Thursday, September 08, 2005

I Could Use Some Healing, Too

I would like to share one of the least favorite aspects of my job as a bishop, and that is the willful self-humiliation that is often demanded of me, and which I dutifully carry out as the burden of my office. And this aspect was in full force yesterday, as I 'celebrated' my the dreaded, monthly 'Mass of Healing for Victims of Sexual Abuse.'

Now, every diocese does these masses, though some, admittedly, with less 'gusto' than others. In a few dioceses the bishop gets away with sloughing them off on his vicar general or another senior priest. But, for the sake of propriety, the bishop usually ends up doing at least one every month or two. Here in Norfolk, I do every one myself, once a month. With a smile on my face.

What's worst about it, besides the obvious self-degredation and humiliation it involves, is the number of people who show up. I mean, more specifically, the lack of them. The last one I did, in August, had only four attendees: a victim, his mental health counselor, one of my staff who had missed daily mass in the morning, and one of those ragged, unkempt ladies who always seem to be hanging around in the cathedral, no matter what's going on. Can you imagine what it's like to give a homily to these four blank faces staring back at you?

But I accept it as one of the inevitable consequences of a post-Dallas Charter church. There are the excessively convoluted and lengthy training sessions for diocesan volunteers, the 'workshops' all my priests have to sit through, the endless conversations with lawyers and accountants. The constant griping from the presbyteral council is hard enough. But at least that' s in private. 'Celebrating' your own administration's delinquencies, with full liturgical pomp, is simply degrading. (Not that anyone was abused under my watch, you can take my word on that, but it's hardly polite to point fingers at my much-beloved predecessor, at least as long as he's still living.)

At first I gave a polite 'no thank you' when the USCCB's Office for Child and Youth Protection sent out liturgical materials for the Masses of Healing for Victims of Sexual Abuse. But, after three months, I got a not-too-subtle phone call from Bishop Frank Malooly in Baltimore (he's the regional representative of the Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse, who 'keeps an eye' on this province), telling me I better get in line. Ah well, that's the nature of the beast. Let no one accuse Bishop Leo Clayton of stepping out of line.

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Tuesday, September 06, 2005

A Working Labor Day

I spent the whole weekend in a most unenviable way. All the fallout from the Gulf Coast has all the dioceses scurrying. One tendency which is most bothersome to me is episcopal grandstanding, if you have not noticed that already. "Archbishop Hughes, my diocese stands ready to offer housing for all your clergy." "Archbishop Hughes, my diocese stands ready to fill all our empty convents with your nuns." "Archbishop Hughes..., etc." Enough "standing ready" already, and besides, why is it that when the faxes don't go through to Archbishop Hughes (as, of course, they won't, his fax machine being underwater), they feel the need to 'CC' the fax to all the rest of us bishops on the East Coast, with a request to 'convey the information in case we get through to him.'? I mean, is that really necessary? Not to name names, but just because the Diocese of Saginaw has seventeen empty rectories, is hardly something for Bishop Carlson to go announcing all down the East Coast, as though the rest of us should go green with envy.

Not that I haven't been active myself. As soon as I heard about the Hurricane Katrina disaster, I sent a pastoral letter immediately, which I had read at every parish from the pulpit. I also took up a second collection, and had an intention added to the prayers of the faithful. Not to brag, but there were a few dioceses in which a special intention for the hurricane victims was noticeably lacking. Including a few suffragans of the Baltimore Archdiocese.

Of course, the inevitable press release was hard on the heels of my pastoral letter. We decided to do a joint one between Keeler, DiLorenzo, McCarrick and myself, for a cumulative effect. Unfortunately Keeler and DiLorenzo don't really get along, so there were some tensions. DiLorenzo kept saying that the hurricane in Louisiana was nothing compared to what was going on in his intestines after the burritos that he ate in Keeler's dining hall. And my good friend Cardinal Keeler doesn't usually take kindly to that kind of humour. McCarrick, by the way, showed us all a letter from the Pope saying that he won't be accepting his resignation for another two years. McCarrick is very quite proud of it, and he keeps bringing it out whenever one of us shows up in his chancery: he even brought it with him, in a manila folder, to Baltimore for our meeting. He keeps talking about sending a fax of it to Archbishops Burke and Chaput, but we told him that was probably bad form. No grandstanding, you know.

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Friday, September 02, 2005

Not Making a Difference

I notice that the USCCB is now releasing a vocations video entitled "You Could Make a Difference." You can click here to learn more about it. Now normally I am very supportive of the Conference's activities. I think you have all picked up on that. But I reviewed this video for the Conference six weeks ago, and let me tell you, it will not make a difference at all.

This is how to produce a vocations video that will actually decrease vocations to ministry. It is possible. I'll tell you how:

First, you feature a middle-aged, polyster-wearing 'nun', who discusses how consecrated religious life makes a nice notch on her belt as she climbs the career ladder as a medical health professional.

Second, you feature a young, newly-ordained priest clad in blue jeans and flannel who spends twenty minutes talking about how much he likes to fly planes and row boats, and how nice Alaska's weather is (it's not, I've been there).

Third, you feature a stocky Hispanic priest in a polo shirt who complains about how lonely celibate life is.

That, my sons and daughters, is how to produce a vocations video that will actually decrease vocations to ministry. And that's what this video does, in a nutshell. I have plenty of priests and religious like that in my diocese. And I'll tell you what, priests who complain about how much they hate the priesthood or neglect their clerical duties, and nuns who chase careers, are not the ones you want to 'put up front', if you know what I mean. I'm not a conservative reactionary, or anything like that. But if you want to produce vocations to ministry, you feature priests and religious who love and embrace ministry. It's not rocket science, and it doesn't take a bishop to figure it out.

Of course, I will pour praise on the video in public, and probably even order 500 of them for my diocese. That's part of what it means to be a bishop. But I am not happy about it, you can believe it.

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My comment boxes are now in high demand! My first commenter says that he has a 'quite the affection for the saintly Archbishop Burke,' and asks if having such a great admiration for prelates is 'contrary to the Catholic faith. ' I have to admit I am taken a bit off-guard by this question. Well, I hope you understand that we, as bishops, rarely run into this problem these days. I mean, back in the old days (long before I was bishop, I'll have you know), fending off hyperdulia was a workaday affair for a bishop: you hardly ever had to polish your ring, if you know what I mean! But, these days, it's hard enough getting the faithful not to call you by your first name. So, I suppose a little excessive reverence is the least of our worries.

That being said, there is a concern among many of my brother bishops of the 'pendulum swinging too far the other way', as the saying goes, especially among the younger generation. While we successors of the apostles certainly don't mind a bit of respect, I don't think 'episcopal hero worship' is really in order.

Now, as for Archbishop Burke, well, how do I put this lightly? Let's just say there are a lot of other bishops out there working really hard for the Church. Look at my good friend Bishop Skylstad, who has taken on the burdensome and thankless task of presiding over the USCCB. And look at Archbishop Flynn, who has successfully chaired the Ad Hoc Committee for Sexual Abuse for several years, through some of the most painful times for the Church. Or Archbishop Hughes, who is currently a refugee down in New Orleans. These men are your heroes.

Now, listen closely, I have nothing against Archbishop Burke. He is certainly doing a fine job over there in St. Louis, although (and I have to say this) he has some big shoes to fill, following in good old Justin Rigali's footsteps. Going from such a backwoods diocese as La Crosse to a See as prestigious as St. Louis, well, let's just say it's a hard jump to make, and takes a lot of humility and personal restraint. And, I don't know how to say this, but, not all of my brother bishops have been entirely happy with the way that Archbishop Burke handled some of the matters which came his way. In fact, there has been a lot of talk in the Bishops' Conference about how to avoid some of the problems that arose from the way these were handled. In fact, good old Bishop Wuerl up in Pittsburgh recently published some ideas that have been circulated among bishops on this subject (to tell the truth, a couple of bishops, not including myself, helped to draft his statement, but he was asked to publish it to avoid the appearance of a 'conspiracy'). So, I hope this doesn't dampen your enthusiasm for Archbishop Burke. Instead, I hope it helps you to understand the challenges that all bishops face in serving the Church in a context of collegiality!

As for myself, well, I don't know how well-known I am outside of my own humble diocese. Since I don't do a lot of media grand-standing, I haven't become a household name like other bishops have. (I wasn't meaning to imply any particular bishops by that last comment, just a general statement.) But I hope that this blog allows for some young readers out there to get to know me, and, who knows, maybe become fans!

Thank you for your comment!

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There is another thing about that article, which I mentioned in my last post, that confuses me. Everyone says that the Vatican document is going to ban gays from the priesthood. Well, I read the document a while ago, and it doesn't say anything like that! Now, granted, I read it almost a year ago. My good friend Archbishop Dolan managed to get a copy from Father DiNoia while he was visiting the US on business. He passed it around to a few of us on the hush hush. Well, the document certainly wasn't a glowing endorsement of gay priests, but it didn't really say they should be outright banned either. I don't know what these newspapers are talking about. I have a feeling they're just riling people up. The other possibility is that the document has been revised since I saw it. I don't know. Maybe I'm just as 'out of the loop' as Bishop Nienstedt is!

Okay, well, enough blogging for now. I have to go say mass at the cathedral high school in a few minutes, since they're starting school this week. Then tonight I have a dinner meeting with the college's board of trustees. Somebody shoot me! Well, at least I'm not doing confirmations anymore for a while. A few months ago, those things were making me want to tear my hair out!

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Poor Bishop Nienstedt

My good friend Bishop Nienstedt is not a happy man. He called me late last night. He is furious about an article that just came out through the Associated Press. You can click on this to read it. He told me that the article makes him sound like an idiot.

He is quoted: "I don't know where the document is," Nienstedt said in a phone interview Wednesday. "My understanding from the congregation was that it would come out soon."

John said he talked to the reporter for nearly half an hour, mostly about the state of seminaries in the United States. At the very end, the reporter asked about the Vatican document, and Bishop Nienstedt basically said he didn't know anything about it. And, of course, the reporter chose that sentence to put in the article.

Poor Bishop Nienstedt. He has this same problem every time he talks to reporters. When he did an interview in Rome last year on the Apostolic Visitations, he had to write the Holy See and apologize for what was printed in the resulting article. He says he'll be damned if he ever talks to a reporter again. I told him it wasn't that bad, but, well, I'm just glad it wasn't me!

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Thursday, September 01, 2005

Hello, everyone. Well, I ran my blog by my nephew earlier today. He said it was 'okay, but not all that.' Fine.

Anyway, he taught me how - well, okay, he didn't really teach me, he just did it for me - to add comment boxes, and also a site meter so I can see who is visiting my site. The comment boxes are great, although no one has used them yet. The site meter was, as it turns out, a real downer, since there have been only a few visitors to this site, and (as my nephew did not hesitate to point out to me) these visitors are ultimately only two people - me and him. This is a hard truth for a new blogger to learn.

I will have to find ways to get people to read my blog. Joseph (Joe, that's my nephew, I call him Joseph even though he hates it) tells me that if I link to other people's blogs they might link to me.

I will try to link to the Curt Jester. He is a very funny guy, I really enjoy his spoofs.

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I don't understand why some bishops get so much press coverage. That Bishop Olmsted down in Phoenix is always doing interviews with anyone and everyone. Every time I open a newspaper I see his big, smiling face looking out at me. Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against Tom. In fact, I was the first one to send a letter of hospitality to him after he moved into Phoenix (Tom O'Brien was a good friend of mine - so sad). Now I've never met Tom Olmsted in person. I have heard he is a nice guy, and very compassionate. Well, that's all for now.

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