Posts Tagged ‘Bishops’


Monday, January 6th, 2014

I find myself afflicted with yet another monster cold which has slowed me down slightly from things I intended to do this past week, including updating this blog site with a new post or two.

In the area of old business, I am deeply touched to once again point out to the readership how greatly generous the people of this diocese are when asked to help other people in desperate need. Remember Typhoon Haiyan (aka “Yolanda”) which devastated several islands in the Philippines? On the 23rd of December I was able to forward to Catholic Relief Services a second check in the amount of $500,000 (added to the $100,000 I had sent one day after the Typhoon passed). We have therefore sent $600,000 to CRS so far with a few parishes not yet reporting. Catholic Relief Services has responded with great gratitude for a level of generosity which ranks among the highest of any monies sent to them for this purpose. Please keep in mind that monies collected for disaster relief are forwarded in total to CRS and not sent to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Just prior to the beginning of the year, we closed out our consultation on the questions proposed by the Holy See on Marriage and Family Life in the United States. As most of you know, we used an on-line survey instrument. Once again I am proud to report the response of the faithful of this diocese to the survey questions: 6,462 people responded to the survey (4% were between the ages of 18-28), 21% were between 30-49 years of age, 47% were between the ages of 50-69 years, and 28% were seventy or older). 36% of the respondents were male and 64% were female. An amazingly high percentage of the respondents indicated that they were registered parishioners (85%) and 87% said they attend Mass: daily (9%), Sunday and Holy Days and some weekdays (37%), and Sundays and holy days (41%). 11% of the survey population indicated that they were single and never married, 61% currently married, 9% divorced and never remarried, 4% divorced and remarried in the Catholic Church, 4% divorced and remarried outside of the Catholic Church, 9% widowers. This is the easy part of summarizing the results.

At the outset there were questions about whether or not the Holy See wanted a broad consultation in the local Churches or were just expecting bishops to consult with Presbyteral and/or Pastoral Councils. That seems to me to have been answered, as broadly as one can given the time constraints. Then of late there has been a question of whether or not the results can be shared outside of the Synod office in Rome. The present answer seems to be a solid “no” to that at this moment. That raised a problem for me since when making the decision to go online (and make a paper survey available to those who could not access the on-line instrument) I said I would share the results. While I work on that an Executive Summary is being prepared by the Diocesan Pastoral Council which will be reviewed by the Priest’s Council and off the results will go to Rome. Stay tuned.

Finally, this afternoon (Sunday, January 5th) we held an Evening Prayer Service at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle for those who were baptized into the Church at the 2013 Easter Vigil. You may recall that because the Cathedral was under construction the important annual ceremonies of the Rite of Election were held at St. Catherine of Siena parish in Largo. I promised those in attendance at that time that when the remodeling project was complete, I would invite them to return to the Cathedral for a “Neophyte” gathering. I attach here my homily for that occasion.

Thirty archbishops and bishops from Wilmington, Delaware to Miami along the eastern seaboard and the Military Archdiocese will be gathering tomorrow for our annual retreat at The Bethany Center. I hope they bring their winter clothes because it, as you know, is supposed to get very cold tomorrow afternoon [Monday] and night. I know I will have to listen to a few voices which will say “why did we have to come all the way to Florida to freeze?” But by Thursday, they will know why. Pray for us as I shall for all of you. Happy New Year.



Friday, December 9th, 2011

The Florida bishops (minus Pensacola-Talllahassee which is still waiting for a new bishop to be announced and installed) met in Miami on Tuesday as guests of Archbishop Thomas Wenski. It took us four hours to dispose of the business of the Florida Catholic Conference. Conference Executive Director Dr. D. Michael McCarron presented us with a lengthy agenda of action items about which there were no real differences of opinion but a need to know more about the challenges which face the Church in Florida in 2012. This state is so lucky to have a superb Executive Director who is assisted by a very able, competent and committed staff. The results of the Conference over the years in the public square far exceeds the per cent of the state population which is Roman Catholic and stands as a testament to prudent, respectful and appreciative engagement with past Administrations (Chiles, Bush, Crist, and Scott in my time) and legislatures.

From left, bishops who attended the Mass included: Bishop Victor Galeone, retired of St. Augustine: Bishop Fernando Isern of Pueblo, Colo.; Bishop John Noonan of Orlando; Bishop Felipe Estevez of St. Augustine; Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice; myself; and Bishop Gerald Barbarito of Palm Beach. Photo courtesy of Ana Rodriguez-Soto with The Florida Catholic.

In the evening we reconvened at the Cathedral of St. Mary in Miami to celebrate retired Archbishop John C. Favalora’s golden anniversary of priestly ordination and silver anniversary of episcopal ordination. I hope and pray that you remember kindly the five years that Archbishop Favalora served as our third bishop here in St. Petersburg. About one hundred and forty priests, nine bishops, and a good representation of the laity came for this special Mass of Thanksgiving.The Archbishop was both the principal celebrant of the liturgy and the homilist. I must say that St. Mary’s Cathedral has a music program to “die for” and as good as I remember it, it has never been better than this evening. The celebration took about seventy-five minutes which is not bad when one gathers that many bishops and others.

Archbishop John C. Favalora sits in the cathedra, a symbol of a bishop's authority, during the Mass. Photo courtesy of Ana Rodriguez-Soto with The Florida Catholic.

Archbishop Favalora gave a beautiful homily on the occasion, focusing not on himself but on the Lord’s call to serve in the priesthood. In twelve minutes (I time myself and everyone else who preaches because I firmly believe that the mind can not absorb what the tush can’t take) he gave a ratio fundamentalis or foundation reasons for what the gift of priestly ministry means in our own time. Only at the end did he quickly express his thanks to those gathered for nourishing his ministry in the past twenty-five and fifty years. At the conclusion, he was greeted with prolonged applause and standing appreciation, I believe not just for his lucid homily but for his many years of service. The Diocese of St. Petersburg is about forty-four years old now and its first bishop, Charles McLaughlin served for the first ten years, then Bishop W. Thomas Larkin succeeded him for just shy of ten years. Archbishop Favalora’s tenure was about five years and my own is soon to enter its sixteenth year. I think each of us has attempted in our own way to nourish and fashion a community of faith at the service of Christ’s Church. I have always been grateful that the Lord in his kindness allowed me to follow Archbishop Favalora because things were in great shape when I came. I only hope I can with God’s help leave them that way for my successor. In words spoken and written yesterday I extended to the good Archbishop the gratitude of the Church of St. Petersburg for his presence in our midst. He seems incredibly happy to be free of the burden of administration and I am admittedly jealous.



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.




Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

My brother bishops trying to stay awake at times. Photo furtively taken by me.

Today (Wednesday) is the first full day of the Spring meeting of the United States Conference of Bishops and we are in Seattle this year (Atlanta next year in June, then San Diego, then New Orleans). I had a ten hour meeting yesterday involving Catholic Relief Services and find that I am falling asleep around 830pm every night and waking up around 430am. I am not unhappy with that since I hope to somehow “trick” my b0dy into thinking it is still operating on Eastern Daylight Time for my return trip early on Friday morning (a 545am departure).

There are about 200 bishops present for the Spring meeting and the weather has been, well rainy, what else? We are not exactly meeting in Seattle but in a suburb called Bellevue which is the home of Microsoft. Lots of tall buildings, high end shopping stores, and not a McDonalds in sight. There is no view of Puget Sound to be had from Bellevue and no view of Mt. Ranier which has not been available since I arrived from any vantage point due to the very cloudy and overcast weather. So what else is there to do but sit in a meeting room, listen intently and look at one’s watch for the next break.

We passed a few items this morning which did not allow for amendments and listened to some oral reports. One of the more interesting was led by Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, who has been appointed to work with communities of Episcopalians in the United States who wish as a congregation, including their priests, to come over to the Roman Catholic Church. Pope Benedict has reached out to these communities and their priests and will allow them to come into full communion, their priests to be ordained as deacons and priests and they can bring with them the treasured aspects of what is called the “Anglican Rite.” I listened with interest even though I know of no such movement of any parishes or communities in the Diocese of St. Petersburg wishing to come over.

There is one more hour of public session tomorrow and then we dive into the rest of the day in Executive Session which means I will not reveal any of the discussions which take place under that rubric. Overall it is a light agenda and to have come such a long way. Tonight I am invited to a farewell dinner for the departing General Secretary of the Conference, Monsignor David Malloy who will be returning to his home Archdiocese of Milwaukee after completing five years as the chief operating officer of the episcopal conference. Monsignor Malloy is the fourth occupant of that position since my own departure in 1995 (the term is for five years and it can be renewed as it was in my case but annually after five). It is customary that there is a dinner for the departing GS and all living former General Secretaries are invited. By my count there are exactly six of us remaining on this mortal coil. Monsignor Malloy has a priest brother who is residing and working in our diocese as a Chaplain at Bay Pines Veteran’s Hospital, Father Frank Malloy. His successor was elected last November and will assume office on Friday with the closing gavel of this meeting.

Archbishop Timothy Dolan, our new President, is chairing quite efficiently and we are considerably ahead of our meeting agenda’s schedule going into the Executive Session.

So from the shadow of the Cascade Mountain range, greetings to all back home, leave the light on as I will return on Friday.



Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

Heraldry for a Protonotary Apostolic

Heraldry for Prelate of Honor

Heraldry for Chaplains to His Holiness

From time to time, people in the diocese write to me and ask me to make their pastor a “monsignor.” Easier said than done for reasons which I will put forth in a few moments. The title of “Monsignor” is a strictly honorary title (that means no more money or responsibility for the person) which is used for priests who have been recommended by their bishops to the Holy See for the title. In Italy, Spain and Portugal, the word “Monsignor” is also used when addressing bishops or anyone other than Cardinals and Patriarchs but that custom is not present in English speaking countries for bishops (pardon the diversion). Here in the United States, Monsignor is almost exclusively used for those who have received this title from the Holy Father at the request of the bishop.

There are three “ranks” of Monsignors, Protonotary Apostolics (bet you haven’t heard that one before), Prelates of Honor to His Holiness, and Chaplains to His Holiness. The title “Monsignor” is used for all three and only the ecclesiastical dress signifies any difference. Pope Paul VI greatly simplified these honorary recognitions.

So, what is to stop me from making your favorite pastor a “monsignor?” Several things which have changed in the last ten years. First, no diocese is allowed to have more than 10% of its living clergy honored with the title. In other words, there is a ceiling number above which a local bishop may not exceed. When a bishop submits a name to the Holy See for consideration, an examination of files is conducted to make sure that there is nothing in the nominee’s background which might block him from receiving an honorary title. Not every name submitted receives approval and no reason is ever given. Finally, generally monsignors must begin at the “bottom level” (Chaplain to His Holiness), spend five years at that level before they can be advanced to the next level (Prelate of Honor to His Holiness).

Early in my time here as bishop I hoped to award longevity and faithful service to everyone who passed a certain number of years of incardinated service (thirty was the number in my mind at that time) and was able to name ten in the year 2000. Subsequently the new rules were put in place about 10 per cent of the clergy and beginning at the level of Chaplain to His Holiness and working the way up five years at a time.

Does it cost the diocese to make Monsignors? The answer is yes but it is very minimal given the record keeping and parchment issuing that is involved. The “taxa” or tax for Prelates of Honor is $200 and for Chaplains to His Holiness is $150. Should the new monsignor choose to obtain the proper dress which accompanies the honor, more cost is incurred by the priest himself.

Some dioceses simply do not make monsignors. In Florida this would be true for the last ten years for the dioceses of Palm Beach and St. Augustine. It was also true here in this diocese for a brief time. Generally speaking,  priests are uncomfortable with the practice and rarely, very rarely ask. If asked, as many bishops have done, the priests usually vote “no” on the question of whether or not a diocese should ask for one or more of their number to be appointed. But there are not too many ways a bishop can recognize devoted and faithful service over a long period of time. I always said that I would rather be given a sabbatical than be made a monsignor but neither hope was realized. I was made a Monsignor because of holding the position of General Secretary of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference in 1989 and never really had a sabbatical. Certain positions in a diocese (such as Vicar General) often can be better served (usually outside of the territory) with the occupant having the title. Rectors of seminaries are often bequeathed the title as sometimes is their Spiritual Director counterpart. So if you ask me to do something nice for your pastor, it might be easier to find another way of expressing admiration and appreciation. Here are a list of the Monsignors in this diocese according to the rank:


Reverend Monsignor Laurence Higgins, P.A.


Reverend Monsignor Norman Balthazar

Reverend Monsignor Harold Bumpus

Reverend Monsignor J. Bernard Caverly

Reverend Monsignor John Cippel

Reverend Monsignor Diego Conesa

Reverend Monsignor Colman Cooke

Reverend Monsignor George Cummings

Reverend Monsignor Desmond Daly

Reverend Monsignor Anton Dechering

Reverend Monsignor Dacian Dee

Reverend Monsignor Michael Devine

Reverend Monsignor Antonio Diez

Reverend Monsignor William DuBois

Reverend Monsignor Thomas Earner

Reverend Monsignor Aidan Foynes

Reverend Monsignor James Lara

Reverend Monsignor Joseph McCahon

Reverend Monsignor Robert F. Morris, VG

Reverend Monsignor Brendan Muldoon

Reverend Monsignor Edward Mulligan

Reverend Monsignor John Neff


Reverend Monsignor Avelino Garcia

Reverend Monsignor Robert Gibbons

Reverend Monsignor Patrick Irwin

Reverend Monsignor Michael Muhr

Reverend Monsignor Austin Mullen

Certain readers who have read this far will note that there is some news contained in the list above. More about that later.


Images from Wikipedia,


Friday, June 3rd, 2011
ZACH THOMAS | DIOCESE OF ST. AUGUSTINE Archbishop Thomas Wenski applauds along with the congregation after Bishop Estevez receives the crozier symbolizing his authority as bishop of St. Augustine.

Photo by Zach Thomas, Diocese of St. Augustine (via Bishop Estevez receives the crozier symbolizing his authority as bishop of St. Augustine from Archbishop Wenski.

It broke my heart but yesterday I for the first time (and I hope the last time in the province of Miami) was unable to attend the installation of my friend and fellow Miami priest, Bishop Felipe de Jesus Estevez as the new bishop of the venerable and historic see of Saint Augustine. The problem was that Wednesday and Thursday were the final two days of interviews by the Search Committee which I am on to pick a new CEO/President of Catholic Relief Services. So instead of being in Saint Augustine with the other bishops of Florida and with the bishops’ mother, brother and sister-in-law and sister plus nieces and nephews all of whom live in St. Petersburg and one of whom lives in my neighborhood, I was stuck in O’Hare Airport. Bishop Estevez is one of those remarkable stories of a generation ago when hundreds of Cuban youth were put on airplanes and sent to the United States for safe-keeping until they could be reunited with parents and family. It was called Operation Pedro Pan and ex-Senator Mel Martinez was also among their number. Bishop Estevez initially found himself being flown to Fort Wayne, Indiana and lived there briefly until reunification with his family became possible.

After studying for the priesthood, the Bishop was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Miami, sent away for doctoral studies in Rome, and returned to become the Rector of St. Vincent de Paul Seminary in Boynton Beach, our theologate house of studies. We served together, me at the college seminary and he at the theology house. I left for Washington,DC and the episcopal conference and eventually he became a very successful and much loved pastor of St. Agatha Catholic Church in Miami adjacent to the campus of Florida International University. He built up the school and built a new Church. Always a deeply spiritual man and humble, when asked to forego the parish (remember I always tell you here that being a pastor of a parish is the best job in the Catholic Church), he was asked to return to the seminary which he once headed to become the Spiritual Director for the community. From there he became an auxiliary bishop to Archbishop John C. Favalora and remained in that position under Archbishop Wenski until his appointment to and installation at St. Augustine yesterday. How I would have loved to be there and when I wrote to congratulate him on his appointment, I told him of my conflict and how conflictual I was about not being able to be two important places at one time.

From all reports, the installation was beautiful and many of our priests went over for it as they had the bishop either as their Rector or Spiritual Director. To my friend, Bishop Victor Galeone whom Bishop Estevez succeeds in office I have sent my best and my deep, deep appreciation for this presence in my life and in the life of the Church in Florida. Bishop Victor has been an ardent champion for and defender of human life. St. Augustine as a diocese is not receiving its first fluent Spanish speaking bishop in their new shepherd as Bishop Galeone served for a number of years as a missionary in Peru. He has been a truly exemplary pastoral bishop. Now among the seven dioceses (assuming that Pensacola-Tallahassee will receive a new bishop younger than I) I am the next to go. Fifteen years ago as I looked at those who bore the heat of the day up to that time, I never thought about retirement, leaving or reappointment. Now it is a coming reality in my life for which I must prepare.

Congratulations to both Bishop Victor Galeone and to Bishop Felipe de Jesus Estevez and to our mother diocese, Saint Augustine, on this important milestone in their glorious history in Florida. Sorry, so sorry I could not be there.

Finally, the finest book on the coming of the Catholic faith to the Florida peninsula is titled The Cross in the Sand and its author is a highly respected historian at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Dr. Michael Gannon. Hence, the twisted title of this blog entry.



Saturday, April 23rd, 2011

The term “lay day” has nautical origins and refers to those days when a ship/boat/vessel is neither racing, working, loading, etc. The boat simply lays on its anchor, attached to its mooring, or simply secure to its dock and the crew gets a day off from their usual routine, an opportunity to sleep late, work on personal projects like laundry, write letters, etc. In highly competitive sailboat racing, these days are pre-built into the schedule. For bishops Holy Saturday is a “lay day” – a day without Mass and mostly without appointments or expectations. Pastors and priests in parishes are hard at work preparing and rehearsing for the Easter Vigil (no rest for them) and sacristans, trainers of altar servers, etc. also seldom get the day off. But I do have it off until 830pm tonight and the glorious Easter Vigil.

Here are some thoughts about Holy Week this far. I have witnessed a steady diminution of people coming to Holy Thursday and Good Friday liturgies over the last fifteen years. From standing room only in 1996 to at best two-thirds full this year. A part is due to the shifting demographics of the Cathedral parish over this period of time with many older Catholics for whom Easter meant the entire Triduum either moving or dying. A part is also generational with young parents not having has the experience of accompanying their parents to the Holy Thursday and Good Friday services. Yesterday from the altar I thought that if something is not done to reverse this trend, my successor will be celebrating in front of an empty house in ten years, or almost empty. Triduum, Holy Thursday, Good Friday are just names for days for many younger practicing Catholics and are largely devoid of any real religious need to be present.

Those who do come worship with great reverence and dignity. On Holy Thursday the procession to the altar of reservation was long, prayerful, and richly spiritual for the several hundred who remained to pray. We wash a good number of feet at our Cathedral representative of all age groups and that helps swell attendance slightly. Since we reverence one huge cross at our Cathedral which I hold for an excruciating approximately fifteen minutes or so, I can see two categories of those approaching to kiss the wood of the cross – grandparents and their grandchildren. Maybe the latter is a good sign. I would estimate we had about 500 for Holy Thursday Mass and 650-700 for Good Friday but this is in a Church which comfortably can seat 1,200. There is some “heavy weather sailing” catechesis which needs to be done and soon on the services of Holy Week.

The Easter Vigil begins with sunset at 830pm tonight at our Cathedral and will end about three hours later. Working from an aging memory I think there are about five to be baptized and another twelve to be received into full communion. If history runs it course, there will be about 400 people in the Church for this most beautiful and joyous of all liturgies, save ordination. Time flies for me at the Vigil and it is over before I even begin to fidgit about how long it is lasting. It is simply wonderful.

Holy Week is a lot of work for our priests, deacons  and parish staffs but they joyfully embrace it to hear that welcome news, “He is not here, he has risen!” which comes tonight. The Churches will be jammed tomorrow and at the end of the day, we will settle back and count our many blessings: that we are Catholic, that we journeyed through all of Holy Week with Christ, and that He is Risen. More tomorrow.



Sunday, March 27th, 2011
PHoto from Wikimedia

Cardinal Bernardin

There have been a spate of articles lately announcing the end of the “Bernardin era” in the Church in the United States. These proclamations would be amazing in themselves given the fact that the much beloved and respected Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago will in a few months have been dead for fifteen years. They are even more amazing to me in that to my mind if there ever was a “Bernardin era” it ended in 1984 when Pope John Paul II chose Bishops Bernard F. Law of Springfield-Cape Girardeau and John O’Connor of Scranton to be archbishops of Boston and New York respectively. It was then shortly after the pastoral letter on war and peace that Cardinal Bernardin’s influence with the Pope and his curia became diminished. Likewise, in 1985, his ability to influence the appointment of bishops in the United States also diminished. During the same year, Cardinals Law and O’Connor talked Cardinal John Krol of Philadelphia into hosting a meeting of the U.S. cardinals during which the newly arrived Cardinals introduced the topic of devising a strategy whereby the Cardinals might on occasion assume a larger role in American Catholic life than perhaps even the episcopal conference, might  approach the generally friendly though still bristling from the “war and peace pastoral” Republican administration and power block in Washington and, if necessary, might at times offer another voice than that of the body of bishops. In other words, redirect the political spotlight from the Conference and perhaps (following the death of Cardinal John Dearden, in the ’70’s by far the leading voice in post-conciliar ecclesiology) the leading spokesman for the Church in the United States away from the Archbishop of Chicago to others. The strategy worked to a certain extent and Cardinal Bernardin was left to lead the Church of Chicago and through both a false allegation of sexual misconduct against him and his life-ending cancer, won the hearts of the Catholic people of the Windy City who turned out in record numbers to say farewell before, during and following his funeral. Like his mentor Dearden, he could however throughout his tenure in Chicago bring the body of bishops to a hush when he rose to speak in plenary assembly. Many bishops admired him. So why bring all this up?

Yesterday’s NEW YORK TIMES devoted two full pages of print to the Catholic church in the United States, most of it negative but fair reporting. However, the lone bright spot was an article about the influence on the present Governor of Illinois, Pat Quinn, who in signing a bill from the Illinois legislature  abolishing the death penalty, attributed his difficult and soul-searching decision to whom? None other than Joseph Cardinal Bernardin. The article written by Samuel G. Freedman in a section entitled “On Religion” and in an article entitled “Faith Was On the Governor’s Shoulders” wrote eloquently and movingly how a minister of religion can influence the public square, even long after he has died. It was another victory for the “Consistent Ethic of Life” by which the Church has challenged its own members and society to end abortion, euthanasia, poverty, nuclear war, and capital punishment. Governor Quinn was the second Catholic governor to take this brave step. Several years ago in New Mexico, Governor Bill Richardson, citing his faith and the influence of present Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan, did the same thing – banned the death penalty. Governor Quinn unabashedly held up at the time of signing the death penalty ban a copy of Cardinal Bernardin’s greatest book and a  run-away best seller, THE GIFT OF PEACE which he wrote as a diary during his dying days. Literally from the grave came once again a brave and intelligent voice for life, for sanity, for consistency, for advocacy, for witness.

Full disclosure suggests that I let anyone who might not know that the Cardinal and I were somewhat close throughout my life at the episcopal conference, and he preached the homily at my ordination as bishop here at St. Jude’s Cathedral after breaking yet another rib in his hotel room the night prior to the ceremony. I admired him and have tried to model my ministry on the stronger points of his: collegiality, shared decision-making, respect for all and a commitment to the seamless garment of life issues. The Cardinal as successful as he became, could be sometimes conflicted and to this moment I think he might have wished if he could choose only one of two options: either the respect and trust of Pope John Paul II (as he had with Pope Paul VI) or solely being remembered as a true shepherd of God’s people and a voice for the voiceless, on occasion might  have preferred the former if he could not have both. When Pope John Paul II called him a few weeks prior to his death, he was like a kid at Christmas or an employee looking for any sign of approval from his/her employer. My point is that when the major era of his influence passed, long before his death, Joseph Cardinal Bernardin spent himself for God’s people, one of whom was a young Patrick Quinn. The article can be read in full by clicking on the title above. Read it and I hope you will feel good about your church, and know that biographers and  Church commentators might just need a little more time before declaring someone irrelevant or their “era ended” or maybe we should see how the present moment survives in fifteen years and whose voices or work rises from their graves. No saint to be sure, but a very good bishop for sure.

Cardinal Bernardin preaches at Bishop Lynch's Ordination as a Bishop at St. Jude's



Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

The Florida bishops met with Governor Rick Scott this morning, obviously for the first time and I must say that I was impressed with him. Obviously somewhat nervous to be in front of seven men in black suits with crosses and chains, the Governor quickly warmed up to the audience and gave us about thirty-five minutes of time in his busy schedule. While I consider discussions such as this to be somewhat privileged, I would say that our first meeting went very well. Our talking points were these: sanctity of life concerns (nothing to worry about here with this Governor), the McKay and Florida Tax Credit scholarships for children in non-public schools (he is strongly in favor of choice in education), criminal justice reform (his administration has proposed some interesting concepts which just might lead to greater restorative justice in our jails and prisons), immigration concerns (here he tends to think somewhat in Arizona terms but acknowledges that until the border is sealed and the economy improves, there will be no shift in public perception and feelings about immigration reform), health reform and Medicaid changes (in this regard, he thinks health care can be improved and delivery of services more accessible than presently or even under the proposed federal health care reform act).

Governor Rick Scott meets with the Florida Bishops

What impressed me most is that our session was a no-nonsense and straightforward discussion. This Governor does not equivocate if he holds a position on an issue. If it is something he can espouse but needs more information, he promises to see to it and I leave thinking that he will. There is a passion in the man that is not political but practical. I left our meeting today thinking that Governor Scott at this moment in his tenure doesn’t give a proverbial “hoot” about re-election but is dedicated to achieving the goals he laid down in his campaign to reform, streamline, and attempt to make every aspect of state government more effective while at the same time less costly. In other words, he seems intent on doing exactly those things he said he would do during the two campaigns.

On the matter of the death penalty, the Governor clearly does not like being the person who will sign the final warrants for death by lethal injection. He noted that out of the 392 persons on death row, 40 have exhausted all their appeals and decisions will have to be made case by case. We spoke to him with our own passion about the fact that Florida is now the only state in the union which allows juries to offer an advisory sentence with only seven of the twelve recommending death. It takes a unanimous jury to convict but fifty percent plus one to execute. I remain equally uncomfortable with the fact that Florida elects its judges, many of whom make capital punishment decisions while running for election or reelection.

We will surely disagree on issues of public policy in the years to come but he seemed to me to be respectful and a good listener. After the meeting I learned that he has removed all state aid to the homeless from his budget and that is troubling and I wonder if his approach to Medicaid reform will really improve or remove the access of the poor to medical care and service.

The Governor who is not a Catholic will be attending the Red Mass this evening, something his predecessor never did and promised that his Administration would be open to further dialogue with our Conference staff and the bishops. All in all, a good morning in Church-State relations and a good start to what I hope will be a useful and fruitful l relation with our new Governor.

Later in the morning we met up with the representatives from our respective dioceses who were here for the annual “Catholic Days at the Capitol.” These generous and dedicated volunteers come early in each legislative session to meet with the members of the Legislator and share our and their position on certain issues of public policy.

The afternoon was taken up with a meeting of the heads of the Catholic hospitals in the state to talk about the implementation of the Patient Protection Act (“Obama-care”) in Florida, its consequences for conscience protection and use of federal or state funds for abortion, etc. It was a ninety-minute walk through an alien land for most of us bishops as health care is almost a world unto its own. The CEO’s present from hospitals in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Tampa and St. Petersburg, Jacksonville and Pensacola were a very impressive group of women and men.

Now I am ready to fly back to Tampa after a long day and a packed twenty-four hours. On the way up last night, our flight was twenty minutes into the sixty minutes trip when our right propeller engine began to fail and we had to turn and limp back to Tampa, allow them to swap planes and arrive here an hour and thirty minutes late. I am hoping for better luck tonight.




Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

Recently, I spent some time with a brother bishop who had escaped his home diocese’s frigid climate for some of our Florida warmth (of sunshine and welcome). We were talking about the Church for which we were ordained and the Church we now serve. Both of us remembered the pre-Vatican Council liturgy, the excitement of “aggiornamento” or new birth that accompanied the papacies of Blessed John XXIII and Paul VI. They were heady days for us in which the seeds of our own vocations were sewn and our ministry begun. We recalled bishops who were either unknown to or to be feared by us. Pastors who locked the kitchen refrigerators so that a hungry assistant pastor could not “raid it at night” (in some of the northeastern (arch)dioceses, the whole Offertory collection went to the pastor who had the ‘duty’ to feed his assistants, if he wished). There was a lot about our early experience of Church which we liked and some which we found challenging. It was precisely the “opening” that in effect opened our hearts and minds to serve not a “new” Church but a “slightly different Church.” When I first began to study Scripture in the seminary, the professors were not even allowed to suggest that the Book of Genesis might have been the work of four distinct authors, that the first three Gospels could all trace their source to two ‘fountains’ and that the Evangelists may not have even known Jesus personally. But before we finished our studies, with the openness of the Council’s document Dei Verbum we were pondering all these possibilities, finally coming into harmony with other biblical scholars of other demoninations. I remember a wonderful Scripture professor at my seminary who one day came into class with a colorful book entitled Men and Message of the Old Testament by Peter Ellis, I believe, and he opened it to pages showing which verses of Genesis were likely written by which authors and with tears in his eyes said, “all my life what I have been teaching is not the truth, this book contains the truth.” That was in the field of Sacred Scripture.

Then we began to talk about the role of the bishop in today’s Church and particularly how it has evolved. We both shared common insights because I served as did my bishop friend an episcopate in this country which was markedly different than the one to which I belong today. The emphasis of the ’70’s and ’80’s was on collegiality and shared responsibility. Bishops focused their attention after implementing for the country the directives of the Second Vatican Council on issues of social justice and the Church in the Modern World. Speaking ill of another bishop was a violation of the “eleventh” commandment and public disagreements, even on matters like “communion in the hand” were done with deepest respect. I particularly remember a long discussion in a November General Meeting between the late Cardinal Cooke of New York, chair at the time of the Pro-Life Committee and Cardinal Medeiros of Boston over the Hyde Amendment. The Pro-Life Committee supported it even though it was imperfect legislation because it offered some protection against federal support for abortion but Cardinal Medeiros could not in conscience support it because it allowed for the exceptions for rape, incest, and to save the life of the mother. Both men were kind to one another in the debate, recognizing the consciences of each, respecting one another. At the end of the discussion, the bishops voted overwhelmingly to support the Hyde Amendment’s adoption in Congress. I remember Cardinal Carberry of St. Louis who was unalterably opposed to the reception of communion in the hand. For a number of years he carried the day in the Assembly of Bishops, but then one November, “communion in the hand” was adopted and the Cardinal went back to St. Louis and allowed the practice. Were there differences of opinion in those days? Indeed. But there was a unity among the bishops which sometimes does not appear to exist today.

We commented at great length on how the theological and ecclesiological shift from a full embrace of collegiality as the driving force of working together began to shift in the mid-eighties to each bishop’s first obligation is to shepherd his own diocese and on occasion to break with or challenge collegial decisions. As an example of this I would point to the implementation of something as seemingly simple as women or girl altar servers where it is still not permitted in some dioceses and a good number of parishes. At least two of the dioceses in the United States refuse to allow outside auditors to examine their record on handling sexual abusers and even on whether or not they are complying with the strongly unanimous decision by the bishops to create a safe environment for children. I dare say these would likely have never occurred in the ’70’s and early ’80’s.

Bishops have lost credibility in the last decade. The sexual abuse of minors and how it was previously handled has contributed to it, and so have the liturgical wars. This loss of credibility in bishops extends also to some our priests and religious and to many lay people who  just don’t understand why so little time is spent by us on why people are leaving the Church in great numbers and what can be done about it. They do not understand how a hospital procedure in one local Church can be judged unacceptable yet be acceptable in many others. They do not understand why Catholic politicians can be denied the sacraments in one diocese but not in another. They do not understand why the President of the United States can be welcomed in some Catholic circles but not in others. The answer, of course, rests in the ecclesiologial truth that each bishop is the successor of the apostles in his diocese (or archdiocese) and can and must act as his conscience dictates but the danger rests in a growing sense of congregationalism, something every bishop fears in his diocese but can also occur in a national hierarchy and, I think is equally to be feared. I don’t foresee this changing unless and until it becomes so out-of-control that someone says, “stop”: we must face the future together and not divided.

My thoughts here are clearly in the minority among the bishops and I understand and accept that. And I do not bemoan the present though I think it has made the challenge of leadership of a local Church much more difficult. Most bishops, if they were truly honest, would speak of a tri-partite priesthood: there are those men  who experienced the enhilaration of the Council but who see retirement in the offing and simply say “all I want to do now is make it to retirement.” Then there is a second group who are dillusioned and unhappy with the direction in which they feel the  Church is going and do not know if they can make it to retirement or what retirement will be like for them.  And there is a third group who are quite satisfied, some of whom wish the “reform of the reforms” might continue. If a local Church is to “make beautiful music unto the Lord,” then the bishop must be a skillful conductor, allowing each section to make its contribution but to see that we are playing from the same “score.” It is a real task of leading and guiding to see that the local Church progresses along the right path.