Archive for the ‘Pope Francis’ Category

24/12/2016

A piece from Crux discusses the recent talk of Pope Francis to the Roman Curia, “In his annual speech to the Roman Curia on Thursday, Pope Francis presented a sweeping vision of reform for the Vatican’s central administration, outlining the values he wants that reform to embody and insisting that old bureaucratic patterns such as “promoting to remove” must come to an end. Pulling no punches, Francis also conceded his efforts at reform have attracted opposition  – both “open resistance,” offered in a spirit of constructive dialogue, and “hidden” and “malicious” resistance, which he said “sprouts in distorted minds and shows itself when the devil inspires bad intentions, often wrapped in sheep’s clothing.”

Yet even resistance for bad motives, he said, “is necessary and merits being heard, listened to and encouraged to express itself.”

Francis denounced an attitude toward reform in the model of Gattopardismo, a reference to a classic Italian novel, the most famous line from which is, “Everything must change so that everything can stay the same.”

The pontiff called for more lay people and more women to be included in the Vatican’s workforce, and also said he wants to see Vatican departments become increasingly “multi-cultural.”

Francis hinted that more Vatican departments will be either consolidated or eliminated before the reform is over, and suggested that additional personnel changes are also in the cards.

The pope spoke Thursday in the Vatican’s Sala Clementina to the cardinals and other senior church official who make up the Vatican’s power structure, reminding them of reform moves that have been taken so far, such as the creation of two new super-departments for Family, Laity and Life and for Service of Integral Human Development, which bring several previously independent offices under the same roof.

Francis insisted that the reform process he’s been leading since his election in March 2013 isn’t merely cosmetic, or a simple “facelift” intended to smooth out a few wrinkles on the Roman Curia’s face, but rather a work of both administrative and spiritual purification.

“Dear brothers, it isn’t the wrinkles in the Church we have to be afraid of, but the stains!” he said.

The pontiff told the cardinals and other movers and shakers that no reform will succeed without an element of personal conversion, while bluntly saying that personnel changes in senior positions “without doubt happen, and will happen.”

The pontiff then outlined twelve values he believes should guide Vatican reform.

  1. Individuality: “I again reemphasize that without individual conversion, all the changes in structures will be useless,” he said. “A healthy body is one which knows how to recuperate, welcome, strengthen, take care of and make holy its members.”
  2. Being Pastoral: Francis insisted that members of the Roman Curia must have a strong pastoral instinct, beginning with the people they encounter every day, and that no one should feel “overlooked or mistreated.” The work of the Roman Curia, he said, must be driven by a spirit of “service and communion.”
  3. A Sense of Mission: The ultimate end of every work of the Church, Francis said, must be to carry the Gospel “to the ends of the earth.”
  4. Rationality: Francis insisted that there must be a rational division of labor within the Curia, that every department must have clearly defined responsibilities, and that “no discastery can attribute to itself the competence of another.”
  5. Functionality: Combining several smaller offices into one, the pope said, strengthens their ability to perform their functions and also gives them a “greater relevance,” including in terms of external perceptions.
  6. Modernization: Offices of the Roman Curia, the pope said, must be able to “read the signs of the times,” in the language of the Second Vatican Council, and update their operations and personnel accordingly.
  7. Sobriety: The pontiff said a “simplification and streamlining” of the Curia is necessary, putting some offices together and eliminating redundant functions within offices. He suggested that some “commissions, academies, committees” and the like may yet be suppressed altogether.
  8. Subsidiarity: Francis suggested that the specific responsibilities of various offices may be retooled to make their competence clear, in order to promote “autonomy, coordination and subsidiarity.” Within that horizon, he confirmed the traditional role of the Vatican’s Secretariat of State as “the most direct and immediate help to the pope.”
  9. Synodality: The pope called for a more collaborative spirit among the various Vatican offices, including regular meetings of department heads, presided over by the pope. He also said that as the number of offices is reduced, it will make regular meetings for the heads of those offices with the pope more possible. Francis insisted that Vatican offices not become “fragmented” and “self-referential.”
  10. Catholicity: The pope called for Vatican departments to seek personnel from all over the world, including permanent deacons and laity, especially women, and that the Vatican’s workforce must be “multicultural.”
  11. Professionalism: Francis urged ongoing formation for Vatican personnel in their areas of professional responsibility, and also demanded a complete end to the time-honored practice of “promoting to remove.” (The Latin phrase is promoveatur ut amoveatur.)
  12. Gradualism: Francis said reform involves discernment, including a period of “steps, testing, corrections, experiments, and temporary approvals” of changes. “It’s not a matter of indecisiveness but the necessary flexibility to reach a real reform.”

The pontiff then ticked off a series of reform steps that have already been taken, including an overhaul of the Vatican’s financial structures, the creation of a new Secretariat for Communications, the two other new dicasteries recently formed, an overhaul of the Church’s annulment process, and more.

In 2014, Pope Francis denounced 15 “spiritual ailments” Vatican bureaucrats suffered in his address to the Roman Curia. Last year he listed the “catalog of virtues” they should show.

The speech to the Roman Curia is traditionally regarded as the informal beginning of the holiday season for the pontiff, which is generally regarded as closing on Jan. 6 with the feast of the Epiphany. On Saturday Francis will preside over Christmas eve celebrations in the Vatican, followed by his noontime “Urbi et Orbe” blessing on Christmas day at noon Rome time.

Francis writes to Assad

16/12/2016

Pope Francis appealed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in a personal letter to ensure that international humanitarian law is respected so that civilians are protected and aid can get to them, the Vatican said on Monday. In the letter, given to Assad by the Vatican ambassador in Damascus, the pope appealed to Assad and the international community for an end to violence and condemned “all forms of extremism and terrorism from whatever quarter they may come”. The letter from the pope, who has made numerous public appeals over the fate of Aleppo, was delivered as a Syrian general said the country’s army and its allies were in the final stages of recapturing the city from rebels. The statement said the pope wrote of his affection for the “sorely tried” people of Syria and appealed to Assad “to ensure that international humanitarian law is fully respected with regard to the protection of the civilians and access to humanitarian aid”. It is not common for the Vatican to release details about private letters the pope sends to world leaders”.

 

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”.

Francis shapes the College

17/11/2016

John Allen writes about the meaning of the new consistory, “It may be election season in America, but that’s definitely not the vibe one gets in ecclesiastical Rome these days. Pope Francis is in good health, he remains fully in charge and operating at a breakneck pace, and there’s no sense that a transition is imminent. As a result, no one’s spending a great deal of time thinking about papabili, meaning potential candidates for the papacy, because most people don’t believe the job is going to be available anytime soon. On the other hand, there’s a consistory, meaning the event in which a pope creates new cardinals, so at least in theory the candidate pool is getting fresh blood. Moreover, virtually all the cardinals of the world will be in Rome for the event, which makes a consistory the closest thing in the Catholic Church to the Iowa Caucus – an early campaign milestone, when all the candidates are on display and anything seems possible Granted, from a faith point of view there’s something far more important than a political cattle call that will be happening on Nov. 19″.

He writes “Seen through the eyes of belief, it’s about men donning garments whose very colour symbolizes their willingness to shed their blood to protect the papacy and the Church, it’s about the continuity of the Church through time, and about the role of the papacy as the symbol and instrument of unity of the universal family of faith. However, all of that doesn’t mean there isn’t a political subtext too – grace builds on nature, after all, it doesn’t replace it – and so here are three things to look for on the political level as we prepare for Iowa on the Tiber”.

The first of these Allen says is the new pababili, “Generally the first thing Vatican-watchers will ask is whether a given consistory injects an obvious new candidate to be pope into the mix, and in this case, the early consensus would seem to be, “probably not.” Scanning the list, it seems clear that Francis chose many of these cardinals to lift up neglected corners of the world such as Papua New Guinea, Mauritius, and Bangladesh, which is a great boon for the local church, but it also means those prelates are relatively unknown. In other cases, Francis appeared to choose men in sync with his pastoral vision of the Church, which is clearly the case, for instance, with his picks in the United States – Archbishops Joseph Tobin of Indianapolis, Blase Cupich of Chicago and Kevin Farrell, formerly of Dallas and now heading the Vatican’s department for Family, Laity and Life. For now there still seem to be other cardinals with the same profile who are more plausible contenders. Among the Americans, for instance, that’s likely Sean O’Malley of Boston, who has the spirituality, balance and languages voters often want, and, as a bonus, as a member of the pope’s C-9 council, now has a deep knowledge of the inner workings of the Vatican and what it takes to lead. If you were to put guns to the heads of most Vatican-watchers today and demand they cough up a pick for the next pope, the names you would most likely hear are already cardinals”.

Crucially he writes “On the “keep it up” side of debates over Pope Francis, beyond O’Malley, you’d probably hear Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras, or perhaps Luis Antonio Tagle of the Philippines; on the “time for a change” side, you’d probably get Robert Sarah of Guinea, or Marc Ouellet of Canada, or Péter Erdő of Hungary, who’s also the president of the council of European bishops’ conferences. In terms of a compromise satisfying some of what each camp might be looking for, and who has the added attraction of being the smartest kid in class, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Austria is still a popular pick. If you were forced to select a possible pope just from this new crop on Nov. 19, however, two names seem the most likely bets: Archbishop Carlos Osoro Sierra of Madrid, Spain, and Archbishop Carlos Aguiar Retes of Tlalnepantla, Mexico. Both are Francis-style pastors in the sense of personal simplicity and closeness to ordinary people, but both also have reputations for being a bit more doctrinally firm, which may be a quality many cardinals see as desirable the next time”.

Allen writes about a continuity vote with Francis aving not appointed 44 electors, Benedict having appointed 56 and John Paul, 21 electors, “In other words, Francis will have more then twice as many of his own picks in the College of Cardinals as those he inherited from John Paul II, and is approaching numerical parity with Benedict XVI. Let’s assume the next consistory takes place in the fall of 2018, by which time 15 more cardinals will have turned 80, thereby creating another 15 vacancies, and let’s assume Pope Francis is still going strong and fills them. Four of the cardinals who will age out by then are John Paul II appointees and 9 by Benedict, while two are actually men Francis elevated in 2015. At that point, the new breakdown would be: John Paul II: 17, Benedict: 47, Francis: 57 To put the point differently, by next time Francis likely will have appointed roughly half the men who will choose his successor. More and more, this is becoming “his” College of Cardinals. That, of course, is no guarantee that the cardinals will elect a clone of Pope Francis. Benedict had named a majority of the College of Cardinals by March 2013, and clearly they opted for something different by turning to Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina. However, as in most conclaves, the pivotal issue next time is likely to be continuity or change vis-à-vis the papacy that just ended, and the more Francis has the chance to name men who share his own broad outlook, the more the odds of a basic “continuity” vote go up”.

The other point he raises is about demographics, “Americans know that the shifting demographics of this country, especially the burgeoning Latino/a constituency, are a major reason why the electoral math has shifted in favour of the Democrats. In the College of Cardinals too, Pope Francis is promoting something of a demographic inversion, naming progressively fewer Vatican officials and “Westerners,” especially Europeans, and more Princes of the Church from the developing world. One key take-away is this: When Francis was elected, 35 percent of the college was made up of officials of the Roman Curia. If a conclave were to happen right after Nov. 19, the curia’s share would be only 28 percent. Even within the developing world, Francis often prefers to lift up new cardinals from out-of-the-way places, reflected this time in his choice of another cardinal from an island nation – last time it was Tonga, this time Mauritius”.

Crucially Allen writes that “Unlike the United States, however, it’s far from clear that simply by virtue of overhauling the demography of the college, Francis is ipso facto promoting his own reform-oriented, mildly progressive agenda, at least on some fronts. If anything – and this is, naturally a broad generalization to which there are many exceptions, since we’re talking about a pool of roughly 800 million people – Catholics across the developing world tend to be more traditional, both in terms of faith and practice, than their Western peers. (A political scientist might inject an observation here about a longstanding paradox for the Catholic left. It’s a core principle for most Catholic progressives to celebrate diversity, and yet in terms of policy, that diversity may not always quite take the Church where its most ardent advocates would like it to go.) Perhaps the most immediate effect of the pope’s demographic shift is simply to foster a greater degree of uncertainty about how things might shake out in a future conclave. He’s creating a cohort of cardinals who have never been part of the usual theological and political controversies in the West, who may look at them with either boredom or frustration, and who may bring a wildly different set of priorities and “voting issues”. In other words, what Francis is doing by shaking up the usual suspects is to make the next papal election far more difficult to handicap – and therefore, of course, far more fascinating to watch”.

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”.

 

Tobin moved to Newark

07/11/2016

Rocco writes, just weeks before the consistory to create new cardinals of moves afoot, “Fifteen years ago this autumn, at the installation of his successor in Newark, the newly-created Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington memorably tipped his red hat to the North Jersey crowd – a gesture intended to say that he owed the scarlet to them. And now, it appears Uncle Ted has fully returned the favour, landing a cardinal to lead the 1.3 million-member fold in its own right. In a watershed decision signaling a new era after the controversial reign of Archbishop John Myers, on Monday the Pope is prepared to name Cardinal-designate Joseph William Tobin CSSR – the 64 year-old archbishop of Indianapolis whose impending elevation at this month’s consistory stoked widespread shock – as head of New Jersey’s marquee diocese, which has been roiled by years of tumult and low morale following assertions of the Newark church’s lax handling of cases of clerical misconduct, coupled with broad distaste over Myers’ austere, distant management style”.

Rocco notes that “To be sure, the reported nod isn’t merely a blockbuster, but even more historic than the Cubs winning the World Series – never before has an American cardinal been transferred from one diocese to another… and with New York just across the Hudson River, the move portends an ecclesiastical scenario heretofore unseen on these shores nor anywhere else in the Catholic world: two cardinals leading their own local churches not just side-by-side, but within the same media market. While the move was reported late Friday night by the online affiliate of the local Star-Ledger, after credible yet unconfirmed word of the nod was received by Whispers early Thursday, two ranking ops ducked comment on the pick in deference to the pontifical seal, and – as the notoriously leak-prone Newark crowd went into overdrive on Friday – a document from the archdiocese’s Chancery was obtained by these pages bearing Tobin’s name. (Complain all you want, but this house has its due diligence to carry out.) On a separate front, late Friday the archdiocese alerted reporters to a press conference scheduled for 10.30am Monday in the Cathedral-Basilica of the Sacred Heart – keeping with standard practice on a yet-unannounced appointment, the event’s topic was not disclosed. Having reached the retirement age of 75 in July, a quick succession for Myers has long been anticipated, even in the wake of Archbishop Bernard Hebda’s transfer to the Twin Cities earlier this year after 28 months in waiting as a coadjutor who had been kept as looped-out of the governance of the wildly complex archdiocese as he was beloved among its priests and people. Since the younger prelate’s move to an even more beleaguered posting was only made possible due to Myers’ drive to remain in office until the canonical age-limit kicked in, Hebda’s departure brought the frustration and “depression” among wide swaths of Newark’s clergy and laity to a near breaking-point”.

Rocco goes on to point out that “In Bernie’s stead, Joe Tobin – who takes the chair of the US bishops’ arm for clergy, religious and vocations later this month – is likewise being sent in with no less of a mandate for healing. If anything, that task has now become all the more high-profile given the appointee’s newfound prominence. Still, considering the former Redemptorist chief’s experience as an inner-city pastor in Detroit and Chicago, a deep history with Hispanics (who comprise almost half the Newark fold) and a more gregarious personality than Francis’ first intended choice for the post, the new cardinal might just make for an even happier and more comfortable fit than Hebda had already well proven to be. On another front, Tobin’s reputation as a champion of women religious over his two-year stint as #2 of the Vatican’s “Congregation for Religious” makes the significant presence of female orders and motherhouses in the archdiocese the proverbial “icing on the cake”… and, indeed, that Newark’s vast roster of institutions includes one of the few diocesan-owned universities (Seton Hall) as well as two major seminaries and a college-level one serves to underscore the outsize impact its archbishop has not merely on the life of his charge, but with the reach of its entities, even beyond”.

He mentions how “As reported at the top, multiple signs point to Newark’s fourth archbishop as the lead architect behind the choice of his second successor. Having maintained an enduring devotion for and among the Jersey church since his transfer to the capital in 2000, McCarrick – who Francis is said to revere as “a hero” of his – made a direct appeal over recent weeks for Tobin to be named to Newark, according to two sources familiar with the cardinal’s thinking. Beyond the Ted-push, with the Pope ostensibly alerted to the archdiocese’s troubled state, Francis reportedly took the rare step of soliciting impressions on the Newark church from outside the normal bounds of the appointment process at its final stages. In the US, a similar degree of wider consultation is known to have been sought from the Domus in just one other instance – the 2014 selection of Blase Cupich, now likewise a cardinal-designate, for Chicago. Given the more than decade-old bond between the now-pontiff and Tobin, however, this choice can be seen as Papa Bergoglio’s most personal move in the American hierarchy’s top rank to date – as one well-traveled cleric who knows the Redemptorist summed it up, for all intents and purposes, “Tobin is ‘Francis.'” Beyond the confines of the North Jersey church – an almost unparalleled concentration of diverse, often poor and violent urban areas but a mile or two from some of the country’s wealthiest suburbs, yet all a “periphery” in the shadow of New York – the move sets the stage for an extraordinary power dynamic without precedent anywhere: two cardinals overseeing dioceses separated only by a river, and sharing the US’ largest and most influential media market, to boot”.

Rocco goes on to point out that “While Tobin and the Big Apple Cardinal Timothy Dolan would remain ecclesially independent of each other as heads of their own provinces, the public interplay between the two garrulous, larger-than-life Irishmen – whose shared lack of shyness is punctuated by a more than occasional difference of approach to church life – is likely to prove more fascinating than not. Put another way, given memories of the famously bitter rivalry across the Hudson between McCarrick and the late John Cardinal O’Connor in the 1980s and ’90s, the prospect of tensions between their modern heirs would easily give the earlier feud a run for its money. As contrasts go between the cardinal-designate and his ostensible predecessor in Jersey, meanwhile, where Tobin remarked about getting “sweaty hugs” from fellow patrons of the Indy gym he goes to after word of his elevation spread, one could more easily envision Myers building a workout space for himself…. Then again, that might’ve already happened given the “wellness room” component of a reported $500,000 expansion of the countryside home the archbishop plans to use in his retirement – a disclosure which served to further fuel local discontent”.

The report adds “Along the same lines, as the tipped pick has happily tooled around the Indianapolis church – which, beyond its metro-area core, stretches across Indiana’s heavily-rural and mostly-Protestant southern tier – on his own in a pickup truck, how Tobin will take to the police driver and escort long accorded to Newark’s chief shepherd is, at best, an open question. (Amid some of the nation’s most intense traffic at any given hour, archdiocesan officials have long maintained that the perk is a necessity to keep the ordinary running on time to fulfill a normal schedule of events.) All that said, another contrast might just be the most poetic. While Myers has long embraced the style of “His Grace” (the traditional English honorific for archbishops and dukes) in reference to himself, Tobin told Indy’s diocesan Criterion that when his venerable mother, Marie-Terese, mused upon word of his elevation about how. Beyond a concerted soothing of nerves in one of US Catholicism’s ten largest outposts, among other challenges awaiting Newark’s Sixth Archbishop include the future sustainability and shape of the North Jersey church’s ample school system, the ongoing flow of new migrants into diocesan life (with their according need for all sorts of services), and on the state level, leading the church’s fight against two significant, ongoing legislative efforts before the General Assembly in Trenton: the respective pushes to legalize assisted suicide and retroactively reopen the Garden State’s statute of limitations on the filing of sex-abuse lawsuits”.

He ends “Though Newark has been the most feverishly anticipated move of the current Stateside docket, it bears recalling that the Pope’s picks for two other critical million-plus sees remain pending: Long Island’s 1.5 million-member fold based in Rockville Centre, and what’s arguably the most important of the entire bunch – the succession to Rome’s new Laity Czar, Cardinal-designate Kevin Farrell, at the helm of the 1.3 million-member Dallas diocese, a role that doubles as the church’s principal voice in the nation’s fourth-largest metropolitan area”.

CAR’s first cardinal

05/11/2016

An article on the new cardinal from the Central African Republic, “Whether it’s because he wants to highlight the place a prelate comes from, or simply guarantee universality when the time comes to pick a successor, Pope Francis routinely chooses at least one new cardinal from a country that’s never had a member in the Church’s most exclusive club. In the class of 2016, that title of “never before done” goes to Archbishop Dieudonné Nzapalainga of Bangui,the  capital of war-torn Central African Republic (CAR), though it’s difficult to establish which reason for picking Nazapalainga motivated Francis most”.

The article notes “The pope met the cardinal-designate in 2015, when he visited CAR against the advice of both American and French intelligence. For the past three years the country has been immersed in a sectarian conflict between a Muslim Seleka rebel coalition and a mostly Christian militia known as anti-Balaka, in which some 6,000 people have been killed. During the worst periods of the conflict, militias were slitting children’s throats, razing villages and throwing young men to crocodiles. Over a million people have been internally displaced as a result of the conflict in what was already the world’s third poorest country. “Both sides have committed terrible crimes, have murdered, raped, destroyed churches and mosques, and entire villages,” Nzapalainga lamented in a 2015 interview with Aid to the Church in Need. In an attempt to protect his people and to raise international awareness over the conflict, Nzapalainga has become one of the “three saints of Bangui,” together with Rev. Nicolas Guerekoyame-Gbangou, president of the country’s Evangelical Alliance, and Imam Oumar Kobine Layama, president of the Islamic Council”.

It mentions that “Since the violence begun, the three men have organized prayer sessions, rotating the encounters to include the Catholic cathedral, the great mosque in Bangui and Protestant churches. They’re also promoting “peace schools,” where children of all different religions can study, as well as mixed healthcare centers open to everyone, irrespective of religious or ethnic background. In 2014, they toured Western capitals to plead for intervention to stop the bloodshed, meeting UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in New York and Pope Francis in Rome. Their groundwork led to the deployment of a UN peacekeeping force that September. For their efforts, in 2014 Time magazine named them among the 100 Most Influential People in the World and the United Nations awarded them the 2015 Sergio Vieira de Mello Prize for Peace. Their core message is that the conflict is not religious or sectarian, but driven by economic and political self-interest. CAR’s chronic poverty comes despite the fact that the country is the world’s 12th largest diamond exporter, and its open-pit mines are renowned for the quality of their gems. Control of the country’s mines is a major objective of all sides”.

Interestingly it notes “Observers have pointed out that if peace comes to the former French colony, the three saints of Bangui, as the French daily Le Monde dubbed them, will deserve a strong share of the credit. Although there’s rarely only one reason for selecting a new cardinal, Francis’s decision to elevate Nzapalainga was probably influenced by the powerful counter-example the three give in an era in which religion is often seen as a source of conflict. AFP reports that Layama applauded Francis’s decision to make Nzapalainga a cardinal, saying the move honoured the country as well as bolstered efforts by leaders of all religious denominations to set aside their differences in the interests of peace. Francis met with the three leaders during his trip to CAR, when he visited a mosque at a battle-scarred neighbourhood of Bangui, considered a no-go zone even by international observers because the area was under the control of jihadist forces. According to the French press agency, on the Sunday of the announcement, thousands flocked the streets to celebrate Nzapalainga’s nomination. The inhabitants of the Muslim-majority PK5 neighbourhood also wanted to join but were too afraid to leave their homes, since it was already night. In his evening sermon, Nzapalainga thanked the pope for his nomination, stressing that it comes as the country sees a new outbreak of violence”.

Importantly it notes “The 49-year old from CAR will become the youngest member of the College of Cardinals, taking the slot previously held by Cardinal Soane Patita Paini, of Tonga, in the Pacific Ocean. Patita, created a cardinal by Francis last year, will turn 55 next December. Nzapalainga was ordained a priest in 1998, and began his priestly ministry in Marseilles, France. He returned home in 2005, and was ordained archbishop in July 2012, after three years as Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Bangui. Pope Francis’s 17 new cardinals come from 11 different countries, with every continent but Antarctica getting at least one. Nzapalainga is one of three from Africa, the other two being Bishop Emeritus Sebastian Koto Khoarai of Mohale’s Hoek in Lesotho, and Bishop Maurice Piat of Port-Louis on the island of Mauritius. Pope Francis will elevate the new Cardinals on Nov. 19, during a vigil marking the conclusion of the Jubilee Year of Mercy the next day”.

Albania’s cardinal

01/11/2016

A profile notes the last cardinal to be created in November, “When Pope Francis visited Albania in 2014, he was brought to tears by a priest’s description of the two decades of imprisonment, torture and forced labour he suffered under Albania’s brutal communist rulers for refusing to renounce his Catholic faith. Francis honoured Father Ernest Troshani Simoni’s witness by naming him to the College of Cardinals. Troshani, who turns 88 later this month and uses his Troshani birthplace as one of his names, was one of 17 new cardinals named by Francis who will be formally elevated at a Vatican ceremony Nov. 19. He is among four cardinals over age 80 who can’t vote in a conclave to elect a new pope, but were named to the Church’s most exclusive club because of their service”.

The article adds “For Albania’s tiny Catholic Church, the nomination was a deeply symbolic gesture acknowledging the suffering of Catholic clergy during the reign of Stalinist dictator Enver Hoxha, who banned religion in 1967. “That is an homage to a cleric symbolising all Albania’s suffering clergy,” said Father Gjergj Meta, a church spokesman. Troshani recounted his life story to Francis during the pope’s Sept. 21, 2014 one-day visit to Tirana, a visit meant to highlight the interfaith harmony that exists among the majority Muslim nation of 3.2 million. It was the end of the day and Francis was meeting with priests and seminarians at the Tirana cathedral”.

The piece mentions how “Troshani recalled his arrest, after celebrating Christmas Mass on Dec. 24, 1963 and being placed in isolation. He told of being condemned to death, but the sanction was commuted to 25 years of forced labour. During his incarceration, he became the spiritual guide to many other prisoners, who then came to his defence when he was again sentenced to death in 1973 after a revolt. He was spared because of their testimony. Troshani was freed in 1981, but had to continue preaching clandestinely until the communist regime fell in 1990. As Troshani recounted his ordeal, Francis – who was reading along an Italian translation of his remarks – became visibly moved, at one point tearing up. When he finished, Troshani knelt before the pope. They embraced for nearly a minute to the applause of the priests and nuns in the audience”.

It notes how “Troshani will be elevated to cardinal two weeks after the Vatican honours 38 of his confreres who were persecuted or executed under Hoxha’s regime. The beatification ceremony is scheduled for Nov. 5 in Shkoder, Albania, where the first public Mass was held after the fall of communism. The Albanian church said Troshani’s elevation was a sign of Francis’s “honour and gratitude” on the eve of the beatification. “Elevating the Albanian clergy persecuted during communism is a sign of how much this clergy has given to the universal Catholic Church with their martyrs,” a church statement said”.

 

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.

“In an effort to finalise a deal on the ordination of bishops on the mainland”

26/10/2016

An article from AP notes the increasing possibility of a deal between China and the Holy See on the appointment of bishops.

It begins “Representatives from the Vatican and China are expected to meet before the end of the month in Rome in an effort to finalise a deal on the ordination of bishops on the mainland, a move aimed at ending a longstanding dispute, according to Catholic Church sources familiar with the negotiations. The Church sources also told Reuters that China is preparing to ordain at least two new bishops before the end of the year and these appointments would have the blessing of the Vatican. A person with ties to the leadership in Beijing confirmed that these ordinations would go ahead”.

Importantly it mentions that “For more than six decades, China’s ruling Communist Party has strongly opposed Rome’s right to ordain Chinese bishops in a bitter contest for authority over as many as 10 million Catholics on the mainland. Bishops, priests and lay Catholics loyal to Rome have faced persecution, which has sparked scepticism over the détente in some Catholic quarters. In yet a further sign of progress, the Vatican has reached a decision to recognise at least four Chinese bishops who were appointed by Beijing without the consent of the pope and so are considered illegitimate by the Holy See, according to Catholic Church sources and others briefed on the talks. The decision follows a breakthrough meeting in mid-August in Beijing between the Vatican representatives to talks with China and several of these bishops. For the Vatican, an agreement on the ordination of bishops is important because it would lessen the possibility of a formal split within the Catholic Church in China, which is divided between a community that follows the state-sanctioned Catholic hierarchy and an “underground” community that swears allegiance only to the pope in Rome. A deal on the ordination of bishops would help to unite these two communities, say Catholic Church and Vatican sources”.

It mentions how “An agreement “would definitely remove the risk of a schism (within the Church in China), which for sixty years has been a potential threat,” said Elisa Giunipero, a researcher at the Catholic University of Milan who has studied the history of the Catholic Church in China for 20 years. The latest developments are part of behind-the-scenes negotiations that have been driven by Pope Francis. A deal on the ordination of bishops would be a major leap forward in efforts to bridge a decades-old rift between the Chinese Communist Party and the Vatican. Since becoming leader of the Catholic Church in March 2013, Francis has made it a priority to chart a new course in the Vatican’s contentious relationship with China. Reuters reported in July that Francis had sought to meet President Xi Jinping during a 2014 trip to New York in an effort to smooth the way to talks, and that a joint working group had been set up earlier this year in April to hammer out a deal on the bishops. The issue of full diplomatic relations is not currently on the table. (http://reut.rs/29LTBpp) A deputy spokesperson for the Vatican, Paloma Garcia Ovejero, said the Holy See had no comment in response to questions from Reuters”.

It goes on to note “Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing in Beijing: “At present the channels for contact and dialogue between the two sides are unimpeded and effective. We are willing to work hard with the Vatican and meet each other halfway”. Vatican officials would like to see the appointment of the bishops before China’s Ninth National Assembly of Catholic Representatives, which is expected to convene in December, according to Catholic sources. The Assembly is the highest authority governing the church in China and appoints the heads of the most important state-backed Catholic institutions on the mainland – the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and the Chinese Catholic Bishops’ Conference. The Assembly last met six years ago when tensions were high between Beijing and the Vatican over China’s appointment of new bishops without papal consent. The Vatican retaliated by excommunicating three of these bishops in 2011 and 2012″.

Crucially it adds “The ordination of new bishops in China is also pressing because some 30 of the more than 100 dioceses on the mainland are currently vacant, while a similar number are led by aging bishops who are 75 or older. Three people familiar with the negotiations said the talks about the appointment of the new bishops were focused on the dioceses of Changzhi, in the northern Shanxi province, and Chengdu, the capital of the southwestern Sichuan province. Separately, a person with ties to the leadership in Beijing said that the new bishops would be ordained in Chengdu and the city of Xichang, in Sichuan. It was during the last round of talks in Beijing in August that the Vatican delegates were permitted to meet with several of the bishops whom the pope does not recognize. Catholic sources say they view this as a positive gesture by China, which had previously barred contact between the bishops and Vatican representatives. The meeting, the sources said, paved the way for Vatican recognition of some of these bishops. One of the bishops who met the Vatican delegation was Joseph Ma Yinglin, the bishop of Kunming in Yunnan province, according to Catholic sources. Ma is president of the Chinese Catholic Bishops’ Conference and vice-chairman of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. Both institutions answer to the Chinese Communist Party and are not recognized by the Vatican”.

The article mentions how “Along with Ma, the other three bishops whom the Vatican is set to recognize are Guo Jincai, the bishop of Chengde in Hebei province near Beijing; Yue Fusheng, the bishop of Harbin in the northern Heilongjiang province; and Tu Shihua, the bishop of Puqi in Hunan province. In total, there are eight bishops whom the Vatican has refused to recognise. Of the remaining four, two have children or girlfriends and the other two head dioceses where there is already an existing bishop who has been approved by the Vatican, according to Catholic sources. During the August meeting in Beijing, the sides agreed on the principles that would govern the appointment of new bishops, say people with knowledge of the talks. According to a draft agreement, new Chinese bishops will be chosen by local clergy, with the pope making the final appointment. The pontiff can veto a candidate, for instance on ethical grounds, provided the Vatican presents evidence supporting such a decision to Beijing”.

Under the heading “Obstacles remain” the piece adds that “For the Vatican, which is the only Western state that doesn’t have diplomatic ties with Beijing, further détente with China following a deal on the bishops could make life easier for Christians on the mainland who have suffered decades of persecution at the hands of the Chinese authorities. For Beijing, better relations with the Holy See could improve its international standing and ultimately pry the Vatican away from the self-governing island of Taiwan, which China views as a renegade province. Taiwan’s foreign ministry said on Friday it was paying close attention to the developments and exchanges between China and the Vatican, adding that Taiwan and the Vatican had long been friends and had “firm” relations”.

Importantly it adds “In some quarters of the Catholic Church, including among the underground community in China, there is concern over a deal between the Vatican and Beijing. That’s especially the case in Hong Kong, where local missions and clergy maintain ties with foreign and Chinese priests working on the mainland, often underground. Some fear the Vatican may make too many concessions to Beijing and that a deal will not lead to an improvement in the lives of Catholics in China. Despite the progress toward an agreement on the ordination of new bishops, the Vatican and China are still at loggerheads over a range of other issues. In one case, for instance, some Chinese officials are still pushing for the appointment of a bishop without papal approval, according to two Church sources”.

It ends “The matter of Thaddeus Ma Daqin also needs to be settled. Ma, the auxiliary bishop of Shanghai, was placed under house arrest in 2012 when he announced at his ordination as a bishop that he could no longer remain in the state-backed Catholic Patriotic Association. Ma remains under house arrest despite writing in a blog post in June that his move had been “unwise.” There is also the issue of some 30 bishops who belong to the underground Catholic community and who, along with local priests, face pressure from the authorities to join the state-sanctioned Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. The Vatican is hoping that China will recognise these bishops once the issue of the eight bishops it considers illegitimate has been resolved, say Catholic officials”.

Consistory 2016: the names

10/10/2016

Rocco writes about the announcment of the new cardinals yesterday by Pope Francis, “Suffice it to say, it’s become Pope Francis’ unique habit that, in announcing new cardinals, no one is told in advance – above all the designates… let alone anyone else. Accordingly, at the end of today’s Angelus, 17 names were suddenly dropped for a Consistory to be held on Saturday, 19 November, to coincide with the close of the Jubilee Year – 13 of them electors, and four others to be elevated over the retirement age of 80″.

Rocco goes onto add how “Among other notables in the group: three voting Americans (making up for back-to-back shutouts in Francis’ first two intakes), and a fresh dose of the pontiff’s cherished “peripheries,” including the first-ever red hats from Bangladesh, the Central African Republic, Malaysia, and Papua New Guinea.

Here, the designates, in the order by which they will be created:

–Mario Zenari, apostolic nuncio to Syria
–Dieudonné Nzapalainga, CSSp, archbishop of Bangui
–Carlos Osoro Sierra, archbishop of Madrid
–Sérgio da Rocha, archbishop of Brasilia
–Blase J. Cupich, archbishop of Chicago
–Patrick D’Rozario, CSC, archbishop of Dhaka
–Baltazar Enrique Porras Cardozo, archbishop of Mérida
–Jozef De Kesel, archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels
–Maurice Piat, bishop of Port-Louis
–Kevin Joseph Farrell,  prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life
–Carlos Aguiar Retes, archbishop of Tlalnepantla
–John Ribat, M.S.C. archbishop of Port Moresby
–Joseph William Tobin CSSR, archbishop of Indianapolis

And the “honorary” hats for retirees:

–Anthony Soter Fernandez, archbishop emeritus of Kuala Lumpur
–Renato Corti, bishop emeritus of Novara

–Sebastian Koto Khoarai, OMI, bishop emeritus of Mohale’s Hoek (Lesotho)
–Fr Ernest Simoni, priest the of Archdiocese of Shkodrë-Pult (Albania)

Rocco goes on to note how “Given what many will take as the day’s big surprise – the elevation of Joe Tobin, 64, the Detroit-born Redemptorist who’s led the 250,000-member Indy church since 2012 – well, for starters, the nickname he’s long had among his confreres bears recalling: “Big Red.” To be sure, that’s more a reference to both the former hockey enforcer‘s onetime ginger hair and the worldwide religious family he would lead for 12 years… still, given the latest curveball in a ministry full of them, the moniker fits its newest turn no less. After two terms as superior-general of the Redemptorists, in 2010 Benedict XVI named Tobin as archbishop-secretary of the “Congregation for Religious,” armed with a mandate to bring a smooth landing to the Holy See’s visitation of the US’ apostolic communities of sisters, which had become mired in untold levels of controversy and misunderstandings in domestic church-circles and media alike. That he entered the job by publicly cross-checking the excesses of the Roman Curia – in words that, while controversial at the time, would prove to be prophetic – is something that shouldn’t be forgotten today. With the task essentially finished in two years – thanks in large part to the now cardinal-designate’s fierce commitment to dialogue with the orders, and an equally formidable integration of their concerns into the process – Tobin’s appointment to Indianapolis didn’t just fulfill his wish to get home to the Midwest (above all to his indomitable mother, Marie-Terese, who raised 13 children alone as a young widow), the move likewise brought someone who had been a veteran pastor among the first Hispanic waves in Detroit and Chicago to a diocese which was just beginning to experience a sizable Latino influx, making the newcomers a priority in the venerable, largely-rural church for the first time”.

He adds “Barely six months after Tobin’s arrival by the Brickyard, his southern fluency would come into the ultimate reason behind this historic red hat: with the election of Jorge Bergoglio as Pope Francis, while most US bishops were furiously brushing up on the new pontiff, the Indy prelate suddenly found himself as one of the closest Stateside friends of the new Bishop of Rome – indeed, one of precious few North Americans who had any firsthand experience with him, let alone at length. That serendipity owed itself to the 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist, which Tobin, as head of the Redemptorists, attended as the delegate of the Union of Superiors General (the umbrella-group of the global leaders of mens’ orders). As the Synod’s circuli minores – the small discussion-groups – were split up by language, bishops had already taken all the English-speaking slots by seniority, so Tobin found a seat in a Spanish group… and spent the next month sitting alongside the cardinal-archbishop of Buenos Aires. Accordingly, eight years later, within an hour of the Argentine’s election to Peter’s Chair – as most US hierarchs furiously sought to cram up on the Conclave’s choice – the Indianapolis media was treated to the most fully steeped of briefings while sitting around their archbishop’s desk. Sure enough, nobody in the States came anywhere close to “nailing” the man and the story so precisely in the moment – and, again, today’s news merely evinces the result. Within a year, Francis already showed that he hadn’t forgotten his old friend, naming Tobin a member of the Curial Congregation he had helped oversee (a rare nod for a far-flung bishop), as well as quietly sending him on a few delicate missions”.

Rocco goes on to write that “Over those same months in 2014, meanwhile, as someone the Pope knew – and who, in many ways, bore his scent – the Redemptorist’s name was duly floated at high levels for Chicago, only to be deemed too much a “wild card” by some key players, given his lack of experience in the national rungs of leadership. Amid that backdrop, this most “personal” seat in the College a Pope has given an American since 1958 (when John XXIII elevated Bishop Aloysius Muench of Fargo, who Papa Roncalli knew and admired as the postwar Nuncio to Germany) – and one given alongside the eventual Windy City pick – shows anew, and for the first time in the US, that even as Francis can be freewheeling in consulting  on major diocesan appointments, when it comes to the “Senate” that will elect his successor (and from which the next Pope will come), his choices are his own. Period. While no shortage of early focus on Tobin’s elevation has honed in on Tobin’s public clash with Indiana Gov. Mike Pence – now the Republican Vice-Presidential nominee – over the archdiocese’s decision last year to take in Syrian refugees, a far quieter, less politically charged angle carries even more weight”.

Rocco continues, “Each November during the USCCB meeting in Baltimore, the local Catholic Worker House goes to the trouble to invite all of the 300-odd prelates for dinner and conversation one night during Plenary Week. And for years, all of one consistently turned up: Bishop John Michael Botean, the Ohio-based eparch of North America’s 8,000 Romanian Catholics, who famously declared on the eve of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq that “any direct participation and support of this war… is objectively grave evil [and] a matter of mortal sin.” Normally as low-profile as he was outspoken on the war, as Botean slipped out to keep his usual commitment at the 2012 meeting, he was stunned to find company looking to head to the Peace Dinner: Tobin, who was just joining the Stateside bench upon his appointment to Indianapolis, and – having long and openly witnessed to four decades in recovery – was bound to find little taste for the oft-boozy scene of dinners and receptions that fill the hotel after the daily Floor sessions. Long story short, the Catholic Worker night is a commitment he’s kept ever since. And even as Francis’ push toward the “peripheries” has raised the event’s annual crowd to around a dozen bishops, as never before, now there’ll be a cardinal in the room for it”.

A profile discusses the next cardinal-archbishop of Madrid, “When Pope Francis announced the name of new cardinals on Sunday, some were shockers, others basically unknown. But one of them, at least in many corners of Spain, was an entirely expected choice: Juan Carlos Osoro, Archbishop of Madrid. Osoro was moved from Valencia to the Spanish capital by Francis in 2014, to replace Cardinal Antonio Maria Rouco Varela. Only months before the transfer, the local bishops voted him vice-president of their conference. The pontiff has joked with him on occasions, calling him “don Carlos, the pilgrim,” because he’s constantly walking around his diocese. In Madrid, however, many have dubbed Osoro the “Spanish Francis”: Pastorally oriented, carrying “the smell of the sheep,” highly concerned with religious vocations, the youth and the family, but also a man who “wastes” time being spiritual director of many young people while he’s busy leading one of Europe’s key dioceses. Rodrigo Pinedo, Osoro’s spokesperson and a 28-year old layman, defined his boss as someone very close to the people, “who likes being with the faithful and leading a church that goes after those who are cut off and critical of the Church that only tends to those who are ‘ours,’ with closed doors.” Among the many things the soon-to-be-created cardinal did when he arrived in Madrid, Pinedo told Crux, was to launch a diocesan plan for evangelization, trying to capture a realistic image of how Catholics in the city live their faith and what are the most concrete ways to reach those who are cut off. Father Gabriel Benedicto, the parish priest of La Paloma, also underlined Osoro’s particular attention to ministering to youth. The cardinal has invited young Catholics in Madrid to join him every first Friday of the month for a prayer vigil, where he takes the time to dialogue with them and to greet as many as he can”.

The profile goes on to add that “Dialogue, the priest said, is another key issue of the archbishop, who like Francis often preaches about a Church that “goes out,” trying to approach the world through common concerns and avoiding conflicts. The prelate is also very focused on religious vocations, especially those to the priesthood. “He knows the Church needs shepherds that take care of the flock,” Benedicto said on Sunday. When Osoro left the dioceses of Valencia, the seminary kept growing, with 51 seminarians in 2012 and 61 in 2013. “Talking to us, he’s also very keen on calling us to be faithful to our vocation, and to propose it to young men as a possibility,” Benedicto said. The priest has welcomed his boss several times. Most notably, during the feast day of Our Lady of La Paloma, marked every August 15, during Spain’s summer break time. Despite the date, the celebration attracts thousands, many more than that of Our Lady of Almudena, the city’s actual patroness. Our Lady of la Paloma has been, since the late XVIII century, the mother of the people, especially those who are on the outskirts, the poor, the elderly and the youth. That attention also includes those who live “on the spiritual outskirts,” as Benedicto said”.

The piece notes that “Another thing Osoro did when he arrived in Madrid was to visit the cloistered convents to ask the nuns and novitiates to pray for his ministry, something which, technically, they would have done even without the visit. Beyond his pastoral approach, those close to him regard him as very orthodox in the faith, yet he refuses to be labeled as liberal or conservative. Once asked about it, he said he was neither, but instead “a man of the Church.” “The truth is that a man of the Church can only be a man of dialogue. If there’s something the Church needs to do, it’s to incarnate herself where she lives and this implies dialogue,” he said”.

Unusually the piece adds how the cardinal-designate found out, “Although Francis’s decision to make the Spaniard a cardinal was expected, the man in question wasn’t privy to the pope’s decision until Sunday at noon, when the archbishop emeritus of Oviedo, whom he succeeded, gave him a call as Osoro was boarding a plane. “I didn’t believe him because I thought he was one of those friends you have who want it to happen, but nothing else,” Osoro told Cope, the radio station of the Spanish bishops on Sunday. The appointment, he continued, calls for sincere gratitude towards Francis, “for the trust the appointment implies. Personal merits, as you know, I don’t have many, but it is true that throughout my life I’ve tried to not to keep anything for myself but to give it all to the Church and the Christians I’ve served,” wherever the popes have sent him. With Osoro’s nomination, Spain will now have four voting cardinals in case there’s a conclave to succeed Pope Francis in the near future. In order of age, they are: Lluís Martínez Sistach, emeritus of Barcelona; Ricardo Blázquez, of Valladolid; Antonio Cañizares, of Valencia, and Osoro. Spain also has four cardinals over the age of 80, including Antonio María Rouco Varela, emeritus of Madrid”.

While a related piece discusses Archbishop Cupich, “Pope Francis on Sunday engineered what may prove to be a seismic shift in the Catholic hierarchy in the United States, elevating not one or two, but a full three new American cardinals seen as belonging to the centrist, non-cultural warrior wing of the country’s hierarchy”.

The article adds “The three Americans are Archbishops Blase Cupich of Chicago and Joseph Tobin of Indianapolis, as well as Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas, recently chosen by Francis to head his new “dicastery,” meaning a Vatican department, on Family, Laity and Life. While none of these three figures would be seen as “liberal” by secular standards, they are perceived as belonging to the more progressive camp in the Catholic hierarchy. Of the three, Cupich and Farrell were quasi-expected, although one never knows  with the unpredictable Francis. Chicago is an archdiocese that’s long been held by a cardinal, and Farrell’s new Vatican post seemed to beckon a cardinal at the top. Tobin, however, is more of a surprise. Indianapolis is not a traditional “red-hat” see, meaning a diocese typically led by a cardinal, and his name had not featured prominently in much of the speculation leading up to the consistory announcement. While the choice of a relatively small American city to have a cardinal could be seen as consistent with Francis’s passion for outreach to the peripheries, taken in tandem with both Cupich and Farrell, it seems more plausible that Francis was making a statement about the direction in which he wants the American church to go”.

Interestingly it mentions how “Had Francis held more to convention in his American picks, the logical candidates beyond Cupich would have been Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles and Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, both American cities historically led by cardinals. There also would have been logic in each case, as the Mexican-born Gomez would have been the first Hispanic cardinal in U.S. Catholic history, and Chaput was Francis’s host when the pontiff visited Philadelphia last September for the World Meeting of Families. Both Gomez and Chaput, however, are broadly perceived as more “conservative,” and thus would have reinforced what’s already seen as a strong conservative majority among the American cardinals, who tend to have an outsize influence on setting the tone for the Church both in terms of media perceptions and also internal leadership. For some time now, retired Cardinal Theodore McCarrick has been perceived as a fairly isolated figure among the U.S. cardinals in terms of his basic center-left, social justice-oriented outlook, able to talk to Democrats as comfortably as Republicans. He was joined in that stance by retired Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, but Mahony’s involvement in the clerical abuse scandals in the Los Angeles archdiocese has to some extent limited his effectiveness”.

Crucially the author notes “With Cupich and Tobin, however, what one might call the “McCarrick caucus” among the American cardinals has been swelled significantly. Cupich was well known at Francis’s two Synods of Bishops on the family for parting company to some extent with the more traditionalist bloc, signaling openness on issues such as finding new pastoral approaches for LGBT believers and also opening the door to divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to potentially receive Communion. Tobin is a former superior general of the worldwide Redemptorist religious order, who served from 2010 to 2012 as the number two official at the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, better known as the “Congregation for Religious,” during the time when the Vatican was conducting two separate investigations of American nuns. Tobin was publicly critical of those probes, suggesting they had been launched without dialogue or consultation with the women religious, and behind the scenes that didn’t always sit well with some of the prelates who had pushed for them in the first place. Many observers believed at the time his 2012 transfer to Indianapolis, before the usual five-year term in a Vatican office was up, reflected some unhappiness with his more conciliatory line”.

The piece mentions “As for Farrell, over his years in Dallas he’s tried to steer the University of Dallas into a more centrist, mainstream position, at times running afoul of the sentiments of more conservative forces at the university. He’s also emerged as a leader in favour of gun control, something of a bold stance in the context of Texas, and also on immigration issues. In one fell swoop, therefore, Francis has reshaped the character of the most senior level of the American hierarchy, steering it away from what some see as the partisan stance of the last two decades and back towards what might be described as the “consistent ethic of life” ethos associated with the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, also of Chicago. Bernardin also used the phrase “seamless garment” to capture that view. The outlook, while certainly defending Church teaching on matters such as abortion and euthanasia, is more inclined to see them as part of a spectrum that also includes immigration, the death penalty, the environment, concern for the poor, and so on. In 2011, the widely respected American Catholic writer George Weigel penned an influential essay in First Things declaring “the Bernardin Era is over and the Bernardin Machine is no more,” after Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York defeated Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson in the race for president of the US bishops conference, and at the time Weigel’s diagnosis was hard to dispute. What neither Weigel nor anyone else could have anticipated, however, was the rise of a Latin American pontiff who would revive that legacy in his neighbour to the north”.

It ends “While the realignment probably won’t have any immediate impact on the way the American Church approaches the election on Nov. 8 since the consistory isn’t until ten days later, it likely will reshape how the Church engages the aftermath – both in terms of the kinds of issues it prioritizes, and whom the Catholic leadership of the country is able to talk to about them”.

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.”

Farrell’s new job

26/08/2016

Rocco Palmo notes the new appointment of Bishop Kevin Farrell a the new prefect of the Dicastary for Laity, Family and Life. He opens, “Now the ranking US prelate in the Roman Curia – where his brother, Brian, has long served as bishop-secretary of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity – even as the move short-circuits the long-held wish for the nation’s sixth-largest city to be elevated as seat of a third metropolitan province in Texas, the Vatican statement announcing the move conspicuously did not include Farrell’s elevation to the rank of archbishop, which has always been customary practice for appointments of this kind. While the pick of the Dublin-born ex-Legionary of Christ might come as a surprise in some quarters, the threads explaining it can be gleaned on several fronts”.

Rocco points out that “First, and most crucially, while no one would see the low-key yet driven (and, quietly, quite funny) Irishman as some kind of wild-haired progressive, he has been notably unstinting in his affection for and loyalty to the reigning Pope; among other examples, Farrell used his homily at February’s ordination of his latest auxiliary, Greg Kelly, to lay out Francis’ vision of being a bishop in depth. Secondly, by every account Farrell has succeeded at the high-wire challenge that marked the first stage of his tenure in the Metroplex – unifying a roiled Dallas church after the divisive tenure of his predecessor, Bishop Charles Grahmann, when the diocese’s staggering growth (a more than sixfold increase of Catholics since 1990) was coupled with an eruption of abuse scandals. In addition, with Hispanic fluency steeped in Mexico from his days in the Legion, the bishop has has successfully navigated the Latin and Anglo realities of the mammoth diocese, whose 67 parishes are effectively teeming at the seams, and the replacement of parish churches with significantly larger new buildings has been a common occurrence. (He would open new parishes, he’s often said, if only he had the priests – or, as one pastor memorably put the crunch, “We’re forbidden to die.”)”

Perhaps most importantly Rocco makes the point that Farrell “enjoys close ties and clear goodwill among four prominent figures in Francis’ orbit: having served as vicar-general and auxiliary of Washington under Cardinals Theodore McCarrick and Donald Wuerl until his southern transfer, the sister of the ever-influential head of Francis’ “Gang of 9,” Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, lives in Dallas, while the work that brought him to DC to begin with saw him succeed then-Bishop Sean O’Malley as director of the capital’s Centro Catolico Hispano, which the Capuchin founded a decade earlier as Latinos began to arrive in the city en masse, only leaving the role on his appointment to the Virgin Islands. Lastly, having been a key figure in the USCCB boiler room over his 14 years on the bench – leading various elements of the conference’s temporalities and serving as its executive-level treasurer – while Farrell is an administrative whiz and knows the church’s tendency to be obsessed with process, he doesn’t exactly revel in it and understands its place as an element of the greater good. Beyond the sheer challenge of setting up a new ministry that will combine two pontifical councils – and likely bring its share of tough decisions – the organizational element is critical as the combined dicastery will oversee the preparations for the global church’s two largest regular events: World Youth Day and the World Meeting of Families, the latter’s next edition to be held in 2018 in the new prefect’s native Dublin”.

Rocco goes on to mention “On top of all this, having become adept at social media with his own blog and Twitter feed, even if the Pope’s pick isn’t the type who’d be knocking over people to get to a camera, Farrell’s always played well in the spotlight. That public role will likewise be of high import given his new post’s natural role of serving as the church’s lead spokesman on family issues, and in particular at the helm of the dicastery most pointedly tasked with the ongoing implementation of Amoris Laetitia, as a palpable amount of head-banging over the Pope’s Post-Synodal Exhortation continues four months since its release. In tandem with today’s appointment, Francis published a motu proprio formally establishing the new Dicastery and suppressing the respective Pontifical Councils for Laity and the Family, merging the duo alongside the Pontifical Academy for Life into Farrell’s office. In the text, the Pope writes of his desire that the church “offer sustenance and help” to laity and families, “that they might be active witnesses of the Gospel in our time” and might “make manifest the love of the merciful Lord toward all humanity.” On a related note, given the vivid debate among canonists over which rank the consolidated office should hold as it exercises some jurisdiction – which, in the strict sense, is the mark of a Curial congregation – only today has the generic, unusual designation of “Dicastery” emerged for the new organ, which presages a further breakdown of the traditional ranking of the offices as Francis’ overhaul of the Holy See’s governing structures continues apace”.

Rocco ends, “for now, as some fireworks are bound to ensue in the top rank with the appointment for a now-vacant Dallas church – where Farrell was already laying the groundwork to receive another auxiliary – it bears recalling that, with the new Prefect to be aided by three Secretaries for each of the new office’s areas of competence, the legislation establishing the Dicastery provides that (in a first for a top Curial organ) the lead deputies need not be clergy, but may likewise be named from among religious or the laity”.

John Allen discusses the appointment also, “By naming Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas on Wednesday as the first head of the Vatican’s newly created mega-department for Laity, Family, and Life, Pope Francis has accomplished two things at once: He’s handed another major victory to pastoral moderates, and he’s also further disabused notions that he’s cool to Americans. (Farrell, 68, isn’t American by birth since he was born in Dublin and came of age in Ireland, but by now he’s spent almost half his life in the States, including the last 14 years as an American bishop.) Farrell joined the Legion of Christ but left fairly early on, before sexual abuse controversies broke out around the order’s controversial founder, Father Marcial Maciel Degollado. He moved into the Archdiocese of Washington in 1984, where he served as a pastor and also took over a center for Hispanic ministry from then-Capuchin Father Sean P. O’Malley, who’s now the Cardinal of Boston”.

Allen goes on to mention, “Bishops who come to the Vatican from the outside often face a steep learning curve, but that’s not likely to be the case with Farrell, since his brother, Brian, is also a bishop and has been serving for the past 14 years in Rome as the number two official in the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. I’ve known both Farrells for a good stretch, Kevin a bit better than Brian since I generally see him every year when I speak at Dallas’s annual ministry conference, and this past year Farrell presided over awarding me an honorary doctorate when I delivered the commencement address at the University of Dallas in May. By most measures Farrell profiles as a moderate, with a pastoral touch and a social justice orientation very much in keeping with the Pope Francis style”.

He writes that “when Farrell was named to Dallas in 2007, he took over an uneasy relationship with more conservative elements at the University of Dallas, which was on its way to earning a reputation as one of the bastions of a fairly agressive “new orthodoxy,” and did his best to steer it back to the center. In 2009, Farrell delivered a memorable commencement address in which he warned against “dogmatism, closed mindedness, judgmentalism, [and] suspicion of another’s motives.” He returned to the subject in 2011, when critics objected to a new ministry degree program they saw as insufficiently orthodox. On that occasion, Farrell took the unusual step of releasing a video in response. “Let me remind the Catholic people of the diocese that this is my responsibility,” he said. “And I’m the one who has to stand before God and say whether or not this is truly Catholic. That is my responsibility, and I do not take it lightly.” In not-so-subtle fashion, part of what he was saying boiled down to, “I’m the bishop and you’re not, so relax.” At various other points, Farrell has come under similar fire. When he recently supported Father Thomas Rosica, who operates the Salt and Light media platform and also assists the Vatican with English-language press relations, when Rosica denounced a “cesspool of hatred” in the Catholic blogosphere, some of the same blogs angry at Rosica went after Farrell”.

The piece adds “Others howled when Farrell publicly objected to a new Texas carry law on guns, and praised President Barack Obama for pursuing stronger gun control. Yet liberals too have also lodged complaints. In 2008, for instance, Farrell and Bishop Kevin Vann, then of Fort Worth, issued a joint pastoral letter on Catholics and politics, calling abortion “the defining moral issue not just of today but of the last 35 years.” It was widely seen as a warning to Catholics about supporting Barack Obama (or, at least, doing so uncritically), and led to protests outside the Dallas chancery. Farrell’s reputation for balance, therefore, isn’t about any hesitance to speak his mind, or timidity about drawing lines in the sand. It’s more about an instinctive aversion to ideological extremes, a sense that busting people’s chops generally isn’t the right immediate response to any new problem. On the issues that will loom largest in his new gig – abortion, contraception, gay marriage, and so on – the bottom line is that Farrell is robustly pro-life, but nobody’s idea of a cultural warrior”.

In his new position, Farrell will also be responsible for overseeing implementation of Francis’ recent treatise on the family, Amoris Laetitiae, which among other things seemed to open a cautious door for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to return to Communion after a process of discernment.

Although Farrell hasn’t directly addressed the Communion issue, when the document appeared he was broadly supportive.

“Some feel Pope Francis does not go far enough in addressing the hopes of those in irregular marriages, others who feel it compromises traditional teaching,” he said. “In my opinion, it reflects the call of Jesus to his church to continue his healing and saving mission.”

Farrell also warmly praised comments on Amoris made by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, Austria, who was among the proponents of opening Communion to the divorced and remarried at the pope’s two Synods of Bishops on the family.

On the pastoral level, Farrell won high marks in July for his response to the sniper attacks on police that left five law enforcement officers dead, in retaliation for police shootings of African-Americans.

Farrell gets good reviews as an administrator and manager (he has an MBA from Notre Dame), and is seen as a strong leader. That’s a quality that will come in handy in the Vatican, where outsiders, especially those who aren’t part of the Italian clerical world, can easily get steamrolled if they aren’t careful.

Personally, Farrell is relaxed and accessible, with a sharp wit and a keen sense of humor, without any of the pretense one sometimes associates with senior Vatican mandarins.

As for the American angle, Francis had already gone a long way to assuaging doubts about a perceived coolness to Americans by naming Greg Burke, a veteran Time and Fox News correspondent, as his new chief spokesman effective Aug. 1.

Yet there was still no American prelate heading a major Vatican department, something of an anomaly in recent decades when the informal rule was there should be at least one.

By tapping Farrell, therefore, Francis has again shown his respect for the Church in the United States in arguably the most consequential way any pope can, since, in the small world of the Vatican, personnel is always policy.

Here’s the bottom line on the Farrell appointment: Moderates can claim another big win, and Americans (as well as the Irish, of course) can feel like they’ve got a powerful new friend in Rome.

Francis humiliates Sarah

27/07/2016

A report notes how Rome rowed back from comments from cardinal Sarah, “In the wake of recent comments by its chief liturgist recommending that priests celebrate Mass ad orientem, meaning facing east with their backs to the people, beginning in Advent, the Vatican released a statement on Monday saying no new rules along those lines are in the works. A Vatican spokesman also rejected the vocabulary of a “reform of the reform” in liturgical practice, saying that phrase is “at times the source of misunderstandings.” Father Federico Lombardi said the decision to release a statement clarifying comments made by Cardinal Robert Sarah, of Guinea, came after the prelate met with Pope Francis on Saturday. “Cardinal Sarah has always been rightly concerned about the dignity of the celebration of the Mass, in order to adequately express an attitude of respect and adoration of the Eucharistic mystery,” Lombardi said”.

The piece notes “The papal spokesman added that some of Sarah’s expressions had been misinterpreted by the press, as a signal that changes in liturgical norms were imminent. “It is very important that we return as soon as possible to a common orientation, of priests and the faithful turned together in the same direction – eastwards, or at least towards the apse – to the Lord who comes,” Sarah had said July 5, opening a conference in London called Sacra Liturgia. Although his comments were phrased as suggestions and not an edict, Sarah’s desire for a return to the ad orientem posture nevertheless generated wide reaction and debate, in large part because the posture is widely associated with the older Latin Mass in use prior to the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). In truth, the rules for the post-Vatican II Mass also allow for the use of the ad orientem posture, and some priests celebrate it that way. In the public imagination, however, it’s generally seen as a more traditional way of doing it. In the aftermath of Sarah’s comments, Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster in the UK sent a letter to priests in his diocese saying that the Mass was not the time for priests to “exercise personal preference or taste.” According to the Catholic Herald, Nichols also noted the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, which lays out the rules for celebrating Mass, states in paragraph 299 that “the altar should be built apart from the wall, in such a way that it is possible to walk around it easily and that Mass can be celebrated at it facing the people, which is desirable wherever possible.” In his statement, Lombardi quoted the same paragraph both in Latin and in Italian”.

The report goes on to mention “Sarah was appointed to the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments by Francis in November 2014. Lombardi said that when he visited Sarah’s dicastery, Francis expressly told the Guinea cardinal that the “ordinary” form of celebrating the Mass is the one promulgated in the missal by Pope Paul VI, meaning, after the Second Vatican Council. The pope also said that the “extraordinary” form while accepted under the means expressed by Benedict XVI in the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, shouldn’t become the norm. “There are therefore no new liturgical directives for next Advent, as some have wrongly inferred from some of Cardinal Sarah’s words,” Lombardi said. Lombardi’s rejection of the phrase “reform of the reform” is also noteworthy in light of Sarah’s comments in early July”.

The piece ends “In his remarks, Sarah had said that during a private audience with the pope last April, Francis had asked him to study “the question of a reform of a reform” to see how to enrich the twofold use of the Roman rite – the “ordinary form,” meaning the post-Vatican II liturgy in the vernacular languages, and the “extraordinary form,” or the pre-Vatican II Latin Mass”.

Orthodox Council ends, Russia boycotts

19/07/2016

A report notes the closing of the Orthodox Council, “The leaders of the world’s Orthodox Christian churches ended a historic gathering on the Greek island of Crete on Sunday hoping to repeat the meeting within a decade, despite a boycott by the Russian church – the most populous in a religion of some 300 million people – and three other churches. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I led prayers attended by the 10 Orthodox church leaders who attended to mark the end of the week-long Holy and Great Council – the first of its kind in more than 1,200 years. Despite decades of preparation, Orthodox leaders failed ahead of the meeting to overcome differences on efforts to reconcile with the Vatican and some doctrinal issues”.

He adds “Patriarch Kirill of Moscow did not attend, arguing that preparation had been inadequate. The Georgian, Bulgarian and Syria-based Antioch patriarchates also did not take part. “The proposal was made for the Holy and Great Council to become a regular Institution to be convened every seven or ten years,” the 10 church leaders said in a joint message. Kirill described the Crete meeting as a preparatory one and called for a new full meeting at a later date. It is unlikely he will accept a decision to make such meetings a permanent acting body. It is also highly unlikely the churches that did not attend will comply with any decisions taken at the meeting”.

The piece goes on to mention that “The issues discussed at the meeting included the mission of the Orthodox Church in the modern world, the Orthodox diaspora, the importance of fasting, marriage, and the relations of the Orthodox Church with the rest of the Christian world. Unlike the centralised authority of the Vatican over Roman Catholics, Orthodox churches are independent, with Bartholomew considered the first among equals. The Ecumenical Patriarchate, based in Istanbul in predominantly Muslim Turkey, is frequently at odds with the Russian Church, which represents more than 100 million faithful. Issues discussed in the council covered topics such as the mission of the Orthodox Church in the modern world, the Orthodox diaspora and how to organize responsibility for its pastoral care, the autonomy of different Orthodox bodies, the importance of fasting, the sacrament of marriage, and the relations of the Orthodox Church with the rest of the Christian world”.

The article goes on to make the point that “Pope Francis, who has a close relationship with Patriarch Bartholomew and who dispatched a senior delegation of observers to the council, praised it on Sunday as a “step forward.” “I see it as positive,” the pontiff said during a news conference on the papal plane returning to Rome after a three-day visit to the largely Orthodox nation of Armenia. “It wasn’t 100 percent,” Francis said, referring to the missing churches, “but it was a step forward.” “It’s like with kids … the first steps are always hard,” he said. “But I’m happy, and I think the results will be positive. They were able to look one another in the face, to pray together and to talk, and maybe there will be some results … that’s positive.”

Francis ducks and dodges

09/07/2016

A piece notes how Francis reaches out to margalised gays but without altering Church teaching, “Pope Francis on Sunday essentially backed a cardinal’s suggestion that Christians owe LGBT persons an apology for past mistreatment or neglect, but suggested apologies are probably in order to other constituencies as well, including the poor, exploited women and divorced families. Francis was speaking in response to a question that linked the call for an LGBT apology to the recent massacre at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub”.

The article adds “The pontiff said gay persons must not be discriminated against, conceding that there are “some traditions and cultures that have a different mentality,” and said apologies are in order whenever there are “people we could have defended and we didn’t.” The suggestion for a mea culpa came from German Cardinal Reinhard Marx, who in a recent speech in Ireland said that both Church and society have treated gay persons poorly and that the Church should say it’s sorry”.

It goes onto mention “On other matters, Pope Francis said on Sunday:

  • Despite a senior Vatican official’s recent suggestion that retired Pope Benedict XVI might be part of an “expanded papacy,” in fact “there’s only one pope,” while praising his predecessor’s “courage” and “intelligence.”
  • On the recent Brexit result, while not directly criticizing the U.K.’s decision to withdraw from the EU, Francis did insist that “brotherhood is better than being enemies or distant” and that “bridges are better than walls.”
  • The pope denied that his recent agreement to create a study commission on women deacons means the Church has “opened the door” to the idea, and said that more important than the “functions” women hold is the Church’s determination to hear their voice.
  • He said that he felt that he used the term “genocide” to describe massacres of Armenians by Turks in 1915 because it’s the term widely used in Argentina, and since he’s used it before, it would be “very strange” not to have done so in Armenia.

Francis made the remarks during a roughly hour-long news conference on the plane flying back to Rome Sunday after a June 24-26 trip to Armenia. During the trip, Francis earned strong applause from Armenians and swift blowback from Turkish officials for using the word “genocide” to describe the deaths of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians, in what they claim was a deliberate campaign and Turkey sees as the fallout of a broader war”.

The report notes “The pontiff insisted, however, that he doesn’t use it with “offensive intent” but rather “objectively.” The idea of an expanded papacy came from German Archbishop Georg Gänswein, the personal aide of Benedict XVI, who recently suggested that the papal ministry now includes both an “active” and a “contemplative” dimension in Francis and Benedict. Insisting “there is only one pope,” Francis said that Benedict had promised to be obedient to his successor and “he’s done it.” Laughing, Francis then said he’s heard, without being absolutely sure if it’s true, that some people have gone to Benedict to try to complain about his own leadership, “and in great Bavarian style, he kicked them out!” Noting that he plans to take part in a small event on June 28 marking the 65thanniversary of Benedict’s ordination as a priest, Francis called him a “man of prayer,” “courageous” and “intelligent.” On Brexit, Francis had spoken briefly about the results at the outset of his Armenia trip on Friday, saying only that they reflected the “will of the people” and represented a call to “great responsibility” to work for both the good of the U.K. and the coexistence of European peoples”.

The article mentions that “On Sunday Francis went further, making a distinction between the sort of decolonization that occurred in Latin America and Africa earlier in the century and secessionist movements in Europe today, such as those in Catalonia and Scotland, suggesting that the latter risks becoming a kind of “Balkanization.” While saying he doesn’t know “what the reasons are for which the U.K. wanted to make this choice,” he said that in general he believes “bridges are better than walls.” Francis also said the outcome represents a challenge to the EU to become “more creative and flexible,” including by allowing greater independence to its individual members, and also overcoming problems such as widespread youth unemployment”.

 

“Negligence can cost a bishop his job”

17/06/2016

A report notes news from Rome, “Never one to slow down on the weekend, Pope Francis on Saturday signed two documents designed to reflect progress on two battle fronts: The Catholic Church’s response to clerical sexual abuse, particularly bishops’ accountability, and reform of the Roman Curia, the global Church’s governing body. The first document is a motu proprio, meaning a legal text, titled “As a loving mother,” which talks specifically about the causes that could merit removing a bishop or an eparch from his post”.

The report adds “In the document, Francis acknowledged that the church’s canon law already contemplates removing a bishop for “grave reasons,” but said he wanted to be more specific on the fact that negligence can cost a bishop his job. One of the specifications added by the document is the fact that negligence of the bishop “in particular in relation to cases of sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults” is now one of the “grave reasons” that would legitimise the removal of a bishop from his position. For decades, survivors of clerical sexual abuse and their advocates have been demanding that the Church hold bishops accountable for failing to act in cases of child sexual abuse, either by ignoring accusations or for moving sexually abusive priests from one parish to another instead of reporting them”.

The piece goes on to mention “The law also says that a bishop can be removed if his actions or omissions cause “grave harm,” either physical, moral, spiritual or financial, to individuals or communities. “As a loving mother the Church loves all her children, but treats and protects with a very particular affection the smallest and helpless” says the text released on Saturday by the Vatican, available only in Italian. “Aware of this, the Church is particularly vigilant in protecting children and vulnerable adults. Such role of protection and care involves the whole Church, but particularly its shepherds,” the text continues, naming the bishops and eparchs. A motu proprio is an edict by the pope that can either be addressed to a part of the Church, for instance the bishops, or to the institution as a whole. “As a loving mother” has no addressee, so it’s assumed that it’s meant for the global Church. As any law, the document then goes to list the procedure for removing a bishop from his post, saying that he can only be removed if he has “objectively failed in a very serious manner to the diligence that is required by his pastoral office, even if not by a serious moral fault of his own.” In the cases of child abuse or vulnerable adults, “the lack of action” has to be “serious” to merit removal. According to the document, the new set of rules applies also for leaders of religious orders, not only bishops”.

The writer continues, “The second article of the motu proprio says that the corresponding Vatican office can start the investigation when there’s sufficient proof of negligence or wrong doing, giving the suspected bishop the possibility to defend himself. Since these are cases of negligence but not crimes, the corresponding offices are the Congregations for Bishops (for most Latin rite prelates), Evangelization of Peoples (for bishops in mission territories), Oriental Churches (for the Eastern churches in communion with Rome) and Consecrated Life (for religious orders). If found guilty, the bishop will have 15 days to voluntarily hand in his resignation, before being forcefully removed, and it’d be possible to temporarily replace a him while the investigation is ongoing. Lastly, the document also says that each decision to remove a bishop from his post will have to be personally approved by the pope, who will be assisted by a group of legal advisers”.

It elobrates that “the new regulations will become effective on Sept. 5, 2016. A Vatican spokesman on Saturday said there’s no question of a “retroactive” norm, since older cases were covered by the previous law, whereas from now on the process will follow what Francis has set out. The motu proprio follows a 2015 institution of a tribunal within the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith specifically to judge bishops “with regard to crimes of the abuse of office when connected to the abuse of minors.” However, that tribunal is currently at a standstill, with no personnel having been appointed to it yet”.

On the other front the writer notes that “The second document signed by Francis on Saturday and also released only in Italian, are the statutes for a new “mega-dicastery” in the Vatican, a direct result of the work being done by the pope’s group of 9 cardinal advisors who guide the pontiff in the reform of the Roman Curia. In a nutshell, two current Vatican offices, the Pontifical Council for the Laity and the Pontifical Council for the Family will become one: a Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life. The new body should begin its work on Sept. 1, and it´s still unknown who will head it. Currently, the Council for the Laity is headed by Polish Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko, while family is under Italian Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia”.

It ends “Although early in the reform Francis had voiced the possibility of a married couple heading this new dicastery, the document released on Saturday says it´ll be headed by a prefect, always a cardinal or an archbishop “unless specified” by “some special law.” It will also have a secretary, “who could be a lay person,” and three sub-secretaries, one for laity, one for family and one for life, that “will have to be laity.” Francis’ reform of the curia will conclude with a revised, or completely new, version ofPastor Bonus, currently the curia´s internal constitution, issued by Pope John Paul II and which the Argentine pontiff decided to revise”.

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”.

“Pope Francis trusts Catholics to make their own decisions”

15/04/2016

A piece argues that Pope Francis, with his new Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia may have introduced a sort of Catholic democracy.

It opens “The three years since his election, Pope Francis has forcefully called the laity to action on issues like the fragility of the environment and spoken out on the dangers that capitalism poses for the poor and vulnerable. Until last week, he had not yet sought concrete change to church teaching on marriage and family — two of the most contentious issues for Catholics worldwide. Released on March 8, Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, titled Amoris Laetitia or “Joy of Love” is the follow-up to the two synods on the family held in Rome in 2014 and 2015, where church leaders discussed issues such as the ability to take communion for the divorced, and pastoral care of LGBT Catholics. In the document’s opening paragraphs, Francis clarified that, as the head of a church with over 1 billion followers, he knows that the issue of inculturation and individual conscience — that church teachings must be adaptable to local circumstances, and that Catholics must mature in their faith, and thus be able to think for themselves — is paramount. As the first Latin American pope, writing for a global audience, he recognized that when it comes to issues of marriage, divorce, and so-called “irregular unions … each country or region can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its traditions and local needs.” In de-emphasizing the Vatican as the ultimate arbiter of personal decisions about marriage and family, Pope Francis offered the clergy more choices about ministering to the faithful. But he is also empowering the faithful themselves”.

Correctly the author notes that “To be clear: This is not the bombshell some commentators have made it out to be. Amoris Laetitia does not change church doctrine on communion for the divorced. Nor does it impact its positions on same-sex marriage, abortion, or birth control. However, it does represent what might be considered a step in Francis’ larger strategy of gradualism. The pope is trying to change the structure of authority in the church but is doing so incrementally, rather than in large, sweeping shifts. The risk of this strategy, however, is that individuals have different approaches to his notions of reform. Francis could potentially wind up undermining his authority, or subjecting his broader agenda of shifting the church to regional whims”.

The piece adds “Throughout the Amoris Laetitia, the pope re-emphasized the notion that “new pastoral methods” are needed so that pastors can “avoid judgments which do not take into account the complexity of various situations” of family life. For example, divorced and remarried Catholics should consult with pastors about communion, in what the church referred to as an “internal forum,” effectively giving them permission to prayerfully examine their consciences about participating in the sacrament rather than simply forcing them to decline it. Francis also stated that the church has sometimes foisted an “artificial theological ideal of marriage” on couples. The result: an idealized image of a nuclear family”.

The article goes on to mention, “The solution proposed for the growing number of families that do not fit traditional modes is to put these decisions into the hands of the laity and their priests. Although there is sometimes a perception from non-Catholics that Catholicism is a tradition of “pray, pay, and obey,” historical precedent demonstrates that private decision-making about church teaching has long been a part of how people live out their faith. The Vatican II document Dignitatis Humanae, released under Pope Paul VI in 1965, told Catholics that they are not “to be restrained from acting in accordance with [their] conscience, especially in matters religious.” For Catholic families, that has long meant that decisions about divorce and birth control were mostly made privately, because church doctrine’s emphasis on the primacy of conscience trusted in believers’ mature discernment about these issues. Amoris Laetitia did not explicitly encourage either of these things, but instead emphasised the notion of individual discernment: In plain terms, this means that Pope Francis trusts Catholics to make their own decisions”.

Interestingly the writer notes that “Francis’ emphasis on discernment reflects his Jesuit background. In his essay “Discernment: A Key to Amoris Laetitia,” Jesuit writer Father James Martin said discernment involves “prayerful decision-making” that “takes into account the richness and complexity of a person’s life.” Along those lines, Francis cautioned against “black-and-white thinking” and emphasized that moral laws are not “stones to throw at people’s lives.” For an example, “it can no longer simply be said,” according to Francis, “that all those living in any ‘irregular situation’ are living in a state of mortal sin.” Here, the pope referred to situations like couples living together before marriage and single mothers. However, he did not specifically refer to same-sex couples, although he did stress the need for compassion and sensitivity toward LGBT people. All of this suggests that Francis understands that traditional church doctrine can often conflict with the complexities of modern life. He is a reformer who believes the church can adapt to better serve those complexities, but he knows the only realistic way to bring about change is to do so gradually and subtly”.

The author makes the valid point that “The potential pitfalls of Francis’ strategy, however, are twofold. Handing this measure of flexibility to the clergy is a risky way of bringing about reform. The clergy are, after all, as diverse in their opinions about family life as the people they serve. Therefore, Francis’ emphasis on inculturation is doubtlessly strategic. Indeed, the Amoris Laetitia seemed to go to great lengths to make bishops and priests from around the world feel a part of his mission of incremental change. The text included quotations from global groups of bishops, including those from Chile, who critique the “perfect families” depicted in “consumerist propaganda that has nothing to do with the realities faced by the heads of families” — echoing Francis’ attacks on consumerism as a“throwaway culture.” By making global church leaders feel included in the document, Francis again emphasized the notion of locality, and of a church that is adaptable to different cultural norms. On the other hand, Francis is aware that nations with more draconian laws about the LGBT community may not welcome the idea that such people should be “respected in his or her dignity” and provided with “respectful pastoral guidance.” In a nation like Uganda, for example, this will be a challenge and could upset the church hierarchy there. It could, theoretically, also cause local church leaders to act more independently and harshly toward LGBT Catholics as a result of that independence — as the bishops in Malawi recently did when they denounced the government for failing to imprison LGBT citizens”.

He ends noting that “Many of the church leaders emphasizing the need for reform on family issues are European. Germany’s Cardinal Walter Kasper, often described as a progressive member of the hierarchy and a close confidant of the pope, has called for the church to serve as an “outstretched hand” rather than a “raised moral finger.” But European Catholics have long been leaving the church behind when it comes to decisions about family life. Italian Catholics have some of the lowest birth rates in Europe. They have also distanced themselves from the Vatican politically, and divorce is increasingly common in their country. Thus, many European and North American Catholics alike have already been following their consciences for decades by continuing to take communion after a divorce, or participating in the church while taking birth control. The statistical evidence that a large percentage of American Catholics support marriage equality, for example, means that much of the new document may turn out to be redundant. Francis’ strategy of gradually devolving the Vatican’s authority down to priests and laypeople might be comparable to issues of states’ rights in America. When a social issue like abortion or marriage equality is complex and affected by the culture and politics of a particular region, the Supreme Court or the president is likely to kick that issue back to state leaders. It is at the more local level, therefore, that the groundswell for change can begin — this, it seems, is Francis’ attitude toward provoking change in the Catholic Church”.

He concludes “He is unlikely to change church teaching, however. What he is doing, instead, is emphasizing the pastoral approach to an evolving global notion of family life. And a pastoral approach requires one-on-one listening and dialogue, another of the pope’s favorite topics. There is only one pope, but there are 1 billion Catholics. Unlike the celibate, unmarried leaders of their faith, many of them have families of their own. By entrusting them to consider making their own decisions about the complexities of family life, Pope Francis has revealed that he’s playing the long game when it comes to reform. What Amoris Letitia reveals is a leader who trusts in his followers’ judgment. That, in and of itself, may be the most radical change of all”.

“Francis’s ruthlessness is no secret”

13/04/2016

An article in Foreign Policy argues that Pope Francis is the “dictator of the Vatican” following the publication of Amoris laetitia. It opens “There is hardly anyone in the world by now who is unfamiliar with the affable, down-to-earth, conspicuously humble persona projected by Pope Francis. His style of governance, however, is a far cry from this carefully cultivated public image. Influenced by the Peronist ideology of his native Argentina, he rules the Catholic Church with the idiosyncratic passions, and disciplined commitment to an agenda, of a true ideologue. And Amoris Laetitia, Francis’s 260-page, nearly 60,000-word, post-synodal apostolic exhortation on marriage and family, which was at long last released on Friday, is the clearest example yet”.

The report goes on “Francis’s “People’s Pope” persona has always belied an autocratic temperament that is coldly efficient at achieving his aims, if not winning allies to his cause. In his National Geographic profile of the pontiff, formerly known as Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Robert Draper relates that:

[Francis has] an awareness that his every act and syllable will be parsed for symbolic portent. Such prudence is thoroughly in keeping with the Jorge Bergoglio known by his Argentine friends, who scoff at the idea that he is guileless. They describe him as a “chess player,” one whose every day is “perfectly organized,” in which “each and every step has been thought out.” Bergoglio himself told the journalists Francesca Ambrogetti and Sergio Rubin several years ago that he seldom heeded his impulses, since “the first answer that comes to me is usually wrong.”

Robert Mickens, editor in chief of Global Pulse, an online Catholic magazine, described Francis as a “master tactician” who was able to “make a move to outflank various groups and people that continue to oppose many of his initiatives.” Such cold and calculating determination has been in evidence throughout the process leading up to Friday’s publication of Amoris Laetitia”.

The piece adds “Never in my lifetime as a Catholic has a papal document been more anticipated — or feared — than this follow-up to the two-part Synod of Bishops that originally convened in October 2014. Institutionally, the document’s roots can be traced back even further, at least to the consistory, or meeting of cardinals, in February 2014, at which the octogenarian Cardinal Walter Kasper, bishop emeritus of Rottenburg-Stuttgart, was personally asked by Francis to give the keynote address. It was here that Kasper — once a lightning rod of theological controversy who had already begun to fade into the obscurity of retirement — had new life suddenly breathed into his ecclesiastical career as he was lavished with praise by the unconventional new pope for his “serene theology.” At the core of this theology was a novel conception of mercy that appeared to preclude repentance. While paying lip service to the church’s long-established doctrine on the indissolubility of marriage, Kasper proposed the exploration of new paths to respond to the alleged deep needs of divorced people who have remarried, offering the idea of a period of penance after which they might be re-admitted to the sacraments”.

The writer correctly argues that “This “Kasper Proposal,” as it came to be known, was nothing new in his native Germany, where he had advocated it (and implemented it in practice) for years, but thrust into the spotlight of Rome it became an immediate point of contention for orthodox Catholics. It represented the possibility of an institutional embrace of adultery, as well as permission for those living in grave sin to be re-admitted to Holy Communion — a practice that had been understood previously as sacrilege. Nevertheless, it formed the locus around which both the extraordinary and ordinary synods on marriage and family would trace their orbits in October 2014 and 2015, respectively”.

The writer goes on to argue, perhaps pushing the boundaries between truth and falsehood, “Kasper — with a strong papal endorsement in hand — continued to pitch the idea as he went on a world tour to promote his bookMercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life. Francis, who described Kasper early in his papacy as a “superb theologian,” said that his book “has done me so much good, so much good.” As pressure mounted against the Kasper Proposal from more conservative quarters within the church, the cardinal responded with an appeal to authority: “I agreed with the pope. I spoke twice with him. He showed himself content [with the proposal]. Now, they create this controversy. A cardinal must be close to the pope, by his side. The cardinals are the pope’s cooperators.” With no correction from the Vatican, Kasper’s testimony stood, in the eyes of many of the faithful, as proof that Francis was an advocate of his position. And as the list of unorthodox prelates invited personally by Francis to the synod grew, so too did the suspicion that the pope was, in fact, entertaining the unthinkable: a blessing for changes in Catholic practice that would fatally erode the very doctrine they purported not to change”.

The piece goes on to mention “Examples abound that the apparently simple, jovial Francis — who is so keen to refer to himself only as the “bishop of Rome,” and who gives the appearance of a strong sense of collegiality with his brother bishops — has always preferred to wield his authority like a hammer in pursuit of his own agenda. His scathing and wide-ranging rebuke of the Roman Curia, the central government of the church, in his 2014 Christmas address left feathers ruffled among the “princes of the church.” His removal of the staunchly orthodox Cardinal Raymond Burke from his position as the head of the Apostolic Signatura (and his other curial positions) was seen by many as retribution for Burke’s public criticisms of the themes — like Holy Communion for the divorced and remarried — that were informing the synod process. His unilateral promulgation of two motu proprio letters reforming the marriage annulment process caused consternation among canonists and members of diocesan marriage tribunals and generated uncomfortable whispers from members of the appropriate Roman dicasteries who were not consulted in the creation of these important juridical documents. Last year, rumours of a conspiracy to force Pope Benedict XVI out of office and elect then-Cardinal Bergoglio were started by none other than Cardinal Godfried Danneels, the beleaguered archbishop emeritus of Brussels who remains a close associate of Francis, despite his track record as a promoter of heterodox ideas and protector of clerical sex abusers”.

The writer adds “For close observers of the church, if not the wider public, Francis’s ruthlessness is no secret. This aspect of the Argentinian pope’s personality has already earned him his share of enemies. In an open letter to Francis from a former high-ranking member of the Roman Curia published last December, the official — who chose to remain anonymous for fear of retribution — admonished the pope for “an authoritarianism of which even the founder of your Order of Jesuits, St. Ignatius himself, would not approve.” He went on to describe the result of this authoritarianism: a “climate of fear” within the Vatican. Rumours have been circulating Rome for months that the Holy Father threatened the 13 Cardinals who sent him a letter expressing their own concerns over the synod — rumours that no source able to talk about it has been willing to confirm on the record”.

The piece ends “With the promulgation Friday of his new, extensive apostolic exhortation, Francis has shown once again that he is a man clever enough to get what he wants against all odds. The document’s length will prohibit a comprehensive analysis for some time yet, but already Catholic progressives are celebrating its innovations, and theologians are lamenting the damage it will undoubtedly do to the already crumbling edifice of Christian marriage and the church’s teaching on sexual ethics. As has been the Vatican playbook since the 1960s, the document is packed with careful language, layers of nuance, and ambiguity offering a buffer against cries of “heresy.” At the same time, these openly semantic doors offer opportunities for exploitation by means of subjective “discernment” by those who have most longed to see the church change its teachings to “get with the times.” In his own words from the text of the exhortation, Francis advises that we “recall that this discernment is dynamic; it must remain ever open to new stages of growth and to new decisions which can enable the ideal to be more fully realized.” Like much else about this papacy, it’s a statement that could mean whatever one wants it to mean. The real agenda lies hidden beneath”.

Pierre as Nuncio

13/04/2016

As expected yesterday Pope Francis formally appointed Archbishop Christophe Pierre as apostolic nuncio to the United States. The formal announcement did not even mention his predecessor, Carlo Maria Vigano.

“Both sides in the debate can take consolation”

09/04/2016

Yesterday Pope Francis released Amoris Laetitia, his long awaited Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation.

John Allen writes that “One of the standard talks I’ve given on the Catholic lecture circuit for years now focuses on the cultural gap between the Vatican and Main Street USA. Only semi-jokingly, I sometimes title it “Rome is from Mars, America from Venus,” because it does often seem they’re on two different planets. One area where the cultural gap is especially apparent is contrasting attitudes towards law. For Americans, and perhaps Anglo-Saxons generally, law is a lowest common denominator of civic morality. It’s what we expect everyone to do all the time, and if a law is being widely disobeyed, for us that’s a crisis – we either want to repeal the law or launch a crackdown, but we can’t have people making exceptions on the fly”.

Allen goes on to notes “For Mediterranean cultures, which still shape the thought-world of the Vatican to a significant degree, law is instead more akin to an ideal. It describes a moral aspiration, but realistically it’s understood that many people much of the time will fall short. (If you don’t believe it, come to Italy sometime and watch how the locals approach traffic laws!) A frustration I’ve long experienced as an American journalist covering the Vatican is that when the pope or some Vatican department issues a new law, it often comes off as terribly draconian and harsh in media coverage and public discussion. It’s difficult to explain that always encoded into the legislation is the common-sense expectation that bishops and pastors will use good judgment in applying it in ways that reflect their local circumstances”.

Allen makes the point that Rome “never says that second part explicitly – perhaps out of fear that it will come off as encouraging hypocrisy, rather than presuming a good-faith effort to live up to the value the law expresses. They don’t usually say it, that is, until now. One striking point about Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis’ sweeping new apostolic exhortation on the family, which was released in a Vatican news conference on Friday, is that it lifts up this long-standing Catholic capacity for flexibility and nuance in pastoral practice, and sets it squarely alongside the law in full public view”.

The report goes on “Although the 264-page text treats a staggering variety of topics, public interest initially will focus on what Francis says in chapter eight about Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried, since that was the lighting rod issue in two contentious Synods of Bishops in 2014 and again in 2015. In a nutshell, the pope neither creates any new law on the issue nor abrogates any existing one. What he does do, however, is place great stress on the pastoral practice of applying the law, insisting that pastors must engage in a careful process of “discernment” with regard to individual cases, which are not all alike, and help people reach decisions in conscience about the fashion in which the law applies to their circumstances. The “money quote” on this score comes in one of Francis’ footnotes (number 336, to be exact), in which the pontiff says, “This is also the case with regard to sacramental discipline.” In effect, what he’s saying is that there may be cases in which a given divorced and remarried Catholic, after talking things out with a priest, could be justified in reaching the decision that they don’t carry the guilt that should exclude them from the sacraments, including Holy Communion. In truth, that may not change very much in terms of in-the-trenches experience in the Church”.

Interestingly Allen makes the point that “For one thing, that sort of pastoral adaptation, sometimes referred to as an “internal forum” solution, is already happening. In many parishes, you can find divorced and remarried Catholics who come forward for communion, and many pastors have either quietly encouraged them to do so or, at least, never discouraged them, choosing to respect whatever decision they’ve made in conscience. For another, the language in Amoris Laetitia on the Communion question is sufficiently elastic that both sides in the debate can take consolation, meaning that those pastors and bishops inclined to a stricter reading of Church law probably won’t feel compelled to revise their thinking, and neither will those given to a more flexible stance”.

Crucially he adds “Amoris Laetitia represents a breakthrough of no small consequence, because for once in a Vatican text, what got enunciated wasn’t simply the law but also the space for pastoral practice – which is where the Church’s long-underappreciated capacity for subtlety and compassion usually enters the picture. In other words, what Pope Francis has done is let the rest of the world in on one of the best-kept secrets about the Catholic Church: Yes, the Church has laws, and it takes them very seriously. But even more than law it has flesh-and-blood people, and it takes their circumstances and struggles seriously too. At one stage, Francis writes that the divorced and remarried can find themselves in situations “which should not be pigeonholed or fit into overly rigid classifications, leaving no room for a suitable personal and pastoral discernment.” In reality, that’s been the spirit of things in the Church forever, to greater and lesser degrees depending on time and place. Still, it somehow feels new, and important, to hear a pope saying it out loud”.

 

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”.

 

“Whether Pell’s past will trump his present”

12/03/2016

John Allen writes about the problems of Cardinal Pell, “After a bruising week of testimony by Cardinal George Pell before an Australian Royal Commission examining his record on child sexual abuse cases, the 74-year-old prelate may have given Pope Francis enough reason to justify keeping him around in the Vatican, both because of the lack of any new “smoking gun” revelation and also by pledging his support for anti-abuse efforts. If so, the urgent question will be whether Pell’s past will trump his present — meaning whether he’ll still have the papal backing he needs to finish the work of bringing transparency, accountability, and integrity to Vatican finances, which is the central reason Francis brought him to Rome two years ago”.

Allen goes on to write “Pell, the Vatican’s top financial officer, was giving testimony about his response to abuse cases in the city of Ballarat, where his priestly career began and which has been an epicenter of Australia’s abuse scandals, and also about his time as archbishop of Melbourne from 1996 to 2001. He appeared via a video link from Rome, after a heart condition made the long flight home inadvisable”.

Fairly he describes the “The four-day hearing was not a walk in the park, and Pell undeniably took some hits. Over and over, he insisted he was not aware of what he conceded was a “world of crimes and cover-ups” regarding pedophile priests, that he, too, had been deceived, and that at most he was guilty of being insufficiently curious. Those claims strained credibility for many Australian observers, including his chief interrogator, who described them as “implausible.” A columnist in the Sydney Morning Herald wrote Friday that “two George Pells” fought for control of the history books during the testimony”.

The adds “Yet against all odds, there are five ways in which Pell actually may emerge in a stronger position from this experience. First, the lengthy examination failed to produce any new “smoking gun” proving that Pell had direct knowledge of abuse and covered it up. He did admit to one instance in 1974 of being told by a student that a priest at a local school was “misbehaving with boys,” but said the student did not request action. If there was such a bombshell, this surely would have been the moment in which it emerged”.

The report continues “there was no suggestion of any act that would rise to the standard of a crime, and the same questions could be asked of virtually anyone else who was in Ballarat at the time. Second, Pell went through the strenuous process without complaint, agreeing to testify from 10 p.m. every night in Rome until 2 or 3 a.m. He was under no legal obligation to do so, which makes his cooperation meaningful. Third, at the end Pell met with several of the 15-20 abuse survivors, relatives, and supporters who flew over from Australia for the hearing, with at least some coming away striking positive notes”.

The other two ways Allen says that Cardinal Pell may emerge stronger is that “Pell pledged his support for the survivors and for recovery efforts from the abuse scandals, including offering to help create an Australian research center for abuse prevention and detection. Fifth, at the end of the hearing, Pell did not use comments to journalists to issue laments about the unfairness of it all or to suggest that he’s some kind of martyr. Instead, he said the limelight he’s attracted might be of some use in Europe, in terms of raising awareness of the abuse issue and cajoling the Church into abandoning its traditional culture ofomertà regarding clerical crimes. (That’s probably an especially pointed comment with respect to Italy, where the abuse scandals in most respects are still to arrive.) It remains to be seen what the future holds for Pell, who turns 75 on June 8. There are calls in Australia and elsewhere for Pope Francis to set an example by firing him”.

Interestingly Allen writes that “In Italy’s L’Espresso magazine on Thursday, journalist Emiliano Fittipaldi, who’s currently facing a Vatican trial for publishing leaked financial documents, insisted the pope must get rid of Pell now, because otherwise it would “gravely put at risk the image of a revolutionary and inflexible pope, the sworn enemy of the maniacs who infest the Church.” It’s not clear whether Francis will act on that advice, although in the past he’s shown himself deeply reluctant to make personnel moves under pressure. Assuming Pell does stay on the job, it will be important for the pontiff to find a way to make clear that Pell’s Australian difficulties have not damaged his capacity to implement the financial house-cleaning that was a key component of the pope’s electoral mandate three years ago”.

The piece ends “The worst of all worlds for a reforming pope probably would be to frustrate those who want to see Pell held accountable as a symbol of “zero tolerance” for child abuse, and simultaneously to hand a win to the Vatican’s old guard terrified of Pell’s clean-up efforts on money. The pope’s challenge boils down to this: If Pell stays, then he needs to stay for real, with the tools he needs to do the job. Otherwise, the actual “grave risk” to Francis’ image would be to allow criticism on one front to impede real change on another”.

America’s new nuncio?

10/03/2016

Rocco writes about the new, though yet to be announced nuncio to the United States, “Less than two months since Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano reached the retirement age of 75 – and, indeed, all of two days after that came up here – the choice of his successor as Nuncio to the US is reportedly at hand: in a piece published earlier today on his Settimo Cielo blog, the conservative Italian vaticanista Sandro Magister said that Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the 70 year-old French-born legate to Mexico, is the Pope’s selection for the DC posting, with an announcement said to be “imminent.” A mission-chief for 20 years – and the Vatican’s man in Mexico since 2007 – the reported choice would mark another move by Francis to highlight the “peripheries” toward which the pontiff has ceaselessly prodded the church; Pierre’s first assignment as a Nuncio was over four years (1995-99) in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere”.

Rocco goes on to make the point that “two weeks after the Pope’s long-desired stop at the US border and subsequent doubling-down on it, what would be a provocative transfer north given the US’ political climate would bring a figure intimately familiar with matters of immigration as the Holy See’s representative to the US government, to say nothing of the Nuncio’s role as the Pope’s eyes, ears and voice to an American Catholic fold which has been transformed by an influx of Hispanic migration. On yet another key front, unlike the prior lead occupants of 3339 Massachusetts Av NW, Pierre would arrive in the States with an unusually well-steeped understanding of the church in the Southern and Western US, which have jointly surpassed the old bastions of the Northeast and upper Midwest over recent years in becoming the majority bloc of the nation’s 70 million faithful. All at once, the prospect of Pierre’s appointment would both come as a surprise and not as one. While the name of the Frenchman has circulated in authoritative quarters only over the last six weeks or so, from the outset of the succession talks the most widely cited name for the DC post has been Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the bubbly Italian who won great acclaim and affection in New York’s church and diplomatic circles over his eight years as the Holy See’s permanent observer to the United Nations headquarters there”.

Rocco adds however that “Now 63 and transferred to Poland since 2010, the onetime “deputy foreign minister” in the Secretariat of State notably became the first quarterback for the Vatican’s amplified environmental push under Benedict XVI, which Migliore championed on the Holy See’s behalf in the UN’s deliberations. That said, a current of opposition to Migliore’s appointment to the US began circulating early this year, and given the word of Pierre’s selection, the Mexico rep.’s experience with migration issues – and the Pope’s ostensible desire to send another message on their import – would appear to have tipped the balance in his favour”.

Interestingly, he goes on to make the point “As Francis marks the third anniversary of his election on Sunday, it bears recalling that Papa Bergoglio has not followed the tradition of his predecessors in his choice to stick with the US representative he inherited for a lengthy period of time. Over the last half-century and more, each new Pope has traditionally placed a diplomat of his own choosing in Washington within the first year of his pontificate, reflecting the assignment’s immense import both on civil and ecclesial fronts, above all in the Nuncio’s most consuming function: compiling the massive amounts of consultation, research and reports which set the stage for every appointment of a bishop”.

He then gives the requiste background “Named to Washington in October 2011, Viganò’s assignment to the post was widely perceived as an “exile” from Rome in the wake of his unsuccessful campaign to combat mismanagement and graft in Vatican City’s finances and contracts as the city-state’s deputy mayor. Following his arrival, the archbishop’s pleas to Benedict for support in the cause became a centerpiece of the incendiary “Vatileaks” document drops, which destabilized the Curia for the bulk of 2012 while winning Viganò a significant amount of praise for his forceful efforts. In the wake of Francis’ election, the new Pope’s push for Curial reform and a financial cleanup led to well-placed expectations that Viganò would see his triumphant return to Rome in a leading post. The speculation turned to naught, however, after a smear campaign by the archbishop’s enemies and circulated in the Italian press is believed to have short-circuited the move”.

Crucially he writes that “Having laid the groundwork for the Pope’s markedly successful East Coast trip last September, the career diplomat landed in the center of another ferocious storm in the visit’s wake when it emerged that Kim Davis – the Kentucky clerk who was briefly jailed for refusing to perform same-sex marriages on religious freedom grounds – was quietly greeted by Francis at the DC Nunciature between public engagements. In a remarkable clarification issued in response to the furore caused by word of the meeting, a Vatican statement said that, with Davis among “several dozen” people present, “such brief greetings occur on all papal visits and are due to the Pope’s characteristic kindness and availability. While the release emphasized that “the Pope did not enter into the details of the situation of Mrs Davis and his meeting with her should not be considered a form of support of her position in all of its particular and complex aspects.” it likewise revealed that “the only real audience granted by the Pope at the Nunciature was with one of his former students and his family.” The former student was later found to be openly gay and had brought his partner to the encounter”.

Rocco ends the piece “Having won wide esteem among the US bishops with his gracious style, quiet assists and commitment to a heavy travel schedule to take part in local church events, Viganò was feted by the bench at last November’s plenary in Baltimore with the traditional champagne reception which the USCCB accords to a Vatican representative attending his final meeting. That said, as the archbishop’s success at ultimately obtaining the appointments of those he’s recommended has largely been stymied by the influence of the Stateside cardinals on the Congregation for Bishops – who vote on the ultimate endorsement of a candidate before the file reaches the Pope – Viganò’s “swan song” pick on these shores is understood to have been the July elevation of one of his favorites, Fr Robert Barron, as auxiliary of Los Angeles, a move that stoked widespread shock among the American hierarchy”.

Interestingly, Rocco does not mention the fate of Vigano. There are, as ever, a number of posts available should Francis wish to reward Vigano. Notably these are the archpriest’s job at Santa Maria Maggiore. However, in light of the chaos seemingly favoured by Francis he may wish to not reward/punish Vigano for his Davis stunt and his preference for favouring ecclestical no-bodies.

“Crossfire between Pope Francis and Donald Trump”

19/02/2016

Yesterday Pope Francis weighed in on the US election, “Francis, the leader of more than 1 billion Catholics worldwide and one in five Americans, suggested Trump is un-Christian because of his stance on immigrants and border security policy. “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian,” Francis said when a reporter asked him about Trump during his return from a six-day trip to Mexico. Trump’s response to Francis’s comments came quickly. “For a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful,” Trump said in a statement. “I am proud to be a Christian and as president I will not allow Christianity to be consistently attacked and weakened, unlike what is happening now, with our current president. No leader, especially a religious leader, should have the right to question another man’s religion or faith.”

The piece adds “Even before his push-back on the pope, Trump was problematic with American Catholics. Last September, a Gallup poll found that just 21 percent of Catholics had a favorable view of the real estate mogul, compared to 30 percent of Protestants. On Thursday, Trump implied the pope is “only getting one side of the story,” fed to him by the Mexican government, “because they want to continue to rip off the United States, both on trade and at the border, and they understand I am totally wise to them.” At contrast was the Argentine pope’s visit to Mexico, intended to spark conversation about resolving a global migrant crisis. On Wednesday, he celebrated Mass in Ciudad Juarez, a Mexican city on the Texas border and at the epicenter of drug-fueled violence that has ravaged the United States’s southern neighbor. In a powerful gesture that repudiated the heated anti-immigrant rhetoric of the slash-and-burn Republican primary, the pope lay flowers at the foot of a cross on the U.S.-Mexico border”.

Pointedly it adds “Francis has become increasingly vocal in politics, including on national security issues. He has urged closing the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and called out the United States for being the No. 1 supplier in the global arms trade during his September address to Congress. The Trump vs. Francis narrative has already overshadowed another controversy to come out of the same press conference in which the pope spoke about the U.S. presidential candidate. The pontiff also suggested the Catholic Church could consider contraception in countries ravaged by the Zika virus as an exception to its position against all forms of birth control and abortion”.

It ends “Zika has prompted a public health crisis in Latin and South America, where much of the world’s Catholic population lives. On Thursday, the World Health Organization issued guidance recommending sexual partners of pregnant women to use condoms or abstain from sex altogether if they live in, or have travelled to, areas that Zika has impacted. Researchers consider pregnant women especially at risk following a spike in birth defects in Zika-affected areas. “Avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil,” Francis said. “In certain cases, as in this one, as in that one I mentioned of Blessed Paul VI, it was clear. I would also urge doctors to do their utmost to find vaccines against these mosquitoes that carry this disease.”

John Allen writes from a broader perspective arguing that popes should get involved in politics, “As aftershocks from the crossfire between Pope Francis and Donald Trump continue to be felt, part of the debate it has unleashed centers on whether it’s legitimate for a pope, this one or any other, to “insert” himself into politics. In a nutshell, phrasing the question that way is a category mistake. Popes are, by definition, injected in politics, though in a fairly unique fashion. Before unpacking why, let’s set aside two potential red herrings. First is the hypocrisy of some people who make this charge, since often what they really mean is that popes shouldn’t take political positions with which they disagree. Many of those upset at Francis for calling out Trump on immigration, for instance, don’t get outraged when popes back conservative positions in the culture wars. Meanwhile, many on the left complain about popes and Catholic bishops being overly “political” on abortion and gay rights, and in the same breath demand that they invest the same energy on social justice questions”.

Allen goes on to make the point “Whether Francis crossed a partisan line depends on how you read the full text of what he said, since he also refused to be drawn into how American Catholics should vote. Nevertheless, to say that someone has a right to issue political commentary is not the same as endorsing the particular way they choose to do it every time. That said, it won’t hold water to suggest that popes should “stay out” of politics, for three reasons”.

Putin, Francis and Kiril

17/02/2016

piece notes that Putin had a role at the meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kiril, “an unlikely scene unfolded at José Martí International Airport in Havana: Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill, respective heads of the Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches, embraced and kissed, and met for two hours before issuing a 30-point joint statement focused on Christianity’s future in Europe, the plight of Christians in the Middle East, and the two Churches’ divisive history in Ukraine. Why Cuba? In part because the Caribbean island serves as neutral ground for the two churches, owing to both its strong Catholic ties and the tight bond it forged with Moscow during the Soviet era. But the country, which recently renewed relations with the United States, also serves as an example of the expanded role Pope Francis has assumed in matters of international diplomacy”.

The writer goes on to mention “Both Moscow and Rome have voiced their concerns over the plight of Christians living in Iraq and Syria. When the meeting between Francis and Kirill was announced, Metropolitan Illarion, the foreign policy chief of the Russian Orthodox Church (a post Kirill himself once held), told reporters that “the situation in the Middle East, in northern and central Africa, and in other regions where extremists are perpetrating a genocide of Christians, requires immediate action and an even closer cooperation between Christian churches.” Whether Christians in the region are in fact facing genocide is a matter of dispute in policy circles, from Baghdad to Washington, but both the Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches agree on the matter”.

Interestingly the piece adds that “In meeting with a church that has vocally supported Russia strategy in Syria, the Vatican may be inadvertently signaling its approval, Frank Synsyn, director at the Centre for Ukrainian Historical Research at the University of Alberta, told Foreign Policy. “I appreciate that the Pope is concerned about the Middle East, but the rest of his timing is very bad,” Synsyn said. “It definitely gives credibility to Putin’s moves in Syria.” Moreover, the focus on the state of Christianity in the Middle East is a public relations win for the Russian Orthodox Church, which is trying to shore up its position in Russia by presenting itself as the defender of persecuted Christians around the world. “This meeting allows them to play a large public role and sell it back in Russia,” said John Burgess, a professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary”.

Pointedly he writes “that relationship has been complicated by the ongoing war in Ukraine: Kirill’s closeness to the Kremlin has damaged the Russian Orthodox Church’s standing in the country and left the Patriarch walking a tightrope between supporting Putin’s foreign policy and not appearing insensitive to the Ukrainian government and public’s concerns. In the aftermath of the Maidan revolution, a large number of Ukrainians who adhered to the Russian Orthodox Church changed allegiance to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kievan Patriarchate, which is not under the Russian Orthodox Church’s purview (nor under the Vatican’s; it is independent). This church played a role in supporting the protests that overthrew former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014 (and is not to be confused with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which looks to Moscow). It’s against this backdrop that the bad blood between the Vatican and the Russian Orthodox Church over Ukraine’s 5 million Greek Catholics has taken on higher stakes. The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church was founded in 1596 when a group of Orthodox believers switched their allegiance to Rome. (Its members still practice the rites of Orthodox Christianity, such as crossing themselves right to left and taking Holy Communion directly into the mouth from a priest with a spoon, but see themselves as loyal to the Vatican.) The Orthodox Church accused the Catholic Church of stealing their believers – and, because the church buildings themselves also changed hands, their property — and hard feelings have lingered ever since. Despite its small size, the Greek Catholic Church has played an outsized role in politics: During the Soviet Union, the church supported dissidents and later became a symbol of Ukrainian nationalism after independence, in 1991. During the protest in 2013 and 2014 against Yanukovych, the Greek Catholic Church supported protesters. But its political stance has sometime put it at odds with Rome’s political priorities”.

The piece concludes “Kirill hopes to use the meeting with Francis as a chance to assert the Russian Orthodox Church’s influence within Orthodox Christendom ahead of June’s Pan-Orthodox Council, the first meeting between the various Orthodox churches to take place in over 1,000 years. The Patriarchate of Constantinople is “first among equals” in Orthodoxy, but some two third of Orthodox Christians are Russian Orthodox. Ukraine aside, the differences between Catholic and Orthodox Churches are mostly cultural, liturgical, and theological. But the reasons for Friday’s meeting were mostly political. A thousand years after they parted ways, pontiffs and patriarchs still have a role to play as political leaders on the world stage”.

 

Francis meets Kiril

13/02/2016

Yesterday history was made. As had been previously reported Pope Francis met with Patriarch Kiril of the Russian Orthodox Church.

John Allen writes that “In an historic encounter which, in a sense, has been centuries in the making, Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church met Friday in Havana, issuing a joint declaration pledging their churches to “walking together.” It was the first-ever meeting between the leaders of the Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches, the two largest Christian groups on each side of the rupture between Eastern and Western Christianity conventionally dated to 1054. “We spoke as brothers, we have the same baptism, we are both bishops,” Francis said. “We talked about our churches, agreeing that unity is built by walking together.””

Allen goes on to write that “Francis began his outreach even before the meeting began. Asked aboard the papal flight to Havana when he would carry the press corps to either Russia or China, the pontiff said, “Russia and China, I carry them here,” touching his heart. Francis also tweeted on Friday that “today is a day of grace,” describing the meeting with Kirill as “a gift from God.” Meanwhile, the Russian news agency TASS reported that Kirill told Cuban President Raul Castro earlier on Friday that he placed “great hope” in the meeting with Francis, and signs of a thaw between the two churches were seemingly already visible. On Thursday, the head of Lebanon’s Maronite Catholic Church and a representative of the Patriarchate of Moscow met in Bekerke, Lebanon, the headquarters of the Maronite leader”.

Both pope and patriarch signed a declaration which included “An acknowledgement that “we have been divided by wounds caused by old and recent conflicts, by differences inherited from our ancestors. Deep concern for “Christians [who] are victims of persecution.” The two leaders said, “In many countries of the Middle East and North Africa whole families, villages and cities of our brothers and sisters in Christ are being completely exterminated. Their churches are being barbarously ravaged and looted, their sacred objects profaned, their monuments destroyed.” A plea for greater interreligious dialogue: “Differences in the understanding of religious truths must not impede people of different faiths to live in peace and harmony,” the two men said. Worry about secular hostility to religion: “We observe that the transformation of some countries into secularized societies, estranged from all reference to God and to His truth, constitutes a grave threat to religious freedom. It is a source of concern for us that there is a current curtailment of the rights of Christians, if not outright discrimination.”

Allen adds that the statement also included messages about immigrants and preserving the “natural family”. Allen then mentions that “The emphasis on persecuted Christians in the Middle East in the declaration is especially noteworthy, as it was cited in advance of the meeting by leaders on both sides as lending special urgency to the encounter. The Pew Forum estimates there are roughly 5.6 million Catholics and 5.5 million Orthodox in the Middle East and North Africa, each between 1 and 2 percent of the region’s population”.

Crucially Allen notes that “Historically, Russia has seen itself as the patron and protector of Middle Eastern Christians, especially the Orthodox. Francis has denounced the threats faced by Christians in places such as Iraq and Syria repeatedly, saying the fact that various Christian denominations are suffering together creates an “ecumenism of blood.” Although efforts to put such a pope/Russian patriarch summit together have been underway for decades, announcement of Friday’s meeting came just one week ago in a joint statement from the Vatican and the Patriarchate of Moscow. It took advantage of the fact that Kirill was already scheduled to be in Cuba at the same time Francis would be en route to Mexico, making it feasible for the two men to intersect. Observers say the decision by Francis to stop in Havana was also intended as a sign of graciousness, since many Russians still think of Cuba as their “home turf” in the Western hemisphere”.

Pointedly he notes “The Russian Orthodox Church, however, claims roughly two-thirds of the 225 million Orthodox Christians in the world, and it has long taken a wary view of a meeting between its spiritual leader and a pope, the vestige of suspicions that Catholics want to convert Orthodox. St. John Paul II, the first Slavic pope in history, dreamed of reuniting Eastern and Western Christianity, and for the better part of a quarter-century during the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, he voiced a desire to either visit Russia or to meet the patriarch of Moscow at a neutral site. For reasons both theological and political, such a meeting never occurred. Despite the historic nature of Friday’s meeting, few ecumenical experts believe it will lead to the swift restoration of full unity between Catholicism and Russian Orthodoxy. Even the run-up brought reminders of the lingering theological and political divides. On Feb. 5, Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev of the Russian Orthodox Church told reporters that the meeting would take place “despite the problem of the uniates,” a reference to the 22 Eastern churches in communion with Rome, which some Orthodox leaders regard as “Trojan horses” designed to peel away Orthodox faithful. Hilarion also took pains to insist there would be no joint prayer between the pope and patriarch, noting that the meeting would take place not in a church, but an airport departure lounge”.

The piece goes on to add that “not quite everyone was prepared to celebrate Friday’s meeting – especially in Ukraine, home to the 5-million-strong Greek Catholic Church, which has long been ground zero for tensions between Catholics and Russian Orthodox. While welcoming the meeting and praying for its “spiritual fruit,” Bishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church warned in a statement issued two days beforehand that it should not be “hyperbolized.” In part, Gudziak argued, that’s because the Russian Orthodox Church is carrying significant baggage. “In the Putin years, the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church, increasingly wedded to state power, has sacrificed its freedom and undermined its prophetic vocation while receiving lucrative government support,” he said. Gudziak also implied that Moscow has political motives within the Orthodox world to exploit a platform with the pope. “The Russian Orthodox Church presents itself as the biggest Orthodox church, but approximately half of the flock it claims is in Ukraine,” he said. “Ukrainian Orthodox are expressing their desire for independence from Moscow, from whence war is being waged against them.” “[Independence] is something both Putin and Kirill are striving to prevent at all costs,” Gudziak said. “The asymmetry of the encounter between pope and patriarch — who they represent, and what they stand for — needs to be understood in order to avoid misconstruing the nature and impact of the Havana rendezvous.” In an essay for Crux on Thursday, another Greek Catholic cleric, the Rev. Andriy Chirovsky of Ottowa, expressed similar concern that both Putin and the patriarch might seek to turn the tête-à-tête with the pope into a PR coup”.

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”.

“They don’t have the pope’s explicit endorsement, they’re at least not defying him”

05/02/2016

A piece in Crux by John Allen notes how Pope Francis is sending mixed signals on civil unions for gays, “Last weekend, tens of thousands of Italians took to at least 100 piazzas up and down the country to demonstrate their support for a measure currently before the Italian parliament, and backed by the governing center-left majority, to provide civil unions for same-sex couples along with full adoption rights. On Saturday, another wave of demonstrators is expected to flood Rome’s Circus Maximus to oppose that measure, in a rally known as Family Day. It was originally set for the square outside St. John Lateran, for centuries the seat of the papacy, but organizers say they were forced to relocate due to the high number of people planning to take part. The event is expected to be so big that the Italian train company is offering a 30 percent discount to people traveling to Rome using the code “Family30”, which is standard practice for large national happenings. When backers of the civil unions bill protested in this case, the company apologized but did not withdraw the discount”.

Allen writes that “Backers believe they have enough support to pass it, although since parties have indicated that members are free to vote their consciences, hard counts are illusive. This is Italy, so from the beginning of the ferment, one question above all has loomed over the debate: “Where does Pope Francis stand?” Early on, it seemed plausible Francis might just sit this one out”.

Allen goes on to remind readers that “when Argentina geared up for a national debate over gay marriage in 2010, then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was publicly critical, but privately signaled he’d be willing to live with civil unions as a compromise measure. In the end that didn’t happen, and Argentina became the first nation in Latin America to legalise gay marriage. Yet memories of the future pope’s position have endured. When a precursor to Saturday’s Family Day rally was staged last June, the pope’s man within the powerful Italian bishops’ conference, Bishop Nunzio Galantino, was seen as distinctly cool to the idea. The assumption was he was acting with at least the tacit support of the pope, if not his outright blessing”.

The confusion of where Pope Francis stands comes from when he “abruptly canceled a meeting last Wednesday with Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco of Genoa, the president of the Italian bishops’ conference and a vocal proponent of Family Day. Many took that as a snub, suggesting that Francis wants to keep his distance from the fight. Two days later, however, Francis reversed course and stepped directly into the debate. In an annual speech to a Vatican court, Francis issued a blunt warning that “there can be no confusion between the family willed by God and any other type of union,” which was taken by Italians as a criticism of the Cirinnà bill and, at least indirectly, an endorsement of Family Day”.

Allen makes the point that “There’s already some indication that the latest signals coming from Francis may be changing the political landscape. Late last week, backers of the civil unions bill presented a packet of modifications, including language clearly distinguishing the relationships from marriage, and also requiring that a family tribunal evaluate all proposed adoptions to be sure they’re in the child’s best interests. Other amendments include that if a couple in a civil union splits up, they will no longer be entitled to use the same last name, another effort to make it different from marriage. Those revisions, however, have not satisfied the bill’s critics. In the meantime, some backers of the bill are now threatening to vote “no” if it’s watered down any further”.

Allen tries to unpick the reasons for Francis’ mixed messages, “In Argentina six years ago, the alternative to civil unions was full marriage rights; in Italy, no one has put gay marriage on the table, and at least for now, it’s a political non-starter”.

The second point he notes is that the Church in Italy is divided, “the Italian media has made a great deal of a perceived rupture between Galantino and Bagnasco, and more broadly a divide in the Italian Church, with some dioceses participating heartily in Family Day and others effectively ignoring it. In that context, Francis may feel the need to demonstrate solidarity with Bagnasco by not undercutting his position”.

He adds that the Church has influence in Italy, “For all its travails, the Catholic Church still has significant social capital and packs a political punch. That doesn’t mean the Italian Church wins all the time; famously, it lost referenda in 1974 over divorce and in 1981 over abortion, and prevailed in 2005 over stem cell research only by persuading Italians not to vote in order to invalidate the ballot. Yet Mass-going Catholics remain a sizable chunk of the national population and are well represented in both major political parties, and their sentiments have to be at least considered. Certainly the pope himself still has some political muscle in his own backyard. It was a perceived rebuke from Francis in September, after all, that’s credited with bringing down Rome’s former mayor Ignazio Marino. Perhaps the calculation on the civil unions proposal — to paraphrase a Star Trek “Borg” reference — is that resistance is not futile”.

Allen ends “For now, the pro-family demonstrators planning to turn out in Rome on Saturday can feel that if they don’t have the pope’s explicit endorsement, they’re at least not defying him … and in Italian political life, now as ever, that’s no small thing”.

Yet this lack of a clear position makes Francis meaningless to the debate. Either Francis stands with the hypisocracy of the Church’s teaching or he says nothing.

“Only violated U.N. Security Council resolutions, not the Iran deal itself”

01/01/2016

A report notes the problems of the Iran deal implementation, “Iran has shipped more than 25,000 pounds of nuclear material to Russia, a major milestone that leaves the Islamic Republic without enough low-enriched uranium to manufacture a nuclear weapon. But the development comes as tensions over the Obama administration’s landmark nuclear deal with Tehran emerge from a variety of quarters in the United States and Iran, raising concerns about the deal’s long-term viability”.

The article mentions continuing GOP opposition, “In Congress, Republicans and some Democrats are hammering the Obama administration for not responding more aggressively after a United Nations panel said earlier this month that Iran had violated a U.N. Security Council resolution by testing a ballistic missile in October. After the U.N. panel’s findings, Senate Republicans introduced legislation to bar the Obama administration from lifting sanctions on Iran, as agreed to in the nuclear deal, until it certifies that Iran has ended any military-related activity in connection to its nuclear program, among other things. The Obama administration opposes the legislation”.

Yet the balance is tricky. If the Obama administration does nothing Iran will think it has free reign but if it does too much that is not directly covered by the agreement then the whole agreement could collapse.

It goes on to state, “In Iran, the Foreign Ministry is furious over new U.S. visa rules it says violate the nuclear deal by impeding Iranian business. (A spokesman for the ministry said on Monday that Iran may take “its own steps in response.”) The moves demonstrate the delicate nature of the deal and its vulnerabilities to political shifts in both the United States and Iran. The two sides are looking ahead to “implementation day,” when the International Atomic Energy Agency verifies that Tehran has complied with all its nuclear commitments and stretched out the length of time Iran would need to develop enough nuclear material to build a bomb to one year. Despite recent tensions surrounding the deal, the White House is confident in its durability and says few would have envisioned the progress made thus far even a year ago”.

The writer argues that “critics charge that the administration’s lack of firm response to the Iranian ballistic missile tests give Tehran a green light to develop its missile program while staying in compliance with its nuclear-related commitments”.

Yet this is the whole point. Conventional weapons are not covered by the agreement and there is little America can do short of war, which is perhaps the point, that would stop Iran from developing these weapons. Besides already exists sanctions on Iran for its human rights record and other offensives.

Crucially the piece adds “Since the signing of the nuclear accord in July, experts say Iran has complied surprisingly quickly with its obligations under the deal but point to a number of obstacles that remain. Under the agreement, Iran committed to exporting all except 300 kilograms, or about 660 pounds, of its low-enriched uranium. For uranium enriched to near 20 percent, it agreed to either process it into low-enriched uranium, export it, or transform it into fuel plates for a research reactor. It also agreed to accept inspections in exchange for the lifting of a raft of economic sanctions and the release of about $100 billion in frozen Iranian assets”.

The piece goes on to mention “On Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry said a Russian ship, the Mikhail Dudin, transported 25,000 pounds of Iranian nuclear material, including its uranium enriched to almost 20 percent, or close to bomb grade. Besides the stockpiles, Iran has redesigned its Arak reactor, taken steps to reduce its uranium enrichment program, and put in place additional monitoring and verification controls. But experts say the shipment of uranium is by far its most significant step”.

Importantly it adds “The other major boxes Iran still needs to check are the full dismantling of its 13,000 centrifuges, the disabling of the core of the Arak reactor, and taking steps to increase international monitoring and surveillance. Those steps could occur as quickly as late January, say officials, but that doesn’t mean implementation of the deal has been a smooth ride. The anger on Capitol Hill over the Iranian ballistic missile test poses one major challenge. The Obama administration says it’s considering ways to punish Iran for its missile test, but it maintains that Tehran’s launch only violated U.N. Security Council resolutions, not the Iran deal itself. As such, the administration is opposed to the GOP proposals that would put the United States in violation of the agreement”.

Interestingly the piece notes that “Next month, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is scheduled to make his first trip to the Vatican to meet Pope Francis. The self-declared moderate was supposed to visit the tiny city-state in November as part of his European tour of Italy and France, but the trip was nixed following the terrorist attacks in Paris. On the financial front, the governments of Germany, France, and Italy have already sent delegations to Iran to scope out the possibilities for new commercial opportunities, and an uptick in business from China and Russia is widely expected. Still many Western firms remain wary of falling prey to many of the existing sanctions in place against Iran”.

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”.

Becciu to Saints?

27/11/2015

Robert Mickens writes about upcoming curial appointments.

He opens “Francis will not be coming back to anything remotely considered “peace and quiet” in Rome. Among other things, in the coming days and weeks he is set to announce some major personnel and structural changes in the Roman Curia and other Vatican-related departments”.

He notes that “The extensive overhaul of the media sector, which the Pope signaled last June when he established the Secretariat for Communications, is expected to finally get underway. First of all, it appears that Fr. Federico Lombardi, who has headed the Holy See Press Office since 2006, is going to retire by the end of December. The 73-year-old Jesuit has also been running Vatican Radio since 1991 as its program director and since 2005 as its general director”.

Mickens writes that “It’s still not clear if Francis has decided to replace him at the press office with another member of their order, 49-year-old Jesuit Fr. Antonio Spadaro, or if he’s opted to name Basilian Fr. Thomas Rosica, 56, to the post. Spadaro is the editor of Civiltà Cattolica and is the man who conducted the blockbuster interview with Pope Francis that was published simultaneously in September 2013 by Jesuit publications around the world. The pope has given Spadaro freedom to help shape his message and clearly values his younger confrere’s advice. “Spadaro has the pope’s ear,” it is often said in Vatican circles. On the other hand, Rosica has used his fluency in several languages, an impressive theological education (he has a doctorate in Scripture) and extensive experience in developing and running a top-flight communications network (Salt + Light in Toronto) to be a highly effective Church representative in the media. A native of Rochester, N.Y., with dual U.S.-Canadian citizenship, he is already an at-large English attaché for the Vatican press office. And the pope has known him for several years”.

Importantly he adds that “it is structural changes in the Vatican’s media operations that will be turned up a few more notches next month when the newly created Secretariat for Communications leaves its temporary home at the Vatican Radio building and takes over the offices of the Pontifical Council for Social Communication. It’s not clear if Mgr. Dario Viganò, the secretariat’s prefect, will be named a bishop. The 53-year-old Milan priest, who is not related to the apostolic nuncio to the United States with the same name, is a specialist in film and television”.

However it would seem odd to have the prefect of the new secretariat not even a bishop. Of course this may be part of the Francis mindset of anti-careerism but not having Dario Vigano as a bishop may signal a weakness in Francis not willing to put the necessary papal support behind the nascent organisation.

The writer goes on to report that “It seems this change of offices is confirmation that the pontifical council will be suppressed and its president, Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, given a new post — likely with the promise of a red hat. The career papal diplomat (he served in the Vatican nunciature in Argentina, among other places) will not be 75 until next July, but it’s possible that he could be named Archpriest of St. Mary Major. The current titleholder is Cardinal Santo Abril y Costelló, a former nuncio who turned 80 last September”.

Giving Celli the job of archpriest leaves several others out in the cold, especially the current nuncio to Italy and nuncio to the United States. Archbishop Vigano has served in the United States since October 2011 and is in many ways a Francis man, especially on the subject of money and transparency. It remains to be seen where, or if Vigano will get his reward. He may replace Cardinal O’Brien but this is by no means certain.

Mickens then notes that “Then there’s the question surrounding the future of Mgsr. Paul Tighe, the secretary at the soon-to-be-defunct Pontifical Council for Social Communications. The 57-year-old Dublin priest could end up being named head of one the larger dioceses in Ireland — such as Meath or Cork and Ross — where the current bishops are already retirement age”.

Indeed Tighe, 57, could be sent to Meath. This would place him in good position, if not pole position, to take the place of his archbishop, Diarmuid Martin who has served in Dublin since 2004 to clear up the mess after decades of hidden child abuse. Tighe could have four or so years in Meath and then be named coadjutor to Archbishop Martin or may just take over after Martin turns 75 in 2020.

Mickens goes on to mention “In the coming days Archbishop Giovanni Angelo Becciu, who has been the Sostituto or Deputy Secretary of State for internal affairs since 2011, will be appointed prefect for the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. The red-hat post is a done deal for the 67-year-old Sardinian and former nuncio to Cuba. He will replace Cardinal Angelo Amato, 77, an Italian Salesian who was the No. 2 at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from 2002-2008″.

Yet again this leaves more questions unanswered, what is to become of Archbishop Luis Ladaria Ferrer SJ a confrere of the pope and secretary of the CDF. Is he to remain in his post until retirement or will be be given a red hat as custom dictates? With Catholic Education, and now it seems Saints, all sown up what is to become of the Spanish archbishop. Perhaps Francis does not what the row it would cause if he moved Ladaria Ferrer to Saints and instead seeks to bide his time. However if Ladaria Ferrer was moved it would give Francis a chance name someone more to his liking at CDF.

Mickens goes on to mention “And who will get Becciù’s job? There is strong speculation that Archbishop Gabriele Caccia, who turns 57 in March and is currently papal nuncio to Lebanon, is the leading candidate to become the next Sostituto. He was the Assessore (or deputy to the Sostituto) from 2002 up until 2009 when he and his counterpart in the foreign section (does the name Pietro Parolin ring a bell?) were both sent away from Rome and into exile. Pope Francis wisely brought Parolin back to be his Secretary of State. By appointing Caccia he would be reuniting a duo that — for at least their time — successfully prevented the numerous disasters that would later plague the previous pontificate”.

Mckens ends “the current Assessore, Msgr. Peter Wells of Oklahoma, is frequently mentioned as the next papal nuncio to the United Nations organizations based in Geneva, Switzerland. The witty and highly competent diplomat is 52 years old and due to be promoted to the episcopacy. He would replace Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, 75, who has held the extremely important U.N. post since 2003″.

He concludes “Pope Francis finally announced last month what everyone had known for more than a year — that three existing structures would be combined to make one big office to deal with issues concerning the laity, family and human life. But up to now he has not said what exactly the new body will be (such as a congregation or a secretariat) or who will head it. Polish Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko, currently president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, would seem to be the leading candidate to oversee the new office, even if lay people have been mentioned as possible heads of various sections. But the pope may think it is time for the cardinal, who was ordained both priest and bishop by Karol Wojtyla-Pope John Paul II, to return to his native Archdiocese of Krakow after spending the last three decades in Rome. He would be a natural replacement for the current archbishop there, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz. The longtime secretary of the late Polish pope turns 77 next April”.

He goes on to speculate “Pope Francis could turn to Rylko’s deputy (and former personal secretary to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger), German Bishop Josef Clemens, 68. Or he could look to the current president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, Italian Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, 70. On the other hand, both men are still young enough to head up a diocese in their native countries. But the pope will have to discern whether that would really be such a good idea — and for whom. There’s yet another possibility. Francis could name the trusted coordinator of his C9 body of cardinal-advisors, Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, to be the first head of the new office for laity, family and life. The affable Salesian will be 73 next month and shortly afterwards will mark 23 years as head of the Archdiocese of Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Now might be the right time for him to take up a new post. Rodriguez is, without a doubt, one of Francis’ most important allies. But he looks suspiciously like the epitome of the so-called “airport bishop” that the pope so strongly criticizes — one who is constantly travelling abroad for speaking engagements and meetings and is rarely at home”.

He concludes “Bringing Cardinal Oscar to Rome would make perfect sense. After all, the man who’s come as close as anyone to being the “vice-pope” is also the one who initially suggested the idea for new super-office for the laity. He actually said it should be a top shelf department at the level of a Vatican congregation, like those for bishops, clergy and religious. These are just some of the personnel changes Pope Francis will be making. There will be more, included with the official announcement that several current departments will be dissolved and folded into one big office for charity, justice and peace”.

Francis risks civil war

21/11/2015

Damian Thompson writes in the Spectator that Pope Francis is risking a Catholic civil war, “Last Sunday, the Italian newspaper La Repubblica carried an article by Eugenio Scalfari, one of the country’s most celebrated journalists, in which he claimed that Pope Francis had just told him that ‘at the end of faster or slower paths, all the divorced who ask [to receive Holy Communion] will be admitted’. Catholic opinion was stunned. The Pope had just presided over a three-week synod of bishops at the Vatican that was sharply divided over whether to allow divorced and remarried Catholics to receive the sacrament. In the end, it voted to say nothing much”.

Thompson goes on to write “On Monday, the Pope’s spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said Scalfari’s report was ‘in no way reliable’ and ‘cannot be considered the Pope’s thinking’. Fair enough, you may think. Scalfari is 91 years old. Also, he doesn’t take notes during his interviews or use a tape recorder. Of course he’s not ‘reliable’. But that didn’t satisfy the media. They pointed out that the Pope knew exactly what he was letting himself in for. This is the fourth time he has chosen to give an interview to a man who relies on his nonagenarian memory. In their last encounter, Scalfari quoted the Pope as saying that two per cent of Catholic priests were paedophiles, including bishops and cardinals. Poor Lombardi had to clean up after that one, too. Last time round, Catholics gave Francis the benefit of the doubt. This time many of them are saying: never mind Scalfari, how can you trust what the Pope says? We’re two and a half years into this pontificate. But it’s only in the past month that ordinary conservative Catholics, as opposed to hardline traditionalists, have started saying that Pope Francis is out of control”.

Correctly Thompson makes the crucial distinction, “Out of control, note. Not ‘losing control’, which isn’t such a big deal. No pontiff in living memory has awakened the specific fear now spreading around the church: that the magisterium, the teaching authority vested in Peter by Jesus, is not safe in his hands. The non-Catholic media have yet to grasp the deadly nature of the crisis facing the Argentinian Pope. They can see that his public style is relaxed and adventurous; they conclude from his off-the-cuff remarks that he is liberal (by papal standards) on sensitive issues of sexual morality, and regards hard-hearted conservative bishops as hypocrites”.

Thompson goes on to argue that “All of which is true. But journalists — and the Pope’s millions of secular fans — get one thing badly wrong. They assume, from his approachable manner and preference for the modest title ‘Bishop of Rome’, that Jorge Bergoglio wears the office of Supreme Pontiff lightly. As anyone who works in the Vatican will tell you, this is not the case. Francis exercises power with a self-confidence worthy of St John Paul II, the Polish pope whose holy war against communism ended in the collapse of the Soviet bloc. But that’s where the similarities end. John Paul never hid the nature of his mission. He was determined to clarify and consolidate the teachings of the church. Francis, by contrast, wants to move towards a more compassionate, less rule-bound church. But he refuses to say how far he is prepared to go. At times he resembles a motorist driving at full speed without a map or a rear-view mirror. And when the car stalls, as it did at the October synod on the family, he does a Basil Fawlty and thrashes the bonnet with a stick”.

He goes on to write “The Pope’s encyclical Laudato Si’ gave a temporary boost to climate activists. It was the conference on the family that was historic, but not in a good way. During the synod, ordinary devout Catholics began to wonder if Francis’s judgment had deserted him — or whether he’d always been a far stranger man than his carefree public image suggested. In church circles the worries began in October last year, when the Pope staged an ‘extraordinary’ preparatory synod that fell apart in front of his eyes. Halfway through the gathering, the organisers — hand-picked by Francis — announced that it favoured lifting the communion ban and wanted to recognise the positive aspects of gay relationships. Cue media rejoicing, until it emerged that the organisers were talking rubbish. The synod bishops, who included senior cardinals, didn’t favour either course. Cardinal George Pell, the Australian conservative who serves as the Pope’s chancellor of the exchequer, hit the roof — and when Pell is angry you really know about it. The final vote ditched both proposals. Francis, however, demanded that this year’s synod should revisit the question of communion for the divorced”.

Thompson goes on to note “This first synod wasn’t just humiliating for the Pope; it was also weird. Why did Francis let his lieutenants, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri and Archbishop Bruno Forte, arrange a briefing that basically told lies? Any other pontiff would have sent Baldisseri and Forte to parishes in Antarctica after screwing up so badly. Instead, to general amazement, the Pope invited them to take charge of the main synod last month. Also invited back was Cardinal Walter Kasper, an 82-year-old ultra-liberal German theologian who wants to sweep away all obstacles to remarried divorcees receiving communion. To cut a long story short, Francis made it clear that he agreed with Kasper. Yet he also knew that most bishops at this year’s synod wanted to uphold the communion ban”.

The report goes on to mention “The synod ended messily, with a document that may or may not allow the lifting of the communion ban in special circumstances. Both sides thought they’d won — and then the Pope, in the words of one observer, ‘basically threw a strop’. In his final address, Francis raged against ‘closed hearts that hide behind the church’s teachings’ and ‘blinkered viewpoints’, adding that ‘the true defenders of doctrine are not those who uphold its letter but its spirit’. The implication was clear. Clergy who wholeheartedly supported the communion ban were Pharisees to Francis’s Jesus. The Pope was sending coded insults to at least half the world’s bishops — and also, it seemed, giving priests permission to question teaching on communion and divorce. One priest close to the Vatican was appalled but not surprised. ‘You’re seeing the real Francis,’ he said. ‘He’s a scold. He can’t hide his contempt for his own Curia. Also, unlike Benedict, this guy rewards his mates and punishes his enemies.’ Clergy don’t normally refer to the Holy Father as ‘this guy’, even if they dislike his theology. But right now that’s one of the milder conservative descriptions of Francis; others aren’t printable in a family magazine”.

Worryingly Thompson writes “Never before has the Catholic church looked so much like the Anglican Communion — which broke up because orthodox believers, especially in Africa, believed that their bishops had abandoned the teachings of Jesus. In the case of Catholicism, the looming crisis is on a vastly bigger scale. For millions of Catholics, the great strength of the church is its certainty, coherence and immutability. They look to the Vicar of Christ on earth to preserve that stability. If successive popes come across as lofty and distant figures, that’s because they need to, in order to ward off schism in a global church that has roots in so many different cultures. Now, suddenly, the successor of Peter is acting like a politician, picking fights with opponents, tantalising the public with soundbites and ringing up journalists with startling quotes that his press officer can safely retract. He is even hinting that he disagrees with the teachings of his own church. A pope cannot behave like this without changing the very nature of that church. Perhaps that is what Francis intended; we can only guess, because he has yet to articulate a coherent programme of change and it’s not clear that he is intellectually equipped to do so”.

He ends “Loyal Catholics believe that the office of Peter will survive irrespective of who holds it; Jesus promised as much. But after the chaos of the last month, their faith is being tested to breaking point. It’s beginning to look as if Jorge Bergoglio is the man who inherited the papacy and then broke it”.

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”.

Vatileaks II

05/11/2015

A report from Crux notes Vatileaks 2 has come out to the public domain, “The Vatican’s new leaks scandal intensified Tuesday as a book exposed the mismanagement and internal resistance that has been thwarting Pope Francis’ financial reform efforts. Citing confidential documents, it detailed millions of euros in potential lost rental revenue, the scandal of the Vatican’s saint-making machine, greedy monsignors, and a professional-style break-in at the Vatican”.

Allen goes on to note that ““Merchants in the Temple,” by Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, is due out Thursday, but an advance copy was obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press. Its publication, and that of a second book, come days after the Vatican arrested two members of Francis’ financial reform commission in an investigation into stolen documents. The Vatican on Monday described the books as “fruit of a grave betrayal of the trust given by the pope, and, as far as the authors go, of an operation to take advantage of a gravely illicit act of handing over confidential documentation.” “Publications of this nature do not help in any way to establish clarity and truth, but rather generate confusion and partial and tendentious conclusions,” the Vatican said”.

He adds that “The arrests and books mark a new phase in the so-called “Vatileaks” scandal. The saga began in 2012 with an earlier Nuzzi expose, peaked with the conviction of Pope Benedict XVI’s butler on charges he supplied Nuzzi with stolen documents, and ended a year later when a clearly exhausted Benedict resigned, unable to carry on. With the scandal still fresh, Francis was elected in 2013 on a mandate from his fellow cardinals to reform the Vatican bureaucracy and clean up its opaque finances. He set out promptly by creating a commission of eight experts to gather information from all Vatican offices on the Holy See’s overall financial situation, which by that time was dire. Monsignor Lucio Angel Vallejo Balda, a high-ranking Vatican official affiliated with the Opus Dei movement, and Francesca Chaouqui, an Italian public relations executive, were both members — and now are accused in the leaks probe”.

He goes on to mention “Nuzzi’s book focuses on the work of the commission and the resistance it encountered in getting information out of Vatican departments that have long enjoyed near-complete autonomy in budgeting, hiring, and spending. “Holy Father … There is a complete absence of transparency in the bookkeeping both of the Holy See and the Governorate,” five international auditors wrote Francis in June 2013, according to Nuzzi’s book. “Costs are out of control.” Citing emails, minutes of meetings, recorded private conversations, and memos, the book paints a picture of a Vatican bureaucracy entrenched in a culture of mismanagement, waste, and secrecy”.

Giving crucial context he writes “It might not be far off the mark, given that Francis has repeatedly and publicly warned the Roman Curia against engaging in “intrigue, gossip, cliques, favoritism, and partiality” and acting more like a royal court than an institution of service. Last Christmas, he delivered an infamous dressing down of his closest collaborators, citing the “15 ailments of the Curia” that included living “hypocritical” double lives and suffering from “spiritual Alzheimer’s.” That said, the book is clearly written from the point of view of the commission members, sympathetic to their plight and setting up an “us against them” narrative of the new reformers battling the Vatican’s entrenched Old Guard, without addressing why the Old Guard might have had reason to distrust them”.

Allen mentions that “The book cites a memo listing six priorities when the commission began work, starting with the need to get a handle on the Vatican’s vast real estate holdings. Nuzzi cites a commission report that found that the value of the real estate was some 2.7 billion euros (dollars), seven times higher than the amount entered onto the balance sheets. (A euro is worth about $1.10 US today.) Rents were sometimes 30 to 100 percent below market, the commission found, including some apartments that were given free to cardinals and bureaucrats as part of their overall compensation or retirement packages. The book says that if market rates were applied, homes given to employees would generate income of 19.4 million euros rather than the 6.2 million euros currently recorded, while other “institutional” buildings which today generate no income would generate income of 30.4 million euros”.

 

Allen ends, “Nuzzi recounts the tale of Monsignor Giuseppe Sciacca, the No. 2 in the Vatican City State administration, who wanted a fancier apartment. Top-ranking Vatican cardinals often enjoy enormous apartments, with some commanding upward of 400 square meters (a little more than 1,312 square feet) apiece. When Sciacca’s neighbour, an elderly priest, was hospitalized for a long period, Sciacca took advantage of the absence to break through a wall separating their residences and incorporated an extra room into his apartment, furniture and all, Nuzzi recounts. The elderly prelate eventually came home to find his possessions in boxes, and died a short time later, the book says. Francis, who lives in a hotel room, summarily demoted Sciacca, forcing him to move out”.

 

Synod winners and losers

05/11/2015

John Allen writes about the winners and losers of the recently concluded Synod on the Family.

He opens “The most significant and contested gathering of Roman Catholic bishops in the past 50 years formally ended on Sunday after three weeks of debate and dispute, but the arguments over who “won” and who “lost” are only beginning. The synod of 270 cardinals and bishops from around the world was the second in a year called by Pope Francis to address how and whether Catholicism could adapt its teachings to the changing realities of modern family life. Traditionalists had taken a hard line against any openings, especially after last October’s meetingseemed to point toward possible reforms. While the delegates made hundreds of suggestions on a host of issues, two took center stage, in part because they represented a barometer for the whole question of change: Could the Church be more welcoming to gays, and was there a way divorced and remarried Catholics could receive Communion without an annulment? The synod was never going to provide definitive answers; it is only an advisory body to the pope and cannot legislate or bar changes in Church policies”.

He goes on to mention “Yet some on the right saw the lack of an explicit recommendation to allow divorced and remarried Catholics a pathway to Communion as evidence that “conservatives basically ‘won’ this synod,” as Damian Thompson wrote in The Spectator. “…divorced and civilly remarried Catholics can’t receive the sacrament and that’s that,” Thompson wrote. Similarly, The Wall Street Journal’s report called the document passed Saturday evening “an embarrassing defeat” because it did not specifically authorize the pope to approve Communion for the remarried and for his “liberalizing agenda.”

The lack of almost any opening to gays and lesbians was certainly a setback for progressives who had been cheered last fall that so many top churchmen had used unprecedented language in speaking in positive terms about gays and same-sex couples.

But the broader reality is that conservatives, as many of them acknowledged, did not get what they wanted or needed at this synod, and their prospects going forward look even dimmer.

Here’s why:

1. Divorced and remarried Catholics made some gains.

The final report from the synod contained key phrases about individual Catholics in “irregular” situations — such as being remarried without an annulment — using the “internal forum” of their conscience, in consultation with a pastor, to consider their status in the Church.

For decades, the Vatican had effectively barred priests and penitents from using the “internal forum” in the remarriage context for fear it would be abused.

Also, the final document doesn’t mention Communion explicitly, but it was clear — and numerous Church officials confirmed privately — that the language refers to the sacraments and, most important, it gives Francis an opening to take further action, which Church officials expect him to do.

Moreover, if the three paragraphs (out of 94) in the final document dealing with the remarried were not problematic, why did so many bishops speak out so strongly against them in the final closed-door session before the vote? And why did those paragraphs get the fewest “yes” votes of all — in one case, just one vote above the necessary two-thirds threshold for official passage?

2. Silence on gays is preferable to harsh words.

The absence of any breakthrough language on gays was a tactical retreat by progressives who saw that they did not have the support in the synod to get close to a two-thirds threshold.

Even getting close to half would have been hard if not impossible, and would have revealed the deep divisions in the synod on the issue and left the pontiff with an unpalatable option of choosing one side or the other — those who spoke warmly about gay couples and others, such as African Cardinal Robert Sarah, who used harsh and almost apocalyptic language about gays and lesbians.

“It was better to leave the question open for further study and reflection than blocking it with bad paragraph or bad text,” Belgian Bishop Johan Bonny, a point man for those favoring change, told reporters. “That is a point for next time.”

Bonny was in the same small language group as Sarah, for example, and Bonny and others in that group said sentiment against homosexuals was so strong that “there was no way of discussing it in a peaceful way.”

Time may be on the side of those seeking a Church that is more welcoming to gays, even if it will never endorse gay marriage.

While many Africans stood out for their blasts at homosexuality, other African churchmen said that their views were developing on this issue and were catching up with the more accepting attitudes in the West.

Conservatives, on the other hand, painted themselves into a corner at the synod by arguing that the only satisfactory outcome was for the synod to reiterate current Church teachings and practices and bar any future flexibility. That didn’t happen, and they are left trying to explain.

3. The synod showed that the Church can, and has, changed.

That change can seem obvious when viewed from the perspective of history, but it’s been a neuralgic point for those who fear that admitting to any evolution can lead to a slippery slope. Francis hammered home the need to change in his forceful closing address to the synod Saturday, in which he declared that “the true defenders of doctrine are not those who uphold its letter, but its spirit,” and he called on the Church to adapt to different cultures and conditions.

“A faith that does not know how to root itself in the life of people remains arid and, rather than oases, creates other deserts,” as he said in his closing homily at Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on Sunday.

Many cardinals and bishops welcomed what they said was an end to a judgmental Church and the start of a more pastoral Church that considers people first and rules second.

But change is never easy for the Catholic hierarchy.

“We are discombobulated. Some defend the past, others dream of a different future,” Cardinal Francesco Montenegro of Sicily, a strong supporter of the pope, said in explaining the reactions of some of his brother bishops. “The fact that there have been so many reactions is a sign that what he is proposing is something new and powerful.”

4. The synod is dead. Long live the synod.

This synod ended, but synodality — the ongoing process of dialogue, discernment, collaboration, and collegiality that leads to new approaches and possibly even doctrinal shifts — isn’t over.

Francis made that clear in what was viewed as a landmark talk during the synod to mark 50 years since these meetings were begun after the reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). But synods had become routine, almost “rubber-stamp” affairs. No longer.

The pope said that the “Church and synod are synonymous,” and that the journey of discernment is ongoing. Church leaders were free to speak their mind, whereas in past years they would have been silenced. Once the flock hears pastors disagreeing and speaking openly about, for example, the value of families led by gay couples or single parents, it’s hard to “unring” the bell.

“The real takeaway from this synod is that Pope Francis has changed the way the Church goes about reflecting on her pastoral ministry. That’s no small thing,” Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl said on Sunday. “You had all this open discussion about issues that the Church is struggling with. You’re not going to be able to close that door in the future.”

That’s not to say that the future won’t be messy at times, and anxiety-producing, especially for traditionalists and for those who prefer a neat and tidy Church.

5. It’s Francis’ turn now.

As long as Francis is the pope, he makes the final call, and he is expected to take the suggestions he has heard in this synod, and in last year’s synod, and the various consultations he has held since he was elected in March 2013, and use them as a launchpad for further, more concrete reforms.

Perhaps the biggest question is how long Francis has and how many like-minded cardinals and bishops he can appoint before he dies or retires. He turns 79 in December and openly acknowledges that his may not be a long papacy.

Vatican expert and author John Thavis last week crunched the numbers and found that Francis has appointed 13 percent of the world’s active bishops in his 31 months in office and 26 percent of the voting members of the College of Cardinals who would elect his successor.

At this pace, the pontiff would probably need six or seven more years to reach a tipping-point majority of cardinals and bishops.

“I’m sure the pope realizes that, for quite some time, he will have to work with an episcopate that may at times act as a check on his innovative pastoral proposals,” Thavis wrote.

Francis likes to say that “time is greater than space.” The synod gave him space, but he may need much more time to do with it what he wants.

“Francis tapped ideologically centre-left clerics”

28/10/2015

Yesterday Pope Francis appointed new archbishops in Palermo and Bologna.

John Allen writes “Many Catholics have a gut instinct that something revolutionary is afoot in the Church under Pope Francis, but for many, its precise contours remain a bit unclear. Perhaps one way to phrase it is that Francis is leading a “Pastoral Revolution.” The pontiff has insisted that he has no intention of altering traditional Catholic doctrine, but he wants a more compassionate and merciful application of that teaching at the pastoral level, meaning in parishes and other local venues in the Church”.

Allen goes on to mention “That was the spirit, for instance, in which a recently concluded Synod of Bishops treated the contentious issue of Communion for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics – upholding traditional doctrine on the indissolubility of marriage, but also appearing to leave a cautious opening for discernment about handling Communion privately on a case-by-case basis known as the “internal forum.” Tuesday brought two more major steps in Italy for this “Pastoral Revolution,” as Francis tapped ideologically centre-left clerics known for their social activism to head two of the country’s most important archdioceses in Bologna and Palermo”.

Crucially Allen argues that “Around the Catholic world, bishops’ appointments in Italy often are read as tone-setting moves for the entire Church, since pontiffs generally take a greater-than-average interest in their own backyard. From a political point of view, the transition in Bologna is especially striking”.

He continues, “There, Francis replaced Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, 77, a longtime champion of the Church’s conservative wing and a leading opponent of an opening for the divorced and remarried, with 60-year-old Matteo Maria Zuppi, well-known in the city of Rome as a fixture in the center-left Community of Sant’Egidio, known for its work in ecumenism, interfaith dialogue, and conflict resolution. Zuppi sometimes has been dubbed the “Bergoglio of Italy,” a reference to the given name of Pope Francis.  For observers of Italian Catholic affairs, the move may be seen as tantamount to what happened in Chicago in September 2014, when Francis replaced the late Cardinal Francis George, who led the US bishops in their standoff with the Obama administration over contraception mandates, with the moderate Archbishop Blase Cupich”.

Interestingly he adds “Over the years, Zuppi has also been involved in some of Sant’Egidio’s best-known efforts at diplomatic troubleshooting, including playing a key role in negotiations that led to the end of a bloody civil war in Mozambique in 1992. For his part in the peace talks, Zuppi was made an honorary citizen of Mozambique. Zuppi also has organised a series of efforts in the city of Rome to provide care for the elderly, the poor, gypsies, and drug addicts, much of it centered in the Trastevere neighbourhood where Sant’Egidio has its headquarters”.

Moving on to Sicily Allen notes that “In Palermo, Francis accepted the resignation of Cardinal Paolo Romeo, also 77, and tapped 53-year-old Corrado Lorefice, another figure well known in Italian ecclesiastical circles for his anti-Mafia activism, his efforts on behalf of the victims of prostitution and human trafficking, and his writings on the Church’s “option for the poor.” Lorefice is known as a great admirer of the late Sicilian priest the Rev. Giuseppe “Pino” Puglisi, who worked in a tough Palermo neighbourhood called Brancaccio trying to keep young people out of organized crime and was shot to death by Mafia hitmen in 1993. Puglisi was beatified, the final step toward sainthood, just two months after the election of Pope Francis in March 2013”.

The choices are of particular import as “Both Bologna and Palermo have traditionally been dioceses whose leaders automatically become cardinals. Pope Francis, however, appears to prefer to lift up new cardinals from traditionally neglected areas, so there’s no guarantee that either Zuppi or Lorefice will necessarily be inducted into the College of Cardinals. However, given their relatively young age for senior churchmen (60 and 53, respectively), Zuppi and Lorefice are positioned to be points of reference on the Italian Catholic scene for some time to come, regardless of whether they receive the “red hat” designating them as cardinals”.

The Synod’s closing document?

22/10/2015

John Allen examines the closing document of the Synod of Bishops, “As the Oct. 4-25 Synod of Bishops on the family nears its end, two features of the process seem especially striking. One is how much the bishops have left to do; the other is how much uncertainty still surrounds exactly what they’re doing”.

Allen goes on to make the point that “The final result is to be a document to be presented to Pope Francis. It’s designed to be based on a working document distributed before the synod, but there’s been enough dissatisfaction with that earlier text that it’s possible the 10-member drafting committee could essentially start from scratch.

That drafting committee includes:

  • Cardinal Peter Erdo, archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest and the synod’s relator general
  • Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary of the synod
  • Archbishop Bruno Forte, archishop of Chieti-Vasto, Italy
  • Cardinal Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Bombay, India
  • Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, DC
  • Cardinal John Dew, archbishop of Wellington, New Zealand
  • Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernandez, rector of the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina
  • Bishop Mathieu Madega Lebouakehan, bishop of Mouila, Gabon
  • Bishop Marcello Semeraro, bishop of Albano, Italy
  • The Rev. Adolfo Nicolas, head of the Jesuit order

Whether the group overhauls the original working document, called the Instrumentum Laboris, or goes back to the drawing board, it’s supposed to incorporate the hundreds of suggestions made by the synod’s 13 small working groups”.

He goes on to write that “On Tuesday morning, those groups were supposed to finish putting together their proposals, with a 1 p.m. deadline in Rome. Tuesday afternoon, the entire synod was to hear a report from each of the small groups, and in the evening, reporters for each group were to meet to assess the proposals to pass along to the drafting committee. Synod officials vowed to bring food to the group so it could work through dinner, with a deadline of noon Wednesday in Rome. In the meantime, their final set of individual reports are scheduled for release to the media Wednesday morning”.

He writes that “The drafting committee has already been meeting to get organized. Australian Archbishop Mark Coleridge wrote in a blog postTuesday morning that one member told him Pope Francis had popped in unannounced on Monday, mostly to urge the committee to produce a “good document.” The synod will have a free day on Wednesday to allow the drafting committee to work. Reflecting the fluidity of the situation, the schedule has been adjusted on the fly to make Thursday morning free as well, followed by a general session in the afternoon to discuss an initial draft of the final document. That discussion will continue Friday morning, followed by a free period in the afternoon for final adjustments”.

Allen correctly writes that three questions have yet to be answered, In past synods, two documents were produced at the end: a set of specific propositions, sometimes as many as a hundred, intended for the pope, and a concluding message addressed to the wider world. This time there are no propositions and no message, only the one final document. As of Tuesday morning, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, who’s taking part in the synod, told Crux it’s still not clear to him whether that document is supposed to be addressed only to the pope or also crafted for public consumption. Presumably that’s a decision the drafting committee will have to make, perhaps based on suggestions from the working groups”.

Allen continues, “In an interview with Crux last week, Wuerl, a member of the drafting committee, said his understanding was that its function is to report on areas where there was “general support” among the bishops, which he defined in terms of something like 80 or 85 percent agreement. The way to know that something did not enjoy such a consensus, he said, would be if it doesn’t appear in the document. In his own Crux interview, however, Australian Cardinal George Pell said that he feels the document needs to report not only on agreement but also division, saying that if the synod is split 50/50 on something, “the Catholic world has to know that.” Presumably, another decision the drafting committee will have to make is whether the document will simply be a report on the synod’s discussions, or a more ambitious attempt to present a Catholic vision of the family based on those discussions”.

On the question of when the document will be released to the public Allen contends that “Vatican briefers repeatedly have said that it’s up to the pope when, and if, the synod’s final document will be released to the public. That could happen Saturday night after the final ballot, they’ve said, along with the paragraph-by-paragraph vote totals. It could be a few days later, after the text has been reviewed and translations prepared. Or Pope Francis could decide he wants to keep the document to himself to use as the basis for his own eventual reflections. Most observers in Rome believe the smart money is on the document and the results of the voting being released right away Saturday night, for two reasons. First, there have already been widely voiced charges of manipulation and stacking the deck during the synod, and if there’s a delay in releasing the document, it’s likely someone would cry foul. Second, as Pell noted in his Crux interview, it’s a near-certainty the document would leak anyway, making efforts to keep it under wraps futile”.

The Synod’s ostriches

18/10/2015

A piece from Crux notes the progress of the Synod, “Given the blindingly obvious fact that there are deep divisions at the 2015 Synod of Bishops, various ways of analyzing those fault lines have been proposed. Some see them in terms of the difference between a deductive and inductive approach, some between meeting the world halfway versus not being swallowed up by it, and so on. As the synod rolls into its second week, yet another way of understanding the fundamental divide is coming into focus: The gap between those who believe the demands of classic Catholic teaching on sex, marriage, and the family may be unrealistic or inappropriate for some share of the contemporary population, and those convinced that it’s widely attainable in the here-and-now”.

In his classic style Allen writes, “Perhaps one could call the latter position the “Yes We Can!’ brigade at the 2015 synod. (Presumably, the irony of applying Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign slogan to a bloc of folks who would generally be seen as cultural conservatives isn’t lost on anyone.) Many in this camp suspect that advocates of a more “pastoral” approach on matters such as homosexuality and divorce have quietly thrown in the towel on the idea that it’s reasonable to expect lifelong faithful marriage to be the norm, or that divorced and civilly remarried Catholics shouldn’t be sexually intimate, and so on. The “Yes We Can!” faction wouldn’t deny that many people don’t actually live those teachings, but they insist that it can be done, and fear that by not encouraging people to do so, the Church clearly risks selling them short”.

Allen goes on to add “We caught an early glimpse of this position in the first cycle of reports from the synod’s small working groups, which were released last Friday. The base text for the synod, known as the Instrumentum Laboris, came in for fairly withering criticism in those reports — as a colleague in the press corps put it, had this been a college term paper, the kid who wrote it would have flunked. A key point was the assertion by several groups that the document portrays an overly negative assessment of the situation facing the contemporary family, seemingly more focused on where families break down than where they flourish”.

However, this group of single men, whom Allen calls the “Yes we can group” know nothing about the real lives of the people that they are supposed to be leading. To pretend that all is well in the Church’s teaching in this regard is simply to bury their heads in the sand.

Allen gives an example, “The group led by Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto arrived at a similar conclusion. “Most of our group felt the Instrumentum Laboris should begin with hope rather than failures, because a great many people already do successfully live the Gospel’s good news about marriage,” it said. On Monday night, I attended an event organized by one of the participants in the synod featuring a couple of well-known Roman experts on issues pertaining to marriage and sexual ethics, where the refrain was much the same. One of the evening’s most powerful moments came when a speaker complained that in its debate over the issue of Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried — known in shorthand fashion as the “Kasper proposal,” since its leading advocate is German Cardinal Walter Kasper — the synod risks treating such believers as “second-class” Catholics, incapable of living out what the Church asks”.

 

Correctly he mentions that “No one in the synod would deny that there are Catholics out there, perhaps more than one might imagine, who do accept the full version of Church teaching. Virtually everyone could probably agree that such folks deserve whatever pastoral backup the Church can muster. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, who’s also at the synod, posted a blog item on Monday suggesting that these people form a “new minority” in the contemporary world, writing that “they are looking to the Church, and to us, for support and encouragement.” The question is, how should the Church treat people who can’t, or don’t want to, make those choices? For one side of the synod’s debates, it might be time for the Church to honestly acknowledge that such folks are likely to be the majority, and often for understandable and morally defensible reasons”.

Allen concludes “Without giving up on the ideal, this group would say the Church needs to make better accommodations for those who fall short. The “Yes We Can!” camp, however, believes Church teaching isn’t just an ideal, but a practical way of life, though without minimizing the sacrifices it may entail. As they see it, the synod’s message ought to be, “You’re called to this, and we’re going to have your back in pulling it off.” How those two instincts might be reconciled, and whether that’s even possible, will help shape the drama of the synod during the two weeks left on its calendar”.

“Wears a cross that belonged to a Iraqi priest”

10/10/2015

Pope Francis revealed Thursday that he now wears a cross that belonged to a Iraqi priest who was wearing it when he was slain for his faith. He said he had been given it by another Iraqi priest he met on St Peter’s square. “It is a cross this priest had in his hands when he had his throat cut for refusing to renounce Jesus Christ,” the pontiff told a gathering of young monks and nuns. “This cross, I wear it here,” he added, indicating his chest. Francis, who has regularly spoken out on the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, added: “Today we have more martyrs than in the first centuries (after Christ).” Iraq is now home to an estimated 400,000 Christians, compared to 1.4 million in 1987.

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 changes America?

06/10/2015

Allen writes that only time will tell if Pope Francis has fundamentally changed the United States, “By any reasonable standard, the keenly awaited Sept. 22-27 visit of Pope Francis to the United States, his first outing to the country in his entire life, has to be judged a massive short-term triumph. The pope wowed crowds everywhere he went, whether it was leading the “Mass on the Grass” outside the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, making a swing through Central Park before 80,000 pumped-up New Yorkers on his way toplay Madison Square Garden, or drawing hundreds of thousands of enthusiastic Mass-goers to Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The “People’s Pope” received overwhelmingly positive media coverage, and in a badly polarized America already in the throes of a rancorous 2016 presidential election season, he managed to avoid stirring significant political controversy despite delivering several speeches and gestures rich with political content”.

Realistically Allen writes that “While it’s just a guess at this stage, after-the-fact polls probably will show that most Americans, already charmed by Francis at a distance, will feel even more fondness having seen him close-up. Truth to be told, however, virtually the same thing could be said about past papal trips to the United States, of which there have been nine (including one by Paul VI, seven by John Paul II, and one by Benedict XVI.) Occasionally a visit goes off the rails, but in general they’re well-choreographed affairs designed to showcase each pontiff at his best”.

Fairly he adds “It takes time to assess a trip’s lasting impact, in part because it depends on not just what the pope said and did while he was here, but how his audiences respond once he goes home. Experience teaches that when popes hit the road, their messages are crafted to reach several different audiences, and in the case of this outing, there are many concentric circles:

While it’s too early to hazard answers as to what difference the trip made for these constituencies, one can at least sketch the questions to be asked”.

Allen goes on to write that “Facing what was perhaps the largest gathering of world leaders in history at the United Nations, Francis ticked off a long list of issues that he feels merit concern, including his signature causes: poverty, war and the arms trade, immigrants and refugees, human trafficking, and so on. At one level, Francis helpfully has already established a litmus test for the impact of his message: the UN climate change summit in Paris Nov. 30-Dec. 11, and whether it adopts the “courageous choices” for which the pontiff has called”. Also in the here-and-now, another test for the impact of what Francis said over the past week will be whether European policy-makers adopt a generous stance towards the estimated half-million refugees who have arrived on the continent via the Mediterranean Sea this year”.

The article goes on to note “Next month, Francis will visit the Central African Republic, where a UN-backed interim government is struggling to maintain a fragile peace. Francis has a unique opportunity there, since a main factor threatening to plunge the country back into war are Christian militias that conduct routine reprisals against Muslims. It will be more difficult for those armed gangs to assert that they’re acting in the name of Christianity if the pope comes to town and begs them to stand down. Pope John Paul II helped end the Cold War by playing a role in the end of European Communism. Francis has said that today we’re in the middle of a Third World War, being fought piecemeal in various hotspots. Perhaps he can play the same transformative role as his Polish predecessor by engaging in equally piecemeal diplomacy”.

On the relationship between the visit of Francis to the US, Allen continues, “In terms of his message to the United States, Francis got it across in three cornerstone addresses: his speech to President Barack Obama on the South Lawn of the White House on Sept. 23, his speech to a joint meeting of Congress on Sept. 24, and his address at Independence Hall in Philadelphia on Sept. 26. Putting those three talks together, what emerges is a deeply countercultural political and social agenda for the United States. On one hand, it’s clear that Francis aligns with the political left in the United States on a variety of themes, especially immigration reform, the death penalty, and anti-poverty efforts. He repeatedly identified himself as a “son of immigrants” and reminded the United States that the country was largely built on the backs of generations of immigrant communities”.

Crucially he argues “Yet on other matters, Francis is just as clearly more congenial to the cultural and political right.The pontiff told the US bishops that “I appreciate the unfailing commitment of the Church in America to the cause of life and that of the family” and he called on Congress “to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development,” both unmistakable endorsements of the pro-life cause. He made an unscheduled visit to the Little Sisters of the Poor in Washington, clearly offering support for their lawsuit against the Obama administration over the contraception mandates. On the plane on the way back to Rome, he endorsed a “human right” to conscientious objection for government officials vis-à-vis gay marriage laws, albeit without directly commenting on the Kim Davis case, the Kentucky county clerk who refuses to issue marriage licenses to gay couples”.

Most interestingly he mentions “Going forward, perhaps one good way to gauge the political impact of Francis’ trip is not whether left and right suddenly agree with one another, but whether American liberals and conservatives at least become less likely to demonize one another over the issues Francis has identified as part of a single continuum of concern for life and dignity. If so, that would be a major breakthrough indeed for the “Francis effect.””

 

Taken together, the foregoing suggests an awfully lofty standard by which to measure whether the pope’s six days in America come to be seen as a long-term success:

  • Ending a piecemeal “Third World War”
  • Transforming the left/right divide in American politics
  • Fighting religious extremism based on the American experience
  • Steering America’s bishops in the direction of dialogue as a method and “doing” rather than “explaining” as a modus operandi.

Any one of these outcomes would be miraculous, and believing that any single papal outing, however massively successful, could accomplish all four at once is probably delusional.

Yet in that speech to Congress in which the pontiff lifted up four Americans as role models, there’s a fifth he didn’t mention but who, in at least one key respect, seems a kindred spirit.

Daniel Burnham was one of American’s great architects and urban planners, among other things designing the Union Station train terminal in Washington, DC that Francis may have glimpsed during his movements through the city.

Famously, Burnham once said:

Make no little plans, for they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized.

In that vein, Pope Francis is not a pontiff of little plans.

When he visited Our Lady Queen of Angels school in Harlem on Sept. 25, which serves low-income and immigrant children, it was probably the single moment along the way when Francis was most himself. In improvised Spanish, he urged the young people to dream.

“It is beautiful to have dreams and to be able to fight for them,” he said. “You have a right to dream … Wherever there are dreams, there is joy, Jesus is always present.”

Given the papal exhortation, one is entitled to dream that Francis’ Sept. 22-27 trip to the United States was more than a series of feel-good photo ops and lofty rhetoric. Over time, perhaps it will emerge as the game-changer for the world and the country that Francis clearly intended it to be.

 

 

“Francis appears to want two things from the synod”

04/10/2015

As the Synod on the Family opens today, John Allen writes that “In the wake of bitter controversy surrounding a private meeting with Kentucky clerk Kim Davis during his trip to the United States last week, Pope Francis has a chance beginning Sunday to get back “on message” with the opening of a Synod of Bishops on the family in Rome. The Oct. 4-25 summit of prelates from around the world is a critically important moment for the pontiff, one he’s been building toward for more than a year. If past is prologue, however, he may face a stiff challenge in steering it toward his desired outcome. On Friday, the Vatican issued a brief statement on the encounter with Davis, saying it was not intended to endorse her position “in all its particular and complex aspects.” Whatever one makes of how the meeting happened, or what it ultimately says about Francis’ views – and theories on both matters abound – the big picture remains intact and works to validate a fairly firm conclusion about this pope”.

Allen mentions that “Francis clearly upholds traditional Catholic teaching on marriage and the family. He believes those doctrines don’t make the Church the great “Doctor No” of the modern world, but rather mark out a path to genuine human fulfillment. He also believes strongly in religious freedom, one of the core messages he came to the United States to deliver. At the same time, Francis is also the pope of “Who am I to judge?” with regard to gay people trying to live faithful lives, recoiling from anything that makes Catholicism seem intolerant or merciless. After all, although he met Davis, he also met a same-sex couple and voiced no objection when Mo Rocca, an openly gay TV personality, delivered a reading at his Mass at Madison Square Garden”.

Crucially Allen writes “Francis appears to want two things from the synod. First, he wants a balanced approach to hot-button issues such as homosexuality and Communion for the divorced and remarried, blending defense of tradition with new language and a new pastoral approach that emphasizes inclusion. Second, he doesn’t want synod debates to be consumed by those issues”.

Yet with his missteps and misinterpretation he seems to have made these subtle, admirable goals achieveable in the climate in which the Synod takes place.

Allen makes the valid point that “If recent experience is any guide, the pope may have his work cut out for him. This synod is actually round two of a process that began last October with a first summit on the family. Back then, fierce debate broke out over homosexuality, the pastoral care of divorced Catholics, and what to make of other “irregular” relationships. The hope had been that the year between the first synod and the second one might allow time to cool those tensions and find common ground, but there’s not a great deal of evidence that things have played out that way”.

Allen admits that the hopes of the Synod of Francis might not come to fruition, “there seems to be a mounting tendency on all sides to suspect skullduggery and underhanded tactics. In the run-up to this summit, a well-known journalist in Rome published an e-book asking whether last year’s edition of the synod had been “rigged,” implying that a cabal of progressives had tried to stack the deck in favour of a more permissive line on matters such as homosexuality and divorce. On the other side, a minor Vatican aide announced on Saturday that he’s gay and happily in love, and called on all gay Catholics who have been “persecuted by the Church” to fight for their rights. Predictably, the official in question, Polish Monsignor Krzysztof Charamsa, was swiftly fired from his Vatican position”.

Pointedly he adds “Whenever topics such as homosexuality and divorce are on the docket, feelings will run strong. What’s new now is a sense, however exaggerated, that movement might actually be possible. That’s elicited strong passions both from those who see such movement as desirable, and those who view it as alarming.  On Friday, a synod official tried to play down impressions of division. “There’s no surprise about the fact that there are opposing opinions,” said Italian Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, who briefed reporters on the synod process. True enough – there are more than 5,000 Catholic bishops in the world, and the idea that they’ll ever be in complete agreement is fantasy. What’s a bit more unusual, however, is to put those divisions on full public display. Yet that seems to be the forecast in Rome. If Francis is to get the synod he wants, he may need to spend some political capital along the way to bring people together. Over the next three weeks, we’ll see if he’s got enough left in the bank to pull it off”.

 

 

 

 

 

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”.

 

 

“Support by the pope for conscientious objection from gay marriage laws”

01/10/2015

A report from Crux notes that Pope Francis has met Kim Davis and praised her stance on refusing to register gay couples for weddings.

Allen begins “If anyone suspected that Pope Francis didn’t really mean the strong words he spoke on religious freedom last week in the United States – that he was phoning it in, while his real concerns were elsewhere – claims that he held a private meeting with Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis certainly should lay that suspicion to rest. The meeting was first reported by Robert Moynihan of Inside the Vatican magazine. A Vatican spokesman said Wednesday, “I do not deny that the meeting took place, but I have no comments to add,” which, in effect, is a way of allowing the report to stand”.

Allen writes that “Taken together with his unscheduled stop to see the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Davis encounter means Francis has expressed personal support to leading symbols of the two most contentious fronts in America’s religious freedom debates – the contraception mandates imposed by the Obama administration, and conscientious objection on gay marriage”.

Allen then rightly notes the important caveats “First of all, the fact that someone arranged a brief encounter between Francis and Davis does not necessarily mean that Francis initiated the contact, or even that he necessarily grasps all the dimensions of her case. By her own account it was an extremely brief greeting, just long enough for the pope to tell Davis to “stay strong” and to give her a rosary. Asking for prayers and offering a blessed rosary to individuals following a meeting is a customary gesture for Pope Francis. It would be over-interpreting things to read the meeting as a blanket endorsement of everything Davis has said or done”.

Allen’s point is certainly true but it would be hard to argue that he was against what she had done. If it was not made public there might be some truth to what Allen is saying but the fact that they met, however informally, says much.

Allen then rightly mentions “there’s no way to view the encounter other than as a broad gesture of support by the pope for conscientious objection from gay marriage laws, especially taken in tandem with his statement aboard the papal plane that following one’s conscience in such a situation is a “human right” – one, he insisted, that also belongs to government officials”.

The meaning of the meeting, he argues is that “Francis has significantly strengthened the hand of the US bishops and other voices in American debates defending religious freedom. In the wake of a massively successful trip in which Francis was lauded for his stands on issues ranging from climate change to immigration to fighting poverty, it will be more difficult for anyone to wrap themselves in the papal mantle without at least acknowledging his concerns vis-à-vis religious freedom”.

He goes on to make the point that “Francis may also have smoothed the waters in advance for round two of the Synod of Bishops on the family, which opens on Sunday. Last time around, the question of how welcoming the Church ought to be to gays and lesbians was a major flashpoint, in part because conservatives worried it might lessen the Church’s resolve to resist a “redefinition” of marriage. By holding the Davis meeting, Francis has probably reassured conservatives that he’s not priming the pump for going soft on same-sex marriage. Ironically, the Davis meeting may actually increase the odds of the synod recommending a more pastoral approach to same-sex relationships, since there won’t be the same fear about where such an opening might lead. Third, Francis has also debunked impressions of a rift with the American bishops when it comes to the “wars of culture.” Yes, Francis called the bishops to spurn “harsh and divisive” rhetoric and to embrace dialogue as a method. That does not imply, however, that he believes the substance of their concerns is mistaken, and by meeting both the Little Sisters of the Poor and Davis he drove that point home”.

Perhaps most interest of all is that “the Davis meeting confirms that the US trip amounted to the public debut of “Francis 2.0,” meaning a pope more clearly perceived as standing in continuity with Catholic teaching and tradition, as well as in solidarity both with previous popes and with the bishops. To put the point in crudely political terms, Francis is a figure who utterly defies the usual left/right divides, equally capable of meeting Kim Davis and embracing poor immigrant children at a Harlem school – seeing both as part of a continuum of concern for human dignity. That will be a source of consolation to some and consternation to others, but in any event it’s now officially part of the Francis narrative”.