Presenting My Credentials

Bishop Vasquez of Austin

Bishop Vasquez of Austin

I wrote a post last week that spoke critically of some things that two priests in my diocese did. A friend sent me a private email and sincerely asked what the purpose of exposing those unfortunate actions was. He then suggested I inform my bishop.

I thought about it and deleted the contents of the post and was considering writing to my bishop, Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin. But I put myself in my bishop’s shoes (hat?) and imagined his response, “Hmm, some Catholic sending me an email full of complaints about two priests. Great, that’s really helpful. Deleted.”

So instead of doing that, I wrote a letter introducing myself to Bishop Vasquez and informing him that I was at his service as an apologist. I am operating in a public way via blogs/YouTube/twitter and in apostolates in the areas, so he should be aware of that. I included a copy of my book and a little bit about myself.

I don’t know whether I’ll receive a reply or not. I sort of doubt it. And in fact he may not even get it, but I would bet that Fr. Mike Sis, the Vicar General of our diocese (and a faithful priest), will at least read it. It was under his pastoral care that I was received into the Catholic Church in 2001 at St. Mary’s in College Station. And that is enough for me.

In the future, if a priest does something that is contrary to the rubrics or otherwise unfortunate, I can message Bishop Vasquez, and he will know who I am.

Catholic Superstars

We have entered a new time in the Church. One where Catholic Superstars are rising, and often they are lay people. I go to the same parish as Jen Fulwiler of Conversion Diary. She is a superstar, and I don’t mean that in a derogatory sense. I mean that the reality is that tens of thousands of people know who she is, read her blog, watch her reality show, etc.

So Bishop Vasquez has a superstar right in his backyard. I envision the near future when bishops will take stock of what “resources” they have in their dioceses, including what superstars they have, and they will marshal them to make the best use of them. Currently they often exist sort of hidden in the system, or outside the system in blogs and what-not.

I’m less of a superstar, more like a tiny star, or a white dwarf, or something. But I’m still operating in a public way in my bishop’s diocese, and I’ve written a book that has been fairly popular, so he should know who I am and that I am at his service.

Since this is something of a personal post topic, the news on my book is, the final editing should commence this spring or summer. Other books legitimately needed to be done first, which has been fine by me. God has His own good timing. I’ve been floored by the book’s continual popularity: it is now over 55 reviews on Amazon. God bless!

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20 Responses to Presenting My Credentials

  1. I wondered if you went to the same parish as Jenifer Fulwiler. My wife is a big fan of hers, and we just finished watching her show.

    Devin, if you are a small star, I am a bit of meteroid space dust! But I agree Jen is a big star. And rightfully so. She consistently has excellent content. I wish more catholics would start blogs or put themselves out there though. I am constantly amazed at how a 2 year old blog post which took me 5 minutes to write, and was off the cuff, will still recieve multiple views per day, and I will get emails from people about it, sometime people needing help or advise (*gulp*). That is what keeps me going on my blog. We live in a world of viewers/experiencers, and those who put content out there still (even with the internet) have a soapbox.

    I like what you did with your bishop. And I respect your decision to not air dirty laundry, especially not knowing what sort of laundry it is. Not to second guess you, but I do think there is certainly a time to publicly out priests who are doing liturgical abuses or other destructive activities. Remember, what they are doing is very public. So publicly discussing it is an option. I cring when people urge hushed tones and caution when denouncing the likes of Joe Biden or Pelosi, for example. Why should a public scandal that damages many people need to be privately addressed? If anything, guys like you, who are more nuanced, articulate, and winsome than guys like me, should be the ones to publicly “encourage” priests to up their game, and let them know that there are people out here watching, and ready to praise them or expose them… their choice. The children growing up in parishes that are deficient dont have 10 years t owait for things to slowly change amid smiles and handshakes and worrying about not hurting feelings. They need solid priests right now, and they deserve them right now.
    So count me down as a vote for not worrying about being critical. By all means also talk to the priest and/or inform the bishop, but a public act can be publicly discussed.

    • Devin Rose says:

      David, you make good points. Ideally I could go to these priests directly and talk with them, asking them if they knew they were ignoring the rubrics of the Mass, etc., but I don’t see them responding well to that. Some priests have received a certain kind of mal-formation and now are entrenched in their beliefs about the Church, the sacraments, etc., not to mention perhaps feeling burnt out, or jaded or cynical in their vocation. Having a layman like me ask them why they are doing XYZ would not go over well.

  2. Thinking and maybe even praying before you shoot a message off to your bishop? I sure hope you don’t expect the rest of us to do that!

    Seriously, Devin, I’m so happy to read about how you ultimately approached the situation. It is one thing to have the knowledge or “right” or “wrong”, but something entirely different to have the wisdom to know what to do with that knowledge! I’ve spent more than my fair share of time beating people over the head with knowledge, with very little to show for it but my self-righteousness.

    Whether your bishop responds to you soon, or not at all, I’m quite sure that he is praying for you and for all those under his care. And to know that he is being kept in your prayers, and that you stand ready to serve the Church, is already a great help to him!

    +Peace

  3. Christina says:

    Very nice approach, Devin!

  4. First of all, you are a superstar. You’re the Francis de Sales of the digital age, winsomely refuting Protestantism.

    Second, I totally agree with your points. If bishops are aware of the newspaper columnists and authors in their diocese, they should also be aware of the online catechists, apologists, and witnesses. That’s not because they’re a threat: it’s because they’re allies.

    I wrote a post several months back titled “7 Things Bishops Should Know About Catholic Bloggers” (http://bvogt.us/Uy6iRC) and suggested four practical ways that bishops could helps mend this gap:

    – Get to know the bloggers in your diocese. Chances are, there are several local Catholic bloggers whose pageviews rival that of your diocesan newspaper. They have huge platforms and are eager to serve. Consider hosting a meet-and-great dinner with some of them and discuss ways you can help each other.

    – Work together on campaigns. Next time you establish a spiritual theme for the year, or host a campaign like Catholics Come Home, ask local bloggers to play a role. Also, consider making your own content shareable. If you have videos embedded on your diocesan website that can’t be shared anywhere else, you’re chaining your message down and preventing bloggers from helping you.

    – Give bloggers access. Grant interviews to bloggers as well as to journalists. After all, you’ll reach a wider audience through blogs than through print. Also, give bloggers advance notice on any big project or announcement you’re making especially if it’s controversial. If the local secular news hears about it before your local bloggers, your loyal defenders will be left playing catch up online.

    – Provide pastoral care. The Internet comes with its own spiritual problems which demand new pastoral answers. Pope Benedict and the Pontifical Council for Social Communications have provided their own advice. But each diocese needs to teach its flock how to avoid the dangers of blogging and social media, as well as how to use the Internet to evangelize and grow in faith. This priority needs to come from you. Consider writing a pastoral letter to your diocese about the Internet. Host a diocesan conference on new media. Or perhaps reach out to Catholic bloggers and offer your own spiritual direction.

    • Devin Rose says:

      Brandon,

      These are great ideas. I think it will take many years before our bishops become savvy enough to implement them, though. Do many bishops know what blogging is? Or how popular some members of their flock are in the new media? I don’t even know where to start in trying to help my bishop learn about these things. It seems like such a large generational gap.

      • Augustine says:

        Now, now, Devin. You’re being border-line patronizing towards our bishops. Bishops are usually very intelligent men who take the pulse of the culture in the confessional frequently and surround themselves with knowledgeable people to help them shepherd their flock. They are not hirelings, but true shepherds.

        You might be surprised how well-informed and current our bishop is.
        God bless.

    • Wow Brandon, you are ahead of the curve on this.

      “Chances are, there are several local Catholic bloggers whose pageviews rival that of your diocesan newspaper.”

      So true. And a different audience as well. I am just a small-fry blogger, but have hundreds of pageviews for many posts, and get emails from people from all over the world and from all sorts of backgrounds. Now that is nowhere near my diocesan paper, but it is a broader readership and has to be more readers for the effort than the paper.
      One layman (me) with a free blog getting 500 pageviews a week should get the paper’s (the Catholic Spirit here in the Twin Cities) attention when they have overhead costs, a staff of writers and get 5000 views a week on their highly polished website. Also their average readership age for the actual “paper” paper is 65!
      http://thecatholicspirit.com/opinion/this-catholic-life/analysis/survey-results-confirm-the-catholic-spirits-valuable-role/
      They started another site to garner more traffic, but it is getting 1500 views a week. And again, this is with a paid staff of multiple contributors!
      I like the Catholic Spirit, and I love my Archbishop, but I cant help but think we could be doing better interfacing with the culture than reaching a few thousand people online each week. If I can get 500 views a week with my often abrasive and sarcastic attitude, and writing things of no interest to almost anyone half the time, there must be literally HUNDREDS of way more qualified Catholics in my archdiocese that could do what Devin, Jen, and Brandon are, and get thousands of views A DAY on each of their blogs. That would be powerful.
      And one thing that I have noticed is that many of the best bloggers are not getting paid by the Church. I think people dont want to post content when it may ruffle a feather or 2 if they are getting paid. Why not try to ruffle 0 and keep the checks coming? Me on the other hand: write an offensive post about women working outside the home and get hundreds of views, and find myself interacting with Protestants nationwide about it. I am just not that special that it couldnt be done by anybody. If my situation could be multiplied to the point that most faithful Catholics were doing it, we could be pounding our culture into submission to Christ (in a nice way, of course ;-))

  5. Augustine says:

    Devin,

    I think that you’d be surprised corresponding with Bp. Joe.

    In the past, I corresponded with Bp. Gregory and he kindly replied to me back and forth.

    I never corresponded with Bp. Joe, but I had started a conversation with Bp. Gregory before he was transferred and, at an event, I approached Bp. Joe and mentioned if I could resume that conversation with him and not only did he agree immediately, but in that same week he got Fr. Mike to contact me to get the ball rolling.

    We have been blessed with good shepherds who don’t hesitate to act for the good of the Church. So, do expect a reply form the diocese.

    We are used to leadership in the secular world and more often than not the leaders are distant and more concerned about their own well being than with those whom they serve. Not so with our local ordinaries, leaders very close to their flock.

    Now, WRT the liturgical abuses, the best way to proceed is to first contact those priests and explain the distress that the abuse caused in you. Contact them by registered mail and offer to meet with them to explain your concerns, not as a liturgical policeman, but as a parishioner who has a right to have a Catholic liturgy, not something ad-libbed. Then, if this goes nowhere and the abuse continues, as the chief liturgist in the diocese, the bishop must know about abuses, especially gross ones.

    Pax Christi.

    • Devin Rose says:

      Augustine, that is encouraging to hear about our bishops, past and present, responding to lay people. I will consider contacting these priests as well.

    • I did not see what you posted last week, Devin, so it may have been related to liturgy or it may not. I think this advice is fairly safe in either event.

      A few years ago, Jimmy Akin wrote a book titled, “Mass Confusion” addressing various issues in the way Catholic worship was actually being lived out. Jimmy is certainly not shy when it comes to expressing thoughts, but the part of the book that impacted me most was on “How to Deal with Liturgical Abuses”. I hope he wouldn’t mind me including some stuff from his book.

      Although any liturgical abuse is a violation of one’s rights, sometimes one needs to be humble and, out of Christian charity, allow one’s rights to be violated. I generally advise people that that should not make an issue of mior abuses, unless they have a good rapport with the person that would allow them to point out minor things without offending him or making him angry.

      If one does not have that special rapport, it is important to engage him only over major liturgical abuses–for the very practical reason that one has only a limited number of “bullets” to shoot before one is branded as a “troublemaker” in the parish. [remainder or paragraph skipped]

      In deciding whether to take action concerning a liturgical abuse, one must weigh, among other things, whether more harm or good will be done by bringing it up. We must decide to act, not simply based on the fact that we are right and that an abuse should not continute, but based on whether our taking action will help or harm the local church.

      In the case of very serious abuses (e.g., use of invalid matter for the Eucharist), the benefit to the parish dictates that something must be done (e.g., because it is not a valid Eucharist and the people are not receiving and adoring Jesus Christ). However, in the case of minor liturgical abuses, it may cause more harm than good to try to get them corrected. Only those with personal knowledge of the parish, the people in it, and the type of abuse being committed will be able to determine whether action should or should not be taken…

      This is certainly not the last or only word on this topic, but I can honestly say that I was quite convicted by this passage, and it really had an impact on how I approached things with my pastor. Anyway, just some other thoughts regarding how to deal with our “rights” being violated.

      +Peace

      • Devin Rose says:

        Deacon Sean, this conforms with my thinking as well. Best to focus on major infractions and let smaller ones, lest we come off like the liturgical police and get labeled as complainers or the boy who cried wolf.

  6. Dan says:

    You’re right about the rise of superstars – facilitated by changes in media and information technology that have lowered the bar for access a speaking platform. Anybody can have a blog now. Getting an audience is another thing, and some bloggers/radio personalities/speakers will get big audiences and emerge as superstars. That’s not unique to religion or ministry; it’s true across all manner of disciplines.

    Indeed, it could be said this is further Protestant-ization of the Catholic Church. Certain personalities emerge and the lay public chooses who to direct their time and attention to. I don’t mean this as a criticism or to say it is a negative thing about contemporary Catholicism, but it is happening.

    One term I’ve seen used is “concierge Catholicism”. It’s the counterpart to cafeteria Catholicism and it’s made possible by the technological changes of the past century.

    While in the first 1900 years of the church, Catholics generally attended the parish they lived in, the one nearby that they could walk to. Maybe in some big cities you had a viable option of different parishes on Sunday, but for the most part people went to their local church, heard homilies from the parish priest, encountered other Catholics at church and in their local communities. There wasn’t a lot of argument about doctrine or practices or whether your priest was any good, because most people didn’t ever think about it.

    Now everybody’s got a car and people often drive out of their way to attend the parish they like the best. Like a Latin mass? Drive downtown. Like that one church’s choir? Drive over there on Sunday morning. Think that priest is a dynamite speaker? Let’s go hear him.

    The internet and Catholic media has further planted ideas in the heads of lay Catholics that they didn’t hear at church. Now a much larger share of the lay congregation has the intellectual courage to challenge their priests.

    This is concierge Catholicism because it allows individuals to have their own Church to some extent. While cafeteria Catholics pick parts of the church teachings they want to follow, concierge Catholics pick a church that conforms to their believes and desires. And, too often, think of the rest of the Catholic world as misguided or on the wrong track. In the year 500 nobody though the Church was on the wrong track because nobody knew much about the Church outside of their own parish. Nobody wrote a letter to their bishop because it never occurred to anyone that their priest was doing anything out of the ordinary. Now we are exposed to all sorts of ideas and liturgical practices and teachings and we can think of our preferences as the “real Catholicism”.

    It’s another instance of the pervasiveness of “choice” that has unfortunately become so prized in society. Choose your own Catholicism as a concierge Catholic.

    • Devin Rose says:

      Dan,

      Welcome to the blog. You make some good points. People did go to their local parish, lived in local communities, etc. So that has unraveled across our modern society with the advent of the car, etc.

      On the flip side, I doubt there were the liturgical abuses back hundreds of years ago that we see today. And bishops seemed to have been more ready to discipline, but I have not studied this in depth.

      The problem is that, in places like the southern U.S. where I live, Catholics were not in the majority, so for instance in the town I grew up in, which now has 50,000 people in it, there is exactly one Catholic parish and it was built outside of town, accessible only via driving. So around here there are relatively few parishes, geographically dispersed, and to get to any one of them means a 10 to 20 minute drive, depending on where you live in the area. That does not foster a local community very easily.

      Regarding the rise of the superstars, social media has definitely made that possible. And there are negatives to it. The bottom line is that, if a superstar is not teaching in line with the Church, they are wrong and the Church is right. Everyone of them should say, as some do, to “look to the Church” and don’t put your trust in me.

      I see your idea of “concierge” Catholicism, but it is inaccurate in the sense that there actually is a standard for liturgy and sacraments and music in the Catholic Church. And there is a standard for doctrine–the dogmatically proclaimed truths of the Faith that the Church proclaims. So it is not concierge Catholicism to simply desire to go to a parish where the liturgy is reverently celebrated and the truth of the Faith proclaimed authentically. In other words, if a priest comes into the church dressed like a clown, you don’t have sit there and endure insanity because “people in the 500s didn’t have a choice of what parish to go to.” Probably if a priest from that time dressed up a like clown he would have gotten tossed out the door on his rear, either by the people or by his bishop. Still, there is something to people, ala Protestantism, driving great distances to find a parish that they like most.

      God bless,
      Devin

  7. Martha Tonn says:

    Devin,
    I think your actions are admirable, and for sure, we need to build up our priests. On the other hand, it is also important to make the bishop aware of liturgical irregularities in his diocese, as he is the High Priest of his flock. The instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum is very clear that lay people, as well as clergy, have a responsibility for the integrity of the liturgy and a right to a liturgy that is free of abuses.

    I find it ironic that many priests who are careless (assuming the best possible intentions) with changing the words or rubrics of the Mass are also among the first priests to repudiate clericalism, but the very fact that they would change some words or actions of the Mass is an abuse of their clerical power, as they have no authority whatsoever to change anything.

    I hope that you will be successful in establishing a relationship with your bishop so that you can more effectively serve him. I know you strive to speak the truth with charity and prudence, and it is exactly this that is needed for the New Evangelization. God bless you!

    • Devin Rose says:

      Thanks Martha!

      (Martha was my RCIA director at Texas A&M, so she holds a special place in my heart.)

      Yes I agree. I often think, “well, what good would telling the bishop do?” But that is not the right question. I have a responsibility to inform him, and he will then prudentially choose the best course of action, the results of which may not be apparent or visible to me.

  8. Dan says:

    Wasn’t one of the purposes of the Council of Trent in the 16th Century to standardize the mass? Before then local rites and practices made for different practices around Christendom. I’m no historian, but that’s my understanding. Today you can go to any Roman Catholic church anywhere in the world on a Sunday morning and find pretty much the same mass. I don’t think that was true for most of history. Another change is that priests are substantially better educated today than they were in the past, and the laity even more so, with the rise of universal literacy.

    I don’t mean to derail your blog, but complaints about liturgy or whatever (I forget what you original blog post was about), are more common with the rise of the Catholic media and blogosphere.

    Even in say, 1920, the lay public would be less likely to complain about local parishes to the bishop. And I have to think this is because we have less deference to the authority of the parish priest and because of the rise of concierge Catholicism where we make the church what we want, and there are on-line resources telling us what the “right” way to practice the faith is, so we don’t have to rely on the local priest the way people did in 1920.

    P.S. I am local and live within walking distance of National Instruments.

    • Devin Rose says:

      Dan, that’s cool that you are in my area.

      The changes in literacy, deference to clerics, access to knowledge and social media, are all things that cut both ways. Your main criticism though is your idea of “concierge” Catholicism. I think that is happening more than it had in the past, and for the reasons you say.

      However, it is not a bad thing when concierge means “wanting to be taught the truth of the Faith, in catechesis and liturgy.”

      The Catholic faithful have deserved, since 33 AD, to be taught the truth of the Faith that the Church had discerned, and to worship God in the divine liturgy in a reverent way, in accordance with what the Church received from our Lord.

      In various places over the centuries, priests and bishops have sometimes failed to transmit the Faith in an authentic way. That is falling short of their God-given responsibility. You point out that the laity in times past have not been as able or willing to protest when such abuses have occurred. That may be true; I don’t dispute it for the sake of this comment. But even if that is true, their right to be given the Faith in truth still stands, and it is not concierge Catholicism if they realize that and request it from their local Ordinary (aka their bishop).

      God bless,
      Devin