Thursday, December 28, 2023

In the US, 2023 Was a Year Marked by a Startling Discovery and the Shocking Murder of a Beloved Bishop

Slain Irish Bishop David O'Connell remembered as 'soulmate' and 'rock of  his family' by friends and relatives at funeral | The Irish Sun

Four years ago, when Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster died at age 95, her fellow nuns didn’t embalm her body before having it buried in a plain wooden coffin. 

Yet when her body was exhumed this past May, it looked remarkably well-preserved. 

The surprising discovery has drawn thousands of pilgrims to the sisters’ Benedictine abbey in Gower, Missouri, to see and pray over the remains of the indomitable Black woman who, at age 70, founded a religious order dedicated to silence, poverty, wearing a religious habit and the traditional Latin Mass. 

It also provided an upbeat counterweight to the year’s distressing developments, including the shocking murders of Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop David O’Connell in February and a Nebraska priest in December; a seventh-straight pro-life loss in a state abortion ballot question since the overturning of Roe v. Wade (this time in Ohio), and continued acts of violence and vandalism against U.S. Catholic churches, including the theft in May of a $2-million bejeweled tabernacle in Brooklyn and the desecration of the Hosts inside. 

At the same time, continued turmoil at the U.S. border — and the failure of the U.S. Congress and the Biden administration to address it — is placing strain on Catholic Charities and other social-service agencies around the country.

Meanwhile, Catholics have watched with alarm the unfolding revelations on Capitol Hill about an FBI domestic terrorism probe that inexplicably targeted traditional Catholics in the Richmond, Virginia, area. And hopes dimmed that disgraced ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick will be brought to justice after he was declared mentally incompetent to stand trial on criminal sexual-abuse charges in Massachusetts.

The financial fallout from the long-standing clergy sex-abuse scandal that McCarrick epitomized continued to be felt, as the list of U.S. dioceses that have filed for bankruptcy reached more than three dozen, according to a tracking website at Penn State Law School.

Despite a nearly monthlong synod at the Vatican in October dedicated to dialogue and bridge-building, there were more worrisome signs of deepening polarization within the Church, perhaps most visibly in the wake of Pope Francis’ Nov. 11 removal of Bishop Joseph Strickland as the leader of the Diocese of Tyler, Texas, ostensibly because of his outspoken criticism of the Holy Father, though the Vatican hasn’t revealed the specific reasons. 

The move upset supporters of Bishop Strickland’s ardent defense of the Church’s long-standing teachings on abortion, marriage and human sexuality, while his critics said Francis’ action was overdue because the bishop’s social-media broadsides went beyond fair criticism of the Pope and needlessly undermined the unity of the Church.

It wasn’t all gloom, though. As the U.S. Church prepared to enter the third and final year of a National Eucharistic Revival campaign, which will culminate with a national Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis in July, the Real Presence was proclaimed through public Eucharistic processions around the country, including one in the heart of Manhattan.

The heroic witness of American Catholics who faced daunting challenges in their own times continues to inspire. 

There was movement on the road to canonization for at least three possible new American saints: Father Isaac Hecker (1819-1888), the founder of the Paulists, who converted from Methodism to Catholicism at age 24; Sister Annella Zervas, a Benedictine nun who died in 1926 at age 26 in northern Minnesota of a painful skin disease; and Father Patrick Ryan, a native of Ireland who died of yellow fever in 1878, after ministering to victims of the virus in Chattanooga, Tennessee.