Thursday, April 28, 2005

Tantrums and Tiaras

The conservatives must be livid.

No sooner was their man Ratzi elected when they started joyously conspiring to bust into the Washington National Shrine, break the glass case, remove the crown of Pope Paul VI, fly to Rome and impose it on the head of Benedict XVI. One loudmouth went so far as to crow that the Pope should keep the tiara on his desk(!) to remind visitors and heretics alike that he has the power and they don't, so they should shut up and listen.

Well, Papa Ratzi sure does have the power. And Mr. Tiara-on-the-Desk sure doesn't. So he should shut up and listen. *APPLAUDIAMO*

The Holy Father has made it clear that trappings of temporal, imperial glory are inappropriate and unbecoming of a papacy and a church which seeks salience in the modern world. (This message will arrive in Philadelphia... never. Unless hell just happens to freeze over on a Wednesday afternoon. Fret not, dear St. Louisans -- Ray Burke won't get the memo, either. Nor will Crazy Jamie.)

The triregno didn't even make the cut on the coat of arms.

That's right. Even after Paul VI gave up the crown -- sending it around the world to raise money for the poor -- it still surmounted the papal heraldics. That is, until now.

In yet another sign of the increased humility with which Benedict views the office, a simple silver bishop's mitre adorned with three horizontal stripes of gold to represent the munera of the episcopal office -- to teach, govern and sanctify the flock -- is the new headdress above the shield. And, again to the dismay of the traditios, the bear with the backpack and the Moor's head chosen by Joseph Ratzinger on his election to the see of Munich and Freising remain. At the base of the achievement is the pallium, symbolizing the metropolitan jurisdiction, in the Pope's case over the province of Rome and universally.

Now, again, if Hummes were elected and did this, or Tettamanzi, or anyone but Ratzinger, a schism would've broken out days ago and Bernard Fellay would have had a nice, shiny crown on his head already. But they can't pull that with this Pope, their Pope. He will show them the way -- that is, if they don't wimp out and choose showboating over the Gospel.

Ladies and gentlemen, as predicted, Papam has gone to China.


PHILADELPHIA DIGEST (aka Clericalist Quarterly): Daddygate

OK, now for a trip to a strange place... I call it my hometown.

Fresh off the plane from Rome, Pharaoh -- known to layfolk as Justin Cardinal Rigali, archbishop of Philadelphia (it's not an ad personam title, the Pharaoh distinction dates to the the 1930s) -- had to head off a swelling revolt about weddings... That's right, weddings.

In an availability before a midday Mass at the Cathedral to celebrate the resumption of the ordinary governance of the archdiocese, the Boss expected to be fielding questions about the election, Papa Ratzi, and speculation of a return to his Italian homeland. But the press pack was all abuzz over a long-expected missive to clarify the custom of Daddy walking his little girl down the aisle.

After months of panic from brides-to-be on message boards (I have seen this with my own two eyes), the Inquirer ran the story yesterday and the furor grew. A stampede of angry brides is like standing in front of an Acela train -- unless you can stop it, you run away from it.

And, brilliantly, Rigali stopped it. "No changes, no problems," he demurred. Crisis averted.

The problems would've been numerous -- non-canonical weddings, dropping bookings and the church's public image come quickly to mind. But, in the Philadelphia mindset, the real emergency was the potential of priests losing the (very significant) stole fees that come with weddings.

Don't be fooled: It wasn't about brides, it's always about priests. Welcome to Philly.

To be continued....


Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The Feminine Genius of Benedict XVI

Yesterday, I addressed "The Pope's Men," the trusted and respected Ratzinger aides -- all clerics -- whose counsel and services will be called on by Benedict XVI. But the most interesting presence among all these deserves an entry of her own.

In the reign of the last Pope with German cred, Pius XII brought with him his most loyal aide and counselor, a strong woman whose judgment he trusted implicitly, and who had been his gatekeeper since his days as Nuncio in Berlin. This woman, of course, was the famous (or infamous, depending on one's point of view) Sr. Pasqualina Lenhert, known to her significant enemies in Pius' Vatican as "La Papessa" -- "The Popess."

Now, for the first time since Luther, another German has taken the papal throne. And Ratzinger, too, has at his side a strong, accomplished woman whose presence and loyalty over a decade and a half has helped him run the trains on time. While I reported yesterday that Josef Clemens, the Pope's "beloved son," escorted Georg Ratzinger to his seat before the Sunday Inaugural, with them was a figure whose low profile in public belies the Pope's greatest confidence behind closed doors.

To say that Dr. Ingrid Stampa is, as reports are calling her, "The Pope's Maid" are an insult to her intelligence, and to her crucial role in the life and work of Joseph Ratzinger. She is an academic, a musician, a polyglot. And for the new Pope whom she has served as a brain trust, translator, companion and guardian, she has been -- at least, until now -- his best-kept secret.

The reports coming from Rome in the past week are just fascinating, and they should give any woman irrationally frightened of Benedict's ascent a great deal to meditate on. Dr. Stampa was seen last week coordinating the move of the Pope's library from the Citta' Leonina apartment to the Apostolic Palace. During one of his visits to the Leonina last week, we're told, Benedict XVI sent Stampa out to quiet down the press. "[The Pope] is writing his installation homily," she announced -- and then went back inside to collaborate on it with the Holy Father, his private secretary Georg Ganswein and, most likely, Clemens.

Ask yourself this: Did John Paul have a woman of this kind of daily influence in the Apartment? He had the Polish nuns, but they cooked and held the medicine bags. They were not theologians.

As we've seen with his CDF aides, Ratzinger has no problem with his inner circle doing portavoce for him on-record, and so Stampa (who has lived in the Leonina apartment since the Pope's sister died in 1991) was again called on to do the media rounds and deny that the Pope had any cats at his cardinalatial apartment, and provide some background color on his private life.

But the greatest testimony to her influence on Benedict, and why she is The One to Watch in the weeks to come, comes from Election Day itself. The cardinals were still, technically, confined in the Conclave enclosure, barred from contact with the outside world until they had eaten with the new Pope. Yet Benedict called for Stampa, to whom he said in a side salon of the Domus as she wept seeing him in the white vestments: "Dear sister, together let us do God's will."

Eight days in, the will of this pontificate is establishing itself as one of sophistication, trust, and "adult faith" -- a buzzword which, coming from the Pope, is edifying beyond belief. We'll see how Benedict proves the trust placed in him in the coming months and years; his team -- well, the team that counts -- is already in place and ready to go.

And a woman shall lead them....


Monday, April 25, 2005

Gli Uomini del Papa: People to Watch in Benedict XVI's Vatican

"La Chiesa e' viva, la Chiesa e' giovane" -- "The Church is alive, the Church is young."

With these words, the oldest Pope in 250 years began his ministry. But who will be the greatest enthusiasts, the most trusted assistants, of that ministry?

Just as John Paul II had Dziwisz, Rylko, Deskur, O'Connor, Krol and Lustiger, every pontificate has them: those handful of backbenchers who, despite having held a job in Rome or elsewhere for years, immediately rise to a higher station when that white smoke goes up. They knew the new Pope before the world came to him, and now he will send them to be his eyes, ears, and sometimes mouth, behind-the-scenes.

In most cases, they might not be moved (at least, not immediately) from the positions they currently hold. But it doesn't matter. Regardless of his day job, each will now be known simply as "L'uomo del Papa" -- "The Pope's Man."

So who are Papa Ratzi's men?

Josef Clemens, 57; Secretary, Pontifical Council for the Laity
Ratzinger's beloved secretary of two decades at CDF -- one of his tasks was picking up dissident theologians at Fiumicino Airport and driving them into the city -- Clemens is the closest thing Benedict XVI has to a son. Within a quick succession in 2003, he was promoted to Undersecretary of the Congregation for Religious, then nine months later elevated to bishop and Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Laity alongside Wojtyla's student, Stanislaw Rylko. Ordaining Clemens a bishop was Ratzi's happiest day of all his years in Rome; Clemens was spotted escorting Georg Ratzinger, the Pope's brother, to his primo seat at the Installation Mass.

Georg Ganswein, 49, Private Secretary to the Holy Father
The new Stanislaw Dziwisz, Ganswein cuts a striking figure at the Pope's left hand. Clemens' successor as the prefect's gatekeeper at CDF (where he was on the lower rungs before his promotion), Ratzinger had no qualms about Ganswein speaking to the press as his personal spokesman over the past year. Given this Pope's loyalty to his personal secretaries, and his almost immediate move into the Apartment, Ganswein will remain at Benedict's side for at least the near future -- and everything the Pope sees must cross his desk first. Keep an eye on his whereabouts, they will say much.

William Levada, 68, Archbishop of San Francisco
Levada was one of the incoming Prefect's cherished employees at CDF. Upon his return to the States -- he was made an auxiliary bishop of his native LA at 46 -- Ratzinger was ever-loyal, working to move Levada quickly up the ladder; having him promoted to Portland at 50, and then positioning him as the only man who could "clean up" San Francisco after John Quinn. Either San Fran will soon have a cardinal, or Levada will be the American vanguard of Benedict's program in Rome.

Francis George, O.M.I., 68, Cardinal-Archbishop of Chicago
It might've been acceptable before 8 April 1997 -- the day he was named to succeed Cardinal Joseph Bernardin in Chicago, the most unexpected American appointment of John Paul's pontificate -- but if you don't know who Francis George is, you've got some catching up to do. A social anthropologist by trade (he has a Ph.D in it in addition to an S.T.D., teaching for a time at Creighton University in Omaha), George was Ratzinger's biggest American supporter among the cardinal-electors. When approaching the new Pope after his election, George began speaking what he called "a halting German" -- he speaks seven languages. Benedict replied in English that he remembered their conversation about the implementation of permanent norms governing US sex abuse cases, and will work to implement them. Throw in George's Roman experience as vicar general of his order, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, and his standing among the American bishops -- he is currently vice-president of the USCCB -- and we might have the new Chief Inquisitor already in our midst. But even if that's not the case, whenever he calls, Benedict will answer and listen.

Tarcisio Bertone, S.D.B., 70, Cardinal-Archbishop of Genoa
Genoa is one of those peculiar Sees -- like Baltimore or Detroit in the States, it's not the largest, but it gets a red hat because of its historical importance. And so Ratzi sent his much-valued Secretary of CDF there as a reward for eight years of devoted service. Bertone reciprocated in kind, doing his former Boss' bidding and condemning The Da Vinci Code on international television. But Bertone also has a soft side -- he was taking photos in the Square before the Conclave with random people, and he does soccer commentary for Italian television. He's still joined at the hip with his Prefect. Keep an eye relating to anything Bertone does in Brazil or Portugal; he speaks flawless Portugese, and he might well be Benedict's liaison to two of global Catholicism's most crucial bastions.

Angelo Amato, S.D.B., 66, Secretary, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
Amato was a simple Consultore to CDF and a professor at the Salesianum when named to succeed Bertone in late 2002. But one thing set him apart in the Prefect's heart: he was the ghost-writer of Dominus Iesus, and the time had come for his reward. The first private audience granted by Benedict was to Amato -- this was on Monday, 25 April -- just as the first excursion the new Pope made from the Vatican walls was to his old office the morning after his election. As with the others, Amato enjoys Ratzinger's complete trust and absolute loyalty. Each of his predecessors under Ratzinger -- Jean Jerome Hamer, Alberto Bovone and Bertone -- received a prominent job and a red hat. Whatever Amato asks of the Pope, he'll get.

And lastly... cats.... Meow.
Joseph Ratzinger, the Holy Father Benedict XVI, loves cats. The story's been told that one morning, on leaving his apartment on Citta Leonina, the street kitties whom the Prefect would routinely talk to and pet waited outside the door and followed him, in a line, to the Holy Office. A Swiss Guard interjected, "Your Eminence! The cats are taking over the Vatican!" Could it be that, maybe, in lieu of the John Pauline kissing of the ground in a new country, he'll presented with a local cat to kiss? Maybe he'll talk to it for five minutes, who knows? It's just fabulous. So be on the lookout for cats slipping through the Portone di Bronzo.


Lastly, I want to thank the good folks at The Revealer, who have given me a privileged pew in St. Blog's Parish. They've called this commentary "pious to biting."

Biting? I'm really aiming for catty.

More soon.....


Saturday, April 23, 2005

Papam Goes to China

Benedicto XVI, di Marktl am Inn (Munchen und Freising), Joseph Ratzinger, 19, 24.IV.2005 -- Pastore Universale della Chiesa.

Well, here we go....

Forgive the extended absence. The past three weeks being the Vaticanologist's moment in the sun, my days were spent pontificating (pun intended) on the Roman scene in the media at home and beyond. These have been moments of grace and magic, and I remain overawed at how the Church, i.e. our people gathered from across the globe, have been for the world a picture of dignity, unity and love in this time of great history and change.

Now, a word to my ilk. I'm not the most demure commentator around -- reading the posts below, for those who don't know me, will confirm this. But it's time to rise above the pettiness and cut out the "prophets of doom" hysterics. You're all starting to sound like Jamie Allman.

History shows us how the papacy changes a man, and I have great confidence that everyone predicting the imminent implosion of the church will be very surprised as Papa Ratzi surges forward.

In retrospect, we should not have been as surprised as we were. This is the only choice the cardinals could have credibly made. Were a Hummes, a Tettamanzi, a Scola -- i.e. someone known by name but without the Curial experience, the international exposure, the scrutiny -- elevated, he would've been overwhelmed by the burden of the office, the need to brush up on all its elements, the heightened profile. Joseph Ratzinger has had 23 years of preparation for that, and the papacy is, for him, a hand-in-glove fit. After five years of a Curia on autopilot, it was determined that there was no luxury of time for a new pope to learn Rome on-the-ground, and this one will hit the ground running.

Buckle your seat belts, kids. This will be an incredible ride.


Saturday, April 02, 2005

Karol... Karol... Karol...

Non abbiate paura!

With thanks and adoring memory for 26 years of his pontificate, 47 years as a bishop, almost six decades of priesthood and a life extraordinarily well-lived, we return this precious gift of Wujek, John Paul II, to the Holy Father of us all. The consummation of his work has been achieved, his legacy the inheritance of the youth of the world.

Most loved him, some didn't, and we all had some difference of opinion with him about something along the way, but none can doubt that his was the heart of the Good Shepherd.

How we will miss him who overflowed the Chair of Peter and endowed it with a new strength in a new millennium. We will never see another of his kind again.

Addio, Giovanni Paolo -- Giovanni Paolo il Grande. Che il Signore di Luce ti conceda la corona eterna di gloria nel Suo Regno. Amen.


Friday, April 01, 2005

"I Have Never Seen Him Like This Before...."

Wow. Joaquin Navarro bolted the podium at Sala Stampa, he started breaking down in tears.... Unreal. When he repeated, through suppressed sobs, "The pope is lucid. He is conscious. He is tremendously serene...." it almost was said in a voice mocking the message.

The keyword here is fluid.


A Morning Vigil

This is a time of great prayer. And, as always, some correction.

The Sala Stampa site is inaccessible, for obvious reasons. But what's more important is that if the press keeps blowing crucial details of context -- i.e. is the Anointing of the Sick or Viaticum being implied when using the term "the last rites" (I've learned it was the latter, but no reporter could tell me that) -- the pope's death will be a disaster when it comes to being clear and well-informed for a public which is fixated on promulgating the Gnostic gospels.

In the event of a conclave, I will remain in Philly and be available to press from my home base.

Again, my e.mail address is -- be in touch, and not sparingly. More as we find out what's up.....

Pray for the Pope.