Making All Things New Update

July 1st, 2014

+ Feast of Blessed Junipero Serra

I was actually dreading the meetings of yesterday and today…

Attending these all-day sessions were the priest council members, the vicars, and the working group for Making All Things New, our strategic pastoral planning process.  The only steps left after this would be, as required by Church law, the views of the College of Consultors, and then my decision.  So, these were very important gatherings.

Over a year of consultation, meetings, conversations, criticism, and intense process, involving all our parishes, had preceded these two days.

The agenda for the ten hours of meetings was a vote of approval, or disapproval, of the list of recommendations from the cluster groups and the advisory committee about the future of our 365 parishes.

Why was I dreading these sessions?  For one, this was the first time I ever saw “the list” of recommendations about which parishes should close, merge, or cooperate more closely.  Of course, the cynics claim I’ve had “the list” of parishes I wanted to close for over a year, and that all this exhaustive “process” was a sham.  All I can do is assure you again that the first time I ever saw “the list” of parishes proposed for closure or merging was yesterday morning.

The second and more ominous reason I had heartburn anticipating these meetings was fear of fierce controversy.  I could envision arguing, lobbying, and protests.

I should have listened to Jesus tell me, “Fear is useless…what is needed is trust!”  The gathering was uplifting, uniting, and enlightening.

I left with some clear observations:

For one, the process has worked!  The data gathered was most comprehensive, the pastoral needs of God’s People was convincingly presented, and the participants in the meeting were seen frequently to be nodding in assent as the recommendations were reviewed.

Two, the priests on the council, and the vicars, were wonderfully invested in the conversation, asking insightful questions about where the people would go if their parishwere closed, or if a merging were logical and do-able.  In a few cases, the recommendations of the clusters and the advisory committee about parish mergers were not accepted.  However, 90% of them made eminent sense, and got the council’s support.

Third, the reasons given for approving (or, on occasions, turning down) a recommendation were all pastoral: conserve and better-use our priests; utilize the churches and parish properties that are better maintained and in much better shape; sensitivity to our elders, and our poorer people who depend on walking or public transportation to get to Sunday Mass and parish activities; changing demographics of parishes, with either the flight or influx of Catholic people into the area; and, in many cases, special considerations for unique groups.  For instance, one parish suggested to close was also serving the deaf community, another welcoming people who desire the Latin Mass, another the Vietnamese Catholics, all of whom, while not living within the parish neighborhood, were still in need of pastoral care and a spiritual home.   The priests wanted to make sure they were not forgotten.

After the meeting; I did not even need the Alka Seltzer I had brought along!

Now, to decide, and I must do so by the end of September.

At that time, I’ll show you the entire list of recommendations, and, more importantly, will let you know of my decisions.

All I know is that I am very grateful to Bishop-elect John O’Hara, the clusters, advisory committee, and staff.

All I know is that the process is working.

All I know is that it’s going to be neuralgic to see some parishes close.  But, as we’ve often all observed, while the closing of a parish is always painful, it’s less painful if there has been extensive, patient, consultation.  And these last two days assured me that’s the case.

Stay tuned…please pray!

Some Great Hobby Lobby Responses

July 1st, 2014

In case you missed them, here are some excellent responses in today’s papers to yesterday’s Supreme Court pro-religious liberty decision in the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood case.

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and Archbishop of Louisville, wrote an outstanding column in today’s New York Post.

The Post also has an excellent editorial, as does the New York Daily News.

And Kathryn Jean Lopez, of Catholic Voices USA, one of the best writers around, has an op-ed in the News.

Enjoy!

Before we break for summer…

June 25th, 2014

As we approach the summer vacation season, I wanted to catch you up on several things that have been on my mind!

1.  Congratulations to John Woods and the entire staff of Catholic New York (CNY)!  At last week’s Catholic Press Association convention, CNY once again walked off with an armful of awards, including the coveted General Excellence Award for the second year in a row, plus first-place honors for stories that they did on last year’s papal transition, and the Year of Faith!  I am honored that my own column was given a first place award as well.  All of which reminds me of the importance of CNY as part of our communications ministry in this archdiocese.  Over the summer, we will be hard at work getting a new online version and App for CNY ready for distribution.  Using technology creatively as a way of staying in touch is vitally important these days, — as our kids tell us! — so we are also going to be rolling out a brand-new archdiocesan website, plus Flocknotes for our parishes, which we hope will enable pastors to be more in touch with their parishioners about parish activities, as well as allow me to communicate more directly and immediately with Catholics throughout the entire archdiocese. We are also implementing a new video conference system, with nine sites throughout the archdiocese (in Catholic high schools), each able to accommodate over 200 people, so that, among many other uses, we might have archdiocesan-wide “town hall” style meetings while people are able to stay in their own communities.  Much more to come on all of this, but I’m excited and enthusiastic about the changes that are coming!

2.  Our school year has come to an end.  A huge “Thank you!” to our parents, students, teachers, pastors, school administrators, and board members, for all of your efforts this past year; part of the genius of Catholic schools is that everyone has to be involved in order for our schools to succeed, and that was never more evident than it was this past school year. Dr. Timothy McNiff and his staff deserve a huge round of applause as well, as our regionalization plan, developed through the Pathways to Excellence planning process, is working!  Yes, there are still some unresolved questions and snags which we continue to tackle.  But, every parish in the archdiocese can now say that it has a parish school, even if that school is not situated on the parish grounds.  And, for the first time in recent memory, none of our archdiocesan schools are closing this June. (Mother Cabrini High School is sadly closing, but that decision was made by the religious order that ran the school, not by the archdiocese. We have worked with the parents and students of the school to try and help find them places in other Catholic high schools.)  Now, even some of the schools that opted-out of the regionalization plan are asking to be included as a regional school, proving how successful our new school plan has been.   Dr. McNiff tells me to expect an increase in students enrolled in our schools next fall, especially in the early childhood and elementary school level.  Hallelujah!

On a more somber note, we remain hugely disappointed in the failure of our elected leaders in Albany, including Governor Cuomo and Senator Skelos, to pass the Education Investment Tax Credit, which they all said they supported, and which would have been a great benefit to Catholic and other religious and private schools, as well as to the public schools as well.  I hate to bring this up, but I sense our politicians know that our Catholic people are not as organized or vocal as other groups, so they can overlook us, knowing that there is no political cost. Still, we’re not giving up.  Our schools, and the kids they serve, are too important.

3.  The pastoral planning process, Making All Things New, is nearing another milestone. I will soon receive the recommendations of the Archdiocesan Advisory Group, which has been studying the suggestions and feedback from the 368 parishes and 75 parish clusters that have been hard at work since last September, all so that archdiocese can better prepare for its future.  Up until now, I have deliberately kept a “hands-off” approach to the process, wanting the people of the archdiocese to be able to share their ideas, insights, and wisdom about the best way we can serve the people of God now and into the future.  I look forward to receiving their recommendations, and will spend the summer consulting with the Priest Council, archdiocesan staff, and other advisory groups, with an eye towards making an announcement this Fall.  Would you do me a favor, and please keep this very important pastoral planning process in your prayers this Summer, that the Holy Spirit might guide my decision-making?

4.  In my thirteen years as a bishop, I’ve been asked to give depositions on many different topics such as religious freedom, Catholic schools, Church finances, and, sadly, on the difficult issue of the sexual abuse of minors. This week I will be giving another deposition on this latter topic, this time in a lawsuit involving the Archdiocese of Saint Louis, about a priest who was laicized 14 years ago, in 2002, while I was a bishop there.

Saint Louis is my home archdiocese, and for eleven months in 2001-2002, I served there as an auxiliary bishop and Vicar for Clergy.  One of my responsibilities during that time period was to meet with victims of sexual abuse, work with law enforcement about allegations of abuse, and deal with those priests accused of wrong doing, seeing that those with credible allegations against them were immediately removed from ministry.  While it was an unusually intense, challenging and sad period for me personally, as it was for the victims of sexual abuse and the entire Church, I believe the Archdiocese of Saint Louis responded to these allegations with integrity, transparency, and sensitivity for all concerned.

I cooperate willingly in the deposition, and while I am not supposed to discuss any details about my deposition, I wanted to let you know it was occurring this week, because the last time I participated in such a deposition, and despite a judge’s order that the process remain confidential, a newspaper here called, tipped off by the other side,  asking about the “late breaking news” that I was being deposed, just as the deposition was beginning   So, I’d prefer you hear about this civil deposition first from me.

5.  I always relish my visits to Fordham University in the Bronx, and recently I had the pleasure of sitting down with two outstanding Fordham students, Michael Menconi and Ken Ochs, for a stimulating interview on ethics and society.  They’ve published the full interview here, if you’d like to give it a look!

You’ll continue to hear from me over the coming weeks, but I pray you have a restful, reinvigorating Summer!

A few words on the Education Investment Tax Credit

June 23rd, 2014

On Friday the New York Post published an op-ed I wrote on the Education Investment Tax Credit:

The concept of the tax credit is simple, and similar plans have already been passed in 21 other states and the District of Columbia.

Donors would be encouraged to contribute to scholarship funds for private schools, or to donate to support public schools, for which they would receive a credit on their tax returns…

Gov. Cuomo told us he supported the bill, as did Senate leader Dean Skelos. Eighty-eight members of the Assembly had signed on as co-sponsors. It had overwhelming support in the state Senate. We were assured that passage would be a “no-brainer.”

Read the rest here.

Also Friday the New York State Catholic Conference released the following statement on the proposed credit:

“Along with Catholic school families across the state, we are deeply disappointed and angry at the failure to pass an Education Investment Tax Credit, which would have generated needed scholarships to help families afford parochial schools, yeshivas and other non-public schools, as well as benefitted public schools and all teachers.”

Read the rest of the statement here.

We are not giving up!

Sunday Mass: the Most Significant Event in the Life of a Parish

June 23rd, 2014

Yesterday’s beautiful feast of Corpus Christi (The Body and Blood of Christ) allows us to renew our commitment to making Sunday Mass the priority of our Catholic life, of every parish family.

One of the valuable lessons we’re learning from Making All Things New, our strategic pastoral planning initiative, is that people want a reverent, uplifting, joyful, welcoming, meaningful Sunday Mass.  They crave good lectors, inspirational (not overdone) music and singing, and a solid, succinct (i.e., short) sermon.  They want to participate – – ushers, offertory procession, lectors, choir, servers, trained Extraordinary Eucharistic ministers (where called for and allowed by liturgical law), and some fellowship afterwards.  They love seeing and greeting their priests and deacons.  Our people tell us they appreciate sensitivity to ethnic needs (Masses available in languages needed by parishioners).  They also tell us they don’t like “long” Masses (over an hour) cluttered by extraneous stuff (too much added verbiage from priests, deacons, lectors, and in the announcements, or too many “gimmicks”).

Although the outcome of our planning is far from over, it’s already clear that, if a parish is alive and stable, we know it makes Sunday Mass, as described above, the priority.

Over the next weeks, many of our priests will be “on the move,” to new assignments.  Most of them know from experience that they have to make Sunday Mass the priority in their new parish, as they did in their old one.

Studies are showing us that parishes with a reverent, quality, participative Sunday Mass, with a solid (short) sermon, report large numbers, good stewardship, (high collections!), many new members and converts for the RCIA, effective programs of service and community outreach, vocations, keeping the youth involved, and engendering parish loyalty.  Not bad!

Savvy pastors – – I’m trying to be one, like most of my priests and deacons – – know that the parish is the front line of the Church.  And the most significant event in the life of any parish is Sunday Mass.

Let’s do it!

Marriage: A Mirror of the Love Found in the Most Blessed Trinity

June 17th, 2014
Over the weekend, I had the joy of welcoming hundreds of our married couples celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversaries, and the cathedral was packed for two Masses with the couples, their children, and grandkids.

After letting them know of our love, gratitude, and congratulations, I commented how appropriate it was that our archdiocesan celebration of their golden jubilee was taking place on Trinity Sunday.

I could see they were a bit bewildered at first.  What in the world does the Blessed Trinity have to do with our marriage, they rightfully wondered.

Well . . . everything!  I hope they now agree.

Think about it:

For one, the Most Blessed Trinity is the origin and the goal of all reality.  Creation, the world, and the human person did not come from chance, from a “black hole,” or a “big bang,”  No, it all began with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, one God, three persons, an infinite, eternal Trinity of love and life.  As the ancient philosophers tell us, “good expands.”  The infinite, life, love and goodness of the Trinity, generated creation and us, creatures.  The Trinity is our start.

And, the Trinity is our destiny, as all creation and all creatures are making their way back to the Triune God.

Those married couples had their start in goodness and love – – in God – – and are on a journey, together, returning to the everlasting embrace of Father, Son, and Spirit.  The faithful love, half-a-century vintage, of those anniversary couples, began in the sparkle of the Trinity’s eye, and will conclude with the God who initiated it.

Two, the life of the Blessed Trinity is not “way out there,” but deep down in here, in our heart!  Yes, the good news is that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit live within us!  Jesus told us so!  We call this awesome gift grace.  The life of the Trinity dwells in the soul of the believer, to save us, help us, lead us, inspire us.

On their wedding day, these couples received a unique grace, a “booster shot” of the indwelling of the Trinity, as God promised to support them in the ups-and-downs of marriage.  These couples agree!  God kept His promise!  That grace, that life of the Blessed Trinity down deep in their heart, got them through!

Three, that Blessed Trinity is not some inert, dry doctrine.  It is a communion of life and love, a unity of three Divine Persons.  That’s what God intends for us all:  not to exist as isolated, self-centered individuals, but to thrive as members of a community!

This community intended by God can be found in friendships, human solidarity, the Church, our families.  It is radiantly evident in marriage, as a man and woman, two individuals, become one!  The “I” becomes “we,” the “mine” becomes “ours.”

And the love of this union of a man and woman brings new life, as all the children and grandchildren of our anniversary couples can attest!

There it is:  the love of a man and woman in marriage is a reflection, a metaphor, a mirror of the love found in the Most Blessed Trinity!

That’s why we believe a marriage is forever, faithful, and fruitful . . . because the love of Father, Son, and Spirit is that way!

Married couples:  thank you for reminding us of The Blessed Trinity!

NY DAILY NEWS: “A Promise to Keep”

June 9th, 2014

Support continues to grow for the Education Investment Tax Credit.  Here is an excerpt from an editorial in the Daily News:

Timothy Cardinal Dolan and his fellow bishops are keeping up the good fight for a tax credit to boost scholarships for kids in Catholic schools and similar institutions.

For the sake of hundreds of thousands of New York families who deserve a break, Albany must heed the bishops’ call.

The concept is to create a special tax break for donations to education — $150 million for public schools and $150 million for contributions to private-school scholarship funds.

Read the entire editorial here.

“Come, Holy Spirit!”

June 4th, 2014

These blessed days in the Church’s calendar draw our attention to prayer.  Last Thursday, we reverently and gratefully recalled the Ascension of Jesus, returning to His Father in heaven forty days after His Resurrection from the dead.

What did the bewildered, scared, confused apostles do upon Our Lord’s Ascension into heaven?  They took our Blessed Mother Mary, locked themselves into a room, and . . . prayed!  That prayer demanded perseverance, because it took nine days for Jesus to reply.  The response He gave to that patient prayer of His Mother and best friends was beyond their most exalted hopes:  the Holy Spirit!  God the Father and God the Son sent God the Holy Spirit, and, the Church was born on Pentecost.

That’s what prayer can accomplish.  The Church was founded by Jesus as a reply to the trusting prayer of His disciples; The Church is in the business of prayer.

No surprise to us, then, that our Holy Father announced, last weekend during his pastoral visit to the tense Middle East, that he had invited the presidents of the Palestinian territory and of Israel to come to Rome and pray with him.  They accepted!

So, this Sunday – - Pentecost! - – will find a Catholic, a Jew, and a Moslem together in the Eternal City in a posture similar to that of the apostles and our Lady:  prayer!

Some in the world have snickered.  After all, the cynics claim, these three men have no “clout.”  One, Pope Francis, has no troops to send, no currency to float, no arms to supply, no threats to make; another, the President of Israel, has a largely ceremonial role and is soon to leave office; the President of the Palestine authority lacks a solid base or united country to lead.

Not much reason for hope in the worldly cachet of these three leaders, is there?

Yet, we’ve come to learn that merely earthly solutions have not worked all that well.  A total dependence upon arms, violence, money, or even diplomacy, has often turned into a dead end.

To behold three leaders turn for awhile from an exclusive reliance upon earthly remedies, to acknowledge that divine inspiration and conversion of hearts is essential, could turn things around.  Anybody have a better idea?

Our Pentecost Prayer  – - “Come, Holy Spirit!” – - will be particularly fervent, as we hold up the needs of these three leaders.

Save Our Schools

May 30th, 2014

We haven’t let up in our efforts to pass the Education Investment Tax Credit bill.  My thanks to Bill McGurn in today’s Post for his support.  Here’s an excerpt:

Why does this matter to others? It matters because a child who attends a Catholic school is much likelier to finish high school and attend college than his or her public-school counterpart.

In Buffalo, for example, 99 percent of Catholic high school students graduate — more than twice the 47 percent rate for public-school students. Ninety-eight percent of the Catholic-school students go on to college.

Meanwhile, fewer than 10 percent of Buffalo public-school students leave high school ready for college.

Earlier this year, Justice Sonia Sotomayor stressed to The New York Times how especially vital these Catholic schools are to people of color or little means — and why she was so “heartbroken” to learn her own alma mater, Blessed Sacrament High School in The Bronx, is shutting down:

“It’s symbolic of what it means for all our families, like my mother, who were dirt-poor. She watched what happened to my cousins in public school and worried if we went there, we might not get out. So she scrimped and saved. It was a road of opportunity for kids with no other alternative.”

Translation: If access to a decent education is indeed the civil-rights issue of our day, Catholic schools play an irreplaceable role in New York.

You can read the full article here.

Defending a Tax Credit for Education

May 27th, 2014

In the beginning of April, I wrote a column in the New York Post, of my disappointment of the Education Investment Tax Credit not being included in the state budget. My thanks to Michael Goodwin for his column on the tax credit in this Sunday’s New York Post.

 

Here is an excerpt:

A prime example is the mystery of how a popular plan for an education tax credit failed. It would have ­reduced taxes for donors who give money to nonprofit educational funds.

Supporters ranged from Cardinal Dolan and other Catholic leaders to Orthodox rabbis and other Jewish groups. They joined forces over the high cost of parochial education, a cost that penalizes families who pay taxes for public schools and also private tuition for their children.

The double cost is a killer, with as many as 200 Catholic schools closing across the state in the last 15 years because parents cannot afford tuition.

Anticipating opposition from unions, the plan also would cover contributions to public schools.

The well-crafted idea, already succeeding in other states, enjoyed the support of Gov. Cuomo and, publicly at least, a majority of both parties in both houses. And then it died in the back room, leading Dolan, among others, to feel betrayed.

You can read the full article here.