Posts Tagged ‘Baltimore’

IF IT’S NOVEMBER, IT MUST BE BALTIMORE

Thursday, November 7th, 2013

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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A SILVER STAR OVER TAMPA

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

The “Silver Star” is about to appear over Tampa’s Union Station; right on time I might add as it has been throughout the night on its 1120-mile journey from Baltimore yesterday afternoon. I slept like the “Chessie Kitten” albeit with some help from an “Ambien” tablet, falling asleep while standing in the station at Cary, North Carolina (twenty miles southwest of Raleigh) and waking up in Palatka, Florida this morning. Columbia, South Carolina, Savannah, Jacksonville were all just dreams. However, I think I have one more post of observations about the bishops’ meeting that just concluded.

First, our new President, by sheer bent of his wonderful personality, managed to make what could be tense moments less so and I think his gifts as chair were appreciated by the majority of bishops present. By nature he is kind and patient, both qualities very necessary in a bishop leader today. There was quite a bit of concern expressed in the Catholic and secular press that the USCCB has lost its moral compass on social issues like jobs, the economy, justice, capitol punishment, etc. These same critics see most of our time and attention when congregated directed to issues like abortion, contraception, the government and President of the United States, etc. These comments and reflections at this moment in time are quite fair I believe. As a body of bishops, we seem to be in a period of navel gazing at the “safe” issues and have lost for the moment our zeal for those which society largely ignores, even though I readily admit advocacy on behalf of human life also fits into this general category. Some voices were raised by my brothers about immigration but not a lot. Some voices were raised by my brothers about atrocious injustice at home and abroad but not a lot. And as proof of this reality, there is not a lot if anything in the hopper of future USCCB concern which might portend the prophetic engagement of many of these issues. This is the period of the life issues, almost  p-e-r-i-o-d-“ We long have been the most consistent and persistent voice on behalf of human life from conception until natural death and I would not wish that to change one bit. But we used to be able to be that voice as well as a voice for other issues of deep social and societal concern. It is that second “edge” that I feel we are losing.

The whole movement to engage and enlarge the issue of religious liberty flows primarily from assaults on Church teaching on human life currently seeming to arise from the Obama administration and more so from the Department of Health and Human Services. We would not be so keenly interested perhaps were it not for the fact that HHS seems to be having a field day threatening to require religious employers to provide a vast range of contraceptive and abortifacient services in the new health care law, certainly with nothing but total disregard it would seem to date for the Church’s longstanding teachings on these matters (and here I would enjoin our Mormon brothers and sisters as well as the Christian Scientists and other evangelical religions) which want nothing to do with provision of services which are against our (their) conscience belief. Let me give you an example of what I, as your bishop and the diocese of St. Petersburg might be up against if the individual mandates remain in the law and are regulated as HHS currently plans. On its face, I would be required to provide all our employees a full range of contraceptive opportunities not currently covered by our health care plan. Ah, but HHS might say, we can make you exempt as a religious employer (please note that to this moment they have not yet been this generous). But for the diocese that is just hurdle number one. Hurdle number two is the fact that we are self-insured, which means we are an insurer acting as an insurance company and we would seem to still be even more compelled. Thus, I and every other head of a Catholic institution would have to in conscience terminate the health care plans for myself, my priests and all our 2300 employees, perhaps give them a check the equivalent of what would have been our contribution to their health care and send them looking for a plan and carrier that will come the closest to matching the plan they had. Our religious freedom to fashion a health care plan consistent with our beliefs will have been denied and removed. And as diocesan employees would readily admit, a great health care benefit which until now we could mount on would be taken away. That’s not progress in health care, that is sheer regression.

This week the Supreme Court has agreed to five hours of oral arguments in the New Year on several aspects of the health care plan including the mandate. We should know prior to the fall election what our fate would be on this matter. Soundings from Secretary Sibellius’ HHS are not promising. It is an important moment in the history of Church and State in this land of freedom of religion and I agree the signs are so far ominous.

But, as I conclude the last of these reflections on this year’s fall meeting, the Presidential Address of Archbishop Dolan was a bright spot precisely because it can serve as the launching pad for what I believe to be the most important work of the Church over the next two decades – the new Evangelization.

Quite truthfully AMTRAK’s “Silver Star” is presently “backing up” into Tampa’s Union Depot to drop me off. Like others remaining on this train and continuing south, I look to more forward progress in the days, months and years ahead.

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USCCB FALL MEETING, DAY ONE

Monday, November 14th, 2011

Archbishop Dolan speaking at the Catholic Foundation Dinner in Tampa in 2009.

Who says AMTRAK can’t rise above its reputation once in a while. The “Silver Meteor” from Orlando with myself on board made a truly meteoric run from Orlando to Baltimore arriving in this city thirty minutes early this morning and allowing me to be present for the start of this year’s annual meeting about which I wrote yesterday. Whatever inhibitions or doubts I had about making the trip were somewhat and quickly erased by Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York’s first presidential address to his brother bishops. It was what I have been waiting a long time in this Assembly to hear, a call to get back to inviting people back to Church. I strong suggest that you read the text in its entirely by clicking here. With his customary wit and command of history, Archbishop Dolan squarely confronted the reality that as a Church we have been losing membership and suggested that our task as bishops is to go “fishing” to win them back and bring others in. One might say, well what else is new but for a number of years we have focused on our disagreements and disputes and little time and attention has been given to what Blessed Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI term “the new evangelization.” Any effort to recover ground and membership must begin with an admission that the Church, the bride of Christ is not always beautiful and at times it and we bishops sin. He captured the ground work necessary for a successful evangelization effort very well, I felt.  It buoyed my spirits and my brothers gave him once again a long affirmation through a standing ovation, often reserved for any President’s last address at the end of his term and less frequently for one’s first attempt. He concludes his first year in office with a classic Archbishop Dolan talk delivered in his own inimitable style. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed listening to it.

Archbishop Vigano's photo from Google Images

Also speaking to us for the first time was our new nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano who arrived to begin his ministry of service in this country only last Saturday. Recalling his personal loss of a good friend of forty years in our recently deceased nuncio, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, Archbishop Vigano promised to work with the bishops of this nation in building a stronger Church. He was warm, measured as any diplomat always must be, and greeted with the respect that is due his office. He will now resume the process of seeking new bishops for service in the many dioceses of the United States. At one time the United States was the second largest hierarchy in the world, behind Brazil and Italy was also a large national Church. The role of the papal nuncio is an important one as he represents the Holy Father and the Holy See to the government of the United States as well as the Organization of American States which is also located in Washington, D.C. With just shy of 190 dioceses and eparchies (the Eastern Rite name for dioceses), many of which have auxiliary bishops,just keeping up with the inner-Church workings is a major task. We wish Archbishop Vigano well in his mission and will pray for him.

The morning ended with a long address by Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport on the erosion of religious liberty in our beloved nation. He heads a new Ad Hoc Committee to help the Church in the US respond aggressively and effectively to this new reality.

Our agenda was indeed so light that the afternoon session came to an end approximately forty-five minutes before the scheduled conclusion. There just is not that much happening in our conference these days. We still managed to raise our assessment in support of the USCCB by three percent, however. One interesting matter which was dealt with in an introductory fashion this morning by Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas, chair of the Committee on National Collections, is a new document on how these collections should be treated by the dioceses. It may generate some lukewarm heat tomorrow when it is presented for final consideration. In Florida, it is true that the Diocese of St. Petersburg is the third largest diocese in the state (we used to be second) behind the Archdiocese of Miami and the Diocese of Orlando yet, in all but one collection, it raises and remits significantly more in the national collections than either of its two larger (arch)dioceses. One has to wonder and I have been wondering for fifteen and a half years now.

There was a general reception for the new Apostolic Nuncio to the United States following the conclusion of the afternoon session and Archbishop Dolan has invited me to join the Nuncio and a few others for dinner this evening. For this one member, the highlights of the sessions today were Archbishop Dolan’s talk and getting to know the Holy Father’s new representative to our country. Tomorrow we should be done by noon with our public business and executive session will begin and perhaps end tomorrow afternoon. These meetings use to consume three and one half days.

Finally, today is the anniversary of the death of my mentor and friend, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago. He was a true “prince” of a man and I and this conference still miss him.  Those of you who were present for my ordination and installation as a bishop may recall that he preached the homily on that occasion although already in great discomfort from his cancer and broken ribs. Every year after the Chrism Mass, I replay the disc of his homily and remind myself that his counsel to me at the time was to always be myself in the service of others. He died fifteen years ago today, eight and one half months after being present in our Cathedral of St. Jude at the age of 68. Even in death he still suffers from occasional slings of outrageous revisionist history at the hands of some but the people of Chicago still love him in death.

All for now from the inner workings of the bishops’ conference on the banks of the Inner Harbor of Baltimore, the first diocese in the United States.

 

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ROME, STATE COLLEGE, BALTIMORE AND THE DIOCESE

Sunday, November 13th, 2011

Darkness has now descended on northern Florida after an incredibly beautiful sunset and I am comfortable in my small room on AMTRAK’S “Silver Meteor” bound for the fall meeting of the bishops of the United States held in Baltimore and beginning tomorrow morning. If all goes well, which means God and AMTRAK working together, I will just arrive at the meeting room as the assembly begins. So tonight seems like a good night to post some unrelated and unconnected thoughts.

POPE BENEDICT XVI on Wednesday at the General Audience seemed to me to be quite animated and well. I had been reading of speculation about his health for several weeks and when he was an almost unprecedented twenty minutes late arriving in St. Peter’s square for the audience (very un-German like) I wondered, but once there, save walking more slowly (which I find myself doing), he seemed little different in bearing than when I last met him five plus years ago. We reminisced for about a minute and the fact that he still recognized me was encouraging also. From the beginning of his papacy, he has set a pace for himself consistent with his age and wisely has not tried to imitate his predecessor in having every meal with guests, forty people for daily Mass and individual opportunities for pictures at the drop of a hat. He should not be faulted for that and I suspect we will never again see the likes of a public pope like Blessed John Paul II.

THERE ARE ONLY THIRTEEN MORE DAYS LEFT for “Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again.” The new translation will be placed into use in our parishes, schools and missions on Saturday night, November 26th, the Vigil Masses for the First Sunday of October. All of will have to adjust but adjust we will. It may take some time to do so but it will be the new translation of very familiar prayers. I ask all of our good people to be patient with their bishop and priests for some time to come. Two weeks ago today, when offering Sunday Mass at the Church of the Primacy of Peter along the Sea of Galilee, the Franciscans in charge of the church had only the new English translation with which to work. I found praying the Eucharistic prayer to be challenging and difficult. In fact, I would say that I did not pray it as I would the translations with which we are so familiar as much as reading it. The wording is challenging, new in many instances, and the temptation to slip back into the more familiar when I took my eyes off the text was present and palpable. Only the “Our Father” has been spared change, everything else will require you and I and our priests for some time to pay attention to the printed word. And on both of our parts, in the beginning, we are going to “slip” from time to time. Please don’t write me with complaints about priests and deacons “refusing to use the new translation” when all that is happening is a simple mistake in these early months. It is going to take some time. Perhaps at the end of a year if you wish to share with me your thoughts about the changes, feel free to do so and I will respond by mail but give yourselves and us some time to make the change. I wish to thank our priests, deacons, and lay leadership who have prepared the diocese for this moment and you for being open to see how it goes. I have said many times this year and here will repeat for the last time, the changes will be far harder and more challenging on we priests than on anyone else. Soon perhaps we will be able to stop reading and resume praying when we commit to memory the new translation.

THE BALTIMORE MEETING this year going into it has a thin agenda – so thin I was able to read all the action items between the Orlando AMTRAK station and the Winter Park AMTRAK station. I do not see anything fractious or contentious to be discussed in public session but your bishops like nature abhor a vacuum and who knows? Unless there are more substantive issues, which arise in executive session (I have not seen the agenda), I wondered if I should even go to the time and expense of travelling to Baltimore. There are the usual elections plus elections of delegates to next year’s Rome Synod on the “new evangelization,” several small liturgical matters like the approval of some Mass texts for new saints and one for Blessed Pope John Paul II, and the annual approval of the budget and plans and programs for the Conference. Since its reorganization about five years ago, there has been a decided decline in matters brought before the body of bishops for debate and vote, which I think, was one of the purposes for the reorganization in the first place. I never thought twenty to twenty-five years ago that if a bishop I would want to miss a general meeting or leave early, but now I find myself guilty on both counts.

FINALLY, PENN STATE UNIVERSITY, JOE PATERNO and the sad news that children, minors, had been violated in the worst ways by a member of the coaching staff and while authorities knew of it, nothing was done brings back the worst of memory recall about our own challenges in this regard for the past decade. Since it all happened in 2002 and our dark night of the soul began in 2001 one would think that in light of our poor performance, every other organization would have learned and gained from our calamitous situation. As a Church in the United States and as a worldwide Church, we are far from “out of the woods” on this matter but we are working on it. Two things are foremost in my mind: anyone who has reasonably certain knowledge that an employee of the church, ordained, professed or employed is engaging in actions which even suggest inappropriate behavior need to report it to the civil authorities immediately, and second, when notified, those of us responsible for the governance of the Church must act as we promised we would in Dallas and have reaffirmed repeatedly. Words without actions spell further disaster.

IN THIS REGARD, the Diocese of St. Petersburg has been found to be in full compliance with the requirements of the Dallas Charter by Stonebridge Associates who have been retained by the United States Conference of Bishops to conduct annual audits. They made several recommendations, which will be implemented like posting in public places the phone numbers of where people should call and report if they sincerely suspect sexual misconduct with a minor to be present. Most of our parishes, schools and institutions have done this but apparently some have not. There was also a concern about one parish where it was not clear that all parents and children had been given the instructions about creating and maintaining a safe environment. I wish to thank everyone in the diocese from pastors to lawn care personnel for being attentive to the needs of insuring a strong safe environment. But in the end, like Penn State, it all depends in the end on me to make the right decisions with the help of a truly independent diocesan Review Board, Victims Assistance Coordinator and alert people.

The “Silver Meteor” has just landed in Savannah and it is time for me to go to dinner in the diner and nothing could be finer. Prayers for all of you this week and please keep me in your prayers as well.

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