The bishops of the United States are gathering in Baltimore beginning next Monday for the annual Fall meeting of the United States Catholic Conference so this morning I dug out my overcoat which is only used on this occasion, gathered 1.2 pounds of paper which has been sent out in advance of the meeting together, and selected several long sleeve shirts and one sweater along with my alb and stole to be used for concelebrating Mass. I’m all set to go. But, before leaving I have the funeral Mass for Deacon Rafael Quiles who died at age eighty-six after serving twenty-two years as a deacon in this diocese (he was ordained for Cleveland), mostly spent in jail ministry and at Transfiguration Catholic Church in St. Petersburg. Then Saturday night I will celebrate and preach at the annual White Mass for doctors, dentists, nurses and others in the medical profession. And on Sunday morning I will officially install Father Alan Weber as the third pastor of All Saints Catholic Church in Clearwater. I leave for Baltimore at six on Sunday night, arrive at 11:30pm and check into the hotel for three nights.

The USCCB meeting is once again rather thin on agenda items although we will be looking at and voting on new translations for the Order of Celebrating Marriage and the Order of Confirmation. Also action will be taken on adaptations to the Misal Romano or Spanish translation of the Roman Missal.  I don’t foresee long debates on any of these items but in our episcopal conference, the bishops abhor a vacuum and verbal sparks can sometimes fly when least expected. The Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth is proposing a formal statement on pornography for our action and then there are the budget for the coming year and the plans and programs and some other housekeeping matters.

What is likely to capture the greatest attention will be the vote for a new president and vice-president of the Conference. Three years ago I went to this meeting having heard that there was something of a “putsch” afoot to block the election of the sitting Vice- President but I did not think it possible. It has always made very good sense to me that the task of the President of the conference is better served and filled with someone who prepared for three years by serving as Vice-President. Early in my lifetime in the episcopal conference, that wisdom was born out when on two occasions I think the elected Vice-President was too old to serve a term of three years as President. When the vote was taken and my friend Archbishop (then) Dolan was elected, I was astounded, disappointed and somewhat ashamed. He had nothing to do with the shenanigans and was bright enough to have served well but knowing him as I do, I would bet he might say that three years as Vice-President might have helped some. Anyway a great bishop was embarrassed, a group of bishops within the conference were celebrating their victory, and I thought it was one of the worst experiences of being a bishop I had experienced.

I know of no such underground-swell this time and I expect, hope and pray that Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville is elected. He is a great churchman, a good archbishop for his diocese, and would represent us well as has Cardinal Dolan. I will cast my vote for Vice-President out of loyalty and confidence for my former colleague in the Office of the General Secretary, Archbishop Dennis Schnurr, Archbishop of Cincinnati. Those two neighboring ordinary Ohio River ordinaries would serve the Church well for the next three years.

Usually I return from Baltimore on the train which gives me times to reflect and write of the meeting for this blog but I must be back in St. Petersburg on Wednesday evening to receive a special award so fly I must.

I don’t like to make nice people mad by what I write in this space but I did it to a few in the post on the growing presence of Hispanics in this local Church. I didn’t make the Hispanics mad, I made my own people of Irish lineage mad. You see I suggested that I doubted that the Blessed Mother had ever really been at the Shrine of Knock in Ireland because I have always found it too cold there on umpteen visits at all times of the year. I should not have even remotely suggested that even though there is this marvelous story about the Monsignor who built the shrine and the “international” airport at Knock from the ground up and his conversation with the Irish Prime Minister at the time of the grand opening of the airfield. It is a great story but I would only make more people mad so I am sorry and enough said. It is awfully cold there,  however.


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