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Part Two of interview with Bishop Saltarelli | Part One

IgnatiusInsight.com: The Delaware Legislature has postponed until January 2006 consideration of Senate Bill 80, the Delaware Regenerative Medicine Act, which would allow scientific research on cells obtained from killing human embryos. You made news when you led a group in a Rosary outside the state house in Dover against the Delaware embryonic stem cell bill in June 2005. How did you come to make that public statement?


Bishop Saltarelli:
Somehow God’s worked through our group. We have wonderful pro-life people. Certainly I made several statements, we certainly put it in our diocesan newspaper, in which I have publicly urged all Delaware Catholics to voice opposition to the embryonic stem cell bill that was before us.

Just to complement that effort, a couple busloads of people went to the State Capitol, which is Dover, and what we did–I accompanied them–was just gathered outside the steps and very peacefully, prayerfully recited the Rosary. I think some people were just touched by that. Some of the lawmakers–one or two of them–said that they changed their vote that day.

The power of prayer, again–this is why that’s going to be the key to any effort we do. We certainly can picket, we can demonstrate. That’s necessary sometimes. But we don’t discount the magnificent power that prayer can have in transforming the hearts.

This is my whole thing with congressmen and senators–that we’re going to pray for these people whether they like it or not. And somehow God is going to work through them. But the bill has been postponed and we saw that as a slight victory. We didn’t gloat over it. We just thanked God for it. What we found fascinating was in the state of the foremost proponent of embryonic stem cell research (U.S. Rep. Michael Castle) we were able to achieve even that, which is fantastic.

IgnatiusInsight.com asked Bishop Saltarelli about many of the other concerns of a bishop and a diocese, including Catholic education, migrant workers, inactive Catholics, the seminary visitations, and how to live as a life as Catholic.

Bishop Saltarelli said the diocese has opened three schools in the past four years, including two elementary schools and one high school, but had to close two schools in Wilmington (those students were absorbed into nearby Catholic schools).
The elementary schools, in the suburbs, are thriving but the high school is struggling, he said.

Bishop Saltarelli:
The high school is coming along slowly. It’s doing well but can do better. Nevertheless, people are still struggling. Tuition is high. We try to keep it as low as possible. What we have just initiated is a tuition assistance fund that will make some assistance available to those parents who want their children in Catholic schools but are not able to pay the whole tuition. We have initiated this new endowment which will spin off the necessary funds to assist parents in that particular endeavor.

Delaware and Eastern Shore Maryland are part of the Delmarva Peninsula, a still largely agricultural area with watermelon, corn, and soybean (among other crops) farms and poultry processing plants. Migrant workers travel to the state and stay on to work in various areas or keep moving on. IgnatiusInsight.com asked Bishop Saltarelli about those workers and the poverty that they often face in doing the low-paid, temporary work.

Bishop Saltarelli:
Sometimes these are people without papers, maybe undocumented. But we also have documented aliens and they are working side by side. And sometimes that causes a little tension. Periodically, they have these roundups and it’s horrible to see families destroyed. A father is just shipped out, without being able to say "so long" to the kids who are born here and who are citizens here and going to school here.

That’s a challenge for us. I think we are addressing it best we can. We have agencies in place here. We have certainly gotten ourselves involved in a wonderful ministry to the Spanish-speaking people who grace our diocese.

We see their arrival as a blessing, not a problem that we have to solve–it’s a blessing. I personally have told our priests over and over again, and our people: "This is a gift from God." They bring an energy, they bring vitality, they bring a youthfulness to the church, they bring a love for the Blessed Mother, they bring a love for family and, so maybe, aren’t these shots in the arm that we do need in our church today? Youthfulness, focus on Our Lady, family life–the bonds are very strong and they excite our parishes. We say, "Thank you Lord for this transfusion of new life."

Yours truly has even had to learn how to celebrate Mass in Spanish–I love it, I love it, I love it. They’re tolerant, they’re really tolerant of my poor Spanish, from the gringo, but they’re tolerant. They’re a blessing, let me tell you.

IgnatiusInsight.com: There are pockets of poverty in Delaware and the Eastern Shore of Maryland, both in the rural and urban areas. How is the diocese addressing that?


We have rural poverty more than anything else. And again we have ministries out there. Our parishes are alerted to it. Catholic Charities is establishing outposts where they are needed the most. We have magnificent women religious in the farthest outposts doing heroic work. Just magnificent. These are sisters from New Jersey; we also have sisters from Spain, God bless them. They have left the comforts of another life and have come here and work with, and amidst, and for, in, and through the poor. The Sisters of Charity of Convent Station and also the Carmelite Sisters of Charity from Vedruna, Spain. These sisters are highly professional, highly skilled, and here they are working with migrants–driving pregnant women to far away clinics for prenatal care, helping to deliver their babies. These are ladies who could be lawyers in their own country, or professors in university. They have left everything to come here to work with the poorest of the poor. It’s exciting; it’s exciting.

I’m looking forward to retirement, then I can be a priest again. I do visit, get out as much as I can and just leave the desk, go where the real action is, as the kids say.

IgnatiusInsight.com: One of the first things you wrote after becoming bishop, was a pastoral statement on outreach to inactive Catholics.
How’s that going?

Good. The effort is being made. Hopefully we’re not perpetrating the reasons why people have left us. Let’s face it, a kind word from a pastor makes all the difference in the world.

A grouchy guy will disturb the work of ten good heroic priests. We hear the stories: "Father was rotten" or "Sister was bad" or "Somebody hurt me." You always try to lift people up, and say that’s not the Church. But nevertheless we have to take responsibility here.

I think we have made a special effort in that area. To reach out a little more, to welcome people home. Some of our parishes have a "Come Home This Christmas" program or even billboards on the front lawns, "Everybody Welcome–Alienated Catholics Especially." We have let them know that we are aware of them, and we love them, and we still continue to reach out to them. The divorced, who feel themselves alienated (through no fault of the Church’s, of course), but we have a ministry to the separated and the divorced. I celebrate Mass with them and again let them know that they’re very important and a critical part of the Church, and they belong.

IgnatiusInsight.com: Bishop Saltarelli then discussed a new pastoral statement (PDF file) that was published in September on catechetics.


We spent a couple of years studying the catechetical problems we’ve had–let’s face it, not only in our own diocese, but certainly nationally. We studied it, we’ve had roundtables on it, we’ve had reach outs–and we’ve come up with a pastoral and from that pastoral will emanate a plan we hope to embark on. Something as simple as beginning with 2006, all religion texts must be in conformity with the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Nationally, it’s been discovered that some are not, and we want to make sure we are not among those culprits.

IgnatiusInsight.com: How do the Delaware Catholic schools deal with gay couples with children?

I think there is one situation in our entire school system. I was made aware of it after the fact. I think they are just dealing with it normally. A child is a gift, a child of God, before all else and that child is given the respect that we give to all our other children. I don’t think any sensationalism has occurred because of that. I haven’t received any nasty letters pro or con from any parents. I do not see that in this part of the country as an immediate issue. But who would of thought that such a large portion of our school children are children in one parent families? But that’s reality–that’s more of a reality that we have to deal with.

IgnatiusInsight.com: And how do you deal with it?

We try to be as sensitive as we can. Certainly tolerant, more than tolerant, and afford that single parent all of the help that we can to assure that the child is raised lovingly and respectfully and is aware that we are people of faith.

IgnatiusInsight.com: How did you deal with the sexual abuse crisis in your diocese?

I would never in a billion years have imagined that–never mind as a bishop–as a priest I’d be dealing with this crisis. When I grew up, we loved our priests and we waited for our priests and we went with our priests everywhere. They took us to the beaches, to Washington to the monuments. And we waited for that; we loved it. Never, never a telltale of anything, of impropriety, we just knew these as holy men and they were indeed holy men.

I learned that and so in my early priesthood I certainly took the kids to Washington, and we went down to the beaches and all that kind of stuff. Certainly we don’t do that anymore, unfortunately. It was not a bad thing and I think a lot of vocations emanated from that kind of relationship. And the priests also did not just segregate us–young ladies came, young girls–we were always mixed company. So there was no discrimination.

Here in our diocese, I think we were particularly blessed. Certainly, we have had our cases and we’ve acknowledged them. What we did early on is establish a rapport of respect and professionalism with the attorney general. We met with the attorney general (Jane Brady) and her assistant. We gave her what was lawful to give to her, what she asked for. She respected the confidentiality of some situations. But she did not publicize them or air them. She said it was good enough that her office has this and if there were any situation that she would be able to handle it. And we’ve maintained that open relationship. If we get any accusations, her office is the first to know what the accusation is and who’s involved.

We’ve tried to handle it as transparently as humanly possible. We’ve had our difficulties; we‘ve had our few cases. We’ve had to remove three of our priests from ministry–but everything was open and above board. What was in our diocesan paper was also in the secular paper.

We’ve cooperated every way possible. We’ve kept our own priests informed of this thing. My concern was always for our priests, the good guys, the heroic guys, the guys who were being smeared with the same ugly stories. Dealing with that is another special challenge because our priests were victimized also, the good guys, those who continued to do the good things that most of our priests do.

I’ve met with people who have made the allegations, some definitely victims. I’ve met with their parents. We’ve tried to reach out as much as we can. We have counseling readily available for any people who feel they were victimized in this way. Again, it is not yours truly doing this [outreach], I have a magnificent staff and they do all the good, good, holy work.

IgnatiusInsight.com: What’s your take on the seminary visitations and the reports that homosexuals will be screened from entering the seminary to become priests?

My take is that in the work sheet, the Instrumentum Laboris, that was just made available, there are 56 questions–one of them has to deal with homosexuality. So, again, we don’t want to take this out of proportion.

That whole visitation process has to do with the caliber of people who are coming into the seminary, the admissions process, our psychological tests, evaluations being made before admissions. There’s a gamut there and one of those questions has to do with–is there an obvious homosexual culture in the seminary? Certainly that could not be tolerated and I agree with [asking the question] but I don’t think there’s going to be a headhunting thing now. It’s a concern simply because of what has happened in the past but I would not blow that up out of proportion. To me, one of 56 questions puts it in proper perspective.

I think what they’re acknowledging is that it’s a lot more difficult for a person who is oriented to the same sex to be in that particular ministry. They’re acknowledging this–saying this going to have to be some hero to withstand the pressures of that particular orientation. I think it’s a reality check up.

IgnatiusInsight.com: What advice would you give to Catholics trying to live a moral and happy life?

It is possible. And that’s not a cliché. The world tells us that we are crazy, ridiculous. The world–and not all the world–but some groups in the world tell us that we’re just fanciful people.

But we know–because of the glorious history that is ours–that in spite of crisis, the scandals, the persecutions, that the Army of Heroes (we call them saints) was there all the way. And the Lord continues. Even in the most critical of times, He sends these heroes in our midst, to announce the Good News, to proclaim the Good News.

We have a God who loves us and invites us to a special way of life and that way for us Catholics, is to follow in the footsteps of the Master who invites us to live a life that is destined to take us to the Father. You know, Jesus never promised there’d be no scandal; Jesus never promised there’d be no suffering; He never promised there’d be no persecutions–witness the two thousand years where there have been enough of those, all of them.

But He promised one thing: He promised that He’d be with us always. We hold onto that promise and we live that promise. Here in this Eucharistic year we experience that promise magnificently, in the Eucharist. And we don’t need a year to tell us about that, we have Jesus’ words that "I’ll be with you" and here it is, His own flesh and His own blood that remains with us and abides with us forever.

Related IgnatiusInsight.com links:

Drawing A Line: An Interview with Bishop Michael J. Sheridan
Bishop in the Desert: An Interview with Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted




Valerie Schmalz is a writer for IgnatiusInsight. She worked as a reporter and editor for The Associated Press, and in print and broadcast media for ten years. She holds a BA in Government from University of San Francisco and a Master of Science from the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. She is the former director of Birthright of San Francisco. Valerie and her wonderful husband have four children.



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