Posts Tagged ‘Whispers in the Loggia’

RAVENS, ORIOLES AND BISHOPS

Thursday, November 15th, 2012

I realize it has been some time since my last posting here and I will admit to a certain “desert” experience during which I felt neither the muse nor the motive. However, that brief period is now over and I am ready again to take “pen to hand” (well, not exactly literally) and share some thoughts with you again.

“A Sea of Bishops” at Mass on Monday morning. Thank you to Lisa Hendey, a Catholic blogger also at the Mass and who covered the USCCB meeting, for tweeting this photo and for graciously allowing me to post it. You can check out more photos and her tweets recapping the meeting by clicking here.

I am currently killing time in Baltimore awaiting my return flight to St. Petersburg after the fall meeting of the bishops of the US (USCCB). Admittedly, there was both some soul-searching and some navel gazing following the recent elections, but the work of the Church continues. Among the public actions taken, I think a special message on “preaching” written for bishops, deacons and priests who are privileged to have this special task was probably one of the best things which we accomplished during the two days of public meetings. It is a challenging document, sober in its analysis of both the challenge and efficacy of preaching. In my humble opinion, it is one of the better pastoral items coming from the USCCB in recent years. When published, I intend to give a copy to all of our priests and deacons but for those who cannot wait, Rocco Palmo of the “mother of all ecclesial blogs” has the text in its entirety and up even before the USCCB’s own website. You can read it by clicking here.

There is always a lot of “business” and “busyness” accompanying our annual meetings since the annual budget for the conference and the priorities and plans, in the case of this year’s meeting, for the next three years must be passed. Cardinal Dolan’s Presidential address on the need for the Sacrament of Reconciliation was different than what we usually hear and built upon Pope Benedict’s homily that the new evangelization must spring from the twin foundations of reconciliation and charity. The representative of the Holy Father to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, addressed us thoughtfully on a number of matters including the care of the bishops for his priests.

It was hard at times for me to concentrate as there is a major challenge awaiting me at home in the diocese. With somewhere near 1,500 employees whose health care plan is administered by United Healthcare, the battle between they and Baycare, whose doctors and hospitals many of our employees use, is approaching a decisive hour when major decisions will have to be made. I can not envision being a part of a healthcare plan which does not include St. Anthony’s and St. Joseph’s Hospitals, but Baycare is demanding a dramatic increase in reimbursement fees which will also impact the already stretched and tight budgets of our parishes, schools and institutions. Nowhere in seminary training, then or now, were we trained how to deal with a “Clash of Titans.” November 30th is the drop dead date after which some major decisions may have to be made by my administrative team.

Tampa is in the news in a tragic and unflattering way these days, as most of you know, which leads me to share some concluding thoughts on fidelity, marriage, ordination and consecration. I don’t know if it is just me, but it seems that infidelity has brought down too many role models in the last decade, be they athletes, religious leaders, politicians, and now, high ranking leaders of the military. That marriages fail is an understandable reality and fact of life. That dalliances prevail is a tragedy of modern life. Cheating on one’s firm commitment undermines the stability and trust not just of the promises, but also of the major institutions of society and the people we elect, chose or admire who hold those positions. Fidelity, where art thou? It seems to me that fidelity is in, shall we say, a “skyfall!”

With that last paragraph, you might wish that I re-enter the desert where there are no birds, no ravens, no orioles, and no bishops!

+RNL

COUNSELS FROM COUNCILS

Friday, March 23rd, 2012
With members of the Diocesan Pastoral Council. Photo kindness of Frank Murphy.

With members of the Diocesan Pastoral Council. From left to right: Pat Wiand, Linda Patterson, Linda Waggoner, Kelly Wilson, and Sylvia Sanchez. Photo kindness of Frank Murphy.

I happened to note in the “mother of all ecclesial blogs”  yesterday that the Archbishop of Philadelphia has just announced that he would soon be establishing the first Archdiocesan Pastoral Council in the long history of that local Church. I know something of how he feels in that this diocese did not have such a council until about five years ago which is somewhat amazing in that such structures were highly recommended in the days and years following the Second Vatican Council. So I thought the readers of this blog might be interested in learning something about all the advisory groups which assist a local bishop in administering a local Church.

The law of the Church (aka “Canon law”) mandates every diocesan bishop to establish and meet with several bodies within his diocese. Every bishop must have a “College of Consultors” and he is required to “listen” to their wisdom and counsel on a number of matters (largely financial). For instance, a local bishop is not allowed to borrow sizeable sums of money or float bonds binding the diocese financially without seeking their approval first (after which he must secure the permission of the Holy See for, in our case, amounts in excess of three million dollars). In the event of the death of the bishop, the Consultors elect an administrator and with him govern the diocese until a new bishop is installed. There are many other matters which a bishop either must or should listen to his Consultors, but this is the first of those advisory bodies which the church requires. I have a seven member College of Consultors who were appointed by myself last year and whose terms will last until my successor is in place.

The Presbyteral Council is the second body required by Church law and the ordinary (another name for the bishop) must seek their wisdom and advice also on a number of matters. In addition to financial matters, the Presbyteral Council must advise in the closing or merging of parishes in a diocese. From a strictly church law perspective, the Presbyteral Council does not have an extensive required portfolio, but from a practical and pastoral perspective (I like to alliterate as you can see) any bishop is foolish not to bring them in on many others matters affecting a local Church. From the beginning of my time, I think I have worked very hard to place before the Presbyteral Council all matters of major substance concerning the diocese and I have tried to listen and follow their advice. We just finished extensive discussions on the possibility of a diocesan capital funds drive and a strategic plans for our schools. The “Light is On For YOU” effort held Thursday a week ago when every parish heard confessions from five to eight p.m. and the “Catholics Come Home” effort which found it way onto our TV screens in December and January were agreed to in advance by the Council. I have found throughout my time as bishop that this group serves an indispensable service to the diocese.

The final consultative body required by Canon Law is the Diocesan Finance Council. About sixteen men and women (three pastors and myself are the only clerics on the Council) meet at least five times a year to monitor and guide me and the diocesan Finance Office in the management of the funds entrusted to us by the faithful. They approve an annual budget and monitor it throughout the coming year. They supervise the investment portfolio and its managers monthly as to performance and risk. They receive the annual audit and choose the auditing firm. At my insistence (and this in no way binds my successor as Church law does not require it), they must approve any expenditure of more than $50,000 outside of the annual budget. At the moment they are meeting with and quite concerned for those parishes consistently unable to pay their bills to the diocese or others. This men and women on this Council are also indispensable, at least for this bishop, for their knowledge of finance, insurance, investment strategies is incredibly helpful. These women and men serve a term, which generally does not exceed ten years and love their faith and Church enough to share their time and talent with me. If you were able to watch these people in action, you would have a very fine feeling about their stewardship of the treasure, which you share for the spread of the Gospel.

That brings this discussion to the final advisory body, the Diocesan Pastoral Council. Here we have about twenty-four women and men, almost all lay, who meet five times a year to discuss major pastoral issues facing the diocese. When I began this Council about five years ago, their first task was to assess the effectiveness of the diocesan newspaper (the St. Petersburg edition of the Florida Catholic) and to recommend new ways of communicating with God’s people in our five counties. They worked hard for over a year and recommended that we leave the family of the paper and strike out on our own. Amazingly, there was very little push-back from this decision and, while admittedly I miss being able to pick up the paper every other week and read and through pictures see what is going on throughout the diocese, I think pastorally it was an acceptable initiative. Their advice and counsel has also been sought on all the major plans and programs of the diocese. While Church Law does not require “Pastoral Councils,” I am pleased that we established one here as how else would the laity who are not auditors, accountants, investment managers or finance related, give input into the life and operation of the Church they love?

All four bodies have recently given me the support which I need to initiate three major projects about which you will be hearing a lot more in the months ahead: a remodeling and renewing of St. Jude’s Cathedral, a restructuring of some of our elementary schools, and a capital funds drive to ensure the continuation of faith education in Catholic schools and religious education programs, as well as to provide for the costs of educating our future priests.

Thanks for your time and patience in reading this “primer” on why a “bishop is not always right and needs the help of others.”

+RNL

ZERO SUM GAIN, OR WORSE

Friday, March 2nd, 2012

I had the occasion earlier this week to meet with about fifty of the parochial vicars which is our fancy or canonical term for “associate pastors”. The next day a similar number of priests gathered together again, this time for an Lenten moment of reconciliation and reflection. During the first, I outlined for my brother priests the results of my nine luncheon meetings with their pastors which I previously held from mid-January through the first week of February. The purpose of those meetings was to discuss a possible major appeal for funding for the education of our future priests (with our blessed numbers this year we are paying about $1.6 million out of operations funds for seminary education alone) and saving Catholic schools that are salvagable. However, I am off the point I want to make here.

The “mother of all ecclesial blogs” (aka “Whispers in the Loggia“) in commenting on the annual Rite of Election held nationwide either on or near the First Sunday of Lent made note of the fact that for every adult Catholic who enters the Church in a year, four leave the Church. I, for one, do not dispute his numbers and the second statistic which he cited and one that has been around long enough to also be verifiable is that the second largest Christian denomination in the United States behind Roman Catholics is “fallen-away” Roman Catholics (an estimated thirty million). Some of my brother priests seemed shocked or at least surprised at these numbers and we began a short discussion of why and what might we do as priests, diocese, Church to reverse these alarming numbers.

Obviously with fifty per-cent of Catholics in the US who marry and get divorced, it was suggested and I suspect that this may be a major reason for Church losses. Try as hard as we might to convince people that divorce does not mean automatically cut off from the sacraments and/or out of the church, it’s still out there. Second, we hold and teach some things which the current climate opposes: abortion, the death penalty, euthanasia, “mercy”-killing, marriage as a sacrament between a man and a woman, immigration reform, every marital act must be open to the procreation of children, universal access to health care as a “right” not just a privilege if one can pay for it – issues the larger society, the media, political parties,  love to hammer us on. They would call these antiquated and antediluvian notions and who wants to own, drive and ride in a Model T Ford when something faster, sleeker, more modern can be had? Sometimes I am amazed and grateful to God and to many in the Church that we have the membership and practicing numbers we have, given the constant bombardment we are all subjected to. I also believe that the sexual-abuse of children and how it was handled by bishops and the Church at large has given many people an excuse to leave us and some indeed have.

We just finished the initial push of the “Catholics Come Home®” campaign. In the week following the publication or reading of my letter on the Health and Human Services regulations, I received a comment from a gentleman who said that he and his wife had been many years away from the Church and they returned as a result of the television commercials on the Sunday my letter was read. They left again and he assured me that we would never see the two of them. That hurt, believe me. But to be a Catholic today, to practice the faith fully beyond just week-end Church attendance, one has to embrace a lot of things that might be different were we in charge (for example, “like the dewfall”). Believe me that even being a Catholic all my life, there are aspects of the faith which I must struggle with but in the end I place my trust in the magisterial teaching and without the hierarchical governance structure, Christ’s Church today would be in far worse shape than the numbers above indicate. There is nothing I can find in Sacred Scripture, especially the Gospels, that suggests Christ wanted to establish a democracy. But Christ did want his leaders, his disciples, to also be good listeners and respond to the legitimate needs of His people with understanding, compassion and care.

An adult baptism at the Easter Vigil 2011 in the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle. Photo kindness of Walter C. Pruchnik III

So even if the First Sunday of Lent resulted in a zero sum gain or less, it is still encouraging given the things we often hear said about us that annually a good number of adults, families and youth  still seek baptism or full communion. It is not a numbers game we engage in, but the continuation of timeless truth, free from error, fulfilling Christ’s command to go forth and make disciples. It was tough in his time. It was tougher in the time of the early Church. It is tough today. But, so what? It seems  it has ever been thus and two-thousand years of history behind us seems to suggest that it is precisely at moments of trial and tribulation that our beloved Church does best and begins to flourish anew.

+RNL

500th “ANNIVERSARY”

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

Typing this 500th blog entry.

This is the 500th “anniversary” of the beginning of this blog, FOR HIS FRIENDS. “Anniversary” is in quotation marks because obviously the blog is not 500 years old but the server which handles this blog informed me that this would be the 500th entry since my first offering in October of 2008. I have been reflecting on this in recent days and thought I would dedicate the “anniversary’ post to what has been, is now, and is to come.

Three things drove me to consider beginning to write a blog. First was the decision to leave the family of the Florida Catholic. As Bishop of St. Petersburg I had at my disposal two ways of communicating with the people of the diocese: my occasional column in the Florida Catholic entitled “Out of the Ordinary” and a five minute spot daily on SPIRIT-FM, the diocesan radio station which we called “On the Air with Bishop Lynch.” In the early days, when I was a lot younger and far more energetic, meeting the weekly deadlines for the paper and recording two weeks of five minute radio programs with Mary Jo Murphy were relatively easy. In the latter case she would pick the topics and I would talk non-stop for five minutes whether I knew much about the subject or not. As time wore on, I sort of wore out. The deadlines for the paper and the recording sessions for the radio program became burdensome. By way of parenthesis, I am an avid listener on SIRIUS/XM radio to Archbishop Dolan’s weekly one hour program entitled “A Conversation with the Archbishop.” Though he probably would not admit it I can tell that there is already some stress in scheduling the time for recording his show and there are now many more “Best of Archbishop Dolan” than originally. I feel his pain.

While I was growing weary I became acquainted for the first time with two places in the “blogosphere”, a place where I had never dared to venture. The first was the “mother of all ecclesial blogs” called Whispers in the Loggia. Every day would conclude with a visit to Whispers where I learned not only things which were about to happen but a very reasonable interpretation of things that had happened. Rocco Palmo, the author of “Whispers” wrote only when he had something to say and did not have to meet deadlines or expectations (I sense life has gotten worse for him as well as he sometimes apologizes for not posting anything for several days). I like to write and I thought to myself, I could do that and only when I want and when I have something I want to share. The second blog to which I was hooked and still am is radically different from the first. Albert VanSchoonderbeek is the Master or Captain of a Holland America Cruise Line ship and for the three months in which he is on duty, he writes an entry in Captain Albert’s Blog each day about life in charge of a vessel. It has lots of nautical information in it which always intrigues me and through his eyes, I feel I have visited almost all of the great ports, oceans, and seas of the world. I don’t know how he does it every day he is on board but he does and I love it. I thought to myself, lots of people might like to know what it is like to be a bishop in today’s Church. Both fountains gave birth to this child. It also helped to have in our employ an incredibly gifted young man, Walter Pruchnik, who worked with the server and was forever at the end of a phone call from me which began with “help.” Walter left diocesan employment and is now in the formation program for the Congregation of  Holy Cross. His place has been taken by Maria Mertens who is also a gift in this endeavor.

I know I will never be a saint recognized by the Church and do not deserve such. But when a bishop writes as much as I have written, there is a lifetime of “fodder” for a devil’s advocate. Initially I received a lot of comments but when it became clear that this blog was to be a positive place and not another source within the Church for disputatiousness, calumny, slander, internecine warfare within the Church, the comment opportunity is now utilized mainly by people who express their gratitude, support, and occasionally a proper correction. It was a good decision to keep the comments private. Today’s Church does not need another outlet for complaints and criticism.

Most of what I write about pertains to our situation in this diocese and does not have national interest. One blog entry on the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin made it into Origins and other Catholic publications and a number have been used by other authors in the blogosphere, including the “mother of all ecclesial blogs.” I write for the people I love and serve and not for a larger constituency.

There has been a lot of affirmation along the way and I know that many people of different ages read the blog. We have a limited access to information on the number of hits, how often and how long they stay on, and where they are from. All encourage me to keep at it. I find writing cathartic but only when I am in the mood. Thus, a blog which has no deadlines and sets no demands is perfect for me. There have been 1138 days since my first blog entry in 2008 and today marks the 500th entry so the well is not running dry, yet. Tomorrow there will be a posting about my Mass with judges and attorneys in Tampa this noon but today I am merely waltzing through 500 posts. Thank you to the readers, thanks to the inspirers, thanks also to my colleagues in IT over the last three years. But the greatest thanks are reserved today to you wonderful people of the diocese wh0 are often the inspiration for these random thoughts about life in our Church today. It is a great Church. It is a great diocese. It is great to be your bishop. Now it is on to 1000.

+RNL