Thursday, January 31, 2013

"There Is No Excuse" – In LA, Gomez Goes DEFCON 1

Indeed, it is a stunner.

Ten days after an initial release from 30,000 pages of clergy sex-abuse files in the archdiocese of Los Angeles sparked widespread scorn and calls for the prosecution of now-retired Cardinal Roger Mahony and his then-vicar for clergy, now Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Curry, amid assertions that the duo orchestrated a cover-up, in a letter to the 5 million-member church released tonight, Archbishop José Gomez announced that the embattled auxiliary would be relieved of his pastoral oversight of two of the LA church's three counties, while the iconic Mahony – the longest-reigning American cardinal named after Vatican II, whose quarter-century tenure saw his hometown church become the largest diocese in the nation's history – will, according to his successor, "no longer have any administrative or public duties."

"The behavior described in these files is terribly sad and evil," Gomez said. "There is no excuse, no explaining away what happened to these children. The priests involved had the duty to be their spiritual fathers and they failed.

"We need to acknowledge that terrible failure today. We need to pray for everyone who has ever been hurt by members of the Church. And we need to continue to support the long and painful process of healing their wounds and restoring the trust that was broken."

Emerging after years of legal wrangling, the release of the files was a condition of the $660 million settlement the LA church reached with more than 500 survivors in 2007, days before the first civil trial against the archdiocese was slated to begin. By far, the amount remains the largest sum given by an American diocese to victims of sexual abuse, comprising more than a quarter of the over $2 billion that Stateside dioceses and religious orders have paid out since the crisis' coast-to-coast eruption in 2002. 

The massive California settlements – beyond LA, a $197 million deal that plunged the San Diego diocese into Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and a $100 million payout in Orange – resulted from a suspension of the civil statute of limitations on abuse cases passed by the legislature of the country's largest state as the 2002 revelations roiled the national landscape. Criminal statutes of limitation are widely thought to render any indictments against senior LA officials as unlikely; a federal grand jury that probed the archdiocese's handling of abuse cases several years ago is believed to have wrapped up without any evidence able to elicit charges.

In tandem with Gomez's announcements on Mahony and Curry, the archdiocese released the entirety of the files on an in-house website. Within the last 24 hours, church lawyers laid aside a last attempt to have the names of officials redacted from the documents.

Successfully scripting his own exit from office after a tenure both triumphant and turbulent on a variety of fronts, Mahony requested a coadjutor from Pope Benedict in October 2008 and received his answer 18 months later in Gomez, whose appointment signaled a vindication of the cardinal's plea for a Hispanic successor given the LA church's Latino supermajority, comprising some 70 percent of its membership. 

Nine months after welcoming his successor-in-waiting, Mahony formally retired a day after reaching the retirement age of 75 at the end of February, 2011. 

Having delved even further into his most cherished cause – immigration, with a particular emphasis on the plight of the undocumented – since stepping down, whether today's announcement will signal the end of the cardinal's presence in the blogosphere and his recently-launched Twitter feed remained unclear as of press time.

As the numbers stand, the Angeleno church is larger than its two runners-up – New York and Chicago – combined. In recent times, the archdiocese has baptized as many as 100,000 infants a year.

While a sitting archbishop may make any request he wishes on the extent of his cardinal-predecessor's role and public presence, Gomez's announcement on Mahony technically has no force. By the provisions of canon law, the universal faculties granted every member of the College, or any limitation of them in specific instances, rest solely within the competence of the Holy See. Ergo, barring an explicit papal move restricting his de iure perks, Mahony retains his seat in a Conclave to elect the next Pope until his 80th birthday in 2016, and all the other prerogatives that come with the "red hat" for life.

Likewise, Curry's departure as regional bishop for Santa Barbara has no legal impact on his standing in active ministry – only the 70 year-old prelate's resignation submitted to Rome, and its acceptance by the Pope, can officially end his tenure as an auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles. 

Gomez being Gomez, however, it is distinctly unlikely that either of tonight's moves were taken lacking some sort of consultation with the Vatican, whether directly or by means of the Nunciature in Washington. Given that sense, their public release would thus signal an implicit Roman green-light.

All that said, in effect Curry becomes the second LA auxiliary in a row to leave office under a cloud, following Bishop Gabino Zavala, whose resignation at age 60 came by surprise in January 2012 after his admission that he fathered two children.

Having lived in a small home on the plant of his boyhood parish since his retirement, should his banishment hold, Mahony would not be the first cardinal to be cast out of the limelight amid revelations of abuse-related conduct. 

Following allegations that he molested young men in the Benedictine abbey where he lived before becoming archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Hans Hermann Gröer was effectively holed up at another of his community's far-flung houses upon his 1995 resignation, remaining there until his death in 2003. 

Closer to home, meanwhile, tonight's news comes a year exactly since Philadelphia's Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua died suddenly at 88 after years of shattered seclusion in an apartment on the campus of St Charles Borromeo Seminary, Overbrook. 

The Brooklyn-born prelate's death came a day after he had been ruled competent to testify in an unprecedented criminal trial, at which several of his aides would subsequently portray the cardinal as the key figure in a sprawling cover-up that led to two grand-jury investigations and the English-speaking world's first conviction of a church official for his handling of allegations of abuse. 

Sentenced to three to six years in prison on a charge of endangering the welfare of a child, Msgr William Lynn's appeal of his conviction remains pending. Meanwhile, a priest and lay teacher indicted for abuse and related charges by the 2011 grand jury were found guilty on nine of a combined ten charges by a city jury on Wednesday. A third criminal trial stemming from the Philadelphia panel's findings is slated to begin in March.

In a statement released through the archdiocese and on his blog in the wake of the initial release of documents – dating to 1986-87 – Mahony said that he "remained naïve about the full and lasting impact these horrible acts would have on the lives of those who were abused by men who were supposed to be their spiritual guides" until he "began visiting personally with victims.

"It remains my daily and fervent prayer that God’s grace will flood the heart and soul of each victim, and that their life-journey continues forward with ever greater healing," the cardinal said.

"I am sorry."

*   *   *
Here below, Gomez's full letter on the release of the documents and his personnel decisions, as published on the archdiocesan site:

My brothers and sisters in Christ, 

This week we are releasing the files of priests who sexually abused children while they were serving in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. 

These files document abuses that happened decades ago. But that does not make them less serious. 

I find these files to be brutal and painful reading. The behavior described in these files is terribly sad and evil. There is no excuse, no explaining away what happened to these children. The priests involved had the duty to be their spiritual fathers and they failed. 
We need to acknowledge that terrible failure today. We need to pray for everyone who has ever been hurt by members of the Church. And we need to continue to support the long and painful process of healing their wounds and restoring the trust that was broken. 
I cannot undo the failings of the past that we find in these pages. Reading these files, reflecting on the wounds that were caused, has been the saddest experience I’ve had since becoming your Archbishop in 2011. 
My predecessor, retired Cardinal Roger Mahony, has expressed his sorrow for his failure to fully protect young people entrusted to his care. Effective immediately, I have informed Cardinal Mahony that he will no longer have any administrative or public duties. Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Curry has also publicly apologized for his decisions while serving as Vicar for Clergy. I have accepted his request to be relieved of his responsibility as the Regional Bishop of Santa Barbara. 
To every victim of child sexual abuse by a member of our Church: I want to help you in your healing. I am profoundly sorry for these sins against you. 
To every Catholic in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, I want you to know: We will continue, as we have for many years now, to immediately report every credible allegation of abuse to law enforcement authorities and to remove those credibly accused from ministry. We will continue to work, every day, to make sure that our children are safe and loved and cared for in our parishes, schools and in every ministry in the Archdiocese. 
In the weeks ahead, I will address all of these matters in greater detail. Today is a time for prayer and reflection and deep compassion for the victims of child sexual abuse. 
I entrust all of us and our children and families to the tender care and protection of our Blessed Mother Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe and Our Lady of the Angels.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Most Reverend José H. Gomez
Archbishop of Los Angeles
SVILUPPO: On Friday morning, Mahony defended his record on abuse in a public response to Gomez.


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Welcome to Portlandensis

Normally, Appointment Day in a local church is a studied, even theatrical exercise in continuity – whatever the backdrop of the handover in question, predecessor and successor alike take great pains to keep everybody calm, underscoring the endurance of the faith and calling the flock anew to the best of what unites us all. Behind the scenes, meanwhile, intense coordination is had to avoid any appearance of a significant shift in the new tenure.

Again, that's the usual... then there was this Tuesday in Portland.

So it seems, the rapid realization of "this one going places" now enters the books with the rest. In that spirit and given the scene, though, it feels a fitting follow-up to say that, well, this one's gonna be interesting... very, very interesting.

As a new chapter begins in the "Rose City," every happy wish to the new Archbishop and the crowd he inherits. 

But what's "Buckle Up" in Latin?

PHOTO: Brent Wojahn/The Oregonian


Go West, Young Man – For Portland, @Pontifex Engineers @ArchbishopSample

It'd be the kind of appointment bound to cause a bit of whiplash for some: a Joseph Bernardin protege passing his chair to an energetic champion of the "reform of the reform." 

And now, we get to see how the dynamic plays out.

At Roman Noon this Tuesday, the Pope named Bishop Alexander Sample of Marquette as the 11th archbishop of Portland in Oregon – the oldest metropolitan seat on the Pacific coast – succeeding Archbishop John Vlazny, who reached the retirement age of 75 in February 2012.

With his move to the "Rose City," the media-savvy @BishopSample, who turned 52 in November, leaves the home-church for which he was ordained a priest in 1990 to become the nation's youngest archbishop, besting San Antonio's Gustavo García-Siller MSpS by a full four years. For purposes of context, the last Stateside metropolitan to be named this young was a certain Timothy Michael Dolan on his appointment to Milwaukee in 2002; before then, the prior preceding instance of a 52 year-old US archbishop came five years earlier, when Charles Chaput OFM Cap. was transferred from Rapid City to Denver.

What's more, however, the trajectory of this appointee's ascent makes for a watershed moment: for the first time, a US priest raised to the episcopacy by Benedict XVI has now been launched into the top rank of the nation's 33 archbishops. 

One of the pontiff's first picks on these shores, Sample – at 45, then the nation's youngest prelate, as well as the first American bishop to be born in the 1960s – was ordained in Marquette on 25 January 2006, the same day B16's first encyclical, Deus Caritas est, was released. (The archbishop-elect is shown above with a portrait of his first Michigan predecessor, the Slovenian missionary Bishop Frederic Baraga, whose cause for beatification Sample led in Marquette even before becoming its bishop. Baraga was declared Venerable on the affirmation of his heroic virtue by Benedict last spring.)

Home to some 425,000 Catholics – and, so it seems, a high degree of ideological polarization over recent years – it bears noting that the Portland church can boast one of the ten largest US seminaries: Mount Angel, the house for diocesan and religious formation joined to the Benedictine abbey of the same name, where Vlazny appeared last week to confer the purple on its rector, now Msgr Joseph Betschart. 

On another prominent front, the archdiocese is likewise the headquarters of Oregon Catholic Press, the provider of the liturgical and music books used in a plurality of the nation's 19,000 parishes, all of which bear the imprimatur of Portland's archbishop.

By no means, however, are the key realities ahead limited to matters spiritual: in the wake of the national sex-abuse eruption in 2002, in July 2004 the Portland church became the first American diocese to declare Chapter 11 bankruptcy under a deluge of civil litigation. 

The process ended nearly three years later with a $75 million settlement of nearly 180 lawsuits. At the time, the internal costs of the archdiocese's reorganization alone were estimated to have run in excess of $15 million.

*   *   *
Beyond the intra-ecclesial contrast cited above, perhaps another angle frames this appointment's pointed nature even more: the placement of a prelate lionized by his supporters as a staunch beacon of Catholic identity – and a very distinctive kind of Catholic identity, at that – into the heart of the longtime bastion of "unchurched" America: a state where the religiously unaffiliated (the so-called "nones") are said to outnumber Catholics by a 5-to-3 ratio.

Born in Kalispell, Montana – which, aptly enough, is part of the Portland province – Sample moved with his family to Michigan's Upper Peninsula, studying metallurgical engineering at both undergrad and graduate level before entering priestly formation for Marquette.

After ordination, the future archbishop was sent to Rome to earn a JCL from the Angelicum, returning home as Chancellor of the diocese at 36, and remaining in the post until his appointment as Bishop James Garland's successor.

Even if the UP's "baby bishop" wasn't known on the broader scene at the time, the turnout for his ordination – Burke, Dolan, George and Szoka, among others – provided enough evidence for some to detect that "this one's going places." Seven years to the week, though, what's equally conspicuous to the journey's speed is the destination's recent history – two of the last three Portland prelates were subsequently moved to other posts, each of which brought them the cardinal's red hat.

At the helm of the 50,000-member church in extreme northern Michigan, Sample quickly elevated Marquette's profile on the wider radar, podcasting his newspaper columns, tweeting (and YouTubing) his way across the Peninsula to open the Year of Faith, and becoming a star to the Catholic internet's considerable traditionalist bloc with his celebrations of the pre-Conciliar liturgy, among them last year's ordination of transitional deacons at the Fraternity of St Peter outpost in Lincoln, which he's slated to perform again in March. (Under the weight of traffic sparked by today's move, the Marquette diocesan webpage has been crashed for several hours.)

Even on this appointment day, the archbishop-elect's been able to make news away from his new charge; in a report published today, the abortion-focused LifeSiteNews outlet quoted Sample's pledge, given at last week's March for Life in Washington, that he was "willing to go to jail in defense of religious liberty" should resistance to the Obama administration's contraceptive mandate require the step. 

While a score of lawsuits challenging the policy's definition of a "religious employer" continue to garner different results in Federal district courts nationwide – and rumors persist of a possible widening of the conscience exemption to the church's comfort – the mandate is currently slated to take effect for faith-based entities in August.

With his affinity for traditional worship and zest for the public square, Sample's move to Portland can be viewed as a continuance across state lines of the mould-breaking appointments over recent years in Northern California, a trend which was thought to climax with last July's "bombshell" appointment of Salvatore Cordileone, the US bishops' point-man on the defense of traditional marriage, as archbishop of San Francisco.

Sample's installation has been set for Easter Tuesday, April 2nd. And come June's end, he'll join Cordileone, Archbishop Joseph Tobin CSSR of Indianapolis and possibly more in Rome to receive the pallium from Benedict.

With Vlazny's replacement and Marquette newly-open, eight Stateside Latin dioceses now stand vacant, with another seven led by bishops serving past the retirement age of 75. 

A month older than the now-retired Oregon prelate, American Catholicism's senior active hierarch by age remains the ninth archbishop of Portland, who was whisked out of the post less than a year later to become archbishop of Chicago.


Thursday, January 24, 2013

On March Eve, "It's About the Effect Our Words Have on Others"

Marking the 40th anniversary of the legalization of abortion on these shores in the Supreme Court's ruling on Roe v. Wade, on this eve of the 40th March for Life in Washington, the annual preach that's become the de facto "State of the Movement" was given earlier tonight in the capital by one of the event's founders – Boston's Cardinal Seán O'Malley OFM Cap., in his first turn as chair of the US bishops' Committee for Pro-Life Activities:

Continuing through the night in Washington's Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception – every possible inch of it crammed with pilgrims either keeping awake to pray or sleeping on the floor – the Vigil will end with a 7.30 Mass celebrated by the conference president, New York's Cardinal Timothy Dolan, whose latest column at home sought to hand the movement's torch to what he termed "The Ultrasound Generation."


For B16's Communications Day, A Call to Cyber-"Commitment"

Keeping with decades-long Vatican custom, this feast of St Francis de Sales – patron of writers and journalists – yet again brings the release of the papal message for World Communications Day, this year's focus on the theme Social Networks: portals of truth and faith; new spaces for evangelization.

Tied into the Year of Faith, this year's message is just the latest edition of the Communications Day text to shirk attention to older forms of media in favor of the products of the digital revolution.

Its theme always announced on late September's feast of the archangels, the WCD – the lone observance called for by the Fathers of Vatican II – will be marked on May 12th; the day always falls on the Sunday before Pentecost (now the transferred Ascension Day in most of the global church) as a link with Jesus' last command to "Go and teach all nations."

Here, the English text of B16's message.

*   *   *
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

As the 2013 World Communications Day draws near, I would like to offer you some reflections on an increasingly important reality regarding the way in which people today communicate among themselves. I wish to consider the development of digital social networks which are helping to create a new "agora", an open public square in which people share ideas, information and opinions, and in which new relationships and forms of community can come into being.

These spaces, when engaged in a wise and balanced way, help to foster forms of dialogue and debate which, if conducted respectfully and with concern for privacy, responsibility and truthfulness, can reinforce the bonds of unity between individuals and effectively promote the harmony of the human family. The exchange of information can become true communication, links ripen into friendships, and connections facilitate communion. If the networks are called to realize this great potential, the people involved in them must make an effort to be authentic since, in these spaces, it is not only ideas and information that are shared, but ultimately our very selves.

The development of social networks calls for commitment: people are engaged in building relationships and making friends, in looking for answers to their questions and being entertained, but also in finding intellectual stimulation and sharing knowledge and know-how. The networks are increasingly becoming part of the very fabric of society, inasmuch as they bring people together on the basis of these fundamental needs. Social networks are thus nourished by aspirations rooted in the human heart.

The culture of social networks and the changes in the means and styles of communication pose demanding challenges to those who want to speak about truth and values. Often, as is also the case with other means of social communication, the significance and effectiveness of the various forms of expression appear to be determined more by their popularity than by their intrinsic importance and value. Popularity, for its part, is often linked to celebrity or to strategies of persuasion rather than to the logic of argumentation. At times the gentle voice of reason can be overwhelmed by the din of excessive information and it fails to attract attention which is given instead to those who express themselves in a more persuasive manner. The social media thus need the commitment of all who are conscious of the value of dialogue, reasoned debate and logical argumentation; of people who strive to cultivate forms of discourse and expression which appeal to the noblest aspirations of those engaged in the communication process. Dialogue and debate can also flourish and grow when we converse with and take seriously people whose ideas are different from our own. "Given the reality of cultural diversity, people need not only to accept the existence of the culture of others, but also to aspire to be enriched by it and to offer to it whatever they possess that is good, true and beautiful" (Address at the Meeting with the World of Culture, Bélem, Lisbon, 12 May 2010).

The challenge facing social networks is how to be truly inclusive: thus they will benefit from the full participation of believers who desire to share the message of Jesus and the values of human dignity which his teaching promotes. Believers are increasingly aware that, unless the Good News is made known also in the digital world, it may be absent in the experience of many people for whom this existential space is important. The digital environment is not a parallel or purely virtual world, but is part of the daily experience of many people, especially the young. Social networks are the result of human interaction, but for their part they also reshape the dynamics of communication which builds relationships: a considered understanding of this environment is therefore the prerequisite for a significant presence there.

The ability to employ the new languages is required, not just to keep up with the times, but precisely in order to enable the infinite richness of the Gospel to find forms of expression capable of reaching the minds and hearts of all. In the digital environment the written word is often accompanied by images and sounds. Effective communication, as in the parables of Jesus, must involve the imagination and the affectivity of those we wish to invite to an encounter with the mystery of God’s love. Besides, we know that Christian tradition has always been rich in signs and symbols: I think for example of the Cross, icons, images of the Virgin Mary, Christmas cribs, stained-glass windows and pictures in our churches. A significant part of mankind’s artistic heritage has been created by artists and musicians who sought to express the truths of the faith.

In social networks, believers show their authenticity by sharing the profound source of their hope and joy: faith in the merciful and loving God revealed in Christ Jesus. This sharing consists not only in the explicit expression of their faith, but also in their witness, in the way in which they communicate "choices, preferences and judgements that are fully consistent with the Gospel, even when it is not spoken of specifically" (Message for the 2011 World Communications Day). A particularly significant way of offering such witness will be through a willingness to give oneself to others by patiently and respectfully engaging their questions and their doubts as they advance in their search for the truth and the meaning of human existence. The growing dialogue in social networks about faith and belief confirms the importance and relevance of religion in public debate and in the life of society.

For those who have accepted the gift of faith with an open heart, the most radical response to mankind’s questions about love, truth and the meaning of life – questions certainly not absent from social networks – are found in the person of Jesus Christ. It is natural for those who have faith to desire to share it, respectfully and tactfully, with those they meet in the digital forum. Ultimately, however, if our efforts to share the Gospel bring forth good fruit, it is always because of the power of the word of God itself to touch hearts, prior to any of our own efforts. Trust in the power of God’s work must always be greater than any confidence we place in human means. In the digital environment, too, where it is easy for heated and divisive voices to be raised and where sensationalism can at times prevail, we are called to attentive discernment. Let us recall in this regard that Elijah recognized the voice of God not in the great and strong wind, not in the earthquake or the fire, but in "a still, small voice" (1 Kg 19:11-12). We need to trust in the fact that the basic human desire to love and to be loved, and to find meaning and truth – a desire which God himself has placed in the heart of every man and woman – keeps our contemporaries ever open to what Blessed Cardinal Newman called the "kindly light" of faith.

Social networks, as well as being a means of evangelization, can also be a factor in human development. As an example, in some geographical and cultural contexts where Christians feel isolated, social networks can reinforce their sense of real unity with the worldwide community of believers. The networks facilitate the sharing of spiritual and liturgical resources, helping people to pray with a greater sense of closeness to those who share the same faith. An authentic and interactive engagement with the questions and the doubts of those who are distant from the faith should make us feel the need to nourish, by prayer and reflection, our faith in the presence of God as well as our practical charity: "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal" (1 Cor 13:1).

In the digital world there are social networks which offer our contemporaries opportunities for prayer, meditation and sharing the word of God. But these networks can also open the door to other dimensions of faith. Many people are actually discovering, precisely thanks to a contact initially made online, the importance of direct encounters, experiences of community and even pilgrimage, elements which are always important in the journey of faith. In our effort to make the Gospel present in the digital world, we can invite people to come together for prayer or liturgical celebrations in specific places such as churches and chapels. There should be no lack of coherence or unity in the expression of our faith and witness to the Gospel in whatever reality we are called to live, whether physical or digital. When we are present to others, in any way at all, we are called to make known the love of God to the furthest ends of the earth.

I pray that God’s Spirit will accompany you and enlighten you always, and I cordially impart my blessing to all of you, that you may be true heralds and witnesses of the Gospel. "Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation" (Mk 16:15).

             From the Vatican, 24 January 2013, Feast of Saint Francis de Sales.


Monday, January 21, 2013

"The Blessing of Equal Liberty"

We pray, Thee O Almighty and Eternal God! Who through Jesus Christ hast revealed Thy glory to all nations, to preserve the works of Thy mercy, that Thy Church, being spread through the whole world, may continue with unchanging faith in the confession of Thy Name. 
We pray Thee, who alone art good and holy, to endow with heavenly knowledge, sincere zeal, and sanctity of life, our chief bishop, Pope Benedict, the Vicar of Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the government of his Church; our own bishop, Charles, all other bishops, prelates, and pastors of the Church; and especially those who are appointed to exercise amongst us the functions of the holy ministry, and conduct Thy people into the ways of salvation. 
We pray Thee O God of might, wisdom, and justice! Through whom authority is rightly administered, laws are enacted, and judgment decreed, assist with Thy Holy Spirit of counsel and fortitude the President of these United States, that his administration may be conducted in righteousness, and be eminently useful to Thy people over whom he presides; by encouraging due respect for virtue and religion; by a faithful execution of the laws in justice and mercy; and by restraining vice and immorality. Let the light of Thy divine wisdom direct the deliberations of Congress, and shine forth in all the proceedings and laws framed for our rule and government, so that they may tend to the preservation of peace, the promotion of national happiness, the increase of industry, sobriety, and useful knowledge; and may perpetuate to us the blessing of equal liberty. 
We pray for his[/her] excellency, the governor of this state, for the members of the assembly, for all judges, magistrates, and other officers who are appointed to guard our political welfare, that they may be enabled, by Thy powerful protection, to discharge the duties of their respective stations with honesty and ability. 
We recommend likewise, to Thy unbounded mercy, all our brethren and fellow citizens throughout the United States, that they may be blessed in the knowledge and sanctified in the observance of Thy most holy law; that they may be preserved in union, and in that peace which the world cannot give; and after enjoying the blessings of this life, be admitted to those which are eternal.
Finally, we pray to Thee, O Lord of mercy, to remember the souls of Thy servants departed who are gone before us with the sign of faith and repose in the sleep of peace; the souls of our parents, relatives, and friends; of those who, when living, were members of this congregation, and particularly of such as are lately deceased; of all benefactors who, by their donations or legacies to this Church, witnessed their zeal for the decency of divine worship and proved their claim to our grateful and charitable remembrance. To these, O Lord, and to all that rest in Christ, grant, we beseech Thee, a place of refreshment, light, and everlasting peace, through the same Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior. Amen.
–Prayer for the Nation and the Civil Authorities
John Carroll
First Bishop of Baltimore, Father of American Catholicism
14 August 1791

Friday, January 18, 2013

For Patrick's Chair, Pope Picks Martin... No, Not That One

Set to be the native "frontman" for Rome's intended reconstitution of an Irish church plunged into epic straits, at Roman Noon the Pope named Msgr Eamon Martin as coadjutor-archbishop of Armagh, placing the 51 year-old administrator of Derry in line for the chair that, according to legend, was first held by St Patrick around the year 445.

In the post, the archbishop-elect will soon succeed the embattled Cardinal Sean Brady, 73, as head of the 230,000-member diocese in the North and, further beyond, as Primate of All Ireland, the traditional distinction reserved to Armagh given its lineage. 

As a more modern sign of his clout, the Primate – almost invariably the holder of Ireland's seat in the College of Cardinals for the last century and a half – serves ex officio as president of the Isle's joint episcopal conference, whose operations Eamon Martin oversaw as general secretary from 2008 until returning to his home-diocese in 2010 as vicar-general. 

A mathematician and teacher by training said to have a "keen interest" in sacred music, the Primate-in-waiting was elected Derry's administrator on Bishop Seamus Hegarty's early retirement a year later for reasons of health. Equal to Armagh in size, the Derry church remains one of five Irish sees awaiting new bishops; as of today, two of the 26 dioceses stand vacant, with another three bishops serving well past the retirement age of 75. 

After a years-long drought of appointments from Rome, two other dioceses have been filled since late November, and the widespread thought remains that the sprawling structure – which, in reality, oversees fewer Catholics than live in New York City or Los Angeles – is in for a significant consolidation over the coming years, especially as (much like the US) the majorities of several active presbyterates there will enter retirement later this decade as the last large classes ordained in the 1960s and early 1970s "age out" of full ministry.

11am in Ireland, a press conference at this appointment hour was to take place in St Patrick's Cathedral, with Brady and the key force behind the recent moves – the New York-born Nuncio, Archbishop Charlie Brown – on-hand to present the archbishop-elect.

*   *   *
A former rector of Rome's Irish College, the Cavan-born Brady was likewise a simple priest on his 1994 appointment as coadjutor to Cardinal Cahal Daly, whom he succeeded 18 months later. 

Once hailed as "man of patent sincerity" and even a "Moses"-like figure for his work in advancing the Isle's long-fraught peace process, Brady's standing has come under heavy fire and loud calls for his departure amid revelations of his role in the Irish church's long, brutal history of sexual abuse by clergy and religious, and the subsequent neglect of allegations by church officials. 

Most prominently, the sitting primate was bitterly excoriated in the open last year after it emerged that, as a priest-notary in the 1970s, he had sworn teenage victims to secrecy – a standard part of a canonical proceeding – in collecting testimonies of their abuse by Fr  Brendan Smyth, the Norbertine whose staggering trail of assaults would make him the country's most notorious predator priest. 

Smyth was convicted on 20 abuse-related counts before his death in prison in 1997, three years after disclosures that his criminal case was intentionally bungled by civil authorities led to the collapse of an Irish government. 

Brady is believed to have requested a coadjutor in early 2010, following the first round of outcry over his involvement in a case involving the late cleric, who was also found to have abused children in Rhode Island and the Dakotas during a brief period of ministry in the US in the 1960s. Notably, the cardinal's successor already serves on the National Board for Safeguarding Children, established by the Irish bishops in 2006.

Despite a fairly sizable record of media turns – including a history of presenting the "Thought for the Day" on the North's BBC stations – the primate-in-waiting is described as a "shy" or "soft spoken" figure, yet perhaps most pointedly of all, a "protege" of the cardinal's. In his statement on today's announcement, Brady said he received the news with "joy and gratitude," describing the choice of his eventual successor as a "gift."

Brady turns 75 on 16 August 2014. Underscoring the influence of the post his successor will inherit, the cardinal was scheduled to spend this afternoon in Dublin, joined by a delegation of prelates for "wide ranging talks" with the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny. According to Irish reports, the sit-down would be the duo's first meeting since Kenny's furious attack on the Holy See in the wake of a 2011 state inquiry that detailed a diocese's serial mishandling of abuse allegations, one of several  to have been conducted over the last five years.

Meanwhile, as Ireland enters into a charged debate over amending its constitution to legalize abortion – a debate in which accusations of "misogyny" and "impermissible arrogance," to say nothing of the scandals' fallout – have been lobbed at the church's leadership for its defense of the unborn, today's keenest reaction might just be how to resolve the impending confusion that, at least for a time, will see both the country's most prominent prelates called "Archbishop Martin."

This one, however, is reportedly not another Diarmuid

Then again, who ever could be? Or as the "cabal" would have it, just one of those is more than enough.

SVILUPPO: Released by the Irish bishops, here's a piece of the nominee's statement at the announcement, held on the steps of Armagh cathedral...
We live in a time of great change, challenge and opportunity. It is a time, as the psalms say, to ‘sing a new song to the Lord’. There is need for renewal in the church, so that the message of Christ, in all its richness, is presented in ways which engage a new generation. There is a need for a mature relationship between church and society, in both parts of this island, and people of faith have a vital role to play. It would hugely impoverish our faith if we were expected to ‘leave it at home’ or ‘keep it for Sundays’, excluding it from our conversations and actions in daily life. I believe it would equally impoverish society if the fundamental convictions of faith were unable to be heard in public debate; it would diminish our understanding of the human person and dilute the concept of the common good. In these days of recession and financial crisis, many people are struggling to find work, pay the bills and keep food on the table. And there are other kinds of poverty around us – a poverty of meaning in life, a poverty of purpose, a poverty of hope. Today, more than ever, people of faith are called to present to the world ‘a coherent ethic of life’ – one which knits together a conviction about the sacredness of human life and the dignity of the person, with a commitment to solidarity and the family, to the fair distribution of goods and environmentally sustainable development, to justice and peace. 
As Christians, we are not there to impose, but to invite; we are not there simply to oppose, but to convince others of the truth of Christ’s teaching and to offer them the gift and message of salvation. We say to everyone in our society, as Blessed Pope John Paul II did: ‘Do not be afraid, the Gospel is not against you, but for you’, or as Pope Benedict XVI put it: ‘if we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great’. 
I look forward to getting to know Archbishop Clarke and the other Christian Church leaders. It is important that we encourage dialogue and seek common cause with all groups and individuals who are working for the common good. The continued threats from those who appear not to want lasting peace, and the tensions on our streets in recent days, remind us how important it is to work more closely together for true and lasting reconciliation. There is still much to be done in healing the wounds caused by division and mistrust. We in the Churches can play out part – inspired by the Word of God which speaks clearly to us about conversion, repentance and forgiveness. 
One of the greatest challenges facing our Church is to acknowledge, live with, and learn from the past, including the terrible trauma caused by abuse. I think today of all those who have been abused by clergy, and the hurt and betrayal they have experienced. As the words on the Healing Stone at the International Eucharistic Congress remind us – they have been left with a lifelong suffering. 
I am saddened that many good Catholics were let down so badly over the issue of abuse and that some have even stopped practising their faith. It saddens me because I love God and I love the Church that I serve. I believe that faith in Jesus Christ brings meaning and purpose to our lives and gives hope and healing to anyone who feels broken or in despair.
While Eamon Martin's own comments spoke of his trepidation at accepting the post, in an even deeper indication of the high-wire that awaits, the editor of the independent Irish Catholic newspaper, Michael Kelly, said in a radio interview this morning that "several people" had declined appointment as the next primate.

PHOTO: David Sleater/The Irish Times


Sunday, January 13, 2013

"Those Who Have Faith Aren't Willing to Give It Up": B16's Baptism Sunday

Keeping with longtime Vatican custom on this feast of the Baptism of the Lord – the end of the church's observance of Christmas – this morning the Pope christened 20 infants in the Sistine Chapel.

The lone Papal Liturgy of the year behind the walls that's celebrated mostly in Italian (as opposed to Latin), so the parents and families of the newly-baptized can fully take part, over the last several years the Baptism Mass has likewise become the sole major rite which the pontiff celebrates versus Deum, facing away from the congregation using the Sistina's original altar. In this instance, however, the "common orientation" can't be called ad orientem as the Sistine congregation faces west.

Here below, B16's homily in its official English translation.

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Dear brothers and sisters!

The joy arising from the celebration of Christmas finds its completion today in the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. To this joy is added another reason for those of us who are gathered here: in the Sacrament of Baptism that will soon be administered to these infants, the living and active presence of the Holy Spirit is manifested, enriching the Church with new children, enlivening and making them grow, and we cannot help but rejoice. I wish to extend a special greeting to you, dear parents and godparents, who today bear witness to your faith by requesting Baptism for these children, because they are regenerated to new life in Christ and become part of the community of believers.

The Gospel account of Jesus' baptism, which we have heard today according to St Luke’s account, shows the path of abasement and humility that the Son of God freely chose in order to adhere to the plan of the Father, to be obedient to His loving will for mankind in all things, even to the sacrifice on the Cross. Having reached adulthood, Jesus begins His public ministry by going to the River Jordan to receive from John the baptism of repentance and conversion. What happens may appear paradoxical to our eyes. Does Jesus need repentance and conversion? Of course not. Yet He Who is without sin is placed among the sinners to be baptized, to fulfil this act of repentance; the Holy One of God joins those who recognize in themselves the need for forgiveness and ask God for the gift of conversion – that is, the grace to turn to Him with their whole heart, to be totally His. Jesus wills to put Himself on the side of sinners, by being in solidarity with them, expressing the nearness of God. Jesus shows solidarity with us, with our effort to convert, to leave behind our selfishness, to detach ourselves from our sins, saying to us that if we accept Him into our lives, He is able to raise us up and lead us the heights of God the Father. And this solidarity of Jesus is not, so to speak, a mere exercise of the mind and will. Jesus was really immersed in our human condition; He lived it to the utmost – although without sin – and in such a way that He understands weakness and fragility. Therefore He is moved to compassion; He chooses to “suffer with” men, to be penitent together with us. This is the work of God that Jesus wishes to accomplish: the divine mission to heal those who are wounded and to cure those who are sick, to take upon Himself the sin of the world.

What happens at the moment when Jesus was baptized by John? In the face of this humble act of love on the part of the Son of God, the heavens open and the Holy Spirit is visibly manifested in the form of a dove, while a voice from on high expresses the pleasure of the Father, Who recognizes the Only-begotten Son, the Beloved. It is a true manifestation of the Holy Trinity, which gives testimony to the divinity of Jesus, to His being the promised Messiah, the One whom God has sent to free His people, so that His people might be saved (cf. Is 40, 2). Thus is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that we heard in the first reading: the Lord God comes with power to destroy the works of sin and His arm exercises dominion to disarm the Evil one; but keep in mind that this arm is the arm extended on the Cross, and the power of Christ is the power of the One who suffers for us: this is the power of God, differing from the power of the world. Thus God comes in power to destroy sin. Jesus truly acts as the good shepherd, that feeds His flock and gathers it together so that it will not be scattered (cf. Is 40, 10-11), and offers His own life that it might live. It is through His redemptive death that man is freed from the dominion of sin and reconciled with the Father; and through His resurrection that man is saved from eternal death and is made victorious over the Evil one.

Dear brothers and sisters, what happens in Baptism, which will soon be administered to your children? What happens is this: they will be united in a profound way and forever with Jesus, immersed in the mystery of His power, that is, in the mystery of His death, which is the source of life, in order to share in His resurrection, to be reborn to new life. See the miracle that is repeated today for your children: receiving baptism, they are reborn as children of God, partakers of the filial relationship that Jesus has with the Father, able to turn to God and call upon Him with full trust and confidence: “Abba, Father!” On your children, too, the heavens are opened, and God says: “these are my children, with whom I am well pleased.” Inserted into this relationship and freed from original sin, they become living members of the unique body which is the Church, and are enabled to live fully their vocation to holiness, so as to inherit eternal life, obtained for us by the resurrection of Jesus.

Dear parents, in asking for Baptism for your children, you manifest and bear witness to your faith, to the joy of being a Christian and of belonging to the Church. It is the joy that comes from knowing you have received a great gift from God – the faith – a gift that none of us have merited, but that has been freely given and to which we have responded with our “yes.” It is the joy of recognizing ourselves as children of God, of discovering that we have been entrusted into His hands, to know that we are welcomed into a loving embrace, in the same way that a mother supports and embraces her child. This joy, that directs the path of every Christian, is based on a personal relationship with Jesus, a relationship that guides the whole of human existence. He, in fact, is the meaning of our life, the One upon Whom it is worthy to gaze, in order to be enlightened by His Truth and be able to live life to the fullest. The way of faith that begins today for these children is therefore based on a certainty, on the experience that there is nothing greater than to know Christ and to communicate friendship with Him to others; only in this friendship is the great potential of the human condition truly revealed and we can experience what is beautiful and what is free (cf. Homily at Mass for the beginning of his pontificate, April 24, 2005). Those who have this experience are not willing to give up their faith for anything in the world.

Dear godfathers and godmothers, yours is the important duty of supporting and contributing to the work of parents in education, working alongside them in the transmission of the truths of faith and in witnessing to the values ​​of the Gospel, in raising these children in an ever deeper friendship with the Lord. May you always give them your good example, through the exercise of Christian virtues. It is not easy to demonstrate what you believe in openly and without compromise, especially in the context in which we live, in the face of a society that often considers those who live by faith in Jesus to be old-fashioned and out of date. In the wake of this mentality, there can be, even among Christians, the risk of understanding the relationship with Jesus as limiting, as something that is detrimental to personal fulfilment, “God is seen as a limitation of our freedom, a limitation that destroys man’s ability to be himself” (The Infancy of Jesus, 101). But it is not so! This view demonstrates that it has understood nothing of the relationship with God, because, proceeding along the path of faith, we understand that Jesus exercises over us the freeing action of God's love that takes us beyond our selfishness and keeps us from being turned in on ourselves, in order to lead a full life, a life in communion with God and open to others. “‘God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God abides in him’ (1 Jn 4:16). These words from the First Letter of John express with remarkable clarity the heart of the Christian faith: the Christian image of God and the resulting image of mankind and its destiny” (Encyclical Deus caritas est, 1).

The water with which these children will be signed in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit immerses them in the “fount” of life that is God Himself and that will make them His own children. And the seed of the theological virtues, infused by God – faith, hope and charity – the seed that today is placed in their hearts through the power of the Holy Spirit, must always be fed by the Word of God and the Sacraments, so that these virtues of the Christian can grow and reach full maturity, in order to make each one of them a true witness of the Lord. While we invoke upon these little children the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, we entrust them to the protection of the Holy Virgin: May she always guard them with her maternal presence and accompany them at every moment of their lives. Amen.


Thursday, January 10, 2013

Quote of the Day

Like Jesus, the Church must make present the mystery of the incarnation through her enculturation within the various cultures in which she is present. Like St. Paul, the Church in preaching the good news of salvation must strive to be all things to all men. The integration of the newcomer into the local Church does not mean that he must surrender what makes him unique at the door but that his unique gifts be accepted and honored. For, he does come bearing many gifts. 
You do bring many gifts. You are already a force for the renewal of the Church in America. Your presence among us can be the antidote to the crisis of faith experienced by too many American-born Catholics. Through your faith, through your commitment to family life, through your openness to vocations to the priesthood and religious life, through your popular piety: you are bringing to the Catholic Church in America a new and welcomed vitality. To cite just one example of the vitality that immigrants contribute to our Catholic life, let me remind you that in May, when three new priests will be ordained to the service of the Church in Miami, only one of them would have been born here in the United States and his parents are themselves immigrants. 
Ask any child: What is the Church? He or she would most likely answer: the Church is God’s house. If the Church is the Father’s house, then all who are God’s children should feel at home in their Father’s house – and the best way to make someone feel at home is to speak their mother’s tongue.... The word, Catholic, comes from the Greek, Katolikos, and means universal. The Gospel of Jesus announces that salvation is universal, that it is catholic: he sent us to proclaim the Gospel to all peoples. And if salvation is catholic, then the Church founded by Jesus on the Rock of Peter must necessarily be Catholic – catholic not only because of her acceptance of all the teachings of Christ; but also catholic in her people. 
The Gospel is not foreign to any culture, race or people – for the Gospel can make its home in every culture, race, and people and because of that, every race, language and people are called to become children of God the Father through baptism. Our unity is based not on common origins, common language, common culture – our unity is based on a common faith, a common baptism, a common Lord who calls all of humanity to the glory of heaven through his passion, death and resurrection.... 
Diversity does not cause division in the Body of Christ, it enriches that Body which is the Church – only sin can divide us. We should fear sin; we have nothing to fear from diversity. To be a good Catholic here or anywhere else, you don’t have to change your culture, you don’t have to change your traditions, you don’t have to change your language — you just have to change your hearts. As Catholics, we must welcome the stranger to our assembly, breaking the bread of life with him who, in Christ, is no longer a stranger but a brother, a sister.

We must see Christ in the migrant – for Christ himself was perhaps the primordial migrant: the Son of God migrated from heaven to live among us.
–Thomas G. Wenski
Archbishop of Miami
Epiphany/National Migration Week Mass
St Mary's Cathedral
6 January 2013
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...and yet, as the Gospels duly recount, "There was no room for Him in the inn."

And so it seems – among no shortage of His own people, no less – plus ça change....

Over these days, the Stateside church focuses on and celebrates the reason why – despite having hemorrhaged some 30 million (almost entirely Anglo) souls over recent years; indeed, a tenth of the general population of these shores – today, there are still over 60 million American Catholics as opposed to the 30 million who would've remained... at least, had an epochal tide of Providence not come this way in our time.

If nothing else, as this Migration Week draws to its close, we'd all be the wiser to take a minute and just think about it.


And the Oscar Goes To... The Crosses – San Antonio Aux. Headed for Las Cruces

You couldn't make it up – on the very same morning Hollywood's set to announce the nominees for its biggest prize, the Pope's awarding an Oscar of his own... and as a result, after a 30-year reign along the Mexican border, the oldest head of a US diocese will hand off to the youngest.

At Roman Noon this Thursday, the Pope named Bishop Oscar Cantú, the 46 year-old auxiliary of San Antonio, to lead New Mexico's 120,000-member Las Cruces church, whose 44,000 square miles roughly comprise the entire land area of Ohio.

In the post, the sporadic blogger succeeds Bishop Ricardo Ramirez – the US' lone Basilian prelate, who has led the diocese since its founding in 1982. Likewise a former San Antonio auxiliary, Ramirez reached the retirement age of 75 in September 2011 and, until today, had been waiting the longest for his replacement among the current docket.

On his 2008 appointment to assist Archbishop José Gomez, Cantú – then pastor of his boyhood parish in Houston – became, at 41, the youngest US bishop to be named in nearly two decades, and the bench's first member to be born following the close of Vatican II. In the five years since, only one younger prelate has been made on these shores: the Mexican-born Detroit auxiliary Arturo Cepeda, now 43, who was serving as rector of San Antonio's ever-growing Assumption Seminary on his transfer north in 2011.

Trained in four languages and the recipient of a Gregorian doctorate in theology, during his days in the "happy chaos" of the rapidly-growing Houston church, Cantú juggled full-time parish assignments with professorships at the University of St Thomas and St Mary's Seminary. The scene has been relatively more sedate in American Catholicism's "Hispanic seat," where Cantú stoked an outcry from San Antonio's gay community after a 2010 order (given while he was apostolic administrator) to cancel a long-running weekly Mass coordinated by the unsanctioned LGBT lobby Dignity. As the Stateside church marks its annual Migration Week, however, whatever controversy is to come might just be on the opposite end of the political spectrum as the bishop's transfer tosses him headlong into the high-stakes and just as charged issues of immigration and the border, some 200 miles of which forms the southern line of the Las Cruces church.

For the last several years, Ramirez has celebrated an annual Mass at the fence marking the US-Mexico boundary to commemorate those who've died trying to cross illegally. Even as the numbers making the journey have been reported as lessening over the last year, in a 2011 Houston talk on the church's role at the border, the retiring bishop observed that "theologically we can say that God continually crosses borders" while lamenting that "many US citizens, among whom are found Roman Catholics, are resistant to an ethic that promotes hospitality and mercy for those who are in this country outside the parameters of current law."

At the same time, the diocese's books might prove an even more formidable first challenge for the new bishop. Some unusual doings in Las Cruces' finances have come come to light in recent months, including a $1.9 million loan from one diocesan account transferred by a former employee without the requisite consents, and a mysterious $385,000 advance to a dead lawyer who worked for the diocese.

With today's nod, the oldest of the now-nine Stateside Latin ordinaries currently awaiting successors becomes Chicago's Cardinal Francis George, who turns 76 next week amid ongoing treatment for a second bout with cancer. 
As previously noted, only three US diocesans in need of successors reach the retirement age in 2013, the first of whom – Louisiana's Bishop Sam Jacobs of Houma-Thibodeaux – doesn't mark the big birthday until March. And on the flip-side, as Cantú becomes the youngest bishop to lead one of the US' 197 dioceses, he'll share the "Land of Enchantment" with the prelate he's taking the distinction from, 48 year-old Bishop James Wall of Gallup, who's held the title since 2009.

Among the seven spots remaining vacant, meanwhile, is Las Cruces' eastern neighbor among the border dioceses, the 650,000-member El Paso church – open since Bishop Armando Ochoa's late 2011 transfer to Fresno – the longtime New Mexico portion of which now forms the bulk of Cantú's new diocese. 

*   *   *
In addition to the domestic move, this morning the Pope named Fr Brendan Leahy – a 52 year-old Dublin priest teaching theology at Ireland's National Seminary at St Patrick's in Maynooth – as bishop of Limerick.

In the Mid-West, Leahy replaces Bishop Donal Murray, who resigned in late 2009 amid a state inquiry's finding that, as an auxiliary of Dublin, the prelate had exhibited "inexcusable" conduct in turning away concerns expressed over a priest found to have abused over 20 children.

After a lengthy drought of Irish appointments – and continued expectations that the ecclesial structure of the 26-diocese Isle will yet be drastically consolidated – Leahy becomes the second new bishop to be named there since late November, when the career pastor Fr William Crean was appointed to Cloyne nearly four years after Bishop John Magee was forced from office by Rome after another abuse inquest found that the diocese's child protection procedures remained "inadequate and, in some respects, dangerous" into the 2000s.

Before taking the reins of the Cloyne church in 1987, Magee had served as private secretary to three Popes and John Paul II's liturgical master of ceremonies.