Independent firm to oversee allegations against bishops

In the years since 2002 when the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People was implemented in our diocese and throughout the United States, we have made progress in our efforts to respond to the victims of abuse. There is more that can be done, and we know that we need to stay vigilant and work continuously to improve our efforts. One such improvement will be implemented in the United States this month. It will specifically address the need for accountability for the bishops of our country.

Pope Francis met in February 2019 with the heads of the bishop’s conferences throughout the world to discuss the abuse crisis and especially the need to create a way to hold bishops accountable for alleged abuse and/or intentional interference in investigations into alleged abuse by others under their authority.

Following that meeting the Holy Father released his apostolic letter, Vos estis lux mundi (“You are the Light of the World”), commonly referred to as Vos estis. With the document, the Pope called all conferences of bishops through the world to develop third-party reporting systems specifically for allegations of abuse involving a bishop or of a bishop intentionally interfering in a civil or church investigation into an allegation of sexual abuse. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has established the Catholic Bishops Abuse Reporting Service or CBAR. It is important to understand several things about CBAR.

The system, although set up by the bishops of the United States, is not monitored by them. An independent firm called Convercent Inc. has been contracted to create and oversee the reporting process. 

Reports made through this service will be sent promptly to appropriate church personnel and, as warranted, civil authorities for investigation purposes. The reports will otherwise remain confidential. Callers are not required to provide a name or contact information, although they may choose to do so to facilitate the process. Once a report is submitted, the caller will be given an access number which will allow them to receive updates on the progress of the case they have shared.

This reporting system may be used to report the actions or inactions of living U.S. Catholic bishops.  Allegations of abuse involving a bishop who has died or other church personnel should be reported through the diocesan Victim Assistance Coordinator, Barbara Scherr, who can be contacted by calling the VAC cell phone 605-209-3418. Victims of sexual abuse (or any other crime) should contact local law enforcement. 

It is also important to understand that the only reports that can be filed through CBAR are those that involve sexual abuse of children or vulnerable adults or the intentional interference in a civil or church investigation into an allegation of sexual abuse. Other complaints about the bishop — such as parish assignments, church closings, diocesan administration or homily contents — should be addressed directly to your bishop (or diocesan administrator) and not through CBAR. It is important to hear this and understand it. The bishops of our country are focused on and concerned about abuse victims. Our bishops want abuse victims to be heard and to receive the church’s offering of justice, mercy and healing. If a variety of other complaints come in, it will prevent the bishops from focusing on those who have been victims of abuse.

Once a report is submitted to CBAR, it will be sent to the metropolitan in the province where the accused bishop, active or retired, is living. The Catholic Church divides the world into dioceses. Dioceses are then grouped into provinces for governance purposes. Each province has an archbishop who is also called a Metropolitan. Our province includes the dioceses in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.  Our Metropolitan is Archbishop Bernard Hebda of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. (If the report concerns the archbishop himself, the report will be sent to the bishop in the province who has the most seniority by virtue of ordination.)

Upon receiving a report, the Metropolitan will determine if the case falls within the Vos esti provisions. If not, it will be referred to the proper authorities within the church. If it does meet the provision of Vos esti, the Metropolitan and qualified staff will conduct an initial assessment. If an investigation is warranted, the Metropolitan will send an assessment to the appropriate authority within the Holy See. Within 30 days, the Holy See will determine if a formal investigation is warranted.  If so, it will authorize a bishop to oversee the investigation. If an investigation is ordered, it will be undertaken by qualified experts, including lay persons. Normally, the investigation must be completed within 90 days of receiving the order from the Holy See.  The conclusions of the investigation will be sent to the Holy See, since it is the Holy Father who disciplines bishops. Once the Holy See receives the conclusions of an investigation, the Holy See will initiate the appropriate process that will lead to a final judgement.

CBAR is a church system. As with all cases of reported abuse, those who receive the reports from CBAR are required to report to and cooperate with civil authorities.

Allegations against U.S. bishops may be reported through CBAR (800-276-1562). This information will also be available on the diocesan web site, from the victim assistance coordinator (605-209-3418)) or the diocese offices (605-343-3541).

A new appreciation for the work Vatican offices do for the universal church

After a Mass to kick off National Catholic Schools Week at the Cathedral in Rapid City, one of the mothers approached me. She had shared the picture of Pope Francis and me taken during my recent visit to Rome. One of her children commented matter-of-factly, “So, the pope got to meet Father Mike.” I laughed out loud. I am in the circle of her young life. The pope is not.

I suppose I could say that the pope was not exactly in the circle of my life either, at least not until January 13. Meeting him was a gift I will long treasure. I am grateful to all of you for helping make that possible through your gifts to the Annual Appeal.

I knew that the ad limina visit  was an opportunity to pray at the tombs of the great apostles Peter and Paul, and “check in,” with the pope so to speak. A lengthy report on the diocese had been sent last summer. What I did not expect was the warm welcome expressed by both the Holy Father and the Vatican offices we visited. I experienced a genuine concern about our diocese and the dioceses of our region. This was amazing to me considering the expanse of the Catholic Church. The pope and each of the offices we visited knew about our region and, in some cases, our individual dioceses. More than once these officials, who work in the various branches of the Vatican governance, spoke with admiration for the Catholic Church in America. For all our problems, which they also acknowledged, they saw hope in our corner of the world.

The pope spent two hours with the bishops and administrators from our region. We sat together in a circle and he listened and shared his insights, understanding and concerns with us. We were able to ask questions to which the Holy Father responded. One thing that stuck out in my mind was his insistence that we tell the people of our diocese that he is praying for all the victims of abuse. His comments were sincere and heartfelt. With all that he must focus on and be concerned about, his heart is obviously present with those who are suffering. With that in mind, I was able to share with the Holy Father the ministry our diocese shares with our Native American brothers and sisters and the promise and challenge of that ministry. I expressed our hope for the canonization process for Nicolas Black Elk and the inspiration this would give to the Lakota people and to all people of faith.

The theme of unity was constant in the various dicasteries, congregations and councils we visited. Taking their guidance from Pope Francis, there was an invitation for all people to arrive at the truth of our faith through patient listening and dialogue. There is no question that we Catholics in the United States and throughout the world face real problems. The shortage of priests, the abuse scandal, the divisions along liturgical lines, and the social and political problems were all addressed and discussed. The officials who visited with us in each office ranged in number from one to fifteen, and all of them offered support, council and suggestions for best practices moving forward.

It was obvious to me that the global scale of the work done in the Vatican offices makes their responses complicated and at times slow. However, it was also clear that, despite the heavy workload, they were all willing to receive one more letter, one more email or one more phone call. They really do want to help. The passion in their presentations and responses was inspiring. I was surprised by the connectedness and caring they offered.

So now, I can say, “Fr. Mike got to meet the pope.” I also have a renewed appreciation for the good work that the Vatican offices do on behalf of the universal church.

During Fr. Michel Mulloy’s ad limina visit to the Vatican, seminarian Robert Kinyon asked Pope Francis to bless an icon representing his home parish, the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Rapid City. Kinyon is currently studying for the priesthood at Pontifical North American College in Rome. (Vatican Photo Service, L ’observatory Romano)

‘Bless you in your 2020 yellow-brick-road journey’

My first conscious awareness of 2020 was the song, “We’re Off to See the Wizard.” No kidding. I woke up with that song running through my head. There was Dorothy in her ruby slippers, skipping down the yellow brick road with her three companions. I dressed and skipped (no, not really) to the chapel for my morning routine of prayer.

At first, I wondered if this wizard song had anything to do with my impending visit to Rome. True, I do have “new slippers” in the form of a new cassock. I am excited to meet Pope Francis, but not because I want something. Rather, I hope to listen to his wisdom and experience and that of the various leaders of the Vatican offices to learn and grown in my own ministry. Rome is not emerald, but rather more of a mixture of stony white and various shades of tan, orange and dirty pink.

I quickly dismissed these ideas as misguided, but as the song persisted in my head, I contemplated further the image of these four wandering misfits on the yellow brick road. Nothing in life is coincidental.  God speaks to us in many ways if we have expectant faith.

Dorothy and her companions wanted a brain, a heart and courage, along with a return to Kansas. More deeply, the travelers wanted 1) to see clearly and understand, 2) to feel deeply and know love, 3) to have the willingness and resolve to act, and 4) to find the way home. In this first prayer of 2020, I examined my own need for renewal as I pondered these four desires.

Like the scarecrow, I want a brain that understands. I want to see clearly and to know what it is that God wants for me and from me. A significant dimension of the spiritual journey is understanding. Understanding by itself is insufficient, but it is, at the same time, essential. How often have you wanted to understand and did not, or had a moment when suddenly you did understand and then felt rather foolish about having missed the point? God wants us to understand. God wants us to see with the kind of clarity that will propel us into a relationship with him and with one another.

Like the tin man, I want to feel deeply and to love. My heart can be filled with bitterness, anger and envy. I can hold grudges in a self-righteous determination to “get my way.” I suspect you might identify with that smallness of heart that leaves us shriveled and stingy and lonely. Do you want something more? I want to reflect more deeply, to open my heart more honestly. I want to feel the hurt and release my pain into the eternal embrace of God’s gracious love and experience that love which flows from God’s heart into ours. I want to open my heart to the depth of God and discover in me the ability to love as God loves.

Like the cowardly lion, I also want to have the courage to act, to do something, but only with and through that understanding and selfless love of God. Do you find yourself fearful and trembling, at least inside, not knowing if and when and how you should do something? Or do you find yourself charging in without a clear understanding or a genuine compassion, only to be ashamed of your thoughtless and uncaring comment or action? I want to have genuine courage and to speak the truth with deep kindness in a way that calls both me and the other to a new response.

Finally, and above all, I share Dorothy’s desire to go home. I really do want to be in heaven when my yellow-brick-road journey is complete. My deep longing to be an understanding, loving, courageous disciple is rooted in the ultimate goal of life with God. Do you find yourself longing for that kind of peace and security that is never ending, to be cherished for being you? Heaven is our true home and I want to live my life in response to God’s gracious invitation to live with him so that I can find a new and glorious home — not the Emerald City, but the heavenly Jerusalem.

So, 2020 has begun. We in the Diocese of Rapid City are mostly likely off to meet, not a wizard but a new bishop. When that will be, I don’t know. In the meantime, as we travel down the road, I pray that you will receive the gift of understanding to know and see what it is that God desires for you. I will pray that you will receive a heart of overflowing love that will allow you to meet each person with kindness and truth. I will pray that you will, with understanding and love, have the courage to live your discipleship in the Lord Jesus and make the choices that make a difference in our small corner of the world. Above all, I pray that your desire for our heavenly home will increase and that all we say and do will be led by that desire to be with God now and forever. I would ask you to do the same for me.

Thank you and God bless you in your 2020 yellow-brick-road journey.

It’s important our bishops connect to the greater Catholic Church

In mid-November I represented the Diocese of Rapid City at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops fall meeting in Baltimore, Md. It was another interesting experience in this journey as the diocesan administrator.

I visited with each of our former bishops and Bishop Steven Biegler and witnessed again the clarity of their teachings and guidance. We have been so blessed by the bishops who have called western South Dakota home. As the administrator, I was accorded the full rights and privileges of all the bishops. That was humbling.

I want to thank you for making this trip possible. Each year during the Annual Appeal we talk about the expenses for the Bishop’s Office. This is such an expense. It is important that our bishop connects to the greater work of the Catholic Church in America and the world. The meetings and the meals, the prayer and the casual conversations allow the bishops to connect with one another, to understand the experience of the Catholic Church in the United States. You make this encounter possible with your support of the annual appeal. I am deeply grateful.

The meetings began on Sunday with various committees of the USCCB convening to do the individual work each focuses on. The general sessions began on Monday and concluded on Thursday morning. The days were full, with two general sessions each day and a meeting of the bishops from each region (our region is Minnesota and the Dakotas) during the week. Mass was concelebrated each day and Morning and Midday Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours started the general sessions. On Thursday there was a two-hour period of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and the opportunity for confessions.

During lunch times and in the evenings, groups, agencies and organizations that support the Catholic faithful hosted receptions to share about the ministry they offer to continue the mission of the church. The days started early and ended late and, although there were the inevitable moments of boredom that come from hours of intense listening through the general sessions, still the whole experience was uplifting and exciting.

The bishops of our country are, in my estimation a dedicated and faithful group of men. They love the church and they want to lead their people into an authentic encounter with Jesus Christ that calls them to continue his mission in our country. They are ordinary men who are, nonetheless, called to extraordinary service. They serve willingly, if not always perfectly. Praying with them, listening to them, sharing stories, laughing and reflecting, gave me a deeper respect for them and the burden they carry. They deserve our prayers and our support.

The topics at this conference would not be unfamiliar to any of us. Life issues were very present in the committee reports and action items that were discussed. They were attentive to the scourge of abortion and it is clear that they see it as the first issue among many that threaten the dignity of the human person. The immigration crisis was also notable on the agenda. Bishops who live along the southern border see firsthand the devastation that impacts the dignity of the real human persons caught in this legal battle. The magnitude of this crisis and the excellent work being done through the Catholic Church was documented for us. Whatever our political leanings, we cannot look at the face of Jesus Christ and not be moved to action on behalf of those who are suffering in this situation. I was impressed with the amount of lobbying that the USCCB does in Washington, D.C., on this and many other issues of concern to us all.

Another topic that was very prominent in the agenda was the sexual abuse crisis. There was a call to continue to be present to and listen to the victims of abuse, to see in them the suffering Christ. Building on the efforts to protect children and vulnerable adults that have been implemented in the past, the bishops continued in this session to develop a system for holding themselves accountable. In the new calendar year, a third-party system for reporting alleged sexual misconduct of bishops as well as their deliberate mismanagement of abuse cases will be available. As damaging as this whole experience has been and continues to be for so many, the bishops are striving to bring justice and healing to victims of abuse and our whole Catholic Church.

The conference also voted on some documents that they have been working on. These included a discussion of the pope’s apostolic exhortation following the Synod on Youth and Young Adults, an additional letter calling all Catholics to exercise their right to participate in the political process of our country, the acceptance of a new translation of the Latin text that outlines the RCIA process, and a new priestly formation program document to guide the formation of seminarians in our country. Some of these documents were not finalized and will continue to be developed.

This is just a smattering of my experiences at the bishops’ conference in Baltimore. It was eye opening, inspiring and challenging and reminded me again that we are so blessed to be a part of this great Catholic Church.

Entering silence we open ourselves to the presence of the Lord

“Quiet, please! Can we have a moment to pause and reflect?” These phrases come to my mind during many of the Masses I celebrate throughout the diocese and even in my recent trip to Europe. I am referring to the pace of praying at Mass. We move from one prayer and action to another with little or no pause. This is not true in all parishes but is, nonetheless, a common occurrence.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) invites us to pause at specific times during the Mass. These moments occur just after the introduction to the Penitential Act; just after the priest invites the congregation to pray before the Opening Prayer (the Collect); during the Liturgy of the Word (after the first reading, the second reading and the homily); and following the reception of Communion. Many of these moments of prescribed silence are frequently ignored. You might be asking what difference that makes. Let me venture an explanation grounded in our understanding of the Mass and my own experience.

The general guidelines for the celebration of the Mass are deliberate and purposeful. There is a reason for each aspect of these guidelines. According to the great spiritual masters of the Catholic tradition, silence is the place where God speaks to our hearts. That is not the only way God can reach us, but it is indispensable.

If the purpose of the Mass is to encounter Jesus risen and present to us, then silence is an essential element of that encounter. By entering silence at certain times, we are being invited to open ourselves to the presence of the risen Lord. We are invited into a relationship with Jesus that is a true dialogue. We believe that Jesus wants to speak to us, and the silent moments are among the key ways to allow that communication to happen.

During the Penitential Act, we are asked to acknowledge our sin and reminded that Jesus is waiting to offer his mercy. Before the Collect, we are invited to pray, and to bring our petitions to the Lord, knowing that he wants to receive them and respond. We allow Jesus to speak to us in the scripture readings and the homily, but also in the silent pauses which allow that message from him to sink into our hearts. After all of us have received Christ in Holy Communion, we are asked to be still — to be present with the Lord so that he can truly enter our lives and transform us. Taking this time to truly be silent will open the doors to a fuller encounter with Jesus. I know this on a personal level, and at any Mass where this silence is missing, I experience a sense of loss at the absence of that encounter.

In the liturgy, silence means stillness, no sound and no movement. As meaningful as it can be at times, background music is not silence and lacks the solitude that pure silence offers. Certainly, silence can be uncomfortable for those who are not used to it. To a certain extent that would be all of us in our culture.

We are a people whose lives are filled with noise and movement. When we first encounter significant silence in the Mass it might be uncomfortable or even jarring. There is a need for formation — to explain that the moments of silence are carefully chosen and deliberate. It is also important for each of us to be prepared for the encounter that silence is intended to facilitate. Those who are responsible for liturgical ministry must be trained in the mechanics of how this silence is structured during the Gathering Rites, the Liturgy of the Word and the Communion Rite. Above all, it is important to simply do it. Be silent.

Some months ago, the Diocesan Liturgy Commission developed a video that explains the purpose and value of silence in the Mass. The video also suggested ways to develop this practice in the parish setting. It is available on the Office of Worship page of the diocesan web site. I would encourage pastors, lectors and all the faithful to review this presentation. I would encourage parish liturgy committees and liturgical ministers to explore this aspect of the Mass. Work together to figure out how to best achieve these moments of silence and explain them to the people in the pews.

The Diocesan Liturgy Commission also produced a worship aid for silence in the Mass. These were made available for pastors to use in their parishes and can be downloaded from the Office of Worship web page.

I would invite you to make Sacred Silence a priority in this Year of the Eucharist. This is an essential element in the encounter with the risen Lord that is at the heart of this yearlong effort. Once you become accustomed to these silent moments in the Mass, you will cherish them. Then, when you are in a setting where the words all run together, you will, like me, hear yourself say, “Quiet please! Can we have a moment to pause and reflect?” And you might add, “I think Jesus wanted to share something with me in that silent moment, and I lost it.”

Links to the video and the prayer cards are on the liturgy page:

‘I have grown in my appreciation of the people’

Life is not dull in the driver’s seat. For all of you that are wondering or curious, it has been a great ride thus far. The challenge is non-stop. There is something new each day. Thanks for the privilege of serving you as the diocesan administrator. Let me share some observations from this side of […]

Let ‘Sede Vacante’ be a cry for a new bishop

I was asked last week by the editor of the West River Catholic what we should call this column that I am now writing. I decided to call it Sede Vacante. That is a Latin term which means “vacant seat.” It refers to the fact that as a diocese, we have a vacant seat in our midst. That vacant seat is the bishop’s chair, or cathedra, located in the cathedral. The light over that chair is not lit right now and the coat of arms is missing. More importantly we are missing someone who is very important for any diocese.

The Bishop is the Vicar of Christ for our local (diocesan) church. As a successor to the apostles and a member of the college of bishops, he is a visible connection to Jesus Christ and the church he established on earth. The bishop is also our direct link to the Holy Father and the universal Catholic community.

In the meantime, we are called to continue our mission, the mission of Jesus Christ. The “vacant seat” does not mean that we stop being disciples of Jesus Christ, called to attract and form intentional disciples who joyfully, boldly and lovingly live and proclaim the Gospel.

All these connections are very important to being Catholic. We are a universal church which has a local expression in western South Dakota. We have our own unique experience of church, but our experience is not so unique that we are separate from other expression of the Catholic Church elsewhere. We are not a “congregational” form of governance. We belong to each other. We are brothers and sisters of one another because we are all joined to Jesus Christ who is our brother. We are sons and daughters of one Father, and we are bound together by the Holy Spirit. The bishop is our diocesan father and our family is not complete without our father sitting at the head of the Eucharistic table, leading us into a deeper relationship with our brother Jesus and his Father. We should be praying daily for our new bishop, longing for him to come, through the power of the Holy Spirit and the choice of our Holy Father, to be seated among us.

That is where I come in. Elected, I said yes to assuming this mantle of leadership temporarily. It has been interesting and challenging from the first day. I am learning and growing in ways that I have not been asked to do in the past. Most importantly I have come to appreciate the ministry of a bishop in a much deeper way. I have not prayed enough for our bishops and for all the bishops of our country and the world.

During my short few weeks, I have come to understand the burden of a bishop’s ministry. This was made especially clear when I had the privilege to attend a meeting of the bishops of our province (North and South Dakota and Minnesota). Their responsibilities would be a challenge during any era, but our own time has made their ministry particularly heavy to bear. Gratefully they do not carry this load alone. The Lord is yoked to them on the journey. Our prayers on their behalf, raised to the Father, will lighten that load, for the Father bends down to listen to the cry of his children.

In telling you all this, you should not feel sorry for me or for our bishops. As I often tell people, every appointment on my calendar was put there by me. Likewise, this responsibility of diocesan administrator was something I accepted. I am willing to do this, to serve the Lord and his people as we continue to grow in holiness and prepare for the leadership of a new bishop.

I am finding this new assignment challenging but also so interesting. I am learning and growing. I enjoy the support of the clergy and laity of our diocese. That is a great blessing. As much as I miss having a bishop in our midst, I know the Lord is present. The mission of our local church continues. While there will be no new initiatives while the cathedra is vacant, we will continue to bring to fulfillment the great work that we have already begun. The Lord is calling all of us to do our part so that when a new bishop arrives, he will find us ready and willing.

We are so blessed in our diocese. We have wonderful priests and deacons in roles of leadership. Many talented lay men and women are involved in our parishes, serving the Lord is our ministry together. We have a hard-working and generous chancery staff. There is much to be grateful for, and we are not finished. I know there is much more that the Lord wants to give us. There is a legacy of faith that is waiting to be lived. We have only begun to discover the blessings God wants to pour into our lives through his beloved Son and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Let Sede Vacante be a joyful cry for a new bishop, a cry to spur us on to continue the great work we have been given until we stand together with our new bishop to rejoice in all that will be given to us by our gracious and loving God.