Category Archives: Church (ecclesiology)

Sacred Duties, Episcopal Ministry: what’s wrong with the US Conference of Bishops

Few people in these parts (in the Eastern part of the USA) know the name Robert F. Vasa except ecclesial-philes like myself, but that’s because he’s on the other side of the country. Never mind. Who could say with honesty that there’s a genuine concern for knowing ecclesial affairs viz. from a person who has little name recognition such as Robert Vasa. That is, until now, who, with some excellent, even controversial ideas, is sure to anger the round heads. Only now Vasa’s thinking is gaining some currency. But let’s give him his just due respect. Robert F. Vasa, 59, is the Bishop of Baker, OR, a priest of the Lincoln Diocese who delivered an extraordinarily good address titled, “Sacred Duties, Episcopal Ministry” on September 16, 2010 at the 2010 InsideCatholic Partnership Award Dinner in Washington, DC, that has not received the attention it deserves.

The Bishop is taking a critical look at the contemporary ministry of the bishop, at least in the USA, as we’ve seen it unfold with the existence of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
I DON’T like the USCCB and would prefer to see it close, or at least downsize significantly. I find USCCB officials intrusive, their work open to misinterpretation, the bishops not doing what they are supposed to do for “needy bishops” –to give fraternal constructive correction to bishops not doing or incapable of doing their episcopal ministry as expected– and I find the USCCB documents compromised or agenda driven. In addition, I find the tax paid on each “Catholic head” in the dioceses to be excessive and it’s a genuine burden on many dioceses, particularly the Eastern Church dioceses who don’t have access to large amounts of money. One last word on the bishops’ documents: they are often not written by the bishops themselves (who would have the time?) but are produced by the staffers of the USCCB or outsiders and are vague and lack substance that would clearly address the issues at hand; when the documents are “committee documents” they are often ground for the lefty-loonies to manipulate for their own ends.
There are few instances where I think a conference of bishops in the USA is useful but not absolutely necessary. The usefulness of a conference of bishops would be seen in knowing the needs of the Church in North America, in the work done in the fields of the sacred Liturgy, certain questions on immigration, healthcare and pro-life and certain relief agencies like CRS. The translation of texts is labor intensive and it needs wider episcopal oversight and input that 10 bishops can give. BUT let’s be clear, the USCCB is not an alternative teaching body for the Church in America; it has no authority to teach or make laws over and above the Universal Church or the individual diocesan bishop; it does not speak for the Church’s bishops. Diocesan bishops can’t absolve themselves of the duty to rightly to teach, govern and sanctify the people entrusted to them personally by the Holy Spirit and for the Church in general. Episcopal ministry is exercised not with strategies and programs but by listening, praying and teaching when needed. 
Some people who are USCCB favorable will be dramatic by saying, “The USCCB said and demands thus and such….” AND the response you should give is, “SO what.”
Read, study and pray with Bishop Vasa’s address noted above. You may want to say a prayer for him, too. He’ll likely get hate mail for his attempt to teach what is true. In my mind this address is necessary reading for informed Catholics. The point here is not be disrespectful of the sacred duties and responsibilities of bishops. My point here is to live, to act and to think with the Church under the Roman Pontiff and the bishops in communion with him. As Catholics we are to be total and radically centered on the person of Jesus Christ lived in the sacrament of the Church and under her magisterium. I follow Christ through the ministry of the Pope, the bishop of this diocese but not in a bureaucracy of bishops.

Counsellors to assist Legion of Christ restructuring announced

Velasio de Paolis, C.S., the Pope’s delegate for the Congregation of the Legionaries
of Christ, announced the names his four counsellors who will assist him in
restructuring and renewing the Legion.

The counselors:

  • Father Agostino Montan
    C.S.I., episcopal vicar for religious life in the Diocese of Rome;
  • Monsignor Mario
    Marchesi, vicar general of the Diocese of Cremona, Italy;
  • Father Gianfranco
    Ghirlanda S.J., former rector of the Pontifical Gregorian University;
  • Bishop Brian Farrell, LC,  secretary of the Pontifical
    Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

Archbishop Ricardo Blazquez Perez of
Valladolid, Spain, is the visitator for Regnum Christi.

Thomas Dubay, SM, priest, RIP

Fr Thomas Dubay.jpgI recommend to your prayers the peaceful repose of the soul of Father Thomas Dubay, SM, who died yesterday morning in Washington, DC. Father Dubay has been ill for some time.

An announcement may be read here.

Wuerl named delegate for Anglicans entering full communion with the Catholic Church by CDF

Donald Wuerl.jpgThe Archbishop of Washington, Donald W. Wuerl, STD, 70, has been delegated by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to be the principal guide for those Anglican/Episcopalian clergyman seeking full communion with the Catholic Church, and ordination as a priest.

The USCCB announcement is posted here.

The committee headed by Archbishop Wuerl will include their Excellencies, The Most Reverends Kevin Vann, JCD (Fort Worth, TX) and Robert McManus, STD (Worcester, MA). They will be assisted by Father Scott Hurd, himself a convert to Catholicism. The committee will facilitate the implementation of Anglicanorum coetibus in the USA and assess the need for an ordinariate in the USA.

The Pope’s Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus can be read here.

Bishop David O’Connell: God gives the grace

Here is the post-communion address of the newly ordained Bishop David O’Connell CM, coadjutor of Trenton, as prepared for delivery (the text does not include the ad lib remarks):

David M O'Connell arms.jpgI have been thinking a great deal in recent months about the role and ministry of bishops in the Church. You might think, sitting here in the Cathedral today in the midst of this beautifully moving ceremony, you had good reason for such reflection! And, while there is real truth to that reaction — at least since the Apostolic Nuncio first met with me on May 24 about coming to Trenton — I did have some other motivations. For the past twelve years, I was president of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C, a place that is known as the “bishops’ university.” I am grateful that so many of my colleagues and friends from Catholic University are here with us today, both in the pews and around the sanctuary. Throughout those twelve years, I had many occasions to get to know bishops from around the country either as university trustees or as visitors to campus. We spoke about many things: their dioceses, their experiences, their joys and their challenges. I came to admire them as good men, good priests and good leaders. Although they all differed from one another in many ways, they all had one thing in common: they loved their people.

Today, through the grace and mercy of God and the sacrament of ordination, I join their ranks as successors to the Apostles. Like them, I approached this day filled with joy and gratitude but also with a sense of humility and awe. Like them, I am profoundly aware of my flaws and limitations, that I am far from perfect.  Like them, I do not know what the future will hold but I am quite sure that the expectations are as many and as different as there are people in and outside of this Cathedral.

When the Apostolic Nuncio spoke with me that morning in late May, he shared much information about the Diocese of Trenton and the process involved in my appointment. But he said something to me that I will never forget: “Father, always remember that there are over 830,000 souls in your Diocese. And you will be responsible for all of them.” What has been very much on my mind since that conversation is simply this: how will I exercise that responsibility?

The other day, someone asked me how long it took to come up with my Episcopal motto, Ministrare non Ministrari — “to serve and not to be served” — to which I responded, “about two seconds.” When I was first ordained a Vincentian priest — and I am so happy to see so many of my confreres here — the Gospel reading for the ordination Mass contained those words of Jesus Christ in Mark’s Gospel. I was struck with the phrase then as being a perfect description of how to follow the Lord as a priest: “to serve and not to be served and to give my life as a ransom for the many.” This was how I wanted to live out my life as a priest. This is how I want to live out my life as a bishop and how I hope to exercise that responsibility.

According to the Second Vatican Council, “Christ gave the apostles and their successors the mandate and the power to teach all nations and to sanctify and shepherd their people in truth (Christus Dominus, 12).” To teach. To sanctify. To shepherd their people in truth. Christ gave this mandate to the successors to the Apostles. Christ gave this power. And with power like this comes great responsibility. Please pray for me.

“To serve and not to be served.” In my letter to our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI accepting his appointment, I wrote to him of my choice of a motto. In his response to me read here today, he repeated them.

A bishop serves his people by teaching truth. The truth that comes through the Gospel, the truth that comes through the Church and all its teachings, the truth that lives among us a community of faith, for “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them (Matthew 18: 20).” This is how a bishop serves, not by being served through compromise or taking the easy way out, not by being served saying only what people want to hear or what makes them comfortable, striving to be popular. As Pope John Paul II wrote, the truth that we teach “has its origin in God himself … (but) people can even run from the truth because they are afraid of its demands (Fides et ratio, 7; 28).” Christians cannot run from the truth for this reason. Nor can the bishop. This is how he serves.

A bishop also serves by sanctifying his people and by leading them to holiness. And there is only one way to holiness: Jesus Christ and a personal relationship with him, convinced in faith as we must be that he alone is “the way, the truth and the life (John 14: 6).” All three make us holy. Jesus Christ is the Risen Lord. He triumphed over death and every suffering and evil. The bishop is called, it is said, to be a servant of the empty tomb not of the status quo. He leads his people to holiness by bearing witness to what the empty tomb means: joy, hope, the promise of new life, remembering Jesus’ own words: “In the world you will have troubles but take courage: I have overcome the world (John 16:33).” This is how the bishop serves.

Finally, a bishop serves by leading, by guiding, by shepherding his people. This is, perhaps, the most difficult not only for those he governs as bishop but for the bishop himself, marked as he is by human weakness. But lead he must, by word and example. God gives the grace. And follow we must. God gives the grace. The answers that we may seek from him, the answers that we may want from him may sometimes not be what we seek or want. Sometimes the answer is no. “The gate is narrow and the road is long that leads to life (Matthew 7: 14).” This is how the bishop serves and this is where that service leads: to life.

To serve and not to be served. To teach. To sanctify. To shepherd. This is what a bishop does for God’s people and with God’s people: brother bishops, fellow priests, deacons, faithful religious women and men and all the baptized, one community of faith. With a grateful heart I thank you for being here today, too many to call by name. Please know that I care deeply for you all. With humble, faithful hearts, let us go forward, together, “to serve and not to be served.”

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]
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