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vol, 9
no. 45

Oblate Father Tom Singer realized it only took a little give and take...to give!
         Last Friday's editorial entitled "A tale of two heretics: One was lost and now is found, the other is found to be lost!" dealt primarily with the lost one - a Fr. Paul Collins from Australia. Today, we'd like to, talk about the "one who was lost and how he was found." That, of course would be Oblate theologian Father Tissa Balasuriya, OMI who had been excommunicated by the Vatican on January 2, 1997 under the charge of heresy via the Congregation of the Doctrine for the Faith headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. On January 15, 1998 just over a year after living through the void of not being able to celebrate Holy Mass, let alone receive the sacraments, Fr. Tissa was embraced in love by Holy Mother Church and readmitted with all faculties reinstated. This surprisingly quick turn-around is almost unprecedented in modern ecclesial annals, but it was the Nike attitude of a special American priest who said, "Just do it!" that opened the door for total reconciliation. That priest is Father Tom Singer, OMI who was recommended by the United States General Counselor Father Ray Caringnan, OMI to the Superior General Father Marcello Zago, OMI headquartered at the Oblate General House in Rome just around the corner and up the hill from Saint Peter's. In fact it's often been said that if Fr. Zago stands on his balcony above the Vatican he can wave to the Holy Father if John Paul II is standing on his private residence balcony facing toward the square. Anyway, Fr. Tom was suggested as the go-between - the facilitator between Rome and Fr. Tissa. It is documented fact that relations between the curia and Fr. Tissa contributed heavily to his receiving the bell, book and candle last January. Enter Fr. Tom, an expert at facilitating from his early days as professor at St. Henry's Seminary in Belleville, Illinois and his work as head of one of the nation's largest shrines - Our Lady of Snows, also in Belleville. In fact, this editor can remember Fr. Tom back in the early sixties when he gave a retreat. Talking to him earlier today (yesterday) he couldn't remember when and yours truly can't recall the year either, but a dog-eared pocket retreat booklet in which I took profidious notes during the three day retreat at Our Lady of the Ozarks in Carthage, Missouri attests to it. The problem is "sometimers" - as opposed to Alheimers - has set in and though I can see the notes and Fr. Tom's name as clear as day, I can't remember which box it's packed in and to subject my family to help in a search through a garage of boxes stacked nine feet tall and eight feet deep just wouldn't be fair. But I do remember many of the tenets he conveyed in those days of yesteryear which have served this editor well over the years. Be that as it may, I also remember his prowess for basketball. He coached the seminarians at St. Henry's and our coach Father Bob Eimer, OMI - forever a diehard Cubs fan - went one-on-one in the OLO gym which drew quite a crowd. Fr. Bob's forte was the outside set shot, Fr. Tom's the inside game. And it was his inside game that performed what many call a "miracle" - bringing Fr. Tissa back into the fold.

         This involved the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, the same Religious Order whose founder was canonized two years ago - Saint Eugene de Mazenod, bishop and religious founder. The word "Oblate" means to offer up, devote, dedicate. This is what Fr. Tom did, offering up his time, devoting his talents and dedicating his prayers and efforts to reuniting Fr. Tissa with Rome. It was an accomplishment worthy of comparisons with many great Church fathers throughout history. The reason Fr. Tom was called in dates back to the early nineties. Fr. Balasuriya first got in "foul trouble" when the Center for Society and Religion, to which he was affiliated in Sri Lanka, printed well over 500 copies of a book he had authored entitled "Mary and Human Liberation." The first to blow the whistle were the bishops of Sri Lanka who officially condemned the book in 1994. They based their conclusion on the fact it diluted Catholic doctrine, specifically on Original Sin and the Divinity of Jesus. Fr. Tissa, rather than complying at the time, remained obstinate and that caused the prelates to call a technical by turning it over to Rome. Once Cardinal Ratzinger's office had studied Fr. Balasuriya's work, they concurred that he should be "placed on the bench" so to speak. When they approached Fr. Tissa through the bishops, he was upset and confused. He bolted the playing floor and Rome followed in early 1997 with total ejection from the "game" telling him to hand in his "uniform." During all of this Fr. Zago had been thrown into the middle which was only natural since he was Fr. Tissa's highest superior. The Oblate Superior General tried to warn Fr. Tissa of the consequences but feelings had been hurt and Fr. Tissa was in no mood to compromise. He took the punishment bitterly and many thought he was washed up as a priest, let alone a theologian. As things seemingly died down after the storm, and just months after the Vatican released the Instructions on dealing with theologians and possible heresies, Fr. Zago sought to bring in a new "coach" who could not only reach Fr. Tissa, but neutralize the hard feelings within the Holy See. Enter "scout" Fr. Caringnan who recommended "coach" Fr. Tom. The General House called Fr. Tom in early January at the Central Provincial Headquarters in St. Paul, Minnesota where he is Vicar Provincial. It just so happened that Fr. Tom had blocked out two weeks in January to spend with his family but it fell through. Within days the call came from Rome. "I told them I'd get back to them in twenty four hours, but after hanging up I knew within a few hours I would do it. I mean I already had the two week hole, I couldn't say no," quipped Fr. Tom on the phone yesterday. Yes, God works in strange and mysterious ways and though He closed a door for Fr. Tom to be with family, He opened a wider door for a family member in greater need - Fr. Tissa. By the second week Fr. Tom had left the frozen tundra of the Twin Cities for the warm climes of Sri Lanka, a former British stronghold where English customs die hard. One of those customs is "tea time" and Fr. Tom likened it to a "cooling off period" - like taking a time-out on the hardwood to regroup, to plan new plays and strategy and to encourage the team. With his basketball acumen he deftly scouted Fr. Tissa the first few days and finally made a breakthrough when the latter realized Fr. Tom was on his side. Once this was established Fr. Tissa was a pushover on most fronts for re-establishing communication with Rome and the application for reinstatement. As the days extended to nearly a week, it was nip and tuck for a while as Fr. Balasuriya, still gunshy, balked at times. After all, hurt feelings take a while to heal. But Fr. Tom, who may have used his cage instincts to coach the lost Oblate sheep, had to have some healing power in his repertoire as well. But he'll attribute it to prayer for that is the only true way to healing. Through his gentle, but firm manner he was able to break down the walls between Rome and this Sri Lankan outcast. A curia, thought by Fr. Tissa to be merciless and cruel, extended mercy and love. It was reciprocated. Pouring over terms and his work for hours and hours, it was tiring but in the end very, very rewarding. Fr. Zago was delightfully surprised, exclaiming "What seemed impossible actually happened!" But Fr. Tom credits prayer and common sense in letting cooler heads prevail. With all respect to Rome and the offices within the Holy See, Fr. Tom did not take the superior attitude with Fr. Tissa but rather the "I'm here to help you" and "there's gotta be a way to resolve this" approach. Conversely, he didn't compromise over the fact that Fr. Tissa had to compromise if he had any hope for being reinstated and this blight of anathema taken away. But through it all, beginning with the plane trip to Sri Lanka Fr. Tom was aware that the whole matter had been handled wrongly, whether because of personalities or because of something else, Fr. Tissa had not had the opportunity to address the Vatican directly. This had caused the Sri Lankan to lash out in self-defense that just deteriorated the situation. But Fr. Tom sought a new approach and through his "you-catch-more-flies-with-honey-than-vinegar" policy he was able to soften the forces on both sides where, after six grueling days both parties came to an amiable solution that allowed Fr. Tissa back into the full graces of Holy Mother Church and his Order. Fr. Tom doesn't want to take the credit for he is quick to point out there were numerous other Oblates involved and in attendance, but those close to the scene credit Fr. Tom Singer with effecting this turnaround.

         On the Ides of January Fr. Tom accompanied Fr. Balasuriya to the Colombo, Sri Lanka residence of Archbishop Nicholas Fernando where a "decree of reconciliation" had been prepared. Fr. Tom presented the final draft of Fr. Balasuriya's statement, the ninth one they had hashed out in fine-tuning everything. With his statement were two from the Vatican in which all parties signed. In addition Fr. Tissa read the profession of faith - the one authored by Pope Paul VI which the Vatican had refused last year, but consented to this year. When it was all said and done, looking back, Fr. Tom could see the merits of the "give and go" for as Fr. Tissa drove for the goal of reconciliation Oblate Father Tom Singer realized it only took a little give and take...to give!

Michael Cain, editor

March 4, 1998       volume 9, no. 45
Today's Catholic Pewpoint Editorial

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