Monday, December 19, 2005

Denver's Day in Iowa

After my last post about next month's ordination of Bishop-elect Walker Nickless in Sioux City, I received a very interesting e.mail from one of the laity of the diocese asking about the standard practices in putting events of such magnitude together.

After finding out the reason for the query, I did some digging. And what I found was, er, quite interesting.

As a preface, let me say that installations are always, always, always incredibly tricky to arrange. The Roman Pontifical stipulates that they are to be held at a time and place which are most convenient for the participation of the faithful. In many dioceses, the curiosity and expectation surrounding the coming of a new bishop often leads to a trade-off between holding the event in the Cathedral church (which, for obvious reasons, is the rite's preference), another, larger church, or the use of a sporting arena which, while adding to the challenge of enabling a sacred sense, allows the maximal number of desired attendees to take part.

Barring an arena (as only a handful of dioceses -- Atlanta, Wichita (Olmsted), Charleston, Metuchen, Rapid City, Honolulu -- have employed in recent years), someone will always be left out and, because these events are so few and far-between, might end up feeling so for a long time.

Whenever that happens, the church loses. And whether that's an expense of morale the committed faithful of a local church should have to bear is questionable, especially when the seats in question are being taken up by outsiders.

This past weekend, parishioners in the diocese of Sioux City were (emphatically) asked to contribute to a diocesan-wide collection to help defray expenses for Nickless' invitation-only episcopal ordination and installation, which takes place on 20 January at the Nativity, a church in the See city which has a higher capacity than its Cathedral of the Epiphany.

While a public evening prayer service will take place at the Cathedral the night before, the sticking point in all this -- and a source of disenchantment in some quarters of the diocese -- is that a significant number of the ordination seats which should be going to the faithful of Sioux City are being taken up by the contingent coming from the bishop-elect's home archdiocese of Denver, a delegation estimated to be in the 300 range -- an unusually sizable throng.

As even the diocese's communications director said: "Seats are very limited given the crowd expected from Denver."

Thanks for the confirmation.

Regrettably, this doesn't meet the sniff test for a good beginning. That a collection was taken up for it among those who are getting slighted might just set the new low-bar for ecclesiastical poor taste.

(The diocese must really be damn strapped for cash. Because I'm a good Catholic and read the parish bulletins, each one I saw bore the same message, ostensibly written from the diocesan script, which read in part: "As your pastor, I will be making a contribution towards this special event and I ask you to be generous in your support as we welcome our new Shepherd and thank God for his appointment to our diocese." You couldn't make something like this up if you wanted to.)

It is -- or, rather, it should be -- common sense that the inauguration of your ministry in your new diocese is for and about your new diocese. It's not -- or, rather, it should not be -- your farewell Mass for everyone from home. (That's something you have... at home.)

It's not rocket science -- just say "yes" and we'll move on.

I'm actually pretty keen about Walker Nickless, and my great affinity for the archdiocese of Denver and its archbishop (which is, of course, a dead giveaway of what some have called my "complete submission to the liberal agenda" in the church) is well-known, so I hate saying all this. But ecclesiastical sensibility impels me to point out that it's more than just a little brazen for a diocese to pass the cup for an event at which less than every possible effort is being made to accomodate those who are shelling out for it; i.e. two tickets per Sioux City parish, and no more.

After they've waited two years for a new bishop, it's supposedly their day. Doesn't look much like it, does it now?

It's not for nothing that the apostolic letter appointing a new bishop says, "We [that's what the Pope calls himself] release you from all bonds to your prior [diocesan] Church." Hopefully it's not news to anyone that traditional Catholic theology portrays the union of bishop and diocese as a marriage -- hence, "Receive the ring, the seal of fidelity..." -- or that a diocesan church is comprised of the people of God who are sanctified by and worship in it: lay, professed and ordained.

Well, given all of that, isn't it just a tad awkward to have a wedding where the Bride couldn't come because the Groom's exes took precedence in the pecking order?

This is not to say that Bishop-elect Nickless' many friends (he is downright beloved in Denver, and rightfully so) should not have a suitable celebration to express their congratulations, support and prayers for his new ministry, and their thanks for his many years of sterling service in their midst. But, as with everything, there is a time and place for that: Before the ordination, in Denver.

Speaking for my town, because we know how to party (and no one else does), we give our Philly boys the big send-off -- Big Cathedral Mass, Boss presiding in choir from The Throne, three rounds of Domine, Salvum Fac, full banquet, blow a big kiss, and that's it: Goodbye. We'll miss you. Thanks for everything -- now get outta here and go do your job. Only a precious few -- family and particularly close friends; nothing approaching 300 people, ever -- make the trip so as not to overshadow the new with the old and create bad feelings which the new bishop has to live with long after the folks from his former home head back.

Looking at this case, it seems that such discretion is a fine art not all have mastered. It's not the best first note to strike, and we can only hope it doesn't cause lasting hurt for Walker's expectant bride.