Archbishop-designate Paul S. Coakley answered several questions about ministry and his future role as leader of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City:
Q: What are some of the things you've learned about Oklahoma City?
A: I've been reading a lot, history books and things of that sort. I've learned a lot about the opening of Indian Territory, about the background of Oklahoma and Oklahoma City itself. I've learned that it's an ethnically, racially, culturally diverse community. I have a lot more to learn. I'm trying to come in with a very positive appreciation for the richness of the community. I know the city of Oklahoma has been through a lot with the bombing back in 1995, that there's been a great deal of rebounding, growth and development since then.
Q: Do you know what you will be doing those first few weeks as archbishop?
A: Not specifically. I've made arrangements to meet with all of my various department heads and the archdiocesan staff in the first week. I would like to get around as quickly as I can to the parishes and the Catholic institutions around the archdiocese. One of the things that is to my advantage is the time of year I'm coming is the time of year we celebrate the sacrament of confirmation, which will take me around the archdiocese pretty quickly. I'll use those visits to get acquainted with the parishes.
Q: The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City is planning to close a church in Enid in June due to a shortage of priests. How will you deal with the shortage of priests?
A: We have faced shortages of priests here in this (Salina) diocese also so that won't be an altogether new experience. But certainly I think as an archdiocese, as a church, we need to continue to focus a lot of our attention on cultivation and promotion of the vocation of the priesthood. That has been my approach here. Also, we have in this diocese, a number of priests from other countries who come to serve short-term as missionaries. And I know Archbishop Beltran has relied on priests from other countries, so I'm sure in the short term we will do that. I will continue to work hard to really foster a culture that is favorable to vocations in our families, parishes and schools.
Q: Several years ago, Archbishop Beltran encouraged archdiocesan parishes to offer Spanish Masses due to the heavy influx of Hispanics to Oklahoma. Is this an idea that you support?
A: I'll know better when I arrive in Oklahoma City, but there's no denying that for much of our country, there is a great influx of Spanish-speaking people and a great majority of them are Catholic. We have an obligation to offer pastoral ministry to them. In generations past, we've had to adapt to various waves of immigrants, so I think that this is just part of our American experience and it's part of our Catholic experience, as well — welcoming them and providing pastoral care for them.
Q: Some parishes, perhaps unfamiliar with other cultures, may not welcome the addition of a Spanish Mass. How would you deal with that type of response from parishioners?
A: I think we need to spend time preparing people, for one thing, for that type of change in the life of their parish. So education, formation, preparation, I think is very, very important. I would want to make sure that anytime there was going to be something new in a parish that people understood the reasoning and the need so that we can avoid any potential hard feelings and misunderstandings. We are uncomfortable with what's new and different. It's something happening all over the country.
Q: The number of people ascribing to organized religion in the United States has declined in recent years as more people opt for nondenominational churches or forgo church services altogether. In your opinion, what are some ways this decline can be halted?
A: The mission of the church is to evangelize. It's to proclaim the Gospel, to bring the good news to an unbelieving world. That's always been the church's mission. There are new challenges today that make proclaiming the gospel more difficult. Our culture has become increasingly secularized so I think we have to come up with new avenues, new language. It's not that the gospel changes. We have to find new ways to share it. For example, using social networking more effectively. I think that's something that we really need to utilize, especially with our young people, but not just young people. I refer to this whole new thrust as the ‘new evangelization.'
AT A GLANCE
Paul S. Coakley
Hometown: Norfolk, Va.
Education: University of Kansas, bachelor's degree in English and classical antiquities, 1977; St. Pius X Seminary, Erlanger, Ky., pre-theology, 1979; Mount St. Mary's Seminary, Emmitsburg, Md., master of arts, master of divinity, theology, 1983; Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome, Christian spirituality, 1987.
Personal: Parents John Coakley Jr. and Mary Coakley (deceased), Overland Park, Kan.; brother, John Coakley III., Merriam, Kan.; sister, Mary Christina
Hobbies: Bicycling, running, reading.