The year 2016 will undoubtedly go down in history as a notable one for the world, the nation and the church. In addition to an acrimonious and surprising national election and the accompanying uncertainty and change, major world figures went to their reward, Brexit shocked Europe, American streets (including Minnesota streets) erupted with some of the worst racial conflict in decades, millions endured extreme hardship in the war-torn Middle East and much, much more.
It was also an eventful year here in the local church, the Diocese of Duluth. Following are five of the top stories covered in the pages of The Northern Cross over the past year.
The Diocese of Duluth declared bankruptcy at the end of 2015, in the wake of a multimillion dollar sexual abuse lawsuit decision. It and other lawsuits had been filed under a law, the Minnesota Child Victims Act, that had temporarily lifted the statute of limitations for civil cases on sexual abuse of a minor. Given the limited diocesan resources available, church officials determined that bankruptcy was the best way to continue the mission of the church while also seeking a just solution for all the victims who came forth under that law.
While the normal business of the diocese was able to continue, 2016 involved living out the implications of the bankruptcy. One of the most important results was an opportunity for victims of clergy sexual abuse to file claims confidentially. The deadline for those claims was May 25, the same day as the temporary lifting of the statute of limitations in state law expired. After the May 25 deadline, 125 confidential claims had been turned over to attorneys.
Duluth Bishop Paul Sirba made a statement at the close of this period, pledging continued support for any victims who would come forward. He also addressed victims directly: “We love you and want to help bring healing. Your life is a gift of God that we cherish. In our eyes you remain our brothers and sisters no matter what your feelings toward the church may be.” Bishop Sirba joined all the bishops of Minnesota in also marking the expiration of the Minnesota Child Victims Act, which promised continued efforts to provide safe environments and praised the courage of those who had come forward.
“We apologize to all of those who have been hurt and to their families and friends who have been affected by that pain and loss,” the statement said. “We are truly sorry.”
The past year was one of significant change for diocesan schools. At the close of the school year in May, Queen of Peace School in Cloquet bid farewell to the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist who had contributed significantly to the school’s renewed vibrancy in recent years.
Even more painfully, for St. Mary School in Pine City, the end of the school year in May brought the closing of a school that had first opened in 1957. A steady decline in enrollment began in 2009, and despite creative efforts to work with the smaller classes, eventually leaders in the parish, school and diocese decided to close the school. A Mass of Thanksgiving was held in May in gratitude for 59 years of blessings.
For the four schools that are part of the Duluth Area Catholic Schools System, other dramatic changes were on the way. News that there were thoughts of a new model for those schools — one school operating on multiple campuses and extending into the high school grades — first broke in May. By September, the Called To Be One planning process was formally announced, with a planning committee and consultant seeking community input through a widespread survey and through two autumn community retreats.
That planning process should produce fruit in the near future, as the Duluth Area Catholic Schools board is expected to submit recommendations to Bishop Sirba this month.
A longtime dream of many in the Duluth area — a Catholic radio station — was realized March 4 at about 10:30 a.m., when Real Presence Radio went live at 88.1 FM, broadcasting from Superior, Wis.
While it is run independently of the Duluth and Superior Dioceses, Real Presence Radio operates with the approval of the bishops of both dioceses. The show runs a mix of national and local content, with well-known shows, including some from EWTN and Catholic Answers. The local programs have frequently included Bishop Sirba and other guests from the Duluth Diocese.
Bishop Sirba hailed the arrival, saying, “The work of the New Evangelization has now been strengthened by the gift of a Catholic radio station. It is my hope that Real Presence Radio will make the Gospel of Jesus Christ come alive for the people of Duluth and Superior through their excellent programming.”
The Real Presence Radio network originated in North Dakota and has since spread across the region.
In 2016, it was practically impossible to escape electoral politics, even if you wanted to. Of course, it’s not the role of Catholic newspapers to take sides in elections, but it is the role of the church to express its views on issues and to help Catholics form their consciences around them.
Minnesota bishops discussed their priorities personally with Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton and with legislators in March. The Northern Cross presented frequent commentary and other materials, especially columns from the Minnesota Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the Minnesota bishops, and a message from the bishops themselves, to help the faithful think about elections and issues in light of Catholic social teaching.
And of course our first and best recourse with politics, as with anything, is prayer, and in the October issue, we ran a novena for the election put out by the Minnesota Catholic Conference to help the faithful do just that: pray for the common good on a whole range issues of concern to Catholics in the light of the Catholic faith.
In addition to seeing two transitional deacons, two priests and three permanent deacons ordained in the Diocese of Duluth this year, the diocese also paid its respects to Father Paul Larson, pastor of Holy Family in McGregor and Our Lady of Fatima in McGrath, who died unexpectedly on Jan. 19 at age 64.
Nearby dioceses and archdioceses also had big news. On March 24, it was announced that Pope Francis had appointed Archbishop Bernard Hebda to lead the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. He had been serving as apostolic administrator since Archbishop John C. Nienstedt resigned last June. The appointment as archbishop was somewhat surprising given that Archbishop Hebda had already been the coadjutor archbishop of Newark, New Jersey, since 2013 and was therefore expected to take over that archdiocese.
Archbishop Hebda was installed in his new role May 13 and received his pallium in December.
Across the bridge to the east, the Diocese of Superior also got a new bishop in 2016 — one of their own. After his appointment was announced the previous December, Father James Powers, a priest of the Superior Diocese, was installed as its bishop in March. Bishop Powers had been serving at the diocesan administrator after Superior’s previous bishop, Bishop Peter Christensen, was appointed to lead the church in Boise, Idaho, in 2014. Bishop Christensen called him “a natural choice as my successor. He is a wonderful pastor, administrator and proven diocesan leader.”
— By Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross