Archive for November, 2015

ORIOLES OR CARDINALS?

Thursday, November 19th, 2015

I have a “blog-pal” who is a retired physician who commented today that after a dearth of entries during this past summer, I now seem to be back to snuff with stuff. I suppose four in four days is more than alarming but good doctor, don’t get used to it.

I want to offer some personal thoughts about the USCCB meeting just concluded as I had two hours on a quite turbulent flight back from Baltimore to do little more than think about it. The Francis vision of Church will require much more time to morph from the John Paul II view of Church just as it took the late Pope a decade to partially morph from the Paul VI/ II Vatican Council view of Church. No one should be alarmed at this. If anything, those looking to a more responsive, less rigid approach to ecclesial life need to take heart that for an organization which normally moves at glacial speed, Francis has the machinery of the present Church running in overdrive. He is moving from “monarchy” to “synodality” with an alacrity and rapidity unseen and unheard of for centuries. Structural change is at the top of his agenda and then it will be followed by personal and personnel change. That the need for this has not yet reached the episcopal conference of the United States was apparent to me this week in Baltimore. We discussed, acted, voted like we have for the thirty-five years I have been attending these meetings. The Conference remains largely unchanged even though the times, they are a-changing.

So what will it take to bring the structure in line with the present Pope’s vision? That one is simple for me to answer, a new cast of bishops willing to acknowledge that we need not lose the faithful in the numbers we are losing while holding the line on clearly definitive doctrinal teaching. Let me give an amateur’s example of what I am thinking and writing about. When we were kids we learned that the seven sacraments were “outward signs instituted by Christ to give grace.” Right?

We spoke a lot at this meeting about the sacrament of marriage. Each sacrament consists of two parts: matter and form. Traditionally, matter consists of something tangible like water in Baptism, chrism in confirmation, etc. In marriage the matter is the man and woman and the form is their exchange of consent (the vows) in the presence of the Church’s minister. Where in the Gospels does one find the text of Christ’s words or even his actions instituting marriage (the power to forgive sins like the institution of the Eucharist, by way of example is very clear)?  Indeed, with his mother Jesus attended a wedding at Cana and was a great help to the families of the newlyweds. In fact both the understanding and teaching of marriage as a sacrament evolved over a long period of time and centuries passed after the death of Christ before the theology of marriage as a sacrament became full-blown and a part of Church doctrine.

Now before my critics take aim, I also need to point out that in at least two instances  in the Gospel Jesus made it very clear that multiple marriages were wrong and that living with another person’s spouse and having sex with them was also a violation of the sixth commandment. So there is central teaching (which I do not believe will change) that sacramental marriage is between one man and one woman. But Jesus did not envision an annulment process for either his time or the future. Our disciplinary practices have evolved.

Today’s argument in the Church is partly between those who believe that the indissolubility of marriage reigns absolute overall and allows of few to no exceptions and those who are trying to get into the mind of Jesus and ask what would he do if he were to encounter this moment?

The Catholic leadership (Cardinals) in Germany argues for a compassionate response to a growing problem. The Church leadership in Africa says that one of the things which works well on their continent is marriage so please don’t introduce a theology and/or praxis which would weaken what they enjoy and is largely a first world issue.

The bishops’ conference of the United States (Orioles) is struggling between towing the line and formulating a compassionate response to those whose marriages have failed. There is a division of the house. The same struggle can be said to be true for matters like same-sex civil marriages and a number of other “hot button” issues. It is simply a “battle” (used loosely by myself) between doctrine and accompaniment with Pope Francis prodding us to embrace the latter which is by no means easy.

So, in conclusion, Catholics should not hit any panic buttons from what did or did not happen this week in Baltimore. Approximately two-hundred and thirty-five good bishops from various personal histories and theological education met to try to find a path through which many are considering a “swamp”. The pendulum is swinging again towards the center which makes some of us older people nervous but which gives courage and comfort to a younger generation.  The Conference is not yet ready to begin to debate the important issues for the future and for myself, for the moment, I far prefer waiting to retrenching.

 

+RNL

RACE TO THE FINISH

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015

The bishops of the United States completed the public portion of our annual fall meeting in Baltimore at 5:35 p.m. today. We killed a number of trees today when our electronic voting apparatus failed to work and we were left to paper ballots on all issues stuffed into signed envelopes. Results of voting, normally available in two minutes time took two hours to record and count. Some of our votes required two-thirds of the membership in order to pass. If an issue does not reach that magic two-thirds number (one did not), then a mail ballot is sent to all the absent bishops capable of casting a vote. So each ballot needed first to have the name of the bishop recorded as voting, then the vote tallied, then the results shown to three bishops acting as official tellers and finally announced to the assembly. The process took about two hours for each of the thirteen ballots, though counting staff worked several votes at the same time.

We began with elections and there is not much of a story to tell there. My dear friend and former colleague, Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr of Cincinnati won election to a three-year term as treasurer which will begin next November. He knows accounting and finance and will be important as the Conference is quickly running out of money, approaching a deficit situation, and attempting to meet new goals and objectives while maintaining the standard ones. The motion to raise the diocesan assessment to the Conference failed to gain the two-thirds of diocesan and eparchial bishops and will require a mail ballot. There were more “no” votes on this issue today than I can ever remember. Some commentators look to the elections as signs of shifts in the episcopal college but the more knowledgeable ones have already written today that there is no clear shift manifest in today’s elections.

Then we directed our attention to establishing goals and objectives or “priorities and plans” in episcopal lingo. They passed easily. The statement on pornography passed easily. A motion to allow for a condensed book for use at the presider’s chair at Mass (current practice requires Arnold Schwarzenegger to hold the weighty book up for the celebrant) passed. And the statement which we call “Political Responsibility” passed after a somewhat lengthy and for one brief moment nasty debate (forget my earlier words from Sunday’s post saying that bishops are always nice to other bishops). For those who have followed this discussion with at least a modicum of interest, I would offer my opinion that the drafting committee did precisely as they were asked to do and a wholesale rejection would have been an embarrassment and a remand would have been impossible. No deep intrigue to be found here, just a momentary lack of good decorum.

Later in the day the body of bishops was asked to approve for submission to the Holy See two priests and a band of Florida martyrs which included our own Father Luis de Cancer, O.P., who was murdered for the faith in the Tampa Bay area. We also had a stellar presentation by Catholic Relief Services, one of the loves of my life, and by Catholic Charities, U.S.A.

With the exception of the Political Responsibility statement, this was another somewhat ho-hum meeting. Tomorrow we will spend all day in Executive Session with only the minimum support staff present in the room. In the early seventies following the Second Vatican Council, the late Archbishop Philip Hannan, whom I mentioned a couple of days ago, asked the bishops to consider opening their previously completely closed meeting to the media, observers, and other interested people. Monsignor Paul Tanner, my predecessor five times removed actually had to sit outside the room where the bishops were meeting and if the body needed any information, a questions was slipped under the door to be answered and returned under the door (that was the case through 1965 at which time the General Secretary was allowed inside the meeting room. At my first General Meeting I attended in 1992, the Executive Session lasted two hours. Almost everything was done in the open.

Then Mother Angelica and her ubiquitous cameras arrived on scene, as did CTNA (the short-lived Catholic Television Network of America). Some bishops began playing to the cameras, speeches got windier, the meetings began to take on a significant interest and many bishops became nervous. Executive Sessions were stretched to one full afternoon or one full morning and now they are a whole day. Most of what we discuss would be inspiring to Catholics and God knows we need to inspire, at least once in a while.

So with this lament, I conclude what is likely to be my penultimate report from a plenary meeting of the USCCB. The only real race run here was to get to the finish line (aka “adjournment”) and that we did thirty-five minutes late. There are some really good things, though, which I have not reported: I get to see bishop and other friends; there are some committee meetings, which I appreciate very much; and bishops, as a whole, are a friendly group. Thank God. So, no “Black-Eyed Susans” for us but no real black eyes either.

+RNL

STILL NOT EXACTLY THE PREAKNESS

Monday, November 16th, 2015

Our annual meeting began with what we call “regional meetings”. There are fourteen regions of bishops in the United States and the Eastern Rite bishops of the entire nation compose a fifteenth. Our region, which happens to be “Region 14”, encompasses every diocese from Raleigh and Charlotte in North Carolina to Miami in the south, or perhaps more easily visualized, the states of North and South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. We were asked our opinion about a number of matters related to our current practice regarding sexual misconduct with minors by church employees.

We unanimously in our region agreed that the mandated annual audits have been necessary and are important. We suggested that when a diocese experiences an on-site audit (once every three years currently) and several of its parishes are visited as a part of the audit process, that they not just be those physically closest to the chancery office. We unanimously agreed that our respective Diocesan Review Boards should meet at least once a year, even if there are no new allegations and that bishops should alert at a minimum the chair of the Review Board if and when an allegation is made which highly likely is either frivolous or less than serious. None of this is new to the normal modus operandi in the Diocese of St. Petersburg.

This one hour discussion was helpful to me in light of the opening this weekend of the feature film entitled Spotlight.  The movie focuses on the work of a team of four reporters for the Boston Globe who are assigned the task of investigating claims that the Archdiocese of Boston had been covering up and reassigning priests who they knew had violated children in the worst way. All four reporters were Catholics and none of them were anxious to dig into this issue initially. I am glad they did because I truly do not believe that the Church in the U.S. would have come as far as it has in protecting children and embracing transparency without what happened in Boston. The work is not completed and complacency is always just around the corner so the movie is a painful reminder to the victims of sexual abuse by a priest when they were children that all we have done cannot erase the pain of our past.

When we finally assembled in plenary session, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville and currently the USCCB President began by having two statements on the Paris massacre and other atrocities, which have occurred in the recent past, read aloud. They are quite good and can be accessed here. This Sunday on the Solemnity of Christ our King, I hope all parishes in the diocese will find an appropriate way to pray for the victims of this senseless violence, their families and loved ones and also pray for peace.

The Holy Father’s ambassador to the United States, whom we call the “Papal Nuncio”. Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano then addressed the assembly, which what are likely to be his parting words since a recent protocol of Pope Francis calls for all Nuncios to vacate their positions on their 75th birthday and his is in mid-January. His speech largely centered on Catholic education’s role in the history of the faith in the United States and the need now for greater Catholic identity in the colleges and universities.

Archbishop Kurtz then delivered his annual Presidential address to the body. He chose as I would have also the inspiring words of Pope Francis to the US bishops in Washington in September and the importance of accompaniment for each bishop – walking with his people, all his people.

There are two major documents being presented for approval by the body of bishops (requiring two-thirds of all bishops). The first is a statement on pornography and the second is the once every four years statement on “Political Responsibility” which was originally intended to heighten the awareness of every Catholic and simultaneously to familiarize themselves with moral issues when approaching elections. This particular statement comes forth one year before presidential elections. I will treat these two documents tomorrow in this space, after they are debated and voted upon. Neither appears to be in any serious trouble and this morning was simply devoted to a brief introduction of the two documents with an opportunity for any bishop to ask questions for clarification. After sitting for two hours and thirty-five minutes, the bishops ravenously attacked lunch. Indeed, lunch might have been the highlight of the day so far.

The afternoon was spent listening to presentations by bishops to bishops allegedly for bishops. We heard first about a national convening that is slated to take place in 2017 in the only other kingdom on earth I know of: Disney World. This consultation is meant to listen to many voices in the Church to help us understand better why we are not communicating well to the Church. On its face, it is a good idea. But central Florida during the Fourth of July holiday at a minimum of $1500 per person is a bit of a stretch. The plan comes from the chairs of a number of our standing committees: Pro-Life, Evangelization and Catechesis, Domestic and International Justice and Peace, the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty and the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth. It will be interesting to see how this develops next and who the presenters will be.

We also heard from Archbishop Lori of Baltimore, chair of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty and an impassioned appeal from the Archdiocese for the Military Services for more priests to serve as chaplains in the armed forces. We have two of our younger priests now either serving or preparing to serve as Air Force chaplains but I clearly recognize that they need more men and hope that our diocese might help. I would go into the Navy if I were younger, freer and fitter.

The best section of the day was a last minute forty-minute addition to the agenda when all of the delegates to the recent Synod on the Family and Married Life shared with us their impressions of the recently-completed Synod in Rome. I could tell the assembly had awakened from the mid-afternoon slumber that accompanies too much food at lunch and were listening intently. We read and heard a lot about the synod from a variety of sources while it was going on but our eight U.S. delegates were most helpful to me in separating the wheat from the chaff about the Synod.

At four o’clock, the bishops boarded buses (which we mostly hate to do) and took ourselves off to the Basilica of the Assumption (aka the “old Cathedral”) in downtown Baltimore for Mass.

Today was far from the excitement of Baltimore’s other major yearly event in addition to our annual meeting, the Preakness.  But with one day down, the horses are still in the stalls and have not yet made it to the paddock.  I will blog tomorrow but will end the reports there because Wednesday is when the Executive Session will take place; and while I personally think we do way too much behind closed doors, I have always respected the confidential nature of that part of our regular business.

+RNL

SHUFFLE OFF TO BALTIMORE

Sunday, November 15th, 2015

It’s Sunday night and I am in Baltimore for my thirty-fifth November General Meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (three as a very young lay employee, twelve as a priest working for the Conference, and twenty as a bishop member). There were the eleven years when I served as an Associate General Secretary and as General Secretary. Typically we would move staff, machines and three forests of paper to the Washington, DC (now Baltimore) hotel and await the arrival of the bishop members. The Administrative Board led things off with a meeting on Saturday when the final agenda was agreed upon and then various committees would start meeting on Saturday afternoon, all day on Sunday. Monday brought the opening Mass at the hotel followed by the first general public session and a half day of Executive session and we were lucky to end our deliberations by noon on Thursday. I defined happiness then in seeing the bishop members leaving for their homes and staff tearing down and moving everything back to headquarters.

 

Times have changed, even for the bishop’s conference and our business meetings usually end by Wednesday night with most of the last day spent in Executive Session. We find ourselves often headed to the local Cathedral (or in Baltimore’s case to the beautiful Basilica designed by the same architect as the US Capitol) for the opening Mass and now as I mentioned we spend a whole day behind closed doors. There have been some enhancements to bring better order to what can sometimes become a debating society such as colored lights, which tell you when your time is up and now electronic voting which delivers results instantaneously.

 

We differ on some things but all of us love the Church. Long before I entered the episcopal office, I admired the nation’s bishops. Keep in mind that my earliest days were spent while the Conference attempted to implement the vision of the Second Vatican Council. There were differences of opinion on many things in those days but there was always a healthy respect for one another. No one ever spoke unkindly of another bishop (it still does not happen) but there were strong differences of opinion.

 

The bishops’ conference has always had its cast of characters, some of whom love the microphone. One November meeting during my time as General Secretary I timed the interventions of ten bishops, who took up 85% of the public discussion periods. There was no limit on how long an intervention from the floor could last and only a firm chair was able to get some bishops to sit down. Only about 8% of the bishops speak at these General Meetings but the silent majority takes it all in, making their feelings known in votes. Archbishop Philip Hannan, then of New Orleans, once took the floor seriously to object to a section in the proposed pastoral letter on the economy and chose the moment to call our attention to the fact that Maryland raises chickens with the largest breasts in the United States. It took the President, the late Archbishop John May four minutes to gain control of his own laughter and another two minutes to calm the house down and return to business. I recall many such moments.

 

Witty chairs (the President of the USCCB) help long, tedious sessions pass. Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk and Cardinal Dolan had a wonderful ability to lift with levity. Sometimes our discussions reveal fissures within the body of bishops. In the early going of the endless arguments over the translation of the Roman Missal (the Mass texts) the body of bishops differed even on words. Eventually the body became tired of the endless debates and acknowledged that the Holy See had issued new guidelines for translation and it grew tired and threw in the towel. Only slightly more than thirty of us in the end voted against the translation we now use. The body had tired of the liturgical language wars.

 

This week’s agenda is not overwhelming or overpowering. It’s doubtful there will be much in the way of argument. An undercurrent for some will be to what extent has the agenda and vision of Pope Francis become a working agenda for the second largest episcopal conference in the world. More about that in this space tomorrow night (Monday) and Tuesday. I began these blogs following the November meeting about seven years ago and they will end when my successor is installed as the fifth bishop of St. Petersburg. I hope you enjoy them but keep in mind I am one vote and one voice and I don’t want to be among then ten bishops who occupy the floor 85% of the time.

 

+RNL

SUNDAY THE RABBI SLEPT LATE

Friday, November 6th, 2015

On Wednesday night, November 4th, Rabbi Jacob Luski, my dear friend, was honored along with two others by the Bon Secours Health Care System and its St. Petersburg units, Bon Secours-Maria Manor Nursing facility and Bon Secours Place Assisted Living and Alzheimers Care Unit for his presence and service in our community. I was there, proud of both my friend and the recognition our Catholic community would shower on him. It marked the third straight Wednesday night that the Rabbi, his wife Joann, and his parents and I spent together.

Readers of this space perhaps read my talk delivered at Rabbi Lusky’s Congregation Bnai Israel marking the fiftieth anniversary of the document of Vatican II on the Church and its relation to non-Christian religions.

Rabbi Jacob Luski giving his talk. Photo kindness of Dr. Michael Tkacik

Rabbi Jacob Luski giving his talk. Photo kindness of Dr. Michael Tkacik

On the following Wednesday night, Rabbi Luski came to the Cathedral of St. Jude  and spoke as I did and from his perspective of that significant watershed moment. Below is to be found his talk in its entirety. I recommend you read it in its entirety for further insights into this moment in Catholic-Jewish relationships and I renew my profound respect and affection for Rabbi Jacob and his family (natural and congregational).

FIFTY YEARS AFTER NOSTRA AETATE

Shalom! I am most honored to be here today as your guest. I was so pleased that Bishop Robert Lynch accepted the invitation to address our community, as he did last week at Congregation B’nai Israel. Your most eloquent and bold remarks presented a unique historic opportunity for our religious communities to address the state of Catholic-Jewish relations, fifty years after Nostra Aetate. This golden anniversary is an opportunity to encourage Catholics, Jews and all people of good will to learn more about Nostra Aetate and educate others, while celebrating and offering thanksgiving that we live in a post – Nostra Aetate world. We must nourish this achievement.

Bishop Lynch, I have enjoyed our relationship both on a professional and personal level. For almost twenty years we have shared so much, which brings us to this exciting evening. Joanne and I have enjoyed your warmth, friendship, openness, and sincerity throughout the years. We pray for your continued good health and enthusiasm as you lead the Diocese of St. Petersburginto the future. We appreciate you! And we love you!

Nostra Aetate is named for its opening words, “In our day.” Today, October 28, 2015 marks exactly fifty years from October 28, 1965, the date of the Nostra Aetate declaration by the Second Vatican Council, under the imprimatur of Pope Paul VI. Now dialogue and partnership among religious groups and religious leaders assume new urgency. There are representatives of religion in this country and throughout the world, who believe and proclaim that faith in God requires them to disrespect, oppose, persecute, or kill believers in the name of God. Torah, the foundation of the Jewish people, teaches respect for other faiths and other ways of practicing Judaism. Now, as ever, religious leaders must raise their voices for interreligious respect as loudly and persistently as we can.

A battleship was out on the high seas and there was a very heavy fog in the area. The visibility was so poor, the captain stayed on the bridge to make sure that everything was all right. Shortly before midnight, the lookout came to him and reported: “Sir, there is a light directly ahead of us.”

The captain asked: “Is it steady, or is it moving away?”

The lookout replied: “It is steady, captain, and it is right in front of us.”

The captain called the signalman and said: “Signal that ship ahead to change course by twenty degrees.”

The signalman did. And back came the reply: “You change your course by twenty degrees.”

The captain was insulted. He said: “Send back a message, ‘I am a captain, and so you change course by twenty degrees.’”

Back came the message; “I am the lighthouse.”

The captain changed his course at once.

I share this story, for it explains why we have come here tonight. We live in a foggy world, a world in which it is very easy to wander off course, and not even know it. We have learned the hard way that the lighthouse sees things more clearly than we do. That it has the power to cut through the fog that beclouds our vision, better than we can. These two weeks, Catholics and Jews in St. Petersburg, come together in order to check with the lighthouse, to make corrections in our course, as we move forward.

For that is what the Torah and your tradition are, they are lighthouses. They have been cutting through the fog and illuminating the world for all these centuries, and it behooves us, when the fog is thick, and we cannot find our way, to check our course with the help of the lighthouse.

Bishop Lynch, the message you presented fourteen years ago to the Jewish community in 2001 at Congregation B’nai Israel of St. Petersburg was an important one for Catholic-Jewish relations in the Tampa Bay area. The first time a Catholic Bishop, a religious leader made such a positive statement about the future relationship of our religious local communities.

The gathering in October 2004 for priestly renewal, where over 100 priests spent a day learning about Judaism with a dozen Tampa Bay Rabbis was an enormous step in creating understanding and newly found working relationships amongst our religious leaders.

Your message of continued support for such exchanges created avenues of discussion for our religious leaders of Tampa Bay.

And your message last week, enumerating the successes and challenges fifty years after Nostra Aetate was again a unique historic moment for our religious community. We have come a long way.

Let us review some of the milestones in modern Catholic-Jewish relations which have improved tremendously on local, national and international levels since the Second Vatican Council.

Many have noted that there have probably been more positive encounters between Jews and Catholics in the last fifty years than in the previous fifteen hundred. These years have been a time of renewal, hope and growing cooperation between our faiths, evidenced by the multitude of Catholic-Jewish dialogue groups, organizations and institutions that emerged throughout the world since the Second Vatican Council.

On October 28, 1965, fifty years ago today, the Second Vatican Council and Pope John Paul VI issued Nostra Aetate, the declaration on the relationship of the church to non-Christian religions.

This document in chapter four addressed the issue of Christian attitudes towards the Jewish people. This document marked the end to a long era in the history of Catholic-Jewish relations, and the beginning of a new age of dialogue between our two ancient communities.

What did Nostra Aetate say about Judaism? Why was it such a historic declaration?

It repudiated the long standing charge of deicide, that the Jews killed Jesus.

It affirmed the religious bond and spiritual legacy shared by Jews and the church.

It implied that God and the Jews abide in covenant, the brit, a recognition that was made explicit by John Paul II and subsequent Popes.

It deplored “all hatreds, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism directed at Jews at any time or from any source.”

It stressed the need for accurate biblical interpretation and religious education, so that negative views of Jews and Judaism are not presented as biblically based or as authentic Catholic teaching.

It called for respectful dialogue and collaborative biblical and theological inquiry between Jews and Catholics.

It expressed no interest in further efforts to baptize Jews.

It relegated the resolution of the Jewish and Christian disagreement over Jesus’ significance, to the end of history.

Nostra Aetate has been described as a “sea-change,” effectively reversing centuries of the teaching of contempt for Jews and Judaism, which held that the Jews were collectively and perpetually accursed for the death of Jesus, and that God replaced them with the church, as the new “Israel.”

Fifty years later, we can ask, did Nostra Aetate resolve all the issues between Jews and Catholics? No.

There are defining differences in how Jews and Catholics understand and relate to God. Nostra Aetate started a new age of respectful interaction, in which distorted and polemical claims about each other’s traditions can be corrected, while cherishing the distinctive identities and insights of each community.

In 1965 Nostra Aetate did not explicitly discuss certain topics, such as the State of Israel, the Holocaust, and whether Catholics should seek to convert Jews.

Since then, many have been the milestones.

In 1974 a new Vatican commission was formed and guidelines and suggestions for implementing the declaration were presented.

In 1978 Pope John Paul II began a twenty six year pontificate, and set out to build a new relationship between the Church and the Jewish people. The conciliatory 1965 document inspired Pope John Paul II not just to tolerate Jews, not just to have theological discussions with them… not just to meet with them… but to invite them into a providential, emergent partnership.

In 1980 pope John Paul II addressed the Jewish community in Mainz, West Germany, insisting on the eternal validity of God’s covenant with the Jews, a theme repeated in subsequent church teachings.

In 1986, John Paul II became the first Pope in history to visit Rome’s Great Synagogue. He reiterated the Second Vatican Council’s condemnation of all discrimination toward the Jews. He stated: “The Jewish religion is not ‘extrinsic’ to us, but in a certain way is ‘intrinsic’ to our own religion. With Judaism therefore we have a relationship which we do not have with any other religions. You are our dearly beloved brothers, and in a certain way, it could be said that you are our elder brothers.”

In 1993, Israel and the Vatican established full diplomatic ties, easing decades of diplomatic tensions between the two states.

In 1997 at a Vatican symposium “roots of anti-Judaism in the Christian milieu” John Paul II stated: “In the Christian world…erroneous and unjust interpretations of the New Testament regarding the Jewish people… have circulated too long, engendering feelings of hostility toward this people.”

 In 1998 in the long awaited document on the Holocaust, “We remember: a reflection on the Shoah”, the church expressed repentance for those Christians who failed to oppose the Nazi persecution of the Jews.

In the year 2000 Pope John Paul II undertook a historic visit to Israel, during which he visited Judaism’s holiest site, the Kotel Maaravi, the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

Fifteen years ago a historic scholarly document ‘Dabru Emet’ presented suggestions about how Jews and Christians might better relate to one another.

In 2005 Pope Benedict’s first official correspondence as a Pope was a letter of congratulations to the Chief Rabbi emeritus of Rome’s Great Synagogue, Dr. Elio Toaff, on the occasion of his 90th birthday.

Pope Benedict visited synagogues in Cologne, West Germany, New York City, and the Great Synagogue in Rome in 2010, repeating the historic visit made there by his predecessor.

 Just ten years ago, Pope Benedict on the fortieth anniversary of Nostra Aetate wrote: “The Jewish Christian dialogue must continue to enrich and deepen the bonds of friendship which have developed, while preaching, we must be committed to ensuring that our mutual relations are presented in the light of the principles set forth by the council.”

In 2009 Pope Benedict visited Israel meeting with religious and political leaders in both Israel and the Palestinian territories, expressing the solidarity of the Catholic Church with the people of that region.

In March 2013 Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected as Pope Francis. One of his first acts was to send a message to Rome’s Jewish community informing them of his election, and inviting their presence for his Installation Mass.

We quickly came to know that Pope Francis had a long standing and warm relationship with Argentina’s Jewish community and he had just published a book of his conversations with Rabbi Abraham Skorka, a close friend and colleague. “On heaven and earth: Pope Francis on faith, family and the church in the twenty-first century.”

A year into his papacy, Pope Francis paid his first papal visit to the holy land, visiting Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories accompanied by his good friend, Argentinian Rabbi Abraham Skorka, Rector of the Seminario Rabinico Latinoamericano.

These are some of the milestones in modern Catholic-Jewish relations.

Many rabbinic leaders and scholars have been involved in this Catholic- Jewish dialogue over the last five decades. Outstanding Jewish leaders as Rabbis Abraham Joshua Heschel, Leon Klenicki, Marc Tannenbaum, Mordecai Waxman and David Rosen.

Rabbi Irving Greenberg laid out the need to create a theology that acknowledges that both Judaism and Christianity are God’s messengers to humanity. Both communities must recognize that God has broadened the channels of redemption and that we are partners in spreading divine teachings and joint witnesses to modernity, adding our input of morality and the ethical, to science and democracy.

The ADL, the Anti-Defamation League sponsors the Bearing Witness program where Catholic educators travel to Israel, in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, improving Jewish-Catholic relations, teaching about Jewish theology, and anti-Semitism. A group was set to travel in the summer of 2014, but the rocket fire from Hamas in Gaza postponed the trip until this past summer. This program ensures that the next generation of Catholics, born decades after the Second Vatican Council and its Nostra Aetate declaration, understands its significance. The hundreds of Catholic educators who participated in the Bearing Witness program, influenced tens of thousands of young minds over the years.

There is much to build on here. The ancient Jewish text, the Tosefta, clearly states that the righteous of all nations have a place in the world to come. Jewish sources repeatedly proclaim the doctrine ‘mipnei darchei shalom,’ or for the sake of peace, which enjoins Jews to “seek peace and pursue peace” with everyone, including our non-Jewish neighbors. The rabbinic teaching of the Noahide commandments is relevant as are other such teachings, which are building blocks by which we can develop further dialogue.

Nostra Aetate has been liberating for both Christians and Jews. It has enabled Christianity to advance beyond its burdensome past regarding Jews and Judaism. It represents for Jews the possibility that Christianity would no longer threaten their security and well-being. For creative religious thinkers, it facilitated consideration of a positive role for Christianity in the divine plan.

Pope Francis emphasized commonalities between Judaism and Christianity in a meeting with members of the International Council of Christians and Jews, this July. He stated: “Christians, all Christians, have Jewish roots. Both faith traditions find their foundation in the one God, the God of the covenant, who reveals himself through his word. In seeking a right attitude towards God, Christians turn to Christ as the fount of new life, and Jews to the teaching of the Torah. This pattern of theological reflection on the relationship between Judaism and Christianity arises precisely from Nostra Aetate, and upon this solid basis can be developed yet further. Pope Francis once again declared, that Nostra Aetate is a “document which represents a definitive ‘yes’ to the Jewish roots of Christianity and an irrevocable ‘no’ to anti-Semitism.”

Just last month, Pope Francis met with Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin in Rome. In the exchange of gifts President Rivlin gave the Pope a replica of a tablet with the inscription “House of David,” the earliest known mention of King David that has been found outside of the Hebrew Bible. Pope Francis presented President Rivlin with a bronze medallion featuring a rock split in two held together by an olive branch emerging from the fissure, inscribed “look for what unites, overcome that which divides.”

A few weeks ago in Philadelphia, Saint Joseph University unveiled a new sculpture, “Synagoga and Ecclesia in our time.” The title is reference to a sculpture that adorned many medieval churches. It depicted the victory of Ecclesia, the church, over Synagoga, a blindfolded woman who, looking down, represented Judaism. In the new sculpture, both women are equal, sitting together and looking at each other’s holy text. Rabbi Abraham Skorka, Pope Francis’s good friend unveiled the statue. Pope Francis, Rabbi Skorka at his side, made a surprise visit to bless the sculpture symbolizing catholic unity with Jews, and to convey his own message of respect for the Jewish people. As Rabbi Skorka said, “Our friendship is a paradigm of what has to be the great relationship between Jews and Christians.”   The two religious leaders shared a moment at the new sculpture, as the pontiff blessed it with holy water. We witnessed another example of both their friendship and their shared commitment to bridging their distinct religious beliefs.

Just think, Bishop Lynch you began this process in St. Petersburg, on October 28, 1999, when His Eminence, William Cardinal Keeler, a member of the United States Bishop’s Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, and your good friend and mentor in interfaith relations visited our community. You invited the Tampa Bay Rabbis to lunch, a kosher lunch catered by Jo-El’s Specialty Foods no less, here at the Cathedral, to meet with Cardinal Keeler. That afternoon a process of change began in our Tampa Bay area. Who could have predicted all the ensuing opportunities for dialogue and learning that have taken place, right here in our back yards?

As we stop and view the last two thousand years of history, one can proudly acknowledge that the Church has taken extraordinary steps at many levels, in a very short time, fifty years. We find ourselves in an extraordinary moment in Catholic-Jewish relations. There is a growing harmony and very satisfying level of discourse. The Catholic Church is working hard to make certain that the positions it has taken filter down to the parish level and are communicated sincerely and effectively. We want to be your partners in helping you make this happen.

As the fog continues to lift, as long-fraught relations between Catholics and Jews dramatically improve, we mark fifty years after Nostra Aetate. We look out into the future.

Bishop Lynch, as a Rabbi in the Jewish community and your friend, I declare that we are grateful and acknowledge the many advances that have been made. Your invitation tonight on the golden anniversary of this historic declaration, we graciously applaud, as another major positive effort.

In our Jewish tradition, we always conclude with a prayer, a request for peace:“Oseh shalom bimromav hu ya’aseh shalom, aleinu v’al kol yisrael, v’imru, Amen….” May He who establishes peace in the heavens, grant peace for us, for Israel and for all humankind, and let us say, Amen.

Talk given by Rabbi Jacob Luski

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NOT EXACTLY LATE NIGHT CATECHISM

Monday, November 2nd, 2015

Saturday morning was particularly special at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle. We celebrated jubilees or anniversaries of a number of our religious women and men, which we annually do, but this fall has a special import. The Second Vatican Council issued its important document on religious life in the Church called Perfectae Caritatis. In a sense this particular document was the Magna Carta for many communities of women and men to examine their life and evaluate their future.

From this document came vast changes in religious life. Large houses or convents gave way to small communities of sisters living in apartments or small homes. A plethora of religious garb called “habits” gave way to simple suits and similar attire. Community prayer gave way to a more private form of praying and the sisters began to examine their apostolates and presence in the traditional ministries of education, hospitals and health, and charities. Many left following the Council and its call to review and reform, but many also left the priesthood during those days as well. Religious men’s communities were not as directly affected as their female counterparts but there were changes there as well.

Over the past fifty years the number of religious sisters, brothers and priests has steadily and dramatically declined. When I arrived in the diocese, soon to be twenty years ago, there were approximately 350 nuns living in the diocese, the vast majority in semi-retirement, enjoying the climate and the opportunity to continue to volunteer in ministry. Today there is almost one-third that number. With the death or departure of even one, we as a local Church are deprived of a spirit that religious uniquely can bring. They are in many ways the leaven of the Gospel.

Some observers point to the Council documents in religious life and blame every thing they don’t like on it. Such an evaluation is specious. What has happened in the last fifty years was bound to happen and especially the sisters managed with the approval of the Holy See all the revisions of their community constitutions and the rules by which they live. I think religious women took the renewal and reform envisioned in the Council document more seriously than other sectors of the Church has taken the rest of the vision of Vatican II.

To recall and reflect on the 50th Anniversary of Vatican II, I invited Archbishop Joseph Tobin to come to Saturday’s celebration. Why him, one might ask? For one thing, he himself is a member of a religious community, the Redemptorist Fathers (remember when they were responsible for St. Joseph’s parish in West Tampa and Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Ybor City?). Archbishop Tobin was also provincial of his community in the United States and General of the worldwide Redemptorist congregation in Rome (eighteen years of his priestly life in Rome either as Associate General or General). Pope Benedict XVI appointed him as Secretary for the Congregation of Consecrated Life and Religious Institutes and elevated him to the dignity of Archbishop. Supporting the sisters and with his congregation with sole competence, he was appropriately and honestly critical of the actions taken in the investigation of American religious women and the study of their canonical organization, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and suddenly found himself on his way to Indianapolis as their new Archbishop. He was the principal celebrant and homilist at Saturday’s Mass (my first foray to what life will be like for me when I too sit on the side at Cathedral liturgies!) and spoke lovingly, realistically and optimistically of what religious life can be like in the future. All in all, it was a great morning and afternoon and we honored our own jubilarians from the diocese as we always do.

Do I wish we had more sisters? Who would not! Do I see encouraging signs? Yes, in several places. First, there has been a growing tendency to try out a briefer commitment in apostolic work rather than having young women make a lifetime commitment. In some places, albeit few, this has been successful. Secondly, the sisters themselves are working hard to see that their founding charism and principal witness remains, even when a community might cease to exist. Thirdly, for young women who seek a more structured life mirroring the traditional, there are some communities in the country for them to choose. While some point to them as indicators that the majority of sisters got it wrong, I would note that these efforts remain small but they are there for a good candidate seeking structure.

I count it as having been a blessing have lived during the period I have and I count the religious women and men of this diocese as more than simply co-workers. They are friends.

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