Well, a recent Catholic Key (yes, I know I shouldn't be looking-it's an occasion of sin) announced that celebrations of the fiftieth anniversary of the Diocese are planned, commencing on March 29 and running through December 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. The Diocese was formed in 1956, in a provincial realignment that saw two new dioceses--Springfield/Cape Girardeau and Jefferson City, formed out of territory of the archdiocese of St. Louis and the old separate dioceses of St. Joseph and Kansas City, along with the consolidation of the remaining territory in the latter two.
Hmm. I wish I had the chance to bend Bishop Finn's ear before he let the Catholic Key announce the coming "celebrations."
Having just read much of the history of the diocese in This Far by Faith, and having undertaken my tour around Kansas City, Missouri (which I am continuing--I promise), I don't really see much cause for a "celebration." In fifty years, dozens of churches have closed, and many of the historic churches which remain have been defaced (including the Cathedral . . . three times). Mass attendance rates have plummeted. Convents have emptied (aside: except for some canonically irregular Franciscans, I've never seen a woman religious in a habit on the Missouri side outside of a rare lone sister at a weekday mass). What clerics remain, with a few exceptions, conduct illicit liturgies and ignore or even condone heterodoxy and immorality in parish and diocesan programming, and those exceptions I know of are either new priests or are old-timers who have spent the last decades declawed and demoralized, in out-of-the-way rural or inner-city parishes.
Those schools which haven't already been closed can't be trusted to educate our children in the basics of the faith (one, with once-a-month Masses for young children, but once-a-week "spiritual rallies" with African drum-beating for all), and the tuition structure is often more than a large, faithful Catholic family of moderate income can afford. Prominent lay Catholics publicly promote inherently evil policies like the Stowers Institute's stemcell/cloning initiatives, and the bulk of ordinary pew Catholics are fully integrated into secular mass culture--they ignore Church moral teaching (what little has been taught), and pooh-pooh the remnants of Catholic discipline that remain, and they are wholly ignorant of her Sacramental theology (and, shamefully, I cannot entirely exclude myself from the foregoing criticism).
I do think the diocesan anniversary should be marked, of course. But it should be marked with reflection and mortification, not celebration. It should be a Lenten experience. Now is the perfect time for reflection, as we have a new Bishop who has the vision and the will to start the long process of turning things around. He has taken concrete steps to do so already (alas, not so many and not so large yet as I had hoped!), I would like to imagine that, in fact, Bishop Finn shall, whatever the hoopla surrounding him will be, use the anniversary as a time of reflection and redirection.
Indeed, two or three years ago, any criticism of the Kansas City-St. Joseph hierarchy and history (as I have done, and will continue to do) would have been sound and fury, signifying nothing--pointless calumny with no constructive end. But today, with Bishop Finn, there is a real reason to look back over the last fifty years and candidly assess the wreckage--to spell out exactly what went wrong, and who, and how, and where, and why. Understanding a error is the first step in correcting it, and, let's be honest, the history of the diocese is a string of prudential errors. I'm not convinced that Bishop Finn is going take all the right steps, or that he's going to succeed in those he takes . . . I'm not naive . . . but there is more reason for hope now than there has been at any time in the history of the diocese. The more we laymen know about the mistakes, the more candidly and more effectively we can pray for and petition the Bishop to address them and support him as he exercises his office, and the more likely the Bishop is to prevail over the forces of darkness that only he can contend with.
So, this Curmudgeon won't be celebrating anything this anniversary year, but he will be marking it with continuing posts, from time to time, on the history of the diocese, and on her parish churches, all with an eye to understanding how we got to this point, and to figuring out how Bishop Finn might lead us back if he is graced to do so.
God help and bless Bishop Finn, and God help and bless us all, especially those who would obstruct him!