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Thursday, September 18, 2014

What Cardinal Dolan Can Learn From the First American Bishop

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Bishop John Carroll Bishop John Carroll

On September 17th Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Archbishop of New York, wrote an explanation of his decision to serve as Grand Marshall of next year’s St. Patrick’s Day parade. Although persons with same-sex attraction had never been excluded from marching in the parade, parade organizers nevertheless took the unprecedented step of allowing a group to march in the parade carrying a banner reading “Gay people of Irish ancestry.” Not one mention was made by Cardinal Dolan in his explanation as to whether these individuals are in agreement with Church teaching on the immorality of homosexual acts or whether they are attempting to live chaste lives. Regardless, the Cardinal defended his decision as follows:

To the point: the committee’s decision allows a group to publicize its identity, not promote actions contrary to the values of the Church that are such an essential part of Irish culture. I have been assured that the new group marching is not promoting an agenda contrary to Church teaching, but simply identifying themselves as “Gay people of Irish ancestry.”

Dolan-Laughing…the leaders of the Parade Committee tried to be admirably sensitive to Church teaching. They worried that the former policy was being interpreted as bias, exclusion, and discrimination against a group in our city, which, if true, would also be contrary to Church teaching. While they were quick to acknowledge that, in reality, the policy was not unfair at all, they were also realistic in worrying that the public perception was the opposite, no matter how often they tried to explain its coherence and fairness.

I found their sensitivity wise, and publicly said so…

If you will allow me, I would like to take you on a journey back in time. The date is December 7, 1790. Pope Pius VI had just made Fr. John Carroll, previously a priest of Baltimore, the sole Bishop of the United States. Fr. Carroll was consecrated a Bishop while abroad in England, before transiting the Atlantic to be invested in his office in Baltimore. A crowd of Catholics and non-Catholics alike had gathered to see the new bishop. What follows is Bishop John Carroll’s first address to Americans after his installation as their bishop. What he says serves as a reminder to both Cardinal Dolan and us as to what a Catholic bishop should be and where his priorities should lie. As you read this address, please ask yourself this question. Would Bishop John Carroll serve as the Grandmaster of such a parade? You be the judge.

(From the Address of Bishop John Carroll to the people of Baltimore given on December 7, 1790)

This day, my dear brethren, impresses deeply on my mind a lively scene of the new relation in which I stand now before you. You have often heard my voice within these walls; and often have I used my feeble endeavors to rouse you from the sleep of sin, and to awake in you the sentiments of virtue and practical piety. But when I thus addressed you, I considered it indeed as my obligation to admonish and instruct you; but I did not view it as an indissoluble obligation. My superintendence over your spiritual concerns was of such a nature that I could relinquish it, or be removed from it at pleasure. But now the hand of Providence (ah, may I hope it is not an angry, but a Providence merciful to you and me) –the hand of Providence has formed an indissoluble tie – has bound me by an obligation which I can never renounce, an obligation of ever attending to your eternal interests; of watching perpetually over your conduct; of stemming, to the utmost of my power, the torrent of vice and irreligion; of conducting you in the ways of virtue, and leading you to the haven of eternal bliss. The shade of retirement and solitude must no longer be my hope and prospect of consolation. Often have I flattered myself that my declining years would be indulged in such a state of rest from labor and solicitude for others, as would leave me the best opportunity of attending to the great concern of my own salvation, and of confining myself to remember my last years in the bitterness of compunction. But it has pleased God to order otherwise; and though my duty commands submission, it cannot allay my fears—those fears which I feel for you and for myself. For, my God! how much reason have I not to fear for myself, when I view the extent of my duties, on the one hand, and on the other, my weakness and natural inability to fulfill them. In this, my new station, if my life be not one continued instruction and example of virtue to the people committed to my charge, it will become, in the sight of God, a life not only useless, but even pernicious.

It is no longer enough for me to be inoffensive in my conduct and regular in my manners. God now imposes a severer duty upon me. I shall incur the guilt of violating my pastoral office, if all my endeavors be not directed to bring your lives and all your actions to a conformity with the laws of God; to exhort, to conjure, to reprove, to enter into all your sentiments; to feel all your infirmities; to be all things to all, that I may gain all to Christ; to be superior to human respects; to have nothing in view but God and your salvation; to sacrifice to these health, peace, reputation, and even life itself; to hate sin, and yet love the sinner; to repress the turbulent; to encourage the timid; to watch over the conduct of even the ministers of religion; to be patient and meek; to embrace all kinds of persons; these are now my duties-extensive, pressing, and indispensable duties; these are the duties of all my brethren in the episcopacy, and surely important enough to fill us with terror. But there are others still more burdensome to be borne by me in this particular portion of Christ's Church which is committed to my charge, and where everything is to be raised, as it were, from its foundation; to establish ecclesiastical discipline; to devise means for the religious education of Catholic youth—that precious portion of pastoral solicitude; to provide an establishment for training up ministers for the sanctuary and the service of religion, that we may no longer depend on foreign and uncertain coadjutors; not to leave unassisted any of the faithful who are scattered through this immense continent; to preserve their faith untainted amidst the contagion of error surrounding them on all sides; to preserve in their hearts a warm charity and forbearance toward every other denomination of Christians ; and, at the same time, to preserve them from that fatal indifference which views all religions as equally acceptable to God and salutary to men. Ah! when I consider these additional duties, my heart sinks almost under the impression of terror which comes upon it. In God alone can I find my consolation. He knows by what steps I have been conducted to this important station, and how much I have always dreaded it. He will not abandon me, unless I first draw down His malediction by my unfaithfulness to my charge. Pray, dear brethren, pray incessantly that I may not incur so dreadful a punishment. Alas! the punishment would fall on you, and deprive you of some of the means of salvation.

The fears which trouble me on my own account would receive some abatement, if I could be assured of your steady adherence to the duties of your holy religion. But how can I be assured of this when I recollect what experience has taught me, and that worldly contagion, example, influence, and respect, together with impetuous passions, seek perpetually to plunge you into habits of vice, and afterward  into everlasting misery and when I know that not one soul will perish from amongst you, of which God will not demand of me, as its shepherd, a most severe account. Unhappily at this time a spirit of infidelity is prevalent, and dares to attempt the subversion of even the fences which guard virtue and purity of body and mind. Licentiousness of discourse and the arts of seduction are practiced without shame, and, it would seem, without remorse. Ah ! will it be in my power to oppose these fatal engines of vice and immorality?  Dear brethren, allow me to appeal to your consciences; question them with candor and truth. Can I say more to bring you back to the simplicity of faith, to the humble docility of a disciple of Jesus, to the fervent practice of Christian duties, than I have said to you heretofore? But what reformation followed then my earnest entreaties and exhortations? Was prayer more used ? Were parents more assiduous in the instruction of their children? Were their examples more edifying? Was swearing and blaspheming diminished? Was drunkenness suppressed? Was idleness extirpated? Was injustice abolished? May I hope that on this occasion God will shower down more abundant graces; that your hearts will be turned from the love of the world to the love of Him? If I could be so happy as to see prevailing among you such exercises of piety as evidenced your attachment to religion, and your zeal for your salvation I should myself be relieved from much of my solicitude — prayer; attendance on holy mass; frequentation of the holy sacraments; humble docility to the advice and admonition of your pastor. 'Obey,' says St. Paul, 'those who are put over you, as having to render to God an account for your souls.'

Last modified on Thursday, September 18, 2014