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Tribute to Bishop Michael A. Saltarelli

Greenville County Club

The Saint Thomas More Award and Bishop Saltarelli

On this day dedicated to the most Holy Trinity, we gather for the annual St. Thomas More dinner, to honor a saint so deserving of honor, because of his honesty and sense of what is right.

Let me tell you something which had not been told publicly before: Archbishop, now Cardinal McCarrick, -- he was archbishop of Newark at the time -- and I knew that Bishop Saltarelli was to be promoted from the office of Auxiliary Bishop of Newark to be Bishop of Wilmington. The Nuncio told us that we must agree on a date. And so, during the Bishops’ Meeting in Washington – they have since saved heaps of money for our Conference, as well as honoring its history – by moving the annual meeting to Baltimore, we met for supper with Bishop Saltarelli to fix a date.

We soon enough agreed upon a date for the event, January 23, 1996, and then set about enjoying our meal.

One of the tasks that bishops take very seriously is making present in the diocese the teaching of the current pope. In Pope John Paul II we were blessed with someone who had come to the U. S. so often, in 1979, just a year after his election, in 1987, and again in 1995; in addition, he stopped twice in Alaska, where his plane refueled. On those occasions, the President of the United States flew up to greet him. And Time Magazine, in its listing of the 100 most important people in the world, did not include the present Pope, the Holy Father to so many people around the world.

The President of the United States did greet Pope Benedict on his arrival at Andrews Airport. And he welcomed him again to the United States, at a reception at the White House. How many here were present for that event?A person on the President’s staff told me that they had more requests for that event than for any other during his time at the White House. And how many traveled to Washington the next day for the Mass at the Nationals’ Stadium?

The visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the United States was a triumph from beginning to end. It is still a recent event, burned into our memories. Tonight, I would like to underline some aspects of the visit which, I think, are worth our attention because of what they tell us about the Church.

Pope Benedict, as Cardinal Ratzinger, is someone I have known for more than 23 years. As Vice-President and then as President of the national Bishops’ Conference, I met with him in Rome over a period of six years three or four times a year. He was extremely helpful to us in the use of inclusive language in the translation of biblical texts. He understood the issue, which had never been discussed previously at a meeting of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.

English is the only modern language in which the difficulty is experienced. All the other tongues use “man” (in French l’homme, in Italian uomo, in Spanish ombre, in German Man) in an inclusive sense. I had the privilege of explaining, at the invitation of Cardinal Ratzinger, this to a meeting of the Congregation. Because all did not speak English as their first language, I am not sure that everyone understood the nuances of my presentation.

But, from that time, I described the Cardinal as a person who reminded me of my mother, a school teacher, “sweet and clear.” As Americans have come to know him through the papal visit, I am sure that they have seen some of the sweetness we experienced and the clarity of his teaching. The fact that he is drawing crowds about twice the size of those who came to hear Pope John Paul II is something the media have not focused on.

When Pope Benedict came to the United States, after his meeting with the President, he addressed the bishops assembled in the basement of the National Shrine in Washington. There he pointed out what brought him to the United States at this time: the bicentenary of the establishment of Baltimore as an archdiocese, and of the Dioceses of Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Bardstown, Kentucky, now Louisville. The first bishop of New York was an Irishman named Concannon, who died en route to New York at Naples. Cardinal O’Connor called him “his most successful predecessor” because he made “no mistakes on the job.”

Pope Benedict paid tribute to John Carroll, the bishop who was the first Bishop of Baltimore as a “worthy leader of the Catholic community in your newly independent nation.” He went on, “His tireless efforts to spread the Gospel in the vast territory under his care laid the foundations for the ecclesial life of your country and enabled the Church to grow to maturity. Today the Catholic community you serve is one of the largest in the world, and one of the most influential. How important is, then, to let your light so shine before your fellow citizens and before the world, ‘that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven’ (Mt 5:16).”

The Pope then went on to encourage the Bishops to continue to welcome the immigrants, to congratulate them for the generosity of the American people after Hurricane Katrina and the tsunamis of December, 2005. He continued by praising the humanitarian work of Catholic Charities and other agencies and spoke of the care shown for the poor and needy, and of the “energy that has gone into building the nationwide network of Catholic parishes, hospitals, schools and universities.”

I apologize to you for seeking to collapse the helpful words of the Holy Father into a briefer format.

Pope Benedict XVI then affirmed, “America is also a land of great faith.” He praised the religious freedom “deeply ingrained in the American consciousness….” Then he acknowledged the “presence of the venerable Eastern Churches in communion with the Successor of Peter….” He spoke of their role “often amid suffering, in their respective homelands.” He affirmed that here in America they give “vivid expression to the Church’s catholicity and the variety of her liturgical and spiritual traditions.”

The Pope goes on to spell out the challenges the Bishop faces today: “While it is true that this country is marked by a genuinely religious spirit, the subtle influence of secularism can nevertheless color the way people allow their faith to influence their behavior. Is it consistent to profess our beliefs in church on Sunday, and then during the week to promote business practices or medical procedures contrary to these beliefs? Is it consistent for practicing Catholics to ignore or exploit the poor and the marginalized, to promote sexual behavior contrary to Catholic moral teaching, or to adopt positions that contradict the right to life of every human being from conception to natural death? Any tendency to treat religion as a private matter must be resisted. Only when their faith permeates every aspect of their lives do Christians become truly open to the transforming power of the Gospel.”

Pope Benedict’s analysis of the materialism which may keep one from keeping an eye on God, the end of our existence, and of the individualism which is prevalent today are most helpful insights. The Pope then turns his attention to the Catholic laity and to the high value traditionally placed on religious education in our country.

The Pope observes that while “advances in medical science bring new hope to many, they also give rise to previously unimagined ethical challenges. This makes it more important than ever to offer thorough formation in the Church’s moral teaching to Catholics engaged in health care.”

He then invites the Bishops “to participate in the exchange of ideas in the public square…. In a context where free speech is valued, and where vigorous and honest debate is encouraged, yours is a respected voice…. By ensuring that the Gospel is clearly heard, you not only form the people of your own community, but in view of the global reach of mass communication, you help to spread the message of Christian hope throughout the world.”

=Pope Benedict affirms the importance attached by Cardinal George, President of our Bishops’ Conference, to the role of the family. He observes, “To some young Catholics, the sacramental bond of marriage seems scarcely distinguishable from a civil bond, or even a purely informal and open-ended arrangement to live with another person…. In such circumstances, children are denied the secure environment that they need in order truly to flourish as human beings, and society is denied the stable building blocks which it requires if the cohesion and moral focus of the community are to be maintained.”

After reminding the Bishops that they are “to proclaim boldly the arguments from faith and reason in favor of the institution of marriage, understood as a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman, open to the transmission of life,” the Pope went on to speak of “countersigns to the Gospel of life in America and elsewhere….” He singles out “the sexual abuse of minors” as a cause “of deep shame.”

Pope Benedict affirms that the Bishops “rightly attach priority to showing compassion and care to the victims.” He continues, “It is your God-given responsibility as pastors to bind up the wounds caused by every breach of trust, to promote reconciliation and to reach out with loving concern to those so seriously wronged.”

After acknowledging that some cases have been “very badly handled,” the Pope makes this statement, “While it must be remembered that the overwhelming majority of clergy and religious in America do outstanding work in bringing the liberating message of the Gospel to the people entrusted to their care, it is vitally important that the vulnerable always be shielded from those who would cause harm. In this regard, your efforts to heal and protect are bearing great fruit not only for those directly under your pastoral care, but for all of society.” Indeed, in making our decisions in Dallas in 2002, we Bishops were very much aware that others (other religious bodies and such groups as the Boy Scouts) should be grateful that we have mapped out ways to prevent and heal abuse.

The Holy Father next addressed the challenge of the “wider context.” He put these questions: “What does it mean to speak of child protection when pornography and violence can be viewed in so many homes through media widely available today?” He asked that we try to put the abuse question in a broader context so as to be helpful to the many segments of our society – and it is very difficult question, as daily reports of teachers in our public schools underlines.

Pope Benedict speaks of how Bishops need to be close to their priests during this time of trial. “They have experienced shame over what has occurred, and there are those who feel they have lost some of the trust and esteem they once enjoyed.”

The Pope quotes from his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, in his observations of six years ago, in a meeting with the American Cardinals, “we must be confident that this time of trial will bring a purification of the entire Catholic community,” leading to “a holier priesthood, a holier episcopate and a holier Church.” (Address to the Cardinals of the United States, 23 April 2002, 4) “There are many signs that, during the intervening period, such purification has indeed been taking place,” said Pope Benedict. And from the point of view of the neighboring Archdiocese of Baltimore, I can say that, in the last three years of my ministry there, the number of vocations to the diocesan priesthood was the highest that I have seen. In those three years, 33 signed up for the seminary.

Finally, Pope Benedict asked for more prayer, prayer before the Blessed Sacrament in Adoration, prayer in the Rosary to Mary, the Queen and Mother of the Church, and the great prayer of the Divine Office – the Liturgy of the Hours -- on the part of all the clergy, many of whom also celebrate the Eucharist daily.

The next day, the Holy Father went to the Nationals’ new Stadium in Washington. His homily, many of you heard. In the afternoon, he met with victims of sexual abuse and, later, with Catholic educators, including the Presidents of Catholic Universities.

Pope Benedict, whose schedule was a full one, then met with representatives of various religions. At the conclusion of this meeting, he had a separate meeting with rabbis and others, all of them Jewish except myself. To them, and through them, to all Jewish people, he gave the message he had written for their Passover Feast.

      In addition to his good wishes, the Pope wrote these words, “… I feel particularly close, precisely because of what Nostra Aetate calls Christians to remember always: that the Church ‘received the revelation of the Old Testament through the people with whom God in his inexpressible mercy concluded the Ancient Covenant. Nor can she forget that she draws sustenance from the root of that well-cultivated olive tree into which have been grafted, the wild shoot, the Gentiles’ (Nostra Aetate, 4) In addressing myself to you I wish to re-affirm the Second Vatican Council’s teaching on Catholic-Jewish relations and reiterate the Church’s commitment to the dialogue that in the last forty years has fundamentally changed our relationship for the better.

“Because of that growth in trust and friendship, Christians and Jews can rejoice together in the rich spiritual ethos of the Passover, a memorial (zikkaron) of freedom and redemption. Each year, when we listen to the Passover story we return to that blessed night of liberation. This holy time of the year should be a call to both our communities to pursue justice, mercy, solidarity with the stranger in the land, with the widow and orphan, as Moses commanded: ‘But you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this.’ (Deuteronomy 24:18).”

“At the Passover Seder you recall the holy patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and the holy women of Israel, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachael and Leah, the beginning of the long line of sons and daughters of the Covenant. With the passing of time the Covenant assumes an ever more universal value, as the promise made to Abraham takes form: ‘I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing…. All the communities of the earth shall find blessing in you’ (Genesis 12:2-3). Indeed, according to the prophet Isaiah, the hope of redemption extends to the whole of humanity: ‘Many peoples will come and say: ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’” (Isaiah 2:3) Within this eschatological horizon is offered a real prospect of universal brotherhood on the path of justice and peace, preparing the way of the Lord (cf. Isaiah 62:10).

The very next day, Pope Benedict went to the Park East Synagogue in New York City, where he said, among other things, “I find it moving to recall that Jesus, as a young boy, heard the words of Scripture and prayed in a place such as this.”

This Trinity Sunday we want to honor Bishop Saltarelli, who anticipated in his life the words of Pope Benedict to the Bishops by being the kind of person configured to Christ Jesus that the Holy Father was looking for in Bishops. Like St. Thomas More, Bishop Saltarelli has chosen “the better part” of looking to the Lord Jesus for sustenance. We are all grateful to him for the good example and the wise counsel he has given. May God bless the Bishop and the Diocese of Wilmington!