Posts Tagged ‘Marriage’

HELP FROM ABROAD

Sunday, July 24th, 2016

Pope Francis gets (understands) the human condition as well as any Catholic I know. He also understands, appreciates and supports Church teaching and has changed nothing. Yet he gets a lot of flack from certain segments of our ecclesial community which is much more comfortable with “law and order” than “love and forgiveness.” Since the publication of his post-synodal exhortation, The Joy of Love dealing with love, marriage, family life, procreation, sexual attraction, doubts have been raised in certain sectors of our faith community about its teaching authority (is it a magisterial document?), its guidance in dealing with divorce, remarriage, and return to the sacraments, and voices have been heard questioning its authority as well as it meaning and interpretation.

I have now been a priest for approaching thirty-nine years and from the very beginning of my seminary training, I was introduced to something called “internal forum” solutions, which was available to me when I accompanied a divorced and remarried person or couple. We don’t talk about it or preach about it precisely because it is “internal forum” which means it is accorded the same level of secrecy as sins confessed in the sacrament of reconciliation.

I have always thought it is an inferior way to deal with these situations because almost inevitably a person in a second, non-sacramental marriage wants to remarry in a public ceremony which is not possible using this pastoral approach. Also for older Catholics something like this is not “real until there is a document saying that it is real” (a declaration of nullity, for example). Our diocesan marriage tribunals perform a needed, effective, and deeply pastoral ministry of mercy. The process is long, burdensome, almost always reopens old wounds, which have been psychologically cauterized following a divorce decree. The process is free in this diocese and has been for some time and thanks to Pope Francis, it has the potential to be speeded up.

But there are those cases where a previously married person deeply believes in good conscience that his or her first marriage was never sacramental but it just can’t be proven to or accepted by an ecclesiastical marriage tribunal. Pope Francis recently spoke a somewhat offhanded remark that a majority of young people getting married were probably in invalid marriages because they were incapable at the time of understanding the full measure and consequences of the sacrament into which they were entering. Many priests I know, and I myself, agree with that.

In the internal forum, priests for years have been accompanying the divorced and remarried back to participation in the sacramental life of the Church of their baptism. Probably not in great numbers (since it is internal forum or “under the seal” and there are no statistics), and I for one do not think the number is staggering because of the reasons outlined in the two proceeding paragraphs.

In the “The Joy of Love” I sense that this loving and caring pastor, Pope Francis, without changing any laws per se, wishes to remind priests of this option of accompaniment and accomplishment. So all of this is by way of sharing with you one of the best defenses of this document, which I have read since its publication, and it comes with the approval of the Holy See. It also joins a spirited defense of the same exhortation given by Cardinal Christoph Shoenborn of Vienna, no theological slouch!

As is often the case, I owe public thanks to the mother of all ecclesial blogs and to its doorkeeper, Rocco Palmo for making it available to me, to you and to a wider audience. A well-known and highly respected theologian Rocco Buttiglione worth your time to read the article pens it. It appeared last week in English in the normally all-Italian L’Osservatore Romano, and someone in our upper echelon of management had to look at it and approve it for publication. You may access it by clicking here.

I am going to begin a dialogue with the priests of the diocese about implementation of the apostolic exhortation locally and to see what, if anything. troubles them or excites them. It will also serve as a good reminder of a pastoral solution we have had for some time and which the Holy Father resurrects.

Please take time to read the article in its entirety. Thanks.

+RNL

A KINDER, GENTLER PROCESS

Thursday, September 10th, 2015

By now, most of you have heard that Pope Francis has “made annulment of marriages cheaper and easier,” as one news source hastily reported. This report has resulted in many questions concerning what was actually stated in the Pontiff’s Apostolic Letter issued motu proprio (of his own initiative), which was released on September 8th, although the letter was dated August 15th. It is surprising that the content of this letter had not leaked out before its release!

The Latin title of the letter, Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus (“The Lord Jesus, Gentle Judge”) is an accurate description of our Lord and a model for the Church to emulate. As an Apostolic Letter, it lays out new ecclesiastical (Church) laws in addition to or in place of existing laws. The purpose of the letter is to describe certain reforms of the canonical (the Church’s legal) process used when determining whether a marriage should be declared null. Or, to use the common but inaccurate expression, whether an “annulment” of a marriage should be granted.

As is the case with most new laws issued for the universal Church, a preparation period of three months is given before the law becomes effective, in order to allow bishops the opportunity to instruct and prepare the faithful in their dioceses concerning the meaning and impact of the new law. In his letter, Pope Francis established December 8, 2015 as the date on which this new law will take effect. In a style that is typical of our Holy Father, it is fitting that the effective date should coincide with the beginning of the Year of Mercy.

While only released in Latin and Italian, below are a few key points which were outlined in the pope’s Apostolic Letter:

  1. The Church continues to view marriage as indissoluble (permanent), based on Christ’s teachings in Sacred Scripture (Mark 10:2-12, Matthew 19:3-12). Even if a divorce decree has been granted by a civil authority, this does not change the fact that the marriage continues to exist. “Therefore what God has joined together, no one must separate” (Mark 10:9).
  2. There was a need to reconsider the existing nullity process: Pope Francis has consulted with numerous experts in canon law, theology and pastoral practice before proposing changes in a marriage nullity process that had become long, burdensome and often frustrating for many who questioned whether their failed marriage was ever valid (binding) to begin with. It was not uncommon that, in some parts of the world, the “annulment process” took more than two years to complete. To use an old quote from civil law, “justice delayed is justice denied.”
  3. Only one decision in favor of nullity is necessary: Under the current law, if one or both parties in a failed marriage believe that the marriage was never valid due to a flaw in the consent of one or both persons, two Church tribunals (courts) must agree that this flaw existed, declaring the marriage invalid (non-binding) and rendering the parties free to remarry. Under this new legislation, a decision from only one court is required, saving a significant amount of time.
  4. The bishop can permit an even shorter process in some cases: By his office, the diocesan bishop already possesses full judicial power and may function as a judge in cases where both ex-spouses agree that their marriage should be declared null and there is clear and abundant proof to support their assertion. This proof would include witness testimony, expert testimony (such as evidence provided by a counselor, psychologist or other qualified professional), and written evidence attesting to the nullity of the marriage.
  5. Additional reasons for nullity: The Holy Father, in describing the shorter process mentioned above, provided additional reasons for why a marriage might be declared null. It could be that one or both parties lacked the faith to understand marriage as an indissoluble bond, ordered toward the good of both spouses, open to the possibility of children, with the full intention of fidelity. It is possible that a spouse elected to abort a pregnancy to avoid procreation, or intentionally remained in an affair at the beginning of the marriage or shortly thereafter. Perhaps a spouse has concealed the fact of children born from a previous relationship or a pre-existing and incurable disease. Such hidden factors might have caused the other party to enter the marriage with erroneous presumptions about the qualities of the person he/she married.
  6. A party still has the right to appeal: Whenever one of the former spouses feels that the tribunal’s decision was unjust for any reason, he/she will have the right to approach the Metropolitan Tribunal (in our case, the Archdiocese of Miami) in order to make a complaint. This right exists in our current law and continues under the new law, in order to avoid abuses among diocesan tribunals and to protect the rights of both former spouses. Appeals may also be made to the Church’s marriage court in Rome, the Rota, if the concerned party chooses to do so.
  7. One judge is as good as three: While it is preferred that marriage cases are reviewed by a panel of three ecclesiastical judges (a “Collegial Tribunal”), a single judge may hear the case, as well. While this is also a reiteration of an existing law, it is most helpful for those diocesan tribunals with limited personnel and resources. However, the pope advises bishops to exercise caution that the process does not become “lax.” The long-held requirement of a tribunal staff member who functions as “Defender of the [marriage] Bond” continues, in order to provide potential arguments against assertions made by judges prior to a final decision regarding whether the marriage should be declared null.

In addition to the previous points, I would like to add some helpful information that was not addressed at length in the Apostolic Letter:

  • Although commonly referred to as an “annulment,” the accurate term for the Church’s procedure is “declaration of nullity.” This means that the tribunal has reviewed the evidence and has discovered that, for one or more reasons, a truly binding marriage never existed from the beginning. The tribunal then declares the marriage to be null.
  • This “declaration of nullity” does not mean that children born from the union are “illegitimate” (unlawful). Our existing law states that children born from a marriage that was presumed to be valid by at least one of the spouses at the time of consent are legitimate, regardless of a later discovery by a Church tribunal.
  • The purpose of this process is always to discover the truth about the marriage, whether it was truly valid (binding) or invalid (null, or non-binding). It was never intended to be merely a “rubber-stamp” process.
  • From the moment a case is received, every Church tribunal begins with the presumption that the marriage is valid. It is then up to the single judge or panel of three judges to determine whether there are any reasons to overturn that presumption (e.g. immaturity of one or both spouses; pressure to marry due to age, premarital pregnancy or other reason; intention of one or both parties at the time of marriage not to include fidelity, permanence or openness to children; and various psychological disorders, such as substance addiction, narcissistic personality disorder, etc.).

The Tribunal Office for the Diocese of St. Petersburg offers some very helpful resources, for those who would like to know more about the marriage nullity process. To view some of the available resources, please click here.  Also, in keeping with Pope Francis’ desire that all parties should be permitted to participate in the process with minimal expense, there are no fees for services offered by our Tribunal.

My hope is that all bishops and pastors, as well as parish and tribunal staff members will take the Holy Father’s letter to heart and more closely imitate Jesus, the Gentle Judge, by offering healing and guidance to those who suffer from the pain of separation and divorce.

+RNL

ONE POPE, FIVE JUSTICES, ONE NATION UNDER GOD

Thursday, July 9th, 2015

The recent weeks have been momentous in many ways but also quite predictable in other ways. In the following thoughts I hope to demonstrate that both perceptions are possible within a single fortnight.

Chronologically first out of the block was the papal encyclical letter, Francis’ first, Laudato Si. Most of my readers were quite in accord with the Holy Father’s brilliant and prophetic support for the moral equation to be found in the environment and our responsibility for caring for it. There were some strong voices to be heard objecting to the Holy Father entering the realm of science and suggesting he should stay in the realm of theology (these people I suspect did not read the encyclical in its entirety) as well as fewer still who thought the interlocking rationale between finance, business and ecology was a step too far. But almost two weeks later, my sense is that those who took the time to plough through the encyclical in its entirety were proud once again of their Pope, his amazing teaching ability and his constant focus on the vulnerable – human and environmental. While there can, will, and perhaps always should be scientific debate about something like global warning, Pope Francis’ invitation to the world community to join in a discussion of how best to protect and save creation is worth a read, worthy of discussion, and a source for continual prayer for saving creation. There is more than enough moral theology in the encyclical letter to qualify the Holy Father’s concern.

Then came the Supreme Court decision on a small but very important aspect of the Affordable Care Act, the majority opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts. I was both thrilled by and grateful for the upholding of the device most recently used to help the poor gain access to health care. The bishops of the United States in general and this bishop in particular have long been in favor of universal access to health care which has been achieved in some part by the aforementioned act. Health care is a right of every one of God’s children and the ACA is but a first step in achieving that Gospel goal. While I have troubles with certain aspects of the Affordable Care Act and their requirements upon employers like ourselves, the larger goal is now more guaranteed by the recent SCOTUS decision and that’s good. The Chief Justice wrote well in his majority opinion in this case.

Next in order came the establishment of a new constitutionally situated “right” to marriage and this time the Chief Justice was even more eloquent, albeit in dissent. He said several things which I fully embrace: five lawyers should not be rewriting the constitution to create a new right never before seen in over two hundred years as that is the task belongs to the people of the nation; then the Chief said that if you love the Constitution and look for this new right to be found therein, guess again – it is not to be found there, anywhere. The Chief’s dissent was measured, respectful of the majority even in disagreement with them and he even intimated a respect for the dynamic, which is sweeping the country in equality for all regardless of sexual orientation. The reaction to this decision from our Church has run the gamut of emotion and words from outrage to sadness that it has all come to this. Everyone should have seen this coming. We Florida bishops have known for some time that the constitutional amendment passed by our state electorate in 2008 would for sure not pass in 2016.

For many gays and lesbians, for many other people and for the majority of the Supreme Court, the issue is one of denial of equality with married people in basic rights – inheritance, health care benefits, etc. The only avenue, in their minds, to equality quickly, was the courts and the hope that a “constitutional right” could be found guaranteeing equality of treatment. Some predict further challenges to the Church as we assert time and time again that our definition of sacramental marriage is between one man and one woman. That’s not going to change. What needs to change is that as a community of faith, we as Church must become more tolerant of the many different ways people choose to live their lives, put an end to painful language like “perverse”, be loving, caring and compassionate towards all.

If gays and lesbians adopt, the children they have chosen to raise are God’s children and they will be loved by God and their parents. We already see this in a number of our elementary schools where Johnny or Jane has two mothers, or two fathers. I strongly dispute any claim that they can not be loved, raised and cared for. We have decades of intolerance, painful language, and abusive behavior to work to overcome and our Church should be an agent able to, in the words of St. Francis, “change those things which can be changed.” For me a marker has always been how Jesus (and now the Holy Father especially) dealt with those whom others saw as sinners. Recall the story of the woman caught in adultery who Jesus approached first publicly and asked her in the presence of others “has anyone condemned you? . . . .Then neither shall I.” Privately, out of earshot, he encouraged her “to go and sin no more.” The same approach can be seen and heard in the conversation of Jesus and the woman at Jacob’s well. May we as a Church be full of love, not hate; of welcome not exclusion; of forbearance and forgiveness not denunciation and character assassination. As Archbishop Blasé Cupich of Chicago said last week, we must learn how to use and live with culturally shifting mores while gently, quietly, and lovingly sharing the truth we have received.

Finally, I wished to withhold this blog until I had learned the outcome of the Court’s decision on lethal injection. I only wish Justice Breyer could have found one more vote because I too believe that the death penalty is an assault on life inconsistent with the will of the Creator. Believe me, good reader, its days are numbered. One state after another has abolished it in capital crimes, and the fifty states joined with the federal government are now an anomaly among the world family of nations throughout the whole world who view it as barbarism.

Just as among the nine, unelected Justices of the Supreme Court there are many minds and many voices, so true also is it of the Church. I know there will be some Scalia’s among the respondents to this post, as I know there will be some Breyers and Roberts type voices. I just ask our faith community to think and pray with civility as we try to fashion ourselves as a Church and nation of mercy and compassion.

 

+RNL

THE VIEW FROM OUTSIDE OF THE STADIUM

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014

I often like to quote the late Cardinal Richard James Cushing of Boston who once publicly pronounced, “The Church may be difficult but it is never boring!” My two recent blogs on the recently concluded Extraordinary Synod have drawn a good number of comments and just a few that contain the very condemnatory language which makes people want to leave the Church. They have consistently come from people outside of the diocese who do not know what we do to reconcile people to the faith here.

I will admit that in using the image of an athletic contest, especially a football game, I took some literary license in order to help the average reader understand what I think took place during those amazing two weeks. It was a stretch, to be sure but it certainly wasn’t boring to a lot of people who read it, though some found it difficult. So, to place some of what I said in another context and to make good use of the wisdom of a man I deeply respect, let me share with you some words of wisdom from a Synod participant himself, Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminister (that’s Catholic London) who in a pastoral letter said more clearly and perhaps more precisely what I meant in my analysis when dealing with two areas which my commentators found at a minimum neuralgic and at a maximum outrageous.

Speaking of co-habitating couples and the divorced and remarried, Cardinal Nichols noted that in these people there is often “real goodness” to be found. He noted that the Synod called on all of us “to walk alongside people in difficult or exceptional situations [and] to see clearly and with humility all the good aspects of their lives.” “This is especially true with regard to individuals who, for example, have decided to live together without marriage, or for Catholics in second marriages. . . .These realities are part of their journey in life and while not in keeping with the pattern the Lord asks of us, their lives are often marked by real goodness. . . .This is the basis for our care of them, for our approach to them, our invitation to them, to come closer to the church and deepen their faith and attend carefully to its call.” One would think that in this fourteenth year of this millennium no one would argue with such language or pastoral plan.

Speaking then of another neuralgic issue for many people, the Cardinal addressed those with same-sex attraction. He asked his Church to accept them “with compassion and sensitivity.” As I attempted to do in my two blogs but perhaps with greater brevity and clarity, Cardinal Nichols noted that in the Synod, there was “no suggestion that the teaching of the church might somehow give approval to the notion of ‘same-sex marriage” or that its teaching on sexual morality is to change.” He is also quoted as saying, I think what is important is that we keep the focus on the person and we keep recognizing and respecting and valuing and welcoming the goodness of every person whatever their sexuality, whether they are co-habitating or in a second marriage. Their lives continue to carry the hallmark of the Holy Spirit.”

This is precisely what I see as the challenge to myself as a bishop, to my priests, deacons, religious and laity which emanates from Pope Francis. Go seek the lost. Tell them they are loved by their God. Invite them to listen to Christ as did the woman caught in adultery and the woman at Jacob’s well, The same love and warmth of invitation needs to be offered to those women who have had abortions, prisoners on death row, God’s people who are hurting, feeling lonely and abandoned.

Many would love to enter the stadium but can’t get through the protesters outside blocking entrances and hurling epithets. Cardinal Nichols offers his ministry as an usher willing to deliver some one from the outside to a place of some type inside the stadium of God’s love. That is what I hope I can do as well.

+RNL

ps. I now have the benefit, thanks to the mother of all ecclesial blogs, of reading the entire pastoral letter of Cardinal Nichols and I think it is worth your time so you can access it by clicking here. My blog was written based on parts reported by Catholic News Service to which I am also grateful. I think with this third in a series, it is time for me to move on to other topics, for the moment.

 

 

VIEW FROM THE LOCKER ROOM

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

A week ago in this space, I blogged about my reaction to the interim report of the Extraordinary Synod which had been working for a week in Rome. That blog, in case, you have not read it is available and entitled “The View from the Sidelines.” As you can tell, I enthusiastically welcomed the discussions which were taking place, the style and substance of the meeting format, and the marked changes in tone which were captured in that interim report. Now that the exercise is finished, at least for the moment, I want to take you inside the locker room and share with you what I consider the post-game highlights. Fortunately you and I can read the coach’s assessment (in this case, Pope Francis) and then continue to ponder the amazing two weeks. I remain as enthusiastic about the conclusion of the exercise as I was at half-time.

There clearly were two teams on the field for this encounter which I would characterize as Team A and Team B. Team A was enthralled by and anxious to play for and with Pope Francis primarily in helping the Church of the future seek out and return the “lost sheep.” Their game plan was aggressive, embracing and encompassing the lived experiences of the people from whom they came, and desirous of opening up a possible new  game plan for the Church they love and serve.

Team B was also made up of those who love the Church but wish to play a more cautious game plan, conceding as little precious yardage as possible and defensively holding the line against what they viewed as an aggressive offense pulled together by Team A. The difference that I saw during “play” and after the “game” was that Team B said they seemed not to understand clearly enough the coach’s (read that the Pope’s) game plan so they chose to play it “safe” or cautiously.

Just about two-thirds of those engaged in the Synod were on Team A and perhaps Team B felt so outnumbered that they saw a need to engage certain sectors of the media to help them play the game. How do I know this? Take a look at the votes on the three contentious issues (gay and lesbian Catholics, the divorced and remarried, and engaged couples living together) and you will find a majority in favor of stronger engagement in issues relating to these groups but short, and in one case only by the Holy See’s version of Florida’s “hanging chads”) enough to keep the majority from getting the two-thirds necessary to include an even more pastoral solution into the “game plan.” On those three issues, for the moment, Team B’s strategy won the day, but for how long?

The long final message is a very respectable and responsible work product and it should been seen as provisional, just like the previous week’s summary of what was seen and heard in the Synod Hall was provisional. I personally very much appreciated the Synod’s strong affirmation of married life and its words of comfort and support to married couples and I think the over-reaction of everyone, perhaps even myself, could have drowned out the support for marriage and those who are engaged in it which happily is in the final document.

Now “the game plan” goes to teams (aka (arch) dioceses) throughout the world for reflection, prayer, and possible revision prior to “the Super Bowl” on marriage and family life which begins in Rome on October 4th, 2015. If those who will be attending the next Synod are listening to the voice of the Church throughout the world, the final report next year will look an awful lot like the playbook for Team A. I know for certain that my diocese wants to see some form of relief to those who have divorced and remarried and that would be true of priests, deacons, religious sisters and laity. They and I want the principal of the indissolubility of marriage to be retained and upheld, but there are ways in which the Church can reach out to great people who erred in their first choice of spouse and now find themselves in a loving, caring, mutually trusting and  giving relationship.

I also know for certain that this local Church wants to see us welcome members of the Gay and Lesbian community. I cannot, we cannot promise them that we will ever be likely to recognize the nature of their unions as sacramental but if they are willing to accept that reality, then they can be full participants in the life of the Church. I know that many of my pastors have shared with me that Gay and Lesbian parents who have adopted children are wonderful, loving and caring parents and neither my people and my priests nor the laity wish to see the children punished by being denied baptism or the sacraments or being excluded from Catholic schools and religious formation programs because they have two daddies or two mommies.

I also know many parents who, while feeling some pain that their sons and daughters are “living together” with someone likely some day to be their spouse, understand they those same children now find it absolutely financially necessary to live together just to stay alive in the work place.

After the game was over last Saturday night, the Coach addressed both Team A and Team B in a post-game evaluation or “pep talk.” He criticized the more extreme offences and defenses of both teams and asked that in charity they sharpen their game plan for the Super Bowl next year. He chose not to hide the different strategies and statistics by publishing the whole Synod report and the votes for each part, including the three which were rejected by not achieving the two-thirds vote necessary. He said that he felt that at times some of the “players” seemed to be calling plays in desperation and desirous of winning at any cost which the Pope then said should not be a worry because he who occupies the see of St. Peter will listen to all and then decide for the best of the Church. What he was actually conceding, I think, is that certain of his players played as if they had little to no confidence in the coach. He used the very same words which I used in my blog on the interim report about walking sub Petro and cum Petro.

Finally, it was a great start to the “marriage and family life season”. There was a new openness in the Church and transparency has never been more apparent. That the neuralgic issues which I outlined above were even spoken of in public marks a new day for a Church which until now has thought that the best form of governance is secret governance. A retired archbishop friend of mine whom I respect very much said to me prior to the opening of the Synod that the “Church would cross the Rubicon at this extraordinary synod.” I think he was right. I think Blessed Pope Paul VI who envisioned synods as a manner of governance at the service of both Pope and universal Church must have been smiling from his place in heaven. It was collegiality exercised in its most pristine form and the resulting statement going forth guarantees that the next time the teams gather to play again, they will have had more time to pray, ponder and reflect on the Church in the modern day.

I have employed the image of the concluded Extraordinary Synod in “football” language because I think more readers can understand what was really at play the last two weeks. But I do not consider the Synod to be a game at all, but an opportunity for the Spirit to guide and direct the Church under the watchful eye and mind of our chief shepherd, the Pope, for a more effective spread of the Gospel in our day. Next October, you and I dear reader, will not be watching from the sidelines or the locker room, but we will be playing and praying for the Spirit of Pentecost to come upon our Church.

+RNL

WHAT THE PEOPLE OF GOD SAID

Friday, February 7th, 2014

2014_Vatican_Survey_Results_blogAt the beginning of December, I announced in these pages and in a letter sent to all of our parishes and missions that our diocese would welcome any input from the faithful as they might wish to the questions sent by the Holy See at the request of Pope Francis on marriage and family life in our day.

Over 6,800 people responded, taking time to fill out the survey, often taking significant additional time to add comments to the online version or by filling out the survey on paper and submitting it (written submissions were subsequently entered into the online survey). What Gallup, Pew or the other polling companies would give for nearly 7,000 participants in what was basically an opinion poll!

The timeline was short, too short, but all the responses were received, reviewed by members of the Diocesan Pastoral Council, results shared with the Presbyteral Council and then in mid-January forwarded by me to the appropriate office in Rome which is planning for the two synods which will discuss marriage and family life in our day in October of this year and October of 2015.

At the time, I promised to share the responses with all who took the time to respond. That is what I will attempt to do here, though in something of “shorthand” since the print-out of everything exceeded 3,000 printed pages. Therefore, what is impossible to share in a medium such as this is all of the “free-form” comments which I would characterize as serious, lacking in polemics, sincere, and reflecting little of the polarity which exists in the Church today. I am very proud of what was said, how it was said and who said it.

Before you start looking at the numbers, there are several things which you need to keep in mind. The survey responses generally reflect the “choir,” those people who faithfully attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation, if not daily. They do not represent the feelings of those who have fallen away from the practice of their faith, are angry or frustrated or feel alienated by the Church. How I wish I could have heard from them as well, but given the short time line mandated by the Holy See for input, the only vehicle for informing God’s people of the survey was through those in church or some others who take the time to read this blog, the diocesan Facebook or Twitter, or our diocesan website.

Having said that, I think the thoughts of those who no longer practice their Catholic faith – particularly those concerning our pastoral practice on marriage – were well-represented by the people who did respond. Overall, the Church which I am privileged to lead has some real concerns about precisely the matters which the Holy Father wished tested. Our overall score as institutional Church calls for something of an overhaul of our “common core teachings” (couldn’t resist – sorry!).

Also, please keep in mind that we had to take the sometimes very foreign language of the incoming survey and translate it best as we could into words, terminology and concepts which educated American Catholics could understand. I would give our instrument a B+ or an A- in clarity. Please also note that the overwhelming majority of respondents are older-generation Catholics, most of whom are married and are regular church-goers. Young singles and married couples numerically are not as well-represented.

If you wish to see the statistical results from the survey in the diocese, simply click here.

Summarizing the free-form comments and responses was a more challenging exercise but I think I can do them justice with the following comments:

1. There was very strong support for the notion that marriage (which I believe they understood as sacramental marriage) is between one man and one woman.

2. Having said that, it was also clear that the respondents felt that the Church needed to be better prepared to respond to the reality of same-sex marriage.  In addition, many respondents felt that the people involved in such relationships believe that the Church has turned its back on them.

3. The respondents generally tended to suggest that the Church needed to be kinder and gentler to those who identify themselves as gay and lesbian, be less judgmental and more welcoming.

4. Very clearly stated was the opinion that an adopted child of same-sex parents should be treated in the Church exactly the same as a child born of a traditional marriage between a man and a woman.

5. The respondents felt very strongly that something needs to be done to reconcile and welcome back the divorced and remarried beyond the present annulment process, about which there seems to be confusion. The mistaken notions that an annulment renders children of the first marriage illegitimate and that simply being divorced excludes one from the sacramental life of the Church indicates that as a local Church we need to do something soon to educate our people better on these two points.

6. The media takes a hammering in the survey results, largely because it is seen as the force majeure for challenging traditional concepts about marriage and family life. They render alternate lifestyles legitimate in the eyes of our respondents and perhaps are so strong that they will effectively negate anything done to support traditional notions of marriage and family life.

7. The respondents strongly said that the Church needs “to wake up and smell the coffee” on cohabitation. It is commonplace and there are some reasons for it which can not be summarily dismissed, such as economic realities.

8. Finally, on the matter of artificial contraception the responses might be characterized by the saying, “that train left the station long ago”. Catholics have made up their minds and the sensus fidelium suggests the rejection of Church teaching on this subject.

So, a natural question is “What next?” The survey results raised issues that can only be resolved by the universal church and ultimately by the Holy Father himself. I gather from what I read that our results are not markedly different from those being reported elsewhere around the world. I hope that the effort to canvas the thoughts of the People of God in this diocese, which was unique in Florida, will be helpful to those who will soon gather in synod with the Holy Father.

But there are pastoral results from the survey which we can attend to and I hope we will. I have made it known that I will not tolerate any discrimination or anything which smacks of the punitive to children of same-sex couples. I think all representatives of the Church’s many ministries can be kinder, gentler, more welcoming and less judgmental of those who find our praxis and preaching on marriage and family life to be at odds with their experiences. We need to address clearly that divorce itself is not something which bans a person from reception of the sacraments and that annulments do not illegitimize children born of previous marriages. Working with our diocesan Marriage and Family Life Office and with our priests and deacons, we can either begin or strengthen the process of healing for many in the Church.

Finally, if the “choir” is singing this anthem, imagine what we might have heard had we had the time and access to those alienated, fallen-away, hurt or frustrated. Pope Francis’ call to hightail it to the trenches, to the difficult and smelly parts of the people of God to bring the love and hope of Jesus Christ is not only a call to serve the economically impoverished but the spiritually impoverished, so often of our own making. God bless you and our efforts.

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ACT IN DEFENSE OF MARRIAGE

Monday, July 8th, 2013

Ask almost any of my pastors what we really need in defense of marriage these days in the Church and they would almost certainly settle on a number of matters which have little to nothing to do with last week’s Supreme Court decision. Marriage, as a sacred moment in the Church when a man and a woman vow their love and fidelity to one another, has been in a big-time slide for a number of years. Last year in our ten year report to the Holy See, we noted that the number of marriages has dropped in the eleven years from 2000 to 2011 by 54%. Read the wedding notices almost any given Sunday and you will see at least two announcements where it it noted that either the bride or the groom was a graduate of such and such Catholic High School and the wedding was performed on the beach or at Disney. Marriage as a sacrament, like Reconciliation as a Sacrament,  is in danger of becoming extinct and it has nothing to do with governmental laws and everything to do with culture, Church laws and regulations, and the “times.”

Now I could wring my hands and say, “it’s not our fault” but it is our fault, at least partially. The times have changed but we have not. Let me take each of those three categories from the last sentence in the first paragraph and ruminate for a while about them.

First, our secular culture has slowly but certainly rendered obsolete almost any notion of permanence  in many aspects of our lives. People buy things they can not afford knowing that if they are wily enough, they can, will and will likely get away with not paying for them. The bankruptcy mentality has gained strength in many minds suggesting that merely signing a promissory note is no longer a promise but perhaps at best a hope. Transfer that to marriage and in one way or another it turns out that, “well, we will try it but if it does not work, there is always the opportunity for divorce and then after a while, remarriage.” The notion of permanent commitments has in many cases gone the way of the dodo bird – it’s nearly extinct. Young couples live together for long times before even thinking of tying the knot. Therefore, our increasingly secular culture says, “who needs marriage anyway?” Ah, but if one or the other of the couples are Catholic, they have heard that in the Catholic Church, there is little to no tomorrow in many instances for a second marriage attempt, so why attempt it? With so many social problems having their root in the dissolution of marriages and the irrresponsibilities of one or more of the parties to their offspring, I think the Church’s position on indissolubility is a good one, with some fine tuning which I will address later. So culture is heading one way with marriage and the Church is steadfastly holding firm to a very traditional definition of marriage. What’s new with that?

That then brings me to Church laws, rules and regulations. A decade ago at least when the Presbyteral Council of the diocese was discussing marriages and its diminution, a wise pastor conjectured that the Saturday Vigil Mass was an enemy of Catholic sacramental marriage. By that he meant those parishes which scheduled a Saturday Vigil Mass for four o’clock probably only left one time slot each week-end for someone to schedule a marriage, thus making it harder to find a place on the date one hoped for. There is also the matter of cost. Most of my parishes charge for weddings – some charge a lot. Some reduce the amount if one of those being married is a registered parishioner (read that as a regular contributor in the Sunday offertory) and one or two parishes waive any fee if the family of the bride or groom tithes. I have sympathy for the request of parishes because of the outrageous sums of money people spend on weddings these days and why should the Church not share since in faith it is the single most important moment of the event, eclipsing the reception, the limo, the rehearsal dinner, the flowers, etc. etc. etc. True, but what if a couple is truly trying to minimize expenses and make that moment consistent financially with the way they have lived or live their lives financially? Do they get cut a break? Can what we ask ever be a disincentive? No one objects to a fee for the organist or soloist because they are options.

Now about annulments! If one’s Catholic faith and its practice is important enough, does the difficulty of proving something really never met the requirements of marriage at the time of the marriage act as a disincentive? Then, the Catholic Church requires couples getting married in the Church to attend pre-marital programs. What? Why? In the end, my rhetorical question is simply this: do we make it harder for a couple to choose to be married  in the Church sacramentally? To this last I would simply add that, while I do not witness a lot of marriages in my life as priest and bishop, I have never had a couple tell me that this requirement was a waste of time.

Now finally, we are down to “the times, they are a-changin.” I wish the whole Church in the U.S. would give more attention to saving what is left of sacramental marriage. Father Peter Daly, a priest whom I admire who is a very successful pastor in the Washington archdiocese and an attorney prior to seminary and ordination wrote a very succinct and, I thought, quite accurate article published recently in the National Catholic Reporter suggesting that we may have already as Church lost this sacrament to the times. I encourage you to read it by clicking here. It may well happen that marriage will have a civil reality and a sacramental possibility. Remember that not that long ago in some countries a baptismal certificate was sufficient for citizenship but now almost the whole world requires a “birth certificate” for proof of birth and nationality. It could happen that many future young Catholics will just get a marriage license and be married civilly or by someone else, somewhere else other than in a Church. But, if they wish the grace of the sacrament they would then come to the Church for the sacrament. That already happens in some countries. My question in this admittedly long reflection is, will we as Church be ready to welcome them?

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TOGETHER FOR LIFE

Monday, February 13th, 2012

358 couples gathered to celebrate twenty-five, fifty, or more years of marriage during the Wedding Jubilee Mass at Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle. Photo courtesy of Maria Mertens.

If the Bible is the all time best selling book year after year in the publishing business, I would be willing to wager that the tiny booklet entitled TOGETHER FOR LIFE, written years ago by Syracuse diocesan priest, Monsignor Joseph Champlin is the best seller among Catholics. Used by practically every engaged couple preparing for marriage, this compendium of the possible readings one might choose to be proclaimed at ones’ wedding, the choices of prayers, prefaces, nuptial blessings (a few of which are very sexist) and prayers over the couples allow those approaching the sacrament to plan almost every last detail of their liturgical ceremony with greater ease I often say than planning the reception, the honeymoon, the rehearsal dinner, etc.

Barbara and Bob Owens, from St. Ignatius of Antioch parish, renewing their vows. They are celebrating 25 years of marriage. Photo courtesy of Maria Mertens.

On Sunday in our Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle, about 358 couples from 60 of our parishes came to celebrate twenty-five and fifty or more years of marriage – truly together for life. There was an abundance of joy in that Church on Sunday for what was basically a simple Sunday Liturgy with a renewal of marriage vows thrown in for good measure. All total there were some 17, 793 years of successful married life there staring each other in the face, looking at one another and holding right hands, repeating the words of many years ago.

Greeting John and Mary Kampschroer, from St. Thomas Aquinas parish, celebrating 71 years of marriage. Photo courtesy of Maria Mertens.

Two couples were celebrating special milestones:  one their seventy-first anniversary and the second their seventy-second anniversary. John and Mary Kampschroer,     originally from Wisconsin and from our St. Thomas Aquinas parish in New Port Richey, were present for their 71st anniversary. Normally, that would have taken the proverbial “cake” and they would have walked off with first prize.

However, Toan and Chai Nguyen, a Vietnamese couple who could speak no English, dressed in traditional Vietnamese clothes, have been married 72 years, tying the knot in their native Vietnam on November 11, 1940. Their marriage brought 12 children into the world who have given them 54 grandchildren, who have given them 57 great-grandchildren. They are from our St. Thomas the Apostle parish in Homasassa. Together for life and not in the most easy of circumstances either.

Greeting Toan and Chai Nguyen, parishioners at St. Thomas the Apostle, who have been married for 72 years. Photo courtesy of Maria Mertens.

The Gospel today spoke of the incredible power of “touch” when Jesus touched the leper and healed him even though to do so was against the law and anyone caught doing it was immediately considered unclean themselves. I reminded our jubilarians how important that gift of touch most likely was in their married lives and how it too healed at extremely difficult moments. An embrace when a child dies, a kiss to end a brief spat, a hug when one has been aware for days and returns to their spouse. Then I asked them to once again touch one another’s hands and “repeat after me.”

Marriage Jubilee Sunday and the Church’s World Day for Married Couples are among my most pleasant annual duties. It took about as long to stand for pictures following the Mass as did the liturgy before it, but the gratitude of the couples always makes me realize just how much the gift of presence and touch can mean. To each I spoke a “Happy Anniversary” followed by the photographer’s equally automatic, “look this way and smile please.” Together for Life – how sweet it must be!

The number of couples who attended:

59 couples celebrating their twenty-fifth anniversary

133 couples celebrating their fiftieth anniversary

88 couples celebrating their 51st through 59th anniversary

76 couples celebrating their 61st through 69th anniversary

1 couple celebrating their 71st anniversary

1 couple celebrating their 72nd anniversary

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ROUNDING THE SACRAMENTAL BASES

Monday, June 6th, 2011

Monsignor Aidan Foynes, Ordained June 4, 1961 on the occasion of his fiftieth anniversary of ordination. Photo courtesy of Brandon and Michelle Horn

This past week-end was quite an exercise in sacramental theology as well as one of strength and stamina. It must be something akin to hitting a home run and then having to run and touch the four bases. On Saturday I began with a large confirmation at St. Paul’s parish in Carrollwood, Tampa. 197 young women and men presented themselves for the sacrament which for me translates into about two hours of energy to be expended. They were a wonderful class, well prepared and very serious. I was constantly conscious of the fact that about two hundred of their family and friends were unable to find seats and would be standing throughout the Mass. About two-thirds of the way through the confirmation rite itself, a first occurred. A young man after I had confirmed him and spoken briefly to him asked, “May I give you a hug?” Before I could answer he had enveloped me in a big hug and said “thanks” and then departed. I looked at the pastor, Father Len Piotrowski, who said to me “that was not in the script!” Before long it became the thing to do, with about another fifteen men and women leaving me with a big hug. I could only think “how long would we be here if all 197 did the same?” We would likely still be there on Monday.

Brian and Kelsey Christian with Brian's uncle Fr. Jim Johnson

Saturday evening at the Cathedral I celebrated the Mass and preached at a nuptial Mass for one of my long time servers at St. Jude’s during his High School and College days, Brian Christian and his new wife Kelsey. Brian’s uncle is Father Jim Johnson, the pastor of Our Lady of Fatima parish in Inverness and Director of Good Counsel Camp. He actually performed the marriage ceremony. It was in many ways a simple wedding and a simple reception. As I have mentioned here in prior posts, it is a good thing that I do not do many weddings as I am very rusty and could easily skip a major part, like the Nuptial Blessing if not careful or with assistance. I was honored to have been invited to participate in an event which focused mainly on the marriage moment and not so much on the reception which would follow.

On Sunday morning I began by visiting one of our pastors, Father George Rozycki of St. Joseph’s parish in Zephyrhills, who is in Tampa General for tests and exploratory procedures. Please keep Father George in your prayers as at this moment his situation seems ominous. Those of you who know Tampa General know that it is possible to get lost easily and walk miles from car to bedside. It took me twice as long to find Father George and return to my car as the thirty minutes I was able to spend with him.

From the bedside of a pastor to a celebration of fifty years of priestly ministry, I then drove yesterday morning to St. Cecilia parish in Clearwater where the parish, family and friends celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of ordination of Monsignor Aidan Foynes, its retired pastor and a wonderful priest of this diocese. Monsignor preached and I sat entranced and entralled by his words. I mentioned to the gathered that bishops do not often get a chance to hear their priests preach because when we are present we seem to trump them and are always called upon to preach. What a pity because Monsignor Foynes with a wonderful combination of Irish wit and deep insight into the mystery of priesthood almost brought me to tears at moments and to laughter at others. The love in the Church for this gentle servant of the Gospel was palpable. So the third base sacrament this week-end was a renewed sense of gratitude for Holy Orders.

But there was one more to come as I rounded third and headed to St. Mark’s parish in New Tampa for yet another confirmation, this time with 97 candidates and thankfully no hugs. The ceremony was beautiful, the Church was packed, the music great and the young women and men serious and well prepared. I came home exhausted, climbed into bed and thanked God for the home run opportunity He gave me this week-end to celebrate four sacraments of the Church.

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TRAINING

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

Two years ago I took AMTRAK back to Tampa from the Fall General Meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and during that trip I wrote my first entry on my new blog site. You know the rest of the story. Well, this evening I am on the “SILVER METEOR” which is neither silver nor meteoric in its speed. As a matter of fact, we are this moment stopped at the station serving Richmond, Virginia. But it is a very restful way to ease back into diocesan life and gives me ample opportunity to reflect on the week that was.

Our agenda this week was light and there were no good arguments which serve to liven up the long sessions of presentations and listening. My vote for the new President of the Conference was in vain as my Vice-Presidential preference leap-frogged my Presidential preference.

Tonight, however, my mind seems intent on focusing on whether or not we did anything helpful for the priests, deacons, religious and faithful of the St. Petersburg diocese and my instinct says not really. We seem, to my mind, these days to spend a lot of time “navel-gazing” – talking about budgets and assessments, etc., at least in the public sessions. The Executive Sessions did address issues of greater concern to pastoral ministry but I respect the confidential nature of those discussions.

I have been thinking a lot about the number of people who are leaving the Church and the possible reasons for this. I am thinking about the sacrament of marriage which is under challenge from several directions such as its very definition which we do talk about but today there were results announced of a recent Pew Research Study which found that 39% of adults surveyed said that “marriage is becoming obsolete,” that couples that do get married do so later in life (28.6 for men and 26.1 for women) and therefore, no surprise 44% of adults lived together before marriage among whom 64% said they considered it a step towards marriage. While we have expressed strong support for the definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman, I don’t think we have ever pastorally addressed what every priest in my diocese knows, couples are not coming to the Church to get married in significant numbers or at least the same numbers.

Then I think about my task of being a leader to my priests. There is theologically one priesthood in the Diocese of St. Petersburg but there are at least three different categories of priests: those sixty and above who see the end in sight, those forty-five through sixty who sometimes dread the way in which they see the priesthood and Church in the U.S. going, and the younger priests filled with enthusiasm who seem to say that we are not adapting quickly enough to what is needed, sometimes what was a part and parcel of the past but which fell into some disuse following the Second Vatican Council which for them is largely a historical moment as Trent is for me.

Then there are the youth. I had lunch with two young students of Loyola Baltimore during my stay this week and their love for their faith and the amount of time they give to sharing it with their peers is just this side of incredible – a sign of hope in an ocean of disconnect for many their age.

These are some of the pastoral challenges which it would help for me to spend time on and perhaps at some moment they will be resolved. Until then I can only listen and lead. Arriving in Petersburg, Virginia, the porter wants to put my bed down for me (so he can go to bed himself I suspect for a precious few hours). It’s a cold night in southern Virginia but tomorrow morning I will wake up in Florida warmth and so will my hope and love for the Church.

All Aboard!

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