Tuesday, May 16, 2006

D.C. Has A New Bishop

Pope Benedict has just made a very significant move. It has just been announced that Pittsburgh's bishop Donald Wuerl has been appointed to take over for Cardinal Theodore McCarrick in Washington, D.C. This is no minor appointment. Washington, D.C. is arguably the most significant see in the country. Because of this I thought people might be interested in who Bishop Wuerl is.

Wuerl was ordained a priest in 1966 and holds Pontifical degrees from the Gregorian University and the University of St. Thomas (the "Angelicum"). Presently, he is the chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Catechesis and serves on the Committee on Education's Subcommittee on "Sapientia Christiana" and as a consultant to the Task Force on Catholic Bishops and Politicians.

Those who are familiar with his work know that Bishop Wuerl is an outstanding teacher. He co-authored a very popular and very solid Catechism, The Teaching of Christ, which was the first authoritative catechism written after Vatican II. It was co-authored by the beloved Fr. Ronald Lawler, a dear friend of the St. Paul Center. Wuerl's most recent book is The Catholic Way (Doubleday, 2001).

Very few bishops teach with the clarity Wuerl does. He is especially skilled at tailoring his message to specific audiences. A good illustration of his great pastoral ability and concern is his pastoral letter Love and Sexuality: A Pastoral Letter to the Young People of the Diocese of Pittsburgh (1992).

One of my favorite peices written by Bishop Wuerl is his 2000 letter, A Millenium Reflection: What It Means To Be Catholic. Here's what he has to say about the relationship between Christ and the Church.

The work of redemption did not end when Jesus returned in glory to his Father but continues until the last day. "Behold I am with you always, to the end of time" (Mt. 28.20). The start of a new millennium makes us all the more conscious of Jesus’ continuing presence in the Church that he established so that his work might go on, the work of bridging the gap between God and mankind. Thus the Church takes on the characteristics of its divine founder and Lord. The Church is his body; Christ is the head and we are the members. Membership in the Church is then membership in Christ drawing life and truth from him. As members of the Church, his body, we come to know Christ, to become one with him, and to attain our salvation through him. Only in and through the Church can we find that continuity with the experience and teaching of the Apostles that verifies and authenticates our own personal faith. In and through the Church we come to encounter the living Lord not just as an historical reality but also as a living person present to us sacramentally as Brother and Savior.

The work of Jesus continues to be the work of his Church. From the beginning, the apostles and their successors, as well as all of the Christian faithful, recognized that the Church enjoyed attributes that in their ultimate manifestation are applicable only to Christ. Hence, we call the Church "holy." God is holy, Jesus as God's Son is holy. The Church is holy because her founder and the animating force of her life – Christ and the Holy Spirit – are holy.

Just as salvation and grace come to us through Jesus, so do they continue to reach us through his Church. That is why Christ founded his Church. We are not just related individually and directly to God but also as God’s family united with Christ. It is in and through Christ present and manifest in his Church that we come to God. The mediatorship of Jesus continues in the visible, sacramental Church that we identify as the one, holy, catholic and apostolic communion of saints.

In this we differ with those who accept personal faith alone as the means of salvation. To be a Catholic is to recognize the role of the Church, not as incidental or secondary to salvation, but as the very means created and given to us by Jesus so that his work, accomplished in his death and resurrection, might be re-presented in our day and applied to us.

Wuerl has also has a no-nonsense reputation for acting swiftly in defrocking priests guilty of child abuse. In fact, when the Vatican ordered Wuerl to reinstate a priest in 1993, Wuerl refused. Instead, Wuerl wrote a letter to John Paul II urging the Pope to defrock the priest; the Holy Father agreed. Here's that story.

In addition, Wuerl has been one of the most outspoken pro-life bishops in the country. In sending him to Washington, D.C. it is clear that Pope Benedict is lobbing a grenade into the hub of America's political discourse.

In his pastoral letter God's Good Gift of Life (1999) he discusses the dire consequences of secular society's attempt to disassociate sexuality from marriage.
It would not be far off the mark to say that our secular society's denial of the intimate connection between sexual activity and the marriage bond is responsible for most of the unraveling of family and, therefore, community life in our time. Once the principle is established that sexual activity and the generation of children is for personal satisfaction alone and carries with it no particular relationship either to a committed bond of partnership or to the education and raising of children, you have what we face today -- an ever growing number of children who cannot identify in any meaningful sense with their parents and parents who are not in any realistic sense participants in sustaining, educating and developing their offspring. More disconcerting is the position of some that the solution to the problem is simply to kill the child before it is born.
He penned another strong pro-life letter in 2000, entitled Post-Abortion Reconciliation and Healing.

His other pastoral letters include:
-- The Year of the Eucharist (2005)
-- Meditation on the Mysteries [of the Rosary] (2004)
-- To Heal Restore and Renew (2002) [On the child abuse scandal]
-- Reconciliation and the Sacrament of Penance (1999)
-- Right and Wrong: A Pastoral Letter to the Young People of the Diocese of Pittsburgh (1998)
-- To Walk In The Footsetps of Jesus (1998) [On vocations]
-- Speaking the Truth in Love: Christian Discourse Within the Church (1997)
-- Confronting Racism Today (1996)
-- The Great Jubilee (1995)
-- Future Directions (1993)
-- Love and Sexuality: A Pastoral Letter to the Young People of the Diocese of Pittsburgh (1992)
-- Respect for Life (1989)
-- Renew the Face of the Earth (1989)
-- Thy Kingdom Come: New Beginnings In A Long Walk Together (1988)
A wealth of the Bishop's articles and homilies can be found at the Pittsburgh Diocese homepage.

Here is an interview with him regarding Catholic principles for voting. Here is another two-part interview in which he discusses the Catechism and new tools for catechesis (Part 1, Part 2).

Let me tell you my own personal Bishop Wuerl story. A couple of years ago I was boarding a plane and as I was making my way down the aisle I spotted the gold chain of a bishop - it was Bishop Wuerl. I had an extra copy of my book Singing In The Reign: The Psalms and the Liturgy of God's Kingdom (2001) on me and so I handed it to him as a token of my gratitude for his service to the Church. Well, the plane ended up sitting on the runway for about 2 hours before take off while we waited for some mechanical issue to be resolved. I wanted to go up and talk with him but I decided I shouldn't bother him. Besides, he was sitting in the front of the coach section - I was in the last row. Anyway, when we finally arrived at our destination and I got off the plane, the Bishop was waiting for me at the gate. I never expected to see him there. He must have been waiting there a long time. He made some joke about wondering how I got off the plane and then proceeded to ask me questions about the book. He had actually read most of it on the plane. I was so honored. We had a good conversation about the relationship between the Old Testament thanksgiving sacrifice and the Eucharist - a major theme in my book. I was impressed by his ability to read the book so quickly and discuss it as thoroughly as he did.

One final thing. Last year I was invited to speak at Bishop Wuerl's Catholic education conference. It was amazing. The level of scholarship at this conference geared for popular audiences was nothing short of spectacular. Other speaks included Scott Hahn, Mike Aquilina and Ted Sri.

For a complete roundup of the Wuerl coverage see the American Papist's blog.

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