Bishop exercised authority as service to God's people - Catholic Courier
Gloria Ulterino was director of the former diocesan Office of Women. Gloria Ulterino was director of the former diocesan Office of Women.

Bishop exercised authority as service to God’s people

The date was March 1, 1997. The place: Sacred Heart Cathedral. The gathered community was exuberantly celebrating a Mass for family and friends of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people, at the invitation of Bishop Matthew H. Clark. It almost felt as if the joyful singing would literally lift the roof off the church. As our bishop finished his homily, a man in the pew behind me (from a neighboring diocese, I later discovered) proclaimed: "Now that’s what a bishop should be!"

Another powerful memory comes to mind. It was Sunday, Oct. 3, 1993, in downtown Rochester. About 1,500 of us were enthusiastically making our way, in the midst of colorful banners, from the Convention Center to the Blue Cross Arena, where we would celebrate Mass. During Mass, the culmination of three years’ work would be announced. This was, of course, the conclusion of the diocesan Synod, called forth by Bishop Clark. Before the announcement of the five major themes, which would become the diocesan focus over the next few years, Bishop Clark promised to honor the decision of the people. When "the dignity of women in church and society" was proclaimed as one of the five, tears of joy filled my eyes.

These are but two examples of Bishop Clark’s essence, as I see him. He is an authentic pastor, rooted in the teachings of the Second Vatican Council: a man of warmth and welcome, of compassion and concern for the folks, firmly committed to bringing together the diverse, articulate and sometimes feisty community over which he presides. He listens. I have often sent him letters addressing issues of importance to me — and I hope to the local church — whether I agree with him or not. And I have done so, certain that my thoughts will be given a hearing.

Perhaps he best expressed his views on pastoring in his August 1997 article for New Theology Review, titled "The Pastoral Exercise of Authority." In his magnificent summary, Bishop Clark challenged himself, along with the "Great Church," to live out the Second Vatican Council’s teachings on authority. In this, he included issues like subsidiarity (where the lowest possible center of authority is the primary actor), collegiality (an expansive sense of working together), an environment of openness that encourages faith sharing, the search for truth with charity and dialogue, and the need to form men and women "who will come to decisions on their own judgement and in the light of truth."

His final words in that article were these: "He (each bishop) must at all times and in all places exercise his authority as service on behalf of God’s holy people. And in the name of the Gospel, I must insist that the Great Church do the same."

But these are difficult times in our beloved church. As is true in the political arena, divisiveness is on the increase. Furthermore, the actions of some in authority in Rome seem to be a "push back" from the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. Under such circumstances, I am saddened that suffering might well accompany Bishop Clark’s firm commitment to Vatican II’s vision of pastoring. Many of us, in our diverse vocations, also know the challenges of remaining faithful through the tough times. Such challenges can make us stronger and more loving or they can break us. We call it the paschal mystery, the path of Jesus through death to new life. As I see Bishop Clark grow in wisdom and holiness, in humility and compassion, I see a pastoral leader who makes every effort to live what he believes. With deep gratitude, then, I bless him on his way:

May all that has been ripen into fulfillment,

May you welcome with wonder the gift of each new day,

Fully alive to all God’s possibilities.


Ulterino was the director of the former diocesan Office of Women.

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