Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Omaha . . . I am your archbishop

The Diocese of Springfield, Ill., where the Vatican went to find Omaha's next archbishop, was a MESS when Bishop George Lucas got there, and he's spent a decade trying to clean it up.

Lucas will find his next see to be merely a mess, with the most pressing problem being that vocations to the priesthood here have dried up -- the Archdiocese of Omaha will ordain no new priests this year and none next year, either.

Other than that, the new prelate will face a bunch of run-of-the-mill millennial Catholic crises . . . lousy religious education for the church's youth, not enough priests to do the job, the ongoing ecclesiastical Fifth Column that is Catholic secondary and higher education, etcetera and so on.

HERE'S A BIT from this afternoon's story in the Omaha World-Herald:
In his prepared remarks, Lucas said he is humbled to be given the responsibility of leading the 220,000-member Omaha Archdiocese.

"I look forward to learning about all the ways the Gospel is preached and lived in the Archdiocese of Omaha," he said. "I have a great deal to learn and you all have much to teach me."

Lucas showed he had done his homework by prominently mentioning Catholic schools, a focus in the family and social lives of many Omahans. He said even a casual observer would be impressed by Catholic education here.

"I look forward to not being a casual observer, but an active participant in this endeavor," he said.

To priests, Lucas said, "Not only will I depend on you to teach me, I will depend on you to support me, as I support you."

To non-Catholics, Lucas said he had been very active in inter-faith work in Illinois and plans to continue that in Omaha.

Lucas, 59, was named today by Pope Benedict XVI as the replacement for retiring Omaha Archbishop Elden F. Curtiss, who had submitted his mandatory resignation when he turned 75 two years ago this month.


Pope John Paul II appointed Lucas bishop of Springfield in October 1999. He was installed Dec. 14, 1999.

The Springfield diocese is home to about 170,000 Catholics in 164 parishes, according to the diocesan Web site.

The diocese, in south-central Illinois, is served by 99 active diocesan priests and 62 religious order priests. The diocese also has eight Catholic hospitals, a religious seminary, a Catholic university, a Catholic college, seven Catholic high schools and 54 Catholic elementary schools.

Lucas comes to Omaha under much different circumstances than when he went to Illinois in 1999. A sex-abuse scandal involving the former Springfield bishop, Daniel Ryan, was brewing in Springfield at the time. It eventually erupted into greater scandal and lawsuits along with the national clergy sex-abuse crisis.

In an interview today, Lucas said the diocese had taken the steps it needed to take to protect children, to be transparent and to ensure that the diocese was operating with integrity.

That said, he added, "The hurt of the abuse is still felt very deeply by those who were abused."
BUT AT LEAST he won't -- at this writing at least -- have to deal with allegations his predecessor had a taste for underage boys or deal with a diocesan chancellor who gets beaten up in city parks by teens who take umbrage at being propositioned for sex.

If he's lucky, he won't have to call in an outside investigator here in the next five years, and he won't have the Omaha equivalent of the radically traditionalist, bomb-throwing
Roman Catholic Faithful accusing him of a hands-off policy toward "predatory homosexuals." That and of having a taste for high-school boys himself.

The Decatur (Ill.) Herald & Review
reported on the whole mess in August 2006:
Lucas called for an investigation of alleged clergy misconduct "amid a climate of increasing doubt and mistrust" in February 2005, the report stated.

The probe was spearheaded by Springfield attorney Bill Roberts, a Methodist.

The investigation found "some misuse of power and some serious misconduct" by a "very small number of priests," Lucas said.

Lucas remains confident in the virtuous service of the vast majority of the more than 120 priests in the diocese. He acknowledged the "painful truth" of revelations and hopes the investigation will restore the confidence of parishioners.

"I'm deeply sorry for the misdeeds of any priest whom I have placed in or allowed to remain in a position of trust in this diocese," Lucas said.

The report stated that former Bishop Daniel Ryan engaged in sexual misconduct with adults and used his authority to conceal his actions.

"Although denied by Bishop Ryan, this behavior did occur and caused scandal in the church by leading others to do evil," the report stated. "It resulted in feelings of hurt and anger, as well as thoughts of doubt and mistrust, both in the church as an institution and in its leaders."

The report documents anecdotal evidence of Roman Catholics abandoning the faith because of Ryan's actions.

"The investigation found a culture of secrecy fostered under Bishop Ryan's leadership which discouraged faithful priests from coming forward with information about misconduct," the report added.

Ryan no longer participates in public ministry and does not live in the diocese, the report stated.

"We saw a culture that had grown very permissive, very lax, a culture lacking discipline, a culture in which at some point the people became distrusting and wary of bringing things to the head of their church in this diocese because they believe that it wouldn't be handled appropriately," Roberts said.

Some believe Lucas rewarded priests who protected Ryan by honoring them with the designation "monsignor," the report noted. The probe found no evidence Lucas was aware of alleged misconduct by honorees but found Lucas could have researched some priests' characters more carefully.

The panel found false and without merit the allegations by area resident Thomas Munoz, who claimed to have engaged in sex acts with Lucas, five priests and three seminarians. Munoz failed a polygraph test and has a history of criminal and deceptive behavior, the report stated.
IT'S NOT EASY being an archbishop. But it's got to be easier than being bishop of Springfield, Ill.

At least once the Star Wars jokes get old.

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