Saturday, February 25, 2006

I'm Here...

These past two weeks have been challenging, but I want to take this opportunity to check in briefly.

Hopefully over the next few days I can get back to blogging a bit more. In the meantime, let's continue to pray for one another!

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Gospel Reflections

Each week Quellen Spiritual Life Center, a sponsored work of the Sisters of Christian Charity, provides an online series of reflections on each day's Gospel Readings. "Yours Truly" was invited to be the vehicle for this week's Gospel reflections. I invite you to visit and while you are there be sure to check out the program listings as they are offering a wide range of dynamic programs.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

The Unhappy Ending of What Could Have Been a Fairytale (Or More Lessons for the Church)

The breaking news today reported the tragedy of abuse by Rev. William Winston, a priest of the Diocese of Paterson, New Jersey.

It's really impossible to measure the tragedy of child sexual abuse or any violation of the sacredness of the priesthood. But if there's a way figuratively to mark some cases as complex or more tragic tragedies, then I would so mark the case of Fr. Bill Winston.

You see, prior to the public outing of his multidimensional abusive ways, Fr. Bill Winston represented promise and hope for the future of the Catholic Church. That's what they often say about young/newly ordained priest, but that's not why in the case of Fr. Bill Winston. The reason in his case is that he is one of (only about 120 in the United States)former Episcopalian married Catholic priests. In my recollection over the span of about 20 years or so, he is the only one I know of in the entire state and probably the general region. While I do not know him or his family personally, I do know of him.

It's not my intention here to start a debate on mandatory clerical celibacy for Roman rite Catholic priests or an evaluation of the (un)fairness of allowing converts to remain practicing spouses when accepted into Catholic priesthood. There are just some thoughts that come to mind in light of this tragedy that I would like to put forward for reflection.

At the time when he was first received into the Catholic priesthood, he served in a parish in the Paterson Diocese about 25 minutes from where I lived in the neighboring diocese. Since first learning of Fr. Bill Winston's presence in the Paterson Diocese (some 18 years ago), I have believed that his witness and the witness of his family provided a powerful gift to the Church and quietly and unassumingly challenged many hidden assumptions.

At the time his world began to unspiral publicly, Fr. Bill was pastor of Saint Virgil's Parish in Morris Plains, NJ. Prior to that, he served, among other places, in a parish in Chatham, NJ.

As I saw it, Fr. Bill's two dimensional vocation -- to marriage and the priesthood simultaneously -- placed Christian family life and the relationship of people and priests in a new light. Clearly the presence of the Winston's on life's best days contributed to building up the Body of Christ. Yet, on the darker days, the family of the priest experienced the crosses that many in society face on a daily basis. Extraordinarily committed to their family life, breaking the silence around the spousal abuse had to be heartbreaking for Mrs. Winston. Yet it was something she clearly needed to do for her well-being and the wholeness of her children.

Added to the tragedy and complexity of domestic violence within the family of a married Catholic priest is the revelation of his struggle with alcoholism and the "allegations" (allegations that he "could not dispute" -- HIS words) that he on multiple occasions fondled a young boy.

All fairytale images shattered, a version of Camelot comes to an end. Whatever healing had begun for the Diocese of Paterson in light of its particular experience of the Church's Sexual Abuse Problems have, at least momentarily, come to an end as it once again grapples, not only with the public admission of child sexual abuse but in a context most within the Church never even imagined possible.

Thoughts on this sad situation cannot be wrapped up in a single post. I'll be back with more on this in the near future.

In the meantime, join me in praying for Fr. Winston and his family, his victim and his family, the people of the Fr. Winston's past and present parishes and the Paterson Diocese, and the leadership of the Church of the Diocese of Paterson.

Some things only God can handle.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Katrina's Lasting Fingerprints

This evening our parish is holding a meeting of the Katrina Response Team, aka the Post-Katrina Parish Partnership Project. Our early meeting was before the holidays and provided an opportunity for a small core group to brainstorm our pending partnership with a parish in New Orleans. Tonight we will have the opportunity to move our plans further forward and include a broader base of parishioners in our planning conversations.

As I prepare for this evening's meeting, I am thinking a lot about the why behind our outreach efforts whether it's post-Katrina, or post-Tsunami, or post-local tragedy. We reach out because we want to help someone(s) in need, because we view that we have something they need.

In the spirit of the Church's post-Vatican II missionary vision, I believe it's important for us in these cases also to be open to what those we serve/assist teach and give to us.

That said, as I have been preparing for this meeting, I have been enriched by the observations shared by Sister Anne Joan Flanagan, fsp on her blog during her home visit to New Orleans and the surrounding areas. If you've not had a chance to view her blog yet, I encourage a visit there. Her insights and witness are very compelling.

My prayer, as we endeavor to engage more deeply in this parish partnership and other forms of outreach, is that we will be keenly aware not only of the temporal needs we might address but also that we will be reminded of and develop an appreciation for her the true tragedies that the "victims of Katrina" witnessed in the midst of the hurricane's wrath and the time that followed. If we forget that reality or miss those lessons, our "help" will be limited as will our partnership.

I see outreach as an opportunity to engage in and experience sacred accompaniment, holy solidarity, and mutual support. May we always remember that "we are ONE body IN Christ!"

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Week In Review

Being sick with a cold, etc. for most of the week, this past week wasn't the most exciting of weeks to review. But around me there's been much happening this week. The convergence of several holy days (non-obligatory) and national observances makes it a fitting time to chronicle.

This week we had the Feast of the Presentation (February 2) and the Feast of Saint Blase (February 3) and the national observance of Catholic Schools Week.

Catholic Schools Week was such a major annual observance during my childhood. Still today it bears a special nature to it even when I am not actively involved in Catholic Education.

As a society has a responsibility for providing education to its members, I believe we all have a responsibility to support, promote, and sustain Catholic Education today.

We live in an ever-changing world, and our Catholic Schools are not at all immune to changes. As the economic underpinnings of the Catholic Schools of yesterday change dramatically and questions of economic justice in the workplace continue to challenge the Catholic parochial school system, Catholic Education finds itself at a moment of great opportunity.

Let us not only pause to celebrate the positive impact Catholic Schools continue to make on individuals and society but let us also renew our commitment to Catholic Education.