July 28, 2017

Archbishop’s words offer look into his heart, leadership

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson speaks during a press conference on June 13 at the Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara Catholic Center in Indianapolis. Earlier in the day, Pope Francis had named the Evansville, Ind., bishop as the seventh archbishop of Indianapolis, succeeding Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, who was appointed to lead the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J., last November. (File photo by Sean Gallagher)

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson speaks during a press conference on June 13 at the Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara Catholic Center in Indianapolis. Earlier in the day, Pope Francis had named the Evansville, Ind., bishop as the seventh archbishop of Indianapolis, succeeding Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, who was appointed to lead the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J., last November. (File photo by Sean Gallagher)

By John Shaughnessy

In a one-on-one interview with The Criterion, Archbishop Charles C. Thompson shared his thoughts and insights on a wide range of topics, from his tendencies for collaboration and self-effacing humor to his views on women and diversity in the Church.

Through his words, the 56-year-old Archbishop Thompson also offers a glimpse into his heart, his personality, and the qualities and perspectives that will guide him as the new spiritual leader of the Church in central and southern Indiana.

His humor, humility and commitment to dialogue and collaboration

“When you’re my size, you’d better be humble or you’ll be humbled. I’m always in awe of the people I’ve worked with over the years. I’ve got an incredible family. I’ve got incredible brother priests, deacons, lay people I’ve worked with over the years. I’m always humbled by wonderful, holy, brilliant men and women in the Church.

“The dialogue is necessary because no one person can do this on their own. For me to think I’m a Lone Ranger and that I can lead a parish let alone a diocese without collaboration, without working with others, I do damage to myself and the Church. So I think it’s necessary for us to form that vision together and walk together. Pope Francis, I love his word, ‘accompaniment’—that notion of a culture of encounter, that connectedness and that missionary discipleship.”

Importance of marriage and family to his ministry

“It’s at the center of my experience growing up. And it’s certainly a key concern for our Church today. Marriage and family is the fabric of stability in our society. As the family goes, society goes. The family is where we first learn love, mercy, forgiveness, respect, care for others, the faith.

“And our Church has long taught that parents are the first and foremost educators of our children. So it’s at the core of everything that we’re about in evangelization and catechesis, and growing as a community of faith. We say the Church is the family of families.”

Role of young people in the Church

“First, we have to recognize them as the Church of today. It’s not the future Church. They’re the young Church of today. And to treat them as such.

“Young people have to be at the table. People ask me, ‘What’s the vision of the diocese?’ They’ve got to be part of that dialogue. They’ve got to be part of forming that vision. And to be relevant, authentic and credible to them—to speak honestly and transparently, but to speak to the things they’re dealing with and facing.

“On the other side, the young people have to be willing to be engaged, to be a part of that Church. It’s not just what the Church can do for me, but what can I do to be part of that mission.”

Catholic education

“I was the chaplain of three different Catholic high schools. I loved that ministry. It was always energizing and refreshing. If I was having a bad day, I’d just go over there, and they would pick me up, inspire me and renew my spirit.

“Both in the Archdiocese of Louisville and in the Diocese of Evansville, I’ve been with very strong Catholic school systems. As a result of that, you see the value of Catholic schools and Catholic education, not only on our Church, but on our community, upon our society. The schools are not only striving to produce good members of the Church, we’re striving to produce good citizens. It’s the holistic approach of mind, body and spirit.”

Diversity in the Church

“My understanding is that when St. John Paul II began World Youth Day, he began it because he wanted young people to experience the universality of the Church—to experience the richness of cultures and languages, and all the beauty of the Church beyond one’s own backdoor, one’s own parish, and one’s own diocese. Just that richness of the diversity.

“It’s the same thing here with immigrants and refugees and migrants. Pope Francis also says in ‘The Joy of the Gospel,’ in serving the poor, don’t think about what we’re giving them, but how we listen to them and allow them to touch us. With immigrants and refugees and migrants, how do we let them touch us? How do we allow them to bring the richness of their culture and languages to our communities as well?”

Women in the Church

“My maternal grandmother was very much the matriarch of the family. She was admired by everyone in the town and the county. So I grew up with the sense of how important that woman was to the family, to the life of our relationships.

“I think that without even realizing it very early on, I was given that sense of deep regard for what women bring to faith and to leadership and to family—and to every aspect of our lives.

“Most people I’ve worked with over my now 30 years of priesthood have been women. Women bring a whole different tone or witness to any different group or any different situation. That’s necessary. That’s so important.”

Care for the poor

“When Jesus asks, ‘What is the greatest commandment?’ he says, ‘Love God with all your heart.’ Second is. ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Pope Francis is telling us to go to the margins and the peripheries. If we go to the margins and the peripheries, then we touch everyone in between. It means leaving nobody behind.”

The challenge of leading a geographically large archdiocese

“I’ve lived in the rural, I’ve lived in the suburbs, I’ve done ministry in the inner-city as well as the suburbs as well as rural. So I’ve had a little bit of everything. In my experience as a pastor and as a bishop, it’s amazing to me that in a crisis what rises to the top is the faith—the incredible faith of people. There’s love for the Church and Jesus Christ.”

His need for prayers—and patience

“Pray for me that I’m first and foremost the one who listens to the Holy Spirit. And if I can’t listen to the Spirit, that I’ll at least know how to get out of the way of the Spirit, for the sake of the people I serve.

“I plead for prayers—and patience. I assure you I will make mistakes, and hopefully I’ll have the ability to recognize them at some point, reconcile them and move forward. I’m happy to be here.” †

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