Thursday, May 11, 2006

St. Agnes, Again

By Mitchell

Where to begin, where to begin...

By now most have heard that Fr. Altier's new assignment is as assistant chaplin at Regina Medical Center in Hastings, just outside the Twin Cities (although the way urban sprawl goes, it should be a suburb in no time). So was Fr. Altier being punished, as so many assumed? I really don't know. What I do have to offer is this piece from Spirit Daily. In it, Fr. Altier says he is looking forward to the new assignment:

The new assignment, which will last for three years, will allow him tremendous free time, he said, during which he plans to read, write, and exercise. "I've been too busy the past few years to exercise and I've put on some pounds that I may be able to take off now," he said. "There's a 'Y' below the nursing center."

Is it possible that he's merely putting on a good face to avoid creating more controversy for the Archbishop? Sure it is. It's also possible that he's being completely honest in his comments. (I can vouch to the fact that he's put on a few pounds over the years, as have we all!) I think we might be advised to take this holy man's word at face value, until and unless we hear something conclusively to the contrary.

In addition, although I can't put a finger on a link, I've heard that Fr. Altier will continue as the spiritual advisor to Catholic Parents Online, the group so outspoken for their opposition to the Virtus sex ed program.

Fr. Welzbacher is apparently returning to the parish in New Market where he was pastor prior to his assignment at St. Agnes. It is said that he requested the transfer, and I'll repeat what I've said in the comboxes of several sites today: Fr. Welzbacher is nearly 80, he reportedly has had some health issues recently, and this has been an extremely stressful assignment. Besides what happened with Fr. Altier, he had a much bigger headache shortly after he arrived, dealing with a small group of teachers in the school who didn't seem to appreciate that they worked for a Catholic institition. Those of us at St. Agnes know what kind of stress Fr. W went through during this time, and I can only imagine what kind of a toll that took on him.

I know there are sites out there that regard Fr. W's reassignment with suspicion. They speak in tones that suggest quote marks around the the words "at his request," as if this is merely the "official" story. I don't know if it is or not. I simply point out that there is no reason to think that this is not true, and there is no reason to believe this is related to the Fr. Altier situation.

As to the new pastor, I have yet to hear an official announcement. I don't like to engage in rumor, and yet the rumors I've heard have been fairly consistent. In this case I'll confine myself to linking to the report on this local blog - a report, I've been told, that can be considered reasonably reliable. Is that hedging enough? What I'm trying to say is that I think Terry's post is correct, but I haven't seen an official confirmation yet. When it is confirmed, we'll print his name.

The new associate pastor will be Fr. Randal Kasel, a son of St. Agnes parish - a good and holy man and former teacher who, I think, will do an outstanding job and will be very well received. (His brother is in the final years of seminary as well.)

My line since this started is that people must be careful to not overreact. This is not the end of the world, people. I think the reports of some kind of conspiracy have been greatly exaggerated. Is an injustice being done to Fr. Altier. Maybe, maybe not. I don't know. I do know that great good will come out of it - good for those in the nursing home who will benefit from his counsel, good for the parish in that two good priests are on the way.

Part of the problem with the whole thing is Archbishop Flynn. As a fellow blogger commented to me, he has terrible PR. It could well be that he's made all the right moves here - two good priests to St. Agnes, a less stressful post for Fr. W., and a pastoral assignment for Fr. Altier. I'm actually willing to give him the benefit of the doubt here, and as most of you regular readers know, I'm no fan of his. And that's my point - the archbishop's actions during his tenure have so polarized people (four words: St. Joan of Arc) that people are, with good reason, inclined to jump to conclusions. The archbishop has a reputation for "good hire, bad fire," meaning that his appointments are by and large quite good, but he shies away from conflict and discipline (except, as many acidly point out, when it comes to heterodox priests). Frankly, considering the simply awful content in the archdiocesan newspaper, and the lack of respect many of the "officials" in the archdiocese show to conservative groups, the archbishop has no one to blame but himself for this poisoned atmosphere. But in this case, considering the two appointments we're expecting, I think - I could be wrong about this - I can't help but think this time the arch knew exactly what he was doing, and he got it right.

You know, not all was perfect at St. Agnes. We're human, you know. This post by Terry at Abbey-Roads makes some very perseptive comments, and I'd be hard-pressed to disagree with the substance of what he says. The truth is that for some time now - at least in our experience - it's been difficult to reach priests at St. Agnes, it's been difficult to have phone calls returned, and it's been easy to feel left out. Judie and I tried, for over six months to have someone come over and bless our new condo after we moved in, to no avail (we finally called one of the priests at St. Olaf, who was delighted to come over and do it). Almost a year after we moved, St. Agnes still doesn't have our correct address. One of our contribution checks was never cashed, after more than a year. There are those who say that there was an air of detachment over there, and I can't really quarrel with that. There's virtually no adult ed (other than Fr. Altier's Fundamentals of Catholicism), no social programs, not much for adults who aren't involved in the school. (One friend gently suggested to me that the archbishop's action earlier this year might have had the consequence of Fr. Altier actually spending more time in the parish, and had the archbishop not handled the whole thing so badly, it might have been easier to acknowledge that possibility. But, of course, he handled it the same way as he does so many things, dismally.)

Please understand - this isn't intended as a laundry list of complaints, nor is it supposed to be finger-pointing at anyone. It's a big parish. And we are members in good standing. But my point is the same: that it is not perfect, that there is room for improvement, that we should not stop hoping that the parish can be made stronger, more welcoming, a better place to which one can belong. In other words, things can be better - as they can in most walks of life.

So I'm optimistic about the future, and why not? "Be not afraid." As our friend Bearing Blog says in her comment on our previous post, "I agree that there is potentially great hope in this change." We don't ignore the threat of the bad (after all, we subscribe to The Wanderer), but we don't ignore the possibility of the good, either.

As we get more information we'll continue to update on it, and we'll provide all the commentary we can. Stay tuned, again.

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