Archive for October, 2014

THE VIEW FROM OUTSIDE OF THE STADIUM

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014

I often like to quote the late Cardinal Richard James Cushing of Boston who once publicly pronounced, “The Church may be difficult but it is never boring!” My two recent blogs on the recently concluded Extraordinary Synod have drawn a good number of comments and just a few that contain the very condemnatory language which makes people want to leave the Church. They have consistently come from people outside of the diocese who do not know what we do to reconcile people to the faith here.

I will admit that in using the image of an athletic contest, especially a football game, I took some literary license in order to help the average reader understand what I think took place during those amazing two weeks. It was a stretch, to be sure but it certainly wasn’t boring to a lot of people who read it, though some found it difficult. So, to place some of what I said in another context and to make good use of the wisdom of a man I deeply respect, let me share with you some words of wisdom from a Synod participant himself, Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminister (that’s Catholic London) who in a pastoral letter said more clearly and perhaps more precisely what I meant in my analysis when dealing with two areas which my commentators found at a minimum neuralgic and at a maximum outrageous.

Speaking of co-habitating couples and the divorced and remarried, Cardinal Nichols noted that in these people there is often “real goodness” to be found. He noted that the Synod called on all of us “to walk alongside people in difficult or exceptional situations [and] to see clearly and with humility all the good aspects of their lives.” “This is especially true with regard to individuals who, for example, have decided to live together without marriage, or for Catholics in second marriages. . . .These realities are part of their journey in life and while not in keeping with the pattern the Lord asks of us, their lives are often marked by real goodness. . . .This is the basis for our care of them, for our approach to them, our invitation to them, to come closer to the church and deepen their faith and attend carefully to its call.” One would think that in this fourteenth year of this millennium no one would argue with such language or pastoral plan.

Speaking then of another neuralgic issue for many people, the Cardinal addressed those with same-sex attraction. He asked his Church to accept them “with compassion and sensitivity.” As I attempted to do in my two blogs but perhaps with greater brevity and clarity, Cardinal Nichols noted that in the Synod, there was “no suggestion that the teaching of the church might somehow give approval to the notion of ‘same-sex marriage” or that its teaching on sexual morality is to change.” He is also quoted as saying, I think what is important is that we keep the focus on the person and we keep recognizing and respecting and valuing and welcoming the goodness of every person whatever their sexuality, whether they are co-habitating or in a second marriage. Their lives continue to carry the hallmark of the Holy Spirit.”

This is precisely what I see as the challenge to myself as a bishop, to my priests, deacons, religious and laity which emanates from Pope Francis. Go seek the lost. Tell them they are loved by their God. Invite them to listen to Christ as did the woman caught in adultery and the woman at Jacob’s well, The same love and warmth of invitation needs to be offered to those women who have had abortions, prisoners on death row, God’s people who are hurting, feeling lonely and abandoned.

Many would love to enter the stadium but can’t get through the protesters outside blocking entrances and hurling epithets. Cardinal Nichols offers his ministry as an usher willing to deliver some one from the outside to a place of some type inside the stadium of God’s love. That is what I hope I can do as well.

+RNL

ps. I now have the benefit, thanks to the mother of all ecclesial blogs, of reading the entire pastoral letter of Cardinal Nichols and I think it is worth your time so you can access it by clicking here. My blog was written based on parts reported by Catholic News Service to which I am also grateful. I think with this third in a series, it is time for me to move on to other topics, for the moment.

 

 

VIEW FROM THE LOCKER ROOM

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

A week ago in this space, I blogged about my reaction to the interim report of the Extraordinary Synod which had been working for a week in Rome. That blog, in case, you have not read it is available and entitled “The View from the Sidelines.” As you can tell, I enthusiastically welcomed the discussions which were taking place, the style and substance of the meeting format, and the marked changes in tone which were captured in that interim report. Now that the exercise is finished, at least for the moment, I want to take you inside the locker room and share with you what I consider the post-game highlights. Fortunately you and I can read the coach’s assessment (in this case, Pope Francis) and then continue to ponder the amazing two weeks. I remain as enthusiastic about the conclusion of the exercise as I was at half-time.

There clearly were two teams on the field for this encounter which I would characterize as Team A and Team B. Team A was enthralled by and anxious to play for and with Pope Francis primarily in helping the Church of the future seek out and return the “lost sheep.” Their game plan was aggressive, embracing and encompassing the lived experiences of the people from whom they came, and desirous of opening up a possible new  game plan for the Church they love and serve.

Team B was also made up of those who love the Church but wish to play a more cautious game plan, conceding as little precious yardage as possible and defensively holding the line against what they viewed as an aggressive offense pulled together by Team A. The difference that I saw during “play” and after the “game” was that Team B said they seemed not to understand clearly enough the coach’s (read that the Pope’s) game plan so they chose to play it “safe” or cautiously.

Just about two-thirds of those engaged in the Synod were on Team A and perhaps Team B felt so outnumbered that they saw a need to engage certain sectors of the media to help them play the game. How do I know this? Take a look at the votes on the three contentious issues (gay and lesbian Catholics, the divorced and remarried, and engaged couples living together) and you will find a majority in favor of stronger engagement in issues relating to these groups but short, and in one case only by the Holy See’s version of Florida’s “hanging chads”) enough to keep the majority from getting the two-thirds necessary to include an even more pastoral solution into the “game plan.” On those three issues, for the moment, Team B’s strategy won the day, but for how long?

The long final message is a very respectable and responsible work product and it should been seen as provisional, just like the previous week’s summary of what was seen and heard in the Synod Hall was provisional. I personally very much appreciated the Synod’s strong affirmation of married life and its words of comfort and support to married couples and I think the over-reaction of everyone, perhaps even myself, could have drowned out the support for marriage and those who are engaged in it which happily is in the final document.

Now “the game plan” goes to teams (aka (arch) dioceses) throughout the world for reflection, prayer, and possible revision prior to “the Super Bowl” on marriage and family life which begins in Rome on October 4th, 2015. If those who will be attending the next Synod are listening to the voice of the Church throughout the world, the final report next year will look an awful lot like the playbook for Team A. I know for certain that my diocese wants to see some form of relief to those who have divorced and remarried and that would be true of priests, deacons, religious sisters and laity. They and I want the principal of the indissolubility of marriage to be retained and upheld, but there are ways in which the Church can reach out to great people who erred in their first choice of spouse and now find themselves in a loving, caring, mutually trusting and  giving relationship.

I also know for certain that this local Church wants to see us welcome members of the Gay and Lesbian community. I cannot, we cannot promise them that we will ever be likely to recognize the nature of their unions as sacramental but if they are willing to accept that reality, then they can be full participants in the life of the Church. I know that many of my pastors have shared with me that Gay and Lesbian parents who have adopted children are wonderful, loving and caring parents and neither my people and my priests nor the laity wish to see the children punished by being denied baptism or the sacraments or being excluded from Catholic schools and religious formation programs because they have two daddies or two mommies.

I also know many parents who, while feeling some pain that their sons and daughters are “living together” with someone likely some day to be their spouse, understand they those same children now find it absolutely financially necessary to live together just to stay alive in the work place.

After the game was over last Saturday night, the Coach addressed both Team A and Team B in a post-game evaluation or “pep talk.” He criticized the more extreme offences and defenses of both teams and asked that in charity they sharpen their game plan for the Super Bowl next year. He chose not to hide the different strategies and statistics by publishing the whole Synod report and the votes for each part, including the three which were rejected by not achieving the two-thirds vote necessary. He said that he felt that at times some of the “players” seemed to be calling plays in desperation and desirous of winning at any cost which the Pope then said should not be a worry because he who occupies the see of St. Peter will listen to all and then decide for the best of the Church. What he was actually conceding, I think, is that certain of his players played as if they had little to no confidence in the coach. He used the very same words which I used in my blog on the interim report about walking sub Petro and cum Petro.

Finally, it was a great start to the “marriage and family life season”. There was a new openness in the Church and transparency has never been more apparent. That the neuralgic issues which I outlined above were even spoken of in public marks a new day for a Church which until now has thought that the best form of governance is secret governance. A retired archbishop friend of mine whom I respect very much said to me prior to the opening of the Synod that the “Church would cross the Rubicon at this extraordinary synod.” I think he was right. I think Blessed Pope Paul VI who envisioned synods as a manner of governance at the service of both Pope and universal Church must have been smiling from his place in heaven. It was collegiality exercised in its most pristine form and the resulting statement going forth guarantees that the next time the teams gather to play again, they will have had more time to pray, ponder and reflect on the Church in the modern day.

I have employed the image of the concluded Extraordinary Synod in “football” language because I think more readers can understand what was really at play the last two weeks. But I do not consider the Synod to be a game at all, but an opportunity for the Spirit to guide and direct the Church under the watchful eye and mind of our chief shepherd, the Pope, for a more effective spread of the Gospel in our day. Next October, you and I dear reader, will not be watching from the sidelines or the locker room, but we will be playing and praying for the Spirit of Pentecost to come upon our Church.

+RNL

ANOTHER GREAT PRIEST OF THE DIOCESE GOES TO THE HOUSE OF THE FATHER

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014
Father Chris Fitzgerald, I.C. conducts Benediction service at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Seffner. Photo kindness of Ed Foster, Jr.

Father Chris Fitzgerald, I.C. at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Seffner. Photo kindness of Ed Foster, Jr.

I am woefully late in posting this tribute to a great priest of the diocese who recently went home to the “house of the Father”. Father Christopher Fitzgerald, IC a priest for fifty-six years died just as I was leaving for Rome and the ordination to the diaconate of Rev. Mr. Ryan Boyle. It is interesting to me that on the very day I was ordained to the diaconate at St. Clement’s parish church in Fort Lauderdale by the late Archbishop Edward McCarthy, a wonderful Lithuanian priest with whom I lived at St. James parish in North Miami, suffered a major and eventually fatal heart attack (Father George Razutis) and I went right to his hospital room after the ordination and I have not forgotten what he said to me then: “It is all right, Bob, today God gives his Church a new priest and takes to Himself an old one.” When I arrived in Rome and learned of Father Fitz’s death, I immediately thought of that moment thirty-seven years ago.

Father Chris’ final years were spent in the loving care of his long-time Associate Pastor at St. Francis of Assisi parish in Seffner, Father Michael O’Neill. Aided by a staff which clearly loved their founding pastor, they were all able to take care of him until skilled nursing care was required but they never abandoned him to the loneliness of a nursing home but were present to him as often as they could be. Father Fitzgerald was ordained a priest in 1958 having been born in Ballyporeen in County Tipperary, Ireland on January 3, 1932. He was ordained as a member of a religious order called the “Institute of Charity” in Tanzania and served his first two years there before having to leave because of serious health issues. His order sent him to Florida where he first served for eleven years at Blessed Sacrament in Seminole and then briefly in Port Charlotte and then St. Paul, St. Petersburg.

In 1973, he became pastor of St. Anne Church in Ruskin where he served for fourteen years. While there he fell in love with the growing Hispanic population, mostly Mexican and strove not just to minister to them but to learn their language as much as he could. He was a faithful son of Anthony Rosmini who founded the Institute of Charity to serve the poor and needy in a diocesan priest-like formation and ministry program. Rosmini was ahead of his times in many ways and irritated the established clerical system of the time and found himself condemned in a way by the Holy Office (now called the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith). The fathers of his order, however, continued to pursue the charism of their founder despite the “cloud” under which Rosmini stood. Father Fitz gave me a copy of a biography of Rosmini when I first came and I found it fascinating. The I.C.’s staff the parishes of Blessed Sacrament Seminole, St. Theresa in Spring Hill, and St. Francis of Assisi in Seffner and they have been great priests in this diocese and we are indebted to them.

In 1987, Father Fitzgerald was made the first pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish, newly abuilding in Seffner with parishioners “cut off” from the then gigantic Nativity parish in Brandon (much to the chagrin of the Brandon pastor at that time, Monsignor Jaime Lara, who was still complaining about the “theft” in 1996 when I came here as bishop in 1996). St. Francis under Father Chris’ leadership became quite a faith community and the turn-out for this funeral (nine days after his death) attested to the love which they had for him. During his time there, his order chose him as Provincial of the Province in the United States and he had to travel more than he would have liked because he missed the parish so much. His contribution to Catholic Charities of the Diocese of St. Petersburg as my personal delegate placed him right where he and Rosmini would have liked him to be – on the front lines of charity. Father Fitzgerald would live to see the total rehabilitation by no less a person than Josef Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the same Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which once had condemned Anthony Rosmini and he was able to attend his beatification in Rome. Now Pope Benedict XVI would beatify Anthony Rosmini in November, 2007.

Every bishop when he buries a priest buries a brother in the priestly ministry and I am finding it increasingly difficult to preside over these moments because I am saying good-bye to my contemporaries who in so many ways have served the Church better than perhaps I have. Father Fitz and I had a special relationship and he asked that I both celebrate his funeral Mass and preach at it as well. Twelve hours after getting off the plane from Rome, I did as asked and I wish to share with you my homily for this great priest which you can read by clicking here.

+RNL

A VIEW FROM THE SIDELINES

Monday, October 13th, 2014

As one who was somewhat skeptical ever since Pope Francis unveiled his intention to call a synod to address the issue of marriage and family life in our day, I must say that the work product from the first week of Part I of the currently convened Extraordinary Synod exceeds my fondest hopes and prayers. And while it is still, as the song goes, “A Long Way to Tipperary”, I find my own skepticism giving way to genuine optimism that our beloved Church is turning a corner on pastoral sensitivity. My initial skepticism was based on two assumptions: first any real pastoral progress develops very slowly in the Church and advances at the same speed as a glacier. Second, no matter what wonderful pastoral ideas the world’s bishops may offer, when they pack up and leave Rome there remain behind in the curia many who usually manage to dilute, diffuse and dissemble the pastoral solutions agreed to. So what’s different this week and wherein do I find my new optimism.

The bishops and laity attending this synod are speaking the truth in love before a Pope who told them, “don’t tell me what you think I want to hear, but tell me what you think.” [from his opening words last Monday]. When Church leadership puts ambition aside and speaks from the heart and soul about everyday problems of humanity throughout the world, a different world view and ecclesial view results.

Today’s report on the first week of deliberations is the most open and honest and pastoral document I have ever seen or read. It really indicates a Church leadership which is seeking to reconcile, love and pastorally care for many who have felt mistreated, disowned or unwelcome: those divorced and remarried outside of canonical form (in civil second marriage, for example) can see in the document a genuine care and concern for them which has not previously been seen. Gay and Lesbian Catholics can find the beginning of a call to them: don’t leave us and give us a chance to find both the right and charitable vocabulary as well pastoral openness which makes the future better than the past. Young people preparing for marriage can find our Church leadership acknowledging the real challenges of living in this moment (cohabitation is an absolute economic reality for many, for example) and asking what can the Church do better to prepare them for marriage in their lived reality today? Perhaps it is with unholy glee that I found in Cardinal Erdo’s synthesis of the first week of the Synod almost a carbon copy of what the people of God of St. Petersburg said in the pre-Christmas and pre-Synod survey of local Catholic opinion on these and other matters. Our Church is listening the voice of the people! That’s why my skepticism gives way to optimism on my first point from the paragraph above.

But, given our history the last thirty-five years, what happens when this Synod concludes it work and goes home? What about those persons in the service of the Holy See who will remain? Some of them have been heard from prior to last Monday’s opening preaching the gospel of doom and gloom and a couple have been providing certain outlets a running commentary, what in my opinion, the late Vice President Spiro Agnew once described  as “nattering nabobs of negativism.”

First of all, I think they know that with Pope Francis, this Synod and those which may follow are providing him with some real opportunities for exercising the collegiality and subsidiarity envisioned at Vatican II. It is pretty clear that the previous methodology of “you discuss and I will decide” is giving way to a synodality model which suggests that moving sub Petro et cum Petro [“under Peter and with Peter”] means that we will walk together but ultimately “the buck will always stop with the Holy Father.” For those on his staff who don’t like it, there is an exit strategy. He  is slowly and patiently assembling a team which is attempting to do what we have tried to do (not always totally successfully in the diocese, I might add) of asking “how we can serve the universal Church” more than “how do we shape up the universal Church since we know best.” Here, it is indeed a “long way to Tipperary”, and we need to patiently give him time to implement the vision in the bodies and minds of individuals. Those who don’t like what is happening these days probably know their “shelf-life expectancy” is limited. More reasons for optimism and less skepticism.

So I begin this calendar week with genuine optimism that the Holy Spirit is guiding the majority of those attending the Synod to walk the path of reality and openness which Pope Francis issued forth on that first night the world saw him in March of 2013. They will chart a roadmap for next year’s regular assembly. For those of you old enough to remember the American Automobile Associations “TripTik” for taking trips by automobile in the U.S. this Synod is using a “highlighter” to map out the most direct and fastest way between two points, as well as to point out where construction of the roadway is taking place” and even warning where there might be “speed traps” to be encountered. The next Synod will have this triptik with perhaps even an alternate roadway or two, and they will make the final decision to leave home and journey to a new place. My God, what a great Church we can become!

+RNL

HOPE IN ABUNDANCE

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

One of the surest signs that it is Fall finds me visiting both of our seminaries, the college program, St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami, and the Theological program, St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach. At conclusion of the second, each September, the bishops of the province of Miami meet for several hours as the corporate members of the Catholic Conference of Florida. Thursday, September 25 was the meeting in Miami, Friday, September 26 was the meeting for the Board in Boynton Beach, and Saturday morning, September 27, saw me exit the Florida Catholic Conference meeting to catch a plane to Rome to meet with our two seminarians at the Pontifical North American College and to attend the ordination to the diaconate of one.

I almost always take AMTRAK to Miami and Monsignor Robert Gibbons who is on the board of the St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary usually accompanies me as far as West Palm Beach. I had hoped to take sixteen seminarians at the college in Miami out for a light dinner but AMTRAK’s tardiness killed that good idea. We have sixteen men studying in six different years of the program. In recent weeks, Father Art Proulx has moved in as a house Spiritual Director and he is doing just great. So are our sixteen fine seminarians who come from three cultures with four native languages.

The men attending St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami with Father Arthur Proulx, Monsignor Toups and myself.

The men attending St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami with Father Arthur Proulx, Monsignor Toups and myself.

The seminary has plans for expansion, as they are too full this year with 97 seminarians living in space maximally designed for 72. The Miami Archdiocese has monies to fund these projects whole and in entirety so we will see what happens. They were in great form and fun to be with when I was not otherwise occupied in a meeting.

Thursday night we left St. John Vianney College Seminary for St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary (about eighty minutes north) where all the seminarians were waiting for dinner and received sad news. One of their brothers, second year theologian Tim Williford’s mother lost her valiant battle against cancer. Here was to be found a group of men so close to one another that the pain and loss of one affected the others. We immediately prayed for Lisa Williford and had a special, second Mass the next morning for her and her family. Our meetings were properly sober and when she was buried on Friday at St. Paul’s St. Petersburg, all of his fellow diocesan seminarians (34) and nine (9) others were present at the Mass to pray and sing.

Our own Monsignor Toups has a mostly new faculty at St. Vincent’s this year and is in the in finishing stage of his twelve plus million construction project which will be ready for occupancy in late November. He has some 87 seminarians on campus and about fourteen in Pastoral Year programs in the dioceses, which send men to St, Vincent’s. They seemed a happy lot and Friday night was devoted to their major fundraiser, FRIENDS OF THE SEMINARY.

With the understandable and lovely exception of Lisa Willifords’ death, the men at St. Vincent de Paul seminary were enthusiastically well into their school year. Please remember that in God’s grace and assuming no departures, our diocese will ordain five men to priesthood in May 2015, seven men to priesthood in May 2016, two in May of 2017, and four in May of 2018. At no time in its fifty year history will this diocese see so many ordained in a four year window – something to be proud of, thank God and these young men and their families for, and continue to encourage others to think of a life of service to God and neighbor in religious life or priesthood. I also with to mention that another seminarian is studying at Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Massachusetts, and will, God willing, be ordained a deacon this coming Spring. Kevin Yarnell previously was on the faculty of Tampa Catholic.

Earlier I mentioned that I was in Rome for the diaconate ordination of Ryan Christopher Boyle. Home grown in the Diocese (attended Bloomingdale High School), Ryan graduated from the Air Force Academy and began flying the air forces’ version of the Boeing 767 which serves as a “gas truck in the air to refuel” air force jets as they fly their missions. Along, among and in the “wild blue wonder” Ryan began to see the call to life as a priest, made the decision with the encouragement of his military superiors and with my permission entered that could be called a “co-sponsorship” between our diocese for which he would be ordained and the Military Archdiocese as an Air Force Chaplain. He loves our diocese and its parish work but he knows he must meet his promise to the Air Force for at least seven years.

Thursday morning last (October 2) dawned absolutely beautiful in Rome and several thousand people crowded the area known as the Altar of the Chair behind the Main Altar of St. Peter’s Basilica. Cardinal Donald Wuerl was the ordaining prelate for the occasion and gave a magnificent homily.

The “laying on of hands” by Cardinal Wuerl on Ryan Boyle with a proud bishop looking on.  Photo credit: Daniel Hart, PNAC Photo Service

The “laying on of hands” by Cardinal Wuerl on Ryan Boyle with a proud bishop looking on.

Photo credit: Daniel Hart, PNAC Photo Service

See more photos from Deacon Ryan’s ordination here. Later the same day, Deacon Ryan assembled his family and friends for a Mass of Thanksgiving at Santa Maria in Trestevere, one of Rome’s oldest and in some ways loveliest Churches and the parish of the Saint Egidio community in Rome, which is quite active for social justice.

At the Mass of Thanksgiving, the new deacon and Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Military Archdiocese and myself.

At the Mass of Thanksgiving, the new deacon and Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Military Archdiocese and myself.

It was a great day and week for our still young seminarian and this morning he put his family and us into cars and buses for the airport breathing a great sigh of relief and likely climbing into bed for a long and well deserved Fall nap. Tanti auguri, Ryan!

So I am back and have Father Chris Fitzgerald’s funeral tomorrow (Monday, October 6) followed by our annual priests convocation at the Bethany Center.

+RNL

*Note: This blog was originally written on Sunday, October 5.

A “FAMILY” FEUD

Monday, October 6th, 2014

I write this from a Delta jet flying at 34,000 feet just west of the French coastline headed for Atlanta where I will surely miss my connection to St. Petersburg and an uncertain future on a Sunday night. This morning I awakened in Rome having spent a week there for the ordination to the diaconate of our Ryan Boyle, a resident of the North American College and a student this year at the Angelicum (last year he graduated from the first cycle of theology at the Gregorian University). My next blog, coming very soon, if not tomorrow, will give more details about my visits in the last ten days to three of the four seminaries where our men study. Even as Ryan’s ordination in St. Peter’s Basilica along with forty-two of his fellow classmates was a major moment, for him and for them, the major happening in Rome began last night with tens of thousands again gathering in St. Peter’s Square with St. Peter’s successor to pray for the Extraordinary Synod which began this morning, just as I was leaving.

On the “street” where I live on the fifth floor of the North American College were to be found Cardinals Wuerl, Dolan, and Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, our current President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, all members and participants in this papally called “Extraordinary Synod on Marriage and Family Life in our Day.” A great deal of print has been spilled in the secular and Catholic media in the last week about the event beginning today and being there among all these “heavy hitters” gave me pause to reflect and pray for this first exercise by Pope Francis in the “Synodality” envisioned by the fathers of the Second Vatican Council and for the gift of the same Spirit inspired wisdom in their deliberations.

In those reflective moments, I thought about what I might say, had I the opportunity to speak to the Holy Father and those gathered around him for the next two weeks. Slowly this thought came to me and I could not put it away. Our beloved Church is itself a family – a family of faith, of practice, of divine creation. And like most modern families, we have our share of disfunctionality at times, disagreements at other times, digression at times, and differences of opinion at times. The synod fathers are going to be talking about real challenges to marriage and family life in our time and culture. I would love to see at least an hour devoted to a dispute, which has taken far too much energy in our Church in this country than I think it deserves. While praying during the ordination of the 43 men in St. Peter’s last Thursday, I asked what Peter would have done and what Peter now might do with the current disagreement between certain Roman offices of our Church and the religious sisters of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (hereafter “LCWR”). The thought occurred to me that if Pope Francis could coax the leaders of Hamas and Israel to meet for prayer in the Vatican Gardens during which each side spoke respectfully of each other, could not the family of the Church try a little harder to settle something of a “border dispute” between the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (hereafter “CDF”) and the major branch of religious women in the US?

In popular Catholic opinion in the United States, I think clearly that the sisters in LCWR have conducted themselves quite admirably in avoiding the same heated rhetoric which came a couple of weeks ago from CDF. They are facing a mandate that they find very hard to swallow which is at its base, “Shape up or ship out.” In the late eighties the USCCB had a similar mandate come down from another Roman office and we politely ignored it and it went away. While the sisters have largely remained cool, calm and collected, the other side in what was perhaps a momentary (one might hope) peak of anger or frustration responded by saying “we are not misogynists” – a principle I would not wish to defend for the universal Church at large. Then there is the preposterous proposition that the LCWR does not represent American religious women. Had CDF said “all religious women” I would have had no qualms. But LCWR sure has a heck of a lot more religious sisters in its communities than any other body of religious women. As a local bishop, I love my sisters. Most could have retired to the motherhouse long ago but they long to help in many ways. And while I am at it, while my own USCCB was bound up for the last decade in liturgy and culture wars, those same members of our family, the sisters, kept the social justice agenda alive for which their leaders seem to now being blamed. These women are neither terrorists nor heretics and while some of the older sisters may not follow the drift or direction of some of the major speakers at the LCWR annual leadership assembly, they hang tough for their leadership and the most of the rest of the “Catholic” family supports them. Ask most of our priests about whether or not they support our sisters and the response will be positive. Ask the same group if this wing of the family ought to be taken to the woodshed for introducing topics of interest to them, and most of the rest of the family would likely say no. The Church at this moment in time does not need an internecine war between two respected bodies that love the same God, serve the same mission, as did our Lord.

I said at the time that the secret to success in getting this matter to go away was found by Pope Benedict XVI in the person of Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle, a good, fair, nonideological man. Sadly, he is required to take his marching orders in this family feud from CDF. So if I had five minutes on the Synod Floor to talk about families and the Church in the next two weeks, I would ask the Holy Father when he has time to empower Archbishop Sartain to find a way to gain a truce on his own which the Pope could himself embrace which respects the interests of both but resolves disputes before they become, at least by one side, a soapbox gone too far. This seems in the political world to be a time of truce and peacemaking, why not also within our family. If the battle continues, there will be no winners, and I would opine that the Church may well lose more respectability and credibility.

Much of this extraordinary synod’s time is going to be devoted to best practices in keeping people within the family circle. How then about the good sisters who worked for decades at less than subsistence wages, taught us about God, bound up our hospital wounds, ran free clinics for the poor and homes for the aged. Let’s love them to death, not beat them to death. Please, Fathers of the Synod and Holy Father, take this contretemps for yourself and solve it for all. The Church as family would rejoice.

+RNL