In gratitude to Bishop John Kinney . . .

Categories: Changing our World,Visitor Columnist

Our retiring bishop will be remembered as a strong voice for social justice

Nov. 15, 2013, edition
By Bernie Evans

Living with a thankful and hopeful heart — two important marks of a Christian life. We give thanks for what has happened to us through Jesus Christ — that we have been restored to a right relationship with God, with one another and with all of God’s creation. We live in the hope of the resurrection and the promise of eternal happiness with God and the communion of saints.

Those are the big picture reasons for living in an upbeat, positive manner. Throughout our lives we also experience countless smaller reasons for this stance of gratitude and hope. In the Diocese of St. Cloud one of those is the 18 years of leadership we have received from Bishop John Kinney.

Among the many reasons to thank Bishop Kinney is his leadership on issues of justice. In our diocese and beyond he is respected for addressing unpopular issues where silence could not be an option.

Here in Minnesota members of the interfaith Joint Religious Legislative Coalition still comment on his testimony against re-establishing the death penalty in Minnesota. As a member of the U.S. Bishops’ committee on clergy sexual abuse in the 1990s he spoke out prophetically about the hierarchy’s need to address the issue of sexual abuse.

A teacher of social justice

Here at home he gave us two social justice pastoral letters that connected Catholic social teachings to topics in central Minnesota.

“As I Have Done for You . . .” (1998) addressed the growing diversity within our diocese as well as challenges facing the elderly and youth, farmers and minority groups, persons living with HIV/AIDS, rural communities and people living in poverty.

That statement reminds us: “Acts of charity, helping people meet their immediate needs is a necessary way of living out our faith. It is a test of our faith. But it is not enough!

“While charity is essential, it is not a sufficient response to the poor and the needy within our diocese or anywhere else. Our faith calls us to work for justice” (p. 22).

To that end, Bishop Kinney called on every parish to initiate some effort in social ministry, an effort that the Social Concerns Department within Catholic Charities is promoting.

In their document, “Justice for All,” the 1971 World Synod of Bishops made the point that the church must speak out against injustices anywhere. It must utter prophetic denunciations of anything that contradicts the love and unity of the human family (36).

Bishop Kinney’s message in “As I Have Done for You . . .” speaks also to this mission of the church, of every local parish. “The Church does not exist for itself. It lives to proclaim Jesus Christ to the world. It does this through preaching and teaching, and through acts of justice and mercy in the world” (p. 35). What a beautiful and hopeful message. We have a job to do.

In his second pastoral letter on these topics, “. . . So You Also Should Do” (2011), Bishop Kinney gratefully acknowledges that people from central Minnesota are generous and willing to help one another. But, he adds, we could do more — as individuals and as parishes. One of the ways to improve, he suggests, is to know what our church’s social teachings call us to do. There he repeats a statement from the full body of bishops, “Sharing Catholic Social Teachings” (1998): “If Catholic education and formation fail to communicate our social tradition, they are not fully Catholic” (p. 2).

We can be grateful to Bishop Kinney and his years of leadership in our diocese. We can be thankful especially for his willingness to teach and model the Gospel call to love our neighbor through acts of charity and justice.

And now we look ahead to being church under the leadership of Bishop Donald Kettler. Indeed, we have good reasons to be thankful and hopeful!

Bernie Evans holds the Virgil Michel Ecumenical Chair in Rural Social Ministries at St. John’s University School of Theology/Seminary in Collegeville. Contact him at bevans@csbsju.edu.