February 10, 2012 – A Critical Time

Normally when I sit down to write a blog my fear is whether I will have anything to talk about (although somehow like a politician, I still manage to come up with several paragraphs of ramblings – the gift of saying a lot without saying anything).  However, over the last few weeks with all of the national news surrounding the Catholic Church and the threats against our religious freedom, plus the local happenings, the problem has been what to write about and what to ignore.  So I’ll just try to hit on some of my main observations on our church nationally and at home. 

The national news continues to surround the recent mandate by the Obama administration that non-profit employers, which would include entities such as Catholic hospitals and Catholic universities, must include coverage of contraception and sterilization procedures in their health care plans.  This of course goes against Catholic teaching, and would force many individuals to not only violate their conscience, but to also pay more to cover the cost of providing these procedures and medications free of charge.  Fortunately, there has been a HUGE backlash against this mandate.  The bishops of the U.S. were clearly mobilized for this effort, and their public opposition, as well as the opposition of other religious leaders and legislators (conservative and liberal alike), led to the announcement today that the Obama administration is willing to compromise on the issue.  Essentially, the compromise would take the responsibility of offering birth control away from the religious organizations and place it with the insurers.  The following links explain today’s announcement and the response of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops:

www.ajc.com/news/nation-world/under-fire-obama-adjusts-1343283.html

www.usccb.org/news/2012/12-025.cfm

Perhaps lost in this story was another story a few days ago that the Archbishop of the Military, who like most bishops had prepared a statement to be read by military chaplains about the consequences of the HHS mandate, had his statement censored by the head of Army military chaplains (an Obama appointee).  In my mind’s eye, this is a slap right in the face of the First Amendment, which guarantees us religious freedom as well as freedom of speech.  There may be some who consider the swift and vocal reaction of the church to the HHS mandate as excessive, but when a story such as this surfaces, it is clear that we are at a crossroads as to what we are free to do as a church, and a secular world that seeks to tear away this freedom. 

So where is the good news in all of this?  The good news is that we have hope as a people of Christian and Catholic faith that when united, our voice can lead to protection of our freedoms and our right to take a stand on issues that violate our core beliefs – that violate the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  In the many meetings that I have sat in on over the last 15 years, so often I hear my fellow Catholics lament the changes that have seemed to silence our voice – the removal of prayer in public schools, the removal of references to God in public places, etc.  Perhaps this united effort to overturn this mandate will serve as an impetus for making our voices heard loud and clear again, and serve as a time to renew our confidence in our church leaders.

Our local Diocesan church is also going through a time of renewal with the Parish Renewal and Restructuring Process.  This past Wednesday representatives from our cluster parishes (which include Ellis Grove, Evansville, Walsh and Sparta) met with Fr. Dan Jurek, who is pastor of Prairie du Rocher and Modoc as well as the Dean of the West Deanery.  This cluster meeting was part of the requirements of the current planning process.  Of course the question at the forefront of people’s minds is which parishes and schools will close or merge together.  However, Fr. Jurek reminded us that the process also includes “renewal”, which means that first and foremost this is an opportunity for parishes to identify their strengths and weaknesses, and to identify possible solutions to these weaknesses.  In the end result, after reviewing all of the parish evaluations (Fr. Jurek promised that each and every one would be read), if there are clear weaknesses that it appears a parish would not be able to overcome, whether it be finances, decaying buildings, a lack of younger people in a community, etc., then closure or merging would have to be considered. 

In some cases, especially in larger dioceses such as the Archdioceses of Detroit & St. Louis, the deans were basically told that “x” amount of parishes must be closed, and that it was up to them to provide a list of parishes to put on the chopping block.  In this process, the hope is that the recommendations will come from the people.  It is a given that changes will have to take place.  Currently there are about 70 priests ministering to 117 parishes.  About 30 of these priests are eligible to retire, and about another 15-20 are international priests who are here serving for a limited period of time.  So as we get 5- 10 years down the road, the current situation which is already putting a huge strain on our clergy will be that much more challenging.  The hope is that by parishes addressing their weaknesses, that they will be better prepared to meet these future challenges, and that we will be a more attractive church, hopefully resulting in more effective ways to reach out to those who do not regularly attend Mass and in an increase in vocations.

As I said last week, the process of going through all of this data will be tedious and time-consuming, and it will likely be at least a year before recommendations are made to the Bishop and any final decisions are made.  In the meantime, we need to continue to work to remain a strong community of faith, and pray for the process and an increase in vocations.

So we are at a critical time in terms of both our local church and the church as a nation.  It is certainly an anxious time, but I think it is an exciting time as well, as we have been presented an opportunity to strengthen ourselves for the future.  I am eager to see how all of this will play out, and to get at least a glimpse of what the Catholic Church of the future will look like.

On a personal note, this weekend is always very difficult for me.  It is the weekend after the Super Bowl, the first weekend without football!  Sure, there’s hockey and basketball, but it just isn’t the same.  Thank goodness spring training starts next week to appease my appetite for sports.  Thanks again for reading.  Keep checking our website, www.maryhoc.org and our Facebook page for the latest news.  Peace.

 

 

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