Since posting a story about St. Joan of Arc parish this past Sunday, I have received a number of inquiries, both by e-mail and in the comments online, asking about how the archbishop could allow such lunacy to take place.
I simply want to urge caution to those who would judge the archbishop severely. I know some wonder why things have been allowed to get this wacky, or why more ecclesial muscle is not being exercised now in order to get the parish to shape up or ship out. Some things to remember:
- The archbishop inherited a very old problem here when he became archbishop of Saint Paul and Minneapolis in 1995. The previous ordinary actually was on record saying that the archdiocese needed a church like St. Joan’s (and yes, it was wacky back in the 80’s too – read Donna Steichen’s Ungodly Rage if you don’t believe me).
- The archbishop actually has had several confrontations with the leadership of this parish… particularly in 2003, when in the space of several months, he asked the pastor to dis-invite gay activist Mel White from delivering the Sunday homily, and told his office of religious education to reverse their decision to give the archdiocesan “educator of the year” award to lesbian DRE Kathy Itzin.
- Unless one has had close dealings with the archdiocese over the past years, it’s a bit difficult to appreciate how little support the archbishop has received even from his own staff. It is a classic case of weeds growing up among the wheat. Saint Joan’s is hardly the only problem spot in the archdiocese. How exactly do you discipline a half-dozen two-year-olds at the same time?
- It would be a mistake to see Archbishop Flynn as sympathetic with the theology and tactics of the Joan of Arc crowd, or to think that he simply doesn’t care about the spiritual health of the parish or the archdiocese. If you know the man personally, as I do, you realize how deeply this sort of thing troubles his priestly heart.
- No priest in their right mind — except maybe a St. John Vianney in-the-making — would flourish in this parish, and not without great suffering. It’s not going to be easy to select a successor to Fr. Wertin, a man who spent years tickling the ears of his parishioners – year in and year out – with a message of narcissism and malcontent.
I mention all of this by way of saying that while there is a time and place for asking a bishop difficult questions and calling him to a more fervent application of his pastoral mandate, I would submit that this is not the time or place to take this approach with Archbishop Flynn. There is a season for criticism, and one for encouragement, and I believe it is a season for encouraging this shepherd of the Church. He has chosen his battles carefully over the years, and focused especially on promoting marriage and family life, Eucharistic adoration and priestly vocations, and it would be difficult to say that his efforts have not been fruitful in this regard. I personally believe he has taken a longer view at reform, and not entertained any fantasies about the possibility of removing every Judas from the Church’s membership… ultimately because the divine Master did not do such a thing either.
If you want to encourage the Archbishop, and live in the archdiocese, you might consider writing him a short note of gratitude for the many good things he has encouraged and fostered in his nearly ten years of service here.
And pray for Archbishop Flynn. Pray for priests. Whenever possible, offer a word of encouragement. So often we have no idea of the burdens they are shouldering on our behalf, without notice and without thanks.