Archive for February, 2012

RELIGIOUS LIBERTY?

Monday, February 27th, 2012

To bring you up-to-date on the latest regarding the regulations issued by the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, what follows is a letter from Cardinal Dolan, our United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) President and Bishop William Lori, the chairman of our Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty to the bishops of the U.S. that was issued late last week. It says it all:                          

Office of the President
3211 FOURTH STREET NE WASHINGTON DC 20017-1194 202-541-3100 FAX 202-541-3166
Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan Archbishop of New York President

                                                              

February 22, 2012

Dear Brother Bishops,

 

 
Since we last wrote to you concerning the critical efforts we are undertaking together to protect religious freedom in our beloved country, many of you have requested that we write once more to update you on the situation and to again request the assistance of all the faithful in this important work. We are happy to do so now.

 

 
First, we wish to express our heartfelt appreciation to you, and to all our sisters and brothers in Christ, for the remarkable witness of our unity in faith and strength of conviction during this past month. We have made our voices heard, and we will not cease from doing so until religious freedom is restored.

 

As we know, on January 20, the Department of Health and Human Services announced a decision to issue final regulations that would force practically all employers, including many religious institutions, to pay for abortion inducing drugs, sterilizations, and contraception. The regulations would provide no protections for our great institutions—such as Catholic charities, hospitals, and universities—or for the individual faithful in the marketplace. The regulations struck at the heart of our fundamental right to religious liberty, which affects our ability to serve those outside our faith community.

 

 

Since January 20, the reaction was immediate and sustained. We came together, joined by people of every creed and political persuasion, to make one thing resoundingly clear: we stand united against any attempt to deny or weaken the right to religious liberty upon which our country was founded.

 

On Friday, February 10, the Administration issued the final rules. By their very terms, the rules were reaffirmed “without change.” The mandate to provide the illicit services remains. The exceedingly narrow exemption for churches remains. Despite the outcry, all the threats to religious liberty posed by the initial rules remain.

 

Religious freedom is a fundamental right of all. This right does not depend on any government’s decision to grant it: it is God-given, and just societies recognize and respect its free exercise. The free exercise of religion extends well beyond the freedom of worship. It also forbids government from forcing people or groups to violate their most deeply held religious convictions, and from interfering in the internal affairs of religious organizations.

 

Recent actions by the Administration have attempted to reduce this free exercise to a “privilege” arbitrarily granted by the government as a mere exemption from an all encompassing, extreme form of secularism. The exemption is too narrowly defined, because it does not exempt most non-profit religious employers, the religiously affiliated insurer, the self insured employer, the for-profit religious employer, or other private businesses owned and operated by people who rightly object to paying for abortion inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception. And because it is instituted only by executive whim, even this unduly narrow exemption can be taken away easily.

 

In the United States, religious liberty does not depend on the benevolence of who is regulating us. It is our “first freedom” and respect for it must be broad and inclusive—not narrow and exclusive. Catholics and other people of faith and good will are not second class citizens. And it is not for the government to decide which of our ministries is “religious enough” to warrant religious freedom protection.

 

This is not just about contraception, abortion-causing drugs, and sterilization—although all should recognize the injustices involved in making them part of a universal mandated health care program. It is not about Republicans or Democrats, conservatives or liberals. It is about people of faith. This is first and foremost a matter of religious liberty for all. If the government can, for example, tell Catholics that they cannot be in the insurance business today without violating their religious convictions, where does it end? This violates the constitutional limits on our government, and the basic rights upon which our country was founded.

 

 

Much remains to be done. We cannot rest when faced with so grave a threat to the religious liberty for which our parents and grandparents fought. In this moment in history we must work diligently to preserve religious liberty and to remove all threats to the practice of our faith in the public square. This is our heritage as Americans. President Obama should rescind the mandate, or at the very least, provide full and effective measures to protect religious liberty and conscience.

 

Above all, dear brothers, we rely on the help of the Lord in this important struggle. We all need to act now by contacting our legislators in support of the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act, which can be done through our action alert on www.usccb.org/conscience.

 

We invite you to share the contents of this letter with the faithful of your diocese in whatever form, or by whatever means, you consider most suitable. Let us continue to pray for a quick and complete resolution to this and all threats to religious liberty and the exercise of our faith in our great country.

 

 

Timothy Cardinal Dolan                               Most Reverend William E. Lori
Archbishop of New York                                Bishop of Bridgeport
President, United States Conference     Chairman, Ad Hoc Committee for Religious
of Catholic Bishops                                             Liberty

 

The letter has also been posted on the diocesan website (www.dosp.org) and can be read as a PDF version in English or Spanish.

+RNL

LUCKIER THAN ST. PAUL

Sunday, February 26th, 2012

It was standing-room only at the first of two sessions for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults today. Here a man preparing for full communion approaches Bishop Lynch. Photo by John P. Christian

Those of you who followed the progress of my pilgrimage group last Fall may recall that we attempted to retrace the steps of the great apostle, Paul. We physically visited Athens, Corinth, Ephesus, Jerusalem and Rome. You may also remember how I commented that in many of these places to which he would later write his magnificent epistles or letters, he achieved little in success if measured in numbers of converts to Christianity and a great local Church, when he left for another place, might at best count about 100 converts to the faith. This even though these people sat at the feet of perhaps the greatest theologian, preacher and teacher other than Jesus himself. There is no doubt that in many instances, Paul felt frustrated and less than fulfilled in his work of converting people. He moved from Athens, for example, where he gained few followers to Corinth where he was more successful but “success” might have meant twenty or thirty families choosing to leave the Jewish faith and practice or pagan religious worship to become Christians. One, especially a bishop  like myself, however must be careful not to play a numbers game and what Paul accomplished was far more than statistics but planting the seeds for a future which eventually saw the Church grow and flourish.

I would have liked to have given over my bishop’s chair at the Cathedral of St. Jude today to St. Paul so that he might have both witnessed and taken great delight in the 365 catechumens who are preparing for baptism at our parishes throughout the diocese who presented themselves to me during the Rite of Election and the 598 candidates who seek full communion having been previously baptized but not yet confirmed or sharing at the table of the Eucharist. In simple numbers, 963 new Catholics made the journey to the Cathedral this year from sixty-three of our seventy-nine parishes and missions. Keep in mind that not every catechumen (those to receive baptism, confirmation and Eucharist at the Easter Vigil) or full communion (confirmation and Eucharist) were able to make the journey to the Cathedral so the number is greater still. Paul would be proud and happy.

He might, however, be slightly humbled while still honored to hear his words to the Church he left behind at Philipi addressed to the assembled this afternoon: “I pray always with joy in my every prayer for all of you, because of your partnership for the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus. God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer: that you love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.” [Phil. 1:4-6,8-11] Our faith community is at its best when we enter a partnership for the Gospel thaexpands our love for God and our love and service for one another. We need to pray for one another with the affection and love of Jesus, the passion of Paul, and the witness of the saints throughout the centuries, filled with the spirit of righteousness that merited they and hopefully we for the day of Christ.

A catechumen also presents her small son to Bishop Lynch at today's Cathedral ceremony. Photo by John P. Christian

Along the way we shall face the terrible temptations of today’s Gospel: power, prestige, prosperity at the service only of ourselves, possessions beyond our needs, and promises to do better which remain sometimes unfulfilled. Our new catechumens and candidates know that the Church which they seek to enter and fully participate is far from blameless and pure at times but because of the seriousness with which we embrace the Gospel and internalize the words of Paul, we have that roadmap to eternal life which allows us to experience and imitate Christ in this life so that we may be united with Him in the next. In some ways I feel luckier than Paul because the work of conversion which brought 963 people to the Cathedral today is done for me by others and they do it well. I get all the bonus of their hard work and none of the onus (except for a badly swollen right hand from shaking the hands of nearly a thousand people). For Paul, it meant jail, torture, defiance, defeat, disillusionment at times and all manner of hardship. On this First Sunday of Lent at the Cathedral I am indeed luckier than St. Paul but all of us owe a lot to that great apostle to the Gentiles.

Welcome brothers and sisters who I met today and may Saturday night, April 7th be one of the most special of all nights. And thanks to the good priests, deacons and lay leaders who work in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults – you deserve the highest praise.

+RNL

ASHES

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

It’s time for you either to sell your McDonald’s stock or put it in blind trust because once again they have seen the last of me till Easter Sunday. No more sausage biscuits and truth to tell I will miss them more than they will miss me. In my younger days, I used to play with “going without something for Lent” like I played with New Year’s Resolutions, that is to say that they both made it only for a few days before they were broken. However, as I became older I could see deeper meaning in observing Lent by some small penitential act which perhaps only served to me as a reminder of what Jesus spent for all of us. Lent can be a time for great grace, growth in the spiritual life, and focusing on perhaps the more important things in life.

Among those important things are preparing for the great Triduum now little more than six weeks away. Easter can be just another Sunday if one has not experienced the desert of temptations, the call to conversion of the Samaritan woman, and all those wonderful Gospel accounts which we shall soon be hearing once again. The Lenten Gospels in my life can not be heard and contemplated on enough for they get at the root of our Christian lives and graft us even closer to the crucified and risen one.

The Church attempts to provide us time during Lent to truly concentrate on the meaning in history and in this moment for us of these forty days. You probably either forgot about the abstinence which accompanies Ash Wednesday today and accidentally, I hope, ate meat or you substituted something else and missed meat (it is admittedly hard preaching this message to vegetarians!) But it is OK. Get in synch for this Friday and every Friday right through Good Friday. If it hurts a little, you are entering Lent. If it distracts a little, you have more time to think about the true sacrifice. We try hard as a  local diocese not to witness marriages during Lent because there would be a distraction of the first magnitude. I do not confirm during Lent, not because I am lazy, but again the possibility of our beloved Church offering yet another distraction. The Church wishes all of us, bishops as well as every member to do penance, turn away from sin and evil, and embrace the Gospel.

And out of these ashes of our personal lives and preparedness will rise the Savior of the World, hung on the “throne” of a wooden cross for all of us to witness how He loved us to death. So long McDonald’s, I’ll see you in early April. Hello, blessed Lord, help me a sinner to properly prepare for the reenactment of the sacrifice that puts my own and all of ours to shame. With you, as we sing, we fast and pray.

Blessed Lent everyone.

+RNL

SCHOOL DAZE

Friday, February 17th, 2012

Giving the homily during Mass at Clearwater Central Catholic High School. Photo courtesy of Maria Mertens.

The activities surrounding the HHS regulations and my subsequent engagement in it caused 2012’s Catholic Schools Week to come and go without mention in this space and I am sorry for that. My own week began with the celebration of a school liturgy at Clearwater Central Catholic High School, highlighted by almost every Junior and Senior male forming a choir to sing one hymn in Latin for me – delightful – but they had better plan on other life work than singing.

We have twenty-seven elementary schools (one of them private) and two special education elementary schools in this diocese, four diocesan high schools and two private Catholic high schools. There are  7527  children enrolled in our elementary schools, K through 8 and 2944  children enrolled in the six high schools. There are also Early Childhood Centers and Day and After Care. It is a major endeavor of the Church in the United States where there remains a much higher ratio of Catholic Schools per Catholic in the nation to other countries. Today, however, the challenge of maintaining this school system has increased exponentially with rising costs forcing many parents to choose otherwise for their children. And the recession of the past few years has not helped either as Catholic education is for more and more parents no longer an affordable option as tuition and fees rise. So an annual shot in the arm and reminder of how important these schools are for the transmission of the faith is a great thing.

On Saturday night, our Catholic Foundation, which raises and distributes money for Catholic education, held its annual fundraiser and about 540 people were in attendance. This event has been growing each of the last three years thanks to a very dedicated, small committee of laity who give of their time, talent and treasure. Three years ago we invited Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York to address the assembly and last year our guest speaker was Dr. Carolyn Woo, then Dean of the Mendoza School of Business at Notre Dame University and now President and CEO of our own Catholic Relief Services.

Donald Cardinal Wuerl from the Archdiocese of Washington (DC) giving the keynote speech. Photo courtesy of Pedro L. Carrillo of P.L. Carillo Photography.

On Saturday, our guest and keynote speaker was Donald Cardinal Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington (DC) and noted author of many catechisms for the Church since the Second Vatican Council. His Eminence spoke most convincingly of both the need for the “New Evangelization” for our Church and the special role that Catholic Education plays in helping spread the Gospel and reinvigorate those people who have drifted from the faith (watch his speech here). Relative to Catholic Schools, he noted that there are four pillars which must be given attention: Catholic Identity, Academic Excellence, Accessibility and Affordability. He pointed out that the first and third pillars were my responsibility as bishop, the second that of our diocesan Office of Schools and Centers and the fourth that of generous benefactors like those gathered that evening for the fundraising dinner. A quick take on how much his presence and that evening brought to our tuition assistance fund (we now distribute slightly more than one million dollars per year in tuition assistance for our schools) would be something in the area of  $330,000  dollars.

Presenting Mark Detlor with his award as his mother Cathy Detlor and Sister Regina Ozuzu, prinicpal of Bishop Larkin Interparochial School, watch. Photo courtesy of Pedro L. Carillo of P.L Carillo Photography.

If the value of Catholic elementary education was ever brought home to those in attendance including this aging bishop, it was an eighth grader from Bishop Larkin Interparochial School in Port Richey, Mark Detlor, who won the diocesan-wide essay contest on “what Catholic education means today.” As did the winner last year, he brought the attendees to their feet at the end of his presentation for its insights, candor and appreciation of sacrifice. His prize, was one year of tuition to attend Bishop McLaughlin High School (worth about $11,000). I am glad that Cardinal Wuerl had left by that moment or he might have left us with the impression that we outstaged him with an eighth-grader.

Presenting the Catholic School Education Leadership Award to Jane Hughes. Photo courtesy of Pedro L Carillo of P.L. Carrillo Photography.

Jane Hughes, a wonderful wife and mother from east Pasco county, received the Catholic School Education Leadership Award, our highest award for the support of Catholic education, for her long dedication to Saint Anthony’s School in San Antonio, Florida. She deserved it, believe me!

My heartfelt thanks to the planners, executors, and attendees for helping us bring to an end in a truly effective way this year’s Catholic Schools Week (two weeks here in this diocese, thank God!)

+RNL

 

 

TOGETHER FOR LIFE

Monday, February 13th, 2012

358 couples gathered to celebrate twenty-five, fifty, or more years of marriage during the Wedding Jubilee Mass at Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle. Photo courtesy of Maria Mertens.

If the Bible is the all time best selling book year after year in the publishing business, I would be willing to wager that the tiny booklet entitled TOGETHER FOR LIFE, written years ago by Syracuse diocesan priest, Monsignor Joseph Champlin is the best seller among Catholics. Used by practically every engaged couple preparing for marriage, this compendium of the possible readings one might choose to be proclaimed at ones’ wedding, the choices of prayers, prefaces, nuptial blessings (a few of which are very sexist) and prayers over the couples allow those approaching the sacrament to plan almost every last detail of their liturgical ceremony with greater ease I often say than planning the reception, the honeymoon, the rehearsal dinner, etc.

Barbara and Bob Owens, from St. Ignatius of Antioch parish, renewing their vows. They are celebrating 25 years of marriage. Photo courtesy of Maria Mertens.

On Sunday in our Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle, about 358 couples from 60 of our parishes came to celebrate twenty-five and fifty or more years of marriage – truly together for life. There was an abundance of joy in that Church on Sunday for what was basically a simple Sunday Liturgy with a renewal of marriage vows thrown in for good measure. All total there were some 17, 793 years of successful married life there staring each other in the face, looking at one another and holding right hands, repeating the words of many years ago.

Greeting John and Mary Kampschroer, from St. Thomas Aquinas parish, celebrating 71 years of marriage. Photo courtesy of Maria Mertens.

Two couples were celebrating special milestones:  one their seventy-first anniversary and the second their seventy-second anniversary. John and Mary Kampschroer,     originally from Wisconsin and from our St. Thomas Aquinas parish in New Port Richey, were present for their 71st anniversary. Normally, that would have taken the proverbial “cake” and they would have walked off with first prize.

However, Toan and Chai Nguyen, a Vietnamese couple who could speak no English, dressed in traditional Vietnamese clothes, have been married 72 years, tying the knot in their native Vietnam on November 11, 1940. Their marriage brought 12 children into the world who have given them 54 grandchildren, who have given them 57 great-grandchildren. They are from our St. Thomas the Apostle parish in Homasassa. Together for life and not in the most easy of circumstances either.

Greeting Toan and Chai Nguyen, parishioners at St. Thomas the Apostle, who have been married for 72 years. Photo courtesy of Maria Mertens.

The Gospel today spoke of the incredible power of “touch” when Jesus touched the leper and healed him even though to do so was against the law and anyone caught doing it was immediately considered unclean themselves. I reminded our jubilarians how important that gift of touch most likely was in their married lives and how it too healed at extremely difficult moments. An embrace when a child dies, a kiss to end a brief spat, a hug when one has been aware for days and returns to their spouse. Then I asked them to once again touch one another’s hands and “repeat after me.”

Marriage Jubilee Sunday and the Church’s World Day for Married Couples are among my most pleasant annual duties. It took about as long to stand for pictures following the Mass as did the liturgy before it, but the gratitude of the couples always makes me realize just how much the gift of presence and touch can mean. To each I spoke a “Happy Anniversary” followed by the photographer’s equally automatic, “look this way and smile please.” Together for Life – how sweet it must be!

The number of couples who attended:

59 couples celebrating their twenty-fifth anniversary

133 couples celebrating their fiftieth anniversary

88 couples celebrating their 51st through 59th anniversary

76 couples celebrating their 61st through 69th anniversary

1 couple celebrating their 71st anniversary

1 couple celebrating their 72nd anniversary

+RNL

LITTLE MORE THAN A NOD

Saturday, February 11th, 2012

I am late in responding to yesterday’s announcement by President Obama that his administration is willing to “tweak” [my word, not his] the regulations which I and so many of you have found objectionable in the HHS regulations requiring of religious employers contraceptive coverage including abortifacients in the Affordable Health Care Act for their employees. First, the good news of sorts. He has heard the protests being raised all over the country on this egregious violation of religious liberty. I repeat, this is not a battle about contraception but about religious liberty.

For the Diocese of St. Petersburg, however, it falls far short of a “fix.” We are self-insured with an Administrator managing our program for us and gaining the discounts that come with belonging to a larger health care operator. It still appears that the Diocese would be required since it acts as a health care insurance provider to provide the coverage and now we would have to pay for it making these morally objectionable provisions even worse. So while it was nice to hear the President say that no religious entity who finds this requirement of law objectionable on conscience grounds would be required to participate (I now know that our schools, Catholic Charities, St. Leo University, the cemetery are exempt and that was some progress in clarification yesterday) I as the employer who just happens to run an insurance company for my employees get hit even worse!

Perhaps in the days ahead there will be further clarification by the Administration on this requirement but we need to continue to strenuously make our case, seek legislative relief if that remains necessary, and “bang the drums loudly” for the essence of the first amendment guarantee of freedom of religion which we have thus far raised so effectively. A nod in the right direction is at least a start but it is still a long way to Tipperary.

+RNL

A TALE OF TWO CITIES

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

Photo taken from Google Images

With all due respect to Dickens, living in the bay area and reading its two newspapers reminds me of the opening lines of the great Dickens novel whose title I have borrowed for this post. “It [is] the best of times, it [is] the worst of times.” Thank God there is still a choice of newspapers in this area and there can still be a diversity of editorial opinion. The Tampa Tribune has twice editorialized on the public position which I and the Catholic bishops of the United States have taken in light of the decision of the Obama administration not to broaden the exemption from the HHS regulations which would in effect force many of our Church institutions to provide contraceptive services (including abortifacients). The Tribune got it right and I am grateful to them for the care and precision with which they have approached this matter. To read the first editorial, click here. To read the second editorial, click here.

The Tampa Bay Times has twice editorialized against the position I have taken, in the first instance accusing me of wishing to create a “theocracy” and just today writes “Lynch mistakingly claims this is a matter of church-state separation” and then the paper adopts the specious argument that we are only a protected “church” when we are at prayer or worship, and not when we are caring for the sick, housing the homeless, teaching our faith to our children, etc. Wow! Let some future administration trample on the paper’s first amendment rights of protection of free speech (for example, the ability to hide the identity of sources) and one would hear a similar outrage emanating this time from the Times.

The establishment clause and religious liberty are two pillars of our Constitution and the first amendment. The present administration has deliberately and purposely given short shrift to both in search of votes in November. Other papers in the nation which usually embrace the Time’s postions have allowed their columnists and op-ed writers to present precisely (and perhaps more clearly than I) the position which the Catholic Church is taking at this moment in history. The Washington Post has recently printed two significant articles in opposition to the administration’s position (see the Michael Gerson article and the E.J. Dionne article) as has The New York Times. The legal argument has been made clearly and convincingly in the pages of The Wall Street Journal. Not so our Times. Thus, in addition to our own Tampa Tribune there are many editorial and reporting voices out there who understand what we are attempting to conveyto Catholics and others worried about the growing intrusion of government into free exercise of religion.

As I indicate in my letter to be distributed and/or read in all our parishes (read it here in English or Spanish), I did not choose this moment which just happens to be an election year nor did my brother bishops. President Obama did and HHS Secretary Sibellius. It is generally acknowledged that within his own White House family, there were a number of voices including the Vice-President and his departing chief-of-staff who counseled against this. He almost promised Cardinal-designate Dolan in November that some broadening of the regulations would happen. I believe it would be wrong for me as a bishop to endorse any candidate for political office but it is entirely appropriate for me to point out error and dissimulation when I see it manifest in an act of Congress or of the Administration. But no administration in the history of this union has acted against my Church and its mission and work like this one. One is left with the impression that one must either buy their whole package or be left at the station waiting for a train to return which will never come again. Ask the women who we used to be able to help who were victims of human trafficing in the sex trade which operates in this country but who we can help no more (and the same agency that denied our continued participation also acknowledged that we were perhaps the best and most effective agency previously working in this area). All because we can not provide access to abortion to these women.  Ask those looking to adopt children in Illinois who Catholic Charities used to be able to give help and hope to but no more. Is it unfair to ask on whose watch all this has happened?

Finally, The Tampa Bay Times would do well to study the decision in the Hosanna-Tabor case of a few weeks ago in which a unanimous Supreme Court (including Justices Sotomayor and Kagan) decided against the administration in a religious freedom case which looks very much like what may wind up before the same court again if these regulations are allowed to stand. Congress may intervene but more than likely this battle will be won in the courts because the very freedoms we espouse are constitutive of our nation’s founding principles. So let others make fun of our religion, of our Church, of our core values and teaching all they wish. Amazingly perhaps to others,  I find the vast majority of Catholics whom I am privileged to serve equally worried about these recent events and more and more fiercely determined to make their positions known.

For further updates about how you can take a stand and let your voice be heard, please stay tuned to this blog and to the Diocese of St. Petersburg website at www.dosp.org. To read PDF versions of the letter to parishes, click here for the English version and here for the Spanish version.

+RNL