Posts Tagged ‘Holy Father’


Monday, February 16th, 2015

Yesterday in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Pope Francis gave the strongest, clearest, and most concise homily he has given yet of his vision for Church leadership and membership. In speaking on the occasion of the creation of new Cardinals from throughout the world, the Holy Father used the Sunday Gospel to remind them, the world’s bishops, myself, and all who are involved in the ministry of the Church of the Gospel account of the curing of the leper. in so doing he told  once again that maintaining what we have is not enough, indeed far from enough. Rather  the spread of the Gospel and the success of the presence of Jesus in our world must penetrate every corner of our world and force us to look to the peripheries for the modern day equivalents of the leprosy so that they can feel the healing touch of Jesus.

A local pastor shared with me before the weekend this point, which would be a part of his homily; “Such behavior [he was speaking of the Gospel note that the priests who thought that people had leprosy, banished them to the outskirts of town and forced them to announce their presence by shouting, ‘unclean, unclean’] is abhorrent to us. How could someone who is ill be treated so heartlessly? But perhaps we are no different than those priests of Levi. Think of how we treat or avoid those who are of a different race, culture, religion, sexual preference, political persuasion, age group or economic status. The list is endless.”

There is a natural tendency of all religions and maybe especially ours to “preach to the choir” or put another way to concentrate our ministry on those people and aspects with which we personally are most comfortable. For the last twenty-five years, we bishops in the United States spent perhaps entirely too much time on liturgical language, battling politicians, threatening sanctions (the result is driving more good people out of the church and into the peripheries), whining against an admittedly dangerous secularism and seemingly ever stronger perversion of our Judeo-Christian culture (should we not soon add “Islamic” to the preceding hyphen?).

Politicians and their advisers learned long ago that the majority of Catholics don’t listen to their leadership when we engage in what is mostly verbal sparing. They would be a lot more worried about us if we took to heart the social justice aspect of both the Gospel and our ecclesial mission. If we were unanimous, for example (or close to it since I think that even the Nicene Creed would garner two negative votes at USCCB General Meetings) in supporting President Obama’s first small step at immigration reform (how many homilies have you heard this mentioned in?). In my seventy-three plus years, the Church never had the credibility outside and within its own membership that we did in the 1980’s with the twin pastoral letters on War and Peace and Economic Justice for All. Even those who disagreed took us far more seriously that many do today.

For the last thirty years, the Catholic Church in the United States has been much too content to pitch its tent on a safe island assuming that the surrounding seas were serene. Fear took hold of bishops and bishops’ conferences, the theological enterprise, and relationships with exempt congregations of religious women and men. At the same time, truthfully we watched tons of people abandon the Church for many reasons. And here in the United States, we are told, the periphery became the second largest religion in the nation: lapsed Catholics.

Now there is a voice, Peter’s present successor, who challenges Church leadership to get off that island and listen to and heal, comfort and don’t condemn, the sores of alienation of many while all the time listening to the cries of the immigrants and others for help. Rediscovering the “soul” of Catholicism is what this pontificate is all about, with an enormous reliance on the Holy Spirit.

I suspect and am afraid that there are those within our ranks who hope and pray that this Pope does not live long. Sad, isn’t it, that we would wish that on the most popular Holy Father in recent history (he will eclipse St. John Paul II in the hearts and minds of the people of the world, believe me). His challenge is not with God’s people but with those of us who promised obedience and respect for him and his successors as well as those who promised the same for their local bishops and religious superiors. (For a masterful review of the present current of dissent and unhappiness with this Pope, click here for a blog posting this past weekend by Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington)

Pope Francis is dealing with major issues of humanity which preclude far too many from a relationship with Christ the healer. He basically said to the world’s Cardinals in his homily that maybe those rich red robes were fine for that occasion but get out of them as soon as possible and get to work touching people like Christ touched the leper. “Sir, I know you can heal me if you just touch me.” God’s people do not care what we wear but that we care. There is a new freedom in the Church of Christ and only we can determine whether we are “players” or content to simply “sit this one (papacy) out by sticking to the safer sidelines”.

The Holy Father’s homily, which you can read by clicking here, said to me: you have ears to hear but are you listening? In my following blog entry I shall attempt an answer as to what I as a bishop, my priests, religious and members can do to respond to the Holy Father’s challenge. It may take me a few days.




Monday, February 11th, 2013
with Pope Benedict XVI at the Ad Limina visit in May 2012. Photo credit: Servizio Fotografico de "L.O.R" Cita del Vaticano.

With Pope Benedict XVI at the Ad Limina visit in May 2012. Photo credit: Servizio Fotografico de “L.O.R” Cita del Vaticano.

Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation this morning and will be leaving the Petrine office on February 28, 2013. I arrived at the office today with the parking lot full of television trucks and a room full of reporters. I began with a brief statement which you can read by clicking here, knowing that the media gathered was likely looking for some hint of controversy or some deep, dark secret as to the “real” reason. For the full audio of the press conference, recorded by our Catholic radio station Spirit FM 90.5, please click here. I also knew I would have a better opportunity to share what I believe to be the truth here in this blog.

I believe the Holy Father has served the Church incredibly well throughout his entire life. Brilliant, patient and pastoral as priest, bishop, cardinal-prefect and pope, he has given his unique gifts to the Church and we have been enriched by them for many years prior to his election as the successor to St. Peter. He loves the Church and the Church should love him as he exits “stage right” to spend what time he has left in prayer, reflection, and hopefully writing. Ever the superb teacher, I would hope that there might be enough energy left in the man to continue to open the worlds of theology and scripture to us as he has done so beautifully with his three books on Jesus of Nazareth.

Seventy-eight years old when called to the chair of Peter as bishop of Rome, he summoned forth enormous personal energy to lead us for eight years. No one who has been in his presence, as I have had the privilege of being, could be anything but happy that his desire to withdraw from the physical, mental and emotional demands of the office have led him in his 85th year to wish to relinquish the office and all its demands. Wishing to spare us anything resembling a “death watch” and sensing that he has done what God has asked of him, he has given the Church one last gift. And, as I mentioned during the press conference, it should not have been a surprise to anyone. He said several times he would resign if he felt no longer able to lead the Church as God might wish of him or as he personally wished. Most all Popes today are selfless servants of the Gospel. Believe it or not, they live simply. There is no “rush” derived from the exercise of power and most dread the demands of administration. If elected, they must choose to serve, and if they choose to serve, they must sacrifice so many things that we hold important in our daily lives.

Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict are entirely different but I believe that the latter has survived very nicely any comparison to the former. They were good friends and held each other in esteem. Benedict did not try to be John Paul because it would not have worked. Comfortable in his own skin, Pope Benedict XVI led the faithful according to the mandate given to Peter by Christ and came to serve and not to be served. He has been a wonderful leader who has often been wounded by the actions of a few which have called into doubt the relevancy and credibility of the Church. Let me add here, knowing that this will upset some of his critics, that the bishops of this country and of the world have had no greater friend in addressing the issue of sexual misconduct than Josef Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI. He got it early on and knew what was required for the ultimate purification of the Church.

Popes mean a lot to bishops. We recognize them as the supreme heads of our family of Roman Catholic Christianity. We wish to assist them in spreading the Gospel and shepherding Christ’s church. We do not wish to become simply another problem to them and we take an oath of loyalty to them. I have always admired and esteemed Pope Benedict, before and after his election. He was generally easy to serve, support and admire. I will miss him as will many other people in the Church and I wish him well in his final years, happy to have been in his service and the Lord’s when this humble successor of St. Peter decided to step aside and let another succeed to the throne which is really a cross.

Thank you, Pope Benedict, and may God give you strength and health for the remaining part of your earthly pilgrimage.



Sunday, May 13th, 2012

Each bishop was allowed to bring one priest or seminarian in for a photo-op. Since our seminarian Ryan Boyle had accompanied Archbishop Timothy Broglio a few months ago, I asked my right and left arm, Monsignor Robert Morris, to accompany me. Photo purchased from L'Osservatore Romano.


The bishops and bishop-elect of the province of Miami meeting with Pope Benedict XVI. Photo purchased from L'Osservatore Romano.



Sunday, May 13th, 2012

Obviously back safely, and as promised, here are some pictures from Friday morning.

Photo purchased from L'Osservatore Romano.


Photo purchased from L'Osservatore Romano.


The province of Miami bishops and bishop-elect with Pope Benedict XVI. Photo purchased from L'Osservatore Romano.




Friday, May 11th, 2012


Monsignor Robert Morris and I in the Cortille San Damaso awaiting the audience with the Holy Father

The seventh and final day of our week-long ad limina is now over and this will be the final posting as I will be travelling back to Tampa tomorrow all day. My flight leaves Rome at 655am EDT (1255pm Rome time) and I arrive back home at 1035pm EDT (435am Rome time) if all goes well. The layover in New York’s JFK airport is scheduled for two hours and ten minutes so I should be “at altitude” for thirteen hours approximately.

Our final day in the eternal city seemed to go on eternally. We began with a visit to the Congregation for Catholic Education, which is responsible for Catholic schools and colleges and universities, religious education and the catechism, and all seminaries throughout the world. The presentation by the Prefect, Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski,  in this congregation was quite lengthy filling the whole hour and I had my cassock on throughout the meeting, was dying from the heat, and wishing for air conditioning somewhere, anywhere and soon. It came when we arrived at the Apostolic Palace for our visit with Pope Benedict XVI. More about that later. The bishops from the Atlanta province (Charlotte, Raleigh, Charleston, SC, and Savannah) had the rest of the morning off and were driven back to the North American College while the six bishops and one bishop-elect of the Miami province were driven to the Apostolic Palace.

The Holy Father lives on the top or third floor of a massive building to the right of St. Peter’s Square. His bedroom is a small room on the far right side which is accessed through a small parlor which is itself accessed through his private office where he sees no one officially but writes and works. When one has a private audience with the Pope, you go no higher than the second floor, which is full of formal reception rooms. His private quarters are small so the term “palace” is barely applicable. Also living on the third floor are his two priest secretaries, and the sisters who perform the housekeeping and prepare his meals. His very private chapel is there as well.

For an audience appointment of eleven o’clock which was our appointed time, one usually arrives at least thirty minutes early, passing a number of Swiss Guard who stand impressively tall and still. For the minutes leading up to being led into his presence, you can usually count on remaining for a time in about three reception rooms. As one person or group exits the waiting area and into the presence of the pope, you are moved forward one more reception rooms until you make the turn and are on the side facing St. Peter’s square. When I first started doing this routine in 1979, my knees would knock, my hands would sweat, I would begin to perspire all in anticipation of that final door. Today we were led directly to the final waiting room. Then we were ushered into his presence. The successor of St. Peter was standing this morning with a welcoming smile on his face and each of us was allowed to bring one priest or seminarian in with us to have a quick picture taken and then whomever we chose (Monsignor Bob Morris this morning) were ushered out and we were asked to take seats close to the Pope.

The pectoral cross given to us by Pope Benedict XVI today

He was interested in hearing from each of us whatever we wished to share with him from our diocesan experiences and he would offer a brief reaction to whatever we said. All told with seven bishops present, we took about twenty minutes of his time.  To me he seemed more tired than when I was with him in November, breathing a little more deeply and heavily but still so gracious and humble. This man, like Paul VI, is a very humble priest, despite his reputation sometimes to the contrary. I think I could capture the feelings of our group of seven bishops that we were genuinely grateful that he could still take the time to welcome each of us. Traditionally at the end of the Ad Limina visits with the popes, we receive some gift and it has been for the last four visits of US bishops a pectoral cross which we wear close to our heart as a constant reminder that sometimes shepherding the churches can be an invitation to carry a cross.

In the afternoon I had pranzo (aka “Lunch”) with Monsignor Gerald Cadieres, a student of mine at St. John Vianney College Seminary and the first South American to complete his theology work in Rome as a student at the North American College. He gave me the privilege of vesting him for his diaconate ordination here at St. Peters and it is always wonderful to see him during my visits. He works in the Spanish language section of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Later in the afternoon a highlight for me was meeting after a long absence Cardinal Agostino Cacchiavillan, former Apostolic Nuncio to the United States of America and a man with whom I worked during my six years as General Secretary of the Episcopal Conference of the United States. He was a wonderful friend and mentor then and remains such even today. It was a terrific penultimate way to say farewell to Rome.

The “proof sheets” of the several hundred pictures taken of us this morning by the one photographer were back at the North American College by two o’clock and the bishops behave like parents at confirmation trying to get the pictures taken of their child with the bishop. It was like Disney animal time at the Magic Kingdom with people ordering photographs by the score. I am supposed to get a digital disc tonight later and if it arrives, one of the seventy pictures taken in less than two minutes of Monsignor Morris and I and it should be on this blog.

Sunday I celebrate my thirty-fourth anniversary of priestly ordination and Monsignor Bob Morris celebrates his twenty-first a few days later, so with our colleagues from the Pastoral Center we had our final dinner in Rome and attempted to make it memorable.

I leave with some very strong, mostly emotional feelings. First, I took Pope Benedict’s leave with the very strong feeling that I likely shall not be seeing him again. It was that same feeling in the gut I had when as a child we would take our leave of our 80 and 90-year-old grandparents. Secondly, I am clearing out my closest in the Bishops Larkin and Lynch Suite and bringing almost everything home tomorrow, as I do not anticipate coming back again, at least for business. Thirdly, all of us had a hard time tonight saying goodbye to Ryan Boyle our seminarian here who has shared much of his time with the eight of us. If generosity, hospitality, and helpfulness are predictors of a successful priesthood, Ryan will do very well. The seminarians at the North American College could not have been more hospitable this week, unfailingly kind and solicitous. Likewise the staff, priests and domestics which have in the last six months watched two of their former rectors made Cardinals, fifteen regions of the US bishops pass through for at least a week and the normal flow of guests and visitors coming to Rome, they have all been just terrific. All of the bishops of Region XIV are grateful to them.

So it is arrivaderci Roma, good-by, farewell to Rome, city of a million moon lit places, city of a million smiling faces, far from home. I believe this is my forty-fifth trip to the Eternal City and the Italian language had a great single word for how I feel tonight, basta, “enough.” Thanks for reading these entries and now it is back to confirmations, ordinations, graduations, birthday and anniversary. Ciao for now.


P.S. The much anticipated disc with the pictures seems not to have arrived as of this writing and posting of this blog entry, so I will post some of them tomorrow or whenever. If you can’t stand the wait, the mother of all ecclesial blogs, has them available for viewing. You can view more photos from the trip, graciously taken and shared by SueAnn Howell with the Catholic News Herald, the diocesan newspaper of the Diocese of Charlotte, here.


Monday, May 7th, 2012

Today was “turn-over” day at the North American College as Region XIII left for home and Region XIV arrived en masse.  We held our first “organizational meeting” this afternoon and assigned leadership roles to bishops for the meeting this week with the dicasteries of the Holy See (dicasteries is a formal name for “offices”). Offices in the Vatican Structure have an order of importance: Congregations are the most important, followed by Councils, followed by Offices, etc. And within Congregations and Councils there is also a certain “pecking order”: the Secretariat of State is preeminent among the Congregations, followed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, followed by the Congregation of Bishops, and so on. Councils also have the same pecking order, Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, followed by the Pontifical Council for the Laity and so on – more than you ever need or want to know. We will be meeting with a number but not nearly all the Congregations and Councils during the coming week and this afternoon we chose a leader to introduce both our group and our topics, which we assigned to interested bishops.

It has poured rain most the day and the same is predicted for tomorrow, followed by clearing weather for later in the week.

We exchanged money (dollars to Euros – ouch it hurt), talked some more about transportation to the Churches where we will be saying Mass, assigned celebrants and homilists to the Masses throughout the week (I have the honor of being celebrant and homilist at the Basilica of St. John Lateran which is the Pope’s Cathedral in Rome) and attended to other technical details. Tomorrow we start but as I mentioned, the Province of Atlanta has their tete-a-tete with the Holy Father tomorrow morning.

Opening Mass at the North American College celebrated by Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta - photo kindness of Ryan Boyle

Sundays in Rome are nice days if the weather is favorable. The Holy Father appears exactly at noon from his window in his living room to lead the Regina Coeli, which is the Easter season replacement for the Angelus prayer. He also always adds a brief message and then imparts his blessing. I would say that there were about 10,000 in the Piazza San Pietro at high noon to see and hear him. It always bugs me when we have such hearing problems in our US and diocesan churches with the sound system and this man with his somewhat weak voice can be heard for two miles away. When it comes to sound amplification: Americans 2 – Italians 10.

We had Mass this evening with the seminarians at the North American College at 530pm and Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta was our celebrant and homilist and he is simply superb at both.

Monsignor Morris arrived this morning by way of Miami and Madrid. He had First Communions at his parish of St. Catherine of Sienna on Saturday and was unable to travel with us yesterday. So now my party is complete and the work of the week is about to begin.



AD LIMINA APOSTOLORUM – Day One – Saturday, May 5, 2012

Sunday, May 6th, 2012

To the thresholds of SS. Peter and Paul

One does not have to be a dead pope to find one's name inscribed in marble in Rome - the story of this follows in the post

Delta delivered us to the threshold of SS. Peter and Paul almost on time this morning. Leaving JFK in New York the captain was almost delirious about what an absolutely glorious day today would be in Rome: seventies, not a cloud in the sky, gentle breezes out of the southeast. As we were bouncing our merry way along Newfoundland, he repeated his weather forecast like Santa Claus on the night before Christmas.  Couldn’t see the ground when landing, bumpy on the way down from brisk winds and temps in the low sixties. But we were here, thank God, safe and sound.

I am accompanied on this trip by several of my long time, long suffering staff: Joan Morgan, Chancellor and her husband, Dick; Elizabeth Deptula, Secretary of Diocesan Administration and her husband Stan, Paul Ward, Diocesan Chief Financial Officer and his wife Claudia, and Monsignor Bob Morris, my long-suffering Vicar General. All but the Morgans have been to Rome before so there will be no surprises for them.

The Holy Father this morning met with the bishops from U.S. Region XIII (Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona) to give them the fourth in a series of five talks which means that in all likelihood we will not have a second meeting with him next week. There are fifteen episcopal regions comprising the Church in the United States and Region XV consists of all the eastern and oriental rites, which are in communion with the Holy See – it appears they will get the last word. We also know today upon arrival that the province of Atlanta will meet with the Holy Father on Monday leaving us likely candidates for seeing him on Thursday or Friday. He must be tired of the string of American bishops he has been seeing almost every week since the fall.

Ryan Boyle, our seminarian completing the first of his four years as a student here at the North American College met me at the front door when the car turned in. I have come here so often in my life, found my room number at the front door and just gone right to it that it was a pleasure to have Ryan at my side with the suitcases. He beams when describing his first year here at the College and at the Gregorian where he studies. Himself a graduate of the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs; he is no stranger to discipline and good order. We “co-sponsor” Ryan with the Archdiocese of the Military Services and this means that after three years in a parish in the diocese, he will be released to return to the Air Force, this time as a priest-chaplain. I am looking forward to spend some quality time with him this week. He will be joined in late summer by another of our diocesan seminarians, Alex Padilla from Spring Hill (and our first vocation from Bishop McLaughlin High School) so next year we will have two and each will have a brother to share life and experiences with.

The North American College is a monstrous building erected after the close of the Second World War to house the expected increase in American seminarians who would be studying in Rome. Sitting on Vatican owned property directly above St. Peter’s and the Vatican City State, it commands a sweeping view of the city of Rome as well as the Vatican City State. I have often thought what would Conrad Hilton or J.W. Marriott have been willing to give for a spot like this. The  almost two-hundred and fifty  seminarians living here basically just sleep, study, pray and play here. They walk thirty to forty minutes each day to one of the several Pontifical Universities in city for their education. Oldest among the universities are the Gregorian staffed by the Jesuits, the Angelicum staffed by the Dominicans, the Anselmo staffed by the Benedictines, Holy Cross staffed by Opus Dei, and many others. U.S. seminarians usually attend one of the first two aforementioned. Here at the North American College the staff is comprised mainly of diocesan priests from the United States of America with some religious sisters included. Monsignor James Checchio has served as Rector for about the last seven years and has presided over a major increase in enrollment making the NAC the largest diocesan seminary-training priests for the United States.

The view of the dome of St. Peter's Basilica from the screen-end porch of the "Bishops Lynch-Larkin Suite"

One more piece of nonsense. I am writing these words while staying in the “Bishops Larkin and Lynch Suite” at the North American College, a beautiful four room suite looking right at the dome of St. Peter’s. Other “suites” on the hall are devoted to the late Cardinal’s Bernardin of Chicago, Sheehan of Baltimore, Wright of Pittsburg, Hickey of Washington, D.C., and Cooke of New York. What, you might ask, is Lynch doing among the dead cardinals and he is (a) alive and (b) just a lowly bishop?

The living/dining area of the "Bishops Larkin-Lynch" Suite

In 1996 when I was in my first year as bishop, my friend Timothy Michael Dolan was Rector of the North American College. He asked me if I would gather together some people of means from the diocese so he could meet with them and make a plea for money for the North American, which he led. Fool that I was, I quickly agreed and Dolan came to my house for the first time to raise money. That night he left with about $750,000 in pledges and gifts. There was money for a new gymnasium so the men could safely and seriously exercise (c. $200,000), there was money for a new computer lab ($100,000) so the men could write papers, send e-mails etc. which was not possible then from their rooms, there was money for two new vans which could help the seminarians get to and from their apostolic work ($100,000) and finally there was a gift for a new suite of rooms being built on the roof of the college which would house bishops when they were in Rome. The diocesan donor of that gift wanted the suite to be named the Monsignor Timothy M. Dolan Suite but the Chancellor and Chairman of the Board of Directors at the time said it would be unseemly for a sitting rector to have a monument to himself dedicated while still in the Rector’s Chair. So the diocesan donor from St. Petersburg reluctantly gave in and insisted that it be named for Bishops Larkin and myself. So there is my name in marble above the “threshold” just like two others we have come to venerate and recall. If the kids on the block could see me now! My humble home away from home.



Thursday, April 26th, 2012

St. Peter's on a "slow" morning. Photo kindness of Douglas Vanderhook

Next Friday, a week from today, I leave for Rome and my third visit Ad Limina  since becoming your bishop. Every bishop in the world is to travel to Rome once every five years to report on the situation of his diocese, both to the Holy Father, and to his collaborators in the various Congregations, Councils and other offices of the Holy See. Our group is the next to the last of fifteen groupings of US bishops to make the trip since the latest round began in the late Fall of 2011.

There are so many bishops in the United States that we travel for these visits by episcopal regions. Our “region” includes the provinces of Atlanta and Miami or perhaps more understandable to you, the bishops of the arch/dioceses of Charlotte, Raleigh, Charleston, Atlanta, Savannah, Pensacola-Tallahassee, St. Augustine, St. Petersburg, Orlando, Venice, Palm Beach and Miami.

Our visit is preceeded by the accumulation of pages and pages of reports and statistics indicating progress and/or loss since the last report (now eight years ago). There is also a narrative as well. The report was sent in advance and generally someone in each major office is delegated to peruse the reports for any anomolies or suspect problems.

In the past, bishops had private meetings with the Holy Father of about twenty minutes. In my two visits with Blessed John Paul II, the first five were always spent answering his questions about the health of Bishop Larkin, his classmate at the Belgian College in Rome in their younger days. There were always a few openers by the Holy Father (how are vocations? how is family life? what is being done for evangelization?) but generally with him, the bishop had to carry the conversation. At the end there were pictures with the Pope and a brief but fond farewell. Pope Benedict has decided to forego the private meetings and instead meets with us by province and during this time he invites an open discussion of any issues of concern to ourselves. Bishops completing their Ad Limina visits this year have spoken well of both the discussions and overall experience.

Then we make the rounds of various “must-see” congregations and councils and some of those which we wish to see to conduct any business which we might have.

In November I had the privilege of celebrating Mass for my pilgrimage group at the altar above the new tomb for Blessed John Paul II. Picture kindness of Marc Barhonovich

Required of every bishop in the world on these visits is Mass at the Tomb of St. Peter in St. Peter’s Basilica and at the Tomb of St. Paul and the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls. We will also be offering Mass during our week in Rome at the North American College, at the altar of Blessed John Paul II in St. Peters, and at the Basilicas of St. John Lateran and St. Mary Major. Between the Masses throughout the city, the work and the obligatory receptions (North American College Graduate House, the residence of the Ambassador of the United States of America to the Holy See, the Villa Stritch where US priests working for the Holy See reside), I can assure you that it is no “Roman holiday.” I will be exhausted when I return and have to plunge right into the confirmations, graduations and ordination schedule. I will attempt to blog each day but two cautions: there is a six hour difference in time zones and I must respect certain confidentialities along the line. Still I hope to capture the dialogue and exchanges. Next week prior to departure and after I have met with the priests of the diocese, I will indicate on what topic I wish to dedicate my three or five minutes of interaction with the Holy Father. If you have any thoughts and/or suggestions for the topic, please leave them in the comments column (only parishioners of the Diocese of St. Petersburg please, as the rest of the readership have their own bishop).



Sunday, December 11th, 2011

John Cardinal Foley, 1935-2011

Word came to  me late on Saturday on the “mother of all ecclesial blogs” of the death of John Cardinal Foley, a man whom I admired as a churchman, professional, and media-saavy representative in Rome. If any reader has ever heard of him, it is likely in connection with his annual voice-0ver of Midnight Mass from St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome with the Holy Father celebrating. There was much more to this grand man, however, than that annual ninety minutes of international exposure on NBC and other media outlets worldwide who carried the Mass. Born and raised in Philadelphia and ever proud of that fact, Cardinal Foley was tapped early on in his priesthood by the late John Cardinal Krol, Philadelphia’s archbishop at the time, for further studies in journalism. Following the Second Vatican Council, Cardinal Krol realized that if the Church was indeed to engage the modern world, it would likely have to do that in and through the media. Father Foley was sent to Columbia where he received a doctorate degree in journalism. Returning to his diocese, he became editor of the archdiocesan newspaper as well as teaching theology courses at St. Charles Seminary in Overbrook, Pennsylvania.

When Cardinal Krol followed the first post conciliar president of the episcopal conference of the United States, John Cardinal Dearden of Detroit (both Krol and Dearden were priests of the Cleveland diocese before being raised to the episcopacy), Krol listened intently to the arguments raised in the Fall meeting of the US bishops by the recently deceased  Archbishop Phillip Hannan, then an auxiliary in Washington, DC, that if the Church was truly to engage the modern world, then it made sense that the annual meetings should be open to the press and to appropriate observers making working behind closed doors a thing of the past in the United States. As one might expect there was considerable opposition to the Hannan proposal but Cardinal Krol turned to his journalism pro, Father John Foley, who persuaded him that there was a far more to be gained from openness in the modern era than secrecy and the body of bishops soon agreed to open their meetings.

With the election of the Polish pope, John Paul II, in 1978, Krol was consulted about a new head for a recently established post-conciliar “council” within the curia entitled, “The Pontifical Council for Social Communications.” Its first leader, a close Polish friend of the new Pope, then Archbishop Andrzej Deskur had suffered a stroke. Krol recommended his young editor to the Holy Father who agreed that by both background and disposition, John Foley could be the man. Think the early eighties and the Holy See and the press. Those who think the relationship is strained now should have been around in those days. Foley arrived with the title of “Archbishop” but was treated very badly by a few well placed people in the curia. Deskur had as his responsibilities as President of the Council for Social Communications the following offices and functions: (the Press Office of the Holy See – quickly removed from any connection with Archbishop Foley’s office; Vatican Television which while still embryonic Foley found to be full of potential, also removed from Archbishop Foley’s purview; Vatican Radio and to a lesser extent, Osservatore Romano, the six times a week newspaper of the Holy See, removed from Archbishop Foley’s responsibilites). It soon left him with little more than a voice crying in the wilderness of the Holy See at times but he never once complained or asked to be reassigned to the United States, he soldiered on making progress where he could and accepting in the words of Francis of Assisi, “those things which I cannot change.”

When the US media would arrive en masse or separately at the Vatican, they would always begin with Archbishop Foley. He and his faithful assistant, Marjorie Weeks, would do what they could to gain access and arrange for location shooting. Sometimes the Archbishop would even have to fight for that but he did, endearing him to all who knew of the challenges which he faced often in attempting to make the message of the Church in the modern world accessible, intelligible and timely. A great friend of the President whom I served for two of my six years as General Secretary, Cardinal Keeler of Baltimore, we often would share a table with the Archbishop and even though I would sometimes attempt to “bait” him into expressing what must have been his professional crosses carried, I never would receive more than a message conveyed not by words, but by his eyebrows. The curia for the most part had an intense dislike of the media and did not understand it unless they could control it. They were always uneasy with Archbishop Foley’s inherent trust that truth served the church better than evasion, and proactive nine times out of ten would trump reactive. How sweet it was when Pope Benedict XVI finally recognized the “gem” long in the service of the Holy See and made the long-serving President of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications a Cardinal. Lots of hearts were overjoyed with that news and I, for one, will always be grateful to his Holiness for that courageous message delivered five years ago.

So now Cardinal Foley has no more commentary to give, no more deadlines to meet, no more people to welcome to the threshold of the successor of St. Peter. A great man of the Church known to too few Americans has gone home to rest in eternal life. I have lovely and lasting memories of a man much like my friend, the late Archbishop Paul C. Marcinkus who taught me how to carry the cross of Christ at times in the service of the Church we love. Rest in peace, Your Eminence. I won’t forget you.



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,