Archive for September, 2014


Saturday, September 20th, 2014
Bishop Blase Cupich. Photo courtesy of the Diocese of Spokane's website.

Bishop Blase Cupich. Photo courtesy of the Diocese of Spokane’s website.

Many of you may not be all that aware of Simeon and Anna in the New Testament. Simeon was an official at the temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Lord’s birth. When Mary and Joseph brought the infant child Jesus to the Temple for the Presentation, Simeon exclaimed with great personal joy, “Now, Master, you have kept your word. You can dismiss your servant (meaning himself) in peace (meaning Simeon was ready to go to his death), your word has been fulfilled.”

That’s is somewhat how I felt last night as word began to spread that this morning Pope Francis would be announcing that a wonderful friend of mine of many years and a great bishop was being named to the great Archdiocese of Chicago. That person is Bishop Blase Cupich about whom I have written previously in this space.

He worked at the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington while I was working at the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference and shortly after I came to St. Petersburg as bishop, he was made Bishop of the Diocese of Rapid City in South Dakota. More recently he was transferred to Spokane, Washington where he has spent the last four years.

He has addressed the priests of the St. Petersburg diocese twice at my invitation, first as Spiritual Director for our annual October convocation and then at the time of the implementation of the new translation of the Roman Missal. He is 65 years old but with the energy of a much younger person. He will need it in Chicago which has had a succession in recent decades of very fine archbishops (Joseph Cardinal Bernardin and Francis Cardinal George). The former preached at my episcopal ordination in 1996 at St. Jude Cathedral and the latter has been in the diocese on several occasions, including more recently, four years ago as President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops when they held their Spring Assembly in our fair city.

Cardinal George reached the mandatory retirement age of 75 two years ago and is currently quite publicly dealing with an aggressive form of cancer. Through it all, gallantly like his predecessor Cardinal Bernardin, he has witnessed beautiful Christian faith and hope as  one experimental cancer drug after another has been tried out on him. Let us pray for Cardinal George, that the Lord’s will be done for him and that he be spared every suffering possible. Tonight, I suspect, that Canticle of Simeon which I quoted above will be recited with added meaning by Cardinal George.

Bishop Cupich has shown wonderful leadership skills in so many areas but his appointment to Chicago will be quite a test. It is a large and culturally and linguistically diverse city consisting of just two counties and two million Catholics. The last two Archbishops of Chicago have also been tapped for national leadership positions as well as international congregational and council assignments within the purview of the Holy See.

It is much like New York, where Cardinal Timothy Dolan has either been called to national leadership (President of the USCCB) or chosen to accept a time-consuming outside the Archdiocese of New York responsibility (Chairman of the Board of Catholic Relief Services) or papal appointments which require his presence in Rome on a regular basis. These duties often lead the local churches they serve to complain that their archbishop is always away which is one way of looking at it but I prefer that the particular talent of the Archbishop is a gift to be shared with the larger church. New York, Chicago and Los Angeles would be full-time responsibilities for any human, but the burdens of these places are larger.

I mentioned Cardinal Dolan above and one interesting fact which I can share with you which I have not seen elsewhere is that Cardinal Dolan, Archbishops Cupich, Schnurr (of Cincinnati) and Bishop Cote (of Norwich, CT) were all staff to the late Cardinal Pio Laghi at the Washington nunciature, mostly at the same time. Only one US member of that staff from that time period has not made it to the hierarchy of this country and all of the aforementioned colleagues of his, as well as myself, would say that he would have made a great bishop. Monsignor Bernard Yarrish, a priest of the Scranton diocese, who from his room in a Carmelite Sisters of the Aged and Infirm Assisted Care facility in Wilkes Barre, PA must be smiling at the latest news of one of his friends. Monsignor Yarrish whom I think the world of has been dealing with a debilitating disease for some time, but he especially was a jewel of this quintet. Cardinal Laghi and Cardinal Bernardin must have had some reunion last night and today in heaven.

So why am I so excited about this news? I think it is but one more, albeit very important, sign of the seriousness with which Pope Francis takes his mandate to recapture the spirit, vision and direction of the Second Vatican Council. Though I have never asked him this directly, I know the new Archbishop of Chicago would say that he admires deeply the ecclesiology and vision Archbishops John Raphael Quinn (ex of San Francisco), Archbishop Joseph A Fiorenza (ex of Galveston-Houston), Cardinal William Keeler (ex of Baltimore), Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk (ec of Cincinnati), Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, Bishop Anthony Pilla (ex of Cleveland), and Bishop William Skylstad (who on November 18th when Archbishop Cupich is installed in Chicago will share with the new Archbishop the moniker of “ex of Spokane”).

There is a plethora of things to be read and watched about today’s happenings and as always I recommend to you the mother of all ecclesial blogs, Whispers in the Loggia as well as a piece of reflection which I think is spot on written by Michael Sean Winters for the National Catholic Reporter and if you go to the websites of The Chicago Tribune or The Chicago Sun Times you can find almost everything you want to know about this new “breeze” blowing now in the Windy City and soon to visit the places where you live and pray and play. For myself today, the Master has indeed kept his word.



















Monday, September 15th, 2014

In just a few weeks now, the principal focus of Pope Francis’ vision will begin to take place in Rome. In Church language it is called an “Extraordinary Synod” and it in the Holy Father’s mind is a necessary preamble to an “Ordinary Synod” which will also be held in Rome in 2015. “Synods” are a consultative device used for centuries by our own Church and by many other churches as well. Dioceses hold synods to plan and prepare for the future of local churches. Implied in the word is “consultation” with priests, deacons, religious and especially laity and the process implies openness,honesty, collaboration and even “thinking outside of the non-definitive theological box.”

I wished to hold such a gathering in the Diocese of St. Petersburg about nine years ago and because everything at the time was focused on the clergy sexual abuse scandals, my priests and other consultive bodies I spoke to said, “this is not the time.” I firmly believe that my successor in office in a few years should and will likely call for a synod process to chart the path for the future of this local Church.

For the universal Church, the fathers of the Second Vatican Council envisioned an “Ordinary Synod Process” which would be convened in Rome by the Holy Father every three years and its membership would be elected bishops from each of the world’s national episcopal conferences, representative bishops from the Eastern Rites and a few other papal appointees. The ordinary synods were envisioned to focus on a particular topic of Church life in the modern world, meet for four weeks, hear endless five-minute speeches (often off-topic), vote for a final set of conclusions and then leave Rome and leave it to the curia to draft a response to the conclusions and then the Holy Father would in a year or two publish a “post-synodal exhortation” which often to those attending did not look an awful lot like their conclusions. Both Pope St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI gave the plenary sessions a lot of their time, being present, listening, and in the case of Pope Benedict, occasionally offering a comment or two of his own to the discussion. No bishop of my acquaintance who was elected to an Ordinary Synod speaks too highly of the process as hopes were often dashed and dreams were often unrealized.

Now, however, not unlike everything else he attempts and does, Pope Francis has instilled new energy in the Synod process. Already he has taken the initiative to go back and revisit the disappointing theme of “Marriage and and Family Life” which was first addressed in the Ordinary Synod of 1980 (the second year of Pope John Paul’s pontificate). This time he gave all the local dioceses and eparchies (Eastern Rite dioceses) throughout the world an opportunity to “vet” the theme of Marriage and Family Life in our Day with everyone who wished to participate.

As you know, in this diocese over 7000 Catholics participated in and responded to the first ever online survey of questions raised by the Pope/Holy See for the coming synod. Very few dioceses in this state or in the nation gave their people this opportunity, often limiting the input to diocesan Pastoral Councils or Presbyteral Councils. The Synod office in Rome was inundated, flooded may be a better word, with advice apropos of the topic. Universal responses tended to focus in real-life and real-time challenges: the effect of the culture on the notion and institution of marriage, readmission of the divorced and remarried to the sacramental life of the Church, most especially the Eucharist, living with same-sex civil marriages, etc. My suspicion is that Pope Francis has been amused if not energized by the attention given to both the topic of the Extraordinary and Ordinary Synods as well as pushback the topic has given birth to.

First, the Extraordinary Synod will meet in three weeks for three weeks. A very good Archbishop friend of mine whose theological and ecclesial opinions I admire very much says that this Synod will mark a “crossing of the Rubicon” for the Church. I hope he is right. I hope that a vast majority of the bishops present will affirm that the topics, especially the more neuralgic ones, will be vetted and addressed in the Ordinary Synod to conform to this Pope’s ardent desire to become a Church of mercy, compassion and forgiveness.

I see hard lines developing against any effort to find a way to readmit divorced and remarried Catholics to Eucharistic communion. The punishment is more important to some cardinals than the moment. I recognize that changing the praxis of the Church on this means finding a way to reaffirm the indissolubility of marriage which has been and must always be true of our ecclesial communion but at least being open to those who have failed.

Think about it for a moment, I can absolve the most heinous of criminals who seeks God’s forgiveness for the sin of murder and give him or her the Eucharist, but let a twenty-one year old who made a mistake in choosing a spouse for a bevy of reasons return to the Eucharist – no way says the Church and I pray instead for some way. Pope Francis has instilled in my heart a desire for reconciliation of all, forgiveness, mercy and compassion for those who need it and seek it, and a Church which is itself a beacon of hope to those who walk in the darkness of this day and age.

So let’s pray that the Extraordinary Synod will be open to a full and active participation by the Church universal in not just repackaging the age-old method of dealing with modern day challenges but is open to that same spirit who gave us this extraordinary pope. But then again, we must always be mindful and careful of what we hope for as it has been tried before and has, in the minds of many, not worked. This one hangs in the balance of the hands of a man who subscribes to that part of the prayer of St. Francis which says, “give me the grace to accept those things which I can change”. Prayers for the Extraordinary Synod are welcome!



Thursday, September 4th, 2014

The topic/subject of this blog has been tossing around in my mind for several weeks. At first, I was not going to address the issue of Constitutional Amendment Two on the November ballot which would legalize the use within the State of Florida of “medical marijuana” but then after consulting with friends in the medical field, in the law enforcement field and in two states, California and Colorado, I decided to share with you my thoughts. Please bear in mind that in all likelihood the Church will not “have a dog in this hunt” so today what I am sharing with you is the prayerful conclusion of simply one voter – myself, and is not Church teaching. The whole issue entered the political process due to the determined doggedness of one person, attorney John Morgan of Orlando. His passion, he says, came from the palliative relief given to his brother or another close relative by the use of marijuana. Morgan became a believer and an advocate for change in the law.

Florida was breaking no new ground in this initiative because other states and particularly California and Colorado had already paved the way. It is hard not to like something which claims to remove the physical pain from certain illnesses when nothing else seems to work. I must admit, the claim caught my interest and I suspect it would have won my ballot support if that was all that was involved. However, what law enforcement in this state as well as the medical associations point out is that there is “wiggle room” language in the proposed amendment which would extend the use to “other needs.” The docs say that they do not need such an amendment and that there are less risky ways of achieving the same goal of pain alleviation and law enforcement which has a tough time, they claim, dealing with instances of illegal use of marijuana and its “effects” on human behavior don’t even want to think of wholesale marijuana becoming available in the state.

So how about my Church friends in California, what do they think of “weed availability” in their state? The camel’s nose and neck under the tent they would say. Californians are among the first to take on anything controversial and experiment with it and usually they find a way of accommodating “California dreaming” into their daily and civic life. They also have generally developed a somewhat defeatist attitude that if it is going to happen anyway, why not in California? My friends in Colorado are a slightly different story. They long for the days long ago when one went to Colorado to buy Coors beer and export it back into the Eastern states where it was not commercially available. Now the state is seeing a lot of buying and exporting of marijuana and some of them say that the social dangers of this new reality are alarming.

There is a fine reporter for the TAMPA BAY TIMES by the name of Stephen Nohlgren and he has recently completed extensive research into almost every aspect of the issue. This morning he notes for the first time that the amendment may not be the “slam dunk” which it has previously appeared to be and last week-end and during this week he has authored a series of very fine pieces on both the truths and myths of the issue. At the end of the day, I was left with enough  uncertainty about the issue to decide to vote “no” on the amendment myself. I remain unconvinced of the medical argument at least as a necessity and am a vigorous opponent of smoking anything, legal or illegal. It seems to me that what John Morgan and the other proponents are proposing, albeit somewhat silently, is the decriminalization of marijuana and that is what I wish the electorate was truly deciding on this issue, not some back door proposal.

This may, however, be one issue where reasonable people can differ. I trust the doctors (Lord, knows I see enough of them personally for one thing or another) and not the ads that this amendment is not necessary for palliative care and while personal experience may be helpful in something like this, the research is still lacking. Amazingly I find myself thinking a “no” vote is really “for the people.”