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.
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
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.”
JUST WONDERING says:
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?