapp began to pursue his love of Church music, our musical idiom, liturgy, and worship were more a part of the rich patrimony of a Church which had undergone reform at the Council of Trent and invited the great artists of the Renaissance and Enlightenment periods (Mozart, Hayden, Bach, Palestrina, etc.) to compose a rich library of beautiful church music to be “performed” at Masses throughout Europe and parts of the New World. We listened as they sang and there is no doubt that our thoughts and prayers were enriched by the musical tradition of our Church. Mr. Tapp loved the library of sacred music which was his as he began his life working for the Church through the sharing of his musical and voice gifts. Then, with the Second Vatican Council and the changes in the liturgy which placed a new emphasis on the “full and active participation of the faithful at Mass,” this good man watched the patrimony give ground  to some pretty awful post-Council music. It was like the Church he loved had taken away from him something other than his family that he loved just as much. He adjusted, and this is the point I wish to make. His love for the Church, its bishops and priests, allowed him however sadly to make the change and he seldom if ever complained. He did not always “cotton” to what he thought was masquerading as the new music of the Church, but he gave his best to making it work. That is why today, one day after his death yesterday, I wish to pay him public thanks for his selfless and sometimes sacrificial service to our Church. I am not sure that we fully realize and/or appreciate the sacrifices we asked gifted people like Bill Tapp to make in the late sixties and seventies.

No one whoever sang for him had any feelings other than love and admiration for Bill. He was a very classy man. I remember how difficult it was for him to sit in the front row of the Cathedral with his wife Mary Ann and his growing family of children, their spouses and children (when he died I think I counted twenty-nine grandchildren and one great grandchild) while the choir out of love for their director sang their hearts out for him during his son John’s first mass following ordination the previous day (which found Bill, of course, in the choir loft). He lived a long life, even after losing his beloved wife Mary Ann some fourteen years ago but the last few were spent in that darkness which is the tragedy of Alzheimer’s. In life, Bill Tapp certainly paid his dues to his Lord and on Wednesday morning, I trust those angels came to greet him as he so often sang at funerals to lead him into paradise. What faith!

+RNL

 

 

CARDINAL FAN

Monday, January 9th, 2012

On Friday of this week, while on retreat with twenty-five others bishops of the Atlantic region at Bethany Center, word came that Pope Benedict XVI had named new cardinals and called a consistory to install them for mid-February. There was a time and quite recently, that the naming of cardinals was a major secret, shared by the Holy Father with a few others whom he consulted, but this group was anything but a “pontifical secret” as the Italian press not only knew a week in advance the date of the consistory but had the names of most of those archbishops and bishops who would be elevated to the College of Cardinals.

Among their number are two Americans whom I admire and for whom I am happy, as well as happy for the Church. I have known Cardinal-designate Edwin O’Brien since the 1979 visit of Pope John Paul II to the United States. At that time, he was secretary to Cardinal Cooke who would be hosting the pope during his stay in New York. I have known Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan since the mid-eighties when I returned to Washington to work at the bishops’ conference and he was working at the Apostolic Delegation (only later with full diplomatic recognition first given by President Ronald Reagan would it be called the Apostolic Nunciature). At that time, working alongside of soon-to-be Cardinal Dolan were now Archbishop Dennis Schnurr, Bishop Blasé Cupich, Bishop Michael Cote, and a saintly priest named Monsignor Bernard Yarrish of the Scranton diocese who subsequently was diagnosed with MS and is today in a nursing home in Wilkes-Barre, PA. They were a wonderful group of men who made our work, then at the other end of Massachusetts Avenue, easy and easily conducted between Archbishop Pio Laghi and ourselves a delight (as did the Apostolic Delegate/Nuncio Laghi). We would recreate together on occasion but it was always hard to get on Father Dolan’s dance card as it filled up quickly with friends and acquaintances of his in and around Washington (he had studied Church history under the famous Monsignor John Tracy Ellis at Catholic University, earning a doctorate).

In my lifetime as a priest, the role of cardinal in the Church in the United States has morphed somewhat and this occurred during the early days of the papacy of John Paul II. It was often said in the years following the Council that a Cardinal could not be elected President of the Conference of Bishops. While Detroit’s John Dearden,  Baltimore’s William Keeler, Chicago’s Joseph Bernardin were all presidents and cardinals, they did not become the latter until first elected the former. Until Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George four years ago, only Philadelphia’s John Cardinal Krol had been elected president while a member of the College of Cardinals. On three occasions, usually in closed session, I have heard three different archbishops ask rhetorically when baffled by an instance of cardinalatial intervention in a diocese, “what did I miss in ecclesiology about the role of cardinals in the life of my archdiocese?” Pope John Paul II early on decided that the College of Cardinals in addition to electing his successor would be an advisory council to him on important matters and, on occasion, his personal representation in a specific country at a specific time. In 1983, it was clear that he trusted and entrusted his new definition of the role of cardinals to Cardinals Law of Boston and O’Connor of New York. It was no secret that Pope Paul VI, while still alive and contemplating the meaning of episcopal collegiality and shared responsibility, was thinking seriously of inviting the duly elected presidents of episcopal conferences to vote in conclave for future popes. Cardinals working in the Holy See itself talked him out of it. He did make a number of them angry, however, when he limited their participation in papal elections to only those cardinals less than eighty years of age. That antagonism remains but the decision has also survived three popes.

But I digress (badly looking at the word count). Cardinal-designate Dolan enters the college as the sitting president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. He already represents us well, in my opinion, here in the United States where he is both clear and compassionate in articulating Church teaching. Like myself, he clearly wants more people to join the Church than be driven from it. One should not under estimate his intellect because driving that delightful sense of self-deprecating humor is a keen intellect with probably one of the best memories of the history of the Church in even more difficult times, both here in the United States and throughout the world. People like him and through him they come to like the Church better. I suspect that fifty years from now, his place in American Catholic church history will be both proud and assured. From St. Louis and a die-hard Cardinal’s fan, he is now one himself – maybe not “Stan the Man” Musial but “Tim the Man” Dolan.

Cardinal-designate O’Brien has been a wonderful archbishop for Baltimore and since all his auxiliaries were on retreat with me last week, I know they already are missing him since his appointment as Grand Master of the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher a few months ago. When his successor is installed in America’s oldest diocese, he will be full time in Rome. He will represent the true and best of the church in the United States well over there.

One final local note. Both Archbishops O’Brien and Dolan served as rectors of the North American College in Rome. Two of their students, Fathers Kenneth Malley, pastor of St. Timothy’s parish in Lutz and David Toups, pastor of Christ the King parish in Tampa plan to be present on February 18th and 19th when their two former rectors are given the red hat of cardinal by Pope Benedict in St. Peter’s. And just prior to the consistory, another superb American cardinal, Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. will be the principal speaker at our annual Catholic Foundation dinner in February 11th in Tampa at the A La Carte Pavilion. Cardinal Wuerl was also on retreat last week at the Bethany Center with me and he is looking forward to his next visit to the Bay Area from which he will fly directly to Houston to formally begin the new Anglican Ordinariate in the United States. Dolan, having previously given the talk, and Cardinal O’Brien, often a visitor here, lead me to close with “some roads may lead to Rome but all roads lead to the Diocese of St. Petersburg.”

 

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