Monday, February 28, 2005

The Non-Tenth Floor Stuff

As Cardinal Castrillion (immortalized in history for the great clanger about the abuse scandals as product of "American pansexualism and libertinism") would say, it is an X-ray of the media interest in the pope's illness that the statements of the Holy See Press Office are being issued in Italian and English. This never happens.

So while all you Anglophones (as if I'm something different, and I am when I'm an Italophone) are staring at the windows of the Gemelli, being spoiled by the luxury of having four-line Italian statements translated for you, I'm getting to savor by my lonesome everything the rest of the biz is too distracted to even know is happening -- it's obvious that the grip of the papal death fetish continues....

It's only Monday, and we've already got another Ray Burke problem on our hands. Ray Flynn, Ray Burke -- any Ray who is not Ray Charles is a churchman's burden these days.

But the Jamiebomber's owner continues his year of destruction by closing 21 St. Louis parishes in one fell swoop; again, something's gotta give to pay the spokesman his 125G allowance. Burke urged the faithful to accept the move "with the obedience of Christ."

Isn't that just precious -- no one less than THE LORD HIMSELF wants your parish closed. When the bishops run this rail (i.e. playing victim and begging people to look above as the mortals have botched it beyond repair), it reminds me of a great line from a movie: "Whenever I'm down, I turn to Jesus and he helps me."

Those over 25 may have a hard time placing the quote, and the flashing of a crucifix which invariably accompanied it. To save you the Google sprint, it's from Sarah Michelle Gellar's character in Cruel Intentions -- "Jesus" contained a vial of booger sugar or, as laypeople call it, cocaine.

Conspicuous by his absence in the closing coverage was Jamie Allman, himself. And that silence is the most shocking thing of all.

He might've just turned to "Jesus."

More later....


Saturday, February 26, 2005

Weekend Edition

Good morning and happy weekend to all.

Whenever the pope ends up in hospital -- therefore, basically this whole month -- I put my body clock on Rome time to keep up with things as they happen. It's been a long week, and I haven't written because I've just been lost in my thoughts.

The press coverage, though hyperventilating at times, has been incredible, and incredibly moving. There's been this fascinating juxtaposition of images: the grainy footage of a young, sprightly John Paul in his first days packaged against the real time shots of people at prayer in Wadowice, New York, Rome and every parish church in between. And everyone's coming up with their own pope memories.

My first John Paul experience came in October, 1995 when the pope came back to the East Coast. I was in the rain with the 90,000 strong for Jimmy Hoffa's funeral mass at Giants Stadium. Ever the greatest at making lemonade of lemons, a soaked to the bone Ted McCarrick -- then archbishop of Newark, of course -- greeted the Big Boss by saying, "We had been praying for rain because of the drought. We didn't realize our prayers were so powerful." (And McCarrick weighs 120 when soaked to the bone. It's a miracle no one got electrocuted that day while handling or speaking into the mics.)

The theology of Karol Wojtyla, John Paul II, holds as one of its core concepts the Christian vocation of being a "sign of contradiction" in the world. In these days, we're witnessing the ultimate manifestation of that principle -- in this unprecedented moment of a pope's public weakness, what could be the most destabilizing event for the papacy and the church has become a rallying point and the people have circled the wagons.

For all my ideas and advocacies of resignation, and I still hold to them, I've been terribly moved by the testimonies of the infirm and elderly among the flock for whom the pope's persistence is an inspiration and morale-booster as they fight the battles in their own lives. Placing issues of good governance aside, that is immeasurably special. It's served to remind my ecclesiastical conscience that the Bollettino is one thing and witness is another -- and the latter has the larger audience seeking it.

Whatever happens, cherish these days. It's doubtful we'll ever see anything like them again.


Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Pharaoh of the Road

Yesterday was a quiet day in Philly because everyone went to West Virginia.

May sound like a joke, but it's true -- the caravan flocked to be present and cry like 200 mothers of the bride at the ordination of our own Michael Bransfield as bishop of Wheeling-Charleston.

No sooner had Bransfield -- known in some circles as "Million Dollar Baby" for turning the Basilica of the National Shrine in Washington into the mid-eight-figure cash cow that it is -- been anointed when he started speaking like a bishop. Addressing WV governor Joe Manchin at the end of the ceremony, Bransfield exulted: "I'm thankful I have a Democratic governor who is pro-life."

My, oh my... Ted McCarrick probably fell out of his chair.

And I thought you were smart enough to know, Michael, that anti-abortion doesn't mean pro-life.... Don't let me down.


The conservatives want the pope to go skiing.

Not so he can kill himself; they're interceding with Sr. Lucia -- who died nine days ago -- to restore his vitality and make him healthier than your humble writer. Not just stopping at one mountain-mover of an intention, they're also asking God to heal Terri Schiavo so she can dance the Marcarena and eat a steak dinner.

This is further proof of how out of sanity the Right are, and why if JP doesn't act smart, the same people who love him but hate every bishop and cardinal he's named will push global Catholicism to the depths of schism. Mark my words, my gentle snowflakes.

John Allen won't, but who said he was a snowflake?


Speaking of the Philadelphia diaspora, its mascot John Foley got some ink the other day for bristling at the use of anonymous sources in the coverage of the Holy See. This is because John Foley gets no off-record info to leak -- he went to Columbia J, he should know better.

The poor man is like the red-headed stepchild of the Roman curia.

I love Foley, we all love him because he's a widow of Krol -- and anytime he talks to any group of English-speaking people, he will tell them a story about Cardinal Krol. He spoke about Krol in Italian to the gathered press on Monday morning. It's just fabulous.

But Foley's again without a Number Two at the loneliest dicastery in Rome, the pontifical council for social communications. After just over a year with Boccardo -- the pope's former travel agent -- at his side, the secretary was moved to the Governorato (the government of the Vatican City-State), and now has another American to idle time with as he waits for the next big opening.

The Italians always like having a battle over this job. It's a feather in the cap for a faction to be able to send one of its own to supervise Foley -- Pastore, Boccardo... let's see who wins this time.

Bets, anyone?


Monday, February 21, 2005

OK, Basta

Good Monday mornin' to one and all. Hope you all had a great weekend.

After attending a Tsunami relief benefit concert on Saturday evening, I decided to lay off John Allen for now -- no children will go hungry because a journalist and a bishop got into a catfight (believe me, it happens all the time), and my seven dirty words routine was starting to wear thin even on me. Regardless, I think I've made myself clear.

Your humble writer has been making up for a couple insane weeks, trudging back into the archives to catch up with one of my idols, the great Molly Ivins. Molly once wrote something about Tom DeLay; a truth which, in my experience, can easily be applied to the majority of American bishops: "The man is living proof that Christianity and ruthlessness can coexist -- regardless of what Jesus said." And the plight of the Texas liberal (always right, but always outnumbered) is something many of us can understand. It could, with a slight adjustment, easily be that of the Catholic progressive. And you're not one of the latter unless, for no justified reason, you've been called: 1. a pope-hater, 2. a baby-killer, and 3. "the smoke of Satan entering the church." (In Philadelphia, this initiation can usually be accomplished within 15 minutes.)

Any business rightward enough for Ted McCarrick to be seen by many (his successor in Newark included) as some kind of raving free-love hippie isn't just rightward, it's fascist.

But here's something which will shock -- and without obscenities, even. I'd put money down that anyone who doesn't know me and reads these posts probably thinks I'm a pinko commie who's come to the altar to strike the organ, sell the hosts to voodoo priestesses, and have a mass full of ukeleles with women religious acting as concelebrants. And they'd be wrong on all counts.

For starters, seemingly contrary to my freewheeling, open style -- and I've never announced this openly, ever -- I am stridently opposed to the notion of presenting women and/or married men for ordination to the priesthood. (And you say, "A-ha! The Philadelphian in him comes out!" Not so fast, heretics....) Re women, as our Anglican brethren would attest, the more-than-potential for schism -- especially from the developing world which is the new center of gravity -- is just too explosive. It doesn't help the status quo that the bishops, gloriously fogged-out by the same clericalism we have to thank for a century of scandal and cover-up, have just been plain stupid about not encouraging substantive (i.e. not "Yes, Father") lay leadership; if it's either priest or nothing in their minds, that's just fuel to the fire for the protestors outside your chrism mass.

Again, my whole premise here is that the Left and the Right are both missing the forest for the trees. My favorite of the million-plus topics I could pick which display this marvelously is somewhat cliche', but it's abortion.

From the progressive side, we've got Frances Kissling -- a nightmare and the winner of the "Fighting Fake with Fake" lifetime achievement award. Come on: Holy See comes down on population control at the UN, she tries to get the Holy See kicked out of the UN. Is it possible she was an American bishop in a prior lifetime? She's got more in common with 'em than either would like to admit, she's practically Bernie Law's twin. Scary thought that is, eh?

And then we've got the Right, the people who bang on the bricks at Planned Parenthood clinics on Saturday morning as if the power of Jesus is gonna make them walls come tumblin' down. (I have seen this with my own eyes, so don't dare question it; the only things they break are their knuckles.) These are, if the spin is to be believed, the "pro-life" people -- they won't vote for a boondocket lowest-court judge in Philadelphia who's pro-choice, but would, if necessary, stamp their ballots with blood for a party which seeks the dismantling of a welfare state modeled on the Christian Democratic system, completely ignores just war principles and counts thousands upon thousands of innocents killed as collateral damage, cuts the taxes necessary for the services which sustain a post-birth culture of life, embraces the same laissez-faire capitalism so explicitly denounced by their beloved daddy-pope and, when in doubt, tears the Beatitudes to shreds.

I'm not done yet -- the "pro-life" people do all this at the urging of bishops who, while maintaining a devotion to "human life and dignity," simultaneously trample it. (Hint: Is Lincoln in compliance with the Charter, my gentle snowflakes?) Is it just me or is it damn amazing that some of the most verbose anti-abortion harrumphs among the boys are the first to scream and cry when the review board they established starts peeking around just to make sure they're living up to the commitment they, themselves, made -- need they be reminded why they had to make it in the first place? -- to guard the most vulnerable of the post-born over the assets and reputation of the institution?

Does someone out there really want to try and tell me these guys go on TV and shed Susan Lucci tears about human trafficking because it's something they really care about? (Of course it isn't -- as one of the campaign's marquee names would say, "This is important not because I believe it's important -- I don't honestly care. But I do care because the Holy Father has told us to.")

All I'm looking for, in politics, in press, but especially in this realm which deals with the most intimate and existential side of ourselves, is some integrity in leadership.

As my commencement speaker once sang, I still haven't found it.


Friday, February 18, 2005

Mahareshi on the Carpet, Part One

It's nice to know that John Allen -- my guru of transcendental Vaticanology -- is human. He sure came crashing down to earth today.

In his weekly Word from Rome, Allen waxed about the great possibility of a coming consistory (the gathering at which the pope makes a new batch of cardinals). Ever the numbers guy, he expounds that a new group of red hats would be "premature" at this stage, given a 16-month interval since the last consistory of creation in October, 2003.

But the stats belie the reality of evolution in this pontificate. If anything, the time between consistories -- it was every third year from 1979 to 1994, with a slightly longer gap from June '91 to November '94, then to February '98 -- has been growing smaller and smaller. The 2001 class (which broke all precedent by having 44 members, and being announced over a two-week period) returned the cycle to three years, and 2003 narrowed the cycle below the three-year line.

Allen goes on, "Further, some suggest that given the pope's still-unstable health, it's unwise to be contemplating a move as significant as the creation of new cardinals right now." Any gloriously anonymous curial source who opines that Wojtyla and Dziwisz won't do this because it seems "unwise" is an idiot who doesn't know the mind of this pope -- therefore qualifying him, at least according to the modern standards, for nomination as the archbishop of St. Louis. Or Newark.

After the surrealist flights of megalomania the apartment has wrought these last two weeks, do I really need to remind my brethren who should know better that


And not just balls -- you'll get run over by JPII in the illuminated Popemobile (Legionaries with pom-poms following behind, in cassocks of course, to finish the job on foot) if you even dare to get in the way.

Continuing on, in the "Ones to Watch" column, the great John Allen stoops to a lamentable, grave and grievous low -- giving credence to a Jamie Allman pipe dream: that Delta, er, Ray Burke (got my designing women confused, sorry) could be named to the college of cardinals, the august senate of the popes.

In the name of professional standards, I try to keep the obscenities here to a minimum. But, John, GIVE ME A FUCKING BREAK! (This scenario probably came from the same source who said creating new cardinals would be unwise.) If the beloved -- not to mention dead quiet, because the pope has told him to be so -- Justin Rigali, who John Paul came to St. Louis to see, who labored in the direct service of three popes, couldn't get a red hat out of the "Rome of the West," then why would Delta get moved to the top of the heap in a year? Because he's got a big mouth?

This isn't to say that the apartment, as is obvious to anyone with eyes, doesn't do more than its share of irrational things. But the sheer thought of the Jamiebomber spinning a Cardinal Burke is even past that reach.

A hidden thread here seems to indicate heavily that Allen and Chaput -- who, not all that long ago, were quite close (Allen giving a lecture in Denver, Chaput editing draft's of John's All the Pope's Men) -- have had a falling out. To put Wilton Gregory, Delta Burke and Gomez in contention, but not the well-established and prominent archbishop of Denver who is (as testified to most recently by the meteoric rise of his former auxiliary bishop) eminently well-regarded in Rome?

Again, John, I love ya -- but GIVE ME A FUCKING BREAK.

To name Chaput a cardinal would be more probable, given the pope's well-known and evidenced love for Denver, the site of one of the great triumphs of this pontificate, the 1993 World Youth Day. The WYD experience served as a catalyst for a rapid expansion and renewed vigor of the church in Denver, an enthusiasm heightened eight years ago today with the promotion of a descendant of the Potawotami Prarie Band tribe to carry forward the work.

In the eyes of some, Wilton Gregory still has sins for which he must repent, and his day will come. Jose Gomez will be the first Latin archbishop of Los Angeles, and his day will come. Ray Burke -- who begins each homily with a 15-minute litany of the saints which has been described as "popular piety of the worst kind" -- sounds like he's having a heart attack every time he opens his mouth (that's what happens when brimstone clogs one's arteries), and if his day comes, it'll be like throwing a Molotov cocktail across the Pond.

By the way, Allen initially listed Burke's age as being 72. Were that true, and the archbishop of St. Louis aged 16 years overnight (he's 56), it'd be the greatest intercessory miracle of Philippine Duschesne ever. (NCR corrected the error once I called 'em out on it.)

Still reeling from the crucible and rage of cataclysmic scandal, does Rome really want to design a new crisis for the American church that badly? I doubt it.

Think this: how did Ted McCarrick become such a well-known, respected and visible face for American Catholicism (albeit its centrist faction)? By being accessible, living his ministry with integrity, not giving the impression of ever being threatened or having anything to hide, and by conveying a consistent reputation and presence in communication which shows an understanding and respect for the lives and work of normal people -- in short, by being a normal person, not some cloistered, queenly grandee.

To keep a place in the public square, the Right needs McCarrick's star-quality and authenticity to be counterbalanced in an American cardinal -- George is too academic do it, Egan's too busy playing his piano, Rigali's chained to the desk writing long strategic e.mails to Re'.

Allen's personal ax aside, the Great Right Hope should be Chaput. I don't always agree with him (actually, it's almost never), but I know him to be the real deal. And that's not a judgment I make about any among us lightly.

I'm not done with the Fallen Allen yet. More in a special weekend edition. Sit tight.


Wednesday, February 16, 2005

On Spiritual Paternity

It's become the great ecclesiastical cop-out: "Who ever gives up fatherhood?"

Bernie Law moaned it in Boston -- we all know how well that worked -- and now the pom-pom set around John Paul II (who, reports say, is watching his retreat via closed-circuit from bed and won't make the closing liturgy in St. Peter's on Saturday) has picked it up, trying to tug at the heart-strings.

Sorry, kids. It's an insipid, cheap defense.

Obviously, no one (well, short of deadbeat dads who aren't dads at all) ever "gives up" fatherhood, but parenthood has its stages. You have your kids, you raise them, they grow up, settle down, and have kids of their own, and then you hang back and enjoy your grandchildren (ecclesiastically speaking, grandfatherhood starts at 75).

Is it just me, or does the image of a septuagenarian dad giving his 40-ish son a leather-belt whupping reek of the ridiculous?

Well, same goes for this disingenuous scenario -- which makes the George VEEEE-gil cultists of personality (the same people who gave you "Padre Nuestro" Marcel Maciel) salivate, they use it so much -- of Wojtyla as "Padre Siempre." It implies that the faithful (and, basically, everyone who isn't the pope) are still petulant children stuck in a spiritual-generational Twilight Zone, with no maturity of their own and unfit to produce a new generation, as grown-ups do. Talk about an overbearing sense of control -- Jessica Simpson may need a Stage Dad, but a billion Catholics are OK without one.

When you're grown up and beloved Dad gets old and needs help, if anything, what you do is take care of him and, simply because that's life, the roles are reversed -- you give him the same fatherly qualities at the end of his life he gave you at the start of yours, the ones he's instilled you to give your kids. The cycle continues....

By that standard, I want to see this great old Dad cared for and taken care of -- he long ago scraped the bottom of his pocket to give me an allowance. Why would I demand one of him now?


Jose in S.A. and Joe Mc at Home

If I chose to make the trek, I would've been sitting in San Fernando Cathedral, San Antonio last evening for the installation of Archbishop Jose Gomez. But instead I hung back, screened the simulcast feed and downed a couple Amstels -- just as good a time, and I didn't have to endure the forced pleasantries which come with my public appearances in this job.

The best analogy of the episcopal office in the church, and its responsibilities, comes from Albert Ottenweller, bishop of Steubenville from 1977-92. A diocesan bishop, according to Ottenweller, lives with a "funnel" over his head -- priests, religious, seminarians, school tuition, parishes in debt, the shelter seeking permission to expand, the state leaning more and more on Catholic Charities, every other crazy thing that happens, it all depends on you.

The homily of the new archbishop -- the second-ranking prelate worldwide of the Opus Dei, we should remind -- reflected him well: gracious, wonderfully versatile and inclusive, and with a great spirit of awe and love. (Who says I don't like ecclesiastical conservatives?) Its central thread was a meditation on priesthood -- and, given that San Anton is his first time at center stage, it gave an eye to his leadership style -- extending only in its periphery to the concept of lay priesthood and the concept of the faithful as being "leaven in the world."

Normally, I'd brand a message to priests as being overly clerical and internally isolationist -- particularly in the context of an installation liturgy, which is for the whole local church (messages to the presbyterium being best kept to the evening prayer service the night before). But not this time, because Gomez sounded a clarion call which, though seemingly obvious to rational people, is unexplicably refreshing after three years of episcopal scandal rooted in irrational hubris:

"Leading the people of God has very little to do with power. It has everything to do with sacrifice."

Oh. My. God. Would that it were -- and if that line ever got a public airing in Philadelphia, the orator would promptly be beheaded, then burned, by a clerical mob. (For the record, and thankfully, none of our lobotomized Philadelphians were present at the ceremonies to immediately flail their arms and cry "Heretic!" We don't let them leave town all that often and, honestly, they'd stand out a bit too much elsewhere....)

I'll have to serve as Jose's bodyguard on his next trip here. In the meantime, knowing how much he'll be missed in Denver, I wish him nothing but the best -- he'll be just fantastic.


Finding the Philadelphia bishop who wouldn't cry "Heretic!" when reminded of the link between priesthood and sacrifice is like the camel passing through the eye of the needle -- doesn't happen all that often. Fortunately for Justin Rigali, he followed excellent advice and had one of these gems named a bishop: Joe McFadden.

I've got a ton of (brotherly) love for Joe because he's a real person, a servant-leader and a true believer. He served John Krol well, he's done every job entrusted to him marvelously because he's a solid study and a workhorse and he's got a real sense of higher purpose about all this. So powerful is the aura of this Bishop McFadden that he has done the seemingly impossible -- broken the spell of bad press on the archdiocese. Read it.

"How?!" you ask, dear reader? Simple -- like the good product of the Jesuits at St. Joe's that he is, Bishop Joe just sat, talked and was a real person, not some ostentatious Wizard behind a curtain.... m-hmm.

OK, 'nuff said.


Tuesday, February 15, 2005


Unwinding in a suburban apartment after a long evening of drinks and music, a deeply philosophical friend of mine uttered these unforgettable words: "The most important word in existence is 'Why.'"

After a couple months of blogging away and looking at all of this -- especially as my readership expands -- I think this is a good point to answer the "Why?" here, at least why this compilation exists. And the overlapping answer is that thirteen and a half years of viewing this Byzantine maze of Catholicism from courtside have taught me much, most of which few others get to see and shouldn't be my exclusive province. But it goes deeper....

  • High up on my list of priorities is for my insights to be a resource, especially for the secular press -- which (great exceptions in Pittsburgh, et. al. notwithstanding) doesn't always have the space or time to master the interminable nuances of two millenia of the church's cultural anthropology (an often unintentioned dearth which can, and does, cause tragic misunderstandings) -- but also for anyone who's looking to fill in the "blind spots," as it were. This is a watershed moment in the Catholic world, and it needs a boatload of understanding what came before for this time to be seen for everything that it is.
  • These days being what they are, there is so much hidden behind the words "The pope said...." A colleague remarked to me about all these letters and documents still streaming out under the papal signature -- but the coat of arms cloaks the worldviews (and churchviews) of several factions of feuding forces behind the chair of Peter. When John Paul speaks, is he using the words of Dziwisz, of Sandri, of Ratzinger, of Lustiger, of Jim Green (head of the English-language desk at SegStat and a native Philadelphian), of whom? Given the absolute power vested in his person, the consequences and implications of the pope's words, especially given the state of this pope's infirmity, make "Cui parla?" an incredibly valuable and necessary question to keep at the top of our minds.
  • As I've said before, the first reason I've been able to see so much of this from my youth derived from the blessing of being held closely under the wing of a cardinal-patron: Anthony Bevilacqua, my archbishop-emeritus here in Philadelphia. In this line of work, a cardinal's blessing and willingness to teach gives one carte blanche, and to have had it in curia and beyond for 12 years will long remain a lifetime's gift. My mentor was often ambivalent, sometimes infuriated, at the press coverage here -- especially where the church's culture didn't always translate into easy copy. Given the toll such miscommunication often took, and even though I didn't fulfill the destiny my Cardinal had outlined for me in my early days (one which, I was often told, would make me a bishop by 40), seeing what I have seen gives this work, and these words, a deeply resonant sense of personal mission. (The cardinal always warned me against the great temptation of moral relativity, so that's where my special solicitude for ostentatious bishops and George Weigel (VEEEEE-gil) finds its root.) His Eminence's retirement is now spent away from the public glare, and it's tough even for me to reach him, but if my commitment to bringing the biz and the press to a better and more fruitful understanding of each other pays off even slightly, then my task will be one well done -- and, I pray, those who were with me at the start will be vindicated... Bevy primo di tutto....

These two realms are not as dissimilar as we might be led to believe. At least in the theoretical, we both are deeply imbued with the importance of seeking truth and justice -- and reinforcing those principles where necessary. And that gives us something quite substantial to build on....

My e.mail address is hidden way down in the first post. So anyone who doesn't want to make that trip and still get in touch with me can find me at

As always, all thanks for reading. Stay tuned and be in touch!


Siegfried and Carlson

Welcome to Retreat Week. The Holy See is basically closed 'til next Monday for the annual Lenten exercises, this year led by Italian Bishop Renato Corvi of Novara on the theme "The church in the service of the new and eternal covenant."

John Paul II knows the importance of the annual retreat preacher -- he gave the 1976 retreat to Paul VI and his household. It is said that this moment gave the Curia its first solid look at Cardinal Wojtyla of Krakow, something the curial cardinals would remember two years later. And the one-time speaker has, himself, given the stage judiciously to people, regions and disciplines of spirituality and academe he feels the need to expose his collaborators to.

In a first -- a precedent meant to shield the papal household from charges of "hiding" the pope -- the retreat will close on Saturday with a public liturgy in St. Peter's. (In years past, it had ended with reflections in the Pauline Chapel, where the rest of the week's events take place.) It's not said yet whether the Big Man will be in attendance, but this is all being done around him....


In a prior post, I called on Tom Gumbleton to "take one for the team," stop grumbling and submit his required resignation at his 75th birthday. Well, he did. But, as always, he's going on his own terms -- the letter questioned the need for resignations, and if one glances at the photo attached to the Detroit Free-Press report, clearly visible is a woman in what appears to be an alb and stole. Brilliant, Tom -- exactly the way to keep them from not just taking your resignation as soon as it hits the desk, but coming to Detroit, body-snatching you and sending you to live in a Roman suburb with Archbishop Milingo (who, observant readers will remember, is known to history for his wild exorcisms and marriage to a Moonie).

To Gumbleton's credit, the piece says "He sleeps on a futon on the floor of a room next to the church office. The rectory has been turned over to a program that helps new mothers beat addictions." That's more than sweet. If only something like that reverberated in the province of Detroit....

It became public over the weekend that the incoming bishop of Saginaw, Bob Carlson -- an appointment I previously referred to as the "American Chur" -- had decided on a $330,000 home before he even takes possession of the diocese. (For those in need of briefing, Carlson's predecessor, Ken Untener, spent every month or so in a different rectory in the diocese, eliminating the need for a central bishop's residence.)

In the interests of full disclosure, last week a colleague I have great esteem for seemed to ask if I wasn't going overboard about Carlson. So I went back, took another look -- I'm the first believer in being fair -- and basically came out thinking that, even though he is more versatile than his detractors would admit, his (professional) liaisons and the platforms he's used as bishop of Sioux Falls are like throwing a red cloth in front of the Untener legacy, which the people in Saginaw view as a great point of pride and asset to the diocese.

And then the house story came out....

OK, get a nice house -- by all means, it's a right established in law. But $330K in Saginaw, Michigan?! That'd easily be $1 million-plus here in Philadelphia! (Yes, Pharaoh -- or, as he is known to laypeople, the archbishop of Philadelphia -- lives on the Main Line as it is... but he didn't buy the house! If he tried, history shows that would be a problem....) Do the words "Just live in the Cathedral rectory for six months, it won't kill you" have any resonance? Look at Sean O'Malley... then again, he has a vow of poverty... and, so I'm told, a $400 Burberry raincoat.

And, according to senior officials, the new digs will remain a private residence -- just Bob and his three hunting dogs (and, please God, let one of them be named Montecore).... What a way to win friends!

My dear bishop, just because your new diocese came out in the clear inre: abuse scandals (and that's thanks to a refreshing lack of clericalism overdose) doesn't mean that the extra money becomes your "Keeping Up With the Pharaohs" fund.

In the court of public opinion, Gumbleton wins this round.


Monday, February 14, 2005

Absorbing the Spectacle...

After what went down Thursday, I had to take a couple days off.

The apartment has always maintained a particular love, respect and solicitude for the pope's Jewish friends from Poland, but this might be a bit much -- the people around Wojtyla are showing a fluency of chutzpah like it's their native tongue. On Wednesday, I remarked to a colleague that JPII has been "Reaganesque" in the area of visual communication, giving the world a pontificate of infinitely resonant images (kneeling at Yad Vashem, the Hill of Crosses in Lithuania, kissing the ground of every new country visited, and the list could go on forever). Little did I, or any of us, know how prophetic that statement would be -- that they were about to pull the most macabre spectacle Rome has seen since Pio Nono's corpse was almost dumped in the Tiber out of their bag of tricks.

Talking around over the weekend, and expressing my surprise at the rollout (which, literally, it was), I got my share of fire and brimstone from my theocon brethren -- "He's your Holy Father, too!" as one EWTN-ite tried to lash me -- as if I was neglecting some heretofore-unknown sacred obligation to celebrate what was being framed as a Schwarzeneggeresque return. By this token, if you dare, imagine JP in the "klutch-kargo" format employed by Conan O'Brien, speaking with an exaggerated Austrian accent, saying, "And I will come back in my popemobile, take the cigar out of my mouth, and tell Sodano, 'Now you're under arrest.'" Of course, if this scenario is to be completely accurate, Sandri would be in the background reading the words, thus making the need for moving lips redundant....

And, thing is, however heart-wrenching it is to see him suffer so much and so publicly, of course I'm thrilled the Big Fella's OK -- none have had the power to inspire, electrify and elevate the masses (your humble writer included) as he, even in weakness -- yet it seems the cultists of personality, as is often the case, are missing the forest for the trees here. Of course, so is the Left, reminding us that, for every Wanderer, there is an equal and opposite Rainbow Sash. (You've gotta love The Wanderer -- they've done for old churches what Anne Geddes has for babies... and that's pretty analogous to the ideological fault line these days.)

A thought of the church that's been finely distilled in my mind through the years is that everybody who partakes in its life is but an equal drop in the bucket -- from Ed "My years of obsequious and loving service in Rome -- when I dreamed in Italian, with pesky English subtitles -- make me a BIG drop" (mhmm...) Egan to the African villagers who walk 20 miles for their weekly mass -- the moral of the story being that none of us individually, as persons, are essential to the continuity or integrity of the whole -- the power coming in the cohesion of the drops. But someone failed to communicate this, a guiding principle of the Council, to a critical mass of the Catholic world, because I'm seeing too many people who equate the cycle of this pontificate with that of civilization and, indeed, that of the church.

Does this attitude of apocalyptic doom strike anyone else as one which Karl Rove would move heaven and earth to instill into an electorate? Wait, we've been there already....

But, seriously, this is all becoming a little too political for even my tastes. I know, I know, as if the papacy isn't a political institution -- and if you believe it isn't, then I'd love to read your book about how Jesus wrote the Lateran Pacts... because my great-great-great uncle would therefore be the Christ -- My Lord and my Relative!


Speaking of too political, rumors of Ray Burke's silence are greatly exaggerated.

Proving wrong those who thought his ad blitz ended at midnight on Nov. 2, our old buddy is back, celebrating a year since his "No Communion for Kerry" announce on, of all places, Jamie Allman's show... But Jamiebomber -- surprise, surprise -- didn't have the moxie to actually ask The Question That Shook the Church. Small wonder that is (conflict of interest, anyone?)... So Burke's using his free time framing an impending "persecution" for religious pro-lifers. (Any bishops out there reading, my sympathies.)

"The media has painted the St. Louis church leader as a mean-spirited bully..." the lede reads.

Boo. Hoo. Hoo. Everyone tells me how nice Burke is one-on-one, and I believe it -- as I say, I've never had an enjoyable cigar and drink with anyone from the Left. And I respect those on all sides of the forum who really have the courage of their convictions, the true believers who aren't using issues to curry favor over the Pond and become pseudo-Sheens at home.

But don't start crying rivers over coverage; it's what happens when you use blunt authority to heighten the tension dialogue could alleviate, ostracize some of your most prominent and well-respected laity, and then accomplish the equivalent of replacing Scott McLellan with Jerry Falwell -- crazy Tinky-Winky statements and all.

If this cycle of staged triumph and self-victimhood continues in St. Louis, I fear the successor of Justin might start riding around in an illuminated Burkemobile, Legionaries with pom-poms included. And that would be macabre, indeed.

Keep the good stuff coming, boys!


Thursday, February 10, 2005

The Hidden War

*BREAKING* Citing those beloved "Vatican sources," Phil Lawler's CWNews is reporting the appointment of the decade -- that tomorrow, Andre Armand Vingt-Trois, the 62 year-old archbishop of Tours, will be named to succeed Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger in Paris.

According to the report, Vingt-Trois was culled from the Paris seminary by the newly-appointed Archbishop Lustiger in 1981 to serve as vicar general of Paris, being named an auxiliary bishop of the same seven years later, at 45. The presumptive archbishop-elect is referred to as a "spritual son" of Lustiger, and that in itself carries weight, this pope feeling a particular solidarity of spirit with the outgoing Parisian prelate, a convert from Judaism who lost his mother at Auchwitz.

The timing of this is funny -- I was going over some notes last night, trying to cull out the cardinals and personalities in general who have most shaped this pontificate behind the scenes. For all the cardinals he's named, Wojtyla has only been personally close to a precious few, Lustiger among them -- and of those few, none got the successors of their choosing, that is until now....


Well, the Great Actor returned to the stage in triumph this morning -- John Paul leaving Gemelli as only he could, via Popemobile, a day earlier than some close to the situation predicted his homecoming.

He's got a bit of a mess to sort out back at the apartment.

At the Ash Wednesday services yesterday, the cardinals were more abuzz than usual, and they're split down the middle. Sodano really did start what one termed an "unholy row" with his Monday comments, and now everyone's leaping into the fray.
  • Marc Ouellet, former secretary of Christian Unity (before the Legionaries hijacked the Holy See's ecumenical efforts), now cardinal-archbishop of Quebec and primate of Canada, offered that Wojtyla "deserves to die as pope."
  • G.B. Re' (again, don't bother asking "who?") -- here speaking for himself and Justin Rigali -- is said in several reports to have "lashed out," calling the opening of the resignation question "bad taste."
  • In the loggie, they're tearing each other to bits. The more loyal (or ambitious, depending on how one sees things) are furious that Sodano let the question hang, as opposed to simply shutting it down at the outset. And then there's the tizzy that was had at St. Peter's, when all the press photogs at Ash Wednesday wanted to know which among the red hats was Eduardo Martinez Somalo -- he being camerlengo, the one who administers the church during a vacancy in the see of Rome.

There is a valid question here, Sodano being 79, of how much of this fierce loyalty is true devotion. The appointment of a new secretary of state has been raised at times in recent years, and Re' -- himself a former Sostituto (and a Benelliesque highly effective one at that) -- is always cited as a front-runner, alongside Sepe (former Assessore, the #3 job at SegStat)... and, really, no others.

So how much of this is positioning for the pope's favor, now that he -- and, just as importantly, Dziwisz -- is not so happy with his deputy's recent behavior is an open question. Just keep an eye there.... and more later.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

And Now, Equal Time....

Before I pull my tongue out for some more lashings, one more bit of popethought, at least until events warrant more. I want to go on-record with a premonition I've had for some years which deserves some buzz in these ominous times, but the credit belongs here.

Every senior official at the Holy See has a close group of collaborators whom he tries to take care of as best possible before he takes his leave. In common parlance, these are referred to as "widows." The most famous, of course, are the gang of four aides to Giovanni Benelli who were quickly moved up the rungs before the Great Sostituto's departure for Florence in 1974, a group known collectively as "the widows of Benelli." Of these great widows, three are cardinals -- Agostino Cacciavillan (once nuncio to Washington, now retired from the APSA, the Holy See's investment office), G.B. Re' (if you don't know what he does, why read on?) and Justin Rigali (who I have the pride and pleasure of not seeing in my newspapers every single day here in Philadelphia) -- and the fourth, Eduardo Rovida, served as nuncio to Lisbon.

Among other examples, Donald Wuerl was a widow of Cardinal John Wright. Once bishop of Pittsburgh, Wright was brought to Rome as prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy and took the young Wuerl -- who stopped John Krol's world whenever he walked into the room -- as his secretary. ("Wuerl ran that office before," the current buzz goes, "and he might well run it again.") Also, the current secretary of Laity, Bishop Josef Clemens, served for twenty years as private secretary to Ratzinger. Your humble writer is a cardinalatial widow and the bearer of a legacy, himself, so I know my brothers when I see 'em.... More on that down the road.

It's always been my thought that we'll know John Paul II sees time as being short when he dispatches his great widow, Dziwisz. Others have been taken care of over time, most prominently Stanislaw Rylko, a priest of Krakow who served as his archbishop's co-secretary during the conclaves of 1978 and was named last November to succeed Frank Stafford as president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, therefore assured of a cardinal's red hat in the next go-round (there are, as of this writing, 119 electors). But it has always been my feeling that, before Wojtyla goes "home," to the next place, he will send his beloved secretary and companion of four decades as the final gift of his heart to the place where it's always remained -- to Krakow, to ascend the chair of another Stanislaw as archbishop there. The passing days make such a transition ever more feasible, given that John Paul's handpicked successor at home, Cardinal Francizek Macharski, will be 78 in May, thus his retirement letter has long been on the desk in Rome.

For Karol Wojtyla to send his first student to continue the work in their beloved diocese would be bittersweet beyond words. There are those who believe that this wish is stipulated in "The Letter" which someone is allegedly keeping in the event of the pope's incapacitation. But the expressed desire of a chirograph is not canonically sound -- it must be executed in a bull and published, so the provisions of law can be fulfilled.

This is the story of stories, and when it happens just remember you heard it here first.....


OK, now to the fun stuff. I get some ribbing -- and, admittedly, sometimes it's justified -- that I don't come down nearly as hard on the more progressive elements in the church as I do on the conservatives. This disproportionate savagery -- which, admittedly again, violates my policy of equal-opportunity flagellation -- is the product of several factors, a precious few of which I will now enumerate:

1. The Right is a fount of material nonpareil, the only exception being the spring of Lourdes. Come on, at least VOTF wasn't headquartered in a pizza shop; and that's the only thing they've done right.
2. The Left would get more lashings from me, if only they followed Rule #1 -- show up for the game. Think of it like this: in the status quo, the conservatives have the home field at Yankee Stadium, packed house, everyone waiting to see a knock-down, drag-out contest, and the progressives are on a sandlot in Yonkers trying to get the game moved there. Who wins?
3. Because the Right has home-field, and is the dominant movement in the biz, the spotlight (and the responsibility) naturally falls more on them. The Left can have all the eccentrics it wants -- and, believe me, it does (but they're dropping like flies, they're all so old) -- however, their priests don't get dioceses, their laity don't get backdoor access to the pope and the dicasteries... if anything, American ecclesiastical progressives scare the curia away as if they were waving 6x10 Arcigay flags -- and they have no one to blame for that but themselves.
4. Lewis Black has said "This is American politics -- the Republican party, a party of bad ideas; and the Democrats, a party of no ideas." It's an appropriate analogy -- not only does the Left not show up for the game most of the time, but when it does, it shows no sense of aecumen and blows up the rules from the outset ("Nice to meet you, Bishop. END CELIBACY NOW!"), killing posthaste whatever credibility it could establish within the institution.

The now-legendary example of this lack of gravitas, nuance and delicacy is Voice of the Faithful which, with the wind to its back and founded on a solid and beneficial premise, was able to completely blow it and, inexplicably, morph into Call to Action's Northeast Branch, to the lasting detriment of so many people of good faith and goodwill. VOTF prided itself that its leadership has been comprised of relatively naive lifers from the pews, and that's its Big Fault #1. To use the analogy of one of my bishops, "The church is not General Motors," and any expressed effort at inception to apply the principles of secular management to an institution its self-appointed leaders really are clueless about is as visionary and wise as parachuting Green Berets into Iran without reinforcements. Again, people, it's not the substance, but the style..... Be wise to remember this.

Big Fault #2 is that any ecclesiastical organization working outside a constituted aegis is bound to become a cult of personalities and the self-aggrandizement of its leaders (from the other side of the fence, just look at LC/RC, the Neocats and Focolare -- all the difference in the world being that Maciel, Arguello and Chiara Lubich know how to play smart), and with time its leaders will claw to hold onto their clout and positions just like the bishops they become ever more hypocritical trying to assail. One of my favorite lines is that Christianity was (is) a revolution, and the church is but the institutionalization of that fervor -- lightning which can't be kept in the proverbial bottle, so you've gotta kill the lightning or the bottle will explode. And so it is with the fringes....

I could go on, but I think VOTF is in a sorry enough state that it doesn't really deserve more attention -- I've heard so much from reasonable bishops who really do their part when it comes to open and astute education, participation and formation of lay vocations of stewardship, but lose their willingness to cooperate when the newbies storm the gates and want to go to war. And on that topic, anyone hear from Jamie Allman lately?

And, lastly, Tom Gumbleton made some noises a couple weeks back about not submitting his resignation letter to Rome on his 75th birthday, whining that progressives are out immediately and the choirboys get to stick around. And some wonder why the Catholic Left in this country gets no respect where it counts. Look, Gumbleton's been a bishop half his life -- you take the job, you swear your oath of fidelity, and thus you play by the rules. When you don't, you make a prize idiot out of yourself and everyone you're associated with.

Tom, do your people a favor and take this one for the team.


Monday, February 07, 2005

The Pope's Conscience, Part II

Well, the judgment of where all this goes will be if Sodano gets a dressing-down from Dziwisz which brings him to tears. Ratzinger made a comment in '02 just slightly skimming the question of resignation, and the chief confidante tore him a new one, forcing a white flag of pained sobs from the Panzerkardinal.

Anyone who needs reminding of where the truth ends and the Joaquin Navarro spin begins would be well advised to check this contribution from Bob Moynihan, editor of the aesthetically fabulous, superbly informed, quasi-theocon journal Inside the Vatican. I have to give Moynihan a tip of the hat as we share a teacher and mentor in the great historical theologian Jaroslav Pelikan, for whom I wrote a paper -- and with whom shared lengthy conversations -- on the communication of political ideas in the pontificate of John Paul II. Moynihan relates that the pope was, in fact, near fatal suffocation on the evening of 1 February, and only the persistent demand of Dziwisz got Wojtyla to the Gemelli.

Possible suffocation leads to the question of potential brain death and incapacitation beyond the point of dispute, but I'm not a physician and won't proceed to discuss the nuances of the medical situation.

As I said earlier, I could never get to a point through these years where I thought resignation a necessary option for JPII. But, given the comments of the day and having a better brief of what looks to come, it is time -- and it would, in the process, not dilute Wojtyla's diligent adherence to his mission, but enhance it. Here's why:

One of my great fears for the church after John Paul has always been the cult following among conservatives who have viewed him in a manner akin to how Rastafarians view Haile Selassie -- something more than human, more than mortal (and if the pope told them to light up, their children would never pass a drug test again). Let's face it, any successor who steps into the shoes of the fisherman will have a tough act to follow, but the Phil Lawlers, EWTNs, George Weigels ("VEEEE-gils," as senior curialists would have it) and other Papal Rockettes of this world have been so emboldened by the back-channels of the apartment in this pontificate that they will hunt down the successor and gladly serve as judge, jury and executioner if he dared do anything which didn't meet the litmus test they have established.

For them to declare obeisance to a pope who doesn't necessarily share their vision of what church is, and to be faithful to him, will be the test of their faith -- although, of course, they didn't stand with their "beloved daddy whom we adore to bits and pieces" on Iraq, strengthening the welfare state, working to curtail laissez-faire capitalism, advocating third-world debt relief, building a culture where life can be cherished and embraced at all socioeconomic levels, etc. etc. etc.

With that record, in essence, the papal cheerleaders have just served to make the church more insular and ostentatious. And if they're asked to do the work of Jesus for once, they'd shit. Just watch.

But these cultists will have a very hard time accepting any pope who isn't Ratzinger -- and even he has a few tricks (well-hidden, of course) up his sleeve that will cause some shock to the base. Were JPII to resign and be able to embrace and endorse his successor in life, then fade to the recesses, the message to the church (and especially to the polemicist choir) would be twofold:

1. A message of humility, that the papacy is bigger than any one individual, and it is not so much about the holder of the office as the one its occupant is believed to represent. One of the finest critiques of this pontificate came from the secretary to John Paul I, who said of the Second on his silver jubilee, "This is a pontificate where humility is trumped by zeal," and JPII would be seen as offering a final stroke of humility for the stability and vitality of the church.

2. A message of continuity. If a successor were chosen after the pope's death who had (even slightly) new ideas, the potential for a rupture in the Catholic world would be great, given the lack of ideological movement of the last quarter-century. Were a seamless transition to take place -- all details of interregnum would have to be worked out before all else, of course -- a new agenda, and a new torch-runner to carry it, would seem less drastic as there would be no real vacancy of office and things could have a more fluid path. There is the great possibility of a new generation of sedevacantists, and the only way they will stay within the walls is if the object of their devotion short-circuits them himself.

Every other bishop has to retire at 75 -- they may hand their dioceses to another, but fourty years of age limits has shown that a life's ministry is far from over when the administrative side ends. So it's a question of humility vs. zeal: Moses handed Israel to Aaron and went up the mountain, Jesus gave himself over to the cross. Will John Paul II follow their examples this time?

It's Wojtyla's (and Dziwisz's) call.


The Pope's Conscience

"Let's leave [the question of a papal resignation] to the pope's conscience.... He knows what has to be done."

And with that, the writing is on the wall as to the future of the pontificate of John Paul II. It's one thing if such a provacative comment comes from a pundit, or one of those low-runged and unnamed Vatican officials, but when it's said on-record by the Cardinal-Secretary of State to His Holiness, the deal is done, as Cardinal Sodano made clear to the assembled press when leaving the pope's bedside earlier today.

The handlers of the pope are being assailed in the Italian press. Only a week after a Sunday Angelus given by a hoarse Holy Father from his apartment window, yesterday's encounter from a window at the Gemelli was led by Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, the Sostituto, Wojtyla chiming in only for the "Pater, Filius, Spiritus Sanctus" of the blessing. While giving that blessing, a white sheet of paper obscured the pope's mouth. Come on, the man doesn't need a piece of paper telling him what to say -- and to think that he would after 60 years of priesthood and 26 as pope is an insult to his intelligence -- hence the wildfire speculation that, yes, John Paul II pulled a Milli Vanilli and was made to lip-synch the blessing. (No Ashley Simpson-style hoedown, however, I am sorry to relate.)

If the pope cannot speak, he can't communicate, therefore he cannot exercise reasonably the power of supreme governance which belongs to his office alone. In the prism of his favored analogy of these last years, the suffering witness he has provided through these years has been a blessing, indeed -- but Jesus was delivering messages from the cross to his last breath. This is the tragic edge of a "live by the sword, die by the sword" mentality: that the one who overflowed his office and made the papacy bigger than it was before he entered it (if such a thing was possible), the most prolific, visible and visibly in-command world leader of a generation, is now irrevocably a prisoner of his own body, as all those thoughts, all those visions which have led the masses through deacades and engendered change in the world have no way of being related to a wider stage.

At the universal level, the church can't be governed solely by the facial expressions of a frail pope -- and now, even his closest circle of aides have resigned themselves to that reality.

There will obviously be more to come on this....


Thursday, February 03, 2005

Three Taps of a Mallet

First off, all apologies as I haven't posted in a good while. A lot of small-bore stuff's been going on, and somebody had to handle it. Then I turned 22 and took a week off to celebrate -- fortunately it was a slow news week... And then Tuesday rolled around.

No, the pope is not dead... yet. But the world's press has converged on Policlinico Gemelli with all the fury of the Italian travel agents screaming into their cellphone earpieces who flurry about Fiumicino airport all day.

Is this the end of John Paul II? Probably not, but it's just another sign that the inevitable is drawing nearer and nearer.... As Dziwisz has said on multiple occasions, "The pope has outlived many of those who have predicted his imminent death." But a scare of this sort speaks to something which, until Tuesday, wasn't big news: that the complications of the pope's Parkinson's, and not the disease itself, would be the final straw -- its toll on his posture, bone structure and respiratory system is the area of weakness to be focused upon.

The coverage -- albeit apocalyptic in nature, at times (the Big Three leading their evening newscasts with live dispatches from Rome) -- has been comprehensive and sound, so no need rehashing here. But there are some interesting nuggets to be found:

  • When asked for a Bush statement on the "papal illness event," Scott MacLellan replied that the president's prayers "are with the Holy Father." This White House -- filled as it is with the spiritual descendants of those who saw Rome as the Great Satan -- has never used the term "Holy Father"; kudos to The Mahareshi Mahesh John Allen for noting that, in prior meetings with JPII, Bush 43 and Colin Powell addressed the pope as "Sir." But the use of "Holy Father" indicates the place conservative American Catholics -- a.k.a. the Petrine Rockettes -- hold in Rove's vision of the permanent Republica majority.
  • A colleague and I spoke last evening of the possibility of a DNR (do not resuscitate) situation, and what the plans would be. In prior times, the advisers would huddle behind the walls, safe from the attention of a waiting world learning every detail instantaneously. But if it came to the point where the question of heroic measures arose -- and I'm not saying we're at that point, but just as a hypothetical (the last thing I need is Phil Lawler, George Weigel ("VEEEE-gil," as a curalist would have it) and their sycophants jumping down my throat) -- I'm firmly convinced that the decision rests in the hands of Stanislaw Dziwisz, who Wojtyla has trusted his life with for almost four decades. No one knows this pope's mind, heart and soul like Dziwisz, and there's no real blood family gathered around. How the seeming change in teaching on life support these last few years might affect that is anyone's guess.
  • I've been doing a lot of talking these last few days, and one point I keep hitting is that John Paul saw everything after 6 January 2001 as something akin to "bonus time." He saw his mission as Wyszynski told him at his election, "God has called you to lead the church into the Third Millennium." At a late 2000 interdicasterial meeting on priorities and plans in the coming months, the focus turned to '01 and the pope lifted his hands and said "That is another's business." Since the end of the Jubilee, as I've been telling around, Wojtyla basically took one hand off the wheel -- not so much looking down at the papers on the desk as looking up.
So that is what is, for now -- stay tuned.