SCRANTON, Pa. (Catholic Online) – I watched the Press Conference in Scranton Pennsylvania Monday morning. It broke my heart. First, because I sensed the burden and the pain of office in Bishop Joseph Martino as he gave his formal statement concerning his request to retire early as the Bishop of Scranton, Pennsylvania. We present his entire statement below this article. Pope Benedict XVI has accepted his request and named him “Retired Bishop”. The Diocese is now under the temporary pastoral care of Justin Cardinal Rigali of Philadelphia until a successor Bishop is appointed.
It also broke my heart because, as readers of Catholic Online know, he is one of my favorite Bishops. He is a man of tremendous faith, genuine evangelistic zeal, and unflagging courage in the face of fierce opposition. As I watched him speak at that Press Conference I thought of the words from the Apostle Peter which were directed to Bishops and elders in the early Church: “So I exhort the presbyters among you, as a fellow presbyter and witness to the sufferings of Christ and one who has a share in the glory to be revealed. Tend the flock of God in your midst, (overseeing) not by constraint but willingly, as God would have it, not for shameful profit but eagerly. Do not lord it over those assigned to you, but be examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd is revealed, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. (1 Peter 5)”
I also thought of the painful defense St. Paul was forced to give of his own apostolic office in his second letter to the Corinthians (See, 2 Cor. Chapters 10 – 13). It has happened many times in our 2000 year history. Good Bishops like Bishop Joseph Martino sometimes suffer the effects that can accompany “bearing the burden” of their exercise of their apostolic office and have to take a different role in caring for the flock. He is now doing just that with the kind of fidelity, dignity and extraordinary courage he has always shown. However, he is obviously tired,in fact exhausted, from the burden of his office.
It is clear, as Cardinal Rigali indicated in his warm affirmation and commendation of his service; Bishop Martino arrived at this decision only after much sincere and significant prayer. After all, Bishop Martino is a man of prayer, a deeply Eucharistic soul. The good Cardinal mantioned in his remarks the Bishop's contributions in restoring eucharistic adoration in the Diocese. However, you could almost feel the fatigue as Bishop Martino expressed these words “For some time now, there has not been a clear consensus among the clergy and people of the Diocese of Scranton regarding my pastoral initiatives or my way of governance. This development has caused me great sorrow, resulting in bouts of insomnia and at times a crippling physical fatigue.”
The Bishop will continue to live in the Diocese of Scranton, at the Fatima Center, a retreat center dedicated to fostering genuine spiritual renewal and the “New Evangelization” which the Bishop is so deeply dedicated to advancing. Sadly, the Press had a “field day” speculating as to the reasons for the retirement. That speculation must now end. The Bishop asked for this early retirement and the Holy Father granted his request. It is unusual to be named a retired Bishop at such a very young age.
This heroic man stood up against the “gates of hell”, doing what all Bishops are supposed to do, guarding the flock of God against the wolves. In an age which Pope Benedict rightly referred to as suffering under the effects of a “dictatorship of relativism”, this fine man insisted that Catholic Universities and institutions stay faithful to the truth. For doing so, some even in the Catholic media sought to paint him as some kind of “zealot” using highly charged words such as ‘right” and “conservative” to paint a caricature of this man far different than what he really is.
It was false reporting, period. They should be ashamed. Bishop Joseph Martino is simply a faithful Catholic Bishop. He was appointed by the late Servant of God John Paul II and is deeply committed to the “New Evangelization” of the Church in this new missionary age, the Third Christian Millennium. He began his Press Conference - and then ended it - with these words “May Jesus Christ Always be praised!” Those words characterize his evangelical mission, his life committment and his true character.
The Bishop was correct to challenge the poor judgment of Misericordia University, a Catholic College in his Diocese which sponsored, through its scandalous “Diversity Institute”, an advocate/activist of the movement among some practicing homosexuals to obtain a legal equivalency between homosexual paramours and those who are married. An activist leader came to the Catholic College campus and spoke on the very matters which orginally raised the Bishops proper concerns.The school was given explicit directions to not host the speaker and willfully disobeyed their Bishop.
The homosexual activist intentionally used a Catholic platform to directly oppose the truth as revealed by the Natural Law, confirmed by Revelation and taught by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church concerning human love in the Divine plan, to young men and women. That University knew better and allowed it all to happen, knowing full well the potential confusion and scandal it would cause. Of course the Bishop had to speak out! So should many other Bishops who currently have similar situations happening - right now - in Catholic Colleges and universities within their own Dioceses!
A Catholic College is not a private College with some loose church affiliation. It is a Catholic College and participates in the continuing redemptive mission of the Catholic Church. In his masterful letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul calls all Christians to a "…renewal of their minds". (Romans 12:2) This renewal of the mind is the essence of the mission of a Catholic education. The Purpose of a Catholic College is to teach, form and prepare students in Christ, through Christ, and with Christ, the Truth Incarnate who has been raised and continues His redemptive mission through His Body, the Church. The Church is vested with His authority to teach the truth to a world desperately in need of hearing it.
In the words of the great Western Bishop Augustine: "Let us rejoice then and give thanks that we have become not only Christians, but Christ himself. Do you understand and grasp, brethren, God's grace toward us? Marvel and rejoice: we have become Christ. For if he is the head, we are the members; he and we together are the whole man. . . . The fullness of Christ then is the head and the members. But what does "head and members" mean? Christ and the Church." This living Christ still teaches in and through His Church, His Body, of which the Catholic College is a vital member.
His heroic defense of the dignity of every human life during the last Presidential campaign was inspired and refreshing! Some, even in the Catholic press, have referred to him as a “fierce anti-abortion” Bishop. Well, it seems to this writer that what is really fierce is the killing of our first neighbors in the womb by surgical strikes and chemical weapons - for any reason - protected by the raw police power of the State. Thank you Bishop Martino for not backing down, we need more Bishops to follow your heroic example!
He was also correct to challenge, as a good spiritual father should, the poor judgment of a son of his own Diocese, Senator Robert Casey, in the last Presidential campaign. The Senator did not act in a manner consistent with his Catholic faith and the obligations it places upon his public service. Many believe it actually bore good fruit as the son of the last great truly, pro-life, pro-marriage, pro-poor and pro-peace Democratic politician, Governor Bob Casey, now seems to once again be pursuing the defense of unborn human life.
The people of the Diocese of Scranton need our prayers. They have been through difficult years. We need to ask Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, to send a new Bishop to continue the work of the New Evangelization which bishop Martino began. The now retired Bishop also needs our prayers; that the Lord would restore his vigor and vitality. He is still a young Bishop and his contributions to the New Evangelization are far from over.
Thank You Bishop Martino for your Fidelity, Sacrificial Service and Courage.