Monsignor Harry J. Byrne, JCD * * * Comment/

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Location: 3103 Arlington Avenue,, Bronx, NY 10463, United States

May 5, 2007

Bishop Olmsted - Winner or Loser?

Last month, Edwina Gately, a well-known Catholic speaker and writer, was scheduled for an address to a group of nuns at a Franciscan Renewal Center on "Feminine Dimensions of God". The local bishop, Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix, AZ, sent word that he would have her talk tape-recorded for his scrutiny. Gately refused on legal and personal grounds. The bishop then prohibited the Franciscans from hosting the speaker. She was cancelled but quickly rescheduled at a nearby Protestant church.

What had Bishop Olmsted accomplished? He had characterized himself as an opponent of open and honest discussion. Many of the Catholic faithful were shocked and embarrassed before the general public by this behavior of their bishop, apparently showing his lack of confidence in the persuasive power of Catholic positions and his need to take recourse to the mailed fist of authority - a technique that went out of vogue with the Inquisition and the spiked ball and chain.

Our US bishops engage in conferences and dialogues with the Anglicans, the Methodists, the Evangelicals and others. Can we not similarly discuss issues, neuralgic and otherwise, among we Catholics ourselves? With the CTA? the VOTF? "We Are Church"? Do many bishops feel that they somehow "own" the Catholics in their domain; that the voices of the Catholic faithful must simply be echo chambers of the bishop's voice? That bishops cannot learn from others? Their track record in recent years suggests that they could, indeed, learn from others.

A final accomplishment of Bishop Olmsted: he created a wider audience for Ms. Gately by moving her to a Protestant church, receiving great attention from the Phoenix press!

May 1, 2007

Mission accomplished! Mission not accomplished!

There was more fresh vitality in the faces of the twenty-one first communicants than in the yet to bud forsythia and dogwood blossoms on a chilly spring morning last Sunday. St. Ann's, Ossining had 130 recipients for first communion from its parochial school and the CCD program. Broken down into six groups over three Sundays for more easy management - and to accommodate the crowds of parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts - they constituted a veritable United Nations of children, the girls like little brides in white, the future Los Exjilentes and Anglos CEOs in their Buster Brown blue suits. Father Ed, the pastor, would slip easily from English into Spanish in his words of welcome and in many of the Mass prayers. The children particiated in the Mass standing around the altar, their representatives proclaiming the first reading, the responsorial psalm, and the petitions in the Prayer of the Faithful.

The special liturgy for children was used, children and adults singing with remarkable togetherness the portions that were periodically interspersed among the Mass prayers. At the gentle direction of the pastor, members of the congregation joined hands, even dramatically across the aisle, and together recited the Lord's Prayer. It was a remarkable indication of the unity of this parish and its ability to pray together as a community. An extraordinary show of mutual support! Before communion, the pastor invited the people in Englsh and Spanish to participate in St. Ann's custom of all approching the altar, those not ready for communion to cross their arms across their breasts, a signal to the priest or eucharistic minister to confer a blessing. A remarkable number did just that, indicating that they were perhaps not regular church goers but had been drawn back by the First Communion of their children and were delighted to be received in this welcoming fashion.

This noonday Mass also celebrated the eleventh anniversary of Sister Eileen Finnerty's role as pastoral Associate at St. Ann's. Eileen has had a remarkable history a teacher of French and English, principal of a girls' high school, hospital chaplain, and now , in retirement, a significant member of St. Ann's ministerial staff. At a well-attended luncheon, I had the pleasure of saying a few words about Eileen, and while not inclined to dwell on the negative, I felt it essential to comment on the injustice of our Church to women, and in particular to the religious sisters. A layman, active in his own career or retired, is given a course in theologyand then is ordained as a deacon. He can than perform baptisms and marriages and preach from the pulpit. A nun observed to me how the sisters with academic degrees and years of giving retreats and spiritual counseling sessions can perform no regular church baptisms, cannot officiate at marriages, nor preach from thr pulpit. The history of the Church's unjust treatment of religious sisters and women generally is too lengthy for this posting. But perhaps some day a pope will apologize for the injustice to women, after the fashion in which John Paul II apologized for how the Church in the past had treated Galileo, the Jews, and various other groups.

Of First Communion at St. Ann's, it could be said, "Mission accomplished!" Of Sister Eileen Finnerty's Anniversary, it could be said about her minstryand St. Ann's, "Mission accomplished!' About the Church's treatment of women and of Sister Eileen, it could be said, "Mission not accomplished!"