Archive for March, 2012

COUNSELS FROM COUNCILS

Friday, March 23rd, 2012
With members of the Diocesan Pastoral Council. Photo kindness of Frank Murphy.

With members of the Diocesan Pastoral Council. From left to right: Pat Wiand, Linda Patterson, Linda Waggoner, Kelly Wilson, and Sylvia Sanchez. Photo kindness of Frank Murphy.

I happened to note in the “mother of all ecclesial blogs”  yesterday that the Archbishop of Philadelphia has just announced that he would soon be establishing the first Archdiocesan Pastoral Council in the long history of that local Church. I know something of how he feels in that this diocese did not have such a council until about five years ago which is somewhat amazing in that such structures were highly recommended in the days and years following the Second Vatican Council. So I thought the readers of this blog might be interested in learning something about all the advisory groups which assist a local bishop in administering a local Church.

The law of the Church (aka “Canon law”) mandates every diocesan bishop to establish and meet with several bodies within his diocese. Every bishop must have a “College of Consultors” and he is required to “listen” to their wisdom and counsel on a number of matters (largely financial). For instance, a local bishop is not allowed to borrow sizeable sums of money or float bonds binding the diocese financially without seeking their approval first (after which he must secure the permission of the Holy See for, in our case, amounts in excess of three million dollars). In the event of the death of the bishop, the Consultors elect an administrator and with him govern the diocese until a new bishop is installed. There are many other matters which a bishop either must or should listen to his Consultors, but this is the first of those advisory bodies which the church requires. I have a seven member College of Consultors who were appointed by myself last year and whose terms will last until my successor is in place.

The Presbyteral Council is the second body required by Church law and the ordinary (another name for the bishop) must seek their wisdom and advice also on a number of matters. In addition to financial matters, the Presbyteral Council must advise in the closing or merging of parishes in a diocese. From a strictly church law perspective, the Presbyteral Council does not have an extensive required portfolio, but from a practical and pastoral perspective (I like to alliterate as you can see) any bishop is foolish not to bring them in on many others matters affecting a local Church. From the beginning of my time, I think I have worked very hard to place before the Presbyteral Council all matters of major substance concerning the diocese and I have tried to listen and follow their advice. We just finished extensive discussions on the possibility of a diocesan capital funds drive and a strategic plans for our schools. The “Light is On For YOU” effort held Thursday a week ago when every parish heard confessions from five to eight p.m. and the “Catholics Come Home” effort which found it way onto our TV screens in December and January were agreed to in advance by the Council. I have found throughout my time as bishop that this group serves an indispensable service to the diocese.

The final consultative body required by Canon Law is the Diocesan Finance Council. About sixteen men and women (three pastors and myself are the only clerics on the Council) meet at least five times a year to monitor and guide me and the diocesan Finance Office in the management of the funds entrusted to us by the faithful. They approve an annual budget and monitor it throughout the coming year. They supervise the investment portfolio and its managers monthly as to performance and risk. They receive the annual audit and choose the auditing firm. At my insistence (and this in no way binds my successor as Church law does not require it), they must approve any expenditure of more than $50,000 outside of the annual budget. At the moment they are meeting with and quite concerned for those parishes consistently unable to pay their bills to the diocese or others. This men and women on this Council are also indispensable, at least for this bishop, for their knowledge of finance, insurance, investment strategies is incredibly helpful. These women and men serve a term, which generally does not exceed ten years and love their faith and Church enough to share their time and talent with me. If you were able to watch these people in action, you would have a very fine feeling about their stewardship of the treasure, which you share for the spread of the Gospel.

That brings this discussion to the final advisory body, the Diocesan Pastoral Council. Here we have about twenty-four women and men, almost all lay, who meet five times a year to discuss major pastoral issues facing the diocese. When I began this Council about five years ago, their first task was to assess the effectiveness of the diocesan newspaper (the St. Petersburg edition of the Florida Catholic) and to recommend new ways of communicating with God’s people in our five counties. They worked hard for over a year and recommended that we leave the family of the paper and strike out on our own. Amazingly, there was very little push-back from this decision and, while admittedly I miss being able to pick up the paper every other week and read and through pictures see what is going on throughout the diocese, I think pastorally it was an acceptable initiative. Their advice and counsel has also been sought on all the major plans and programs of the diocese. While Church Law does not require “Pastoral Councils,” I am pleased that we established one here as how else would the laity who are not auditors, accountants, investment managers or finance related, give input into the life and operation of the Church they love?

All four bodies have recently given me the support which I need to initiate three major projects about which you will be hearing a lot more in the months ahead: a remodeling and renewing of St. Jude’s Cathedral, a restructuring of some of our elementary schools, and a capital funds drive to ensure the continuation of faith education in Catholic schools and religious education programs, as well as to provide for the costs of educating our future priests.

Thanks for your time and patience in reading this “primer” on why a “bishop is not always right and needs the help of others.”

+RNL

IN THE SHADOW OF ST. STEPHEN

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

Deacons' Annual Mass of Recommitment. Photo kindness of Barbara Wells.

One of the major developments in the life of the Church, which followed the end of the Second Vatican Council, was the restoration of the order of the diaconate by allowing married men to be ordained. My study of the background at the Council was that the discussion of the Council Fathers envisioned a vibrant and vigorous married diaconate in countries throughout the world where a celibate priesthood would, by sheer terms of numbers, require assistance from the diaconate (too few priests and no major increase likely). I clearly remember in a small group conversation, the Apostolic Delegate to the United States in the seventies, Archbishop Jean Jadot, a Belgium by birth who had been sent to the US by Pope Paul VI, noting the immediate interest in the US of the permanent diaconate and saying that in the Cameroons, where he was assigned prior to arriving on our shores, the Church would never consider ordaining married men, period. It preferred instead to build up catechists in lieu of an ordained diaconate. That prediction has remained largely true and intact in mission countries.

In the years since the Council, the United States has led all other nations in the world in the number of ordinations of married men to the diaconate. It all began in a period when a shortage of priests was considered on these shores unthinkable (perhaps it was indeed the presence of the Holy Spirit which encouraged this local Church to pursue the restored diaconate). The service of these generous men and their equally generous wives and families, who share their husbands and dads with us, has been laudable, helpful and gifted. Deacons may baptize, witness marriages outside of Mass and communion services, preach, and assist at the altar. But, in our living out the post-conciliar married diaconate, they are especially helpful to their parishes in preaching, in preparing the faithful for baptism, confirmation, and marriage, and in conducting wake services and graveside ceremonies. They may not administer the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick since that sacrament includes the hearing of confessions and sacramental reconciliation. What they can do to be helpful far outpaces what they are not able to do and therein is to be found the blessing.

Deacons' Annual Mass of Recommitment. Photo kindness of Barbara Wells.

On May 2 of this year, our first diocesan class of “married” deacons will celebrate their silver anniversary of ordination. On that day twenty-five years ago, thirty men were ordained deacons for the Diocese of St. Petersburg at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle by Bishop W. Thomas Larkin. Throughout their formation, this class was guided and directed by Monsignor Colm Cooke, who was assisted by Joan Morgan (our present diocesan Chancellor). Some of those ordained have died subsequently, some are now mostly retired, some have lost their spouses in the intervening years, and two have left diaconal ministry. On Saturday last, we had our annual Mass of Recommitment for our deacons. I am not certain of the exact number, but I think there is somewhere in the neighborhood of 120 active and with faculties to function as deacons here. We have had five other ordinations for the diocese in the twenty-five years since and currently have about fifteen in some stage of education and formation. They are here as a ministry to stay and most of your priests and pastors would strongly support their presence and assistance in our local Church. I know I certainly am grateful to them and to their wives and families. Almost all, at one time or another in their ministry as deacons, have held “day jobs” and since the diaconate does not pay a salary (unless they are in full-time employment by a parish or institution), they depend on outside employment for their daily bread.

Many deacons come to us, as do many parishioners, from other dioceses and while, perhaps retired from their former and principal employment, they still wish to be helpful to the Church. After the necessary background check, we accept them and grant them faculties.

So even though the diaconate was not restored for service in the “first world” by the Council Fathers, the Church in the United States and in St. Petersburg and our five counties owes it a lot. Blessings, please, Lord, on all our deacons and their wives and families as we take note this year of the ordination of our first class twenty-five years ago.

+RNL

LAETARE MEANS TAKE DELIGHT

Monday, March 19th, 2012

Former CRS president Ken Hackett. Photo courtesy of Catholic Relief Services.

The Fourth Sunday of Lent each year marks the occasion for the annual collection for Catholic Relief Services (CRS) throughout our country. Our church takes justifiable pride in this highly acclaimed and recognized organ of the Catholic Church in the United States which responds quickly and effectively to major disasters throughout the world and leads development efforts in many underdeveloped or at risk countries. While US Catholics contribute about 15 million each year to the CRS collection, the agency’s program expenses and outreach will this year for the first time exceed one billion dollars. The balance comes from agency fund-raising efforts and grants from the US government and other international agencies. CRS serves all of humankind, without favor to religion, race or sex. What makes its so highly effective are two things: its low cost administration (less than $10 for every $100 is spent on fundraising and administrative costs and when I left the Board chairmanship four years ago, the actual cost audited and accounted for was in the neighborhood of $7.00 for the one hundred given) and its partners throughout the world. What other organization has the network of Catholic Charities and parish structures for the delivery of services?

But yesterday’s major gift to Catholic Relief Services was the announcement that the University of Notre Dame had chosen its recently retired (three months ago) President and CEO, Kenneth Hackett for its prestigious “Laetare Medal” at the 2012 commencement ceremony. I would say that given the incredibly distinguished history of its recipients over the years, all Catholics I believe, this award is without parallel for its selectivity and recognition of service to the Church and to the Gospel. I was on the Search Committee, which recommended to the bishops’ only (at that time) Board of Directors that Hackett be appointed its CEO. When chosen, CRS had a program budget of about 200 million a year and, as I noted above, it now should exceed one billion in service to the poor of the world. Still, the administrative costs remain low. Much of this growth and much of its rise in prestige is due to Ken Hackett. He would rightly say that a tremendous staff at CRS backed him up and that is indeed true. But he was the right man at the right time to lead an organization in search of a mission and identity.

In his twenty plus years as CEO, Ken Hackett protected and enhanced its Catholic identity. When USAID balked at giving grants to CRS for anti-HIV retroviral medicines in nine nations in Africa and in Haiti because we did not distribute condoms (our government’s principal answer to stopping the pandemic), he never flinched from Catholic teaching and Catholic identity. And he led the agency in establishing a greater mission than disaster relief and the Thanksgiving Clothing Drive (older Catholics remember that one well) to remain and serve in countries by assisting them in self-help development work (like digging wells and providing for sanitation).

I can’t think of a more worthy recipient than Kenneth Hackett with whom I was privileged both to work side by side with and at the same time learn from about serving the poor. My commitment to and love for Pinellas Hope can be traced to two laymen who have taught me everything: Ken Hackett and Frank Murphy. Congratulations Notre Dame on an outstanding selection and congratulations Ken Hackett on winning this award, which is even more affirming than the honorary doctorate, conferred on you by the same institution a few years ago. And thanks, Notre Dame, for letting CRS woo your Dean of the Mendoza School of Business to succeed Ken Hackett as the person at the helm of the premier relief and development agency in the world.

+RNL

THE ICE(WO)MAN COMETH

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

Sheila Lopez with the $50,000 check for Pinellas Hope. Photo courtesy of Frank Murphy.

Last Friday night at the Tampa Bay Times Forum (aka “the ice palace”), the Lightning organization honored one of my own employees as their shining star for one night and a hero for the season.  Sheila Lopez is in every way the “mother” of Pinellas Hope, admired, loved and sometimes feared by the residents of the homeless shelter. Involved from the first shovel of dirt turned, Sheila has directed Pinellas Hope from the very beginning. Every major politician in Pinellas county has met her at some time as she and her boss, Catholic Charities president Frank Murphy, annually appeal for funding for the project and many philanthropies know her as well for the same reason. She is indomitable and unsinkable! The Lightning’s new owner, Jeff Vinik, decided last summer that he would establish and fund a foundation which would seek out charitable works and the people behind them and honor them at home games throughout the season. But the honor is more than a moment on the ice, it is accompanied by a check for fifty-thousand ($50,000) for the charity being honored. Sheila’s check was presented to her just prior to face off by her hero, Marty St. Louis. Additionally the owner himself came and spent a good deal of time with her prior to the presentation of the check by Number 26. During the second television time out, a two minute video about Pinellas Hope and Sheila was presented on the jumbotron and everyone in the forum at its conclusion cheered, clapped, whistled and saluted our heroine.

Frank Murphy, myself, Sheila Lopez, and Very Rev. Robert F. Morris inside the "ice palace"

I am not allowed to divulge Sheila’s exact age (she is one year older than I and I am 71 in May), but it is inconsequential. She dedicates almost every waking moment to Pinellas Hope. She loves the clients and leaned on the Lightning organization to allow her to bring at the Lightning’s expense fifty of her most dedicated residents whose work at the site is above and beyond the minimum expected. They were treated to hot dogs and soda in a private room prior to the game’s start and all the soft drinks they could consume. Alcoholic beverages are forbidden to Pinellas Hope residents and Miss Sheila kept a careful watch. Any violator would have had to walk back from Tampa to Pinellas Park, I was told. The energy of the woman is incredible. I held my breath that she would not ask the Lightning to allow her to put on skates and play during one line (she claims to have played competitive ice hockey as a young girl in Hershey). Her “babies” sitting in section 318 were especially noisy during the public recognition of Sheila’s work.

Sheila Lopez with residents of Pinellas Hope outside of the Tampa Bay Times Forum. Photo courtesy of Frank Murphy.

I was asked as I always am about when we would replicate Pinellas Hope in Hillsborough county. Fifty-four per cent of the residents of Pinellas Hope do leave for independent living (admittedly it is not easy to trace what happens to them long after they leave the facility). That is one of the best numbers in the state. Additionally we now have permission to build about a dozen more small apartments on the site for those who are transitioning from tents to their own homes, apartments, whatever after leaving Pinellas Hope with a job. Sheila has been at it five years in Pinellas Park and she readily concedes that the type of resident we have now is significantly different from those we started with. Now we are caring for the lower middle class and working class residents who have lost their jobs and homes as a result of the economy. The desperation is just as great if not greater with this new generation of homeless.

So, Sheila Lopez for one brief moment was a worthy hero for the Lightning and for five years has been the same for myself, Catholic Charities for which she is an assistant director, and well over two thousand residents, transients, and volunteers at Pinellas Hope. Her smile last Friday night lit up the Forum and I can not thank the Lightning organization enough for a very classy occasion to honor an employee whom I admire deeply, on the ice and in the mud of Pinellas Hope. Go Bolts!

+RNL

ZERO SUM GAIN, OR WORSE

Friday, March 2nd, 2012

I had the occasion earlier this week to meet with about fifty of the parochial vicars which is our fancy or canonical term for “associate pastors”. The next day a similar number of priests gathered together again, this time for an Lenten moment of reconciliation and reflection. During the first, I outlined for my brother priests the results of my nine luncheon meetings with their pastors which I previously held from mid-January through the first week of February. The purpose of those meetings was to discuss a possible major appeal for funding for the education of our future priests (with our blessed numbers this year we are paying about $1.6 million out of operations funds for seminary education alone) and saving Catholic schools that are salvagable. However, I am off the point I want to make here.

The “mother of all ecclesial blogs” (aka “Whispers in the Loggia“) in commenting on the annual Rite of Election held nationwide either on or near the First Sunday of Lent made note of the fact that for every adult Catholic who enters the Church in a year, four leave the Church. I, for one, do not dispute his numbers and the second statistic which he cited and one that has been around long enough to also be verifiable is that the second largest Christian denomination in the United States behind Roman Catholics is “fallen-away” Roman Catholics (an estimated thirty million). Some of my brother priests seemed shocked or at least surprised at these numbers and we began a short discussion of why and what might we do as priests, diocese, Church to reverse these alarming numbers.

Obviously with fifty per-cent of Catholics in the US who marry and get divorced, it was suggested and I suspect that this may be a major reason for Church losses. Try as hard as we might to convince people that divorce does not mean automatically cut off from the sacraments and/or out of the church, it’s still out there. Second, we hold and teach some things which the current climate opposes: abortion, the death penalty, euthanasia, “mercy”-killing, marriage as a sacrament between a man and a woman, immigration reform, every marital act must be open to the procreation of children, universal access to health care as a “right” not just a privilege if one can pay for it – issues the larger society, the media, political parties,  love to hammer us on. They would call these antiquated and antediluvian notions and who wants to own, drive and ride in a Model T Ford when something faster, sleeker, more modern can be had? Sometimes I am amazed and grateful to God and to many in the Church that we have the membership and practicing numbers we have, given the constant bombardment we are all subjected to. I also believe that the sexual-abuse of children and how it was handled by bishops and the Church at large has given many people an excuse to leave us and some indeed have.

We just finished the initial push of the “Catholics Come Home®” campaign. In the week following the publication or reading of my letter on the Health and Human Services regulations, I received a comment from a gentleman who said that he and his wife had been many years away from the Church and they returned as a result of the television commercials on the Sunday my letter was read. They left again and he assured me that we would never see the two of them. That hurt, believe me. But to be a Catholic today, to practice the faith fully beyond just week-end Church attendance, one has to embrace a lot of things that might be different were we in charge (for example, “like the dewfall”). Believe me that even being a Catholic all my life, there are aspects of the faith which I must struggle with but in the end I place my trust in the magisterial teaching and without the hierarchical governance structure, Christ’s Church today would be in far worse shape than the numbers above indicate. There is nothing I can find in Sacred Scripture, especially the Gospels, that suggests Christ wanted to establish a democracy. But Christ did want his leaders, his disciples, to also be good listeners and respond to the legitimate needs of His people with understanding, compassion and care.

An adult baptism at the Easter Vigil 2011 in the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle. Photo kindness of Walter C. Pruchnik III

So even if the First Sunday of Lent resulted in a zero sum gain or less, it is still encouraging given the things we often hear said about us that annually a good number of adults, families and youth  still seek baptism or full communion. It is not a numbers game we engage in, but the continuation of timeless truth, free from error, fulfilling Christ’s command to go forth and make disciples. It was tough in his time. It was tougher in the time of the early Church. It is tough today. But, so what? It seems  it has ever been thus and two-thousand years of history behind us seems to suggest that it is precisely at moments of trial and tribulation that our beloved Church does best and begins to flourish anew.

+RNL