Got Vatican II questions?

Not long after becoming pope, Benedict XVI openly wondered why the implementation of Vatican II has been so darned…complicated.

He said that many mistakenly believe that the post-Vatican II church has not lived up to the great Council, while others are wrong in believing that VII was supposed to represent a break from the pre-Council church.

B16 said: “Forty years after the Council, we can show that the positive is far greater and livelier than it appeared to be in the turbulent years around 1968. Today, we see that although the good seed developed slowly, it is nonetheless growing; and our deep gratitude for the work done by the Council is likewise growing.”

Bellitto_2009For the many Catholics who still have unanswered questions about Vatican II — okay, everybody — St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers would be a good place to visit next Wednesday (Feb 3). At 7:30 p.m., church historian Christopher Bellitto will speak on  “Vatican II: The State of the Questions.”

I’ve known Bellitto since he was professor of church history at St. Joseph’s Seminary and associate dean of the seminary’s Institute of Religious Studies.

He is not only a real smart guy who loves church history, but he knows how to talk and write about it. He won’t be dull. He will know what people want to hear about and he will get to it with insight and humor.

I must say, he is a master of the sound bite — an important skill if you’re going to be interviewed by media people these days. Bellitto knows how to get to the heart of a matter directly and colorfully.

And at Dunwoodie, he won’t have to rush.

Does he know Vatican II? As an editor for Paulist Press, he created and edited “Rediscovering Vatican II,” only an 8-volume series by a team of international scholars.

He is currently Assistant Professor of History at Kean University in Union, N.J.,  and the Academic Editor-at-Large for Paulist Press.

He got his doctorate at Fordham, so he’s still a local guy.

This is his first return engagement at Dunwoodie for a while. So check him out if you’re, you know, interested in Vatican II.

For more info: (914) 968-6200, ext. 8292.

A great loss for the Archdiocese of NY

I’m getting lots of emails and calls about the death Saturday of William F. Harrington, a prominent Westchester lawyer for half a century who was one of the central Catholic philanthropists in the Archdiocese of New York.

Harrington, who was known as B.J., was a distinguished fellow who was admired by many.

One fan wrote to me: “I know of no other who gave of himself so unselfishly to
others as B.J. did — a truly great man.”

tjndc5-5b5f5q5i9tu1iq65pezi_layoutI first talked to Harrington in 1997 for an article about whether Cardinal O’Connor would actually retire, as many thought he would.

Harrington told me: “Many people assumed he would retire. But he’s as active as he ever was. He’s all priest, and still tending to his flock.”

I remember people remarking to me at the time that Harrington got it right — that O’Connor was “all priest.”

I talked to Harrington for the last time only this past August. He was chairman of the capital campaign for the new Elizabeth Seton Pediatric Center, a residential nursing facility for severely disabled children, which is scheduled to open in Yonkers next year.

He was so enthusiastic about the work of the Seton Center, currently located in NYC.

“You can’t describe the work that these folks are doing,” he said.

It would take me an hour to list all the Catholic institutions and causes that Harrington worked for. He was a member of the board of both St. Patrick’s Cathedral and St. Joseph’s Seminary.

In 1999, he received the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Medal, known as the Papal Medal, the highest medal awarded to a layperson by the pope.

Archbishop Dolan is scheduled to celebrate a Mass of Christian Burial for Harrington on Wednesday at 10:15 at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Harrington’s loss will leave a big hole in the Catholic Church of New York.

Have questions about priestly celibacy?

If you read this blog, you’re probably aware that the question of priestly celibacy in the Catholic Church remains a hotly debated one.

I’ve heard people offer vastly different accounts of the history of celibacy and its meaning for today.

Well, tomorrow (Wed. Nov. 4), Father Joseph T. Lienhard, a Jesuit and professor of theology at Fordham University — and adjunct professor of dogmatic theology at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie — will present a lecture at the seminary about “Celibacy in the Early Church.”

It’s at 7:30 p.m. and is open to the public.

The seminary is offering several lectures this year related to the “Year for Priests.”

Lienhard is the author, editor or translator of 12 books and author of more than 50 scholarly articles. Since 1997, he has been the managing editor of TRADITION, a journalism of ancient an medieval thought, history and religion published by Fordham.

He is currently translating two works by St. Augustine into English for the first time.

Preparing future priests for dinner conversation, email usage and dealing with the media

I had the privilege yesterday of addressing about 35 Catholic seminarians at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers.

The topic: How to “interact” with the media.

I was on a panel with John Woods, editor of Catholic New York, and Beth Griffin, a writer for Catholic News Service. They’re both real pros whose work I respect.

We each chatted for a few minutes and then took an interesting assortment of questions from the group.

As you might expect, I argued in favor of “openness” with the media. I tried to make the case that it’s in everyone’s best interest for priests to take calls from reporters, arrange interviews and try to explain their beliefs and actions (in a clear, concise and careful way). The opposite approach — not returning calls, offering a “no comment,” turning your back on a reporter — never makes reporters go away and ultimately contributes to less accurate and meaningful news reports.

Does interaction with the media ensure accurate and thorough news reports? Of course not.

The panel was asked about reporters with an “agenda,” the questionable accuracy of bloggers, the messy fall-out from the high-pressure, 24-hour news cycle and other factors that can make the media quite scary for clergy.

All good points. No question about it. But the Media Machine is not going away and many priests will have to face it at some point.

Beth, John and I all had the same message: Be truthful. Be helpful. Be clear. Be careful.

Father Gerard Rafferty (that’s him), who teaches Scripture at the seminary and introduced us, may have said it best: “We can’t be afraid of proclaiming what we believe.”

Our presentation actually came at the end of a two-day seminar called “The Priest in the Public Eye.” The idea was to help future priests fully realize that they will live much of their lives in the public eye and to understand what it really means.

They started on Monday morning with a presentation on — get this — social etiquette. How should you look, introduce yourself, greet others, even offer handshakes. How to interact with staff and parishioners. What it means to be a good host and a good guest. Even how to offer a toast and work a receiving line.

This is the life of a priest, right?

Bishop Gerald Walsh, rector of the seminary, covered basic communication, from the parish bulletin and the parish website to answering invitations and writing thank-you notes.

Father Stephen Norton covered the advantages — and potential dangers — of Internet networking and email use. For example: Choose an appropriate email name, even for personal accounts.

Yesterday morning — and I wish I could have seen this — the seminarians learned about dinner etiquette. We’re talking how to deal with forks and spoons, how to make appropriate conversation (avoid politics and religion, anyone?) and knowing when it’s time to leave. Also: Silence the cell phone.

Then came our program about dealing with the media.

Griffin had one of my favorite bits of advice for the day: Don’t refer to your archbishop as an “ordinary” or an unknowing reporter may report that you referred to Archbishop Dolan as, well, an ordinary joe.

NY Giants owner to help honor Archbishop Dolan at seminary dinner

Guess who will be the special honoree at St. Joseph’s Seminary’s annual dinner in Yonkers on Sept. 22.

The new boss, Archbishop Dolan.

Dolan has been out of town for much of the summer, working on his Spanish. I understand that he is going to start making his mark on the Archdiocese of NY this fall.

The chairs of the event will be philanthropist Florence B. D’Urso, who splits her time between Manhattan and Pelham and is one of the most influential laypeople in the archdiocese, and none other than John K. Mara, of Harrison, president and chief executive officer of the New York Giants.

Mara (that’s him) is the oldest son of the late Giants owner Wellington Mara. He serves on the Board of Directors of St. Vincent’s Hospital in Harrison and of the School of the Holy Child in Rye. His mother, Ann Mara, was chair of the 2004 seminary dinner.

The dinner is a big fundraiser for “Dunwoodie,” the training ground for NY priests. Tickets are $500 or $5,000 for a table.

For info, call 914-968-6200, ext. 8292.

“In our 113th year of preparing men to serve God’s people as priests, we are grateful for the many blessings and graces the Lord continues to shower upon us here at Dunwoodie,” says Bishop Gerald Walsh, rector of the seminary.

Dolan unsure of priest morale problem

Today, Archbishop Dolan gets to the real inside stuff.

He’ll hold the first of two meetings with the priests of the archdiocese — at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers.

Tomorrow he meets with the Priests Council at Dunwoodie.

The morale of the Catholic priests of New York has been a much discussed subject in recent years. I’ve had many priests tell me of their disenchantment with Cardinal Egan’s leadership — and of a general sense of the New York church being “out at sea” in recent years.

At Dolan’s press conference last week, hours before his installation, I asked him about priestly morale and what he could do to pick his priests up.

His answer was quite interesting.

He said that priests get a bad rap for having poor morale. Even priests, he said, seem to think that their brother priests are feeling low.

But Dolan said he hasn’t seen evidence of low morale. He seemed to think that he’s fighting a perception problem.

I just wonder if priests show their brightest sides to their new archbishop. Who wants to complain to the new boss?

Regardless, every priest I’ve communicated with in recent weeks has been buoyed by Dolan’s choice, arrival and presence. He may be able to lift morale without even trying.

Additionally, the new boss has started to schedule visits to the 19 vicariates — or regions — of the archdiocese.

At each stop, he’ll have dinner with clergy, lead a prayer service and visit with folks at a reception, not unlike what Egan did for the bicentennial of the archdiocese.

What we know so far:

April 27: St. Joseph’s Church, Kingston (for Ulster County)

May 5: St. Francis of Assisi, West Nyack (Rockland County)

May 20:  Sacred Heart Church, Newburgh (Orange County)

June 1: St. Mary’s Church, Wappingers Falls (Dutchess County)

Benedict Groeschel, recovering from stroke, may really slow down this time

Also on the health front:

I spoke earlier today to Father Benedict Groeschel, the beloved Catholic writer/speaker/EWTN host who lives at Trinity Retreat in Larchmont. He suffered a stroke in mid-March and has had some speech difficulties since then.

He sounded pretty good, mostly like himself, speaking quickly and making jokes. He had a little trouble coming up with certain words, but had no trouble getting his points across.

“I’m struggling on,” he told me. “I have a little trouble with my speech, but I’m struggling on.”

Groeschel is almost 77 and has continued to work at a crazy pace since he was hit by a car and nearly killed in 2004.

After the accident, he told me that he would really slow down. He has curtailed his retreat-giving travels, but has remained on the road quite often.

Now, he sounds like he’s ready to stay put and work less.

“I’d rather walk out than be carried out,” he said.

Groeschel said that even if he cuts certain things out of his schedule, he’ll continue to teach at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, where he has been on the faculty for nearly 50 years.

‘It’s Tim on line 1’

If you place a call or send an email to Archbishop Timothy Dolan, you have a real good chance of getting your call returned.

You might even hear, “Hey, it’s Tim.”

Stories are flying about New York’s new archbishop reaching out to anyone and everyone, including people who have been calling or writing simply to wish him well.

He’s even called people to decline invitations to various events. Heck, I’ve never been able to get parents to RSVP for my kids’ birthday parties.

This is a very social being who were are meeting here.

Plans are taking shape for Dolan to host a series of barbeques at St. Joseph’s Seminary — two for diocesan priests, one for priests, nuns and brothers from religious orders, and one for permanent deacons and their spouses.

This much is clear: The man is going to talk.

But what is he going to say?

We’ll get a preview, I guess, at his press conference on the morning of the Mass of Installation on April 15.

Groeschel on Cooke: tomorrow in Yonkers

Father Benedict Groeschel (that’s him), the much-traveled Catholic writer and speaker, will talk about the efforts to make Cardinal Terence Cooke a saint tomorrow (Oct. 15) evening at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers.

frgroeschel.gifGroeschel’s topic: “Terence Cardinal Cooke — An Unlikely Saint.”

It’s at 7:30 p.m. Free and open to the public. 201 Seminary Ave.

Cooke died 25 years ago this month. In 1984, Cardinal O’Connor appointed Groeschel as the postulator of Cooke’s cause.

Groeschel will no doubt talk about all the research that’s been done on Cooke’s life and service.

Dunwoodie-based female scholar to take part in Synod of Bishops

tjndc5-5dtqwiybpdhjthnl8fq_layout.jpgSister Sara Butler, a professor of dogmatic theology at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, has been named by Pope Benedict XVI as one of 41 “experts” who will participate in a world Synod of Bishops next month at the Vatican.

Butler was one of the first two women named to the Vatican’s International Theological Commission by Pope John Paul II in 2004.

In all, Catholic News Service reports, Benedict nominated 32 voting members, 41 experts and 37 observers for the synod. Included are six female experts and 19 female observers — forming the largest group of women to participate in a Catholic synod.

CNS explains:

The 41 experts will serve as resource people for the synod members as they discuss the importance of the Scriptures in the life of the church, look at the Bible’s role in Catholic prayer and liturgy, evaluate its role in ecumenical and interreligious relations, and discuss ways to improve biblical literacy at every level of the church.