Archive for November, 2013


Friday, November 22nd, 2013

Photo courtesy of L’Osservatore Romano.

Pope Francis is very desirous of pursuing the vision of the Second Vatican Council to make our Church more collaborative, to hear the voices of a broader spectrum of membership than just clerics, and to employ the twin principles of collegiality and subsidiarity. To accomplish these goals in the quickest amount of time and to begin to address issues which do not require revisiting defined doctrine, the Holy Father wishes to dramatically change what is called the “synodal process.”

The Second Vatican Council called for a regular convening of the world’s bishops in an advisory capacity to the Supreme Pontiff. These convenings would not enact laws, issue directives, etc., but rather would make suggestions to the Holy Father. The Holy Father, with the help of the curia (his staff) would then issue an “exhortation” which contained his reflections on the work of the synod and his encouragement of any initiatives which might have proceeded from its deliberations. Voting members were always bishops, either elected by their national episcopal conferences or appointed by the Pope. Lay and religious women and men had representatives in the Synod Hall who could request time to address the synod but could not vote.

Pope Francis seeks to develop the present synodal process into a more effective tool of collaboration and of listening to the many voices of God’s people. Doctrines will not likely be touched. Disciplinary matters can be discussed, even when those disciplinary matters can be controverted. He wishes the Church universal in the first instance to take up the matter of “Marriage and Family Life in our Day” and he proposes a two-step process to accomplish this. First, he has announced an “extraordinary synod” for October 2014 which will be preceded by as broad a consultation among the various churches as possible.  Whereas there was in preparing for previous synods only consultation with bishops, the Pope is now asking bishops to consult with their priests, religious, deacons and lay faithful on what the present reality is regarding these two important facets of Christian living and to submit our listenings to the Holy See before January 31, 2014. This input will influence the working document for the extraordinary synod. Then in October 2015 there will be an ordinary session of the Synod to discuss with finality with the Pope recommendations for strengthening both marriage and family life in the Church. What is important now is that he and I wish to know your thoughts on some facets of these two important aspects of our life together as Catholic Christians.

To this end, we have taken the questions posed by the Synod office and attempted to put them into a survey format using ordinary language which all of us can understand. We have included the survey in both English and Spanish on our diocesan website, to find it, click here. I invite you to complete the survey in its entirety. At the conclusion of the process, I will share with you a summary of the survey. For those who are uncomfortable with the internet, all parishes will have the survey available in a paper format on the weekend of November 30/December 1. The paper version of the survey can be completed and must be returned to the parish no later than December 31, 2013. Those results will be summarized and shared as well. Everything that is received and heard will be forwarded to the synod office at the Vatican.






Wednesday, November 13th, 2013
The sun rises on Monday over Baltimore's Inner Harbor

The sun rises on Monday over Baltimore’s Inner Harbor

I was ordained a priest by Archbishop Edward A. McCarthy, the second (arch)bishop of Miami. I cherish his memory still and love him as a father. But he had a habit whenever he flew anywhere on Church business to write out in longhand a letter to the people of the Archdiocese which he entitled “Devotedly Yours.” They would always in some way share the experiences of the meetings he attended, the agenda or ideas presented, etc. and he always wrote them on the airplane coming home.

As he grew older, the cynics among us used to ascribe what could at times become mere musings to the effect of altitude on the brain. Well, I am now at that age and am on the plane home following the November meeting of bishops in Baltimore along its beautiful inner harbor with pictures from my hotel room at dawn and dusk. We are at 36,000 feet, so if some ideas don’t compute or all the dots do not connect, attribute them to altitude not age.

My first thought about the meeting just concluded is that there was so little business there must be a cheaper and more efficient way of doing it. Beginning on Monday morning, we had seven and one half hours of public session business. I looked around the room and felt sorry for all those observers and invited guests, the media (feeling sorry for the media is a tough task for me) and others who sat around waiting to hear us engage in something which might effect their lives or make them proud in some way.

There’s always some business like the budget, the priorities and plans of the organization, elections (more about this later) that are required and necessary. But ever since the end of the “liturgical wars” a few years ago, our meetings seem to me to lack a lot of substance. For a long time I attributed it to the conference reorganization which took place about six years ago and the need for the new committee structure to learn how to crawl, walk and then run but that does not seem to be it. I served in the General Secretariat of the NCCB/USCC for eleven years and we struggled to fit everything into a three and one half day time frame so we could adjourn by noon on Thursday. This time we finished our public business by noon on Tuesday. True, we had three hours of meeting by regions and a nearly full day of Executive Sessions but other than approving some necessary liturgical texts, giving permission to a committee to develop a pastoral statement on pornography, we didn’t do a lot to advance the kingdom of God on earth – at least publicly.

That brings me to the growing tendency to seek the shelter of “Executive Sessions” which seems to be expanding. Bishops don’t particularly like the glare of the cameras, the presence of the press and photographers. We seem to be intimidated by it and often choose to place the more “juicy stuff” into Executive Sessions.

There have been many times in recent years when I wished that God’s people could hear the debate and the engagement of their bishops on many of the topics in the Executive Sessions. Some of the best, most thoughtful, charitable debates and discussions have taken place therein. If I am edified after almost forty-one years of attending these annual meetings, that must mean something. There certainly are times and subjects where we need to be in an Executive Session, but that is becoming more the norm than the exception. The church suffers, credibility flies out-the-door in certain circles, and can seem to some to be cowardly. I don’t think this area of our communal life and ministry of bishops is going to change anytime soon.

A lot of pre-meeting hype went into the elections for the office of President and Vice-President this time. Notwithstanding the unexpected which happened three years ago, the expected happened this time and we gave the Church in this country a fine President for the next three years. I would wish to be able to “dream” that my early endorsement in these pages had something to do with his first ballot victory (it’s the altitude thing!!!!).

Archbishop Kurtz is a fine man and a grand bishop. So is Cardinal Dolan and it irked me the other day when a certain columnist in the Catholic press suggested he might have engineered the surprise of three years ago. He did not – take it to the bank. He was nominated on the list of ten and was also embarrassed at that turn of events. He has had a difficult three years with the Affordable Care Act and the contraceptive mandate and at all times he has been compassionate and caring. He’s genuine. I have known him for a long time and he has not changed. Most of the men who had him as their Rector at the North American College idolize him (he would himself prefer a more modest verb like “respect”). He can now look forward to a lot more time in and with New York and the local Church he has been called to serve. You can not appreciate how much time and energy being President of our Conference requires of a man and he deserves our thanks. It is important to remember that the success or failure of any elected officer depends on the skill and work of the executive staff, the General Secretary and his Associates. They anticipate his needs, sometimes his thoughts, and execute his wishes which flow from the actions of the majority of its membership.

Finally, on the matter of elections, the choice of Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston as Vice-President means that the Diocese of St. Petersburg will provide His Eminence with his first speaking engagement since being elected, this Saturday night, at the Foundation for Life Gala in Tampa. He will be my house guest on Saturday night.

Planning and executing our twice yearly meetings of the bishops of the United States is a herculean task and it is well handled by the staff of the USCCB every time. I think sometimes we appreciate them more than our elected officers for they are ready for our every need.

I have heard from some of you who watched the TV feed of the meeting and have contacted me to ask what I was addled about regarding the Collection for the Philippine Relief .

From time immemorial, Catholic Relief Services has raised money for disaster relief and development for people and not for Church infrastructure needs. When the massive earthquake hit Haiti four years ago, many Church structures were destroyed including the Cathedral in Port-au-Prince, the seminary, hospitals and parish churches and schools. We took up in our diocese significant gifts of money to help people, but for the first time, a decision was made that in this one instance, some of the money would be split and go to church and institutional rebuilding. I did not like the idea when I learned of it because in our diocese we raised the money to help those thin, emaciated bodies of children and adults who were homeless and in immediate need of food, clothing, water, etc. Additionally the decision to split was made not by the plenary assembly, which usually has competence in national collections, nor in this instance was the Board of Catholic Relief Services queried or the Conference’s own Committee on Budget and Finance. It was just announced. Poof!

During the discussion of CRS on Monday afternoon I learned for the first time that any monies raised and sent to the Conference for the Philippines would also be split. Eventually I was able to ascertain that each bishop who raised money in this current moment of devastation and lack of hope in those islands could do one of three things:

1. He can take the collection up and send it to USCCB knowing that it will be split.

2. He can take the collection up and send it to USCCB and indicate that it not be split but go to one of the two uses only.

3. He can send the money directly to CRS which will not split it but use it for humanitarian aid only.

In the Diocese of St. Petersburg, all monies collected for Typhoon relief will be sent to Catholic Relief Service and used to help those desperate brothers and sisters we see on the front page of both of our papers or on TV.

The sun sets over another USCCB Fall Assembly of Bishops - same scene as above but nine hours later.

The sun sets over another USCCB Fall Assembly of Bishops – same scene as above but nine hours later.

They are threatening me now on the plane to get ready for landing in Tampa. It will be great to be home for the holidays.

The sun in setting on Baltimore now but the five counties are still bright and shiny.



Tuesday, November 12th, 2013

Nine years ago, on the day after Christmas in 2004, an earthquake far below the surface of the Indian Ocean unleashed an act of nature that staggered the human imagination and made even I stop to ask, “Where were you, O Lord.” Over 200,000 lives were lost as one of the largest and most devastating tsunamis swept parts of the island of Sumatra in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and the southernmost tip of the Indian sub-continent. Hundreds of thousands who did survive were left without housing, access to food and water, and a total absence of sanitation. Only the fast action of the community of nations and non-governmental organizations saved the survivors from typhoid and dysentery. Catholic Relief Services, your national church’s agency, helped to rebuild lives in all three places, returning families to almost 9000 totally new homes able to withstand earthquakes of the magnitude of 9.0 and far enough away from the sea that a tsunami of even more historic proportions would not reach them. In a Muslim and Hindu land, the Catholic people of the United States represented by CRS were greatly appreciated.

The two main islands hit by Typhoon Haiyan, Leyte and Samar, are home to 3.6 million people (including the families of Fathers Allen Tupa, Glen Diaz, and Cesar Patilla) of whom are Catholic as our faith is very strong in those islands.

Photo credit: Caritas International

Photo credit: Caritas International

Most are without the basic necessities and wandering the streets looking for food among the garbage and water which is so contaminated that they should not even get near it. US troops are already on station and CRS is moving its resources into the area as this is being written. I remember CRS staffer Pat Johns who led the tsunami recovery in Indonesia that the first thing he did was to buy every plastic bucket that the local equivalent of Walmart or Home Depot or Lowes had on the island of Sumatra and drive them into the disaster zone, thereby giving people something to carry clean, purified water to their shelters for drinking and cooking sparing the population dysentery, diarrhea, and other potentially lethal diseases.

The Philippines need our help desperately and CRS is our delivery vehicle of mercy.

I am asking that second collections be taken up in all our parish churches for the next two weekends (Nov. 16-17 and Nov. 23-24) and at Mass on Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 28) to be forwarded immediately to CRS (see letter). 

Image of the devastation in the Philippines. Photo credit: Caritas International

Image of the devastation in the Philippines. Photo credit: Caritas International

"Bogo City and Daanbantayan, North of Cebu." Photo and caption credit: Caritas International

“Bogo City and Daanbantayan, North of Cebu.” Photo and caption credit: Caritas International

Church evacuation centre in Tacloban City. Photo care of church volunteer. Photo caption and credit: Caritas International

“Church evacuation centre in Tacloban City. Photo care of church volunteer.” Photo caption and credit: Caritas International

Brendan Stack and his family are parishioners at the Cathedral parish in St. Petersburg. Brendan went to Jesuit High School in Tampa and then earned his bachelor’s degree at Loyola University of Maryland. During his time at Loyola he asked my assistance and he went as a CRS summer intern (of sorts) to a remote area of India where he worked hard in a CRS and parish program. When he graduated from Loyola in May of 2011 he spent a year with the Jesuit Volunteer Corp in Boise, Idaho teaching English to poor, mostly undocumented Mexicans and serving meals at a Salvation Army feeding center. Those experiences plus his own human longings led him to begin in the Fall of 2012 a Masters degree program in Public Health at Boston University. Last week he was working as a CRS intern in disaster relief and response on the Philippine island of Bolon which had just experienced a 7.0 earthquake rendering 250,000 inhabitants homeless. Last Friday he hunkered down as Typhoon Haiyan took aim on where he was working. I spoke with him by SKYPE on Friday before the storm hit (the eye passed about 125 miles north of where Brendan was staying with the other members of the CRS team working on the earthquake response. He was fearless, not worried for himself but deeply worried for the Philippine people whose lives would be forever changed by the oncoming storm. On Saturday I got a text message from Brendan that he was safe but that the CRS team was meeting all day to develop a strategy for meeting the new challenge. That’s the way CRS and its people are: if somewhere outside of the US there are people in dire need because of a natural or manmade disaster, CRS will be there in their midst with a dedicated core of people to help them make it through today with some scant hope for tomorrow.

Please be generous. This requires all of us to perhaps dig a little deeper, inflict a tad more financial pain on ourselves, sacrifice so that others may live. Nothing less than the NEW YORK TIMES declared this a disaster of “epic proportions” and even as I write this, three days after the storm, we still do not have a good handle on how many million people we must now care for.

The Indonesians on the island of Sumatra left when the Navy Aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy sailed away from Banda Ache when they had done all they could, when the Australian army left having been the very first responders to the tsunami and when Catholic Relief Services completed its work of rebuilding in northwestern Sumatra. CRS representing Catholics proved once again that we are friends when others are in need, friends indeed.

Our Lady of Antipolo graphic graciously shared with us from the artist, Brother Mickey O'Neill McGrath, OSFS, with Bee Still Studio.

Our Lady of Antipolo graphic graciously shared with us from the artist, Brother Mickey O’Neill McGrath, OSFS, with Bee Still Studio.

Please keep all of our Filipino brothers and sisters and all of the emergency personnel responding in your prayers.

Prayer for the Philippines (courtesy of CRS)

“God, who quiets great winds and stills rough seas,
We ask your protection for the people of the Philippines.
Comfort them in their fear.
Stay close to them in their danger.
And we ask the intercession of Your Blessed Mother
That together with her and with all your holy saints
We may stand in solidarity with our Filipino brothers and sisters
through their darkest hour,
through their longest night.
Give us the courage to remain steadfast
To reach out to them in their need
To comfort them in their sorrow
To hold them as closely as You hold them
To see them through to morning.


Thank you.



Thursday, November 7th, 2013

The bishops of the United States are gathering in Baltimore beginning next Monday for the annual Fall meeting of the United States Catholic Conference so this morning I dug out my overcoat which is only used on this occasion, gathered 1.2 pounds of paper which has been sent out in advance of the meeting together, and selected several long sleeve shirts and one sweater along with my alb and stole to be used for concelebrating Mass. I’m all set to go. But, before leaving I have the funeral Mass for Deacon Rafael Quiles who died at age eighty-six after serving twenty-two years as a deacon in this diocese (he was ordained for Cleveland), mostly spent in jail ministry and at Transfiguration Catholic Church in St. Petersburg. Then Saturday night I will celebrate and preach at the annual White Mass for doctors, dentists, nurses and others in the medical profession. And on Sunday morning I will officially install Father Alan Weber as the third pastor of All Saints Catholic Church in Clearwater. I leave for Baltimore at six on Sunday night, arrive at 11:30pm and check into the hotel for three nights.

The USCCB meeting is once again rather thin on agenda items although we will be looking at and voting on new translations for the Order of Celebrating Marriage and the Order of Confirmation. Also action will be taken on adaptations to the Misal Romano or Spanish translation of the Roman Missal.  I don’t foresee long debates on any of these items but in our episcopal conference, the bishops abhor a vacuum and verbal sparks can sometimes fly when least expected. The Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth is proposing a formal statement on pornography for our action and then there are the budget for the coming year and the plans and programs and some other housekeeping matters.

What is likely to capture the greatest attention will be the vote for a new president and vice-president of the Conference. Three years ago I went to this meeting having heard that there was something of a “putsch” afoot to block the election of the sitting Vice- President but I did not think it possible. It has always made very good sense to me that the task of the President of the conference is better served and filled with someone who prepared for three years by serving as Vice-President. Early in my lifetime in the episcopal conference, that wisdom was born out when on two occasions I think the elected Vice-President was too old to serve a term of three years as President. When the vote was taken and my friend Archbishop (then) Dolan was elected, I was astounded, disappointed and somewhat ashamed. He had nothing to do with the shenanigans and was bright enough to have served well but knowing him as I do, I would bet he might say that three years as Vice-President might have helped some. Anyway a great bishop was embarrassed, a group of bishops within the conference were celebrating their victory, and I thought it was one of the worst experiences of being a bishop I had experienced.

I know of no such underground-swell this time and I expect, hope and pray that Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville is elected. He is a great churchman, a good archbishop for his diocese, and would represent us well as has Cardinal Dolan. I will cast my vote for Vice-President out of loyalty and confidence for my former colleague in the Office of the General Secretary, Archbishop Dennis Schnurr, Archbishop of Cincinnati. Those two neighboring ordinary Ohio River ordinaries would serve the Church well for the next three years.

Usually I return from Baltimore on the train which gives me times to reflect and write of the meeting for this blog but I must be back in St. Petersburg on Wednesday evening to receive a special award so fly I must.

I don’t like to make nice people mad by what I write in this space but I did it to a few in the post on the growing presence of Hispanics in this local Church. I didn’t make the Hispanics mad, I made my own people of Irish lineage mad. You see I suggested that I doubted that the Blessed Mother had ever really been at the Shrine of Knock in Ireland because I have always found it too cold there on umpteen visits at all times of the year. I should not have even remotely suggested that even though there is this marvelous story about the Monsignor who built the shrine and the “international” airport at Knock from the ground up and his conversation with the Irish Prime Minister at the time of the grand opening of the airfield. It is a great story but I would only make more people mad so I am sorry and enough said. It is awfully cold there,  however.