Unless your parish has been living under some kind of rock, or your parish or Diocese has just been really well off, you’ll notice that we are currently in the midst of a vocation crisis in the United States, and have been for the past good long while. Now, many have given their opinions for a solution such as allowing Latin priests to marry or allowing women priests (Note: I am fully in support of the married priesthood in the Eastern Catholic Churches and do not think for a second that it should change. However, I do not see it as a valid solution for the Latin Church). Others, who I agree with, have provided good solutions that actually work such as increased Eucharistic Adoration, more reverence in the Mass, the Rosary, and, ya know, actually PRAYING for vocations, because these things actually work (One fantastic resource that works very well is Vocation Ministry created by Rhonda Fowler Gruenewald and her book Hundredfold: a Guide to Parish Vocation Ministry which I highly recommend). Many, if not most, say that vocations start at the parish level, and indeed, they do for many men and women called to the priesthood or religious life. But in another way, vocations for any Diocese, start at the Diocesean level, not with the Vocations Director, but with the Bishop. The strength of any Diocesesan Vocations program starts at the top with the support, assistance, and promotion of the Bishop. A great example of this would be the late Bishop Robert C. Morlino of the Diocese of Madison who focused heavily on vocations and greatly grew the program during his time there. For vocations to happen we need Bishops who want to make it happen. This leads into what I want to talk about today: praying for Bishops, and especially, praying for Diocese’s without one.
We often hear the phrases and sayings such as, “Pray for priests, “pray for more priests”, and “Pray for holy priests”. But what about Bishops? Without the Bishop, there would be no one to ordain priests. Without the Bishop, a Diocese is without an Apostle. Without the Bishop, the faithful are left without their shepherd. So, we must pray for Diocese’s who are currently vacant and lack a shepherd of the flock.
Now, you may ask, and rightfully so, “Why are you so concerned about this”? Well, I’ll tell you why, and it all has to do with one word, a name actually: McCarrick.
When the news broke in June 2018 about the evil deeds of this “man”, we were all shocked, horrified, and appalled that he, with how many people “knew” of his abuse, was somehow able to climb the ecclesial ladder and be made Cardinal Archbishop of Washington, the most powerful and influential Archdiocesan See in the whole United States. Soon after, more news became to come out, with fingers being pointed every which way, with many finally saying that they had heard whispers or rumors about this, some even saying it was basically an open secret, with Bill Donohue, President of the Catholic League, stating, quite candidly, on the World Over with Raymond Arroyo on EWTN, “Everyone knew”. This statement began to beg the question soon asked by everyone, “Which Bishops knew?”.
The most obvious answers as to who potentially knew came out quite quickly. In August that same year the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report came out revealing hundreds of sexual abuse cases that were swept under the rug, priests who were just reassigned, and Bishops who turned a blind eye. One Bishop who was implicated in his mishandling of abuse cases was the Bishop of Pittsburgh from February of 1988 to June of 2006. That man, at the time of the reports release, was Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, and McCarrick’s own successor in that Arch See.
With that news coming out, many began to ask: how much did Wuerl known about McCarrick? With the bombshell letter of Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, Apostolic Nuncio Emeritus to the United States, as well as the Grand Jury Report, Cardinal Wuerl was placed in the Catholic forefront as someone who was told and knew about McCarrick’s misdeeds, but Wuerl denied ever being told anything as Archbishop of Washington. Due to mounting pressure, Wuerl, who was already over the retirement age of 75, petitioned Pope Francis to accept his resignation as Archbishop of Washington, so that a new Archbishop would be appointed. The Holy Father did so and on October 12, 2018, the Metropolitan See of Washington became vacant. It was later revealed that, while Bishop of Pittsburgh, Wuerl had received a complaint against McCarrick in 2004 and forwarded it to the Apostolic Nuncio in Washington. Two years later he was made McCarrick’s successor as Archbishop of Washington. To this day, Wuerl is still a Cardinal and one of only two U.S. members on the Congregation for Bishops, the body advising the Pope on who should be ordained as new Bishops, along with Blase Cupich, the Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago.
Even before Wuerl’s resignation was accepted, the eyes of Catholics (and that of the world) were on Washington and Rome to see what would happen. Catholic News Agency even ran an article in August of 2018, two months before Wuerl’s resignation was accepted, naming seven possible successors for Cardinal Wuerl. It’s always a big occasion when one of the top seven Sees in the United States becomes open, but even more so on this occasion with so much at stake. For months, Catholics on social media debated back and forth who it would be. Rocco Palmo and his Whispers in the Loggia site even came up with a sort of March Madness bracket, putting together all the different names that had been mentioned such as, on one side, Bishop Murry, S.J. of Youngstown (my Bishop) as number 2, Bishop McElroy of San Diego as 4, and Archbishop Kurtz of Louisville as 7, with the other side having names such as Bishop Caggiano of Bridgeport at 3, Archbishop Lori of Baltimore at 7, and even a play-in at 8 featuring Washington’s Vicar General Msgr. Antonicelli and Father John Jenkins CSC, the President of Notre Dame. The bracket, though, did have the eventual selection of the Holy See at number 1.
With all this going on, and so much focused on the selection of the new de-facto head of the Church in the United States, I knew something more needed to be done except for speculate on who would get picked and hope for the best. There needed to be prayer. So, in response to this, I started a small group on Facebook to pray a novena until the new Archbishop of Washington was selected and installed. We knew that this selection was one of the most crucial, if not the most crucial, in the last decade plus. Eventually the news we had all been waiting for was announced: His Excellency the Most Reverend Wilton D. Gregory, Archbishop of Atlanta, had been named Archbishop of Washington. He was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1973, becoming an Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago ten years later in 1983. In 1994 he became Bishop of the Diocese of Belleville, Illinois and ten years later was appointed by Pope St. John Paul II as Metropolitan Archbishop of Atlanta in 2004. Gregory had served on multiple committees on the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, becoming its President from 2001-2004. Seen as a moderate Bishop, Gregory is the first African American Archbishop in the history of the United States, and now the first Arican American de-facto head of the U.S. Church. No matter your thoughts and opinions on him, what mattered is that a man had been chosen. As we continued to pray, now with a name, I began to wonder: how many other Dioceses are vacant and still waiting for a Bishop to be appointed? The results were shocking.
At the time of Archbishop Gregory’s installation as Archbishop of Washingston, there were about nine vacant Dioceses in the United States with a couple having Bishop-Elects. It was shocking how many Dioceses were left without a shepherd, especially when looking at the timeframe in which some of those Dioceses had been waiting for a Bishop. After these findings, and looking at everything that had transpired over the past 11 months, I prayed and afterwards decided that something needed to be done. So, I created a new Facebook group which I named Perpetual Novena for the Vacant U.S. Diocese’s. About a month after I looked up how many Bishops were at or near the retirement age of 75 when Bishops submit their resignation and the search for a successor begins, which was just slightly above how many Dioceses were vacant at the time and decided to include prayers for those Bishops as well. Now, you may still ask, “Okay, but why pray for all these other places? They aren’t as important as Washington and not going through the same scandal as Washington”. You’re right, they aren’t, but here’s the reason: the faithful’s lack of trust in the episcopacy in the United States has been shaken, almost to the point of breaking and for many, it has been broken. Venerable (soon to be Blessed) Archbishop Sheen said that it is the job of the laity to see that our Bishops act like Bishops. The laity need good and holy men to look up to as their shepherds, and sometimes, that isn’t what they are given. At their episcobal ordination, the Bishop-Elect is asked the following series of questions by the Principal Consecrator:
Do you resolve by the grace of the Holy Spirit to discharge until death the office entrusted to us by the Apostles, which we are about to pass on to you by the laying on of our hands?
Do you resolve to preach the Gospel of Christ with constancy and fidelity?
Do you resolve to guard the deposit of faith entire and incorrupt, as handed down by the Apostles and preserved in the Church everywhere and at all times?
Do you resolve to build up the body of Christ, his Church, and to remain in the unity of that body together with the Order of Bishops under the authority of the successor of Saint Peter the Apostle?
Do you resolve to render obedience faithfully to the successor of the blessed Apostle Peter?
Do you resolve to guide the holy people of God in the way of salvation as a devoted father and sustain them with the help of your fellow ministers, the priests and deacons?
Do you resolve, for the sake of the Lord’s name, to be welcoming and merciful to the poor, to strangers, and to all who are in need?
Do you resolve as a good shepherd to seek out the sheep who stray and gather them into the Lord’s fold?
Do you resolve to pray without ceasing to almighty God for the holy people and to carry out the office of High Priesthood without reproach?
To each of these questions, the Bishop-Elect responds, “I do”. To the last question he responds, “I do, with the help of God”.
We, as the flock of the shepherd, are to pray constantly for him that he remains faithful to those promises. Even so, we must pray before he is given to us, before we know his name and after.
Following the examination of the candidate follows the Litany of the Saints, the laying on of hands, and the Prayer of Ordination, the Principal Consecrator anoints the new Bishop’s head with chrism and hands him the sacred signs of his new office.
When anointing the head, he says, “May God, who made you a sharer of the High Priesthood of Christ, himself pour out upon you the oil of mystical anointing and make you fruitful with an abundance of spiritual blessings”.
When he hands the Bishop-Elect the Book of the Gospels and insignia, he says, “Receive the Gospel and preach the word of God with all patience and sound teaching”.
He then places the ring on his finger saying, “Receive this ring, the seal of fidelity: adorned with undefiled faith, preserve unblemished the bride of God, the holy Church”.
After placing the miter on his head, he says, “Receive the miter, and may the splendor of holiness shine forth in you, so that when the chief shepherd appears, you may deserve to receive from him an unfading crown of glory”.
And finally, he hands the new Bishop his crosier and says, “Receive the crosier, the sign of your pastoral office: and keep watch over the whole flock in which the Holy Spirit has placed you as Bishop to govern the Church of God”.
These questions, promises, and prayers signify and tell us how the new Bishop is to act, shepherd, and serve his new flock. We must pray for him that he remains true to those promises. The same holds true when a Diocese is given a Bishop from another Diocese. We must still pray that he remains faithful to the vows he made on the day of his ordination as a bishop. We must pray for a good relationship between shepherd and flock. We must pray that he is a man after God’s own heart and not a hired hand who will run at the first sign of a wolf and leave the sheep to be scattered, or worse. That is why I created this group, that the Successors of the Apostles here in the United States may be true to the apostolic mandate and mission of that of the first Apostles when Jesus told them to go and teach all nations and baptize them, promising that He would be with us even until the end of the world. St. Ignatius of Antioch, a disciple of St. John the Apostle and ordained by St. Peter the first Pope as Bishop of Antioch wrote, “Wherever the bishop appears, there let the people be; as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church”. THAT is why we pray. That is why we must pray, so that the Holy Catholic Church may continue to live on and be faithful and obedient to the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ and to the teachings of Holy Mother Church.
So, I encourage everyone reading this to join our little group (there is a link below), that as we pray together, Christ the Good Shepherd will mercifully hear our prayers and show favor to His faithful flock.
Mary, Queen of Apostles, pray for us.