SIOUX CITY, Iowa, OCT. 19, 2009 ( Trying to engage the world but forgetting what is distinctively Catholic has "wreaked havoc on the Church," according to the bishop of Sioux City, Iowa.

This is the claim made by Bishop R. Walker Nickless in his first pastoral letter, "Ecclesia Semper Reformanda" (The Church is Always in Need of Renewal). The document was published last Thursday.

In his letter, the prelate reflected on the Second Vatican Council, something he called the "greatest gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church in centuries."

But, he said, citing Benedict XVI, the "implementation of the council has been difficult and is not complete."

Rival camps on how to interpret the council have "weakened our identity and mission," Bishop Nickless affirmed.

He affirmed: "It is crucial that we all grasp that the hermeneutic or interpretation of discontinuity or rupture, which many think is the settled and even official position, is not the true meaning of the council. This interpretation sees the pre- conciliar and post-conciliar Church almost as two different churches.

"It sees the Second Vatican Council as a radical break with the past. There can be no split, however, between the Church and her faith before and after the Council. We must stop speaking of the 'Pre-Vatican II' and 'Post-Vatican II' Church, and stop seeing various characteristics of the Church as 'pre' and 'post' Vatican II.

"Instead, we must evaluate them according to their intrinsic value and pastoral effectiveness in this day and age."

Moving on

With this backdrop, Bishop Nickless unfolded a five-point pastoral plan for his diocese.

The first priority, he said, is renewing "our reverence, love, adoration and devotion to the Most Blessed Sacrament, within and outside of Mass."

Next, he said, "[w]e must strengthen catechesis on every level, beginning with and focusing on adults."

"If we, who are supposed to be mature in faith, do not know the Catholic Faith well, how can we live it and impart it to our children and future generations of Catholics?" the prelate questioned.

Points one and two, the bishop maintained, will lead to making point three possible -- holy Christian families.

"We need holy families, lest the Church and the world perish," he wrote.

"We have a grave responsibility to build up and nurture holy families in our midst," the bishop continued. "We must do so by strengthening their Catholic faith, identity, and culture through the above pastoral priorities, but also by sustained preaching and well-crafted pastoral ministry programs. We must give concrete help against the corrosive effects of pre-marital promiscuity, cohabitation, contraception and abortion, pornography industry, easily executed divorce, and infidelity.

"But we must also guard against and equip families to resist the breakdown of the family that sometimes happens through over activity, the domination of communication technologies and novelties, and the cult of fun and entertainment, to name just a few dangers."

A fourth pastoral priority flows directly from the third, Bishop Nickless stated: vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated life.

"The lack of vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life is not a mystery; it is precisely a crisis of faith," he said. "Where Catholic faith and life flourish, vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life also flourish."

Finally, the Iowa prelate pointed to the Church's missionary character.

"Our discipleship of Jesus will always be imperfect and incomplete if we fail to preach the Gospel," he wrote. "Moreover, our faith will wither and die if we do not embrace our call to be apostles. The Church is inherently missionary. Sharing our faith is an intrinsic duty of charity. Each in different ways and according our own circumstances and abilities, we must all be evangelists."


In the conclusion of his pastoral letter, Bishop Nickless makes a call to renunciation.

He wrote: "My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in the time I have been among you I have learned how admirably strong is the faith to which you cling, yet how far it is from the 'fullness of faith' to which we are called by our loving Savior. We truly need today those 'great acts of renunciation' for the sake of Christ: not so much renunciation of our material things, as of our false attachments to both material and spiritual things."

Bishop Nickless offered a selection of examples calling for renunciation.

"In order to strengthen our devotion to Christ in the Holy Eucharist and worship God rightly, we need to renounce any attachment to how we worship currently," he said. "To improve the spiritual depth of how we perform the Church’s liturgy, we will need to renounce attachment to worldly expectations and long-standing habits. To spend more time adoring Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, we need to renounce attachment to how we currently use our time.

"To deepen our intimate love for God in our hearts and heads, we need to renounce attachment to whatever is not God that is filling our hearts and heads. To live in more intentional and holy Catholic families, we need to renounce attachment to distractions, sins, and imperfections that harm our domestic churches."

Finally, the bishop affirmed, "To accept the divine plan God has for each of us, we need to renounce attachment to our own plans. To change the world for Christ, we need to renounce attachment to how we want the world to be for ourselves."

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On the Net:

Full text of Bishop Nickless' letter: