Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

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Bishop Matthew Clark and a changing church

March 4th, 2011, Promulgated by Ben Anderson

As a reader noted, CityNewspaper recently did an interview with Bishop Clark.  The full article is here.  It’s long, so I’ll only include here the parts that warrant commenting.

NOTE: If you’re currently viewing the CF home page, you’ll see a “continue reading on CleansingFire” link at the bottom of this post. This is simply for the sake of making scrolling through the home page easier. Clicking that link let’s you read the rest of the CF post (yes, there’s more) – it does not take you to the original article. This is a new technique for us. Let us know if you like it.


Clark has taken some criticism for the closings and church consolidations, but they are not unique to Rochester. [Yes, we criticize him for this, but it’s good to take a step back.  We criticize not just because of the fact that churches and schools are closing.  Such things happen to good bishops and bad bishops alike.  It is the cause of these church and school closings that we criticize; not the fact itself.  The reason the churches and schools are closing is because of a lack of fidelity to the Catholic faith.  If Bishop Clark were faithful to the Magisterium and expected the same of his priests, perhaps we’d be more open to swallowing the excuses he’s about to give.  Faithfulness to God brings blessings, while steering away from God brings disaster (the story of Israel).  However, it’s the lack of fidelity that seems to be the cause of the closings.  There is much empirical data to back up that point.  Let’s just get that straight before moving on because I think that’s a very important point – one that is usually skipped over in this type of discussions.  Church and school closings (or on the flip side – constructions) could be signs that you’re of how well you’re doing, but as Mother Theresa famously said, “we are not called to be successful, but faithful”.  We criticize the bishop’s policies (and those who enact and promote them) because of the dilution of the Catholic faith.  We criticize because Catholic identity has been nearly stamped out here in the DOR.  We criticize because fidelity to Magisterial teaching has become equated with bigotry.]

How these closings will impact the diocese over the long term is hard to say. But clearly, the traditional model for developing new generations of Catholics isn’t as effective as it once was. [This statement is false.  The traditional model would be to put Catholicity above “academic excellence”.  The traditional model would be to pass on the faith with uncompromising determination.  It’s not the traditional model that has failed.  It’s the diocese’s attempt at changing the traditional model that has failed.]

But Clark, who is originally from Waterford, New York, said he hopes he will be allowed to stay in the Rochester region, which he describes as his home. [Seems like an odd comment.  Is it really mandated from above where he is allowed to live?]

Clark is welcoming to the gay community, though he remains firmly against same-sex marriage [Perhaps formally against SSM, but it seems disingenuous.  He is also ambiguous as toF whether the homosexual act is sinful, which seems to suggest he condones it.].

And many of them with the means to send them to a Catholic school are opting to send them to local public schools and trusting the religious formation of their children to themselves, of course, and to their parish programs. [Perhaps they’ve wisened up to the type of “religious education” kids get at diocesan schools.]

Paralleling that sweep to the suburbs and the greater educational achievement of Catholics, we also have the truth that what were left in the city were a lot of poor people who didn’t have the means to move out. As a result of the out-migration from the city and the in-migration of people who were often not Catholic like those early immigrants, we didn’t have the same number of children to fill our schools. [If urban sprawl were to the detriment of the city, wouldn’t it be to the benefit of the suburbs?  I don’t believe we’ve actually seen that, though.]

I think it’s important that people understand that this is not because of some delinquency or failure on our part [I do feel for him in a sense and I do believe he is trying and I do believe that he wants Catholic schools to succeed.  I think we really need to take a step back from the x’s and o’s.  What we need is the work of the Holy Spirit.  We just heard in today’s readings what a little faith can do.  What if the strategy to increase vocations, to increase mass attendance, and to increase enrollment in Catholic schools was to step back and sincerely ask for divine intervention?  What if we a serious campaign were to be launched to spend time before the Blessed Sacrament, pray the Rosary, and fast (ie – do what Catholic Warriors do).  After all, things aren’t quite as bleak now as they were prior to the Battle of Lepanto.]

Guiding this transition probably wasn’t anything you could have prepared for, was it?

No, these are not things for which bishops receive handbooks [If there were such handbooks would it be disregarded in the same manner as canon law, the catechism, and Magisterial teachings?]. That’s been one of the things that I kept thinking about preparing for this interview: all of the changes in our culture that have happened just here locally. I mean, it’s incredible. When I came here, Kodak employed something like 60,000 people in Greater Rochester. And of course, there was no internet [huzzah!]

If you consider that the whole world is changing at a swimmingly fast pace, why do we think that the church doesn’t have to change along with that? I don’t mean in our foundational beliefs [lip service to foundation beliefs… how bout backing that up by cleaning up the heretical St. Bernard’s School?], but in how we organize ourselves. It’s an exciting challenge, but it’s not an easy one. And I don’t mean just for the bishop. I mean for all of us.

How does the Rochester diocese grow at this point? Where is the Catholic Church finding new parishioners? [I’ll answer that one… orthodoxy!  Catholicism is relevant to all peoples at all times.  It’s doesn’t go in and out of style because Our Lord doesn’t go in and out of style.  Our faithfulness wavers – He does not.  He is always waiting for us to return and will bestow untold blessings on us if we have but the faith of a mustard seed.]

We’re all rooting for our new governor and other elected officials to help us get out of this difficult time [they’re goo-goo for Cuomo]. A better economic situation in Upstate New York would help everyone, including those of us in the faith community [hmmm – we are looking to our government for salvation?  sad.]

Certainly that happens because people may be discontent with us about something. Maybe they think we’re dinosaurs and out of touch [yeah, that’s it.  If only the diocese would pander even more to the modern world, then maybe people would flock to the churches]. But I think some of it has to do with people being so busy. There are just so many demands on our time. [Shenanigans!  People make time for what’s important to them.  This all sounds like loser-talk.  Imagine an NFL coach talking like this after a horrible season or a CEO talking like this to their board.]

Are the reports of a shortage of young men entering the priesthood correct?

Right now, we’re older and fewer in numbers than I think is good for us. I think the next few years will be very challenging for us to fully and adequately supply the priests to carry on the ministry in our parishes. [a self-fulfilling prophecy]

Having said that, we’re doing all right for now [in the Rochester Diocese]. There is no parish church that we can’t provide sufficient priests for mass on Sunday, and in most cases, masses through the week.

But we need to beef up our numbers in the years ahead. And I’m pleased to tell you that right now, we’ve had a very nice uptick at that earlier stage [And why is that?  Where are these seminarians at in regards to the orthodox/progressive pendulum?  What kind of background do they have?  What got them moving toward the priesthood?]. This year we have about 17 students studying theology in preparation for priesthood, which at least doubles the size over what we had two or three years ago. And we have prospects for the following year for possibly four or five more. [Pray unceasingly for these men!]

Now understand, these men are not yet ordained. But we have what I will say is a pleasing critical mass of young candidates on the way. And I have to say that is encouraging.

Becoming a priest isn’t really a career in the traditional sense, so how do you recruit candidates for the priesthood?

You’re right; it is a different process. We don’t do it by promising fabulous vacations, high wages, and bonuses. You appeal to the deeper yearning in the fellow to serve people, to serve the Lord, to live a life of prayer and service to the community. [I once heard a priest talk briefly about his desire to become a priest.  He was young and was watching a Eucharistic procession and asked his mother, “what is that?”  His mother answered, “God”.  He knew then that he wanted to be a priest.]

It’s a beautiful journey, a beautiful, life-giving vocation. But sometimes it’s hard for young men to connect to that concept. [watch this]

Many people enter into a field that they discover later isn’t right for them. And you don’t have to join the priesthood to serve God and your community. So how do you help someone make this choice with confidence? [The same could be said of marriage, no?  How do I know if she’s the one?  We’ve got to put our faith in God.  We cannot falter if we do that.]

But I have been in the position more than once where a priest came to me and said, “This isn’t what I thought it would be.” [funny – that’s how I felt when I found out that the Catholicism I was convinced to be the fullness of the Christian truth, and thus converted to, was almost non-existent in the DOR] And that always brings sadness to me, because something was missed.

We’re in this extremely difficult period of time. We’re in two wars; we’re climbing out of a devastating recession where millions of Americans have lost their job or home. And we seem to be so divided along political lines. As a spiritual leader, what worries you about all of this?

Disconnection – losing our sense of community.

I think the fruits of that show up in partisanship and taking ideological positions that become more and more rigid. [poke, poke :-).  On matters that are open to debate, that aren’t clearly defined by the Church, that is a good point.  We should be open in such matters.  But in matters that ARE clearly defined, then we MUST be partisan.  We must be CATHOLIC.]

There’s this sense that I have to defend to the death my way of looking at something. But when you do that, you lose the capacity to negotiate, to understand differences, and mend fences, and ultimately try to achieve something in common. I’m afraid we’re going to lose that if the trends that I see continue. And that would be devastating to the human family. [How bout we call a truce?  Everyone throws their personal opinions in the garbage.  Instead of arguing and bickering we’ll look to Holy Mother Church for answers.  Sound like a plan?]

I think we have to be much more humble in our strongest convictions [No – this is wrong.  I’ve heard this promulgated from the pulpit, but it’s wrong.  We should be humble in regards to ourselves, but not in what we believe.  I’ve mentioned this before.  It deserves mentioning again], with the realization that no one of us possesses the whole truth. No one of us captures reality perfectly. We can always learn from one another.

GK Chesterton’s Orthodoxy – Chapter III – The Suicide of Thought

But what we suffer from to-day is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert—himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt—the Divine Reason. Huxley preached a humility content to learn from Nature. But the new sceptic is so humble that he doubts if he can even learn. Thus we should be wrong if we had said hastily that there is no humility typical of our time. The truth is that there is a real humility typical of our time; but it so happens that it is practically a more poisonous humility than the wildest prostrations of the ascetic. The old humility was a spur that prevented a man from stopping; not a nail in his boot that prevented him from going on. For the old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which might make him work harder. But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his aims, which will make him stop working altogether.

At any street corner we may meet a man who utters the frantic and blasphemous statement that he may be wrong. Every day one comes across somebody who says that of course his view may not be the right one. Of course his view must be the right one, or it is not his view. We are on the road to producing a race of men too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table. We are in danger of seeing philosophers who doubt the law of gravity as being a mere fancy of their own. Scoffers of old time were too proud to be convinced; but these are too humble to be convinced. The meek do inherit the earth; but the modern sceptics are too meek even to claim their inheritance. It is exactly this intellectual helplessness which is our second problem.

The real rebuttal to all of this is the CWR report “The Barren Fig Tree”.

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5 Responses to “Bishop Matthew Clark and a changing church”

  1. avatar Mike says:

    Well done, Ben.

    I think the fruits of [disconnection – losing our sense of community] show up in partisanship and taking ideological positions that become more and more rigid.

    His Excellency seems concerned that we “marginalized conservatives” have refused to stay marginalized.

  2. avatar Whited says:

    We need a Bishop with a spirit alive.

  3. avatar Cath School Girl says:

    As a new viewer of Cleansing Fire, and one who has newly relocated back to the Rochester area, I have several questions. when I left the area 18!years ago, Rochester had an abundance of Catholic Churches and schools. I moved back last year and found quite a number of these institutions closed, the most devastating of which was Most Precios Blood, which was literally built by the Italuan immigrants in the area. These buildings now house a number of Protestant churches and Islamic mosques. Question 1: Really? Bishop Clark could do no better than to sell our ( as in the Catholic faithful) buildings to other sects? Is the Diocese that financially needy that our heritage be obliterated? That was Question 2. Question 3: When was the turning point of the loss of the Roman Catholic rite in favor of a Mass encompassing Lutheran, Presbyterian, Baptist and a smattering of LDS demonstrations? To offset any blow back, I lived in the Southwest for a number of years. I have to say, I enjoyed a deeply Catholic worship experience in that diocese. Coming back here was akin to skipping into a feel good pep rally. Upon Bishop Matano taking over, I believe a ray of light can be seen. I hope. Thank you.

  4. avatar Sid says:

    Hi Cath School Girl,
    I’m not sure anyone has good answers for your Qs 1,2, and 3, but I think you are correct in your final sentiments about the ray of light Bishop Matano is bringing us.

    One thing, though… You posted your comments/questions to a really old (dates from 4 years ago) thread, which means a lot of CF readers probably won’t see them unless they look under “Latest Reader Comments” as I do. So, you might wish to re-express the same thoughts in one of the fresh threads on the main page that people are more actively monitoring.

    Welcome back to the the Rochester area! If you are dismayed at the “pep rally” nature of local parishes you have attended since your return, ask on here for some suggestions. There are some fine (really fine) reverent, orthodox, traditional teaching & beauty parishes out there; it just takes a little asking and maybe a couple minutes longer drive.

  5. avatar Cath School Girl says:

    Thank you for the info, Sid. I will repost.


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