Saturday, December 31, 2005


2005 will be remembered as the year when, for better and for worse, the ancient traditions and minutiae of the Catholic church commanded center stage, literally before the eyes of the world.

Whether it was the continuing cultural demand for all things DaVinci Code, battles in the United States over issues such as imposing ecclesiastical sanctions on politicians, the seemingly ceaseless fall-out from the sex abuse scandals which began four years ago this week, or the unprecedented amount of interest which accompanied the run-up to the Congregation for Catholic Education's November Instruction on the admission of homosexuals to seminary formation, it seemed that every day had a Catholic-influenced story of some sort running prominently in the secular press.

The growth of the Catholic blogosphere and its increasing influence brought the faithful together across geographic lines as never before, while reminding the wider world and church that the ideological divisions which pose significant obstacles to unity, both among the faithful and between many laity and the hierarchy, remain. The church's response to the devastation and mass migration caused by Hurricane Katrina -- a pan-diocesan effort across the South which was accomplished in a relatively seamless fashion -- showed that, for all its failures in dealing with the abuse crisis, US Catholicism remains versatile and able to respond well under pressure. And despite the raised visibility and scrutiny of church affairs in the press and wider society, questions of human sexuality, women and life issues still garner the most heated discussions anytime things Catholic are on the agenda, regardless of the setting.

However, for future generations, the Catholic world of 2005 will be remembered primarily for none of the above.

"Vi ho cercato. E adesso, siete venuti a me. E vi ringrazio." Indeed, after 27 years of looking and traveling to the ends of the earth, the world came back to St. Peter's Square in the early days of spring to keep vigil as Pope John Paul II returned to the Father's house, and to offer him its thanks and love with the largest farewell any human being has ever received. In retrospect, what could have been a moment of crippling instability with the end of the 27-year reign of the Polish Pope who redefined the office, earning it the greatest credibility and visibility it had ever known, was carried out with nary a tremble. The in-depth coverage, stunning visuals and tributes bordering on the hagiographical gave Catholicism its finest hour of media exposure in memory.

As John Paul's death was inevitable and ended a half-decade of the Curia's near-paralysis, in terms of its ability to move on major issues, the greatest variable came with the impending Conclave and its implications for the future direction of the world's dominant moral authority. And while amateur pundits, armchair Cardinals and the world's top Vaticanologists spent the second half of the prior pontificate researching, building coalition-schemes and attempting to gauge the issues at stake, most of them still ended up wrong in prognosticating the Electors' choice of Joseph Ratzinger, who emblematically chose the peacemaker's name of Benedict XVI.

The year may be ending, but the crowds remain in the Square -- and the focus of the world is still squarely upon it. In eight and a half months, without a word out of place, any shadow of the Teutonic caricatures which saddled him on 19 April and with a radiant, almost youthful beam on his face throughout, the new Pope has shown the media-amplified prophecies of doom and chastisement of the Left which greeted his election to be what they always were: a farce. Then again, he has not entirely pleased those supporters of Cardinal Ratzinger who expected that the Panzerkardinal who embodied their highest hopes of purges, vindication and restoration would be the Panzerpapst of the same.

Easily, Benedict's most-alluring quality -- and the most gut-wrenching one, for the journalists and others who cover him for a living -- has been his inability to be "sound-bited." Unlike John Paul, when his successor speaks, even extemporaneously, it is not in an easy one or two sentences, but flowing, substantive paragraphs.

The new papacy operates in a similar style. While it's a frustration to those looking for a facile storyline, it has shown itself a healthy and fulfilling change for the church it serves.

Many nominations were received for the person or persons who, outside the past and present Popes, represented a significant element of Catholic life in this year. All thanks to those who took the time to send an idea or two along. However, in the course of the discussions among fellow journalists, clergy, rank-and-file faithful and others, it became clear that, while the Benedictine Era and its implications were the year's top story, its storyline has two clear dimensions salient to this outlet and its scope: a domestic track focusing on the United States, and a wider, international one.

The choice of the Churchman of the Year for 2005 reflects this. Such were the multifaceted effects of the new pontificate that only one fitting solution presented itself.

One outstanding cleric whose mission and work reached a remarkable new plateau only after his departure from this life -- a rise in prominence due in great part to his death -- was named the International honoree. And the embodiment of Benedict's inability to be ideologically pigeonholed, either by his pre-electoral cultists or detractors, is the recipient of the American prize.

May the effort that went into this review of a remarkable year, however cursory, inspire a healthy exchange of views and possibly be a source of further interest for things to look for in 2006. And may that New Year, which awaits but hours away, bring each of you and your loved ones all its choicest blessings.

Thoughts for the author? E.mail him.


THE CHURCHMAN OF THE YEAR: An Encounter on the Road

2005 Churchman of the Year -- International
Founder, Communione e Liberazione

The scene inside the cavernous Duomo of Milan on 24 February 2005 had the air of a papal liturgy. The only thing missing was the Pope.

Italy's power elite of church and state had converged on the country's northern capital to pay tribute to Msgr. Luigi Giussani, whose Communione e Liberazione grew from a high school teacher's idea into one of the core "new movements" which have had a significant impact on the global church in the decades following the Second Vatican Council.

To pay homage to their spiritual father, the ciellini, as the Communione faithful are known, came en masse. The Cathedral was filled beyond its capacity of 10,000, and an additional 30,000 braved the winter weather to gather and pray in the expansive piazza outside. So respected was Giussani, and so powerful a force is CL in Italian life, that Italian television carried the entire Mass live as if it were a state funeral.

Indeed, the only thing missing was the Pope. But the absence of John Paul II, who had been returned to the Policlinico Gemelli as his own time neared, was compensated by his sending of the Vatican's biggest Communione booster, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, as the papal envoy (allegedly at Ratzinger's request).

Given Ratzinger's presence, an arrangement was worked out in which he would co-preside over the Ambrosian Rite liturgy alongside Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi of Milan. The Cardinal-Dean would also give the homily, seemingly at the instigation of the movement Giussani left behind.

In his 22 years as the Vatican's doctrinal guardian, Joseph Ratzinger's speaking appearances were limited to small theological conferences and liturgies in various churches and cathedrals in his travels. He had never been papal legate to any major event, let alone tapped to give a homily which would be heard by more than a few hundred insiders. And such was the Panzerkardinal's severe public profile that nothing much was expected from him as he mounted the steps to the Duomo's super-lofty pulpit.

What followed astonished those who saw it. It was the beginning of an unexpected, dramatic sea change, the full effect of which would be consummated in two months' time.

For the first time, a mass audience got to see the softer side of Cardinal Ratzinger that day as never before. Six weeks before he caused the same effect on the global stage with his homily at the funeral of John Paul II, he offered a moving meditation on the life and work of Luigi Giussani through the prism of the premium Communione e Liberazione places on the cielini's daily encounter with the living Christ as the root of their activity in the world.
This love affair with Christ, this love story which is the whole of his life, was however far from every superficial enthusiasm, from every vague romanticism. Really seeing Christ, he knew that to encounter Christ means to follow Christ. This encounter is a road, a journey, a journey that passes also–as we heard in the psalm–through the “valley of darkness.” In the Gospel, we heard of the last darkness of Christ’s suffering, of the apparent absence of God, when the world’s Sun was eclipsed. He knew that to follow is to pass through a “valley of darkness,” to take the way of the cross, and to live all the same in true joy.

Why is it so? The Lord himself translated this mystery of the cross, which is really the mystery of love, with a formula in which the whole reality of our life is explained. The Lord says, “Whoever seeks his life, will lose it, and whoever loses his life, will find it.”

Fr Giussani really wanted not to have his life for himself, but he gave life, and exactly in this way found life not only for himself but for many others. He practiced what we heard in the Gospel: he did not want to be served but to serve, he was a faithful servant of the Gospel, he gave out all the wealth of his heart, he gave out all the divine wealth of the Gospel with which he was penetrated and, serving in this way, giving his life, this life of his gave rich fruit–as we see in this moment–he has become really father of many and, having led people not to himself but to Christ, he really won hearts; he has helped to make the world better and to open the world’s doors for heaven.
The homily's effect was punctuated at its end with a spontaneous, extended, enthusiastic round of applause from the masses. By contrast, when Cardinal Tettamanzi -- who had routinely, if not universally, been touted among the "Top 5" papabili to succeed John Paul -- offered a reflection after communion, his remarks were met with dead silence.

For the prelates in attendance, those watching on television and those around the world who quickly heard about it afterward, what transpired was enough for the message to go out that, while one papabile had faded, a new, unexpected contender had risen in his place.

The rest, as they say, is history.

John Paul had an abiding respect, even affection, for Luigi Giussani -- Communione's statutes were approved by the Holy See in 1982 -- but among the movements his heart belonged particularly to Opus Dei and to the Legionaries of Christ, both of which experienced expansive growth during his pontificate due in large part to his staunch support.

That said, even though he is technically not a member, Benedict XVI is the cielini Pope; John Allen reported that, at the time of Giussani's funeral, Cardinal Ratzinger had told one of its priests that the movement "changed [his] life."

Having lost its founder but gained (and helped to place) a very zealous admirer on the fifth floor of the Apostolic Palace, Giussani's legacy stands only to grow and its influence to increase. Don Luigi's hand-picked successor, Fr Julian Carron, has already been received by Pope Benedict on several occasions -- the only other religious superior to have had a private audience in this pontificate to date is the Jesuit Superior-General Peter-Hans Kolvenbach. As reported in mid-December in The Tablet, two of the three cardinals who form the "kitchen cabinet" of this pontificate are themselves cielini: Angelo Scola of Venice and Marc Ouellet of Quebec. (Christoph Schonborn of Vienna, a Dominican, rounds out the group.) And Benedict's household staff, who have come with him from his pre-papal days, are culled from the Memores Domini, the CL group of secular laity who profess celibacy.

Beyond the temporal matters of numbers and clout, a clear line can be drawn from Giussani's philosophy to that expressed by Benedict XVI in his addresses and writings, both in his pre- and post-election incarnations. "Christianity is an event," the Communione founder once wrote, in a meditation which sounds conspicuously like something which would emanate from Joseph Ratzinger. "There is no other word to indicate its nature: neither the word law nor the word ideology, conception, or project. Christianity is not a religious doctrine, a series of moral laws, a complex of rites. Christianity is a fact, an event: everything else is a consequence."

Another common link is an appreciation of culture and love for its richness in explaining and propagating the effect of the Christian event. In his funeral homily, the man who would be Pope alluded to this similiarity of outlook in saying that, "
Fr Giussani grew up in a home–as he himself said–poor as far as bread was concerned but rich with music, and thus from the start he was touched, or better, wounded, by the desire for beauty. He was not satisfied with any beauty whatever, a banal beauty; he was looking rather for Beauty itself, infinite Beauty, and thus he found Christ, in Christ true beauty, the path of life, the true joy."

This is drawn from a shared belief in the importance, not of forced consumption of faith or the use of adversarial means in announcing it, but of allowing its seeds to be sown gently, with charity, with patience, with respect, and having the trust in its beauty -- and its logic, its sensibility -- that its germination will flow from there. Giussani once spoke about his experience as a high school teacher in these terms, saying, "I tried to show the students what moved me: not the wish to convince them that I was right, but the desire to show them the reasonableness of faith; that is, that their free adhesion to the Christian proclamation was demanded by their discovery of the correspondence of what I was saying with the needs of their hearts, as implied by the definition of reasonableness. Only this dynamic of recognition makes whoever adheres to our movement creative and a protagonist, and not simply one who repeats formulas and things they have heard. For this reason, it seems to me, a charism generates a social phenomenon not as something planned, but as a movement of persons who have been changed by an encounter, who tentatively make the world, the environment, and the circumstances that they encounter more human. The memory of Christ when it is lived tends inevitably to generate a presence in society, above and beyond any planned result."

As always happens for those who experience the Christian event to its fullest, Luigi Giussani's death brought new life, both to the church he loved and the movement he nurtured. In that his passing played a catalytic role for the chain of events which made one of his most prominent devotees the successor of Peter, ensuring a new and lasting resonance for the Communione school in the life and mission of global Catholicism, his intrepid work in life -- and his rich legacy, which has already impacted the course of the church's future -- makes him, from beyond the grave, the pre-eminent world Churchman of this historic year.


THE CHURCHMAN OF THE YEAR: Benedict's First Choice

2005 Churchman of the Year -- US
The Most Reverend WILLIAM J. LEVADA
Archbishop-emeritus of San Francisco
Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

It didn't take long after Pope Benedict XVI asked William Levada to succeed him in global Catholicism's toughest job before the howls of discontent began.

For the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who had to deal with being tarred and mischaracterized over his 23 years in the job he had given to his old friend and confidant, bearing the brunt of ideologically-driven rage was nothing new. What had changed, however, was the source of the hyperkinetic fury: the ultraconservative base which, but a month before, perceived the former Grand Inquisitor as the one and only hope who, if elected to succeed John Paul II, could make their wildest dreams come true.

In naming Levada -- by no means a boat-shaker on the controversial issues which have polarized the church in recent decades -- Benedict sent a strong signal that his pontificate would not be dominated by the church's bellicose rightward fringe, who had long borne grudges against the archbishop for his effective, constructive handling of sensitive issues over his decade in San Francisco, where he continued the legacy of openness and outreach of his predecessor, John R. Quinn, while holding the Roman line on the hot-button topics of church teaching.

The historic appointment of the highest-ranking American in the history of the Holy See also signaled a strong vote of papal confidence in Levada's penchant for building solid working relationships with many communities in the city for whom Catholic doctrine was no obstacle to pushing law and culture to new frontiers, but who came to respect the archbishop as a fair broker who won the church a place at the table through his considerable gifts of savvy, intellect and consensus-building. Notably, despite Benedict's blessing, it is not a method which a significant number of his brother bishops find appealing.

Of course, that is just the prelude. Archbishop Levada stands head-and-shoulders above US Catholicism's newsmakers this year not for his past on this side of the Atlantic, but for the future he has begun to chart in Rome -- the exercise of a clout which will have a sizable impact on Catholic life in his home country for decades to come.

In a November interview with Vatican Radio, Levada said that when the Pope asked him to take over the leadership of the CDF, he "gasped," and said, "Holy Father, I'm not the person for that." "Yes, you are," Benedict replied, and proceeded to tell Levada why.

The Catholic Right still wasn't convinced.

Once Levada was unpacking in Rome, the former Cardinal Ratzinger's supporters continued to maintain that the new Pope was being "hoodwinked," that his choice was an outlier and that the American at Benedict's side would have no influence whatsoever in the affairs of the US church. Counterintuitively, for anyone to think these claims would have any merit would be to retroactively posit that Ratzinger's advice bore absolutely no weight in the considerations of John Paul II.

Yet again, reality has proven Levada's detractors wrong.

As expected, the new doctrinal strongman -- quickly appointed to the Congregation for Bishops after his August move to the Vatican -- moved quickly to ensure that Benedict's first major American appointment would bear the fruits of his counsel. In sending Levada's lifelong friend George Niederauer to succeed him in the City by the Bay, the Pope who had been championed by the doctrinally rigid sent the nation's liberal capital a message that its Catholic culture was healthy, vibrant and that the path marked out by the previous archbishop was to continue unhindered.

Within two weeks, the prefect then shepherded the nomination of another San Francisco priest, Fr. Randolph Calvo, who had served as vicar-general to Quinn as well as Levada, to the bishopric of Reno after an atypically short vacancy there. And with another opening in his former province currently pending, it's just one of many openings in the New Year which will be filled by the stamp of the archbishop's trusted hand.

The Levada movement -- which will reach its apex sometime in 2006, when (by seniority) his name appears first on the list of new cardinals to be created at Benedict's first consistory -- goes far beyond episcopal appointments. As he told Vatican Radio, "The fact that the [CDF] now has responsibility... for dealing with issues of sexual abuse of minors by clergy. Given the experience of that, the explosion of that, on the American scene over the past few years, my experience with that... I think probably also may have said to him maybe it wouldn't be bad to have someone also who has this experience."

The backlog of cases referred from American dioceses for the CDF's judgment has been said to stretch 18 months or thereabout. That the Prefect knows the lay of the land here, he knows the bishops, the canonists, the various legal situations can only help but ease the burden under which the Congregation's work has been placed.

Issues of education will come up, as will issues of authority, erroneous teaching and those who persist in propagating it, political questions alongside magisterial ones. And that's just at the Sant'Uffizio, where the CDF has its offices. Even as for those issues which lie beyond the competence of his own dicastery, anytime the United States comes up it's likely that the Prefect will be sounded out for his opinion as an indicator of how it will play on the ground at home.

(On the international front, the release of the Congregation's findings in its high-profile investigation into multiple allegations of sex abuse levied against Fr Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of the Legionaries of Christ, is the most significant item of interest on its 2006 agenda. The probe of Maciel was initiated by Cardinal Ratzinger in late 2004.)

Levada said in an interview that one of the main strengths he brought back to the Vatican -- he worked at the CDF from 1976-82 -- was his "sense of the complex pastoral realities that a bishop faces."

Given the magnitude of his position, and his personal closeness with the Prefect-turned-Pope, it can be said that his calls won't go unreturned and his advice won't go unheeded. In the often unruly and highly-territorial world of Vatican bureaucracy, figures who can muster that kind of deference at the highest levels are few and far between.

For an American to occupy such rarified territory is nothing short of groundbreaking.


Leading By Example

Earlier today, the Office for Papal Liturgical Celebrations -- still headed by You Know Who -- released the Pope's liturgical schedule for the first four months of the New Year. It restores all the commitments for Ash Wednesday and Holy Week which John Paul was unable to fulfill as his physical limitations became more pronounced.

And, notably, there are some innovations.

On 11 April, Tuesday of Holy Week, Benedict XVI will preside at a communal Penance Service in St. Peter's Basilica in the evening at which confessions and absolution will be on an individual basis. Given the difficulties the often-superfluous use of the Third Rite (i.e. General Absolution) has presented in dioceses in the United States, Western Europe and elsewhere, it seems the Pope has felt the need to send a signal that, even in the largest church in the world, individual reconciliation in a communal setting is more than feasible. It also signals the end of John Paul II's cherished practice of hearing the confessions of 12 laymen on his own in St. Peter's every Good Friday through his pontificate.

On Easter Sunday, 15 April, the morning Mass will return to the Square. And the ancient ritual of the Resurrexit -- the witness to the Resurrection by Peter's successor instituted 1,000 years ago which fell into disuse when the Popes went to Avignon in 1309 -- will return yet again to papal liturgy.

You can thank the great liturgical traditionalist Piero Marini for his reverence -- the restoration, first accomplished in the Jubilee Year but seemingly left aside again until now, is his work and his alone.

The rite focuses on the time-honored Acheiropita icon of the Most Holy Saviour, formerly kept in the Sanctum Sanctorum at the Oratory of Saint Laurence near the Lateran Basilica (where the Scala Santa, or Holy Stairs, are located). Papal Easter used to begin there, and the entourage would process to the Lateran, which was the stational church for the day at that time.

As Marini describes the ritual from its historic form:
On Easter morning, the Pope, vested in pontificals, entered the Sancta Sanctorum, opened the small silver doors covering the feet of the icon (the doors [covering the rest of the body] are still sealed) and kissed the feet three times. He then chanted the versicle: Surrexit Dominus de sepulchro, alleluia, ["The Lord is Risen from the tomb, alleluia"] to which the assembly responded: Qui pro nobis pependit in ligno, alleluia ["Who for us hung on the wood, alleluia"].

After the Pope, the members of the papal entourage venerated the icon and the Cross and then approached the Supreme Pontiff for the kiss of peace. The Pope gave the sign of peace reciting the versicle: Surrexit Dominus vere ["The Lord is truly risen"], to which each person responded: Et apparuit Simoni ["And he appeared to Simon"]. Meanwhile the choir chanted a series of antiphons.

Obviously, everything will be done on the Sagrato, the steps of the Basilica, in its modern iteration. But, still, pretty nifty, eh? And, yet again, it's clear Benedict is quite pleased with Marini's brand of real liturgical traditionalism.

Also noteworthy and new on the Pope's calendar is a morning Mass in St. Peter's on the Third Sunday of Lent for workers, and an evening liturgy in the Basilica on 2 April to mark the first anniversary of the death of John Paul II. The annual Lenten Retreat for the Holy Father and the Roman Curia has been scheduled for 5-11 March. Its preacher has not yet been named.


"Hail! Hail! The Gang's All Here...."

Question: When can a celebrant don a chasuble adorned with sequins and hints of ostrich feathers and not be seen as a pure, 100% Daughter of Trent?

Answer: Happy New Year in Philadelphia!

Tomorrow, the greatest civic ritual ever devised in the history of Western civilization marks another year as the 105th Mummers' Parade steps off on Broad Street, the main drag here.

The story of how trigger-happy Irish immigrants who called themselves Shooters became Mummers, and lured upwards of 1 million people to the heart of the city to sing, dance and party is a uniquely Philadelphia one, and one of those things that make this place great, and why I love it that I'm still here. New York can have its big Ball, and the rest of the world can have the night of the 31st, but New Year's Day and the wenches belong to us. And we wouldn't have it any other way.

The 10,000 or so marchers who comprise Mummery's four divisions (Comics, Fancies, String Bands and Brigades) may take over Broad Street for the day, but the heart of the operation lies not far from my childhood home in South Philly, down by the Delaware River along 2nd Street. The guys may just have the one day to show their stuff in the sight of the world, but picking themes (which change annually), designing and making the lavish costumes, fund-raising, "drills" (rehearsals), etc. is a year-round operation, and when you live near 2nd, it's a part of your daily life. And even for those who've long gone, it has its unmistakable way of staying with you always....

Tonight, in accord with tradition, I'll make my one visit of the year back to the church at the foot of "2 Street" where I received my sacraments, the place which has welcomed, nurtured, married off and buried four generations of my family. Every year on New Year's Eve, the parish hosts a gigantic Mummers' Mass -- and it's one of the most unique, and effective, examples of inculturation you'll ever see in your life.

The celebrant's vestment is usually a special white chasuble (the aforementioned one with gold sequins) pulled out for this event. The processional is the Mummers' version of "When the Saints Go Marchin' In" (performed with banjos, saxophones and glocken-spiels), after which a proper opening hymn (with organ) is sung. All Lectors wear their "club" jackets -- in the colors of their group, with the name and logos emblazoned -- a sequined parasol, gold-painted wench boots and banjo are placed before the altar, and the church is downright packed with a steady stream out the door. It's a big church, mind you, so this means 1,500 people or more even when what used to be called The Circumcision isn't held on a Sunday. It's just a very popular event and it means the world to the neighborhood. And as "Alabama Jubilee" and "O'Dem Golden Slippers" -- the Mummers' theme songs -- break out for the recessional, the place goes wild with cheering, whooping and dancing as the celebrants do the Mummers' strut back down the aisle.

There is no more joyous thing in the whole world.

And then, after a quiet Eve, all hell breaks loose tomorrow. To Broad Street for the actual parade and back, and then the trudge from my parent's house, all the way up 2nd for about five miles, stopping every 500ft to head into the homes of people I only see once a year (i.e. January 1) for soup, beer, and catching up. It's just a great way to start the year, the party runs long into the morning of the 2nd, and... well... there's no other place I'd be.

And if you ever experienced it, believe me, you'd feel the same way.


A Milestone and A Heads-Up

Overnight, the Loggia received its 200,000th Visitor since the trusty Sitemeter was kicked off just over six months ago. This comes at the end of what's been a record-shattering month of visits, which'll probably surpass 45,000 by the time the Ball drops tonight.

I'm humbled and very grateful to everyone. All thanks for making this little corner of blogdom a part of your days and a trusted source for breaking news, analysis, and whatever else I've got on my mind on slow days.... You're the ones who've made all this what it is, and that's more encouragement than I could've ever dreamed. Thank you!

(And, I'm compelled to remind, the Year-End Fund Drive ends Monday.... For those who already haven't, please consider throwing a couple coins in the guitar case to help keep all this going. It's not easy -- nor cheap -- work, but I do love it to bits.)

We will announce our choice for the 2005 Churchman of the Year in the afternoon, hopefully by 3pm Eastern time, 2000 GMT.


Honours List Newsflash

So the Big Queen gets her gongs off twice a year....

(No, this is not some bizarre ritual of priestly formation at "orthodox" seminaries, however true-to-life it may sound....)

Translation: Queen Elizabeth II issues honors -- knighthoods, nice medals, you know, the stuff Anglo-Catholics and other restorationist people drool over -- twice a year; on her official birthday of Trooping the Colour (the third Saturday in June), and for the New Year. ("Gong" is Brit slang for those honours, for the uninitiated.)

True to form, the New Year's Gong List was released this morning and is primarily made up of those who assisted with the security, medical and humanitarian response to the 7 July bombings in London.


I can't help but get a chuckle out of that. And crank out an early-morning round of "Delilah" on the Loggia House stereo....


Friday, December 30, 2005



Now this is interesting....

ADN Kronos, the Italian news agency, is reporting that the new front-runner to succeed Cardinal Angelo Sodano as Vatican Secretary of State is none other than the Pope's stockbroker: Cardinal Attilio Nicora, president of the APSA, the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See, which handles the Holy See's investment portfolio.

The succession to Sodano, who turned 78 last month, was already a heated topic of discussion in the waning days of John Paul II before gaining further fervor in these first months of the papacy of Benedict XVI.

The latter uptick is particularly due to a foreseen adjustment of the role of the Secretariat of State in light of the presence of the first head of the Holy Office to be elected Pope in almost half a millennium. Stato has unofficially enjoyed a "superdicastery" status as the curial clearinghouse since the days of Pius XI and officially since Paul VI's curial reform, Regimini Ecclesiae Universae. Of course, of the 20th century Popes, Pius XII held the Secretary's post for nine years, John XXIII was a lifer in the diplomatic corps before going to Venice and Paul VI spent a decade as one of two pro-Secretaries of State when Pius decided to not fill his old job after the death of Cardinal Luigi Maglione in 1944. With the Grand Inquisitor now Pope, the pecking-order of precedence is seen to be in for a change.

Nicora, 69 in March, has been Benedict's point-man on a study looking into what has been called the "simplification" of the Roman Curia, which the Pope intends to undertake deep in the New Year. There have been flow-charts in B16's study over the last few months.

The entrance of Nicora's name into a speculation pool which has included, among many others, the seasoned papal diplomats Cardinals Jean-Louis Tauran and Crescenzio Sepe and Archbishops Diarmuid Martin, Leonardo Sandri and Giovanni Lajolo (the latter two currently serving as Sodano's chief aides) is surprising as the APSA chief has no experience whatsoever in the Holy See's diplomatic corps which, as master of San Damaso, he would head.

The cardinal spent most of his priesthood as a professor of canon law at the seminary in his native Milan, later rising to its rectorship. Ordained an auxiliary bishop of Milan shortly after he turned 40, most of his episcopate was spent in close collaboration with the Holy See, not as a curialist but as an officer of the CEI, the Italian bishops' conference. He became bishop of Verona in 1992, went back to the CEI in 1997, was elected its full-time vice-president in 2000, and was finally brought into the Curia to head APSA in 2002, succeeding Cardinal Agostino Cacciavillan, the well-regarded former nuncio to Washington (and widow of Benelli).

Although the impact of the Cardinal-Secretary in the area of internal church politics is negligible, given the expansive outward focus of his dicastery, it is worth noting that when he was made a cardinal in 2003, John Allen placed Nicora in a group which, in the correspondent's view, "embod[ies] a throwback form of traditionalism that seeks to translate church teaching quasi-automatically into social policy."

And in one of those quotes which tends to stick with those who know the subtext, an aquaintance of the potential Secretary's said of Nicora late 2002 in the pages of NCR that, "If I needed someone to baptize my son, he wouldn’t necessarily be the man I would call. But to balance my bank account, yes, sure."

Take that for what it's worth.


It's Friday, and You Know What That Means.... paper has been published.

We did the year-end issue two weeks back (Guess who did the mozzetta piece?), last week was off, and today we're up again.

For the first time, your humble narrator has made the website with a brief on last week's ID ruling in Harrisburg with all the usual bells and whistles of Rock in Print.

Elsewhere -- and much more notably -- the eminent Robert Mickens in Rome surveys the road ahead in Benedict XVI's New Year:
[N]ow as the world gets set to ring in 2006, many people are wondering if the new calendar year will be the point at which Benedict XVI resolves to stop being the caretaker of the John Paul II legacy and sets about putting his own mark on the papacy. One thing is for certain: he will have the opportunity to do so in the coming months when he issues his first encyclical, creates a dozen or more new cardinals, and makes two or three journeys around Europe.
Yeah, buzz is spreading that a consistory could be called for 22 February; then again, it could be called for 3pm today if Papa Bear wanted to do that.

All I'm saying is that there's no way on Earth the Loggiameister could be in San Fran on the 15th for Niederauer's Love Parade and then find myself a Roma eight days later -- that just ain't happening unless somebody (WHO?!) sends me to cover the red hats. Extant that, I don't need to put up with all my countrymen's kicking to get through crowds. Unless John Foley gets it, in which case I'll swim the Atlantic, of course. Anything for Foley, always.

But I digress from the Mickens Magic:
Pope Benedict XVI will have been Bishop of Rome for nearly nine months when his first encyclical letter is finally issued some time in January. Though many people have become mercilessly impatient with the wait, they should remember that even though the first three popes of the past century (Leo XIII, St Pius X and Benedict XV) issued their introductory encyclicals within two months of assuming the papacy, Pope Paul VI only published his 14 months after his election. The five months it took Pope John Paul II to produce his first encyclical in 1979 is, only relatively, fresher in memory. While these popes used their first encyclicals to outline the programme of their pontificates, Vatican officials who have seen Pope Benedict’s letter say he does not do so.

The initial draft of the document – Deus Caritas Est (God is Love) – was supposedly signed on 8 December (see Church in the World, The Tablet, 29 October), though recent news reports said that the Pope revised the text and re-signed it on Christmas Day. The encyclical is due for release some time after 6 January, and is reportedly a meditation on the different meanings of the word “love” found in the First Letter of St John. Archbishop Paul Cordes, the president of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum” (which oversees the Pope’s charitable donations), is reportedly the new encyclical’s ghost writer.
As reported here, Cordes had dinner with B16 last week....
This will be the Pope’s first major document. But if inside reports are reliable, the encyclical is likely to be as anti-climactic as his message for tomorrow’s World Day of Peace, which he entitled, “In truth, peace”. Although the papal message condemns terrorism and makes a bold call for total nuclear disarmament, the media largely ignored it when it was released two weeks ago. The manuscript that has generated the most discussion thus far has been the Congregation for Catholic Education’s Instruction on the admission of homosexuals to seminaries, and that is not even a papal document.
If you had read most of St. Blog's, you'd have thought the homosems doc was written with the Hand of God.
Alberto Gasbarri, the Italian layman who was recently named as organiser of papal journeys, has indicated that Benedict XVI will travel much less than his globetrotting predecessor. Yet there are already plans for a three-day visit to Poland in May and a five-day visit to Bavaria in Germany in mid-September (10-15). Officials in Spain have intimated that the Pope will visit their country for two days in July (8-9) to bring to a conclusion the fifth World Meeting of Families. The Vatican has not yet formally confirmed the dates for any of these journeys, but bishops in the host countries have said the visits will take place. There is also strong speculation that Benedict XVI will go to Istanbul for the 30 November celebration of St Andrew, the patronal feast of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Other governments – including Israel, the Palestinian Authority, the Czech Republic and Brazil – have asked the Pope to visit, but there has been no indication whether he might accept those invitations.
We'll have to wait and see if B16 holds to the "neither East nor West" line on big travel, which he gave a US cardinal at the conclave's close....


Historical Notes

At the end of a crazy day, I thought I'd wind down with some words about one of the loves of my life, an angle of the biz I don't often get to talk about here.

For as long as I can remember, I've had an abiding fascination with the history of American Catholicism, particularly the period extending through the 19th and early 20th centuries. If you've never looked into it, take a chance -- you might just fall in love (and realize that a lot of what you see on the blogs and in the news everyday is by no means new). If the recommendation alone isn't advertisement enough, then know this: the colorful disagreements between colorful bishops which marked the era make their modern successors look like tired shades of beige. Not to mention that in the good ol' days, fisticuffs were far from just a feared possibility -- they were to be expected.

Uh huh.

The coming year is cause for excitement as it brings us that much closer to the Big Bicentennial. They say the American hierarchy was founded in 1789 with the appointment of John Carroll, previously the mission superior of the United States, as the first bishop of the newly-erected diocese of Baltimore, which initially encompassed the entire territory of the thirteen original states. But the US episcopate really began in April, 1808, when the mother diocese was subdivided with the creation of new Sees at New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Bardstown, Kentucky (which was later transferred to Louisville) and Baltimore was raised to the dignity of a metropolitan see. So we've got a big East Coast celebration coming up in two years' time.

(And for those who really like this stuff, the only current American cardinal whose episcopal descendancy is of the Carroll line? None other than Roger Mahony, of course.)

I've always been pretty tough on the mitred ones around me, hammering home the message that their people have a right to know what came before them and how their local churches were built, literally, from the ground up. Think about it: An incalculable amount of devotion, hard work and herculean sacrifices of time and treasure (mostly from people who had little of either to spare) are what made this tapestry what it is, though it looks tattered now, and not just at the fringes. And, spoilt as we are, we still take it for granted, don't we? Maybe if we knew a bit more about where it came from, how it happened, this superhuman story of something the waves of immigrants knew in their bones was bigger than themselves, it'd do us all some good to take a breath and reflect on it.... And just maybe, if some among us knew what went into building it, we wouldn't be so eager to take a hammer to all that goodness given by our forebears over time, you know?

(As an example, at its founding the diocese of Philadelphia was served by a grand total of 12 priests, who were responsible for the whole of Pennsylvania and Delaware and the southern half of New Jersey. Don't talk to me about today's wimpy "priest shortage" -- that's a priest shortage.)

The first 150 years of the hierarchical story on these shores -- from John Carroll's appointment to the installation of (Catfighter of the Ages) Francis Spellman as archbishop of New York -- was a pioneering time in a dynamic, expanding place. The American experiment and Catholicism were never the most natural fit, and it was not a monolithic trajectory by any stretch.

Nor did it need to be, nor should it have been.

One of my tricks over time is, when trying to look into a diocese and figure out how it hums along, to look at its roots. Even after 200 years or thereabout, something of the initial culture of the place remains and everything else was just built on top of that. This is true especially in these days, when a bishop is lucky to have 20 years in one place. In eras past, as there was no retirement age and an ordinary would only step down under extreme circumstances, they just went on and on and on, and it was those long reigns -- among so many others: Dennis Dougherty's 33 years in Philadelphia, John Glennon's 43 in St. Louis and John Mark Gannon's 46 years at the helm of the diocese of Erie -- that built cultures whose shades remain in a powerful way in parishes, schools and chancery offices even to our own time.

At the beginning, different approaches developed in the new local churches, which were often left for months or more without the presence of bishops who had to travel expansive stretches of territory by carriage. And they really couldn't maintain mega-administrations, either, as all hands had to be out in the field. So the priests and people were, to a great extent, left to their own devices. This sense of autonomy and independence remains strong in the South and the West. The French settlers who had gathered in Kentucky created a very opulent, refined Catholic sensibility, one which continues to pervade the entire culture there. And in Philadelphia, New York and Boston, the Irish immigration brought with it a sense of the church being "under siege" -- in the case of the 1840s, at the hands of the oppressive English. Two centuries on, those sees are still marked with the sign of the siege mentality -- the English have only been replaced by the media, the liberals, the faithful, whoever. You get the idea.

Laypeople holding parishes hostage and threatening to take over everything? Been there, done that (viz. Hogan Schism). Same goes for church-burnings en masse, renegade clergy and religious, lean times, all orientations behaving (very, very) badly, loving Rome, hating Rome, not caring about Rome, bishops who were pro-slavery, anti-infallibility, saintly and, of course, the just plain nuts (who are always with us). All of it, all of it, all of it -- this is nothing new. Indeed, like the Italians, we have seen it all before in our own land.

Well, those who came before have seen it.... But how much have we learned?


Thursday, December 29, 2005

Reportiam authenticam

Before we proceed, Babel Fish-Latin speakers, make sure you get the pronunciation of the second word right: "OW`tent-EE-kahm."

Thank you, Alfie. It's today's Loggia Word of the Day and should come in handy for purposes of this exercise.

In a (customary) triumph of journalistic integrity, Dom Bettinelli -- who, for some strange reason, cannot lower himself to mention my name (as if I were some Great Being or something) -- assails the Whispers report on the formulaic revamping for the UGCC.

But just in case you didn't already know how he really feels (which is, of course, so important in objective journalism), Betti proceeds to call your humble narrator the "hyper-ventilating self-proclaimed successor to the dean of the American Vaticanisti."

Um, the Editor of Catholic World Report sure did his homework, as it was not my humble self, but another blogger who referred in November to:
Rocco Palmo, dean-in-training of American vaticanisti
Now, how would that make it "self-proclaimed," again?

Let's brainstorm this, because rational minds want to know. And, of course, we can only hope that its editor's ethical lapse (read: Big NO-NO) doesn't reflect poorly on CWR when Pulitzer Prize time (or, for that matter, Judgment Day) comes around.

Speaking of Sini of Jusiper -- to whom I've obviously outsourced my "self-proclaimed" statements (because, you know, one blog just isn't enough to capture it all) -- he has been so kind in recent days to call this outlet
[B]y far the sharpest, most entertaining window onto Roman Catholicism... available in the English language.
Wow. I'm humbled -- which I can be as I didn't make that one up, either. I don't even know this guy.

But I'm also grateful that the Right (yet again) saw fit to extend its highest compliment and foam at the mouth in my direction, (yet again) ignored facts for defamatory purposes and (yet again) gave me a great excuse to discover and air my latest "self-proclaimed" statement (that somebody else just happened to say about me) on my own pages and for my own audience, at long last. Thank you so much!

Good God, I'm speechless... Father Basil, give me something to self-proclaim while I breathe into my trusty paper bag:
Our reaction? To go down on our knees and acknowledge our weakness, our frailty, our sinfulness. Not for us to stand before [God] and boast of our achievements, not for us to compare ourselves with others, and to our own advantage. Rather we pray "Lord be merciful to me a sinner", and then, wonderfully to discover his peace....
Perfect. Thank you, Eminence. And that I pray, always and yet again.

Continuing along with our Crusade For Accuracy here in the Loggia, one of the comfortably anonymous types over at Freeper has accused this writer of "calling" conservative starlet Cardinal Jorge Medina Estevez "Cardinal Pinochet."

Sorry, sweetheart -- (yet again) no dice.

You've got to love it when the train-lovers (and I'm not talkin' the trains that go "Choo-choo!" either) get so apoplectic that reality just flies out their window and they start Warp Foaming. It does wonders for their credibility -- and what a treat to watch! Happy Double-Shot Thursday!

Back in the Fact-Based World, the nickname's reference was drawn from a report by Gabe Huck, head of Liturgy Training Publications in Chicago, who wrote in February 2000 that:
I've been told that the Chilean who now has charge of the Congregation for Worship in Rome is called, even by others in the Curia, Cardinal Pinochet. He's not popular, they say; he doesn't have the old "romanitá" - the kindly smile and polite words to cloak the bad things that have to be done. Last year he was one of those who asked that England just let his old friend the General go back to Chile in peace.
And let's be gently reminded that Medina's "old friend the General" is alleged to have presided over the murders of 3,000 of his political opponents, give or take a couple... hundred.

So (yet again), the real self-proclaimeds have to play their favorite game -- "Magisterial Trade-Off" -- and decide what's more important: Standing Up For Life or Scoring Ideological Points?

Well, by the way the allegedly "pro-life" people love, love, LOVE Medina for his liturgical crackdowns, I regret to say that (yet again) it seems they have their answer for the rest of us....

My reading of Catholicism always told me that the cafeteria was closed, no exceptions. If its self-exalted arbiters are to be believed, though, it seems that yet again I've been horribly wrong.



A Gushing Tribute from Mormon Country

Via the tres-addicting CWNews NewsBytes, the NBC affiliate station in Salt Lake City offers glowing congratulations and homage to the archbishop-elect of San Francisco:

It has been a decade of unprecedented growth for the Catholic Church in Utah – from a counted membership of 75,000 to more than 200,000 today. Bishop Niederauer oversaw the creation of five new parishes and a number of missions. As well on his watch, Catholic education expanded dramatically.

Beyond the church, though, Bishop Niederauer will be remembered for building bridges of understanding. His kindly disposition and optimistic demeanor, along with keen intellectual abilities helped bring people together in the search for common ground. The broader community, without doubt, has been blessed by his civic involvement.

For similar reasons, he will be, as one fellow Priest observed, “a gift to the people of San Francisco.”

KSL joins the community in thanking Bishop Niederauer for the many positive things he accomplished during his time among us. And we wish him well as he assumes his new duties on the West Coast.

I've never seen anything as positive as this, anywhere. Especially these days. Coming from a place where Catholicism is a distinct minority (and could be completely pushed aside if the Mormons deigned it so), this on-air tribute shows that the Archbishop George was truly able to have a widespread, positive impact on the wider community, a glow which reflected on the Catholic community there.

Then again, it shouldn't be news to anyone here that he is central casting's ideal type to serve as the archbishop of San Francisco.

So what's next, you ask? Early first run of The Mill: it's only been two weeks since the vacancy opened, but Jaime Soto, the auxiliary bishop of Orange, is being talked up as a potential successor to Niederauer in Salt Lake.

Our Western gurus cite the rapid growth of the Latino community in Utah -- the engine of the almost-tripling in size of the Salt Lake diocese over the last 11 years -- as reason to send a Latin prelate there. Having spent most of his priesthood at Catholic Charities in Orange, Soto is also extremely well-versed on the immigration issues which would be of great benefit to this large influx of new Utahans. (After ordination, Soto earned a Master's degree in Social Work from Columbia University.)

Bishop Jaime turns 50 on Saturday. Early best wishes to him as he marks his half-century.


It Just Gets Worse and Worse....

My hometown Cathedral Rectory robbed, Rector assaulted:
61-year-old Reverend Monsignor John Close reportedly walked into his apartment in the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul and found the suspect hiding under his bed.

Officials said a brief scuffle occurred when Monsignor was thrown to the ground after as the suspect fled the room with one-thousand dollars cash, a watch, and a razor that were contained within a safe in the room.

Authorities believe the suspect was able to access the room after a back door was left open by a construction worker in the building.

The Monsignor was not seriously injured in the incident.
Glad to hear that Close is OK. The whole thing is just so bizarre.... You can't help but feel terrible about it.


A Hume Rebuttal

In the wake of my post this morning on some reflections offered by the late Cardinal Basil Hume of Westminster, I received an e.mail calling his legacy into question vis a vis Hume's handling of cases of sex abuse by clergy.

Such clarifications of the record, especially those which deal with an issue as traumatic and devastating as the epidemic of abuse, are necessary to put things in their proper light and achieve the purification both of memory and history for purposes of a more fruitful future.

In its entirety below is the opening statement of the e.mail.
After coming across your laudatory comments on the late Cardinal Hume on your blog 'Whispers in the Loggia', I thought you might have taken into account his tolerance of sexual abuse, described in the articles below. This tolerance was of a piece with his pastoral approach generally. Attendance at Mass in the Catholic Church in England and Wales fell markedly during his time as Cardinal (by 14% in the 1980s, 28% in the 1990s; Hume was appointed in 1976 and died in 1999). This fall was largely the result of the faith not being passed on to the next generation (figures for those aged 65 and over in the Catholic Church in 1979, 1989, and 1999 were 13 percent, 16 percent, and 22 percent). Hume not only did not do anything about this problem, he refused to admit that there was a problem; perhaps partly becasue he was typical of his generation of upper-class Englishmen in thinking of leadership as consisting in managing decline. Hume was a charming man who knew how to say the right thing to the right audience, but as a bishop and a Christian he was a failure. (Covering up the sexual abuse of boys makes you a failure as a Christian.)

B16 To the Youth: Be (Truly) Happy!

Here's a letter which went unnoticed for the most part: the papal message to Dutch youth gathered for a national congress in November....

Some snips:
How easy it is to be content with the superficial pleasures that daily life offers us; how easy it is to live only for oneself, apparently enjoying life! But sooner or later we realize that this is not true happiness, because true happiness is much deeper: we find it only in Jesus.

As I said in Cologne, "The happiness you are seeking, the happiness you have a right to enjoy, has a name and a face: it is Jesus of Nazareth"...

I therefore invite you every day to seek the Lord, who wants nothing more than for you to be truly happy. Foster an intense and constant relationship with him in prayer and, when possible, find suitable moments in your day to be alone in his company. If you do not know how to pray, ask him to teach you, and ask your heavenly Mother to pray with you and for you.

The recitation of the Rosary can help you learn the art of prayer with Mary's simplicity and depth. It is important that you make participation in the Eucharist, in which Jesus gives himself for us, the heart of your life. He who died for the sins of all desires to enter into communion with each one of you and is knocking at the doors of your hearts to give you his grace.

Go to the encounter with him in the Blessed Eucharist, go to adore him in the churches, kneeling before the Tabernacle: Jesus will fill you with his love and will reveal to you the thoughts of his Heart. If you listen to him, you will feel ever more deeply the joy of belonging to his Mystical Body, the Church, which is the family of his disciples held close by the bond of unity and love.

You will also learn, as the Apostle Paul says, to let yourselves be reconciled with God (cf. II Cor 5: 20). Especially in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Jesus waits for you to forgive you your sins and reconcile you with his love through the ministry of the priest. By confessing your sins humbly and truthfully, you will receive the pardon of God himself through the words of his minister....

Take care to grow in the knowledge of the faith in order to be its authentic witnesses. Dedicate yourselves to understanding Catholic doctrine ever better: even if at times in looking at it with the eyes of the world it may seem a difficult message to accept, in it is the answer that satisfies your basic questions.

Trust your Pastors and guides, Bishops and priests; become actively involved in the parishes, movements, associations and Ecclesial Communities to experience together the joy of being followers of Christ, who proclaims and gives truth and love. And truly impelled by his truth and love, you will be able, together with other young people who are seeking the true meaning of life, to build a better future for all.

Dear friends, I am close to you with my prayers. May you generously accept the call of the Lord, who holds up to you great ideals that can make your lives beautiful and full of joy. You can be certain of it: only by responding positively to his appeal, however demanding it may seem to you, is it possible to find happiness and peace of heart.


B16: How's He Doing?

NPR ran a piece on Papa Bear at the eight-month mark this morning, basically running with the stock line that he hasn't completely been what either right or left expected.... Usual suspects interviewed: Tom Reese, Fessio, etc. etc.

I'll open comments on this one, but please limit it to reactions to the story after you've listened to it. If that doesn't show itself to be the case, the box will close.

Many thanks in advance.


More from the East

This is a follow-up to this morning's post on the changing formulae of canonical provisions in the Eastern churches....

Apparently, the formulation in question given today's notification as regards Lviv has been used before in a situation involving the UGCC, in appointments which Rome mentioned in June. But the "informed" line is still an innovation in this pontificate.

Whereas CNS and others report that, as Cindy Wooden put it today, "the head of an Eastern Catholic Church only needs to inform the Vatican when bishops are transferred or dioceses are modified," the provisions of Canon 85, paragraph 2 of the Code for the Eastern Churches stipulate that the option of notification alone to the Holy See in the case of a metropolitan or diocesan eparch be undertaken solely "for a grave reason."

And so, we are led to ask, what is the "grave reason" here? Because, and let's face it, one patriarch's "grave reason" could well be another's "box of chocolates."

You just never know.


Waiting For a Light

It's amazing how much can, with time and attention, be gleaned and culled from seven paragraphs of text. In a word, this is the magic of Joseph Ratzinger, Benedict XVI.

I'd like to return yet again to the Pope's homily at Midnight Mass, because it's just an amazingly stellar piece of work, especially when listened to in all its inflected glory.

The final push of the message deals with the message of peace and the presence of the shepherds. Here it is, first in Italian, then in English.
Nel loro ambiente i pastori erano disprezzati; erano ritenuti poco affidabili e, in tribunale, non venivano ammessi come testimoni. Ma chi erano in realtà? Certamente non erano grandi santi, se con questo termine si intendono persone di virtù eroiche. Erano anime semplici. Il Vangelo mette in luce una caratteristica che poi, nelle parole di Gesù, avrà un ruolo importante: erano persone vigilanti. Questo vale dapprima nel senso esteriore: di notte vegliavano vicino alle loro pecore. Ma vale anche in un senso più profondo: erano disponibili per la parola di Dio, per l'Annuncio dell'angelo. La loro vita non era chiusa in se stessa; il loro cuore era aperto. In qualche modo, nel più profondo, erano in attesa di qualcosa, in attesa finalmente di Dio. La loro vigilanza era disponibilità - disponibilità ad ascoltare, disponibilità ad incamminarsi; era attesa della luce che indicasse loro la via. È questo che a Dio interessa.

In the world of their time, shepherds were looked down upon; they were considered untrustworthy and not admitted as witnesses in court. But really, who were they? To be sure, they were not great saints, if by that word we mean people of heroic virtue. They were simple souls. The Gospel sheds light on one feature which later on, in the words of Jesus, would take on particular importance: they were people who were watchful. This was chiefly true in a superficial way: they kept watch over their flocks by night. But it was also true in a deeper way: they were ready to receive God’s word. Their life was not closed in on itself; their hearts were open. In some way, deep down, they were waiting for him. Their watchfulness was a kind of readiness – a readiness to listen and to set out. They were waiting for a light which would show them the way. That is what is important for God.
When you listen to the audio, the way the Pope emphasizes the words "Certamente non erano grandi santi..." ("To be sure, they were not great saints...") with his rising voice is notable, almost crying out that this is something you should remember, that it's a key to the message of Christmas night.

But what does this exposition of the shepherds -- that they were "looked down upon," "considered untrustworthy" by the world, that they were surely "not great saints," but most importantly that "They were waiting for a light which would show them the way," that they were watchful -- mean for our own time? Could it be the Ratzingerian synthesis of the qualities of the shepherds of our own time, i.e. the current pastors of the church? Not necessarily what they always are but, in the ideal, in his own vision and highest hopes and sometimes in spite of their faults or the misperceptions of others, what they should be?

The interpretation is certainly an open question, but its modern relevance to the heart of pastoral leadership sure seems to be where it points. It's just a thought.


The Song of Basil

I was on the phone with a dear friend -- and dear source -- last night; a most wonderful man of God imbued with Benedictine spirituality to the hilt.

In a conversation which stretched (as they tend to do) across an hour and more, the name of one of the legends of the epoch came up: that of George Basil Hume, Benedictine, Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church, Member of the Order of Merit, Archbishop of Westminster (1976-99), Abbot of Ampleforth (1963-76), beloved of God.

Just as we'd be a lot better off if John O'Connor were still with us, the same would be true if Fr Basil, too, weren't so quickly and sadly taken. Cardinal Hume was a man ahead of his time, but fortunately for the rest of us still catching up, he left his beloved church with a truly splendid inheritance.

If only we chose to call on it....

After being reminded of Hume's stunningly beautiful perception that "Judgement is whispering into the ear of a merciful and compassionate God the story of my life which I had never been able to tell," I decided to go back through Basil's writings and cull what I could from them for the good of us all.

I'll be running bits and pieces of what I found as time and space allow, but for now, here is an almost prophetic reminder of what church is and what church isn't, words suited for our own times, which at points seem hopelessly vitriolic, divisive and superficial.

Some background: in 1996, Mother Angelica visited Britain to plug EWTN there. Of course, this prompted a fit of glee (glee = joyous visions of fiery doom and chastisement for "liberals") among repressed English reactionaries who just couldn't take it (it = whatever Mother Angelica didn't like) anymore.

Father Basil, ever the Catholic, was not too keen on this parallel movement which posed some questionable issues vis a vis the licit authority of the apostolic succession in affairs of teaching and governance. (For more information, viz. St. Stanislaus Parish, St. Louis, MO; half the presbyterate of Belleville, et al.)

So the good cardinal did what any savvy bishop worth his salt would do: he attended the gathering and spoke.

Here are some excerpts from the text:

[W]e are asked to examine the extent to which the Word of God has become the inspiration of Christians in our day. Now we need to remind ourselves that Christianity is a revealed religion. The central truths that we believe could not have been discovered by our unaided human reasoning. Furthermore, we shall never be able to understand fully their meaning. It is, however, natural, and indeed desirable that the human mind would wish to explore the significance of revealed truth and what flows from it. I appreciate that in exploring the meaning and significance of the truths of our faith, the explorer will sometimes lose his or her way. That is why we need the guidance of the teaching authority of the Church. But exploration is a necessary part of the process known as the development of doctrine, or what St. Anselm called faith in search of understanding. So I defend the right of people to explore and discuss, but at the same time I urge such persons to remember that it is always important to remain in communion with the successor of St. Peter. There comes a point when obedience is required. This is so even when what we think to be true appears to be at variance with the definitive teaching of the magisterium. These are delicate and difficult matters and I will return to them later.

I turn now to a subject which I know is of concern to many of you: namely the handing on of the Faith to future generations. I was much struck by a passage from a book which I read recently:

"What is the primary aim of all evangelisation and of all catechesis? Possibly that of teaching people a certain number of eternal truths, or of passing on Christian values to the rising generation? No, it is to bring people to a personal encounter with Jesus Christ the only Saviour by making them his disciples".

This was said at an Advent retreat given to the papal household by a Capuchin Professor of Theology Fr Raniero Cantalamessa [the preacher of the Papal Household]. [Quoted by James Alison in his book "Knowing Jesus".]

So there is more to the transmitting of the faith to young people than the teaching of its truths. Young people can have an adequate knowledge of their faith, but still, alas, remain unmoved by and detached from its true meaning and significance. Minds and hearts have to be won for Christ. How are we to do this in a society that is very secular and materialistic, in a culture that is opaque where the things of God are concerned, in families which no longer think and act in a traditional Catholic manner? Where do we start? We need, of course, to lead young people towards an authentic and ever increasing understanding of the faith and simultaneously to an authentic and ever increasing personal commitment to Christ, within the community of the whole Church's belief, life and worship. But these, the faith, the Church's moral teaching and practice, must be taught in our schools and homes. The Catechism of the Catholic Church must be the guide.... But teachers and writers need our understanding, help and guidance, and certainly not public condemnation....

The life of the Church is a sharing in the life of the Trinity itself: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

This sharing in the Divine life holds us together in one body. It is the source of that description of the early Christians being of "one heart and soul" [Acts 4,32]. This does not mean, of course, that Christians have to agree on everything. They do not, and never have done so. They will hold,however, to the centrality of faith in those matters that have been listed in the Creed and defined by the Church. In a Church where minds are lively and education almost universal, discussion is inevitable. This does not mean, of course, that it does not have its limits. There are times when discussion should cease, when docility to the mind of the Church is the proper attitude for us to adopt. Yet our reaction to other persons ought always to be characterised by a willingness to show respect; to be careful not to damage another person's good name; to affirm what is good in another; never to be rude or insulting. The spirit of the Pharisees lurks in each one of us, myself included, tempting us to sit in judgement on others and even to seek to exclude them from the Church.

In this connection, I wish to refer once again to principles enunciated by both Pope Paul VI and John Paul II.

In "Veritatis Splendor" the present Pope stated:

"A clear and forceful presentation of moral truth can never be separated from a profound and heartfelt respect, born of that patient and trusting love which man always needs along his moral journey, a journey frequently wearisome on account of difficulties, weaknesses and painful situations.The Church can never renounce 'the principle of truth and consistency whereby she does not agree to call good evil and evil good', she must always be careful not to break the bruised reed or to quench the dimly burning wick". [Veritatis Splendor No. 95]

The Pope went on to quote an important passage from "Humanae Vitae" by Paul VI:

"If on the one hand it is an outstanding manifestation of charity towards souls to omit nothing from the saving doctrine of Christ, still on the other hand this must always be joined with tolerance and charity. Of this the Lord Himself in His dealing with people has left an example. For when He came, not to judge but to save the world, was he not severe towards the sin,but patient and abounding in mercy towards sinners?" (No. 29)

I have sought in my ministry to be guided by these principles, namely"severe towards the sin, but patient and abounding in love towards sinners"-- guidance, not condemnation, is the more effective answer to dissent.Proclaiming the truth, not only in word but also in the way we act, is generally more successful than the outright condemnation of error; patience is required to lead people gradually from where they are to where they should be or never dreamed they might go.

St. Matthew records a parable of Our Lord which reminds me, at any rate, of the need to be patient. "The Kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field" he said. But an enemy came along and sowed weeds among the wheat. What was to be done? "Do you want us to gather up the weeds?" the servants of the household asked. He answered: "No; lest ingathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until harvest......" [Mt. 13, 24-30]

These are some of the ways in which the Church seeks to achieve "one heart and soul" among the faithful. In this, the bishop has a particular,God-given task. By virtue of his ordination, the bishop is responsible for building up and preserving "unity and charity" in the diocese, acting "in the person of Christ, the Head". Remarkably, the Council called bishops"Vicars and legates of Christ" who "govern the particular Churches assigned to them ..... by the authority and sacred power which indeed they exercise exclusively for the spiritual development of their flock" . [Lumen Gentium N.27]. I quote these passages to remind you that bishops, though under the authority of the Pope and appointed by him, are nonetheless not his delegates. In communion with him they share in responsibility not only for the dioceses in their care, but also for the whole Church. The relationship between the Successor of St Peter and the bishops is such that it is not possible to express loyalty to the Church without including loyalty to one's own bishop.

Finally, the Holy Father concludes his questions about our implementation of the Conciliar teaching by asking if our relations with the world around us are ones of 'open, respectful and cordial dialogue, accompanied by careful discernment and courageous witness to the truth'. To undertake this all Catholics need a sure grounding in their faith, including moral principles and the Church's Social doctrine. But above all, a mature spiritual life will equip each one of us for the task of witness and dialogue, and, incidentally, will best enable us to be of "one heart and soul", however varied our opinions and attitudes....

It is only through and with Christ that we shall find the way to discovering truth and to enjoying the fullness of life with God. Those words and many others are being whispered by him into the ears of each one of us today and on every day.

Our reaction? To go down on our knees and acknowledge our weakness, our frailty, our sinfulness. Not for us to stand before him and boast of our achievements, not for us to compare ourselves with others, and to our own advantage. Rather we pray "Lord be merciful to me a sinner", and then,wonderfully to discover his peace, as he says: "Come to me all you who labour and are burdened, I will give you rest; learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart". [Mt. 11]

"Yes, Lord, there were times when you were angry -- you cleansed the temple of those who defiled it. You rebuked Peter for his failure to understand your mission. But my thoughts dwell on those many moments when you showed to us a gentleness of touch, spoke words of encouragement, saw through our follies and mistakes to find in each one of us the one you love. So you went and still go in search of the lost sheep. You are always looking out for and welcoming your prodigal son or daughter. You sat down with the rejected -- those who did not belong or behaved in strange and wrongful ways. It is thus, too, today. Yours is a patience and concern unmatched by any of ours. No one is excluded, save those who exclude themselves."

"To go down on our knees" -- much will be done by way of preparation for the Millennium, but none more important, in my view, than to let our minds and hearts dwell more and more on him, the Word who became flesh. Prayer,then, must become a serious undertaking for all of us -- the personal encounter with Jesus Christ, the prayerful reading of the Scriptures,especially of the Gospels, time spent alone trying to raise our minds and hearts to God, the reading of books about the spiritual life and lives of the Saints, above all a love of the Mass. Together with traditional popular devotions we must find room for developing new resources, spiritual, liturgical, artistic, imaginative, to promote new devotions which can speak to some of the spiritual needs of our times. They will be authentic if they are nourished by Scripture and liturgy, and enjoy the support of the local bishop. If we do all these things we shall remain firmly rooted in the tradition of the Church and shall bring forth treasures new and old. Then we shall show to our society the face of Christ, the face of Him who is both God and man.

A lot of reading, to be sure, but worthwhile stuff.


A Refreshing Perspective

Now, here's just the retort I like....

I received this note from Fr Guy Selvester of the clergy of Metuchen, one of our distinguished heraldists out there in the field. As his take is impeccably-reasoned, well-written and hits its points without going off into the usual weirdness, it (and a visit to his site) is very much worth your time.

Well the Pope has certainly shown himself to be unpredictable. This is so in many things but in recent days that attention is focused on what he's wearing. What I find interesting is all those people who were quick to proclaim that since he used a mitre, instead of the triple tiara, as a heraldic emblem surmounting his coat of arms this was an indication that he was going to play down the unique position of the Papacy and see himself as "every other bishop". How they reach that conclusion is beyond me. Yet, there were many who were very quick to make this assertion. Namely, that the "hat" the Pope chose for his coat of arms was symbolic way beyond heraldry. It was, so they said, indicative of what kind of Pope he would be: a first among equals.

So what are we to make of the revival of the winter mozetta trimmed with fur, not seen for 30 years until now or of the camauro, absent for almost 50 years and also recently revived by the Pope?

Certainly, we can conclude one thing: the Pope gets chilly and wants to wear papal garments that keep him warm! Fair enough.

But while other bishops wear the mozetta no other bishop has one for summer and one for winter and another for really cold weather. No other bishop wears a mozetta trimmed in fur. No other prelate wears the camauro. No other prelate wears elaborately embroidered stoles over the mozetta as a normal part of choir dress.

So, those who wish to read great symbols beneath the surface in the Pope's choices (and I am NOT among them) can reach no other conclusion than these latest manifestations of papal sartoria set the Pope apart from other bishops rather than making him seem equal to all other bishops. Those who were so quick to see a great equalization in the use of the mitre in the papal arms must see a great singularity in the Pope's choice of attire. He is purposely dressing in a way that evokes images of a papacy of bygone days. The pope is reviving the image of the Renaissance papacy. He is clearly utilizing perogatives that set him apart, and above, other bishops rather than underscore his equality with them. He may still see himself as a first among equals but the emphasis is to be placed on first, not equals.

For those who will be quick to say (of the camauro and the winter mozetta, etc.), "That doesn't matter! Look at what the Pope is saying in his homilies...look at what directives the Pope is giving in his speeches and documents" I can only say that they should remember that when they want to remind everyone of what a powerful symbolic gesture his coat of arms was. You can't have it both ways. Externals either betoken a deeper meaning or they don't. We (who aren't the Pope) don't get to choose which ones do and which ones don't FOR him because it makes us happy.

And this, of course, is as it should be.
As a retort of the retort, one veteran commentator sent in the following:
Another garment that very obviously sets him apart ... the Petrine Pallium.

Unless they eventually make the transition to such pallia for all metropolitans, the fact that there is a Petrine pallium and that the Pope who kept the tiara OFF his coat-of-arms specifically added the Petrine Pallium to it, must say something.

And who to thank for the Petrine Pallium?

Say what you will, but the man's got a point.


From the Eastern Churches: A Change of Words, A Change of Policy

This morning's Bollettino has just been placed in the hopper -- didn't I say it'd be a busy week over there? As is usually the case, there is something of particular note.

(As a preface, this is an extremely policy-heavy and inside baseball analysis. If you're looking to start your day with a fashion show, you'll have to go somewhere else. And don't say I didn't forewarn you as you yawn.)

In recent days, as the civil year winds down, the Pope has been giving his assents to the various elections of bishops in the Eastern Rites as decided upon by the synods of the respective churches in communion with the Holy See. As opposed to the Latin Synod of Bishops, the Eastern Synods sit at least once a year and enjoy deliberative governing authority in the administration of their respective churches, an autonomy respected to varying degrees by Rome.

In terms of filling appointments in the Eastern rites, the customary practice of the last decades has been that the particular Synod meets, casts its votes, sends the names to the Congregation for the Oriental Churches in Rome which, in turn, forwards them to the Pope for his assent or confirmation, at which point the appointment is effective and ordination or installation may proceed in accord with the Canons of the Eastern Churches, which were promulgated by John Paul II in 1991.

Just yesterday, Benedict XVI green-lighted a slate of appointments recommended by the Maronite Synod, which met in late September. But today, a new formula has appeared in announcing something which the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic church already did months ago. And it signals a desired (and, some would say, seismic) devolution of even the vestiges of governance away from Rome and back to the churches on their home turf with a mutually beneficial end, unspoken for now but loudly present in this morning's subtext.

In October, the Synod of the UGCC -- led by Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, who recently transferred his major-archeparchy from Lviv to the birthplace of Russian Christianity in Kiev -- elected auxiliary bishop Ihor Vozniak of Lviv to fill the archeparchial seat there left vacant by Husar's eastward move. Vozniak was installed in Lviv in November without the traditional papal assent.

This morning, the other shoe dropped. In its announcement, the Holy See indicated that no papal assent was given -- implying, in a gesture unprecedented in recent times, that no papal assent needed to be given.

The announcement reads that Husar, "with the consent of the Synod of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and after having informed the Apostolic See, has transferred" Vozniak to the archiepiscopate of Lviv. (As always, emphases and translation are my own.)

To contrast, even Husar's own election as major archbishop in succession to (the legendary) Myroslav Ivan Lubachivsky was confirmed by John Paul one day after it took place. (Husar was then named a cardinal two days following, the "key" among seven more names added to the mega-list of 37 announced by the late Pope a week before.) Going further, when the major seat of the Ukrainian diaspora, the US archeparchy based here in Philadelphia, was to be filled in late 2000, the Synod voted but it was announced that John Paul himself had chosen Stefan Soroka as the metropolitan, as if it were just any other Latin-rite appointment -- probably no mention was made of election and assent so as not to get the Latin-rite Americans all hopped up about democratic selection of bishops, leading them to think that it was right around the corner.

"[A]fter having informed the Apostolic See, [Husar] has transferred..." -- an amazing, never-before-seen formulation. It puts a boatload of clout in the hands of the Synod which, according to this statement, now enjoys the canonical power of the consent (previously the Pope's) and the major-archbishop, who is presented as the licit authority of selection and transferral (previously the prerogative of the Synod), all without any objections from Rome.

As the Apostolic See has not of yet made any explicit statement on Husar's August assumption of the major-archeparchial seat of Kiev, in light of this morning's distanced statement (which ipso facto implied its blessing of the Kiev move), it doesn't seem like that'll be coming now.

But the bigger factor is this: Rome's sent the message that the Ukies need not wait for their consent anymore, a recusal which clears the pathway toward the UGCC's long-desired dream scenario: The declaration of the Patriarchate in Kiev. And when that comes and the fireworks begin, the Vatican's now got its leeway to say, "They're independent, they're doing what they want, we haven't tried to stop them before...."


Wednesday, December 28, 2005

BEST OF '05: Tantrums and Tiaras

This post originally ran on 28 April, after Benedict XVI revealed his new coat of arms and established a modern precedent in the process.... A nice reminder for everyone who still needs it after eight months.

I titled the post as a tribute to the Elton John tour documentary of the same name, a fitting commentary on the crowd most upset by the new Pope's decision.


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.


Keeping an Eye on the Vanguard Bishop

Envy is respected and returned in kind here. Our good friend Todd out in KC might be envious of the scoops I get, then again that's all I've got for anyone to be envious of -- unless anyone voluntarily seeks death threats and daily conservative fatwas all while trying to scrape by and keep hope alive that I can make some kind of living off of being the best in the business.

(This is a good time to remind everyone that the Fund Drive Continues.... If you're able and haven't done so already, please help the guitar case.)

I'm envious of Todd as he gets to watch Bishop Robert Finn in action on the ground. Finn is distinguished in an eminent way by his earthy, serene nature and almost surreal humility, a welcome antidote to a lot else of what's flying around these days..... And Todd got to see the good bishop do his thing the other night, giving what Todd called "the best homily" of the ones he's seen Finn give, a reflection on martyrdom at the diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph's annual Serra Mass.

Here are Todd's notes (there's no direct link, but take some time to check out Catholic Sensibility):
[Finn] told a disarming story about his experience of reflecting on martyrdom, wondering if he would be able to accept such a "blessing," and all. After his prayer time, he returned to the sacristy, and cut his finger on a slice of paper in the drawer. After a short time of fussing and getting angry, he realized God had given him his answer rather immediately. "A pathetic martyr" he referred to the situation.

Two gems from his homily:

Christ at Christmas is small. The martyrdoms we are asked to undertake are likewise small: students keeping to their studies, parents caring for spouses and children. The small, but daily things we are asked to do: setting aside our own desires, caring for others.

The true measure of holiness is the willingness to submit to the slow path to sanctification.
Here's another Finn gem, lest anyone missed it last time around.