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Graciously grant to us, we beseech Thee, O Lord, the spirit to think and do always such things as be rightful: that we, who cannot exist without Thee, may be enabled to live according to Thy will.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Good Bishop Finn

It's enough to make me say: "Road Trip!"

Road Trip!

A road trip to visit a traditional parish in full communion with Rome, protected rather than threatened by its good bishop.

The National Catholic Reporter has an article critical of the reforms Bishop Robert Finn is implementing in Kansas City, Missouri. Bishop Finn appears determined to lead his flock towards holiness and eternal life with our Father in heaven. God bless him!

The immediate reaction of the blogosphere is encouraging. I did find two posts critical of the bishop, in The World Monitor and Catholic Sensibility. But I found many more supportive of Bishop Finn: Against All Heresies, Kansas City Catholic (with another post here), Curmudgeon's Cave (also here and here), The Cafeteria is Closed (also here), JimmyAkin.org, Argent by the Tiber (and here), St. Joseph’s Vanguard, Ten Reasons, Committed to an Institute, Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam, Perpetual Thursday, Jumping Without A Chute, Pro Ecclesia, The Cornell Society for a Good Time, The Catholic Golfer, Man with Black Hat, Catholic Matriarch, Catholic Pillow Fight, Amy Welborn, The Dragon and the Phoenix, Built on a Rock, White Around the Collar, Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam, "An enemy hath done this" and not least of all The Inn at the End of the World, where I read about the story in the first place.

By my count, that is 25 blogs supportive of the good bishop, some with multiple posts, and only two opposed, one mildly so.

+++

5/18/2006 update:

I have found more blogs that have commented this past week on Bishop Finn's policies. The numbers are even stronger in his favor than what I indicated previously. I did find one more blog critical of the changes the bishop has made: Reflections of the Spirit. Supporting the bishop, I found X-Catholics, To Jesus Through Mary, The Hound of Ulster, Maxima Culpa, The thoughts of a catholic mom, Ramblings of a GOP Soccer Mom, The Chronicles of Mommia, Southern Illinois Catholic, Recta Ratio, Christus Vincit, Thoughts of a Regular Guy, Fumare, L.A. Catholic, Athanasius Contra Mundum, Still Running Off at the Keyboard, The Rule, American Papist, Against the Grain, and RomanCatholicBlog.com. This last blog does include some comments from visitors hostile to Bishop Finn. I also found one blog for the neutral camp, changobeer. The blogger, Fr. Karras, is critical of the coverage provided by the NCR without offering support or criticism for Bishop Finn.

Adding these blogs to what was counted previously, the totals are three opposed to the bishop, one neutral, and 44 supportive!

+++

An (expired) article from the Kansas City Star provides background information, confirming the factual claims (as opposed to the spin) in the NCR piece.

Posted on Sat, Sep. 17, 2005

The bishop responds

After some sweeping changes, Robert Finn explains his decisions

By HELEN T. GRAY

“We have to be unafraid … and teach what the church teaches without compromise.” Bishop Robert W. Finn

The new bishop of northwest Missouri’s 144,000 Catholics, who describes himself as “a strict constructionist,” wants his flock to be the faithful followers the Vatican wants.

Several months into the job, Bishop Robert W. Finn has made changes in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph that some people feared and others hoped for.

After taking over in late May, Finn:

■ Replaced the leadership team of his predecessor, Bishop Raymond J. Boland.

■ More than halved the diocese’s funding of a longstanding center that trained Catholic laypersons to help in their parishes.

■ Stopped publishing the column of a theologian often at odds with the Vatican, a move that caused an outcry from some readers of the diocesan newspaper.

Parishioner Judy Schreiber of Excelsior Springs, who had started studying to be a lay leader, said she cried all morning as she finished her second letter to the bishop asking that he reinstate the lay education program.

But Michall Holmes of Lee’s Summit is supportive of Finn’s changes: “We traditional Catholics have kind of been held back for many years.”

“This diocese has had a history of consultation, of collaboration and cooperation between priests and laity,” said George Noonan, a layperson who for 10 years was diocesan chancellor and was dismissed by Finn. “There is concern by some that, ‘Is that going to change?’ ”

Noonan, who served the diocese 21 years, sees Finn as part of a nationwide pattern of new bishops who “will interpret more the letter of the law,” he said. “In this diocese, we were used to people interpreting more the spirit of the law.”

This change in theological philosophy reflects broader changes.

“Now Rome seems to be more concerned with appointing people who pass the (theological) litmus test,” said the Rev. Pat Rush, who has left the post of vicar general to return to a parish. “When Boland came along, Rome was appointing more pastoral bishops.”

Both Boland and Finn were appointed by the late Pope John Paul II.

Although Finn still is getting a feel for his new position, he is definite about his love for the church and his trust in its teachings.

He thinks the church should take a stand against the prevailing culture: Not only is everyone’s viewpoint seen as valuable, which Finn accepts, but “every person’s claim on truth is regarded as equally valid,” which he said is not true. The church has the duty to pass on certain lasting truths, he said.

“We have to be unafraid to announce the gospel without compromise and teach what the church teaches without compromise,” Finn said.

Finn challenges Catholics who try to get around church law and expand its meaning. He urges them to start with what the church teaches, found both in Scripture and tradition. “Then we pray about it and we study and we read and we discuss and we collaborate with other people and inevitably we begin to come to a deeper peace and serenity and sense of the truth.”

That is a better method, he said, than to question everything, thinking that “somehow you will be able to sort out what’s true and isn’t true.”

Cost versus benefits

Finn explained his changes:

His leadership team: He praised Rush, Noonan and Sister Jean Beste, the former vice chancellor, for good service to the diocese and Boland. But he wanted priests, not only as vicar general as required by church law, but also as chancellor. And he wanted the assistance of two experienced pastors because “90 percent of what takes place in the diocese happens on the parish level.”

He chose the Rev. Robert Murphy as vicar general and the Rev. Bradley Offutt as chancellor. A layman, Claude Sasso, a history professor, is the new vice chancellor. Finn also adjusted the job descriptions.

A new leadership team is better able to take a fresh look at the various diocesan agencies, Finn said. “It would be difficult to ask people who have helped to form and shape them to be willing to set them aside to see if we should make adjustments.”

The Center for Pastoral Life and Ministry: Finn said he had a year as coadjutor bishop to study the agencies and discovered that the center, with a budget from the diocese of $523,000, received five to six times more than most of the others.

Each year about 100 people participate in the major program that trains lay people for church leadership, the three-year New Wine program, he said. A master’s degree program also is being dropped. While training laity is important, Finn said, “I didn’t feel we could continue to put that amount of resources for a small number of people.”

Many lay people want more training but not as extensive as those programs, he said. His goal is to train more lay people for less money and to concentrate on the basics of the faith, such as those found in the catechism, Vatican II documents, encyclicals and apostolic letters of the popes and statements of the Vatican congregations. Understanding the spirit of a church teaching is not as important as the teaching itself, he said.

“There’s a greater emphasis on apologetics, whereby we really explain the beauty of our faith,” he said. “Otherwise it gets picked apart and ridiculed.”

Finn said New Wine took a skeptical approach about the faith. But he maintains, “You don’t have to be skeptical about basic truths.”

While Finn makes changes, his predecessor, Boland, is not critical, although Boland said “their style of leadership is very different.”

“From my mentors, I learned to delegate as much as possible,” Boland said. “You delegate to people’s strengths and allow them to make their own decisions.

“I believe in the old adage, ‘He who governs best is the one who governs least.’ I was involved, but in the execution of programs, I would leave to the people responsible for them.”

Boland said he thinks well-trained lay people will continue to take leadership positions throughout the church, particularly in schools, hospitals and universities.

Also, Boland said that in Pope John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation on the laity, “He said that lay people are the church as much as clergy. Laity have a substantial role in the church … They don’t have to be second-place to the clergy.”

Noonan, one of the early directors of the Center for Pastoral Life and Ministry, said the diocese was among a handful that started organized programs for training lay people, and it became a resource for other dioceses trying to establish such programs. Some even are using the New Wine program, which is nearly 20 years old.

Rush, the former vicar general, is concerned that lay people will perceive the cuts to the center as a message that they are less valuable. The opportunity for developing lay leadership has been significantly curtailed, he said.

Denise Simeone, center director, said she was surprised when Finn told her the diocese’s portion of the total budget was cut to $250,000. Since most of the budget was for salaries, the staff is being reduced, with staggered departures, from seven administrative/teaching persons to two. Simeone plans to leave Dec. 31.

Other services to the parishes will have to be curtailed, she said. The center has helped directors of religious education, schoolteachers and principals, parish staffs and councils. It also has maintained a Web site and media center and library with resources for parishes.

Although Finn has authorized a study of adult education, “there isn’t going to be a program in the immediate future for training laity,” Simeone said.

The Rev. Richard McBrien’s column: Finn said he received many letters criticizing him for taking McBrien’s nationally syndicated commentary out of The Catholic Key. In nearly a page of letters to the editor, upset readers called it censorship; one asked if “one of the leading theologians of the country was too liberal or too informative for our new bishop?” Some said they were canceling their subscriptions.

Others, like Holmes, the parishioner from Lee’s Summit, applauded the decision, saying McBrien “tends to run a little bit too much to the anti-Catholic.”

Finn said McBrien, a theology professor at the University of Notre Dame, questions and in some cases opposes Catholic authority and such teachings as lifelong priestly celibacy. He said he frequently attacks people and groups faithful to the church.

As the local bishop, Finn is publisher of the diocesan newspaper and has the authority to determine what goes in and stays out.

“His articles and rather skeptical and cynical approach are in almost every case in opposition to my own goals for the diocese,” the bishop said. “It seems foolish to offer him a pulpit to undermine church teaching.”

In one of the unpublished columns, McBrien wrote: “As bishops of a more open and moderate approach to pastoral leadership (one that not only respects but also welcomes legitimate diversity on debatable matters) depart from the ecclesiastical scene either through retirement or death, they are in many cases replaced by men who are more rigid and authoritarian in manner.” He praised Boland but did not mention Finn by name.

‘I love meeting the people’

Finn said he wants his leadership team to function so he can spend more time with people in the parishes.

“My work is primarily with the people,” he said. “I love going to the parishes. I love going to confirmations. I love meeting the people.”

Ideally, every parish should have a pastor, he said. About a dozen don’t have resident pastors, with several headed by pastoral administrators instead of priests.

“Only a priest can hold the title of pastor and administrator,” he said. “You can have lay pastoral administrators in an emergency. The bishop can assign certain administrative duties to laity. As far as worship, teaching and governance, lay people can have a role, but parishes need a pastor.”

The shortage of priests is a pressing problem, and encouraging more men to enter the priesthood is one of Finn’s priorities. But both Finn and Boland are heartened that recent recruitment efforts have resulted in 10 new seminarians who began study this fall.

In the midst of this period of transition as Finn adapts to the diocese and parishioners adapt to him, Finn is looking forward to moving toward “wherever our Lord wants us to be.”

“I want to be zealous and active in the care of souls, and I want to have all of the faithful to be working in their own way, according to their own true vocation, fully growing in holiness, evangelizing and transforming the world around us.”

Whatever changes he makes are part of a larger goal, in which all the faithful play a part, he said.

“This is a huge role that every one of us has, to know, love and serve Christ and to get to heaven,” he said. “If we’re not helping each other do that, then we’re missing it completely. We’re wasting our time.”

To reach Helen Gray, religion editor, call (816) 234-4446 , or send e-mail to hgray@kcstar.com .



No change

Bishop Robert W. Finn stands firm with the Catholic Church’s teachings regarding women’s ordination and priestly celibacy. Some teachings are so clear, he said, there is little or no room for discussion.

■ Women’s ordination: “The practice of reserving ordination to men only has been noted by the pope as integral to the very meaning of the sacrament of holy orders or priesthood. Christ chose men alone for the priesthood, and we do not have the authority to change it.”

He added that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has said that to continue public debate over women’s ordination “only increases division and confusion.”

■ Priestly celibacy: Celibacy is different, he said, because it is acknowledged as a discipline of the church — part of the operating rules — as well as an apostolic custom and not strictly speaking an essential doctrine. But Finn said, “It is unlikely that the church would or should abandon this.”

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