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!