By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published April 1, 2010
As Holy Week began with the Catholic Church worldwide assailed by reports of clergy sex abuse allegations and both criticism and defense of the response by Pope Benedict XVI, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory urged priests here “to provide a witness that is unassailable.”
The archbishop spoke at the Chrism Mass on March 30 at Christ the King Cathedral to a majority of the hundreds of priests who serve in North Georgia. The priests filled half of the Peachtree Road Gothic church. They also spent a day of reflection together.
Also at the Mass, three long-time priests serving in the Atlanta Archdiocese formally joined the ranks of archdiocesan priests and were incardinated here. Father Edward Branch, Father David McGuinness and Father Francisco Javier Muñoz were welcomed by Archbishop Gregory.
Archbishop Gregory never specifically mentioned the current events, but talked in his homily about “the sorrow of this moment” as the church comes to grips with the handling of past abuse cases, most recently in Ireland and Germany.
He said that when Jesus spoke words that were inspired, his words were not sufficient to convince his townspeople and he went on to give his life to validate his prophetic message.
“He ultimately went to the cross to show that not only were those prophetic words true, but that He Himself was true. We are called to do the same in our own times,” the archbishop said.
During the annual Chrism Mass the archbishop blesses chrism, an olive oil and balsam mixture, which will be used for the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and holy orders in the archdiocese. The oil of catechumens for baptism and the oil of the sick for that sacrament are also blessed at this liturgy. Each parish receives a portion of the blessed oils following the Mass to use for the coming year.
Archbishop Gregory in his homily said the world is skeptical of people who promise but don’t deliver. He spoke of the fact that people now generally distrust institutions and that there is a “longstanding virulent anti-Catholicism” that can spawn “a form of aggressive reaction that now stuns and can dishearten us.”
However, he said, “if we focus and highlight only on the hatred that some people clearly have for our Church, we will miss the truth of our past failures that have provided a fertile field for skepticism and disenchantment.”
Bishops and priests around the world are “challenged to embrace a new and prophetic testimony before a watching world,” he said. The challenge for priests is to mirror Jesus and “to confirm the words that we utter by our very lives.”
Church leaders cannot blame the problems on liberals or conservatives, young or old, or one group of priests or bishops, he said, because “we all have our shadows and our shame which all have added to the sorrows of this moment—we only lie to ourselves if we ignore this fact.”
The archbishop said Catholics are looking to the clergy to “seize this moment of conversion in order to serve them better, more lovingly and more effectively.”
In addition to the blessing of oils, this Holy Week Mass focuses on the priests’ commitment of obedience to their bishop and to serving in the archdiocese.
Once ordained, a Catholic priest is always connected to a bishop, even if he has served outside the boundaries of his home diocese for many years. The process to change dioceses—known as incardination in church language—requires many steps to complete. A priest must serve here at least five years before he can request the change. The home bishop must approve the change, along with the accepting bishop.
It doesn’t happen too frequently. In the past five years, it has happened three times.
Father Muñoz, formerly a priest of the Diocese of Santa Rosa de Osos, Antioquia, Colombia, moved to Atlanta in September 2003. He has served in three positions here, as spiritual advisor at the Nazareth House, Atlanta, at St. George Church, Newnan, and, since June, at Holy Cross Church, Atlanta. He was ordained a priest in 1996.
Father Muñoz said the moment is bittersweet. When he first approached his bishop about joining the Atlanta Archdiocese, the idea wasn’t embraced.
“My bishop said I don’t want to lose you,” said Father Muñoz, who admitted there were tears shed about the decision.
But he said it was the right decision. “I love it,” he said.
Father McGuinness, who was ordained a priest in the Diocese of Waterford and Lismore, Ireland, has been here permanently since November 2001. But he served here every summer since his ordination in 1977. He is the pastor of St. Joseph Church, Athens, since December 2003. Before that he served at All Saints Church, Dunwoody, and Holy Trinity Church, Peachtree City.
Father Branch, who began his priestly ministry in 1974 in the Archdiocese of Louisville, Ky., helped to start the Lyke House, the Catholic Center for the historically black colleges and universities at the Atlanta University Center. He arrived in Atlanta in 1990 and has served as the chaplain at the Lyke House ever since. Last year he was elected as chairman of the Priests’ Council for the Atlanta Archdiocese.