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Faith & Parish

Kansas City Bishop to pro-lifers: 'We are at war!'

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Editor’s note: Robert W. Finn, bishop of the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese, delivered the keynote address, "Warriors for the Victory of Life,” at the 2009 Gospel of Life Convention held at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park, Kan., earlier this month. He called the “church militant” — the church on earth — into a battle for human souls in defense of the sacredness and dignity of human life. His complete address follows:

Thank you for coming together for this second annual Gospel of Life Convention, cosponsored by the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. It is a privilege to welcome you and greet you this morning. I am grateful for the encouragement of your presence and – as a Bishop it is my solemn and joyful duty to do all I can to fortify you in your own faith.

But as I speak a word of encouragement today I also want to tell you soberly, dear friends, “We are at war!”

We are at war.

Conference tells administrators it's their time to shine

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On Monday, March 30, I delivered a keynote address at the National Association of Church Personnel Administrators convocation, held this year in Oak Brook, Ill. The association brings together human-resource officers for dioceses, religious orders and other groups within the Catholic church.

I hung around the edges of the conference for a while, and doing so offered an object lesson in the two different levels at which the Catholic church is struggling to respond to the current economic crisis. On the one hand, the church acts as a voice of conscience, applying its social teaching to broad public-policy debates; on the other hand, the church is also itself a large financial enterprise obliged to make hard choices about how to cope with declining resources and mounting costs.

The group assembled in Oak Brook represented the church’s frontline in responding to this second set of challenges.

Does U.S. culture really care about 'family values'?

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Remember those parenting promises you made before you had children? “I won’t let my kid act up in public” or “I will feed my baby only organic fruits and vegetables” or “I will calmly discipline my child without yelling.”

Mine was: “I will not allow my children to become walking billboards.” No Scooby-Doo T-shirts; no Spider-Man shoes; no Dora the Explorer underpants. That includes Disney diaper bags and Winnie the Pooh shampoo, too.

One day, some seven months into parenthood, after changing my son’s diaper, I realized that blazoned across his little butt was none other than Elmo, the red, furry Muppet of “Tickle Me” fame. How had I missed that his Pampers were already prepping him to be a “Sesame Street” fan?

American Catholics, diverse and holy

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Since I was an undergraduate I've believed that the church would fare better if the hierarchy had keener listening skills. As a psychotherapist, one of my most valuable tools has been the ability to attend to persons in pain. Counselors know healing and growth may be promoted when someone attends to another, passes no judgment, validates the person's input, and manifests genuine compassion for the other's needs and concerns.

I am not saying that church leaders need to be like therapists, but then maybe that is a workable paradigm. If we more frequently experienced being heard by the powers that be, then many more of us might come to believe we are the people of God. Most active Catholics, in spite of little affirmation from church leaders, know that they are indeed God's people.

In his book Sense of the Faithful, Jerome Baggett reveals the variety of ways in which the people of God both grasp and grapple with their Catholicism.

Signs of a dawning new era of lay initiative

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For decades, sociologists have tracked the trends of American Catholics in demographics, religious behavior and attitudes toward traditional values and church authority.

In 1997, James Davidson and colleagues identified three cohorts of Catholics -- pre-Vatican II, Vatican II and post-Vatican II -- each with its characteristic set of religious tendencies. Likewise, for 30 years William D'Antonio and his colleagues traced changes in attitudes and behavior among Roman Catholics. These studies have generated a relatively clear and consistent picture of U.S. Catholics. In general, they are becoming more autonomous, less observant of traditional practices and more like self-interested consumers of pastoral goods.

Dolan set to be New York archbishop

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NEW YORK
Amid warm applause and traditional evening prayer, Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan urged the people of the Archdiocese of New York to open the door of their hearts to welcome Christ as an intimate part of their lives.

Speaking at a vespers service at St. Patrick's Cathedral April 14, the eve of his installation as the spiritual leader of the country's second largest archdiocese, Archbishop Dolan admitted he was afraid to completely open the door to Christ, but that when he did he "heard him invite me to serve him and his church as archbishop of New York."

The archbishop, who has led the church in Milwaukee since 2002, said he wondered about his appointment to one of the most prominent leadership positions in the U.S. church. He said he felt comfortable at home in Wisconsin, with its "beloved brats, beers and cool summer lake breezes."

"I inwardly replied to him: 'Go away, Lord. I'm not your man. My Spanish is lousy and my English not much better. ... The Yankees and Mets over the Cardinals and Brewers? Forget it!'" he said.

Harmed by church, faithful gather to seek healing

PITTSBURGH
They gathered quietly for the "Service of Apology."

The roughly 250 people who came together at St. Paul Cathedral did not share the usual greetings with fellow parishioners that can be seen before Mass on any given Sunday throughout the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

Many of these people were strangers to each other, but all were gathered for the service led by Pittsburgh Bishop David A. Zubik April 7.

Bishop Zubik had announced in a mid-Lent column in the Pittsburgh Catholic, the diocesan newspaper, that he would conduct the service for those "who have been harmed by the church in any way. There will be nothing expected of you but your presence and your willingness to pray with me."

Those who took their seats at the cathedral that evening were a mix of men and women, with the older more evident than the young.

As they came in, most dipped their fingers in the holy water font, made the sign of the cross, pulled down the kneelers in the pews and folded their hands in prayer. It was clearly a gathering of Catholics, comfortable in a Catholic environment, even though some may not have been in church for many years.

Parish groups seek mediation on church closings

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Catholics in eight U.S. dioceses who are fighting to keep their parishes open have asked the Vatican to suspend any actions to close churches as well as legal proceedings resulting from closings and to mandate mediation to solve the disputes.

Peter Borre, chair of the Council of Parishes, which describes itself as a support and advocacy group for Boston's Catholic parishes, hand delivered the "Request for Mediation" April 7 to the Vatican's Under-Secretary for Relations with States, a section with the Secretariat of State, on behalf of 31 parishioner groups in the dioceses of Boston, Allentown, Pa., Buffalo, Cleveland, New Orleans, Scranton, Pa., Springfield, Mass., and New York.

Madison bishop hears supporters of fired parish worker

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Madison Bishop Robert Morlino met in a packed church hall with parishioners of St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Beloit, Wis., Friday night to discuss why he fired Ruth Kolpack, a pastoral associate, last month.

He said little but listened to a number of Kolpack supporters who vigorously defended their dismissed parishioner.

In 2003, Kolpack wrote a thesis for a master’s degree in which she argued for more gender-inclusive language in Catholic liturgies. Last month, after meeting with Kolpack briefly, the bishop asked her to denounce that paper. When she refused, he fired her.

Details on what precisely led to the dismissal have not been divulged. However, a statement on the Madison diocese's Web site explained that the bishop acted because he could not trust her to teach authentic Catholic doctrine.

Kolpack has been a member of St. Thomas parish for 35 years and worked there for 26 years. Her termination upset many parishioners there.

Morlino had agreed to meet with St. Thomas parishioners and came to the parish Friday evening where an estimated 300 to 400 supporters had gathered.

Saving a 'fragile' Catholic school system

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Catholic schools in the United States are disappearing. Not entirely, of course, and no one is yet declaring them an endangered species. But the same demographic and financial forces largely behind the closing and mergers of hundreds of parishes during the past half century are the same forces driving the steady shrinking of the country's Catholic school system, a downsizing that has accelerated in some areas in recent months.

"It is worrisome and it's fragile," Dr. Karen Ristau, president of the National Catholic Educational Association, said of the Catholic education system. "But I think it is absolutely worth saving. We're seeing now very sincere efforts to do that."

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