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Look West, Young Church!

For the last several decades, the US Catholic Church has been demographically shifting from the 19th century bulwarks of New England and the upper Midwest, to the South and the West.

That does not mean that fact is quickly grasped by individuals or institutions. At one national conference I attended annually for nearly a decade, it was clear that the organizers thought of it as a nation-wide event. Yet, in its 45+ year history, only two had been held in the Northwest, both in the ‘80s; fewer than ¼ of the meetings had been held in the western half of the U.S.

Or consider that of nine cardinalatial sees in the U.S., seven are east of the Mississippi. And one of those that is west of the mighty river, Galveston-Houston, is so close as to still be part of the eastern half of the mainland U.S.

This is not as bad as the need to redraw diocesan boundaries in Ireland, which have been unchanged for just over 900 years, yet it is still slow… But, I digress…

Recent moves indicate that Seattle is making its mark felt again on the national, and international, ecclesiastical scene. Not since the days of Archbishop Hunthausen has the Church in Western Washington captured attention much beyond its own boundaries.

Fast-forward a quarter of a century, and for the most part Seattle had dropped off the radar, but not gone silent. Just in the years since Archbishop Murphy took over from Archbishop Hunthausen, the Catholic population has nearly tripled due to immigration – now there are as many Spanish-speaking Catholics in western Washington as there were total Catholics 15 years ago.  Bishop George of Helena, Bishop Joseph of Yakima, and Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio have all been ordained from the local presbyterate, the first such ordinations in nearly half a century.

The reputation of being on the cutting edge of lay involvement and creative pastoral ministry solutions, social justice and ecumenical commitment has slipped in recent decades, both among those who cheer the change and those who lament it. My age-peers in the presbyterate are as likely to be interested in the traditionalist movement and the extraordinary form as their peers anywhere else in the country, and some of the most well known Catholic voices to have come out of the Seattle milieu – author George Weigel and blogger Mark Shea – are not known for their particularly progressive mien.

Consider, though a few highlights of the last few years that suggest that there is attention shifting back towards the Emerald City and her local Church – both Catholic and Ecumenical. Some of these are newsworthy enough to get attention here, across the atlantic, so they certainly say something is happening. Significantly, you cannot pigeonhole all of these into “progressive” or “conservative” success stories, but nevertheless indicate that, perhaps, Seattle is on the radar again.

Very Rev. Michael G. Ryan

By now virtually everyone knows some part of the liturgy wars saga. Most people do not know it all; I certainly make no claim to such comprehensive view of the last fifty years of liturgical reform, renewal, development, reform of the reform and rejection of reform.

To recap the most recent, let us say that the updated translation everyone was waiting on was ready and fully approved by episcopal conferences around the globe in 1999. It then got delayed as a new Prefect of the congregation for divine worship rewrote the guidelines for liturgical translation, and the entire process was started anew with new rules and much controversy – and it was done quickly. After only a decade, the implementation was looming.

Enter the Very Reverend Michael G. Ryan, pastor of the Cathedral parish of St. James, where he has served as quite possibly the city’s most popular Catholic pastor since 1988. In December 2009 he penned an article for America asking the question, “What if we just said, ‘wait’?” , and launched a website gathering signatures and comments. In short order over 23,000 people signed – and a counter movement was launched. “We’ve waited long enough!”  collected just over 5,000 signatures and practically launched the blogging notoriety of “Fr. Z” and his (proudly) rubricist blog, What Does the Prayer Really Say?… and it all started with the quintessential Seattle presbyter, Fr. Michael.

Just the other day I was at the retirement party for the superior general of one of the religious orders, and conversation turned to Fr. Ryan’s stand and his recent article, “What’s Next?” Naturally, the group included supporters and critics alike, but several who were neither from the west coast or the U.S. at all – this is news throughout the Anglophone world.

In the three years since, coterminous with my time in Rome, there have been other indicators. Some smaller – like the meeting of the National Catholic Melkite Convention there in summer 2010 and the scheduling of the upcoming conference of the Society for Pentecostal Studies. Some have a bigger profile, like the June 2011 meeting of the USCCB in Bellevue.

Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon

In terms of ecumenism and lay ministry, there have been some exciting personnel moves:

In Summer 2011, Dr. Michael Reid Trice was hired at Seattle University as the associate dean of the School of Theology and Ministry. Michael and I have known each other for several years, and he is one of the most active young ecumenists in the country, having served since the age of 35 as the associate director of the ELCA’s ecumenical and interreligious office.

Shortly thereafter, it was announced that Dr. Rick McChord was retiring after 25 years in the USCCB office for laity, marriage and family – and picking up a consulting contract with Seattle-based (and Domer-founded) Reid Group, which specializes in leadership development, strategic planning and mediation for religious groups.

The latest came in April while i was in Assisi, with the retirement of Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon as General Secretary of the National Council of Churches, and his own move to a three-year contract at Seattle University, starting this fall.

Finally, the biggest spotlight to hit Seattle in recent years, ecclesially speaking, is the appointment of the relatively new metropolitan, Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, to lead the five-year overhaul of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. Striking every note of consultation, careful listening, and collaboration a person in his position possibly could during the press conference and interviews later with John Allen  in Rome, it seems like the best has been made of an unpleasant situation.

These are exciting times to be in the church-world in Seattle. Almost a pity I am in Rome!

Most Rev. J. Peter Sartain


Archbishop-elect adiaphora

While looking for more information on Seattle’s new Metropolitan Archbishop, I came across a couple of interesting asides.

According to his introductory remarks yesterday, Bishop Sartain only got the call from the nuncio just a week before the announcement here and yesterday’s short-notice welcome liturgy. As I said, as late as Tuesday some key (lay) leadership in the diocese were still unaware of the pending announcement, and at least as late as Monday most priests of the diocese were likewise unaware. Pretty remarkable then that so many were able to gather for the welcome liturgy on Thursday, which our Cathedral staff documented nicely here.

The other interesting aside was the official announcement on Vatican Information Service, which seemed to make the archdiocese much larger than i thought it was. I cross-checked the diocesan statistics, and found a couple of discrepancies.  Below is the blurb from VIS

VATICAN CITY, 16 SEP 2010 (VIS) – The Holy Father appointed Bishop James Peter Sartain of Joliet in Illinois, U.S.A., as metropolitan archbishop of Seattle (area 64,269, population 5,141,000, Catholics 964,000, priests 313, permanent deacons 104, religious 551), U.S.A. The archbishop-elect was born in Memphis, U.S.A. in 1952, he was ordained a priest in 1978 and consecrated a bishop in 2000. He succeeds Archbishop Alexander J. Brunett, whose resignation from the pastoral care of the same archdiocese the Holy Father accepted, upon having reached the age limit

VIS has the total population of the archdiocese at 964,000 – nearly double the archdiocesan statistic of 577,400. Instead of 313 priests, our statistics indicate a total of 290. Though when you add up the constituent numbers indicated by the diocese, you get another number entirely, 322. (131 active diocesan; 63 retired, ‘absent’, or active elsewhere; 96 religious; 32 externs). 100 deacons instead of 104, not so far off. Only 486 religious (men and women), though, instead of 551 – and it is not clear if the priest-religious are counted here as well.

One of my long-standing pet peeves is that you will note neither includes a statistic on lay ecclesial ministers, though a few years ago Archbishop Brunett commissioned a study in the archdiocese that indicated over 800, which does not include Catholic school teachers. Five years after the publication of the USCCB’s guideline document Co-Workers in the Vineyard, and more than fifty years after the first modern lay ecclesial ministers began service in the U.S., it is hard to believe that we are so well hidden that we cannot be counted!

New Archbishop for Seattle

Bishop J. Peter Sartain of Joliet

Since coming home for the summer, the rumors have been flying. Meeting over coffee or a local microbrew with pastors, curial staff, and local ecumenical leadership over the last several weeks, the two consistent questions have, “So, what is it like living in Rome?” and, “Who do you think the new archbishop will be? Have you heard any rumors over there?” A month ago, even the current AB was asking me the same questions, and not in that order.

This morning’s announcement came to me by text while I slept, out of town and disconnected from the internet. To be honest, it was also a bit of a surprise. So far, all I know about J. Peter Sartain is what I have read online (now that I have found a connection) and unsurprisingly the writer with the most to say about it is Rocco Palmo at Whispers in the Loggia.

Even as recently as Tuesday, folk here were still in the dark. Archbishop Brunnett had been out of town for his brother’s funeral, and though we have been anticipating the announcement shortly after Bishop Cupich’s Sept 3 installation in Spokane, Sartain’s name never seemed to be on anyone’s list. The favorites have been bishops like George Thomas, Gerald Kicanas, and, until the incident with the hospital administrator, Thomas Olmstead.  Blase Cupich had been among them until tapped for Spokane.

Sartain is a native of Memphis, and has served as bishop of Little Rock, AR, and Joliet, IL. The hope for either a native Washingtonian or at least someone from west of the Rockies is again delayed, but most see the South and the Midwest as a better starting point than the East Coast (which, from here, starts at the Mississippi) considering the vast ecclesial and cultural differences at work.

Though the Hunthausen years started before I was born and ended with the Cold War, the memory of the Visitation and the pain it brought for the most involved Catholics in Seattle at the time is still strong. There are a lot who, not without reason, fear that the perspective remained in Rome that Seattle needs to be “reined in” – from what, though, would be a disputed question. (There is something for a future post!)

We are church in one of the most unchurched regions in the country. The fear of being run through the ringer again is felt even outside the Catholic community. One of the alternative weeklies, The Stranger, ran an article on their Slog yesterday asking, “Will Seattle’s Next Archbishop Be an Anti-Gay Doctrinal Conservative?” That should say something about the challenges our new bishop will face. The question is, as another blogger put it, how to be true to the faith without effectively becoming “Attila the Hun”, real or perceived.

At the same time, between new generations growing up without these memories and significant numbers of immigrants from out of state and out of the country, other concerns weigh as heavily.

For more than a generation, the number of lay ecclesial ministers have outnumbered priests in parishes, and the diaconate is now equal in number to the diocesan presbyterate and growing, while the later relies heavily on help from religious communities and foreign externs.  Many are asking what the archbishop-elect’s experience is with creative ecclesial leadership.

More than thirty languages are used in the celebration of the Eucharist on a weekly basis, and nearly half the population of the archdiocese is Spanish-speaking. So is Bishop Sartain, apparently.

Seattle-area Christians have a long and strong history of ecumenical cooperation, though it has been more focused on social justice advocacy than on intentional ecumenism, ie the goal of Christian unity. Being religious in an overwhelmingly non-religious environment, interreligious dialogue is critical. At the same time, and indeed as an integral partner with dialogue, evangelization both “old” and “new” is a high priority.

Like anywhere in the U.S., we have a polarized church, with some groups of priests unwilling to even talk to others, the parishioners falling prey to the hyper-dichotomized political situation and bringing it into the pews. There have been situations where the pastoral staff of a parish, theologically educated and ecumenically involved, comes under fire from the lay leadership which is more likely formed by EWTN and pop apologists (or vice versa).

I once had a parishioner approach me, grateful for my presence as pastoral associate in the parish because, she said, “all the other parish staff in this deanery are pro-choice, and it is nice to have a pro-life person in charge!” Knowing most of my ministry peers, it was difficult to see how anyone could read them that way, but it is indicative of the tensions and mistrust in too many situations. Another time, a school parent and faith formation commission member told me they had a great pastor, but that the staff undermined his prophetic, orthodox teaching – unaware, apparently, that the pastor had hired each one of the staff to be collaborators with him in ministry to the parish, and fully supported their ministry. A third example came at the first meeting of a JustFaith group, when a parishoner introduced herself as “probably not belonging here, since [she] was a Republican” – as if Catholic Social Teaching depends on one’s political views!

It will be an interesting time for our Archbishop-elect, and I look forward to hearing more from and about him. As I learn more, I will share it! Please keep him, me, and all the People of God in Western Washington in your prayers!

The Challenge of Priesthood

This should not be the topic of my first blog touching on the Year of the Priest. Maybe it should a story of vocation, or a theological reflection on the priesthood of Christ and his church. Perhaps an ecclesiological exposition of the ministerial priesthood of the bishop, presbyter, and deacon, with ecumenical emphasis. That is the price of procrastination, however. Those will come in time.

I came across both of these articles yesterday evening, and it was too powerful to avoid.  

Very Rev. K. Scott Connolly

The first is from my diocesan newspaper, the Catholic Northwest Progress, in part of a series highlighting the presbyterate of the archdiocese in honor of the Year of the Priest; they provide brief profiles of five pastors each issue. This week’s issue includes five whom I know personally. Two were in seminary formation with me; two have worked with me as collaborators for the pastoral leadership of a parish; I have had several conversations with each, and have known most of them since I was 17 or 18.

Given that familiarity, I was mostly skimming the profiles. What priest does not think the greatest joy of being a priest is celebrating the sacraments, anyway? (Well, OK, there was one). I almost missed “the greatest challenge as a priest” on my first read, but that is the most telling part. Most of us who are or have been in pastoral ministry find that time-management and administration is an omnipresent challenge, and legitimately so. Yet, one response truly stands out, and calls us to remember what ministry, and the presbyterate, is really about.

Achbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin

To then turn to the next article only confirmed that read. Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin addressed this week’s release of the national investigation of the sexual abuse of children and its systematic cover-up by the Catholic hierarchy in Ireland. The report itself reads much like the reports in the States over the last ten years. What reads differently is the response of the archbishop himself, which should be read in full and is available here:

Three times, the archbishop repeats that “No words of apology will ever be sufficient.”

He acknowledges not only the profoundly sinful nature of the acts of abuse by priests, but also the abject failure of the bishops and religious superiors to act for good:

“One of the most heartbreaking aspects of the Report is that while Church leaders – Bishops and religious superiors – failed, almost every parent who came to the diocese to report abuse clearly understood the awfulness of what has involved.  Almost exclusively their primary motivation was to try to ensure that what happened to their child, or in some case to themselves, did not happen to other children.”

He does not equivocate, blame the media, secular society or anti-Catholic bias; he does not claim that they ‘did not understand’ the nature of the pedophile and the ephebophile thirty years ago, or that they needed a ‘learning curve’ to adequetely deal with these problems. He makes no excuse for the culture of clericalism and institutionalism that allowed and encouraged the perpetuation of grave sin:

“Efforts made to “protect the Church” and to “avoid scandal” have had the ironic result of bringing this horrendous scandal on the Church today.”

In his interview he refers to the people making these excuses as a ‘caste’, a group who thought they could do anything and get away with it – which makes the crimes all the more horrendous because they were perpetuated by those who serve in the name of Jesus Christ.

There may be a long way to go before all remnants of that caste-mentality are eradicated from the Church, but our prayers and dedicated efforts to that end must never cease. Structures of sin have no place in the Body of Christ.

It reminds me of a parishioner whose daily intercession at Mass was for the “holiness of our priests” – simultaneously a prayer of gratitude for the many holy men who serve the Church, and a plea for the conversion of the rest.

Amen, indeed.

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