BALTIMORE — After two years of on-line meetings, the U.S. conference of Catholic Bishops went back to Baltimore for their fall general assembly.
Crux sat down with Archbishop William Lori, the “local” bishop, on Tuesday, to discuss the document on the Eucharist the prelates approved on Wednesday, after hefty discussions the day before; the synodal process in the diocese of Baltimore and the need for the hierarchy to address the question of priests who have active profiles in dating apps.
Following the resignation earlier this year following an expose by a Catholic media outlet that obtained data from the phone of Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill, general secretary of the USCCB allegedly proving that he had an active profile in a gay dating app, Father Michael J.K. Fuller, a priest of the Diocese of Rockford, Illinois, and associate general secretary of the USCCB, was elected to replace him.
The matter of priests who don’t live the priesthood as they should, and use technology to break their vow of celibacy, Lori said, obviously needs “to be dealt with, and to be dealt with at all levels, not just psychologically, not just from the point of view of scandal or public relations, but from the point of view of living the priesthood in a healthy way and asking ourselves again, and again and again, what are the conditions for doing that?”
What follows are excerpts from Lori’s conversation with Crux.
Crux: What did you think about the speeches from Tuesday morning? Because Archbishop Christophe Pierre’s, Vatican representative in the U.S., was very much rooted in synodality while that of Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, and president of the USCCB, focused mostly on Eucharistic revival.
Lori: I thought the two talks were complementary. Archbishop Christophe Pierre laid out in a very cogent way what synodality is, where it comes from, its roots in the very life and constitution of the church. It’s a sort of a hidden element in the Second Vatican Council that has been teased out and brought to the fore as the companion to to the communio theology of the council. I think that he gave us kind of a flesh and blood description of what it is and what it is not. And I think that was very, very helpful.
Archbishop Gomez harked back to Archbishop John Ireland of St. Paul and his vision for the mission of the church in the 20th century. And what archbishop Gomez pulled out is that everyone is called to be members of a church in mission, and by definition, a church in mission is synodal.
And he also pointed to the Eucharist, not as an abstract doctrine standing off by itself, but as a privileged point of encounter with the Lord Jesus. By entering into the Eucharistic mystery together, we journey together, listen together, we experience that Eucharistic amazement in which the Holy Spirit speaks to us individually and collectively.
Another thing speaking of the Eucharist, what have the in-person conversations regarding the document been like?
There appears to be a lot more unity about the purpose of it, as a support for the Eucharistic revival project. Some of us from the very beginning thought that’s what it ought to be. And in the intervening months since June, that is, in fact, what it has become now.
It’s not a comprehensive document on the Eucharist.
Despite its length [30 pages]?
We wanted to write a document that fully explained and celebrated the Eucharist. As scripture says, not all the books in the world could contain it. What we have done is to have chosen certain things about which there has been less clarity and less emphasis over time, which studies show that there has been a declining belief in, and decided that maybe it would be good just to lift those up.
We understand that we’re doing this as a resource for bishops, for catechists, priests. And we’re going to break it down into bite-size resources.
You mentioned that it’s become more of this catechetical document for the Eucharistic revival project. Why is it so important to put these two hand in hand?
The intent of this document is to help the whole church begin to teach and proclaim the Eucharistic mystery in its fullness. And this is meant to be an aid – not the only aid nor the be all and end all. As I said earlier, something that helps us focus on things that have not been talked about, explained nearly enough, over the past decades.
So it’s not about telling President Joe Biden that he cannot receive communion?
Not in the least. We do mention worthiness, because that’s been neglected. We haven’t talked much about that. And so, as it were, we kind of laid out once again, as we’ve done before, the rules of the road that apply to all of us, myself very much included. We’re not singling anybody out, the president or any class of people.
And it’s meant to provide them a kind of a foundation rather than to be a prescriptive rule making document. It’s more of a foundation.
The reason why there was a need to vote for a new Secretary General today was because of the resignation of the previous one. Do you think there is a need for bishops to talk about priests having active profiles in dating apps or who use social media for sexual reasons?
I don’t know about this meeting, but there’s obviously a need for that to be dealt with, and to be dealt with at all levels, not just psychologically, not just from the point of view of scandal or public relations, but from the point of view of living the priesthood in a healthy way and asking ourselves again, and again and again, what are the conditions for doing that?
And there are priests who find themselves in all kinds of conditions: Priests who are experiencing physical isolation, those priests who have jobs that are high pressure jobs, those priests who have, in spite of all attempts to strengthen priestly formation, imported into the priesthood personal deficits that make them more likely to do things that are contrary to what they promised the church at the end of the day.
This is a question of conversion. If a priest spends hours a day before the Blessed Sacrament, goes to confession, is very honest with his spiritual director, and has good lay friends who don’t pander to him, but seek to help them become really good priest… there are no ironclad guarantees: Human nature is human nature. But I think those are the kinds of things that need to happen in every priest’s life.
If ever there was a moment for synodality it’s this one.
We’ve talked about the priorities of the USCCB, obviously because we’re here for the fall assembly, but what are the burdens of the Archdiocese of Baltimore? What are the concerns bishop Lori has right now?
First and foremost, since the beginning, it has been evangelization. It’s who we are. It’s why the church exists. It’s about focusing the church on proclaiming the gospel and reaching out to the people who are good and faithful- we commend them, we love them, we encourage them.
But let’s ask, what about the start with the Christmas and Easter Catholics? If we don’t contact them between Christmas and Easter, we’re lucky that they stay Christmas and Easter Catholics. What about some outreach to them? And it’s pretty simple.
What about helping people to overcome their shyness, their reticence about talking about their faith, and creating parishes that are more mission driven, rather than places of maintenance as the saying goes.
As a subset, under that are a couple of things. One is vocations. Priestly vocations is a big priority of mine. We’re blessed to have almost 60 guys in the seminary right now. It’s a good number for us. And I really try hard to get to know them, meet with them twice a year. We have a year of the Eucharist underway which is kind of a preparation for the Eucharistic revival.
And we’ve geared up for the Synod, and we’re doing it robustly, I say. It’s well underway throughout the parishes of the Archdiocese. We’ll do it with our three universities and with the religious communities, of which there are many in Baltimore, perfect. So how are we going to get this into a 10 page report? I have no idea.
One last question: we’re starting to think about a “post COVID-19 era.” What’s the archdiocese of Baltimore doing to help motivate people to go back to Mass?
Part of the reason for doing the year of the Eucharist, part of the focus of our synodal process is in fact, bringing people back to the Eucharist after COVID. And, you know, it’s uneven across the Archdiocese: Some parishes are doing really well, and I think those are the ones that called everybody up during the pandemic, and said, hey, what can we do to help you?
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