Ad Limina Unlimited Comment and Response

December 30, 2011

BCI was surprised at some of the comments on our post from yesterday, Ad Limina Unlimited: Part 1.  If there is any confusion in the intent of BCI from that post, allow us to apologize and clarify it today.

This comment from “BetterthanNothing” particularly surprised us:

Yes, Cardinal O’Malley told us only a little bit of his trip from Rome. Yes, he could haves mentioned more. But for fairness purposes, I bet he shared much more than most of the other bishops in Region 1. Weren’t there about 15 or so bishops on that trip? How many wrote anything publicly?

Comparing them to Region 2 bishops which was after the USCCB meetings and in a slower time, relatively speaking, is a little unfair. Comparing to 1 or 2 bishops and not demonstrating that he did less is not bery fair The least you should write is that he said more than everyone or nearly everyone in his region and more than (roughly) 27 of 30 of bishops thus far.

And comparing O’Malley to Hubbard in a negative way is shocking! Would you prefer Hubbard here in Boston?

Please keep context in mind, both in terms of OMalley at least writing more than most and being an above average bishop. Yes, he is not Chaput, Burke, Dolan or several others, but he is no Hubbard either. Let’s thank God for THAT!

Here is the response from BCI:

BetterThanNothing, You seem to have almost totally misunderstood the purpose of this post and our message. If that is BCI wording, then we accept and apologize for that, but we do not see in our post what you are interpreting.

BCI did NOT say or imply we wanted Bishop Hubbard here in Boston, nor did we compare Cardinal O’Malley to him. For the record, BCI would NOT want Bishop Hubbard here in Boston (so we agree on that!). We said, BCI is not necessarily a fan of the Albany diocese or the leadership there. “They have many problems themselves, so Albany is not put forward here as a “model” diocese. BCI is merely sharing excerpts from their report, as some of the details are clearly applicable to Boston.” What in the world makes you say BCI compared O’Malley to Hubbard in a negative way? All we said is that Hubbard gave more details in his report. That is factual and objective information. Anyone can look at the two reports and see that.

As for the 12 other bishops on the trip, 5 of them are Boston auxiliaries–it would be highly inappropriate and out-of-line for an auxiliary bishop to communicate the results of the ad limina when their Cardinal archbishop is the one blogging and is the ordinary for the archdiocese. 2 are from Manchester (incoming and emeritus) so it is not surprising that nothing was said there. None of the other bishops on the Region 1 ad limina visit blog.

Bishop Tobin of Rhode Island did communicate before he left a summary of their diocesan status in areas including Child Protection, Vocations to the Priesthood, Evangelization, Human Life Guild, Catholic Education. That is here: Even in 300 words, Bishop Tobin communicated more about his report on the state-of-the-diocese than Cardinal O’Malley communicated in two lengthy photo-packed blog posts.

Cardinal O’Malley has been Archbishop of Boston for eight and half years, and if he remains here until he is 75, then we have another eight years ahead. When exactly is he going to share something about how he sees the current state of the diocese and his vision for the path ahead? What we mostly hear is that we are compliant with the child protection guidelines and in financially better shape than when he got here. Are we going to go sixteen years without a leader who can tell us where he thinks we are today and where he would like to see us go? C’mon!

This archdiocese took hundreds of hours to prepare a report of hundreds of pages in length for the ad limina visit. Is it too much to ask that somebody of the 20+ people at 66 Brooks making $100K+ in salary and benefits spend a few hours and distill the highpoints down into a “state of the diocese” report that could be shared with Catholic faithful?

BCI is not impressed by the average bishop. So, comparing Cardinal O’Malley to the “average bishop” is not of interest to us. The stakes in Boston are also a lot higher than in other parts of the country, and the impact of what happens in Boston has ripple effects elsewhere in the country and world. So, Boston needs an outstanding leader, not just someone who is above average.

We could go on and on about this.  In the beginning of 2011, Cardinal Wuerl of Washington, DC (of whom BCI is also not a great fan) published a 1900-word letter on the “state of the church” in the Washington DC Archdiocese.  It begins:
“At the beginning of the New Year, the question was raised a number of times by reporters: “How would you describe the state of the Church in our country, in the archdiocese?”  On the whole, I think a fair answer is “Good — but it could always be better.”   More…
BCI has been tempted to write one, but we have been hoping and praying that the Archbishop of Boston and his staff would do this instead–not for us, but for the greater good of the archdiocese.  BCI has contemplated writing a “best and worst of 2011,” but unfortunately, the list of the “best” is fairly short and the list of the “worst” is fairly long and would paint a harsh picture of public deception after deception and multiple violations of trust, starting in January and running throughout the year.
Will the Archbishop of Boston share his own view of the state of the archdiocese and vision for the future?  Should BCI write our own version to make up for the leadership vacuum?  Should BCI publish the lengthy list of the best and worst, in the hopes that the archdiocese will better realize how the ongoing pattern of deception is breaking trust with Catholic faithful? (If anyone from the RCAB has an opinion on this latest one, please drop us a line).  Will the Cardinal Archbishop of Boston finally step and lead, now that he’s half-way through what could be a 16-year tenure in Boston?  Or will we keep spinning and languish with business as usual another eight years until 2020 when he reaches 75-years-old and must submit his resignation?
What do you think?

Ad Limina Unlimited: Part 1

December 29, 2011

Last month we shared the reporting by Cardinal O’Malley on the Boston Archdiocese “ad limina” visit to the Vatican to review the state of the diocese.  We called our post Ad Limina Limited Edition in part because desite the lengthy blog posts by Cardinal O’Malley about the overall time in Rome and experience, in the end he gave us mostly a travel diary and conveyed remarkably little of what was actually discussed. As feedback to him, people would like to hear more publicly about his assessment of the state of the diocese, and what feedback or input was given by the Holy Father or other congregations.

Given this information void, BCI thought readers would find it interesting to read what the Bishop of the Diocese of Albany had to say about his “ad limina” visit to Rome.  BCI is not a fan of that diocese or the leadership there. They have many problems themselves, so Albany is not put forward here as a “model” diocese. BCI is merely sharing excerpts from their report, as some of the details are clearly applicable to Boston.  Here is the entirety of one post, and excerpts below. Where a sentence or passage of text is bolded, that is emphasis placed by BCI.

Office visits Following Mass, we began a round of visits to the various Vatican offices. Our first encounter was with the Congregation for Bishops, located on the Via della Conciliazione immediately facing St. Peter’s Basilica. This Congregation is under the jurisdiction of Cardinal Marc Ouellet, formerly the Archbishop of Quebec, Canada.
We were greeted for our meeting by Msgr. Thomas Powers, a priest of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut, now on the staff of the Congregation.

Cardinal Ouellet introduced our meeting by expressing his delight at the recent study conducted by Rev. Stephen Rossetti of the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., which revealed that 92 percent of priests in the United States are happy with their ministry and would choose their vocation again if they had their life to live over.
Interestingly, Time magazine lists priests as the group among a wide variety of occupations whose members rate the highest in job satisfaction.

The cardinal emphasized the importance of the bishop giving priority attention to his priests through personal interaction, retreats, days of recollection and priesthood convocations. [emphasis by BCI]

It was noted by the bishops of our delegation that most priests individually report they are happy and fulfilled in their ministry. However, most believe that the morale of others within their presbyterate is considerably lower.

This is something we bishops must be most attentive to, because if priests are unhappy, the entire Church suffers. Furthermore, priests are the primary role models for priestly vocations, and if their morale does not appear upbeat, it has a negative impact on promoting vocations to the ordained priesthood.
NYC seminaries Archbishop Dolan of New York, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn and Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre reported how their three dioceses just completed a study which will combine their three seminaries into a unified system, with all college seminarians studying at the Immaculate Conception Seminary in Brooklyn and all theology students at my alma mater for philosophy, St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers. The seminary for Rockville Centre will become a center for ongoing clergy education.

Anti-bishop issue In citing the challenges we face, some bishops mention an anti-bishop mentality which is quite prevalent in the United States. Those on the far right believe bishops are too tentative in the exercise of authority and those on the left believe them to be bullies. There is also a growing congregationalism, wherein parishioners fail to appreciate the relationship of their parish to the diocese and to the Church universal.

Listening to these observations, Cardinal Ouellet opined that we bishops must suffer the extremes. He stated the challenge is not so much personal as structural.

He noted, as well, that the response of bishops to the clergy abuse issue has undermined episcopal authority. Unfortunately, while the story of cover-up or lack of transparency is well documented, the measures we bishops have taken to address the problem since our 2002 meeting in Dallas – background checks of all clergy, religious and laity working with youth; safe environment training, signed codes of conduct; and reporting of all allegations to civil authorities – are far less known and appreciated. It will take much more time for healing, outreach to victims and accountability to our people before this trust is restored.

On parish closings Our next visit was to the Congregation for the Clergy, where Cardinal Mauro Piacenza serves as the prefect. Strange as it may seem, the Congregation for the Clergy is the first Court of Appeal when a parish is closed, merged or reconfigured.

The cardinal stated that his Congregation, along with the Congregation for Bishops, will soon be publishing a study on the restructuring of parishes. He underscored how there must be extensive consultation with parishioners to be affected, and with the Presbyteral Council, before any decisions can be made.

Cardinal Piacenza also emphasized that the assets of the closed parish must remain within the local community, and, if a parish or school are converted to other uses, insofar as is possible, they should be made available for social or charitable purposes.

This discussion was of great interest to the bishops present, because six of our seven dioceses in New York State are or will be involved extensively in making difficult decisions through the process of pastoral planning.
Cardinal Piacenza indicated that his Congregation is preparing another instruction on the merger of parishes, highlighting the role that the ordained priest must play in whatever reconfiguration takes place.

Women religious Our next visit was at the Congregation for Religious and Institutes of Consecrated Life. Most of our discussion at this meeting dealt with the Vatican visitation of women religious in the United States. This has been an immense undertaking, trying to assess the reality of nearly 60,000 women religious living the apostolic life.
Archbishop Joseph Tobin, a member of the Redemptorist community, explained that the visitation has taken place in four phases…

Archbishop Tobin, undersecretary for the Congregation and its prefect, Archbishop Joao Braz de Aviz from Brazil, who is seen by some as the next pope, have only recently been appointed to the Congregation and were not involved in planning for or conducting the visitation. However, I believe Archbishop Tobin – as an American and a former provincial in the Redemptorist community – has a firm grasp on the enormous contributions women religious have made to the Church in the United States in the areas of education, faith formation, health care, human services and spiritual development.

I am confident he will present a report that reflects this tremendous ministry and guides communities of women religious to a manner of apostolic service that addresses well contemporary realities.

Family life Our final visit of the day was to the Pontifical Council for Families headed by Cardinal Ennio Antonelli, the former Archbishop of Florence. The cardinal was most amiable and energetic. He acknowledged the many strains marriage and family are undergoing throughout the world, especially in the West.

Cardinal Antonelli reminded us that this was the 30th anniversary of the pastoral letter “Familaris Consortio” (on the role of the Christian family), which Pope John Paul II issued as a post-synod instruction following the 1980 Synod of the Family.

The cardinal explained the hope that a renewed effort to recapture the vision of this document – coupled with a worldwide celebration of the family to be held in Milan, Italy, from May 30-June 3, at which Pope Benedict and more than 800,000 people are expected to participate, attending workshops, conferences and liturgies – will spark a deeper appreciation of the universal heritage of the family and enrich the call family members have to holiness and to witness both to the possibility of intact marriages and to the joy of the family as a community of life and love.

This morning, we have a formal audience with His Holiness Pope Benedict. Although there will be 15 ad limina visits, the Holy Father will only give the address to five of these groups. These five addresses taken together will constitute his pastoral message to the bishops and people of the United States. …

In his address, Pope Benedict noted that our ad limina meetings are the first since his 2008 pastoral visit to the United States, which was intended to encourage the Catholics of America in the wake of the scandal and disorientation caused by the sexual abuse crisis of recent decades.

Benedict speaks The Holy Father stated that he wished to acknowledge personally the suffering inflicted on the victims of sexual abuse and their families and the honest efforts being made by dioceses both to ensure the safety of our children and to deal appropriately and transparently with allegations as they arise.

He expressed his hope that the Church’s conscientious efforts to confront this reality will help the broader community to recognize the causes, true extent and devastating consequences of sexual abuse, and to respond effectively to this scourge which affects every level of society.

By the same token, he stated that just as the Church is rightly held to exacting standards in this regard, all other institutions, without exception, should be held to the same standards.

The Pope underscored that a second, equally important purpose of his 2008 pastoral visit to the United States was to summon the Church in America to recognize, in light of a dramatically changing social and religious landscape, the urgency and demands of a new evangelization.

In continuity with this aim, he indicated that in the coming months, he will be presenting a number of reflections which he hopes we bishops will find helpful for the discernment we are called to make in our task of leading the Church into the future which Christ is opening up for us.

While the pope stated that many of us have shared with him our concern about the grave challenges to a consistent Christian witness presented by an increasingly secularized society, he considers it significant that there is also an increased sense of concern on the part of many men and women, whatever their religious or political views, for the future of our democratic societies.

They see a troubling breakdown in the intellectual, cultural and moral foundations of social life, and a growing sense of dislocation and insecurity, especially among the young, in the face of wide-ranging societal changes.

Church as prophet Despite attempts to still the Church’s voice in the public square, Pope Benedict said that many people of good will continue to look to the Church for wisdom, insight and sound guidance in meeting this far-reaching crisis.

Thus, he opines, the present moment can be seen, in positive terms, as a summons to exercise the prophetic dimension of our episcopal ministry by speaking out, humbly yet insistently, in defense of moral truth, and offering a word of hope, capable of opening hearts and minds to the truth that sets us free.

At the same time, the obstacles to Christian faith and practice raised by a secularized culture cannot be underestimated, because they affect the lives of believers, leading at times to a “quiet attrition” from the Church.

Immersed in this culture, believers are daily beset by the objections, the troubling questions and the cynicism of a society which seems to have lost its roots, by a world in which the love of God has grown cold in so many hearts.
Hence, the pope insists that evangelization be not simply a task to be undertaken ad extra (to others); we ourselves are the first to need re-evangelization.

As with all spiritual crises, whether of individuals or communities, the Pope states, the ultimate answer can only be born of a searching, critical and ongoing self-assessment and conversion in the light of Christ’s truth. Only through such interior renewal will we be able to discern and meet the spiritual needs of our age with the ageless truth of the Gospel.

Applauding progress At this point in his address, Benedict expressed his appreciation for the real progress which the American bishops have made, individually and as a Conference, in responding to these issues and in working together to articulate a common pastoral vision – the fruits of which can be seen, for example, in our recent documents on faithful citizenship and on the institution of marriage.

The Pope also noted that tomorrow, the first Sunday of Advent, the Church in the United States will be implementing the revised translation of the Roman Missal. He expressed his hope that this new translation will inspire an ongoing catechesis which emphasizes the true nature of the liturgy and, above all, the unique value of Christ’s saving sacrifice for the redemption of the world.

He pointed out that a weakened sense of the meaning and importance of Christian worship can only lead to a weakened sense of the specific and essential vocation of the laity to imbue the temporal order with the spirit of the Gospel.
In the final analysis, the Pope stated that the renewal of the Church’s witness to the Gospel in the United States is essentially linked to the recovery of a shared vision and sense of mission by the entire Catholic community. He raised, in particular, the importance of Catholic universities and the signs of a renewed sense of their ecclesial mission, as attested to by the discussions marking the 10th anniversary of the Apostolic Constitution “Ex Corde Ecclesiae” (“From the Heart of the Church,” Blessed Pope John Paul II’s document on Catholic higher education), and such initiatives as the symposium recently held at Catholic University of America on the intellectual tasks of the new evangelization.
Young people, the Pope offered, have a right to hear clearly the Church’s teaching and, most importantly, to be inspired by the coherence and beauty of the Christian message, so that they in turn can instill in their peers a deep love of Christ and His Church.

Message to all Finally, the Pope with great affection commended us and the clergy, religious and lay faithful of our dioceses to the intercession of Mary Immaculate, patroness of the United States. And he imparted to us and to all whom we represent his apostolic blessing as a pledge of wisdom, strength and peace in the Lord

The full text of the address by Pope Benedict XVI can be found here.

Much more was reported in two more blog posts about meetings with the Congregation for Catholic Education, Apostolic Signatura, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and others.  We will excerpt those in another post.

Our message to Cardinal O’Malley and Msgr. Deeley is that many people–priests and laity alike–would really like to know our Cardinal is actively engaged in leadership and governance of the diocese. The occasion of the ad limina was and still is a great opportunity for the Archbishop of Boston to share his perspective on the state of the diocese with the faithful. Instead, in his posts, Beginning the Ad Limina, Together with the Holy Father, we mostly got another photo diary. As the late Clara Peller used to say in the old Wendy’s commercials, people in Boston are left wondering, “Where’s the beef?”

Reopening Old Wounds

December 26, 2011

BCI hopes all had an enjoyable Christmas celebration. 

We were going to post a copy of the most recent Pilot column by Vicar General, Msgr. Deeley, entitled The Gift of Our Priests, but after seeing the latest letter to priests that seems as though it serves to reopen old wounds, we decided to do a different post. This is not “news” today but is the opinion of BCI. If you do not want to read our opinion, feel free to skip today and come back next time.

In “The Gift of Our Priests,” Msgr. Deeley said:

Certainly we would count among the most difficult periods the last ten years when we have been shocked by the revelations of the sexual abuse of minors by priests unfaithful to their vocations. Terrible crimes were committed. The lives of those who were victims of such abuse were damaged horribly. For our faithful priests this was a new kind of difficulty…The sexual abuse crisis brought embarrassment, shame, and much questioning to the entire Catholic community but especially to our priests. At times priests found themselves and their ministry ridiculed. Simply wearing a Roman collar led some to become suspicious of them and they experienced people turning away because of a general lowering of trust in priests.”

As we look back now from a distance on the past decade, we can see how our priests responded. In their own grace-filled way, and despite their own pain, they continued to do what they were ordained to do. They offered Mass. They visited the sick. They incorporated new safety guidelines for the protection of children in their parishes. Often they saw the financial resources with which they had to administer the parish diminish, but they continued to preach and lead, and encourage their people. In sum, they continued to bring their priestly presence to the community, serving God’s people as best they could and trusting in the Lord.

At this moment in our history, we give a new challenge to our priests. In a recent convocation of our priests, Cardinal Seán and the Archdiocesan Pastoral Planning Commission presented a proposal to them and asked for their input on the idea of serving all parishes through new groupings called Pastoral Service Teams (PSTs). The thrust of this new approach would be to enhance our evangelization and outreach activities through a greater sharing of resources and collaboration with nearby parishes…

BCI thought the column was pretty good.  Then just a few days after the Pilot published the column saying, “as we look back now from a distance on the past decade,” we saw the letter the Vicar General sent out to priests informing them that the archdiocese is going out of its way to reopen old wounds of the sexual abuse crisis from a decade ago.  The folks at 66 Brooks are proactively “marking” the ten-year anniversary of the January 2002 Boston Globe Spotlight Series that exposed decades of prior sexual abuse by Catholic priests with a series of media interviews by the Cardinal, a letter by the Cardinal, and prayers of the faithful in church.

Yes, you read this correctly. The Boston Archdiocese and Cardinal are commemorating the ten-year anniversary of a series of Boston Globe newspaper articles.  How can we be “looking back from a distance” one week, and a few days later, the distance is gone and we are reopening the old wounds?

Here is an excerpt from the letter, which you can read in its entirety by clicking on the image to the right:

“Dear Brothers,

In the early days of January in the New Year we will sadly recall that 10 years ago we were shocked by the revelations in the media of sexual abuse perpetrated by members of our own Boston clergy.  Cardianl Sean and the archdiocese will be marking this in a number of ways.  Among those will be a series of media interviews in the coming days in which the Cardinal will reflect on the events of that time, the harm caused to the victims of such crimes, and the many steps that have been taken to protect children in the Church.  The Cardinal will also release a letter during the first week of January speaking of the contrition of the Church for the harm that has been done, but also recalling with gratitude the help so many people have offered in responding to this crisis, and the commitment the Archdiocese continues to give to the safety of children.

It seems very appropriate that the Church throughout the Archdiocese join together in prayer in these days.  With this letter is a series of sample intercessions for use in the Prayer of the Faithful in your parish Masses the weekend of January 7/8.  We ask you to use these prayers,  and to continue to pray for all affected by sexual abuse in any way.

  1. For all those who have been hurt in body, mind, and spirit by those who betrayed the trust placed in them: that the Lord Jesus, who turns darkness into light, will join their pain and suffering to his own, and grant them peace. We pray to the Lord.
  2. For the Church in Boston and throughout the world: that as we recall the painful memory of abuse in our community we may find in Christ the grace and strength to recommit ourselves to providing a safe place for all God’s children. We pray to the Lord….

Wishing you and the people whom you serve God’s many blessings during this Christmas season.

Fraternally yours in Christ,

Rev. Msgr. Robert P. Deeley, J.C.D.
Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia

BCI acknowledges the horrendous actions and crimes committed against children by some priests and the terrible damage done to children and families. BCI is all for apologizing and continuing to work to bring healing to the victims.  The current Cardinal Archbishop and his predecessor–along with two popes and dozens of bishops–have apologized countless times already. And approximately $3 billion has been paid to settle abuse cases across the U.S. alone. But at what point do we let those wounds finally heal in Boston, stop publishing yet more expansive lists of clergy subject to legitimate and unproven claims, and stop dredging this up over and over again?

For How Long Do We Keep Apologizing?

To be fair, the Catholic Church has a fair number of major errors to apologize and repent for.  The sexual abuse crisis is a major one of them. There were also brutal excesses of the Crusades and Inquisition. Catholics turned their back on the Holocaust.  As we know, in 2000, Pope John Paul II made a sweeping apology for 2,000 years of violence, persecution, blunders, and sins committed against Jews, women, indigenous peoples, the unborn, and other groups .  “We humbly ask for forgiveness for the part that each of us with his or her behaviors has played in such evils thus contributing to disrupting the face of the church. At the same time, as we confess our sins let us forgive the faults committed by others towards us.”

With that, the public apology and call for repentance for those sins and wrongs was done. Do we keep dredging up those sins every year, or every five years, or every ten years?  No.

Other violations of public trust and scandals have occurred in recent history, and after apologies, action to prevent the problem from recurring in the future, and (hopefully) appropriate restitution are made, at a certain point there is no “marking” of those scandals after the passage of time. Here are a few examples that come to mind:

  • Does the government publicly mark the anniversary of the June 1972 Watergate break-in and scandal, and the 1974 resignation of President Nixon?
  • Does the government, and does the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station, “mark” the anniversary of the March 1979 nuclear meltdown at Three Mile Island?
  • Does the federal government keep publicly revisiting the Iran-Contra affair and scandal, which came to light in October 1986?
  • Does the federal government keep marking and publicly flogging themselves on the anniversary of the Tuskogee Syphilis Study becoming public in newspapers in July 1972? (In this 40-year government sponsored study, hundreds of black men diagnosed with syphilis were never told of their illness, were denied treatment, used as human guinea pigs in order to follow the progression and symptions of the disease, and all died from the disease without they or their families knowing it was treatable).
  • Does the federal government keep marking and publicly apologizing for the failure to intervene in the 1994 Rwandan genocide in which 800,000 people were slaughtered within 100 days?
  • Does the government publicly mark the anniversary of the December 1994 issuance of the Rockefeller Report, which revealed that for at least 50 years the Department of Defense had used hundreds of thousands of military personnel in human experiments and for intentional exposure to dangerous substances? Materials included mustard and nerve gas, ionizing radiation, psychochemicals, hallucinogens, and drugs used during the Gulf War.
  • Does the federal government publicly mark the anniversary of the September 2004 publishing of the Iraq Survey Group report that showed there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the world had been misled about a key reason for invading Iraq?

Why January 2012?

Beyond the question of whether it is appropriate and necessary to proactively dredge up this issue again, there are questions of the timing and concept behind the initiative.

If the Boston Archdiocese wants to “mark” the 10-year anniversary of the Globe Spotlight series, why not also give the Globe reporting team a Chevrus Award for outstanding service to the Catholic community in Boston while they are at it?  And why not then mark the sexual abuse crisis every year, or every week, rather than just after ten years? How long will this go on for?  Five more years?  Ten more years?  Fifty years? And why not mark the multiple decades of prior abuse that were exposed in 2002, rather than just marking the initial publication of the Spotlight Series?

Furthermore, if this is done in Boston, what should other dioceses do?

Should the Los Angeles Archdiocese “mark” the 10-year anniversary of when the news hit the front pages of the LA Times?  Should Ireland, Philadelphia, and other dioceses each mark their respective meltdowns that came after Boston on the one-year, 5-year, and ten-year anniversaries of when it hit there?  If every other diocese follows suit, the drumbeat could run over several years, where each diocese marks the anniversaries of when their diocese was the subject of a newspaper series exposing decades of wrong-doing.

In Boston,  the archdiocese has done a great deal over the past ten years to address the problem of child sexual abuse and provide a save environment for children. Public apologies have been made. Financial restitution has been made.  Child protection programs and employee screening programs have been implemented. Priests with valid claims against them have been removed.  Some priests have been imprisoned.  Many priests falsely accused have been unable to return to normal ministry. List of priests accused or found guilty of sexual abuse have been published. This archdiocese still spends more than $2M annually on therapy and victim outreach services.  None of this has been done by other institutions in society that care for and educate children. Yet, the likes of SNAP and the lawyers keep asking for more, and this archdiocese apparently continues to capitulate to them, failing to realize that SNAP and the lawyers will simply never be satisfied.

The Catholic Church is no doubt the safest place in the world for children, especially here in Boston.  Surely, with everything that has been done over the past decade and is still being done, the wounds to Catholics in Boston should be allowed to heal at long last. Yet now, with wounds healing and many priests getting back to normal ministry, the archdiocese goes out of its way to pick off the scabs.

BCI thinks the proactive move to publicly open the old wounds is not well conceived, and the time and energies of the Archbishop of Boston would be better spent elsewhere.   If you concur, click below on the “Email” graphic and send a copy of this blog post to the Vicar General ( to let him know what you think.

Merry Christmas!

December 25, 2011

BCI wishes all for a very Merry Christmas! 

For today, BCI will defer to the words of the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI..  Below is the text from his Christmas Eve homily. The widely reported key message was: “Pope laments Christmas consumerism, urges faithful to look beyond glitter on Christmas Eve.”

In his homily, Benedict lamented that Christmas has become an increasingly commercial celebration that obscures the simplicity of the message of Christ’s birth.

“Let us ask the Lord to help us see through the superficial glitter of this season, and to discover behind it the child in the stable in Bethlehem, so as to find true joy and true light,” he said.

It was the second time in as many days that Benedict has pointed to the need to rediscover faith to confront the problems facing the world today. In his end-of-year meeting with Vatican officials on Thursday, Benedict said Europe’s financial crisis was largely “based on the ethical crisis looming over the Old Continent.”

Put even better in Catholic terms, “Approach God’s birth with humility, Pope urges on Christmas Eve

Vatican City, Dec 24, 2011 / 08:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- At his Christmas Eve Mass, Pope Benedict XVI invited those celebrating the holiday to “set aside our false certainties and intellectual pride,” and recognize God’s appearance as a child.

In his sermon at St. Peter’s Basilica, the Pope warned against the “bright lights” of commercialism that “hide the mystery of God’s humility” as shown in his incarnation.

Christmas, he said, calls believers to “dismount from the high-horse” of supposedly “’enlightened’ reason,” to find “the God who conceals himself in the humility of a newborn baby.”

That last sentence bears some additional prayerful consideration.

The text as issued has no paragraph breaks, so it looks a little heavy to read.  Below, is the full text of Pope Benedict’s Christmas Eve homily:

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

The reading from Saint Paul’s Letter to Titus that we have just heard begins solemnly with the word “apparuit,” which then comes back again in the reading at the Dawn Mass: apparuit “there has appeared”.

This is a programmatic word, by which the Church seeks to express synthetically the essence of Christmas. Formerly, people had spoken of God and formed human images of him in all sorts of different ways. God himself had spoken in many and various ways to mankind (cf. Heb 1:1 Mass during the Day). But now something new has happened: he has appeared. He has revealed himself. He has emerged from the inaccessible light in which he dwells. He himself has come into our midst. This was the great joy of Christmas for the early Church: God has appeared. No longer is he merely an idea, no longer do we have to form a picture of him on the basis of mere words. He has “appeared”. But now we ask: how has he appeared? Who is he in reality? The reading at the Dawn Mass goes on to say: “the kindness and love of God our Savior for mankind were revealed” (Tit 3:4). For the people of pre-Christian times, whose response to the terrors and contradictions of the world was to fear that God himself might not be good either, that he too might well be cruel and arbitrary, this was a real “epiphany,” the great light that has appeared to us: God is pure goodness. Today too, people who are no longer able to recognize God through faith are asking whether the ultimate power that underpins and sustains the world is truly good, or whether evil is just as powerful and primordial as the good and the beautiful which we encounter in radiant moments in our world. “The kindness and love of God our Savior for mankind were revealed:” this is the new, consoling certainty that is granted to us at Christmas. In all three Christmas Masses, the liturgy quotes a passage from the Prophet Isaiah, which describes the epiphany that took place at Christmas in greater detail: “A child is born for us, a son given to us and dominion is laid on his shoulders; and this is the name they give him: Wonder-Counsellor, Mighty-God, Eternal-Father, Prince-of-Peace. Wide is his dominion in a peace that has no end” (Is 9:5f.). Whether the prophet had a particular child in mind, born during his own period of history, we do not know. But it seems impossible. This is the only text in the Old Testament in which it is said of a child, of a human being: his name will be Mighty-God, Eternal-Father. We are presented with a vision that extends far beyond the historical moment into the mysterious, into the future. A child, in all its weakness, is Mighty God. A child, in all its neediness and dependence, is Eternal Father. And his peace “has no end.” The prophet had previously described the child as “a great light” and had said of the peace he would usher in that the rod of the oppressor, the footgear of battle, every cloak rolled in blood would be burned (Is 9:1, 3-4). God has appeared as a child. It is in this guise that he pits himself against all violence and brings a message that is peace. At this hour, when the world is continually threatened by violence in so many places and in so many different ways, when over and over again there are oppressors’ rods and bloodstained cloaks, we cry out to the Lord: O mighty God, you have appeared as a child and you have revealed yourself to us as the One who loves us, the One through whom love will triumph. And you have shown us that we must be peacemakers with you. We love your childish estate, your powerlessness, but we suffer from the continuing presence of violence in the world, and so we also ask you: manifest your power, O God. In this time of ours, in this world of ours, cause the oppressors’ rods, the cloaks rolled in blood and the footgear of battle to be burned, so that your peace may triumph in this world of ours. Christmas is an epiphany the appearing of God and of his great light in a child that is born for us. Born in a stable in Bethlehem, not in the palaces of kings. In 1223, when Saint Francis of Assisi celebrated Christmas in Greccio with an ox and an ass and a manger full of hay, a new dimension of the mystery of Christmas came to light. Saint Francis of Assisi called Christmas “the feast o f feasts” above all other feasts and he celebrated it with “unutterable devotion” (2 Celano 199; Fonti Francescane, 787). He kissed images of the Christ-child with great devotion and he stammered tender words such as children say, so Thomas of Celano tells us (ibid.). For the early Church, the feast of feasts was Easter: in the Resurrection Christ had flung open the doors of death and in so doing had radically changed the world: he had made a place for man in God himself. Now, Francis neither changed nor intended to change this objective order of precedence among the feasts, the inner structure of the faith centered on the Paschal Mystery. And yet through him and the character of his faith, something new took place: Francis discovered Jesus’ humanity in an entirely new depth. This human existence of God became most visible to him at the moment when God’s Son, born of the Virgin Mary, was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. The Resurrection presupposes the Incarnation. For God’s Son to take the form of a child, a truly human child, made a profound impression on the heart of the Saint of Assisi, transforming faith into love. “The kindness and love of God our Savior for mankind were revealed” this phrase of Saint Paul now acquired an entirely new depth. In the child born in the stable at Bethlehem, we can as it were touch and caress God. And so the liturgical year acquired a second focus in a feast that is above all a feast of the heart. This has nothing to do with sentimentality. It is right here, in this new experience of the reality of Jesus’ humanity that the great mystery of faith is revealed. Francis loved the child Jesus, because for him it was in this childish estate that God’s humility shone forth. God became poor. His Son was born in the poverty of the stable. In the child Jesus, God made himself dependent, in need of human love, he put himself in the position of asking for human love our love. Today Christmas has become a commercial celebration, whose bright lights hide the mystery o f God’s humility, which in turn calls us to humility and simplicity. Let us ask the Lord to help us see through the superficial glitter of this season, and to discover behind it the child in the stable in Bethlehem, so as to find true joy and true light. Francis arranged for Mass to be celebrated on the manger that stood between the ox and the ass (cf. 1 Celano 85; Fonti 469). Later, an altar was built over this manger, so that where animals had once fed on hay, men could now receive the flesh of the spotless lamb Jesus Christ, for the salvation of soul and body, as Thomas of Celano tells us (cf. 1 Celano 87; Fonti 471). Francis himself, as a deacon, had sung the Christmas Gospel on the holy night in Greccio with resounding voice. Through the friars’ radiant Christmas singing, the whole celebration seemed to be a great outburst of joy (1 Celano 85.86; Fonti 469, 470). It was the encounter with God’s humility that caused this joy his goodness creates the true feast. Today, anyone wishing to enter the Church of Jesus’ Nativity in Bethlehem will find that the doorway five and a half meters high, through which emperors and caliphs used to enter the building, is now largely walled up. Only a low opening of one and a half meters has remained. The intention was probably to provide the church with better protection from attack, but above all to prevent people from entering God’s house on horseback. Anyone wishing to enter the place of Jesus’ birth has to bend down. It seems to me that a deeper truth is revealed here, which should touch our hearts on this holy night: if we want to find the God who appeared as a child, then we must dismount from the high horse of our “enlightened” reason. We must set aside our false certainties, our intellectual pride, which prevents us from recognizing God’s closeness. We must follow the interior path of Saint Francis the path leading to that ultimate outward and inward simplicity which enables the heart to see. We must bend down, spiritually we must as it were go on foot, in order to pass through the portal of faith and encounter the God who is so different from our prejudices and opinions the God who conceals himself in the humility of a newborn baby. In this spirit let us celebrate the liturgy of the holy night, let us strip away our fixation on what is material, on what can be measured and grasped. Let us allow ourselves to be made simple by the God who reveals himself to the simple of heart. And let us also pray especially at this hour for all who have to celebrate Christmas in poverty, in suffering, as migrants, that a ray of God’s kindness may shine upon them, that they and we may be touched by the kindness that God chose to bring into the world through the birth of his Son in a stable. Amen.

Caring for our senior priests this Christmas

December 20, 2011

In The Pilot last Friday, two columns appeared recognizing Boston priests.  One was by Joe D’Arrigo, executive director of the Clergy Funds, entitled, “Caring for our senior priests this Christmas” and the other was by Msgr. Deeley, Vicar General entitled, “The gift of our priests.” For today, we will excerpt from the first one.

A priest has always been there when I needed him. He was there when I received my first Communion, for the sacrament of confession, when I got married, for the baptisms and first Communions of my children, and when I called him to anoint my wife. He is always there.

Have I taken him for granted at times? Yes, because he was always there when I needed him. Today, I’d like to ask all of us to reflect on the blessing of all the priests in our lives. As we prepare for the celebration of Christmas, I also ask everyone to consider those that have served us in earlier days who are now our senior priests.

When a man is ordained a priest, he freely chooses to give his life to the Church and devote it to the service of God and all those he serves. Many of our senior priests have spent 50 years ministering to God’s people. That means he has offered around 20,000 Masses, probably heard 50,000-100,000 confessions, likely baptized 10,000-20,000 children and distributed first Communion to about as many. It’s tough to know how many people he anointed with the Sacrament of the Sick or family members he comforted upon the death of a loved one. Consider how many people come to him for counseling when life gets tough. The numbers are likely staggering. Yet I have taken him for granted because he was always there with I needed him, with faithfulness and dedication.

As in past years, the collection at Christmas is for the care of our senior priests. They were always there for me. Now they need me and my question is will I be there for them? Will you be there for them?

The tradition of the Archdiocese of Boston on this holiest of holy days is that the collection is directed to the benefit of the Clergy Funds. The Clergy Funds provide for the health, retirement and housing needs of our senior priests. It provides the funds for our senior residence at Regina Cleri, for the medical needs of all our senior priests and for the stipend they receive as they slow up a little after decades of service to all of us.

How will we be there for them? We have almost 250 senior priests. Each year we need to raise almost $10 million to provide for them. At any given time, 52 priests reside at Regina Cleri and 12 to 15 priests are in a hospital, nursing home or assisted living facility.

Christmas is a special day and this is a special collection. Some statistics may help you decide how much you might want to contribute. $1250 provides for one week in a nursing home, $750 provides for a week in assisted living, $250 provides for a health care advocate for one day, and $100 provides one day’s support for a priest at Regina Cleri. All gifts are appreciated and make a huge difference. If you are traveling this Christmas, please deposit a marked envelope in your parish collection basket when you return home or visit for additional ways to give.

This Christmas, as we welcome the newborn Jesus into the world, please remember our senior priests. They were there for us when we needed them, they are still there for us. Can we be there for them?

BCI believes it is important to care for our senior priests and provide for their retirement. The column was interesting for what it says, and also for what it does not say.

$10M is being raised each year to pay current retirement and healthcare expenses for senior priests and just keep income equal to expenses.  But nothing is ever said about how the Boston Archdiocese will make up for the $100M+ shortage in the underlying fund itself. A reasonable person reading the financial statements sees there is a future accumulated plan benefit obligation of about $126M. (see page 6 in the 2010 Clergy Fund financial statements. Some say the obligation is even greater–in the neighborhood of several hundred million dollars; however, the Archdiocese does not show this on the statements today. The same report shows net assets of $34M “available for benefits”, but that $34M includes the $14M value of Regina Cleri. If we assume Regina Cleri is not sold and is maintained in perpetuity as a home for senior priests, then that leaves just $20M available, in principle, to pay an accumulated benefit obligation of $126M, or more than a $100M shortfall.

How will that be made up?  Not clear. Nothing has been said publicly. It is as though the past is not relevant, and we start from the present. The condition of the underlying fund itself has not been discussed recently. With 40% of parishes in the red, are some not able to make their contributions to the fund? Where is the report showing what is owed and what is actually collected? In recent years, we know that the annual operating deficit for the clergy fund has been reduced by cutting some benefits, moving priests’ healthcare to Medicare or Medicaid when applicable, and fund-raising. A new 401K plan has been rolled out to clergy. But, even if the current fundraising takes care of the short-term expenses–which are very important to cover–that is not sustainable as benefit expenses grow in the future.

BCI acknowledges that the Clergy Fund is more stable today than 3 years ago, and BCI reiterates,our support for the need to provide financially for the retirement and healthcare of our senior priests today and in the future.  But is anyone else wondering what exactly the plan is for covering the $100M+ needed to secure the future, and when that plan will be shared?

“Holiday Tree” or “Christmas Tree”

December 16, 2011

Some of you may have heard about the flap over the nomenclature for the Massachusetts State House “Holiday Tree” earlier this week.  The good news is that they not only renamed the “Holiday Tree” a “Christmas Tree,” but in addition, our archdiocesan spokesman, Terry Donilon, finally had something constructive to say about a place for Christianity in the public square.

This marks the first time in recent history that BCI has observed Mr. Donilon quoted in the press as saying something supportive–and accurate–about the place for Christianity in public life. Last month, when a former Mass Catholic Conference official made a theological error in a Pilot column, Terry threw him under the bus with a public threat, telling the Boston Globe, “It was a problem, and we would have dealt with it if Dan had resisted” writing an apology.  Yet when the Pilot published a Catholic News Service article on the front page a few months ago which highlighted the “Catholic faith” of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis while failing to mention she is pro-abortion, coincidentally, Terry said not a peep about the need for an apology by the CNS writer/editor, Mark Zimmerman, for the infraction (see our post on that issue). We could go on and on with many other examples but will hold off for today.

So in view of the past experiences, we were pleasantly surprised to see that Terry had something to contribute to the question of what the State House tree should be called.  Here are excerpts from the Boston Herald article, including the quote from the archdiocese:

‘Christmas tree’ grows on Beacon Hill
Gov sidesteps PC flap

Gov. Deval Patrick surrendered to the Christmas spirit yesterday, pronouncing the majestic evergreen outside the State House a “Christmas tree” — eager to distance himself from the politically correct invitations his office sent out earlier this month for a “Holiday Tree Lighting.”

“It’s a Christmas tree,” Patrick declared yesterday from his festive Corner Office, adorned with poinsettias, ivy and a wreath. “I’ve always called it a Christmas tree. That’s what it is.”

The governor was getting political coal in his stocking, taking sharp criticism over invitations his office sent out that promoted a “Chanukah Menorah Lighting” on Dec. 20, but referred to last night’s event as a “Holiday Tree Lighting,” bizarrely slighting just one half of the season’s Judeo-Christian religious traditions.

The PC gaffe was repeated in Patrick’s public schedule yesterday as well as on an administration blog, neither of which contained the word “Christmas.” When asked about the “Holiday Tree” references, Patrick replied: “Talk to the people that sent the invitations out.” Patrick ignored a Herald reporter’s observation that the invitations came from his office.

The Bay State’s evergreen was dedicated to former House Speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill Jr., kicking off the coming year of centennial events in his memory. Asked how his father would have referred to the tree, son Thomas O’Neill III invoked the name of the Herald columnist and radio talk show host who has been railing against the State House “holiday tree” for the past few days.

“I think he probably would have called it ‘Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to Michael Graham’ — is that the kid’s name?” said O’Neill. “I think it’s silly. Who cares? It’s a Christmas tree. That’s my tradition and our culture. And I’m going to celebrate Hanukkah with my Jewish friends and light one of their candles when I have an opportunity.”

But others took issue with language that stripped away any reference to “Christmas” in the event’s advance publicity.

Terrence Donilon, a spokesman for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston said: “For Christians around the world, it is a Christmas Tree.”

Civil liberties attorney Harvey Silverglate said politicians using the term “holiday tree” are misinterpreting constitutional law on the separation of church and state.

“The fact is that the political leaders who don’t call a Christmas tree what it really is are engaging in ridiculous behavior and are fueling a false notion that there is a ‘war on Christmas’ afoot,” Silverglate said.

BCI is pleased to see that Terry defended the re-categorization of the “Holiday Tree” as a “Christmas Tree.”  It is a small move, but it is better than having said or done nothing. Hopefully, in the future this archdiocese might take even bolder moves to advance the views of the Catholic Church in society and Terry will hopefully find some cogent way of acknowledging and supporting Catholics who stand up for the Church and her teachings, instead of criticizing those people publicly, which seems to be more of the norm.  But for today, we will take what we got.  Thanks, Terry, for telling the media it is OK to call it a “Christmas Tree.”  Merry Christmas to you.

Three Good Causes

December 10, 2011

BCI takes a break today from the topic of pastoral planning to share three good Catholic causes you might wish to support during this Christmas holiday season.  None of these organizations asked for BCI to give them a plug, and BCI has not contacted any of them to ask for permission to promote their good works here.

1) Daughters of St. Paul: Christmas Concerts This Weekend: Sat. Dec. 10 and Sunday, Dec. 11

The Daughters of St. Paul carry out a new form of evangelization by living and witnessing to the Faith through communications. The sisters are active in all forms of media, from traditional publications to e-books, from TV to social media, from the internet to mobile apps—working in the areas of writing, publishing, recording and broadcasting, screen-writing, media literacy, religious education, adult faith formation and spiritual development. They operate 14 Pauline Book and Media Centers throughout the US and English-speaking Canada.

For Boston-area readers, the Daughters perform their annual Christmas concerts this weekend at their convent in Jamaica Plain.

“Celebrate Christmas with the award-winning Daughters of St. Paul Choir in Concert near you. Be taken up into the spirit of Christmas with the Daughters of St. Paul’s unique renditions of Christmas favorites as well as contemporary inspirational songs.”

Saturday, December 10 @ 7:00pm or Sunday, December 11 at 3pm
Daughters of St. Paul Chapel
50 Saint Paul’s Avenue
Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts
For more information: 617-522-8911

If you cannot make one of the concerts (presented free-of-charge), but would like to support the good works of the Daughters, click here to learn about how you can support them, or click here to directly make a donation.

2) Cor Unum 

The Cor Unum Meal Center is a not-for-profit meal center located in South Lawrence, MA. Cor Unum provides free, nutritious meals in a safe environment to anyone who is in need of food, regardless of race, color, creed, sex, or way of life. They serve hundreds of people a day.

Here is information about how you can make a donation online. For information about how to volunteer, click here.

3) Brotherhood of Hope

The Brotherhood of Hope, established in 1980, is a canonically recognized Catholic community of brothers and priests consecrated to Christ, dedicated to evangelization, and committed to a life together as a spiritual family. Their vision is described as follows:

As Brothers totally consecrated by vows to Jesus Christ, we strive to manifest a vibrant witness of authentic religious Brotherhood. As evangelists, this radical consecration of God First, God Alone fuels our passion for advancing the Lord’s Kingdom through the New Evangelization, primarily to college students at secular universities. Reaching out to inactive and uncommitted Catholics, we encourage conversion to Christ and His Church, and we train students to be leaders who empower others throughout their lives with this liberating hope.

Several readers have forwarded us a recent appeal for support in order for the Brotherhood to accomplish their mission on Boston-area college campuses.  Below is the message.

Dear ___,

Recently a former Rector of a Seminary told me that the Brotherhood’s FSU work has had a huge ripple-effect throughout Florida. He pointed both to the number and quality of our students pursuing the priesthood and to the increased evangelistic fruit seen in other campus ministries influenced by our missionaries and outreach model. That’s encouraging! What began as a seed nearly two decades ago is now, what one bishop wrote, “perhaps the most effective campus ministry in the country. I hear these comments made all over the USA.”  Similarly a wonderful opportunity is before us in Boston with our new mission called Catholic Student HUB. We have the potential to reach many more students at ten diverse colleges in the city.  LeaderGroup_BW 4

How? As Cardinal Seán O’Malley wrote me in the spring: through the Brotherhood’s “promoting the evangelization and spiritual formation of countless young people, training interns and lay ministers, witnessing to the virtues of community life, and encouraging vocations to the priesthood and religious life”  [12 Boston alumni are now pursuing such vocations].

We are grateful for the initial seed-funds that the Boston Archdiocese provided to launch HUB. However, to implement our vision we definitely need your prayers and financial support, especially in this opening year. Here are four ways you can help us:

  • $75/month assists Br. Ted to train retreat team leaders;
  • $180/month aids Br. John to catechize students entering the Church through RCIA;
  • $240/month helps Br. Sam to coach our three HUB missionary-interns;
  • $2000/month allows the brothers to advance the outreach to nearby colleges in the city.

Please prayerfully consider how you can assist us during our once-a-year appeal by using the enclosed sheet. We likewise promise to intercede frequently for you and any prayer intentions you send us. Adopting the Cardinal’s words of gratitude to the brothers, I sincerely express that I am profoundly grateful for … [your] invaluable assistance with this initiative.” In Jesus,
Br. Rahl Signature 2
Br.Rahl Bunsa, BH

P.S. - Click here to support the Brotherhood of Hope.

All three of these organizations can use your financial support at any time of the year. But as you think about end-of-year charitable contributions for tax planning purposes, BCI invites you to check out each of the organizations and the good work they do, and consider making a donation at whatever level you can afford.

Presbyteral Convocation: Comments by Cardinal O’Malley

December 9, 2011

This past Monday, December 5, about 400 priests gathered to discuss the plans for a new approach to parish pastoral planning and parish structure in the Boston Archdiocese.  BCI will share some of the publicly available information in various posts.  The first of these is the address by Cardinal O’Malley to the presbyterate.  The video and a transcript of his address can be found below. BCI will let his address stand on its own with no BCI commentary today.

12/05/2011 Strengthening Parishes – Cardinal Seán O’Malley from Archdiocese of Boston on Vimeo.

Archdiocese of Boston Presbyteral Convocation

December 5, 2011

Children often ask me if I am Santa Claus. Of course I am not Santa Claus, but once I was. In 1966 on this very day I was chosen to be Santa Claus. I put on a miter for the first time in my life and my classmates painted my beard white – in those days my beard was red. You see, I was Santa Claus, Heilger Klaus, for our St. Nicholas day celebration which consisted of a play in German about the fourth century bishop. We sang carols and it was the day we gave the Christmas presents to the German nuns and one hundred Christmas tress went up in every nook and cranny of St. Fidelis of Simaringen Seminary. I must confess I never imagined that one day I would have to wear a miter again or that I would live long enough to have a white beard as I do. After the celebration the Guardian of the seminary said “We have never had an Irish St. Nicholas before.” I did not know whether that was a compliment, an indictment or simply a statement of historical interest.

Pope Benedict, a Bavarian, like my seminary professors, has written much about St. Nicholas. One of the most interesting things about this saint is that he is the first saint to be so designated who was not a martyr. The first generations of Christians venerated only Biblical figures or those who died as martyrs to witness to the faith.

St. Nicholas the Bishop participated in the Council of Nicea and contributed to the writing of the Profession of Faith we pray each Sunday. Even though Nicholas did not shed his blood for the faith, he lived his faith in the Incarnation of Christ intensely and that allowed him to serve God’s people with such priestly pastoral charity that everyone intuitively knew that he was a saint just like the martyrs.

We are still the Church of the martyrs. In addition to my friend Archbishop Romero I think of a Guatemalan bishop who told me that in one diocese the catechists went to the bishop and said, “We come to you for protection, our lives are in danger”. The bishop told them, “The only thing I can do for you is accept your resignation. Then they will leave you alone, you will be safe.” Not one catechist resigned, but over a hundred of them were murdered. The bishop who told me that was murdered a couple of months later. We had stayed together at the Bishops Conference in Guatemala City. He was Bishop Gerardi. He was brutally murdered that day after presenting a human rights report to the government.

Yes, we are still the Church of the martyrs. We will probably never suffer the same violence as our brothers and sisters in the faith in Central America but we are called to bear the cross. Discipleship and ministry are never pain free.

Our modern culture has a huge aversion to pain and gives us the assurance that we are all entitled to a pain free existence. The Gospel of suffering teaches something different. In doing difficult things out of love we come to reflect the pastoral love of the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his flock.

I want to thank you for coming to this gathering in such great numbers. Your presence here today is important – and a grace – for at least two reasons. First, today begins a months-long consultation on a proposal to strengthen our parishes for generations to come. I need to hear what you, our priests and pastors, have to say about this proposal. Second, our presence together in dialogue and in service to the Archdiocese is a beautiful manifestation of the sacramental bond we share in the sacred ministry of priesthood through Holy Orders. I pray that our work together today will strengthen that bond between us.

I am grateful for the presence of our seminarians at this convocation. I invited you here, because you will minister as priests in an Archdiocese that is very much formed by the things we discuss here today. It is only appropriate that you be witnesses to our conversation. As I look out at you, I must confess that it is very nice to see how your presence among us brings down our average age. We very much look forward to the day when the Lord and the Church will call you to partake of the ministerial priesthood. May God bless your seminary days richly.

On the day of our ordination to the diaconate, the bishop handed each of us the Book of the Gospels and said very simply, “Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you have become. Believe what you read, teach what you believe and practice what you teach.” With that mandate, the “Evangelium” – the “Good News” of Jesus Christ – became the center and the work of our lives. As the Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests puts it:

Since no one can be saved who has not first believed, priests, as co-workers with their bishops, have as their primary duty the proclamation of the gospel of God to all. In this way they fulfill the Lord’s command: “Go into the whole world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mk 16:15). Thus they establish and build up the people of God. (PO 4)

Each of us knows someone, perhaps even a good number of people, whose lives are empty of meaning, because of a tragic failure in a human relationship or a deep sense of abandonment by God or the Church. Their outward appearance may look healthy and normal, but they are broken and alone. They don’t feel Christ in their lives. A large group of folks do have jobs and their lives show a growing measure of success after success. But because the happiness they are seeking is rooted exclusively in the gifts of this world and not in Christ, in the end the satisfaction they experience is ephemeral and disappointing. It is only in Christ that one can truly know life and live it abundantly.

We need a New Evangelization and it must be focused on Christ. As Pope Paul VI told us almost a half-century ago in Evangelii Nuntiandi, “There is no true evangelization if the name, the teaching, the life, the promises, the Kingdom and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God are not proclaimed” (EN 22). We need to bring the life-giving truth and person of Jesus Christ to the men and woman of our own day, especially those who have known Christ and his Church but have grown cool in their relationship with him and with her.

Our evangelization efforts in the Archdiocese of Boston will be rooted in and accomplished through five “mission initiatives” to which I commit the Archdiocese and myself today. The first initiative is becoming a Church that more readily and actively welcomes every man, woman and child to conversion of life in Christ Jesus. Everyone is welcome in the Church, because the Lord offers his gift of salvation to all. Let us each accept and help others to accept the radical and transformative call to conversion of life that is offered to us by Jesus Christ.

The second mission initiative is strengthening our parishes as primary communities of faith, communities that have the worthy celebration of the Eucharist as the “source and summit” of parochial life.

The third mission initiative is growing the Church through this work of evangelization. Currently less than 20% of our baptized Catholics are attending Mass each Sunday. We need to change this in a dramatic way and we need to begin doing it now.

The fourth mission initiative is developing excellence in faith formation for Catholics of all ages. Our people thirst for greater catechesis in the faith. We need to marshal, strengthen and make more available the great resources we have to satisfy that thirst.

The fifth mission initiative is re-energizing pastoral leadership. I am deeply aware of how challenging these past ten years have been for you, my brother priests, and how thin you have been stretched. I hope that our work together today indicates clearly to you that I am very much aware of the burden that you carry, committed to discovering ways to lessen the load, and very desirous of supporting and strengthening your love of the priesthood.

Where do we begin in our work of evangelization? I think the answer to that is clear. As I said at Pentecost in my Pastoral Letter on Evangelization (NP 6,7):

If the Church exists to evangelize, the parish is the chief venue where that activity must take place. Our parishes must be true centers of evangelization…

Many parishes are truly mission-based today and they have fervor for this outreach. Others are maintenance-oriented because their parishioners often have a consumer culture mentality. They come to Church to get something, and they expect the leadership to provide it. All the energy and resources of the parish are oriented to serving the people who are present, rather than reaching out to those who are absent.

We must work to help our parishioners to move beyond being consumers to being disciples who share actively in the mission and the ministry of Jesus. We are called to evangelize out of love for Jesus Christ and of the people who will be graced by what His Kingdom of love, peace and justice will bring to their lives.

In placing before you this vision for a New Evangelization before you, I am keenly aware of the challenges facing our parishes today. In fact, it is for that reason that we have gathered here this afternoon. In a little while, Bill Fay and Jack Ahern will lay out for you a proposal from the Archdiocesan Pastoral Planning Commission to strengthen our parishes as primary communities of faith and mission. Without getting into the detail of the proposal, I want to say four things about it and your ministry as parish priests.

First, the proposal does not present a plan for the global closure or merging of parishes. This is not 2004. I am very happy about that. The closing of a parish, however necessary, always involves heartbreak. In the proposal before us, any discussion about the closure or merging of parishes will be initiated at the local level, in the pastoral collaborative. Moreover, by stepping away from closure and merging, the proposal puts the brakes on the large-scale downsizing of the Archdiocese that we have been engaged in since the early nineties – and well it should.

A Church that is committed to a New Evangelization and to re-energizing its clergy, lay faithful and parishes is looking at life and not death, growth and not decline.

Second, the success of this proposal turns on the success of the PST, the Parish Service Team. While every PST will have a pastor who is ultimately responsible for the spiritual and material good of a pastoral collaborative, the success of the ministry that takes place within a collaborative will be effected and measured by the respectful and enthusiastic collaboration of every member of the PST. I encourage you as clergy to call forth the religious and the lay faithful of the Archdiocese to the highest level of collaboration in your ministry that the Church recommends.

Third, with the possible introduction of approximately 125 pastoral collaboratives in this proposal, we face a new reality. Priests who have been living alone in a single-parish ministry would have the opportunity to live together. I want to encourage that. I say this not because I am a religious and consider community life normative. I say it, because my twenty-seven years as a diocesan bishop has taught me that the life of the parish priest can be a very lonely thing. You know that better than I do. By sacred ordination, you belong to “an intimate sacramental brotherhood” (PO 8). I exhort you to use the new opportunities provided by this proposal to choose ways to strengthen and reinvigorate the holy brotherhood that is yours in Christ.

Fourth, the biggest question I have heard raised about this proposal is: “There’s a lot involved in this. What kind of support can we expect from the Archbishop and the Pastoral Center?” I want to go on record today as saying to you that I and the staff of the Archdiocese will do whatever it takes to make this work. No doubt, there will be anticipated and unanticipated challenges. We will meet them, one by one, as they arise and try to do this in an organic way, taking the time needed to do this well. Implementation must be slow, deliberate and mission driven.

What you are being presented with is a proposal, a plan that has been developed to respond to the needs of our faith community. Central to all of this is our vocation to be pastors, to be spiritual fathers to God’s people. The great crisis of modern life is the diminishment of fatherhood and the dire consequences on the modern family. Some men put their work, their finances, their hobbies, their vices, drink, gambling, sexual pleasure, ahead of their obligations to their wives and children. We too are called to be spiritual fathers and we must be willing to put the needs of our family ahead of our convenience, comfort, plans and ambitions. We must never reduce what we do to techniques, organizational process of personal charisma. It is about vocation, identity, relationship with Christ, with the bishop, with our fellow priests and especially with the people we serve. Jesus said, “I have come to serve, not to be served.”

The temptation is to do things that are self serving, that make our life easier and more comfortable, that make us more popular. But being a father is always about making sacrifices for the sake of our family, it is our own kenosis.

A Protestant minister told me recently that he loved the concept of the Catholic parish, that the priest was the pastor of every person living within the parish boundaries whether they were Catholic or not. Ironically we Catholics often forget that concept of Pastor and seem to absolve ourselves of any responsibility for are not using the envelopes. As I like to say, we stand guard over the one faithful sheep and let the ninety nine drift away. Our ministry begins with our own personal ongoing conversion.

That will prepare us to be prophets to our own people and challenge them to an ever deeper commitment to the faith and to make more sacrifices to advance the mission that Christ has entrusted us, to make disciples of all nations. Our task is to make Jesus known and loved. Our task is to evangelize. All of our planning s to do just that and to allow our priests to be spiritual fathers to our people.

Our pastoral love for our people and our devotion to Christ must be very strong incentives to work for vocations, especially vocations to the priesthood. The present proposal of having a pastoral team serving a number of parishes is very flexible. If we continue to grow our seminary we will be able to have more collaborative, each made up of fewer parishes.

It is my stated intention that every parish in the Archdiocese will have a priest a pastor. This is the ideal presented by the Church and we enthusiastically embrace it. Other diocese with greater distances and fewer clergy might opt for something different, but in Boston we will have a priest as pastor in all parishes by having pastoral teams serving more than one parish when necessary.

Allow me to reiterate that pastoral love for our people should impel us to work and pray for priestly vocations. As Archbishop Fulton Sheen used to say, “We must not be a barren fig tree.” The vocations we encourage will allow our Catholic people to have the benefits of the Sacraments and pastoral care in the future. If we drink the Kool Aid of cynicism and negativity we will poison ourselves and the negativity will infect our Catholic people. To do the task of evangelization we need a regimen of vitamins, the vitamins of prayer and priestly fraternity.

We must not look upon ministry as being separate from our interior life. The best service we can give is that of striving to be holy. As Mother Theresa said, we are not called to be successful but to be faithful. And if we are faithful, then we are being successful.

The pastoral needs of the Archdiocese can only be met by a united presbyterate, an intentional presbyterate as Fr. Ron Knott speaks of. Our ongoing formation and priestly support groups, spiritual direction, fidelity to prayer, fraternal correction, time for retreats, days of recollection and priestly friendships are all part of the course in moving forward to meet the challenge of evangelizing. The spiritual vitamins of prayer and priestly fraternity will give us the energy we need to bring the Gospel to God’s people.

Thank you for your presence here today. Know that you are loved by the Catholic people. As your Bishop, I thank you for your faithful response to follow Christ as his priest. Thank you for being a spiritual father to God’s faithful and for being brothers to each other.

Please reflect carefully on what you hear today and prayerfully consider the proposals. Remember that business as usual is not an option. It is not enough to keep trying to do everything as we have in the past. The Church is calling us to a new evangelization. St. Paul in his powerful letter to Timothy on ministry provides a stunning exhortation which the Church today could easily direct to all of us who have been ordained to serve God’s people through the Sacrament of Holy Orders:

For this reason, I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self control. So do not be ashamed of your testimony to the Lord, nor of me, a prisoner for his sake, but bear your share of hardship for the Gospel with the strength that comes from God.  (2 Tim. 1:6-7)

I firmly believe that if we stir into flame the grace of our ordination, especially through fidelity to prayer and priestly fraternity, God will give us the strength to bear our share of hardship for the Gospel. Today we come together like the apostles of old to repair nets, to plan for the future, so that moved by the love of Christ and His people we might cast out into the deep, confident that the Divine Shepherd will bless our efforts.

Two Spiritual Thoughts for the Day

December 7, 2011

The convocation of priests to discuss the new parish pastoral planning efforts took place on Monday as planned.  The documents associated with the parish pastoral planning process can be found here, along with several videos of the main presenters. BCI will go into the plan, FAQ, and presentations in separate posts as time permits.

For today, we are keeping this post very short with two spiritual thoughts.

First, tomorrow (Thursday) December 8 is a Holy Day of Obligation–the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  That means all Catholics are obliged to attend Mass, either this evening, on the vigil of the Holy Day, or tomorrow, on the actual Holy Day.  Check your local parish for their Mass schedule.

Just to clarify some frequent confusion, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary is dogma of the Catholic Church which tells us that the Blessed Virgin Mary was conceived without any stain of original sin.  It is completely distinct from the Virginity of Mary and the virgin birth of Jesus, though the two are often confused. Mary is sometimes called the Immaculata (the Immaculate One). Since she was free from original sin, she was from the start filled with the sanctifying grace that would normally come with baptism after birth.

Those readers looking to read more about this can find an excellent description at the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia:

In the Constitution Ineffabilis Deus of 8 December, 1854, Pius IX pronounced and defined that the Blessed Virgin Mary “in the first instance of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin.”

As Catholics, we do not believe Mary was the product of a virginal conception herself–tradition tells us she was the daughter of a human father St. Joachim, and a human mother, St. Anne.  An easy way to clarify for others that the Immaculate Conception of Mary is different from the conception of Jesus is to remind them that the feast of the Annunciation–which commemorates the virginal conception and the Incarnation of Jesus–is celebrated on March 25, exactly nine months before Christmas Day, when Jesus was born.

Of course, to confuse matters further for everyone, the Gospel reading in the lectionary for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary is the story of the virginal conception of Jesus.  Mary’s response to the angel Gabriel is one BCI often prayerfully ponders,  “May it be done to me according to your word.”

Secondly, the first reading from this past Sunday, Is 40:1-5, 9-11 is a personal favorite of this blogger.  This passage in particular has been a source of much prayer and spiritual reflection over the years:

A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the LORD! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God! Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low; the rugged land shall be made a plain, the rough country, a broad valley. Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

On a personal basis, BCI has much to still do to live these words.  In addition, given what BCI has been chronicling over the past 18 months about the workings of the Pastoral Center, we hope and pray that these words might also inspire some much-needed changes at 66 Brooks Drive.

Archdiocese Turns to Evangelizing

December 4, 2011

As our discussion about pastoral planning in the Boston Archdiocese continues, BCI would like to direct our readers to several articles and resources of interest.

Reader BobofNewton pointed us to this Wall Street Journal article, Archdiocese Turns to Evangelizing  Here are a few excerpts:

Archdiocese Turns to Evangelizing
With 16% of Local Catholics Attending Mass, Boston Church Leaders Take a New Tack; ‘We’re Not Used to Doing That’

BOSTON—The fourth-largest Roman Catholic archdiocese in the nation plans to respond to a steep drop in churchgoing by venturing down a road taken by Mormons and Protestants: evangelizing.

Some 40% of Roman Catholic parishes in the Boston area can’t pay their bills, and only 16% of local Catholics attend weekly Mass, the Archdiocese of Boston said in an overhaul plan released this week that proposed the effort to increase membership.

“We’re not used to doing that,” said William P. Fay, a monsignor and co-chairman of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Planning Commission, in an interview Thursday. “We are used to going to church, having communion, and making sure our kids are properly educated. Now, what we’re saying is that we’ve got a responsibility to reach out to other people and get them engaged and involved.”

The archdiocese is proposing to reduce costs and become more mission-minded by reorganizing its 290 parishes into groups of two or three parishes that will share a “pastoral service team” of priests, deacons and finance councils.

The plan does not call for closing churches, but each “pastoral collaborative” can recommend closures or merging of programs, and is also expected to come up with a local plan on how they will creatively “evangelize” to increase church attendance, said Msgr. Fay.

“Once you’re baptized, you’re supposed to go preach the gospel to other people,” he said. “It wasn’t something that was on the front burner, but we are trying to bring it to the front burner.”

Boston is far from alone. “Dioceses all around the country are looking at evangelism—I even know one diocese that is considering a door-to-door campaign,” said Mark Gray, a senior research associate at the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University. “This has always been much more common among Protestant denominations or Mormons…but now there is the sense that the Catholic Church should be doing this as well.”

The motivation is clear. The U.S. Catholic population is growing, but a lot of Catholics are skipping church. The number of people identifying themselves as Catholic rose to 77.7 million in 2011 from 74 million in 2005, but the weekly Mass attendance rate has fallen and is now about 31%, and far less in many urban areas, Mr. Gray said.

In Massachusetts, attendance has been dropping for decades, with some of the decline in the last 10 years a likely fallout from sexual-abuse scandals involving priests, said Msgr. Fay. “Some of it was, no question about that,” he said…

But the decline is also the result of many people being too busy to commit to church, Msgr. Fay said. “It takes two or three jobs to support a family…they’re worn out.”

“Only 16% of our folks are active Catholics…so what we need to do is really turn that around,” he said.

This article from The Boston Pilot, “Archdiocese proposes plan to share parish resources” gives more information.

“As opposed to a plan for merging parishes and closing church buildings, this plan adopts an approach that strengthens and enlivens our current parishes,” the document said. “By creating these teams, improved pastoral services can be provided to parishes without altering the parishes themselves.”

In a meeting with The Pilot, archdiocesan officials said the plan comes as a natural outgrowth of previous restructuring and plans in the Church, as it moves away from a mindset of maintenance within the community toward a mindset of mission within the community. Within the framework of the plan, as described in the document, the Church will move away from problems in keeping individual churches open miring the Church, and toward the mission of promoting the Gospel. According to the document, and archdiocesan officials at the meeting on Nov. 30, addressing these problems through PST actions will clear the way for a renewed focus on evangelization.

“Along the way we began to focus in on the issue of parishes, because if evangelization is going to take place successfully, it’s really going to happen at the parish level,” Msgr. Fay said, in the meeting. “As you can see from the documentation we have given you, that is the first significant proposal that we’re coming forward with.”

The archdiocese had planned to release the documents to the public at on Dec. 6, after a consultation with archdiocese priests on Dec. 5.

“We are looking at Monday as the first step in a months-long conversation here,” Msgr. Fay said. “This is going to go on for four to six months, this whole dialogue and hearing from people. Everybody who wants to be involved in this will have an opportunity to be involved in it, and to respond in any way that’s appropriate.”

Anyone can access There is a place for the planning documents to be posted publicly after Monday. This website also links to a few resources you may find of interest, including a Catholic Radio program transcript on the topic, “Why Catholics don’t attend Mass and why they should,” and a link to a study commissioned by the Australian Catholic Bishops on why Catholics have stopped attending Mass.   The findings in the report released in 2006 are rather interesting. A summary can be found here at Catholic Australia. Here are the reasons divided into high level categories (but not listed in priority order):

Church-centered reasons

1. The irrelevance of the Church to life today
2. The misuse of power and authority in the Church
3. Problems with the priest in the parish
4. Lack of intellectual stimulation
5. Concerns related to the parish as a community
6. A sense of being excluded by Church rules
7. Structural factors

Participant-centered reasons
1. Family or household-related issues
2. Crisis of faith
3. Going to Mass simply not a priority

The full report is a very worthwhile read.  Can you guess what the most frequently cited reason is for infrequent Mass goers or those who no longer attend Mass?  C’mon guess.

32% of those surveyed who no longer attend Mass or attend infrequently said the most important reason why they do not attend Mass is “I no longer feel that being a committed Catholic requires going to Mass every week.”  More than half (54%) of all the infrequent or non-attenders among Catholic parents named this as one of the three reasons they could choose in the survey.

The topic of why many Catholics do not attend Mass merits more than its own full blog post, but this study gives some further validity to the need for evangelization, which is a key stated goal of the pastoral planning initiative.

Priests of the Boston Archdiocese gather on Monday afternoon in Randolph to discuss the pastoral planning proposal. Keep the Monday convocation of priests in your prayers.


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