Sunday, November 15, 2009

Erie's Catholic bishop speaks his mind on church issues


Erie Catholic Bishop Donald W. Trautman enunciated each word he spoke about the blood of Christ.

"It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven," the bishop said, his voice carrying to the back of Gate of Heaven Cemetery's chapel, where he was celebrating a Mass on Nov. 2.

By the time the annual service for All Souls' Day comes around in 2010, Trautman will likely be saying some different words.

"For all" is due to be replaced with "for many" in a New English translation of the Roman Missal. U.S. Catholic bishops will vote on the final section of it at their fall meeting, which begins Monday.

Trautman has been a vocal critic of some of the changes.

But speaking out is nothing new for the man who will celebrate his 20th anniversary as Erie's Catholic bishop in 2010.

"I have taken controversial stances when it was necessary," Trautman said.

He took Mercyhurst College to task for inviting Hillary Rodham Clinton to speak at its main campus during the 2008 presidential race, saying the Catholic school shouldn't give a platform to someone in favor of abortion rights.

This year, he had similar reasons for decrying the University of Notre Dame's decision to give President Barack Obama an honorary degree when he spoke at commencement.

But long before Trautman was a bishop who worried about candidates disavowing Catholic beliefs, he was a boy who just wanted to be a priest.

Trautman was born in Buffalo and said he was called to the priesthood in grade school.

As a teen, he announced at breakfast one morning that he'd passed the seminary entrance exam. His parents weren't thrilled at first. They were concerned about his youth, and wanted him to have more experience in the world, he said.

When Trautman was a senior in the seminary at Niagara University, he learned he was being sent to Austria to study at the University of Innsbruck. It was 1958, and there were no cell phones or e-mail to connect him with home. He tried to get out of it.

But Buffalo's Catholic bishop said Trautman had to go if he wanted to be a priest.

"The bishop knew better than I did," Trautman said.

In Austria, his professors included theologian Karl Rahner and liturgist Josef Jungmann, men who Trautman said brought about Vatican II.

"When I left after ordination in 1962, I cried like a baby because that seminary, Innsbruck, became my second home," Trautman said.

Back in his first home, the Diocese of Buffalo, he taught and was a pastor, chancellor, vicar general and auxiliary bishop.

Trautman was named a bishop in 1985. For his motto, he chose "Feed my sheep."

He was named the ninth Catholic bishop of Erie in 1990, succeeding Bishop Michael Murphy.

Roman Catholic bishops are required to submit a letter of resignation to the Vatican when they turn 75. But it's not always accepted right away.

Trautman, 73, has 19 months until his 75th birthday and isn't opposed to retiring then.

"The diocese needs younger leadership, younger blood, fresher ideas, bishops with more energy," he said. "My heart and soul are with the people. I will stay here with the people when I retire, but they need a younger bishop."

Monsignor Robert Smith, the diocese's vicar general and Trautman's right hand, hopes Rome adds a couple of years to this bishop's term.

Smith said he respects Trautman.

"He doesn't ask anybody to do things he wouldn't do," Smith said.

Local funeral director Mark G. Razanauskas was a friend and fan of Trautman's predecessor.

"It's always hard to follow in the shoes of someone who's well-liked," Razanauskas said.

That was true for Trautman, who has faced challenges such as fewer priests and Catholic students, Razanauskas said.

Trautman said bishops don't want to close or merge parishes or schools but sometimes have to recognize the inevitable.

"A bishop never closes a school," he said. "A school closes itself by lack of students or lack of dollars. ... What do I gain by closing a school? Nothing. I'm in favor of Catholic education."

Trautman said he believes more schools and parishes will close or consolidate as the Catholic Church responds to changes in where people live.

Razanauskas, a member of St. Casimir Church, said parishioners don't always see the whole picture that bishops have to consider when making decisions.

He's come to admire Trautman as a hardworking bishop who wasn't threatened by Murphy and relied on him for help.

When Murphy died in 2007, Razanauskas heard something at the cemetery that made him appreciate Trautman even more.

"His voice broke. He choked up. It was very moving," Razanauskas said, adding that Trautman "has a wonderful human side that I got to see."

Razanauskas also believes the current bishop has a better sense of humor than people realize.

It showed after Murphy's death, when the Vatican newspaper reported it was Trautman who had died during that Easter week.

"I told people that there was an early resurrection," Trautman told the Erie Times-News at the time.

In a more recent interview, the bishop admitted to being a very private and reserved person with "a little bit of perfectionism."

He's hands-on, going to all personnel board meetings, but said he struggles to balance between being behind his desk and out among the people. Long days start in his office at St. Mark Catholic Center and end after a meeting, maybe with college students, or a special service, perhaps for a parish anniversary.

"I put 30,000 miles a year on my car," said Trautman, who buys a Chrysler every few years. He prefers a heavy car for winter travel in the 13-county diocese.

He considers it his job to teach, to sanctify and to shepherd.

Trautman started the St. Martin's Center Bishop's Breakfast Program to feed the homeless; the Diocesan Bank to provide financial help to parishes; and the Catholic chapel in the Millcreek Mall, where he hears confessions on Ash Wednesday. The chapel drew praise for taking the Catholic Church to the people and scorn for its location and expense.

Thelma Manendo approves of the chapel and Trautman.

"He's reached out to a lot of people," said Manendo, who volunteers at the chapel. "He's made it so comfortable. He's walking in the footsteps of Jesus."

The mall space costs about $2,000 a month to rent.

"It is costly for us, but I see it as a real form of evangelization and therefore I think worth the dollars," Trautman said.

He also tries to share the faith with high school students at about 60 confirmations a year.

"I'm proud of the fact that in my 19 years of being bishop here, I have never repeated a confirmation homily," he said.

He never anticipated he'd also be reaching out to clergy sex-abuse victims in his diocese.

"I have met with every single victim personally, and I will continue to do that, although no one's coming in these days," he said.

The bishop said abuse didn't reach an epidemic level here.

"I met the crisis head-on," he said. "Where there were proven facts, I removed those priests from active ministry."

Trautman couldn't recall how many victims he'd met or how many priests he'd removed.

He said he wishes the medical profession would take some responsibility for the crisis. He said the church has been the focus. Yet, in some files there are letters signed by doctors saying that a priest had been treated "for this issue" and was OK to be reassigned, Trautman said.

"Oftentimes, bishops followed advice given by medical doctors," he said.

Trautman said he admires the work women do in ministry, calling them "true disciples helping the church today."

But he believes Scriptures and tradition prohibit women from being ordained as priests.

"It's not a question of equality," he said. "I think it's a question of recognizing God's ordering of his church and what he has wished and willed for the church."

But Trautman also is a man who pushed for inclusive language in liturgy.

When last elected head of the bishops' Committee on Liturgy, he beat candidates acceptable to conservative groups that opposed gender-inclusive language.

Trautman's stand on language is perhaps a blending of what some would call his conservative and progressive sides.

"My priests will tell you I'm very traditional and conservative," Trautman said. "However, I have a reputation, I think, among the conference of bishops and others of being very progressive in matters of liturgy."

As a good bishop should, he said, he will implement the new translation of the Roman Missal after it is approved by the Holy See, probably in 2010.

But Trautman also said he'll do what he can to amend it.

He's concerned that it uses words like "ineffable" and "consubstantial" and has sentences with as many as 88 words.

He calls the text a "slavishly literal translation" from the Latin that has "needless changes," including "for many."

He bases his arguments on the life of the Lord he follows.

"If you look at the Gospels, Jesus never talked to the people in words they could not comprehend," Trautman said.

"We should never make our speech in liturgy or in teaching or preaching incomprehensible. Our words should reflect and reach the people as Jesus did."

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thanks for posting that Vincenzo. That is really important to get his message out.

As a huge fan of Father Z, I have only known about Bp. Trautman's position with to respect to the language translations and the word "ineffable." (It probably took me a year to memorize the definition).

But it is obvious from this article that there is a lot more to Bp. Trautman than translations. Thank the Holy Spirit for his selection. He seems to have been a fine bishop for the people and the church of the Diocese of Erie.

None of us are perfect, including our bishops.

I'm as bad a "liturgy cop" and critic of priests and bishops who don't measure up to "my standards" as anyone.

But we all have to learn to pray for our priests and bishops, to work with them, to help them and to understand them.

I would be voting on Fr. Z's side if I had a vote on the translation issue. But I would imagine that the Holy Spirit is working with the bishops and I am willing to accept the decision of the Church.

The Church has existed for 2,000 years under Divine Guidance. Jesus said that He would be with us until the end of time. Jesus, I Trust in You!