Archive for February, 2014

COMINGS AND GOINGS

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

It has been an interesting few days for me recently and this blog entry might just end up being something like the morning newspaper – lots of filler but not a lot of content, so you may wish to stop here.

In the “Comings” category, last week saw the arrival of the 20th Anniversary ACE (Alliance for Catholic Education) bus tour stop in Tampa and St. Petersburg for two days. ACE is the brainchild of Holy Cross fathers Sean McGraw and Timothy Scully who, slightly more than twenty years ago, dreamed about a strategy of taking recent graduates of Catholic colleges and universities (mostly Notre Dame and St. Mary) and offering them a two-year service project teaching in low-income Catholic schools around the nation based on the AmeriCorps model. Accepting about ninety new teachers a year who spend two full summers at Notre Dame in classroom and hands-on teaching experiences, they earn a M.Ed. degree from Notre Dame at the end. During the school year, they fan out around the country and teach in Catholic schools.

The Diocese of St. Petersburg currently has eight ACE teachers working at St. Petersburg Catholic, Sacred Heart in Pinellas Park, Holy Family in St. Petersburg, St. Joseph’s in West Tampa, Incarnation in Tampa, and three at Tampa Catholic High School.

With about 180 young teachers in the two year program, that was not enough for Fathers Scully and McGraw and they fashioned a dream of a slightly longer program which would prepare candidates for principal positions and to be Administrators in Catholic Schools throughout the country. Called the Remick ACE Leadership program, three summers are required to attain a Master’s Degree in Educational Administration. What I like best about it is that it gives a local church like ours a “bench” which we did not previously have from which to cull the best candidates to administer our Catholic schools. Now St. Leo has put in place a similar program and some of our better candidates are attending it as well. All because dreams do occasionally come true.

But Fathers Scully and McGraw did not stop dreaming and with the generous assistance of the Walton Family Foundation (Walmart), they began a third initiative which at this moment only exists in the dioceses of Tucson and St. Petersburg – ACE Academies. Here our two “ACE Academy Schools” are Sacred Heart in Pinellas Park and St. Joseph’s in West Tampa. What’s all this about?

Well, Notre Dame University sends a team of consultants to schools which are on “life-support” financially (at the moment in Arizona a “tuition voucher” program and Florida the “Step-Up Florida” program by which  corporations can choose to send a portion of what they would owe the state for corporate income taxes to a separate corporation which provides tuition assistance to qualifying low income parents so that they can exercise true choice in education for their children in public as well as private schools). The consultants study the demographics, the ability-to-pay of parents, etc. and if the school looks ripe for “Step-up Florida” student scholarships, then in partnership with the diocese, the management of the school is turned over to Notre Dame which has two special goals: increase the enrollment and improve the text scores. As a matter of fact, the ACE Academy program has this mantra: “College First, Heaven Second.” In one year, both Sacred Heart and St. Joseph have been taken off “life-support” and have significantly increased enrollment and incredibly improved test scores.

Pat_gives_Bob_his_Sorin_Award

So the “dreamers” were in town last week to celebrate twenty years of making what once might have seem fantasy become fulfillment. They honored me with the Father Edward Sorin Award and they honored Tampa’s John Kirtley who dreamed of allowing  poorer parents school choice and founded “Step Up Florida.” Of even greater significance to myself was that my award was presented by Patrick A. Graff, Assistant Director of the ACE program located now in South Bend on campus but for the last two years Patrick was the third grade teacher at our Incarnation School in Tampa.

Also last Friday among the “comings” our Regional Seminary of St. Vincent de Paul presented me with its annual St. Vincent de Paul Award at an evening prayer service in the seminary chapel. I resisted, refused, ranted and raved that I should not be so honored while I am alive and/or in office for simply doing what as a bishop I should do, but I lost. The Board of Trustees chooses the recipients.

I believe deeply in both seminaries and since arriving here as bishop have given my all to both. Signing checks is not that hard a manner of supporting seminaries but I have also allowed the diocese of share some of its best and most talented priests to both places for seminary formation: Father Joseph Waters, Father Kenneth Malley, Monsignor John Cippel, Monsignor Michael Muhr, Monsignor David Toups for full-time service. God knows we needed these men here working in this diocese but influencing the formation, education and preparation of our future priests is an even higher priority. So, perhaps this was an award more for giving good men to the enterprise than simply giving money, but who knows?

Reverend Daniel Harrington, S.J.

Reverend Daniel Harrington, S.J.

Now for the goings. I lost two lovely and influential men to death in the last two weeks. The first was a New Testament professor of mine, Father Daniel Harrington, S.J., who taught me at the Weston School of Theology in Cambridge, Massachusetts during my own seminary formation days (1975-1978). Father Harrington was only beginning to take his place among the eminent scripture scholars at the time but was already a brilliant and exciting teacher. He was challenged from birth with a speech impediment, but no one cared. What passed through his lips was pure gold to us sitting at our places in his classroom.

I knew Father Harrington also because several of my Jesuit friends lived in the house in Cambridge on Linneman Street where Dan was in residence so learning at his feet took place for me not only in the classroom but often at the dinner table. He would write many books on the New Testament in the years since I was in his presence and I have them all and often use them for crafting homilies. He died at my age of cancer and the Church, Sacred Scripture and its study, the Society of Jesus, and priestly formation lost a great gift. Daniel Harrington was one of those people one occasionally spends too little time with in life but with whom in eternity I hope I can once again learn from.

Monsignor Canon Adrian Arrowsmith

Monsignor Canon Adrian Arrowsmith

Finally, word came of the death of an exquisite priest friend in London, England with whom I often stayed and at whose table I often sat. I first met Canon Adrian Arrowsmith (a Canon is a “monsignor” plus one in the Catholic Church in England), pastor of Our Lady of Victory parish in the Kensington-High Street area of central London, because my English counterpart as General Secretary, now since last Saturday Cardinal Vincent Nichols, lived in the rectory of Our Lady of Victories during his years in London.

Canon Adrian operated under the assumption that any friend of any of the priest residents in the house was a friend of his and I always felt welcome by the Canon as my host on many trips to London. I probably abused the welcome by going so often to OLV. If there were a Catholic edition of Downton Abbey, Canon Arrowsmith would have had a major role. He was, in the words of Gilbert and Sullivan, the very model of a modern English monsignor (sorry, could not use “modern major general” here). If Maggie Smith were a male, Canon Adrian would be like her – able to decimate with a quip or an eyebrow flip.

He had young priests as associates who represented well the priesthood of the time with whom he was patient, kind, supportive but doubting. He loved those moments when the occasion called for him to don the clothes of a canon, ermine cape and all, and in the presence of the Cardinal Archbishop (Basil Hume at the time), almost pontificate on the fate of the local Church. Having served in His Majesty’s Navy during World War II, salty and seasoned, Adrian was always a delight. If by now you have not figured it out, I loved him.

In his later years (he was almost ninety when he died last week and soon to be sixty years a priest) he was infirm, but I went to visit him at the Assisted Living and Nursing Care facilities when travel took me near London. I shall make a fifty-two hour round trip to his funeral next Tuesday which will be celebrated by his “star-boarder” Cardinal Nichols and I am sure that His Eminence and I will be united to thanking God for the presence of this good man in our lives. Rest now in peace, dear Adrian.

+RNL

PRAYING FOR THE CHURCH

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

One year ago this morning I awakened to the startling news that our Holy Father, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI had announced he would be relinquishing the papacy later in the month, stating that he felt no longer able to lead it as he thought the Lord might wish with failing health and diminishing stamina.

That action I described at the time was humbling, admirable, and one more jewel in his personal diadem stemming from his love for and service to Christ’s church.

After all the television interviews that day and meeting with the few local journalists scrambling to write a story, I “retired” to my residence and began to feel some personal sense of sorrow and loss that this good man would soon be exiting the world stage.

On his last day as successor of St. Peter, I was deeply moved when in a meeting with the hastily gathered College of Cardinals, Pope Benedict said that he was aware that his successor was likely sitting in front of him in the room, but he promised nothing but prayers and support for whomever might be elected to succeed him. Then, there was that final helicopter flight to Castel Gondolfo, the final appearance in the window there and then the closing shut of the doors on a life and a papacy.

I loved Pope Benedict for many of the reasons I have detailed here in the past and particularly a year ago. I knew we would likely not see him again in any public fashion and that he would never be a thorn of any kind in the side of his successor, despite the hundreds of articles written implying two living popes is a recipe for disaster.

Benedict (aka Josef Ratzinger) has admirably and predictably lived up to his promises. Were this not the anniversary day of his resignation, there would be  no need of me writing an article of any type. My personal experience (one more time) was that of a great listener, a brilliant mind, a loving and understanding pastor, a clear teacher and professor of the faith, and a man who from the “gitgo” was always willing to sacrifice his personal hopes and dreams for service to the Church. I have no doubt that historians will be kinder than contemporaries. But for this moment, join me in praying for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI who set the stage for his successor to command.

+RNL

WHAT THE PEOPLE OF GOD SAID

Friday, February 7th, 2014

2014_Vatican_Survey_Results_blogAt the beginning of December, I announced in these pages and in a letter sent to all of our parishes and missions that our diocese would welcome any input from the faithful as they might wish to the questions sent by the Holy See at the request of Pope Francis on marriage and family life in our day.

Over 6,800 people responded, taking time to fill out the survey, often taking significant additional time to add comments to the online version or by filling out the survey on paper and submitting it (written submissions were subsequently entered into the online survey). What Gallup, Pew or the other polling companies would give for nearly 7,000 participants in what was basically an opinion poll!

The timeline was short, too short, but all the responses were received, reviewed by members of the Diocesan Pastoral Council, results shared with the Presbyteral Council and then in mid-January forwarded by me to the appropriate office in Rome which is planning for the two synods which will discuss marriage and family life in our day in October of this year and October of 2015.

At the time, I promised to share the responses with all who took the time to respond. That is what I will attempt to do here, though in something of “shorthand” since the print-out of everything exceeded 3,000 printed pages. Therefore, what is impossible to share in a medium such as this is all of the “free-form” comments which I would characterize as serious, lacking in polemics, sincere, and reflecting little of the polarity which exists in the Church today. I am very proud of what was said, how it was said and who said it.

Before you start looking at the numbers, there are several things which you need to keep in mind. The survey responses generally reflect the “choir,” those people who faithfully attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation, if not daily. They do not represent the feelings of those who have fallen away from the practice of their faith, are angry or frustrated or feel alienated by the Church. How I wish I could have heard from them as well, but given the short time line mandated by the Holy See for input, the only vehicle for informing God’s people of the survey was through those in church or some others who take the time to read this blog, the diocesan Facebook or Twitter, or our diocesan website.

Having said that, I think the thoughts of those who no longer practice their Catholic faith – particularly those concerning our pastoral practice on marriage – were well-represented by the people who did respond. Overall, the Church which I am privileged to lead has some real concerns about precisely the matters which the Holy Father wished tested. Our overall score as institutional Church calls for something of an overhaul of our “common core teachings” (couldn’t resist – sorry!).

Also, please keep in mind that we had to take the sometimes very foreign language of the incoming survey and translate it best as we could into words, terminology and concepts which educated American Catholics could understand. I would give our instrument a B+ or an A- in clarity. Please also note that the overwhelming majority of respondents are older-generation Catholics, most of whom are married and are regular church-goers. Young singles and married couples numerically are not as well-represented.

If you wish to see the statistical results from the survey in the diocese, simply click here.

Summarizing the free-form comments and responses was a more challenging exercise but I think I can do them justice with the following comments:

1. There was very strong support for the notion that marriage (which I believe they understood as sacramental marriage) is between one man and one woman.

2. Having said that, it was also clear that the respondents felt that the Church needed to be better prepared to respond to the reality of same-sex marriage.  In addition, many respondents felt that the people involved in such relationships believe that the Church has turned its back on them.

3. The respondents generally tended to suggest that the Church needed to be kinder and gentler to those who identify themselves as gay and lesbian, be less judgmental and more welcoming.

4. Very clearly stated was the opinion that an adopted child of same-sex parents should be treated in the Church exactly the same as a child born of a traditional marriage between a man and a woman.

5. The respondents felt very strongly that something needs to be done to reconcile and welcome back the divorced and remarried beyond the present annulment process, about which there seems to be confusion. The mistaken notions that an annulment renders children of the first marriage illegitimate and that simply being divorced excludes one from the sacramental life of the Church indicates that as a local Church we need to do something soon to educate our people better on these two points.

6. The media takes a hammering in the survey results, largely because it is seen as the force majeure for challenging traditional concepts about marriage and family life. They render alternate lifestyles legitimate in the eyes of our respondents and perhaps are so strong that they will effectively negate anything done to support traditional notions of marriage and family life.

7. The respondents strongly said that the Church needs “to wake up and smell the coffee” on cohabitation. It is commonplace and there are some reasons for it which can not be summarily dismissed, such as economic realities.

8. Finally, on the matter of artificial contraception the responses might be characterized by the saying, “that train left the station long ago”. Catholics have made up their minds and the sensus fidelium suggests the rejection of Church teaching on this subject.

So, a natural question is “What next?” The survey results raised issues that can only be resolved by the universal church and ultimately by the Holy Father himself. I gather from what I read that our results are not markedly different from those being reported elsewhere around the world. I hope that the effort to canvas the thoughts of the People of God in this diocese, which was unique in Florida, will be helpful to those who will soon gather in synod with the Holy Father.

But there are pastoral results from the survey which we can attend to and I hope we will. I have made it known that I will not tolerate any discrimination or anything which smacks of the punitive to children of same-sex couples. I think all representatives of the Church’s many ministries can be kinder, gentler, more welcoming and less judgmental of those who find our praxis and preaching on marriage and family life to be at odds with their experiences. We need to address clearly that divorce itself is not something which bans a person from reception of the sacraments and that annulments do not illegitimize children born of previous marriages. Working with our diocesan Marriage and Family Life Office and with our priests and deacons, we can either begin or strengthen the process of healing for many in the Church.

Finally, if the “choir” is singing this anthem, imagine what we might have heard had we had the time and access to those alienated, fallen-away, hurt or frustrated. Pope Francis’ call to hightail it to the trenches, to the difficult and smelly parts of the people of God to bring the love and hope of Jesus Christ is not only a call to serve the economically impoverished but the spiritually impoverished, so often of our own making. God bless you and our efforts.

+RNL

GOTCHA! YOU THINK?

Thursday, February 6th, 2014

I always try to be both truthful and forthright in my remarks in this space so I had better start this entry with the admission that I have never been a fan of the United Nations as it exists, although I like the idea in its origins. The root of my distrust arose in 1979 when I was the national coordinator of the first papal visit to the United States of Blessed John Paul II. While the time the new pope would spend at the United Nations was really within the province of the Holy See’s Permanent Observer to the UN, I attended the meetings in New York at the UN in advance of the pope’s presence. There was a certain arrogance which I felt when the Protocol Office of the United Nations dealt with the representatives of the Holy See, from which I have never quite recovered.

So yesterday when a Committee of the United Nations took it upon their shoulders to criticize almost everything which the Catholic Church believes and teaches, I first treated it like water off the proverbial duck’s back. We deserve to be castigated for the manner which we dealt with the sexual misconduct of priests, religious and lay employees in the past and we were and are. While I do not believe the finger of blame can totally fairly be pointed at the Pope or the Holy See, however when the national piñata has been beaten to death of its contents, then one tends often to look to some other source and eventually all roads seemed to lead to Rome. The UN’s outrage at this sorry aspect of ecclesial  behavior is not out of line in general but some of its specific applications are unfair in their report.

However, as time passed since yesterday my blood boiled at the overall assault on the Church contained in the report with demands for reform and change which can not and will not happen. They don’t like our opposition to abortion. They don’t like that we don’t teach contraception to elementary school children. They don’t like this and they don’t like that about the Church until all of a sudden they are demanding that we forfeit for the common good some common ground of who we are and what we believe. They do not understand the Church and they made no attempt to understand the Church prior to filing this polemic which has gathered much more attention than perhaps it normally would and should (our own Tampa Bay Times this morning put it on the front page). If you hate the Catholic church, you will love this report. If you love the Catholic Church with all its apparent warts and wrinkles, you just may grow to hate the United Nations after this verbal deluge. As an institution the Church is not perfect and we know it needs work and attention which I believe it is getting under the vision of Pope Francis.

Without the help of the United Nations, the Church needs to continue to work on healing those victimized by sexual abuse by priests and others. We need to continue to strengthen our oversight of those who come into contact with children and the church needs a way of judging whether its leaders are fulfilling the promises made in this country more than a decade ago. On one matter of sex, I would say the Church in the United States far outshines the United Nations and that is in combatting and dealing with human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of minors and women especially. Where are you “family of nations” on some of our neighboring countries who aid and abet this form of wickedness?

Finally, how is it that the very organization which thinks so poorly of the Church is so intent on having its leader, the Pope, come as soon as possible to appear before the General Assembly? Read that report and one would think the Committee might construe the initiative as something like a  modern day invitation to the likes of a Marcos of the Philippines, Pinochet of Chile, Duvalier of Haiti, Kaddafi of Libya, Amin of Uganda, to name a few that the same United Nations never really saw fit to excoriate like they did the Church in this report.

I am sure the authors of the UN report were thinking, “Gotcha” about the Church. I hope some of the worldwide reaction might be more like, “you think?”

+RNL