Diocese USA: what are the challenges?
Silere non possum offers an analysis of the American episcopate and the situation of the dioceses
“There is a vocational crisis in the Catholic Church”. This is a very recurrent phrase. Yet, this does not seem to be a problem for many dioceses that do not even have plans for vocational pastoral care. Young people, therefore, become a problem when they arrive at the seminary with the expectation of finding serious and well-structured realities.
Traditional realities, such as the St Peter’s Priestly Fraternity, however, do not have this problem. Priestly ordinations and entries into the seminary are always numerous. Why? A life lived seriously attracts many young men.
But if vocations to the priesthood are in crisis, vocations to the episcopate are no less so. In past years, a few priests with ambitions could still be glimpsed, today the nunciatures are seeing the phone shut in their faces.“No thanks, Your Excellency, I refuse the offer and move on,” said a priest from southern Italy to the Apostolic Nuncio Emil Paul Tscherrig in recent weeks.
“I certainly do not want to be the lightning rod for those who commit crimes” this priest explained to Silere non possum. “Today if a priest is accused of abusing his power, or stealing parish money, or even abusing a child, everyone turns to the bishop. If an abbess abuses nuns, the bishop is called to account. If a layman or laywoman in the curia steals or cheats, they ring the bishop’s doorbell. Sometimes it is about events that happened when the bishop was not even pastor of that diocese” emphasises the Reverend.
The error of the Church in America
Unfortunately, today, being a bishop of a diocese is too great a responsibility. The ordinary of a diocese is no longer the pastor who confirms his children in the faith, but rather has become an administrator who deals with legal issues. Even with regard to child sexual abuse, we have gone too far wrong. In the beginning, we covered too many criminals who ruined the lives of some children. The Church did not know how to deal with these nefarious acts. Afterwards, we panicked and started thinking that we could repair our crimes with money. Very often, the sense of guilt has so overwhelmed us that we have approached even trials superficially. Too often we have let accusations suffice to condemn someone. And we have paid. Today the Church in America is in a terrible situation. It is under psychological blackmail by society. And, moreover, the Catholic Church has several dioceses that are without money. Completely disinherited parishes.
These grave crimes cannot be dealt with in this way. It is necessary to act prudently. We must not hide anything and move in transparency. At the same time, the rights of defendants and victims must be guaranteed. Evidence must be submitted. These crimes are very delicate and difficult to prove, but we must necessarily act with the guarantees provided by modern constitutional States. We cannot risk, as in the case of Cardinal George Pell, that there are accusations completely invented and that lead a person to deprivation of his freedom. Let us not forget that these accusations remain a great stain on one’s reputation. Even when one is found innocent.
The Church must respond competently. The Church has the duty to act according to Truth. This is one of the reasons why, today, it is difficult to find priests willing to become bishops.
Dioceses in the United States today
Let us now examine the state of the American dioceses today. In the United States, the only vacant See is that of the diocese of Fairbanks.
There are many dioceses that have bishops who have already resigned due to age limit. These are His Most Reverend Excellency Peter Hugh Brown, diocese of Samoa–Pago Pago; Mark Edward Brennan, diocese of Wheeling–Charleston; His Most Reverend Eminence Cardinal Seán Patrick O’Malley, archdiocese of Boston (who has already reached the age of 78); Robert Peter Deeley, diocese of Portland; Paul Joseph Bradley, diocese of Kalamazoo; Ralph Walker Nickless, diocese of Sioux City; Edward Bernard Scharfenberger, diocese of Albany; Salvatore Ronald Matano, diocese of Rochester; Dennis Joseph Sullivan, diocese of Camden; Ronald William Gainer, diocese of Harrisburg; Liam Cary, diocese of Baker and Donald Joseph Kettler, diocese of Saint Cloud. At the end of this year, His Eminence Cardinal Wilton Daniel Gregory (Archbishop of Washington) will also resign.
There are also two auxiliary bishops who have resigned: His Most Reverend Excellency Donald Francis Hanchon, auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Detroit, Robert Charles Evans , auxiliary bishop of Providence and Roy Edward Campbell, auxiliary bishop of Washington.
Other retirements in the coming year
The following bishops will have to resign next year: His Most Reverend Excellency Thomas Joseph Tobin, bishop of Providence; Dennis Marion Schnurr, archbishop of Cincinnati; Michael William Warfel, bishop of Great Falls–Billings (This diocese already has a coadjutor bishop, Mgr. Jeffrey Michael Fleming); Patrick James Zurek, bishop of Amarillo and Allen Henry Vigneron, archbishop of Detroit.
In 2023, the following auxiliary bishops will also resign: His Most Reverend Excellency Gregory James Studerus, auxiliary bishop of archdiocese of Newark; Neil Edward Tiedemann, auxiliary bishop of Brooklyn and Michael Joseph Fitzgerald, auxiliary bishop of Philadelphia.
What are the prospects?
For the future, the Catholic Church must necessarily retrace its steps. Formation must be the focus of the bishops.
Seminaries must offer a clear training path. Attention must be paid to the human sphere, the affective and sexual sphere and the cultural formation of the priest. It is necessary to realise that many times the Second Vatican Council has been instrumentalised to push through theories that are not Catholic. In recent years we are witnessing attacks on priests that are unprecedented. There are those who want the ordination of women, there are those who claim positions of power, and there are also those who accuse priests of being too clerical.
This attitude, of some lay people and some religious, cannot be accepted. Christ chose his own for a specific reason: to be with him. He did not choose the priest to go on political and social campaigns and entertainment at village festivals. Jesus Christ constituted priests to proclaim the good news and celebrate the sacraments. The Church has already responded, several times, to the request for ordination for women: “IT IS NOT A POWER WE HAVE”!
Only by rediscovering our identity will we be able to tackle the problems that plague us today. Only by training conscious and prepared priests will we be able to give good bishops to the people of God.
Silere non possum