Sunday, October 25, 2020

Red Hats... Black History – Because He Can, The Pope Packs His "Senate"

First it was coming, then it wasn't....

But, finally, it's here – finally, in more ways than one.

At the close of today's noontime Angelus, the Pope announced his seventh intake of new cardinals – 13 in all; nine younger than 80 and thus eligible to enter a Conclave – who'll receive the red hat and cruciform ring on Saturday, 28 November, the eve of the First Sunday of Advent.

Here, the names of the cardinals-designate, listed in the strict order of precedence that dictates their seniority in the papal "Senate" – first, the electors:

–Bishop Mario Grech, 63, Secretary-General of the Synod for Bishops (Maltese);
–Bishop Marcelo Semeraro, 72, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints (Italian);
–Archbishop Antoine Kambanda, 62, of Kigali (Rwanda);
–Archbishop Wilton Daniel Gregory, 72, of Washington DC;
–Archbishop José Advincula, 68, of Capiz (Philippines);
–Archbishop Celestino Aós Braco OFM Cap., 75, of Santiago de Chile;
–Bishop Cornelius Sim, 69, vicar-apostolic of Brunei;
–Archbishop Paolo Lojudice, 56, of Siena (Italy);
–Fr Mauro Gambetti OFM Conv., 55, custodian of the Convent of Assisi (Italian)

...and alongside them, the four picks older than 80, given the red hat for "lifetime achievement": 

–Bishop Felipe Arizmendi Esquivel, 80, emeritus of San Cristobal de las Casas (Mexico);
–Archbishop Silvano Tomasi CS, 80, retired Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the UN Offices in Geneva;
–Fr Raniero Cantalamessa OFM Cap., 86, preacher of the Papal Household 
–Msgr Enrico Feroci, parish priest of Rome, 80, pastor of Our Lady of Divine Love at Castel di Leva

The Holy See has provided biographical notes on each of the designates.
With today's picks, the College will have 128 voting cardinals once the Consistory is held – eight over the customary limit set by St Paul VI in 1975, but nowhere near the 135 to which the group was ballooned by John Paul II in 2001, when he created 37 electors in one fell swoop.
Upon the new class' entrance, Francis will have chosen 73 voters in a hypothetical Conclave, comprising just shy of 60 percent of the total. 
For context, the Roman Pontiff is elected by a supermajority of two-thirds. Yet far more significantly, the electors don't merely choose the next Pope – one of them will be next the Pope.
In light of the ongoing travel restrictions due to the pandemic, it's worth noting that cardinals-designate need not be present at the Roman ceremonies to formally take their places in the College. Regardless of their whereabouts, the designees enjoy the title "Eminence" and the right to enter a Conclave upon the Pope's publication of the biglietto – literally, the "ticket" – listing their names, which currently takes place at the beginning of the Consistory itself. 
It remains to be seen whether, as in times past, Francis will need to send the scarlet 
birette and rings to at least some of the new cardinals for them to receive at home. While, today, the insignia would ostensibly be conferred on the pontiff's behalf by the local Nuncio or another nearby cardinal, in Catholic countries that privilege was historically carried out by the head of state. (Above right, the future St John XXIII – then-Archbishop Angelo Roncalli, the Nuncio to Paris – is seen receiving his biretta from the French President Vincent Auriol, a Socialist, on his elevation in 1953.)
*  *  *
Before anything else, given Cantalamessa's invariable presence in his brown Capuchin habit – to say nothing of his penchant for controversy over four decades as the household preacher – the sight of Padre Raniero in cardinal red is going to give more than a few natives the vapors. On a related front, the friar's deluxe following among the Catholic Charismatic renewal is likewise set to make next month's rites the first "Scarlet Bowl" to feature en masse speaking in tongues among the moment's usual kaleidoscope of the church's universality.
And speaking of the church's Catholicity... here at home, this Sunday is nothing short of a watershed. 

Of course, the elevation of Wilton Gregory gives Stateside Catholicism its first African-American ever to don the red hat – indeed, the first US cardinal of non-European descent. 
For Francis, the call is legacy-defining. For the cardinal-designate, it's simply been a long time coming.
Appointed a bishop at 35 – the youngest possible age under canon law – the DC prelate (a favorite of the last three pontificates) now becomes the oldest American to be elevated to a Conclave seat since St Paul VI limited the electoral age to 80 in 1975. Having echoed the meteoric rise of his own mentor in many ways – among them, becoming the first Black president of the US bishops at all of 53 – while today's announcement has been gleefully received across all sorts of divides, if anything, it comes as an overdue recognition of a ministry that, by any standard, has been one of the landmark tenures in American Catholic history, one often saddled with equally historic and unique burdens.
To be sure, there is a poetic – and, even more, a Providential – timing to the news, coming amid a societal reckoning over systemic racism and the ties that bind the body politic. Yet while much of the wider world will make the mistake of conflating the man with the moment, anyone who's watched Gregory's ascent onto the national, then global stage over the last 30 years knows the extraordinary blend of skill, dignity, self-effacement and, yes, tolerance for pain that have paved the road to today, and how this elevation is the most merited of any these shores have seen in living memory.
Three decades ago, the walk began with his arrival in rural Southern Illinois, an early hotbed of abuse scandals, which saw him take the then unheard-of move to suspend one-sixth of the priests he inherited. Not long after, within six weeks of Gregory's election as USCCB chief in late 2001, the crisis' national eruption began in Boston, and despite the resistance of many of the young president's elders on the bench – let alone potent opposition in Rome – "one strike and you're out" didn't just become the church's buzzword, but national law. And now, just when he was beginning to coast toward retirement after 15 years leading Catholicism's emergence as the dominant religious bloc in the "Capital of the South" – seeing Atlanta's 69-county church more than double in size to 1.3 million members, usually featuring the nation's largest RCIA classes of adult converts (2,000 or more each year) – not only did another atomic-grade cleanup come calling, but one to be carried out in the hyper-polarized, omni-media glare of the nation's capital.
Far from the hurricane-like experience of the long, torrid summer of 2018, these days, nary a peep is heard out of Washington. And that's pretty much what was hoped on his arrival – as no shortage of the designate's confreres remarked upon his appointment, "Thank God it's him... and (even more) thank God it isn't me." 
Lest it sounded easy, accomplishing any of these was no mean feat. What's more, however, doing so while Black has required the churchman's equivalent of tackling it "Backwards and in heels." And all the while, from those early days in Belleville and the conference – as Atlanta received, then quickly lost, the first two African-American archbishops – the expectations grew, gradually yet widely, that Wilton would be "the one."
For any man, that can be a crushing weight to live with. But most of us can't imagine being the vessel of an aspiration that isn't your own, yet held by a community of 3.5 million – the US' Black Catholic population, itself larger than the entire Episcopal Church. 

By every account, the man has never sought the scarlet for himself. Yet if the day never came, there would still be the weight – of wondering whether the "wrong" thing was said or done somewhere along the way, of somehow letting down those for whom his red hat would've been perceived as their church's way of seeing them and speaking their name.
But we don't have to worry about that now. And on top of the grace of the news, knowing that we don't – that he doesn't – is a gift and a balm all its own.
For longer than most folks can remember, many have believed that, more than any other man in red, Wilton Gregory was born for it. Maybe now, he might begin to believe that. Either way, the decades of expectation placed upon Miss Etta Mae's son are behind him... and as Wilton Cardinal Gregory, he can finally be himself.

*   *   *
National monument aside, today's class builds upon several of Francis' now well-burnished traits among his intakes: only two of the designates – Gregory and Aós (himself leading the Chilean church's sprawling post-scandal cleanup) – come from the customary "cardinalatial sees," with the bulk hailing yet again from "the peripheries," albeit in several senses of the word. 
Beyond the duo who'll be the first-ever cardinals from their respective countries (Rwanda's Kambanda and Brunei's native-born Sim), while technically a Curial cardinal in light of his new post, Grech – who recently gave a notable, extended reflection on the shape of a post-COVID church – becomes the first Maltese prelate with a Conclave vote in two centuries. 

In addition, Papa Bergoglio has continued his practice begun last time in elevating a simple priest – here, Gambetti (above), the superior of the Assisi complex containing the Basilica and tomb of St Francis – to an electoral seat. 
Given how the friar's role as custos (guardian) is subject to his Franciscan superiors, and the reality that cardinals answer only to the Pope, the 55 year-old is certain to receive a new assignment determined by the pontiff. (As now-Cardinal Michael Czerny SJ was already a Vatican official on being catapulted from priest-to-cardinal elector last year, a similar change of his day-job wasn't similarly needed.)
As none of the priests on today's list are Jesuits, Gambetti and the trio of 80-something designates will all be ordained bishops before the Consistory, in accord with the 1962 stipulation of John XXIII now inserted into the canons.

Sunday, October 04, 2020






“FRATELLI TUTTI”. With these words, Saint Francis of Assisi addressed his brothers and sisters and proposed to them a way of life marked by the flavour of the Gospel. Of the counsels Francis offered, I would like to select the one in which he calls for a love that transcends the barriers of geography and distance, and declares blessed all those who love their brother “as much when he is far away from him as when he is with him”. In his simple and direct way, Saint Francis expressed the essence of a fraternal openness that allows us to acknowledge, appreciate and love each person, regardless of physical proximity, regardless of where he or she was born or lives.

This saint of fraternal love, simplicity and joy, who inspired me to write the Encyclical Laudato Si’, prompts me once more to devote this new Encyclical to fraternity and social friendship. Francis felt himself a brother to the sun, the sea and the wind, yet he knew that he was even closer to those of his own flesh. Wherever he went, he sowed seeds of peace and walked alongside the poor, the abandoned, the infirm and the outcast, the least of his brothers and sisters.

There is an episode in the life of Saint Francis that shows his openness of heart, which knew no bounds and transcended differences of origin, nationality, colour or religion. It was his visit to Sultan Malik-el-Kamil, in Egypt, which entailed considerable hardship, given Francis’ poverty, his scarce resources, the great distances to be traveled and their differences of language, culture and religion. That journey, undertaken at the time of the Crusades, further demonstrated the breadth and grandeur of his love, which sought to embrace everyone. Francis’ fidelity to his Lord was commensurate with his love for his brothers and sisters. Unconcerned for the hardships and dangers involved, Francis went to meet the Sultan with the same attitude that he instilled in his disciples: if they found themselves “among the Saracens and other nonbelievers”, without renouncing their own identity they were not to “engage in arguments or disputes, but to be subject to every human creature for God’s sake”. In the context of the times, this was an extraordinary recommendation. We are impressed that some eight hundred years ago Saint Francis urged that all forms of hostility or conflict be avoided and that a humble and fraternal “subjection” be shown to those who did not share his faith.

Francis did not wage a war of words aimed at imposing doctrines; he simply spread the love of God. He understood that “God is love and those who abide in love abide in God” (1 Jn 4:16). In this way, he became a father to all and inspired the vision of a fraternal society. Indeed, “only the man who approaches others, not to draw them into his own life, but to help them become ever more fully themselves, can truly be called a father”. In the world of that time, bristling with watchtowers and defensive walls, cities were a theatre of brutal wars between powerful families, even as poverty was spreading through the countryside. Yet there Francis was able to welcome true peace into his heart and free himself of the desire to wield power over others. He became one of the poor and sought to live in harmony with all. Francis has inspired these pages....


Thursday, October 01, 2020

A Distanced Al Smith, With COVID At The Door

(1.20am ET – Updated with further developments.

Every fourth year, what's normally the third Thursday in October is always a moment to remember. But both in terms of its setting and the turmoil of a brutal campaign amid a crisis-ridden national scene, there's never been an Al Smith Dinner like this one.

Far from its usual home before a white-tie and ballgown-ed crowd at the Waldorf-Astoria in Midtown Manhattan before a crowd approaching 2,000, what was planned as a 50-person gathering in light of the ongoing pandemic was scrapped following concerns expressed by the New York state government. In its place, the ultimate church-state moment of six decades of presidential campaigns – by tradition, the nominees' lone joint appearance outside the debates – went all-virtual, with Cardinal Timothy Dolan performing livefeed "host" duties from his Madison Avenue residence.

Surreal as the context already was, it entered even more uncharted territory not long after – some five hours after President Trump used his remarks to declare that the end of COVID-19 "is in sight," the Republican contender announced just before 1am Eastern Friday that he and First Lady Melania Trump had contracted the virus. In that light, with the First Couple now set to be quarantined in the White House residence, Trump's pre-recorded remarks from Washington likely made for his last appearance for at least several days as the bruising campaign enters its home-stretch.

For the Democratic nominee's part, after days of strange silence by aides on whether he'd accept his invitation, Vice President Joe Biden's campaign only announced that he would participate an hour or so before the event took place. 

Named for the first Catholic nominated for the Presidency – whose faith saw him subjected to bigotry and suspicion in his 1928 run – while the Al Smith is customarily the candidates' final appearance, coming after their last debate, even for this edition's earlier place in the calendar and the virtual setup, the shape of this race (underscored by the visceral nature of Tuesday's opening debate) made the tension of the moment already higher than its predecessors. Add in the conventional wisdom that a small slice of Catholic voters – mostly across the Rust Belt, but quite possibly in the "New South" as well – will determine the outcome, and what's always a significant pitch to the pews might just be more electorally significant than it's ever been.

All that said, here below is fullvideo of tonight's event, headlined by speeches lacking this night's usual lighthearted, roast-like tone, while still vividly underscoring the divergence between the contenders:

On a final church-state note, the nexus of the Catholic world and the political scene continues into the weekend: as ever on the eve of the First Monday in October, Sunday morning brings the Red Mass in Washington's St Matthew's Cathedral to mark the Supreme Court's new term.

Usually not filmed in keeping with SCOTUS' ban on cameras, the 10am liturgy will be live-streamed for the first time due to restrictions on attendance. While the capital's Archbishop Wilton Gregory took the preaching duties last year – as is custom for a new DC prelate in his first and last years in office – this 68th edition of the rites returns to the norm of a visiting homilist, this time Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington, the USCCB Communications chair.

Like the Al Smith, this year's Red Mass comes amid a more charged backdrop than usual given last month's death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Trump's nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett – a figure hailed by conservatives for an especially intense Catholic identity – in her stead, with Barrett's mid-month confirmation hearings set to make for not just a societal flashpoint, but one within the church's walls, to boot.

While the Mass normally draws a majority of the Court – which would comprise six Catholics (of nine) upon Barrett's likely confirmation – only Chief Justice John Roberts is expected to attend this year in light of COVID precautions. A committed member of his suburban Maryland parish, the Chief was active in the capital's John Carroll Society, the guild of Catholic lawyers which organizes the liturgy, long before his 2005 elevation to the bench.


Friday, September 25, 2020

Breaking Form, Pope "Decapitates" A Cardinal – With Becciu's Exile, A Monster Vatican Precedent

In a 2016 interview with his hometown paper, Pope Francis told La Nación one key to his governing style: 

"I don't cut off heads," he said. "I've never liked doing that."

Yet now, the pontiff has done just that, effectively stripping one of his inner circle of the red hat in stunning, dramatic fashion.

At 8pm Thursday in Rome, the Holy See Press Office slipped out a very late, one-sentence addendum to the noontime Bollettino, stating that Francis had "accepted the resignation of the office of Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and of the rights connected to the Cardinalate presented by His Eminence Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu." 

Unaccompanied by any explanation – and likened by many to either a "lightning bolt" or an "earthquake" – what the announcement lacked in length, it made up for in impact... and, at least at first, a flood of unanswered questions.

In modern times, three other men have either been forced to renounce either the prerogatives of membership in the papal "Senate" or the rank altogether. In each of those cases – the Austrian Hans Hermann Groer in 1998, the Scotsman Keith O'Brien in 2015 and, in 2018, the American Theodore McCarrick – the move was taken after multiple allegations of sexual abuse were levied against each. 

That is not the case here: in a first, Becciu's ouster owes itself to financial misconduct, which in itself creates a monster of a precedent for an institution that's seen its share of fiscal scandal at very high levels. Yet just as much, while the prior trio of de facto ex-cardinals were figures in the distant trenches (albeit prominent ones in their respective countries), this time, Francis moved on a key Vatican figure in a way not seen in memory, exiling Becciu not just from his Roman office, but a seat in the next Conclave. 

A lifer in papal diplomacy, the Sardinian-born prelate was brought to the pinnacle of the Vatican by Benedict XVI, who named him Sostituto of the Secretariat of State (effectively the Holy See's "chief of staff") in 2011, after a brief but formidable stint as Nuncio to Cuba. Upon Francis' election two years later, Becciu's combination of background and skill won a quick admirer in the new Pope, who famously crashed a lunch at his aide's apartment on his first Holy Thursday in office, having learned that the then-archbishop was hosting rank-and-file parish priests. 

Accordingly, while Papa Bergoglio took less than six months to replace Benedict's "Vice-Pope," Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, at the Secretariat's helm, Becciu remained atop the power structure alongside Francis and Cardinal Pietro Parolin past the pontificate's five-year mark, going to the saint-making office in 2018 with the post's traditional red hat. Before departing, however, his prior experience had helped the pontiff rack up two legacy-defining achievements – thanks to his time in Cuba and its resulting contacts, Becciu played a role in brokering what became the US' watershed 2014 "opening" to the Communist-run island under President Barack Obama, as well as securing Havana as the site of the first-ever meeting between a Roman pontiff and the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church in 2016, the latter a coveted ecumenical goal of the Popes for over a half-century.

While most outside guessing in the wake of Thursday's move focused on long-simmering rumblings over Becciu's potential role in an investment of over €100 million (US$116 million) of Vatican funds into a high-end apartment building in London (dubbed the "palace of luxury" in the Italian press), only after the announcement did the ostensible cause surface, as the Italian outlet L'Espresso – the Sunday magazine of the country's largest newspaper, the leftist La Repubblica – revealed that this weekend's edition would allege a "real and proper method" of financial corruption on the part of the cardinal. Among the claims: Becciu's authorization of spending from the Holy See's charitable accounts (most pointedly, the Peter's Pence collection from the world's faithful) for speculative investments, among them with entities involving his brothers. (As a point of context, it bears noting that Francis himself is close to the leadership of La Repubblica, above all the paper's co-founder and longtime editor, the atheist Eugenio Scalfari, whose multiple, loosely-constructed interviews with the Pope have garnered fury among church conservatives.)

Adding to the furore, barely 12 hours after telling a handful of reporters that he "prefer[red] silence" in the wake of Francis' decision, Becciu abruptly changed tack Friday morning, holding a press conference to profess his innocence and reaffirm his "confidence" in the Pope. 

According to Italian reports, the cardinal thought he was going to a standard 6pm audience to present Francis with decrees on causes of canonization when, Becciu said today, the Pope told him "that he no longer trusts me." 

"I felt a little dazed," Becciu said. "Until 6.02, I thought I was his friend, a faithful executor for the Pope.... I don't think I'm corrupt." 

In light of "the good done" over his years of service, the cardinal added that Francis had permitted him to keep his Vatican apartment.

*   *   *
Again, the sweeping nature of the move itself doesn't mean we've heard the entirety of what's happened. At least, not yet.

Even as the effective "decapitation" of a cardinal is among the most potent tools in a Pope's arsenal of clerical punishment, it remains to be seen whether Becciu will face charges in Vatican City's justice system, or if Francis – the sovereign of the city-state – will see the cardinal's exile as having sent enough of a message. Just as much, given years of claims surrounding abuse of resources by other top prelates, the million-dollar question is whether this is a one-off penalty, or something the pontiff will see fit to extend to other egregious instances. 

Either way, as the closest analog to Becciu – the Chicago-born Archbishop Paul Marcinkus, hounded by a long trail of seedy allegations from the Vatican's banking scandals of the 1970s and '80s – was permitted to depart Rome for a golf course in Arizona and live a quiet, un-punished life for some two decades until his 2006 death, yesterday's move makes for a sizable game-changer on one of the Curia's keenest weak-spots, and arguably signals a turning point in Francis' pontificate halfway through its eighth year.

While Becciu retains the title of cardinal, his renunciation of "the rights connected to it" goes well beyond a vote in an eventual Conclave, which he would've enjoyed through 2028. 

As the pontiff's principal advisers – and given the sensitive missions on which they're often sent – the members of the College enjoy universal faculties in the law (in other words, they are not subject to a local bishop when traveling and ministering), as well as the prerogatives to advise the Pope and collaborate with him in the universal governance of the church, whether as a group in consistories or through their membership of the dicasteries of the Roman Curia. All that said, as the move on Becciu did not include the imposition of sanctions upon his ministry as priest and bishop, he may celebrate Mass and the sacraments publicly without any issue.

In that light, the cardinal's ouster has significantly complicated at least one top-level coming event – on 31 October, Becciu was slated to be in Hartford, presiding in his role as Saints Czar at the Beatification Mass of Fr Michael McGivney, the Connecticut-born founder of the Knights of Columbus. 

With his departure from the post, another figure must now be tapped as papal legate to lead the rites. As of press-time, no developments have emerged in light of the sudden change.


Tuesday, August 25, 2020

On St Louis' Day, The Arch's Call – "We Must Be 'Gateways,' Not Gatekeepers"

(Updated with homily.)

One hundred sixty years ago, on the eve of a Civil War whose echoes have eerily resurfaced in these days, the bond between Catholicism's oldest diocese in these States and the mother-church of the American West was created when Baltimore and St Louis were respectively led by Dublin-born brothers named Kenrick.

Today, as the Premier See's own Mitch Rozanski crosses the Mississippi to become the ninth successor of the younger of the siblings, the MetroLink comes full-circle. And much like Peter Richard – the founding archbishop who would hold office for 52 years (the record tenure of any US prelate) – the nation's newest metropolitan now outranks his "older brothers," becoming the first Baltimore priest named to an archdiocese in nearly four decades.

Gratefully, there is no need today to say "Noli Irritare Leonen" – the Kenrick motto once memorably translated by a successor as "Don't mess with the lion." Here, if anything, facing a roiled scene of pandemic-induced turmoil, one of the nation's outsize venues of civil unrest over racial injustice – and, indeed, a local ecclesiology encrusted by history that has led to strong perceptions of a disconnect with the people it's supposed to serve – the more fitting opening line is drawn from the 1791 prayer of Baltimore's John Carroll, the nation's founding shepherd: namely, "[T]hat they may be preserved in union and in peace."

With that in mind, it's Arch-time – from the sumptuous "New Cathedral" named for the city's patron on his feast-day, the livefeed of the Installation Mass, beginning at 2pm Central – and, here, the rite's ample libretto:

...and in a potent answer to the call given by today's papal legate for the event – that is, Rome's wish for a ministry of "unity and prophecy" (citing Francis' loaded Peter and Paul preach in June) – here below, the new Arch's opening word.

*   *   *

25 AUGUST 2020 

It is with a heart that is deeply humbled that I am in your midst this day: grateful to God for calling me to priesthood; grateful to Pope Francis for calling me to shepherd this Church of St. Louis; grateful to his representative in our country, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, who has shown me such great kindness over these past two months. 

As Archbishop Pierre could not be with us, I thank Msgr. Dennis Kuruppassery, the Chargé d’Affaires of the Apostolic Nunciature, who so graciously bestowed the Pallium earlier in our celebration in the name of our Holy Father. This past Sunday’s Gospel reminds us powerfully how our Lord built his Church on the “rock” of Peter’s faith. And so as a Catholic, even more as a pastor, I pledge my own fidelity and unity, and that of God’s People in this “Rome of the West,” to Peter’s successor among us, without whom we cannot know the Lord who sent him, the Lord who seeks to send us. 

As we are graced with the presence of our Seventh Archbishop, Justin Cardinal Rigali, Your Eminence, welcome home. And to all my brother Bishops who honor us with your presence here today, many of you sons of this illustrious local Church we now share, I offer not only my personal gratitude, but that of all of us here. What a joy it is to gather with brother priests, deacons, women and men in consecrated life, seminarians and the good people of this venerable Church of St Louis – it is a privilege, it is my joy, to be able to serve the Lord with you! 

Bishop Mark Rivituso and Bishop Robert Hermann have been so welcoming in sharing with me their great love of our archdiocese and her people; I pray that I may have that same share of enthusiasm and joy in serving here for which they are so well loved. 

On the day I received the phone call from Archbishop Pierre with the surprising news that the Holy Father had appointed me to St. Louis, the next person I spoke with was Archbishop Robert Carlson. Serving here as Archbishop for the past eleven years, he is a shepherd truly dedicated to the Lord Jesus and His people. We are all so grateful to Archbishop Carlson for his generous response to the call of Jesus to serve as priest of fifty years, and a remarkable 37 years as bishop across no less than four dioceses. Archbishop, please know of the gratitude of the entire Church for your solicitous care for everyone in this Archdiocese and beyond! 

I thank our friends in the media who are sharing this Mass of Installation with the wider world, and I look forward to working closely with you. But for now, please know how your work is allowing two very, very special people to watch this Mass from their home in Baltimore, Maryland. My Mom and Dad, Jean and Alfred, are united with us here in prayer. Throughout their sixty-four years of married life, they have made a home where God is the center of who we are as family; living out the vocation of marriage in a heroic way. I would not be living out my vocation if they first did not show me the way of love, faith, devotion and gratitude. My two brothers, Ken and Albert, and my nephews, Kyle and Dalton, join with me in thanking you for everything, Mom and Dad! 

And now, I look to my new home. Alongside our Stanley Cup Champion Blues, baseball’s Eminent Cardinals, and delicious ribs, the defining symbol of St. Louis to the world is the Arch. A tangible symbol of this “Gateway to the West,” the span of the Arch reminds us of the hopes and dreams of so many, who either settled here in the early history of our country, or those who passed through here to move to a life on the great western frontier. They came with many hopes: for a better life, for a place to raise their families and to be a part of that great adventure in the growth of this nation. 

How much that hope is needed in our world today! Back in late February, just six months ago, could any of us have imagined how, within days, we would be plunged into the greatest pandemic to affect the human race in over a hundred years? As we mourn the passing of tens of thousands of our fellow citizens, and offer prayers for the millions among us who are still struggling with the impact of the coronavirus, we share in the frustration of its devastating impact on all of our lives, be they physical, emotional or economic. As one person remarked to me, “How much longer can we take all this?” 

But sisters and brothers, COVID-19 is not the only urgent cross facing us today. As a nation – and, indeed, as a Church – we find ourselves still struggling with the scars of systemic racism in our society. To quote a brother bishop who this area knows well, this crime against human life and dignity is another, no less devastating virus, this one a man-made plague that also isolates us from one another and diminishes the God-given humanity that we all must cherish if we are to be His children. 

Our civil discourse these days is not very civil; when a person shares a differing opinion, the tendency to demonize the other, often in deeply personal ways, eclipses any type of dialogue, common ground or understanding. And as Catholics – as Christians – we need to ask: Where is God in all this? 

We need only look at the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel: “Love one another as I have loved you.” How many times have we heard these words of Jesus from the Gospel of John? That Jesus wanted his own to “Love one another as he has loved us.” In the midst of a pandemic, a societal reckoning on the life issue of race relations, an atrophied civic discourse – and, yes, the often-sinful polemics we now face within our Church – loving one another seems to be a tough thing to do these days. Yet, my friends, we are called to be a people of hope! 

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI helps us to understand Jesus’ command when he wrote in Deus Caritas Est that “Love of neighbor, grounded in the love of God, is first and foremost a responsibility for each individual member of the faithful, but it is also a responsibility for the entire ecclesial community at every level: from the local community to the particular Church and to the Church universal in its entirety. As a community, the Church must practice love.” 

I am humbly called to be with you in this ecclesial community of St. Louis. This “Gateway City” provides us a rich imagery – for in order for us to live out this fundamental command to love one another, it must be carried out in action. We ourselves must be gateways, not gatekeepers: Gateways to healing, to evangelization, to mercy, to compassion – gateways to listening with the ears of Jesus. As Pope Francis has so clearly and repeatedly taught: “We must build bridges and not walls.” 

How do we put our love of others into action? How do we serve the Lord with gladness? How do we rejoice in the Lord always? It’s simple: Jesus calls us to encounter people just as He did. Jesus never shied away from anybody – but rather He knew how significant and fundamental it is to meet people face to face no matter their history, their sinfulness, their sanctimoniousness, their abilities or their shortcomings. And so we are called to do the same. 

Shortly after being elected Pope, our Holy Father Francis found and elevated Fr Konrad Krajewski – a junior staff-member at the Vatican – to be the papal almoner, the bishop who oversees the distribution of alms and goods to those in need. Having heard of Fr Konrad’s nightly ritual of feeding the poor of Rome with leftovers he was given from the city’s restaurants, Pope Francis gave him a very clear description for his new job: he said, “Here is your office and here is your desk and I don’t want to see you behind that desk because if you do you will not have this job very long.” 

On the feast-day of this illustrious city, how poignant a message this is for a diocese and community named for a saint who was holy not for the crown he wore, but the service it allowed him to give. My friends, in the spirit of St Louis, let us remember: parishes are not built from behind desks; communities are not built from behind desks; as a Church, evangelization does not happen from behind a desk. 

During this pandemic, most of us have been confined to Zoom calls and virtual “meetings.” Thank God we have these, but, like most of you, I yearn for the day when we can meet safely face to face and not through our TVs, computers or phones. While we are compelled to be our brother’s keeper and so live within these necessary public safety parameters for the time being, let us nonetheless be visible and encounter people as best we can to spread the joy of the Gospel. 

The call to leadership in the Church today is a call to a deeper love: a love for God and for His people, who are the Body of Christ in the world. This calling is a challenge to all of us to pour out our lives in service. Pope Francis reminds us of this in the Joy of the Gospel. Our Holy Father beautifully sets forth the way a bishop ought to be present and ceaseless in his pastoral activity and conversion: “The bishop must always foster [a] missionary communion in his diocesan Church, following the ideal of the first Christian communities, in which the believers were of one heart and one soul. To do so, he will sometimes go before his people, pointing the way and keeping their hope vibrant. At other times, he will simply be in their midst with his unassuming and merciful presence. At yet other times, he will have to walk after them, helping those who lag behind and – above all – allowing the flock to strike out on new paths. In his mission of fostering a dynamic, open and missionary communion, he will have to encourage and develop the means of participation proposed in the Code of Canon Law and other forms of pastoral dialogue, out of a desire to listen to everyone and not simply those who would tell him what he would like to hear. Yet, the principal aim of these participatory processes should not be Ecclesial organization but rather the missionary aspiration of reaching everyone." 

My brothers and sisters, let us walk together on this path – I need your help and your prayers. 

As we are encouraged to do so, let us be bold and creative in the task of rethinking goals, structures, style and methods of evangelization. With your prayers, voices and commitment, let us work together in wise pastoral discernment. 

In all our words and deeds – in everything we hope to do – may we remember the words of the prophet Sirach: “Compassionate and merciful is the Lord.”

So must we be “compassionate and merciful.” So must we be! 


Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Bishop Mitch Goes to “Rome” – Pope Taps Mass. Prelate For St Louis

As the Vatican’s working year wends toward its close at month’s end, a cycle interrupted by a historic outbreak is making up for lost time, and wrapping up with more than one bang.

Accordingly, Roman Noon this Wednesday brings another “end-of-school” treat, as the Pope named 61 year-old Bishop Mitchell Rozanski of Springfield (Mass.) as the Tenth Archbishop of St Louis.

The first East Coast figure to inherit the “Rome of the West” since the Brooklyn-born John Joseph Carberry – the last of three (non-baseball) cardinals on Lindell Blvd. – arrived in 1968, the archbishop-elect succeeds Archbishop Robert Carlson, who reached the retirement age of 75 last June after 35 years on the bench.

Now home to some 550,000 Catholics, the 175 year-old archdiocese – the mother church of the American West: a vaunted center of Catholicity dating to its initial settlement by the French – might not have much in common with Rozanski’s most recent assignment in the Berkshires, but indeed bears a stark resemblance to his hometown of Baltimore: similar in size and the inflections of Southern culture, both titanic venues of Catholic history on these shores, with the enduring legacy of a massive institutional presence to prove it. And the similarities don’t end at the church’s walls, either – with Ferguson just over St Louis’ western line, six years since Michael Brown was murdered by a police officer there, the current national moment merely underscores the cities’ shared thread of high-profile racial injustice, the brutality and tensions of which have extended into our own time.

In that light, it’s especially notable that Francis has sent a prelate with a warm and fuzzy pastoral style, an empathetic listener with a premium on conciliation – traits already well-affirmed by the bench, which chose Rozanski to helm its ecumenical and interfaith efforts over the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. Yet earthy as he is, Mitch – a "lifer" in the trenches before becoming an auxiliary to Cardinal William Keeler at 45 – won’t so much sweep onto the Mississippi's western bank with a flourish as much as he’ll be overawed by it.

Indeed, in the thinking of some, Rozanski’s healing traits had marked him out over recent months as a contender for the roiled, bankrupt diocese of Buffalo – an idea bolstered by his Polish heritage given the community’s prominence in Western New York. That he’s instead been sent to a far more prominent and happier charge (and the pallium that comes with it) isn’t simply a vote of confidence in his talents, but likewise a reflection of St Louis’ ongoing need for bridge-building of a different sort.

A solid moderate in the tradition of his hometown mentors – Keeler and his Baltimore predecessor, Archbishop William Borders – the notion of Mitch Rozanski as successor to now-Cardinal Raymond Burke (who led the St Louis church for four tumultuous years, 2004-08) is enough to make one’s head spin. Not that the archbishop-elect is some sort of raving leftist – far from it – but simply that the excoriating style with which Burke polarized the archdiocese to the point of instability, outrage (and, in the case of one parish, a formal schism) would be antithetical to Rozanski’s low-key, dialogue-heavy approach. On this front, as the remnants of Burke’s high-octane, Francis-skeptic ecclesiology endure in influential pockets of St Louis Catholicism, reinforcing the cohesion in diversity of the local church remains a formidable challenge.

Much as the destination is a surprise, Rozanski’s name has been floated for several major openings over the last year, including Washington and Philadelphia, yet as recently as three weeks ago, another name was tipped for this appointment.

Even so, St Louis hit “jackpot” with this pick – Cardinal fans, you’re gonna love this guy. He’s coming to you with an open hand and a heart of gold, and this scribe knows you’ll respond in kind, just as Whispers’ STL crew always has for this shop. It’s simply a wonderful match – the only thing missing is a branch of Royal Farms (Baltimore’s home of the World’s Best Fried Chicken)... all told, be good to him, and he will assuredly be good to you.

Having first flown to Baltimore to tell his parents of the move, the archbishop-elect will be in St Louis this morning for the usual 10am press conference (video), which have now resumed after the COVID-induced lockdowns. Per the norms of the canons, Rozanski must be installed within two months of today’s appointment. 

(SVILUPPO: Per the in-house Review, the handover is slated for August 25th, the diocese's patronal day as the feast of St Louis, King of France.)

At said installation in the mammoth, all-mosaic "jewel-box" named for the city's patron, it’s likely that the Tenth Archbishop will likewise be invested with his pallium as head of the church in Missouri – a rare doubling-up of the twin rites.

While the world's newly-named metropolitans are usually expected to join the Pope on the 29th’s feast of Saints Peter and Paul to receive the symbol of their office, the hurdles of international travel mid-pandemic is set to prevent most of this year’s class from being on hand for the moment. Regardless, the US’ contingent of five new archbishops – Paul Etienne of Seattle, Nelson Pérez of Philadelphia, Atlanta’s Gregory Hartmayer OFM Conv., the Vincentian Andrew Bellisario of Alaska’s newly-merged archdiocese of Anchorage-Juneau, and now the “Arch-Mitch” – is Francis’ largest to date over his seven years in office.

With today’s move, the reigning pontiff has named 13 of the nation’s 32 Latin-church metropolitans.

* * *
Of course, today’s handoff isn’t this week’s only blockbuster for the Stateside bench – capping years of anticipation among not a few church-folks, yesterday saw Francis give the hat to the longtime top prospect to enter the nation’s episcopal ranks.

All of 49, Msgr David Toups of St Petersburg has established himself as a bona fide rockstar, from a well-regarded stint at the national church’s Clergy office, to pastoring one of the Southeast’s marquee parishes (Tampa’s booming Christ the King), to nearly a decade as rector of the region’s lone major seminary, where he oversaw a rare expansion of a US formation-house in recent times – and raising the eight-figure construction budget to make it happen.

To be sure, the “if” of Toups becoming a bishop was never in question – it was only a matter of “where”… and after years of sparring among the Great Powers, we have our answer: he’s taking his talents to Beaumont, Texas, an extremely comfortable fit given its place on his native Gulf Coast, and a tight-knit, diverse community that’ll make for an ample proving ground for his considerable skill-set, all the more given its not-so-seldom experience of damaging hurricanes, to which he’s already well-accustomed.

In contrast to Rozanski, Bishop David will take Beaumont by storm – and the rest of Churchworld will be watching. Indeed, looking at his path to this point – Roman formation, a critical DC posting that put him on the wider radar, then presiding over marked growth and vitality at an A-list American seminary (and turning his charismatic Rector’s Conferences into a book) –the parallels are almost eerie to the trajectory of his own rector at the NAC: Tim Dolan, who likewise was rocketed onto the bench at the close of his seminary tenure. One significant difference, however, is that Toups is two years younger than was Dolan at his own appointment in 2001 – and unlike the now-cardinal-archbishop of New York, he’s starting out as a diocesan bishop as opposed to an auxiliary.

With public worship already well resumed in Texas, the bishop-elect will be ordained on August 21st. Yesterday’s press conference in the Cathedral-Basilica of St Anthony was notably the first in-person rollout since the COVID lockdowns pushed the events to virtual form:


Wednesday, May 06, 2020

"True Shepherds Don't Live For Themselves" – In Atlanta, "A Call To Action"

Always slated to be American Catholicism's Main Event of 2020 – yet now, an even more poignant and notable one amid the pandemic that's robbed it of a congregation – from Atlanta's empty Cathedral of Christ the King, the homecoming of Friar Gregory Hartmayer as the Seventh Archbishop of what's become a 1.2 million-member church in the "Capital of the South."

The Installation Mass set to begin at 12.30pm Eastern, here's the livefeed:

...and the worship aid for the drastically slimmed-down rites:

As ever, more to come.