Posts Tagged ‘Vatican’

YESTERDAY, TODAY AND TOMORROW

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

+RNL

A VIEW FROM THE SIDELINES

Monday, October 13th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

+RNL

A “FAMILY” FEUD

Monday, October 6th, 2014

I write this from a Delta jet flying at 34,000 feet just west of the French coastline headed for Atlanta where I will surely miss my connection to St. Petersburg and an uncertain future on a Sunday night. This morning I awakened in Rome having spent a week there for the ordination to the diaconate of our Ryan Boyle, a resident of the North American College and a student this year at the Angelicum (last year he graduated from the first cycle of theology at the Gregorian University). My next blog, coming very soon, if not tomorrow, will give more details about my visits in the last ten days to three of the four seminaries where our men study. Even as Ryan’s ordination in St. Peter’s Basilica along with forty-two of his fellow classmates was a major moment, for him and for them, the major happening in Rome began last night with tens of thousands again gathering in St. Peter’s Square with St. Peter’s successor to pray for the Extraordinary Synod which began this morning, just as I was leaving.

On the “street” where I live on the fifth floor of the North American College were to be found Cardinals Wuerl, Dolan, and Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, our current President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, all members and participants in this papally called “Extraordinary Synod on Marriage and Family Life in our Day.” A great deal of print has been spilled in the secular and Catholic media in the last week about the event beginning today and being there among all these “heavy hitters” gave me pause to reflect and pray for this first exercise by Pope Francis in the “Synodality” envisioned by the fathers of the Second Vatican Council and for the gift of the same Spirit inspired wisdom in their deliberations.

In those reflective moments, I thought about what I might say, had I the opportunity to speak to the Holy Father and those gathered around him for the next two weeks. Slowly this thought came to me and I could not put it away. Our beloved Church is itself a family – a family of faith, of practice, of divine creation. And like most modern families, we have our share of disfunctionality at times, disagreements at other times, digression at times, and differences of opinion at times. The synod fathers are going to be talking about real challenges to marriage and family life in our time and culture. I would love to see at least an hour devoted to a dispute, which has taken far too much energy in our Church in this country than I think it deserves. While praying during the ordination of the 43 men in St. Peter’s last Thursday, I asked what Peter would have done and what Peter now might do with the current disagreement between certain Roman offices of our Church and the religious sisters of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (hereafter “LCWR”). The thought occurred to me that if Pope Francis could coax the leaders of Hamas and Israel to meet for prayer in the Vatican Gardens during which each side spoke respectfully of each other, could not the family of the Church try a little harder to settle something of a “border dispute” between the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (hereafter “CDF”) and the major branch of religious women in the US?

In popular Catholic opinion in the United States, I think clearly that the sisters in LCWR have conducted themselves quite admirably in avoiding the same heated rhetoric which came a couple of weeks ago from CDF. They are facing a mandate that they find very hard to swallow which is at its base, “Shape up or ship out.” In the late eighties the USCCB had a similar mandate come down from another Roman office and we politely ignored it and it went away. While the sisters have largely remained cool, calm and collected, the other side in what was perhaps a momentary (one might hope) peak of anger or frustration responded by saying “we are not misogynists” – a principle I would not wish to defend for the universal Church at large. Then there is the preposterous proposition that the LCWR does not represent American religious women. Had CDF said “all religious women” I would have had no qualms. But LCWR sure has a heck of a lot more religious sisters in its communities than any other body of religious women. As a local bishop, I love my sisters. Most could have retired to the motherhouse long ago but they long to help in many ways. And while I am at it, while my own USCCB was bound up for the last decade in liturgy and culture wars, those same members of our family, the sisters, kept the social justice agenda alive for which their leaders seem to now being blamed. These women are neither terrorists nor heretics and while some of the older sisters may not follow the drift or direction of some of the major speakers at the LCWR annual leadership assembly, they hang tough for their leadership and the most of the rest of the “Catholic” family supports them. Ask most of our priests about whether or not they support our sisters and the response will be positive. Ask the same group if this wing of the family ought to be taken to the woodshed for introducing topics of interest to them, and most of the rest of the family would likely say no. The Church at this moment in time does not need an internecine war between two respected bodies that love the same God, serve the same mission, as did our Lord.

I said at the time that the secret to success in getting this matter to go away was found by Pope Benedict XVI in the person of Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle, a good, fair, nonideological man. Sadly, he is required to take his marching orders in this family feud from CDF. So if I had five minutes on the Synod Floor to talk about families and the Church in the next two weeks, I would ask the Holy Father when he has time to empower Archbishop Sartain to find a way to gain a truce on his own which the Pope could himself embrace which respects the interests of both but resolves disputes before they become, at least by one side, a soapbox gone too far. This seems in the political world to be a time of truce and peacemaking, why not also within our family. If the battle continues, there will be no winners, and I would opine that the Church may well lose more respectability and credibility.

Much of this extraordinary synod’s time is going to be devoted to best practices in keeping people within the family circle. How then about the good sisters who worked for decades at less than subsistence wages, taught us about God, bound up our hospital wounds, ran free clinics for the poor and homes for the aged. Let’s love them to death, not beat them to death. Please, Fathers of the Synod and Holy Father, take this contretemps for yourself and solve it for all. The Church as family would rejoice.

+RNL

WHAT THE PEOPLE OF GOD SAID

Friday, February 7th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

+RNL

GOTCHA! YOU THINK?

Thursday, February 6th, 2014

I always try to be both truthful and forthright in my remarks in this space so I had better start this entry with the admission that I have never been a fan of the United Nations as it exists, although I like the idea in its origins. The root of my distrust arose in 1979 when I was the national coordinator of the first papal visit to the United States of Blessed John Paul II. While the time the new pope would spend at the United Nations was really within the province of the Holy See’s Permanent Observer to the UN, I attended the meetings in New York at the UN in advance of the pope’s presence. There was a certain arrogance which I felt when the Protocol Office of the United Nations dealt with the representatives of the Holy See, from which I have never quite recovered.

So yesterday when a Committee of the United Nations took it upon their shoulders to criticize almost everything which the Catholic Church believes and teaches, I first treated it like water off the proverbial duck’s back. We deserve to be castigated for the manner which we dealt with the sexual misconduct of priests, religious and lay employees in the past and we were and are. While I do not believe the finger of blame can totally fairly be pointed at the Pope or the Holy See, however when the national piñata has been beaten to death of its contents, then one tends often to look to some other source and eventually all roads seemed to lead to Rome. The UN’s outrage at this sorry aspect of ecclesial  behavior is not out of line in general but some of its specific applications are unfair in their report.

However, as time passed since yesterday my blood boiled at the overall assault on the Church contained in the report with demands for reform and change which can not and will not happen. They don’t like our opposition to abortion. They don’t like that we don’t teach contraception to elementary school children. They don’t like this and they don’t like that about the Church until all of a sudden they are demanding that we forfeit for the common good some common ground of who we are and what we believe. They do not understand the Church and they made no attempt to understand the Church prior to filing this polemic which has gathered much more attention than perhaps it normally would and should (our own Tampa Bay Times this morning put it on the front page). If you hate the Catholic church, you will love this report. If you love the Catholic Church with all its apparent warts and wrinkles, you just may grow to hate the United Nations after this verbal deluge. As an institution the Church is not perfect and we know it needs work and attention which I believe it is getting under the vision of Pope Francis.

Without the help of the United Nations, the Church needs to continue to work on healing those victimized by sexual abuse by priests and others. We need to continue to strengthen our oversight of those who come into contact with children and the church needs a way of judging whether its leaders are fulfilling the promises made in this country more than a decade ago. On one matter of sex, I would say the Church in the United States far outshines the United Nations and that is in combatting and dealing with human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of minors and women especially. Where are you “family of nations” on some of our neighboring countries who aid and abet this form of wickedness?

Finally, how is it that the very organization which thinks so poorly of the Church is so intent on having its leader, the Pope, come as soon as possible to appear before the General Assembly? Read that report and one would think the Committee might construe the initiative as something like a  modern day invitation to the likes of a Marcos of the Philippines, Pinochet of Chile, Duvalier of Haiti, Kaddafi of Libya, Amin of Uganda, to name a few that the same United Nations never really saw fit to excoriate like they did the Church in this report.

I am sure the authors of the UN report were thinking, “Gotcha” about the Church. I hope some of the worldwide reaction might be more like, “you think?”

+RNL

OLD BUSINESS, NEW BUSINESS

Monday, January 6th, 2014

I find myself afflicted with yet another monster cold which has slowed me down slightly from things I intended to do this past week, including updating this blog site with a new post or two.

In the area of old business, I am deeply touched to once again point out to the readership how greatly generous the people of this diocese are when asked to help other people in desperate need. Remember Typhoon Haiyan (aka “Yolanda”) which devastated several islands in the Philippines? On the 23rd of December I was able to forward to Catholic Relief Services a second check in the amount of $500,000 (added to the $100,000 I had sent one day after the Typhoon passed). We have therefore sent $600,000 to CRS so far with a few parishes not yet reporting. Catholic Relief Services has responded with great gratitude for a level of generosity which ranks among the highest of any monies sent to them for this purpose. Please keep in mind that monies collected for disaster relief are forwarded in total to CRS and not sent to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Just prior to the beginning of the year, we closed out our consultation on the questions proposed by the Holy See on Marriage and Family Life in the United States. As most of you know, we used an on-line survey instrument. Once again I am proud to report the response of the faithful of this diocese to the survey questions: 6,462 people responded to the survey (4% were between the ages of 18-28), 21% were between 30-49 years of age, 47% were between the ages of 50-69 years, and 28% were seventy or older). 36% of the respondents were male and 64% were female. An amazingly high percentage of the respondents indicated that they were registered parishioners (85%) and 87% said they attend Mass: daily (9%), Sunday and Holy Days and some weekdays (37%), and Sundays and holy days (41%). 11% of the survey population indicated that they were single and never married, 61% currently married, 9% divorced and never remarried, 4% divorced and remarried in the Catholic Church, 4% divorced and remarried outside of the Catholic Church, 9% widowers. This is the easy part of summarizing the results.

At the outset there were questions about whether or not the Holy See wanted a broad consultation in the local Churches or were just expecting bishops to consult with Presbyteral and/or Pastoral Councils. That seems to me to have been answered, as broadly as one can given the time constraints. Then of late there has been a question of whether or not the results can be shared outside of the Synod office in Rome. The present answer seems to be a solid “no” to that at this moment. That raised a problem for me since when making the decision to go online (and make a paper survey available to those who could not access the on-line instrument) I said I would share the results. While I work on that an Executive Summary is being prepared by the Diocesan Pastoral Council which will be reviewed by the Priest’s Council and off the results will go to Rome. Stay tuned.

Finally, this afternoon (Sunday, January 5th) we held an Evening Prayer Service at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle for those who were baptized into the Church at the 2013 Easter Vigil. You may recall that because the Cathedral was under construction the important annual ceremonies of the Rite of Election were held at St. Catherine of Siena parish in Largo. I promised those in attendance at that time that when the remodeling project was complete, I would invite them to return to the Cathedral for a “Neophyte” gathering. I attach here my homily for that occasion.

Thirty archbishops and bishops from Wilmington, Delaware to Miami along the eastern seaboard and the Military Archdiocese will be gathering tomorrow for our annual retreat at The Bethany Center. I hope they bring their winter clothes because it, as you know, is supposed to get very cold tomorrow afternoon [Monday] and night. I know I will have to listen to a few voices which will say “why did we have to come all the way to Florida to freeze?” But by Thursday, they will know why. Pray for us as I shall for all of you. Happy New Year.

+RNL

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

Photo courtesy of L’Osservatore Romano.

Pope Francis is very desirous of pursuing the vision of the Second Vatican Council to make our Church more collaborative, to hear the voices of a broader spectrum of membership than just clerics, and to employ the twin principles of collegiality and subsidiarity. To accomplish these goals in the quickest amount of time and to begin to address issues which do not require revisiting defined doctrine, the Holy Father wishes to dramatically change what is called the “synodal process.”

The Second Vatican Council called for a regular convening of the world’s bishops in an advisory capacity to the Supreme Pontiff. These convenings would not enact laws, issue directives, etc., but rather would make suggestions to the Holy Father. The Holy Father, with the help of the curia (his staff) would then issue an “exhortation” which contained his reflections on the work of the synod and his encouragement of any initiatives which might have proceeded from its deliberations. Voting members were always bishops, either elected by their national episcopal conferences or appointed by the Pope. Lay and religious women and men had representatives in the Synod Hall who could request time to address the synod but could not vote.

Pope Francis seeks to develop the present synodal process into a more effective tool of collaboration and of listening to the many voices of God’s people. Doctrines will not likely be touched. Disciplinary matters can be discussed, even when those disciplinary matters can be controverted. He wishes the Church universal in the first instance to take up the matter of “Marriage and Family Life in our Day” and he proposes a two-step process to accomplish this. First, he has announced an “extraordinary synod” for October 2014 which will be preceded by as broad a consultation among the various churches as possible.  Whereas there was in preparing for previous synods only consultation with bishops, the Pope is now asking bishops to consult with their priests, religious, deacons and lay faithful on what the present reality is regarding these two important facets of Christian living and to submit our listenings to the Holy See before January 31, 2014. This input will influence the working document for the extraordinary synod. Then in October 2015 there will be an ordinary session of the Synod to discuss with finality with the Pope recommendations for strengthening both marriage and family life in the Church. What is important now is that he and I wish to know your thoughts on some facets of these two important aspects of our life together as Catholic Christians.

To this end, we have taken the questions posed by the Synod office and attempted to put them into a survey format using ordinary language which all of us can understand. We have included the survey in both English and Spanish on our diocesan website, to find it, click here. I invite you to complete the survey in its entirety. At the conclusion of the process, I will share with you a summary of the survey. For those who are uncomfortable with the internet, all parishes will have the survey available in a paper format on the weekend of November 30/December 1. The paper version of the survey can be completed and must be returned to the parish no later than December 31, 2013. Those results will be summarized and shared as well. Everything that is received and heard will be forwarded to the synod office at the Vatican.

+RNL

 

 

 

WHEN IN ROME…

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013

This morning along with a crowd estimated in excess of 110,000, I saw the Holy Father up close and personal. My reason for being in Rome this morning I will share with you momentarily, but for the first time in a long time I had that sense of “chills” of being in the presence of the Pope. It is a sense I first had when as a layman I was introduced to Pope Paul VI but left me after repeated time spent with Blessed Pope John Paul II, on the road during three papal visits to the United States and and many, many other occasions with he and Pope Benedict. Perhaps I “overdosed” on Popes in my life but over time while holding the deepest respect for them and the office they held, awe gave way to “ho hum” perhaps.

Well “awe” returned with a vengeance this morning. First, when I arrived at my place reserved for all bishops and looked out over the sea of people in front of me. I have been in the square when it has been full but I have never been there when the square was full and there were thousands shoulder to shoulder down the Via Conciliatione, the Main Street leading up to the square. I had heard last night there were 92,000 requests for tickets for today’s audience, in mid-October, folks, when schools are finally reopened in Europe and everyone is supposed to be back to work but in front of me was this wave of humanity, all waiting for a glimpse of one man.

Looking out at the sea of people. Photo by yours truly.

Looking out at the sea of people. Photo by yours truly.

It’s too facile to say that all new popes draw big crowds. They do. But not this big. Ask the shopkeeper near the Vatican and he shouts “bella”or ask the cab driver trying to make his way through the area and he says “bruta.” Ask any person and they say they have never seen anything like it.

The audience is supposed to start at ten o’clock but precisely at 940am a roar goes up and out he comes on the jeep, smiling, waving, stopping for wheelchairs and babies. And they drive everywhere throughout the square and then, as I suspected, out into the deep of the Conciliatione where there were no barriers holding people back. They came to see him so he was not going to disappoint them.

Pope Francis greeting the people. Photo kindness of Msgr. Robert Morris.

Pope Francis greeting the people. Photo kindness of Patty Morris.

For forty minutes he drove throughout and outside of the square, keeping we bishops waiting and everyone else at the “front of the line.” I have a feeling that he does it on purpose. Those who have the smallest or no connection with how to get tickets for one of the 90,000 chairs get just as much of his time and attention as those of us in the “orchestra” who hold jobs that ensure proximity or know someone who can land the best seat.

He walks up the incline plane from the car to the platform not like a 75 year old with one lung but like a younger man delighted to be there.

Pope Francis. Photo taken by yours truly.

Pope Francis. Photo taken by yours truly.

The formal part of the audience took, you guessed it, the same forty minutes it took him to drive through the crowd.

Pope Francis. Photo kindness of Msgr. Robert Morris

Pope Francis. Photo kindness of Patty Morris.

He spoke of the centrality of Mary in the life of the Church in Italian – an Italian spoken so slowly that even I understood most of it.

He dropped his text and spoke extemporaneously three times this morning, each time drawing laughter from the Italian speakers and scattered applause. He does not attempt any other language but Spanish and after one Our Father and the blessing it is over. You can read his written text by clicking here or by watching a summary video below.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3AZR_qD3SYI[/youtube]

We bishops were first to greet him and have our picture taken with him. It’s a shame that others wait so long because this morning Cardinal Meisner of Germany and forty-one of we other “red caps” were there.

I thanked him for all he has done so far after first telling him I was from St. Petersburg, Florida, in the United States and smiling he said to me in perfect English, “Please pray for me, I have only just begun and I need prayers.”

Meeting Pope Francis. His reply to me, "Please pray for me, I have only just begun and I need prayers." Photo kindness of Msgr. Robert Morris.

Meeting Pope Francis. His reply to me, “Please pray for me, I have only just begun and I need prayers.” Photo kindness of Patty Morris.

I didn’t want to take any more time and my knees were shaking anyway. I left the upper platform looking at the recent brides and grooms in their wedding attire waiting to meet him and get a picture. One couple yelled out to me by name so someone was there from St. Petersburg. I know Monsignor Morris and his brother and sister-in-law were there in the crowd somewhere as well as Father Craig Morley and a pilgrimage group but finding other people in that Mass of humanity was like looking for a needle in the proverbial haystack. I have shared whatever free time they have the last two and a half days with our two seminarians, Ryan Boyle and Alex Padilla, but they had class this morning. Rome is beautiful right now.

I was on my way back to the North American College where I am staying by 1135am. I am in Rome for three days only because a man whom I deeply admire and with whom I worked for seventeen years, Kenneth Hackett, former President and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, presented his papers to Pope Francis on Monday as the new Ambassador of the United States of America to the Holy See, appointed by President Obama. It was an honor to share these moments with Ken and Joan, his wife, and their two children.

I am home again tomorrow (Thursday) and back at it in the diocese where I belong. I shall not soon forget that warm, smiling, welcoming face of Francis and the energy of the crowd who love what he is doing to and for our Church.

+RNL

FOR THE CHURCH AND THE HOLY FATHER

Friday, August 23rd, 2013

Monday I received official confirmation from the good office of Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States of America, that twenty-two of our diocesan community have been selected to receive the Pontifical Award PRO ECCLESIA ET PONTIFICE, the highest award conferred upon members of the laity by the Holy See. This year’s recipients will receive their medals and parchments at a special ceremony to be held in St. James Chapel at the Bethany Center on Sunday, December 15, 2013. Listed below are the recipients and their home parishes. Short biographies of their engagement with the life of the Church and this diocese will appear prior to the awarding of the medals in December.

1. Robert E. Biasotti, Most Holy Name of Jesus Parish, Gulfport

2. Diane Brown, St. Cecelia Parish, Clearwater

3. Herbert Brown, St. Cecelia Parish, Clearwater

4. Jay E. Carpenter, MD, St. Catherine of Siena Parish, Clearwater

5. Elizabeth M. Deptula, Espiritu Santo Parish, Safety Harbor

6. Joseph A. DiVito, St. Paul Parish, St. Petersburg

7. Eleanor A. Foynes, Espiritu Santo Parish, Safety Harbor

8. James Hillman, MD, Christ the King Parish, Tampa

9. Richard Hoffman, MD, St. Timothy Parish, Lutz

10. Catherine A. Kaiser, St. Cecelia Parish, Clearwater

11. Gregory Kieler, St. Catherine of Siena Parish, Clearwater

12. Anthony Lazzara, MD. Christ the King Parish, Tampa

13. Joseph D. Magri, St. Cecelia Parish, Clearwater

14. Emil M. Marquardt, St. Cecelia Parish, Clearwater (posthumously)

15. Carol J. Marquardt, St. Cecelia Parish, Clearwater

16. John J. Moroney, MD, Christ the King Parish, Tampa

17. Mary Sue Oliver, St. Jerome Parish, Largo

18. Sister Sara Catherine Proctor, D.W.

19. Nancy M. Ridenour, St. Michael the Archangel Parish, Clearwater

20. Gail F. Whiting, Christ the King Parish, Tampa

21. Paul L. Whiting, Christ the King Parish, Tampa

22. Sister Marlene Weidenborner, O.S.F.

I rejoice with the families and friends of those receiving this honor and thank the Holy Father for his kindness in confirming these witnesses to the faith.

+RNL

THE FIRST 100 DAYS

Friday, June 21st, 2013
Pope Francis smiles as he greets the crowd outside after praying the rosary at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome May 4. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) (May 6, 2013)

Pope Francis smiles as he greets the crowd outside after praying the rosary at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome May 4. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) (May 6, 2013)

Pope Francis just passed the 100th day of his papacy. Here in these United States, once every four or eight years, the nation pauses to take stock of its newly elected leader (POTUS) and pundits and professors suddenly appear on cable talk, Sunday morning interviews and in the op-ed pages of the nation’s newspaper to assess the first 100 days – its successes and it failures (usually the latter), its promises kept and its promises broken (usually the latter), its prospects for the future and its potential calamities for the future as well (usually the latter). So with this “US” tradition in mind, what’s to be made of our new Pope and how does one judge his first one hundred days? I am about to provide a response but wish to make it clear that while I think I speak the heart and mind of a lot of people – Catholic or not – these are still only my thoughts.

I feel something like Simeon the prophet in that marvelous moment from Luke’s Gospel when Joseph and Mary present their newborn in the Temple and Simeon says, “Now, Master, you have kept your word. Your servant can go in peace.” That is exactly how I feel – with God’s help, especially four years ago next month, I have lived to see a new day begin to dawn in the Church which I love and am privileged to serve. Because of the election of one man from a special pastoral experience this successor of St. Peter is exceptionally candid, fearless in sharing not just his fine mind, but his loving heart as well, and, amazingly, a man intent on listening to the longings of others. He wants to go forward, really “put out into the deep” and not return to the shore of history and start anew from what failed to work in the past but live in this moment and respond now to the present realities and challenges. Here are some examples from the first one hundred days which give me heart:

1) To thousands of Jesuit students from around Italy, he casts aside the traditional prepared text, declares it likely to be boring, and says, let me answer some of your questions, whatever they might be. Someone rushes to the microphone to announce that whatever questions are asked, they are totally unprepared and infers the Pope should be forgiven if they embarrass either he or the questioner and for thirty minutes he captivates the young people, the world, and myself with his candor and love. Watch out Rio, this man has the touch to turn every past World Youth Day experience into an unprecdented moment of love. I know what some would say, did not John Paul II have the same chemistry with youth? Yes, in some ways, but he still read long, tedious and perhaps by this Pope’s estimation, boring speeches, homilies, etc.

2) When the ivestigation of US religious women and later when the investigation of LCWR was launched, I took a lot of grief from the National Catholic Reporter for being much too optimistic when I suggested, don’t worry so much about it. They have never led to doomsday. When Pope Francis says the same thing to the Central and South American equivalent to LCWR and CMSM, it is like a new revelation coming from Mt. Sinai in the person of the Pope. Francis understands that one cannot force toothpaste back into the tube once it is out, so learn to creatively live with it and keep the good work going.

3) When I did my recent post on the new translation of the Roman Missal, I caught some grief coming from one source on the Catholic right. But my salve came a few days later when no less a person than the Pope suggests that a return to the past is not the path to the future, leading me to believe that maybe a return to “And also with you” might return some day to replace, “And with your Spirit.” I still firmly believe that many of the attacks on the liturgy since the Council and more especially in recent years have been attacks on the Council’s integrity and work product and some of those who long for the old liturgy want even more. Pope Francis must scare these people to death.

4) One of the more challenging aspects of my personal ministry here in this diocese has been to enlist people to work for justice and to become a voice for the voiceless. “Yeah, yeah, but it is not my cup of tea,” people will say when of my personal support for FAST (Faith and Strength Together) in Pinellas county and HOPE in Hillsborough county. It is my belief that Pope Francis can not be understood unless someone has an appreciation of what it means to minister day and day out to those living in poverty, those thinking they have no voice and no one is listening. It is clear to me that this Pope’s pastoral heart is with these people and he wants his bishops and priests to be there with these people as well. I have a long way to go in this regard and very little time remaining to me to get there, but I understand him.

5) Finally, in hoping for a return to a more socially active, collegially committed episcopal conference, Pope Francis’s talk yesterday to the papal nuncios from around the world stirs my heart. “Pastores Dabo Vobis which translates, “I will give you shepherds” [or “pastors”] was cleverly inverted by the new Pope to ask those tasked with making recommendations for the episcopacy to “You give me pastors [shepherds]” to consider for the role of bishop. By that standard I am sure I would not have made it, but it is possible that I might have been a better bishop had I spent more time in “pastoring” a parish. I truly believe that the Holy Father was not excluding anyone from consideration but seeking including successful practical pastoral experience as a criteria for choice.

Allow me to end this “musing” with a repeat of what I said on the evening of his election and his first appearance before us all. The Holy Spirit truly has given us a shepherd who will provide continuity of doctrine, compassion in pastoral practice in leading the Church, and simplicity of lifestyle. He’s highly attractive to Catholics and non-Catholics alike but after all, it has only been one hundred days.

+RNL