Posts Tagged ‘Pro-Life’

THE MARCH, THE COLD, THE ABANDONED, THE EUCHARIST

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

THE MARCH IN THE COLD

Our diocese is well-represented at the March for Life!

Our diocese is well-represented at the March for Life!

Today in Washington, DC., tens of thousands of people of all ages have gathered once again to recall and regret the 1973 decisions of the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton. These decisions gave rise to the present situation of abortion-on-request which for forty-one years  now has existed in this nation. Questions have arisen in the last ten months about Pope Francis’ position on abortion and I can find no better statement of the Holy Father on this important subject than this paragraph which is taken from his Apostolic Exhortation, the Joy of the Gospel:

213. Among the vulnerable for whom the Church wishes to care with particular  love and concern are unborn children, the most defenceless and innocent among  us. Nowadays efforts are made to deny them their human dignity and to do with  them whatever one pleases, taking their lives and passing laws preventing anyone  from standing in the way of this. Frequently, as a way of ridiculing the  Church’s effort to defend their lives, attempts are made to present her position  as ideological, obscurantist and conservative. Yet this defence of unborn life  is closely linked to the defence of each and every other human right. It  involves the conviction that a human being is always sacred and inviolable, in  any situation and at every stage of development. Human beings are ends in  themselves and never a means of resolving other problems. Once this conviction  disappears, so do solid and lasting foundations for the defence of human rights,  which would always be subject to the passing whims of the powers that be.  Reason alone is sufficient to recognize the inviolable value of each single  human life, but if we also look at the issue from the standpoint of faith,  “every violation of the personal dignity of the human being cries out in  vengeance to God and is an offence against the creator of the individual”.[176]

214. Precisely because this involves the internal consistency of our message  about the value of the human person, the Church cannot be expected to change her  position on this question. I want to be completely honest in this regard. This  is not something subject to alleged reforms or “modernizations”. It is not  “progressive” to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life. On the  other hand, it is also true that we have done little to adequately accompany  women in very difficult situations, where abortion appears as a quick solution  to their profound anguish, especially when the life developing within them is  the result of rape or a situation of extreme poverty. Who can remain unmoved  before such painful situations

In the intervening forty-plus years, the Pro-Life movement has kept the issue alive and the educative force of law which is usually present has been kept at bay. Successive presence in Washington in the midst of winter with regular travel disruptions due to the weather, the bitter cold and again this year deep snow has not stopped those committed to the protection of human life in the womb of the mother from making their presence felt.

I am especially proud of the large contingent of young people from our Catholic High Schools and our seminarians from both seminaries who are present in DC today for their courage and enthusiasm. I pray that they will travel safely home and thank them for their witness.

Pilgrims from Our Lady of the Rosary Parish. Photo graciously shared with us by @kathylifeteen.

Pilgrims from Our Lady of the Rosary Parish braving the cold. Photo graciously shared with us by @kathylifeteen.

View more photos from our pilgrims by clicking here. Photos are being added to the album as they are received.

THE ABANDONED AND THE COLD

Last Friday, the TAMPA TRIBUNE kindly published an op-ed piece which I prepared on the matter of homelessness in Hillsborough county. Yesterday it was revealed that the county has made available an additional one million dollars in a grant to Metropolitan Ministries for additional assistance for the homeless. While I join with Metropolitan Ministries in welcoming this grant, there are two things which I feel I should note. The grant adds no additional housing units for the homeless and by the will of the recipient charity, it is used only for homeless families. That is all good, but the fact remains that there are still well over a thousand  homeless on the streets of Tampa and elsewhere in the county tonight during this second visit of very cold weather. Someone is likely to die but nothing will be made of it by the media, the government or many people. On a cold night like we are having, driving by a homeless person under I-275 or I-4 in Tampa is like the priest and the Levite passing by the nearly lifeless body of the man robbed on the road to Jericho. All that I said about neglecting the largely abandoned in my op-ed piece remains in force and we should do all we can to stop and care for these children of God. If you wish to read my op-ed piece, simply click here.

Also among those whom society is paying scant attention to is the working poor. Two weeks ago Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami authored an op-ed piece which appeared in the FORT LAUDERDALE SUN SENTINEL. It addressed in very clear and very cogent terms the issue of income equality in our nation and the need for raising the minimum wage for those who earn insufficiently to sustain either their own lives or that of their families. It is a topic which I have wanted to address in this blog for a while given the discussion and debate which is taking place in the Congress on the issue and it also arises in my consciousness from the statements and remarks of Pope Francis on the subject. Raising the minimum wage is hardly a Marxist agenda. Archbishop Wenski’s  perspective is very much worthy of your time and thought and can be accessed by clicking here.

COMING IN FROM THE SPIRITUAL COLD THROUGH THE EUCHARIST

Finally, shortly after lunch each day I check several of my favorite blogs. I have already mentioned my respect for whispersintheloggiablogspot.com because I believe that its author/editor Rocco Palma works very hard to cover the church in a fair, loving and respectful way. The other day he called my attention to another thoughtful source on the Church today written by Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter. In the past, every time I mention this journal I get about five angry comments from people excoriating me for reading and worse yet referencing this publication. Sad that there are such closed minds. I don’t agree with everything in the NCR and I doubt seriously if all of their staff would agree with everything I write from time to time, but I learn a lot from them and especially from Winters. Whispers referenced an article by Winters which made it possible for me to read one of the finest pieces of writing on the Eucharist by Michael Gerson which appeared first in Notre Dame magazine. Read it – it’s worth the time and effort and you can do so by clicking here. Even though it is harsh in its criticism of the Church, its episcopal management, its priorities, etc. it is so refreshingly affirming of the gift of the Eucharist today. So I am grateful to the triad of Palma, Winters, and Gerson for stirring my pride in the gift of Himself which Jesus left to us in the Eucharist. (p.s., I sometimes, maybe even often, do wish that all bishops not be painted with the same brush, but, oh well.)

+RNL

HURRICANE HEADING TOWARDS AFRICA

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

Half the fun of writing blogs is to discover a title that arouses interest, gives little away, but inspires me to share some thoughts with you, my readers. I have mentioned to other bloggers that sometimes I begin with a title and work from there rather than write and then search for a title. That is the case now. Here in Florida during this season, nothing arouses interest more than “the National Hurricane Center in Miami is monitoring a tropical disturbance moving westward over the Atlantic for potential development.” We don’t rush out to buy plywood, but we become attuned to listening during weather reports to the “Invest Number ” and then to the Tropical Depression, Tropical Storm, Hurricane, etc., if and as it develops. The vast majority of our threats begin over the Sahara in northern Africa and then move across the increasingly warm waters of the mid-Atlantic. Occasionally, a system develops in the Caribbean and there is less time to prepare but tropical weather problems for us almost always move westward.

Unfortunately, a storm of a different kind developed in the United States recently and was headed toward Africa. It began with a group called the “Population Research Institute” which is an allegedly pro-life group and spread to a few other notoriously and consistently wrong entities who “thrive” on attacking the Church or its entities. While it was meant to inflict harm on a highly respected US Catholic charity, it took dead aim this time at Africa. From time to time, I suspect when these organizations need money, they try to stir up a hornet’s nest or storm by attacking a Catholic organization, usually falsely accusing them of being anti-life, pro-contraception, either pro or soft on abortion, etc., etc., etc. The storms start small enough and then occasionally grow in size. It’s simply a money raising scheme with little regard for the human lives which they allege they seek to protect – well maybe it is only pre-born human life in which they are interested. The Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) has felt the buffeting torrents of accusations in the past as has Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA). This time it was Catholic Relief Services (CRS) which was to be the significant “whipping boy/girl” for these groups. For twelve years of my priestly life I have been on the Board of Catholic Relief Services and six of those I served as President and Chairman of the Board. During my engagement we were mostly spared any of these storms, but from the time Cardinal Timothy Dolan succeeded me as Chairman, these storms have developed off the East Coast of the U.S. and moved eastward toward Africa where CRS does an amazing job of supporting and sustaining human life, even with programs of pre-natal maternal/child health care,  which has helped lower the infant (in and out of the womb) death rate.

These attacks never grow beyond a tropical depression but too much time and energy is spent by CRS and CCHD and CCUSA in responding to them. The latest components of  this “Tropical Depression” were the allegation that in the nation of Madagascar CRS was actively promoting contraception, that the bishops of that country and elsewhere were displeased with CRS, and that you dear reader should not give to Catholic Relief Services because they do not adhere to Catholic teaching but send your money to them so they can develop this into a Tropical Storm and rid the Church of this organization. We’ve heard it all before, responded to it in the past, know its sources, and spend way too much energy in defense of the agency.

So let me take each of the current seeds of the latest storm and tell you the truth. Does CRS staff or the agency in general promote contraceptives in Madagascar or anywhere else in Africa or the globe? The storm originators never identify their sources but just throw mud up into the air. CRS policy is consistent and supportive of the Church’s teaching and we have been excluded from many U.S. government programs over the years because we will not sign on to the U.S. program of condom distribution in other countries. The storm sources have yet, yet in all these years to produce a credible witness to the contrary.

Now, how about the hierarchy of Madagascar? Do they think CRS is acting contrary to Church teaching? Are they unhappy with the presence and work of CRS in their country? Archbishop Desire Tsarahazana, President of the bishops’ conference of Madagascar expressed “strong support” for CRS and said that the agency is “acting in accord with Catholic teaching and does not provide or facilitate access to contraception or abortion.” So who do you wish to believe, an organization that will not identify either its sources of the allegations or name its own members of its Board of Directors or the arm of the Catholic church that saves lives daily throughout the world?

Catholic Relief Services readily admits that it is not always perfect. When one has 5000 employees worldwide, is it even remotely possible that one or two of those same employees might incorrectly represent the agency’s position? Yes, it is. If one searches far enough can one find a bishop who is unhappy with CRS in their country? Yes, one can. The primary complaint I heard throughout my dozen years from bishops where we are present and serving, was, “can’t you just send us the money and let us spend it?” or “why can’t you give us money to build a headquarters building for our episcopal conference?” Patiently I would explain how we are different from the European Catholic Aid agencies because our scope is limited to disaster relief and human development through programs of microfinance, food maintenance, pre-natal medicine and HIV/AIDS interventions, etc. They also often complained about the demands of reporting required by the government of the United States if federal program monies were involved and I would quickly respond, we don’t like it either but it is the cost of doing business. When I queried would they be better off without CRS in their diocese of country they were quick, unanimous and emphatic in saying “no, stay.”

I am convinced that many so called Pro-Life groups are not really pro-life but merely anti-abortion. We heard nothing from the heavy hitters in the prolife movement in the last week when Florida last night executed a man on death row for 34 years having been diagnosed as a severe schizophrenic. Which personality did the state execute? Many priests grow weary of continual calls to action for legislative support for abortion and contraception related issues but nothing for immigration reform, food aid, and capital punishment. And, this is a big one, priests don’t like unfair attacks on things they highly value and esteem, like the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and Catholic Charities and Catholic Relief Services.

So this little storm which was headed in a way to harm CRS’s work in Africa has run into a ridge of dry air and will stall. But when the Population Research Institute or others need money from Catholics who want to believe the worst about their church, its leadership and their service agencies, then it will suck up the mud-filled moisture and try to stoke up another storm. I suspect that if he ever got this blog, Pope Francis would agree with its content. Keep on doing the good work of Christ and be an instrument of mercy to the world.

+RNL

NEWTOWN – SAME STORY

Monday, December 17th, 2012

I had hoped and prayed that I would never again have to write one of these blogs. Never again reflect on how one deranged person could almost instantly bring about the death of innocent people, innocent children. But Friday’s devastation of human life in Newtown, Connecticut brought me once again back to the reality. Let me say this in the first paragraph. I have in this space on four occasions before argued strongly that the government (federal, state or local) must do something about assault weapons of mass destruction. What our nation was not able to find in Iraq we overlook on our own streets and in our own communities. A war against weapons of mass destruction was fought overseas but has thus far been ignored in our neighborhoods. The founding fathers (and mothers) could never have dreamed of AK-47s and Glocks. When they thought of the right to bear arms, they only knew single load rifles and pistols – necessary in some instances to protect oneself or to hunt for food. To this day, with some restrictions like registration and concealment laws, I think the second amendment was and remains sound but not, in the name of God, anything which would allow a killer to wipe out or to almost wipe out the first grade of an elementary school, or a high school like Columbine, or at a mall in Portland, Oregon. As President Obama said, it is time for the nation to address this issue. We rank the highest in the civilized world for armed aggression against innocent people and part of the reason has to be the ease with which one can procure these “weapons of mass destruction.”

When I have broached this subject in the past I have been “favored” with some of the angriest comments I ever receive. Most of the time, in language far too colorful to repeat here, I am told to “preach the Gospel and stay out of politics.” During the last three months, three of my most severe critics on the matter of gun control also sent comments asking when I was going to condemn the President for his so-called anti-life positions. Go figure! To be in favor of limits on assault weapons is to be pro-life.

I and I bet most Catholics are so proud today of the pastor of St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Newtown, Monsignor Robert Weiss, for his heroic presence to the families who lost children or their adult parents in this latest outrage. He represented the Lord to these grieving people in the only way he could, by being present, listening, not responding with pious platitudes. He was a good shepherd, a great pastor. That he wept on occasion is exactly what I would have done in similar circumstances. It is all so sad, so surreal, so tragic. Thou shall not kill, the unborn, the dying elderly, children, innocent people. What is happening to this nation?

Sunday’s readings were of some consolation. Thematically they were filled with the notion of “rejoicing.” Paul wrote Sunday’s reading from prison. Zephaniah wrote Sunday’s reading to an unfaithful people whom God still loved and John the Baptist humbly preached a message of conversion and redemption also not in the best of times. In eight days we will celebrate the birthday of the Prince of Peace and we would do well to remember what Monsignor Weiss said in Newtown – God did not do this, a human being did. We still have the opportunity in the time left to us on earth to work for peace – not just globally, but on the streets where we live. Elected leaders, right this wrong.

My heart and prayers go out to the families whose lives were tragically touched by the losses they endured on Friday. May the twenty-seven plus the mother of the shooter not have died in vain.

+RNL

TO LIFE, TO LIFE, L’CHAIM

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

In that marvelous musical comedy of decades ago, Fiddler on the Roof, there is an exuberant song sung by the whole cast at a wedding, I believe, entitled “To Life, to life, l’chaim.” That has certainly been my experience over the last two weeks.

It all began with the formal opening of 40 Days for Life at St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Clearwater (please click here for more photos from the kickoff, graciously taken and shared by Rob Gale). I joined almost two hundred woman and men of all ages who, over the following forty days, would be silently praying before an abortion clinic on US 19 North.

40 Days for Life Kickoff at St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Clearwater. Photo kindness of Rob Gale.

Their silent, eloquent witness on behalf of life has made a difference, not only in this diocese, as similar observances are now being held each October (Respect Life Month) before abortion clinics throughout our five counties, but now almost throughout the nation. The participants were prepped on how to handle counter protests, epithets, etc. in a manner in which Our Lord would have born those same affronts and also how to lovingly respond to women whose decision may have changed because of the presence of the witnesses.

Praying together at the 40 Days for Life Kickoff. Photo kindness of Rob Gale.

It was heart-warming to see the prayerful preparation of these generous, faith-filled people who are willing to bear the heat of the October sun, the rain and wind which have been a part of our climate these last two weeks, and the catcalls and insults of those who do not share theirs and our deep respect for human life.

On Saturday, Catholic Charities’ Foundations for Life held its annual gala (aka “fundraiser”) at Tampa’s A La Carte Pavilion and approximately 430 people were in attendance there (click here to see photos). There were two incredible moments in the evening, and if you were unable to be there I hope you will take the time to watch the two videos included below. It will be time well-spent, I assure you.

The first was when Shawn Carney, a thirty-year old Catholic man born and raised in Tyler, Texas and one of the two founders of 40 Days for Life gave absolutely the best pro-life talk I have ever heard.

With Shawn Carney, co-founder of 40 Days for Life. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Shawn met his future wife while attending Texas A&M and she invited him to stand outside of an abortion clinic one night for their first date. The rest is history and with another friend they gave birth (while his wife was giving birth to four children) to Forty Days for Life. His talk was to the point, free of judgment and recrimination against women who have had abortions, and a call to the larger pro-life community, Catholic and otherwise, to stand tall for our belief in the sacredness of human life. He was the most compelling speaker I have ever heard on this topic. I highly recommend watching the video of his talk below.

Prior to Shawn’s presentation, a young nineteen year old woman and her husband and their triplets gave personal witness to a story that had myself and everyone else in tears. You can watch the video of Ruby’s testimony, posted with her permission, below.

Ruby actually had given birth to quads but one died in the womb and a obstetrician recommended ending the lives of the other three as well, saying that they would most certainly be born with major genetic defects and would likely not live outside the womb even if they made it that far. She and her husband, with no money, but just a profound sense of right and wrong, decided to have the children and soon they were in touch with our Catholic Charities Foundations of Life Pregnancy Center in Tampa. Catholic Charities saw them through the birth and the triplets, while born very early and prematurely, are now very healthy babies as the picture below picture reveals.

With Ruby’s family. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Unknown to anyone at the time of the birth but soon discovered after, the mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at age eighteen, has not been through chemo and is presently undergoing radiation therapy. Through it all, our Catholic Charities has been walking with this couple and their three absolutely adorable children and will stay with them come what may. “To Life, To Life, L’Chaim.”

We have a beautiful Church with beautiful teachings about the dignity of every human person from conception to natural death. This is the month we honor and respect all human life and in our dedication and witness, even the gates of hell can not prevail against it.

+RNL

HEALTH CARE LAW MAY “THWART” BOTH YOUR RELIGIOUS LIBERTY AND YOUR FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE PROTECTION

Thursday, December 1st, 2011
Attorneys in the congregation taking the Oath of Attorney during the Red Mass.

Taking the Oath of Attorney during the Red Mass. Photo courtesy of Maria Mertens.

Yesterday at beautiful Sacred Heart Church in Tampa we celebrated the annual Red Mass invoking the blessings  of the Holy Spirit on all judges, lawyers and clerks in our area. The Mass derives its name not from the color of vestments which the priests wear, but when the custom originated in Britain many centuries ago, the judges all wore red robes, hence “the Red Mass.” Yesterday was also the Feast of St. Andrew the Apostle and since all the apostles suffered a martyr’s death, we always wear red when we remember them. The largest assembly of lawyers and judges in my time gathered to pray for the gift of divine guidance through the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We have great Catholic lawyers and judges and it has always been a pleasure to be with them. Each year on the Sunday prior to the first Monday in October opening of a new session of the Supreme Court, many of the nine justices travel to Washington’s St. Matthew Cathedral for what may be the largest and most important Red Mass held in the nation.

In my homily I chose to bring up a possibility arising from Health and Human Services regulations which bother me deeply precisely because I and many others find them   violative of the religious liberty assured us by the first amendment to our Constitution and also of our personal moral consciences. These regulations will apply to the implementation of the soon to be fully implemented federal health care law.

The Diocese of Saint Petersburg has approximately 2300 employees who participate in a generous health care plan as part of their employment. While it covers almost everything, it excludes contraceptives, abortifacients, sexual enhancements like “Viagra”, etc. The first draft of the regulations for implementation issued by the Department of Health and Human Services mandated these and more services which I and others think violate the freedom of religion of our Church as regards procedures which we believe to be not in keeping with God’s law.  Further, if a person is required by law to provide, perhaps in a hospital emergency room situation procedures violative of their individual conscience( in the past they have  been exempt because of conscience concerns), they would be forced by this law to do so. Reacting to the first wave of complaints from the Catholic Church the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services modified the regulations slightly to exempt only Catholics working for a Catholic employer (other religions with serious moral concerns would also be included). Alas, I would still be required by law to provide the services to non-Catholic employees. What kind of sense does that make?

But there is an even larger problem for the Diocese of St. Petersburg. It is self-insured and our plan is only administered by a health care agency. Therefore the diocese by this law is an insurance company and all insurance companies must provide these services with currently no exemptions allowed. There are no exemptions to even include the situation outlined above. If the argument focused on abortion, a matter of public morality since the life of another person is involved, I suspect many more people would carry the fear which I have about this exercise of regulatory authority but because it seems to focus on contraception, a matter of private morality, lots of people do not understand what is at stake here. My genuine concern is that it is simply the proverbial camel’s nose under the tent. In my homily I outlined perhaps the only option left for the diocese as an employer if these regulations stand and believe me, colleagues in ministry and service and I will experience a marked loss of health care insurance coverage. A Church cannot be forced to violate its teaching, do something which is possibly immoral, and stand idly by and watch our Catholic doctors, nurses and aids forced to perform procedures which are both against their conscience and previously protected.  That’s what involved in this and there is considerable opposition to the position of the Church coming from Planned Parenthood and other organizations which see this moment as an opportunity to close the conscience clause exemption which they have long despised. If you don’t believe me, read the blogs of those other groups. No one in yesterday’s congregation has the power to fix whats wrong with the Affordable Health Care and Patient Protection Act of 2010. Only the President of the United States and his Secretary for Health and Human Services can do that but a gathering for Mass such as yesterday’s does provide me a forum for vetting a serious question of the intersection of law and morality and learning from those far more skilled at interpreting and applying the law than myself. From the reactions which I immediately received and throughout the day yesterday by e-mail and personal contacts, posing the matter of religious freedom was appreciated and as you can see below, I asked nothing of those present but to listen, reflect and pray.

Here follows my homily to those attending the Red Mass. I believe you will find it simply a pastor raising a moral v. potentially legal dilemma before people far wiser than I about the law, individual rights, and the danger to something many deeply cherish and love love about our country to date.

Distinguished Judges, members of the bar, clerks and friends of the courts

            It is an honor for me to join you once again in our annual invocation of the Holy Spirit for each of you in your respective and awesome responsibilities as dispensers and arbiters of justice in this time and place. Realizing fully my own need for the gift of wisdom from on high, I am certain that it is this gift of God and this gift alone which unites us this afternoon in this place and for this celebration.

           “Come follow me” is the invitation, which our Lord extends to Andrew, the apostle whose life and death the universal Church celebrates today, and to his brother, Simon. Such an invitation is also a generic call to all of us to follow Christ in the path of discipleship and service to humankind. No one living near Capernaum along the Sea of Galilee that day would have thought a thing about it because both men were simply uneducated fishermen. They were not antiquities forerunners of Rhodes scholars or McArthur fellowship award winners, they were what they were, fishermen.  But in addition to three years spent in the close company of the master teacher, Jesus, they would with nine others gather in one room and await the infusion of wisdom, courage, understanding, knowledge, piety, counsel, fortitude and fear of the Lord, all gifts of the same Holy Spirit to whom and for whom we pray today. The Lord heard their prayers, gave them the gifts necessary to shape, form, and lead His people then and  until His Son returns again in glory.

            Today in many ways attempting to follow the Lord requires that each of us know our limitations and return from time to time to seek divine assistance. I am sure that you can say the same as I do each morning when at prayer: “Lord, I do not know what is in store for me today but I am sure that today will be unlike any other, give me grace and strength, wisdom and patience.” The words of St. Paul in the first reading are assuring to those of us who realize that we were not born with all of life’s answers: “no one who believes in him will be put to shame. . . .For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. “

            Life on planet earth, the North American continent, and the United States has over time become exceeding complex and challenging and matters which the framers of our Constitution could never have envisioned now propel daily discourse. It is incumbent upon religious leaders like myself to present a consistent moral vision faithful to the law of Christ and the teachings of the Church and upon members of the judiciary and bar to navigate the tricky waters of law and precedent. But both of us are bound by vow or oath to be faithful to something, which must stand the test of time, be it creed or constitution. Occasionally our paths cross and less frequently but still occasionally they collide. I have such a fear at this moment in time.

            You probably have heard that the Catholic bishops of the United States have focused a significant amount of attention in the last few months on the matter of religious liberty and the rights of individual conscience. The matter is headed, of course, to the courts bit it is not that direction which I wish to call to your respectful attention today. Rather I think you should know that the Catholic Church through its bishops are in conversation with the Administration on certain published regulations of the recently enacted Health Care Plan which we find both unacceptable and worse still which we see as frontal attacks on our liberty of freedom of conscience. As employers we would be forced to provide in health care plans services and procedures which clearly are contrary to our beliefs and teachings and individual Catholics would be required to participate in procedures which in the past have enjoyed conscience protection in the law. So far the Administration has not publicly blinked on any of these matters of deep concern to us. If they fail to shift in their present positions, then 2300 employees of the Diocese of St. Petersburg will lose their health care coverage which they have come to treasure and rely upon – I would simply give them what we would have paid for their healthcare and tell them they have to look for coverage elsewhere. For the first time in my adult life, I foresee the possibility of some form of civil disobedience and I am extremely uncomfortable at even the hint of such a thing.

            We just celebrated the national feast day of Thanksgiving. The Puritans and Pilgrims of Massachusetts and the Catholics of Rhode Island and Maryland came to these shores precisely to found and build a nation which would respect and honor religious belief. The First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of religion reflects those foundational principles. Our founding mothers and fathers fled and escaped precisely what my Church and other denominations are coming to see now as assaults on their freedom of religious exercise and conscience protection. As difficult as it is for me to understand the reluctance of Christian Scientists to seek medical assistance, it is at the heart of their creed, their faith, their belief and I would fight to protect their rights in conscience. I hope others will see what we find at stake in this moment in history. One federal judge in California has said that the guarantee of “religious freedom” and lack of interference from the government pertains only to what we do on Sunday in our Churches and Friday nights in our Synagogues. All else is subject to government regulation. Dear sisters and brothers, we need the Holy Spirit badly.

            You heard the Gospel of Matthew a short while ago and its retelling of the call of the apostles. There is a different account to be found in the Fourth Gospel of John. There Andrew sees Jesus and asks, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” Jesus responds, “come and see.” After spending a few hours with Jesus, in John’s Gospel Andrew then quickly seeks out his brother Simon and says, “we have found the Lord.” Today we pray that the work of the Lord can be found in our system of laws and their administration, in the women and men of the bar, rooted in justice and desirous of proclaiming liberty to all. Come, Holy Spirit, Come!

Pray for your country and its leaders. It is not too late to fix what needs to be fixed.

+RNL

A SILVER STAR OVER TAMPA

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

The “Silver Star” is about to appear over Tampa’s Union Station; right on time I might add as it has been throughout the night on its 1120-mile journey from Baltimore yesterday afternoon. I slept like the “Chessie Kitten” albeit with some help from an “Ambien” tablet, falling asleep while standing in the station at Cary, North Carolina (twenty miles southwest of Raleigh) and waking up in Palatka, Florida this morning. Columbia, South Carolina, Savannah, Jacksonville were all just dreams. However, I think I have one more post of observations about the bishops’ meeting that just concluded.

First, our new President, by sheer bent of his wonderful personality, managed to make what could be tense moments less so and I think his gifts as chair were appreciated by the majority of bishops present. By nature he is kind and patient, both qualities very necessary in a bishop leader today. There was quite a bit of concern expressed in the Catholic and secular press that the USCCB has lost its moral compass on social issues like jobs, the economy, justice, capitol punishment, etc. These same critics see most of our time and attention when congregated directed to issues like abortion, contraception, the government and President of the United States, etc. These comments and reflections at this moment in time are quite fair I believe. As a body of bishops, we seem to be in a period of navel gazing at the “safe” issues and have lost for the moment our zeal for those which society largely ignores, even though I readily admit advocacy on behalf of human life also fits into this general category. Some voices were raised by my brothers about immigration but not a lot. Some voices were raised by my brothers about atrocious injustice at home and abroad but not a lot. And as proof of this reality, there is not a lot if anything in the hopper of future USCCB concern which might portend the prophetic engagement of many of these issues. This is the period of the life issues, almost  p-e-r-i-o-d-“ We long have been the most consistent and persistent voice on behalf of human life from conception until natural death and I would not wish that to change one bit. But we used to be able to be that voice as well as a voice for other issues of deep social and societal concern. It is that second “edge” that I feel we are losing.

The whole movement to engage and enlarge the issue of religious liberty flows primarily from assaults on Church teaching on human life currently seeming to arise from the Obama administration and more so from the Department of Health and Human Services. We would not be so keenly interested perhaps were it not for the fact that HHS seems to be having a field day threatening to require religious employers to provide a vast range of contraceptive and abortifacient services in the new health care law, certainly with nothing but total disregard it would seem to date for the Church’s longstanding teachings on these matters (and here I would enjoin our Mormon brothers and sisters as well as the Christian Scientists and other evangelical religions) which want nothing to do with provision of services which are against our (their) conscience belief. Let me give you an example of what I, as your bishop and the diocese of St. Petersburg might be up against if the individual mandates remain in the law and are regulated as HHS currently plans. On its face, I would be required to provide all our employees a full range of contraceptive opportunities not currently covered by our health care plan. Ah, but HHS might say, we can make you exempt as a religious employer (please note that to this moment they have not yet been this generous). But for the diocese that is just hurdle number one. Hurdle number two is the fact that we are self-insured, which means we are an insurer acting as an insurance company and we would seem to still be even more compelled. Thus, I and every other head of a Catholic institution would have to in conscience terminate the health care plans for myself, my priests and all our 2300 employees, perhaps give them a check the equivalent of what would have been our contribution to their health care and send them looking for a plan and carrier that will come the closest to matching the plan they had. Our religious freedom to fashion a health care plan consistent with our beliefs will have been denied and removed. And as diocesan employees would readily admit, a great health care benefit which until now we could mount on would be taken away. That’s not progress in health care, that is sheer regression.

This week the Supreme Court has agreed to five hours of oral arguments in the New Year on several aspects of the health care plan including the mandate. We should know prior to the fall election what our fate would be on this matter. Soundings from Secretary Sibellius’ HHS are not promising. It is an important moment in the history of Church and State in this land of freedom of religion and I agree the signs are so far ominous.

But, as I conclude the last of these reflections on this year’s fall meeting, the Presidential Address of Archbishop Dolan was a bright spot precisely because it can serve as the launching pad for what I believe to be the most important work of the Church over the next two decades – the new Evangelization.

Quite truthfully AMTRAK’s “Silver Star” is presently “backing up” into Tampa’s Union Depot to drop me off. Like others remaining on this train and continuing south, I look to more forward progress in the days, months and years ahead.

+RNL

WHEREIN DO WE CAPTURE THE CONSCIENCE OF THE KING?

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

I know, I know, we have no such thing as a “king” in these United States but then Shakespeare had no such thing as a “president” when he was writing plays and sonnets either. So I have inverted titles to make this point: in his famous commencement speech given at Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana, President Obama said this: “So let’s work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions by reducing unintended pregnancies, and making adoption more available, and providing care and support for women who do carry their child to term. Let’s honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that all of our health care policies are grounded in clear ethics and sound science, as well as respect for the equality of women.”

We shall soon learn how committed the President is to drafting “a sensible conscience clause” as his administration ponders whether or not, I as an employer, must provide contraceptive opportunities as a part of the health care program which I (the diocese) provide to all our employees. That’s the present assertion of the draft language in a portion of the health care bill which deals with services which must be provided to all employees. The President of Notre Dame University, the same man that President Obama praised for his wisdom and leadership in the same speech quoted above, joined by twenty-eight other college and university presidents has said that to do so would violate his (their) individual as well as institutional consciences. Father John Jenkins, C.S.C. bravely went on to say that unless a conscience clause exempting religious institutions from providing such services was included, then he would cease to provide Notre Dame employees health care coverage and would be forced to remunerate them so that they would have to purchase a health plan individually and on their own, resulting in a loss of services and coverage and an escalation of health care costs. I would do the same here in the diocese. What a sad day that would be.

In the closing days of September, I asked all of y0u to write to Secretary Sibelius and ask her for conscience protection for those of us who hold religious beliefs that may be at variance by the letter or intent of the health care legislation. Although I am sometimes at a loss to completely understand everything about Christian Scientists, they are a Christian Church and they deserve protection for their religious beliefs and I would fight for them as I hope they would fight for us in this regard. Final wording has not yet been forthcoming from the US Department of Health and Human Services but it can not be far away. Then and only then will we be able to capture the conscience of the President and his administration in providing for an religious conscience exemption from requirements that violate people’s moral code and system of beliefs.

Should we be worried? I believe so. I feel the same attack on religious liberty and its exercise in this nation that drove the founders to flee their native lands and establish this government, for the people, by the people and Under God, is suddenly front and center here in my country. Migration and Refugee Services, a division of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has been denied a grant from the government because we do not provide contraceptive assistance to the newly arrived whom we have helped resettle with great distinction over decades, especially the Vietnamese following the war. Catholic Relief Services has been told “shape up or ship out” because we do not distribute or advocate condom use in the countries where we serve the poor. Now I must confess that during the administration of President George W. Bush, USAID which is a program of the State Department was at one time going to deny CRS any PEPFAR funds because we did not advocate and teach the use of condoms. Someone woke up and smelled the coffee of the potential risk of failure of the new anti-AIDS retroviral program and made CRS a lead agent in initially nine countries so the pressure is not just a reflection of one party. Catholic Charities in Illinois has been stricken from receiving any state funds for any program because of their conscience belief on gay and lesbian adoptions. What a shame! Today the question is whether those  in office now will also “smell the coffee” and allow us the conscience protection so strongly embraced by our nation’s founders. We will see, will we not and only then will be capture the conscience of the king!

+RNL

THE FOUNDATION OF (AND FOR) LIFE

Sunday, October 2nd, 2011

Last night at Hyatt West Shore hotel, a tremendous group of more than 450 women and men came to a “gala” dinner sponsored by and for the Diocesan Foundations for Life. MC’d superbly by Gus Lloyd, for many years the voice of morning drive time on Spirit FM- 90.5 and now serving in the same time slot on the Catholic Channel, an offering of Sirius-XM Satellite radio. We heard two talks of women who had recently given birth to two beautiful children rather than abort them precisely because they found their way to our diocesan women’s centers and there found mentors, assistance, love and support to bring their children to term. I was asked to give the keynote address but I might as well have just been a part of the audience for my remarks paled in comparison to the brief witness these two heroic mothers gave. It made all of us proud to be Catholic, proud to be pro-life and proud to support this important outreach of our local Church. All in attendance were asked make an on-the-spot donation to keep these centers running and give them the tools they need to help pregnant mothers in distress bring their children to term and to life. I know I was an easy hit and looking at my own and surrounding tables, despite the economy, people were filling out their gift cards, young and old alike. I will share with you my remarks for the occasion, but there were no scripts for the two mothers’ talks, just an outpouring of gratitude from the hearts of two who chose life.

            As most of you are aware, we gather this evening on the first day of our annual Respect Life Month, several days into our now annual “Forty Days for Life” witnessing and on the first day of the second month in the year devoted to our Blessed Mother, protectress of all human life,  under the title, “Our Lady of the Rosary”. You and I are here tonight because we share a special passion, a passion for all of human life from its earliest moment at conception till and through natural death.

           I  clearly recall and remember in great detail major moments in seven decades of life. I still remember where I was and what I immediately did when I heard of the shooting in President Kennedy. Closer to this moment, I remember those horrible hours slightly more than ten years ago when the attack on the World Trade Center occurred. I remember well the night the first President Bush announced our military engagement with the Iraqies to regain the independence of Kuwait. And I also remember that day soon to be thirty-eight years ago when our Supreme Court said that they had found a right previous apparently hidden in the constitution of our nation which legally ushered in the era of abortion-on-request.

           I was a layman working for the United States Catholic Conference and I ran into a colleague and friend, the late Bishop James McHugh who headed the Pro-Life Office of the Conference who asked me with a long and sad face, “did you hear what the Supreme Court did to human life this morning?” Having just previously worked on an initiative by the bishops of the United States to secure tuition tax credits for children in non-public schools, similarly struck down by the court on a case arising from Pennsylvania, I understood perhaps better than others in the building that day the depth and disaster of Roe.

           But I also with to admit publicly to having been wrong about something that day! I was convinced then that the matter likely was settled and America would soon get used to living with Roe like it had every other decision of the Supremes save Dred Scott. I was mistakenly certain then that the “educative force of law” would slowly but certainly override the consciences and concerns of pro-life people and America would slowly but surely learn to live with Roe.

           The very fact that more than four hundred and fifty of you have gathered here this evening in defense of human life gives the lie to my mistaken thoughts on that occasion some thirty-eight years ago. This is one law with which a large segment of U.S. society remains uncomfortable and determined to reverse.

           In the early years it was lonely out there. But over the decades this cause which we espouse and believe in so clearly has gained support from people of other faith groups: evangelicals, Southern Baptists, Mormans to name a few. What was first a response has given birth to a movement. And the mantra which Nancy Reagan gave to the use of illicit drugs has become the motto of our belief – as long as we live we will “JUST SAY NO” to anything which challenges the sanctity of life.

           But the voices of those who do not concur with our respect for life also have minds and voices. They are losing the battle and they know it but we remain far from winning the day even though we are making progress. Ultimate success depends on two realities or so I believe:

1. Changing the political climate, and

2. Witnessing to the pro-life commitment

          First, political change, is in many ways the toughest challenge. How often have we been disappointed with or disillusioned by candidate for public office who promised their support of our efforts for life? Those elected who promise help sometimes though not always disappoint. They measure their support by testing the winds of votes to be won or lost – not doing what they know in their heart is the right thing to do.

           But we can never give up on the political process as it is one of the two paths to pro-life success. Involving ourselves as individuals in elections, debates, op-eds, can gain as we have seen recently the attention of the elected. Logic always trumps hysteria and courtesy accompanies rhetorical compromise. There is a great debate coming next year which will define the stance of the public square on the life issues until almost the next decade. Observe, judge, and then act pro-life. Pope Benedict XVI as Blessed John Paul II before him has reminded you that as lay women and men, you have the special task of carrying this message to and throughout the body politic.

           The second catalyst to our ultimate success is in large part why we are here tonight and I know I am tonight surrounded by dedicated pro-life people and perhaps preaching to the proverbial “choir”. What we do for and with women who are experiencing unexpected and challenging pregnancies is the best witness to our commitment to the pro-life cause. Pro-abortionists claim that we are only interested in pre-born life, saving the baby. Well serving in our diocesan and affiliated pregnancy centers, advertising the outreach to pregnant women of our diocesan Catholic Charities, and bringing clothes for newborns and other things to those places offering shelter and hope to women who might more easily and quickly have chosen to terminate their pregnancy is awesome witness to the contrary.

           Prayer is important. I sometimes pray the rosary when I am alone in my car and one decade is always for those women facing that critical decision between the life or death of the pre-born. I have even trained the woman on my GPS who tells me what an idiot I am when I make the wrong turn to say the second half of the Hail Mary, “Holy Mary, mother of God.” Even she is “recalculating.”

           Women who choose to bring their children to term often need post-birth assistance in caring for their newborn. Got an old car that will bring nothing on the resell market but still has some life left in it – women who give birth out-of-wedlock often need transportation to work and that old car can still make a huge difference, for example.

           Share the story of tonight, four hundred and fifty-nine women and men came together to support one of the best kept secrets of our local Church “Catholic Charities Foundations of Life Pregnancy Centers.” Make us the first responder to a desperate woman who thinks there is no where else to turn but to those terribly misnamed “Women’s Clinics.”

           We are not callous. We are not contentious. We are for human life and while the political and legal system works more to protect human life, we support it through our witness, through our gifts, through our time, and through our talent. We are people of conscience and we will not allow the government through legislation or regulation to deprive us of our freedom of conscience.

           At the core of our conscience is human life, a gift from God, who alone has the first and last word on when it begins and ends. I love and thank you all for your glorious witness to the sanctity of life.

+RNL

GOD AND FORTY

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

Pastor Shawn of a Southern Baptist Congregation offers the first witness talk at the Rally for Forty Days for Life across from an abortion clinic on Fletcher Avenue in Tampa

Last night in Tampa about a hundred dedicated pro-life people and I began the annual “Forty Days for Life” effort across from an abortion clinic. Our presence was a peaceful and prayerful witness to our fundamental belief that all life is sacred and its beginnings and its end should be in the hands of God, not humans. For the next forty days, someone or several people will be quietly walking the sidewalk in front of the clinic giving eloquent witness to Gospel of Life. The vigil will begin at eight each morning and conclude around five or six each evening and volunteers have already signed up. Similar witnesses will be given in front of or adjacent to other abortion clinics throughout the diocese.

It was certainly a privilege for me to join in prayer, solidarity and support with those who believe as passionately as I do that abortion is one of the greatest horrors of our time. FORTY DAYS FOR LIFE gathers people of many different religions who believe in the pro-life cause and who trust in God. Throughout the Bible there is evidence that God made major changes and transformations after a period of forty days:

* It rained 40 days and 40 nights when God wanted to begin again the world he has created first in the Garden with our first parents and which had become so sinful.

*Noah waited an additional forty days before he dared open the window of the Ark he had built at the Lord’s bidding.

*Moses twice ascended the Mount to be with God for forty days each time.

*It took forty days to search the promised land and bring back first fruits.

*Jonah warned the city of Nineveh that they had only forty days until God would cast the city into ruins and the citizens used those forty for repentence and God spared the city.

*Jesus fasted for forty days in the in the wilderness before beginning his public ministry.

*Jesus was seen for forty days between his Resurrection and Ascension.

Clearly our God gets a lot done in forty days and this is the spirit in which we launched this year’s vigil for life in the diocese. God has worked mighty miracles in the past and can do the same again if our faith and commitment rivals that of Noah, Moses, Elijah and even Jesus. We have seen the abortion rate in our state drop (though it appears now to be creeping up once again), the public awareness of and debate over abortion-on-request become a major issue in the public square, not just during elections but at other times, and significant legislative victories chipping away at the ease with which abortions can be procured. What were once considered miracles are happening as we approach the fortieth anniversary of Roe in 2013. Would it not be wonderful to have a whole new pro-life climate in the U.S. by then? We can only hope, pray, witness and work and that’s precisely what we did last night in Tampa. Thanks to those who came and to those throughout the diocese who will volunteer their presence in the next forty days.

+RNL

DEVOTEDLY YOURS TOO – 40,000 FEET

Friday, June 17th, 2011

Hearkening back to my blog entry on the way to Seattle I find myself once again on United, flying over one of those big square states that all look alike between Colorado and the Mississippi River. Our bishops meeting in Seattle ended one hour later than scheduled last night in Bellevue, Washington with a very long Executive Session. The public agenda was very light as I have previously indicated and pretty much devoid of disagreement as I have noted already.

There is a short, succinct statement of the bishops on the matter of Physician Assisted Suicide which can be read on the USCCB website by clicking here. I found it interesting that the site of the acceptance of the document happened in a state (and along with its neighbor Oregon) which allows for it legally and that it follows closely the death of Dr. Jack Kevorkian a few days ago – probably the most famous and fatal administrator of assisted suicide in the history of this nation.

Attention was given to fixing some things in the Dallas Charter for another two years before it will once again be revisited and reexamined. I know that some people, particularly victims and groups representing them believe that there are large lacuna in the charter and things which the bishops do not wish to change. Personally, as I have written earlier this week in the ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, I recognize that the Charter is not a perfect roadmap to complete and total child safety but its efficacy can be seen in the radical drop in new reports of sexual misconduct against minors by priests and other Church employees. In our area of the country, our diocese, you have not had a reported instance after 1995 and contrast that with the instances in the five county public school districts and other organizations dealing with kids.

Our Diocese will be audited under some new rules as well as under some previous rules in October of this year. There is a new auditing firm. They do what are called compliance audits to make sure you are doing precisely what you promised to do. My staff and I welcome this visit and are prepared to tell them that there have been no complaints against priests, religious, volunteers, staff, faculty or volunteers during the period of the audit.

The bishops did agree to start implementing the music attached to the new Mass translations which will be used throughout the Liturgy on the First Sunday of Advent this year, so we will begin to sing the Gloria and the Agnus Dei in English using the new translation in our parishes beginning in September. I need to consult with the staff of my Worship Office to find out how best to accomplish this, so stay tuned here for more information as it becomes available.

Bishops’ meetings are opportunities to spend time with old friends, from the staff of the Conference as well as with brother bishops. This meeting marked the 51st General Meeting I have attended, either as staff (22) or as a bishop (29). My good friend Bishop Paul Etienne of Cheyenne, Wyoming, boarded the flight with me in Denver last Sunday and we spent Monday on Puget Sound and celebrated his birthday on the 15th.

What is always hard for me is that the membership of the episcopal conference is about eighty per cent new since I left the Conference’s employ and became a bishop myself. Faces that I could recognize in a nano-second are no longer present and the new faces one does not see often enough to etch them in memory. The outgoing General Secretary paid a nice but unnecessary compliment to me in his farewell speech and now I shall miss him unless and until he returns as a member.

Finally, they almost all want to come back to St. Petersburg for a meeting and soon. They loved the Vinoy, the waterfront, the gelateria on Beach Drive, the walks to Albert Whitted Airport and the Rays baseball games. I told them, you had better hurry, and the clock is ticking quickly on my time. I was happy they loved our area so much. Also the Bethany Center gets brought up often as a destination of choice for retreats and meetings. So we may not have Mt. Rainer (saw it for the first time this morning in all its glory) or Puget Sound or a seafood store where the employees toss salmon at you but we do have things which give birth to good memories. I will be glad when in one hour I step forth at TIA once again and am back with those I love.

+RNL