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Priests get thanks at renewal Mass

After a sometimes disheartening year in the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg, Bishop Robert N. Lynch gathered his priests Tuesday to thank them for their service _ and ask them to keep the faith.

"The people of this church are grateful to you. They trust you. They love you. And so do I," Lynch said during the annual Mass of Chrism at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle.

More than 100 priests were present to bless the sacramental oils and renew their commitment to the priesthood.

The Chrism Mass is an annual rite dating to the second century. But the service, part of the Holy Week celebration, had special significance this year, a trying one in which the diocese saw four priests resign amid scandal.

One priest revealed that he was married; one used church funds to pay hush money to a male lover; one had sexual contact with a minor, and one had what the church called "an episode of misconduct" with a child.

"When negative things happen, it kind of gets you down a little bit," said the Rev. Len Plazewski, parochial vicar at Corpus Christi Catholic Church in Temple Terrace. Plazewski and other priests said their morale was lifted by the Mass and by Lynch's words.

The Diocese of St. Petersburg serves 353,117 Roman Catholics in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties.

In the climax of the two-hour service, Lynch asked the priests whether they are "resolved to imitate Jesus Christ . . . by teaching the Christian faith without thinking of your own profit, solely for the well-being of the people." The priests responded in unison, "I am."

The priests also heard words of encouragement from Bishop Emeritus W. Thomas Larkin, who is celebrating the 50th anniversary of his ordination. He urged them to accept the teachings of the church, live humble, prayerful lives and support each other.

Larkin found a way to bring humor to the mostly solemn occasion. When Lynch was named bishop, he said, "I called him to congratulate him and tell him what a great little diocese this is, with hardly any problems."

The theme of the day was not strife, but renewal. Plazewski acknowledged that "a small few (priests) might have strayed," but said the church is strong, and most priests are conscientious. Taking the vows of priesthood is not unlike taking marriage vows, he said. "You can't just say "I do' on your wedding day, and that's it," he said. "You have to work at it."