Posts Tagged ‘Pope Paul VI’


Sunday, February 8th, 2015

The content for this blog entry has been simmering for some time and, in fact, I wrote the first draft over ten days ago. Why the delay? I wanted to wait, think and pray about its contents, hoping beyond hope that I might simply stimulate others to prayerfully reflect on its contents and claiming only to be the teacher of this local church faith community who makes no claim to infallibility or even to profundity of theological thought. I simply am a pastor who attempts to discern the presence of Christ in the Church I am privileged to lead and to which we are all baptized into belonging.

In the last forty-eight hours I have been made aware that Sister Mary Ann Walsh, RSM, a former colleague of mine at the USCC/NCCB (I wrote about her departure from the Conference staff in this space sometime ago) is about to complete her earthly journey, having been diagnosed with a particularly virulent strain of cancer). Sr. Mary Ann, I dedicate this entry to you and I will see you soon enough with the Lord if I merit what will surely be your reward.

If you have been following the media’s reporting on “Catholic issues” for the past several months, you must have noticed that largely because of Pope Francis, great ink has been spilt on divorce and remarriage in the Church, artificial birth control, same sex marriages, and to a lesser degree women in the Church today. I thought the time might be opportune for me to share with you some of my own thoughts on these subjects which I hope and trust are in line with those of the Holy Father. But I begin with restating one undeniable truth – there has been no change in doctrine or Church teaching in regard to any one or all of these subjects.

On divorce and remarriage, I find it just short of amazing that this Pope is so “connected” with an issue that is largely of North American and European consequence. I say this because while I do not have the exact percentage figures, I would go to the bank with a number akin to 85% of all marriage annulment cases come from the above-mentioned geographies.

Twenty some years ago when I was General Secretary of the US Bishops Conference, I asked my Brazilian counterpart, Bishop Celso Quieroz about how many marriage cases were processed in Brazil, a larger Catholic country than the U.S. He looked at with me with utter amazement and said, “dear Bob, so do you know how long it would take a letter seeking testimony in a case to reach a recipient in Amazonas (the large northwestern state in Brazil) when the mail boat which is the only means of communication comes to the river village maybe once a month?” He led me to believe that in Brazil, there are few formal cases seeking annulments and people largely decide themselves how to deal with the matter.

That Pope Francis has shown interest in this matter I find amazing. Here in the Diocese of St. Petersburg the annual number of formal cases has gone down from approximately 600 per year to the present number of slightly in excess of 200. There are myriad reasons why Catholics no longer seek a review of a prior marriage by the Church, among which are fear of opening older wounds encountered during the civil divorce proceeding; the fear of getting a “no”; the time it takes (an average of slightly in excess of a year including the mandatory review of the first decision by an appellant court in Miami and much longer if one party appeals to Rome); one party believes that there truly was a valid marriage and so the whole process is suspect in their mind; and a general frustration and occasionally anger with the Church, etc.

Every pastor knows of wonderful married couples in his parish who remain faithful despite being denied Eucharist by Church Law and others who just don’t come but wish they could, and still others who having received a negative judgment readmit themselves to Eucharist sometimes with the counsel of a priest and sometimes without. When it works, the tribunal process can be very healing. When it is perceived that it does not work, it is one more source of great pain. I have had two marriages, which I witnessed, which ended in a negative decision (not from the St. Petersburg Tribunal) and in my heart and mind I know the decision was outrageously wrong but there is nothing that can be done. Restating what is clearly not obvious (even the vaunted New York Times a few Sundays ago got it wrong, again), no Catholic is excommunicated because they are divorced, but only when they remarry outside of the Church do they incur the penalty of being unable to receive the Eucharist for even then they are not excommunicated and remain members of the Church.

At a meeting two weeks ago, the pastors of our parishes asked me to abolish all costs associated with the work of the Tribunal and I did that effective February 1, 2015 so let no one here say, “I don’t seek an annulment because I can not afford it.”

What can and will be done this year about this situation. I can honestly say I do not know but I am comforted that the Vicar of Christ feels the pain of many in the Church in second, non-sacramental marriages and that of many priests who wish that at least the process were simplified, or speeded up, or both. Time will tell.

Now to the contraception question which Pope Francis raised himself in several ways during his trip to the Philippines? First, amazingly, he acknowledged that as a priest and bishop, he counseled a woman who was pregnant with her eighth child, all but the first two by caesarian section, that she should do nothing which might render her children motherless. I would bet almost every one of the priests of this country has on occasion offered the same solace and advice. It is now possible because of Pope Francis to speak of the modern day reality of pregnancy and childbirth without fear of ecclesiastical punishment.

Of all the popes of my seventy-three years, I would easily vote Pope Paul VI to have written the best encyclical letters to the whole church, on life, evangelization and the People of God in the post-Vatican II world. I would also proudly say that if someone asked me to direct them to the finest magisterial teaching on marriage, parenting, and conjugal love, without question I would send them to Pope Paul’s Humanae Vitae. So far there really is nothing better.

But what about those few what some consider tendentious paragraphs dealing with artificial birth control. Again, I can embrace Pope Francis who said that his predecessor was being prophetic. I had an uncle who was one of the most loved and best ob-gyn doctors in the Milton, Quincy, Dorchester area of Boston. When I was twenty-seven and Humanae Vitae was issued in a storm of controversy, my Uncle Ed called it prophetic and it confirmed his medical approach to pregnancy. It also cost him mightily not in patients (they still flocked to him) but in serenity in group practice.

However, as Pope Francis acknowledged, Pope Paul VI understood that many would find this teaching hard and would seek the comfort of their own conscience, often with the support of their priests. When Paul issued his encyclical he even allowed national episcopal conferences to demur from its teaching. He was a pastor who saw the need for marriage as a primary albeit only means of propagating the earth and from that every act should be open to propagation, but he knew the world of marriage and family was evolving. Mothers were beginning in great numbers to enter the workplace to support even small families and that was not likely to change. Will Church teaching and doctrine change on contraception; it is too early to tell. As the new Archbishop of Chicago, Blasé Cupich said recently in an interview in Commonweal magazine:

“The Pope has a firm belief that the Spirit of the Risen Lord is working in the lives of people . . . . Ours is a living tradition. It always has been. There is no moment in time that can be so idealized that it undermines the tradition is a living one. It is a living tradition not because of anything we say, but because the Risen Christ is always doing something new in the life of the Church. In Pope Francis’s Evangelii Gaudium , there is a whole section in which he talks about the idea that Christ is always doing something new in the lives of his people as he accompanies them.”

Unless and until there might be some change, Pope Francis is urging us to be pastorally sensitive, compassionate and understanding. What’s wrong with that? Our Holy Father is showing himself to be a deft pastor, a good gauge of the times and needs of people, and a defender of doctrine. It is not an east balancing act or tightrope to walk as some of his detractors are beginning to charge.

I note no Church change at all in approving civil society’s rush to legalize same sex marriage and I can assure all that I for one do not foresee it ever becoming sacramentally possible. However, I do hear Pope Francis in his constant refrain to bishops and priests, religious and laity, to be sensitive and caring of those who feel that they are not just on the periphery of the Church but are ostracized by it. Some of the vehement and I would term hateful language emanating from professed Catholics leads me to pray all the more for these zealots. Every gay or lesbian person is someone’s child and they are also children of God.

Finally [by now that adverb must be music to your eyes – a mixed metaphor if there ever was one], I know a lot of young women who still tolerate us but wonder about us. The news that a pastor in a parish far from here banned female altar servers is causing something of a current media storm and is just one more thing to make a loving, faith-filled mother cringe. I think Pope Francis has some surprises up his sleeve in positioning women in offices of great responsibility in the Church, which will lead to even greater utilization of their talents, gifts, and intelligence. Sister Mary Ann Walsh, Sister Sharon Euart (the first female Associate General of the USCC/NCCB), a religious sister who was General Secretary of an African episcopal conference are all pioneers in a Church structure which must to remain credible avail itself of women’s gifts and presence. Enough already.



Sunday, September 1st, 2013

With these words, Pope Paul VI in October of 1965 addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations. They were strong words from a seemingly meek and humble man but they caught the attention of a nation mired itself in a war in Southeast Asia that would continue for five more years and also of the global community.

This weekend we seem to be once again on the precipice of yet another military action with profound possible ramifications and steeped in uncertainty. This time the enemy is the President of Syria who already is a war-crimes criminal for his heinous poison gassing of his own people a little more than a week ago. Catch him alive, try the man in the international court of human justice, imprison him and throw the key away but for God’s sake and that of humanity, I pray that our beloved nation will not risk a wider war by singularly reacting to an event far more certain for sure than the illusive “weapons of mass destruction” which led us into Iraq. We’ve been there before and I for one do not wish to go again.

Neither the war in Iraq nor any action which we might take in response to the atrocity of the mass killing of citizens in Syria will meet the tests of the “just war theory.” And, morally, I believe that the United States needs to step back from attempting to be the world’s police force. Armed action when agreed upon by the family of nations and when many countries join in can perhaps survive moral analysis, perhaps, but one nation choosing to attack on its own is very dangerous.

Today Pope Francis in his “Angelus” address begged the parties not to go to war or even battle against one another. He knows that Syria’s military can not reach the United States in any retaliatory effort, but it can make its point known on Israel, our friend and ally. Attack Israel and they will respond – that one can be taken to the bank. Attack Israel, and the world will respond as likely will Iran and all the political armies of the mideast from Hamas to Hesbollah and many other forces in between.

I am ashamed to say that the Catholic Church in the United States sadly gave President George W. Bush largely a free pass on Iraq. It was a shame then and its consequences even now are incredible. The USCCB did not even react strongly in defense of Blessed John Paul II when he sent Cardinal Pio Laghi (formerly Nuncio to the United States and thought to be a friend of the Bush Family) to personally ask President Bush not to take that action and the President “blew him off.” Did the US bring peace to Iraq? I don’t see it. Did we bring stability to the Middle East? I don’t see it either. His father, the first President Bush, built an international coalition to free Kuwait from the invasive heel of Saddam Hussein and then, achieving his limited mission, he and the allies stopped having met their goal. Kuwait was most likely a just use of force, narrowly targeted to achieve a restoration of government to a small country without a military  to speak of. The search for the Taliban met the litmus test of justice when it began and has had certain success but soon we will leave an Afghanistan more divided than before and with a less than certain future. We are not a good international police keeping force and we lose lives, spend incredible sums of money in efforts which are hardly called successful, and sometimes end up making the alleged cure more deadly than the original disease.

I do not consider myself an isolationist and I do believe that there are moments in history when a nation such as ours joining with allies equally committed should act decisively to rid the world of evil – Hitler being example number one.We need to heed the words of Pope Francis today (click here for his Angelus address) and support him. We need to write to the President and to our two Senators from Florida and our elected representatives in the House of Representatives and ask them to vote no on any military action at this point. In doing so, we will demonstrate moral strength which will trump military might and once again echo the words of Pope Paul VI, “War no more, War Never Again!” The slightest provocation from one country in a world not united in its resolve to attack the evil dictator of Syria could lead to  more bloodshed, and enormous consequences.




Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

Deacons' Annual Mass of Recommitment. Photo kindness of Barbara Wells.

One of the major developments in the life of the Church, which followed the end of the Second Vatican Council, was the restoration of the order of the diaconate by allowing married men to be ordained. My study of the background at the Council was that the discussion of the Council Fathers envisioned a vibrant and vigorous married diaconate in countries throughout the world where a celibate priesthood would, by sheer terms of numbers, require assistance from the diaconate (too few priests and no major increase likely). I clearly remember in a small group conversation, the Apostolic Delegate to the United States in the seventies, Archbishop Jean Jadot, a Belgium by birth who had been sent to the US by Pope Paul VI, noting the immediate interest in the US of the permanent diaconate and saying that in the Cameroons, where he was assigned prior to arriving on our shores, the Church would never consider ordaining married men, period. It preferred instead to build up catechists in lieu of an ordained diaconate. That prediction has remained largely true and intact in mission countries.

In the years since the Council, the United States has led all other nations in the world in the number of ordinations of married men to the diaconate. It all began in a period when a shortage of priests was considered on these shores unthinkable (perhaps it was indeed the presence of the Holy Spirit which encouraged this local Church to pursue the restored diaconate). The service of these generous men and their equally generous wives and families, who share their husbands and dads with us, has been laudable, helpful and gifted. Deacons may baptize, witness marriages outside of Mass and communion services, preach, and assist at the altar. But, in our living out the post-conciliar married diaconate, they are especially helpful to their parishes in preaching, in preparing the faithful for baptism, confirmation, and marriage, and in conducting wake services and graveside ceremonies. They may not administer the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick since that sacrament includes the hearing of confessions and sacramental reconciliation. What they can do to be helpful far outpaces what they are not able to do and therein is to be found the blessing.

Deacons' Annual Mass of Recommitment. Photo kindness of Barbara Wells.

On May 2 of this year, our first diocesan class of “married” deacons will celebrate their silver anniversary of ordination. On that day twenty-five years ago, thirty men were ordained deacons for the Diocese of St. Petersburg at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle by Bishop W. Thomas Larkin. Throughout their formation, this class was guided and directed by Monsignor Colm Cooke, who was assisted by Joan Morgan (our present diocesan Chancellor). Some of those ordained have died subsequently, some are now mostly retired, some have lost their spouses in the intervening years, and two have left diaconal ministry. On Saturday last, we had our annual Mass of Recommitment for our deacons. I am not certain of the exact number, but I think there is somewhere in the neighborhood of 120 active and with faculties to function as deacons here. We have had five other ordinations for the diocese in the twenty-five years since and currently have about fifteen in some stage of education and formation. They are here as a ministry to stay and most of your priests and pastors would strongly support their presence and assistance in our local Church. I know I certainly am grateful to them and to their wives and families. Almost all, at one time or another in their ministry as deacons, have held “day jobs” and since the diaconate does not pay a salary (unless they are in full-time employment by a parish or institution), they depend on outside employment for their daily bread.

Many deacons come to us, as do many parishioners, from other dioceses and while, perhaps retired from their former and principal employment, they still wish to be helpful to the Church. After the necessary background check, we accept them and grant them faculties.

So even though the diaconate was not restored for service in the “first world” by the Council Fathers, the Church in the United States and in St. Petersburg and our five counties owes it a lot. Blessings, please, Lord, on all our deacons and their wives and families as we take note this year of the ordination of our first class twenty-five years ago.



Saturday, April 30th, 2011

Tomorrow morning at four o’clock (EDT) the Mass at which Pope John Paul II will be declared “blessed” will begin in the exact place where little more than six years ago he lay for his funeral Mass. I have thought a lot about this moment since the announcement of his beatification and particularly about my feelings about him and experiences with him, most of which I have already shared with you these past five days. First, it is extremely unusual for anyone like myself to say that on many occasions I shared Eucharist, the stage, the airplane, a helicopter,  prayer with a “Blessed” now only one verifiable miracle away from sainthood.  On the final day of  World Youth Day 1993 and before their departure for Rome, Bishop Stanislaus Dziwisz brought me unsolicited the gold vestment the Pope had worn on Saturday at Denver’s Cathedral for his Mass with the bishops of the United States and elsewhere gathered for World Youth Day. I still have it and wear it. Soon it will be a third-class relic, something which touched the person of a saint. I should probably retire it and never use it again – it has his coat of arms on the back. As he grows closer to sainthood, I think I grow more unworthy but I doubt if he would  think that.

John Paul II was at heart a simple man. He did not put on airs, seek to impress though he could get his message across better than a lot of other people. There is that marvelous picture of him (above) with his right hand raised in blessing and his white shirt under the cassock unbuttoned at the wrist where he had  forgotten to attach the cuff link. Sometimes his cassocks would be rumpled. That mattered little to him. He was consumed with preaching the Gospel and living the Gospel and thus was the consummate evangelizer – an evangelist something like  Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, telling the world about Jesus. Even non-Catholics had great respect for him and for his message as was evidenced by the near universal sense of loss expressed at the time of his death.

I have mentioned before he did not seem to take great concern in managing the vast Church he was chosen to lead. He left that to others. And contrary to what some people would or are saying, I don’t think he personally had any personal favorite people except friends from Poland. The doorkeeper and the one who made the judgments about who was worthy of the Pope’s presence and attention was his life-long personal secretary, Don Stanislaus Dziwisz. There rested the true source of access in his papacy. If you passed muster with later Bishop Dziwisz and now a Cardinal, you were almost always OK with the Holy Father. In the days just before the announcement of my appointment as bishop of St. Petersburg, Father David Toups, then a seminarian at the North American College met Bishop Dziwisz who knowing that he was from St. Petersburg said “soon a new bishop for you. You will like him!”

Saints do not get to be saints because every decision they made in life was correct or perfect. They are saints because of their personal holiness, their self-sacrificing service to the Gospel imperatives. Some of this negative criticism coming in advance of the beatification tomorrow reminds me of the run-up to World Youth Day of which I wrote on Wednesday – controversy, disdain, disbelief that Catholics could care for this man the way they do, etc. Yet polls indicate that this week 93% of all American Catholics surveyed love Pope John Paul II and are happy he is being recognized not as someone who always got it right in everything (except in matters of faith and morals) but as someone who was personally deeply holy. Quite frankly, he was the Pope who made us proud to be Catholic and I don’t think the naysayers will penetrate that reality this time as they failed to do in Denver. Pope Paul VI was perhaps a better manager of the Church worldwide and the Curia but he did not have the gifts of language facility, personal charm and charism, electricity which Blessed John Paul II was able to generate. Personally holy Paul VI was but it did not come through the way it did for his successor once removed.

Blessed John Paul II was always energized by a crowd. He sought out the spotlight and used it well for the good of the Gospel. With well over a hundred trips outside of Italy and several hundred outside of Rome but within Italy, he was a Pope of and for the people, no longer a “prisoner of the Vatican”. His focus was applying the Gospel to daily life. He begged the officers of the Conference at one pranzo or lunch to send him names of deeply holy, saintly married couples. He lamented that there were too few of them in the role of saints and that marriage deserved as much saintly regard as the priesthood or religious life. On another occasion when the Jewish community of the United States was up in arms about the rumored proposal that Queen Isabella of Spain would soon begin the process toward canonization, I knew she did not have a chance when his answer was “it is very difficult for royalty to become saints.”

Additionally, Blessed John Paul II had an unerring sense of popular piety and what it needed and when it could he helpful. There were many skeptics here in the United States church when he announced that the millenial year, 2000, would be a special year of Jubilee for the Church. Critics here said out loud, the time for Holy Years and great public religious celebrations had long passed. Well, the millions who came through Rome on the Millennial Holy Year did not think so and the Pope made a believer out of me that he sure knew a lot better than I what people would respond to when called to expressions of devotion and popular piety. Lots of Americans including about 150 with me from this diocese observed the Holy Year in 2000 and it was a success far beyond the imagination of many. He was almost infallible in knowing what would work to reawaken, even for an instant or a year, the deepest religious feelings of Catholics beginning with World Youth Days through the two Holy Years of his p0ntificate.

So today is more than a day for his native Polish people, it is a day for the whole Church. Did it come too quickly, history will ultimately be the judge. Pope St. Pius X, the last Pope to be beatified (and later canonized) took thirty-seven years to reach this moment but for this participant of the energy of his pontificate, I thank God I am alive for the moment. With Blessed John Paul II’s soul mate, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, I have now touched and been touched by two people whom the Church universal will likely soon refer to as “saints” but it didn’t take the process to convince me that these two were in different ways extraordinarily holy people.

So it has taken me this week about 7,500 words to share some of my experiences in my lifetime with this extraordinary moral force. I shall record the events in Rome and watch them when I can as I have an extremely busy week-end. But it will be wonderful to watch that vast piazza at St. Peters and the surrounding streets burst once again with people chanting as I know they will, “santo subito.” Blessed John Paul II, intercede with the Father to whom you are now close, to help this local Church serve all of God’s people.



Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

Blessed John Paul II with the author in Miami in 1987.

I remember so well my first up close and personal meeting with Pope John Paul II. I had met Pope Paul VI as a layperson and had my picture taken with him at a General Audience. His eyes pierced right through me and he looked right at me. While not as facile with English as Pope John Paul II was, we still had a brief moment of eye and speech contact. That night I did not want to wash my hands. The first several meetings with Pope John Paul II were similar occasions but prior to becoming General Secretary and in preparation for the trip of 1987, I had my first meal with him in his apartment and in his dining room. Archbishop Marcinkus had given me a private tour through the papal apartments one summer when it was being repainted and the Holy Father and his entire household were at Castel Gandolfo but the first time for lunch (pranzo in Italian) I can remember thinking only “wow, if the boys on the block could only see me now.”

Pope John Paul II truly opened his life to others. There were guests for his morning Mass, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Cardinal O’Connor used to complain that he was always being invited to cena which is dinner and the Pope would usually only have soup, some small salad and a piece of fruit. The complaints made it to the papal kitchen apparently because for guests at night there soon were several courses set out but the Pope’s remained the same light meal.

The dining room was small, very plain but the table was expandable with limitations. Pranzo with the Holy Father would always consist of a small first course like prociutto and melon, a pasta course followed by a meat or chicken course, fruit and then dessert. The Pope ate fast and listened to all conversation but would only speak occasionally. My officers always had some business to do so “junior”  kept quiet most of the time. The meal would last about forty-five minutes and then we would accompany him to his private chapel where we would kneel in private prayer for about ten minutes and then he would take his leave for a rest. There would always be a small gift, usually papal rosaries, shared with us prior to our leaving the apartment.

His private quarters would have surprised almost any visitor. On the second floor where most guests were received the rooms are lit beautifully and there is damask and gold leaf cornices in the ceilings and beautiful but horribly uncomfortable chairs. If one was coming to see him in audience in the morning, you started in one room and were moved from room to room until you were finally in the waiting area nearest his office. His office was a large and spacious room almost totally devoid of furniture. He sat at a desk at one end and there was a chair for the visitor on the side of his good ear. His private bedroom struck me as so spartan that it was almost penitential. But the public rooms while they would never pass muster at the Ritz look richer than they are.  Popes live simply no matter what the world thinks.

I cannot remember an exhaustive discussion with the Holy Father on any of my trips and we went twice a year to meet with him and his officials of the Roman Curia. When we were there and the “iron curtain” was crumbling and Poland was beginning to smell the fresh air of freedom, he wondered out loud how his native homeland would fare since the people  had become so dependent on benefits from the state for which they would now have to work hard to replace. He disliked communism as both an economic and idealistic system but he also disliked unfettered capitalism, no matter what Republican and friendly writers say about his economic theory. I heard him personally too often on the subject. He was intrigued by religious pluralism in the U.S. which we were always at pains to say had served us well but never having tasted it he remained slightly skeptical. I would not call him a great conversationalist but then working in so many languages and doing it so well was in itself a major accomplishment.

The first moment when he called me his "Travel Agent" in the United States

He would occasionally, very occasionally, ask about a neuralgic situation in the Church in the United States or we would bring it up. Those conversations save one, which I will detail in the final of these reflections on Saturday dealing with clergy sexual abuse, remain largely confidential but minutes are in the archives of the episcopal conference in Washington and will be available to historians at the proper time. The administrative work of the Holy See did not interest him a great deal, most likely because there were others to attend to that, but one always had the sense that he was looking beyond the present generation to the Church of the future. It was almost as if when you were with him you could sense “today will take care of itself, it is tomorrow for which we must prepare.” Ever gracious, always hopeful, deeply spiritual, these are my memories of the man. A CEO he probably was not and sometimes perhaps the Church is better because of that but as a spiritual leader he had about himself a charism, a presence, a sense of serenity, which was disarming, assuring and hopeful.

I was never nervous or afraid in his presence. At times he was almost like an uncle one did not see often but who was always interested in how you were doing. He teased me on occasion like in Los Angeles when we arrived ahead of time for an event with oriental religions (Buddhism, Shintoism, Hindu, etc.) and were made to wait in the wings. He asked me, “What is wrong?” and I said “Holy Father we are early” to which he smiled and replied, “It will hurt my reputation to be early.” I laughed. The hardest question he ever asked me was at the University of South Carolina football stadium where he and Billy Graham were waiting in one of the portals to come out on stage and looking at the signage, he turned to me as asked “What is a Gamecock?” I told him it was a mascot and then he asked me what a “Gamecock mascot” was? I told him I would tell him on the plane later that night to New Orleans.

Most of all, however, I remember him in chapel and at prayer. Forty people could surround him at 645 in the morning in his private chapel  prior to Mass and one could almost hear him communicate with God from deep inside his being. They were the groans and sounds of a man in communication with something far deeper than most of us can ever go. It was eerie at times and certainly always mystical. There can be no doubt about his personal holiness.



Sunday, March 27th, 2011
PHoto from Wikimedia

Cardinal Bernardin

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

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

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

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



Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

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

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

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

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

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



Thursday, October 21st, 2010

When my mind is unable to focus on a single thought, it is time to share many scattered and unrelated thoughts with you. So here we go.

Cardinal-designate Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington

Cardinal-designate Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington

Cardinal-designate Raymond Burke, Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura

Cardinal-designate Raymond Burke, Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura

Pope Benedict named new cardinals yesterday including two Americans, Archbishops Raymond Burke, formerly of St. Louis and now in Rome and Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. Cardinals came into being in the Church in 1056 when the Emperor of the Holy Roman Emperor was a six year old boy. Until that time, the emperor and other political figures had a significant say in who was to become Pope so the Church taking advantage of a moment when the sovereign was too young to do anything about it established a new rank of prelate, namely cardinals, who would meet as needed to elect a new pope upon the death of his predecessor. The end of the eleventh century was a particularly challenging time for the Church because it did not have good control over its priests and bishops who were too often subject to outside influence and interference. Thus the birth of a group of men whose main task was to elect popes. Over time, the college took on additional meaning and duties and can be and has been called on occasion to advise the Pope on matters of concern to him. Pope Paul VI limited the number of cardinals who could vote in a papal election to 120 members under the age of eighty. Pope John Paul II while never changing that “magic” number did give it some elasticity at times and often, as did Pope Benedict XVI yesterday took into consideration the number of soon-to-reach-the-eighty age limit. Yesterday’s choices marked somewhat a return to a heavier preponderance of archbishops working in the Vatican than in the trenches but little should be made of that in my opinion since there have been a number of changes in administrative offices whose head is usually a Cardinal. In the time of Popes Pius XII and John XXIII, elevation to the cardinalate was not done that often and made significant news when done. Now it seems to happen about every three years and the secular media largely gave the moment a giant yawn except in the U.S. in Pittsburgh and Washington where Archbishop Wuerl once served and now serves. On a personal note, I was elated that Archbishop Wuerl was chosen as I regard him very highly as a churchman of great principal, good mind and a pastoral heart. I think he will serve the Church in the United States very well as a member of that special group of advisors to the Holy Father. Enough said.

If yesterday marked the coming of the “red tide”, today in this diocese we welcome Catholic women from around the state as they gather here for their once every two year statewide meeting of the Florida Council of Catholic Women. I will offer Mass for them tomorrow morning and officially welcome them and on Saturday afternoon, Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami will make his first visit to our diocese as our Metropolitan Archbishop to say Mass for the FCCW. Welcome ladies and enjoy your time on Florida’s west and best coast.

Like most of you, I can not wait for November’s elections to end. The bitter acrimony and charges and counter-charges which mark the Florida landscape this year is deafening and downright depressing. Visitors to this state from other countries who make the mistake of turning on the television in their hotel rooms or apartments must wonder about the nature of our form of democracy. Scare tactics rule the discourse and untruths and partial truths are the order of the day. I am early voting again this year so I can shut myself off to all the last minute diatribes and for the first time will have voted purposely without listening to a single debate – what is there to hear other than charges and counter-charges between the candidates and no plan for real recovery and hope. God help us!

Earlier this week I joined thirteen other bishops from the South in a meeting to discuss financing of Catholic education. The meeting was held in a hotel adjacent to the Atlanta airport and was organized and paid for by the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education program. Our schools throughout the region, except perhaps for Atlanta where the population continues to explode with parents with good annual incomes, are in trouble and the number of students declines either due to demographic shifts, economic reality, better public school options like charter and fundamental schools, etc. The bishops listened to a number of presentations on how we might access more federal and state monies for our own children in our own schools. An outstanding advocate for parental choice in education from Tampa, John Kirtley, spoke of his experience spearheading the corporate income tax credit program (STEP UP, FLORIDA) through the legislative and administrative process and my brother bishops deeply admired his commitment, counsel and concern. Good stuff!

Finally, on Saturday I will celebrate the annual jubilee Mass for religious women and men who pass this year their 25th, 50th, 60, 70th anniversaries of religious profession. The number of jubilarians is in steep decline as the religious age and die. In my first years as bishop, fourteen years ago for example, we acknowledged annually about fifty religious passing significant anniversary dates. This year I think we are half that number and only about eighteen can be present for Mass and lunch. I would do it even if there were only one left because these women and men have given their life and love to the Church unconditionally, and sometimes that has not always been “easy street” for them. Happy Anniversary Sisters, Brother and priests. We still love you!



Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

It is not all that easy for me at 69 to recall vividly things which happened to me when I was 24 but there is one, vivid memory of 1965 which I have never consigned to the dead-letter file and that was the visit of Pope Paul VI to the United Nations headquarters in New York for a day that began for him in Rome and finished thirty hours later when his plane touched down in Rome. To b e a Catholic that day was to be especially proud. Popes just did not travel outside of Rome and certainly not by jet plane across the span of an ocean for fourteen hours in one place and then back home again. The triumphant arrival of Pope Paul, his talk at the United Nations General Assembly and then very late in the day at Mass in Yankee Stadium saw most Catholics glued to their black and white televisions, listening to the commentary of Bishop Fulton J. Sheen who told us that “TWA”, the initials of the airline flying the Holy Father back to Rome meant “Travel With Angels” and as his plane took off around midnight from JFK Airport, the good Bishop ended the day with a line from Shakespeare: “Good Night, Sweet Prince.” The Holy Father personally and the Catholic Church in the United States generally gained enormous credibility that day. All of this is by forward to share with you the homily which I gave last Sunday at the seminary for the Eucharistic Liturgy and Installation of Lectors and Acolytes (see the previous blog entry). The Gospel that day was the same as Sunday’s, Lazarus and the rich man.

Homily at Mass of Installation of Lectors and Acolytes
Regional Seminary of St. Vincent de Paul
Boynton Beach, FL
Sunday, September 26, 2010
26th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Most Reverend Robert N. Lynch, Celebrant and Homilist

A week from tomorrow, Monday, October 4, 2010 will mark the forty-fifth anniversary of an extraordinary moment in the life of the Catholic Church in the United States and of the papacy. It was on that very day that the first Pope in history set foot on American soil. He came as an uninvited guest to our country to speak to and at the sole invitation of the United Nations in a speech that was widely praised throughout the world. At the annual meeting of the General Assembly to which he had been invited, speaking in French, he spoke the now famous words, “no more war, war never again. Peace, it is peace that must guide the destinies of all mankind.” He might have easily left this continent at the conclusion of his historic visit to the U.N. but he had one more thing to do prior to departing for Rome. Paul VI took his remaining time to speak to the United States, to we Catholics who were so proud that day, this time at the old Yankee Stadium, late in the day, and the Gospel was today’s, Lazarus and the Rich Man, the poor and the rich, people and nations, all God’s children.

I can not forget that night, transfixed in front of a television set, watching the frail figure of the successor of St. Peter in the house that the non-biblical Ruth built challenge myself and the country I love to do more than merely send the “scraps” of our plenty to the poor in our country and in the world but instead to share of our substance. It was at that precise moment, I recall, that I first began to understand both the power of God’s Word which some of you this morning will be formally allowed to proclaim. There is power to be found even in simply proclaiming the Word of God.

The first reading from Amos when read with passion puts all of us on notice that too much comfort can lead to complacency and too much complacency can lead to eternal exile. The second reading when read with feeling stirs in the hearts of the listeners Paul’s exhortation to cloth ourselves not in rich purple robes, green vestments, lace garments, for they will amount to little in the final reckoning but rather in righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness. Paul says, “pomp” doesn’t work; instead we must humbly bring our gifts to the competition for the faith of our human family. To proclaim the word of God is to share one’s faith, one’s belief, and one’s hope.

As that night in Yankee Stadium grew darker and colder and midnight Eastern time approached, Paul VI talked about the table of plenty, filled with the manifest blessings of God, but which in the name of humanity needed to be shared with the Lazarus’ of the world.  Think for a moment how little we know about either Lazarus or Dives, the name history has given to the rich man for the bible fails to name him. What was the source of Lazarus’ poverty? Ninety-five percent of the population of Palestine at the time of Jesus was desperately poor. So he had sores, that much we know. Was he the precursor of the homeless woman or man at the intersection of streets whose sign reads: “hungry, will work for a dollar?” We only know that Dives looked the other way, ignored the poor person before him. And what of Dives? Was he an officer of ENRON or AIG or a man who accumulated his wealth honestly and in a socially responsible manner? All we know is that he was blind and indifferent to the need both in front of and around him.

In the end, in eternity, the rich man’s last words are a plea to warn his brothers [and sisters] so that they [we] do not succumb to the same fate. Paul VI used this Gospel to draw the attention of humanity to its own table of plenty and beg those of us so richly blessed to share with those who have so little. And then, as I shall do, he invited those in the stadium and the world to share at the one table which makes no distinction between rich and poor, between male or female, between gloriously garbed or wrapped in the rags of manual labor. He celebrated the Eucharist. How blessed we are who are ordained to stand close to the altar and Christ eucharistically present. How blessed you are who are to be formally installed as acolytes no matter how many times you have served Mass up to this moment, to have your Church say “draw closer, watch, pray, invite, share.”

Glamour and glitter in priestly ministry leads to spiritual macular degeneration. A bishop friend of mine recently recounted how during the summer he faced an urgent pastoral emergency in one of his parishes, a financially challenged parish of tri-cultural and language reality. He turned to a priest with a doctorate degree who had served for a number of years in a more specialized ministry in the diocese, asked him to drop everything and fill a huge, gaping pastoral hole. While expressing a concern for the needs of the ministry he had been in, this priest immediately said “yes” and reminded his bishop that at his ordination he had promised obedience and respect, so of course he would go. That bishop said to me and to other bishops who heard him tell the story, that he wished there were more like this priest, able to see beyond the comfort of the familiar to the challenge of the desperate.

There are times when I worry that I am too comfortable in this life. Personally, I think God took care of my vanity thirteen months ago. There are no glorious gowns to be found among hospital wear! I now better and more deeply understand humility after sixty-eight years. Unless we are humbled, we can too easily succumb to the comforts that are ours and ignore the discomfort of others.

Let me begin to close with this insight from the absolutely best book I have read in the last decade at least, The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything by Father James Martin, S.J.:

If we dismiss the insights which come from the poor and reject the invitation to simplicity by saying, “I can’t live like that,” then these insights and invitations will never make any difference in our lives. Making the invitation unattainable also makes it easier to reject. Likewise, when we wallow in guilt and decide that it is impossible to change, we are subtly letting ourselves off the hook, excusing ourselves from change. . . .But it is an invitation to freedom and not to guilt.. . . Ultimately, it moves us closer to the forgotten and outcast, something at the heart of the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth.”[1]

From this Eucharistic table, O Lord, may we always see and respond to the poor and the needy who sit and pray before us.

[1] James Martin, S.J., The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything, New York, Harper One, 2009, p. 202-203.


Monday, November 16th, 2009

After an opening Mass in the hotel, the bishops began their annual Fall plenary assembly by spending the morning in what are called “regional meetings.” Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina are all in “Region XIV” so the bishops of the twelve dioceses of those four states comprise the regional grouping. I know that one of the topics which the bishops were asked to discuss is the number of seminaries spread across the United States at this time. This discussion comes at a moment when it appears that vocations are on the rise and seminary enrollment is increasing. As I mentioned earlier here, St. John Vianney College Seminary opened in September with about 80 seminarians (the highest ever) and St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach opened with about sixty seminarians but a total enrollment of eighty is not more than a year or two away. Seminaries are expensive operations but there are strong regional arguments to be made for them (training future priests for ministry in Spanish to Hispanics, for example.) No one wants to close their seminaries in this country so I wonder tonight what suggestions may have come from the regional meeting discussions this morning.

The Plenary opened with an hour and twenty minutes of formalities including an address by Cardinal Francis George, our President, and the papal nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Pietro Sambi. These two talks have always been a part of the opening “ritual” for the meetings. Cardinal George began by speaking about the importance of priests to the ministry of bishops and painted a fine picture of what the Church might be like if there were no priests. He did this largely in the context of this being “the year for priests” as declared by Pope Benedict XVI. It was a fine reflection for we bishops about how important and vital our priests are not just to the Church which is obvious to all of our people, but to our own ministry as bishops.

The Papal Nuncio’s talk spoke about the qualities needed of the bishops in light of love for the Church. He opened with a long quotation from Pope Paul VI prior to his death about the gift of love from Christ to the late Pope in the Church. He then outlined three necessary qualities for bishops: fidelity (allowing here for some application of creativity in addition to preserving the treasury of the faith), prudence, and hope. He paid special tribute to a national meeting of Diocesan Vocation Directors recently held in Newark, finding the Directors to be impressive, resourceful and full of hope. Our own Father Len Plazewski is the President of the National Vocation Directors and God knows he reflects all those adjectives. The Nuncio ended his remarks by sharing a letter which he received from a priest asking for the appointment of “more positive” bishops. “Check, Archbishop. And thanks for your remarks.”

The rest of the afternoon was given over to the introduction of the “action items” which the bishops will begin to debate and vote tomorrow morning. The assembly had only ninety minutes, max, to submit formal amendments to the Action Items.

Finally, my successor as Chairman of the Board of Catholic Relief Services, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, gave the assembled bishops a wonderful picture of CRS today, along with a stirring four minute video. The archbishop noted that only 22% of Church-going Catholics could identify CRS as the Church in the US’s overseas disaster relief and development agency.

Cardinal George asked the bishops assembled to support a statement which he wished to make on health care reform. We’ll download that statement for you here as soon as it is available.


Update: Cardinal George’s Statement is now available at the USCCB website for this year’s November meeting, or you can access it directly.