Archive for the ‘Pope Benedict XVI’ Category

Consistory 2016:titles and deaconaries

19/11/2016

Today, Pope Francis held his third extraordinary consistory to create 17 new cardinals of whom 13 are electors under 80. The College of Cardinals now stands at 228 with 121 electors. This will fall to 120 with the aging out of Cardinal Sarr on 28 November. The full list of cardinals and their titular churches are:

  • Mario Cardinal Zenari: Cardinal-Deacon of Santa Maria delle Grazie alle Fornaci fuori Porta Cavalleggeri
  • Dieudinne Cardinal Nzapalainga CSSp: Cardinal-Priest of Sant’ Andrea delle Valle
  • Carlos Cardinal Osoro Sierra: Cardinal-Priest of Santa Maria in Trastevere
  • Sergio Cardinal da Rocha: Cardinal-Priest of Santa Croce in via Flaminia
  • Blasé Joseph Cardinal Cupich: Cardinal-Priest of San Bartolomeo all’Isola
  • Patrick Cardinal D’Rozario CSC: Cardinal-Priest of Nostra Signora del SS. Sacramento e Santi Martiri Canadesi
  • Baltazar Enrique Cardinal Porras Cardozo: Cardinal-Priest of Santi Giovanni Evangelista e Petronio
  • Josef Cardinal de Kesel: Cardinal-Priest of Santi Giovanni e Paolo
  • Maurice Cardinal Piat CSSp: Cardinal-Priest of Santa Teresa al Corso d’Italia
  • Kevin Joseph Cardinal Farrell: Cardinal-Deacon of San Giuliano Matire
  • Carlos Cardinal Aguiar Retes: Cardinal-Priest of Santi Fabiano e Venanzio a Villa Fiorelli
  • John Cardinal Ribat MSC: Cardinal-Priest of San Giovanni Battista de’ Rossi
  • Joseph Willaim Cardinal Tobin: Cardinal-Priest of Santa Maria della Grazie a Via Trionfale
  • Anthony Soter Cardinal Fernandez: Cardinal-Priest of Sant’ Alberto Magno
  • Renato Cardinal Corti: Cardinal-Priest of San Giovanni a Porta Latina
  • Sebastian Koto Cardinal Khoarai: Cardinal-Priest of San Leonardo da Porto Maurizio ad Acilia
  • Ernest Cardinal Simoni: Cardinal-Deacon of Santa Maria della Scala

With this consistory, Cardinal Nzapalainga of Bangui becomes the youngest member of the College, just before his 50th birthday, he overtakes Cardinal Mafi of Tonga who held that title since he was created a cardinal. Cardinal Nzapalainga will in all probably vote in two or possibly three conclaves given his age. During this consistory Pope Francis added two new titular churches, San Alberto Magno and San Leonardo da Porto Maurizio ad Acilia. With Cardinal Tobin having since the announcement of the consistory been transferred to Newark, has seemed to try to stress that most of his choices of prelates are personal, rather than attached to a particular diocese.

Rocco writes “Beyond the widely-noted presence of Papa Bergoglio’s first three red hats from the US – the country’s largest crop of new electors since 1969 – among other distinctions of the new intake is the College’s youngest member by far (49 year-old Dieudonne Nzapalainga from the war-torn Central African Republic, the first cardinal born after Vatican II); in Italian Cardinal Mario Zenari, the first scarlet-clad figure in memory to be serving as a Nuncio, in his case to a roiled Syria; and while nearly half of the electoral class are religious – an unusually high five of the 13 – in Bangladesh’s Cardinal Patrick D’Rozario of Dhaka, the 73 year-old prelate is the first member of the Congregation of Holy Cross elevated into the Roman clergy since 1958. (On top for the return to red for one of the Golden Dome’s community, it bears noting that Notre Dame went a full 3-for-3 with this class’ Stateside delegation: Cardinal Kevin Farrell earned his MBA there, and even before today, Cardinals Blase Cupich and Joe Tobin were already among the most prominent hierarchs in the Fighting Irish cheering section.) While Francis continued the long-standing custom of elevating distinguished clerics older than 80 – four, in today’s case – having completed three rounds of topping off the College, one significant tweak to the practice has now clearly established itself as a pattern: in keeping with St Ignatius’ exhortation against his spiritual followers receiving earthly honours, the first-ever Jesuit Pope hasn’t given the red hat to a single one of his confreres, whose eminent contributions in theology were routinely honored by prior pontiffs”.

Rocco adds that “In another change, for the first time since his resignation, Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI didn’t attend today’s rites. Instead, Francis and the new “princes of the church” boarded mini-buses immediately after the Consistory to visit Papa Ratzinger in the chapel of his residence at the old Mater Ecclesiae convent”.

John Allen argues in an article “pretty much everything a pope does exercises leadership and shapes culture in the Church, whether or not it comes wrapped in a binding magisterial declaration. Today is an excellent illustration of the point, as Pope Francis created 17 new cardinals in an event called a “consistory,” 13 of whom will be eligible to elect his successor. Francis delivered a talk this morning, which was notable for its plea to avoid in-fighting at a time when public crossfires involving bishops seem increasingly common. In reality, however, the most important statement of the day was made well in advance, in the form of his picks for new Princes of the Church”.

Allen says there are three main points to bear in mind, the first being something of a trope, the consistory as a “global village”, “Francis is famously a pope of the peripheries, and nowhere is that drive to lift up previously ignored or marginalized places more clear than in how this pontiff awards red hats. This time around, there are new cardinals from Papua New Guinea, the Central African Republic, Bangladesh and Mauritius. The last two, Bangladesh and Mauritius, have a combined Catholic population that doesn’t quite get to 700,000, making them essentially large parishes by the standards of many other places. Today’s consistory builds on the previous two held by Pope Francis, in 2014 and 2015, in which he created cardinals from Nicaragua, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand, Capo Verde, and the Pacific island of Tonga. (By the time Francis is done, it seems plausible there won’t be an island nation left on earth without its own cardinal.) While the internationalization of the College of Cardinals dates back at least to the era of Pope Paul VI in the late 1960s and 1970s, eroding the traditional Italian stranglehold on the institution, what’s striking under Francis is that his cardinals don’t just come from the other usual centers of global Catholic power, but literally from all over the map”.

Allen argues that “All this is calculated, of course, to ensure that the College of Cardinals is better reflective of the entire 1.2-billion strong Catholic Church around the world, especially places long accustomed to not really having a voice. Seen through a political lens, there’s another implication worth considering: These appointments also make the next conclave, meaning the next time cardinals gather to elect a pope, far more difficult to handicap. Many of these cardinals represent cultures where the usual taxonomy of left v. right simply don’t apply, and they’re not part of the traditional networks of ecclesiastical influence and patronage. As a result, they’re likely to bring fresh perspectives to the task of picking a pope, one more difficult to anticipate and, therefore, even more fascinating to watch unfold”.

Secondly, Allen points out that the balance of power is shifting in the US, “For the first time, Francis is creating new American cardinals: Blase Cupich in Chicago, Joseph Tobin in Newark (formerly of Indianapolis), and Kevin Farrell, head of his new department for family, laity and life (formerly of Dallas.) All three would be seen as center-left figures in some ways reflecting the spirit of the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago, an approach to church life that appeared to recede in influence during the years of St. Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Just in the days around today’s consistory, Tobin was issuing warnings about the church facing difficult years ahead fighting the Trump administration over immigration and refugees, and Farrell was chastising Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia over the restrictive guidelines Chaput issued to implement Francis’s document on the family, Amoris Laetitia. Granted, the mere fact these three figures are now cardinals – two residential, one based in the Vatican – doesn’t automatically alter the landscape within the U.S. bishops’ conference. In fact, a face-value reading of the recent elections within the conference, in which Cardinal Daniel DiNardo was chosen president and Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles vice-president, would be that the center-right camp is still the governing majority”.

Interestingly however, Allen writes that “Inevitably, however, Cupich, Tobin and Farrell will now have greater influence in American church affairs, including grooming other bishops who could, over time, recalibrate the outlook and priorities of the conference. In any event, it’s clear that Francis was making a definite ideological and pastoral statement with his American picks, which are destined to reverberate for some time to come”.

Lastly Allen points out that the number of cardinals in the Curia has shrunk, “As of today, Pope Francis has created 44 of the cardinals who will elect his successor, of whom only six are Vatican officials. In this most recent crop, Farrell is the only one with a Vatican post, assuming one doesn’t include the pope’s ambassador in Syria, Mario Zenari, who’s part of the Vatican’s diplomatic corps. For those keeping score, that means that only 13 percent of Francis’s picks so far have gone to Vatican officials, whereas traditionally Vatican prelates have counted for over a quarter of the College of Cardinals, a share that was boosted under emeritus Pope Benedict XVI. Obviously, the net effect of these selections over time will be to reduce the influence of Vatican officials, not merely in the governance of the Church but also in the selection of the next pope. The argument for such a transition, of course, is that the Vatican is supposed to be of service to the Church, not the other way around, and ensuring that the whole Church is better reflected in making decisions is a healthy thing. On the other hand, Vatican officials often represent the institutional memory of the Church and provide a firebreak against the Church being swept away by the shifting tides of a given era’s fashions. As a generalization, they often represent a sort of “continuity vote” that can balance impulses for quick change. A somewhat diminished “continuity vote” is thus another factor making the future more uncertain, more difficult to forecast, and thus a more compelling drama to watch”.

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Mexico’s newest cardinal

15/11/2016

A piece on Mexico’s newest cardinal notes that “Pope Francis’s choice of Archbishop Carlos Aguiar Retes of Mexico as a cardinal is yet more proof that Latin America is shaping up to go in the same direction as the rest of the Catholic Church, but it is equally a sign of continuity with his predecessor, Benedict XVI. Made archbishop of Tlalnepantla, just north of Mexico City, by Benedict in 2009, and ordained a bishop by St. John Paul II back in 1997, Aguiar Retes has long been a key figure in the Episcopal Conference of Latin America and the Caribbean, known as CELAM”.

The profile adds “As vice-president of CELAM from 2003 to 2007, Aguiar Retes worked closely with Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires in the run-up to the fifth CELAM assembly in May 2007, which was held at the famed shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida. The concluding Aparecida document was written by a drafting team headed by Bergoglio. The Mexican prelate not only managed to impress Francis but also his peers: he was elected president of CELAM in 2011, a position he held until last year. Back home in Mexico, he has served both as secretary general and president of the Mexican Bishop’s Conference. Ever since Benedict picked Aguiar Retes for Tlalnepantla, he’s been seen as the natural successor of Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, who will be obliged to present his resignation to Francis next year, when he turns 75”.

The piece adds “According to Jorge Trasloheros, professor at Mexico’s National Autonomous University and a long-time church observer, Aguiar Retes is a “worthy disciple of Benedict XVI, with a great ability to subtly penetrate the labyrinths of reality, a deep grasp of the changing times we’re living in, and the invitation to make the dialogue between faith and reason the distinctive ethos of Catholic thinking.” Yet, he added, with the cardinal-to be’s pastoral sense, his commitment to the faithful, and his strategic mind, Aguiar Retes is also very much a Pope Francis man. Like Francis, he understands the importance of a shepherd capable of being at the front, among, and at the rear of his flock. Those who have worked with him point to his great serenity, analytic ability and capacity for dialogue. They say he is demanding but also patient and clear in his directives. Marilú Esponda, a lay communications expert who served as Aguiar Retes’s spokesperson when he was secretary-general of the Mexican bishops’ conference, describes her former boss as a “great human being, affable, serious, but close to the people, smart, and with great empathy to understand society’s problems.” “He gets along very well with conservatives and has been criticized as progressive for being friends with many people on the left,” Esponda told Crux, adding that he often speaks of discernment, the fruit of his formation with Jesuit spiritual directors. Esponda recalls Aguiar Retes reaching out to convince her to become the first director of the Mexican Bishop’s press office which he instituted”.

Interestingly it notes “Nor is he afraid of shaking things up in order to increase efficiency, something Aguiar Retes did both in the diocese and in the bishop’s conference, seeking out the advice of professionals when they were needed to plan out the strategies. The archbishop is currently driving a “Continental Mission” in his diocese, to put into practice the conclusions reached in Aparecida, back in 2007. The document remains a key template for Francis, who hands it out to political leaders from the region when they first visit him in the Vatican. The Aparecida meeting was headed by Chilean Cardinal Francisco Javier Errázuriz, with Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga as a member of the drafting committee. Both are now part of the group of nine cardinals that advises the pope. The “continental mission” was the challenge issued by Aparecida to the Church of Latin America to be in a permanent state of mission, awakening Catholics to their vocation to evangelize. Aparecida is the blueprint for Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”), the November 2013 exhortation widely described as the Magna Carta of Francis’s papacy. The document says the “missionary option” implies that the Church’s structures and ways of acting should be geared towards the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her own self-preservation”.

For background it adds that “The diocese of Tlalnepantla, part of Mexico City’s greater urban area, is an area of great contrasts, with industrial development and extreme poverty sharing the streets with organized crime. Aguiar Retes’s fostering of a permanent mission has led to a small yet dedicated army of lay missionaries. He was born in 1950 and ordained in 1973 after concluding priestly studies in Mexico and the U.S. Montezuma seminary. Soon after he went to Rome to study at the Pontifical Biblical Institute, and when he went back to Tepic, his home city, in 1977, he was appointed rector of the local seminary. In the 1990s he went back to Rome to study for his doctorate in theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University. Beyond his native Spanish, Aguiar Retes is fluent in Italian, English, French and German. The archbishop is the second Mexican red hat Francis will have awarded: Alberto Suárez Inda of Morelia was also made a cardinal during the 2014 consistory. With these two, Mexico now has six cardinals, four of them under the age of 80 and thus eligible to vote for the next pope”.

Francis reshapes the CDW

13/11/2016

An article in the Catholic Herald discusses recent appointments, and dismissals, in the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, “While the more eye-catching curial reforms of the Francis era have, thus far, centred on the combining of smaller department into new “super-dicasteries” and other obvious structural changes, yesterday saw a fairly broad reshaping of a curial department in the form of its personnel. The new members of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments were announced in the Vatican Press Office’s daily bulletin, and the names and sheer numbers of the new members have raised a few eyebrows. In total, 27 new members were appointed, and there was a distinctly global complexion to the announcement, with many of the new members coming from sub-saharan Africa and further afield. While the African bishops as a group tend to be known for their doctrinal orthodoxy, liturgically they are much more diverse, with the continent producing some of the most stridently traditional liturgists in recent years, as well as the current and former heads of the Congregation itself in Cardinals Arinze and Sarah, while also being home to some of the most “enculturated” liturgies in the Church”.

The piece notes that “While the global membership of this, or any congregation, is a fairly rough indication of how this, or any Pope, sees the Catholic world, it is worth noting that in Rome, as everywhere else, the decisions tend to be made by those who show up. Consequently, more attention is often paid to the appointment of bishops or cardinals who actually live in or near Rome who can attend the ordinary business meetings of the congregation, and consequently are expected to wield a more immediate influence in the working of the department. There are a number of names included on the list of 27 new members which fit into this category. Cardinal Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State, has been made a member; as he has grown more and more into the traditional role of Papal Prime Minister, his inclusion is hardly surprising and seems to indicate Pope Francis’ confidence in him serving as the curial centre of gravity”.

Correctly it reports that “generating much more public reaction, has been the inclusion of Archbishop Piero Marini. Marini is a controversial liturgical figure, having served as secretary to Annibale Bugnini, the Archbishop responsible for the liturgical reforms which followed Vatican II, and is also the former master of papal liturgical ceremonies. His preferences for liturgical dance, and other deeply “enculturated” forms of expression in the liturgy, have proven somewhat controversial in the past. In addition, he is notoriously and publicly impatient with those favouring the Extraordinary Form and other traditionalist liturgical practices, like the celebration of Mass ad orientem. According to a long-circulating Vatican rumour, he was originally intended to become the Prefect of the Congregation when Pope Francis first took office, but such was the resistance of the Congregation’s members that he was passed over for Cardinal Sarah. Also of note is the appointment of Cardinal Beniamino Stella as a new member of the CDW. Cardinal Stella currently serves as Prefect of the Congregation for Clergy and has privately earned a reputation for being fiercely opposed to the rise of seminaries and priestly societies which promote or lean upon particular forms of liturgy in their formation and ministry; his personal campaign for “one priesthood, one formation, one seminary” would seem at odds with the liturgical diversity which has been favoured in recent years. While the appointment of 27 new members to a single congregation is bound to have an impact on its character, it must be noted that the Vatican announcement failed to mention which of the current members of the congregation would be staying on. This has not stopped instant and vociferous internet speculation from taking off, with some websites insisting that Cardinals Burke, Pell, Ouellet, and Scola were all leaving the congregation. This speculation, for that is all that it is at the moment, is being framed as a removal of the “Ratzingerians” and a purge of the traditionalists from the congregation. Meanwhile the new Rome-based members are being pitched as arch-modernists who will leave Cardinal Sarah effectively isolated at the top of his own congregation. Wild interpretations of this sort should be taken with a large measure of salt”.

Interestingly the piece mentions that “In the first place, none of the supposedly departing “Ratzingerians” has actually been confirmed as yet. Even if these so far unconfirmed reports are true, they fail to account for the considerable depth of experienced members of whom nothing has yet been said, and who can be assumed to be carrying on until we hear otherwise. These include formidable minds and characters like Cardinal Peter Erdö, the Relator General of the Synod of Bishops’ General Assembly; Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the Archbishop of Columbo and former Secretary of the CDW; Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, former Prefect of the Congregation for Clergy and current head of the Apostolic Penitentiary; and Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, the head of the Italian Bishops’ Conference. While the simultaneous appointment of 27 new members to any congregation represents a real changing of guard, as with so many of the acts of this pontificate there has been an instinctive rush to interpret events through the most ecclesiastically partisan lens to be found”.

Crucially it adds “While it is true that some of the new members have distinct and forceful thoughts on liturgy, few can contend that they are unqualified for membership. Similarly, while it may come out that some of the more seasoned traditionalists in the CDW have not had their membership renewed, it would be a gross overstatement to insist that there has been some kind of philosophical coup, or that there are not still several loud and authoritative voices to be heard on both sides of the liturgical discussion. Surely the whole point of a global and diverse membership is to have the best of all sides in the conversation”.

 

Clinton and white Catholics

28/10/2016

A report in the New York Times notes how Clinton is gaining support amongst white Catholics, “Since the election of Ronald Reagan, white Catholics have flocked to Republican nominees for a raft of reasons, including their stances on social issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. But this year, something seems different. “Trump is the exception to the rule,” Carol Robinson, 67, said as she left an afternoon prayer meeting in this a Philadelphia suburb with other enthusiastic supporters of Hillary Clinton. “He’s a loose cannon.” Roman Catholics are the country’s second-largest religious group after evangelical Protestants, and they are as diverse as the country itself, with young liberals, cultural conservatives and, increasingly, Democratic-leaning Hispanics”. But now, the Clinton campaign senses a rare opportunity to block Mr. Trump’s narrow path to victory by making inroads with a core part of the church: white Catholics, a prized group of voters who have defied predictions this year. Though a string of polls had shown Mr. Trump opening a lead among white Catholics, a new poll released last week by the Public Religion Research Institute showed Mr. Trump hemorrhaging support”.

The piece notes that “The five-day poll, which ended two days after the release of a recording in which Mr. Trump joked about groping women, and before several women came forward to say he had forcibly kissed or touched them, showed him effectively tied with Mrs. Clinton. The poll showed 42 percent of white Catholics supported him, and 46 percent backed her, with a margin of sampling error of plus or minus four percentage points. “That’s not where Trump wants to be in the homestretch, particularly with a core constituency in Midwestern battleground states,” said Robert Jones, a Public Religion Research Institute pollster. He added that white Catholics, much more than the white evangelicals who have largely remained loyal to Mr. Trump, seemed to be defying the Republican Party’s gravitational pull. Both campaigns see openings: Mr. Trump in hacked emails released last week in which members of the Clinton campaign spoke critically about Catholic conservatism, and Mrs. Clinton in Mr. Trump’s un-churchmanlike behaviour and his tussling with Pope Francis. The pope, on his way home from Mexico in February, suggested that Mr. Trump “is not Christian” if he preferred building barriers over bridges. Mr. Trump, not one to turn the other cheek, responded that Francis’ remarks were “disgraceful.” The episode did not hurt Mr. Trump’s standing in the Republican primaries; in fact, many Catholics believed the pope was improperly meddling in American politics”.

The report adds that “Francis may be more quietly influencing the Catholic vote in other ways. He has moved the church to emphasize inclusion and the welfare of the poor over divisive issues like abortion and homosexuality. And his personnel changes have effectively left Mr. Trump’s conservative backers without much support from prominent Catholic clergy members“It’s a concern among a lot of Catholics that maybe we’re not going to hear the kind of strong message that we heard in past elections,” said Frank Pavone, a Catholic priest who runs an anti-abortion group and is advising Mr. Trump. In 2004, a powerful group of Catholic archbishops publicly advocated the re-election of President George W. Bush. Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis said that if given the chance, he would deny communion to Mr. Bush’s opponent, Senator John Kerry, because of his abortion stance”.

The article mentions how “Pope Benedict XVI elevated Archbishop Burke to the rank of cardinal, but Francis has since essentially demoted him from his Vatican position. And when Cardinal Francis George, a combative voice on social issues from his high perch as the leader of the Chicago Archdiocese, took ill in 2014 (he died the next year), Pope Francis replaced him with the more inclusive Blase Cupich, who has focused his energies on climate change, gun control and immigration reform. The pope announced this month that he would elevate Archbishop Cupich to the rank of cardinal, while passing over the United States’ reigning conservative heavyweight, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia, who has remained outspoken in his criticism of Catholic politicians who support abortion rights. Prominent Catholic lawmakers are now targeting voters on behalf of the Clinton campaign. This month, Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, held a round-table discussion with nuns in Dubuque, Iowa. The campaign has also created “heritage” outreach programs to try to appeal to voters with immigrant backgrounds, such as Irish and Italian, who are often Catholic. The director of the Clinton campaign’s Catholic outreach program, John McCarthy, said that lay Catholic leaders he met with in Dubuque repeatedly said they were uncomfortable with Mr. Trump. “The divisive rhetoric is what is really pushing people away,” Mr. McCarthy said. But the Trump campaign has done its own outreach”.

Unsuprusingly it notes “The Trump campaign is also courting Catholic conservatives by highlighting a recent comment from Mrs. Clinton’s running mate Tim Kaine — himself an observant Catholic — that the church will one day support gay marriage. And it is making the most of every mention of Catholicism in the hacked Clinton campaign emails being released by WikiLeaks. In one 2011 conversation about Rupert Murdoch in particular and prominent Catholics in general, Jennifer Palmieri, who later became the communications director of the Clinton campaign, wrote: “I imagine they think it is the most socially acceptable politically conservative religion. Their rich friends wouldn’t understand if they became evangelicals.” The Trump campaign has also highlighted a 2012 email urging John D. Podesta, a former president of the Center for American Progress, to “plant the seeds of the revolution” against “Middle Ages dictatorship” within the Catholic church. Mr. Podesta, who is now Mrs. Clinton’s campaign chairman, responded by writing that he and his allies had created groups for just such a purpose.

Pell’s difficult task

29/09/2016

An article from the Wall Street Journal discusses Church finances, “Late last year, Cardinal George Pell, the pope’s finance chief, hired PricewaterhouseCoopers to undertake a comprehensive audit of the Vatican’s finances. On a mandate from Pope Francis to clarify the city-state’s muddled accounts, the newly powerful cardinal had been assessing and tweaking the system; already he had found a total of €1.4 billion “tucked away” off the books. Cardinal Pell wanted PwC to check that the 136 Vatican departments—each of which used its own, often loose accounting standards—were following guidelines aimed at imposing budgetary discipline. His task was like pushing against the ancient stone walls of a basilica. Other officials, led by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Secretary of State, known as the pope’s prime minister, let him know the audit wouldn’t fly. In June, the Vatican announced it had been scrapped, and soon many of Cardinal Pell’s wide-ranging powers were handed to others”.

The article adds that “It was a setback for the financial overhaul, a central part of a broader revamp of the Catholic Church’s central bureaucracy, the Roman Curia, which Francis made a centerpiece of his pontificate. It was also a sign that the Vatican’s established interests have gained the pope’s support, just three years after his election as a historic, New World outsider. Cardinal Pell, a blunt speaker, had used a vaguely worded papal mandate to reach for broad powers. He has no plans to back down. “My job is to keep pushing,” Cardinal Pell, 75 years old, said in an interview in June. “The goal is that the Vatican will be recognized inside and outside the church around the world as somebody who handles their finances properly and appropriately.” Accounting at the Vatican has never followed unified policies. Annual reports aren’t released, different departments use different accounting principles, data are inconsistent and not comparable. Before Cardinal Pell’s appointment, a panel of cardinals charged with economic oversight met just twice a year. Budgets didn’t exist, and expenditures weren’t itemized”.

The piece goes on to mention “When cardinals elected Pope Francis in March 2013, they gave him a mandate to revamp the Curia. The resignation of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI , had occurred under a cloud of allegations at the Vatican relating to cronyism, inefficiency and corruption. Complaints surfaced about €550,000 spent for a manger scene in St. Peter’s Square. Later, concern rose about the lack of oversight of hundreds of thousands of euros collected by advocates for potential saints from donors. Pope Francis moved quickly. In early 2014, he established a new Secretariat for the Economy and named Cardinal Pell to run it. In a two-page document he seemed to hand over sweeping powers, saying the cardinal had authority over “administrative and financial structures” and his reach extended “to all that in whatsoever manner” concerned economic activity, including procurement and hiring. The cardinal would report directly to the pope. In the cardinal, the pontiff found a rare example of a high-ranking prelate with media savvy, financial experience and a bold personality”.

It adds “With his 6’3” frame, the Oxford-educated cardinal cuts an imposing figure. In his youth, he played Australian rules football in the position of ruckman, a role akin to that of a center in basketball. Cardinal Pell is “a no-nonsense, realistic, straight-talking Australian,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York told CBS This Morning soon after the appointment. “He’ll get things done.” In Australia, he oversaw the merger of eight far-flung colleges into a national Catholic university. As archbishop of Sydney, he streamlined procurement procedures in the archdiocese, which had assets of about US$770 million in 2013 and a staff of 11,000. He raised the return on investments in the church’s real-estate holdings by charging market rents, helping triple the archdiocese’s budget, according to Danny Casey, the archdiocese’s business manager under Cardinal Pell and now a close aide at the Vatican. The cardinal was also a member of a panel of cardinals advising Pope Benedict on economic affairs”.

Naturally attacks come against Pell, “Critics point to what they call an autocratic streak. During his tenure in Australia, the entire staff charged with spiritual instruction at an archdiocesan seminary resigned to protest his plans to impose a regular schedule of prayers and Mass attendance on students. Australian police are investigating Cardinal Pell over accusations that he sexually abused minors several decades ago, and Australian victims’ advocates have claimed that he failed to report suspected abuse by clerics during the 1970s and 1980s. In July he said he “emphatically and unequivocally rejects any allegations of sexual abuse about him.” He has also said that the church has made “enormous mistakes” in handling sex abuse and that he regrets not having done more to pursue certain allegations about others as a young priest, but denies any wrongdoing. With the new assignment Cardinal Pell got off the mark quickly. At a July 2014 press conference, he presented himself as the financial counterpart to the Secretary of State, who had previously been unchallenged as the pope’s No. 2 official. Press accounts hailed the Australian as the Vatican’s financial “czar.” “Our ambition is to become something of a model of financial management rather than a cause for occasional scandal,” he said at the time. The “Vatican” refers to both the Holy See—which includes the central administration of the world-wide Catholic Church and related institutions serving the pope—and Vatican City State, the sovereign territory owned by the church inside Italy, where the pope resides”.

It goes on to mention that “Revenues come largely from proceeds from the Vatican Museums, its real-estate holdings, an investment portfolio and shops selling valuable tax-free products such as gasoline to Vatican employees. Dioceses around the world also send millions of dollars annually to the Vatican’s coffers. And the Vatican Bank, an independent body that is designed to provide financial services to the Catholic Church world-wide, also adds a varying amount of funds; it provided €50 million in 2014. Despite such assets, the Holy See has long run a deficit: €26 million in 2014, the Vatican said, and an estimated €35 million or more for last year, according to Cardinal Pell. Attempts in recent years to generate more revenue—the Vatican Museums raised visitor flow by 20% over the past three years—haven’t stanched red ink. Cutting costs, including layoffs, is difficult, because of the traditional Italian resistance to job cuts and the pope’s concern over the “social ill” of unemployment. Cardinal Pell and his team set out to close the deficit “so that an increasing amount of money can be used to help the strugglers and the poor,” he said in The Wall Street Journal interview. The cardinal hired consultants from firms such as McKinsey & Co. to do a review of assets. That exercise turned up €1.4 billion that was “not on the balance sheet,” recalled the cardinal. The cardinal attributed the discrepancies to haphazard accounting and ad hoc policies. “I’m not saying it was being mismanaged or anything. It just was there for a rainy day,” Cardinal Pell said. His team once received a call from the head of one Vatican office who had tens of millions in charitable funds and wasn’t sure how to account for them, he said”.

The writer goes on to note how Pell, “spotted a rich new source of revenue that could help close the deficit. The Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See, known as APSA, managed most of the Vatican’s huge real-estate portfolio, valued at €1 billion or more, including thousands of commercial spaces and apartments in Rome. Cardinal Pell said the management wasn’t satisfactory. Among the criticisms, APSA hadn’t kept up the properties or collected back rent on the real estate held by the administration of St. Peter’s Basilica, according to a person familiar with the situation. As a result, the Basilica suffered a deficit of several hundred thousand euros last year. That shortfall meant it couldn’t pay the stipends for new canons—the retired prelates who celebrate Mass there—for the next two years. A Vatican official said many properties can’t be rented out at market rates because they would be prohibitively expensive to restore. The pope gave Cardinal Pell control of the properties managed by APSA in July 2014, along with its administrative responsibilities for procurement, payment of bills and payroll”.

He points out that “APSA also controlled much of the Vatican’s financial portfolio, a power it retained. Cardinal Pell started exploring ways to reorganize the Vatican’s financial investments. One idea he pursued was to outsource them to professional money managers in a new Luxembourg-based entity. The real-estate move and plans for the investments raised hackles at APSA and other offices. APSA’s president, Cardinal Domenico Calcagno, has developed a strong relationship with Francis, who over time has become more connected to insiders at the Vatican. The two frequently eat together in the dining hall at the Vatican guesthouse, where the pope lives. Cardinal Calcagno declined to comment on Cardinal Pell’s remarks about APSA, saying only that he was “disconcerted” by the statements. The Secretary of State also controlled extensive investments, and the powers of Cardinal Parolin over hiring and spending were under threat”.

It notes worryingly that “Then the pope started paring Cardinal Pell’s powers. In a series of moves over about 18 months, Francis stripped Cardinal Pell of control over APSA’s real-estate holdings. He declined to approve his recommendations to reorganize the management of the financial portfolio. He wrote and made public a pointed letter making clear that all hiring and transfer of personnel required the approval of the office of Cardinal Parolin. The audit was scrapped, and in July, he took away most of the management functions—for payroll, payment and procurement services—and restored them to APSA. “When a new administrative body is created, it always takes a while until it fits into the broader organization,” said Vatican spokesman Greg Burke. “We shouldn’t be distracted by the noise.” Some Vatican officials said they believe Cardinal Pell’s free-market ethos has been unwelcome in the Curia, particularly under a pope who has excoriated the free-market system and warned that some financial practices can lead to corruption”.

The journalist writes that “Cardinal Pell attributed some of his setbacks to “people wanting to retain their turf, their traditional role” particularly at APSA and the Secretariat of State. “Some people don’t like change, some people don’t like a diminished authority,” he said. “And there’s always a hypothetical possibility that you’ve got some people who have something to hide.” Officials at APSA and the Secretariat of State declined to comment on the cardinal’s comments. So far, the Secretariat of the Economy has accomplished little of what it set out to do. “A lot of people in the Vatican are wondering why we needed to spend two years and a lot of money on high-powered consultants just to come back to square one, with Cardinal Pell’s office basically a beefed-up comptroller’s office,” said Robert Mickens, editor in chief of Global Pulse, a magazine that covers the Vatican. Cardinal Pell cited success in identifying the off-the-book assets, and said that the Vatican is now committed to international public sector accounting standards, even if they haven’t been implemented everywhere, saying “the gains are irreversible.” “Once you let the light in, it’s impossible to return to a situation where you’ve had large elements of the truth buried,” he said”.

 

Turkson’s new job

01/09/2016

Rocco writes about the appointments of Pope Francis yesterday, “Even before the usual “starting gun” to the Vatican’s working year, the Pope has again moved to end August with a bang: at Roman Noon today, the Holy See announced the consolidation of the four Pontifical Councils focused on social teaching and outreach into a new “Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development,” with the longtime Justice and Peace Czar, Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson (above), tapped as the combined entity’s founding head”.

The article notes “Essentially placing all the Holy See’s silos dealing with the Social Magisterium – among them, the business, political and military worlds – under one umbrella, the merged office will absorb the functions of the respective Councils for Justice and Peace, Cor Unum (“One Heart,” which oversees the global church’s charitable and humanitarian works, plus relief efforts), Migrants and Itinerant Peoples and the Pastoral Care of Health Workers. Yet in a remarkable act meant to underscore Francis’ well-burnished concern and advocacy for migrants and refugees, the Pope wrote into the new body’s statutes that – at least temporarily – that lone section of the office “is placed [directly] under the leadership of the Supreme Pontiff,” to be personally overseen by him. Though the handful of pontifical commissions Papa Bergoglio has established on various topics – e.g. protection of minors, reform of annulments, most recently the diaconate – all report directly to Francis, no Curial entity to date has explicitly been headed by the Pope himself: not merely in this pontificate, but any in recent times”.

Rocco adds “With the move – set to take effect on January 1st (which, for the last half-century, the church has observed as the World Day of Peace) – only five councils will remain from what had been 12 second-tier Curial offices before Francis’ slow-burn, piecemeal reform began in early 2014; a complete overhaul of Pastor Bonus – St John Paul II’s 1988 constitution organizing the church’s central government – remains in the works. Yet as the merger of the Pontifical Councils for the Laity and the Family takes effect tomorrow with the formal launch of the new Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life – its founding announced almost a year ago – it bears noting that today’s consolidation has come on a far more rapid timeframe, ostensibly as the pontiff had his choice to lead the social organ already on-site. Given the red hat by John Paul at his last Consistory, Turkson was brought to Rome by B16 in 2009 to serve as the church’s lead spokesman on social justice issues. The lone Scripture scholar among the cardinal-electors until the tail-end of Benedict’s pontificate – and long touted as the most sensible and astute African papabile – the 67 year-old prelate possesses a rare mix of charisma and intellect: as a student at the Franciscan-run (now closed) St Anthony’s Seminary in upstate New York, the future cardinal famously painted a wall of his dorm-room black, using it as a chalkboard to study Hebrew. Named an archbishop at home at age 44 – while still working on his doctoral dissertation – Turkson made it his practice to live with his transitional deacons over their year of preparation to examine their fitness for priesthood up close”.

Rocco mentions that “Said to be fluent in eight languages, Turkson’s profile has only risen further amid Francis’ enhanced emphasis on peace, the poor and development issues, crossing the globe to deliver loaded reflections on Catholic social teaching and its implications on a host of fronts. Above all, however, the cardinal was the lead player behind the preparation and rollout of Laudato Si’ – last year’s landmark encyclical on the environment – whose publication saw such mammoth interest that the release day media briefing had to be moved from the Vatican Press Office to a larger venue. (For purposes of context, that didn’t even happen for Amoris.) All that said, with today’s merger the evolving structure of Francis’ rebooted Curia is becoming clearer: “Secretariats” at the top, which govern internal matters – Economy, Communication, State and the Synod – then “Dicasteries” (formerly the generic title of Curial offices) to handle more broad-based topics. At the same time, while any reforms to the top-level congregations – the nine offices which exercise the pontiff’s delegated authority over distinct elements of the church’s life – is still in the offing (amid an ongoing review by the “Gang of 9” cardinal-advisers), it’s nonetheless significant that, as with the new Laity/Family arm, the Pope’s regulations for the Development office explicitly provide that the prefect’s team of lead deputies need not be clerics but “may also be laypeople.” As Turkson recruited the lone laywoman to hold “superior” rank in the Curia – the Italian academic Dr Flaminia Giovanelli, his longtime #3 at Justice and Peace – an even heavier non-ordained presence in the new arrangement’s top ranks stands to be expected… and to be sure, as he looks to assemble his own leadership squad at Laity, Family, Life, the new prefect there, Bishop Kevin Farrell, is likewise understood to be heading in the same direction”.

Rocco makes the point that “Initially fashioned by Blessed Paul VI in the post-Conciliar years as an element of Vatican governance that primarily would engage various fields instead of exercising jurisdiction, the range of pontifical councils was further expanded under both St John Paul II and Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI, the latter adding the final of the dozen in 2010 with the establishment of an office for Promoting the New Evangelization. On the flip-side, however, today’s move actually brings to completion a plan initially mooted by Papa Ratzinger, who attempted to consolidate Justice and Peace with Cor Unum early in his pontificate, but was warded off it by the Curia’s traditional penchant for protecting bureaucratic turfs. Beyond the respective deputies of the two catch-all  dicasteries, another major question remains in the air: the slates of prelates and lay experts who will form the memberships of each office. As each of the merging councils have had sizable groups of members and consultants on their own until now, whether all those seats will be folded into the new offices or reconstituted from scratch is still decidedly unclear, and will have a sizable impact on the scope and focus the new bodies will carve out for themselves!.

He ends “Notably, the announcement of the Development Dicastery comes on the eve of tomorrow’s second observance in the Catholic church of theWorld Day of Prayer for the Protection of Creation, which the Pope joined last year following the initiative of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople. As coordinating the church’s activities for the day falls to the new office, Francis will mark the occasion with an evening prayer rite in St Peter’s – his first major message of the new “Vatican year.”

Benedict the Great Reformer

08/05/2016

John Allen has written a piece arguing that Benedict XVI was a great teacher and reformer, he opens “By consensus, while emeritus Pope Benedict XVI was a great teaching pontiff, ecclesiastical governance on his watch often left something to be desired. Space does not permit a full listing of meltdowns and crises, but here are a few highlights:

  • The appointment in 2007, followed by the swift fall from grace, of a new Archbishop of Warsaw who had an ambiguous relationship with the Soviet-era secret police.
  • The eerily similar appointment in 2009 of an Austrian bishop who had suggested Hurricane Katrina was a punishment for the wickedness of New Orleans, and who was likewise gone within days.
  • Lifting the excommunications of four traditionalist Catholic bishops in 2009, including one who denied that the Nazis used gas chambers, with little apparent regard for how that move would be perceived.
  • The surreal “Boffo case” from 2010, pivoting on the former editor of the official newspaper of the Italian bishops. (If you don’t know the story, it would take too long to explain, but trust me … Hollywood screenwriters couldn’t make this stuff up.)
  • The Vatileaks scandal of 2011-12, which featured revelations of financial corruption and cronyism, and which ended with the conviction and pardon of the pope’s own former butler for stealing confidential documents.

Less spectacularly, there was a chronic sense during the Benedict years that the pope’s administrative team, led by Italian Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, was occasionally out of its depth. Decisions were delayed, and when they came, the logic for how things shook out was sometimes opaque”.

Allen goes on to note that “Frustration over a perceived “management deficit” helped pave the way for election of a new pope in March 2013, with a reputation as someone who could clean out the stables and get the Vatican under control. (Whether or not that’s actually happening today is an utterly different conversation.) Australia’s George Pell, today Pope Francis’ finance chief, was among those calling for a house-cleaning three years ago. “I think the governance is done by most of the people around the pope, and that wasn’t always done brilliantly,” he said after Benedict’s resignation. “I’m not breaking any ground there — this is said very commonly.” Today, however, marks the 11th anniversary of Benedict’s election to the papacy on April 19, 2005, and to mark the occasion, I want to suggest that over the long run, Benedict will be judged not by his failures but rather the historic reform processes he set in motion”.

Allen argues that Benedict will be remembered as a reformer, for three reasons, the first being financial reforms, “Although Pope Francis has launched an ambitious program of financial reform, it’s important to remember that the long-delayed work of bringing the Vatican into the 21st century vis-à-vis financial administration actually began under Benedict. Perhaps the single most important move Benedict made was to choose, for the first time, to subject the Vatican to independent secular review in the form of the Council of Europe’s anti-money laundering agency, Moneyval. Never before had the Vatican opened its financial and legal systems to this sort of external, independent review, with the results made public, and to say the least, the decision encountered some internal Vatican blowback”.

Allen adds “In centuries past, had secular authorities shown up to conduct such a review, they would have been fought off tooth and nail in the name of defending the autonomy and sovereignty of the papacy. For Moneyval, the red carpet was rolled out instead. Benedict was also the pope who created a new financial watchdog unit inside the Vatican, the Financial Information Authority, and hired a serious professional to lead it: A Swiss lawyer named René Brülhart, who for the previous 10 years had led anti-money-laundering efforts in the tiny European principality of Liechtenstein”.

The second element that Allen praises is Benedict’s anti abuse efforts, “When the abuse scandals in the United States broke in 2002, reaction in the Vatican was divided between what one might loosely call the “reformers” and the “deniers.” The fault lines broke down in terms of these debates:

  • Is the crisis largely a media- and lawyer-driven frenzy, or is it a real cancer?
  • Should the church cooperate with civil authorities, or is that surrendering the autonomy the church has fought titanic battles over the centuries to defend?
  • Should the church embrace the use of psychology in screening candidates for the priesthood, or is that smuggling in a secular mentality in place of traditional spiritual principles of formation?
  • Should the church support aggressive programs of abuse prevention and detection, or does that risk “sexualizing” children along the lines of secular sex education?
  • Is the crisis truly a global phenomenon, or is it the fruit of a “moral panic” largely restricted to the West?
  • Should the Vatican sign off on “zero-tolerance” policies, or does that rupture the paternal relationship that’s supposed to exist between a bishop and his priests?

When the American scandals erupted under St. John Paul II, the deniers had control in the Vatican and the reformers were an embattled minority. By the end of Benedict’s papacy, the situation was the exact reverse: The deniers hadn’t gone away, but they’d been driven underground”.

The piece goes on to mention “While he was still at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, it was then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger who pushed for new rules to weed out abuser priests in the Pope John Paul II years and who wrote those rules into law as pope. It was also Ratzinger who unleashed his top prosectuor, then-Msgr. Charles Scicluna, on Mexican Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado despite the cleric’s powerful network of Vatican allies, and who sentenced Maciel to a life of “prayer and penance” in 2006. Later, Benedict was the first pope to meet with victims of sex abuse, the first pope to apologize for the crisis in his own name, and the first pope to dedicate an entire document to the abuse crisis in his 2010 letter to the Catholics of Ireland. Benedict laicized almost 400 priests in 2011 and 2012 alone for reasons related to sex abuse, which is almost 1 in every 1,000 Catholic priests in the world flushed out of the system in just two years”.

Lastly, and perhaps most interestingly, “Although Pope Francis is rightly celebrated for his humility and simplicity, the truth is that Benedict XVI contributed significantly to the “demystification” of the papal office well before Francis stepped onto the scene. Here’s an example. Shortly after his election, Francis returned to the Casa del Clero in Rome where he’d been staying prior to the conclave in order to pack his own bag and pay his own bill, an episode that became part of his “man of the people” image. Yet Benedict did much the same thing 11 years ago, returning to his apartment to pack up and then going around to thank the nuns who lived in the building for being good neighbours. In other words, Benedict was every bit as humble as his successor – arguably, in some ways, more so – even if that wasn’t always clear from his public image. Benedict also humanized the papacy with his capacity to admit fault and to ask for help”.

Allen writes that “His 2009 letter to the bishops of the world after the Holocaust-denying traditionalist debacle is one of the most heart-felt, plaintive documents written by a papal hand you’ll ever see, and in it Benedict candidly acknowledged that he and his Vatican team had dropped the ball – not on the substance of the decision, which he defended, but on the way it was handled and communicated. Finally, of course, there’s the fact that Benedict delivered the single most stunning act of papal humility in at least the last 500 years: His Feb. 11, 2013, decision to resign. Pope Francis has said that in the wake of that act, resignation has now become an “institution” rather than a historical anomaly. That doesn’t even mean every future papacy will end in resignation, because some no doubt will still die in office, either as a conscious choice or simply by dint of circumstance”.

The piece ends “Nevertheless, Benedict clearly answered the question of whether a pope even could resign in relatively normal historical circumstances – in other words, when not facing schism or invading armies – with a resounding “yes,” thereby, in ecclesiological terms, moving the papacy a huge step closer to being reinserted within the College of Bishops. No doubt, Francis and whoever follows him will continue to build on these precedents. The fact always will remain, however, that the precedents were set by the “Great Reformer.””

The Franciscan curia

06/05/2016

John Allen writes that oldtime Curialists are back under Pope Francis, “Contrary to popular mythology, the Vatican is hardly a sprawling bureaucracy comparable to, say, the roughly three million people who work for the federal government in the United States. All in, we’re talking about a work force of under 5,000, which means it’s more akin to a village than an empire. In such a small world, personnel is always policy: Choices about who gets the most important jobs inevitably drive how decisions are made”.

He adds “Pope Francis has been running the show for three years now, and at first blush, it’s tempting to say that almost nothing has changed on the personnel front. As of today, almost three-quarters of the officials who lead important departments are still hold-overs from the reign of emeritus Pope Benedict XVI. If one considers “the Vatican” to include both the Roman Curia, meaning the government of the universal Church, plus the Vatican City State, meaning the 108-acre physical space over which the pope presides, there are perhaps 33 departments that truly matter – either in terms of real influence, public profile, or both”.

Allen writes, “If we eliminate the new outfits Francis himself has created (two secretariats and a commission for minors), that leaves 30 significant department heads Francis could have replaced by now. Of those, 22 are still led by the same officials who did so under Benedict XVI, which works out to 73 percent, while one (Cor Unum) is presently vacant. Here are the only seven cases so far in which Francis has appointed someone to take over from an official named by Benedict XVI:

  • Secretariat of State (Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin replaced Italian Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone).
  • Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea replaced Spanish Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera).
  • Congregation for Clergy (Italian Cardinal Beniamino Stella replaced Italian Cardinal Mauro Piacenza).
  • Congregation for Catholic Education (Italian Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi replaced Polish Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski).
  • Apostolic Signatura (French Cardinal Dominique Mamberti replaced American Cardinal Raymond Burke).
  • Apostolic Penitentiary (Italian Cardinal Mauro Piacenza replaced Portuguese Cardinal Manuel Monteiro de Castro).
  • Synod of Bishops (Italian Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri replaced Croatian Archbishop Nikola Eterović).

Of these seven appointments, five went to Italians, increasing by three the number of top Vatican jobs held by Italians. Notably, all seven positions went to veteran Vatican officials, not outsiders, including four (Parolin, Stella, Mamberti and Baldisseri) who are products of the Vatican’s diplomatic service”.

Allen mentions that “By way of explanation for the lack of turnover, probably the most important point is that the pope’s “C-9” council of cardinal advisors is still pondering an overhaul of the Vatican’s structures. Several departments will be consolidated or eliminated, while in other cases missions will be revised. Francis may feel that until the process is complete, it doesn’t make sense to appoint new leadership. Yet despite the surface impression of business as usual, it’s hard to escape the impression that something important nonetheless has shifted. Arguably, what’s critical is not how thoroughly Francis has shuffled the deck, but rather who has the pope’s ear and who’s been emboldened on his watch”.

Allen makes the point that “In four cases, Francis clearly has opted for a moderate over a conservative: Stella in favour of Piacenza at the Congregation for Clergy; Versaldi in favour of Grocholewski at Catholic Education; Mamberti in favour of Burke at the Signatura; and Baldisseri in favour of Eterović at the synod. In addition, while it isn’t strictly accurate to describe Bertone as a “conservative,” he’s nonetheless close to Pope Benedict, while Parolin is a pastoral moderate in the style of Francis. Those moves sent a clear signal to other moderates inside the system that this is their kind of pope. Certainly there are officials who before probably felt the need to be a bit cautious, who today are sensing the wind at their backs – Cardinal Peter Turkson at Justice and Peace, Cardinal João Braz de Aviz at the Congregation for Religious, and Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia at the Council for the Family would be examples”.

Allen then writes that “Perhaps one key to understanding how Francis thinks about his Vatican team came in his first Christmas greeting to the Roman Curia, on Dec. 21, 2013. On that occasion, the pontiff expressed his admiration for “old-time curialists,” describing them as “exemplary persons” who “work with competence, with precision, self-sacrifice, carrying out their daily work with care.” “We need them today!” the pope said. In effect, one could read his preference for proven figures, mostly Italians, with a long background of Vatican service, as an attempt to empower individuals in the system who remind Francis of those “old-time curialists.” Aside from the qualities Francis himself mentioned, the profile of the “old-time curialist” is well documented, dating from the Pope Paul VI era in the 1960s and 70s, when Jorge Mario Bergoglio came of age in the Church”.

Allen argues that “They tended to be fairly non-ideological, coming off as middle of the road both politically and theologically. Culturally, they tended to be Latins or southern Europeans skeptical of the “ruthless efficiency” they associated with Anglo-Saxon and German ways of doing things, and leery about Americans in particular over what they saw as our Calvinist-inspired penchant for seeing the world in terms of black and white”.

Yet if Allen is right then where does this leave the reforms and transparency he was elected to put in place? As ever it seems little will change in Rome.

He ends “These were the kinds of officials generally in charge under Paul VI, and it’s hard to escape the sense that many of the senior leaders closest to Pope Francis today would have been at home then too. The fact that Francis has not reached far outside the circle of usual suspects, in other words, doesn’t mean nothing has changed – because what matters, as always, is which kind of usual suspect has the upper hand”.

Holy See realism with China

05/04/2016

A long article discusses the warming relations between the Holy See and China, “The pope’s eyes are set on China. Since 1951, the Vatican has had no official ties with Beijing, which bans foreign influence on religion. But the relationship might be about to change. By all accounts, a Sino-Vatican diplomatic breakthrough appears within reach this year, despite increased aggression against Christian churches in some provinces. The main question now is whether Chinese President Xi Jinping is willing to concede some power to the Holy See. The primary dispute between the Catholic Church and China turns on the pope’s role in approving local bishops. Xi publicly insists on a government-controlled “patriotic” church, and the Vatican maintains that the pope, as St. Peter’s successor, must be able to name bishops to preserve apostolic authority and global unity”.

The piece goes on, “The Holy See’s solution to the dispute seems to be a version of its relationship with communist countries during the Cold War, when it achieved a modus vivendi with atheistic regimes regarding the appointment of bishops and limited religious freedom despite ongoing friction between church and state. Xi, too, seems to have a solution in mind. His willingness in 2013 to extend a hand to the Russian Orthodox Church in Beijing, and to visit Patriarch Kirill in 2015 in Moscow, suggests that the Chinese leadership can bend the rules on external engagement, especially in the face of evidence that church attendance is not slowing and can’t be stopped. Despite the Chinese Communist Party’s doctrinal atheism, and Mao’s brutal efforts to wipe out faith during the Cultural Revolution, Christian worship has exploded on the mainland, surging from about four million believers in 1949 to over 70 million today, of whom a miniscule 20,000 are Orthodox and about 12 million are Catholic”.

He argues that “The church’s position is stronger now than it has been for years, for three key reasons. First, the inexorable growth of Christianity puts pressure on Beijing to find ways to accommodate it, and decades of quiet effort have put the Catholic Church in a position to negotiate recognition. Second, the ostensibly state-controlled Catholic Patriotic Association supports Francis and has started lobbying for a deal. And finally, the Vatican still has diplomatic relations with Taiwan, to Beijing’s irritation, which gives it a strong bargaining chip. In September, Francis will  canonize Mother Theresa, who served as Pope John Paul II’s informal ambassador to China on three trips—the perfect occasion to announce a breakthrough”.

By way of context he writes that “Between 1966 and 1976, Chinese authorities forbade religion, driving all worship underground. Yet Christianity survived and has since grown rapidly. In 1979, many churches and temples were reopened, and over the next few years ministers and priests were brought back from labour camps or internal exile to lead faith communities once again. With a new emphasis on economic growth and modernization, the Chinese government decided it was more effective to control religion than to crush it. China’s 1982 Constitution protects “normal religious activity” so long as worshipers conform to one of five state-sanctioned organizations for Buddhism, Catholicism, Islam, Protestant Christianity, and Taoism that were created in the 1950s. Churches and temples in the official sphere must register and submit to state control; many faith communities opted to risk harassment, even jail, to preserve their independence”.

He notes importantly that “In the Catholic Church, relations were particularly antagonistic between official and underground churches in the first decades of communist rule. The Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association was created in 1957 as a state-sanctioned church, without approval from the Vatican. Pope Pius XII described bishops ordained by the Patriotic Association as “false shepherds,” who earned automatic excommunication. These bishops and priests were state employees, often despised by the faithful. Beijing’s insistence that the Catholic Church be locally controlled and independent of external influence directly contradicts central church tenets and governance: in a chain of succession traced back to Jesus Christ, the pope has authority to appoint bishops, who lead the church in locations around the world but report back to the Holy See. Over time, the sharp divide between patriotic and underground Catholics has blurred, especially since Pope Benedict XVI wrote a pastoral letter in 2007 calling for forgiveness between state-approved and unregistered communities to “help all Catholics grow in unity.” Where the subject of Vatican recognition continues to roil quarters of the church is among priests and bishops themselves. Two years ago, when an official seminary in Beijing announced that an illicit bishop would celebrate the graduation Mass, the class boycotted their own graduation. At the same seminary in 2000, when the Patriotic Association ordained five bishops without papal consent, the student body refused to attend“.

Interestingly he adds that “principals in the state-sanctioned church appear ready to concede authority to the Vatican. Joseph Ma Yinglin, the illicit bishop who leads the Chinese Catholic Bishops’ Conference (unrecognized by the Vatican) and his two vice presidents (one illicit, the other approved by both Beijing and Rome) took a ten-day “pilgrimage” to the United States last September, invited by the Yale University Divinity School, with the further goal of establishing connections with the U.S. Catholic Church. It seemed like an odd mission for high-level Chinese bishops and officials, but their visit coincided neatly with that of Pope Francis. A Vatican source told me that the three men wrote an inscription to the pope in a Bible: “We love you, we pray for you, we wait for you in China.” A U.S. cardinal reportedly gave the bible to the pope himself”.

The article goes on to mention that “For the most part, what has emerged in reform-era China is a sort of compromise between the Chinese government and the church. If a priest learns he is being considered for appointment by the government, most seek approval from the Vatican, thus managing to be, in an ad hoc way, jointly approved. But that informal arrangement ruptured in 2010, when the Chinese government under President Hu Jintao ordained a bishop without input from the Vatican and pressured eight Vatican-approved bishops to participate in his ordination. Tensions eased again in 2013 after Francis and Xi took office just a day apart. According to reports, Francis wrote a letter of congratulations to Xi, who replied in possibly the first direct communication between these heads of state since 1949. In revealing this exchange to Italy’s Corriere della Sera a year later”.

Pointedly the author notes, “Since the two men came to power, Beijing has not ordained any bishops independently. Instead, the government allowed a Vatican-approved bishop to take up his responsibilities, after detaining him for ten years. Last summer, the first new bishop in three years was ordained with permission from both powers. The pope has continued to push relations forward as well. He selected as his secretary of state Pietro Parolin, who served as Pope Benedict’s point man on China between 2005 and 2009, a period of relative calm. And in August 2014, the Chinese government permitted Francis to use Chinese airspace for his trip to South Korea, the first pope ever given this privilege”.

Interestingly he notes the scale of the talks, “the Vatican and Chinese officials have held three rounds of secret talks: in June 2014, October 2015, and January 2016. Representatives of the Chinese government were in Rome in January to continue the dialogue, and a Vatican delegation has visited Beijing. But despite these positive signs, many Chinese Christians worry that Xi’s true intention is to promote Sinicization. He reiterated in a speech last May that China must maintain a “united front” by resisting foreign influence, especially in religion. Based on data maintained by China Aid, the push for Sinicization has coincided with increased persecution of Christians. The group called 2014 the most repressive year for Christians since the Cultural Revolution, with over 100 churches demolished, mostly Protestant house churches”.

The writer argues that “Xi might fear that allowing Christianity to flourish, and letting go of control over bishop selection, would change the nature of Chinese society. Yet the history of Christianity in China should demonstrate that Christian worship is already compatible with Chinese culture. The survival of the faith over hundreds of years without outside priests, ministers, or missionaries is evidence of its acculturation. The first president of the Republic of China in 1912, Sun Yat-sen, was a Christian, as were many of the elite during that period. Meanwhile, the idea that traditional Chinese values are fully consistent with Christian theology goes back as far as Matteo Ricci, an Italian Jesuit who arrived in Macau in 1582, learned classical Chinese fluently, and, in 1601, became the first Westerner invited to enter the Forbidden City to advise the Imperial Court. Ricci, who wore traditional Chinese garb and a long beard, encouraged Biblical interpretation through a distinctly Eastern lens, incorporating into Catholic liturgy an unusual term for God, the Lord of Heaven”.

He rightly points out the problems between the Holy See and China, “There are, of course, many issues that divide China and the church: the Vatican recognizes the Republic of China (Taiwan) as the government of China and seats Taiwan’s president as China’s representative at diplomatic ceremonies. But for now, according to Vatican sources, both sides will focus squarely on a process for selecting bishops that allows each to point to their respective role and call it determinative. Options include allowing the Vatican to give a list of acceptable candidates to Beijing, which then makes a final selection (the model that exists in Vietnam); letting the Vatican make a selection that must then be confirmed through official Chinese channels; or letting China take the lead, but allowing candidates enough time to try to win Vatican approval, a process used for several ordinations over the last ten years. These three options were already being discussed at the U.S. embassy in 2007, according to a cable made public by WikiLeaks. In considering such options, the church is recalling the ways it dealt with hostile regimes during the Cold War. One notable example is the Vatican’s relationship with the communist regime in Hungary, which tortured the Hungarian church’s most respected religious leader, Prince Primate and Cardinal Jozsef Mindszenty. A 1957 decree made it mandatory for the pope to get “prior approval” for bishop appointments, a protocol formalized in the 1960s. Bishops had to swear allegiance to the secular government. Not only did the Holy See comply with measures that undercut its independence and authority, it allowed the Communist Party to dictate how it treated its most heroic Hungarian representative, Mindszenty”.

The piece ends, “Although some criticize the policy known as the Vatican’s Ostpolitik as a compromise with the devil, it worked: Catholic communities across eastern Europe thrive. According to Pew, Catholics make up 61 percent of Hungary’s population, 75 percent of Slovakia’s, 89 percent of Croatia’s, and 92 percent of Poland’s. And communism is gone. As Christianity continues to grow rapidly in China, there’s no evidence that it will be a threat to social order—unless the government tries to control it unrealistically. And when the Vatican does come to an agreement with Beijing, China’s fractured Catholic communities will become more united—to the advantage of both the Vatican and the Chinese state. Earlier this year, Francis said, “I would very much like to go to China. I love the Chinese people. I love them very much.” Like his Jesuit forbearers, he seems likely to make this wish come true”.

Benedict, the need for God, and mercy

30/03/2016

John Allen notes the recent interview given by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, “From the beginning, part of the narrative about Pope Francis has been that he’s sort of the anti-Pope Benedict XVI. Where Benedict was cold and aloof, Francis is seen as warm and populist; where Benedict was rigid and dogmatic, Francis is open and flexible; where Benedict was a man of the system, Francis is the antidote to it. One could go on crafting different ways of making the same point, but the idea is clear: Benedict and Francis are often set in opposition”.

Allen goes on to make the point “Francis himself has never fueled that narrative. Right after his election he took a helicopter out to Castel Gandolfo, the summer residence where his predecessor was staying, in order to embrace Benedict. The first encyclical issued by Francis, “Lumen Fidei” in June 2013, was largely based on a draft by Benedict, and Francis has invited Benedict to take part in several big events. We got another reminder that the real story is continuity, not rupture, with publication of a rare interview with Benedict after retirement on Wednesday, showcasing why he’s considered one of the best theological minds ever to occupy the Throne of Peter. The interview took place in October 2015, as part of a conference in Rome on the traditional Christian doctrine of justification by faith, and was conducted by the Rev. Jacques Servais, a Jesuit priest and theologian”.

Allen mentions that “To the extent there was a headline, it was Benedict’s assertion that there’s a “deep double crisis” facing the faith, as a result of the modern theological belief that people can be saved outside Christianity. While endorsing that belief, Benedict says it’s created a loss of motivation for missionary work and also sown doubt as to why one should put up with the demands of Christianity if you can get to Heaven without them. All that is certainly true, though it’s not the first time Benedict has made the point. Vis-á-vis Francis and Benedict, the most interesting portion of the interview comes in Benedict’s reflections on mercy”.

Allen summarises the interview noting that “In a nutshell, Benedict’s argument is that 500 years ago, when the Protestant Reformation happened, people took the existence of God for granted and assumed that God must be pretty ticked off at what a mess human beings have made of the world. Therefore, the driving question was how any human being could be saved. Martin Luther answered that question by saying it’s faith alone, while the Catholic Church insisted it’s faith plus good works, laying the basis for a great schism. Today, Benedict says, the terms of debate have been reversed. Modern women and men look around at all the violence, evil and corruption in the world, and ask what sense it makes to believe in a loving God. In other words, it’s no longer humanity that has to justify itself before God; it’s God who has to justify himself to humanity. Benedict believes God’s answer to that challenge is mercy”.

Allen continues, “According to Benedict, God cannot just make all the evil in the world disappear, because to do so would be to rob humanity of freedom. What God can do is to show mercy, thereby encouraging people to be merciful with one another. Mercy is at the heart of the Christian story, with God’s only son being willing to die amid “the suffering of love.” “Only where there is mercy does cruelty end, only with mercy do evil and violence end,” Benedict says. This brings us by a short route to Francis, since he’s all about mercy. It’s quite literally his motto as pope, which is a three-word Latin phrase, miserando atque eligendo, roughly meaning “choosing through the eyes of mercy.” His first Sunday homily as pope featured the claim that “the strongest message of the Lord is mercy,” and right now we’re in the middle of a special jubilee Holy Year called by Francis and devoted to the theme of mercy. The most famous sound bite associated with Francis, “Who am I to judge?”, is an expression of mercy, as is his attitude toward so many issues and constituencies – the poor, war, divorced and remarried Catholics, and so on. “Pope Francis is totally in agreement with this line,” Benedict says. “His pastoral practice is expressed in the fact that he continually speaks to us of God’s mercy. It is mercy that moves us toward God, while justice frightens us before Him.” As Benedict sees it, he inherited the emphasis on mercy in recent papacies from St. John Paul II, laid out the intellectual case, and then handed it on to Francis, who’s taking the message to the streets”.

He concludes “At the level of Church politics that thumbs-up is fairly important, since some of Francis’ biggest critics come among the very theological conservatives who cherish Benedict. The bottom line, therefore, is that the narrative has the story wrong. The relationship between Benedict and Francis isn’t Ali vs. Frazier, or Coke vs. Pepsi; it’s more akin to Lennon and McCartney, or Rolls and Royce. Granted, Benedict and Francis have very different personalities, but then so did Martin and Lewis or Holmes and Watson, which didn’t stop them from making some magic together. This isn’t a rivalry, in other words, but actually one of the more intriguing partnerships in recent Christian history”.

 

Benedict the humble

13/02/2016

Three years ago this week Benedict XVI resigned the papacy in what John Allen has termed, “history’s greatest act of humility”.

He opens “By sheer coincidence, I was in Rome on Feb. 11, 2013. My wife and I had already moved back to the United States from Rome, but on that date I had returned to give a talk on religious freedom at the Italian Foreign Ministry, which is why I happened to be in town when the announcement of Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation was made. Here’s how I became aware of it: I was standing at a coffee break talking to other speakers when my mobile phone rang, with a BBC reporter asking if I could confirm the pope was about to quit. Because I had received countless calls over the years asking me to run down bogus pope stories”.

Allen writes that “While Pope Francis is rightly celebrated for his personal humility and simplicity, the single greatest of act of papal humility the world has witnessed in at least the last 700 years, and arguably forever, came three years ago today from Benedict XVI. Yes, there’s a handful of popes who had resigned before. The most proximate in time was Gregory XII, who renounced his office in 1415 in order to end the Great Western Schism. The only real parallel in the sense of a voluntary resignation, however, was Pope Celestine V in 1294, whom Dante consigned to the antechambers of Hell for his “Great Refusal.” Even that comparison isn’t quite on point, because Celestine was facing both the power of King Charles II of Naples and his own successor in the papacy, Boniface VIII, and ended up dying in prison”.

Allen pointedly writes that “Benedict was the first pope to renounce his powers, not in the teeth of schism, foreign armies, or internal power struggles, but rather as the result of an honest self-examination that he simply wasn’t up to the demands of the office any longer. Granted, some Italians believe Benedict stepped down because of a leaks scandal involving secret documents stolen by his former butler, or as the result of pressure from a nefarious insider lobby in the Vatican opposed to his efforts at “purification.” Benedict and those close to him, however, have consistently rejected those explanations, and in any event they don’t make his decision any less voluntary”.

Correctly he adds that “Despite Benedict’s reputation as an arch-conservative, this was a deeply innovative thing to do. Over the years, I’d consulted experts on the papacy in Rome who felt it was inconceivable, not to mention theologically impossible, for a pope to resign. “My God,” one of those experts once told me. “Can you imagine a resigned pope? He might as well be the Archbishop of Canterbury!” In truth, Benedict never got credit for the real humility he exuded throughout his life, including his eight-year run as pope”.

He recounts another example, “Shortly after the election of Pope Francis in March 2013, the new pontiff returned to the Rome residence where he’d stayed prior to the conclave, the Casa del Clero, in order to pack his own bag and pay his own bill. That episode became part of the “humble pope” narrative that has surrounded Francis ever since. Know what Pope Benedict did after his election? He returned to his apartment in Rome’s Piazza Leonina to pack his own bag, which he ported himself back to the papal quarters. His apartment was on the same floor with the residences of three other cardinals, and as he left, Benedict rang their doorbells to thank the startled nuns who acted as the household staffs for being such good neighbours”.

Allen concludes “Why does the story about Francis become legend, while the other about Benedict is almost forgotten? Because Benedict carried a bad narrative into the papacy, while Francis had the good luck to be able to shape his own. In truth, those who’ve had the chance to interact with Benedict generally believe that no public figure in the modern era has suffered from a more dramatic disjunction between public image and private personality. In public, Benedict was seen as aloof and autocratic; in private, he came off as kind, gentle, and shy. History will almost certainly portray Benedict in a kinder light than contemporary accounts. In the meantime, Church officials might want to consider marking Feb. 11 as the “Feast of Holy Humility”, because no matter what happens from here on out, they’re unlikely to get a better example at a higher level”.

 

Francis and Kiril in Cuba

05/02/2016

Today the Press Office of the Holy See released a brief statement to announce the meeting of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church on 12 February in Cuba.

A report notes that “The meeting, the first between a sitting pope and a Russian patriarch, will be an important step in mending the Great Schism that divided Eastern and Western Christianity in 1054. “This meeting of the Primates of the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church, after a long preparation … will mark an important stage in relations between the two Churches,” said a joint statement released by both churches Friday. The encounter between the two leaders, expected to last roughly two hours, will take place at Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, and will conclude with the signing of a joint declaration. No details about the content of that agreement were released. Kirill will be visiting the island nation as part of his first-ever official visit as patriarch of the Russian Church to Latin America. His tour will include stops in Brazil and Paraguay”.

John Allen writes that “Journalism tends to wildly overuse the term “historic,” but when it comes to Friday’s announcement that Pope Francis will meet Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia on Feb. 12 in Havana, there’s simply no other word for it. It will be the first meeting ever between the head of the Catholic Church and the spiritual chief of Russian Orthodoxy. It’s a moment for which ecumenical leaders on both sides have been labouring for decades, and to be honest, many thought they’d never live to see it. St. John Paul II, the first Slavic pope who dreamed of reuniting Eastern and Western Christianity, longed to visit Russia, or, in the absence of such a trip, to meet the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church at a location of his choosing”.

Allen goes on to note “For the better part of a quarter-century, rumours of such a meeting would periodically erupt — the pope and patriarch would meet in Vienna, for instance, or in Crete, or in some other neutral site. It never came to be, in large part because of resistance on the Russian side. Many Russian Orthodox fear that the Catholic model of ecumenism means submission to papal authority, and despite repeated assurances from John Paul, Benedict XVI, and now Francis that what they’re after instead is “reconciled diversity,” the suspicion never seemed to abate. Further, many Russian Orthodox clergy and laity have a series of standing complaints about the Catholic Church, and have long insisted those disputes must be resolved before a meeting between the heads of the two churches would be anything other than a cheap photo-op”.

Allen mentions that these complains, bordering on paranoia, include “The so-called “Uniate Churches,” meaning the Eastern churches in communion with Rome, which some Orthodox see as a Trojan horse originally created to siphon people away from Orthodoxy”.

Allen also notes that the ROC bemoans the very existence of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church which the ROC sees as being on its territory but, Allen writes the UGCC is also resented “for its generally pro-Western and anti-Russian political line”.

Allen does not the supposed evangelism of the Catholic Church in Russia but fairly notes that “a study in 2002 found there were just 800 conversions in the entire decade of the 1990s. Meanwhile, Evangelical and Pentecostal Christianity exploded in Russia, so much so that a 2012 book referred to it as a “post-Soviet gold rush.” How acute have these tensions been felt over the years? In 2004, John Paul II dispatched a high-profile delegation to return a cherished Russian Orthodox icon called the Madonna of Kazan to the Patriarch of Moscow. The group arrived at the Kremlin, sat through a lengthy Orthodox liturgy, and then formally placed the icon into the patriarch’s hands as a gesture of papal outreach and respect”.

Allen mentions that “As they were doing so, the sound system inside the Cathedral of the Dormition was turned off so the crowd couldn’t hear the Vatican side expressing its good wishes, and a spokesman for the Patriarchate of Moscow went outside to go on television to say that until Rome got out of Ukraine, none of this meant anything”.

Thus, far from being a block to better relations it seems the ROC, under the previous patriarch, did all it could do be childish and immature at the gestures to the ROC.

Allen interestingly adds that “In recent years, however, three things have happened to jar the prospects for détente forward. First was the election of Kirill in February 2009. Prior to becoming patriarch, Kirill had served as chair of the Russian Orthodox Church’s Department for External Church Relations, and in that capacity was effectively its top ecumenical official. Kirill was long seen by ecumenical experts as open to closer ties with Rome and with other branches of Christianity, and when he would occasionally make less friendly declarations, many attributed it to his need to placate hardliners within the Russian Orthodox synod. Seven years later, Kirill may feel that he has consolidated control to a sufficient extent that he can face down whatever criticism may come for agreeing to meet the pope”.

He goes on to mention, “Second has been the tremendous progress made over recent decades in relations between Catholicism and other Orthodox churches, especially the Patriarchate of Constantinople, but also Orthodox bodies in other nations, such as Armenia, Albania, Romania, and elsewhere. Granted, Moscow is the essential player in Orthodoxy, since two-thirds of the world’s 225 million Orthodox Christians are Russians. Yet the calculation in Moscow today may be that if it continued to stand on the sidelines in terms of warming relations with Rome, it would find itself isolated. Especially in light of a pan-Orthodox council scheduled for Crete in June, the first such gathering of leaders of all the Orthodox churches in 1,000 years, Moscow probably feels under pressure to reassert its relevance and leadership, and a high-profile summit with the pope is a terrific way of doing so”.

Allen ends “Third, Francis has changed the calculus in Orthodox circles in terms of how they think about the pope. He’s the first Latin American pope, and thus does not summon the same set of historical resentments largely tied to European history as either John Paul II, a Pole, or Benedict XVI, a German. Moreover, his foreign policy priorities since his election have been largely congenial to Russia’s perceived interests. In September 2013, he joined forces with Vladimir Putin in successfully heading off a proposed Western military offensive in Syria to bring down the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Since then, Francis and Putin have met in the Vatican and found common ground on several matters, including the protection of Christians in the Middle East and the growing reemergence of Cuba in the community of nations”.

He ends “Given that the Russian Orthodox Church enjoys an extremely close relationship with the Russian government, it’s unlikely Kirill would have agreed to the meeting with Francis without at least a tacit green light from Putin. Back in the John Paul II days, it was always taken for granted that the first encounter between a pope and the Russian patriarch would have to take place on a neutral site, and then it could be followed by a papal trip to Russia itself. If so, then Vatican-watchers might want to hit Rome bookstores for guidebooks to Moscow, because as of today, the idea of such an outing has transitioned from wildly improbable to increasingly plausible”.

Francis dismantles Social Communications

20/12/2015

Yesterday Pope Francis appointed Msgr Paul Tighe as adjunct secretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture. He had previously been serving as secretary of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications since 2007.

Rocco reports While this week before Christmas has seen two Stateside nods slip under the door, the Pope’s saved the best present for last: at Roman Noon this Saturday, word came that Francis had appointed Msgr Paul Tighe, 57  – the Dublin-bred #2 at the Pontifical Council for Social Communications since 2007 – to the new post of adjunct secretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture, elevating him to the episcopacy in the process as titular bishop of Drivasto”.

He goes on to add “For starters, the move comes as a surprise, arriving in the face of widely-held expectations (his own included) that – with the Vatican’s communications entities now being consolidated into a single Secretariat led by three Italians and, for “balance,” an Argentine – Tighe would be heading back to Ireland. Most of all, however, given the bishop-elect’s longstanding role as the relentless architect behind the Holy See’s sometimes turbulent embrace of and adaptation to a “new media” world, that he’s sticking around instead (and with a hat, to boot) has the feeling of a watershed moment”.

He makes the interesting point that “if you’re trying to reform a culture – or advance a new one – the quietly warm, wiry and energetic nominee is the kind of guy you’d want to have around: after all, as Francis’ designated coordinator of the blue-ribbon Patten Commission tasked with charting the reform of the Vatican’s media operation, Tighe did the very un-Curial work of presiding over his own obsolescence”.

Importantly Rocco gives background “To briefly recap a long, eventful decade, it bears recalling how the first throes of digital media were mostly greeted in Vatican circles with ignorance at best, paranoia at worst – and even today, in at least few quarters, some things never change. In the main of the Curia, however, the premium on a fortress mentality carried the day until the chaotic fallout of the 2009 Williamson case, when the lessons learned from the debacle of B16’s de-excommunication of a Holocaust-denying traditionalist prelate (whose residency in Argentina is instructive to more recent developments) included a fresh approach to the cyber-world. As a result, after years of being sidelined in its pleas for a more digital-friendly Vatican, the PCCS suddenly found a new openness to a shift of strategy – to no shortage of displeasure from the Old Guard – with Tighe landing in the driver’s seat. By 2011, the council scored a torrent of global attention with its move to hold the Vatican’s first ever conference on social media during the beatification of Pope John Paul II – a Tighe idea whose widespread response stunned the organizers’ very modest expectations – and by late 2012, five years after the attempt at a first platform (called Pope2You) was epically botched due to a lack of top-level interest and support, the Communications council was the conduit behind the smooth, very successful launches of the share-based News.va portal and the Pope’s own @Pontifex Twitter presence, both of them tapped into being by Benedict himself in moments that went viral and then some”.

He mentions that “Alongside Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi and two other bishops already on-hand at Culture, “adjunct secretary” is a freshly created post for the council, which isn’t being collapsed into the new, sprawling Secretariat for Communications. Ergo, while the shape of the nominee’s new duties remains to emerge, it stands to be expected or at least hoped that, as a bishop – and one with less of an administrative workload, to boot – Tighe’s role as voice and presence for the church’s digital reality will only increase”.

Francis, Benedict and the ordinariates

29/11/2015

Amid talk of a civil war in the Church, John Allen notes the similarities between Pope Francis and Pope Benedict, “At the level of style, Pope Francis is obviously a somewhat jarring contrast with his predecessor, emeritus Pope Benedict XVI. Francis generally comes off as a warm Latin populist, Benedict more a cool German intellectual. Leaders, however, promote either continuity or rupture not primarily at the level of style but rather policy, and on that front, one can make a case that Francis has a surprising amount in common with Benedict. His reforms on both Vatican finances and the clerical sexual abuse scandals, to take one example, are clearly extensions of Benedict’s legacy”.

Allen goes onto notes “A new chapter in this largely untold story of continuity came on Tuesday, when the pontiff tapped 40-year-old American Monsignor Steven Lopes as the first-ever bishop of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, one of three jurisdictions created under Pope Benedict in 2012 to welcome former Anglicans into the Catholic Church. The Ordinariate of St. Peter, based in Houston, serves ex-Anglican communities in the United States and Canada. Our Lady of Walsingham is based in the United Kingdom, while Our Lady of the Southern Cross is in Australia. The Lopes appointment represents continuity with Benedict on multiple levels”.

He then mentions that “Lopes was for many years the personal aide of American Cardinal William Levada, who served from 2005 to 2012 as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under Benedict. Levada was, and remains, a close friend and ally of the emeritus pontiff. Lopes himself worked in the CDF from 2005 until his appointment this week”.

Allen fairly writes that “the creation of new structures for former Anglicans was a signature Benedict move that drew criticism on at least two fronts. First, critics saw it as an “un-ecumenical,” a violation of the gentleman’s agreement between Catholics and Anglicans not to go fishing in one another’s ponds. Second, given that most Anglican defectors these days tend to be theological conservatives, critics styled it as example of Benedict trying to drive the Catholic Church to the right”.

Pointedly Allen argues that “Some may have expected that opening to be played down under Francis, but clearly that’s not the case. As a press release announcing Lopes’ appointment put it, Francis’ move “affirms and amplifies Pope Benedict’s vision for Christian unity” and makes the ordinariate “a permanent, enduring part of the Catholic Church.” Francis also recently approved a new set of texts for the celebration of Mass by the ordinariates, incorporating distinctive features of Anglican worship. Those texts will go into use on the first Sunday of Advent on Nov. 29, and Lopes played a key role in producing them. In a Crux interview Wednesday, Lopes said he sees his new job as all about continuity between the two popes. “I worked very closely with Pope Benedict in creating the ordinariates, and I know his vision was of allowing diversity in communion,” he said. “Pope Francis embraces that model and is pushing it through to its logical conclusion.” Francis, Lopes said, is conscious of carrying forward his predecessor’s approach”.

Interestingly he adds “Lopes argued that the experience of the last three and a half years has undercut much of the alarm voiced at the beginning about Benedict’s move. For example, he said he hasn’t witnessed the “tension and blowback” observers expected from the Anglican side. “On the contrary, the Anglican/Roman Catholic dialogue is continuing,” he said, adding that there have been several examples of the Episcopal Church in the United States “being very, very gracious when whole communities have come over.” He also denied that the former Anglicans he now serves are entirely made up of disgruntled conservatives. “Anglicanism itself is diverse, so the people coming in are diverse,” he said. “To paint the ordinariates with a brush of just one color may be a handy narrative, but it’s false.” At the moment, Lopes said, the ordinariate for the United States and Canada has 42 parishes, 64 priests, four deacons, and roughly 20,000 faithful. It’s in an expansion phase, he said, both because other Anglican communities are still requesting entrance, and because his parishes tend to be keenly missionary and are attracting new members”.

The report adds “Looking forward, he said it’s plausible new ordinariates could be created in other parts of the world, perhaps to serve Latin America and the Pacific islands. Although Africa contains the majority of the world’s Anglicans, Lopes said he would be “surprised” if an ordinariate emerges there. Most African Anglicans, he said, are evangelicals, with different understandings of church authority, the sacraments, and so on, from Catholicism. Taking the long view, Lopes predicted that the basic idea behind these communities – that “unity of faith allows for vibrant diversity in expression … which Benedict believed, and to which Francis is now giving contours” – will stand the test of time”.

Francis chooses Brussels and Barcelona

15/11/2015

Rocco Palmo writes about the new appointments in Brussels and Barcelona made by Pope Francis. These come on the heels of new archbishops in Bologna and Palermo.

Rocco opens, “While Rome’s chattering circuit is consumed with the latest round of leak theatrics surrounding Vatican finances and the excesses of some prelates, the Pope has instead taken to doubling down on work and complete a “lightning round” of appointments to several major European posts”.

Rocco adds “Francis named Bishop Josef De Kesel of Bruges, 68, as archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels and head of a Belgian church that might just be the most bitterly polarised in the Catholic world. In the capital post of the linguistically-split, heavily secularised nation of Dutch and French-speakers, the incoming primate succeeds Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard, who only reached the retirement age of 75 in May, after a five-year tenure which has been dogged by controversy from the outset on fronts ranging from the prelate’s comments on the moral culpability of AIDS patients to clergy sex-abuse, which saw Leonard civilly ordered to pay €10,000 earlier this year after being found to have failed to act on an allegation in his prior post in the 1990s. Highlighting the tensions on the wider scene, in two incidents that went viral the archbishop once was hit in the face with a pie during a liturgy and subsequently had water bottles dumped on him by topless feminists who stormed the stage at one of his speaking engagements”.

Rocco adds vitally that “A protege of Leonard’s predecessor, the famously liberal Cardinal Godfried Danneels – whose auxiliary De Kesel had been from 2002-10 – the archbishop-elect (a Gregorian-trained theologian) was the first choice on the terna for the last Brussels succession, but the then-Nuncio, Archbishop Karl-Josef Rauber, was overruled by Benedict XVI, who personally chose the more traditional Leonard. Shortly after the appointment and his retirement shortly thereafter, a clearly displeased Rauber himself disclosed the face-off in an Italian magazine interview, going on to criticize both Papa Ratzinger and his eventual pick. Now 81, as a coda it bears noting that the former Nuncio was given a non-voting red hat by Francis at last February’s Consistory”.

The report goes on to note “In today’s other major move, Francis has reportedly spurred shock in the Spanish church’s Establishment by tapping 69 year-old Bishop Jose Omella of Calahorra as archbishop of Barcelona, Spain’s second-largest diocese, ground zero in the ongoing fight over independence for Catalonia, the region based in Gaudí’s city, where the 2010 dedication of the architect’s Basilica of the Sagrada Familia provided one of the monumental moments of the last pontificate. Named to succeed the native son Cardinal Lluis Martinez Sistach, now 78, according to local reports Omella was raised on the peripheries of the region and grew up speaking its distinctive Catalan tongue, but isn’t said to be given to his new fold’s widespread nationalist tendencies. In keeping with Francis’ usual identikit for his picks, the Barcelona nominee has a long history in the church’s social action work, including a stint as a missionary in Zaire. The Pope’s move on the 2 million-member archdiocese is Papa Bergoglio’s third major shift in Spain – whose hierarchy he knows well, having preached one of its retreats before his election – following last year’s bombshell appointments on the same day to Madrid and Valencia, the latter going to Rome’s then-Liturgy Czar, Cardinal Antonio Canizares”.

Rocco reminds the reader that the appointments “close out a cycle of top-level nods which began last week as – in his first turn at Italy’s traditional “cardinalatial sees” – Francis yet again stunned the natives by naming an auxiliary of Rome, Bishop Matteo Zuppi, 59, as archbishop of Bologna and a 53 year-old Sicilian parish priest, Msgr Corrado Lorefice, to the archbishopric of Palermo, the island’s premier post. As with today’s appointees, both have significant records of pastoring the church on the margins, with Zuppi – a lead figure in the progressive Sant’Egidio movement – having led one of Rome’s largest outskirt parishes, while Lorefice has frequently cited his inspiration in the figure of Fr Pino Puglisi, a searing critic of Sicily’s Mafia bosses who was gunned down outside his church in 1993. Beatified in 2013, “Don Pino” is buried in the cathedral where Lorefice will soon have his seat. When the assassinated cleric’s name was raised following his appointment, the archbishop-elect interjected to reporters that his selection was Puglisi’s “fault.”

Interestingly Rocco adds that “In both appointments, meanwhile, it is understood that the Pope tossed aside the shortlists compiled during the formal consultation process, choosing instead to find his choices after taking his own soundings among the clergy of each place”.

Pointedly he concludes “Given his determination to not be “chained” to the custom of certain dioceses nearly guaranteed a spot in his Senate, as Francis has chosen to send his Italian red hats to places which have never had a cardinal or not seen one in generations, whether the duo will follow their respective predecessors into the College is an open question. In any case, while a February Consistory is again said to be on-deck, the mid-month timeframe when Francis has gathered the cardinals both in 2014 and 2015 is off the table next year due to the Pope’s now-confirmed trip to Mexico, during which the first American pontiff is widely expected to make his long-desired stop somewhere along the US border… and possibly cross over it”.

The Teflon pope

08/10/2015

A report notes that Pope Francis is playing with “house money” in the 2015 Synod, “In the abstract, Pope Francis might have reason to be a bit nervous that his much-ballyhooed Synod of Bishops on the family, an Oct. 4-25 summit he’s been touting as a potentially defining moment of his papacy for almost two years, might be about to run off the rails. We’ve already had confirmation, for instance, that a clash among the bishops over the hot-button question of allowing divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to return to Communion is far from resolved”.

Allen reports that “On day one, Hungarian Cardinal Péter Erdő basically tried to bury the issue. Yet on day two, Italian Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli used a Vatican news conference to say that it remains “completely open,” and pointedly asked that if all the bishops were going to do was to echo Erdő’s line, then “what are we doing here?” Similarly, there was enough blowback against changes to the synod process on the opening day that Francis felt compelled to take the microphone to insist that he’d personally approved the new rules, which critics feel are designed to limit the information flow and stack the deck in favour of desired outcomes”.

The piece continues “Much like the last edition of the synod in 2014, there’s also a risk that expectations are being created that might not be realised. On Tuesday, for example, a Vatican spokesman said some participants have called for rejecting “exclusionary language” on homosexuality. “These are our children, our family members,” said the Rev. Thomas Rosica, summarising points made inside the synod. “They aren’t outsiders, but our own flesh and blood. How do we speak about them [positively] and offer a hand of welcome?” It remains to be seen, however, if a majority of bishops are on board. As Archbishop Paul-André Durocher of Gatineau, Quebec, put it on Tuesday, for every prelate seeking to overcome a “growing gulf” between Church teaching and the realities of family life by meeting the world halfway, there’s another worried about not being swallowed up by it. For them, the challenge isn’t rephrasing doctrine so much as reinforcing it”.

Naturally Allen notes that “Francis is no naïf, so the question has to be asked: Knowing how easy it would be for things to go wrong, why would he put his credibility on the line by allowing a potentially rancorous summit to play out this way? Part of the answer may be that Francis is in a position to ride out whatever storms may come because he’s insulated by his own narrative. That narrative, of course, is that Francis is the “People’s Pope,” a humble, simple reformer trying to steer Catholicism toward greater compassion and mercy. It’s made him a moral hero outside the bounds of the Church, as well as something of a “Teflon” figure to whom no criticism ever seems to stick for very long. Recent days have brought confirmation of the point by inviting a comparison with his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI”.

Allen expands on this point “At different moments in their respective papacies, each has faced criticism for a move with regard to a previously little-known bishop. The controversies involved two chronic sources of anguish for the Catholic Church — its record on anti-Semitism and the Holocaust in the case of Benedict, and its reaction to the clergy sexual abuse scandals for Francis. In 2009, Benedict lifted the excommunications of four traditionalist bishops, including one, Richard Williamson, with a history as a Holocaust denier. That decision sparked global outrage and became a front-page story for weeks, deepening impressions of Benedict as out of touch and insensitive to public opinion. The outcry became so intense that two months later, Benedict released an unprecedented letter to the bishops of the world, apologizing for mishandling the affair and revealing how isolated he was from information anyone could find easily on the Internet. Flash forward to 2015, when Pope Francis named a new bishop for the diocese of Osorno in Chile who critics believe covered up crimes by his country’s most notorious abuser priest. The appointment triggered protests in Chile and objections from some of the pontiff’s own advisors on anti-abuse efforts, but has had little echo anywhere else”.

Pointedly Allen argues “Francis hasn’t responded with a heartfelt mea culpa like Benedict, but with defiance. In a five-month-old video, Francis is heard telling an employee of the Chilean bishops’ conference that people criticizing his move are being “led around by the nose by leftists,” and that the country has “lost its head.” While the substance of the two situations may be very different, the potential for backlash is eerily similar. Just imagine what the reaction would have been had Benedict blamed his own woes on “leftists,” and you’ll understand the difference between the narratives the two pontiffs carry around. It’s striking that outside the Spanish-speaking media, there’s been relatively little reaction to the Barros affair, certainly nothing like the firestorm Benedict faced six years ago”.

Allen then relates this to the Synod “No doubt, Francis would prefer that the summit reach an inspired result on the contentious questions, such as divorce and pastoral approaches to gays and lesbians, and also to generate momentum toward a renewed commitment to supporting families both in their struggles and their triumphs. Yet it’s entirely possible that’s not how things will end. It could be that the synod produces heartache and acrimony, with bishops walking away unsatisfied and Catholics at the grassroots left dazed and confused. The experience of the last 18 months, however — reinforced both by the relatively mute reaction to the Barros controversy, and by the perceived success of the pontiff’s outing to the United States — suggests such a scenario might not put much of a dent in Francis’ own political capital. In terms of broad public opinion, it’s plausible to believe that if the synod is seen as a success, Francis will get the credit. If it’s seen as a shipwreck, the takeaway may be that it’s despite his leadership rather than because of it”.

He ends “At least in part, it may be because Francis grasps that when he rolls the dice these days, he’s basically playing with house money. If he loses, he’ll still be flush; if he wins, he just might break the bank”.

Francis the diplomat

02/10/2015

Given the recent trip of Pope Francis an article in Foreign Affairs notes the role of the pope as politician, “On Friday morning, the Vatican’s yellow-and-white flag was, for the first time, hoisted over the United Nations. Other than the flag, there will be little else to mark the occasion of Pope Francis’ address to the UN General Assembly. In fact, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s office had to convince the pope’s team to accept even that honour. The issue first came up when Palestine, the assembly’s other permanent observer, promoted a resolution to allow the two nonmember banners to stand next to 193 member flags. The Vatican pressed to have its name removed from a draft text; the Holy See signed its first bilateral accord with Palestine in May and has referred to the “State of Palestine” since Francis visited last year, but Francis still considered the motion to be unnecessarily antagonistic toward Israel and the United States, which both opposed it. In the end, even though the specific reference to the Holy See was deleted, the resolution still referred more generally to “raising the flags of nonmember observer states,” a category that includes the Vatican. The resolution passed with 119 votes in favour, including France, Italy, Japan, Spain, Sweden, and Poland; eight votes against, including Australia, Canada, Israel, and the United States; and 45 abstentions, including Austria, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the Baltic States”.

This is primarily a result of the intense, even excessive, desire to be neutral. The simple raising of a flag is, in the eyes of the Holy See, an intensely political act which should be avoided.On the Church acts over what it considers to be its freedom of speech or doctrine is extremely political. To pretend that it is not is simply untrue.

The writer continues “The episode sums up Francis’ diplomatic style in a nutshell—promote reconciliation without offending key stakeholders. Press antagonists to encounter each other while avoiding affronting political leaders. For example, last week in Cuba, even as Francis called for a “revolution of tenderness,” he resisted pressure to meet with the island’s persecuted political dissidents. In Ecuador two months ago, the pope likewise avoided photo ops with President Rafael Correa’s critics, who mounted major street protests in the weeks leading up to the pontiff’s visit”.

The writer mistakenly writes “As a religious leader, Francis is charged with upholding values that transcend politics, which is why he tries not to play in political games. At the same time, however, human dignity can hardly flourish in conditions of deprivation or destruction, which is why he and his tight-knit diplomatic team have not been afraid to advocate justice, peace, and mercy to those in power. In that way, he has had to be more actively politically engaged than previous popes, but also more careful in how he does it”.

Yet this is somewhat simplistic. The role of Francis, and any pope, is entirely political, though obviously not exclusively. The exercise of religion is inherently political. Of course all modern popes have tried to focus on the transcendent but crucially the author admits that he “tries” to avoid political games.

The writer adds that “Among modern pontiffs, Pope Pius XII (1939–1958) faced extensive political challenges during and after World War II, yet even he was not expected to travel the world meeting with global leaders. Pope John Paul II (1978–2005), who dealt with a world tensely divided between the West and the Soviet Union for 13 years and a dominant United States thereafter, pushed for change but faced more intransigent world orders. Pope Benedict XVI (2005–2013) left the post, in part because of the complex political demands of the office. One reason Francis was elected for the job after Benedict was an intervention he gave to the conclave in 2013, in which he criticized the Catholic Church as too self-referential. Instead, he urged, it needed to focus on bringing Christ’s message to the world—and that’s just what he is doing”.

Interestingly he argues “Despite his reputation for humility, Francis is comfortable playing the prophet. His first official trip outside Rome was to the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa in 2013, where he spoke of the plight of refugees, mainly Muslims, fleeing failed states and war. Arriving on an Italian coast guard ship, he cast a wreath into the sea to honour those who had drowned. Later, he met with men from Eritrea and Somalia who made the crossing. In an emotional homily the day of the visit, the pope said that he came “to reawaken our consciences”—to cast out indifference toward suffering born out of a “culture of well-being, that makes us think of ourselves, that makes us insensitive to the cries of others, that makes us live in soap bubbles, that are beautiful but are nothing.” His startling language and use of symbolism—his altar was fashioned from an old fishing boat, his chalice and staff made from wood pulled from the ocean—prompted the Italian government to form, in October, Mare Nostrum, a rescue mission that saved over 150,800 refugees and arrested 330 smugglers before it was replaced by a European Union initiative”.

The article continues “Francis’ response to the refugee crisis is also unique. Before flying to Cuba, he met with a Syrian refugee family now living in a Vatican-owned apartment. The family of four, members of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, arrived in Italy the day Francis asked all Catholic communities across Europe to accommodate at least one refugee family. Humanitarian service, as opposed to political action, has been the Catholic Church’s standard response to cataclysm. For Francis, though, the church should take a more proactive geopolitical role. With priests and religious leaders being kidnapped and murdered, while thousands of believers are forced to flee ancient communities in the cradle of Christianity, Vatican engagement is not optional. And so Francis has encouraged the church to be more active on behalf of refugees and migrants, which typically leads to more political engagement. For example, in the United States, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has made immigration reform a high priority and lobbies constantly for progressive legislation. The bishops didn’t need to be pressured to do so: the vast majority of immigrants from Latin America are Catholic”.

He mentions that the Holy See “has had formal, uninterrupted diplomatic relations with Iran since 1954; friendly correspondence between popes and Persian shahs dates back to the sixteenth century. Of the 180 countries with which the Holy See enjoys diplomatic relations, Iran maintains one of the largest delegations, which meets monthly with Vatican advisers. Encouraged by these connections, in March 2014, three U.S. bishops met with four leading ayatollahs in Iran. They were hosted by the Supreme Council of the Seminary Teachers of Qom, Iran’s spiritual center. With backing from the Holy See and a blessing from the U.S. State Department, the participants used the four-day session to establish a dialogue on nuclear weapons and the role of religious leaders in diplomatic engagement”.

He goes on to note that “One of the bishops involved in the Iran dialogue on religion and nuclear arms, McCarrick, also played a role in negotiations to normalize U.S.-Cuban relations. He sat by the pontiff’s side during the first Mass in Havana earlier this week. The Vatican’s engagement on Cuba and Iran helped the pope build a personal relationship with Obama and so much political capital in Washington that he was invited to address a joint session of Congress—a first for a pope. This is all the more remarkable considering that 34 years ago, when U.S. President Ronald Reagan decided to establish diplomatic relations with the Holy See, it was controversial—so controversial, in fact, that a legal challenge brought by a diverse coalition of religious groups went all the way to the Supreme Court. The White House won. These days, the Vatican is frustrated by U.S. activities in the Middle East, but it hopes that the goodwill it has built up in the United States can lead to more collaboration, possibly including on Syria. Sources in Rome say the pope considers it a very positive sign that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry recently described Syrian peace negotiations as a “process.” After talks with the British foreign minister last week, Kerry noted that “we need to get to the negotiation”.

The article ends “One relationship Francis has patiently cultivated is with Putin. The Vatican has earned its bona fides in Moscow by exercising restraint with regard to Ukraine. Instead of siding with the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (which has a strong anti-Russian streak, having been persecuted by the Soviet Union), the pope counseled its leaders to avoid politicising the church. The Vatican recently relocated to Switzerland its American-born nuncio to Kiev, Thomas Gullickson, allegedly because Moscow complained that he was biased against Russia. What is notable is that, in Pope Francis’ view, not only are dissidents expendable in the interests of a larger process but so are church members and employees”.

He concludes “It’s an understatement to say that Francis is ambitious. He is leading the church into the world, as he pledged to his peers that he would do. No other pope has written a stand-alone document on the environment, probably because it requires so much simultaneous engagement in international and local politics, public policy, science, and education. His fearlessness and willingness to go there has contributed to his popularity. But global popularity has a downside: besides creating unrealistic expectations, there’s a risk that the multiplication of goals obscures the spiritual heart of his enterprise. Can a pope be a man for all people? Who knows. But Pope Francis is willing to try, and the world seems willing to let him”.

 

 

Benedict, still making waves

27/07/2015

Damian Thompson writes about Benedict XVI, “One of the finest speeches Benedict XVI ever delivered was about sacred music. It is a small masterpiece, in which Benedict recalls his first encounter with Mozart in the liturgy. ‘When the first notes of the Coronation Mass sounded, Heaven virtually opened and the presence of the Lord was experienced very profoundly,’ he said”.

Thompson goes on to mention that “Benedict robustly defended the performance of the work of great composers at Mass, which he insisted was necessary for the fulfilment of the Second Vatican Council’s wish that ‘the patrimony of sacred music [is] preserved and developed with great care’. Then he asked: what is music? He identified three places from which it flowed. First, the experience of love, opening ‘a new grandeur and breadth of reality’ that inspires music. Second, ‘the experience of sadness, death, sorrow and the abysses of existence’. These open ‘in an opposite direction, new dimensions of reality that can no longer find answers in discourses alone’. Third, the encounter with the divine. ‘I find it moving to observe how, in the Psalms, singing is no longer enough for men — an appeal is made to all the instruments: reawakened is the hidden music of creation, its mysterious language.’ You can find footage of part of this speech online. It shows Benedict in his prime, speaking with light fluency, dressed in papal robes and appearing thoroughly relaxed in the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo”.

He goes on to write “When Benedict suddenly vacated the chair of Peter in February 2013, he announced that he would live out his days in silence in the Vatican monastery of Mater Ecclesiae. If that was a promise, he has never quite kept to it. Last year, the Pope Emeritus slapped down his old adversary Cardinal Walter Kasper, a left-wing German theologian, for suggesting that, when he was still Professor Ratzinger, he supported communion for divorced and remarried Catholics — Kasper’s pet cause. He has warned the Church against ‘any wavering from the Truth’. He has welcomed news that the Ordinariate — the body he set up for ex-Anglicans, disgracefully sidelined by the English bishops — now worships in the former Bavarian embassy chapel in Soho. And he told traditionalists that the pre-Vatican II Latin Mass ‘now lives in full peace in the Church, even among the young, with celebration by great cardinals’. Most of these interventions can be interpreted as implicit criticism of Pope Francis”.

He adds that “The ‘wavering from the Truth’ comment was directed at Kasper, a mentor to Francis whose radical ideas provoked fury at last October’s Synod on the Family. (Significantly, the Vatican tried to keep Benedict’s words from reaching the press.) The Ordinariate letter is unlikely to have bothered the Pope, but the message to Latin Mass supporters will have annoyed him. When Benedict praised ‘great cardinals’, he had in mind the arch-conservative Raymond Burke — whom Francis sacked as head of the Vatican’s legal tribunal”.

Thompson unfairly exaggerates that Kasper is a mentor to Francis. The current pontiff has spoken favourably about some Cardinal Kasper’s theology but at the same time Francis has done little to push for Cardinal Kasper’s proposal of allowing those who are divorced civilly to receive Communion. Therefore to say that Kasper is a mentor and to imply that Francis supports him is somewhat disingenuous.

Thompson makes the valid point “Benedict’s reflections on music are, on the face of it, uncontroversial. But they are the first he has delivered in public — looking rejuvenated. Moreover, in citing Vatican II to defend liturgical high art, he was reviving the ‘hermeneutic of continuity’, the great theme of his pontificate. Benedict views Vatican II as an enrichment of tradition. Francis sees it as a ‘new beginning’ and accuses its critics of ‘wanting to tame the Holy Spirit’. He has rejected the hermeneutic of continuity”.

He ends “Liberal Catholics will dismiss Benedict’s comments as the embittered musings of a disappointed 88-year-old and point instead to the million-strong crowd Francis drew in Ecuador this week. They overlook something obvious to visitors to many British parishes: younger clergy and worshippers in the West tend to be natural Benedictines, not Franciscans. My own parish is not ‘traditionalist’ but its liturgy has become more solemn, the music more classical and a crucifix has appeared on the altar: a trademark of the hermeneutic of continuity because the priest symbolically faces east, as once he did literally. Joseph Ratzinger is not the Pope. But by calling himself ‘Benedict XVI’, dressing in white and keeping the word ‘pope’ in his title, he reminds us that he is a living successor to St Peter. Quite what authority that bestows on him is a mystery. But clearly he feels entitled to reach out discreetly to members of the faithful distressed by the dismantling of his legacy. To these Catholics, Benedict is saying, in language far more eloquent than the crowd-pleasing paragraphs of Francis’s encyclical on the environment: my vision is not dead. And nor am I”.

Francis vs Santorum

19/07/2015

A report from Foreign Policy notes the reaction to Laudato Si’ the latest encyclical from Pope Francis, “Laudato Si, Pope Francis’s landmark encyclical on ecological justice, may or may not be the most highly anticipated papal document of all time. But it’s certainly the only one to have inspired a Hollywood-style trailer. Styled as the teaser for a summer blockbuster, the video, released by the Brazilian climate action group Observatório do Clima exactly a week before encyclical, features a kickboxing ninja warrior pope who takes on coal and oil magnates with the help of Jesus, his ringside trainer. “In this epic battle of climate crisis,” intones the voice-over, “we can’t let him fight alone.” And indeed, the encyclical — a teaching letter to the world’s 1.4 billion Catholics — on the theme of the environment and the poor makes the pope arguably the highest-profile actor in a global effort to combat ecological devastation. The encyclical is embargoed until June 18, but a draft leaked by an Italian publication on Monday didn’t pull any punches. In the encyclical, Francis does not hedge his conclusion that climate change is real and man-made, and he throws in a critique of capitalism’s exploitation of nature for good measure”.

Thankfully the author provides some accurate context, “despite all the hoopla that has accompanied the encyclical’s release, the environment is not a new area of interest for the Roman Catholic Church. In the aftermath of the energy crisis, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released an influential 1981 document that called on Americans to accept “an appropriate share of responsibility for the welfare of creation.” Pope John Paul II added his voice in 1990, referring to concern over greenhouse gases as a moral issue. Benedict XVI was dubbed the “Green Pope” for his efforts to raise international awareness of environmental destruction. Both are quoted frequently throughout the text of this latest document. At the same time, neither of Francis’s immediate predecessors explicitly mentioned climate change. And as with so many aspects of his papacy, it’s the urgency and priority that Francis has given this issue that stands apart. The timing — releasing the encyclical in the lead-up to his fall address to the U.N. General Assembly and the Paris climate summit in November — is an unusually savvy move by the Vatican, which is not in the habit of scheduling encyclicals around outside events”.

Naturally the fact that the encyclical was published at all drew ire from conservative elements, “Almost as soon as the topic of the encyclical was announced more than a year ago, critics sought to undercut its importance, arguing that papal infallibility does not extend to matters of science. Stephen Moore, an American Catholic economist, warned in a January op-ed that Francis was part of a “radical green movement that is at its core anti-Christian, anti-human being and anti-progress.” Princeton Professor Robert George piled on, writing in the Catholic journal First Things that, “Pope Francis does not know whether, or to what extent, the climate changes (in various directions) of the past several decades are anthropogenic — and God is not going to tell him.”

Of course both Moore and George are wrong. The Church’s teaching in this area is sound, linking the environment, God and man all together. As ever the Church’s holistic view is either unknowningly, or worse knowningly distorted for partisan ideological ends.

The writer goes on to mention that “The way this pope talks about the relationship between human life and creation reflects the Latin world’s more urgent preoccupation with the consequences of environmental change. This encyclical, despite the fervour it has incited in its critics, will be broadly welcomed in the developing countries that represent the future of Catholicism — many of which have been hit hard in recent years by flooding and other natural disasters that have accompanied more extreme weather patterns. These countries are the least equipped to endure crop damage and shortages that can result from drought or floods, and they are dangerously exposed to the risks of rising sea levels”.

He continues “Even in the United States, Hispanic Catholics are far more likely than white Catholics to be distressed about the climate. A 2014 Public Religion Research Institute poll found that 73 percent of Hispanic Catholics are somewhat or very concerned about climate change, while only 41 percent of white Catholics feel the same way. Hispanic Catholics are also far more likely to believe that humans are at fault, and they are more than twice as likely as white Catholics to predict that they will be personally harmed a great deal by climate change”.

Needless to say the piece adds, “It’s no secret that these are not the priorities at the top of many conservative Catholic lists. Like many political conservatives, particularly in the United States, conservative Catholics have resisted the idea that climate change is man-made. And heading into a GOP primary battle that features several Republican Catholics — Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Rick Santorum among them — they would prefer not to have climate change edging out sexual ethics as the most visible “Catholic” issue. (Just this week, Bush responded to the encyclical’s imminent release by opining that religion should stay out of politics. “I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope,” Bush said.)”

Of course what Governor Bush should be told is that all of these elements are interlinked. One cannot be disregarded over others. So abortion is just as important as care for the poor and the environment.

Interestingly he notes “Nor are the U.S. bishops completely on board with the direction in which Francis is leading the global church. At their annual meeting last week, the bishops considered a list of proposed future priorities: family and marriage, religious freedom, evangelism, and abortion and euthanasia. There was no mention in their document of the poor, no mention of the environment. The disconnect between this pope and the West that is highlighted by the new encyclical could be a preview of the church’s immediate future. No one knows how long Francis’s papacy will last — he has indicated a desire to follow Benedict’s lead and resign after several years, and he is a 78-year-old with only one lung. But in a stunningly short amount of time, Francis has set up a challenge from the global south to those who have ruled the church since its inception. He may not be a kickboxing ninja, but Francis is taking the fight directly to those who benefit from the status quo”.

 

Laudato Si, the environment, the human person and the limits of technology

18/06/2015

Michael Sean Winters writes about the encyclical released today by Pope Francis.

He begins “Laudato Si’ indeed! On one of the most important issues of the day, our Holy Father has blessed the Church with a document that is accessible to virtually anyone, rich in the collected wisdom of the Catholic faith, attuned to the signs of the times, forceful in its call to urgent action on behalf of our sister, Mother Earth. Here are five things that jump out at me based on a first reading of the text”.

Winters correctly argues that “the theology is very traditional. The quotes from Saint Pope John Paul II remind us that there was more to John Paul than what his neo-conservative “interpreters” in the U.S. chose to highlight. Pope Francis quotes from his encyclical Centesimus Annus, writing, “Every effort to protect and improve our world entails profound changes in ‘lifestyles, models of production and consumption, and the established structures of power which today govern societies.’” Likewise he quotes Pope Benedict XVI, who so far from the caricature of a reactionary, called for “eliminating the structural causes of the dysfunctions of the world economy and correcting models of growth which have proved incapable of ensuring respect for the environment.” Interestingly, having cited his predecessors, Pope Francis gives even more attention to the writings of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who wrote, “For human beings… to destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the earth of its natural forests or destroying its wetlands; for human beings to contaminate the earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life – these are sins.” And, he cites the Patriarch on the call “to accept the world as a sacrament of communion, as a way of sharing with God and our neighbours on a global scale. It is our humble conviction that the divine and the human meet in the slightest detail in the seamless garment of God’s creation, in the last speck of dust of our planet.” I do not recall any previous papal document devoting such attention to a Christian leader who is not a Roman Catholic in an official document such as this”.

Winters goes on to write “The spirituality of St. Francis has touched Pope Francis deeply. Francis’ reflections on his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, almost bring one to tears:

He shows us just how inseparable is the bond between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace.  Francis helps us to see that an integral ecology calls for openness to categories which transcend the language of mathematics and biology, and take us to the heart of what it is to be human. Just as happens when we fall in love with someone, whenever he would gaze at the sun, the moon or the smallest of animals, he burst into song, drawing all other creatures into his praise. He communed with all creation, even preaching to the flowers, inviting them “to praise the Lord, just as if they were endowed with reason”. His response to the world around him was so much more than intellectual appreciation or economic calculus, for to him each and every creature was a sister united to him by bonds of affection. That is why he felt called to care for all that exists. His disciple Saint Bonaventure tells us that, “from a reflection on the primary source of all things, filled with even more abundant piety, he would call creatures, no matter how small, by the name of ‘brother’ or ‘sister.’”

Winters goes on to make the point that “What follows in this encyclical, all of it, the commentary on science, the analysis of socio-economic structures, the call for political action, all flow from these spiritual insights into the relationship between the human person as creature, Creation and the Creator”.

Winters argues that Pope Francis does not dispute the science, “The heart of the Holy Father’s handling of the issue that has caused such controversy, at least in the US, the issue of how he would deal with science, is found in Paragraph 23 and it is remarkably straightforward:

A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system. In recent decades this warming has been accompanied by a constant rise in the sea level and, it would appear, by an increase of extreme weather events, even if a scientifically determinable cause cannot be assigned to each particular phenomenon. Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it….The problem is aggravated by a model of development based on the intensive use of fossil fuels, which is at the heart of the worldwide energy system. Another determining factor has been an increase in changed uses of the soil, principally deforestation for agricultural purposes.

We cannot overstate the degree to which these sentences are unremarkable outside the US. It is only here, where think tanks and pseudo-think tanks, and some political candidates, are so dependent on extraction industries, they are loathe to accept what is, in fact, virtually common knowledge”.

Winters goes on to make the link Laudato Si’  and Evangelii Gaudium, “The section on Global Inequality develops some of the themes Pope Francis articulated in Evangelii gaudium, and applies those themes specifically to the issue of environmental degradation. Our laissez-faire friends will be gnashing their teeth, of course, over these words of his:

In the meantime, economic powers continue to justify the current global system, where priority tends to be given to speculation and the pursuit of financial gain, which fail to take the context into account, let alone the effects on human dignity and the natural environment. Here we see how environmental deterioration and human and ethical degradation are closely linked. Many people will deny doing anything wrong because distractions constantly dull our consciousness of just how limited and finite our world really is. As a result, “whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenceless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule”.

He goes on to an extensive analysis of the modern, technological mindset and its limits. On Monday, I suggested that I wished Benedict XVI had written an encyclical on this issue because we would have certainly gotten some of von Balthasar’s trenchant critique of the Cartesian cogito and its progeny. Pope Francis delivers his critique via the theology of Guardini, who, of course, had a profound effect on von Balthasar and Benedict, and was the intended subject of Pope Francis’s never completed doctoral dissertation. I will leave it to the theological pro’s to explain how Guardini differs from Balthasar on this point, but the essential critique is the same: The modern, technological mindset tends to see human persons as commodities, and replaceable commodities at that, it presents a truncated vision that pushes out the transcendent and, just so, makes authentic relationships impossible, and, in the context of the environment, it prevents us from seeing Creation as a gift. Creation is, like everything else, a tool. The next time a free marketer says that capitalism is merely a tool, to be used well or badly”.

Crucially Winters makes the excellent point that “Francis’ ringing call for attention to the common good is an ethical call. It questions not just the current pro-market ideology of both parties in the US, but some of the basic assumptions of Madison and Hamilton in the Federalist Papers, where the competition among self-interested individuals and groups is seen as the guarantor of liberty. Society is about more than liberty, Francis is telling us, better to say, liberty is about more than a lack of government interference. The Holy Father calls us to the freedom of the children of God, not to the negative freedoms ordained by our Founding Fathers. Francis follows his critique of the modern technological mindset with a beautiful meditation on human work. He is again building on the writings of his predecessors, but his style is so accessible and so obviously rooted in experience. Reading that section, you know that this pope really has spent time with people who work hard to earn their daily bread”.

Winters ends the piece, “The calls of previous popes for a conversion of lifestyles went unheeded if not unheard. Will it be different this time? I do not know. I fear that things must get worse in our culture before we learn again to acknowledge our God with humility, just as the human body, towards the end of its time on earth, breaks down, reminding us of our dependence upon our Creator. I may be doubtful, but the pope is hopeful. “Yet all is not lost. Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start, despite their mental and social conditioning,” he writes”.

He concludes, “When the issue is the environment, it is not only our lives or our souls that are at stake. It is the planet. It is future generations. The evidence of the danger is all around and the cure will require more than a successful round of agreements at Paris this autumn, although we need them too. Pope Francis does not cite Abraham Kuyper in his text, but last night, reading James Bratt’s biography, I came across Kuyper’s most famous line: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” That sense of God’s presence permeates the text of Laudato Si’, and the Holy Father extends the cry to the whole domain of Creation. He wants us to look at Creation and see the handiwork of the Creator, at all times and in all our decisions. He is brutally frank about the entrenched ways of thought and powerful interests that hope we will do nothing of the sort. But, I am betting Pope Francis can and will change the conversation. At a time when the leadership of the world seems so unequal to the challenges, there is a giant in our midst, who took the name Francis. Some will be upset by this encyclical. No one should be surprised”.

 

A history of environmental concern

18/06/2015

An article from Crux on the newly released papal encyclical, LAUDATO SI, opens that many popes have remarked on the environment, “Anxiety has so gripped American conservatives over Pope Francis’ upcoming encyclical on the environment that you might think a pope had never before blamed fossil fuels for global warming. Or accused energy companies of hoarding the Earth’s resources at the expense of the poor. Or urged the rich to consume less and share more. But several of Francis’ immediate predecessors have done just that, inspired by the Bible itself — raising the question of what all the fuss is about. Why would US Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum, a devout Catholic who says he loves the pope, urge Francis to “leave science to the scientists” and stop talking about global warming? And why would conservative Catholic commentators attack the Vatican for hosting the United Nations secretary-general at a climate conference? It turns out that environmental issues are particularly vexing for the Catholic Church, especially in the United States. They carry implications for Big Business and their Catholics supporters, as well as for the world’s growing population, which brings up questions of birth control. For the religious right, the Vatican’s endorsement of the UN agenda on global warming amounts to an endorsement of the UN agenda to give women access to contraception and abortion”.

The report adds “How Francis deals with population growth as it affects the environment is one of the key questions that will be answered when the encyclical, entitled “Laudato si (Be Praised), On the Care of our Common Home,” is released June 18. Despite such divisive issues, popes in recent decades have not shied from framing ecological concerns in moral terms, given that in the Bible itself God places mankind in the Garden of Eden with the explicit instructions to not only “till” the ground but to also “keep it.” Recent popes have made clear that human activity is largely to blame for the environmental degradation that is threatening the Earth’s ecosystems. They have demanded urgent action by industrialized nations to change their ways and undergo an “ecological conversion” to prevent the poor from paying for the sins of the rich”.

The piece notes the John Paul II added to the papal mageristum on this topic, but it goes on to note  “Before him there was Pope Paul VI. In his 1967 encyclical, “Populorum Progressio” (Development of Peoples), Paul wrote that while creation is for man to use, the goods of the Earth are meant to be shared by all, not just the rich.

“No one may appropriate surplus goods solely for his own private use when others lack the bare necessities of life.”

And then there was Pope Benedict XVI, dubbed the “green pope” because he took concrete action to back up his strong ecological calls: Under his watch, the Vatican installed photovoltaic cells on the roof of its main auditorium, a solar cooling unit for its main cafeteria, and joined a reforestation project aimed at offsetting its CO2 emissions”.

The piece goes on to mention “In his 2009 encyclical “Charity in Truth,” Benedict wrote:

“The fact that some states, power groups, and energy companies hoard non-renewable energy resources represents a grave obstacle to development in poor countries. The international community has an urgent duty to find institutional means of regulating the exploitation of non-renewable resources, involving poor countries in the process, in order to plan together for the future.”

In that encyclical, the German theologian addressed the population issue by denouncing mandatory birth control policies and noting that even populous countries have emerged from poverty thanks to the talents of their people, not their numbers. At the same time, though, he stressed “responsible procreation” — a theme Francis is likely to take up himself given that he has already said Catholics need not reproduce “like rabbits.””

Interestingly the writer adds “So what is so new about Francis’ encyclical? First, no pope has dedicated an entire encyclical to ecological concerns. And no pope has cited the findings of the UN International Panel on Climate Change in a major document, as Francis is expected to do. Francis, history’s first Latin American pope, will also be bringing the point of view of the “Global South” to a social teaching document of the Church, which is in itself new. But on the whole, the Church’s environmental message has been articulated for years, though it has gotten lost in other issues. “To be honest, we have been talking about this, but not with enough emphasis,” said the Rev. Agostino Zampini Davies, the Argentine theological adviser to CAFOD, the development agency of the Catholic Church of England and Wales”.

He ends “Amid the alarm that Francis will go far beyond what past popes have said, US Cardinal Donald Wuerl recently addressed a conference of business and Church leaders on how sustainable actions can drive the economic growth needed to lift people out of poverty. “The teaching of Pope Francis and his efforts to address the environment are in harmony with those of his predecessors,” he insisted”.

Always in schism

27/03/2015

John Allen, after the consecretaion by Richard Williamson of a new bishop writes why any reconciliation, now or in the future probably will not occur.

He opens “Schism with the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X, founded by the late French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in 1970, was set in cement in 1988 when Lefebvre consecrated four bishops in defiance of Pope John Paul II. In general, Lefebvre and his following protested the liberalizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). Their signature issue is the old Latin Mass but their objections cut much deeper, generally including ecumenism and inter-faith dialogue and the church’s effort to reach out to the secular world”.

He goes on to write “Just like the Palestinians, the traditionalists were offered almost everything they wanted during the Pope Benedict XVI years as a condition for reunion: Their own juridical structure under church law, giving them autonomy from what they regard as excessively liberal bishops, and a doctrinal statement that acknowledged legitimate diversity in interpreting the documents of Vatican II. Like Arafat they demurred, and the rest is history – the election of a pope not similarly invested in relations with the traditionalists, broader movements in Catholicism that make reunion less likely, and now an internal cleft in the traditionalist world”.

He continues “In truth, however – and as staggering a claim as this may seem – détente between Rome and the Society of St. Pius X was always, if anything, even less likely than Israeli/Palestinian peace. This week’s news, first reported on the Rorate Caeli blog, is that Bishop Richard Williamson, who made a name for himself in 2009 by denying that the Nazis used gas chambers and asserting that historical evidence is “hugely against” the idea that Hitler killed 6 million Jews, plans to ordain a new bishop in defiance of Rome. (Catholic News Service reported Thursday evening that Williamson went through with the illicit ordination and therefore was automatically excommunicated.) Williamson was declared excluded from the Society of Pius X in October, 2012, and the priest he plans to ordain is in the process of being kicked out. This act should certainly put an exclamation point on things”.

Allen mentions that “In the short run, Williamson’s act of defiance may prove a boon to dialogue between what’s left of the Society of St. Pius X and Rome. The head of the society, Bishop Bernard Fellay, is viewed as a realist who sees his movement’s future eventually in coming in from the cold. His freedom of action, however, has been constrained by the more intransigent elements in the fold. It’s conceivable that without Williamson and his following, Fellay may be able to move more boldly”.

Yet he correctly writes that “There’s a good reason, however, why every pope since Paul VI has worked hard to try to heal the schism. Catholic theology holds that any validly ordained bishop can ordain another bishop. Hence the Vatican will be constrained to recognize the Rev. Christian Jean-Michel Faure as a bishop after Williamson ordains him, though it will insist the ordination was illicit and will not recognize any ministry he exercises. In other words, a schism led by a real bishop can become self-replicating, a scenario any pope would want to avoid”.

Pointedly he argues that “there are three reasons why corporate reunion with the traditionalists was probably always a pipe dream and remains so today. First, Fellay is not Arafat, the founder of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the mythic father of the nation. Arafat may have been the only one who could have convinced the Palestinians in something resembling unified fashion to accept a deal. In the traditionalist world, that iconic role belongs to Lefebvre and no one else. As a result, when negotiations under Benedict XVI reached the moment of “fish or cut bait,” nobody had the moral authority to bring everyone along”.

He goes on to argue “one massive obstacle to an Israeli/Palestinian deal is Palestinian insistence on a “right of return,” meaning reclaiming lands and homes seized by the Israelis in the early stages of the conflict. However understandable it may be, it’s not going to happen, and makes any final resolution a non-starter. Similarly, many traditionalists see a formal renunciation of the Second Vatican Council as a condition for reconciliation with Rome, and that’s every bit as implausible”.

He ends “once the genie of schism is out of the bottle, it’s awfully hard to put it back in. Having lionized Lefebvre for breaking with Rome, one wonders how long it would be after a reunion deal before some elements of the traditionalist camp would find something else intolerable and walk off again. In the days to come, there may be speculation about the impact of the Williamson decision on relations with Rome, and some may predict that the path has been cleared for improvement”.

Williamson ordains a bishop

19/03/2015

A Holocaust-denying Catholic bishop who made headlines in 2009 when Pope Benedict XVI rehabilitated him and members of his breakaway traditionalist society is heading for new trouble with the Vatican. Bishop Richard Williamson is planning to consecrate a new bishop Thursday in Brazil without Pope Francis’ consent — a Church crime punishable by excommunication. The Rev. Rene Miguel Trincado Cvjetkovic confirmed the planned consecration of the Rev. Christian Jean-Michel Faure in an e-mail to The Associated Press. The consecration was first reported by the traditionalist blog Rorate Caeli. Williamson, Trincado, and Faure have all been, or are in the process of being, kicked out of the Society of St. Pius X, which was formed in 1969 by the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in opposition to the modernizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council. They have opposed the society’s recent efforts at reconciliation with the Holy See. In 1988, the Vatican excommunicated Lefebvre, Williamson, and three other bishops after Lefebvre consecrated them without papal consent. In 2009, Benedict removed the excommunications in a bid to bring the group back into full communion with Rome and prevent further schism. But an uproar ensued after Williamson said in a television interview aired just before the decree was made public that he did not believe Jews were killed in gas chambers during World War II.

Same enemies as Benedict?

03/03/2015

An article questions if the same people that were against Pope Benedict are against Pope Francis.

He begins “One can govern without worrying what his enemies are doing. And one can govern by trying to use his enemies, or at least by putting them in a situation where they can’t do any damage. Pope Francis’ strategy seems to be the latter. This is the dominant picture that emerges from the series of appointments and choices he has made during the almost two-year period of his pontificate. While it seems that those who opposed Benedict XVI have risen again, it also seems that Pope Francis is seeking to neutralize his enemies by assigning them new posts. The latest appointments which give the impression that this is Pope Francis’ approach are the seven members of the new ‘College’ established to deal with ‘delicta graviora’ that Pope Francis has created within the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. ‘Delicta graviora’ concern ‘most serious crimes’, and include sexual abuse of minors and certain serious abuses associated with the Sacrament of Penance”.

The article adds “The monthly meeting of the 25 cardinals and bishops who are members of the Congregation – the so called ‘feria quarta’ – examine an average of 4-5 appeals of priests who believe themselves to have been unjustly condemned. The newly established office is charged with lightening the workload of the Congregation. All of its members are well versed in canon law. However, most of them fell from the limelight as a consequence of Benedict XVI’s curial reforms. Some of them slammed the door behind them. Others made a more subtle retreat. The president of the new College is Charles J. Scicluna, currently Auxiliary Bishop of Malta, who previously served for ten years as Promoter of Justice (i.e. public prosecutor) within the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Scicluna was one of the main players during the height of the clerical sexual abuse scandal, and he promoted and enforced the Vatican’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy. Now back in the service of the Congregation, he draws again from his earlier experience. But it is rumored his appointment as auxiliary bishop was also due to some backbiting”.

He goes through the other members, “Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, President of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, has turned 75, the age of retirement. A recent rescript made even more stringent the requirement for people who reach the age limit to leave their posts. Coccopalmerio has become one of the most active supporters of Pope Francis’ line, and he also authored a debatet proposal for curial reform, with no results. His appointment in the College will give him an excuse to remain in Rome. Some people are even talking about the possible abolition of the Pontifical Council he currently heads: it was needed to respond to juridical questions that arose after the Second Vatican Council, but in Pope Francis’ era it is said it is no longer considered necessary. Another member of the College is Bishop Juan Arrieta Ochoa de Chinchetru, number two at Legislative Texts. At the beginning of Pope Francis’ pontificate, he seemed to be a rising star, and sources maintain that he was entrusted with drafting the Chirograph through which the Pope established the Pontifical Commission for Reference concerning the IOR (the so-called Vatican Bank), where he has served as secretary. Arrieta seemed to be up for an important post in the Curia, and perhaps he will make the cut. At the moment, however, it is unlikely that that he will do so. Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski is currently Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education. He turned 75 and is going to retire. He did not invite the sympathy of “Francis’ world” when he strongly opposed Kasper’s line at the recent synod of bishops. According to rumours, he will be soon be replaced by Victor Fernandez, Rector of the Catholic University of Argentina and Pope Francis’ ghostwriter”.

He ends the section “Cardinal Julian Herranz, appointed supplementary member, is a skilled juridical and canon law expert and former president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts. But he is also the cardinal who led the commission of cardinals to investigate Vatileaks, and this might have a certain weight to Pope Francis’ eyes. Finally, Archbishop José Mollaghan is also a member of the College. He was Archbishop of Rosario, Argentina, but Pope Francis did not want him there. He was appointed a member of the College even before the rescript that outlines its functions was published. He moved to Buenos Aires, having obtained from the Pope permission to remain in Argentina, but no longer in Rosario”.

He makes the point that “The way the College was established provides an example of Pope Francis’ modus operandi. The College almost seems to be a remedial refuge for marginalised prelates Pope Francis wants to keep close at hand. The modus operandi may be described this way: first you create a refuge, then you invent some project for it to do. So Pope Francis’ pontificate may be described as the ‘remedial pontificate’. In the next consistory, Karl Josef Rauber, former Nuncio to Belgium, will be created cardinal. He strongly opposed the appointment of André Joseph Léonard as archbishop of Brussels, and while doing so even resorted to granting an interview that read like anti-Benedict XVI propaganda. It is rumoured that he was one of those who leaked to the media a series of innuendos concerning Benedict’s pontificate”.

The result of this is he writes “with Francis as pope, a gang of diplomats is once again front and center on stage. Under Benedict XVI, diplomats felt marginalised. Benedict read every dossier they sent to him and returned them with questions and modifications written in his tiny handwriting. But the Pope Emeritus preferred personal meetings with residential bishops during their ad limina visits”.

He underlines this point, “Pope Francis has entrusted many diplomats with key positions. Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State, comes from the old school of diplomacy. Recently he initiated a personal campaign to subject to official procedures every decision that had not yet been so treated: last week, a rescript was published that formalised the previously announced, de facto enlargement of the number of members of the Council for Superintendency of the IOR. Cardinal Beniamino Stella is the head of the Congregation for the Clergy: he is a diplomat, who previously served as Papal Nuncio to Cuba and later as President of the Ecclesiastical Academy, the school for Vatican diplomats. Edoardo Menichelli, archbishop of Ancona, will be created cardinal: he was raised by another guru of Vatican diplomacy, Cardinal Achille Silvestrini, of whom  he had been number two at the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, during the ’90s”.

The writer goes on to mention “This is the split that Jorge Mario Bergoglio observed during the General Congregations – the pre-conclave meetings of cardinals. He got his first whiff of it when, during one of his speeches – according to a source – he spoke of the significance of the older members of the Curia and of the diplomats. Later, once elected pope, he indicated that he grasped what he had earlier only sensed when he explained that he did not come into the papacy with a ready-made plan for the Church, but was merely implementing what the cardinals had said needed to be done during the General Congregations. But Pope Francis also listens to Benedict XVI and has made him a sort of hidden adviser. During their first meeting at Castel Gandolfo, Benedict gave Francis a box containing the Vatileaks documents. He carefully explained the situation in the Vatican in such detail that Pope Francis was struck hard. If Pope Benedict decided to proceed with his reform project without caring too much about what others thought, Pope Francis has determined for the most part to give a certain weight to each individual’s opinion in an attempt to avoid internal power struggles. Nevertheless, he doesn’t hesitate to lash out at the Curia – as when he listed the 15 curial diseases during their Christmas exchange of greetings – while at the same time he is careful to hold them all close to himself without letting any of them know what his true intentions are”.

Crucially he writes “But this, too, is a defensive mechanism because the enemies of Benedict are the same enemies of Francis. Some of these still wish that the Church would think along the lines of secular criteria, while others are just looking for positions of power for themselves so they can exercise power. There are but a few who search for the Truth. It remains to be seen whether Francis will be able to govern while surrounded by enemies, or whether the latter will out-connive him and win him over to their side. For now all of his decisions show a certain inclination in favor of his enemies. But Francis’ primary objective – above all others – is to refashion a positive image of the Church. He wants to adjust its structures to fit the expectations of ordinary people in order to renew the Church’s credibility. He attempts this through gestures aimed at swaying the popular imagination, while at the same time he holds in-check everyone in the Curia who could possibly damage this new, positive image. Francis’ plan seems to be  short-term in scope; he hopes to repair offenses in order to avoid being attacked. When all the offenses are repaired, what will the state of Church  be? Will it still be able to shape the world?”

“The Pope’s favourite peripheries”

12/02/2015

An article notes that Pope Francis has chosen the new cardinals from the peripheries. He opens “Since becoming pope, Francis has asked the Church repeatedly to reach outward toward the peripheries, and he immediately began to show his preference for them. His first papal trip was to the Italian island of Lampedusa, a periphery of the Mediterranean and an asylum for refugees. His first European trip outside Italy was to Albania, a country that is still not a member of the European Union. And the big reform of the Church seems to be oriented to giving more weight and power to the peripheries of the Church. But which are the peripheries that Pope Francis prefers? To which peripheries does the Pope want to give the keys of the Church? This question occurs as Pope Francis is leaving on his trip to Asia (another periphery), because his plan for the Church may be better understood by understanding which are his preferred peripheries”.

He goes on to make the point “Pope Francis’ choices of new Cardinals for the next Consistory have surprised many. In general, he respected some non-written rules for the creation of new Cardinals; yet he interpreted these rules his own way, mixing up the cards as he usually does. In the end, his picks not only tilted the balance of influence in the College toward the Church’s peripheries, more importantly, they showed that some peripheries are more significant than others”.

He adds “Among the new picks, there are only two African bishops who will be able to vote in a conclave, from Ethiopia and Cape Verde. No new Cardinals hail from North America. Just four come from Europe. In general, all the new Cardinals come from peripheral countries. They are characterized by a strong pastoral commitment, especially on social issues. And most of them do not get along well with the Church’s central governing institution, or at least they do not know it very well. Some of them are anti-Roman, or at least they see Rome as an impediment for their pastoral activity. An exception is number two on the papal list, Manuel Macario do Nascimento Clemente, Patriarch of Lisbon. He is not a progressive, but a scholar, a pretty conservative one. Nevertheless, Patriarch Clemente was able to set the bar for his church in tune with Pope Francis, for example, by organizing a missionary synod for 2016 and by positioning himself in the mainstream during the last synod of bishops. Even if deemed a traditionalist, he knows which way the wind is blowing. An 18th-century agreement between Pope Clement XI and King John V of Portugal requires that the Patriarch of Lisbon be created Cardinal at the first consistory that occurs after his appointment. Patriarch Clemente had to wait an additional consistory before making the cut. This may not have been just by chance”.

He goes on to make the point that “Among the most anti-Roman peripheries is New Zealand. At a first sight, the choice of Archbishop John Atcherley Dew seemed to be a tribute to Cardinal George Pell, in an effort to give the College of Cardinals a new residential representative from Oceania, since Pell’s successor in Sydney was not going to receive a red hat. This interpretation was tempting, but it proved wrong. New Zealand is one of the most secularized countries in the world, and the Catholic Church there has drifted toward desacralisation. New Zealand is the ‘Holland of Oceania’. The last liturgical reform there dropped the requirement that the faithful should kneel during the consecration”.

Interestingly he notes “No wonder that the Archbishop of Wellington joined Cardinal Walter Kasper’s side at the synod of bishops. In the end he even admitted that New Zealand had already adopted the direction proposed by Kasper. Dew did not state this out of opportunism; he insisted out of personal conviction that Kasper’s proposals were right”.

He continues “On the other side of the ocean, beyond the surprise of a Cardinal hailing from Paranà, Pope Francis will create the Archbishop of Montevideo (Uruguay), Daniel Fernando Sturla, a Cardinal. He comes from the most atheistic country in South America, and he probably thinks that the antidote to the hemorrhage of the faithful is for the Church to move closer toward their positions: some of his declaration have been read as a real change of pace, especially for what concern doctrinal stances. What a pity, then, that a Pew Forum survey suggests instead that this approach may not be helpful. In a survey on reasons why Catholics leave to join Protestant sects, the Pew Forum established as the first three reasons the search for a personal connection with God, participation in a particular style of worship and, finally, a felt need for a greater emphasis on morality”.

Pointedly the writer makes the point that “While Leonardo Boff continues to celebrate para-religious rites although he quit the priesthood and lives with female partner, his brother, Clodovis, has come around to understand that putting the poor, and not Christ, at the center of the Church’s preaching has turned the Church in Brazil into a sort of merciful NGO. This is exactly what Pope Francis says he does not want. Yet the Pope seemingly prefers bishops with this kind of orientation, bishops who perhaps possess a very strong pastoral sensitivity, but one that is little supported by Catholic teachings. Pope Francis’ choices concretise the bias found in some ecclesial peripheries that view Rome as an obstacle and an impedment to their development”.

He goes on to make the valid point that “it seems that the Pope’s favourite peripheries are those that perceive any central institution with suspicion and that seek a pastoral autonomy unbound from the doctrine of the Church. Step by step, the final outcome may involve the dismantling of the Roman Curia’s structures, and even the dismantling of the weight of some bishops’ posts. The Pope does not respect traditional balances, he simply de-legitimizes and undermines existing church institutions this way. Pope Francis’ plan does not seem to be long term. Reasoning in the short term he sees the need for Cardinals from peripheries who are able to carry forward his reforms and even quietly drive the Synod of Bishops toward his wished-for change in direction. The secret battle for the next Synod has already begun, as has the battle for advancing curial reforms“.

Worryingly for the Church he writes that “if the Pope does not have a long term plan in mind, is there anyone out there who does? According the Austen Ivereigh’s book “The Great Reformer,” the team of Cardinals who backed Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s election convinced skeptical Cardinals to support him by arguing that Benedict XVI’s resignation established the principle that from now on a pope could leave office at the right time. These Cardinals certainly had in mind a plan for the Church. All of the Cardinals in the alleged ‘team Bergoglio’ are promoters of a progressivist agenda, one that favors a less doctrinal and more pastoral Church, an agenda of mercy that could not care less about justice. All of these Cardinals knew that Bergoglio, filled with the Latin American periphery’s anti-Roman sentiment, would back the reforms they hoped to see enacted. Nevertheless, they probably already have someone in mind for the next conclave. A very strong pretender to the throne may be Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, Filipino, young, esteemed in progressivist circles for his contribution to the “History of the Second Vatican Council”, an account of the Council drafted by the group of scholars belonging to the so-called ‘Bologna School’ who interpret it as a rupture, and not as a continuity, in the Church’s tradition”.

The author goes on to note the other theory “The other future contender for the papacy is Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Secretary of State. He worked hard demonstrating the full weight of the Secretariat of State, which was originally supposed to be dismantled or at least divided into two large secretariats. With diplomatic finesse, Cardinal Parolin has earned a prominent position, and he is now moving the Vatican’s diplomatic apparatus toward a limited global interventionism (he recently stressed that “there are so many conflicts that we cannot stay silent”), while still maintaining a certain realpolitik. If he wins the battle over curial reform, he may have a chance”.

However, it has been said before that “after a fat pope, a lean pope”. Therefore as Francis was from a diocese and is progressive, the successor may come from the Curia and have a more orthodox streak. However this seems slightly less likely the way Francis continues to choose his cardinals. Yet, any suggestion that Cardinal Tagle is the crown prince should not be taken seriously.

He ends “For his part, Pope Francis does not seem to be a part of this war; he is mostly a pawn in it. But his unpredictability together with his impulsivity and improvisation constitute real contributions to the war effort. In the end, everybody knew which were the peripheries the Pope loved the most. And everybody knew about his resentment toward Rome and central church structures. Many of his latest choices prove it”.

Obama, Castro and Francis

20/12/2014

In what is a long overdue and truly historic move, it has been reported by the BBC that “President Barack Obama has hailed a ‘new chapter’ in US relations with Cuba, announcing moves to normalise diplomatic and economic ties. Mr Obama said Washington’s current approach was ‘outdated’ and the changes were the “most significant” in US policy towards Cuba in 50 years. Cuban President Raul Castro said he welcomed the shift in a TV address. The move includes the release of US contractor Alan Gross and three Cubans held in the US. Wednesday’s announcements follow more than a year of secret talks in Canada and at the Vatican, directly involving Pope Francis. US-Cuba relations have remained frozen since the early 1960s, when the US broke off diplomatic relations and imposed a trade embargo after Cuba’s revolution led to communism”.

An article in Crux reveals the extent to which the Holy See was involved. It opens “The restoration of full diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba, as well as a prisoner exchange that secured the release of American Alan Gross, was brokered, in part, by the Holy See. A high-ranking Vatican official confirmed today that the Obama administration and the Vatican have been working together for more than a year to end decades of hostility and restore relations between the US and the Caribbean nation. After 18 months of secret talks hosted largely by Canada and encouraged by Pope Francis, the pontiff hosted the final meeting at the Vatican in October between US and Cuban officials, according to the Vatican. The final agreement was reached during a telephone call between Obama and Castro Tuesday”.

The authors continue, “Pope Francis sent private letters to both President Obama and Cuban leader Raul Castro last year, the Vatican confirmed, and Obama said that he and the pope discussed Cuba during the president’s visit to the Vatican in March.  The pope’s involvement had its roots in Boston, according to the co-founder of a Cambridge-based conflict resolution group that asked Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley to talk about Cuba with the pope. O’Malley has visited Cuba seven times since his first trip in the 1980s, meeting with religious and government officials, including in 2012 as part of a delegation traveling with Pope Benedict XVI”.

Interestingly they write that “Timothy Phillips, whose group Beyond Conflict has participated in conflict resolution initiatives in Northern Ireland, South Africa, and several countries in Latin America, said his group decided to approach O’Malley about a year ago, to see if O’Malley would be willing to ask the pope to become directly involved in efforts to normalize relations with Cuba”.

The article mentions “In his announcement of the new diplomatic relations today, President Obama thanked Pope Francis for his role in the process, ‘whose moral example shows us the importance of pursuing the world as it should be, rather than simply settling for the world as it is.’ US Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican whose parents immigrated from Cuba in 1956, blasted Obama for not securing more concessions from Cuba in exchange for restoring diplomatic relations, and also took a swipe at Pope Francis’ role. ‘I would … ask His Holiness to take up the cause of freedom and democracy, which is critical for a free people — for a people to truly be free,’ Rubio, a Catholic”.

After the official announcement took place the Secretariat of State issued a formal evening statement welcoming the move.  Others, notably the Guardian, praised the involvement of the Holy See.

John Allen writes that the success is a vindication of the police of “détente” persued by the Holy See. In effect this is a long term view with short term trade offs. Allen writes “The normalisation of relations between the United States and Cuba may be primarily a turning point for those two nations, but it also represents a victory for a Vatican policy of détente that reaches back at least to the papacy of John Paul II”.

He writes that “Lay faithful have faced discrimination in the workplace based on overt expressions of religious identity, for instance, and Church officials are still awaiting a breakthrough on the return of Church properties expropriated by the regime 40 years ago. Facing those realities, the Vatican’s line over the past 40 years has favoured engagement and the gradual reinsertion of Cuba into the community of nations, on the theory that a Cuba moving toward the center would also be friendlier to religion”.

Allen says that the basic point of this policy was effectively realism, “John Paul did call on the Cuban authorities to provide greater freedom of expression and association, but in general treated Castro as a legitimate head of state rather than a pariah. In return, Castro made a point of wearing a suit rather than combat fatigues for his encounters with the pope, and shortly after John Paul II left, Castro restored Christmas as a national holiday. The pope sent Castro a note of thanks, irritating many anti-Communist hawks on Cuba. Five years later, the Vatican’s top missionary official at the time, Italian Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, traveled to Cuba to celebrate the reopening of a convent for the Brigittine order of Catholic nuns. Sepe came in for criticism from Catholic conservatives who denounced the gesture as nothing more than a photo-op for the Castro regime, but Vatican officials insisted the trip was part of a long-range strategy for steering Cuba down a more moderate path. That policy of détente extended into the Benedict XVI years. When Benedict visited Cuba in 2012, he pointedly declined to meet a delegation from the “Ladies in White,” one of the most prominent anti-Castro opposition groups in the country. He also denounced the US trade embargo on Cuba, saying it “unfairly burdened” the Cuban people”.

Francis, Turkey and the UGCC

12/12/2014

Victor Gaetan comments on the recent visit of Pope Francis to Turkey.

He starts, “In the last few days of November, Pope Francis will use a visit to Turkey to advance two goals: winning greater protection for Christians in the Middle East and drawing the Catholic and Orthodox Churches closer together. Neither is new; Pope Benedict XVI was in Istanbul eight years ago with a similar agenda and near identical itinerary. But the wars in Iraq, Syria, and Ukraine have make Francis’ mission more urgent than ever”.

Gaetan notes the theological and political signifance of Turkey, “Turkey has never had a large Catholic population, but the country looms large in Church history. Catholics believe that Jesus’ mother, Mary, died in Ephesus (Selçuk today). Turkey is also the birthplace of St. Paul, whose missionary journeys in Asia Minor and subsequent letters to new Christian communities comprise several New Testament books. Further, the Book of Revelation was composed on the Aegean island of Patmos, off the Turkish coast. Turkey is also one of the Vatican’s oldest formal bilateral relationships: The Vatican and Turkey established diplomatic relations in 1868, more than 100 years before the United Kingdom (1982), the United States (1984), and Mexico (1992). The relationship hasn’t always been easy. When he took power in Turkey in the early 1920s, Kemal Ataturk created a radically anti-religious regime. The state confiscated church property, banned religious garb, prohibited the public display of religious symbols, and made Muslim imams public employees. Even so, the Catholic archbishop, Angelo Roncalli, dutifully represented the Vatican in Turkey between 1934 and 1944, and his humility and respect for Turkish culture made him a popular, effective diplomat”.

He adds that “Although it might seem incongruous for the notoriously frugal pontiff to be seen in Erdogan’s ostentatious palace, the Vatican doesn’t consider the president’s style choices relevant to this mission. Nor will the pope heed some commentators’ advice to talk about anti-Christian prejudice and violence in the country, which many believe some Turkish officials are stoking, and which has resulted in several high-profile murders over the last eight years—including the beheading of a beloved bishop by his driver. Two years ago, Erdoğan Bayraktar, the minister of environment and urbanism, declared that “Christianity is no longer a religion” but a culture, suggesting that it deserves neither respect nor institutional recognition. Instead, the pope will emphasise points of agreement with Erdogan. Following Catholic catechism, Francis emphasizes shared Christian and Muslim belief in one God. Islam considers Jesus to be a prophet, born to a virgin, and Mary is the most frequently mentioned woman in the Koran. Francis will visit Mary’s House in Selçuk, a popular Muslim shrine and Catholic pilgrimage site, thus highlighting common elements between the two faiths”.

He notes that despite these diffeences there are similarities, “Francis will also focus on the two leaders’ common enemy: Islamic fundamentalism. Most of the victims of the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) have been Muslim. But the group has also systematically targeted Christian communities“.

Yet the concern is that this is only half the story. Turkey has been a supporter of Hamas and other organisations such as the Muslim Brotherhood. This is classic realism not just on the part of the Holy See but as a result of the realities of life. However, this should not blind us to the other realities that Turkey is not a democracy and is a supporter of terrorism.

Gatean writes importantly that “what’s most urgent for Christians when it comes to Turkey is the refugee situation. Of the estimated 13.6 million people displaced by conflict in Iraq and Syria, some 1.1 million are Iraqi Christians and at least 500,000 are Syrian Christians. Turkey has received approximately 1.6 million refugees, providing shelter, food, and medical care for about 1.1 million of them in over 20 refugee centers. To make progress in each of these areas, Francis will appeal to Erdogan as Ataturk’s more pious successor. Francis will urge Erdogan to reject violence done in Allah’s name against innocents. He may also put forward a plan proposed by lay Catholic leader Andrea Riccardi to save Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, now under siege. Aleppo has important religious sites and a significant Christian population. Riccardi envisions creating humanitarian corridors to Aleppo to allow in supplies to civilians and a UN peacekeeping force. To date, the proposal has attracted support from a wide range of international figures including Muslim leaders from Pakistan, Indonesia, Lebanon, and France. Erdogan’s support of the plan could turn it into a reality”.

Gaetan goes on to downplay the Schism between East and West, “The pope’s second assignment while in Turkey is easier because it is more straightforward: publicly demonstrating his respect and affection for Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I as part of an ongoing, 50-year dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox, which comprised one church until 1054’s Great Schism. The pope also aims to boost the standing of the beleaguered patriarch in the face of a dismissive Turkish government and an often overbearing institutional daughter, the Russian Orthodox Church. Francis’ visit is timed to the November 30 Feast of St. Andrew, the apostle who founded the Christian Church in the East. St. Andrew was the biological brother of St. Peter, who founded the Catholic Church in the West. There’s no dispute between the two churches regarding apostolic lineage or the validity of their respective sacraments; the two differ mainly in form, not doctrine—except for the main stumbling block, Catholic doctrine on papal primacy”.

He writes about the harsh treatment of the Orthodox by the Turkish government, it “does not recognize the Patriarch’s global role, preferring to see him as a local bishop with a tiny, and shrinking, flock of some 20,000 Greek Orthodox nationwide—just .03 percent of the population. Even worse, the Turkish government closed the Orthodox Church’s only seminary in 1971, thus denying it the ability to produce new leaders (by Turkish law, the patriarch is required to be a Turkish citizen)”.

Much of the problem between the East and West are as a result of the Easts loathing of the UGCC, “The Russian Orthodox Church blames the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC), centered in Western Ukraine, for fomenting war and creating an alliance with “schismatic” elements of Ukrainian Orthodoxy. In the Russian church’s view, the UGCC, together with two Orthodox Church entities seeking independence from Moscow”.

He adds, “Francis is thus in an awkward situation, which if exacerbated, tensions between the church’s branches could blow up. Currently, the level of misunderstanding between the pro-Western side (UGCC and UOC–KP) and the Russian Orthodox Church—is worrisome. Francis still sees Bartholomew, the Ecumenical Patriarch, as a potential mediator in what could become a civil war, especially if the domestic religious groups dig in or intensify their faceoff. Bartholomew is considered wise and good, a Holy Man who enjoys being called the “Green Patriarch” for his dedication to the environment. But Francis might be mistaken if he believes that, after 2014, peacemakers in Ukraine are still blessed”.

He ends “In other words, Francis might face a harder task in Turkey than his predecessors. Although willing to enter dangerous zones to advance peace and seek kindred partners, it remains to be seen if Erdogan is willing to use his immense power in a papal partnership or if Bartholomew will win back the clout needed to function as first among equals. One thing is certain, Francis is undeterred in his peace-seeking mission”.

 

Francis = Benedict

04/12/2014

John Allen writes that Pope Benedict and Pope Francis are very alike. He begins “During a brief press conference aboard the papal plane yesterday, returning to Rome from a day trip to Strasbourg, a French journalist asked Pope Francis if he’s a Social Democrat. The question was based on a line from one of the pope’s speeches in Strasbourg in which he took a shot at multinational corporations. If you don’t follow European politics, the Social Democrats are the main center-left party, so it’s a bit like an American asking the pope if he’s a Democrat. Francis actually laughed out loud, and then said: ‘Caro, questo è un riduzionismo!’ The Italian basically translates as, ‘My dear friend, that’s an over-simplification!’ Francis went on to talk about how he tries to follow the Gospel and the social teaching of the Catholic Church, not any party line, and ended by thanking the reporter, Renaud Bernard of France 2 TV, for cracking him up”.

Allen goes on to make the point that “In truth, the idea of Francis as a Social Democrat in Strasbourg — and, therefore, as a repudiation of the Catholic Church’s perceived drift to the political right under Pope Benedict XVI — depends entirely on listening to only part of what Francis had to say. Yesterday’s trip was not only the shortest foreign trip in the papacy’s history, less than four hours, but it also set a record for the ratio of words spoken to time on the ground. His speech to the parliament topped out at 3,500 words and the one for the council came to 3,100, which means Francis pronounced 28 words for every minute he spent visiting Europe’s most prominent political institutions”.

He goes on to argue “In many ways, they were the closest Francis has come to the kind of rhetoric associated with Pope Benedict XVI, starting with lofty and abstract principles and then working down toward specific conclusions. The comparison with Benedict is even more apt at the level of content, because both of the speeches Francis delivered yesterday were ones it’s easy to imagine Benedict having given. Aside from the use of certain stock phrases associated with Benedict, such as ‘dictatorships of relativism,'”.

He continues citing the need of Europe for God, the examples of abortion and the treatment of those who are terminally ill as well as the idea, as Allen puts it “Secular Europe is running out of gas. Francis said that the world today has become ‘less and less Eurocentric,’ that today, Europe ‘gives the impression of being somewhat elderly and haggard,’ and that it’s ‘less and less a protagonist.’ In part, the pope implied, that decline is due to an aversion to reproduction”.

Allen ends the article “Benedict XVI said similar things, but the difference is that media outlets today believe Francis means it and so such utterances draw wide play. In truth, Benedict had a social agenda every bit as populist as Francis. Benedict’s great uncle on his father’s side, Georg Ratzinger, was one of the towering Bavarian figures of the 19th century, a Catholic monsignor with a strong track record of engagement on behalf of the poor. He was twice elected to the Bavarian and the federal legislatures, and helped found a political party, the Bauerbund, which represented the interests of poor farmers against large capitalist industrial concerns. Its chief goal was a system of social supports that would insulate poor farmers and small traders from “boom and bust” cycles. As a result, Benedict had a strong streak of scepticism about free-market capitalism. When he traveled to Brazil in 2007, he defined both communism and capitalism as ‘failed ideologies,’ the kind of language Francis routinely invokes”.

Allen concludes “Still, the contrast between Francis and Benedict is only one part substance, while it’s every bit as much about perception. Never has that been clearer than Francis’ trip to Strasbourg, when he gave two speeches eerily reminiscent of his predecessor and still had to face questions about whether he stands on the political left. Had it been Benedict who journeyed into the heart of secular Europe and said the exact same things, the question likely would have been: “Holy Father, are you on the far right?” The difference has little to do with what Francis actually said, and everything to do with how the narrative dictates he should be perceived”.

Francis echoes Benedict

01/12/2014

John Allen writes about the recent speech of Pope Francis to the EU Parliament in Strasbourg.

He starts “History’s first pope from outside the West traveled to the heart of secular Europe Tuesday and delivered a sharp wake-up call, warning European leaders that the continent risks irrelevance if it doesn’t recover its founding values, drawing in part on its Christian legacy. Pope Francis delivered back-to-back speeches to the European Parliament and the Council of Europe that amounted to a strong call to Europe to get both its social and its spiritual house in order”.

Allen notes that “Francis bluntly said today’s world is becoming ‘less and less Eurocentric,’ that Europe often comes off as ‘elderly and haggard,’ that it’s less and less a ‘protagonist’ in global affairs, and that the rest of the planet sometimes sees it ‘with mistrust and even suspicion.’ ‘Where is your vigor?’ Francis asked the Council of Europe, deliberately speaking through it to the entire continent. ‘Where is that idealism that inspired and ennobled your history?’ Despite being on the ground just four hours, Francis’ presence seemed historic since, in a sense, the New World was meeting the Old Continent”.

Allen goes on to summarise the points made by the pontiff, “Francis argued that many of the specific political problems facing Europe, from immigration and extremism to rising youth unemployment, have a spiritual core. He denounced what he called a ‘cult of opulence which is no longer sustainable,’ based on exaggerated individualism that breeds violations of human dignity. To shake off its malaise, he said, Europe needs to recover a sense of values and mission, one foundation for which is religious conviction”.

Allen gives commentary “Heading into the trip, Francis was expected to engage the hot-button questions facing Europe’s political class: rising immigration and youth unemployment, gains posted in May by far-right nationalistic movements, and backlash against austerity measures imposed by many governments as part of the ongoing Eurozone crisis”.

Notably he makes the point “Some of the pope’s most passionate language came in a call for ‘fair, courageous and realistic’ immigration policies, especially on behalf of waves of poor migrants from Africa and the Middle East who often try to reach Europe by making perilous crossings over the Mediterranean Sea. ‘We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast cemetery!’ the pope said, referring to the estimated 20,000 people who have died over the past two decades attempting to make the journey. As other victims of what Francis once again denounced as a ‘throw-away culture,’ Francis cited ‘the terminally ill, the elderly who are abandoned and uncared for, and children who are killed in the womb.'”

Allen neatly summarises the point of the speech made by Francis, who “rued what he called a ‘great vacuum of ideals which we are currently witnessing in the West,’ including ‘forgetfulness of God.’ In place of a humanistic vision, he said, what Europe breeds today are ‘uniform systems of economic power at the service of unseen empires.'”

Allen ends “Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, was often accused of being ‘Eurocentric,’ in the sense of focusing excessively on European culture. To date, Francis has faced the opposite charge, often being seen as neglectful of Europe in favour of focusing on zones of greater growth and dynamism for the Catholic Church today, such as Asia and Africa. Yet Francis’ twin speeches on Tuesday suggested that substantively he’s got much the same agenda for Europe as his two predecessors, and both texts frequently cited John Paul II and Benedict XVI. In fact, his Strasbourg speeches were arguably the most ‘Ratzingerian’ texts of Francis’ papacy, featuring references and vocabulary often associated with Pope Benedict: The risks of ‘dictatorships of relativism,’ as well as a philosophical tendency to see human beings as radically isolated ‘monads.’ In other words, this may have been a pope from the New World, but the message for the Old Continent hasn’t changed: If Europe wants to save its soul, it needs to make room for values inspired in part by its Christian past”.

Cardinal Sarah at CDW

25/11/2014

Yesterday Pope Francis ended the vacancy at the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments and appointed  Robert Cardinal Sarah as the new prefect. This ends the vacancy that began when Cardinal Canizares Llovera was appointed archbishop of Valencia in August.

Rocco writes that “the most-awaited of the expected moves has been released with today’s appointment of Cardinal Robert Sarah, the 69 year-old Guinean until now in charge of the Vatican’s humanitarian efforts, as the new prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments”.

Rocco goes on to mention that Sarah was “Ordained a bishop at 34, in the post overseeing the global church’s formal life of prayer, Sarah succeeds Cardinal Antonio Cañizares, who was returned to his native Spain – by some accounts, at his own request – in late August as archbishop of his native Valencia. Having served as head of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum – in the coming shuffle, likely to be merged with the body for Justice and Peace – since 2010 and before that as #2 at the Propaganda Fide, not much is known about Sarah’s background or expertise in matters of worship; lacking a doctorate, the cardinal’s final degree was a licentiate in the Scriptures. Then again, the CDW under Francis is not expected to continue along the office’s path of recent decades, which saw the congregation preside over revolutionary shifts (e.g. the sweeping re-translation of the English Missal) alongside maintaining an intense disciplinary oversight of liturgical abuses – whether real or perceived – at the local level. (As a friend once mused – perhaps only half-jokingly – during Cardinal Roger Mahony’s quarter-century as archbishop of Los Angeles, CDW “had a whole wing” dedicated to handling complaints from the US’ largest diocese.)

Interestingly he writes that “the office’s new mission is likely to hew closer to Francis’ own liturgical approach – as one op summarized its principles: ‘Go by the book. Don’t make a fuss about it. And remember that liturgy’s always a means to an end – not an end in itself.’ Along those lines, the choice of a prefect whose ministry has been immersed in the work of charity and the perils of the missions – far removed from the boutique ‘liturgy wars’ so beloved by polarised Anglo-European elites (whose churches aren’t necessarily thriving) – serves above all as a fresh pointer to the risks, rewards and messiness of the ‘peripheries,’ the concept which remains the key to everything in this pontificate. Returning to the wider frame of Curia reform, while Italian and Spanish media accounts have been rife with suppositions and projections of the coming state of things over recent days, the reminder’s apparently in order of the degree to which Francis keeps his cards close until he’s ready to break out”.

Yet it would be a mistake to downplay the importance of the liturgy in the spiritual life of ordinary Catholics. Thus the reason for Benedict’s insistence of a liturgical life that was pointed, and turned to, God.

Some have argued that the appointment of Cardinal Sarah means that “he has appointed Cardinal Sarah as prefect to the Congregation for Divine Worship in order to foster a traditionalist liturgical revival. Pope Francis is a man of broad sympathies. He is steeped in the reformed liturgy, but has no particular liturgical ax to grind. He is not a liturgist. Everything he has done so far suggests that he is interested in pastors and regaining a sense of mission in the Church, and not at all in taking sides in liturgical disputes which can absorb much energy without obvious gains for the body corporate. Cardinal Sarah is clearly an unexpected and unusual choice to lead the CDW. He does not come to his new position as an authority on liturgy or even particularly as a student of the liturgy, much less an advocate for a “reform of the reform.” What he does have in his resume however is 22 years pastoring a diocese in Africa, the most rapidly growing area of the Catholic world”.

The writer goes on to note that “His appointment “works” internally (in the Curia) by removing him from Cor Unum, which is about to be absorbed into a larger agency in the coming reorganization, and giving him a new job. At the same time, it suggests there will be no crusading for liturgical agendas—of any ideological stripe—flowing from this Congregation in the months to come”.

John Allen writes that “despite the removal of Burke, he doesn’t seem to be conducting an ideological purge in senior Vatican positions, nor does he appear to be doling out punishment to those who opposed the progressive line at the recent synod. Second, Francis knows that many African prelates felt compelled to assert themselves during the synod, and wanted to send a signal of respect for the continent by making sure there’s an African prefect of a major Vatican department”.

Allen continues, “the Sarah appointment may also be part of a political balancing act by Francis. The pontiff may be trying to “reach across the aisle,” to use the American argot, and assure conservatives that he’s not the enemy. Doing so in the realm of liturgy may be especially deft, since the Church’s liturgical purists have felt some of the deepest ambivalence about Francis. They tend to believe he’s not nearly as passionate about the Church’s liturgical traditions as Benedict, and his crackdown on a small religious order called the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate that celebrates the old Latin Mass has exacerbated those impressions. In that light, handing responsibility for liturgy over to someone traditionalists generally perceive as a friend may shift the terms of debate”.

End of the Francis honeymoon

23/11/2014

John Allen writes in Crux that the honeymoon for Pope Francis is well and truly over.

He opens “A kerfuffle broke out last week over a lecture given by Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput and sponsored by First Things magazine, generally considered the smartest journal of conservative Catholic opinion in America. In itself it may not loom especially large, but it’s illustrative of something broader. We are entering Phase Two of Francis’ papacy, in which a period of good feelings has given way to an era of edge”.

Allen mentions that the article is largely about the West and is of less relevance to those outside North America and Europe. Indeed this speaks volumes as to the divisions within Catholicism.

Allen writes “Though Chaput’s speech was not on the 2014 Synod of Bishops in Rome, he took a question about it from the audience. Stressing that he hadn’t been there and wanted to talk to bishops who had before reaching conclusions, Chaput nevertheless said that the ‘public image’ of the event had created confusion, and that ‘confusion is of the Devil.’ An interim report from that summit contained some daringly progressive language on homosexuality and other hot-button topics, although the final document adopted Oct. 18 was considerably more restrained”.

Allen goes on to note that “Two longtime observers of the Catholic scene, David Gibson of Religion News Service and Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter, wrote pieces suggesting Chaput had blasted the synod. Winters went further, implying that Chaput had criticized Pope Francis by proxy since the synod was the pope’s event. In return, several conservative Catholic bloggers and writers took Gibson and Winters to task for distorting Chaput’s point”.

Allen goes on to make the point that Archbishop Chaput’s reference to the devil has set off a reaction on the left of the ecclesial spectrum, “First, both the Kasper and Chaput controversies illustrate the importance of context in presenting comments from public figures, in this case senior churchmen”.

He goes on to argue that Cardinal Kasper’s “admittedly ill-advised remark about Africans seemed to mean that different parts of the world have different problems, and should be allowed to develop their own solutions. That nuance didn’t come across in much of the discussion – in part, perhaps, because some people weren’t interested in saving Kasper from himself. A similar point could be made about Chaput. Anyone who knows him realizes he’s a man of strong opinions about the risks of assimilating to secular culture, and not shy about voicing them. It’s legitimate to suspect he may be a bit uncomfortable with some of the new winds blowing in the Francis era”.

Crucially he continues “Yet Chaput is also a papal loyalist, and the idea that he would publicly accuse a pontiff of fostering the work of the Devil is implausible. If you read the full text of his response, it seems clear he was talking about media presentations of the synod, not necessarily the event itself”.

On the more interesting point Allen writes that “we have entered the next phase of Francis’ papacy. We’ve passed from a honeymoon period in which most Catholics were content to bask in the fact that the pope was the most popular figure on the planet, to an era in which a growing number of people seem to have a hair-trigger. For that, we probably have the Synod of Bishops to thank. It brought into sharp focus the battle lines in the Francis era, at least as regards the family and sexual morality”.

The “battle lines” as described by Allen concern gay unions. He elobrates on this point “not in terms of giving moral approval or abandoning its teaching on marriage, but finding a less confrontational way to talk about these relationships”.

Needless to say such a move would be welcome and move away from the stark hypriscocy and the outrageous comments by some in the Church. A change in attitude would also go a way to giving the Church some credibility with vast chunks of the West.

The other areas where Allen sees as battles “Can the Catholic Church identify moral value in all sorts of lifestyle choices that fall outside the bounds of its teaching, such as couples living together without being married? Can the Church say that although such arrangements aren’t ideal, they still may have positive elements such as fidelity and mutual support? Will Catholicism relax its ban on giving communion to Catholics who divorce and remarry outside the Church, as an act of mercy, or would that amount to a retreat from the doctrine that marriage is permanent?”

On the issue of communion to those who are (civilly) divorced should be dealt with cautiously. A change in language would be welcome and should be introduced but teaching should not change.

The point Allen goes on to make is interesting, “people on both sides bring deep passion. The progressive camp tends to feel emboldened, presuming that the pope is with them. Many conservatives feel alarm for exactly the same reason, fearing that Francis may not back them up. In this environment, many activists and thinkers seem to be slipping into battle mode, ready to pounce on any perceived misstep or faux pas from opponents. In other words, the undeclared Cold War in Catholicism, between those excited by the pope’s new tone and those ambivalent about it, is turning hot”.

As a solution to this Allen suggests that “One key may be to reach out to conservatives who suspect that Francis, or his allies, tried to stack the deck against them in the synod, and who in general wonder if the pontiff appreciates their concerns. In that regard, Francis may have helped himself on Monday when he attended the unveiling of a bronze bust in honor of Benedict XVI at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, where Francis praised his predecessor as a ‘great pope.’ Benedict, he said, is great ‘for the strength and penetrating quality of his intelligence, for his important contribution to theology, for his love for the church and for human beings, and for his virtue and religious character.'”

He ends “Though Francis undoubtedly meant every word, such a tribute to a pontiff who is still a hero to the church’s more traditional wing was also good politics. As a final thought, here’s a prediction as to when Phase Three of the Francis era will begin: Sometime after October 2015, when the process of reflection ends with the next Synod of Bishops on the family and the buck arrives firmly on the pontiff’s desk. There’s nothing like some actual decisions to shake things up again”.

Backlash against Francis?

28/10/2014

As the Synod of Bishops is concluded an article questions if those conservatives, led by the soon to be exiled Cardinal Burke, will “turn on Pope Francis”.

It opens that the “surprise decision to release frank internal reports of its debates, one big-picture question captured by the event seems to be coming into clear focus. Here it is in a nutshell: Is a tipping point drawing close, when conservatives who have been inclined to give Pope Francis the benefit of the doubt will, instead, turn on him? Granted, labels such as “liberal” and “conservative” often conceal as much as they reveal, especially when applied to the Church. That said, they capture something at a big-picture level, and the fault line between left and right has seemed especially clear over the past two weeks”.

Allen goes on to note that “Well before the Oct. 5-19 Synod of Bishops on the family, there was a small but vocal wing of traditionalist Catholic opinion fiercely critical of the pope. In February, Italian Catholic writer and historian Roberto de Mattei posted a piece on the website of his Lepanto foundation asserting that developments since the election of Francis, including his famous “Who am I to judge?” sound bite about gays, risk “a road that leads to schism and heresy.” Another Italian writer, Antonio Socci, has a new book out titled “It’s not Francis: The Church in a Great Storm,” basically implying that the resignation of Benedict XVI was invalid and that Francis isn’t really the pope. Most mainstream conservatives, however, have argued that media hype, or perhaps unintentional ambiguity on the part of the pope himself, has been to blame for mistaken impressions that he’s engineering a radical overhaul”.

Thankfully, Benedict XVI has refused to recognise the rubbish proposed by Socci.

Allen writes that “In recent days, however, some of those voices have taken on a harder edge. We’ve seen a Paraguayan bishop post the following on his personal blog: “Inside the Church, and recently from some of its highest circles, new winds blow that aren’t from the Holy Spirit,” referring to what’s happening at the synod”.

Allen notes that, outrageously “Cardinal Raymond Burke openly faulted Francis for allowing Kasper to sow confusion about Church teaching on marriage by touting his proposal to admit divorced and remarried Catholics to Communion, and basically suggested the pope owes the world an apology. A clear affirmation of Catholic doctrine by the pope, Burke said, is “long overdue.” Both Livieres and Burke have had their wings clipped by Pope Francis, so some of their grumbling may be personal. Both also represent the fairly hardline edge of the Church’s conservative wing. The same can’t really be said, however, of Polish Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki, who this week complained that the synod’s emphasis on mercy, one of the spiritual touchstones for Francis, has been overplayed”.

He goes onto mention “To some extent, this synod serves as a proxy for Francis, so that criticism of it is often, at least indirectly, also criticism of the forces he’s unleashed. It remains to be seen to what extent dissenters from the synod’s interim report on Monday, which contained a fairly strongly positive evaluation of same-sex unions and other “irregular” relationships, will be tempered in the final report due to be adopted on Saturday. If the final document contains anything resembling Monday’s draft, it’s likely criticism of Francis will intensify. Combine that with speculation that in the near future Francis will remove Burke from his position at the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican’s supreme court, and it’s not difficult to imagine that many on the Catholic right could conclude, once and for all, that Francis is not on their side”.

Worryingly Allen reports that Bishop “Livieres invoked the spectre of a formal schism, but for now, most observers regard that as a long shot. For one thing, a schism requires a bishop willing to break with Rome to create a parallel church, and so far no one’s actually volunteered for that role. For another, conservatives unhappy with the present drift don’t have the same exit option as disgruntled Catholics on the left, for whom their tie with their institutional Church sometimes isn’t as much of a value. On the other hand, it’s worth remembering that the last time we had a moderate in the papacy, under Paul VI, was when the seeds were sown of the only formal schism to follow the Second Vatican Council – the traditionalist rupture led by French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre”.

The fact that people are even mentioning the spectre of a schism speaks volumes. Not only to the politicisation of the Church but how Cardinal Burke has made things worse by his constant media interviews.

Allen goes on to posit the theory that schism is unlikely but there are “two other options. First, many conservatives may settle into a kind of internal exile, focusing on their local parish and diocese and ignoring the Vatican. One prominent American conservative said this week that he’s got a good bishop and good situation in his local church, and he’s decided to pay no attention to Rome for his own spiritual health. Second, some conservatives may stop defending Francis, trying to give him the benefit of the doubt, and become locked into a cycle of suspicion and dissent about virtually everything that he says and does. If that happens – and, to some extent, the process is already underway – it will hardly be a novelty. Both of the foregoing options were common practice among liberal Catholics during the John Paul II and Benedict XVI years, so the only difference now is that the shoe is on the other foot”.

Crucially Allen says that there will be consequences to this “What people generally think of as “conservative” Catholics are often among the Church’s most dedicated members, among other things serving as major financial donors. Already, one head of a conservative think tank in Rome this week said he’d gotten a call from one of his benefactors saying that if things keep going the way they are, he was going to stop ponying up. More broadly, Catholics typically labeled as “conservative” are often people who carry water for the Church at all levels, from the local to the universal. If that pool of human capital begins to dry up, it could make it more difficult for Francis to advance his agenda”.

Ironcially this is almost exactly the same thing that happened to Pope Benedict when many in Rome disagreed with his agenda and threw up blockages that made his pontificatie less successful than it should have been.

Burke, letting the cat out of the bag

22/10/2014

In what is an set of words used with ever increasing frequency, in an interview given by Cardinal Burke has confirmed that he has been ousted from his role as prefect of the Apostolic Signatura.

The piece opens “A top cardinal told BuzzFeed News on Friday that the worldwide meeting of church leaders coming to a close in Rome seemed to have been designed to “weaken the church’s teaching and practice” with the apparent blessing of Pope Francis. Cardinal Raymond Burke, an American who heads the Vatican’s highest court of canon law, made the remarks in a phone interview from the Vatican, where a two-week Extraordinary Synod on the Family will conclude this weekend. An interim report of the discussions released on Monday, called the Relatio, produced a widespread backlash among conservative bishops who said it suggested a radical change to the church’s teaching on questions like divorce and homosexuality, and Burke has been among the most publicly critical of the bishops picked by Pope Francis to lead the discussion. If Pope Francis had selected certain cardinals to steer the meeting to advance his personal views on matters like divorce and the treatment of LGBT people, Burke said, he would not be observing his mandate as the leader of the Catholic Church”.

The piece goes on to quote Burke, “‘According to my understanding of the church’s teaching and discipline, no, it wouldn’t be correct,’ Burke said, saying the pope had ‘done a lot of harm’ by not stating ‘openly what his position is.’ Burke said the Pope had given the impression that he endorses some of the most controversial parts of the Relatio, especially on questions of divorce, because of a German cardinal who gave an important speech suggesting a path to allowing people who had divorced and remarried to receive communion, Cardinal Walter Kasper, to open the synod’s discussion. ‘The pope, more than anyone else as the pastor of the universal church, is bound to serve the truth,’ Burke said. ‘The pope is not free to change the church’s teachings with regard to the immorality of homosexual acts or the insolubility of marriage or any other doctrine of the faith.'”

Of course this is true but only up to a point. Reason and faith, as Pope Benedict tells us, guide human action. When reason and science say that homosexuality is neither abhorrent nor chosen, then the Church, viewing things with new information has a duty to change. This is true of slavery which was backed by the Church for centuries until reason saw that owning another person as morally abhorrent. Burke, naturally, cannot see beyond the canons.

Importantly the piece notes context “Burke has publicly clashed with the pope since Francis took office in 2013, and he has come to represent the sidelining of culture warriors elevated by Joseph Ratzinger as Pope Benedict and as the top doctrinal official under Pope John Paul II. Burke, who caused controversy while [arch]bishop of St. Louis by saying Catholics who voted for politicians supportive of abortion rights should not receive communion, went on Catholic television in 2013 to rebut remarks Pope Francis made to an interviewer that the church had become ‘obsessed’ with abortion and sexuality to the exclusion of other issues, saying, ‘We can never talk enough about that as long as in our society innocent and defenseless human life is being attacked in the most savage way,’ Burke said. While Francis famously responded to a question about homosexuality in 2013 by asking, ‘Who am I to judge?’ Burke described homosexual ‘acts’ as ‘always and everywhere wrong [and] evil’ during an interview last week”.

Crucially the author notes “Burke confirmed publicly for the first time the rumors that he had been told Francis intended to demote him from the church’s chief guardian of canon law to a minor post as patron to the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. ‘I very much have enjoyed and have been happy to give this service, so it is a disappointment to leave it,’ Burke said, explaining that he hadn’t yet received a formal notice of transfer. ‘On the other hand, in the church as priests, we always have to be ready to accept whatever assignment we’re given. And so I trust, by accepting this assignment, I trust that God will bless me, and that’s what’s in the end most important.’ When the pope first took office, his pivot away from an emphasis on questions of sexuality were more a matter of personal tone rather than changes in church policy or personnel. There were rumours that he was trying to oust the man chosen by Pope Benedict to head the church’s office responsible for doctrine, Gerhard Müller, but last winter he instead elevated him from archbishop to cardinal”.

Technically Cardinal Burke has broken canon law here, as he well knows. He has broken the pontifical secret of his appointment which should not have been made public until it is formally announced. For a man so well versed in canon law Burke seems uninterested in this particular canon.

The report adds “Internal discontent among conservatives inside church leadership began to simmer over in the weeks leading up to the synod. Just before it began, Burke, Müller, and other senior cardinals published a book in several languages attacking the ideas laid out by Cardinal Walter Kasper on allowing those who had divorced and remarried to receive communion in a speech heartily praised by Pope Francis. It broke into open revolt at the midpoint of the synod, following publication of a document presented as a summary of discussions but that conservatives said misrepresented the debate by including passages on ‘welcoming homosexual persons’ and discussing some of Kasper’s proposal on divorce. The backlash appeared to have been especially strong from the English-speaking world, which includes a large number of African and American bishops; in an apparent attempt to mollify anglophone conservatives, the Vatican released a new translation of the report that changed the phrase ‘welcoming homosexual persons’ to ‘providing for homosexual persons’ and made other small changes, while leaving the versions in all other languages unchanged. The report is now being revised with feedback from small-group discussions held this week, and a final version is scheduled to be voted on on Saturday. Burke said he hoped that the committee writing the new report will produce a ‘worthy document,’ but said his ‘trust is a little bit shaken’ by the language in the interim draft he said lacks ‘a good foundation either in the sacred scriptures or in the church’s perennial teachings.’ But there seems to be little middle ground between Pope Francis’ worldview and Burke’s. Francis was president of the Argentinian bishops conference when that country passed a marriage equality bill in 2010 and reportedly tried to convince his colleagues to support a civil union proposal instead”.

The Synod of gradualism?

16/10/2014

Amid Cardinal Burke’s seemingly endless interventions in the media an article reports from the ongoing Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Family.

John Allen writes, “All of a sudden at the 2014 Synod of Bishops on the family, “gradualism” as a concept in both Catholic moral theology and pastoral practice, which not so long ago seemed on the verge of being stricken from the official lexicon, is back with a vengeance. There have been multiple references so far to the “law of graduality,” more commonly referred to by theologians over the years as “gradualism.” Its apparent popularity may offer a clue to how things are evolving in the keenly watched debate over divorced and remarried Catholics, but understanding why requires a bit of background. At one level, gradualism is no more than the common sense observation that virtues such as honesty and courage aren’t all-or-nothing propositions, and that people move towards them through stages and at different speeds. It implies that just because someone’s current situation falls short of perfection doesn’t mean it has no moral value, and it’s often better to encourage the positive elements in someone’s life rather than to chastise their flaws. It was probably that sense of gradualism Pope Benedict XVI had in mind in 2010 when he said in an interview with a German journalist that if a male prostitute uses a condom to try to avoid infecting people with HIV/AIDS, it can be “a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.” Benedict wasn’t repealing the church’s opposition to condom use, but he was saying that there are times when it suggests a concern for others which, in itself, is laudable. Where gradualism becomes more of a bone of contention is when it’s invoked to justify a permissive approach to moral rules”.

Allen goes on to write “For instance, some theologians and even a few bishops over the years have invoked gradualism to defend going easy on Catholics who practice birth control, arguing that while the teaching of Pope Paul VI in 1968’s Humanae Vitae reaffirming the traditional ban represents an ideal, there may be valid reasons why lots of people can’t be expected to fully embrace it right now. For those concerned with defending tradition, this second sense of gradualism can make it sound like another word for “relativism”, meaning watering down objective standards of morality. By the same token, it also makes gradualism a favorite refuge for moderates who accept the content of Church teaching, but who don’t want to go to war over it”.

Allen with his usual excellent insight writes “The last time the Vatican staged a Synod of Bishops on the family, which was almost 35 years ago in 1980, talk about gradualism was in the air, too. Pope John Paul II was sufficiently concerned about where it might lead that he included a warning in a homily he gave for the closing Mass of the synod, a line he then also dropped into the meeting’s concluding document, Familiaris Consortio. “What is known as ‘the law of gradualness’,” John Paul said, “cannot be identified with ‘gradualness of the law’.” The gist was there’s just one set of rules for everybody, and they’re not going to change. Since that time, the Vatican has occasionally circled back to the theme. When the Pontifical Council for the Family put out a guide for priests hearing confessions on matters having to do with married life in 1997, it warned that the “law of graduality” shouldn’t induce priests to send the signal that sin isn’t still sin”.

Interestingly Allen makes the point that “In his opening address on Monday, Cardinal Péter Erdő of Hungary argued that Humanae Vitae should be read in light of graduality. In a session with reporters at Vatican Radio Monday night, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich invoked graduality as a key to helping the church develop a new way of talking about sex. In a briefing session for reporters on Tuesday, a Vatican spokesman described graduality as among the synod’s emerging themes”.

The key point Allen adds is that “Here’s why the vocabulary matters: Everyone knows that the hottest issue at this synod is the question of whether divorced and civilly remarried Catholics ought to be able to receive Communion. Moderates supporting that change need to find a way to justify it that doesn’t seem to call into question the principle that marriage is for life. “The law of graduality” could be one way of doing the trick, and thus references to it could be understood as an early show of strength for the moderate position. It’s also perhaps an index of how things have changed under Pope Francis that bishops feel licensed to use the phrase without a truckload of qualifications, given the increasingly disapproving tone of most Vatican statements on it in the recent past. In other words, the sudden return of gradualism may be a central part of the storyline about the 2014 synod”.

Burke to Malta?

21/09/2014

Following on from the rumours of the departure of Archbishop Mamberti, Sandro Magister writes that the exile of Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke is all but assured.

He opens “The “revolution” of Pope Francis in ecclesiastical governance is not losing its driving thrust. And so, as happens in every self-respecting revolution, the heads continue to roll for churchmen seen as deserving this metaphorical guillotine. In his first months as bishop of Rome, pope Bergoglio immediately provided for the transfer to lower-ranking positions of three prominent curial figures: Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, Archbishop Guido Pozzo, and Bishop Giuseppe Sciacca, considered for their theological and liturgical sensibilities among the most “Ratzingerian” of the Roman curia”.

Magister writes that “an even more eminent decapitation seems to be on the way. The next victim would in fact be the United States cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, who from being prefect of the supreme tribunal of the apostolic signatura would not be promoted – as some are fantasizing in the blogosphere – to the difficult but prestigious see of Chicago, but rather demoted to the pompous – but ecclesiastically very modest – title of “cardinal patron” of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, replacing the current head, Paolo Sardi, who recently turned 80”.

He notes “If confirmed, Burke’s exile would be even more drastic than the one inflicted on Cardinal Piacenza, who, transferred from the important congregation for the clergy to the marginal apostolic penitentiary, nevertheless remained in the leadership of a curial dicastery. With the shakeup on the way, Burke would instead be completely removed from the curia and employed in a purely honorary position without any influence on the governance of the universal Church. This would be a move that seems to have no precedent. This is what was done with cardinals Mariano Rampolla del Tindaro (appointed Grand Prior in 1896 while remaining secretary of state), Gaetano Bisleti (at the same time prefect of the congregation for Catholic education), Gennaro Granito Pignatelli (cardinal dean and bishop of Albano), Nicola Canali (governor of Vatican City), Paolo Giobbe (leader of the apostolic dataria), Paul-Pierre Philippe (until the age of 75 also prefect of the congregation for the Oriental Churches), Sebastiano Baggio (removed from the congregation for bishops but kept on as governor of Vatican City and camerlengo), Pio Laghi (until the age of 77 also prefect of the congregation for Catholic education)”.

Perhaps this is no bad thing. Francis knows his time is limited and unlike Benedict sees no reason not to push people who do not share he view, out of the way. This will mean that Francis will get more done as opposed to the gentlemen that was Benedict who waited until those in the Curia reaching retirement before placing his own people in their place.

Magister adds “Above all, Sardi’s retirement would not be a compulsory act, since the age limit of 80 does not apply to positions outside of the curia. And in fact, with the exception of Paulo Giobbe, all of the aforementioned cardinal patrons went on to a better life “durante munere.” Burke is 66 years old, and therefore still in his ecclesiastical prime. Ordained a priest by Paul VI in 1975, he worked at the apostolic signatura as an ordinary priest with John Paul II, who made him bishop of his native diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin in 1993. It was again pope Karol Wojtyla who in 2003 promoted him as archbishop of the prestigious see, once cardinalate, of St. Louis, Missouri. Benedict XVI called him back to Rome in 2008, and made him a cardinal in 2010. With a very devout personality, he is also recognized as having the rare virtue of never having struck any deals to obtain ecclesiastical promotions or benefices. In the liturgical and theological camp, he is very close to the sensibilities of Joseph Ratzinger. He has celebrated a number of times according to the ancient rite, even donning the “cappa magna,” as do cardinals George Pell and Antonio Cañizares Llovera, without being punished for this by Pope Francis”.

It should be noted of course that Cardinal Cañizares Llovera asked to be transferred to Valencia and seems not to have been pushed. This shows that Francis does not oppose those who have different views but Buke has made so many statements that directly undermine Francis, Burke’s exile.

Magister adds “A great expert in canon law, and appointed to the apostolic signatura for this reason, he is not afraid to follow it to the most uncomfortable consequences. Like when, to the tune of articles of the Code – number 915 to be precise – he upheld the impossibility of giving communion to those politicians who stubbornly and publicly uphold the right to abortion, bringing the rebukes of two colleagues in the United States valued by Pope Francis, Sean Patrick O’Malley of Boston and Donald Wuerl of Washington. Free in his judgments, he has been among the very few to make critical remarks on “Evangelii Gaudium,” pointing out that in his view it is orientational but not truly magisterial. And in view of the upcoming synod of bishops, he has repeatedly taken a stand against the ideas of Cardinal Walter Kasper – well known to be in the good graces of Pope Francis – in favor of communion for the divorced and remarried. The dicastery headed by Burke, eminently technical, recently accepted an appeal from the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate against a provision issued for them by the congregation for religious. A courageous move on the part of Burke, situated within the context of the punitive action undertaken by the Vatican congregation against one of the most substantial realities of Catholic traditionalism, an action that Pope Francis endorsed by approving in specific form the congregation’s decision to prevent the Friars of the Immaculate from celebrating the Mass according to the “Tridentine” rite. It is only with this kind of pontifical approval, in fact, that a decree of the curia can overturn standing law, in this case the motu proprio of Benedict XVI “Summorum Pontificum.” It is difficult to identify among these episodes the ones that may have have had the greatest influence on the fate of Cardinal Burke. But it is easy to predict that his definitive downgrading will provoke both a tumultuous reaction within the traditionalist world, where Burke is seen as a hero, and a corresponding wave of jubilation in the opposite camp, where he is instead considered a bogeyman. On the latter side it can be recalled that the “liberal” Catholic commentator Michael Sean Winters, in the “National Catholic Reporter” of November 26, 2013, had called for the head of Cardinal Burke as a member of the congregation for bishops, because of the nefarious influence, according to him, that he was exercising over episcopal appointments in the United States”.

He ends “now he seems right at the point of giving the go-ahead for the second and more grave demotion of one of the most untarnished personalities the Vatican curia knows”.

“1,000 to 5,000 U.S. troops”

26/08/2014

Michael O’Hanlon has written that airstrikes will not be enough to destroy ISIS. He begins the article “President Barack Obama announced his decision to airlift food and water to members of the Yezidi minority stranded in the Sinjar mountains of Iraq, and to use air-to-ground munitions against formations of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) moving against Kurdish units near Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan region. So far, Obama’s strategy has been well calibrated and at least partly successful; the Yezidis’ plight appears less dire than a few days ago, and ISIS’ forays into Kurdistan have been stymied for the moment, perhaps even partly reversed in some places. Obama’s restraint in providing major assistance to the central Iraqi government in Baghdad has likewise been prudent, since, by coming to the aid of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki too soon, the United States would squander the leverage it could use to persuade the Iraqi government to find a different and better prime minister. It is, after all, Maliki who governed so badly that major Sunni political and tribal leaders acquiesced to ISIS’ advances rather than work with a man they increasingly saw as a dictator to stop the brutal group’s march. The Iraqi army will likely not be willing to do its part to restore security in Iraq’s Sunni Arab heartland under Maliki, so it would be a fool’s errand for the United States to attempt too much while he still leads the country”.

He makes the point that “Although the president has been correct to use only limited airpower so far (even while warning that U.S. involvement in Iraq could last for months), he needs to avoid any sense of complacency that he can limit the United States’ role to modest actions taken several thousand feet up in the air. For now, the United States’ only realistic goal in Iraq is to prevent further ISIS advances. But ultimately, the collective aim of the United States, Iraq, and others in the region should be to fully push back the radical and brutal group, which is committed to the creation of a caliphate throughout much of the broader Middle East and even parts of Europe, and is willing to employ brutal tactics to achieve its aims. This group simply cannot be allowed to remain in power in large sections of Iraq and Syria indefinitely”.

He adds “preventing ISIS from taking further territory in the Shia and Kurdish zones will be far easier than liberating the land it already controls. The situation is particularly straightforward in Kurdistan. There, the politically unified and militarily cohesive peshmerga forces have no sympathy for ISIS and can easily identify its fighters as they cross into the autonomous region. The main problem is that ISIS is better armed and, at the moment, more aggressive than the Kurdish forces. That is why it was able to make inroads into the areas near Erbil, which has a substantial population and a U.S. consulate. But to push deeper into the territory, ISIS will have to use roads that U.S. forces and the Kurds can easily monitor and, if the United States is willing to help provide the needed firepower, can also protect. Further, when ISIS shells peshmerga’s tactical positions with artillery, it provides signatures that U.S. forces can track before returning fire. As the United States continues its air campaign, it probably does need to help arm the Kurdish forces — and must do so promptly, regardless of what is happening in Baghdad. This might be the one major area in which Obama’s current restraint is ill-advised. But otherwise, the overall dynamics in Kurdistan are promising”.

Interestingly he argues that “Preventing ISIS from making further attacks on the Yezidis may prove slightly harder. Here, it is possible that the United States may need to consider a tactical deployment of several hundred forces as a temporary blocking force to prevent a small-scale genocide in the weeks ahead. But, for now, it does not appear that any such move is required because ISIS does not seem to be moving against the destitute populations in a committed way. Even if it did become necessary, such a deployment could be limited in scale and scope”.

He goes on to mention, “One option is to deploy a significant number of special operations teams, well above the very modest number that may be in in the theatre now as part of the detachments of several hundred U.S. planners sent to Iraq over the last month. But how many? If there are 10,000 dedicated ISIS fighters that U.S. and Iraqi units must ultimately remove from the battlefield, experience in Iraq and Afghanistan suggests that the U.S. and Iraqi units will need to conduct perhaps several thousand raids informed by good intelligence. Ideally, the United States would strike hard, fast, and early in any operation so that the enemy does not have time to adjust. To do that, it would need up to several dozen in-country commando teams (or those based in neighboring countries in some cases), making for a grand total of 1,000 to 5,000 U.S. troops. In all likelihood, such a mission would last perhaps several months at peak intensity. However, the United States need not take the lead on most such operations and need not continue them indefinitely”.

He adds that “The other option involves a type of military unit, developed in recent years in Afghanistan, called a Security Force Assistance Team. This is a small team of 10­–20 U.S. soldiers who are embedded at the small-unit level within indigenous forces. Since elements of the Iraqi army have, in some cases, already dissolved, such advisory teams — which live with and deploy into the field with their counterparts — could be crucial for rebuilding good tactics, unit cohesion, confidence in the leadership, and tenacity, as well as designating targets for air strikes. Assuming that such teams might be deployed with most of Iraq’s army battalions, and assuming roughly ten battalions per division, there could be a need for up to 100 such U.S. teams. Again, these would need to stay in Iraq for a period of several months to perhaps one or two years. A recent U.S. intelligence report found that some such Iraqi units may have been infiltrated by extremists of one ilk or another, so it might not be possible to work with all Iraqi formations at first, but only those that are somewhat more dependable. Add in some support and backup and quick-response units, and the numbers will again reach into the low thousands”.

He ends “None of this will be appealing to the U.S. public, the Congress, or Obama. But the alternative may be to see a brutal al Qaeda-like ISIS that tries to build a caliphate over much of the Middle East and beyond, continues to recruit and warp the minds of thousands of potential fighters holding Western passports, and remains entrenched in much of Iraq (and Syria) for an indefinite period. In terms of U.S. security interests, that prospect is intolerable”.

 

 

Francis, Nicora and the IOR

27/07/2014
The Council of Cardinals has finished another session with next meetings set for mid September and early December and early February. The report notes that “With regard to the themes considered, as well as those indicated in recent days (the Governorate, the Secretariat of State and the Institute for the Works of Religion), the Council resumed its reflections on the dicasteries of the Curia. The Laity and Family were studied in particular depth, especially in terms of the contributions and roles that should be assumed by laypeople, married couples and women. Decisions were not made, but more detailed proposals were offered that will subsequently be inserted into the overall framework of the new configuration of the Curia”.
The press release goes on to mention that the Council focused on “the dicasteries that have so far been studied less thoroughly. Other themes on which there has been an exchange of opinions during the meetings include the nunciatures and their work, and the procedures for the appointment of bishops. Aside from the contribution of the Commission of Cardinals for the Supervision of the IOR, heard on Tuesday and Wednesday, there was no further participation from entities external to the Council”.

In a related piece the restructing of the so called Vatican bank, formally known as the Institute for Religious Works,  and the internal struggles behind it are revealed, “the amount of gossips, rumors, even the leaks anticipating the data of the balance sheet of the Institute for Religious Works (the so called “Vatican bank”) show that there had been a war behind these decisions. The roots of this war are in old stories. The same old stories that brought the Vatileaks scandal. That initially supported Pope Francis’ election. Those in these old stories, now that Pope Francis is carrying forward the work started by Benedict XVI, are playing their last hand. Perhaps, this is the gang war that Pope Francis has been trying to prevent when he had warned repeatedly about the perils of gossiping, asking all to repudiate it.

He goes on to note that Cardinal Parolin is now a member of the Council of Cardinals but “no document has been issued yet to certify the Secretary of State’s membership in the group. In the meantime, Cardinal Parolin is trying to keep his position via his being present. Parolin’s activism is a reaction to the push to have reform engulf, it seems, the very Secretariat of State, that could be destined to be divided into two Secretariats: the Secretariat of State proper, i.e. for diplomacy, and the Secretariat for the Life of the Church, i.e. the general affairs. There would also be a General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops; and there is already the Secretariat for the Economy, led by its proactive prefect, George Pell”.

The writer adds that “This ‘four secretariats’ structure is just a hypothesis, since the fifth meeting of cardinals have not produced a draft for Curia reform. Widely discussed is the streamlining of the Curia (bringing the Pontifical Council for Laity and Family together; Justice and Peace with Cor Unum and Migrants; and the Congregation for the Divine Worship with that for the Cause of Saints). Also in this case, we are dealing with hypotheses”.

The vision for the new Curia has been speculated before and the writer’s comment about amalgating Divine Worship and Saints is somewhat ironic as the old Congregation for Rites did exactly this job. On a side note the prefect of these two offices, Cardinal Amato is 76 and set to retire and at the same time Cardinal Canizares Llovera is expected to be appointed to Madrid. If both of these moves, Amato’s retirement and the transfer of Canizares Llovera,  were to occur at the same time Francis could begin the consolidations at the very heart of the Curia.

Interestingly he goes on to metion that “Pope Francis went back in part to the old draft for a Curia reform written by Cardinal Attilio Nicora shortly before John Paul II’s death. The draft proposed the establishment of a Council of Cardinals, and a brutal amalgamation of dicasteries. The Council of Cardinals was intended to consolidate positions that had crystallised under the administration of the Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who had his (mostly Italian) interests to maintain. Nicora’s draft was in fact a way to protect this power. Pope Francis went beyond Nicora’s draft. Angelo Sodano had managed the pre-conclave meetings in a way that led cardinals to speak of management, more than of the substantial issues. The search for a missionary Pope, able to speak to the people, seemed to be a natural consequence. The Pope acts as a front man, while the Roman Curia manages its re-organization, dismantling piece by piece the reform of collegiality carried on by Benedict XVI. Pope Francis noted there was a wish for discussion, the same kind of discussion he was accustomed to, from the Jesuits’ General Congregations. In the end, the Superior General there makes the decision. But during the Congregations, everybody can voice concerns”.

He rightly points out the Francis is carrying on the work of Pope Benedict, “For what concerns the economy, Pope Francis has continued, with no rush, Benedict  XVI’s work. The Vatican’s Financial Intelligence Authority strengthened its internationalprofile and issued new statutes. The Vatican first amanded its first anti-money laundering law, and then – under Pope Francis – changed it with a brand new one, which positioned the Holy See among the most advanced countries in the world in this regard. This could not have happened without the enormous effort carried out by Vatican officials“.

He writes about the too close relationship between Italy and the Church,”The Curia of the old days is tied hand in glove to Italy. And Italy more than once has used the IOR as a scapegoat.  Italy views the Vatican as a subdivision that should manage every international relationship on the basis of its trusted relations with Italy. This vision contrasts with the international vision, people aiming for the Holy See to be present in the world and able to send money to missions through her own international sovereign channels provided by the IOR. Among those who support this second vision, there are some who are supporting a more speculative IOR, in order to generate more profits, and to have the IOR fully join the international banking system. On the other hand, there are people who wish the IOR to keep its characteristics of a sovereign institute, with funds at the Pope’s disposal. Hence, the story of the territorial factions. They are referred to as “The Americans,” “The Germans,” “The Maltese,” and a power struggle ensues. Reality is far more nuanced. The Council of Superintendency of the Institute backed and supported the international turnaround and upholding sovereignty. It also favoured the process of reform within the Institute, and making the IOR in some small ways a bank, even (perhaps) giving it the possibility of lending money. An approach that, it seems, was taken at the request of the Pontifical Commission for the IOR, chaired by Cardinal Raffaele Farina. The process of reform has almost come to an end. The members of the board will probably tender their resignations, in order to support and facilitate a generational change. The Secretariat for Economy should take the lead of the management of the assets, to be entrusted to another body, the Vatican Asset Management. Surely, the president will change: Ernst von Freyberg has accomplished his tasks.  He operated as a full-time president although he was not one under the statutes.  Now that the statutes foresee having one, the job will not go to him”.

He concludes discussing the new leadership of the IOR, “Who might be von Freyberg’s successor? Two names are often mentioned: that of Jean Baptiste de Franssu, and that of Francis X. Zahra. They are both members of the Council for the Economy, they were both part of the (now dissolved) Pontifical Commission of Reference on the Economic-Administrative Structure of the Holy See, and they both were – according to unconfirmed rumors – in the set of three names that the Spencer&Stuart head-hunting agency had given to the Secretariat of State when the latter was searching for someone to replace Gotti Tedeschi as president of the council of the IOR, who got a no confidence vote by his own council. These names would represent a line of renewal within continuity, but at the same time they would not act as the hawks, the latter aiming of making the IOR a speculative reality, as they would like to do with many other realities. For example, the widely gossiped commission for communications  would also be tasked with reviewing the Vatican Television Centre statutes, to make it a more commercial and profitable activity”.

 

Seven years of Summorum Pontificum

07/07/2014

“Even if the Extraordinary Form may not have been as widely-available as one might prefer in some places, to them it has been for a good stretch of their recent memory, always one of the two forms of the single Roman rite, rather than something which had a curious (if, for me, exciting, even invigorating) edginess to it, as I remember from my own days in college only a few years before the Motu Proprio. It is now once again part of our heritage as Catholics, restored to the glorious sunlight of the open life of the Church, rather than a historical appendix, and this shift in attitudes as much of the genius and spirit of Summorum as the beauty and theological heft of the Extraordinary Form itself. Certainly, while we must not rest on our laurels, we have still come quite a way in such a short time”.

The Curia of Francis

12/06/2014

An article by well know vaticanista, Sandro Magister, writes about the plans for the Curia under Francis. He begins “Combine the dicasteries, for example, to streamline the organization a bit.’ This is what Pope Francis said he wanted to do in the Roman curia, responding to journalists on the return flight from his pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The fact that the merger of dicasteries was one of the changes studied by the council of eight cardinals – the “C8,” selected by the pontiff to assist him in the reform of the curia and in the governance of the universal Church – was not a secret”.

He writes “for the first time Francis himself has expressly indicated this objective. The pope added that the C8 will discuss it not only at the scheduled four-day meeting at the beginning of July, but also at a subsequent meeting on the calendar for September. Jorge Mario Bergoglio made no reference to what the projected mergers may entail. But by connecting the dots it is already possible to figure out which dicasteries are most at risk”.

He adds that “The immediate predecessors of Pope Francis, once they were elected, over the span of a few weeks had confirmed in their positions the heads of all the curial dicasteries who had lost their mandates during the sede vacante. Francis did not follow this practice”.

It should be said that to a certain extent, he did. He confirmed all the major officials within two or three days of his election. What was unusual was that he also included the secretaries in this decree. These officials are not included as they do not lose their positions during a sede vacante but the message was clear.

Magister is referring to the confirmation of whole departments rather than the entire Curia as a whole. He notes that “almost fifteen months after his election there are still a good number of dicasteries that have not had the confirmation of their leadership or their member cardinals and bishops. As of now the pontiff has confirmed the leaders of the secretariat of state, the prefecture of the pontifical household, the office for liturgical ceremonies, and of eight of the nine existing congregations: doctrine of the faith, Oriental Churches, causes of saints, bishops, evangelization of peoples, clergy, religious, Catholic education”.

He notes that Francis has not confirmed “the leaders of the congregation for divine worship”. The prefect of the congregation, Antonio Cardinal Canazaries Llovera, has been in office since December 2008 and has long sought to return home to Spain. The most touted see is Madrid where the incumbent is well past the retirement age. The other less likely possibility is the archdiocese of Barcelona where the cardinal-archbishop is also well past the age limit.

Magister adds “Pope Francis has also confirmed the leaders of five pontifical councils (laity, Christian unity, justice and peace, interreligious dialogue, culture) but not those of the other six: family, Cor Unum, migrants, legislative texts – where, however, a new undersecretary has been appointed – social communications, new evangelization. Nor has there been any confirmation of the leaders of the apostolic signatura – although an adjunct secretary has been sent – nor of those of the administration of the patrimony of the apostolic see, APSA, and of the prefecture for economic affairs”.

It is high likely that Family, Laity and perhaps Migrants will all be amalgamated into an already touted Congregation for the Laity. Possible senarios include the president of the Family being sent to a diocese in Italy as Paglia is not a cardinal. Cardinal Ryklo could be sent to replace Stanisław Cardinal Dziwisz of Krakow who will turn 75 next April. Cardinal Veglio at Migrants in 76 and could be retired before his pontifical council is dissolved, or merged.

Given the emphasis of Francis on the poor, Cor Unum is probably safe  though it may be altered slightly. Legislative Texts is probably safe enough while Social Communications will be dissolved and a new secretariat covering its remit and that of other related aspects will probably be created. The pet project of Pope Benedict, the new evangelisation, and his powerful pontifical council will also likely be dissolved after only four or five years in existence.

With regards to the APSA it will likely be saved while the fate of Cardinal Versaldi and Economic Affairs has already been sealed. The biggest “problem” for Francis is Burke, someone who has directly contradicted him recently by insisting that the Church can never talk enough about abortion and gay marriage.

Magister goes on to write “While among the pontifical commissions only the one for Latin America, connected to the congregation for bishops, has been confirmed, but not yet the three connected to doctrine of the faith (Ecclesia Dei, biblical commission, and international theological commission), nor that of sacred archaeology, connected to the council for culture.  Having said that, it is interesting to note what happened last May 22, when the new cardinals created last February by Pope Francis were assigned their membership in the curial dicasteries. Appointments that had an appendix on May 28 with the inclusion of the new cardinal Pietro Parolin, the secretary of state, in the congregation for the doctrine of the faith. On the whole what has happened is that the new cardinals have been distributed only and exclusively in the dicasteries already confirmed by Pope Francis, including the pontifical commission for Latin America, but not in the others still on hold”.

He goes on to note that “Just as no newly created cardinal has been assigned to the pontifical councils for the family, migrants, legislative texts, social communications, new evangelization and Cor Unum. Nor has there been any assignment to the apostolic signatura and to APSA. A simple coincidence? Or are these precisely the curial dicasteries on the verge of being ‘streamlined'”

He ends noting “Still, it must be taken into account that almost all of the dicastery heads confirmed by Pope Francis are the same as before his election as pope, in spite of the universally negative judgments that have fallen upon the curia they lead and the general requests for a change of personnel before structures”.

“Save Catholicism in Latin America”

10/06/2014

An article in Foreign Affairs discusses the papacy of Francis and argues that

It begins “Francis has adorned the cover of Time, Rolling Stone, and even The Advocate, a magazine for gay news. World leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama, have lined up to praise him. The pope’s rise to global popularity has been quick, boosted by a surprising and often blunt message of economic and social justice. Many observers have attributed that message to a self-conscious embrace of his namesake, Saint Francis of Assisi”,

The piece then goes on to unfairly say Pope Benedict gave the issue little attention even though he wrote Caritas in Veritate on the subject. This just shows either the bias, which has long been obvious, or worse the distain with which Benedict is treated.

The author goes on to write that “At the time of Francis’ election as pope last year, the hope was that his papacy might revive the church in Latin America, which is home to the world’s largest Catholic population, almost 500 million people, but one that has been in steep decline. According to the Latin American Public Opinion Project, in 2012, the overall percentage of Catholics in the region stood at 65 percent; in the early 1980s, Catholics made up nearly 90 percent of Latin American’s population. For now, there is no hard data showing that Francis has accomplished his mission, but the early signs are encouraging. Last July, as Brazil was rocked by protests against government corruption and poverty, Francis visited — his first international trip as pope — and some three million people, including the presidents of Argentina, Bolivia, and Brazil”.

The writer adds that “Francis’ popularity around the world, and particularly in Latin America, reveals something else about his papacy, one year in: his relationship with the region runs both ways. Even as he has tried to buoy the church there, his experiences in Latin America have helped transform the Roman Catholic Church as a whole, particularly when it comes to economic and social justice and support for gay rights. From the radicalism of Latin American Catholicism to a wave of social progressivism making its way through the region, often on the heels of populist, left-wing governments that have taken power in recent decades, Latin America has increasingly influenced Francis’ papacy”.

This view is mistaken. Instead of Latin America influencing Francis it is Francis influencing Latin America this is obviously the case with the agenda of the common good that Francis has consistently raised throughout his papacy. The view of Francis as a supporter “for gay rights” is laughable and is a clever Francis spinning the Catholic position to sound more tolerant than it actually is.

The author then mentions “Francis’ vigorous denunciation of poverty and inequality and calls for wealth redistribution are best reflected in his first papal pronouncement last year, Evangeli Gaudium, or The Joy of the Gospel, in which he urged leaders from across the globe “to fight poverty and inequality,” and called on the rich to share their wealth. Citing the “idolatry of money” and criticizing “unfettered capitalism as a new tyranny,” he exhorted politicians “to guarantee all citizens dignified work, education and healthcare.” Not surprisingly, these comments raised the ire of the U.S. right”.

He writes that “Francis’ economic message has more religious, yet still expressly Latin American, roots, which are evident in the region’s most significant contribution to Catholicism: liberation theology. Liberation theology mixed Catholic thinking on social justice with Marxist critiques of capitalism. The movement’s origins lie in the 1960s, when the church, fearing that it was becoming alienated from the people, placed priests in factories and other workplaces throughout Latin America, especially in Argentina. For many priests, the experience proved transformative, leading them to the realization that the church needed a theology that would free the masses from the chains of capitalism and that would stress fighting social and economic injustice in the here and now, rather than focus on seeking salvation in the afterlife”. Yet as has been stated elsewhere Francis is cool on liberation theology.

The writer then goes on to write mistakenly about gay rights and Francis. he notes “More surprising than Francis’ endorsement of economic populism and even liberalization theology are his views on social issues, homosexuality in particular, which suggest an even deeper Latin American influence on Francis’ papacy. On a flight back from Brazil last July, he told reporters: “If someone is gay and seeks the Lord with good will, who am I to judge?” Then, in an interview in September, he called on Catholics to “get over their obsession with abortion, contraceptives, and homosexuality.” Most recently, in an interview in March, Francis insinuated that he supported same-sex civil unions and that the church would tolerate them — for economic reasons”.

Of course the position of the Church has not changed and the Vatican, through Federico Lombardi SJ has unsurprisingly reaffirmed the position of the Church.

The writer then goes on to state incorrectly that there has been a change, “Francis’ approach to homosexuality stands in stark contrast to the attitudes of previous popes, including Benedict, who was known for his unbending adherence to church doctrine on issues of gender and sexuality. In no small measure, Francis’ tolerance of homosexuality is a reflection of the development of gay rights in Latin America, and of the gay rights battles that entangled Francis when he served as Archbishop of Buenos Aires”.

Here the author confuses the city of  Buenos Aires and Francis, as if the two were easily interchangeable. As the writer admits, “Before he became pope, he was mostly known for an epic war of words in 2010 with Kirchner over the same-sex marriage bill. He characterized the bill as “a destructive attack on God’s plan,” and she, in turn, branded his words “reminiscent of medieval times and the Inquisition.” But Francis’ behavioor was more complicated than his rhetoric suggests. Indeed, it was marked by a pragmatism animated less by doctrine than by his engagement in everyday struggles. Once it seemed that the same-sex marriage bill was about to pass, Francis proposed a compromise in which the church would endorse same-sex civil unions”.

He ends “As Francis tries to stem the decline of the church in Latin America, his experiences in his home country and throughout the region have helped transform the Roman Catholic Church and change old attitudes. By doing so, if his popularity is any indication, Francis may well help save Catholicism in Latin America — and worldwide”.

Following the Orthodox?

30/04/2014

A controversy has erupted recently over the giving Holy Communion which was begun when a phone call by Francis was made public.

An article in the Daily Telegraph reports that “Pope Francis reportedly told a woman ‘living in sin’ with a divorced man that she is free to take Holy Communion, in what appears to be a significant departure from Catholic teaching. Jacqui Lisbona, who is from the Pope’s homeland of Argentina, wrote to the Jesuit pontiff to tell him that she had been refused Communion by her local priest, who objected to the fact that she was married to a previously divorced man. Prohibited from marrying in church, they had instead opted for a civil ceremony”.

The piece goes on to mention “In her letter, Mrs Lisbona, who has two teenage daughters with her current husband after 19 years of marriage, said she was worried that if she did take Communion – perhaps in a church where she was not known to the priest – she would be ‘violating Church rules’. The Pope, who since being elected 13 months ago has established a reputation for phoning ordinary Catholics out of the blue in response to letters they have sent, called her at her home in the central region of Santa Fe on Easter Monday. He reportedly told her: ‘A divorcee who takes communion is not doing anything wrong.’ In a rebuke to the local priest who refused her the Sacrament, he added: ‘There are some priests who are more papist than the Pope.'”.

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family was reported to have said that the Church should open the “flood gates of mercy”. However, people like Cardinal Muller and Cardinal Burke have both voiced very serious and very public concerns about admitting people to the Sacrament in spite of the teachings of Jesus on the indissolubility of marriage.

The piece goes on to note “the reported remarks were in line with the position taken by Pope Francis in recent months – that the Church should treat divorcees and their partners with more compassion. The remarks may indicate that the Pope, who has struck a much more inclusive tone than his predecessor, Benedict XVI, on issues ranging from homosexuality to same-sex unions, is testing the water with the intention of changing the Church’s position. The surprising exchange was first revealed by Mrs Lisbona’s husband, Julio Sabetta, who said he first answered the call from the Pope, before handing the phone to his wife”.

The article continues giving context, “Since being elected in March last year, Pope Francis has on several occasions called for a more merciful approach to the problem. In February he said divorced and separated couples should not be excluded from Church activities, in remarks which also raised speculation that he may one day lift the ban on divorcees receiving Communion. He told a group of Polish bishops that priests should ‘ask themselves how to help (divorced couples), so that they don’t feel excluded from the mercy of God, the fraternal love of other Christians, and the Church’s concern for their salvation.’ He has also called on the Church hierarchy to re-evaluate the way that priests and bishops can engage with the children of same-sex couples and divorcees, urging them to “consider how to proclaim Jesus Christ to a generation that is changing”.

It ends, “The push for a more inclusive approach towards divorced Catholics has been led by Cardinal Walter Kasper, a German theologian, who has called for “openings and changes” in how the Church confronts the issue”.

Meanwhile in a terse statement the Press Office of the Holy See has issued a brief statement, “Several telephone calls have taken place in the context of Pope Francis’ personal pastoral relationships. Since they do not in any way form part of the Pope’s public activities, no information or comments are to be expected from the Holy See Press Office. That which has been communicated in relation to this matter, outside the scope of personal relationships, and the consequent media amplification, cannot be confirmed as reliable, and is a source of misunderstanding and confusion. Therefore, consequences relating to the teaching of the Church are not to be inferred from these occurrences”.

There is little doubt where Pope Francis stands on the issue but the question is where Francis will take this now. The obvious Catholic theological and canonical view is firmly against it but Cardinal Kasper, an expert on the Eastern Orthodox Churches, allow the pratice of Communion for those who have up to three marriages, all within the Orthodox Church.

This is clearly the most likely model that Francis will follow if he is bold enough to act. Whether he is or not is a different question.

Married priests?

22/04/2014

A report in the left wing Tablet newspaper notes that Pope Francis could allow married men to be ordained priests if there is agreement from the bishops. It opens,  “A bishop who met with Pope Francis in a rare private audience on 4 April has said in an interview that the two men discussed the issue of the ordination of ‘proven’ married men – viri probati – in a serious and positive way. Bishop Erwin Kräutler, Bishop of Xingu in the Brazilian rainforest, spoke to the Pope about Francis’ forthcoming encyclical on the environment, and the treatment of indigenous peoples but the desperate shortage of priests in the bishop’s huge diocese came up in the conversation. According to an interview the Austrian-born bishop gave to the daily Salzburger Nachrichten on 5 April, the Pope was open-minded about finding solutions to the problem, saying that bishops’ conferences could have a decisive role. ‘I told him that as bishop of Brazil’s largest diocese with 800 church communities and 700,000 faithful I only had 27 priests, which means that our communities can only celebrate the Eucharist twice or three times a year at the most,’ Bishop Kräutler said. ‘The Pope explained that he could not take everything in hand personally from Rome. We local bishops, who are best acquainted with the needs of our faithful, should be corajudos, that is ‘courageous’ in Spanish, and make concrete suggestions,’ he explained. A bishop should not act alone, the Pope told Kräutler. He indicated that “regional and national bishops’ conferences should seek and find consensus on reform”.

The report goes on to mention, “Asked whether he had raised the question of ordaining married men at the audience, Bishop Kräutler replied: “The ordination of viri probati, that is of proven married men who could be ordained to the priesthood, came up when we were discussing the plight of our communities. The Pope himself told me about a diocese in Mexico in which each community had a deacon but many had no priest. There were 300 deacons there who naturally could not celebrate the Eucharist. The question was how things could continue in such a situation”.

The article adds “Bishop Kräutler was then asked whether it now depended on bishops’ conferences, as to whether church reforms proceeded or not. ‘Yes,’ he replied. ‘After my personal discussion with the Pope I am absolutely convinced of this.’ Last September the Vatican Secretary of State, then-Archbishop Pietro Parolin – who was then Apostolic Nuncio to Venezuela – answered a question put to him by El Universal newspaper by stating that priestly celibacy ‘is not part of church dogma and the issue is open to discussion because it is an ecclesiastical tradition’. ‘Modifications can be made, but these must always favour unity and God’s will,’ he said”.

It ends, “The topic of ordaining ‘viri probati’ was raised with a question mark over it in a speech by Cardinal Angelo Scola of Venice, at the October 2005 Synod on the Eucharist – the first synod of Pope Benedict XVI. ‘To confront the issue of the shortage of priests, some … have put forward the request to ordain married faithful of proven faith and virtue, the so-called viri probati,’ he said. Cardinal Scola, who read his speech in Latin in the presence of Pope Benedict, did not say which bishops from which countries had suggested discussing the ordination of older married men”.

A seperate report from the Tablet notes that “Permission to ordain married men should be widened, according to three bishops of England and Wales who have spoken out following reports that Pope Francis would like episcopal conferences to put forward suggestions for reform”.

What is not clear is whether these married priests, if it happens at all, could become bishops. Or Francis will take his inspiration from the Eastern Catholic Churches and have married men as priests but celibate men as bishops. Whatever happens the current situation is neither tenable or just.

 

The loyal opposition?

04/04/2014

Following Cardinal Kasper’s talk that he gave before the consistory about the possible opening up of communion for [civilly] divorced and remarried Catholics a number of interviews have been published in the press stating their firm opposition. The clear opposition of Cardinal Burke has already been noted before and where Francis stands with Burke.

Rorate carries an interview by Carlo Cardinal Caffarra, “We provided, on the day of publication, a translation of the only available excerpt of the interview granted by the Cardinal-Archbishop of Bologna, Carlo Caffarra, to Matteo Matzuzzi in Il Foglio. Yesterday, Zenit published a translation of the full text which we transcribe below for the record of events related to the 2014 Extraordinary Synod of Bishops”. The post goes on to discuss Pope John Paul II’s Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Familaris Consortio. Cardinal Caffarra, replying to the question that the document is out of date notes pointedly that “the document does speak about all the other problems. In particular it speaks a great length about the problem of the divorced and remarried. I can testify to this personally because I was one of the consultors for the 1980 Synod. It is simply not true to say that Familiaris Consortio comes out of a historical context that is completely alien to ours today. That said, I think, above all, Familiaris Consortio taught us an approach to the questions of marriage and the family. Using this approach we arrive at a teaching that, even today, remains a reference point that cannot be disregarded. What is this approach? When Jesus was asked in what circumstances divorce might be allowed – a theme that was not discussed at that time- he did not enter into the casuistic issues which gave rise to this question, instead he indicated in which direction we should look in order to understand what marriage is and consequently why marriage is indissoluble”.

Needless to say this is going against the view of both Cardinal Kasper, and also implicitly, Pope Francis as it was Francis who chose Kasper to give the talk in the first place. Rorate then, in a separate post which carries an article by noted Vaticanista, Marco Tosatti about the reaction of the cardinals after Kasper had given his address. Rorate in its usual nuanced way opens, “the first member of the College of Cardinals to speak up clearly in public following the consistory was Cardinal Caffarra, followed by Cardinal Burke. Marco Tosatti explains, however, that from day one the College of Cardinals was in its majority against the ‘Kasper Doctrine’, whose practical effect would be the complete destruction of the edifice of the Sacramental Theology of Matrimony”.

It should be noted that Pope Francis and Cardinal Burke have already clashed openly about the culture war issues, with Burke in an interview saying that the Church should never stop talking about issues such as gay marriage and abortion, while Pope Francis has famously stated that the Church has become obsessed with this issues.

Rorate goes on to carry the article by Tosatti of La Stampa, “The Consistory on the 22nd February to discuss the family, was supposed to be secret. Instead a decision came from the top that it was opportune to publish Cardinal Kasper’s long report on the theme of the Eucharist for the divorced and remarried. In all probability [this] to open the way in prospect of the October Synod on the Family. However half of the Consistory remained secret: [that half] concerned observations from Cardinals. And maybe not by chance, as, after Cardinal Kasper had presented his long report (and as it seems it was not very light when given ,) rather a lot of voices were raised in criticising it. So much so, that in the afternoon when the Pope gave him the job of responding, the German Cardinal’s tone appeared piqued, even angry to the many [present]. The current opinion is that ‘Kasper’s theorem’ tends to allow permission in general for the divorced and remarried to receive communion, without the previous marriage being recognised as null. At present this does not happen, based on Jesus’ words which were very severe and explicit on divorce. People who live a full matrimonial life without the first union being regarded as invalid by the Church, find themselves in a situation of permanent sin, according to present doctrine”.

Tossati notes that in addition to the oppostion of Cardinal Caffarra and Cardinal Burke, Cardinal Bagnasco, archbishop of Genoa and Cardinal Sarah, president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, both also stated their opposition. Others against the proposal Tossati reports are Cardinal Re, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for Bishops and Cardinal Piacenza who is considered close to Pope Benedict.
Tossati writes that “Cardinal Tauran, (of Inter-Religious Dialogue) returned again to the attack on the family, also in light of relations with Islam. Likewise Cardinal Scola of Milan raised theological and doctrinal perplexities. Cardinal Ruini was also very critical. He [also]added: ‘I don’t know if I understood well, but at this moment, about 85% of the Cardinals have expressed opinions apparently contrary to the layout of the report.’ He added that among those who did not say anything – therefore could not be classified – he took from their silence that: ‘I believe they are embarrassed'”.
If this is what has happened over only a few months, it will be interesting to say the least, what will happen in the coming months and years in the course of the pontificate of Francis.

A year of Francis

13/03/2014

Today marks the first anniversary of the election of Pope Francis. Yesterday the Press Office of the Holy See released a statement which stated, “These 365 days of his papacy have been characterised as a “time of mercy”, as described by the Pope himself. During these twelve months of intense activity, the Pope “from the end of the earth” who asks us to pray for him, has started out on a new way of working that, with a slow but sure pace, has drawn renewed attention to issues not only of an ecclesiastical nature”.

Paul Vallely, a left wing author has written an article marking his first anniversary as pope. He notes the usual platitudes, “He is a priest who practises what he preaches: he embraces the disfigured; invites the homeless for breakfast; suspends bishops with opulent or self-regarding lifestyles; and follows a regimen of ostentatious frugality. But is there anything more to this shift in papal style than a cosmetic rebranding of a global corporation that has undergone massive reputational damage in recent decades? There is a carefully cultivated ambiguity about the man who is the 266th successor to St Peter. And it is producing a war of words between conservatives and liberals, inside and outside the Catholic church, with each trying to claim the pontiff for their side in a religious culture war”.

He writes “Francis’s opposition to abortion has hardly been vocal; indeed, he has proclaimed that the church has hitherto ‘obsessed’ too much about it. There is an artful inscrutability to what he means by ‘a son of the church’; it is a statement about the past, not the future. He has repeatedly hinted that he wants to end the policy of banning divorced and remarried Catholics from communion”.

Vallely’s claim that Francis has not been vocal about abortion is correct but misreads him. He is correct in noting what Francis said about seeing only these things but at the same time Vallely seems to imply that because he has not been vocal about it means it is open to discussion or even change. This is farcical. Pope Benedict when he visited Mexcio city did not mention either abortion or gay marriage, though both of these had just been legalised by the city government. Instead Benedict chose to speak about what was more important and realised that little could be accomplished from railing against these things. The same is true of Francis.

Vallely writes that “Liberal Catholics, like the new pope’s many enthusiasts in the secular world, look to the first non-European bishop of Rome for 1,200 years and see something altogether different. He is ‘a miracle of humility in an age of vanity’, to quote Elton John. He has shown his readiness to break with tradition by washing the feet of women and Muslims. He has told atheists they can get to heaven so long as they ‘obey their conscience’. Most onlookers are attracted by his demand for ‘a poor church, for the poor'”. Again all Francis is doing here is quoting Catholic doctrine in pithy, media friendly sound bites.

He goes on to claim “What is different about Francis is that, where previous popes saw the issue as one of theological abstraction, his condemnations of capitalism come from living with its direct impact on the poor. After Argentina became the centre of the world’s biggest debt default in 2001, almost half the population was plunged into poverty. “Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them,” Francis proclaimed”. Vallely adds that Francis has restored liberation theology but in fact Francis has remained suspicious of it, “Jorge Mario Bergoglio has never concealed his disagreement with essential aspects of this theology. His theologians of reference have never been Gutiérrez, nor Leonardo Boff, nor Jon Sobrino, but the Argentine Juan Carlos Scannone, who had elaborated a theology not of liberation but ‘of the people,’ focused on the culture and religious sensibility of the common people, of the poor in the first place, with their traditional spirituality and their sensitivity to justice”.

Meanwhile the New York Times looks forward to his next year, “Year 2, however, is likely to prove more challenging, if partly because of Francis’s own success. He has raised expectations that he can bring major change to the Roman Catholic Church — even as opinions differ on what changes are needed, and which ones Francis actually supports. He has become one of the most recognized and popular figures in the world yet his public comments are often deliberately ambiguous, as he is careful not to get pinned down on ideologically charged issues”.

The piece adds “Many Vatican watchers noted Francis’s selection of Cardinal Walter Kasper, known for more liberal social views, as the main speaker for last month’s gathering of cardinals at the Vatican. Cardinal Kasper spoke for more than an hour on the theme of family, and also signaled the need to address the needs of divorced and remarried Catholics. In an interview, Cardinal Kasper said Francis approached him in December about making the speech. He said he told the pope at a later meeting that he wanted to focus his speech on strengthening and encouraging marriage but also raise the issue of divorced Catholics and communion, and that he worried that advocating change might offend some cardinals”. Of course, far more interesting are Cardinal Kasper’s view on ecclesiology which, at their extreme could lead to terrible results.

The purpose of profit

07/03/2014

Profit is useful if it serves as a means towards an end that provides a sense both of how to produce it and how to make good use of it. Once profit becomes the exclusive goal, if it is produced by improper means and without the common
good as its ultimate end, it risks destroying wealth and creating poverty”

Impossible to reform?

05/03/2014

An interesting debate has begun on the New Liturgical Movement blog. It began on 22 December 2005 when Pope Benedict XVI expressed a need for a better liturgical hermeneutic of continunity with the Second Vatican Council.

Since then the reform of the reform has had many fine advocates, though sadly not often enough. Now however the whole worthiness of the reform of the reform has been questioned. In an article by Fr Thomas Kocik, “Reforming the Irreformable?,” he writes that “Although the movement is difficult to define (Is it synonymous with the ‘new liturgical movement’ or but one stage of it?), its overall aim was nicely summed a few years ago by the Ceylonese prelate who stated that the time has come when we must ‘identify and correct the erroneous orientations and decisions made, appreciate the liturgical tradition of the past courageously, and ensure that the Church is made to rediscover the true roots of its spiritual wealth and grandeur even if that means reforming the reform itself…'”

Kocik writes “Long before Joseph Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI, he was critically evaluating the reform of the liturgy following the Second Vatican Council, identifying those aspects of the reform which have little or no justification in the Council’s liturgical Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium (SC) and which undermine the true spirit of the liturgy.  As pope it was in his power to remedy the deficiencies—the “erroneous orientations and decisions”—of the reform on a universal scale not only by his teaching and personal liturgical example but also by legislation. He accentuated the liturgy’s beauty, promoted the liturgical and musical treasures of the Western Church (including of course the usus antiquior of the Roman rite), and introduced more tangible continuity with tradition in the manner of papal celebrations (e.g., the ‘Benedictine’ altar arrangement, offering Mass ad orientem in the Sistine and other papal chapels, administering Holy Communion to the faithful on their tongues as they knelt)”.

More controversially he writes “let us suppose, practically speaking and perhaps per impossibile, that the ‘reform of the reform’ were to receive substantive institutional support. Even so, I doubt the endeavour would be feasible—if we take that term to mean the reform of the present order of liturgy so as to bring it substantially back into line with the slowly developed tradition it widely displaced. It is not sour grapes about last year’s papal abdication that prompts my saying so. Like any movement, the ‘reform of the reform’ stands or falls on its own principles, not on any one pope or partisan. No: the ‘reform of the reform’ is not realisable because the material discontinuity between the two forms of the Roman rite presently in use is much broader and much deeper than I had first imagined. In the decade that has elapsed since the publication of my book, The Reform of the Reform? A Liturgical Debate (Ignatius Press, 2003), which concerns almost exclusively the rite of Mass, a number of important scholarly studies, most notably those of László Dobszay (†2011)and Lauren Pristas, have opened my eyes to the hack-job inflicted by Pope Paul VI’s Consilium on the whole liturgical edifice of the Latin Church: the Mass; the Divine Office; the rites of the sacraments, sacramentals, blessings and other services of the Roman Ritual; and so forth.Whatever else might be said of the reformed liturgy—its pastoral benefits, its legitimacy, its rootedness in theological ressourcement, its hegemonic status, etc.—the fact remains: it does not represent an organic development of the liturgy which Vatican II (and, four centuries earlier, the Council of Trent) inherited”.

He goes on to write that “There are significant ruptures in content and form that cannot be remedied simply by restoring Gregorian chant to primacy of place as the music of the Roman rite, expanding the use of Latin and improving vernacular translations of the Latin liturgical texts, using the Roman Canon more frequently (if not exclusively),reorienting the altar, and rescinding certain permissions. As important as it is to celebrate the reformed rites correctly, reverently, and in ways that make the continuity with tradition more obvious, such measures leave untouched the essential content of the rites. Any future attempt at liturgical reconciliation, or renewal in continuity with tradition”,

He argues that “To draw the older and newer forms of the liturgy closer to each other would require much more movement on the part of the latter form, so much so that it seems more honest to speak of a gradual reversal of the reform (to the point where it once again connects with the liturgical tradition received by the Council) rather than a reform of it. The twofold desire of the Council fathers, namely, to permit innovations that ‘are genuinely and certainly required for the good of the Church’ and to ‘adopt new forms which in some way grow organically from forms already existing’ (SC 23) could indeed be fulfilled, but not by taking the rites promulgated by Paul VI as the point of departure for arriving at a single, organically reformed version of the ancient Roman rite: that would be like trying to put Humpty-Dumpty back together again. What is needed is not a ‘reform of the reform’ but rather a cautious adaptation of the Tridentine liturgy in accordance with the principles laid down by Sacrosanctum Concilium (as happened in the immediate aftermath of that document’s promulgation in 1963), using what we have learned from the experience of the past fifty years”.

Others have noted that a host of other people have echoed Fr Kocik. What Kocik is saying is that the reform of the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite is impossible. This seems both defeatist and bizarre. It is becoming more and more apparent that there was indeed a “hack job” done by Paul VI and his associates but to then say that it is beyond reform seems strange.

Only ten or at most twenty years have elapsed since a genunine attempt to correct what has obviously gone wrong. The welcome but all too brief pontificate of Benedict XVI should have given Kocik and those who want a reform of the reform added impetus to the project. Secondly, seeing as the Church thinks in centuries to give up after only 20 years seems to say the least defeatist. To then say the the Latin Mass before the Council should take the place of the Ordinary Form in most parishes is essentially a fantasy.

Thankfully, in response to this strange view, Bishop Peter Elliott, auxiliary bishop of Melbourne, has argued that “now that the concept and project of the reform of the reform is under attack in NLM, let me speak frankly. Permit me to offer counsel to those who announce the total failure of the post-conciliar liturgical reform, claiming that a reform of it is impossible and insisting that the Extraordinary Form is the only answer. Let us be realistic. If you want the Extraordinary Form to become the Ordinary Form, reflect on the millions of people who come to vernacular Masses in our parishes around the world, in many countries and cultures. Would they easily embrace a Latin Low Mass with a server answering?  And let us not forget the priests. This is why some pastoral realism is required”.

He goes on to mention that “We know would that reform would look like. We already have it at our fingertips. It would be a Latin dialogue Mass, said or sung ad orientem, with the readings in the vernacular. Then questions arise about some other changes set out in Sacrosanctum Concilium“.

He ends “However, the integrity of the two forms needs to be preserved and respected, even as the two are meant to influence each other in these times.  My hypothesis about a reform of the Extraordinary Form would also be constrained by that current approach. Please let us keep this important conversation realistic, patient and moderate. The gift of Summorum Pontificum and Pope Benedict’s vision should not be compromised by loudly proclaiming the total failure of the Paul VI post-conciliar reforms.   Sweeping claims and an imprudent triumphalism do no credit to some advocates of the Extraordinary Form. Nor is the Ordinary Form respected or supported by those who grumble about the new ICEL translations and others who draw absurd conclusions from a simpler papal liturgical style”.

In a related piece, some have sought to clarify his argument, “Reading through the comments to my recent post, as well as the welcome contribution of His Grace Peter J. Elliott, I have noticed that there may be some confusion concerning the skeptical stance taken by Fr. Kocik, myself, and several others on the Ordinary Form and on the “reform of the reform.” My goal in this short article is to lay out several clarifications that, I hope, will assist everyone in the conversation. It seems to me that there are two very different meanings of the ROTR. First, it can mean simply celebrating correctly according to the latest edition of the revised liturgical books, following the desiderata of Vatican II (use of Latin as well as vernacular, Gregorian chant and polyphony, appropriate silence, only the right ministers doing what belongs to them, good mystagogical catechesis, etc.), and featuring everything traditional that is permitted in the celebration. Second, it can mean undertaking the step of a reform or revision of those very books, to re-incorporate unwisely discarded elements and to expunge foolishly introduced novelties. For convenience, let us call these ROTR-1 and ROTR-2. I am completely in favor of ROTR-1, that is, celebrating the Ordinary Form in the most reverent, solemn, beautiful, and sacred manner possible, since that is the way Catholics ought to celebrate Mass in any rite or form”.

He adds that “Many Catholics who deeply love the Church have been led by long experience and careful study of the liturgy to the conclusion that the reform carried out by the Consilium and promulgated by Paul VI is not just the unfortunate victim of a wave of abuses but something deeply and inherently flawed in structure and content. It is not in continuity with the Roman liturgical tradition as organically developed and received at the time of the Council. As a result (touching now on ROTR-2), it cannot serve as a suitable platform for the long-term future of the Roman Rite”. He goes on to list the failures of the implementation of Sacrosanctum Concilium.

He adds that “What it does say, however, is that there are intrinsic and inescapable limits to the scope and success of the ROTR project. Even assuming a happy day when every OF celebration across the globe is reverent, solemn, beautiful, and sacred, in full accord with Vatican II and the post-conciliar Magisterium, there will STILL be a profound discontinuity between what came before the Council and what came after, in the very bones and marrow of the rites themselves, in their texts, rubrics, rationale, spirituality—even, to some extent, their theology”.

To say that the reform of the reform is impossible and should be abandoned after only 20 years and that as a result of the impossibility of the reform project the pre-Conciliar Latin Mass should once again be the norm seems bizarre to say the least and should not be taken seriously.

“Supposedly placid pope”

01/03/2014

An excellent article pushes against the platitudes of the mainstream media and offers and an alternative view of Pope Francis.

He opens the piece “Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, opined this week on the character of the church’s biggest celebrity. According to O’Malley, Pope Francis isn’t about to launch a revolution in the church, he’s just changing the tone. O’Malley said the shift in emphasis is necessary because the church has been in the past “too strident, maybe too repetitious.” The interview’s main pitch is of a “softer” church. This is a very politic thing for a prince of the church to say, but of course, it is totally wrong. If the church’s tone under Pope Francis has changed at all, it has actually become harder, more lashing, and even snarky”.

He goes on to write that “The story of the last two papacies to which most of the media is slavishly dedicated goes like this: Pope Benedict was a meanie who, in the memorable phrasing of Rolling Stone, “looked like he should be wearing a striped shirt with knife-fingered gloves and menacing teenagers in their nightmares.” By contrast, Pope Francis is your super-chill, vaguely commie friend, who plays with animals and responds to sin with a cool shrug. The truth is somewhat different. Pope Benedict was a warm and often misunderstood scholar. His views of economics may be even further to the left than his successor’s. His encyclicals and his books are gentle and reflective. His letter to the atheist author Piergiorgio Odifreddi typifies the tone. Even when much of what he offers is criticism, it comes with a light and inviting touch. The unnoticed part of the “new tone” in the church is that Francis is practically an insult comic. Where Benedict sought to condemn errors in the abstract, Pope Francis makes it personal and attacks tendencies within certain groups of people, usually in highly stylised papal idioms. He has condemned “airport bishops.” Christians who complain too much, he called “Mr. and Mrs. Whiner.” Can we even imagine how much crap Pope Benedict would have taken from the media if he told nuns not to become “old maids?” Francis said just that, though”.

He continues making the interesting point that “Catholics of a more traditional bent really cause Francis to bring out the stick. He has called them “triumphalists” and “restorationists.” He dubs those that send him notes enumerating the number of rosaries they have prayed for him “Pelagians,” after the heretic who denied the necessity of divine grace for salvation. In his pastoral letter he more memorably extended it to “self-absorbed Promethean neo-Pelagians” Don’t forget the “querulous and disillusioned pessimists” and the “sourpusses” that afflict the church. A more progressive-minded priest may get slammed as a “promoter of the poison of immanence.” One Catholic blogger has been commissioned to compile all the Vicar of Christ’s invective into The Pope Francis Little Book of Insults. Insults aren’t foreign to Christianity. Jesus himself was brutal when condemning the “whitened sepulchers” and the “brood of vipers” among the religious leaders of his day”.

He ends the piece rightly pointing out that “Indeed, if one encounters the church only through the hegemonic frame of the culture war and political battles, it does seem like the church is little more than a series of “Thou shall nots” closely linked to human sexuality. The liturgy, the ministries to the poor, the wide variety of life in the church seem to fade into the background. Including the volcanic eruptions of its supposedly placid pope”.

A year of retirement

28/02/2014

On this, the first anniversary on the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, Peter Kwasniewski at the New Liturgical Movement blog has written a homage to the sorely missed Pope emeritus.

He notes “Through his own unappealable decision and at a time appointed by himself, Pope Benedict XVI had ceased to be the Vicar of Christ on earth. The past year has been, to say the least, a dramatic and tempestuous one, in which I have often wondered exactly what providential role the nearly eight-year pontificate of Benedict XVI was meant to have in the life of the Church—and what role it is meant to continue to have, through the rich teaching and inspiring example this pontificate left us, and through the enormous energies for reform it has unleashed throughout the Church”.

He goes on to mention that “In company with Pope Benedict, we observed the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council—a Council in which he vigorously took part, a Council whose legacy he later witnessed being manipulated or forgotten as the “virtual” or “media” Council and its antinomian “spirit” took the upper hand, and finally, a Council that he rightly demanded must be read in a “hermeneutic of continuity” with everything that had come before or had been clarified since. All of this suggests that Pope Benedict was passionately concerned with rectifying something, or many things, that had gone desperately wrong in the past five decades. One way of understanding what has happened over this half-century is to think about the delicate balance between ad intra and ad extra concerns, which are two sides of the same coin. The Church has her own life, one could say—a liturgical, sacramental, spiritual, intellectual life, defined by the confluence of Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Magisterium—and this life must be tended, nurtured, guarded, deepened. But simultaneously the Church always has a calling to go outwards into the world of unbelief, to preach to it, convert it, sanctify it, confront its errors and wrestle with its problems. It seems to me that the noble intention of Blessed John XXIII, a very traditional Pope in many ways, was to bring the treasures of the Church’s inner life to bear on modernity and the modern world. To this end he convened the Roman Synod and, more fatefully, the Second Vatican Council. He wanted the Catholic Church to send forth God’s light and truth, to intensify an apostolic activity that, under Pius XII, was already flourishing”.

He concludes, “Hence, after forty years of wandering in the desert, the pontificate of Benedict XVI seemed, and truly was, a watershed moment, a breath of fresh air—a realization that it was time to attend to the state of our soul, to put our own house in order, to renew our liturgy from its deepest sources, and to learn once again what exactly is the Good News we are supposed to be sharing in the New Evangelization. This pontificate began to undo, in a systematic way, the amnesia and the intoxication. In addition to its burgeoning fruits in the daily life of the Church, Summorum Pontificum stands forever as a symbol of the effort to bring about meaningful change by recalling the faithful to a tradition, spirituality, and way of life that are not in flux, as, indeed, its symbolic date—the seventh day of the seventh month of the seventh year of the new millennium—plainly announced. In God’s Providence, it was a short pontificate, but the teaching and legislation of those eight years will, as the new century moves on, prove to be either the mustard-seed of an authentic renewal or the prophetic condemnation of a failed one. In any case, it is our privilege, through no merits of our own, to embrace with gratitude, humility, and zeal the traditional Catholic identity, the fragrant living memory of God’s gifts, that Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI has done so much to protect and promote, and to let these seeds bear fruit in our own lives. There is no more any one of us can do, and yet this is enough. For God can take the few loaves and fishes we have, and multiply them endlessly. When one thinks of the greatness of the task Pope Benedict entrusted to us—the task of authentic renewal from the very sources of faith and in continuity with tradition—and when we contemplate how much work and suffering faces us as we strive to put into practice the profound teaching on the sacred liturgy Our Lord has given us through this great pope, we might be tempted to grow weary of the fight and fall away from it, especially in a time when so many in the Church seem to be running away from the dawning light back into the stygian darkness of the seventies”.

Thomas Reese meanwhile looks at his own relationship with Ratzinger/Benedict, “Whenever a reporter asks me about Benedict, I first acknowledge that I have some history with him. One of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s last actions as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was to tell the Jesuit superior general that I needed to be replaced as editor of America magazine, so I cannot claim to be an indifferent observer. Perhaps this is another reason I did not meet my deadline. This was a painful period in my life, so I warn reporters (and readers) that my own experience can bias my views. The temptation with any pope, even Francis, is to see him as black or white, all bad or all good. Nothing is that simple, especially a human being”.

Reese adds that “There is much to praise in the papacy of Pope Benedict. If for no other reason, he will be remembered for centuries as the pope who was not afraid to resign when he felt it was best for the church. Such humility, courage and trust in the Spirit are not easy virtues when everyone around you is telling you that you are indispensable. The resignation caused former supporters to turn on him and former critics to praise him. John L. Allen Jr. reports in The Boston Globe that Antonio Socci, a high-profile Italian conservative, has floated the question of whether Benedict’s resignation was actually valid under church law. This kind of talk is very dangerous and could lead to schism, but they will get no support from Benedict for such nonsense. Likewise, those who feared Benedict would try to run things from behind the scenes have been proved paranoid”.

He goes on to write that “As prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Ratzinger was the first Vatican official to take seriously the sexual abuse crisis. He was not perfect, but he listened to American bishops and learned faster than anyone else in Rome, including Pope John Paul II. He supported a zero-tolerance policy on abuse and threw hundreds of priests out of the priesthood for abusing minors. Pope Benedict also started the reform of Vatican finances, which is now beginning to bear fruit under Pope Francis. It was Benedict who finally said, “Enough,” and demanded that the Vatican observe the standards set by Moneyval, the European agency that deals with money laundering. Up until Benedict, the Vatican always argued that it was unique and could not be judged by outsiders. Now Vatican finances are periodically reviewed by Moneyval, which publishes its reports for everyone to see. All of the subsequent financial reforms have flowed from this decision by Benedict. Benedict must also be praised for the clarity of his writing. His first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, was universally praised for its explanation of the different types of love. The second part was an excellent guide for the ministry of charity in the church. In it, he described the ministry of charity as equally important as the ministry of the Word and the ministry of the sacraments. He stressed the importance of both professional and spiritual formation for those working with the poor. Sadly, the media were so focused on what he had to say about abortion, gays and condoms that what he had to say on other issues was ignored. People forget that he, like John Paul, was opposed to both Gulf Wars, and they proved wiser than all the policy wonks in Washington”.

Reese continues, “He was no fan of libertarian capitalism. He went further in saying that government has a role in the redistribution of wealth. Not even liberal Democrats say things like that. On economic issues, Benedict was to the left of President Barack Obama; he was even to the left of Nancy Pelosi. In fact, Benedict’s views on the relationship between religion and politics were quite sophisticated, as articulated at Westminster Hall in London and at the German Parliament, the Bundestag in Berlin. He was not a single-issue ideologue, and he recognized the role of prudence in political decision-making. Pope Benedict’s strength and weaknesses came from his background as a German professor, which was his life before Pope Paul VI appointed him archbishop of Munich in 1977*. His was the life of the mind where clarity of thought was prized. As a German professor, he was used to lecturing students who took down his words, memorized them and gave them back in exams. As a professor, he used technical language that might mean one thing in the classroom but something completely different on the street. Thus, he could say most Protestant churches were not true churches because he had defined “church” as a Christian community with a legitimate episcopacy. He could also use a word like “disordered,” which for him had philosophical meaning while on the street it would be interpreted as a psychological term”.

He closes, “To explain the Christian message to people of the 21st century will require the same kind of creativity shown by Augustine and Aquinas. We cannot simply quote them; we must imitate them. Augustine took the best thought of his age, Neoplatonism, and used it to explain Christianity to his time. Aquinas took the rediscovered Aristotle to explain Christianity to his generation. Theologians must be free to do the same today. Remember, Aquinas had his books burned by the archbishop of Paris. In his first Easter homily as pope, Benedict said the risen Christ is the next step in human evolution. I wish he had developed that thought, but that is a way of thinking that would be attractive to people today. To simply call Pope Benedict a conservative is a way of avoiding thoughtful analysis of a complex character. He gave and continues to give much to the church. He should be respected and honored for that while being clear-eyed about his limitations”.

Consistory 2014:titles and deaconries

22/02/2014

After meeting the Council of Cardinals and after two days of consultation with almost the entire College on the  family.

Rocco writes that “Francis has signaled his premium on hearing the ‘mind of the body’ instead by extending the session to two days, while culling back its agenda to just one item: the pastoral challenges facing the family – Papa Bergoglio’s marquee issue-item for 2014, set to culminate at October’s Extraordinary Synod on the same topic'”.

Rocco goes on to write “At the same time, what the Pope’s “script” lacked in a heavy roster, it more than made up for with his choice of messenger. Yet again, no small amount of shockwaves made the rounds on the announcement that the retired Christian Unity Czar, German Cardinal Walter Kasper, would be the keynote speaker at yesterday’s opening session. For all the warmth that’s marked the unprecedented dynamic of ‘two Popes’ coexisting behind the walls, the move signaled yet another theological turn from the mind of Ratzinger toward a greater openness to the thought of his rivals. A onetime assistant to Hans Küng, Kasper memorably clashed with the future B16 over the primacy of the universal or local church and, before his 1998 arrival in Rome, over the very issue that’s become the flashpoint of Francis’ call to reflection on family life: the standing of civilly remarried Catholics, particularly on their reception of the sacraments. Specifically citing the ‘adamant refusal’ of the Eucharist posed by the latter scenario, Kasper wrote in 2001 that ‘no bishop should be silent or stand idly by when he finds himself [facing] such a situation.’ Within days of his election, the new Pope began showcasing the German iconoclast as – to quote Mickens – “the theologian of his pontificate.” At his first Angelus, Francis conspicuously plugged Kasper’s recent opus on mercy, hailing him as an ‘on the ball’ thinker. Even before the election, meanwhile, the cardinal – who, having turned 80 days after B16’s resignation, was able to vote in the Conclave by the skin of his teeth – said the next Pope ‘need[ed] to realize the perception of the Second Vatican Council; we have not accomplished this task… to fully realize collegiality.'”

In a related article Rocco reminds readers that “In today’s Vatican, meanwhile, the sign of the times is subtler – and for many, not as sweet… but still no less significant. After 33 years of one German’s dominance in matters of the Doctrine of the Faith, today sees another of Joseph Ratzinger’s countrymen take his seat as the cardinal-prefect of the “Holy Office.” Even so, a continuity argument would be a challenge to make – despite being reconfirmed in his post, Gerhard Müller has already been eclipsed. Once ranked atop the Curial orbit as “La Suprema,” a dicastery technically headed by the Pope, this Consistory finds the CDF taking an inferior place to the power-center of the new pontificate, as the Secretary of a newly-emboldened Synod trumps the “Grand Inquisitor” in seniority and standing, upending an order of rank that dates to the 16th century”.

Notably, Benedict XVI attended the ceremony, Rocco notes that “the first fully public appearance of the Pope and his predecessor together since B16’s epochal resignation a year ago this week. Even beyond our time, meanwhile, the duo’s joint presence at a major event made for an act never before witnessed in the two-millenia history of the papacy, and one that wasn’t expected to be seen until Pope Francis’ joint canonizations of Blesseds John XXIII and John Paul II on April 27th”. He goes on to write that “Once he emerged – greeted at the front by an applause most of the congregation couldn’t see to understand – the Pope-emeritus unusually remained in his white grecca (overcoat). Then again, the place was said to be freezing during the midmorning rites.  In any event, Papa Ratzinger – seated alongside the junior cardinal-bishop in the same red silk chair as the rest of the College – made a conspicuous homage to his successor; as Francis approached Benedict on both his entrance and exit from the Altar of the Confession, B16 removed his zucchetto (skullcap), a lower prelate’s classic act of homage to the Pope, albeit one which has largely gone by the wayside over recent decades”.

Pope Francis has created his first cardinals in a ceremony in Rome today. As per custom each recieved a titular church linking them to the historic clergy of the diocese of Rome. These were announced today as follows:

  • Pietro Cardinal Parolin: Cardinal-Priest of Santi Simone e Giuda Taddeo a Torre Angela
  • Lorenzo Cardinal Baldisseri: Cardinal-Deacon of  Sant’Anselmo all’Aventino
  • Gerhard Ludwig Cardinal Muller: Cardinal-Deacon of Sant’Agnese in Agone
  • Beniamino Cardinal Stella: Cardinal-Deacon of Santi Cosma e Damiano
  • Vincent Gerard Cardinal Nichols: Cardinal-Priest of Santissimo Redentore e Sant’Alfonso in via Merulana
  • Leopoldo Jose Cardinal Brenes Solorzano: Cardinal-Priest of San Gioacchino ai Prati di Castello
  • Gerald Cardinal Lacroix, ISPX Cardinal-Priest of San Giuseppe all’Aurelio
  • Jean-Pierre Cardinal Kutwa: Cardinal-Priest of Sant’Emerenziana a Tor Fiorenza
  • Orani João Cardinal Tempesta, O. Cist.: Cardinal-Priest of Santa Maria Madre della Provvidenza a Monte Verde
  • Gualtiero Cardinal Bassetti: Cardinal-Priest of Santa Cecilia
  • Mario Aurelio Cardinal Poli: Cardinal-Priest of San Roberto Bellarmino
  • Andrew Cardinal Yeom Soo-jung: Cardinal-Priest of San Crisogono
  • Ricardo Ezzati Andrello SDB: Cardinal-Priest of Santissimo Redentore a Valmelaina
  • Philippe Cardinal Nakellentuba: Cardinal-Priest of Santa Maria Consolatrice al Tiburtino
  • Orlando Cardinal Quevedo OMI: Cardinal-Priest of Santa Maria “Regina Mundi” a Torre Spaccata
  • Chibly Cardinal Langlois: Cardinal-Priest of San Giacomo in Augusta

In addition to the 16 voting cardinals Pope Francis elevated three non-voting others:

  • Loris Francesco Cardinal Capovilla: Cardinal-Priest of Santa Maria in Trastevere
  • Fernando Cardinal Sebastian Aguilar: Cardinal-Priest of Sant’Angela Merici
  • Kelvin Edward Cardinal Felix: Cardinal-Priest of Santa Maria della Salute a Primavalle

This means that there is now 122 cardinal electors. Before this consistory there was 13 vacant titles and nine vacant deaconaries. However, as a result of the number of Cardinal-Priest’s new titles have been established, are Santi Simone e Giuda Taddeo a Torre Angela  which is the new titular church of Cardinal Parolin, Cardinal Langlois’s church of San Giacomo in Augusta and Sant’Angela Merici of Cardinal Sebastian Aguilar.

The Pope emeritus

12/02/2014

Yesterday marked the first anniversary of the announement of the resignation of Pope Benedict. In an article that marked the anniversary Rocco writes “hours after Benedict XVI announced his resignation from the papacy – lightning struck the dome of St Peter’s. In the rush toward a Conclave the news suddenly kicked off – and then a second tectonic shift in the choice of the 266th Pope – it can be said in retrospect that the first renunciation of the papacy since before Europeans settled the Americas wasn’t absorbed as the magnitude of the moment deserved. And for whatever changes have already come in the reign of Francis, even more in the offing, Joseph Ratzinger’s departure still makes for the office’s most significant reform in centuries”.

He goes on to note, “Since stepping away, the now Pope-emeritus has broadly held to his plan for his retirement to be spent “hidden from the world.” From his base in the former Mater Ecclesiae convent in the Vatican Gardens, Benedict – who’ll be 87 in April – is said to spend his days with the books he once called his “old friends,” still engaged in theological study, though he’s not expected to write again. A midday walk in the Vatican Gardens is often followed by time at the piano. Company does come, but the invitations tend to be limited to a relatively tight circle of longtime allies, who can be sufficiently trusted to not leak what he says. The mail is another story, however. A lengthy letter Benedict wrote an atheist author last November was published in La Repubblica with his consent, and in yesterday’s edition of the leftist daily, it emerged that Ratzinger had resumed correspondence with Hans Kung, his colleague-turned-rival of half a century, who he famously hosted for dinner months after his election. Reading from a note dated January 24th in a Repubblica interview, Kung quoted Benedict as saying that ‘I’m grateful to be linked by a great identity [sic] of views and a friendship of the heart with Pope Francis. I now see supporting his pontificate in prayer as my only and final work.’ For his part, Kung lauded his old friend for ‘thinking more of the destiny of the church than of any regard for himself.'”

Rocco goes on to write “To mark the anniversary, Ratzinger’s closest aide – Archbishop Georg Gänswein, who remains Benedict’s live-in private secretary as well as prefect of the Papal Household – has been on a media blitz which has included defenses of the often-misunderstood, frequently-fraught last pontificate. In a weekend conversation with Reuters, Don Giorgio said that for B16, ‘the measure of one’s work, of one’s way of doing things, is not what the mass media write but what is just before God and before conscience…. And, if it is fair, history in the end will reflect this.’ Having regained his old form after a rough patch immediately following his departure from Peter’s Chair, Benedict is only known to have left the Vatican once since his return in May, going to Rome’s Gemelli Policlinic in early January to visit his brother, Msgr Georg Ratzinger, who had fallen ill while visiting with his lone surviving sibling. (A German TV special to mark the Papstbruder-emeritus’ 90th birthday last month featured a brief chat between Benedict and the program’s host.) Likened by his successor to “a wise grandpop living at home,” the retired pontiff swapped Christmas visits with Francis, who treated him to lunch at the Domus. Knowing his predecessor’s special affection for the papacy’s “Camp David” in the Alban Hills, last summer Francis reportedly invited Benedict to stay at Castel Gandolfo whenever he wished, but Papa Ratzinger declined, instead encouraging the new pontiff to make it his own”.

Archbishop Gänswein does not sit well with Pope Francis, at one stage wondering out loud what else will change. Now that his rival Bishop Clemens has been confirmed as secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Laity it would not be unreasonable to expect Gänswein will take over the archdiocese of Cologne where Cardinal Meisner is over 80.

Rocco ends the piece “When it comes to drawing back, though, perhaps no commitment was tougher for Benedict to give up than the Schülerkreis, Ratzinger’s annual summer seminar and reunion with his doctoral students, whose last edition took place without him for the first time in nearly four decades. As the late-August gathering was still held at Castel – its 2013 focus on ‘The question of God in the context of secularisation’ – the Doktorvater welcomed his students to the Vatican for a morning Mass”.

He concludes, “As most of B16’s few post-resignation appearances have been alongside his successor, he’s widely expected to be present with Francis on 27 April, as the Pope canonizes Blesseds John XXIII and John Paul II”.