Does Boston Archbishop Fulfill the Role of Diocesan Bishop?

The changing of the guard in the office responsible for clergy life and parish life–along with comments from our most recent post–make it timely for us to look at whether what Canon Law describes as the responsibilities of our diocesan bishop are indeed being fulfilled today. If not, how can that situation best be improved for the sake of the diocese?

The Boston Pilot reported last month that Fr. Kevin M. Sepe was named to succeed Fr. Thomas S. Foley as Episcopal Vicar and Secretary for Parish Life and Leadership effective July 1. The Secretary for Parish Life and Leadership oversees matters dealing with clergy life and parish life including the offices of Clergy Funds, Pastoral Planning, Clergy Formation, Clergy Personnel, Clergy Outreach, Pastoral Care of Priests, Priest Recovery Program, Senior Priests and Regina Cleri. Taking care of priests is a big part of the job, and with the 2011 departure of Fr. James Flavin (which we reported last year) and Fr. Foley now, the seniority in that office is dropping considerably. (This is not a criticism of Fr. Sepe, merely an observation of fact).

This raises the question: what is Cardinal O’Malley himself doing to help enhance life for the clergy in the Boston Archdiocese and to have regular contact with the presbyterate?

Here are a few excerpts from the Code of Canon Law about the role of the diocesan bishop to inspire the discussion:


Can. 381 §1 In the diocese entrusted to his care, the diocesan Bishop has all the ordinary, proper and immediate power required for the exercise of his pastoral office, except in those matters which the law or a decree of the Supreme Pontiff reserves to the supreme or to some other ecclesiastical authority.

Can. 383 §1 In exercising his pastoral office, the diocesan Bishop is to be solicitous for all Christ’s faithful entrusted to his care, whatever their age, condition or nationality, whether they live in the territory or are visiting there. He is to show an apostolic spirit also to those who, because of their condition of life, are not sufficiently able to benefit from ordinary pastoral care, and to those who have lapsed from religious practice.

Can. 384 He is to have a special concern for the priests, to whom he is to listen as his helpers and counsellors. He is to defend their rights and ensure that they fulfill the obligations proper to their state. He is to see that they have the means and the institutions needed for the development of their spiritual and intellectual life. He is to ensure that they are provided with adequate means of livelihood and social welfare, in accordance with the law.

Can. 385 He must in a very special way foster vocations to the various ministries and to consecrated life, having a special care for priestly and missionary vocations.

Can. 386 §1 The diocesan Bishop is bound to teach and illustrate to the faithful the truths of faith which are to be believed and applied to behaviour. He is himself to preach frequently. He is also to ensure that the provisions of the canons on the ministry of the word, especially on the homily and catechetical instruction, are faithfully observed, so that the whole of christian teaching is transmitted to all.

§2 By whatever means seem most appropriate, he is firmly to defend the integrity and unity of the faith to be believed. However, he is to acknowledge a just freedom in the further investigation of truths.

Can. 387 Mindful that he is bound to give an example of holiness, charity, humility and simplicity of life, the diocesan Bishop is to seek in every way to promote the holiness of Christ’s faithful according to the special vocation of each. Since he is the principal dispenser of the mysteries of God, he is to strive constantly that Christ’s faithful entrusted to his care may grow in grace through the celebration of the sacraments, and may know and live the paschal mystery.

§2 He is to ensure that abuses do not creep into ecclesiastical discipline, especially concerning the ministry of the word, the celebration of the sacraments and sacramental, the worship of God and the veneration of the saints, and the administration of goods.

§2 Apart from the visit ‘ad limina’, attendance at councils or at the synod of Bishops or at the Episcopal Conference, at which he must be present, or by reason of another office lawfully entrusted to him, he may be absent from the diocese, for a just reason, for not longer than one month, continuously or otherwise, provided he ensures that the diocese is not harmed by this absence.

Can. 396 §1 The Bishop is bound to visit his diocese in whole or in part each year, so that at least every five years he will have visited the whole diocese, either personally or, if he is lawfully impeded, through the coadjutor or auxiliary Bishop, the Vicar general, an episcopal Vicar or some other priest.

Are these responsibilities all being fulfilled?

Does the Cardinal have special concern for Boston priests and listen to them as his helpers and counsellors? Does he defend their rights, and make sure their needs are fulfilled for development of their spiritual and intellectual lives?  Blessed John Paul II  in Pastores Dabo Vobis (I Will Give You Shepherds (1992) said priests should have “regular contact with the Bishop.”  Is that happening today?  Based on what we read on Cardinal Sean’s blog and see and hear from priests, it appears that there is considerable room for improvement in this area.

Here are some comments from our last post:

Objective Observer said:

The primary responsibility that comes to mind that literally requires his personal, direct contact is care of the presbyterate. The ordinary needs to know each priest and call him by name. He needs to KNOW the men, not merely know about them. He needs to hear them. He needs to see them. He needs to ponder what is best for them. The vows taken at transitional and presbyteral ordination are not a one-way street. The duty of the ordinary to the presbyterate is the foundation of those vows. It’s a quid pro quo of stark simplicity.

Sean O’Malley does not seem to do a lot of anything. With all the PR people and handlers around him, either he manages to not do much except travel, or the people around him manage to make it look like he doesn’t do anything. Please do not tell me that a photo opp with children in plaid uniforms counts as working. Ditto having dinner with the Neo-Cats. If I never see either of those items again in his blog, I’ll be grateful.

How many priests have stepped away from active ministry in the past three years? Of those how many died or were retired? How many were accused of abuse? Those numbers are not as high as they were in 2002-2004. Since 2008, very few of those in active ministry went the way of retirement, the DA’s office or their final rest.

What happened to the others who left ministry? Could any of this remainder group, with the right leadership and guidance from their ordinary since 2003, have remained in ministry and been effective? Could the circumstances that led to their leaving been mitigated or prevented if their ordinary had made a point of being their shepherd?

Nine years is plenty of time to get to know 650 people who are critical to the mission. Remember, “In persona Christi” is their job description. Have dinner with 15 of them one night per week. Put out the calendar of nights and let them sign up. Don’t expect them to settle for tomato soup and crackers.
Whatever you do give your handler/lieutenants the night off.

Listen to the priests, yes. But then for the Lord’s sake, once you have heard them ACT! If a priest needs to go to Guest House, YOU tell him that, then call him each week he’s there. If a priest has buried one or both of his parents after helping care for them while running two parishes, give him six weeks off, and use your frequent flier miles to send him to visit his friends or family. If a priest is depressed, yes offer him therapy and/or meds, but also ask him what YOU need to do to help HIM. What changes does HE need? And if a guy needs to hear that he has to change his ways, YOU tell him that, and tell him that you will have his back so long as he makes good on the changes.

And don’t get your news of priests through filters — even other priests. Your loyal lieutenants have as their job description to protect you. From what, I’m not sure, but they err if they “protect” you from the 650 men who have given their lives and their vows to you.

But am I asking the impossible? Is this ordinary capable of this primary duty? If he is not, the answer cannot be to substitute others to do this duty for him, no matter how well-intentioned they are. The answer is for the present ordinary to go to work in a multi-lingual dicastery, and let the head of the bishop’s conference, who seems to grasp the job of ordinary exceptionally well, find someone who can do the job in Boston.

ACS says:

April 30, 2012 at 3:53 p

This is the BEST post I’ve seen in all the time I’ve been reading BCI! Thanks to Objective Observer. And, let’s continue to pray for our priests who need our support and that of the Cardinal.

April 30, 2012 at 5:38

Agreed. Probably the best are reserved and understated versus individuals more adept at “self-aggrandizing

DBP says:

April 30, 2012 at 7:46 pm

Objective Observer – you have described the situation with the Cardinal vis-a-vis his priests extremely well. Many of us have been left with the distinct impression that we can be thrown under the bus at any time to forestall any possibility of bad publicity or complaint. How can the covenantal relationship between us and our spiritual father, the bishop, survive the repeated reminders that we are merely ballast, to be thrown overboard at the first sign of trouble for the ship?

Just today an announcement was released by Terry Donilon about a priest who was “exonerated” after being charged with something. The announcement went on to say that (regardless of his innocence) he now will be assigned to only “restricted ministry” with his own family.

How many men are there in the diaspora who have been falsely accused, or who have done something careless but not illegal, or who have fallen afoul of the Cardinal’s “filters” and who are now in a similar situation with only “restricted ministry” available to them while the Archdiocese (and other dioceses) struggle without enough priests to serve the people of God?

No wonder I sign myself “Disgusted Boston Priest.”


May 1, 2012 at 1:08 pm

DBP “JUST WONDERING” weeps with you. ‘JUST WONDERING’ shares your views and “Objective Observer.” Putting it “out there, unfortunately, will not resolve the problems.”

So far to my knowledge two priests were “exonerated” but given limited “faculties with their families.” With the shortage of Priests this resolution is an absolute disgrace. And the two Priests are still “left in limbo”. When will Mother Church start being a “Loving Mother,..A guiding Mother…A trusting Mother? We desperately need one!

Interesting food for thought.  In this post last October, we proposed something along the same lines as the suggestion by “Objective Observer”:

The Cardinal’s blog continues to chronicle an extensive amount of travel outside of Boston. If the Archbishop of Boston cuts his travel schedule outside of Boston and focuses instead on governance in Boston, some of that time savings could instead be put towards meeting one-on-one with 4 priests a week for 30 minutes each to listen to and respond to their needs and concerns. This is not the same as the group meetings we hear about with seminarians and recently-ordained priests, or group outings with senior priests at Regina Cleri to the circus or Fenway Park, but would apply to ALL priests. Via these one-on-one meetings, in a years’ time, he will have met with 200 priests and in two years, it will be 400 priests interacting with their bishop as pastor and shepherd of priests, not just a ceremonial figure traveling around the world participating in photo opps.

We hope and pray this post helps Cardinal O’Malley, Vicar General Msgr. Deeley, Fr. Foley, and Fr. Sepe better understand the seriousness of the concerns by Catholic faithful about the Boston presbyterate and future of the Boston Archdiocese so that they can take meaningful action.  What do you think?

30 Responses to Does Boston Archbishop Fulfill the Role of Diocesan Bishop?

  1. jbq2 says:

    As Bill Clinton said, “it all depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is”. There is a new model of the priesthood developing on the “social justice model” of the writings of Malachi Martin. The “Sacrifice of Calvary” is obsolete. Deacons will be ordained and women will be given a measure of power through the pastoral associate program. The clusters of parishes with one outriding pastor should be a tipoff. Sean Cardinal O’Malley, even though a classmate of Charles Chaput, has a liberal view of this newly emerging church.

  2. Eva Arnott says:

    When I read this blog posting I found myself thinking of the many times when friends who worked the night shift at a local hospital where priests were being treated, saw Cardinal Law arriving to visit them. He even went directly from a long flight from Rome and a hostile reception by the media at Logan airport to anoint a dying priest. I admire Cardinal Law’s dedication, and always defend him when others remember only his reassignment of priests who should have been removed, but I wonder if everyone might have been better off if he had spent more time reading old personnel files even at the cost of spending less time on those visits.

    • jbq2 says:

      As someone from Missouri, I have always been unsettled by the criticism of “Law and Order”. O’Connor was the order. He came from Springfield and was sent to Boston as a “firefighter” to right a sinking ship which was set in motion by Cardinal Medeiros. He was following known policy of the time in regard to pedophile priests. Medeiros sent gay chaplains into the gay community and it backfired. So, why does Medeiros merit a pass on his deep involvement?

      • Liam says:

        Yet Madeiros was the very first bishop in the US to expel Dignity from Catholic premises, and his letters to Rome show he was probably even more hardline than Rome was at the time.

  3. The diocesan bishop, whether or not he is a bishop or archbishop, is responsible for everything that happens in his diocese. The metropolitan archbishop has an additional responsibility of overseeing what goes on in his metropolitos [sic]. (For example, if an archbishop decides to excommunicate someone from the archdiocese, that decree applies to all suffragan dioceses in his province.)

    Now in terms of contacting the priests in his diocese, the bishop should have a file of every priest incardinated or serving in his diocese, and should at the very least know who they are and where they are serving. I’m afraid Cardinal Sean doesn’t know every single priest in the archdiocese, and doesn’t he visit every parish? Isn’t the ordinary supposed to visit every parish every so often?

  4. PS says:

    I think Cardinal Sean has been trying to respond to many of the requests on this blog:

    1. Organizing the annual September Fundraisers to replenish the
    Clergy Pension since September 2010.

    2. Raising 1 million in Chicago recently for Catholic University

    3. Spending time with Brotherhood of Hope guys and going to the movies (Boston Pilot).

    Rather than adhere to an artificial, perfunctory schedule of
    meetings; can’t priests just pick up the telephone and
    say “Hi, can we get together next week for an hour?”
    Isn’t the bottom line that you have more in common with him,
    than most of these others? Hopefully this can work.
    I suppose the stressor about him picking up the phone first is because he is your superior; therefore may be conducive to unnecessary anxiety.

    The problem with the formulaic approach is that
    it may become a “form without function”
    habit after a while. When something should be communicated in a timely matter it is not, and, people are grappling at subjects to
    talk about when they are “required/scheduled” far in advance to meet” with nothing meaningful to communicate.

    It starts feeling stupid and superficial because it becomes stupid and superficial.

    Good Luck

    • PS, Thank you for your comment. BCI has urged the archdiocese to improve the financial stability of the Clergy Funds and has promoted the work of the Brotherhood of Hope, among other worthwhile organizations. As for fund-raising for Catholic University, we have never advocated for that specifically.

      We agree with you that an artificial perfunctory schedule could become mechanical or impersonal. That said, we do feel strongly this needs to come from the top down, not from the bottom up. The average priest will not call the cardinal archbishop of Boston and ask for a 1:1 meeting for a variety of reasons. In life, what we focus on and make a priority is what gets done. If this is not a priority for Cardinal O’Malley, it will probably not get done.

      • PS says:

        The only reason for mentioning Catholic University, was b/c
        I thought a while back there was a cartoon/video kind of making fun of how “over impressed our society & HR is with Harvard.
        Maybe unrelated. Anyway, I have no idea why an average priest would not call, nor is it any of my business. It makes me feel sad, though. It is sad because you are in a unique line of
        work/vocation in that this is really family, too.

        Maybe he will read how much this means to you people and reach out in some way.

        Good Luck

    • Capt Crunch says:

      I’m sorry I respectfully disagree.

      “grappling at subjects to talk about”

      Look at what’s going on in the RCAB and the USCCB. There are more than enough subjects to discuss that would keep these meetings anything but superficial and stupid.

      There is a crisis in the church, period. And this crisis will only begin to turn around with strong leadership, where’s ours?

  5. PS says:

    correction manner, not matter. Sorry

  6. Lazarus' Table says:

    I’ve had priests tell me their letters to the Cardinal have gone unanswered, that they have not been able to get an appointment to see him. “Plausible deniability” seems to describe O’Malley’s stance– he cant be accused of not handling a “troublesome” priest if he didn’t know about him.
    Care for priests has been surrendered to Chancery priests who have varying degrees of competence in dealing with the spiritual, emotional and physical needs of priests. If a priest has a problem, the automatic response is to send him to the St John Vianney Center in Philadelphia to get ‘fixed’. (Never does it occur to the Chancery priests –or the Cardinal– that THEY might be the major problem of priests. Let THEM go to Philadelphia.) The chancery priests are either unwilling or unable to personally help their brother priests. Once upon a time, a good spiritual director successfully ‘treated’ (i.e., returned to wholeness) priests who suffered from a variety of problems. Priests are treated differently depending on their reputation (deserved or not), how friendly they are with the decision-makers, how cute they are. It may not be true of all of them, but some priests in ‘official’ positions have jockeyed for those positions, eager to advance their own careers; “what’s good for me” trumps “how can I help/serve you, my brother priest”. A friend tells me the “me first” attitude of chancery priests has been filtering down to parishes and pastors. Why not? They are just imitating the behavior that has been modelled for them.

    • PS says:

      If the “distance” is related to fear of potential lawsuits, legitimate or not, give him some slack. There are many professions that
      are strangled by regulations and individuals within them that are inhibited by this disgusting group of people. This is then an issue of “fear” versus “want”. This is a very sad situation.
      It may make you feel better to read a blog “Above the Law”.

      Remember, mothers “always” love their sons–be it on earth or
      in heaven.

      • Boston Priest says:

        PS, the Cardinal’s “distance” isn’t for legal reasons. He’s just detached from the job of governing the diocese and from the presbyterate. Maybe you’ve never been in a meeting with him. You can be in a 30-minute or 60-minute meeting with him on an important topic, and he just seems disengaged or disinterested and says almost nothing. Nothing happens afterwards. He really doesn’t seem to do much of anything substantial except travel, attend monthly presbyteral council meetings and quarterly pastoral council meetings (where another priest or the delegate for religious actually runs the meeting), go to fundraisers, visit a Boston parish once every few weeks, and have his photo taken everywhere he goes.

        The crozier carried by the bishop symbolizes a bishop’s role as caretaker of his flock. Much as I like Cardinal Sean on a personal level from my interactions with him, I just don’t think he sees himself as chief shepherd of the flock here and I’m not sure if he even wants to still be here in his role.

  7. Mary-Louise says:

    If I had a lot of money, I would happily fund a “Cardinal Come Home” campaign in the newspapers. Full-page ads. Media buys on Channels 4, 5 and 7. Perhaps that would get his attention. All with pointers to this website to give people the reason why they should donate to the campaign.

    • jbq2 says:

      Let me remind you what lawyers do. They stall and their agenda moves forward. Cardinal Sean is stalling and while he yawns in his office, his hidden agenda moves forward. Please forget the image of someone who does not know what he is doing.

  8. Just Another Priest says:

    The only way I can put it is that I don’t know him and he doesn’t know me.

  9. […] Does Boston Archbishop Fulfill the Role of Diocesan Bishop? – Boston Catholic Insider […]

  10. Lazarus' Table says:

    Eva, I don’t know how much good it would have done Cardinal Law, or anyone else, to read through personnel files. WHo knows how accurate they are, or how much notations may reflect the prejudice (pro or con) toward particular priests. Anyone know?

    • Eva Arnott says:

      When members of the Boston Globe Spotlight Team spent thousands of hours at the BPL they were mainly going through decades worth of Catholic Directories and finding records of priests being sent on ‘health leave’ and then going to a new parish. This often meant simply a recovery from a physical illness but it sometimes meant spending time at a residential center for alcoholics or abusers. The journalists rightly became suspicious of those who had an unusually high number of assignments with intervening periods when they were ‘unassigned’. It was so much harder to keep track of members of any large organization when everything was in thousands of paper files.

  11. PS says:

    If any of you are interested, I thought of a creative and meaningful way (potentially) to complete you appeal objectives:

    #1. Learn which aspect of the appeal is “most appealing” to your
    parish: Either a show of hands or questionnaire would do.

    #2. Ask the archdiocese to reassure you that the monies collected
    for the remainder of the appeal goal be for that particular

    #3. In affluent parishes, reassure the parishioners that the
    highly paid staff at the archdiocese also contribute to
    the appeal at the very same rates (i e. 1% or 2%)
    they are being asked to contribute.

    Thank you so much for your dedication. Those of us who
    do go to church are so appreciative of your sacrifice.

  12. Marie says:

    I break a promise to myself. I said, “Be still, say nothing. You are not of “this” world. You have a goal to re-open a church and this blog subject is not a place to express your goal; it is a place to hear the concerns of others”.

    Others, where are you? Objective Observer, others too, have opened the door.

    I have read and re-read what is here. I have realized that divine intercession is a thing of the divine world, but not of the real world; and that is the world that each of you and we have and must function in and with. Address it.

    Who prepares the Bishop for Celebrity, the real world? Who prepares for photo shoots? Who prepares for interview? Who prepares for people and money management? Who prepares to recognize when one has fallen into the “me first” mode? Who prepares for special requests: speak at, say the mass at, intercede with. Who prepares one to be traditional and contemporary at once…………who prepares for all of that and so much more?

    Those who follow get it. Those who lead do not.

    You have here a forum. Use it. If what you say falls on deaf ears, then there exists a truly sad state of affairs.

    • Capt Crunch 73 says:

      Once again Voris nails it. This video demonstrates the type of leadership needed from our RCAB leaders…

      It appears the SSPX may be regularized soon, let them come to the Boston area and model what our Catholic leadership should be doing…

  13. Mary-Louise says:

    Today — Saturday May 12 — Cardinal O’Malley will be at Our Lady of Fatima in Sudbury to celebrate a Mass in honor of the new pastor, Fr. Richard Erikson. A reception will be held after in the Church Hall. The Mass is at 5 pm. Just FYI. Perhaps there will be a reception line.

  14. Bitumen and Pitch says:

    His Eminence has a great opportunity to show his leadership in dealing with the pro-abortion speaker selected by Boston College for their graduation ceremony.

    • Marie says:



      What do you think about the news that you have posted?

      • marie says:

        This is not good. Marie replys to Marie.

        Here you have a forum, a place to vent and you don’t. I do not believe I am getting this.

        I have learned that once a Catholic, always a Catholic, up, down, questioned, practicing or not and that is it, but it does not mean you cannot say what you feel, because what you are will always be; so, will someone just say something…

        And, no, I am not going away; there is a church that must be opened.

  15. Francois Tee says:

    I would like to know how many priests have been removed from ministry for something not illegal, or due to a false allegation, or an accusation of one alleged act from 30 years ago, but who now sit on the sidelines waiting, and growing more and more bitter as they wait. They are our modern lepers and the RCAB has made the decision to them die on the vine.

    • jbq2 says:

      You are making a false assumption. You believe, as many, that the Catholic bishops are sincere in their agenda. Read Malachi Martin. He makes a case for infiltration of the Vatican by the devil. JPII attempted to right a sinking ship and was shot by the Russians which curtailed his efforts for health reasons. Ratzinger is attempting to do likewise. Dolan is among the faithful. There are grave doubts about O’Malley. Chaput was a classmate of O and they are like night and day even though wearing the same brown uniform. Wuerl was rightfully classified by Malachi. Ye shall seek the truth and the truth shall set you free.

  16. Capt Crunch says:

    Hmm, here’s an example of leadership.

    Cardinal Sean, I noticed Boston was missing from this list. Are these issues not applicable to us?

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