For the past week or so, I have been searching the website of The Baltimore Sun trying to figure out whether the editors there know anything about the existence of Father F. Richard Spencer. So far, as best I can tell as a reader (and as a search-engine user), the answer appears to be, "No."
This is a shame, since it appears that this Catholic priest from Baltimore is a really interesting fellow.
Also, in a few moments, he will be installed -- the rite starts at 2 p.m., at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. -- as the new auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese for U.S. Military Services. The office of Pope Benedict XVI made the announcement recently, which led to a major story in The Catholic Review, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
So, a local priest becomes a bishop. That's a story.
A local priest who is a military chaplain becomes a bishop who continues to work with military chaplains, in an era in which military chaplains are increasingly controversial. That's a story.
Then there is the issue of this chaplain's performance under fire, on a Good Friday, no less. Here is the top of the Catholic Review story.
On one of the bloodiest days of the Iraq War -- April 9, 2004 -- Father F. Richard Spencer became the link between this world and the next for many of the mortally wounded.
Insurgents had attacked a large convoy of gas trucks that Good Friday, firing multiple mortar rounds at a United States base on the outskirts of Baghdad International Airport. Father Spencer, a U.S. Army military chaplain, administered the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick and prayed with men and women whose faces wore what he remembered as glazed looks of shock and disbelief.
"In the moment, you do your prayers, then move to the next situation, because it's continuous chaos," said Father Spencer, then attached to the Army's 1st Calvary Division.
"You just offered prayers that they would see the face of God that very day and you trust and hope," he said. "We had both Iraqis and Americans die. I didn't know who was Muslim or who was Christian -- but they all got a prayer."
Once Father Spencer and his soldiers made it into a concrete bomb shelter, he stood on a trash can and offered general absolution as the shelling continued.
"It was a life-changing day for me," he remembered. "Our men and women in uniform are able to face hardships and they're trained to make good decisions in the midst of chaos. Their resiliency is inspiring."
So what happens now, for this Baltimore priest-turned-bishop? He's going back to the front.
Remaining on active duty, the Alabama native will become the first auxiliary bishop for the U.S. military archdiocese able to enter war zones. He will have unprecedented access to military personnel serving in most difficult circumstances.
Sounds like a story to me. Especially in light of his role at the Pentagon in the wake of Sept. 11. That was in the Catholic newspaper story, too.
Let's hope that the Sun has a reporter and photographer in route to the basilica, even as I type this.
I'll check the newspaper, again, tomorrow.
Photo: The Catholic Review Online