Go with God, Cardinal Wuerl

On this significant day for the Archdiocese of Washington and the universal Church, I want you to know that I receive the news of the Holy Father’s acceptance of Cardinal Donald Wuerl’s resignation with mixed feelings.

I hope you will understand that he has been a spiritual Father to me since 2006 when he came to Washington as our Archbishop. I have flourished under his leadership. He appointed me in 2007 as pastor to my current parish, which I love so much. I have served him and the Archdiocese on the Priest Council, the College of Consultors, the Priest Personnel Board, and as a Dean. I have also been the coordinator for the Traditional Latin Mass and worked closely with the Communications Office for many years. He called an Archdiocesan Synod in 2014 and has carefully implemented its decrees, and drafted many helpful policies, both financial and pastoral, that have assisted this archdiocese to be ship-shape. He has also founded a minor Seminary here and our vocations to the priesthood are vigorous, currently 75 men are in formation for us.

This very blog of the Archdiocese was his idea and when he asked me to write for it I had no idea that it would reach so far. My writing has never been micromanaged and only twice in ten years was I ever asked to remove a post I had written. I am grateful for the support, encouragement and platform I have received.

In all these ways and more I found him to be a top-notch administrator, careful, just, cautious and measured; even if, at times to a fault. Sometimes I wanted him to be passionate and fiery about this or that issue! Though some in recent news cycles have called him arrogant and extravagant, I have found him to be often shy and very aware that a bishop does not have unlimited powers. His lifestyle, from my limited vantage point was not extravagant but simple, even austere.

In this sense, it causes me special sadness that he resigns under a cloud where many see only what they know from the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report. We can never forget the victims of sexual abuse by clergy and we owe them every effort to eradicate predators from clerical ranks. And whatever the findings of the Grand Jury, accurate or inaccurate, I can say that, in his time here in Washington, Cardinal Wuerl has been very serious in enforcing the policies of the Dallas Charter and ensuring the safety and flourishing of the young people under our care.

However, even prior to the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report there were problems that arose with Cardinal Wuerl’s response to the revelations about Archbishop McCarrick. He presented an institutional and legal face and spoke mostly by issuing disclaimers. He seemed to see the crisis as something to manage as an administrator more than a father and shepherd.

I would have preferred if he could have been less protective of the institution of the Church and been more like a grieved shepherd, angry that one of his predecessors had abused some of his flock, even his seminarians and young priests; angry that two other bishops had paid hush-money and not informed him or warned him. I wish I could have heard him tell God’s people that he was angry and disgusted and was going to move heaven and earth to get to the bottom of this scandal; that he would lead the charge to fight for us all so that this would not happen again.

Only late in the crisis did Cardinal Wuerl come to see that such a stance was what people needed and looked for. A few weeks ago, he wrote to God’s people in the Archdiocese a letter asking forgiveness for anything he had done to cause hurt. It was a beautiful letter and many in my congregation wept as I read it, (including me); others applauded. It was a breakthrough and a time of healing.  

Yet from early on, Cardinal Wuerl became the national face of this crisis and a kind of lightning rod for people’s justified anger at the McCarrick case. At some point being the face of the crisis  took on a life of its own and there was little or nothing the Cardinal could say or do to ameliorate this. I think, in many ways, a number of other bishops and clergy deserve greater scorn and scrutiny.

It is clear that there were numerous attempts to inform the Church of the concerns regarding Archbishop McCarrick that were brushed aside or received scant attention from bishops and Church officials both here in this country and going right to the top in Rome.

Only recently has Rome agreed to allow a thorough investigation to begin. I applaud this, since the allegations are serious and need investigation. This is not merely so that justice will be done, but also to be sure that clerical abuse is no longer tolerated or overlooked at any level. The current victims of clerical sexual abuse surely deserve such an investigation to be thorough and credible.

About a month ago, Cardinal Wuerl asked to meet with us, his priests, to discern with him if resignation was the best path forward for healing and progress for the Archdiocese in this situation. We sadly, and with great respect for him, came to the consensus that such a time had come. We were moved to be included in that discernment and he was clearly moved as well. It was a time of truth, but also of respect, concern, admiration and mutual charity.

The Cardinal went to Rome last week with the report that it was a time for new leadership in Washington and requested that the Holy Father now accept the resignation he had tendered almost three years before on his 75th Birthday. This morning the Pope has announced that acceptance.

As you can see, in his statement this morning Cardinal Wuerl reiterates his apology and his request for pardon for any past errors in judgment. He also wishes to present his resignation as a sign of love for the people of this Archdiocese and prays it will be a way forward toward healing for victims and resolutions that will further protect God’s good people.

I pray that none of you will forget the many ways the Lord has blessed us through Cardinal Wuerl. It is too easy to demonize people we have not met or when we are angry, even justifiably so. But the Cardinal is a human being, and one of God’s sons. He deserves and requires our love and prayers as he departs. Whatever errors in judgment have occurred, please remember his request for forgiveness.

I have known and worked with Cardinal Donald Wuerl over the years and it is very painful for me to see him go, especially under these circumstances. As I said, he has been a spiritual father and leader, and has confirmed me in my own ministry for the past 12 years. Go with God, Cardinal Wuerl, go with God.


Georgetown Sacred Lecture Series: Pope Francis, Synodality and Amoris Laetitia

The Catholic Church has a unique process for confirming Church teaching and setting pastoral guidance. “Synodality” is the process that has been used by Catholic bishops for centuries. But on Tuesday, September 12, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, in Georgetown University’s inaugural 2017-18 Sacred Lecture, explains how Pope Francis has taken this ancient Church ritual and, building on the efforts of his predecessors, expanded synodality to help answer the call to evangelization and pastoral accompaniment laid out in the Papal exhortation, Amoris Laetitia. In this lecture, Cardinal Wuerl reflects on how the collegial approach of Pope Francis with the College of Bishops not only builds on the 50-year tradition of synodality after the Second Vatican Council, but opens the door for new and greater opportunities for pastoral care in the Catholic Church today and in the future. Read the transcript of Cardinal Wuerl’s lecture below.

Sacred Lecture Series: Pope Francis, Synodality and Amoris Laetitia

In these reflections, I touch on three points: synodality, an ecclesial experience; Pope Francis’ expansion of the application of this ecclesial reality, and the post-synodal apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, as an expression of the fruit of synodality.

The word synodality refers to “coming together” or, more technically, “journeying together.” It has historically been used to denote gatherings of bishops describing their pastoral walking together to confirm already expressed teaching and pastoral practice, and to explore and apply Church teaching and practice in terms of the circumstances of the day.

The word takes on new emphasis today as Pope Francis applies it in order to express the concept of the whole Church, pastors and flock, walking and working together to explore the needed pastoral responses to the challenges of today.


To start, it might be helpful to make some very brief observations on the ecclesial reality that we call the College of Bishops.  Just as the 12 Apostles constituted a unique and identifiable group with its own nature and function, so, too, today do their successors.  The bishops today throughout the world constitute the College of Bishops.

The coming together of bishops, in its most formal and authoritative form, is an ecumenical council, a gathering of all the bishops worldwide. Other less inclusive and therefore, less authoritative gatherings, at least as they exist today in the Latin/Western Church, are called synods. Pope Francis uses the term “synod” to reflect the structure, and “synodality” to refer to the process whereby bishops play a more active role in discussing significant issues of the day.

The 1998 Motu Proprio Apostolos Suos of Pope John Paul II on the theological and juridical nature of episcopal conferences goes on to point out that the communion of the College of Bishops has found an outstanding and typical expression in the holding of councils, this includes ecumenical and particular councils, both plenary and provincial (3).  Other gatherings of bishops to exercise certain pastoral functions are a concrete expression of collegial spirit (affectus collegialis) which however “never takes on the collegial nature proper to the action of the Order of Bishops as such…” (12).

Episcopal conferences, for example, meet so that “by sharing their wisdom and experience and exchanging views, they may jointly formulate a program for the common good of the Church” (Motu Proprio citing the Second Vatican Council Degree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church, Christus dominus, 37 and the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, 23) (13).

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is not an intermediary ecclesial structure that directs or orders the dioceses in the United States. Rather, the bishops come together to find ways to identify and agree on a common exercise of their own proper pastoral ministry.

My observations however will be primarily about the ecclesial structure identified as the Synod of Bishops.  It is not a council of all of the bishops.  Rather, it is a gathering of a number of bishops who are intended to be reflective of the episcopate around the world.  The assembled bishops of the synod do not exercise an authority as if they were the College of Bishops.  However, they do reflect an effort at pastoral solidarity usually directed at specific pastoral issues or aspects of Church structure, mission and ministry.  The synod in the Western or Latin Church, unlike synods in the Eastern Churches, does not govern but it does offer counsel and advice.

Then, in light of Pope Francis’ emphasis on synodality and its place in the process of expressing Church teaching and pastoral practice, I will make some observations on the new perspectives offered by the post-synodal apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia.


Even though our purpose is to investigate synodality as a means of expression of the collegial nature of the episcopate our starting point must include a brief consideration on the theological nature of collegiality, as this is significant in the understanding of synodality. We must begin, therefore, by recognizing that the Church Universal is made up of many and varied local Churches.

Granted, the one holy, catholic and apostolic Church is more than just a federation of individual churches. It is, nonetheless, made up of local Churches throughout the world. These local Churches are essentially the same today as they were in the days of Saint Paul – the communities of believers centered in a specific area around one bishop, their bond and symbol of unity in faith and charity (cf. CCC 832-835).

Each local Bishop, therefore, has a relationship not only to his local Church but also to the Church Universal. Each bishop by that title bears some responsibility for the whole Church.

The rediscovery or renewed emphasis on this ecclesiological landscape, which found a clear presentation in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, of the Second Vatican Council was also reflected in the 1983 revision of the Code of Canon Law.

In the Acts of the Apostles, we find an example of apostolic leadership gathering to resolve a serious issue.  Clearly the coming together or walking together – the root meaning of the word synod – was a somewhat regular experience of Christian leaders – bishops – in the early centuries.

However, in 325, we find the first effort at an ecumenical or general council of bishops.  This meeting was held in Nicaea.  When the Second Vatican Council convened in Rome, from October 1962 to December 1965, it marked the 21st Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church.  Seven of these councils are shared with the Orthodox Church.  By contrast, the Orthodox have neither summoned nor sanctioned an ecumenical council since the seventh one in 787.

Other gatherings of bishops in the Catholic Church have been a regular part of the life of the Church.  In our country, for example, we had for a number of years the experience of plenary councils held in Baltimore.  In fact, it is one of these, the third plenary council, that gave rise to the well-known and much used Baltimore Catechism.


However, the ecclesiastical structure that we now call the Synod of Bishops has its own identifiable origin and a specific purpose.

The idea of having a synod grew out of the experience of Pope Paul VI and the bishops at the time of the Second Vatican Council.  Then some 2,200 bishops from all over the world, from October 1962 to December 1965, came to Rome to reflect on how well the Church was carrying out her mission to be the continuing presence of Christ and his Gospel in the world.  As the Council drew to a conclusion in 1965, there was the hope that some mechanism might be found to keep alive the collaborative experience of the Council.  Thus was born, at the directive of the Pope, what we now call the Synod of Bishops.

Pope Paul VI’s Motu Proprio Apostolica Sollicitudo, re-established the Synod of Bishops as an ecclesial institution and gave it what was, in effect, its constitution.  The document notes that the aims of the Synod are: to promote a closer union and greater cooperation between the Supreme Pontiff and the bishops of the whole world; to see to it that accurate and direct information is supplied on matters and situations that bear upon the internal life of the Church and upon the kind of action that should be carrying on in today’s world; to facilitate agreement, at least on essential matters of doctrine and on the course of action to be taken in the life of the Church.

Saint John Paul II is perhaps the pope that more than any other has underlined the connection between the Synods of Bishops and episcopal collegiality. In his first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis, he referred to the Synod of Bishops as “a permanent organ of collegiality” (51).  In his view, “the Synod constitutes a realization and an illustration of the collegial nature of the order of bishops, of which the Second Vatican Council has, so to speak, come to a renewed awareness” (Address to the Synod of Bishops, October 27, 1990, 7).

In the post-synodal apostolic exhortation, Ecclesia in Africa (1995) he elaborated on this very aspect. “The Synod of Bishops is an extremely beneficial instrument for fostering ecclesial communion… the more the communion of the bishops among themselves is strengthened, the more the communion of the Church as a whole is enriched” (15).  “It is my conviction”, the pope continued, “that a Synodal Assembly cannot be reduced to a consultation on practical matters. Its true raison d’être is the fact that the Church can move forward only by strengthening communion among her members, beginning with her Pastors” (17).   It is this sentiment, articulated over 22 years ago, that Pope Francis is now re-emphasizing.

Pope Francis, elected as the 266th Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Christ, and Head of the Church Universal, now stands on all of the foundation work of his predecessors and begins to pick up, once again, the threads of the energizing focus of the Second Vatican Council.

I do not want to pass over, however, the very significant role of Pope Benedict XVI especially in the 2012 Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization.  Up to that time, most of the synods and certainly those presided over by Saint Pope John Paul II addressed in significant part the documents of the Second Vatican Council providing a magisterial appreciation of them. In a certain sense, much of the work of the Synod of Bishops was focused on the life of the Church and her structures. It was Pope Benedict who called for, initiated and presided over the Synod that called the entire Church to turn its attention outward and, once again, to invite people to the experience of Jesus Christ. The 13th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops gathered from October 7-28, 2012 to discuss the theme, The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith. Pope Francis makes his own the work of that Synod and presents it in the apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, The Joy of the Gospel.

The Synod of Bishops “has been one of the fruits of the Second Vatican Council,” Pope Francis has said. “Thanks to God that, in these almost fifty years, we have been able to feel the benefits of this institution that, in a permanent way, is at the service of the Church’s mission and communion as an expression of collegiality” (Pope Francis, June 2013, preparation for 2014 Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod on the Family).


Ecclesiologically what Pope Francis has done is to refocus, once again, on the ministry of the College of Bishops as was the case in the Second Vatican Council in the document, Lumen Gentium.

We can see the Pope’s perspective on synodality with the post-synodal apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia.  It follows on the Synods of Bishops that met, one in October of 2014 and the other in 2015, to discuss the challenges to marriage and family today, and reflects the consensus of those meetings and many voices.  In the work of the synod, in the preparation of its documents, and the final exhortation we can see Pope Francis’ appreciation and engagement of synodality.

The Holy Father has highlighted, once again, the role of bishops in collaboration with him in the overall responsibilities for leadership, teaching and pastoral ministry of the Church. In February of 2014, the Holy Father, at a consistory of the cardinals, asked us to begin to reflect on the challenges to marriage today.  He then called for a Synod in 2014 that addressed the difficulties that marriage faces.  It reminded us of the heavily secular culture we live in, of the materialism that is a part of the mentality of many people, the individualism that dominates our culture, particularly in the Western world and in the United States.

It was clear that the overwhelming majority of bishops shared the Holy Father’s vision that there has to be a way to present the Church’s teaching new in ardor, method and expression rather than simply come together to repeat and restate what is already known.  As was quoted later, one bishop indicated that if the purpose of the 2014 Synod was simply to repeat, doctrinally and pastorally, the Church’s teaching it could have ended by the second day and there would have been no need at all for the 2015 Synod.

The open discussion within the synod is clearly a hallmark of Pope Francis’ view of synodality.  At no time was there disagreement on the Church’s doctrine.  But there was lively engagement on how that teaching is received, understood, appropriated and lived in our modern culture, and how in the circumstances of our time do we effectively and pastorally respond.

Pope Francis’ decision to allow free discussion, respect for divergence of opinion, transparency in the process and the publication of the results of the voting by the bishops at each stage of both synods created a refreshing openness that resulted in a new appreciation of a synod.

I have been present in some capacity for eleven synods and as a bishop member for seven.  The last two, the 2014 and the 2015 gatherings were, in my opinion, the most open, engaging and reflective of episcopal collaboration and consultation.

A sign of the growing and expanding nature of synodality can be seen in Pope Francis’ request that there would be a very wide consultation at the level of the local Churches. Invited into this discussion were the faithful of the parishes as well as the voices of Church Institutions such as universities and organizations with a specific expertise in the topic under discussion.

Examples of Pope Francis’ new perspective include his innovative use of the synod structure by calling for two back-to-back assemblies.  In this way, he engaged a very large number of bishops in the one process since the membership of both synods was elected by conferences of bishops and during the interval each conference of bishops was asked to be actively engaged in responding the first synod, 2014, and preparing the material for the second synod, 2015.

I would add that his invitation to openness among the bishops in these discussions reflects his perspective on the significance of dialogue.  We can recall his advice at the beginning of the synod 2014-2015 process to the bishops to speak with openness and clarity, to listen with humility and to be open to the Holy Spirit.

Another very evident element in Pope Francis’ understanding of synodality is the recognition that while the bishops are the official teachers and guardians of the faith, the faith is also expressed and voiced among all of the faithful.  While it is a synod of bishops, it does not mean that the bishops are somehow detached from or not engaged with and immersed in the life of the local Church that the individual bishop serves.  Synodality for Pope Francis carries with it the notion of journeying together – all the members of the Church, clergy, religious and laity.

At the end of all of the discussions and all of the reflections carried out over two full years, there emerged the 2016 apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia that I would call a “consensus exhortation.”


This apostolic exhortation confirms for us the Second Vatican Council’s call for collegial reflection, that is, the bishops coming together and working together, always with and never without Peter (cf. Lumen Gentium, 22).

In Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis draws deeply and richly on the teaching of his predecessors and from the heart of the Catholic theological tradition.  This engagement is evident in the reaffirmation of the doctrine of the Church in regard to marriage and the moral life—a point which the Holy Father makes repeatedly (Amoris Laetitia, 307). The teaching on marriage and human love of Blessed Paul VI, Saint John Paul II, and Benedict XVI is featured prominently in the document.

Now Pope Francis picks up the threads of the energizing focus of the Council while standing on the foundational work of his predecessors. But this is more than mere repetition of certain points of doctrine.

There is a sense in which one can see in this exhortation a renewed call to recognize our Catholic identity, our connectedness to the Church and how our ministry is validated precisely in our participation in and adherence to the articulated Magisterium of the Church.  This articulation includes that of all of the popes, not just the ones some might deem more Catholic than others.

In Amoris Laetitia specifically, we find long-held, theologically sound teaching that displays the reality of practical, pastoral guidance that is offered to someone who, like all of us, is struggling to live up to the fullness of the norm, but within the circumstances and situations in which they find themselves.

In many ways the document’s teaching is a further response to the Second Vatican Council’s call for a renewal of Catholic moral teaching and practice and the response to this call by the subsequent papal magisterium.

The assertion of the primacy of love does not in any way diminish the role of law.  What the exhortation is calling us to is a recognition that the starting point or principle from which our pastoral actions flow must be the revelation of God’s love and mercy.  Church law certainly has great importance but it is not the only point of reference in pastoral ministry.

The document clearly sounds important notes of its own, and significantly contributes to and applies these hallmarks of post-conciliar renewal.  The focus on the person and his or her dignity is carried forward in the Holy Father’s critique of what he calls “a culture of the ephemeral” (cf. AL, 39) — a culture which views and treats others as sources of affective or sexual pleasure to be discarded when this pleasure runs dry.  This pursuit of a shallow happiness falls short of the joy of which the Exhortation speaks.  As was true for the Council, the dignity of the human person is fully disclosed in Christ but in this case especially in Christ’s embrace of families with their struggles, in children and other vulnerable persons, and in sinners.


One can say that Amoris Laetitia is itself the fruit of very intensive LISTENING on the part of Pope Francis.  The two synods on family called by the Holy Father were themselves preceded by consultation of local churches throughout the world on the lived situation of families, their challenges, and their experience.

This worldwide consultation involving the clergy, religious and laity touches on a significant aspect of Pope Francis’ vision of synodality.  It includes the experience, faith and voice of all the members of the Church, not just the bishops.

Pope Francis understands the process of listening to the faithful and to his brother bishops to be a key part of his own teaching and pastoral ministry.  It is part of the “synodality” or “journeying together” which he sees as essential to the Church at every level.    The fruit of this listening is reflected in the generous citation and engagement of the reports of the two synods in this exhortation.


Another activity on which the document focuses is ACCOMPANYING, the pastoral accompaniment of all who seek to find a way closer to God.  In many ways this is an extension of listening and of the synodality to which it gives rise.  The journeying together of all of the members of the Church implies this accompaniment.  But it also calls for a change in pastoral style and intensity.

Pope Francis calls pastors to do more than teach the Church’s doctrine—though they clearly must do that.   Pastors must “take on the ‘smell of the sheep’” whom they serve so that “the sheep are willing to hear their voice” (EG, 24).  This requires a more careful and intensive formation of all who minister – all who invite people to renew their faith.

Yet it is precisely in this closeness, the proximity to the faithful that another level of experiencing and living the faith develops. It is this challenging and struggling experience of the lived faith that Pope Francis welcomes as that “walking together” that is synodality.

Pope Francis in Amoris Laetitia and the bishops in the 2014 and 2015 synods renew the understanding that the Church’s pastoral mission and ministry must include not only the presentation of Church teaching (her doctrine), but also take into consideration how that teaching can be and is actually received or grasped by individuals, particularly given their situation and circumstances, and also how pastors of souls can engage in the company of the faithful in the journey towards embracing more fully the Church’s life-giving message.


The Church’s pastoral ministry is intended to help the faithful to grow in the art of DISCERNING.  A key part of discernment is the formation of conscience.  The Holy Father insists that the Church’s pastors must “make room for the consciences of the faithful, who very often respond as best they can to the Gospel amid their limitations, and are capable of carrying out their own discernment in complex situations.  We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them” (AL, 37).

Admittedly, this individual process of discernment may not be easy.  A person may know full well Church teaching, Pope Francis notes, yet have great difficulty in either understanding its inherent positive value, or in being able to fully embrace it right away because of circumstances (AL, 301).  Yet, the underlying moral principle which should inform both that personal discernment and the priest’s ministry is that a person whose situation in life is objectively contrary to moral teaching can still love and grow in the faith, he or she can still take steps in the right direction and benefit from God’s mercy and grace while receiving the assistance of the Church (AL, 305).


Amoris Laetitia is not a list of answers to each individual human issue.  Rather, it is a call to compassionate accompaniment in helping all to experience Christ’s love and mercy.  To the extent that our ministry does this, it is also an EVANGELIZING action.  As we recall the challenge to go out, to encounter, and to accompany, we also recognize that this is at its heart an act of the evangelizing disciple.

The 2014 and 2015 Synods on marriage and family and the process they represent of sharing, listening, discerning and receiving are beginnings of a fuller and richer concept of synodality. We see in the post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, a magisterial expression of the fruit of synodality.  It is now seen as a manifestation of the fruit of the whole Church under the guidance of bishops with Peter walking and discerning together.


We began these reflections with an understanding that the word synodality means coming together – journeying together. This concept seems to be central to Pope Francis’ understanding of the nature of the Church, how the Church carries out her mission and who all is engaged in the understanding and articulation of that mission.

Just as Jesus said to his disciples as he prepared to return to his Father in glory: “You will be my witnesses” so Pope Francis is calling the whole body of disciples together in a process of discerning the richness of the proclamation of the faith, accompanying one another as we try: to embrace and appropriate the faith, and to announce it to the world today as much by our actions as by our words.

What Pope Francis is doing is helping us all understand that to be true witnesses to Jesus we have to walk together in witnessing and supporting one another. Only in this way can we truly accept the challenge: “You will be my witnesses.”

Watch the Facebook Live Stream of the Cardinal’s Lecture

Life after Sunday

Did you hear a good homily on forgiveness yesterday? Not only were the readings a great starting point for reflecting on the tenth anniversary of 9-11, the Gospel story is one of those that just hits home every time.  It was one of those Gospels where we leave church thinking,  I know I need to grapple with the fact I don’t want to forgive THAT person.” Or I want to believe that even though I may never see justice, I can do something so that the situation will stop eating at me. You may find yourself thinking I want to hear another homily on how I can forgive.


As perfectly timed, as yesterday’s Gospel, is the publication of my fellow blogger and colleague, Fr. R. Scott Hurd’s book, Forgiveness: A Catholic Approach. In the spirit of full disclosure, Fr. Scott is a colleague and we have admired each other’s work for a number of years and I have written an endorsement for the book which all adds up to having lots of evidence that Fr. Hurd knows what he is talking about.  The book is worth purchasing for yourself and for a friend who may be stuck in the awful cycle of anger and hurt.  What makes Forgiveness such a good read is that it is also a manual.  It answers the HOW question in a step-by step look at sin, forgiveness and reconciliation and how we can make it happen.  If you are a regular reader of this blog or have had the good fortune to hear Fr. Hurd preach,  you will recognize his gift for storytelling and you will appreciate that his example of people grappling with forgiveness and finding their way toward reconciliation come from his own experience in ministry, from the lives of the saints and ripped from the headlines of the news. They offer such a breadth of experiences that I can’t image you won’t see yourself in one of them.

Be An Instrument

Forgiveness is more than just stories; Fr. Hurd tackles the big questions as well.  He writes of having to face the fact we may need to express anger with God, and he tackles how tough forgiving in a Christian way can be.  He reminds us that prayer and participation in the other sacraments not only can help but are essential to the process.  He helps us to honestly ask ourselves if the place to start is realizing we just may need to “lower the bar!”  Fr. Hurd’s book is the kind of book that you could read together with a spouse or family member or friend with whom you are trying to find the way toward reconciliation but just can’t seem to get past an obstacle.  Cardinal Wuerl, in his forward to the book, writes “…We are all called to even more than the passive reception of God’s mercy. Jesus asks us to be instruments of forgiveness.”  In Forgiveness: A Catholic Approach we are given the tools to be instruments of forgiveness.

Cardinal Wuerl on Fox News Sunday – A Reflection and Commentary

This morning on Fox News Sunday, Chris Wallace interviewed Donald Cardinal Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, and also my Archbishop, and, lest we forget, the sponsor of this blog! The full video of the interview is at the bottom of this post and I encourage you to see it all. However, here, I would like to focus on a few issues and and add, if I be so bold, my own commentary as well to the remarks of Cardinal Wuerl. As always in such formats,  I will present the original questions and answers in bold, black, italic font. My own remarks in normal text red.

WALLACE: As you look across America, let’s talk about the spiritual state of our union as we approach 2011. I know one of the things that concerns you are all the shouting, talking heads on TV, and all the divisive blogs, and you say they come out of the same mentality as road rage. Explain.

WUERL: I think what happens is when people don’t feel they are accountable for what they’re saying — and that often happens when there is no one there to challenge what you are saying — people can — some people tend to say things that really need to be modified. They need to be contextualized. I think what we have to say to ourselves, as we look at this great country and all of the wonderful things that are a part of our history and our life together, we need to be respectful of each other. We need to be talking to each other out of the same tone that we would if we were directly across the table from someone. And that — that is a little bit of a challenge today because with blogs and with all the ease of communications, we sometimes forget directly across the table from usI personally experience a rather bifurcated life in this matter. I think the Cardinal is quite right in noting that certain settings feature a rather terse and harsh tone, e.g.  on certain blogs, on the Internet, talk radio and to some extent on TV “talking head” panels. But in person I often experience the opposite issue in that people don’t often speak as directly as I would like. I can sit in specific meetings and many people do not come right out and say what they mean. They hedge, “beat around the bush” and equivocate rather than speak directly to the issue and express their opinion clearly. This happnes interpersonally at times also.

One thing I admire about Cardinal Wuerl is that in his meetings, and I sit on many Archdiocesan panels and boards, the Cardinal encourages frank discussion and the airing of differing views. It helps us craft a realistic policies and responses to situations when all the views are on the table and there are no “pink elephants” in the room that every one ignores. Certainly there is an insistence on civil discourse in these sorts of meetings. But in the end, frank, honest, candid discussion is helpful. In many cases however I think that such discussions are rarer in our wider culture than I would wish.

Perhaps this is why some are so strident in settings where their true identity may not be known and where they don’t personally interact with their “interlocutors.” In effect they celebrate a kind of freedom,  to the extreme,  that they do not feel comfortable doing face to face.  There is thus some value to the  “protected” and “incognito” or faceless quality of Internet discussion. However, the Cardinal is right in pointing out that accountability is often less in such settings. This is true in terms of both tone and content. In relationships that involve real, physical presence we can be held accountable for being unkind and, because we cannot so easily “sign-off” from discussions or relationships of this sort,  we will tend to be more careful how we treat others.

It is also true, that Internet discussions are really back and forth monologues more than real conversations. Right now I am typing and you will later (now) read and perhaps type back. Right now I have a monologue going and you cannot interrupt me, or challenge me, either on my tone or content. I might, as the Cardinal points out, need to modify what I am saying or how I am saying it based on your feedback. Further, as the Cardinal notes, one-sided conversations that occur especially in opinion based blogs often lack context. Talking about an issue is fine but context is important and recounting the “rest of the story” is not often respected.

An additional factor of opinion based blogs, radio shows, and news channels,  is that they tend to attract people of like mind so that the conversation lacks depth and many of these subsets become increasingly isolated and opaque. What therefore touts itself to be a wide open discussion increasingly appears as a closed circle of like-minded people in the  corner of the room at a cocktail party saying things to each other and going unchallenged in any substantial way.

In terms of this blog, we are discussing ways of widening the conversation and bringing more people to the table. Fr. Robert Barron is very good at doing this. He is able to engage people in a conversation who would never THINK of going to a Catholic blog. He does this by going out into the culture and commenting on things that most Catholic bloggers don’t (e.g. Bob Dylan as theologian, movie commentaries, etc.) At any rate we’re thinking of bring a lively conversation of the culture to bear more and more here and yours truly (age 49.5) is challenged to keep up with all the latest cultural stuff, especially among the young. More on these ideas later.

WALLACE:…Cardinal, the church does have some problems. And I want to pull up some polls. According to surveys, 75 percent of Catholics attended church weekly, back in the 1950s. That’s now down to 45 percent. And while 31 percent of Americans say they were raised in a Catholic family, only 24 percent now describe themselves as Catholic. Question, how do you account for that?

WUERL: I think what we’re facing is the erosion because of the heavy, heavy influence of secularism. We live in a world, and particularly, our country, that is awash in the continuous repetition of the secular view. And all these statistics say to me is, I’m not doing as good a job as I should in preaching the Gospels. I am not doing as good a job as I need to do in getting the rest of the story out there. And the rest of the story is it’s wonderful to live in a technologically advanced, highly scientific world, but with that is also the gift of faith, and what faith brings to that whole world. Those statistics simply say to me I need to be, the church needs to be much more effective in telling the story of Jesus. I like this answer. We DO have to be sober about the secularization of our society as the chief cause of the erosion of our numbers. But, as the Cardinal points out, this is an explanation, it is not excuse. It simply means that we will have to redouble our efforts and do a better, more effective job of preaching the gospel. We have talked about that a lot on this blog and will talk of it more!

WALLACE: Cardinal, even during the Christmas season, this is still a Sunday morning talk show, so I’m going to ask you about a political issue which has a strong moral component. How do you feel about the repeal of “Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell,” the ban on gays serving openly in the military?

WUERL: You have to put that in context of what the church would be concerned about. When we’re dealing with the question of military readiness or morale, those are issues that we have to really hear from others on. What the church is concerned about and what it brings to this debate, this discussion, are two realities. One, the understanding the long, long teaching of the church that every human being is worthy of respect. Every person must be embraced and respected and treated with fairness. Then you also have to take the rest of the Gospel message, the rest of Jesus’s message that human sexuality has a purpose. And this is not for simply personal satisfaction. Human sexually has to be seen in the context of the great gift of love, marriage, family. And so when the church addresses any of these issues that touch on sexuality, that is our starting point. And that’s why we often times are viewed, I think, as an opposition voice, because this is a highly, highly focused society on the pleasures of life. And the church is saying that’s true, but there is also responsible sexuality. – An excellent response and distinction: respect for the person, but clarity on moral issues. We live in a culture where many people insist that the Church do what she cannot. We simply cannot set aside Biblical and Dogmatic teaching on moral issues. We can surely respect that people struggle with them. But many people insist that, until we approve of what they do, we do not really respect them, that somehow, in our disapproval of something they do we intend to offend or disrespect them. But this not so. That someone takes offense at something you or I say does not mean we actually gave offense and even less that we intended to give offense.

The Catholic Church is careful to distinguish between a person’s orientation and their behavior. We also distinguish between temptation and sin. For  example, that someone struggles with and is often tempted to anger does not make them a bad person. However, we cannot give approval to the unrighteous venting of anger. The temptation or orientation to anger is, of itself,  morally neutral, the giving way to that anger in a harmful way is not morally neutral. It is the same with sexuality. Most people suffer some degree of sexual temptation. This is not, of itself, sinful. What is sinful is to give way to it, whether through fornication, adultery, pornography, masturbation, etc. Thus, the homosexual person is not bad because of an orientation and the manner in which they are tempted sexually. Rather, what is bad is, not the person, but the acts that flow from the temptation by yielding to it.

I understand that even with this distinction (respect for the sinner, clarity about sin) many Gay people are not satisfied. What they want is approval of the acts. But the Church cannot give this. Yet, as the Cardinal says, and that is every human being is worthy of respect even if we cannot approval all of what every human being does, starting with the man or woman in the mirror. We do not intend therefore any disrespect, we do not intend to offend. That some do take offense and feel disrespected is regrettable and we in the Church  invite them to consider that our concerns are rooted in sincerely held Christian principles, rooted in biblical revelation, and the teaching of the ancient Church, and that we cannot simply cast aside what we sincerely believe to be reveled by God in this matter.

WALLACE: So are you in favor or against the repeal of “Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell”?

WUERL: That is a question that has to be worked out politically. And there isn’t a specific Catholic Church position, but whatever happens, it has to be seen in terms of the church’s teaching position. And that is, human sexuality is something that is supposed to be exercised responsibly and within the context of marriage. It is good for the Cardinal to avoid getting into a policy discussion of exactly how the US military should handle this. In this blog many have remarked with anger how they consider the US Bishops often transgress their role by getting involved in matters of policy. It is clear that the Bishops must advocate moral principles and set forth a Biblical and Christian vision regarding matters of justice and the moral life. But that does not mean that they should comment on every specific issue regarding policy.

The Cardinal has articulated clearly enough that the Church insists upon sexual responsibility for all people. How the military chooses to regulate itself or its members around possible threats to military discipline related to sexual matters involves prudential judgments, judgments that they are best fit to make.

It is also possible in this answer that Cardinal Wuerl is deferring to Archbishop Timothy Broglio who is the Archbishop for Military Services and may have more of a reason to comment directly on policy matters in this regard since his priests who serve in the military are directly impacted by the decision. You can read his statment here: http://www.catholic.org/national/national_story.php?id=36796

WALLACE: And we have — and I apologize. We have about 45 seconds. In this special season, what message do you have for Christians and non-Christians alike?

WUERL: Christmas is a time when we all can look with hope to the future. That’s part of the message of Christmas. There is the best in each one of us. And we’re all capable of bringing out the best. And to do that together with one another, in a very pluralistic society, says that we can look to the future with hope, because if we respect and love one another, there is nothing we can’t accomplish. Yes, hope is the best note on which to end. The Pope also does this very well in his book Light of the World. In that Book Peter Seewald is often alarmist, but the Pope always goes back to the hope that is rooted in the promise of Jesus Christ that the gates of Hell would not prevail against the Church. Cardinal Wuerl has the same principled balance: sober about the challenges we face, but rooted in hope for we serve a Lord who said: “In this world you shall have tribulation, but have confidence. I have overcome the world (John 16:33).

The Red Hat: November 20


Today, Cardinal-designate Wuerl and all of us who call the Archdiocese of Washington home will participate in the first-part of the Consistory, a tradition that dates back to the 12thcentury. Cardinal-designate Wuerl will receive his red biretta and wear a red cassock. The red is a reminder, as the Church Fathers like to say, that the life blood of the church is the blood of the martyrs.

Read: Luke 20:27-40

Reflect: Pope Benedict, as he gives each Cardinal the red hat, tells the Cardinal that the red hat “signifies that you must be ready to act with strength, to the point of shedding blood, to increase the Christian faith, for the peace and tranquility of the people of God and for the freedom and growth of the holy Roman church.”

Each new Cardinal receives a titular church in Rome and Cardinal Wuerl is assinged St. Peter in Chains. If you have been following this pilgrimage, you know that St. Peter in Chains was the first stop in the pilgriamge tour! A big thanks to Bishop Barry Knestout who provided me with this photo from his seat at the liturgy. Read more.