Thursday, July 9, 2009

Archdiocesan Priests Met in Rochester; Report

Fr. George Welzbacher of the Church of St. John of St. Paul:
I would like to share with you a few reflections on the meeting that I attended (together with Archbishop Nienstedt and almost all of the priests who serve our archdiocese) from Monday evening, June 22nd to Thursday morning, June 25th at Rochester's Kahler Hotel (with Mass offered in communal celebration each day at St. John's Church nearby). For a long time now this meeting has been held every two years in June, originally at St. John's University near St. Cloud. When the numbers of attendant clergy grew to a volume that was difficult to accommodate there, the site was transferred to Rochester.

Several benefits have accrued from these regular biennial meetings, and this year in particular the positive results were, in my opinion, considerable. First of all (and I believe most importantly) this year's gathering, with its featured speakers and its opportunities for extensive conversation among the priests and with the Archbishop, gave Archbishop Nienstedt, perhaps for the first time, the strong sense that the rank and file of the clergy of his diocese were solid in their support of his policies. At the meeting two years ago he had just been officially declared the Coadjutor Archbishop (Bishop with right of succession to the incumbent Archbishop) of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Thus in 2007 he was meeting most of us for the first time.

Understandably he may not have been certain that all of us were, so to speak, in his comer, particularly in view of the reputation of a certain segment of our presbyterate for being less than enthusiastic in support either of the papal magisterium (cf. Pope Paul VI's encyclical Humanae Vitae) or of certain prescriptions of canon law (e.g., the prohibition of the imparting of general absolution except in a situation of dire emergency). And certainly the outrageous personal accusations flung at him in the local press by a small number of priests who in my judgment are chronic malcontents did little to increase his confidence that he was entering friendly territory. By now, thanks to the Archbishop's many contacts, one-on-one, with the priests of this Archdiocese over the past two years, and thanks especially to the uninhibited warmth of the greetings he received from the assembled clergy at Rochester, he knows that he is a general in an army (fighting the ultimate war, the war against Satan for the fate of immortal souls) whose officers are with him all the way. And that is an important achievement.

A secondary but significant achievement was the affording of an opportunity for the older clergy to come to know, or at least to know better, the younger clergy, and vice versa. And that works to enhance the solidarity - and thus, I should think, the effectiveness- of our clergy in their common cause.

And may I offer two final summary observations of my own. First of all, the number of our clergy who represent, if you will, a more emancipated attitude towards Humane Vitae and related issues and who still seem, perhaps, to retain to some degree the revolutionary spirit of the 1960's has been visibly declining throughout the succession of these biennial meetings. And secondly, I was personally deeply moved by the liturgies in which we took part. They seemed to me to be a kind of anticipation, imperfect, of course, but offering ground for hope, that even as we came from our separate ministries to join one another at Christ's altar, we may, God willing, one day be able to greet one another and those whom we are privileged to serve in that glorious liturgy which is founded on the face-to-face vision of Almighty God in the ecstatic communion of angels and saints.

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