Saturday, February 18, 2006

Carlson: Mama Don't Preach

A friend from Saginaw told me a great story the other week.

He was recounting the day when the late Bishop Ken Untener -- Ken who called himself a "waiter" while many of his conferes liked (and still like) being waited on, Ken who moved around and lived in a different rectory every couple of months to keep company with his priests, keeping all his worldly possessions in his trunk, Ken who... etc. etc. etc. -- danced down a chancery hallway wearing a plant on his head, telling those who were around, "I'm so sad I didn't get to go to Philadelphia."

Suffice it to say, the man knew what he was talking about.

Ken's successor, Bishop Bob Carlson (and his dogs), marks his first anniversary in Saginaw this coming Wednesday. And so he gave an extensive interview to the local paper for a review.

Bishop Robert J. Carlson doesn't have to wonder how some parishioners rate his first year on the job.

"Oh, they e-mail me, stop me on the street, send anonymous letters and wait for me after services to let me know what's on their minds," said Carlson, 61, head of the 132,000-parishioner Roman Catholic Diocese of Saginaw, 5800 Weiss in Saginaw Township.

"Bishop (Kenneth E.) Untener was much loved, so there are a lot of people still grieving (his death) and making comparisons. I just have to wait out that slow process.

"But they haven't run me out of here."

Admittedly, the people's reaction strikes one as bizarre, at best. You can't claim to be "a welcoming Christian community" when you lash out at or look down upon others who don't tickle your ears. This is known as the "Our Lady's principle" after the place that ran Chris Coyne out after four months.

Remember well that St. Blog's has done many things, but it has never, ever, advertised itself as "a welcoming Christian community." And with good reason.

Clergy of other faiths like Carlson:

One of the ministers Carlson is consulting is the Rev. Hurley Coleman Jr., pastor of Coleman Temple Church Of God In Christ, 2716 Wadsworth in Saginaw.

"I've been disappointed in a lot of other pastors who have turned away and had a blind eye to what's going on," Coleman said.

"Bishop Carlson is not just a talker; he's a doer, and a courageous one at that. He's prepared to go to work, and it takes people who are willing to go ahead and do some things to really make a difference. For the first time in a long time, I really feel there is some hope."

But it's not clear whether Carlson's own clergy feel the same way.

A source with ties to the Saginaw diocese tells me that a "Braxton-esque" situation is developing there, with the possibility of an insurrection among the priests.

One major element of dispute was Carlson's reinforcement of the church's policy on limiting preaching solely to the ordained.
In recent weeks, Carlson admits he has ruffled feathers by enforcing church guidelines set by the Vatican forbidding lay ministers from preaching at Mass celebrations.

The preaching "controversy" is one of a number of protocol issues Carlson is bringing back in line with Rome dictates. Other areas of concern include how Communion bread is prepared and when parishioners will kneel and stand during worship services.

"It's the most controversial thing I've done, according to what I'm hearing, because it impacts women," the bishop said.

"The thing is, Rome has clearly said that the only people who can preach the homily at the Eucharist are priests, deacons or bishops -- (ordained) people who can consecrate the elements. I don't have the authority to allow a lay minister, whether that person is a male or female, to preach.

"That doesn't mean that there aren't other occasions when they can preach.

"They can preach at retreats, wake services, prayer services and some weddings ceremonies. I've met the pastoral administrators to discuss it. I'm sure some of them aren't OK with it. But I've always said that we would continue to do what was being done before, then we'd make changes as needed."

Now, Carlson's got cred on this as he has a record for significant lay involvement in chancery work, where applicable. Admittedly, this is somewhat curbed by the fact that his chancellor, a laywoman, is a groupie who the bishop has taken with him from Minneapolis (where he was auxiliary bishop), to Sioux Falls and now to Saginaw, where they call her "gatekeeper."

Then again, that's where the word "chancellor" comes from, so it seems she's doing her job -- whatever the local clergy may think.

Given the background, however, no one is in any position to talk about the "Ken Untener Personality Cult."

But, for my part, I think we should all join hands, raise them up to the highest heaven and thank God that there's no such licit thing as lay preaching. Because, as you know, if it ever were green-lighted, all the combox mavens you see out there would blaze their way across Georgia to commandeer the pulpits of the land, leaving none (except themselves) unscathed. And if they didn't get to do that, then even more than the 99.2% of the church they currently see as being "in dissent" would be declared heterodox.

Ergo, green-lighted lay preaching would be the equivalent of placing Carthage under a layer of salt: nothing would ever grow there again. So let's be thankful.