Reaching 10th episcopal ordination anniversary, bishop sees community, evangelization, as ‘core’ to Church’s identity
BY ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD, THE WESTERN KENTUCKY CATHOLIC
When Bishop William F. Medley was a pastor serving in the Archdiocese of Louisville many years ago, he never “concretely thought of ever being anything but a parish priest,” said the bishop in a Jan. 13, 2020 interview with The Western Kentucky Catholic.
But on Feb. 10, 2020, Bishop Medley will have served as bishop of the Diocese of Owensboro for 10 years.
Bishop Medley told the WKC that his favorite part of being a bishop has always involved people.
People, “whose lives intersected with mine and that I was privileged to know,” said Bishop Medley. He said that at the top of this list would be the late Bishop John J. McRaith, who retired as the third bishop of the diocese in 2009, and died in 2017.
Bishop Medley highlighted the kindness and the guidance he received from his predecessor.
“I keep deep in my heart the gratitude for the welcome that he showed me, and the joy he showed me, and the quiet support that he always gave me,” said Bishop Medley.
The bishop also counted among those impactful people the late Sr. Joseph Angela Boone, OSU – the diocese’s chancellor and CFO when he arrived in Owensboro in 2010.
He also included “people I may have known a very, very brief time, but I heard part of their story, and their story is so focal and central to the whole history of the Church in the Diocese of Owensboro, that I remember them.”
Gathering as community
Bishop Medley said he has a special love for diocesan-wide celebrations – those which bring “people of the diocese together.”
He said events that “celebrate who we are and what we are, are great experiences.”
“I’ve been privileged to celebrate the sacrament of Holy Orders with both deacons and priests,” said the bishop. “And to recognize in those moments that I’ve become a part of the Gospel ministry of our deacons, and the Gospel and liturgical ministry of our priests, in every event, is very special as well.”
To date, Bishop Medley has ordained 11 diocesan priests and 39 permanent deacons for the diocese.
And after 10 years, the bishop estimated that he had celebrated the Sacrament of Confirmation approximately 300 times, or 30-35 times a year, having then confirmed around 4,000 young people.
And yet, “I still look forward to Confirmations,” he said with a smile.
The bishop said that to this day, he looks forward to meeting with the groups of youth before the Confirmation Mass and reading all of the letters they write to him prior to Confirmation.
Withstanding the crisis
The bishop said that sadly, one element in the past 10 years that has surprised him the most has been “the enduring saga of the Church dealing with the aftermath of what’s been exposed about the sexual abuse crisis – nationally, internationally, and locally.”
Any time the issue raises its head and needs to be confronted again, the bishop said he offers a quiet prayer that maybe, this time, the Church will turn a corner, “and we’ll have fixed it.”
“I do believe with all my heart that the Church on all those levels locally, nationally and internationally is doing so much better,” said Bishop Medley. “We’re doing what we need to do to protect children.”
“But,” he added, “the wounds that we continue to heal, continue to surface. And not just from victims… we continue to hear from the children of victims, maybe even the grandchildren, whose lives and family structures were altered by something that horrific.”
He said that 10 years ago, he would have believed that there would be a point “where we turned the page… And I don’t believe that anymore.”
“I hope that that means that we are still being instruments of healing,” he said. “And that we have resolved the inattention, the negligence, that brought those tragedies about. So it’s good news and bad news.”
Carrying the Gospel
Referencing the last several popes, Bishop Medley emphasized the ongoing message from them that “we need to have a new Pentecost.”
“We, especially in the West, have grown so comfortable with our Church, that it’s something we do for an hour on Sunday,” said the bishop.
He said that now, the Church in the West is “reaping the benefit” of this mindset “when we see one generation after another each becoming a little bit less connected to the Church, less connected to its mission, less connected to its prayer.”
Yet, that is not being seen internationally, said Bishop Medley. He pointed out that this is the opposite of what is happening in locations like India, Africa and Southeast Asia – “where the Church is growing and thriving.”
Instead of repeatedly asking “what do we do?” the bishop said the Church in the West can “go back to St. John Paul II’s concept of a New Evangelization, and keep asking what can work in our culture and in our day and in our time.”
He mentioned the reality of today’s media-saturated culture, “with so many things that distract from the Gospel message – and in a culture that is represented by a media that oftentimes is hostile to the Good News.”
The bishop said that amid ideas and plans to combat this situation, it always “comes back to the Gospel: go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
Following the Works of Mercy is also essential, he explained: “Feed the hungry. Give shelter to the homeless. Give drink to the thirsty. Welcome the migrant and the stranger.”
“All those things are core to what we are,” said Bishop Medley.
Eucharist as Source
Speaking generally to the people of his diocese, Bishop Medley stated that, “we’re going to find our way, or re-find our way, or re-focus our way, at the table of the Eucharist.”
“And so, to continue to be steadfast, and faithful, to coming to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, celebrate Mass every Sunday with the community,” he said.
He acknowledged peoples’ concerns – young and old alike – that perhaps Mass feels boring, or they dislike the music selection.
“Well, that’s important; we need to talk about that,” he said. “But still: when we as a people put bread and wine
on a table, and the priest who stands in the place of Christ prays with the community, we believe that God acts, that that bread and that wine becomes the Body and Blood of Christ.”
The bishop explained that the Church has called the Eucharist “the Source and Summit of Christian life, and if we’re not eating and drinking from that Source, then we can’t do all those other things in the world.”
“We can’t make our families holy, we can’t transform society, if we don’t find that focal place,” he said.
Originally printed in the February 2020 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.
Copyright © 2020 Diocese of Owensboro/The Western Kentucky Catholic