Posts tagged: Bishops

Fiftieth Anniversaries Surround Us

By , April 16, 2014 5:48 am

Have you noticed that we are surrounded by a very plethora of anniversaries marking the 50th anniversary of this or the 50th anniversary of that. If it tells us anything at all, it should be that the 1960’s were an extraordinarily important period. It is fifty years since the riots in Watts, fifty years since the death of Jack Kennedy, fifty years since Lyndon Johnson led the change in America by the enactment of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It is also fifty years since the first session of the Second Vatican Council.

These American events are being rather well marked but for some reason the Catholic bishops of the United States have done little or nothing to remind the 60 million of us that the Council was an extraordinary event widening horizons, creating hope and helping to lead us into the future. Maybe one of the reasons why it has not been spotlighted so much in this country is that many of the younger bishops would just as soon forget it! That is a tragedy but it is not an enduring tragedy. The Council is being brought back to life by our magnificent leader Pope Francis.

A few days ago I started a series of blogs on the documents of the Council. Since I find it so refreshing to go back and study them, you may appreciate or enjoy at least a brief mention to various segments of them as I plod through the next few weeks.

The other day I stressed that the first and most exciting of the Council documents was the one on the sacred liturgy and how it got started. Now I would like to go very briefly through certain segments of this document that has touched each and every one of us in this country and actually every Roman Catholic across the world. I break Roman Catholics into two groups about the Council. Older men and women who remember it taking place fifty years ago connect it with a time of change and tension and the most visible thing they remember is that Latin ceased to be imposed on the Universal Church and all the countries of the world were able to use vernacular language. Imagine – the Church decided to put worship into a language that the worshipers understood. What a breakthrough!

To discuss the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy would require volumes and believe me many volumes have been written about it. With the constraints of this space, I want to simply break it into two key components. Many subdivisions are possible.

The first thrust of the document centers on the fact that the Eucharist is the absolute center of the Church’s prayer life. Certainly, the other sacraments are important and they draw us closer to Jesus and private devotions and prayers of individuals are very valuable. However, it is in the Eucharistic liturgy that the entire Church prays and we pray in unison and with one faith and one heart. The Eucharist is the center of the Church and it unites each and every one of us together. We are believers.

Secondly, the liturgical document calls forcefully and urgently for a resurgence in the study of sacred scripture and more effectively integrating scripture into the Eucharist liturgy and all the other sacraments as well. I am happy to report that this early Council directive has been rather well implemented. While there is much work to be done, it is a very measurable accomplishment.

In the meantime, what we need is millions of small groups across the world taking time out of their lives, day by day and week by week, to study God’s word, to see their own lives in relationship to it and to be guided by that word. We are a long way from there but I think we are moving in the right direction. For that I thank God.

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Reaction From The Right

By , March 28, 2014 5:12 am

Many times I have pointed out in this space that Pope Francis is manifesting great determination to make the day-to-day structuring in the Church more sensitive and more effectively pastoral. He has done that time and time again, not only by his words and directions, but also by his simple, loving manner of dealing with the people.

He has convened the bishops of the world to a special Synod to be held in Rome in October of this year and he has let us know that the Synod must consider many pastoral problems, not the least of which is the question of committed Catholics, living in civil unions, being denied the Eucharist as they are today. I have been raising this topic for my entire priestly life and so I am thrilled to see that the Church is going to make an effort to deal with this important issue.
Do not be surprised, however, that the right wing is manifesting vigorous opposition to any changes in our present pastoral policies. Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, who is head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has stated that this change cannot be made. Happily, other bishops, including Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga in Honduras, have challenged Cardinal Müller pointing out with a bit of humor that since Cardinal Müller is a German Theologian, he can only see black and white and never anything in-between. Other Church leaders are also supporting the possibility of a pastoral solution to this long-time problem.

Now comes Dr. Robert Fastiggi, a professor of systematic theology at Detroit’s Sacred Heart Major Seminary. Fastiggi does not challenge the pope directly but rather goes after Cardinal Walter Kasper who gave a lengthy talk to introduce a February 20-21 discussion by the College of Cardinals on family life. Cardinal Kasper is conscious of the fact that priests all over the world are providing pastoral solutions based on individual cases rather than using the formality of an ecclesiastical Tribunal and there seems to be a greater acceptance of this temporary solution. Fastiggi challenges that and states that an ecclesiastical Tribunal could handle these cases more effectively studying them from afar and on the basis of written documents rather than a priest in direct contact with the couple. My guess is that Fastiggi thinks that the world operates with the neatness and simplicity of a classroom.

Onward through the fog, but the fog is beginning to lift thanks be to God.

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Pope Francis Moves On

By , March 24, 2014 5:19 am

To say that I am thrilled with the direction that our Holy Father Pope Francis is providing to the Universal Church would be an understatement. Time after time during his first year, he has made moves and decisions that have thrilled and encouraged me.

First, he appointed eight cardinals from seven different countries, only one of them from the Vatican, to be a special committee to guide him in the restructuring of the Church. If you appoint a committee to restructure the Church, you are admitting that the Church needs restructuring and oh, how it does!

Next, Pope Francis sent out an extraordinary document to all the bishops of the world entitled The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium) and he asked the bishops to consult with ALL the people in their dioceses about their views on many aspects of the best way to conduct evangelization today. Regretfully, most bishops have not followed up on that as yet.

The position of Secretary of State is crucially important and that is the area where Pope Benedict XVI was having the most difficulty before his resignation. The new man is Cardinal Pietro Parolin and he is viewed by everyone as an excellent appointment to be the number two bishop in Church leadership. Then he gave the new Secretary of State a much heavier responsibility by announcing the convening of a world-wide Synod of Bishops in the Vatican this coming October. This will be a unique gathering. It is not being called a Council and since the Second Vatican Council we have had Synods of Bishops every four or five years, but regretfully these have proven to be ineffective and were attended only by a few elected bishops from each country. This gathering is convening ALL the bishops of the world. It will certainly be historic.

Now comes yet another message from our Holy Father. It was directed to the Congregation for Bishops, the Vatican office responsible for the selection of bishops from around the world. In this 3,000 word text, Francis told the cardinals that they should not look for bishops based on any “preferences, likes or trends” and likewise should not seek prelates who are mainly concerned with doctrinal matters. The Church, Francis said, needs,

“Guardians of doctrine not so as to measure how far the world is from the doctrinal truth but to appeal to the world, to charm it with beauty of love and to seduce it with a freedom bestow by the Gospel.”

“The Church does not need apologetics for its causes nor crusaders for its battles, but sowers, humble and confident of the truth…trust its power.”

Wow! Thanks be to God. The main thrust of the document is that our Holy Father is calling for only priests who are real shepherds, totally committed to the sheep and not bureaucrats who will run chancery offices neatly. God bless you Francis. We are all praying for you.

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Another Step in the Right Direction

By , March 3, 2014 4:04 am

For many centuries there was a powerful structure inside the Vatican known as the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition. Regretfully, that Congregation frequently lived up to its title. Happily, both its title and its modus operandi has softened over the last few decades but until the election of Pope Francis it had the final say on everything coming out of the Vatican. The CDF reviewed virtually everything published by other congregations and councils. That had the effect of enabling the Curia to speak with one voice and that unity, in my opinion, came at great costs.
In January, Pope Francis gave a detailed presentation on the role of the CDF when he spoke to the Congregation’s members. He supported their role in “promoting and protecting the doctrine of faith” but went on to warn the Congregation against the temptation “to domesticate” the faith and to reduce it to abstract theories.

Lately, a number of important bishops and cardinals have spoken out publicly in opposition to the way that CDF operated and that was unheard of until this new atmosphere in the Church generated by Pope Francis. Father Thomas Reese, S.J., the former editor of America magazine, summarized the situation very well when he said,

“Since the early times of the church, the temptation has existed to understand the doctrine in an ideological sense or to reduce it to an ensemble of abstract and crystalized theories (Evangeli Gaudium, 39-42). In reality, doctrine has the sole purpose of serving the life of the People of God, and it seeks to assure our faith of a sure foundation. Great, in fact, is the temptation to appropriate to ourselves the gifts of salvation that come from God, to domesticate them — perhaps even with a good intention — to the views and the spirit of the world. And this is a temptation that is constantly repeated.
Theirs is a “delicate task” that is always to be done in collaboration with local bishops and episcopal conferences. Pope Francis wants a kinder and gentler CDF that seeks always to have “a constructive dialogue, respectful and patient with authors,” he said. “If truth exacts fidelity, the latter grows always in charity and in fraternal help for those called to mature and clarify their convictions.” In other words, the congregation should be “distinguished for the practices of collegiality and dialogue.”

If the Congregation would operate in such a manner, it would be a wonderful change for the better. Let’s pray that Pope Francis can bring this off.

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Challenges in the Trenches

By , February 28, 2014 5:02 am

Image: M. Poloskey

Pope Francis has sent a questionnaire to every bishop in the world asking them to involve themselves in an in-depth study and analysis of Catholic thinking and practice in regards to marriage and family life. This is a major component of preparation for a special Synod which will be held in Rome in October. Some reports are coming in early and what they reveal should not surprise very many of us.

The Swiss bishops published a report based on 25,000 responses. It was very similar to expressions coming from the German bishops.

“Most of the baptized have an image of the Church that on, the one hand, is family friendly in attitude while at the same time, considers her sexual morality to be unrealistic.”

Both the German and Swiss reports said that Catholics in their country accept the Church’s vision that marriage is a lifelong union of a man and a woman, open to having children, and they hope to realize that vision in their own family. However, they consider the Church’s public position to be unrealistic in terms of premarital sex, remarriage after divorce, and contraception.

The Freiburg Diocese encouraged divorced and remarried Catholics to speak to a local priest about their situation suggesting that their status could be resolved as a matter of personal conscience. The bishops said that most remarried people do not regard their original unions as null and void but rather as having failed, and they consider the existing annulment process “to be dishonest.”

The Swiss bishops said that about 60% of the participants in the consultation support the recognition and church blessing of homosexual couples. However, the traditional teaching has strong support and this issue generated a sharp division among the people.

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Vatican II Unveiled Again

By , January 27, 2014 4:04 am

I was only 35 years old when Vatican II came to an end. That four year meeting of the world’s bishops generated extraordinary hope, optimism and confidence for the renewal of the Church. In the course of those years, the world’s 2,500 bishops looked at almost every aspect of the Church’s structure, called for deeper thought and came up with many directives as to how this or that aspect of the Church could be more effective in fulfilling its mission. There were hundreds of issues involved and thousands of gentle directives, but there was one underlying theme. Advancing the message of Jesus Christ was the responsibility of every baptized person and every confirmed person was encouraged to find a way to make his or her own contribution.

Responsibility was to be shared by all the bishops of the world and every nation was directed to establish a working conference of its bishops, and the conferences were to work closely with the Bishop of Rome. It was a new idea. Not everything was worked out in detail but there was no doubt that it was a movement towards a real collegial church and the bishops of the world would share in a meaningful and effective way with leadership and decisiveness in the Universal Church.

One of the new entities brought into existence was the World Synod drawing bishops from across the world to meet every four years on major issues faced by the Universal Church and work with the Bishop of Rome to implement new approaches. It was a good idea but it was not allowed to work itself out. The Holy Father chose the topics. He also chose many of the bishops who were to attend, edited the final document and released what he chose to release of materials developed!

I cannot tell you how thrilled I was when I saw last month that Pope Francis expressed the hope that the collegial spirit of the council would now be fully realized and he acknowledged that the “juridical status” and genuine “doctrinal authority” of episcopal conferences “has not been sufficiently elaborated.” In other words, my friends, real episcopal conferences, the hope and dream of the council, are now going to be developed. This is one of the many reasons for the hope and optimism present in the Church today. Thanks be to God.

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A Female Canonist Breaks Through

By , January 10, 2014 5:21 am

One of the many changes that have been taking place quietly over the last several decades was the movement of women into the world of canon law. Their presence there makes a wonderful difference in the long run. Take a look at the case of Jennifer Haselberger.
Jennifer holds a canon law degree from the Catholic University of Luven in Belgium. For a while, she was Chancellor in Fargo, North Dakota, then moved up to the same position in the Archdiocese of Minneapolis – St. Paul. After a short period of time, she was shocked at the laxity of compliance with the policies established by the National Bishops Conference regarding sexual issues.

“I was not prepared for the disregard for the requirements of canon law nor for what appeared to be an equal disagreed for civil law, especially in regards to the obligation to report to civil law authorities.” Haselberger told the National Catholic Reporter.
She had frequently reported problems in regards to how sexual abuse cases were handled to Archbishop John Nienstedt but they were ignored and rebuffed. Haselberger resigned last year and alerted law officials and the media. Those public revelations resulted in resignations of key archdiocesan personnel and a public review of how the archdiocese handles these issues. Then followed several police investigations!

God bless Jennifer Haselberger for her competence, integrity and courage. I have had hopes that this cancer was finally being handled by the bishops. While I admit to wonderful progress, this tragic mismanagement and irresponsibility still raises its head in this or that diocese.


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The Holiness of the Church

By , November 5, 2013 4:06 am

Holy? Are you serious…holy? Over the last 10 or 15 years the Roman Catholic Church was torn asunder, badly wounded and humiliated by the actions of some of its priests. Despicable crimes were committed and the Church did not get serious about dealing with them until an extraordinary range of lawsuits costing hundreds of millions of dollars motivated the bishops to come to grips with the worst Church scandal since the Middle Ages. How can you call that Church holy?

Well, the tradition of the reality of holiness inside the life of the Church is centered on the fact, the belief and the awareness that it is nothing less than the presence of Jesus Christ who is infinite holiness who vivifies the Church. The holiness of the Church is dependent not on the goodness of its individual members but by nothing less than the presence of Jesus himself.

“Members of the Church, including her ministers, must acknowledge that they are sinners. In everyone weeds of sin will still be mixed with the good weed of the Gospel until the end of time. Hence the Church gathers sinners already caught up in Christ’s elation but still on the way to Holiness.” (Lumen Gentium)

When you look beyond the failures of individual members and you see the extraordinary goodness and faithfulness manifested in the lives of hundreds of millions, even billions, through the last 2,000 years, the reality of holiness begins to be seen and seen dramatically.

It would be wonderful if we could all be astronauts and look down at our spinning planet and able to see the Church making Jesus present in each one of the continents, see the heroism of the missionaries in the Amazon Delta, see the selfless work that the Church is ministering to in the prisons and jails in the dreary cities around the world, see the endless efforts to feed people, to heal people, to bring justice to people.

It is in this selfless work of millions of people that the holiness of the Church is so beautifully manifested. It is also manifested in the convents, monasteries and chapels where the Real Presence of Jesus is worshiped hour after hour day by day. As the globe turns a thousand miles every hour with the earth moving around the sun, the adoration of God never ceases with its unending worship by the community of faith.

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Holy Orders

By , October 7, 2013 5:08 am

On October 6th, the 27th Sunday, we saw that interesting excerpt from Paul’s letter to Timothy in which he described ordaining Timothy as his assistant and as his replacement as Paul moved forward across modern Turkey setting up new churches. This gives us an opportunity to think for a moment about this extraordinary spiritual force inside the Church which we call Holy Orders. Orders is not drawn from the word for keeping things in line or stacked up neatly. Here Orders refers to a whole group of people within the Church who are unified by specific responsibilities.

Marriage draws the vast majority of the Church’s members together in family life. The diaconate accents the need for internal service and assistance to every member of the Church, especially those in need. In addition to the deacons, of course, there is the Order of Shepherds or Bishops but today I just want to mention the Holy Order which joins together men who have been commissioned for everyday work in the life of the Church. Two thousand years later, most but not all priests work especially in established parishes, teaching assignments or missionaries.

Priests become representatives of Christ to the Church as witnesses of holiness and love, preachers of the Gospel, shepherd of the faithful, conveners of divine worship and builders of the Church. Wow! What a job description.

Those ideals are placed before us when we are ordained and regretfully many of us fail in their pursuit and some of us fail completely. There has been a great deal of discouragement in the ranks of Catholic priests across the world for the last 20 or 30 years because they have seen with sadness and disappointment the determined effort to roll back the hopes and dreams of the Second Vatican Council.

Not anymore! With the arrival of Pope Francis, his openness and commitment to the Council has spread across the world in only a few weeks. Zeal and enthusiasm go hand in hand and I am very confident that in a matter of just a few months we will see an exciting reawakening in the lives of the clergy as they recommit themselves to that which they were ordained. May God bless Pope Francis and may God continue to bless his priests across the world.

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The Biggest Problem Confronting Pope Francis

By , August 20, 2013 4:49 am

Our buoyant and joyful new pope is a great example of a faith-filled man confident that with God’s help serious problems can be overcome. The fact is that the Church does have monumental problems. We need to be aware that many are beyond the confines of the Church. They are there and always will be. Dictatorial governments, secularism, atheism, uncontrolled sensuality, opposition from this evil force or that evil force. There are plenty of them out there. Internal problems, of course, are also terribly serious and Pope Francis at least can attempt to use the resources that are at his disposal to deal with those problems.

One of the obvious ones is the tragic shortage of priests but the pope and his successors have it within his power to partially alleviate that shortage over a certain period of time. There is also tremendous dissatisfaction over the Catholic world about the process of the selection of bishops.

In the first thousand years, bishops were selected in a very different manner than is the case today. During that millennium the faithful of the area and neighboring bishops were involved in such selections. Today, it is the policy of the Church that the power to appoint bishops is held by the bishop of Rome and him alone.

“The only way that Pope Francis can help save the Church from its ongoing implosion is by making structural changes that will foster this doctrine of shared governance between him and all of the bishops as well as to heighten the awareness of the Church as communion of all the baptized and ensure their full participation in the liturgy and the Christian mission.”
-Robert Mickens; The Tablet

I agree with that statement. The present system has been entrenched now for most of the second millennium and I think that it would be very difficult for our wonderful pope to move to do that without convening a Second Council. I pray every day that Pope Francis will convene Vatican Council III. Can you add your prayers to mine?

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