Thursday, May 27, 2010

Largest ordination class in decades

Last Saturday the Diocese of Little Rock ordained four men to the priesthood.  It was their largest ordination class in 44 years.


Story here.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Church the women - and the bishop - want

Six years ago Boston College's The Church in the 21st Century Initiative hosted a conference entitled Envisioning the Church Women Want.

One of the panels at the conference was called When Bishops Listened to Women: The Women's Pastoral 12 Years Later. This panel was comprised of Sr. Mary Ann Hinsdale, Dr. Susan Muto, Dr. Pheme Perkins and Bishop Matthew Clark. Video and audio of this session can be found here.

After some introductory remarks by Sr. Hinsdale, Dr. Muto spent several minutes reviewing the history of what she termed the "Women's Pastoral." This was to be a USCCB Pastoral Letter outlining the concerns of women in the Church. Although it went through several revisions, the USCCB ultimately declined to adopt it.

Dr. Muto was followed by Bishop Clark. After some initial comments the bishop launched into the heart of his talk. What follows in blue is my transcript of His Excellency's talk beginning at the 23:25 mark:


I thought I might use my time this morning in a more future oriented way and to that end, that is, envisioning the Church women want, I thought, well, if I'm going to be consistent with what I believe in and the spirit of this conference, I'd better ask some women what they want. So I took the question to our St. Bernard's School of Theology and Ministry, which is a wonderful, small, graduate level school that we have. It's a great resource for us. It's president is Sister Patricia Schoelles, a Sister of St. Joseph and there are two full time faculty members who are women and some men who are [full time] and a number of adjuncts who are women. "So," I said, "what do we want to say to the people at Boston College?"

Let me share with you their thinking, which I want to say up front is very much my own [although] I might use a different word here or there. I would like to do that with one concrete image of the Church women want offered by one of the people I polled and six basic desires they have.

This brief story is by one of the women who teaches at St. Bernard's and [it's] her experience at a Sunday liturgy at St. Gabriel's Parish in Hammondsport, which is a small community on the south end of Keuka Lake, one of our splendid Finger Lakes.

There must have been thirty people taking leadership roles at the liturgy. A male, a priest originally from Sri Lanka, and a female, a sister, [the] pastoral administrator of the parish, led the congregation with the sense that neither was simply imported or a token figure. They seemed to invite others to assume a role in the service as well. The impression was given that this is our Church and we care for it and actively participate in it.

From the cantors to the preacher - the preacher a layman in training for diaconal ordination - to those who collected the song books and cleared the pews afterward, people participated, they cared, greeted each other and assumed a variety of roles in tending to whatever physical tasks needed to be done for the celebration. The spiritual communion, then, was so obvious and easy to enter into.

This isn't a big city parish filled with sophisticated people well versed in theories about emerging roles of women, but it was hard to imagine anyone sitting back complaining that "she shouldn't be doing this or that" because of an imposed or inherited view of what people are or are not allowed or intended to do. Instead, the clear sense was that this is our Church, we have a role in it, we own it, we care, and we are community in Christ.

Leadership clearly comes from within the parish itself. I suppose for those who prefer liturgy that seems more like theater - the leaders providing a program for the congregation - this would not have been as satisfying. But for me the kiss of peace alone in that parish was close to the most important experience of church that I have had in years.

That's the kind of Church she wants and I think she expresses that want very beautifully out of her own experience.

I'd like to mention, as I said - I'll mention them very briefly - six qualities, six encouraging notes, that these women look for in the Church.

The first relates to how the Church formulates its proclamations and teachings and I would say under that category they have three strong desires: First, that their experience be heard and honored, not argued with, but absorbed and integrated into the thinking of those who hear. Secondly, that a broad spectrum of voices should be heard before coming to conclusions that relate to teaching and polity of significance. They include specifically poor women and men, abused women, abandoned mothers, divorced women, gay, lesbian, single people, now thought to be absent from this kind of discourse, leaving us deprived of their experience and their insights. Thirdly in that basic theme that they seek to develop, a Church that is diverse and affirming of all, welcoming those who have been excluded, including varying theological perspectives, people whose backgrounds offer richness that clerics alone cannot possibly hope to have, and all manner of gifts and talents and life experiences. So, how the Church formulates its proclamations and teachings.

Secondly, how the Church deals with diverse opinion among the faithful: They want a Church that deals with issues and people and divergent theological opinion in loving and just ways, rather than what may seem to be a condemnatory manner or a dictatorial kind of manner. Many long for a Church that affirms the gifts of all members as we struggle to form communities dedicated to loving one another and building the kingdom of God.

Thirdly, on theological work that needs to be done in service of the Church women want: In terms of the theological tasks they're most concerned about they ask for the development of a more adequate theological anthropology, one that will adequately account for gender distinction in integrating our understanding of "imago Dei" and "in persona Christi". With particular emphasis they stress the need for that kind of reflection and inclusion in matters of sex and sexuality which does not sufficiently include consideration of women's experience.

Next, the exercise of authority in the Church: The general call is for a decentralized authority better able to serve the Church and the Gospel we seek to follow and embody. This includes a climate of honest and open dialog, granting to local churches - dioceses - the right to exercise their own identities, to call their own leaders, and respond pastorally to concerns and realities that arise in a given place and time and which may not be common to all places. Disagreement on matters other than creedal statements should not be feared, but a community of discourse in which truth is sought and celebrated should be encouraged and nourished.

Fifth, on Church activity and action: The Church needs to consider its call to reach out to those in need and to grant increasing prominence to action on behalf of justice as a constitutive part of preaching the Gospel. We need to search for ways to work toward genuine healing and not just sustenance for those who suffer from sickness, abuse, poverty, addiction, etc., but really to find remedies and cures for that. A Church that simply "maintains" and leaders who focus on extraneous or superficial goals are in no way the Church that women want.

Next, on the Church as a source of spirituality and help in leading a Gospel-centered spiritual life: They make considerable reference - and, I think, understandably so - to the stresses of modern life: too little time, too many expectations, the need for grounding and a firm sense of self and purpose, the desire to serve others while fostering mutual love, justice and responsibilities in our relationships and in society. Women want help from the Church in formulating a sense of priorities, in focusing and developing habits that would help lead a balanced life amid competing demands and increasing insecurity from any number of sources. Women I have talked with expressed the need to approach the Church as a community whose rituals and celebrations are rich in the authentic tradition that nurtures life and genuine relationship with God. Under that rubric of spirituality in a Gospel-centered life, if we fail to image God in appropriate ways, if we cannot assume the role of pilgrim Church assisting the disciples of Christ in their call to be present to those bearing the fears and anxieties of our time, then we will have forsaken our call and our mission.

Those are the main themes that emerged in my conversations with the St. Bernard's people. They are deeply consonant with the themes I have heard for most of the 25 years that I have served as bishop.


I thought of giving this a good fisk but decided instead to leave that as an exercise for the reader.  Suffice it for me to say that this is, in rather vivid detail, the Church that the women teaching at St. Bernard's would like to have - and would like the rest of us to have as well, whether we want it or not.  And, it seems safe to assume, this is also the vision these women have been inculcating in their students, whether those students be in training for lay pastoral ministry or in diaconal formation.

Also, since Bishop Clark says that he shares this vision - with the exception of "a different word here or there" - this is his vision also.  This is a well fleshed out picture of what he has been working toward for so many years now. 

My thanks to the people at Boston College for recording this.  While I am sure it wasn't their intent, this serves as the most detailed explanation for the ongoing collapse of the Diocese of Rochester that I have yet to see.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

DOR's legacy

Peter J. Smith at has posted an article dealing with the Rainbow Sash Movement and its plans to disrupt Mass in various dioceses this Sunday.

Near the end of his piece Mr. Smith provides his readers with something of an historical perspective:

In the past, the Rainbow Sash movement has received welcome in a handful of U.S. dioceses. Archbishop Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, Archbishop Harry Flynn of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit, and Bishop Matthew Clark of Rochester have all at one time or another welcomed members of the RSM to receive communion.

I sure hope history remembers us for more that that.

One parish, eleven seminarians

This morning I was listening to Catholic Connection over the Internet.  One of the guests was Kurt Klement, Director of High School Ministry for St. Ann Parish in Coppell, Texas.

St. Ann is located in the rapidly growing Dallas-Fort Worth area and it is a huge parish.  With some 8,400 families and 27,000 individual parishioners, it completely eclipses most of our local parishes.  Still, there is a lot to be learned from St. Ann.

Outside of its size, St. Ann seems unremarkable in many ways.  Average weekend Mass attendance is around 28%.  54% of the families contribute through envelopes or similar means, with the average family donation running around $9.00 a week.

Two things, though, make St. Ann Parish stand out.  The first is Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration.  The parish has a separate adoration chapel where at least one person is present adoring Our Lord 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year.  The chapel was built in response to a call from Pope John Paul II and is dedicated to him "for an increase in vocations from the parish."

The second is the parish's focus on youth.  St. Ann does not have a Catholic school.  Instead, it relies on religious education programs and youth ministry to form the next generation of Catholics. And it makes that formation a priority:  Last year the parish spent 9% of its operating budget on religious education programs and another 13.6% on tween and teen ministry.

A part of the latter is its high school ministry program which is overseen by 3 full-time parish staff members assisted by a large team of trained "core" volunteers. According to the parish's annual report,

St. Ann is a parish that values youth ministry, and this is bearing remarkable fruit as this year the High School Ministry had over 600 teens in grades 9-12 from over 30 different high schools involved. St. Ann High School Ministry continues to try to provide a variety of experiences for the youth of our parish highlighted by youth involvement in the 4:30 p.m. youth Mass followed by weekly youth nights. Also, through Bible studies, retreats, service projects, pro-life outreach, and an annual mission trip we hope to continue to expose the teens to the riches of the Catholic Church and the beauty of living a life of faith.

We continue to be grateful for all that God has done here and the ways He continues to work in the lives of the teens who have been involved with our ministry. Many former participants in the high school ministry are now leaders in their college Newman Centers. This past summer we had our first youth ministry intern—a young man who has grown up in the parish, was involved in the high school ministry, and is studying in college to be a youth minister after graduation. We also continue to see many beautiful vocations to the married life as well as two additional young men from St. Ann entering seminary this year for a total of 11 young men from our parish in formation for the priesthood or religious life. We feel blessed to have had some part in helping to prepare and form these young men and women for a continuing life of faith.


Many of the parish's teens have experienced life changing encounters with Jesus, either at adoration or during retreats, according to Mr. Klement.   This is borne out by the fact that 15 young men from the parish have entered the seminary over the last few years and, while four have discerned that this was not their calling, 11 are still there.

To put this number in perspective, 11 seminarians from this parish of 27,000 Catholics would be comparable to 128 seminarians from our diocese of 314,000 Catholics.

DOR, however, currently has 6 seminarians.

All of which leads to two questions for Bishop Clark:

1. What are they doing that we aren't? 

2. Why aren't we?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Who's really in charge, the Pope or the local bishop?

A lawsuit currently underway in federal court in Kentucky provides us with two somewhat competing views of the relationship between the Pope and the other bishops in the Catholic Church.

It seems that three men who claim they were sexually abused by Louisville priests decades ago when they were minors are also asserting that the Vatican is ultimately responsible for that abuse.  Their claim is that the Louisville bishops who failed to properly control their abusive priests were so firmly under Rome's control that the Vatican must answer for the actions of both the bishops and the priests.

To bolster their position the plaintiffs have brought in a canon lawyer who says,

... it is "absolute lunacy" to say bishops are not responsible to the pope.

He does not pay their checks, but they are totally controlled by the Vatican ... He alone can create them as bishops, he appoints them, assigns them to a diocese, fires them, accepts their resignation or transfers them.

The employee-employer analogy is incomplete when it comes to the pope and his bishops; control by the pope is much more complete. A bishop can't take a sabbatical to go study science for three months without the pope's permission.

Au contraire, says a research fellow in religion and law at Ave Maria University.

In peoples' minds, they imagine the pope is the general manager of every bishop in the world. The bishop is the head of a diocese; he is its chief priest and administrator. Theologically, each diocese is the local church and he's its head. The pope appoints bishops but after that, there's minimal contact.

And so the court is faced with two competing theories of the extent of papal control over local bishops.  How is it to decide which one actually reflects the reality on the ground?

Might I suggest that the court take a close look at a diocese such as Rochester.  Here it will find a local bishop who effectively thumbs his nose at anything coming out of Rome that is contrary to his vision of what a modern, progressive Catholic diocese should look like. Whether it be liturgical dancing, non-ordained homilists, prominent dissidents speaking in our parishes or to gatherings of our ministerium, other dissidents in control of parishes, heresies being taught to aspiring deacons at St. Bernard's or the criteria for the acceptance of candidates to the priesthood, Bishop Clark has made it abundantly clear that he is in charge, not Rome.

If the court would just spend a little time reviewing our bishop's record vis-a-vis the teachings and directives of Rome, I'm certain that the verdict would be a quick, "Case Dismissed!"

Source here.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Lay ministry webinar to feature Bishop Clark

In another 10 days the National Association for Lay Ministry and Ave Maria Press will host a webinar featuring Bishop Matthew Clark.

A long-time advocate of lay ecclesial ministers, Bishop Matthew Clark will be giving a forty-five minute presentation on the ever-growing significance of this important group and the way it is changing the face of the Church. Following this will be fifteen minutes for Q&A. Register today for this free seminar!

Details here.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Bishop Clark: No attempt to shorten patient's life

In 2006 Gary Harvey of Horseheads, NY suffered a severe brain injury.  By May 2009 he was breathing on his own and just needed to receive nutrition through a feeding tube.  By that time he was also a ward of Chemung County and a patient at St. Joseph's Hospital  in Elmira.

That month the Catholic hospital's ethics committee recommended the removal of Mr. Harvey's feeding tube, an action which would have lead to his death by starvation and/or dehydration.  The county, as his legal guardian, then petitioned a NY State Supreme Court judge for permission to remove the feeding tube.  The judge, however, refused to rubber-stamp the request and asked for more information.  Chemung County ultimately withdrew the request.

Several advocacy organizations, such as the National Association to Stop Guardian Abuse (NASGA), ultimately became involved in the case.

According to a report (my emphasis), 

In a January, 2010 letter to Bishop Matthew Clark in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester, NASGA president, Elaine Renoire, cited: "The guardian attempted to terminate his life and would have been successful had Mrs. Harvey not taken it to the media. St. Joseph's Hospital's Ethics Committee chose to participate in what would have been Gary Harvey's execution rather than prevent it. NASGA is asking you to find out why."

Bishop Matthew Clark responded nearly one month later saying, "I am convinced that St. Joseph Hospital complies with the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, that the Hospital is complying with the Order of the Court, and that there has been no attempt to shorten Mr. Harvey's life."

It would seem that our bishop does not equate the recommendation to remove a feeding tube with an attempt to shorten a patient's life.

Lord, have mercy!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Faux Catholic schools

Patricia Weitzel-O'Neill is in her final weeks as superintendent of schools in the Archdiocese of Washington. When she first took over that job 8 years ago the archdiocese had 114 grade and high schools. Now the number is 89.

Last Friday, at an event entitled "A Washington Briefing for the Nation's Catholic Community," Weitzel-O'Neill offered her opinion on a variety of issues related to Catholic schools. One such issue is the appearance of schools in the "Catholic tradition."  These are generally schools started by concerned parents without the approval - or support - of their dioceses. According to a CNS story,

... what Weitzel-O'Neill termed "faux Catholic schools" are springing up, led by those who have been in the Catholic home-schooling movement. She showed the home page to a website for a Pope John Paul II Academy in a suburban section of the Archdiocese of Washington, which has no connection with the archdiocese, despite entreaties by archdiocesan officials that the school seek some sort of connection. "They're teaching the Catholic faith, but they're not approved by any bishop," she added.

Let me see if I've got this straight.  Ms. Weitzel-O'Neill has closed 22% of her schools in the 8 years she's been on the job, a record that would scream FAILURE! in just about any other area of endeavor.  And now she is concerned that some Catholic parents have started a school that she and her successors will never be able to close.  How, exactly, is that a problem?

Ms. Weitzel-O'Neill also expresses concern that the school is teaching the Catholic faith without having been approved by a Catholic bishop.  A quick check of the school's website indicates that her concern might be misplaced.

 Will the School be Served by the Archdioceses of Washington?

The school is not an Archdiocesan school. This means that we are challenged to find financial support from our community, and that we cannot, under canon law, lay claim to the title “Catholic.” Rather that title must be given to the school by the Archbishop. Since the Archdiocese has struggled for many years with failing schools, it continues to consider new schools with caution. Our view is that our students, teachers and parents must not hide their faith or treat it as a private matter, but we must let it permeate all that we do, as Pope Benedict XVI has called us to do.

Will There be Any Religious Formation in the School?

We are charged by Christ to go forth and teach all nations. Therefore, the religious formation of our children is integral to the existence of Pope John Paul II Academy. In a day of moral relativism, the teachings of the Catholic Church have given the world an example of sound judgment and spiritual clarity. Consequently, our students will be deeply immersed into the sacred scripture and the treasure of the Church’s magisterial teachings.

Will the School Have Religious Devotions?

Religious devotions have been embraced by our families and by our church as an important form of spiritual growth. The Stations of the Cross, the Holy Rosary, the Angelus, the Divine Mercy Chaplet and other practices of our Catholic families will be given places of prominence in the daily life of the school.

Given the above, I suspect that the Pope John Paul II Academy just might be more Catholic than many of the Catholic schools in the archdiocese.

Maybe that's the REAL problem.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

That hospice mentality


"I am afraid many of our bishops, priests and leaders in Catholic schools have bought into the mentality that Catholic schools are gradually dying and that the best thing we can do is prolong their life and make their demise as comfortable as possible.

"I refuse to buy into that hospice mentality.

"We must rediscover a sense of boldness. We've got to get dramatic. We've got to have some fresh thinking. "

- Archbishop Timothy Dolan (source here).

Thursday, May 6, 2010

"The genius of Catholic schools"

Recognizing that the time for "business as usual" is over for its Catholic schools, the Archdiocese of New York is about to launch Pathways to Excellence, a strategic plan "designed to assist elementary schools throughout the Archdiocese."

In an op-ed piece in the New York Post, Archbishop Timothy Dolan writes (my emphasis),

As the plan begins to take hold, it is likely that some schools may merge and some may close -- and, Please God, new schools will open, as well.

Know that the difficult and painful decisions of this sort will never be made lightly, as we are all very aware that school closings have a profound impact on the students and their families. Such decisions will only be made after long and careful consideration, with plenty of opportunity for input and discussion by all who have an interest in that school.

Part of the genius of Catholic schools is the involvement of the entire local community -- parents, parishioners, pastors, principals, teachers, benefactors and civic leaders -- in the life of a school. We recognize that all of these stakeholders must be involved in any decision to merge, close or open a school.

This is a far cry from what happened here in DOR in 2007-08.  When Bishop Clark decided that the financial situation of Monroe County's Catholic schools required serious attention, he gave little, if any, thought to what Archbishop Dolan rightly calls "the genius of Catholic schools." 

Instead, Bishop Clark assembled a group of 22 cronies, sent them off to secretly review data which remains undisclosed to this day, and told them to come up with a fix to the problem. As far as can be determined this committee never met with a single parent, parishioner, pastor, principal, teacher, benefactor or civic leader, thus showing their - and the bishop's - utter contempt for all those very genuine stakeholders in our Catholic schools.

And, just to rub a little salt into still-open wounds, Bishop Clark then let teams from five parishes build up false hope while investing hundreds of man-hours devising plans to operate their schools independently, knowing full well that he would axe any plans they presented - no matter how excellent - as potential threats to his cronies' plan.

The Archdiocese of New York will almost certainly have to close some of its Catholic schools.  No one will be happy about it and some are sure to disagree with the decision to close particular schools.  But at the end of the day there won't be anyone who can claim that they did not have input into those decisions.  There won't be anyone who can claim that their role as a stakeholder wasn't recognized and respected.

Archbishop Dolan gets it.  Bishop Clark couldn't care less.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Spiritual Alzheimer's, Ecclesial Parkinson's

Much is spoken today of diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. By analogy, their symptoms can, at times, be found even in our own Christian communities.

For example, when we live myopically in the fleeting present, oblivious of our past heritage and apostolic traditions, we could well be suffering from spiritual Alzheimer’s.

And when we behave in a disorderly manner, going whimsically our own way without any co-ordination with the head or the other members of our community, it could be ecclesial Parkinson’s.

- Ivan Cardinal Dias, speaking of DOR the Anglican Communion.

Source here.

H/T: Fr. Z.