September 28, 2012

'Built on a strong foundation of rock'

On anniversary, Bishop Coyne reflects on the strength and prayers of archdiocesan Catholics

Bishop Christopher J. Coyne, apostolic administrator, blesses members of the congregation at the conclusion of the March 25 Mass of Dedication at the new St. Mary-of-the-Knobs Church in Floyd County. Bishop Coyne has now led the Church in central and southern Indiana for more than a year since the Sept. 21, 2011, resignation of Archbishop Emeritus Daniel M. Buechlein. (File photo by Mary Ann Garber)

Bishop Christopher J. Coyne, apostolic administrator, blesses members of the congregation at the conclusion of the March 25 Mass of Dedication at the new St. Mary-of-the-Knobs Church in Floyd County. Bishop Coyne has now led the Church in central and southern Indiana for more than a year since the Sept. 21, 2011, resignation of Archbishop Emeritus Daniel M. Buechlein. (File photo by Mary Ann Garber)

By Sean Gallagher

On Sept. 21, 2011, Pope Benedict XVI accepted the early resignation of Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein because of the ongoing effects of a stroke he had suffered earlier that year and other previous health challenges.

On that same day, the Holy Father appointed Bishop Christopher J. Coyne as apostolic administrator of the Church in central and southern Indiana.

(Related: A letter from Bishop Coyne to the people of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis)

The year that the Archdiocese of Indianapolis has been without an archbishop is the longest such period in its 178-year history.

On the eve before the first anniversary of that historic day, Bishop Coyne spoke with The Criterion and reflected on his time leading the archdiocese. He also offered observations about the overall health of the archdiocese, the upcoming Year of Faith and when we can expect Pope Benedict to appoint a new archbishop.

The following is an edited version of that interview.

Q. How is Archbishop Buechlein’s health at present, and how is he doing in his day-to-day life at Saint Meinrad Archabbey?

A. Archbishop Daniel’s health is fine. He’s not sick or dealing with any kind of chronic illness. He’s just continuing to recuperate from the effects of the various illnesses and ailments that he had prior to the even more serious reality of the stroke that he suffered in March of 2011.

He’s well taken care of at Saint Meinrad. The monks and the staff there are doing a fine job for him. And he’s continued to keep himself busy with his writing and his prayer.

Q. When should we expect the Holy Father to appoint a new archbishop for us?

A. Over the past four or five years, it’s been taking between 10 to 15 months for bishops to be named to dioceses. This is an archdiocese, which means that you’re looking at the appointment of somebody who has some responsibility for all of the dioceses in the state of Indiana.

Usually, it would not be a junior bishop like myself. You’d probably settle on someone who’d be a little bit older because he would have some more experience of being the bishop of a diocese. Because if they’re going to oversee other diocesan bishops, they should have some experience themselves in that matter.

We’re at 12 months now. So I expect that we should be receiving the call within the next few months. If we don’t, that may be for the Holy Father’s own reasons, which I’m not privy to.

But the archdiocese is doing fine. We’re continuing to move forward in doing the good work of Christ as Catholics, but also moving forward into the Year of Faith.

Q. How might this Year of Faith be a preparation for Catholics in central and southern Indiana to receive our new archbishop when he is appointed?

A. If the new archbishop is received in the manner that I was received as an auxiliary and now as apostolic administrator, he will be a lucky man. The people of southern and central Indiana in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis have been nothing but kind and welcoming and affirming to me as a bishop, especially as someone who comes from a foreign land like New England.

I would see that, in the normal course of things, people would continue to pray for our next archbishop, but also work to be people that are welcoming and open to the new possibilities that this man is going to bring as archbishop to our archdiocese—new endeavors, a new way of thinking perhaps about old ways of doing things.

That would be done regardless of whether this was the Year of Faith. I think the Year of Faith does offer us an opportunity to move beyond just those things that we would do in the normal course of events, and begin to explore who we are as Catholics and, most especially, who we are in our relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ as the second person of the Trinity, but also as the Body of Christ in the Catholic Church.

Q. Now that we have passed the first anniversary of Archbishop Buechlein’s retirement, how have things changed in the archdiocese and how have they stayed the same?

A. The Holy Father appointed me as apostolic administrator, which pretty much means that I was given the normal authority of governance and administration. So, for the most part, the archdiocese has been able to move forward as if there was a normal archbishop in place to govern, lead, pray and worship with the community.

The one thing that does change as a result of the one year anniversary is that I can now name pastors. Prior to this, I was only allowed to name administrators of parishes. Canon law does require me to consult with the Board of Consultors of the archdiocese [a group of priests who advise the archbishop] about this, which I’ve done. And they have approved the naming of the eight men who are eligible to move from administrator to pastor. So we’ll be installing a few of them in various parishes across the archdiocese.

But the few restricted areas that I have as apostolic administrator, such as not inviting new religious communities into the archdiocese, and also not having authority in the normal course of events to suppress parishes, those things still remain in place.

So, for example, while most of the work in the Batesville Deanery has been completed, the recommendations that have been made can’t be acted upon until a new archbishop has been named and he has an opportunity to look over the work.

Q. Catholics in the Batesville Deanery, like those in the Terre Haute Deanery before them, have been involved in a pastoral planning process called Connected in the Spirit. And Catholics in the deaneries in Indianapolis will participate in it next. Can we expect any actions to come forth from this process before a new archbishop is appointed and installed?

A. The Terre Haute Deanery work was done, and Archbishop Daniel had already made his decisions to affirm the recommendations of the men and women who had done the work in the deanery and had pretty much finished the canonical work of closing parishes. So that was able to be finished up in spite of his stroke.

The Batesville Deanery work had also begun prior to his stroke. And that has been completed, in terms of all the consultations that, up to this point, are necessary.

In Indianapolis, what’s going to happen is that we’re going to work with the priest and the parish life coordinators and the clergy leaders of the parishes to get the process up to the point where we would normally then go and meet with the lay folk. But we’re probably not going to take it any further than that because to do so is to perhaps begin a process that can’t be completed in any reasonable time frame until we have a new archbishop.

Q. What has it been like for you to serve the archdiocese over the past year as its apostolic administrator? What have been the blessings? And have there been any challenges for you?

A. It’s been a very fast year. Honestly, I can’t believe that it’s already been a year since I was named apostolic administrator.

What I’ve learned over the past year and a half, and most especially in my time of being apostolic administrator, is to rely on a more consultative approach with the good people of the management council, chancery, and the priests and lay staff of the archdiocese, to be careful to listen more and make decisions that are more collegial than, perhaps, personal. So that’s been a growth area for me.

The biggest blessing is how many people who constantly come up to me and tell me that they’re praying for me. I’ve seen changes in my life that, for me, are miraculous in the sense that the person that I was when I came here to the Archdiocese of Indianapolis back in February of 2011 is still very much the same priest, the same man of the Church and a bishop now.

But I’ve noticed that there’s a certain amount of charity and patience and forbearance in my life that I really have to believe has come out of all the people who are praying for me in the power of the Spirit that has helped me grow in those areas as a bishop.

Q. How widely have you traveled in the archdiocese both since coming here as an auxiliary bishop and later as apostolic administrator? Is there a way to measure that, perhaps in terms of miles driven or parishes visited?

A. I’ve gone from the northern point of Indianapolis to the southern point of Tell City and from the western point of Terre Haute and beyond to the eastern point of Richmond.

I’d say that I’ve visited more than half of the archdiocese. But I’ve probably encountered 90 percent of the parishes through confirmations and deanery gatherings.

Q. Given your travels around the archdiocese over the past 18 months and especially since becoming apostolic administrator, what observations do you have about the life of faith of Catholics and their parishes in central and southern Indiana?

A. Two observations spring to mind immediately. One is the sincere Catholic faith that is present within the people of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

I think it’s a part of the environment of the whole state, which is actually a very spirit-filled state. It treats religion and worship as a very serious and important part of people’s lives.

I think the state of Indiana, in total, is ripe for the evangelization of Catholicism because it is such a fertile ground for religion in general. If we can bring the message of the truth of Catholicism to more people, we’re going to see some good results in terms of people becoming a part of our true Catholic faith.

Second, what I see in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis is not a diocese that is shrinking, but one that is growing.

What we’re experiencing, though, is a shift in demographics. While over the next few years we’ll see some shrinkage in many parts of the archdiocese where parishes will be merged or clustered or closed, that’s more because the number of people are simply no longer present in the farm communities and counties that have been in the past.

But we’re also seeing growth, not just around Indianapolis, but around New Albany. We’re seeing growth in and around towns like Greensburg, where I just blessed a new school. And hopefully we’ll see the construction of a new and larger church there.

You look at the growth in some of the outlying areas around Indianapolis like Brownsburg, Greenwood, Greenfield and Shelbyville. The numbers are going up there. The numbers of Catholics as a percentage of the people in the counties of southern and central Indiana are growing as well.

Q. How can this time of transition be a time of hope for Catholics in central and southern Indiana?

A. It’s a time of hopefulness about the future because it’s shown how well the archdiocese can continue to function in a healthy way even in spite of the present apostolic administrator.

While we’re waiting avidly for our next archbishop and we’ll love him and embrace him when he comes, the health of the body of Christ is not dependent on one member alone, no matter how important he may be in the long term.

I like to think back to the story in Matthew 7 about the house that’s built on a strong foundation of rock that, when the winds blow and the rains come, the house stands still.

Well, that’s what the Archdiocese of Indianapolis is. It’s built on a strong foundation of rock of all the people who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith, and all the thousands of people who now worship in all of our Catholic churches across our great archdiocese in southern and central Indiana. †


(Visit the website of Bishop Coyne here)

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