Wednesday, June 17, 2009


And so we approach the end of the Pauline year, which Pope Benedict XVI inaugurated to celebrate the 2000th birthday of the consummate Apostle.  With its conclusion, however, comes a new beginning - The Year of the Priest, beginning this Friday, June 19, on the Feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.

As the Universal Church comes to a crossroads, so too does its little Pizza-Hutted microcosm in Kenai, Alaska - Our Lady of the Angels Parish.  Here, too, begins a Year of the Priest for the first time in over 20 years, as former parish administrator Sr. Joyce Ross and her attaché Sr. Joan Barina are currently en route to the eastern seaboard from whence they came over 30 years ago.  Their management of the parish - lauded by some, condemned by others - should neither be underestimated nor forgotten.  But it is done.

What now?

There are many issues to be addressed.  In no particular order, this blog will attempt to identify and comment on them.


While Canon Law makes concessions for an in solidum ministry "when circumstances require it" (Can. 517), the circumstantial reason given for the 'Pastoral Team' was the OMI vocation to "live in community" with fellow OMI brethren.  This is not one of the four OMI charisms, and in any case was certainly not one of the conditions demanded of the very first Catholic priest in Alaska, Fr. Jean Séguin, OMI.

Also, given their beloved and somewhat solitary predecessor Fr. Tero, neither does it seem likely that Fr. Tony, Fr. Andy, and Fr. Joe were viewed by Peninsula Catholics as possible predators in need of constant self-surveillance . 

The most likely reason for the Pastoral Team method was the presence of Sr. Joyce at Our Lady of the Angels parish, Marlys Verba at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Soldotna, and Sr. Carol at St. John the Baptist in Homer.  Because these women had become entrenched in their authoritarian roles in the absence of a constant priestly presence (and at the expense of a beleaguered Fr. Tero, one might add), and because removing them from said roles would be a possibly painful transition, and could plausibly alienate some parishioners, it no doubt seemed prudent to Frs. Tony, Andy, and Joe to allow them to continue to dictate parish policy and serve as the de facto administrators of the Peninsula parishes.

However, with the departure of Sr. Joyce, the dynamic changes significantly.  Not only was Sr. Joyce the most audacious and knowledgeable at navigating the liminal area between bending and breaking the rules of liturgy, orthodoxy, and hierarchy, but she had the benefit of spending an entire generation at one parish.  Thirty years of attending and assisting at baptisms, first communions and confessions, marriages, and funerals will win hearts simply by virtue of consistency.  As evidenced by comments on this blog, even those who opposed Sr. Joyce's usurpation of priestly duties will miss seeing her friendly and familiar face.  And those same opponents would probably begrudgingly admit that, of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, Sr. Joyce had a particular capacity for understanding and counsel -- such things solidified her claim as "pastor" on more than one parishioner's heart.  It remains to be seen whether or not Sr. Joyce's influence will outlast her manifest presence among such hearts.

Our concern is mainly with the priests.  Now that Sr. Joyce is gone, so too is their greatest hindrance in assuming full pastoral responsibilities in each parish.  Let us remember that the Church's law defines a parish as a "certain community of the Christian faithful stably constituted in a particular church, whose pastoral care is entrusted to a pastor" (Can. 515).  And to become a pastor, "one must be in the sacred order of the presbyterate", i.e. priesthood.  (Can. 521).  Therefore, priests are the norm for each parish - not Pastoral Teams, not nuns, and certainly not laywomen in albs.

Over the past year and a half, the priests have expressed their desire to get to know their parishioners better; Fr. Tony said as much to a national audience at

One of the more important tasks is to make sure parishioners get to know their priests, Father Dummer said.  Familiarity is important when a priest is called upon to anoint the sick, visit the homebound, and perform baptism and funeral services, he added.

"We decided that it is most important for them to get to know us, so they feel comfortable," Father Dummer said.  "It's hard on people when they don't know us."

Most parishioners at Our Lady of the Angels no doubt agree with Fr. Tony.  Most, however, would also say that these have become empty words in the wake of the Pastoral Team method.  This reader's comment from an April 9th post sums things up:  

Our three priests, although always attempting to be effective as priests, are not familiar to us. Fr. Tony is more familiar than Fr. Joe and Fr. Andy. But there is little more than chit chat that takes place between us. Numerous parishioners have commented that they wanted to get to know the priests better, spend time with them, but when asked to get together, there is never time. At Church after Mass, there is the usual greetings and smiles, then the running away to meetings. (No peaceful time to just be a pastor to us.)

It is the opinion of this blog that the Pastoral Team approach should be seen for what it is: a failure.  The People of God on the Peninsula need more than a part-time priest in their parishes; they need the full, sacramental, pastoral presence outlined by Church law.  It is also the opinion of this blog that Peninsula Catholics should make known both their desire and their need for a full pastoral presence, both to the OMIs on the Peninsula and the Archbishop.

Lastly, the Vatican has announced a plenary indulgence in conjunction with the Year of Priests.  Here are the necessary details:

The means to obtain the Plenary Indulgence are as follows:

(A) All truly penitent priests who, on any day, devotedly pray Lauds or Vespers before the Blessed Sacrament exposed to public adoration or in the tabernacle, and ... offer themselves with a ready and generous heart for the celebration of the Sacraments, especially the Sacrament of Penance, will be granted Plenary Indulgence, which they can also apply to their deceased confreres, if in accordance with current norms they take Sacramental Confession and the Eucharist and pray in accordance with the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff. Priests are furthermore granted Partial Indulgence, also applicable to deceased confreres, every time they devotedly recite the prayers duly approved to lead a saintly life and to carry out the duties entrusted to them.

(B) All truly penitent Christian faithful who, in church or oratory, devotedly attend Holy Mass and offer prayers to Jesus Christ, supreme and eternal Priest, for the priests of the Church, or perform any good work to sanctify and mould them to His Heart, are granted Plenary Indulgence, on the condition that they have expiated their sins through Sacramental Confession and prayed in accordance with the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff. This may be done on the opening and closing days of the Year of Priests, on the 150th anniversary of the death of St. Jean Marie Vianney, on the first Thursday of the month, or on any other day established by the ordinaries of particular places for the good of the faithful.

The elderly, the sick and all those who for any legitimate reason are unable to leave their homes, may still obtain Plenary Indulgence if, with the soul completely removed from attachment to any form of sin and with the intention of observing, as soon as they can, the usual three conditions, "on the days concerned, they pray for the sanctification of priests and offer their sickness and suffering to God through Mary, Queen of the Apostles".

Partial Indulgence is offered to all faithful each time they pray five Our Father, Ave Maria and Gloria Patri, or any other duly approved prayer "in honour of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, to ask that priests maintain purity and sanctity of life". 

Please consider offering the graces attributed to the indulgence for our priests.

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