Got news? That new bishop from Baltimore

For the past week or so, I have been searching the website of The Baltimore Sun trying to figure out whether the editors there know anything about the existence of Father F. Richard Spencer.

So far, as best I can tell as a reader (and as a search-engine user), the answer appears to be, “No.”

This is a shame, since it appears that this Catholic priest from Baltimore is a really interesting fellow.

Also, in a few moments, he will be installed — the rite starts at 2 p.m., at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. — as the new auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese for U.S. Military Services. The office of Pope Benedict XVI made the announcement recently, which led to a major story in The Catholic Review, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

So, a local priest becomes a bishop. That’s a story.

A local priest who is a military chaplain becomes a bishop who continues to work with military chaplains, in an era in which military chaplains are increasingly controversial. That’s a story.

Then there is the issue of this chaplain’s performance under fire, on a Good Friday, no less. Here is the top of the Catholic Review story.

On one of the bloodiest days of the Iraq War — April 9, 2004 — Father F. Richard Spencer became the link between this world and the next for many of the mortally wounded.

Insurgents had attacked a large convoy of gas trucks that Good Friday, firing multiple mortar rounds at a United States base on the outskirts of Baghdad International Airport. Father Spencer, a U.S. Army military chaplain, administered the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick and prayed with men and women whose faces wore what he remembered as glazed looks of shock and disbelief.

“In the moment, you do your prayers, then move to the next situation, because it’s continuous chaos,” said Father Spencer, then attached to the Army’s 1st Calvary Division.

“You just offered prayers that they would see the face of God that very day and you trust and hope,” he said. “We had both Iraqis and Americans die. I didn’t know who was Muslim or who was Christian — but they all got a prayer.”

Once Father Spencer and his soldiers made it into a concrete bomb shelter, he stood on a trash can and offered general absolution as the shelling continued.

“It was a life-changing day for me,” he remembered. “Our men and women in uniform are able to face hardships and they’re trained to make good decisions in the midst of chaos. Their resiliency is inspiring.”

So what happens now, for this Baltimore priest-turned-bishop? He’s going back to the front.

Remaining on active duty, the Alabama native will become the first auxiliary bishop for the U.S. military archdiocese able to enter war zones. He will have unprecedented access to military personnel serving in most difficult circumstances.

Sounds like a story to me. Especially in light of his role at the Pentagon in the wake of Sept. 11. That was in the Catholic newspaper story, too.

Let’s hope that the Sun has a reporter and photographer in route to the basilica, even as I type this.

I’ll check the newspaper, again, tomorrow.

Photo: The Catholic Review Online

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://bullmoosegal.blogspot.com bullmoosegal

    Several friends & colleagues met Father Spencer that day. All of them, Christians of several denominations and two agnostics, hold him in highest regard. He was their link to sanity and forgiveness.

  • Mark

    If he was a woman there would have been more coverage in the local press! :)

  • Julia Duin

    I wandered into his ordination service totally by accident today – was visiting the basilica and wondered what the service upstairs was all about and sure enough, there was knights of Columbus all over the place and the new bishop-to-be standing in front of Archbp. Broglio just before the homily. Gorgeous music. This was not only a Baltimore story, it was a Washington story in that the military archdiocese HQ was walking distance from the basilica in Northeast DC. I’d interviewed Broglio 1-2 years ago and even then he said he was overworked and petitioning the Vatican for an extra bishop to help out. He got his wish. Anyway, didn’t see this mentioned in the DC media either.

  • Julia

    Picky, picky point:

    I wandered into his ordination service

    He was already ordained as a priest.

    This was a consecration of a bishop.

    I’ve sung for about 4 of these now or I might have known the difference either.

  • Julia

    - or I might not have known …….

  • http://www.samueljhoward.us Samuel J. Howard

    “Remaining on active duty, the Alabama native will become the first auxiliary bishop for the U.S. military archdiocese able to enter war zones.”

    Yeah, that’s a rather limited and somewhat misleading claim I think. It’s true that no auxiliary bishop for the military archdiocese has been in such a position, but U.S. Bishops with jurisdiction over the military have previously traveled to war zones. It seems Cardinal Spellman did so in World War II, Korea and Vietnam while he was Apostolic Vicar for the Military Services.

  • Julia Duin

    Actually, Julia #2, I’ve been lectured at by people who’ve told me the right word is “ordained,” NOT “consecrated.” I believe both are OK.

  • Passing By

    Anglicans “consecrate” their bishops. Poking around Rocco’s place, the term for Catholics bishops seems to be “ordained”. Our diocesan website also has Bishop Vann “ordained” in 2005.

    Note also, it’s the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth.
    :-)

  • http://eclecticmeanderings.blogspot.com/ Hank

    Remaining on active duty, the Alabama native will become the first auxiliary bishop for the U.S. military archdiocese able to enter war zones. He will have unprecedented access to military personnel serving in most difficult circumstances.

    Actually, this not is not a first.

    Cardinal O’Conner of New York was a Navy Chaplin and consecrated as an Auxiliary Bishop for the Military Services while still on active duty.

    More information.

    New story form the chapoins pageg at the US Army web site.

  • BC

    The proper term is “ordained.” Catholics ordain to the diaconate, to the priesthood, and to the episcopacy.