Monday, August 31, 2009

Calming the Waves

For those who didn't catch it live, on-demand video of this morning's presser in Scranton is already making the rounds.

To brief: reading from a prepared statement, Bishop Joseph Martino admitted to the assembled media that "there has not been a clear consensus regarding [his] pastoral initiatives or way of governance" of the 350,000-member diocese following parish and school closings which, however necessary due to changing demographics, caused considerable controversy in the 11-county church.

The 63 year-old prelate said that the difficulties led to bouts of insomnia and a weakened immune system which, having taken a toll on his physical vigor, led him to submit his resignation to Pope Benedict in June, nearly a year after he first mentioned to his metropolitan that "moving on" might be the best plan for himself and the diocese.

That said, Martino added that he "clearly" wasn't "prostrate with illness" and, freed from the burdens of office, was "feel[ing] fine" at the hourlong session.

To handle the bulk of the diocese's affairs, the freshly-named apostolic administrator, Cardinal Justin Rigali, tapped Msgr Joseph Bambera, a well-regarded local pastor, as his delegate. A former chair of the diocese's Presbyteral Council and member of the Board of Trustees of the Jesuit-run University of Scranton, Bambera notably comes to the post from outside the current diocesan curia.

While the temporary caretaker of the Scranton church reappointed the bulk of Martino's eight vicars to continue in their current capacities on an interim basis, one of two figures to not make the cut was Msgr Kevin McMahon -- the highly-regarded moral theologian Martino recently recruited as his episcopal vicar for "Catholic Doctrine, Identity and Mission."

Before the Scranton post was created for him last month, the priest of Wilmington served in St Louis as resident counsel on bioethics and health care issues to another prominent "lightning rod" prelate: Archbishop Raymond Burke, who was transferred to Rome last year as the global church's "chief justice."

Though his already tight schedule will keep his presence in Scranton limited, Rigali said he planned to return for an Italian festival in the city next weekend, and that his "hope" was to have a new bishop in place within six months.

And what the great kingmaker hopes for, you can pretty much take to the bank.

For all the rest, just watch the tape.

PHOTO: Michael J. Mullen/Scranton Times-Tribune


Sede Vacante

And, now, it's all official: at Roman Noon (6am ET) today, it was announced from the Vatican that Pope Benedict had accepted the resignations of Bishop Joseph Martino of Scranton and his auxiliary, Bishop John Dougherty.

The resignations have immediate effect -- pending the installation of a permanent successor, the bishopric of Scranton is vacant.

As previously noted, a 10am press conference has been called at an undisclosed location in the Northeast Pennsylvania city. Martino and Dougherty will appear along with the freshly-named apostolic administrator, Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia, who now exercises the full powers of the diocesan bishop until the yet-unnamed successor's arrival.

Given his responsibilities in the River City and elsewhere, the 74 year-old cardinal -- the lone resident American member of the Congregation for Bishops -- will likely name a delegate to handle the day-to-day running of the diocese. Today's move is just the third time this decade that a Stateside red-hat has been called in to oversee a local church amid emergency circumstances.

As always, more as it happens.


Friday, August 28, 2009

In Scranton, the Curtain Falls

"You must be on vacation," say the e.mails....

Nope -- just being responsible with a very delicate story.... But, so it seems, away we go.

After a controversial six-year tenure -- and three months of forest-fire grade buzz behind the scenes -- both TV and the papers just up the Blue Route are now airing the same intel received here early yesterday:
Bishop Joseph F. Martino is expected to resign as head of the Diocese of Scranton next week, sources within the diocese confirmed to The Times-Tribune....

[T]he diocese may be be directed by Cardinal Justin Francis Rigali of Philadelphia, the metropolitan for this area, until a successor can be appointed by the Vatican.
Further corrorborating the first leaks (which included all of the above), the diocese has just announced an invitation-only press conference for Monday morning, to be held at an undisclosed location.

Beyond that, the Scranton chancery is declining all comment. Even so, a separate report received here says that the diocesan consultors have been summoned to meet before the 10am presser, a move which likewise points to a change of command.

The cloud of speculation over Martino's future first appeared in June after the 63 year-old prelate was spotted in Rome, where, according to multiple reports, he met with officials at the Congregation for Bishops after the dicastery's intervention was sought.

At the helm of one of the nation's most staunch, reliable bastions of Catholicism, while the kind, bookish cleric's fierce advocacy for the pro-life cause has won him fervent admiration from church conservatives nationwide, the 350,000-member Scranton church has been roiled since Martino's 2003 arrival by swaths of contentious parish and school closings, strained relations with the presbyterate, a perceived indifference to the media, clashes over the diocese's de-recognition of the local union for Catholic high school teachers (a move upheld by the Vatican) and, most famously, a steady stream of statements on politics, parades and public officials which served to draw lines in the sand in the socially conservative, heavily-Democratic area, home to both the revered Casey clan and, in his boyhood, Vice-President Joe Biden.

Earlier this week, reports emerged that Martino was vacating the ordinary's traditional downtown residence at St Peter's Cathedral and relocating to the diocese's former seminary at Dalton, 15 miles outside the city. Additionally, however, several sources have indicated that many of the bishops's effects were likewise moved to St Charles Borromeo Seminary in his native Philadelphia. Fluent in six languages and made a bishop before 50, the church historian served on the faculty at the Overbrook house as a young priest, and is known to return there often in his downtime.

Likewise expected Monday is the resignation of Auxiliary Bishop John Dougherty, the oldest active American prelate, who reached the retirement age of 75 in April 2007. The shy, well-liked prelate was elevated to the episcopacy in 1995 under Martino's beloved predecessor, retired Bishop James Timlin.

SVILUPPO: Spotted this morning in the city's streets -- and in mufti, no less -- Martino was all smiles:
[W]alking on Penn Avenue today on his way to an appointment, Bishop Martino, wearing a polo shirt and no clerical collar, said he cannot comment on news of his resignation.

"I'm very sorry. You'll have to work with Bill Genello, OK," he said, referring to the diocesan spokesman....

Bishop Martino said today he is moving to Dalton "because it's quiet out there" and referred to the disruption caused by last week's fire at the Community Bake Shop Building two blocks away from the rectory.

"After the fire the other night, I decided I need a little quiet in my life," he said.
PHOTO: Scranton Times-Tribune(2)


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Hope Amid the Ashes

The once-vaunted Irish church might be taking a slow-drip drubbing as its history of clergy sex abuse slowly comes to light, but one bright spot has emerged: the country's lone remaining seminary is about to see its largest entering class in a decade....
Thirty-eight new seminarians are to study for the priesthood this September. It is the highest number since 46 student priests enrolled at the national seminary at St Patrick's College [Maynooth] in 1999....

The new candidates range in age from 18 to the mid-40s and hail from dioceses across Ireland, with the largest number coming from the Dublin diocese and the Down and Connor diocese in the North.

They will return to work in their own dioceses upon ordination, which can take between five and seven years. The new priests will also join seven seminarians from Scotland who have transferred their studies to Maynooth following the closure of Scotus College in Glasgow [Scotland's last seminary].

All of the seminarians were working or studying full-time before embarking on their vocation and their reasons for wanting to join the priesthood vary, according to a spokesman for the Catholic Communications Office.

President of St Patrick's College, Monsignor Hugh Connolly, told them: "You are about to begin a new and exciting journey, one that we share with you. This will be a time of tremendous personal growth as you enter formation: a new learning phase that will help you to fully realise your potential spiritually, pastorally and academically."...

But Fr Paddy Rushe, National Co-odinator of Diocesan Vocation Directors, said that while the Church would welcome more priests into the fold, the days are gone for the record number of clergymen in the 1950s and 1960s.

"We're never going to get back to the numbers we had in the 1950s and 60s. We're in a different reality," he said.
Come September's end, 77 seminarians will be at Maynooth.

From 1993 to 2002, as the first waves of the abuse crisis bore down on the Isle, seven Irish seminaries shut their doors, leaving the country's oldest house as the last one standing.

The news of the large class broke as a prominent priest in the North called for a halt on seminary recruiting until the church was able to "reform and reorganize" following the scandals, and the papers mused over whether Irish Catholicism was "entering a land of exile."


"Basically, He's Lucky"

A week after suffering a diabetes-related heart attack brought on by flu symptoms, Bishop Rick Stika of Knoxville has returned home (video), giving thanks for his recovery... and offering pointers to his East Tennessee church:
[Stika] cracked a few jokes Monday, but he knows his diabetes is no laughing matter.

Diabetes is a scary and dangerous illness that millions face nation-wide.

[The bishop] suffered a mild heart attack as a result of high blood sugar levels. Now he's smiling as he looks forward to his second chance at life.

Stika says, "I discovered returning to school, after 25 years or so, it almost killed me."

He has a sense of humor now, but it was no laughing matter when he was on life-support for more than a day in Florida.

Stika says, "I stand here today as a witness of the great power of faith and prayer."

After studying Spanish in Texas, he visited a friend in Florida, ignoring the fact that he had been feeling ill for days.

Stika says, "I've been a diabetic for almost 30 years, and I think I got to a point where I took it for granted, and all of a sudden a series of experiences, and in one day's time, I was near death."

What he thought were flu like symptoms turned out to be diabetic ketoacidosis, or DKA, a life threatening condition that results from a lack insulin in the body....

Stika says he will now live a much healthier life, and even challenged other members of the Knoxville Diocese to lose weight.

Stika says, "This event will not just be a moment in my life, but it will be a part of my life."

Stika says he has impaired vision in one eye, and doesn't know if it will ever function like it used to. He's also feeling fatigued and has lightened his schedule until he's feeling better.

But, basically he's lucky.
A self-confessed fast-food fan who's been trying to "swear off the stuff," Stika added that the first stages of rehab saw him "doing laps in the intensive care unit.

"I was racing, I think, a 95-year-old man. I think it was neck and neck there for a while but I think I defeated him," he said.

The 52 year-old prelate added that he's already signed up at a local gym.

"I'm going to commit to that on a daily experience," he said. "I'm going to watch what I eat -- just recommit myself to those values I learned almost thirty years ago when the doctor first told me that I was type one diabetic."

Moral of the story: gang, take care of yourselves.

SVILUPPO: Earlier today, the retired auxiliary of Cincinnati Bishop Carl Moeddel -- another member of the Bench whose service was impacted by acute diabetes -- died at 71.

Ordained bishop in 1992, Moeddel left active ministry early in June 2007 after a debilitating stroke. The news comes as the half-million member archdiocese enters the final stages of Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk's transfer of governance to his coadjutor, Archbishop Dennis Schnurr, following the 26-year incumbent's 75th birthday earlier this month.

Moeddel's funeral is planned for Saturday at the Queen City's Cathedral of St Peter in Chains.

PHOTO: Michael Patrick/Knoxville News-Sentinel


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Introducing the "New Mass"

As the church gathers for another Sunday, it's worth noting that the US bishops have upped the profile of the revised Mass-texts in English in recent days with the rollout of an extensive web portal detailing the changes that'll come with the implementation of the new Roman Missal.

Coming soon (read: 2011-ish) to a parish near you, among other pieces of interest on the page is a side-by-side comparison of the current and future lines that've been reworked, those of the celebrant and assembly alike.

Unlike its predecessors, the impending text will be universal across the English-speaking world.

A decade in the making, it bears repeating that, as of this writing, the standard Order of Mass is the lone segment of the Missal featured on the site given its approval last year by the Holy See; other elements pending include the Propers of Seasons and Saints, Votive Masses, etc. Yet while the Order of Mass has received the recognitio, its publication is, at this stage, solely for catechetical and preparatory purposes; none of the new texts may be used until the introduction date set by the episcopal conferences of each English-speaking country. That, however, will only come after the entire 12-part package is confirmed by Rome.

Late last year, the bishops of South Africa jumped the gun on implementation to a less than serene response. Suffice it to say, hopes are high -- and mass efforts afoot -- elsewhere to avoid a global repeat.

As for the rest, happy reading... and a blessed and buona domenica to one and all.


Saturday, August 22, 2009

"Come, Live in the Light": Sonrise in Crescent City

It might've been St Bernard's feast, but as he took the reins in New Orleans, Archbishop Greg Aymond opted instead to underscore the figure (and use the Votive Mass) of the Good Shepherd.

Given the lay of the land, that alone spoke volumes... but there was more.

At another historic turn for the 216 year-old Crescent City church, the first-ever native son turned NOLA Archbishop served up an impressive Homecoming Gumbo on Thursday. Yet even as Aymond's talent as a sharp, conciliatory operator got him over the Day One hurdle with room to spare, it was the crowd who delivered the day's indelible memory.

The overflow throng of 1,300-plus didn't just clap as the city's 18th ordinary entered St Louis Cathedral for his installation. They roared, screamed, howled and hooted....

In a word, they whooped it up.

The reception was so raucous, the audio on the raw feed blew out for a good minute and a half. So while the papal letter sending Aymond home called on the locals to give the prodigal prelate a "warm welcome," the hometown folks didn't need any extra prodding to pile it on and then some.

Like the place itself, there was something for everyone -- French classical architecture and papal chalices mixed with David Haas anthems. But just as the unprecedented, moving presence of his three living predecessors led the new archbishop to jokingly ask "Who's really in charge?" at the outset of his homily, the threads that emerged drew heaviest from the eldest and most revered of the bunch: Archbishop Phillip Hannan, widely considered the city's "first citizen" and still well at work in his 97th year.

Named to NOLA in 1965, the last living bishop tapped by Pius XII (who preached JFK's funeral, still gives interviews... and can still fit into his World War II paratrooper's uniform) ordained his latest successor a priest a decade later, setting the young cleric on his way by naming Aymond rector of Notre Dame Seminary in 1986, where the protege made his name by transforming the place into one of the nation's largest formation houses (a trait he'd maintain in the years ahead).

A former professor of homiletics and pastoral theology, while fulltext of Aymond's inaugural preach has yet to surface, fullvideo's available in (one, two) parts... and, here below, some worthwhile (transcribed) snips:
On June 12th, as Pope Benedict appointed me as the archbishop of New Orleans, both the Times Picayune and the Clarion Herald had similar headlines: "Native son returns to New Orleans as Archbishop."

In reading this, something immediately came to mind that was said by Someone two thousand years ago: "The prophet is accepted except in his own country."

So I would ask you to please be nice to me -- my mother would want that....

The Gospel today gives us a blueprint on how to continue the mission of Christ today and into the future. The Gospel today reminds us, sisters and brothers, that our faith, our words, day after day, actions -- we make Christ the shepherd present. And that is a challenge for all of us.

But today please permit me for a moment to take these words of Jesus very personally as he calls himself the Good Shepherd. I promise to stay close to Jesus, the Good Shepherd. I promise to ask God daily for the mind and the heart of Jesus Christ, that I may be a good shepherd to you. I will also need your prayerful support to carry on this ministry of Christ the Good Shepherd, and I beg for that gift today.
The archdiocese of New Orleans, this local church -- who are we? People with a rich history, great ethnic diversity, strong Catholic identity, alive parish communities, institutions and schools with strong Catholic character, a large Catholic Charities that reaches out in love to the poor and those who are in need, dedicated priests, deacons, religious and laity committed to evangelization, seminarians and novices serious in their discernment.

God has been faithful to us for over 200 years. He has acted in our history and will continue to do so.

My friends, in the present and in the future, we as a church -- throughout the world and in this nation and in the archdiocese -- we do face challenges. And on this important day we ask God to bless and to lead us because he is our shepherd.

And what are some of the challenges that we face with God's leadership and wisdom?

--We live in a time when societal structures and busy lives can squeeze God out of life;
--To express faith in God is often not "politically correct";
--Family life needs our quality time and attention;
--Some have been hurt by the church and have left our family of faith;
--Violence, and crime, and racism are sins that are present in our world and our community today;
--Human life is often not held as a precious gift from God, therefore we must be a voice -- for the unborn, but also for the born: the poor, those with disabilities, those on death row, the terminally ill.

All of us together, as God's People and the Body of Christ, we must face these challenges as Jesus the Good Shepherd leads us to be peacemakers.

And a special word to our youth and young adults: you are the church of today, but we look to you to be the leaders of tomorrow. And we need you to offer your gifts and your energy with us in this mission.

God is indeed faithful -- he has used others in the past, he will use us today to foster his kingdom of justice and peace in the archdiocese of New Orleans.

My sisters and brothers, we too must be faithful and we turn to two models of fidelity today: Our Lady of Prompt Succor and St Louis, King of France [NB: the city's twin patrons]. And I ask Our Lady of Prompt Succor and St Louis, King of France: please pray for us, that we will always remain grateful for our rich history and have the courage to live our faith today and into the future.
One word that didn't make the cut: Katrina.

While Aymond referenced "yellow fever epidemics, floods, hurricanes, fires" among the "many challenges" the NOLA church has faced over the centuries and overcome thanks to "God's fidelity," mention of the 2005 mega-storm -- from which the city's still rebuilding -- was conspicuous by its absence.

In its rollout, the local Times-Picayune features an extensive profile of "the bishop Austin sends back," and a horde of photos from the day.

Given Aymond's knack for, among other things, racking up impressive numbers of priestly aspirants -- he left Austin with 46 seminarians, the largest contingent the Texas capital's ever known -- it's worth noting that the challenge awaits again at home: in its report, the paper noted that New Orleans has all of eight men in formation.

And lastly, Thursday's rites served as further testimony to Louisiana politics' historic knack for strange bedfellows.

Among others, the dignitaries box (above) featured controversial Crescent City Mayor C. Ray Nagin behind the Republican Congressman (and onetime Jesuit) Anh Cao, both of whom served as gift-bearers, and even had a third-pew cameo from the most inexplicable coupling of all: the Democratic operative and uber-pundit James Carville with his wife Mary Matalin, a campaign and administration operative under both Presidents Bush.

One could hope that the whole church would be so united... these days, though, don't hold your breath.

PHOTOS: G. Andrew Boyd (1), Michael DeMocker(2,3), Eliot Kamenitz(4,5)/New Orleans Times-Picayune


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Jackson Square on Health Care

It might be Installation Eve down in the "Big Easy," but Archbishop-elect Gregory Aymond's already set to work in New Orleans, issuing the following statement earlier this afternoon on the current health-care reform proposals floating about:
The Catholic bishops in the United States recognize a pressing need for health care reform. Too many American citizens lack basic health care coverage and the cost of health care is becoming prohibitive for many more.

The Lord Jesus, who came to save us from our sins, manifested a great concern for the sick in his public ministry. He also urged us to reach out to the poor and sick in our midst. The Church rightly considers that government has a responsibility to ensure access to basic health care for all.

The bishops do not propose a specific plan or policy. But we set out the following principles to shape public policy:

* We need to develop a plan which ensures access to basic health care for all.
* We need to make sure that the poor and the vulnerable, including legal immigrants, are part of this plan.
* We need to control health care costs so that it is affordable to all.
* We need to make sure that abortion, euthanasia or other immoral activities are not mandated or financed with tax payer dollars. This includes conscience protection for all providers, whether institutions or individual persons, and for all recipients.

The bishops, without proposing either a public or private sector option, urge that any plan which is developed embrace these principles. Catholics are urged to contact their United States Senators and Representative to ask them to use these principles to evaluate all proposals that are developed.

Strident or shrill rhetoric does not help us to engage in civil and respectful deliberation about a serious social issue with significant moral implications. God grant us the wisdom to discern what is right and the courage to do it.
In their twin-flank push for a reform that ensures basic access for all but remains "abortion-neutral" in the process, the US bishops have rolled out a web portal detailing the church's position on the contentious issue.

As the Crescent City native returns home, it's worth noting that the last two archbishops named on these shores -- Aymond and Omaha's George Lucas -- were called upward from state capitals. It's an unusual trend, but one that yields a top rank more savvy and nuanced when it comes to policy and politics, simply by nature of the post; in most states, the capital prelate is tasked with being the lead point-man on the church's interests to the legislature and other agencies as the need arises.

Aymond's installation as the 17th head of the NOLA church begins tomorrow at 2pm Central (1900GMT).


Monday, August 17, 2009

In Big (Not-So-)Easy, the Archbishop Comes Home

As summer wraps up and school begins anew in the South, the region's mother church receives its seventeenth head on Thursday as Archbishop-elect Greg Aymond takes the reins in his native New Orleans.

The first son of the Crescent City to lead the 370,000-member archdiocese since its 1793 founding, Aymond returns to a hometown still rebuilding from the devastation of 2005's Hurricane Katrina and a church where, a quarter of its members scattered elsewhere in the Storm's wake, an already fraught way forward was made rougher by the oft-contentious closing of 34 parishes to reflect both the population shift and a decline in resources.

Having shepherded the diocese of Austin through a decade of all-around boom, as he prepared to return to his home-turf the Texas capital's daily of record got Aymond for a reflective exit interview on the past's accomplishments and the challenges that await:
We have... created a culture for vocations. This year, we have the most seminarians that we've ever had in the history of the diocese. The diocese is 62 years old, and we have 46 seminarians. God is the source of that; he's the one who calls them to discernment. But we've created a culture where becoming a priest or a brother or a sister is accepted and seen as God's calling....

What are some of the priorities you have for when you get to New Orleans?

I've been away for nine years, and I've invested myself in Texas in such a way that I really have lost a sense of what's going on in New Orleans. Two things have happened in the past nine years that have been traumatic. One has been Hurricane Katrina. The other is that there have been closing of parishes that should have been closed a long time ago, so it's a hurting community both from Katrina and the closure of parishes.

My goal for the first year is to be among the people. I'll start visiting parishes simply to celebrate Mass and to meet the people. I'll have meetings with the staff. What I'd like to do for the first year is really listen and reconnect as a native son, understand clearly what the struggles are as well as the gifts, and through prayer come up with a plan to address those.

It would seem to be the answer to your prayers to become the archbishop of New Orleans, the place you come from.

It's not something I was seeking by any means, but the Catholic faith came to New Orleans in 1682 and we've never had a native son. For the people, it's very exciting to be able to welcome back one of their own.

I remembered something someone I've come to know and love said, which is that a prophet is acceptable except in his own native land. So, Jesus and I laughed about that. I would say it's challenging. I know most of the priests, because I was a priest there for 25 years. I would have ministered with them or I would have taught them in the seminary, where I taught for 19 years. The challenge is that they know my gifts and weaknesses. The expectation, though it's greatly appreciated, I also feel that it's somewhat uncomfortable. We can build up an expectation for someone to do something they're really not capable of doing.
* * *

A move crafted to enable the appointee to hit the ground running on the archdiocese's rebuilding plans, the unprecedented naming of a native son was also a tangible Vatican effort to soothe the considerable tensions aroused over the seven-year tenure of Aymond's predecessor, Archbishop Alfred Hughes.

In a farewell edition of the archdiocesan weekly replete with tributes to the Boston native (left), the incoming archbishop made a nod to the situation, saying simply that Hughes "has been misunderstood."

Appointed archbishop at 69, never expecting a hundred-year storm on his watch, the former rector of his hometown's St John's Seminary will take up a simple room at NOLA's formation house, where he'll return to the work he loves best: spiritual direction and leading retreats.

With some 60 high-hats from around the country planning to attend, Thursday's homecoming at the venerable Cathedral-Basilica of St Louis on Jackson Square will be webstreamed. On a historic note, the installation will give New Orleans a distinction without precedent in the Stateside church: four living archbishops.

* * *
On a related note, every top-tier posting on the nation's appointment docket might now be put to bed, but the new vacancy in Texas' capital makes for a significant trio of Lone Star dioceses set to receive new chiefs.

What the three lack in prominence, see, they more than make up for in numbers, with each showing ever-expansive growth over recent years. Bottom line: it's all worth keeping an eye on.

Beyond the Austin church -- its membership doubled since 1990 -- Bishop Edmond Carmody of Corpus Christi (diocesan pop. 400,000, tripled from 1980) reached the retirement age of 75 in March, while the nation's most-Catholic diocese -- the million-plus Brownsville church, where Catholics comprise nearly nine-tenths of the Rio Grande Valley's inhabitants, all told -- likewise looks toward a successor for Bishop Raymundo Peña, who sent his letter over in February.

Its Catholic contingent likewise trebled in size since the 80's, the latter especially portends even more of a boom -- at the close of its first synod in 2007, fully half of the Brownsville fold was reported to be age 25 or younger, a stat one'd be hard-pressed to find anywhere else on these shores.

All three fall in the province of Galveston-Houston, home to the American South's first cardinal... himself still awaiting another auxiliary -- or, better still, two -- to help keep after his own charge, all 1.5 million of it.

At mid-decade, Texas' 5 million Catholics overtook Baptists to become the mega-state's largest religious group.

PHOTO: Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman(1); Frank J. Methe/Clarion Herald(2)


In Miami, Down 10%

Lest anyone thought otherwise, the "grand closing" of Stateside churches isn't limited to the old flank of the Northeast and the industrial Midwest: over the weekend, the archdiocese of Miami announced that a full tenth of its 128 churches will shut their doors... and quickly so:
Thousands of Catholics across Miami-Dade and Broward counties, some on the verge of tears, listened Sunday as pastors read a letter by Archbishop John C. Favalora announcing plans for the rapid closure of 13 churches by Oct. 1.

``The archdiocese should have a larger parish in response to the demographic and economic changes which have happened over the years,'' Favalora wrote, calling the closures a ``difficult decision'' that he came to ``with much personal prayer and reflection.''

Many of the churches, which the archdiocese says have struggled to support themselves and in some cases have been loaned up to $1 million over the last decade, are located in poor, minority enclaves or serve elderly populations.

Two of those to close, St. Joseph in Pompano Beach and Divine Mercy in Fort Lauderdale, were established for the Haitian community, while the closing of St. Francis Xavier in Overtown and St. Philip Neri in Bunche Park, near Opa-locka, will leave only one historically black church remaining in the archdiocese..

Favalora has said that closing minority churches will increase the diversity of Catholic parishes that will take in their members, but some churchgoers are resisting that idea.

``He says he wants the black Catholics to move over to other parishes so we won't feel as though we're segregated. But we as black Catholics have our own culture and we should be able to express our own black culture in song and dance and the way we do the liturgy,'' said Dale Ambrose Deshazior, whose parents helped established St. Philip Neri in 1952.

Once their churches close, the archdiocese is asking St. Francis members to attend services at Gesu in downtown Miami and those at St. Philip to attend St. Monica in Miami Gardens. Yet, many members of both churches say they will instead join Holy Redeemer in Liberty City, the remaining historically black church.

``We certainly understand feelings of disappointment and anger,'' said archdiocese spokeswoman Mary Ross Agosta. ``This has been the hardest financial decision.''

At Our Lady Aparecida, a 1,667-member Brazilian church with buildings in Hollywood and Pompano Beach, the mood was somber Sunday as the Rev. Volmar Scaravelli announced the news. Members will be asked to attend St. Vincent in Margate.

``Many live in that region of Margate and Coconut Creek. For some, it's a little inconvenient,'' Scaravelli said. ``For the group that lives in Pompano and doesn't drive because they don't have driver's licenses, we'll have a bus and a van to transport them.''

Since Favalora proposed the closures via letter in late May, Catholics have created websites, initiated letter-writing campaigns and gathered for prayer vigils in hope that churches would be spared.

``It didn't make any difference,'' said Janet Lijeron, 71, who attends St. Luke in Coconut Creek, which has many members in their 70s and 80s. ``It's like breaking up a home; like a death in the family.''

Members of St. Cecilia in Hialeah -- mostly low-income seniors -- had protested the church's proposed closure earlier this summer near the archdiocese's Miami Shores office. Agosta has said the church has $1.3 million in debt.

``Closing the church, especially for people of older age, people who can't drive and can't go to another church, that's like forgetting about them,'' said Ramon Bolaños, who helped establish St. Cecilia in 1971. ``I don't know where I'll go now.''
The baker's dozen join the 1,000-plus US churches (of 19,000) that've closed over the last decade.

Home to some 900,000 Catholics, the news is just the latest blow for the Miami church, which was rocked earlier this year after Fr Alberto Cutié -- the local pastor-cum-media mogul whose dominance of the Spanish-language airwaves made him, arguably, the best-known cleric in the Western hemisphere -- defected to marry after photos emerged of the priest dubbed "Father Oprah" with a woman who, he later revealed, he'd been in a relationship with for two years.

Head of the half-century old archdiocese since 1994, multiple reports over recent months have indicated that a coadjutor to Favalora, 73, is in the works.


Knoxville On the Mend

Amid what's already been a roller-coaster year for the diocese of Knoxville, word began filtering in from East Tennessee last night that freshly-installed Bishop Rick Stika had been hospitalized with an undisclosed "medical emergency."

In a late-night statement, the Knoxville chancery reported that, taken ill on "visiting a sick friend" in an undisclosed location, Stika was in intensive care in stable condition, underscoring that the bishop was "responsive and doing well."

Named to lead the 60,000-member church in January, the 52 year-old (shown lacing up before his March ordination) has spent most of August in San Antonio for a Spanish immersion course, a step toward fulfilling his goal of preaching in the language by year's end. Joining Stika for the training was a fellow St Louisan recently given a heavily-Latino assignment, Archbishop Tim Dolan of New York.

As public information on the bishop's illness has been kept unusually terse, a host of rumors have circulated, the most common and credible indicating a heart attack. Diagnosed with type-one diabetes in his twenties and placed on an insulin pump in recent years, the statement said merely that the emergency was brought on by a "chronic medical condition."

Stika underwent cardiac bypass surgery in late 2004 -- in a TV interview on his appointment, he joked that following the procedure, "the nurses [said] they could smell McDonald's and White Castle" as they "opened [him] up."

"I've been trying to swear off the stuff," he added.

Coming to Volunteer Country after a 21-month vacancy, the sweet, folksy cleric -- a protege of Philadelphia's Cardinal Justin Rigali -- has won over the small, tight-knit local church with his happy, approachable style. Three months after his arrival, the diocese was plunged into mourning after the sudden loss of Nancy Feist, the longtime bishop's assistant, who was expecting her sixth child when she died at 46. Scheduled to travel to Rome days later for the late-June pallium celebrations, Stika canceled the trip to keep present for his aide's family and a shaken chancery staff.

On Saturday, the bishop was expected to make his first major appearance since his ordination at Knoxville's annual "Diocesan Day," with Rigali giving the keynote.

Speaking of the DL desk, Bishop Bob Lynch of St Petersburg is likewise on the mend after two surgeries in the last month following the discovery of a "large polyp" on his colon. The former USCCB general secretary -- who recently got a sneak peek of the newly-rendered Mass-texts in use -- was last reported to be in critical care, but improving.

More as it comes in... but in the meantime, gang, just keep the guys and all the sick, suffering and downhearted among us in your prayers.

SVILUPPO: At 10am Eastern, the following update on Stika was issued by the chancellor of Knoxville, Deacon Sean Smith:
As we now understand it, Bishop Stika traveled to Florida to visit a sick friend and became ill with severe flu-like symptoms, which precipitated a diabetic crisis. Although the Bishop suffered a mild heart attack related to the diabetic crisis, his heart was thoroughly examined and found to be in great shape.

He had a very good night and is stable and responding well to his treatment. He is looking forward to returning home to Knoxville.

I am in contact with Bishop Stika’s doctors hourly and will continue to update you all as I get new information. Let us give thanks for this encouraging information and pray for his continued recovery.
PHOTO: Deacon Patrick Murphy-Racey


Sunday, August 16, 2009

St Louis Cardinal Gets a Field

In the rural riverside town where Joseph Elmer Ritter was born in 1892, yesterday saw the dedication of the park across from his boyhood home in honor of the Hoosier -- one of two Indianans ever to become a cardinal.

The first archbishop of Indianapolis, Ritter was transferred to St Louis in 1946 after the newly-elevated Cardinal John Glennon -- the Gateway City's first Roman prince -- died in his native Ireland en route home from receiving the red hat. After the relative serenity of Glennon's 43-year reign, however, the new archbishop quickly garnered howls of protest over his order to de-segregate his new charge's Catholic schools.

As Ritter explained that the crosses atop church buildings "must mean something," attempts were made from within his own fold to file lawsuits blocking the move -- a plan that quickly faded when the archbishop countered with the threat of excommunication for anyone who'd take him to court.

In his hometown, however, they didn't so much recall a pioneer, but a humble, quiet gardener:
Ritter was known as being a unpretentious person.

“We called him Uncle Cardinal,” said Virginia Lipps, Ritter’s niece and New Albany resident. Though she was very young — she is now 77 — when Ritter was active in the area, Lipps remembers some of what Ritter did for the community.

She also remembers him just as her uncle.

“He very much loved to work in the garden, he gardened all the time,” Lipps said. “You would’ve never recognized him as a bishop [if you saw him in the yard].”

That kind of commonality and willingness to accept all people is the spirit the Cardinal Ritter Birthplace Foundation has tried to evoke in revitalizing his former home and park across the street.

“In trying to restore this house and give it back to the community, we’ve kind of learned more about Cardinal Ritter, and we are trying to do it in the spirit of what we think he would do,” said David Hock, foundation chairman. “He would want outreach to the community.”

That outreach has gotten the neighborhood association involved....

The project has been ongoing for about seven years and has cost between $550,000 to $600,000 for rehabilitation of the house, Hock said. The house is about $150,000 to $175,000 in work from completion.

“Just to keep the house from not falling down was a major job,” Hock said. “Unless it was a labor of love, this house would have never been saved.”

A large portion of the funding to save the house came from a $200,000 grant from the Horseshoe Foundation of Floyd County. The foundation also has donated another $45,000 for construction of a library at the site, news disclosed at the dedication ceremony.
For the record, the schools weren't the end of Ritter's movement on race: in 1963, the cardinal declared that "that Catholics guilty of discrimination should not receive Holy Communion without first confessing their sin."

Ritter's integration of the St Louis schools came a decade and a half before the more prominent dust-up over ad intra segregation: Archbishop Joseph Francis Rummel's 1962 desegregation of the Catholic schools in New Orleans. (Eight years prior, the Supreme Court had ruled "separate but equal" unconstitutional in its decision on Brown v. Board of Education.)

After pushback from some in his pews, Rummel excommunicated three of the lead resisters.

PHOTO: CE Branham/The News and Tribune


Saturday, August 15, 2009

On Assumption Day, Queenship... and Kingship

It might be the ferragosto -- and, this year, not an obligatory feast -- but if you're just sitting there on this Assumption Day, you're missing out.

For one, 15 August is a historic day in the annals of Stateside Catholicism -- in 1790, John Carroll of Baltimore was ordained the nation's first bishop in the chapel of an English castle. So beyond its vertical import, this could be considered the feast when the small, oft-persecuted band of believers scattered across the 13 colonies genuinely became a local church.

In tribute, Carroll dedicated the nation's first cathedral to the Assumption... while some decades later and a tad north, this day likewise saw the cornerstone-laying of the "cathedral of suitable magnificence" that would become not just the US church's most iconic and cherished edifice, but a piece of Americana and house of prayer for folks of every faith.

Even in our own time, though, the holy day's timing at summer's peak has brought about some traditions all its own.

Thursday's Catholic New York led with the shot at left -- an annual Chinese procession in honor of the Annunziata that, now in its 15th year, wended its way through Lower Manhattan with prayers and dancing, culminating with Adoration and Benediction at a local parish.

Closer to home, the old-school Italian crew at the Jersey Shore is keeping up its rite of choice, celebrating another "Wedding of the Sea" -- the 15th century Venetian custom of Mass and an open-air procession, culminating in the blessing of the waters proper to this feast -- in three beach towns, including Atlantic City, where the largest of the crowds traditionally shows up on the Boardwalk... followed, of course, by a mass-meal in the parish hall.

And for folks of every ethnic and cultural stripe, last -- but never least -- among the big Assumption traditions out there takes place later today along the banks of the Mississippi... just not, however, to bless the river.

In what might be the most unique Assumption Day treat of 'em all, today's 3pm Mass at St Paul's Church in Memphis will yet again be offered for the blessed repose of Elvis Aaron Presley before the traditional weeklong observance of the King's dormition 32 years ago tomorrow reaches its peak with tonight's candlelight vigil at Graceland.

First celebrated in 1993 and traditionally packed out the doors each time, music for the Elvis Eucharist -- which'll fulfill one's Sunday duty -- begins an hour before.

Here's one likely taste...

...and, in a rare 1958 recording, another:

Whatever your festa and however you're celebrating it, here's hoping it's restful and beautiful all around.

PHOTO: Maria Bastone/Catholic New York


On Temple Street, the Cathedral's Centenary

Built as the seat of a 10,000-member local church in the heart of Mormon Country, today sees the 100th anniversary of one of Stateside Catholicism's most impressive hometown hubs: Salt Lake City's Cathedral of the Madeleine.

Dedicated on Assumption Day 1909 by the nation's senior prelate of the period, the Spanish Gothic wonder has been celebrated in a big way in the run-up to today's centenary. As the local papers both led their weekend editions with special packages on the church's contribution to the LDS-heavy area, last Sunday's kickoff of the yearlong observance's final lap drew the entire First Presidency of Utah's dominant faith (long a faithful friend to the cathedral and diocese alike), and this weekend's close will be presided over by the CDF prefect Cardinal William Levada, the Salt Lake church's metropolitan during his decade as archbishop of San Francisco before becoming the Vatican's highest-ranking American in history.

From its humble roots, the statewide diocese has seen its Catholic population explode over recent decades to within striking distance of 300,000. Home to one of the few European-style cathedral choir schools on these shores and an exceptional social-service ministry, the Madeleine's embrace has expanded in recent years to welcome the significant influx of Hispanic Catholics whose arrival has, as in many other US dioceses, led Salt Lake's boom in numbers, bringing with it a dramatic shift in the feel and priorities of its ecclesial life.

By the looks of it, today's 2pm liturgy for the centennial won't be streamed via the local Intermountain Catholic's webfeed... but for a look (and a listen) at the Madeleine in all its splendor, a host of prior Masses are available on-demand.

Speaking of the booming South and West, another milestone was recently celebrated as the diocese of Fort Worth opened its 40th anniversary observances last weekend with a Mass at the city's Convention Center.

Carved from Dallas in 1969, the North Texas church has grown from a membership of 65,000 at its founding to 560,000 today.


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Breaking the Waves

So, as some of you have already guessed, greetings from the Summer Slowdown... at long, blessed last.

The news is (fortunately) slow and the days are (unfortunately) fast, so hopefully you're all enjoying 'em while you can. Suffice it to say, it's important.

Over the next few, expect the occasional post as anything urgent breaks or something worthwhile comes to mind. Barring either, for once let the Big Story just be the easiest and best one of all: the day in and day out blessings we might not always appreciate as we should... and along the way, let's all just breathe as we mightn't always allow ourselves to, because only on looking back does one realize how quickly it all goes.

More as it happens, but 'til then, God love you lot in these dog days and always.


Thursday, August 06, 2009

On Vianney's 150th, Praising the Patron

As the global church celebrates the Year of the Priest, Tuesday saw the 150th anniversary of the death of St John Vianney, the patron of parish ministry who'll be proclaimed patron of all priests over the course of the yearlong observance.

While the Pope dedicated the catechesis at his General Audience yesterday to the saintly Cure d'Ars, at least three Stateside bishops took advantage of the feast to send messages to their priests: Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence mailed his, Bishop John Barres of Allentown (Chrism still fresh on his head) followed up the impressive, extensive "inaugural address" given at the close of his ordination last Thursday with a seven-page, well-footnoted pastoral on Vianney to his presbyterate 24 hours later, and on his fourth anniversary at the helm of the quickly-growing church in eastern North Carolina, Bishop Michael Burbidge of Raleigh celebrated a special Vianney Day Mass in Sacred Heart Cathedral, using the occasion to "speak directly" to his priests.

Speaking of the latter, anyone curious for a look-in on what a (high) priest's day is like might enjoy checking what a Triangle TV station found when it trailed the Burb as he cris-crossed his 54-county, 32,000 square-mile turf, its 200,000-plus Catholic population more than tripled since 1990.


"The Path to Zero"

To commemorate the 64th anniversary of the first atomic bombing at Hiroshima, lanterns were released along the Motoyasu River as night fell, the city's Peace Memorial looming in the background.

In the run-up to today's observances, a significant address on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament was given last week by Archbishop Edwin O'Brien of Baltimore. A longtime military man -- the native New Yorker spent years as an Army chaplain before a decade's service as pastor-in-chief to the 1.5 million US Catholics in uniform -- the senior prelate's call for a "Path to Zero" closed a daylong conference held at the Strategic Command in Omaha.

Drawing heavily both from the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the US bishops' pastorals "The Challenge of Peace" and "The Harvest of Justice is Sown in Peace," here below, an extended snip from O'Brien's remarks:

PHOTO: Reuters


Macy's, Sears, Penney's... The Box?

Faced with continually declining numbers of penitents, the wire notes dioceses that have gotten creative with expanding access to the Confessional... including at least one venue that gives new meaning to the phrase "one-stop shopping":
Located on the upper level of the Citadel Mall in Colorado Springs, between the Burlington Coat Factory and Dillard's department stores, the Catholic Center, which offers Mass and the sacrament of reconciliation, is a place shoppers can find solace away from crowds.

"Some people are hesitant to stop into an organized church, but the Catholic Center offers a 'no strings attached' approach," Msgr. Robert E. Jaeger, vicar general of the diocese, told Catholic News Service in a telephone interview.

"The Capuchins wanted to make contact with those who have fallen away from the church. Visitors to the center are anonymous and can either stop in regularly or just once," he said. "People can say, 'Well, I've finished my shopping. I think I'll stop inside for a moment for myself.'"

Staffed by five Capuchin Franciscans, the Catholic Center at the mall is financially supported and promoted by the Diocese of Colorado Springs, the Capuchin Province of Mid-America and the Knights of Columbus.

The center operates during mall hours, providing information on Catholic charities and parishes. It also houses a Catholic bookstore and a chapel where Mass is celebrated twice a day and confessions are heard from 10 a.m. until 9 p.m.

"The Catholic Center has been here since 2001 and it has been very successful," Msgr. Jaeger told CNS. "So far, we've had 16,000 attending the 12:10 p.m. Mass and 72,000 attending the 6 p.m. Mass."

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Mr Ambassador

As widely expected, the US officially has its new envoy to the Vatican: the Senate confirmed Miguel Diaz as ambassador to the Holy See last night.

Nominated for the post by President Obama in late May, the 45 year-old theologian said he'd relocate to the ambassador's residence at Villa Richardson "as soon as possible"; in keeping with Vatican custom, on his arrival Diaz will present his credentials to Pope Benedict, who'll then offer a public address on the Holy See's assessment of things American, highlights and lowlights both.

Born in Havana and raised in Miami, Diaz is the first Hispanic to hold the post and the ninth Vatican ambassador since full diplomatic relations were established between Rome and Washington in January 1984.

SVILUPPO: For those keeping score, the confirmation came not by a roll-call vote, but unanimous consent as part of a package of 12 ambassadorial nods.

PHOTO: St John's University, Collegeville


In Phoenix, Here's to the Knights

For the 127th time, the Knights of Columbus are spending these early August days in Supreme Convention, this year in Phoenix.

Now boasting a record 1.8 million members worldwide, little escapes the grasp of the church's largest fraternal organization, whose efforts provide crucial manpower and funding for works ranging from parish socials to national initiatives supporting everything from priestly recruitment to an enhanced voice for the church's stances on family life and the protection of human dignity.

Mostly away from the spotlight, though, over the last year the Knights devoted some 69 million hours of service to church and community and donated $150 million to charity... and it's in tribute to the order's fidelity that its weeklong gathering invariably draws an A-list of hierarchs, led this time around by the Vatican's #3 official: the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, LA's own Cardinal William Levada.

Yet while the "Grand Inquisitor" took a lower profile turn, celebrating and preaching today's main Mass for the 2,000 delegates in attendance, the keynote at last night's marquee States Dinner -- given in 2007 by B16's personally-dispatched "Vice-Pope" -- came from the chief of the nation's bishops, the USCCB president Cardinal Francis George of Chicago (above), whose fulltext focused mostly on Caritas in Veritate, but included a notable commentary on the state of the Stateside church, including an announcement that the body of bishops "now want to explicitly address" their fold's "severely strained" bonds of unity:
Holding everyone and everything together in unity is another ways of saying Catholic. Unity with God is sanctity. Unity with believers in Christ is called ecclesial communion. Unity between husband and wife for the sake of their children is called family. Unity with fellow citizens who love a common homeland is called patriotism. Unity with those with whom we share similar values is called friendship.

A Catholic way of life is based on assent to revealed truth and obedience to appointed pastors, both of which create the unity Christ wishes us to enjoy. The Church’s unity today is severely strained, as we all know. Bishops and priests have sometimes been less than worthy of their calling, and lay groups have sometimes come together to create a Church in their image and likeness rather than Christ’s. Political interference and the hostility of some in the media and entertainment industries, the self-righteousness of some on both the right and the left, have created a dangerous situation, one the bishops now want to explicitly address. How to stitch up the Church where her unity is torn, how to use the authority given by Christ to the apostles without wounding the faithful who are already hurting is a project that begins with the bishops’ own submission to Christ and our own self-examination in the light of God’s word.
Suffice it to say, how the divide'll be addressed over the months to come bears watching. Close, close watching.

In his homily today, meanwhile, Levada likewise touched on the current ecclesial situation on these shores, calling the Knights to engage with "all people of good will... to improve the lot of others":
All Christians are called to give over their lives to Christ, to allow Him to live through them. Let me conclude with a specific application of that truth to us as Catholics in America, and for us as Knights of Columbus in our beloved country. Our first reading offers us another image, not unlike that with which I began this homily:
I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race.” (Rev 21:2-3)
The new Jerusalem does not rise up to heaven from the earth; that city is Babel, not Jerusalem. Rather it comes down from heaven to us. In some versions of the legend of Our Lady of the Snows, we are told that the snow fell in the exact outline of the church to built there. That may be a somewhat fanciful image, but I think it makes a good point. Although we sometimes sing about building the City of God, in fact our task is more modest: we do not build heaven on earth, we simply prepare the site to welcome the new Jerusalem which comes from God.

This is an important lesson for us Americans. Our nation has been blessed with many gifts and resources, and at times that abundance can blind people to our utter dependence on God, and the need to seek to do his will. We Knights of Columbus are dedicated to fostering both faith and patriotism in your members; and you experience the tensions when our religious ideals come into conflict with a society that is becoming increasingly secular. The Christ who lives in us is truly “a light of revelation to the Gentiles and glory for your people Israel”, but he is also “a sign that will be contradicted”. (Lk 2:32, 34) Like Mary, we too will be pierced by that sword of opposition if we are faithful to Christ. That is the cost of discipleship. As American Catholics, we can and we should work with all people of good will, regardless of their religious beliefs, to improve the lot of others. But we must also bear witness to our conviction that the American “city set on a hill”, no matter how remarkable its scientific accomplishments or technological advances, will always be a barren patch of earth without the life-giving refreshment of the word of God.
At the Convention's close, the Knights will host a Marian Congress dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe, its highlight a festival for the 18,000 expected to fill Sun Country's hockey arena.

PHOTOS: Knights of Columbus


Visitation, Revealed

As "inside baseball" stories go, one that's attracted an extraordinary amount of attention outside the church's walls has been the Holy See's recent drive to examine the state of womens' religious life in the US.

In late January, a surprise apostolic visitation was launched to investigate the nation's womens' communities working in the world, then in April came news that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had ordered a "doctrinal assessment" of the dominant umbrella-group of the orders, the Leadership Council for Women Religious. (Shown above is the designated chief of the former, Connecticut-born Mother Mary Clare Millea, superior-general of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.)

While the first phase of the three-year visitation was recently completed, only now has a clearer picture of its intent emerged with last week's release of the Instrumentum Laboris -- the 12-page Vatican guidelines on the approach and execution of the process that'll see each of the 300-plus non-contemplative communities placed under the microscope and reported on to Rome, only some of its findings, however, to be culled from specially-selected site visits.

Issued by the Congregation for Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life -- the Roman dicastery overseeing the process -- at the heart of the instruction are a series of "reflection topics" intended not solely for the discernment of the respective superiors, but all members. What's more, the document invites each of the nation's 50,000-plus sisters to confidentially "express an opinion about some aspect" of her community to Millea, "in writing and with signature."

For a flavor of what the visitation's looking for, here are the topics for reflection, each drawn from a collection of Vatican instructions on consecrated life:
1. Identity of your religious institute
A. What is the understanding of religious life in your institute in light of its charism within the Church?
B. What understanding of religious life is taught to prospective and current members of your institute?
C. How are ecclesial documents integrated into your theological understanding of religious life?
D. What are your concerns about the future of your religious institute in living its charism in the Church?
E. How do sisters in your institute understand and express the vow and virtue of poverty? To whom are they accountable for the observance of the vow?
F. How do they understand and observe the vow and virtue of chastity? How is their consecration positively expressed?
G. How do they understand and express the vow and virtue of obedience? To whom are the sisters accountable for the observance of the vow?
H. Do the sisters take other/additional vows? If so, how do they live this/these out?
I. Has your institute been involved in, is it now involved in or are you now planning a reconfiguration, federation, merger or union with another congregation or other congregations? If so, how has this integration affected the quality of the life of the institute and of the sisters themselves?
J. Is your institute moving toward a new form of religious life? If so, how is this new form specifically related to the Church’s understanding of religious life?
2. The governance of your religious institute
A. Is the form of Government in your institute in accord with requirements of the Church regarding superiors, chapters, elections, religious houses etc.?
B. How is the form of government as stated in your Constitutions effectively operative in your institute?
C. To what extent is this form of governance evident in the daily, ongoing life of sisters in your institute?
D. In what way are non-members, including “associates,” involved in the governance of the institute?
E. What is the process of consultation employed for gathering input and opinions from sisters prior to decision making on significant matters?
F. Do superiors treat all sisters with fairness and genuine concern and deal compassionately with those who experience difficulties or hold divergent opinions?
G. What is the process for responding to sisters who dissent publicly or privately from the authoritative teaching of the Church?
H. What is the process for responding to sisters who disagree publicly or privately with
congregational decisions, especially regarding matters of Church authority?
3. Vocation promotion, admission and formation policies
A. Are specific policies, procedures and criteria for admission to the institute clearly specified and followed by those responsible for guiding candidates and admitting new members?
B. Does your formation program offer your members the foundations of Catholic faith and doctrine through the study of Vatican II documents, the Catechism of the Catholic Church and post-Conciliar documents?
C. How do your initial and on-going formation programs integrate the most recent documents of the Church concerning religious life?
D. Do you find your ongoing formation programs adequate and helpful for living your charism effectively in the Church today?
E. Are there reasons to be concerned about vocations or formation in your institute?
4. Spiritual life and common life
A. How do you express the reality that the Eucharist is the source of the spiritual, communal and ministerial life of the individual sisters and your institute as a whole?
B. How does your institute express its commitment to strengthening common life through the common celebration of the Eucharist, common prayer, and the sharing of gifts and resources in common?
C. Are daily Mass and frequent reception of the Sacrament of Penance a priority for your sisters?
D. Do the sisters of your institute participate in the Eucharistic Liturgy according to approved liturgical norms?
E. Do the sisters pray the Liturgy of the Hours according to your Constitutions using books approved by the Church?
F. Do sisters of your institute study and put into practice the approved religious and spiritual exercises which are indicative of your specific charism in the Church?
G. How does the manner of dress of your sisters, as specified in the proper law of your religious institute, bear witness to the dignity and simplicity of your vocation?
H. What are the current provisions for care of aging and ill sisters and what is your institute’s future plan for their care?
5. Mission and ministry
A. What is the specific apostolic purpose of your institute as stated in your Constitutions?
B. Do you see the present apostolic endeavors of your religious institute as viable and effective expressions of your charism and mission?
C. Which current apostolic projects best represent the focus and purpose of your charism?
D. What means are being taken to ensure that the charism of the congregation will continue in the case of diminishing presence of your sisters in congregation owned or sponsored institutions?
E. What are your institute’s expectations for ministry in the future?
6. Financial administration
A. What is your institute’s approach to stewardship of resources and financial administration?
B. How are individual sisters, including those in positions of authority, accountable for good stewardship of resources?
C. What are your financial concerns for your institute?
D. Has the institute transferred ownership or control of any property in the past ten years? Does it anticipate any further transfer of ownership or control of ecclesiastical goods? If so, has it been done according to Church norms? Have the members in the institute been a part of the process?
Discussion of the Instrumentum has been added to the agenda at next week's LCWR annual assembly in New Orleans.

On a related note, the plenary of the main confederation of mens' communities -- the Conference of Major Superiors of Men (CMSM) -- begins today in St Louis; the papal nuncio to Washington, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, will deliver the keynote to the five-day gathering.

PHOTO: James Estrin/The New York Times