Pilgrimage Diary:November 18

The heart of a Roman pilgrimage is a tour of the four great basilicas. In the Jubilee year 1300, Pope Boniface designated the basilicas of St. Peter and St. Paul as pilgrim churches to commemorate the two great founders of the Church of Rome. In subsequent years, the basilicas of St. John Lantern and St. Mary Major were added and today they offer a journey through the story of salvation and the spread of the Gospel in art, architecture and monuments. In A Pilgrims Guide to Rome and the Holy Land, we learn “the wealth of [this] deposit of the faith is made present and available to the pilgrim who journeys through the streets, squares, churches, and catacombs of Rome in search of deeper faith, hope, charity and conversion of life.” (A Pilgrims Guide to Rome and the Holy Land, pg. 173). The Archdiocese of Washington pilgrims are celebrating this liturgical memorial by visiting these four churches.

Read: Matthew 14:22-33

Reflect:  Cardinal-designate Wuerl challenged pilgrims to think about thier responsibilities as evangelizers. In his homily at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome,  he said all of us should have the the evangelical zeal of Paul to bring the faith to all. Eeach of us is called to be an evangelist for the faith in these times–inviting others (family, friends, co-workers, neighbors) to or back to the faith with the same zeal as Paul.

Respond: Pray a prayer of thanksgiving for the gift of faith and the Roman Catholic Church in your life and the life of the world.

Deacons – Heralds of the Gospel!

“Receive the Gospel of Christ whose herald you have become”  – From the Rite of Ordination of a Deacon

This morning, 20 men were ordained as permanent deacons for the Archdiocese of Washington. Only two years removed from my own ordination to the diaconate, this was my first opportunity to witness a diaconal ordination that wasn’t my own. As these men were called from the congregation, prayed over, made a promise of obedience to the Archbishop and received the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands, I was in a state of perpetual awe and joy.

Though we are clergy in every sense of the word, deacons are not “mini priests.” We have a vocation that is uniquely our own. We are ordained to the service of God’s people rather than to the service of the Sacraments. This is most visibly symbolized by the fact that we wear our stole in such a way to keep our right arm free to serve the people of God.

In most dioceses including Washington, those admitted to the Order of Deacon do so after at least five years of prayer and theological study. However, for these men, the hard work has only begun. Please join me in praying for my brother deacons as they begin their careers as “Heralds of the Gospel”

The Archdiocese of Washington Diaconate Class of 2010

Deacon Alfred Manuel Barros
Deacon Thomas Dwyer
Deacon Dan Finn
Deacon Barry Levy
Deacon Don Longana
Deacon Stephen Maselko
Deacon Albert L. Opdenaker III
Deacon Gerard (Stephane) Philogene
Deacon William (Bill) Stevens
Deacon Brandon Justice
Deacon Patrick Christopher (Chris) Schwartz
Deacon Desider Vikor
Deacon Francis Edward (Ed) Baker, Jr.
Deacon Joel Carpenter
Deacon David Divins
Deacon Richard Dubicki
Deacon Robert Leo Martin
Deacon Ammon Ripple
Deacon Kenneth Lee
Deacon Timothy E. Tilghman

Working Hard to Prevent Sexual Abuse – A part of the story that’s not often told.

Twenty-five years ago I had just entered the seminary. It was the Mid-1980s and reports of clerical sexual abuse were emerging. While the vast majority of priests were doing good work, some – even one was too many – had caused significant harm.

I am happy to say that the Archdiocese of Washington was one of the dioceses at the time which took the data of these reports very seriously. Archbishop James Hickey instituted a response in increasing stages to bring about a real prevention of any such behavior going forward. I recall how exhaustive the psychological testing was that I had to undergo before entering the seminary in 1984. Through seminary years careful attention was paid to teaching on the celibate commitment and I remember seminarians being dismissed from Mount St. Mary’s due to infractions of that commitment. Any looking the other way that may have occurred in years past was surely not operative in my seminary years.

When I was first ordained in 1989 the Archdiocese had already instituted a yearly meeting of the priests wherein we were frankly instructed in and warned about any boundary violations and that any credible allegations would be taken very seriously. The attention to this topic annoyed some of the priests who dubbed it the “yearly sex talk.” But it was surely necessary and no one was permitted to miss it. The talks were helpful because they not only reinforced our resolve to ensure safe and proper boundaries in our churches and schools but it also helped us to hold each other accountable and to recognize if brother priests or employees were being inappropriate in any way.

As our sophistication and resourcefulness in this new area began to grow, The Archdiocese of Washington began to expand this training beyond priests and school leaders to increasing numbers of lay leaders and employees. For a number of years we have in place a very expansive program called VIRTUS which you will see described in the CBS video below. It trains anyone in the Archdiocese of Washington (paid or volunteer) who has substantial contact with children to both recognize, and even more importantly prevent sexual abuse. No one is to work with minors unless they have been trained and had criminal background checks done.

I say all this with some pride because I think the Archdiocese of Washington was a leader among other dioceses in this country in the education and prevention of the sexual abuse of minors. We are all well aware that some dioceses did seemingly little in response to the growing crisis. But the Archdiocese of Washington was surely proactive and expansive in its response. Cardinal Hickey was quick to recognize the problem and took it very seriously. He set in motion a process to vigorously address the problem and protect the young. He is gone now but the legacy of his action lives on the programs he initiated long before the Dallas Charter of 2002. Ask any priest of this Archdiocese and they will tell you, we’ve been going to classes and meetings for a mighty long time.

Most recently our efforts have expanded to teach young people carefully on these matters and to give them the comfort and capacity to speak out if they are in any way troubled by the boundaries or behavior of others in this regard. Creating safe environments for children means that it is essential that they feel free to report anything that may concern them in this regard. In the past shame and fear limited reporting. We are trying to eliminate that and keep the door open to any who may wish to express concerns. The Web Page for the Archdiocese of Washington’s Protecting our Children Program is here: http://adw.org/youth/protect_index.asp

Last night, CBS news ran a story which detailed not only one man’s story of abuse, but also of the Church’s efforts to prevent this sort of thing going forward. (While the news story says these are “new” programs, they have been in place for several years and similar programs are in place nationwide.) In this sense the story is fair. There are real victims who still have a lot of pain. But the Church has responded in many ways and that too is part of the story that needs to be told.

Watch CBS News Videos Online

Archbishop Wuerl’s Op-Ed in today’s Washington Post

D.C.’s same-sex marriage bill: Finding the right balance

By [Archbishop] Donald W. Wuerl


One year ago, I stood with city leaders on a hill in Northeast as we broke ground for affordable housing in the District. When the St. Martin’s Apartments are completed, nearly 200 low-income families and individuals will get a fresh start on life in a wonderful example of the type of effective public-private partnerships the residents of our nation’s capital need.

 St. Martin’s is being developed by Catholic Charities, on land owned by the Catholic Church and with funding sources that include the District of Columbia.

 Catholic Charities and the Archdiocese of Washington are committed to continuing to serve the people of the District as we have for many decades. That includes partnerships such as St. Martin’s. Unfortunately, the D.C. Council is considering legislation that could end these kinds of partnerships.

It doesn’t need to be that way. While we do not agree with the council on redefining marriage, we recognize that it is firmly committed to opening marriage to homosexual couples. We are asking that new language be developed that more fairly balances different interests — those of the city to redefine marriage and those of faith groups so that they can continue to provide services without compromising their deeply held religious teachings and beliefs. The Archdiocese is not alone in this request. Other groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington and nationally recognized legal scholars all called for stronger protections for religious freedom in their testimony on the bill.

 For the Archdiocese and Catholic Charities, two core tenets of our faith are at the heart of our concerns: our understanding of the nature of marriage and our commitment to expressing Christ’s love through service to others. Under the legislative language before the D.C. Council, the Archdiocese would be forced to choose between these two principles. The archdiocese has long made clear that all people have equal dignity, regardless of sexual orientation. But marriage is reserved for husband and wife because of its essential connection with the creation of children.

 The proposed legislation offers little protection for religious beliefs, including no protections for individuals, as is required under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Under the bill, religious organizations would be exempt from participating in ceremonies or from teaching about same-sex marriage in religion classes and retreats in accord with their faith beliefs, but they would be required to recognize and promote same-sex marriage everywhere else, including in employment policies, and adoption and foster-care policies, against their  beliefs.

 So what does this mean?

 The Archdiocese and Catholic Charities are committed to continuing to provide services in the District. Despite the headlines, there has been no threat or ultimatum to end services, just a simple recognition that the new requirements by the city for religious organizations to recognize same-sex marriages in their policies could restrict our ability to provide the same level of services as we do now. This is so because the District requires Catholic Charities to certify its compliance with city laws when applying for contracts and grants. This includes contracts for homeless services, mental health services, foster care and more. Since Catholic Charities cannot comply with city mandates to recognize and promote same-sex marriages, the city would withhold contracts and licenses.

 Each year, 68,000 people in the District rely on Catholic Charities for shelter, nutrition, medical and legal care, job training, immigration assistance, and more. This assistance is offered to whoever needs it, regardless of race, religion, gender, nationality or sexual orientation. Many of the programs are offered in partnership with the city, which turns to Catholic Charities and other ministries when it cannot provide social services on its own. Catholic Charities has a proven track record of high-quality service, supported through caring, qualified staff, thousands of dedicated volunteers and millions of dollars in financial support from parishioners all over the region. This legislation won’t end Catholic Charities’ services, but it would reduce unnecessarily the resources available for outreach.

 We recognize that the council is likely to legalize same-sex marriage. It is the hope of the Archdiocese and Catholic Charities that council members will work with us to find a way to better balance interests so religious organizations that have served this city well for many decades may continue to provide services without compromising the tenets of their faith.

 The writer is Archbishop of Washington.  

DC Same-Sex Marriage Bill: An Imposing Agenda

marriage_logoFor many years now secularists and self-described progressives have made the claim that religious believers, especially those from traditional perspectives, were trying to impose their beliefs on others. They have also make frequent accusations that religious believers are “intolerant.” It has been my usual experience that people who stridently accuse others of things are themselves often most guilty of the attitudes they most decry in others. And now today we see just such an example in the looming actions of an increasingly extreme contingent of the DC City Council in reference to same sex marriage.

The crafters of the Bill have chosen to significantly narrow religious exemptions and thereby force religious organizations into the  untenable position of accepting and even promoting so-called same-sex marriage. The Archdiocese of Washington has released a a statement that pretty well details the situation. I reproduce it here:

 The DC City Council’s Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary today narrowed the exemption for religious freedom in a bill that would legalize marriage between same-sex couples. The bill is headed to the full council.

The committee’s narrowing of the exemption leaves religious organizations and individuals at risk for adhering to the teachings of their faith, and could prevent social service providers such as Catholic Charities from continuing their long-term partnerships with the District government to provide critical social services for thousands of the city’s most vulnerable residents. The bill provides no exemption for individuals with sincerely-held religious beliefs, as required under federal law. In fact, one council member opposed an amendment that would have respected an individual’s federally-protected, deeply-held religious beliefs by saying that would encourage a “discriminatory impulse.”

The committee rejected concerns raised in testimony by the ACLU, the Archdiocese of Washington, the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington and a group of nationally-recognized legal scholars, including Robin Fretwell Wilson, professor at Washington & Lee University Law School. In calling for broader religious liberty protections in the bill, the experts cited well established United States Supreme Court case law under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a federal law that applies to the District of Columbia.

Under the bill, religious organizations do not have to participate in the “solemnization or celebration” of a same-sex marriage ceremony. An earlier version of the bill also exempted them from “the promotion of marriage that is in violation of the entity’s religious beliefs.” The revised language significantly narrows that exemption to the “promotion of marriage through religious programs, counseling, courses, or retreats.”

As a result, religious organizations and individuals are at risk of legal action for refusing to promote and support same-sex marriages in a host of settings where it would compromise their religious beliefs. This includes employee benefits, adoption services and even the use of a church hall for non-wedding events for same-sex married couples. Religious organizations such as Catholic Charities could be denied licenses or certification by the government, denied the right to offer adoption and foster care services, or no longer be able to partner with the city to provide social services for the needy.

“It is our concern that the committee’s narrowing of the religious exemption language will cause the government to discontinue our long partnership with them and open up the agency to litigation and the use of resources to defend our religious beliefs rather than serve the poor,” said Edward Orzechowski, president/CEO of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington. Catholic Charities serves 68,000 people in the city each year. The city’s 40 Catholic parishes operate another 93 social service programs to provide crucial services.

The teachings of the Catholic Church, including those of the Archdiocese of Washington, hold that all individuals have equal dignity and deserve equal respect. However, marriage by its very nature must be between a man and a woman. One essential purpose of marriage is an openness to creating and nurturing the next generation, which is the reason that governments and cultures throughout all time have given these relationships special recognition and support. See www.MarriageMattersDC.org for more information on marriage.

Many media reports today have indicated incorrectly that the Archdiocese of Washington is “threatening to end social services to the poor” if the Bill is not changed. But the true fact is that the Bill would force us out since to accept or administer even $1.00 of DC money would put us under a whole series of unacceptable rules requiring us to recognize or even facilitate aspects of Gay “marriage.” I could also open us to lawsuits and to “decertification” which would exc;ude us from providing social servies in DC. It is not we who threaten, it is we who are threatened by the implications of this Bill.

I hope you can see what is happening here. Through judicial fiat seculars and progressives are trying to impose recognition of same sex “marriage.” By severely reducing religious exemptions members of the City Council and their allies are simply bullying and forcing their will. They have the votes on the Council and refuse to allow the citizens of this city to have their voices heard by placing this initiative on the ballot. This Bill is, simply put, an imposition.

It is also an example of intolerance toward the traditional religious community. The views of the religious communities in question are not some recent trend or theological speculation. The definition of marriage that is being rejected is some 5,000 years old and stretches all the way back to the earliest pages of Scripture. There are also solid Natural Law arguments at the root of the traditional understanding of Marriage. We are not bigots or homophobes merely for holding the traditional view of marriage. The narrowing of religious exemptions in the current draft of the Bill seems another  example of intolerance for ancient and deeply held religious belief.

It is an irony that many who have marched under the banners tolerance and open-mindedness, now that they have power, show that it never really was about either of those things. It appears it was really about power and imposition. The very ones who have so often accused the religious and traditional of imposing our will and being intolerant now give evidence of the very things they accused others of.

Five Guys for God

I promised to provide updates on our Run For Vocations team that is training for the Marine Corps 10K and marathon in October. Here is an update you don’t want to miss. More than 50 people have signed on to run and raise money for vocations. If you are not a runner but want to support vocations, have I got a deal for you!

Come join us at Five Guys Burgers on Thursday, July 23 and 20% of your purchase will be donated to the Archdiocesan Run for Vocations.  Please plan to bring a friend along as well.


Restaurant Night at

Five Guys Burgers and Fries


University Town Center

6451 America Boulevard, Hyattsville MD

(near East-West Highway and Belcrest Road)


Thursday, July 23, 2009

5 pm-8 pm


Say “Run for Vocations” when ordering

and Five Guys will donate 20% your sale to the Run for Vocations


Enjoy a fun evening out with family and friends while supporting vocations in the Archdiocese of Washington.

Learn more about the Run for Vocations Team at www.dcvocations.org.

Historical Photos of St. Matthews

I stumbled upon the photos from 1961 of St. Matthews Cathedral. The Cathedral is largely unchanged today with the exception that the tabernacle is no longer on the main altar. That same altar is still used however for the Mass facing facing the people. One other big change is the addition of the pipe organ in the east transcept. These photos were found in the LIFE Magazine photo archive which you can find here: LIFE Archive


Catholic Schools

The Archdiocese of Washington is working very hard to preserve Catholic Education. We are organizing finances and people to ensure a future for Catholic Education in the Archdiocese. The challenges are significant but our commitment is real. Before sharing some of the details of the plan I would like to reflect on some of the background issues that have put Catholic Schools in jeopardy.

  1. The decline in the number of practicing Catholics. While it is true that the overall number of Americans who call themselves Catholic has increased over the years, the percentage number of practicing Catholics has continued to drop. Currently just less than 30% of Catholics attend Mass every Sunday. Back in the 1950s when most of our schools were built and quite full the number of practicing Catholics was just over 80%
  2. Smaller family sizes. I am only 48 years old, but back when I was a kid it was common for families to have 4 – 5 children. Some families had even more. Today, 1- 2 children is the norm.  Contraception (and Abortion too) have made surely devastated the ranks of “future Catholics.”  Today, many people think it is crazy or impossible to have more than a two kids. But most never consider how this significantly depletes our future. I look at some of our 1st communion classes at St. Cyprian (my parish). Back in the 1950s there were over 200 children each year. This year we had twelve. Other parishes may have less steep declines but most parishes soimply have less children than 50 years ago.
  3. Steep declines in vocations – especially to orders of women religious. Catholic schools of 50 years ago where almost entirely staffed by women religious who, frankly, received little pay. This kept tuition very low and made Catholic Education possible for even the very poor. Today however we employ an almost completely lay staff who must be paid more, paid a just wage. This is the most significant cause of escalating tuition rates. An essentially free staff has given way to a staff that must be paid a living and just wage. Even if the Sisters came back in force we could never pay them the pittance they once got. They, like us have medical expenses, retired sisters to care for and so on.
  4. Parish sizes have decreased. There are some parishes in new suburbs that continue to grow in size, but many older parishes have seen declines in attendance over the years. This too means that the ability for smaller parishes to afford to run schools has also diminished. In the past large parishes could devote larger sums to maintain school buildings and provide tuition assistance and other support to the school. This is less often the case today.
  5. Aging buildings – The cost of maintaining buildings often built more than 50 years ago continues to climb. Catastrophic costs such as roof replacements and HVAC  often mount.
  6. As tuition has gone up over the years, the number who can afford it has declined. Tuition assistance filled the gaps at first but now much more is needed. As tuition rates climb above $5,000 per child in most schools the numbers of students drops, especially in working class neighborhoods. Available tuition assistance has not kept up with all that is required to help everyone have access to Catholic Education.
  7. So the bottom line is that, as costs continue to rise and  family sizes of practicing Catholics continue to decrease the number of children available and able to afford our schools continues to drop.  Higher costs mean higher tuition  which drives even more students away. We are in danger of running schools that only the wealthy can afford. This is not really our mission. We have traditionally run excellent schools that were accessible by all. Changes are necessary.

With all this in mind I would like to refer you to the following communique issued by the Archdiocese of Washington:

Looking to the Future with Confidence – New Policies for Catholic Schools

If Catholic schools are going to survive they must become the shared responsibility of the entire Archdiocese. Until now parishes have shared the financial burden of Catholic Schools unevenly. That is beginning to change with this policy. Parishes that do not currently have or contribute to a Catholic School will asked to contribute more. The Archdiocese is also committed to finding further tuition assistance. The Archdiocese of Washington remains committed to providing schools with strong Catholic Identity, academic excellence. Schools that are accessible and affordable. Please pray and work with you r parish to ensure the future of Catholic Education.

The following video was filmed by the archdiocese of Chicago but it provides some reminiscences of Catholic education from the past along with images from the present.