Archive for December, 2014

COME THOU LONG, EXPECTED REPORT ON U.S. RELIGIOUS

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

Within days of opening the year of Consecrated Religious Life by Pope Francis and near the anniversary of the key document on religious life of the Second Vatican Council, Perfectae Caritatis, the Holy See yesterday published the concluding report of the “Investigation and Visitation of U.S. Women Religious”.

When the news broke that yet a second investigation of women religious, this time involving visitations of many of the religious orders, was to be begun, I remember writing in this space that our sisters should not worry about the eventual outcome. Like the first study, chaired and overseen by Archbishops John Quinn and Thomas Kelly and Bishop Raymond Lessard, no conclusion other than religious have been and continue to be a gift to the Church was possible.

What prompted me then to predict this week’s outcome? In our Church when there is a concern raised often enough and loud enough by certain people, the institutional response is almost always, “well, let’s have an investigation and visitation to fix what is either wrong or we do not like.” Twice in twenty years we bishops without asking for help have had to endure two long, expensive pontifical studies and investigations of our priestly formation programs (i.e., seminaries) and the result has always been the same. Not too much wrong, not too much that needs fixing, and nothing happens.

I think that my article at the time understood the angst of the women religious. They seemed to be singled out for no apparent reason, the decision was understood as coming from an all-male Roman Congregation leadership with little reason given for the action, there was no ground-swell of US bishops indicating even privately that “it’s about time” (the USCCB was never asked); therefore it did not seem to the women to be matter of high moment to most of the Church in the U.S. and probably a host of other reasons too long to spell out here. And, quite frankly, it did not help when Archbishop Joseph Tobin, C.SS.R. now of Indianapolis but then Secretary of the Congregation (appointed after the visitation and investigation was announced) who both understood and appreciated women religious was transferred from Rome to Indiana.

On Tuesday, the Congregation, now under a gentler, kinder administrative hand, introduced their final report which can and should be read in its eleven page entirety by clicking here. It is a sensitive and sympathetic assessment of religious life in the United States today. It rightly praises the work of religious women in US yesterday and today. It does not tilt at all in favor of what some call the more traditional religious communities over those who took Perfectae Caritatis seriously in the years following the Council and chose the path to renewal. Also it laments, as every Catholic should and as the religious themselves do, the declining numbers of women religious. So what happened to effect this kinder, gentler result?

I think much praise should be directed to the woman who was placed in charge of the project, Mother M. Clare Millea. At both the beginning and end she and her co-workers faced a monumental and thankless task. Suspicion in the early days ran so high that a few religious orders refused to cooperate, but most did. The visitations were largely affirming in their results (ahem, just like the two seminary visitations) and they listened, at least in part, to the “push-back” of many US Catholics who love the sisters. If there was indeed even-handedness about the project, I believe Mother Mary Clare Millea deserves the thanks of many.

 

Then, a new Pope did not hurt either. He must have known the skepticism and even distrust which was held throughout most of the world toward those previously charged with overseeing consecrated life. He appointed a new, savvy and sympathetic Prefect and Secretary. That did not hurt either as both quietly worked to turn the distrust into openness. How I hope that when their work is finished, these two men will be replaced by at least one, if not two, religious women. That would have helped a long time ago when this brouhaha began.

 

Finally, I wish that we lived in a Church when what happened on Tuesday is greeted with joy and not simply relief. Pope Francis is moving us steadily in that direction. And tons of people are ready to follow his example of mercy and forgiveness, especially U.S. sisters who have had to live it existentially in the Church for some time. While I do not personally know the sister who heads the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious in the U.S., I personally know and deeply admire Sister Sharon Holland, IHM who is the current President of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. She is more of a woman of the Church than I can be accused of being a man of the Church. Serving for years on the same Vatican Congregation as an intelligent and sensitive staff person, she lives, breathes and sleeps the Church and her religious vocation. LCWR’s membership is in awesome hands as the women prod the rest of us to live the Gospel ever more fully. I’ll say it again, the Holy Spirit is alive and active in the Church we love.

+RNL

PRIESTS FOR THE FLORIDA FUTURE

Friday, December 12th, 2014

On Sunday evening, the bishops of Florida joined St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary for a major moment, the dedication of two new residence buildings and the major remodeling of fifty year old existing buildings.

2014 Dedication and Blessing of the New Dormitories at St. Vince

The other FL bishops and myself ready to cut the ribbon in front of the new St. John Paul II residence hall. Photo kindness of Tom Tracy.

Catholics in the St. Petersburg diocese know that we have been raising monies in the FORWARD IN FAITH campaign to pay our diocesan share of the construction and furnishing costs of these new and remodeled buildings.

Two years ago, the Board of Trustees, consisting of the state’s bishops and other lay and ordained representatives from the seven dioceses made a major commitment of twenty-eight million dollars for construction and and endowment to guarantee St. Vincent’s as our choice for priestly formation for the next fifty years, at least.

The seminary was built and opened by the Vincentian Fathers in the early sixties and when it was no longer possible for them to run it, the Archdiocese of Miami purchased it for about two million dollars, if I remember right. It became an Archdiocesan seminary opened to students from Florida and elsewhere and the faculty were largely, though not entirely, Miami priests.

In 1981, Archbishop Edward McCarthy, the second Archbishop of Miami, and Bishops Larkin, Snyder, and Gracida agreed to change its status from an archdiocesan seminary to a provincial seminary, thereby incurring the financial and staffing responsibilities. The Orlando diocese, then shepherded by Bishop Thomas Grady, declined participation in the regional seminary concept, but around 1999, Bishop Norbert Dorsey, then of Orlando, agreed to “buy into” the agreement and the two dioceses of Palm Beach and Venice, established in 1984, were also a part from their establishment. So, St. Vincent’s is a truly provincial seminary for all the dioceses of Florida and it’s open to any other diocese that wishes to send their candidates there.

In the history of the seminary since its regionalization, our St. Petersburg diocese has provided priest personnel in the persons of Monsignor Robert Gibbons, Monsignor John Cippel, Monsignor Michael Muhr, Monsignor David Toups (the current Rector-President), and Father Robert Young ,who is an extern professor of Church History. All of this is to say that financially and with precious priest personnel, we have done our share and I am proud of that.

Currently the seminary enrollment stands at about 90 students and is reasonably projected to touch the magic 100 mark soon. The original design and buildings were horrible. The Albany based architect chosen by the Vincentians never came to Florida and designed the seminary residence buildings like they were motels along highway A1A. Students had to go outside to use the bathrooms and the showers in the residence area. Air-conditioning was challenging to say the least and the number of classrooms was and remained severely limited. But, there is a beautiful seminary chapel which came a little later and a large library/media center which was opened in the nineties.

Now, when the seminarians return to school in January following the Christmas recess, they will find larger rooms opening off an interior hallway with private bath and shower in every room. The design and space is comfortable, but far from extravagant.

2014 Dedication and Blessing of the New Dormitories at St. Vince

View of inside the new St. John Paul II residence hall. Photo kindness of Tom Tracy.

And those old buildings with the central showers and bathrooms are and will be remodeled in such a way as the double the size of the rooms and include a private bath and shower where one previously did not exist. All things made new! The seminary will soon be capable, if necessary, of accommodating something like 125 seminarians. They will be comfortable, but not spoiled. See more photos of the new residence hall here.

At the conclusion of the Dedication and Mass, the eight bishops gathered together for a meal and to begin our quarterly meetings of the Florida Catholic Conference. I proposed a toast to my brother bishops for two years ago taking a deep breath and making a sizeable commitment to the future of priestly formation in our state and elsewhere throughout the Southeast and Caribbean. They had the same courage as those who began the seminary originally and our forebears as bishops who spread the responsibility among all seven dioceses. I was proud of them and proud to be one of them.

To our own Monsignor David Toups, the President Rector, who now has in three years given birth to a new school building at Christ the King in Tampa and 12 million dollars of new building in Boynton Beach, I offer congratulations as “father” of the project and to the architects and Herman Construction Services who built it. I said when I came, soon to be nineteen years ago, that Vocations and Priestly Formation would be one of my highest priorities and the ordination of five men in May of 2015 and six in May of 2016 should be proof positive that we in St. Petersburg, ordained, religious and lay, are doing all in our power to provide priests for the future. Nine men are in the application process for the seminary next year to replace the five being ordained and then some. God is good.

+RNL

FERGUSON, STATEN ISLAND, TORTURE AND ME

Thursday, December 11th, 2014

I am happy to once again be back online and also pleased to say that in the two weeks since my rotator cuff surgery, your prayers have helped me enormously.

My right arm is in a sling until January 5th when physical therapy begins – at which time more prayers for my patience will be greatly appreciated.

During my convalescence, the country has lived through Ferguson and Staten Island and yesterday the report of the actual torture inflicted upon detainees following 9-11. I have been thinking about all of this and offer these reflections, which are more my opinion than doctrinal reflections, although I suspect that I will also venture into that territory as well.

African Americans deeply believe that racism is alive and well in these United States and so do I. It is such a widely held belief and perception that it needs to be addressed for the common good of who we are as a people.

In the two cases to which I have alluded above, there is also the widely held perception by African Americans that there is a double standard of suspicion and reaction by law enforcement when our peacekeepers face similar situations in the white and black communities. Again, it is their perception and widely held perceptions need to be dealt with as they are rooted in some truth and reality.

On the matter of racism, which I said above that I believe to be still present, one of the arguments that advanced in the last two weeks is the fear and apprehension that one alone or a couple of black males experience often in certain peaceful situations when whites are present.

Let me ask you to ask yourself this question: do you almost automatically become anxious, nervous, afraid and threatened when you find yourself alone in a sidewalk, street or parking lot where there may be one or more black males present? Sometimes I am and I know better and should not be.

Sensing and experiencing this leads the African American community to believe that they are guilty until proven innocent in the minds of many. The Trayvon Martin case here in Florida is perhaps an example. And when confronted, questioned, harassed, the person who feels the heel of prejudice reacts in a hostile manner, often exacerbating the moment

We are all made in the image and likeness of God. We are all God’s children. Jesus clearly rejected the stereotyping of his time. Whether faced with a representative of Imperial Roman domination, or the sometimes dangerous and hostile Samaritans, he stood his ground on the principle of love for others.

There is no quick fix to the perceptions which gave rise to the reactions to Ferguson or Staten Island (Cleveland and Phoenix as well) but there has to be a national resolve to recognize the seeds of distrust and unrest within us all. Only then will the nation move on in addressing the issues of poverty, injustice, and racism.

As I hinted above, at the core of injustice, disrespect for human life can be found. I found the report of the imprisonment, torture and treatment of the detainees by the CIA to be almost a sin which cries out for vengeance. It sickened me worse than a repaired rotator cuff and, argue with me if you think I am wrong, but all the more likely more barbarian and inhumane treatment by ISIS to those held captive.

While we beheaded no one or murdered none, the world is going to think we stopped just short. They are the worst of very bad people to be sure, but when Senator McCain says that our treatment of these people rivaled that of the North Vietnamese to him long ago, we should stop and say no. I am grateful that President Obama ended the practice when he took office and hope that it never happens again.

+RNL