Father George William Rutler

I was shocked when I read that Cardinal Dolan was transferring Father George W. Rutler from his assignment as Pastor of the Church of Our Savior on Fifth Avenue in New York City to be Pastor of Saint Michael Church close to Pennsylvania Station in the area known as “Hell’s Kitchen.”  It was the area of New York so graphically portrayed in the movie, Gangs of New York.”   I have been to both churches and I have actually stayed at the rectory of Saint Michael.  The two parishes are as different as night and day.   The transfer seemed to me to be a huge mistake, given the unique personality and pastoral ministry style of Father Rutler.

However, in both the Diocese of Pennsacola-Tallahassee and the Diocese of Corpus Christi I had introduced a tenure policy for pastors that gave them the opportunity to move at the end of six years (their choice) and required them to move at the end of twelve years.  Since Father Rutler has been at the Church of Our Savior for twelve years I can hardly fault Cardinal Dolan, however I have always believed that there have to be exceptions to a tenure policy either for the good of the people of the parish or the good of the priest himself.  Perhaps the transfer of Father Rutler qualified to be one of the rare exceptions to a tenure policy.

Of one thing I am certain, Father Rutler’s farewell to the parishoners at the Church of Our Savior can serve as a wonderful model for every priest to address to his people when he is about to leave for a new assignment.  Here is Father Rutler’s farewell.

–   Abyssum


My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

At Noon on September 17, 2001, I became your Pastor, and at Noon on August 1 in this year of 2013 I relinquish that duty and move on to new work assigned to me by our Cardinal. At the farewell gathering so splendidly hosted by you, I was shown photographs from many events in those years. Of them all, I was especially drawn to the one of me in a safety helmet and covered with dust on the day our city was attacked, and thousands were killed at the World Trade Center. Although I had not yet officially become Pastor, I was in the process of moving in, and I was one of the many who were given water from canteens in front of our church. That beginning of my pastorate was in no metaphorical way a baptism by fire. God who brings good out of ill has since blessed us in countless ways, but Canon law does require some accounting. In those twelve years in our parish, 623 have been baptized into Christ, 433 have been united in Holy Matrimony, 79 have been blessed in death as they enter the larger life, and many others have been anointed in the hospitals.

Our Lord knows that 99 sheep are not enough if one more is lost. Since 2001 our flock has doubled, and there have been among them nearly a dozen who have been called to the priesthood. While I am the only priest in this parish, the visiting priests who assist in various ways have been a great support. I have heard in these twelve years possibly around 45 or 50 thousand confessions, and my fellow priests may have doubled that. No one save the angels in Heaven will know the wonderful graces that have been given in our confessionals, and that has been a chief joy to me, along with the priestly vocations of those fine young men who have been like sons to me. Our small parish staff have always been loyal, and those who help in other ways have graciously preferred to go unnamed. The volunteer faculty of our CCD classes, which have grown ten-fold, could more than match the finest of any school, and young people come from long distances for the Pre-Cana program which is unsurpassed for its sound teaching of the joy of true marriage. The holy Liturgy has been accompanied year after year by our music director and choir. The men and boys who are our altar servers have instinctively and happily followed the directives of the Holy See, shunning theatrics and the clericalization of the laity by the misuse of Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist as though they were ordinary. During the week I have been grateful for the service of Deacon Frank Orlando, who has recently been made director of formation for permanent deacons in the Archdiocese. Our lectors read the sacred lessons of God’s lively oracles with dignity, and even cut short their ballgames and surfing in the summer to do so.

The good people of our parish, along with our extended family far and wide, have sacrificed to change the financial situation of this parish. Twelve years ago we were burdened under millions of dollars of mortgage and other debts and costs for the repair of a building in which everything seemed to be collapsing at the same time. All that has been reversed, every penny of debt is paid, and the church has virtually been reconstructed, along with the installation of a new organ and many other improvements, renovations and fine art. Our Lord was not fortunate in the one he chose to hold the moneybag, but the same Lord mercifully sent me trustees whose selfless devotion in these challenging years will bring them a reward more than I can give. There may have been times when my concern about the dire financial situation of our church made me seem, in the vernacular expression, cheap. Part of me is Scottish, a people known to practice thrift to an heroic degree, and in recent years I have even been made chaplain to our city’s two leading Scottish societies. What once was owed is now matched by what is held in fixed funds for the maintenance of the church. The daily costs remain the responsibility of the people, in addition to our charitable and evangelical obligations, and I leave in the good hope that the results of the hard work of many will be preserved and stewardship will increase.

Perhaps someday if I am permitted repose, I shall read into the record the lessons I have learned from people. That would not be an exercise in flattery or criticism, both of which are unworthy of a Christian, but it would be advice for our children when they are grown. When I became Pastor of this parish, there were saints among us who guided me, and there were others who may become saints in a lengthier period beyond this world, but who did not make things easy for me. They were much tamer than Alexander the coppersmith (2 Timothy 4:14). I trust that in the future there will be no retreat to the old mistakes and abuses which have been addressed by our recent Popes.

I have grown to love St. Paul more and more, and part of that is because, just as he tried to explain the Gospel on Mars Hill in Athens, I have tried in a shamefully poorer way to do that here on Murray Hill in New York City. Since he is the saint that I am not, my only affinities with him are in his love of the Master, and his love for his people. That love was evident at Miletus when he said farewell to the elders he had summoned from Ephesus as he was embarking for Jerusalem. “And when he had spoke thus, he knelt down and prayed with them all. And they all wept and embraced Paul and kissed him, sorrowing most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they should see his face no more. And they brought him to the ship” (Acts 20:36-38). I am only going to the far west side of Manhattan and not to Jerusalem, and you may see me from time to time, and instead of boarding a ship I may be on the 34th Street bus. But I do kneel like him as I leave, with happy tears of thanks for having been among you.

Faithfully yours in Our Saviour,
Fr. George W. Rutler

About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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  1. Another disappointing act by Cardinal Dolan, illegal immigrant uber alles advocate that he is. I can barely stand it anymore. And I’m supposed to urge the young men into the seminary? With these “leaders”?

  2. abyssum says:

    I do not know Cardinal Dolan’s motives in transferring Father Rutler and so I cannot judge him. However, I just remembered something that seems to me more than a COINCIDENCE.

    A former pastor of Saint Michael Church in NYC was Father Murray, who was a famous labor priest who helped negotiate a settlement of a longshoremen’s strike in NYC. For some reason Cardinal Spellman had an intense dislike for Father Murray. When public pressure became too great for Cardinal Spellman to resist, he had to honor Father Murray by making him a monsignor. However, to take some of the glory off of Father Murray’s promotion, Cardinal Spellman at the same time made Father Murray’s parochial vicar at St. Michael Church, a priest who had done absolutely nothing to distinguish himself, a monsignor of the same grade as Father Murray. Needless to say, the intended insult was noted by many people and was a source of scandal that did nothing to enhance the reputation of Cardinal Spellman.

    I became aware of the incident when I was a guest in the rectory of Saint Michael Church back in the 1950’s.

    – Abyssum

  3. Curt Stoller says:

    It is sad when a priest suffers any kind of injustice especially if hidden motives may be involved. I notice that it is so easy to fall into the habit of using the standard of St. Thomas Aquinas to judge oneself [degrees of responsibility, extenuating circumstances, impediments to voluntariness, human weakness, ignorance, fear, mitigating factors and so on] while employing the standard of the Manicheans to judge others [rotten to the core, bad substantially or ontologically, no good, all bad, deserving of stigmatization and demonization and so on].

    This brings to mind the ancient practice where a merchant with long arms would use his arm to measure cloth bought while his brother with short arms would use his short arm to measure cloth sold. . . of the practice of having different sets of identical looking weights for buying and selling wheat. Jesus had something to say about that.

    Logic is not something for tired old philosophy professors. And it is not irrelevant to ethics. Oversimplification can be pernicious: The cells in the human body are invisible to the naked eye therefore the human body is invisible to the naked eye. False. Just because something is true of an aspect or part doesn’t make it true of the whole.

    Just a few minutes ago I witnessed a father cursing his son for picking his nose in Walmart and I thought of old Mani of Manichean fame. I can empathize with the father and yet equating nose picking with signing the order to wipe out the Jewish race from the face of the earth and succeeding in taking out 10,000,000 is not equal to nose picking. Not that I approve of public nose picking.

    I think it was Gabriel Marcel who said that we like to reduce beings to their overt manifestations in the manner of the Manicheans. He “done wrong” therefore “he is all bad” or he is ontologically evil or united to evil in some kind of Manichean hypostatic union. If evil is privation then the whole Manichean ontology sort of collapses. No offense to Mr. Mani, but he got it wrong.

    Labels are so convenient: He’s lazy. She’s easy. He’s weak. She’s ugly. He’s a bum. She’s no good. He’s a pervert. She’s scum. The copula “is” in these stigmatizations is not one of identity although the Manicheans who have had us believe so. We can “reduce” a human being to an abstract label and then take the label as more “real” than the person. Wasn’t that called “the fallacy of misplaced concreteness?” It is so easy to see sin in a Manichean sense especially when one is upset about something someone else has done: “I may be a sinner but not as bad as those poor devils and surely I have earned the right to look down on them.” The Roman Catholic Church isn’t a sect of high school clique.

    We can use every Thomistic distinction to qualify our own evils while employing Manichean categories to demonize others. The fact that the Catholic Church made St. Thomas and St. Bonaventure “Doctors of the Church” must mean, at least in part, that the Holy Spirit is more on the side of Scholastic readings of Holy Scripture than Manichean readings.

    It is always especially sad when priests or other clergy are demonized. Don’t get me started on the program to demonize priests! Even if a priest has made a mistake, I don’t think it is wise to say, like that Manicheans that he is therefore evil in all respects. Ignoring or discounting the positives in a human life is unfair. I think if a person is going to commit to the Manichean interpretation of Sacred Scripture [a terrible mistake in my book] he should at least have the decency to go whole hog and include himself. Trying to keep a Thomistic yardstick for oneself and a Manichean yardstick for others is slipperier than deer guts on a brass door knob in my fallible opinion.

    As we judge, so shall we be judged. The measure we use to judge others will be used to judge us.Just sayin’.

  4. Jean-Francois Orsini says:

    I had the pleasure of communicating with Fr. Rutler who, I discovered, is a convert from Anglicanism – the religion of my ex-wife who divorced me to return to it – and he speaks perfect French.

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