Thoughts on the Current Diocesan Situation

April 2, 2012 at 15:04 2 comments


I am concerned about my home diocese. I have been away from it for a number of years because of my military service, so I am something of an outsider, which is ok by me. I don’t have some of the emotional involvements that other priests have. I don’t think this is good or bad, it just is. Also, I am “independent” in that I do not take anything financial from the Diocese or any parish where I help out. So, I have a certain amount of freedom. All that the bishop can do to me is take away my faculties to celebrate Mass and the Sacraments. His call. No problem.

Recently the Vatican reversed the Bishop’s closing of 14 parishes. When the word got out to the folks in these parishes there was a great outpouring of energy and enthusiasm, most of it positive. The folks really thought they had a chance to get their parishes back. An ideal response from the bishop would have been some kind of sit down and talk. Really talk, and most importantly, listen. He did not. Instead he had his PIO tell folks first that he had not yet received official notification of the Vatican’s decision, then he had received it, and he would consult with his advisors. He did not even meet with some of the folks from the parishes. Nature abhors a vacuum, and since there was no information coming from the bishop’s office, the folks began to generate and publicize their own ideas and plans, and rumor control took over.

Among the items enumerated in the Vatican decrees was that the bishop needed to consult with the Presbyteral Council. I was not in the Cleveland area when this consultation was supposed to have taken place, so all I know is rumor. I have heard that the bishop has a history of going through the motions of consulting, but gives the appearance that his mind is already made up. This may be what happened with the parish closings. Also, perhaps, with changing the priests’ retirement age to 75, conducting a fundraising campaign. Whatever

Perceptions take on reality all their own. The operating perception among the folks seems to be that the bishop does not know how to relate to people, that he does not care, it is his way or else. He “rules” by fear and threats. This seems to be the way he treats his priests and deacons. His refusal to discuss the current state of affairs with members, or even pastors, of the 14 parishes reinforces this. He is perceived to have destroyed our ethnic parishes and traditions, as well as our exciting inner-city presence and our ecumenical approach and involvement. He has no credibility outside his office, either with the priests or the folks, and has brought upon himself a tremendous lack of respect, if not hatred, from too many people. His primary focus seems to be money. True or not, these are the perceptions. These perceptions have become reality, a very hurtful and public reality. Things were not always this way.

Those who know him in a different way have reason to believe he really is a caring person. He has done things that demonstrate his pastoral concern for folks, but they are known only to a few. My own dealings with him have shown me this side of his personality. I have thoroughly enjoyed the times I have been with him. He is a good man, a caring man, and I think he is doing what he considers to be the right things.

Having said that, there is a lot of pain and suffering in our diocese. One of those suffering the most has to be our bishop himself. I don’t think anyone really wants to see others suffer, or to be the cause of another’s suffering. So none of us want to see our bishop suffer. Also, though, a great number of our folks are suffering, too. The only one who can address their suffering is the bishop himself. Since he is either unwilling or unable to do this, something has to be done. We are hurting, all of us.

Our faith teaches us that the church continues the mission of Jesus, which is, basically, “to proclaim good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor”. With what is going on in our diocese today, how can we possibly do this? We ourselves, including the bishop, are the poor, the prisoners, the blind, the oppressed. We need the year of favor from the Lord that Jesus promises. Something has to be done.

We priests might have something else to think about. It is no longer any fun to be a priest. Priests no longer work with the bishop, but, in his opinion, for him. He tells priests they are disobedient and threatens them with penalties, even with loss of livelihood. He does not trust or respect the priests. For many the day to day life of serving as a priest has become a real cross. Pastors dread they way the diocesan financial campaign is forcing them to ask their folks for money. They do not show the appropriate enthusiasm, they are called disobedient and threatened, if not removed from their assignment.

As priests our relationship to our bishop is significantly different from that of the folks in the pews. We have taken a promise of obedience. Priests in parishes have legitimate concerns about their livelihood and future if they act in what can be interpreted as a disobedient manner. Yet, we have great love and respect for the Office of Bishop, and pastoral concern for our brother priest who serves in this Office. This does not mean that we need fear him, or agree with what he does. It does mean that we care about him even as we care also for our diocese.

It is my semi-outsider opinion that our diocese cannot continue much longer with business as usual. The folks are hurting. The priests are hurting. Things seem to be so bad that not even the bishop can do anything to make them better. Maybe it is time that we start talking about this publicly. It seems to be our own elephant in the living room.

Either we believe the Church is carrying on Christ’s mission, or we don’t. Either we believe the Holy Spirit is alive and active in our Church and our lives, or we don’t. Either we believe we are where we are at this time and place in history with these people because this is where grace needs us, or we don‘t. As priests we have varying roles of pastoral care. Among these is the pastoral care of our bishop. He is one of us, a priest. Every one of us has felt alone, afraid, misunderstood, etc, at one time or another. It goes with the territory. We know it is not a nice feeling, but we have dealt with it and grown. We have, often with the help of others, carried our cross. Perhaps now we have another cross to carry, maybe even together.

Perhaps it is time for our bishop to go. Perhaps it might be our responsibility as priests to make him aware of this. Not just the Presbyteral Council, but all of us somehow – in a spirit of priestly, fraternal, pastoral care, which I think we all feel for him and for our diocese, and for each other.

I don’t know how to do this. I don’t have any suggestions. These are my feelings which may not be shared by others. I just feel the need to raise the issue. I love my Diocese, I love my brother priests, I love the folks, I love my Bishop.

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Entry filed under: Catholic, Church Leadership, Current Church, Priest. Tags: , , .

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. John W. Greenleaf  |  April 2, 2012 at 15:51

    We need to work together and be courageously supportive….seeking the truth, speaking the truth, and living the truth. Many of our bishops have a certain kind of power power is not always virtue and no guarantee of wisdom.

    John

    Reply
  • 2. Joe Konen  |  April 3, 2012 at 07:40

    The “freedom of the children of God” (children of Man as Jesus called himself Son of Man) is to respond as best we can to the Gospel call you speak about.
    In the current time, I believe, this may mean just avoiding the morass of inertia that is the inside game of the institutional Church and stepping out with those (secular or religious) who are addressing the issues of bringing a fuller life to the poor.
    If we use our energy trying to breach an impenetrable citadel (the hierarchical church), what will be left for serving the needs of the poor and fighting for justice.
    The way forward seems clear … make community with others who are doing the work of peace and justice and strengthen each other with honest dialogue and hard work that renews the spirit.
    In that context, I’m grateful for the Community of St. Peter.

    Reply

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