Program #0096 for Thursday, July 21, 2011: Archbishop Charles Chaput; transitional deacon; Chinese Catholics; Parish life study

July 21, 2011

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Today’s host(s): Scot Landry and Susan Abbott

Today’s guest(s): Fr. Roger Landry, executive editor of The Anchor, the newspaper of the Fall River diocese; and Gregory Tracy, managing editor of The Pilot, the newspaper of the Boston archdiocese

  • The Anchor
  • The Pilot
  • Some of the stories discussed on this show will be available on The Pilot’s and The Anchor’s websites on Friday morning. Please check those sites for the latest links.

Today’s topics: Archbishop Charles Chaput; Transitional deacon ordained; Chinese cardinal in Boston; study of Catholic parishes

Summary of today’s show: Our usual Thursday panel discussed the appointment of Archbishop Charles Chaput to Philadelphia, with Fr. Roger Landry’s personal recollection of time spent with the archbishop recently; the unusual timing of the ordination of a transitional deacon for Boston; the visit of a Chinese cardinal to Boston as tensions between the Vatican and China reach an all-time high; and a study of parish life in the United States with some surprising results.

1st segment: Scot welcomed Susan back to the show. The Pilot is back from summer hiatus and The Anchor is now on hiatus this week. The big non-Church news is the weather and specifically the heat.

2nd segment: Scot and Susan welcome Gregory and Fr. Roger back to the show. The appointment of Archbishop Charles Chaput to Philadelphia is significant. Scot said it is traditionally seen as a cardinalatial see and one of the largest in the US. It’s also significant because the archdiocese is in the midst of a major scandal due to revelations concerning clergy priest abuse.

Audio excerpt from the press conference:

“Press conferences like this have a formula of humility and gratitude that can sometimes seem like theater. I’m a poor actor. What you see is pretty much what you get. Philadelphia is one of America’s truly great cities, rich in history and achievement, with an extraordinary community of Catholic faith that goes back to saints like John Neumann and Katharine Drexel. Many of you will ask me this question, so I will answer it in advance. I don’t know why the Holy Father sent me here. But I do trust his heart, and I do believe in his judgment. I know other bishops would have been smarter than I am, or more talented, or more connected to Philadelphia’s past. I know that Cardinal Rigali is one of the great churchmen of my lifetime. He has served the Church in Rome, in St. Louis, and here with enormous dedication and in ways I will never be able to duplicate.

“But I do promise that no bishop will love the people and priests of this local Church more than I will. No bishop will give more of himself than I will. And no bishop will try harder to help persons who have been hurt by the sins of the past, or work harder to strengthen and encourage our priests and renew the hearts of our people.

There’s a lot I don’t know how to do. But over the years, a great many good people have shown me how to love and how to lead by the generosity of their witness. And everything I’ve learned, everything I know and have, I will give to this ministry, because all of you — the people of God — deserve at least that much.”

Susan said his words were very moving. He reinforces his honesty and sincerity and passion with his words about how he will love and work for the people. If she were in Philadelphia, she would be thrilled. Scot said there’s no hyperbole in this man, he is what he is. Gregory said the Archbishop is know for being a straight shooter. He was formed in the West: South Dakota and Colorado. So he’s got that Western straight-talking manner.

Fr. Roger spent some time in Denver recently when Archbishop Chaput invited him to lead a retreat for the priests of Denver. Fr. Roger said he’s always been impressed by the archbishop publishing his email address and giving quick responses to people who would email him. Of the past 10 years, Fr. Roger has continued to receive emails from the Archbishop commenting on articles he’d written and encouraging him. At this retreat, he experienced a camaraderie he’d never seen before. Some of the priests told him that every priest knows where he stands with the archbishop. The archbishop is very responsive to requests by his priests, which is hugely important for priestly morale. He does that for anyone who emails him. He spends 10 minutes of every hour answering email. One of Archbishop Chaput’s fears in going to Philadelphia is that he won’t have the same amount of time for responding to people.

Fr. Roger said the priests of Philadelphia are very excited, having heard him preach a clergy day in 2005 and having taught at the seminary in Philadelphia before becoming a bishop.

Scot said George Weigel called the appointment is extremely significant for examining the Holy Father’s heart for appointments in the US. Weigel said it is rumored that the Holy Father picked Archbishop Chaput himself rather than relying on the Congregation for Bishops’ recommendations and sent the best bishop available to the very troubled Philadelphia archdiocese.

Gregory said Chaput has a reputation as a great communicator with very strong leadership skills and who formulates the teachings of the Church in an accessible way. He has a similar charisma to that of Pope John Paul II. That charisma comes from speaking the truth in love.

Weigel said:

With the appointment of Charles J. Chaput as archbishop of Philadelphia, the deep reform of the Catholic Church in the United States — the reform that is giving birth to Evangelical Catholicism even as it leaves the old post–Vatican II arguments fading into the rear-view mirror — has been accelerated.

Susan said she is in favor of bishops standing up to preach the Gospel, which it seems is what Weigel means.

Fr. Roger said John Paul II recognized that every part of the truth is part of the Good News and that the answer to every question is Jesus Christ. Chaput has a similar outlook. That type of boldness comes from a deep prayer life. During that retreat, he got together with Archbishop Chaput for breakfast and he asked him how his usual workday would go. Chaput gets up at 4:30 and prays, then works on various talks he needs to give. About 10am, he goes to his office and starts his meetings and other work for the archdiocese. He begins with prayer and that fuels all his other work.

3rd segment: This week, the Pilot has a story on the ordination of transitional deacon Eric Bennett at his home parish, St. Patrick, Natick. He is planning to be ordained to the priesthood next summer.

Gregory said traditionally transitional deacons are traditionally ordained in January, about 4 months before priestly ordination. But Bennett is studying at the North American College in Rome, and it’s normal for them to be ordained when they’re home for the summer. He will be ordained with the rest of his classmates in 2012. He was recently featured in the Knights of Columbus magazine, “Columbia”. He comes from a large, Catholic family.

Susan said Deacon Bennett received a personalized homily from Cardinal Seán. He called Eric to be a “master of prayer, sharing the fruits of your contemplation with those entrusted to your pastoral care.” She also noted a quote from his mother, who recalled during the moment when he lay prostrate before the altar that he used to lay on the floor as a toddler in a temper tantrum and how far he has come.

Fr. Roger was also a transitional deacon at the North American College in Rome. An advantage is that he could be a deacon for a papal Mass or other bishops in Rome. A disadvantage is that they don’t get to serve in parishes every weekend like those in the seminary in the US. Fr. Roger knew Deacon Bennett his first few years in seminary. He admires his love for the priesthood and his docility. When Fr. Roger was at St. John’s, he saw young men visiting the chapel in the mornings before their regular prayer time with everyone at the seminary and Bennett was among them.

Scot noted that Fr. Kiely, Eric’s pastor, said: “When I was watching the cardinal impose hands on Eric, I was thinking this is a great moment for him, but’s also terrific moment for the future of the Church in Boston.” Eric also said he’s receive wonderful support while in seminary.

4th segment: Scot said earlier this week, Cardinal Joseph Zen visited the Pastoral Center and celebrated Mass. Gregory said he is the retired archbishop of Hong Kong. He’s been touring the United States to visit Chinese Catholic communities. He also spread the word about the Church in China. On Monday, he gave an interview to the Pilot as well. He spoke at length about the situation of the Church in China. Gregory talked about the situation of the Catholic Church in Hong Kong and Macau as he experienced it after World Youth Day in Australia.

The cardinal spoke about the illicit ordination of three bishops. The Communist Chinese government requires Christians to worship only in state-controlled associations, including the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, which eschews any connections to the Vatican or the Pope. Many Catholics worship in illegal, underground churches, following only bishops appointed by the Pope, although the divisions are not hard and fast. Many priests and laypeople, and even bishops, are members of the patriotic association in public, and of the underground Church, in secret.

Recently, the association appointed three bishops without the Holy Father’s approval. They were validly ordained by other bishops, but it was illicit because it was done without communion with the Pope. So the new bishops are successors of the apostles, but the Vatican said they are not leaders in the Catholic Church because of the illicit nature of the ordinations.

It’s almost unprecedented for the Chinese to take this step. In the past, the association would choose candidates for bishop and the Vatican would approve, but this time they did not ask the Vatican to approve. Fr. Roger said part of the Good Catholic Life is that every day is a day to pray for the Church in China.

In other news, Scot said the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate did a study that found a decline of about 1,900 parishes in the past 15-20 years, resulting in larger parishes, more Masses, fewer priests, more languages at each parish, and more. Susan said the good news is that Catholic population is up, relying upon immigrants entering the Church in the US.

In the Archdiocese of Boston, about 40 percent of parishes don’t have enough revenue to meet expenses, but that number across the US is about 30 percent.

Gregory said he was interested to see that as a general trend Mass attendance has been declining since the 1960s, over the past decade that percentage has held steady. And as the population increases in the next decade, they see the total number of Catholics grow.

Also the number of parishes in the US now is about equal to how many there were in 1968.

Fr. Roger said he was happy to see this report done to help us with our pastoral planning. He said we have to confront the reality in the northeast that we don’t have as much of a priest shortage as a parish surplus. He said a century ago, we thought ethnicity was more important than catholicity. We built parishes for every language group. Now, because of fewer priestly numbers, we need to consolidate those buildings. In the 1960s we had a baby boom of priests as well and we could build parishes for them to serve in, but now we need to consolidate those resources.

He’s compared his parish of St. Anthony in New Bedford to these average numbers in the report and he finds northeastern parishes fall very far short of the national numbers on realities such as parish revenues, weekly offertory, and parish staffs.

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