Saturday, March 22, 2014

Our Responsibility to Call Church Leadership

Nominate a candidate for Archbishop! 

Since Vatican II (1962-1965), people in the pews have been talking about electing Roman Catholic bishops, but centuries of practice are not easily changed. We think the time has now come to begin.

In 2014, Catholics in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis are taking a first step to electing bishops. It is a first step in that we are proposing a hybrid process of initial nomination/election combined with finally sending the names of candidates to the Papal Nuncio for appointment in accord with current Canon Law.

Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR) is asking Catholics to nominate local pastors who are capable of pulling the Archdiocese together to work for the mission of the Church in the world. The nominations are due by June 30. You can find the criteria we are suggesting and a nomination form at

The nominations will be sifted according to the criteria into a slate of candidates by a committee of ordained and lay men and women. Then in November, people will be asked to vote on the slate to produce a list of three names which they will suggest to the U.S. Papal Nuncio for his investigation. It is the Papal Nuncio’s job to recommend names of ordained men to the Pope for appointment as bishops of vacant sees.

The first step is about building a sense of our own responsibility and the possibilities for action. Building our electoral strength will take a while.

What is the hope of having one of the men we recommend appointed Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis? The See of St. Paul and Minneapolis may not be vacant for another 8 years. Bishops serve until age 75, and the current Archbishop is 67. Nevertheless, we think beginning to get accustomed to having a voice is necessary. As it happens, archbishops and bishops are frequently moved to larger dioceses or to positions in which their skills are needed without notice to the people. We want to have readiness to elect a successor archbishop when the time to act arrives.

What makes us think the Papal Nuncio will listen? Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the current U.S. Nuncio, responded to a letter from us that he is always willing to receive recommendations from the people for bishops and archbishops. You will find his message in a letter from Archbishop Nienstedt to us in May 2012 on the website. We understand that the names have to be sent by individuals to him by U.S. mail or by email.

In 1974, the priests of our Archdiocese organized to name three men to succeed Archbishop Leo Binz who was retiring. The priests invited the current lay organization to participate but they were not ready to do so. The priests’ senate sent the name of John Roach, a local man, to the Papal Nuncio and he was appointed Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Perhaps Roach was also the choice of Archbishop Binz. Only the Vatican archive knows. Nevertheless, that initiative by the priests of our Archdiocese 40 years ago gives us courage to move forward today.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Pope Francis is Listening

By Francis Barry

Note: This commentary was first published March 7, 2014 by

The Pew Research Center poll released yesterday showing that American Catholics strongly favor allowing the use of birth control – and allowing priests to marry and women to be ordained – comes as no surprise. It has long been thus. Catholics also continue to give high marks to His Humbleness, Pope Francis, whose approval rating remains in the mid-80s, unchanged from a year ago. Even the fact that half of Catholics think the church should recognize same-sex marriage is old news, given past polls.

The more interesting news came earlier in the week, on Ash Wednesday, when an interview with Francis was published in which he revealed his willingness – even eagerness – to re-examine these kinds of cultural flash points.

Asked about the role of women, the pope declared that they "must be more present in places of decision-making in the church." You could almost hear the nuns cheering. He also said he is reading a book "on the feminine dimension of the church." When was the last time you heard a local bishop say that?

On birth control, Francis noted that Pope Paul VI, whose encyclical "Humanae Vitae" formalized the church's ban on artificial contraception, recommended "much mercy" on those who use it. He said the challenge was to ensure that pastoral ministry "take into account the situations and that which it is possible for people to do." His reluctance to judge, which sent tremors through the church last summer, was on display again.

Francis has called a synod for October – only the third of its kind since the 1960s – to focus on family matters, and in the interview he declared that birth control will be a topic for discussion, as will divorce. Last month, German Cardinal Walter Kasper delivered an address raising the issue of divorced Catholics who remarry, asking if it wasn't "perhaps an exploitation of the person" to bar them from receiving communion. Francis called it a "beautiful and profound presentation" and welcomed the intense discussion it generated among the cardinals.

This is a pope who isn't afraid to stir the pot – inviting diverging opinions to be heard on matters that some would prefer to consider settled. We're used to popes declaring answers. Francis poses questions.

When I was a student at the University of Notre Dame in the 1990s, I remember attending a lecture on the life of the church by Professor Charles E. Rice, then dean of the law school, in which he responded to questions about controversial social issues by saying: It depends on whether you believe the pope is God's messenger "or a guy in Rome who wears a funny hat." Translation: Stop asking questions.

It was a theologically bankrupt answer, but it's the kind of message that Catholics have long been accustomed to hearing. Last fall, in preparation for the upcoming synod, the Vatican sent a questionnaire to every Catholic diocese in the world inviting opinions on controversial issues, including birth control, divorce, cohabitation outside of marriage and married priests. The response from Catholic America, as elsewhere, was almost disbelief. Who, us?

In some countries bishops posted the questionnaire online and encouraged public participation. But old habits die hard, and most American bishops chose to distribute the questionnaire only to the diocesan priests' council or parish councils, not all parishioners and the public. Francis, whom we know is a fan of the Internet, may want to check the results against the Pew poll.

Either way, he has done more than raise hopes among Catholics for doctrinal change, which will be slow in coming. He has shown us that Rome – or at least the top guy in the funny hat – can listen.

Francis Barry is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board. Follow him on Twitter at @FSBarry.

Related Off-site Links:
Faith, Hope—and How Much Change?The Economist (March 8, 2014).
A Year In, Has Pope Francis Really Changed the Church? – Eric J. Lyman (USA Today, March 9, 2014).
After Year a Conclave That Demanded Reform, a Year of 'Fresh Air' – Gerard O'Connell (National Catholic Reporter, March 8, 2014).

See also the previous PCV posts:
Let Our Voices Be Heard
Local Catholics Respond to Pope's Interview
The Pope's Radical Whisper
Ending Marginalization in the Catholic Church
Pope's Reform Path: Francis Shakes Up Church Establishment