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Married Priests? “Viri probati” and other challenges.

Yesterday, Crux and others shared news that Pope Francis, in an interview with the German newspaper Die Zeit, had indicated openness to ordaining married men in the Latin Church. It is not the first time. Twenty, thirty years ago, one could safely bet that the world’s bishops supported the idea, but it was the pope who was opposed; now it seems to be the other way around.

However, as you read the comments available from today’s article (so far, only portions of the interview are available) it does not sound all that “open” after all. There are some serious red flags already flying. At first glance, fully anticipating more clarity from the full interview, I have three questions:

  • Who are these “viri probati”?
  • What would be the effect on the diaconate?
  • Why would “isolated communities” be better for married priests, or, why would it be difficult to “find what to do with them”?

Who are these “viri probati”?

Viri probati is a red herring. Not that I have anything against the ordination of “proven men”, of course. However, all the ordained, not just the married ordained, should be “proven” or “tested” before ordination. To raise this ambiguous phrase exclusively in the discussion of ordaining married men, either to the diaconate or the presbyterate in the Latin Church, is potentially distracting from more serious issues.

The standard should be the same for married and celibate men, in terms of formation and education, character and ability. It is unethical and unnecessary to set a higher bar for married clergy than for celibate clergy – or for that matter, to set a higher age limit.

Who is “proven”? This phrase floats around with virtually no formal definition or context. If the practice of the diaconate is any indication, many bishops seem to think that it means retired volunteers without formal ministry formation or experience. That the “proof” is in a life of being a happily married faithful Catholic in a secular vocation. This is good, but it is insufficient, and better “proof” of being an active lay person in the Church than an ordained minister.

If we are to turn to “proven men” we must think of the same people that the Council Fathers thought of as “already exercising diaconal ministry” (AG 16) as the first candidates for ordination to the diaconate. We ought to consider those men “already exercising presbyteral ministry” as candidates for the presbyterate.

Look first to the lay ecclesial ministers, catechists, chaplains, pastoral workers, lay theologians who have committed their lives in service to the Church, whose vocation is already clearly ecclesial, rather than secular. They have already given years to the education, formation, and experience we want in our priests and deacons. Most often, they have done so at considerable expense and sacrifice to themselves and their families – usually, tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth, compared to “traditional” seminarians, who have been sponsored by the diocese throughout formation. These are your “proven men”.

What of the effect on the diaconate?

Because of the accidents of history and the slow, and often piecemeal, approach to reform and development in the Church, there can be no doubt that several men called to be presbyters have been ordained deacons because, and often for no other reason than, they are married. Similarly, there are men in the presbyterate who really ought to be deacons, but as celibates, were pressured into the presbyterate.

I have long been convinced that we need more married presbyters and more celibate deacons. It is an error to believe that celibacy defines the presbyterate or marriage the diaconate. In their ancient roots, if anything, the reverse was more likely to be true. One’s vocation to ministry, and one’s vocation to relationship, are two distinct questions.

Whenever discussion turns to the topic of restoring the discipline of a married clergy in the Latin Church, I envision disaster for the diaconate, if it is handled badly. We are only part-way through the process of restoring the diaconate as a proper order of ministry, full and equal to the presbyterate, of a lower “rank” than the bishop.

As long as we still have transitional deacons, and the question of women in the diaconate is unsettled, we have not yet completed this process. As long as people still define the diaconate more sociologically – as a band-aid solution for a lack of priests, as a retiree’s volunteer ministry, as the holding place for married clergy – rather than a vocation and ecclesiologically essential order in and of itself, we are still a work in progress on the diaconate. Simply waking up tomorrow to a a married presbyterate would lead to an exodus from one order to the other without the balance going the other way.

Though, perhaps this should be encouraged – a discernment of orders without the distraction of the celibacy/marriage dichotomy. Say, a ten year open period where anyone previously ordained to one order could ‘relocate’ to the other, if it fit more their calling.

This would necessitate making clear what belongs to the deacon as the first assistants to the bishop: the diocesan curia, the deaneries, the diplomatic and ecumenical work, responsibility for personnel and finance, assisting in the governance of the church. The presbyterate is primarily an advisory group to the bishop, the local church’s ‘council of elders’. In short, deacons extend the bishop’s ministry (diakonia), as the presbyter extends the bishop’s priesthood, as cultic leader and presider at Eucharist.

Related to this is the age of ordination. Canon law currently suggests that celibate candidates can be ordained at 25 while married candidates at 35 (CIC §1031). Recent discussion on raising the minimum age of presbyteral ordination to 27 have been entirely too modest. This double standard should end – a single, common minimum age for both orders and both states of life. All candidates, whether married or celibate, for deacon or priest, should be at least 35 years of age.

As a seminary professor in Rome for the last few years, and from several years of working on lay ecclesial and diaconal formation, I have come to know a variety of candidates for ministry. In my experience, there is really no such thing as a “late” vocation, but I have witnessed many premature ordinations.

Many of these prematurely ordained presbyters end up leaving, and/or doing great damage to the local church, not having been “proven” in any real way. This older minimum age would allow a testing period as lay ecclesial ministers, and/or in a secular vocation. I do not think anyone should be ordained who has not put in at least five years of pastoral ministry in some context. It would also allow for discernment between vocation to each order in its own right and on its own merit, questions of marriage/celibacy aside.

Isolated communities? Really?

It is not clear if this is a response to a question, or part of a larger comment. But it raises the spectre of a kind of ‘clericalism within clericalism’. What possible reason is there for restricting the ministry of married clergy other than an elitism of the celibates?

I can think of two good ones:

1) that more stable positions (such as parish pastor) would be a better fit to married clergy than more itinerant positions (such as missionary or diplomat) which might better suit a celibate. Many of the former are more presbyteral, as well, while the later tend to be diaconal, which is worth considering.

2) In those areas where persecution is a real threat – and here I think danger of a martyr’s death – there is perhaps more freedom in a celibate clergy. But this is not the case in many parts of the world.

Perhaps in some communities or cultures a transition period will be necessary. I remember meeting a Filipino priest here in Rome who had never heard of the Eastern Catholic Churches, and had no idea there were married Catholic priests anywhere in the communion. He assumed all such were Anglican or Protestant. Or an American who was shocked at seeing her parish deacon, still vested, give his wife a chaste kiss after mass. These things have to be normalized, with charity and intentionality. That can take a little time, but not really that much.

There is no reason to suggest that married clergy would only be useful in “isolated communities” but it is not clear yet if that is entirely what the Holy Father said or meant. He could have meant that this is one obvious example of need – in many parts of the world the Eucharist is not a daily or weekly liturgy, but monthly or quarterly, for no other reason than a shortage of presbyters. In such ‘isolated communities’ more priests, married or celibate, would be a great service to the local church.

In most cases, there is no compelling reason to make such a distinction, between how and where a celibate or married priest might serve, and no burden or barrier should be placed without grave reason (cf. Acts 15:28).

In closing….

Finally, two other possible considerations, as long as we are rethinking the discipline of our ordained ministers.

First, the Latin Church does not share the Eastern tradition of restricting the episcopate to the monastic (and therefore celibate) clergy. While there is wisdom in this discipline, there is also wisdom in the Western tradition of married bishops, who are called from, and in service to, the diocesan churches. Perhaps that is for later consideration, but we must face these questions with a full awareness of our own tradition.

Second, since Nicaea, the Catholic/Orthodox Church has allowed ordination of married men but not marriage of ordained men. Yet there are apostolic churches that allowed marriage after ordination (e.g., The Assyrian Church of the East). This is also the almost universal practice of the other churches and ecclesial communities of the Western tradition.

At the time this disciplinary compromise was reached, the normal age for marriage was as early as 12-14. Ordination might come a decade later, and life expectancy for those who had lived long enough to get married was about 45. It was obvious that questions of marriage would be settled before questions of ministry.

Today, the reverse is true. In many contemporary cultures, one is expected to have completed education and established a career before entering into marriage. Following the logic that gave us the ancient discipline, it would almost make more sense today to forbid marriage before ordination! At least, we should reconsider this ancient discipline in light of the same sociological factors that inspired it.

All of these questions need to be considered for their ecumenical impact, too, and the wisdom of experience from both East and West should be part of our discernment in revisiting these ancient disciplinary questions.

If nothing else, we can be grateful for a bishop of Rome willing to entertain the question, no matter the result.

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On Priestly Celibacy and the Diaconate

This has been on my mind since the first minor flurry of stories about Pope Francis’ openness to discussion on the topic, based on the recounting of a single remark shared by Bishop Erwin Krautler of the Territorial Prelature of Xingu, Brazil. So, it is a lot of musing, but enough to get some conversations started, I hope.

First, an aside about numbers.  Most accounts, like the RNS article linked above, cite 27 priests serving 700,000 Catholics, meaning a ratio of 1:25,925, a staggering reality if accurate.

However, I am not sure where these numbers come from. According to the Annuario Pontificio 2012, there are only 250,000 Catholics there, being served by 27 priests (about half diocesan and half religious), and according to Catholic-hierarchy.org,  there are 320,000 Catholics (but only as of 2004). This means a ration of either 1:8620 (AP) or 1:13,333 (CH).

Still a staggering reality when you consider as frame of reference the following: The Archdiocese of Seattle, my home diocese, currently lists 122 active diocesan priests, 87 religious priests, and 31 externs borrowed from other dioceses serving a Catholic population of 974,000.  This makes a priest to Catholic ratio of 1:4058 (the US average is just under 1:2000).

The Vicariate of Rome, my current diocese, has nearly 11,000 priests and bishops present, counting religious, externs, and curial staff. They are at least sacramentally available to the 2.5 million Catholics here. This makes a ratio of 1:234.

(Since priests were the subject of the article, I have left out deacons, catechists, and lay ecclesial ministers, as well as non-clerical religious, though not to discount their great service to the Church, to be sure!)

Even with the most conservative estimate of Xingu, the priests there are stretched more than twice as thin as their Seattle counterparts and 36x the scope of their Roman brethren.

What has really been on my mind, though, and again in the light of Pope Francis’ comments yesterday that the ‘door is always open’ to this change in discipline, is the effect that a sudden shift in allowing for a married presbyterate would have on the diaconate.

Some refreshers on basic points of the general discussion:

  • We are only talking about diocesan (sometimes called secular) clergy, not religious. The latter would remain celibate under their vow of chastity, but diocesan clergy do not take such vows.
  • We already have some married Catholic priests. Almost all of the Eastern Catholic Churches allow for both married and monastic clergy, and even in the Latin Church (i.e., Roman Catholic Church) we have married priests who were ordained as Anglicans or Lutherans, later came into full communion, and have been incorporated into Catholic holy orders.
  • We do have celibate deacons, though not many. I have long held we need more celibate deacons and more married priests in the west, for various reasons.
  • Most likely we would be talking about admitting married men to orders, rather than allowing priests to marry after ordination. This is the ancient tradition of the Church, east and west, since the Council of Nicaea when it was offered as a compromise between some who wanted celibacy as the norm, and others who thought it should not matter whether marriage or orders come first. We still have both extreme practices present in the Church today, however, so it is not impossible that we should choose a different practice. Unlikely, but possible.
  • The Latin Church has maintained celibacy as a norm for its diocesan clergy since about the 12th century, though historians argue whether it was universally enforced until as late as the 16th. There are rituals as late as the 13th allowing for a place in procession for the bishop’s wife.
  • Technically, it is currently the norm for all diocesan clergy, and any exceptions, including married deacons, are exceptions. Which begs the question, if it is so easy to make these exceptions for deacons, why not for priests?
  • The Byzantine tradition has long held that bishops come from the monastic (celibate) clergy, whereas the Latin tradition has long held that bishops come from the diocesan clergy – which means we had married bishops when we had married priests and deacons.  Given the situation with the Anglican Ordinariate, there seems to be a reluctance to return to this tradition, but as it was part of our Roman patrimony for a millennium, it seems it should be at least considered.
  • Finally, it is not actually clerical, or priestly, celibacy per se that is at issue, but the idea of requiring celibacy of those to be ordained. There will always be room in the church for celibate deacons, presbyters, and bishops, and these charisms will always be honored. As it should be.
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Rev. Bart Stevens and family, Diocese of Great Falls-Billings

With all that in mind, I finally get to my point.

Let us imagine, unlikely though it may be, that tomorrow Pope Francis announces we will no longer require celibacy of our candidates for orders – whether deacon, presbyter, or bishop. The most immediate effect and response of the faithful, and the press, will be about the change in the discipline of priestly celibacy.

If it is done that directly, it would be disastrous for the diaconate. Many men, I have no doubt, have been ordained to the diaconate simply because they or their bishops saw no alternative for someone called to both marriage and ordained ministry. Many may in fact be called to the presbyterate instead, and given the opportunity, ‘jump ship’ from one order to the other.

One can likewise imagine there are many currently in the presbyterate who are actually called to the diaconate, but they or their bishop saw no reason for not ordaining them to the presbyterate because they were called to celibacy as well. I have heard many a bishop say something along the lines of, ‘why be ordained a celibate deacon? If you can be a priest, we need that more!’

Without completing the restoration of the diaconate as a full and equal order, and a better understanding of both orders separated out from the question of marriage/celibacy, what will happen is a return to the ‘omnivorous priesthood’ and an ecclesiology of only one super-ministry. Rather than a plethora of gifts and ministries as envisioned in the Scriptures, lived in the early church, and tantalizingly promised at Vatican II, everyone would flock to the presbyterate and we would have set back some aspects of ecclesiological reform half a century.

Rather than simply a change to the discipline of clerical celibacy, what is needed is a comprehensive reform of ministry in the Church. Tomorrow Pope Francis could say, instead, ‘Let’s open the conversation. Over the next three years, we will look at the diaconate and the presbyterate, lay ecclesial ministry and the episcopate, and we will consider the question of celibacy in this context. At the end of this study period, a synod on ministry.’

What I would hope to come out of this would be first a separation of two distinct vocational questions that have for too long been intertwined: ecclesial ministry on one hand and relationships on the other. We have been mixing apples and oranges for too long, but priesthood or diaconate is an apple questions, and marriage or celibacy is an orange question.

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2012 Diaconate Ordination, St. James Cathedral, Seattle

The deacons, traditionally, are the strong right arm of the bishop. Make it clear that deanery, diocesan, and diplomatic tasks (and the Roman curia for that matter) are diaconal offices. In need, a qualified lay person could step in, or rarely a presbyter, but these are normatively for deacons. This also makes it obvious why we need more celibate deacons, such as in the case of the papal diplomatic corps. They tend to be younger and more itinerant, needed wherever the bishop sends them.

Presbyters are traditionally parish pastors and advisors of, rather than assistants to, the bishop. As the deacon is sent by the bishop, the pastor ought to be chosen from and by the people he serves.. He should be a shepherd who smells like his sheep, right? How exactly this looks can take various forms, to be sure the bishop cannot be excluded, but the balance of ministerial relationships should show clearly that the presbyter is more advisor to the bishop and minister among the people he is called to serve, and the deacon is the agent of the bishop. At least one should not be ordained until there is an office to which he is called which requires his ordination This also makes it obvious why presbyters can, and often are in other churches, married.  They tend to be more stable and older.

The minimum age for ordination should be the same for both orders, regardless of marriage or celibacy, and in general one can imagine that deacons would be younger than presbyters. Let the elders be older, indeed!

Some deacons may even find, later in life, reason or office to transition to the presbyterate, but otherwise there should be no such thing as a transitional diaconate. Candidates for both orders should spend at least five years, perhaps more, in lay ecclesial ministry, before being ordained, as long as this does not reduce lay ministry to a transitional step only, as a similar move did to the diaconate all those centuries ago!

Bishops could be chosen from either order, and be either married or celibate. Indeed, celibacy should be rejoined with the rest of the monastic ideal, and there should be no such thing as a celibate without a community. It need not be a community of other permanent celibates or of other clergy – there are some great examples, such as the Emmanuel Community in France, who have found ways for celibate priests to live in an intentional Christian community that includes young single people, deacons, lay ecclesial ministers, etc.

Bottom line, if it is just a conversation about priesthood, as much as mandatory celibacy needs to be discussed openly and without taboo, it is not enough. It must be a holistic discussion about ministry, and the diaconate has a special place in this conversation given its recent history and current experience.   We have such a deep and broad Tradition from which to draw, why would we not dive in to find ancient practices to suggest modern solutions?

maximiano

How come Pope Francis doesn’t talk about deacons?

The only thing i find objectionable about Deacon Greg’s blog is that he is constantly stealing my ideas, and worse, beating me to publication! Seriously, it has happened at least three times in the last two weeks that i had an idea for a blog, and then later that day get a notice that he has just posted about the same question. I guess we have a common muse or something. Here is one that i also wondered about lately:

How come Pope Francis doesn’t talk about deacons?.

Church Reform Wishlist: Ministry and Holy Orders

Ministry and Holy Orders:

  • Jesus Christ is the only priest in Christianity; All Christians share in his priesthood. What makes the second of the three holy orders unique is that it is the presbyterate, not that it is a priesthood unto itself. This is not to deny the sacramental priesthood of holy orders (including deacons), but to suggest that perhaps we should officially restore the ancient and official title of ‘presbyter’ to the common lexicon in reference to those ordained to the presbyterate.
  • Deacons participate in the ‘headship’ of Christ and the governance of the church, just not the presbyterate or the episcopate. Let’s make that clear.
  • Traditionally (patristically), presbyters advise, deacons assist. The presbyterate acts in council, the deacons act individually. The presbyters preside locally in sacraments and spiritual life, the deacons assist the bishop preside in administration of the church’s goods – financial, human resources, diplomacy, ecumenism and dialogue, pastoral leadership. There has been too much overlap, let’s clarify this a little.
  • Lay ecclesial ministry needs to be formally and canonically acknowledged. Catechists, pastoral workers, pastoral associates, lay preachers, and other such offices ought to require incardination into a diocese and a relationship with the bishop, a common set of norms for formation, and perhaps inclusion into something like the minor orders – they are not ordained, but they are not following a lay vocation, either.
  • Clerical compensation and the financial crises are closely linked. There is no clear line in many cases between the pastor’s funds and those of the parish, and no clear accountability. This is one reason for a deacon being assigned responsibility for administration, and answerable to the bishop directly, while a presbyter is responsible for sacraments and spirituality. Why not just make compensation the same for all ministers, whether presbyter, deacon, or lay ecclesial? A simple salary or stipend.
  • Support for all candidates for ministry should be equitable, whether for presbyterate, diaconate, or lay eccleisal.
  • Clerical clothing is for clerics, meaning:
    • Deacons have a right to clerical clothing, even if married! Canon law does not allow a bishop to restrict this right, much less a local pastor
    • Seminarians do not, and should not be dressing up as if they are ordained.
    • If we do not just do away with clerical clothing altogether, some kind of distinctive garb could be considered for lay ecclesial ministers, as long as we have such a thing for clergy. Different colors if need be, but the same basic idea: easy identification of those in pastoral leadership and ministry. Not to be confused with those in training for such.
  • Eliminate the last vestiges of the cursus honorem
    • Eliminate the transitional diaconate outright. A transitional diaconate makes as much sense theologically as a transitional presbyterate for deacon candidates.
    • Allow deacons to transition to the presbyterate (and vice versa) if and only if an office to which they are called requires it.
    • Acolyte and Reader, as instituted ministries should be moved out of seminaries and into parishes/dioceses, as the actual lay ministries that execute these functions in the liturgy. No more stepping-stone for seminarians, but actual readers and servers at mass. Add ministers of communion and any others that seem appropriate. Extend them to women.
    • However, the original idea has merit. Perhaps before ordination to either diaconate or presbyterate, candidates should have earned at least an STB or BA in theology and philosphy, and served five-seven years in pastoral ministry. The best way to discern which order you should be ordained into is in practice! Then, they could go back for the M.Div., STL, or JCL and move on to the appropriate track: diaconate or presbyterate.
  • The age of ordination to the presbyterate should be raised to 35. It should make no difference whether celibate or married.
  • Leave the diaconate age for ordination at 35 as well, and also make no difference if celibate or married.
  • I prefer the Assyrian and Anglican practice of allowing clergy to marry before or after ordination, since it is much easier for some of us to discern a vocation to ministry than to discern a vocation to celibacy or marriage and it seems like time wasted in the interim. But, the Greek practice of marriage before ordination has been the compromise between the extremes of mandatory celibacy and the above since Nicaea, so it is certainly reasonable to retain. At least it should be seriously, and ecumenically, reconsidered, however.
  • We need more married presbyters, and more celibate deacons. The diaconate is not defined by marriage and marriage is not essential to the diaconate, neither is the presbyterate defined by celibacy nor is celibacy essential to the presbyterate. We have some of each already, we just need greater balance.

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What do Catholic traditionalists and extreme feminists have in common?

Quote of the Day:

In every age there are people for whom history does not exist…Curiously, the Catholic restorationist who identifies the Gospel with certain vestments from the 1880s, with one biblical translation, or with a vessel from the fifth century or the fifteenth century has somewhat the same mind-set as the extreme feminist who rejects the past three millennia of cultures because their attitudes toward women in public life were limited. Both fixate on one time -whether that is in the past or today – and reject variety and progress. … The deepest enemy of every fundamentalism is history.

Thomas P. O’Meara, OP, Theology of Ministry, (New York: Paulist Press, 1999), 86

[Between the number of friends i count among both feminists and traditionalist Catholics, i trust everyone is equally piqued.]

Almost Reverend

I originally posted this a couple of years ago on a different blog. I came accross it recently, and given where i am now (that is, Rome), it still seems funny, and i hope you can appreciate the humor. [Disclaimer: No clerics were harmed in the making of this post.]

**Original Post: August 15, 2008**

At an ecumenical meeting not long ago, i found myself again trying to explain lay ecclesial ministry to a Lutheran pastor. While many non-Catholics (and even some Catholics) often think the only ministers in the Catholic Church are priests, at least this one had been ecumenically involved long enough to know different. He just was not sure how to address me.

“As a member of the Board,” he said, “you deserve to be addressed with appropriate formality in correspondence, and appropriate respect during meetings. So, what do we call you?”

I told him the name given me at my birth and baptism was Andrew, and that was fine – or A.J., as I have been known since birth: “No adornments necessary.”

Pressed, however, I shared how evangelical Christians i meet with invariably address me as “Pastor Boyd”, since anyone who does professional pastoral ministry is, ipso facto, a pastor, and therefore called “pastor”. I noted how, every time i got something from Hilel or the local synagogue, it was addressed to “Rev. Boyd”, because, again, the logic is, clergy are professional ministers, and I am a professional minister, so i must be clergy. Even when filling out legal forms, i often have to select “clergy” as my occupation, because for the uninitiated, clergy is defined by Webster, and not the Codex Iuris Canonicis, as “a group of church officials doing official church ministry”.

After all this, i was informed it just was not acceptable. We had to find something appropriate to my position as not-ordained but vocational, “professional” minister of the Church while respecting the internal distinction between clerical and lay ministers. So we began an exploration.

“Virtually Reverend”, “Not-Quite-Reverend”, and “Sort-of-Reverend” were all suggested before we alighted on “The Almost Reverend”.

After my colleague observed that a personal style was needed, too, I remembered a line from a great book and movie about a pope, Saving Grace,  and we decided the only possible ecclesiastical style for someone of such standing as myself was “Your Mediocreness…”

Therefore I can now fit in at the next clerical cocktail party as “His Mediocreness, The Almost Reverend A. J. Boyd”.

I am thinking of petitioning the Pontifical Council for the Laity for making this a universal norm…

It’s a Small (Catholic) World After All

I think John Allen, Jr. said that if you stand in the same place in Rome long enough, you will meet every Catholic you have ever known, or at least someone who knows them.

Nancy left for home on Thursday after three weeks here in Italy, and I spent the next day sleeping to recover from vicarious jetlag! As Sunday approached I had not yet decided where I would be worshipping in my quest to pray in as many of Rome’s different churches as possible (without becoming just a liturgical tourist). So when Donna asked me to deliver some propaganda for Lay Centre events to the “Caravita”, the oratory of St. Francis that Nancy and I had been to a couple weeks ago, I agreed, still thinking I should be going somewhere new.

The Spirit works in little ways too.

When I arrived at del Caravita, I looked around for someone to ask about the material – where to put it, if we could announce the events, etc. As I watched two people seemed to be the “go-to” folk, one was a woman clearly preparing to serve as lector, and the other a tall, thin, bald guy who seemed to know everyone. So, i approached him with, “you seem to know whats going on around here, who would I talk to about this?” He offers to introduce me to the lector, “Cindy”, who would know. Here’s a transcript:

Me: Hi, my name is AJ Boyd, and I’m from…

Cindy: Oh my God! You’re AJ! I’m Cindy… Me: [Shocked expression] Cindy: …Woodin!

Me: Oh that Cindy!

Cindy: So you’re at the Angelicum right? Are you in Don’s class [indicating tall, thin, bald guy]?

Me: No, I just met him.

Cindy: He’s teaching a course on Methodism, and he’s just been named bishop of Saskatoon

Me: That’s Don Bolen?! I didn’t recognize him! I am taking his class… it starts tomorrow.

Ok, so it was more comical in real life. Cindy is a college friend of one of my parishioners from St. Brendan, and when I decided to come to Rome, she decided to put the two of us in touch. Cindy and I had been exchanging sporadic emails since July, and just had not yet met in person. She has lived in Rome for 20 years as part of the Catholic News Service Vatican Bureau.

Monsignor Don Bolen recieving the Cross of St. Augustin from Archbishop Rowan Williams

Monsignor Don Bolen is the vicar general of the Archdiocese of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, and former staff of the Anglican/Methodist desk at the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. Over Christmas break his election as bishop was announced, which I followed and even posted on Facebook. He’s teaching the second half of our course, Methodism and its Dialogue with the Catholic Church. He was the presider and homilist for the Sunday Eucharist, and was clearly loved by the people who had known him there from his time in Rome.

First impressions – after one mass and one class – is that the people of Saskatoon are blessed among Canadians. Home of the Prairie Centre for Ecumenism, it seems like a great fit, and any diocese would welcome a bishop who is so genuine, humble, intelligent and obviously a gifted ecumenist. A good preacher and teacher too!

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