Posts Tagged ‘Pope Francis’

PROUD TO BE A CATHOLIC

Thursday, September 24th, 2015

It would take an extreme form of callousness not to have been proud of being a Catholic the last two days and the pride should continue to swell in our hearts and minds for three more days as Pope Francis continues his missionary journey to the United States. He speaks a message of love, mercy, and forgiveness and challenges all of us, myself included, to love God more dearly and our neighbor more nearly as the famous refrain from Godspell recalls. I was moved to tears by his speech to the joint session of Congress. It was masterful in construction and amazing in delivery. It was courageous of Speaker Boehner to invite the Holy Father and courageous of the pope to respond in English.

At both the White House and today at the Capitol, the Holy Father chose to raise our eyes up and beyond the current divisive debates which mark our political landscape to embrace fundamental American concepts which in the past have served us so well: religious freedom and liberty, respect for all human life from conception to natural death, welcome once again the stranger, live the Golden Rule, protect mother earth, end the death penalty.

In speaking to the U.S. bishops, we were exhorted to put aside narcissism and petty differences so as to act even more boldly on proclaiming the ministry of mercy of Jesus to the world. Using that marvelous metaphor of the Easter/Pentecost fire and applying it to a Church gathered around the family fireplace, he told we bishops that it is high time to stop being so exclusionist and more welcoming of the new family reality by letting each member stand around the fire with us regardless of their starting point.

Lifting up four Americans, two of them not Catholic (Abraham Lincoln and Dr. Martin Luther King) and two of them not so well known Catholics (Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton) he invited all in our country to continue to dream of a just society, an equal society, a kind and compassionate society, and a society bent on peace and the end to warfare, weaponry, etc. You may not know but certainly the Holy Father knew that as a young woman, Dorothy Day had a procured abortion but the mercy of God brought her back to stand around the fire and enlarge it with an outreach to the homeless and desperate of society.

The spin doctors of the media were at work to a certain degree, but a lot of what they were thinking (and perhaps some even hoping for), namely contentiousness between the Holy Father and the President and the Holy Father and a bitterly divided Congress just did not materialize. Gently but firmly Pope Francis spoke the language of Church teaching without offending most. I would be grateful if we bishops would be capable of doing the same.

There is Friday’s speech to the family of nations yet to be delivered and several major talks to be given at the World Meeting on the Family but it would be hard to imagine a conclusion to this missionary journey that will be as thought-provoking as these last two days in the nation’s capitol.

By the way, our seminarians were present in Washington today. I wanted them to experience the man whose name some of them will soon be using as they offer the Eucharistic sacrifice. Francis is the pope of the people and clearly even in secular leaning America, the people love this pope. I love this pope – more than any other in my lifetime and I shall spend my remaining months doing what I can to bring more people to stand around the family fire.

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THE BARQUE OF PETER ARRIVES ON THE SHORES OF THE U.S.

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2015

Pope Francis is now only hours from arriving at Andrews Air Force base in Washington having completed his journey of hope to the island nation of Cuba. Having three times stood on the ground awaiting the arrival of now St. John Paul II, I can imagine the feelings of those who have worked so hard to prepare for this moment.

The women and men of the United States Secret Service, many of whom are Catholic, are filled with professional anxiety for the Holy Father’s safety. They know they shall never protect anyone again in their lives before crowds of people desperate to see the Pope. No elected official draws such a vast crowd ever (though they wish they could), no other head of state, even the Queen of England, would see so many people.

Those who have worked so diligently and hard preparing to host the Pope also want everything to go well. Representatives of the U.S. government, the Bishops’ conference, the Archdioceses of Washington, New York and Philadelphia, the United Nations are now just hours from their one moment to test all they had planned with a man who is notorious for going off script and schedule. They want and we pray that all goes well.

The media have sought credentialing in incredible numbers to cover the papal visit. About one hundred international, Vatican-credentialed media will accompany the Pope on the plane from Cuba and will return with him to Rome on Sunday. But when they step off the plane at Andrews Air Force base, they morph into the larger pool of media swarming on Washington, New York and Philadelphia.

Some just can’t stand good news and Gospel hope and love so the negative spins have begun. Don’t listen to them, dear reader, listen to the Pope and carefully read and ponder what he has to say. Agendas abound for this visit but there is only one which  really matters and that belongs to the Successor of St. Peter, Francis. His is a message of “yes” and not “no”. His is a message of God’s love for every human being and not just those who feel they have made it. His is a message of mercy, not punishment. His is a message of sharing not hoarding. His is a message of inclusion, not exclusion. His is a message of joy in the Gospel, not burdens. His is a message of relief, not bondage.  Listen to him – this immigrant to our shores, as he opens the vision of Jesus to all humankind. Don’t let the “spin-doctors” spoil the moment – one of the greatest for Catholicism in my lifetime.

Finally, tell yourself throughout the next five and a half days that he is speaking to you, to me as a bishop who I am sure I will hear an earful, to a nation that values its religious pluralism but also stands “Under God.” He speaks as a priest who for all of his priesthood until March 2013 served a poor nation, governed by despotic anarchists who disvalued human life and squandered what profit their office brought them on protecting an economic order of very rich and very poor only. He believes that God seeks for all people equal opportunity, a life of freedom from tyranny, sufficient economic activity to allow all God’s children to live fruitfully and a future for the earth, which is currently at grave risk due to unfettered capitalism.

The barque of Peter has arrived on our shores and its faithful navigator, Pope Francis, wishes us to study the winds of change, which will lead to a better life with God and with one another than what we now have.

Fasten your seatbelt, as we are sure to encounter predicted turbulence.

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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.

 

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YESTERDAY, TODAY AND TOMORROW

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015

*NOTE added 6/1/16: This blog post is available in Spanish by clicking here.*

There are so many topics which I would like to share with you and it seems so seldom that I can find the time and the energy to sit, reflect, pray and then write. I cannot remember five months which have been as busy for me as the time since Christmas. I am still hoping to address topics like the beatification of Archbishop Oscar Romero a couple of weeks ago as well as the constitutional referendum in Ireland dealing with the definition of marriage. In both instances a clear and sound mind are called for before putting “pen to paper”, or whatever.

For the moment, however, and largely as a result of the article which appeared in the TAMPA TRIBUNE recently I would like to share with you an outline of the process which will be used in selecting a new bishop for this wonderful local church we call “The Diocese of St. Petersburg.”

Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano. Photo courtesy of the Apostolic Nunciature.

Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano. Photo courtesy of the Apostolic Nunciature.

On May 27, 2016, my seventy-fifth birthday, I will forward a letter to the Holy Father asking to retire as bishop of St. Petersburg after having reached the mandatory “age limit” for bishops. I can also submit it earlier than that if there is a good reason, such as my health, energy, and/or the needs of the diocese being greater than my ability to meet them. That letter is sent to the Holy Father’s representative in the United States, currently Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, our Apostolic Nuncio. He forwards the letter to the Congregation of Bishops in Rome who will then decide how it is to be handled: (a) it can be accepted immediately but I will be told to remain in office until my successor is installed; (b) it can be accepted immediately but an Apostolic Administrator (another bishop of another diocese) can be appointed to administer the diocese until a successor is chosen; (c) it can be accepted immediately but the College of Consultors of the Diocese (seven pastors) can be asked to choose an Administrator who would then serve with slightly restricted powers until a successor is installed.

Regardless, a long and thorough process of consultation will begin led by the Apostolic Nuncio in Washington. Currently most all the cardinals in the United States will be asked what they know about the diocese and its needs for a new bishop; similarly many of the U.S. archbishops though mostly of the region are queried; and special attention will be given to the Archbishop of Miami and to my brother bishops throughout the state (called a “province” in ecclesiastical language).

With the "major players" at the 2015 Catholic Days at the Capitol. Photo kindness of Steve Madden and the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops.

With the “major players” at the 2015 Catholic Days at the Capitol. Photo kindness of Steve Madden and the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Letters are generally also sent to some members of the College of Consultors, the Presbyteral Council leadership, some members chosen from the Diocesan Pastoral and Finance Councils and then others who may know about the diocese, for example the Rectors of our seminaries. All are given an opportunity to suggest names and if the experience is still about the same as it was when I was more intimately involved in the process, there will be about as many names submitted during this first phase as letters mailed.

In due time, the papal Nuncio “works” the feedback he has received and begins to focus on three possible candidates who seem to “fit the bill” meeting the needs of this diocese. Will I be asked, many people query me and my answer is “probably in the first round of inquiry but certainly not later in the process” and, quite frankly, my influence will be no more weighted than that of others canvassed. This system works well when it is left to the good process for vetting candidates and defining needs and the responsibility is taken very seriously by the Apostolic Nuncio.

Cardinal Oullet at the 2013 Rector's Dinner at the Pontifical North American College (PNAC) in Rome. Photo courtesy of the PNAC Photo service.

Cardinal Marc Oullet at the 2013 Rector’s Dinner at the Pontifical North American College (PNAC) in Rome. Photo courtesy of the PNAC Photo service.

When he has his three names, the papal nuncio will then send the files with everything he has received to the Congregation for Bishops in Rome and it leaves both his hands and the United States for further scrutiny and ultimately presentation to the Holy Father. The Congregation for Bishops consists mostly of cardinals residing in Rome but it was other members as well. They meet every other Thursday from the first Thursday in October to the last Thursday in June (not dissimilar to the United States Supreme Court). When the Congregation has all the files in order and translation into Italian of the input if called for, the matter is given to a cardinal member of the Congregation who is called the “ponens” which is Latin for “postulator” who presents the names received to the full Congregation. The papal nuncio to the United States will have sent the files with a recommendation for first, second, and third choice among the names. The cardinal “ponens” can do the same and recommend his order of candidates, often guided by discussion from the Congregation’s staff and prefect (“chairman” in our language), currently Cardinal Marc Ouellet. After whatever discussion the members of the Congregation wish to give to the selection a vote is taken, and generally the candidate receiving the most votes is the name which is taken to the Holy Father.

The congregation also has an opportunity to signal its pleasure or displeasure with candidates number two and three but that is a process I choose not to go into here.

Finally, usually the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation of Bishops sees the Holy Father sometime on the Saturday following the previous Thursday meeting of the congregation with the file(s) and the advice of the Nuncio and the Congregation. If the diocese is relatively small and seemingly inconsequential (sorry but we would fit in that category), the Pope as any CEO of very large multi-national organization, would accept the proposed name presented to him. If the vacancy is for a place like Chicago or Washington or New York, then the Holy Father might ask for more time to consult, read and reflect, pray and propose.

By Monday, usually, of the following week the Congregation has contacted the Apostolic Nuncio and asked him to gain the acceptance of the person chosen and a public announcement follows usually no less than a week after that.

Now let me close this with some FAQ’s ( “frequently asked questions”)

  1. Will I, Bishop Lynch, know who is being proposed or likely to succeed? No.
  2. Would I like to know? No.
  3. Will anyone in St. Petersburg know who is in the running? No.
  4. Will there be public updates once the process begins? No.
  5. Will anyone in the media or on the blog-o-sphere know for sure who it is going to be? No
  6. Will it “leak” in Rome after the Congregation and before the Pope decides? No
  7. Will it “leak” in Rome or Washington prior to the formal announcement? No
  8. Will it “leak” in the diocese prior public announcement? I hope not.
  9. Will there be rumors? Highly likely. Should they be taken as “Gospel”? No

Though it is becoming increasingly more difficult for me as I age, I will maintain the same Confirmation schedule for 2015/16 as this past year (approximately thirty-five), I will preside and preach at ten penance services throughout the five counties during Lent 2016 (there will be no “The Light is On for You” in Lent 2016) which will be part of our diocesan observance of Pope Francis’ call for a “Holy Year of Mercy”, and then there will be the usual requests for 25th and 50th anniversaries of priests and parishes plus participating in as many moments throughout the diocese that my health will allow. We will have already scheduled several special events during 2015-2016 including a special convocation of all our priests on assignment in the diocese, an observance of the 50th anniversary of the documents of the Second Vatican Council on Religious Life (“Perfectae Caritatis”) and Catholic-Jewish relations (“Nostrae Aetate”). Then there are always the funerals, etc.

I hope to serve through to my birthday next May and as long thereafter as it takes to find a successor, but I pray that the diocese can receive new life and new energy as soon as possible. I am already praying for my successor and will ask you to do the same as the time approaches.

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FORTY DAYS OF GRAY

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

I bet at least I have your attention!

Some people look at and others believe that Lent is nothing less than forty days of penance, prayer, retreat into one’s own spiritual life to sift out all the accumulated weeds of the past year. Sackcloth and ashes or its modern day equivalents are the marks of the “darkest season” of the Church’s year. Baloney I say. Lent is also a period of great light, not just introspective light but ecclesial light as well.

True that Lent begins with ashes and a call to repentance. We need to hear that and we need to practice penance from time to time. Many have begun some form of personal sacrifice. I have given up fast food for Lent but have unleashed within my own office, which contains one theologian, whether or not Steak and Shake is fast food! (Steak and Shake says “no.” but I still stay away from them). But did not Jesus in the Gospel on Good Friday suggest that we should not put on the appearance of remorse and sacrifice? Vestments changed to violet. The “alleluia” bade us farewell for a brief period of time. We need some reminders of these forty days but there is also a lot to rejoice in as well.

Lent was no longer than four days when about 950 catechumens and candidates arrived at the Cathedral for the Rite of Election.

During the 1:30 p.m. Rite of Election. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

During the 1:30 p.m. Rite of Election. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

I wish the whole diocesan Church could be present for that simple moment in a person’s journey to baptism and full communion. They would have crawled to the Cathedral and simple gestures like a handshake and brief words of welcome were greeted by the broadest of smiles and words and gestures of thanks.

During the 4:00 p.m. Rite of Election. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

During the 4:00 p.m. Rite of Election. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

It is always a “wow” moment, for myself as bishop, for my pastors and priests who accompanied the candidates and catechumens to the Rite ceremony and to their sponsors, spouses, parents and others who accompanied them. So little brings such happiness to so many. You are an awesome God! And we are a great Church! You can see more photos by clicking here.

On Thursday night, March 12, every parish Church in the diocese will be open for confession.

LightIsOnForYou_2000x1000

If you need it, do it! Even if you don’t need it, think about doing it. You can pick a Church on your way home from work, school, gymnastics class or a work out and there will be a priest waiting who knows you not but is desirous of assuring you of forgiveness, mercy, compassion and love. This now annual exercise is called “The Light is on for You.” Darkness be damned.

How about the readings at Sunday Mass throughout Lent? They don’t get any better than the temptation of Christ, the Transfiguration, the Woman at the Well, the Prodigal Son, and so on. And the first readings from major moments in salvation history, however familiar, stir the imagination and challenge the life of every believer. Would you have sacrificed your children for God like Abraham thought he would? Lots of parents I know have had to do so for an endless variety of painful reasons, bearing their suffering with greater faith than I can sometimes muster up. They are truly people of the light who suffered through an incredible period of gray.

Bishop Robert W. McElroy. Photo courtesy of the Diocese of San Francisco's website.

Bishop Robert W. McElroy. Photo courtesy of the Diocese of San Francisco’s website.

And then there is the Holy Father! He surely has not taken Lent off as a time to retreat into a prolonged period of penance. Today one of the members of the U.S. episcopacy whom I have admired for his intelligence, compassion and mercy, and commitment to justice for all has been made bishop of the seventh largest diocese in the United States, San Diego. Bishop Robert McElroy is a “Francis”can bishop if there ever was one and the good Catholics of San Diego have won the “Powerball” lottery. With Archbishop Cupich in the Midwest and Bishop McElroy in San Diego in the West, this Pope is refashioning the American hierarchy. Only briefly, however, do I wish I were younger.

I conclude with the acknowledgment that I am writing these words on a Delta flight from Chicago Midway Airport to Atlanta and then on to Tallahassee for “Catholic Days” at the Capitol. It was snowing and sleeting in Chicago this morning and our plane was late arriving from Atlanta. The Delta captain approached me and began the conversation with this question: “How is your Lent going, Father?” “Well,” I responded, “and yours?” “Me too,” he responded with a smile. He told me that he attends St. Michael’s parish in Auburn, Alabama, his home and was looking forward to making the last two nights of his parish’s annual mission.

Lent is far from forty days of gray, but rather is forty days of dawn. Enjoy it! Thanks for putting up with me!

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STRONGEST CHALLENGE YET

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.

 

+RNL

COME THOU LONG, EXPECTED REPORT ON U.S. RELIGIOUS

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

Within days of opening the year of Consecrated Religious Life by Pope Francis and near the anniversary of the key document on religious life of the Second Vatican Council, Perfectae Caritatis, the Holy See yesterday published the concluding report of the “Investigation and Visitation of U.S. Women Religious”.

When the news broke that yet a second investigation of women religious, this time involving visitations of many of the religious orders, was to be begun, I remember writing in this space that our sisters should not worry about the eventual outcome. Like the first study, chaired and overseen by Archbishops John Quinn and Thomas Kelly and Bishop Raymond Lessard, no conclusion other than religious have been and continue to be a gift to the Church was possible.

What prompted me then to predict this week’s outcome? In our Church when there is a concern raised often enough and loud enough by certain people, the institutional response is almost always, “well, let’s have an investigation and visitation to fix what is either wrong or we do not like.” Twice in twenty years we bishops without asking for help have had to endure two long, expensive pontifical studies and investigations of our priestly formation programs (i.e., seminaries) and the result has always been the same. Not too much wrong, not too much that needs fixing, and nothing happens.

I think that my article at the time understood the angst of the women religious. They seemed to be singled out for no apparent reason, the decision was understood as coming from an all-male Roman Congregation leadership with little reason given for the action, there was no ground-swell of US bishops indicating even privately that “it’s about time” (the USCCB was never asked); therefore it did not seem to the women to be matter of high moment to most of the Church in the U.S. and probably a host of other reasons too long to spell out here. And, quite frankly, it did not help when Archbishop Joseph Tobin, C.SS.R. now of Indianapolis but then Secretary of the Congregation (appointed after the visitation and investigation was announced) who both understood and appreciated women religious was transferred from Rome to Indiana.

On Tuesday, the Congregation, now under a gentler, kinder administrative hand, introduced their final report which can and should be read in its eleven page entirety by clicking here. It is a sensitive and sympathetic assessment of religious life in the United States today. It rightly praises the work of religious women in US yesterday and today. It does not tilt at all in favor of what some call the more traditional religious communities over those who took Perfectae Caritatis seriously in the years following the Council and chose the path to renewal. Also it laments, as every Catholic should and as the religious themselves do, the declining numbers of women religious. So what happened to effect this kinder, gentler result?

I think much praise should be directed to the woman who was placed in charge of the project, Mother M. Clare Millea. At both the beginning and end she and her co-workers faced a monumental and thankless task. Suspicion in the early days ran so high that a few religious orders refused to cooperate, but most did. The visitations were largely affirming in their results (ahem, just like the two seminary visitations) and they listened, at least in part, to the “push-back” of many US Catholics who love the sisters. If there was indeed even-handedness about the project, I believe Mother Mary Clare Millea deserves the thanks of many.

 

Then, a new Pope did not hurt either. He must have known the skepticism and even distrust which was held throughout most of the world toward those previously charged with overseeing consecrated life. He appointed a new, savvy and sympathetic Prefect and Secretary. That did not hurt either as both quietly worked to turn the distrust into openness. How I hope that when their work is finished, these two men will be replaced by at least one, if not two, religious women. That would have helped a long time ago when this brouhaha began.

 

Finally, I wish that we lived in a Church when what happened on Tuesday is greeted with joy and not simply relief. Pope Francis is moving us steadily in that direction. And tons of people are ready to follow his example of mercy and forgiveness, especially U.S. sisters who have had to live it existentially in the Church for some time. While I do not personally know the sister who heads the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious in the U.S., I personally know and deeply admire Sister Sharon Holland, IHM who is the current President of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. She is more of a woman of the Church than I can be accused of being a man of the Church. Serving for years on the same Vatican Congregation as an intelligent and sensitive staff person, she lives, breathes and sleeps the Church and her religious vocation. LCWR’s membership is in awesome hands as the women prod the rest of us to live the Gospel ever more fully. I’ll say it again, the Holy Spirit is alive and active in the Church we love.

+RNL

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

A VIEW FROM THE SIDELINES

Monday, October 13th, 2014

As one who was somewhat skeptical ever since Pope Francis unveiled his intention to call a synod to address the issue of marriage and family life in our day, I must say that the work product from the first week of Part I of the currently convened Extraordinary Synod exceeds my fondest hopes and prayers. And while it is still, as the song goes, “A Long Way to Tipperary”, I find my own skepticism giving way to genuine optimism that our beloved Church is turning a corner on pastoral sensitivity. My initial skepticism was based on two assumptions: first any real pastoral progress develops very slowly in the Church and advances at the same speed as a glacier. Second, no matter what wonderful pastoral ideas the world’s bishops may offer, when they pack up and leave Rome there remain behind in the curia many who usually manage to dilute, diffuse and dissemble the pastoral solutions agreed to. So what’s different this week and wherein do I find my new optimism.

The bishops and laity attending this synod are speaking the truth in love before a Pope who told them, “don’t tell me what you think I want to hear, but tell me what you think.” [from his opening words last Monday]. When Church leadership puts ambition aside and speaks from the heart and soul about everyday problems of humanity throughout the world, a different world view and ecclesial view results.

Today’s report on the first week of deliberations is the most open and honest and pastoral document I have ever seen or read. It really indicates a Church leadership which is seeking to reconcile, love and pastorally care for many who have felt mistreated, disowned or unwelcome: those divorced and remarried outside of canonical form (in civil second marriage, for example) can see in the document a genuine care and concern for them which has not previously been seen. Gay and Lesbian Catholics can find the beginning of a call to them: don’t leave us and give us a chance to find both the right and charitable vocabulary as well pastoral openness which makes the future better than the past. Young people preparing for marriage can find our Church leadership acknowledging the real challenges of living in this moment (cohabitation is an absolute economic reality for many, for example) and asking what can the Church do better to prepare them for marriage in their lived reality today? Perhaps it is with unholy glee that I found in Cardinal Erdo’s synthesis of the first week of the Synod almost a carbon copy of what the people of God of St. Petersburg said in the pre-Christmas and pre-Synod survey of local Catholic opinion on these and other matters. Our Church is listening the voice of the people! That’s why my skepticism gives way to optimism on my first point from the paragraph above.

But, given our history the last thirty-five years, what happens when this Synod concludes it work and goes home? What about those persons in the service of the Holy See who will remain? Some of them have been heard from prior to last Monday’s opening preaching the gospel of doom and gloom and a couple have been providing certain outlets a running commentary, what in my opinion, the late Vice President Spiro Agnew once described  as “nattering nabobs of negativism.”

First of all, I think they know that with Pope Francis, this Synod and those which may follow are providing him with some real opportunities for exercising the collegiality and subsidiarity envisioned at Vatican II. It is pretty clear that the previous methodology of “you discuss and I will decide” is giving way to a synodality model which suggests that moving sub Petro et cum Petro [“under Peter and with Peter”] means that we will walk together but ultimately “the buck will always stop with the Holy Father.” For those on his staff who don’t like it, there is an exit strategy. He  is slowly and patiently assembling a team which is attempting to do what we have tried to do (not always totally successfully in the diocese, I might add) of asking “how we can serve the universal Church” more than “how do we shape up the universal Church since we know best.” Here, it is indeed a “long way to Tipperary”, and we need to patiently give him time to implement the vision in the bodies and minds of individuals. Those who don’t like what is happening these days probably know their “shelf-life expectancy” is limited. More reasons for optimism and less skepticism.

So I begin this calendar week with genuine optimism that the Holy Spirit is guiding the majority of those attending the Synod to walk the path of reality and openness which Pope Francis issued forth on that first night the world saw him in March of 2013. They will chart a roadmap for next year’s regular assembly. For those of you old enough to remember the American Automobile Associations “TripTik” for taking trips by automobile in the U.S. this Synod is using a “highlighter” to map out the most direct and fastest way between two points, as well as to point out where construction of the roadway is taking place” and even warning where there might be “speed traps” to be encountered. The next Synod will have this triptik with perhaps even an alternate roadway or two, and they will make the final decision to leave home and journey to a new place. My God, what a great Church we can become!

+RNL