By Fr. George Welzbacher
September 20, 2009
One of the many blessings for which I give humble thanks to God is the gift of enduring friendship with many of the priests of our own and of neighboring dioceses, including (but by no means confined to) those in whom I was able in some small way to nourish an interest in the history of the Early Church and in. the history of the ancient Mediterranean World. One of those former students, for many years now a cherished friend- and, may I note in passing, the author of the most impressive term paper (a small thesis, really) that I received in my more than a score of years at the University of St. Thomas-is Bishop Lee Piché, who was consecrated this past June 29th as the auxiliary bishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis. I am confident that in the years to come his voice will be among the foremost in the defense of Christ's truth against proliferating challenges to that truth. He recently showed his mettle in his courteous rebuttal of a gratuitous accusation against America's Catholic bishops that appeared in the "Letters to the Editor" section of the Pioneer Press. Bishop Piché's response was "spotlighted" in the September 6th issue of that paper. May I share it with you here.
* * * * *The Church and Health Care
St. Paul Pioneer Press, September 6, 2009
Letters to the Editor
On Wednesday afternoon I drove from St. Paul to Duluth for a 30-minute meeting with [Eighth District] Congressman Jim Oberstar, members of the staff of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, representatives of two other Catholic Dioceses, a Lutheran Pastor, and an Orthodox priest. We discussed with Mr. Oberstar our shared concern as Christians about the current. version of the health insurance bill. Yes, we did make our point with him about our opposition to mandatory coverage for abortion--about which he, a Democrat, agrees with us-but we also shared with him our conviction that health care is a human right and should be accessible to all, and our hope that the reformed program will give special consideration to those people who live below the poverty level.
Even before the current debate began, the Catholic bishops of this country have consistently called for reform of the health care system and have championed the cause of the poor. BECAUSE WE INCLUDE UNBORN CITIZENS AMONG THE POOR AND MOST VULNERABLE we are deemed obstructionists by those who have another agenda.
I returned to St. Paul, picked up the St. Paul Pioneer Press, and read the letter to the editor "The Church and health care". In an uninformed rant the writer castigated the Catholic hierarchy for opposing health care reform (they do not), for being a "vital unit of the right wing of the Republican Party' (they are not), for using the abortion issue as a cover (a cover for what?), and for being another "wealthy group that opposes change". (I challenge the writer to examine my bank account and then call me wealthy). The writer ends by saying that he is, or used to be, a Catholic. If he is a Catholic, he should be ashamed of himself for shaking a fistful of falsehoods at his own leaders, leaders who are working as hard as they can to promote positive change. If he is no longer a Catholic, it is too bad, because he stood a better chance of seeing his hopes realized by pitching in with the bishops and other members of the very institution he has abandoned. Either way I will pray for him.
Most Reverend Lee A. Piché, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis
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(For more information about what the Church really teaches, go to the source. The website for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops information on health care can be found at http://www.usccb.org/healthcare.)
(Catholics are both pro-life AND committed to social justice, since social justice demands the protection of - innocent human life).
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Already serving as Vicar General of the Archdiocese, Bishop Piché has been entrusted by Archbishop Nienstedt with some additonal major responsibilities, among them the oversight of the special appeal for help in paying down a significant portion of the indebtedness that still remains (nearly 13 million dollars) from the recent, urgently required replacement of the corroded copper dome of the St. Paul Cathedral. From the current issue of the monthly publication The Catholic Servant I am reprinting here an interview with Bishop Piché on the subject of this appeal, which is to take the form of a second collection scheduled in most parishes of the archdiocese for this weekend, September 19th & 20th. (For reasons that I explained from the pulpit last weekend the collection here at St. John's will be taken up on the second weekend of October, October l0th and 11th.) The interview was conducted by The Servant's editor, John Sontag.
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Cathedral of St. Paul Needs Our Attention
By: John Sondag
From: The Catholic Servant, September, 2009
An Interview with Auxiliary Bishop Lee Piché
"The Catholic Servant": Your Excellency, exactly how much money needs to be raised for the Cathedral Fund? For what are these funds being used?
BishopPiché: The most pressing need is for funds to be used to pay down and eventually retire the debt of about $13 million still remaining from the restoration of the exterior dome. ALL of the funds that will come to us through this special collection will go toward the payment of that debt.
"The Catholic Servant": The interest alone could be described as "staggering." Does the collection on September 19 and 20 also help to cover the interest?
Bishop Piché: Yes, we hope that the collection will bring in enough support to allow us to stay current with interest payments, which are in excess of $65,000 each month. Last year we were forced to divert funds from the Archdiocesan operating account to cover some of those monthly payments, which meant that some of our programs and other subsidies could not be supported to the extent that we had hoped. I think it is logical to consider the interest as part of the total debt obligation, and therefore our support for interest payments is just as important as our support for payments against the principal-and at this moment, even more urgent. By keeping up with interest payments, we will be in a better position to seek LARGER gifts that could be used to pay down the principal.
"The Catholic Servant": Didn't the "Growing in Faith Campaign," which the Archdiocese had several years ago, take care of the Cathedral renovation?
Bishop Piché: The answer is both yes and no. Allow me to use some approximations. Factoring in the interest against the inevitable loans, THE TOTAL COST of the Cathedral exterior restoration project was $35 MILLION. A capital campaign by the Cathedral brought in a good part of what was needed, about $13 million. Before that campaign was finished, it was subsumed into the Growing in Faith (GIF) Campaign, which brought in another $9 million for the Cathedral. (You may recall that the overall GIF campaign fell short of its hoped for goal.) That left us with the outstanding debt of about $13 million.
"The Catholic Servant": Why should all the Catholics in the Archdiocese help with this fund? Isn't the Cathedral its own parish?
Bishop Piché: Yes, the Cathedral is its own parish, like the Church of St. Helena or the Church of Saint Hedwig. But it is also the Mother Church of the whole Archdiocese. In other words, it is the church of every Catholic in the twelve counties of this metropolitan and outlying area. It is the symbol of our faith and our unity as the Body of Christ in this local church. Every Catholic should be proud of the way the Cathedral stands on a prominent hill, overlooking the capital city of the state of Minnesota, and reminding all the people of the presence of God. It says to all of us, in eloquent stone, metal, and glass: "Go out, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations." As its own parish, the Cathedral is relatively small compared to some of our parishes in the outlying suburbs. By itself, it cannot pay off the debt nor can it even realistically pay all of the interest on the loan--and still run as a parish. The Cathedral needs additional staff because it is a local historic landmark and a destination for visitors from all over the country. Even with its additional program costs, it still manages to shoulder a good portion of the financial burden that really belongs to the whole community of the faithful. The good people of the Cathedral parish need and deserve our help.
"The Catholic Servant": If a parish has its own debt to retire, why should someone be giving extra for another major campaign?
Bishop Piché: I need to correct your question. This is not a major campaign, but a special collection taken up in the parishes during the Sunday Mass. A major campaign would involve much more, including other forms of engaging the active participation of both the faithful and those not of our faith, and would include pledged giving. I was recently a pastor and parish priest, and will always be one at heart. I remember well the stresses on parishes when it came to finances. I confess that I did have mixed feelings every time a special collection was announced. But always I supported the collection, and each time I was amazed and humbled by the generosity of the faithful. They were always more creative in their thinking than I was. While I was thinking "either-or," many of them were thinking "both-and."
I realize that in some instances, in a time of limited resources, individuals and families will have to choose where to send their support. We do not want to be in competition with their parish. If they feel their support is needed there, then that is where they should give. When the faithful are generously supporting their parishes, that is indirectly a support for the whole Archdiocese. But there may be others who have some additional unclaimed disposable income that could be given directly to the Cathedral collection. These are the people we are hoping to reach. If there is someone who is willing to give up one dinner out next month and put that amount in the collection or someone who could sacrifice the cost of a special coffee for one week and instead order the less expensive blend. We do not want people to go short on necessities. But I hope that they will see that this cause is worth a small sacrifice on their part, not instead of, but in addition to, what they have pledged toward their parish.
"The Catholic Servant": How is my contribution going to help bring Jesus Christ and His message to the world and/or help me to grow in my spiritual life?
Bishop Piché: For one thing, if we can all pull together to retire this debt, we will ensure that our beautiful Cathedral will continue to stand. Anyone who helps to pay off this debt can truly say that they helped to put the beautiful dome on our Cathedral, now also the National Shrine of the Apostle Paul, a dome that will last (we hope) for the next 100 years or more. Most importantly, retiring the debt will free up funds that will be used to support our various programs in the archdiocese, and support those whose chosen ministry is to bring the Good News to our world. For example, it will enable us to give more subsidy money to our Catholic schools, especially those having difficulty because of reduced enrollment. It will make more dollars available for our marriage preparation program, our respect life initiatives, the ongoing formation of our clergy, and the various support services that we try our best to make available to our parishes. Even if none of these temporal effects came to be, the act of giving is itself, meritorious in the eyes of God, who sees more that the appearance because He "looks into the heart." (I Sam. 16:7) The generous act of giving is its own reward. But God will not be outdone in generosity: the Lord promises a hundredfold to those who give for the sake of His name-not necessarily in this life, but in the Kingdom that is to come. [Emphasis added].