Sunday, September 01, 2019

To Everyone's Surprise, The Scarlet Is Served – Keeping To "The Peripheries," Pope Names 13 New Cardinals

The Fall Cycle that begins today was always looking to be unusually full... and all of 12 hours in brings its first shot from left field, likely the first of many over the next 10 weeks.

Bucking projections that didn't see a new crop of cardinals coming until late November at the earliest, at today's Angelus Francis announced his sixth Consistory to top off the College of Cardinals, naming 13 prelates – ten younger than 80 and thus eligible to enter a Conclave – to be elevated to the papal "Senate" on Saturday, October 5th.

Yet again, the makeup of the group – which the pontiff said was intended to "express the church's missionary vocation" – defies prediction and highlights his cherished "peripheries," with the first-ever red hats being given to outposts including the small European city-state of Luxembourg and Morocco in North Africa alongside the now-traditional seats of Havana, Jakarta, and Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, whose nearly 7 million faithful comprise Africa's largest diocese. In addition, the elevation of Matteo Zuppi – the 63 year-old archbishop of Bologna – brings the scarlet to one of Italy's historic "cardinalatial sees" for the first time in Francis' seven-year pontificate.

Perhaps most notably of all, today's list sees the elevation of a simple priest into the ranks of the cardinal-electors – the Canadian Jesuit Fr Michael Czerny, 73 (above), who's served since 2016 as an under-secretary of the Dicastery for Integral Human Development charged with overseeing the church's response to migrants and refugees: a post which saw the Pope break the Curial flow-chart to make Czerny report directly to himself.

While Jesuit priests older than 80 – usually distinguished theologians (Avery Dulles, Henri de Lubac, Hans Urs von Balthasar, et al.) – have routinely been given the red hat over the last half-century without being ordained bishops prior to the Consistory, Czerny is the first Jesuit not already a bishop to be elevated with a Conclave vote. Given said status and, with it, that the cardinalate is specifically tied to his Curial role, the Czech-born migrant is not likely to receive a similar dispensation from the episcopate and will be ordained a bishop at some point over the next month. (For clarity's sake, the elderly Jesuits were released from the requirement to be bishops in light of the Society's unique vow against seeking honors.)

Here, the list, in order of announcement, which dictates the seniority of the new designates upon their entry into the College:
  • Archbishop Miguel Angel Ayuso Guixot MCCJ (Spaniard), 67, President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue; 
  • Archbishop José Tolentino Calaça de Medonça (Portuguese), 53, Librarian and Archivist of the Holy Roman Church; 
  • Archbishop Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo, 69, of Jakarta (Indonesia);  
  • Archbishop Juan de la Caridad García Rodríguez, 71, of Havana (Cuba); 
  • Archbishop Fridolin Ambongo Besungu, OFM Cap., 59, of Kinshasa (DR Congo); 
  • Archbishop Jean-Claude Höllerich SJ, 59, of Luxembourg;
  • Bishop Alvaro Ramazzini Imeri, 72, of Huehuetenamgo (Guatemala);
  • Archbishop Matteo Zuppi, 63, of Bologna (Italy);
  • Archbishop Cristóbal López Romero SDB, 67, of Rabat (Morocco);
  • Fr Michael Czerny SJ, 73 (Czech-Canadian), Undersecretary of the Dicastery for Integral Human Development;
And the trio older than 80, "distinguished by their service to the church":
  • Archbishop Michael Louis Fitzgerald M.Afr (English), 82, retired Apostolic Nuncio to Egypt;
  • Archbishop Sigitas Tamkevicius, 80, emeritus of Kaunas (Lithuania);
  • Bishop Eugenio Dal Corso (Italian), 80, emeritus of Benguela (Angola)  
The official Vatican News site has released biographical sketches in English for each of the cardinals-designate.

Keeping the custom he established with his first class in 2014, the Pope blindsided his choices by not notifying them ahead of the announcement; by initial indications, many of the designates again seem the most surprised folks of all.

*  *  *
Among the group of "emeritus" picks over 80, the most pointed choice is easily Fitzgerald – long regarded as one of global Catholicism's keenest experts on Islam (to the point of being fluent in Arabic) – whose 2006 transfer by Benedict XVI from the Vatican's top post for interfaith relations to Cairo was widely viewed as a demotion, a departure that would mark the beginning of a prominent deterioration of Catholic-Muslim dialogue worldwide until Francis set to improve the ties upon his election. In another Francis-esque touch, America reported that Fitzgerald has been quietly serving in parish work in England over the last year after initially retiring to Jerusalem.

Once the new intake are formally invested with the biretta and ring, the voting College will have 128 members – eight above the standard maximum set by St Paul VI. However, that figure will return to 120 in November 2020 just on the basis of veteran cardinals turning 80.

Most critically of all, with the new class, Francis has reached a key tipping point – following the Consistory, the reigning Pope will have created 67 electors, giving his oft-unconventional picks a majority of the future Conclave for the first time...

...and lest anyone forgot, that's not merely significant because the cardinals choose the next Pope, but as one of them will be the next Pope.

As ever, more to come.


Sunday, August 04, 2019

"Fraternally, Francis" – To the World's Priests, Pope Sends Thanks Amid Scandals' "Pain"

Thanks to the quirks of the calendar, today isn't the feast of the patron of parish priests, St John Vianney – with few exceptions, the Sunday supersedes the memorial of the Cure of Ars. However, that today marks the 160th anniversary of the famously tireless French pastor's death at 73 brought the release of a surprise letter from the Pope to all the 400,000-plus priests of the world: the first-ever missive to the global rank-and-file which specifically, and intensely, expresses a pontiff’s appreciation for their continued witness in the face of the burden placed upon them by the church's ongoing torrent of abuse crises.

Even for today's non-feast, that the 5,000-word text emerged as the guys were fulfilling their defining role at Sunday Mass is more fitting than the Vianney timing otherwise would've been.

While now-St John Paul II made an annual practice of sending a global letter to priests in advance of Holy Thursday over his 27-year reign – always a long, meandering reflection on their vocation – Benedict XVI abandoned the practice shortly after his 2005 election. As instant global communications had made the John Paul letter something of a redundancy, in recent times, the Holy Thursday Chrism homilies given by B16 and Francis (now available worldwide within minutes of delivery) have effectively doubled as their yearly message to the worldwide presbyterate.

As for the rationale behind today’s text, to put it mildly, the scope of suffering, shame, embarrassment, even persecution, felt by innocent workaday clerics amid years of revelations of sins and crimes within their ranks – and, above all, the offenses of their superiors – has been immense and exacted an according toll. As one priest remarked some years ago after wearing his collar while visiting a scandal-tarred US city, "You could just feel people looking right through you" on the street, to say nothing of the many others who've been openly cursed at, spat upon or seen children quickly rushed in the opposite direction from them in practically every public setting due to a widespread misperception of guilt by association.

At the same time, the feeling of victimhood among the brothers has come from a second, even more potent angle – a pronounced sense of being "thrown under the bus" by their bishops, with many (if not most) priests feeling there would be little to no regard for due process toward them were they ever to be accused.

In this vein, Francis' letter today notably addresses the slings from both sides, with the pontiff emphasizing the latter concern in one of his ever-critical footnotes, saying that "Spiritual fatherhood requires a bishop not to leave his priests as orphans; it can be felt not only in his readiness to open his doors to priests, but also to seek them out in order to care for them and to accompany them." (Along these lines, it is a significant detail that today's letter was published not from St Peter's – the Roman Pontiff's base as the church's universal pastor – but St John Lateran, his seat as diocesan Bishop of Rome and the headquarters of the local church.)

With a world of appreciation to the many unsung "Men in Black" in our midst, below is the official English translation of today's letter, divided into four parts and written originally in Spanish – the native tongue Papa Bergoglio uses when he wishes "to speak from my heart."

On a final context note, this text arrives on the effective "eve" of the Pope's own Golden Jubilee of ordination, which he'll mark on December 13th.

*  *  *
To my Brother Priests.

Dear Brothers,

A hundred and sixty years have passed since the death of the holy Curé of Ars, whom Pope Pius XI proposed as the patron of parish priests throughout the world.[1] On this, his feast day, I write this letter not only to parish priests but to all of you, my brother priests, who have quietly “left all behind” in order to immerse yourselves in the daily life of your communities. Like the Curé of Ars, you serve “in the trenches”, bearing the burden of the day and the heat (cf. Mt 20:12), confronting an endless variety of situations in your effort to care for and accompany God’s people. I want to say a word to each of you who, often without fanfare and at personal cost, amid weariness, infirmity and sorrow, carry out your mission of service to God and to your people. Despite the hardships of the journey, you are writing the finest pages of the priestly life.

Some time ago, I shared with the Italian bishops my worry that, in more than a few places, our priests feel themselves attacked and blamed for crimes they did not commit. I mentioned that priests need to find in their bishop an older brother and a father who reassures them in these difficult times, encouraging and supporting them along the way.[2]

As an older brother and a father, I too would like in this letter to thank you in the name of the holy and faithful People of God for all that you do for them, and to encourage you never to forget the words that the Lord spoke with great love to us on the day of our ordination. Those words are the source of our joy: “I no longer call you servants… I call you friends” (Jn 15:15).[3]

“I have seen the suffering of my people” (Ex 3:7)

In these years, we have become more attentive to the cry, often silent and suppressed, of our brothers and sisters who were victims of the abuse of power, the abuse of conscience and sexual abuse on the part of ordained ministers. This has been a time of great suffering in the lives of those who experienced such abuse, but also in the lives of their families and of the entire People of God.

As you know, we are firmly committed to carrying out the reforms needed to encourage from the outset a culture of pastoral care, so that the culture of abuse will have no room to develop, much less continue. This task is neither quick nor easy: it demands commitment on the part of all. If in the past, omission may itself have been a kind of response, today we desire conversion, transparency, sincerity and solidarity with victims to become our concrete way of moving forward. This in turn will help make us all the more attentive to every form of human suffering.[4]

This pain has also affected priests. I have seen it in the course of my pastoral visits in my own diocese and elsewhere, in my meetings and personal conversations with priests. Many have shared with me their outrage at what happened and their frustration that “for all their hard work, they have to face the damage that was done, the suspicion and uncertainty to which it has given rise, and the doubts, fears and disheartenment felt by more than a few”.[5] I have received many letters from priests expressing those feelings. At the same time, I am comforted by my meetings with pastors who recognize and share the pain and suffering of the victims and of the People of God, and have tried to find words and actions capable of inspiring hope.

Without denying or dismissing the harm caused by some of our brothers, it would be unfair not to express our gratitude to all those priests who faithfully and generously spend their lives in the service of others (cf. 2 Cor 12:15). They embody a spiritual fatherhood capable of weeping with those who weep. Countless priests make of their lives a work of mercy in areas or situations that are often hostile, isolated or ignored, even at the risk of their lives. I acknowledge and appreciate your courageous and steadfast example; in these times of turbulence, shame and pain, you demonstrate that you have joyfully put your lives on the line for the sake of the Gospel.[6]

I am convinced that, to the extent that we remain faithful to God’s will, these present times of ecclesial purification will make us more joyful and humble, and prove, in the not distant future, very fruitful. “Let us not grow discouraged! The Lord is purifying his Bride and converting all of us to himself. He is letting us be put to the test in order to make us realize that without him we are simply dust. He is rescuing us from hypocrisy, from the spirituality of appearances. He is breathing forth his Spirit in order to restore the beauty of his Bride, caught in adultery. We can benefit from rereading the sixteenth chapter of Ezekiel. It is the history of the Church, and each of us can say it is our history too. In the end, through your sense of shame, you will continue to act as a shepherd. Our humble repentance, expressed in silent tears before these atrocious sins and the unfathomable grandeur of God’s forgiveness, is the beginning of a renewal of our holiness”.[7]

“I do not cease to give thanks for you” (Eph 1:16).

Vocation, more than our own choice, is a response to the Lord’s unmerited call. We do well to return constantly to those passages of the Gospel where we see Jesus praying, choosing and calling others “to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message” (Mk 3:14).

Here I think of a great master of the priestly life in my own country, Father Lucio Gera. Speaking to a group of priests at a turbulent time in Latin America, he told them: “Always, but especially in times of trial, we need to return to those luminous moments when we experienced the Lord’s call to devote our lives to his service”. I myself like to call this “the deuteronomic memory of our vocation”; it makes each of us go back “to that blazing light with which God’s grace touched me at the start of the journey. From that flame, I can light a fire for today and every day, and bring heat and light to my brothers and sisters. That flame ignites a humble joy, a joy which sorrow and distress cannot dismay, a good and gentle joy”.[8]

One day, each of us spoke up and said “yes”, a “yes” born and developed in the heart of the Christian community thanks to those “saints next door”[9] who showed us by their simple faith that it was worthwhile committing ourselves completely to the Lord and his kingdom. A “yes” whose implications were so momentous that often we find it hard to imagine all the goodness that it continues to produce. How beautiful it is when an elderly priest sees or is visited by those children – now adults – whom he baptized long ago and who now gratefully introduce a family of their own! At times like this, we realize that we were anointed to anoint others, and that God’s anointing never disappoints. I am led to say with the Apostle: “I do not cease to give thanks for you” (cf. Eph 1:16) and for all the good that you have done.

Amid trials, weakness and the consciousness of our limitations, “the worst temptation of all is to keep brooding over our troubles”[10] for then we lose our perspective, our good judgement and our courage. At those times, it is important – I would even say crucial – to cherish the memory of the Lord’s presence in our lives and his merciful gaze, which inspired us to put our lives on the line for him and for his People. And to find the strength to persevere and, with the Psalmist, to raise our own song of praise, “for his mercy endures forever” (Ps 136).

Gratitude is always a powerful weapon. Only if we are able to contemplate and feel genuine gratitude for all those ways we have experienced God’s love, generosity, solidarity and trust, as well as his forgiveness, patience, forbearance and compassion, will we allow the Spirit to grant us the freshness that can renew (and not simply patch up) our life and mission. Like Peter on the morning of the miraculous draught of fishes, may we let the recognition of all the blessings we have received awaken in us the amazement and gratitude that can enable us to say: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Lk 5:8). Only then to hear the Lord repeat his summons: “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be fishers of men” (Lk 5:10). “For his mercy endures forever”.

Dear brother priests, I thank you for your fidelity to the commitments you have made. It is a sign that, in a society and culture that glorifies the ephemeral, there are still people unafraid to make lifelong promises. In effect, we show that we continue to believe in God, who has never broken his covenant, despite our having broken it countless times. In this way, we celebrate the fidelity of God, who continues to trust us, to believe in us and to count on us, for all our sins and failings, and who invites us to be faithful in turn. Realizing that we hold this treasure in earthen vessels (cf. 2 Cor 4:7), we know that the Lord triumphs through weakness (cf. 2 Cor 12:9). He continues to sustain us and to renew his call, repaying us a hundredfold (cf. Mk 10:29-30). “For his mercy endures forever”.

Thank you for the joy with which you have offered your lives, revealing a heart that over the years has refused to become closed and bitter, but has grown daily in love for God and his people. A heart that, like good wine, has not turned sour but become richer with age. “For his mercy endures forever”.

Thank you for working to strengthen the bonds of fraternity and friendship with your brother priests and your bishop, providing one another with support and encouragement, caring for those who are ill, seeking out those who keep apart, visiting the elderly and drawing from their wisdom, sharing with one another and learning to laugh and cry together. How much we need this! But thank you too for your faithfulness and perseverance in undertaking difficult missions, or for those times when you have had to call a brother priest to order. “For his mercy endures forever”.

Thank you for your witness of persistence and patient endurance (hypomoné) in pastoral ministry. Often, with the parrhesía of the shepherd,[11] we find ourselves arguing with the Lord in prayer, as Moses did in courageously interceding for the people (cf. Num 14:13-19; Ex 32:30-32; Dt 9:18-21). “For his mercy endures forever”.

Thank you for celebrating the Eucharist each day and for being merciful shepherds in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, neither rigorous nor lax, but deeply concerned for your people and accompanying them on their journey of conversion to the new life that the Lord bestows on us all. We know that on the ladder of mercy we can descend to the depths of our human condition – including weakness and sin – and at the same time experience the heights of divine perfection: “Be merciful as the Father is merciful”.[12] In this way, we are “capable of warming people’s hearts, walking at their side in the dark, talking with them and even entering into their night and their darkness, without losing our way”.[13] “For his mercy endures forever”.

Thank you for anointing and fervently proclaiming to all, “in season and out of season” (cf. 2 Tim 4:2) the Gospel of Jesus Christ, probing the heart of your community “in order to discover where its desire for God is alive and ardent, as well as where that dialogue, once loving, has been thwarted and is now barren”.[14] “For his mercy endures forever”.

Thank you for the times when, with great emotion, you embraced sinners, healed wounds, warmed hearts and showed the tenderness and compassion of the Good Samaritan (cf. Lk 10:25-27). Nothing is more necessary than this: accessibility, closeness, readiness to draw near to the flesh of our suffering brothers and sisters. How powerful is the example of a priest who makes himself present and does not flee the wounds of his brothers and sisters![15] It mirrors the heart of a shepherd who has developed a spiritual taste for being one with his people,[16] a pastor who never forgets that he has come from them and that by serving them he will find and express his most pure and complete identity. This in turn will lead to adopting a simple and austere way of life, rejecting privileges that have nothing to do with the Gospel. “For his mercy endures forever”.

Finally, let us give thanks for the holiness of the faithful People of God, whom we are called to shepherd and through whom the Lord also shepherds and cares for us. He blesses us with the gift of contemplating that faithful People “in those parents who raise their children with immense love, in those men and women who work hard to support their families, in the sick, in elderly religious who never lose their smile. In their daily perseverance, I see the holiness of the Church militant”.[17] Let us be grateful for each of them, and in their witness find support and encouragement. “For his mercy endures forever”.

“I want [your] hearts to be encouraged” (Col 2:2)

My second great desire is, in the words of Saint Paul, to offer encouragement as we strive to renew our priestly spirit, which is above all the fruit of the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Faced with painful experiences, all of us need to be comforted and encouraged. The mission to which we are called does not exempt us from suffering, pain and even misunderstanding.[18] Rather, it requires us to face them squarely and to accept them, so that the Lord can transform them and conform us more closely to himself. “Ultimately, the lack of a heartfelt and prayerful acknowledgment of our limitations prevents grace from working more effectively within us, for no room is left for bringing about the potential good that is part of a sincere and genuine journey of growth”.[19]

One good way of testing our hearts as pastors is to ask how we confront suffering. We can often act like the levite or the priest in the parable, stepping aside and ignoring the injured man (cf. Lk 10:31-32). Or we can draw near in the wrong way, viewing situations in the abstract and taking refuge in commonplaces, such as: “That’s life…”, or “Nothing can be done”. In this way, we yield to an uneasy fatalism. Or else we can draw near with a kind of aloofness that brings only isolation and exclusion. “Like the prophet Jonah, we are constantly tempted to flee to a safe haven. It can have many names: individualism, spiritualism, living in a little world…”[20] Far from making us compassionate, this ends up holding us back from confronting our own wounds, the wounds of others and consequently the wounds of Jesus himself.[21]

Along these same lines, I would mention another subtle and dangerous attitude, which, as Bernanos liked to say, is “the most precious of the devil's potions”.[22] It is also the most harmful for those of us who would serve the Lord, for it breeds discouragement, desolation and despair.[23] Disappointment with life, with the Church or with ourselves can tempt us to latch onto a sweet sorrow or sadness that the Eastern Fathers called acedia. Cardinal Tomáš Špidlík described it in these terms: “If we are assailed by sadness at life, at the company of others or at our own isolation, it is because we lack faith in God’s providence and his works… Sadness paralyzes our desire to persevere in our work and prayer; it makes us hard to live with… The monastic authors who treated this vice at length call it the worst enemy of the spiritual life.”[24]

All of us are aware of a sadness that can turn into a habit and lead us slowly to accept evil and injustice by quietly telling us: “It has always been like this”. A sadness that stifles every effort at change and conversion by sowing resentment and hostility. “That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life of the Spirit, which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ”, to which we have been called.[25] Dear brothers, when that sweet sorrow threatens to take hold of our lives or our communities, without being fearful or troubled, yet with firm resolution, let us together beg the Spirit to “rouse us from our torpor, to free us from our inertia. Let us rethink our usual way of doing things; let us open our eyes and ears, and above all our hearts, so as not to be complacent about things as they are, but unsettled by the living and effective word of the risen Lord”.[26]

Let me repeat: in times of difficulty, we all need God’s consolation and strength, as well as that of our brothers and sisters. All of us can benefit from the touching words that Saint Paul addressed to his communities: “I pray that you may not lose heart over [my] sufferings” (Eph 3:13), and “I want [your] hearts to be encouraged” (Col 2:22). In this way, we can carry out the mission that the Lord gives us anew each day: to proclaim “good news of great joy for all the people” (Lk 2:10). Not by presenting intellectual theories or moral axioms about the way things ought to be, but as men who in the midst of pain have been transformed and transfigured by the Lord and, like Job, can exclaim: “I knew you then only by hearsay, but now I have seen you with my own eyes” (Job 42:2). Without this foundational experience, all of our hard work will only lead to frustration and disappointment.

In our own lives, we seen how “with Christ, joy is constantly born anew”.[27] Although there are different stages in this experience, we know that, despite our frailties and sins, “with a tenderness which never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy, God makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and start anew”.[28] That joy is not the fruit of our own thoughts or decisions, but of the confidence born of knowing the enduring truth of Jesus’ words to Peter. At times of uncertainty, remember those words: “I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail” (Lk 22:32). The Lord is the first to pray and fight for you and for me. And he invites us to enter fully into his own prayer. There may well be moments when we too have to enter into “the prayer of Gethsemane, that most human and dramatic of Jesus’ prayers… For there we find supplication, sorrow, anguish and even bewilderment (Mk 14:33ff.)”.[29]

We know that it is not easy to stand before the Lord and let his gaze examine our lives, heal our wounded hearts and cleanse our feet of the worldliness accumulated along the way, which now keeps us from moving forward. In prayer, we experience the blessed “insecurity” which reminds us that we are disciples in need of the Lord’s help, and which frees us from the promethean tendency of “those who ultimately trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others because they observe certain rules”.[30]

Dear brothers, Jesus, more than anyone, is aware of our efforts and our accomplishments, our failures and our mistakes. He is the first to tell us: “Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Mt 11:28-29).

In this prayer, we know that we are never alone. The prayer of a pastor embraces both the Spirit who cries out “Abba, Father!” (cf. Gal 4:6), and the people who have been entrusted to his care. Our mission and identity can be defined by this dialectic.

The prayer of a pastor is nourished and made incarnate in the heart of God’s People. It bears the marks of the sufferings and joys of his people, whom he silently presents to the Lord to be anointed by the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is the hope of a pastor, who with trust and insistence asks the Lord to care for our weakness as individuals and as a people. Yet we should also realize that it is in the prayer of God’s People that the heart of a pastor takes flesh and finds its proper place. This sets us free from looking for quick, easy, ready-made answers; it allows the Lord to be the one – not our own recipes and goals – to point out a path of hope. Let us not forget that at the most difficult times in the life of the earliest community, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles, prayer emerged as the true guiding force.

Brothers, let us indeed acknowledge our weaknesses, but also let Jesus transform them and send us forth anew to the mission. Let us never lose the joy of knowing that we are “the sheep of his flock” and that he is our Lord and Shepherd.

For our hearts to be encouraged, we should not neglect the dialectic that determines our identity. First, our relationship with Jesus. Whenever we turn away from Jesus or neglect our relationship with him, slowly but surely our commitment begins to fade and our lamps lose the oil needed to light up our lives (cf. Mt 25:1-13): “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me… because apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:4-5). In this regard, I would encourage you not to neglect spiritual direction. Look for a brother with whom you can speak, reflect, discuss and discern, sharing with complete trust and openness your journey. A wise brother with whom to share the experience of discipleship. Find him, meet with him and enjoy his guidance, accompaniment and counsel. This is an indispensable aid to carrying out your ministry in obedience to the will of the Father (cf. Heb 10:9) and letting your heart beat with “the mind that was in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5). We can profit from the words of Ecclesiastes: “Two are better than one… One will lift up the other; but woe to the one who is alone and falls, and does not have another to help!” (4:9-10).

The other essential aspect of this dialectic is our relationship to our people. Foster that relationship and expand it. Do not withdraw from your people, your presbyterates and your communities, much less seek refuge in closed and elitist groups. Ultimately, this stifles and poisons the soul. A minister whose “heart is encouraged” is a minister always on the move. In our “going forth”, we walk “sometimes in front, sometimes in the middle and sometimes behind: in front, in order to guide the community; in the middle, in order to encourage and support, and at the back in order to keep it united, so that no one lags too far behind… There is another reason too: because our people have a “nose” for things. They sniff out, discover, new paths to take; they have the sensus fidei (cf. Lumen Gentium, 12)… What could be more beautiful than this?”[31] Jesus himself is the model of this evangelizing option that leads us to the heart of our people. How good it is for us to see him in his attention to every person! The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is nothing else but the culmination of that evangelizing style that marked his entire life.

Dear brother priests, the pain of so many victims, the pain of the people of God and our own personal pain, cannot be for naught. Jesus himself has brought this heavy burden to his cross and he now asks us to be renewed in our mission of drawing near to those who suffer, of drawing near without embarrassment to human misery, and indeed to make all these experiences our own, as eucharist.[32] Our age, marked by old and new wounds, requires us to be builders of relationships and communion, open, trusting and awaiting in hope the newness that the kingdom of God wishes to bring about even today. For it is a kingdom of forgiven sinners called to bear witness to the Lord’s ever-present compassion. “For his mercy endures forever”.

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord” (Lk 1:46)

How can we speak about gratitude and encouragement without looking to Mary? She, the woman whose heart was pierced (cf. Lk 2:35), teaches us the praise capable of lifting our gaze to the future and restoring hope to the present. Her entire life was contained in her song of praise (cf. Lk 1:46-55). We too are called to sing that song as a promise of future fulfilment.

Whenever I visit a Marian shrine, I like to spend time looking at the Blessed Mother and letting her look at me. I pray for a childlike trust, the trust of the poor and simple who know that their mother is there, and that they have a place in her heart. And in looking at her, to hear once more, like the Indian Juan Diego: “My youngest son, what is the matter? Do not let it disturb your heart. Am I not here, I who have the honour to be your mother?”[33]

To contemplate Mary is “to believe once again in the revolutionary nature of love and tenderness. In her, we see that humility and tenderness are not virtues of the weak but of the strong, who need not treat others poorly in order to feel important themselves”.[34]

Perhaps at times our gaze can begin to harden, or we can feel that the seductive power of apathy or self-pity is about to take root in our heart. Or our sense of being a living and integral part of God’s People begins to weary us, and we feel tempted to a certain elitism. At those times, let us not be afraid to turn to Mary and to take up her song of praise.

Perhaps at times we can feel tempted to withdraw into ourselves and our own affairs, safe from the dusty paths of daily life. Or regrets, complaints, criticism and sarcasm gain the upper hand and make us lose our desire to keep fighting, hoping and loving. At those times, let us look to Mary so that she can free our gaze of all the “clutter” that prevents us from being attentive and alert, and thus capable of seeing and celebrating Christ alive in the midst of his people. And if we see that we are going astray, or that we are failing in our attempts at conversion, then let us turn to her like a great parish priest from my previous diocese, who was also a poet. He asked her, with something of a smile: “This evening, dear Lady /my promise is sincere; /but just to be sure, don’t forget / to leave the key outside the door”.[35] Our Lady “is the friend who is ever concerned that wine not be lacking in our lives. She is the woman whose heart was pierced by a sword and who understands all our pain. As mother of all, she is a sign of hope for peoples suffering the birth pangs of justice… As a true mother, she walks at our side, she shares our struggles and she constantly surrounds us with God’s love”.[36]

Dear brothers, once more, “I do not cease to give thanks for you” (Eph 1:16), for your commitment and your ministry. For I am confident that “God takes away even the hardest stones against which our hopes and expectations crash: death, sin, fear, worldliness. Human history does not end before a tombstone, because today it encounters the “living stone” (cf. 1 Pet 2:4), the risen Jesus. We, as Church, are built on him, and, even when we grow disheartened and tempted to judge everything in the light of our failures, he comes to make all things new”.[37]

May we allow our gratitude to awaken praise and renewed enthusiasm for our ministry of anointing our brothers and sisters with hope. May we be men whose lives bear witness to the compassion and mercy that Jesus alone can bestow on us.

May the Lord Jesus bless you and the Holy Virgin watch over you. And please, I ask you not to forget to pray for me.



Rome, at Saint John Lateran, on 4 August 2019,

Memorial of the Holy Curé of Ars.


[1] Cf. Apostolic Letter Anno Iubilari (23 April 1929): AAS 21 (1929), 312-313.

[2] Address to the Italian Bishops’ Conference (20 May 2019). Spiritual fatherhood requires a bishop not to leave his priests as orphans; it can be felt not only in his readiness to open his doors to priests, but also to seek them out in order to care for them and to accompany them.

[3] Cf. SAINT JOHN XXIII, Encyclical Letter Sacerdotii Nostri Primordia on the hundredth anniversary of the death of the holy Curé of Ars (1 August 1959): AAS (51 (1959), 548.

[4] Cf. Letter to the People of God (20 August 2018).

[5] Meeting with Priests, Religious, Consecrated Persons and Seminarians, Santiago de Chile (16 January 2018).

[6] Cf. Letter to the Pilgrim People of God in Chile (31 May 2018).

[7] Meeting with the Priests of the Diocese of Rome (7 March 2019).

[8] Homily at the Easter Vigil (19 April 2014).

[9] Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate, 7.

[10] Cf. JORGE MARIO BERGOGLIO, Las cartas de la tribulación (Herder, 2019), 21.

[11] Cf. Address to the Parish Priests of Rome (6 March 2014).

[12] Retreat to Priests. First Meditation (2 June 2016).

[13] A. SPADARO, Interview with Pope Francis, in La Civiltà Cattolica 3918 (19 September 2013), p. 462.

[14] Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 137.

[15] Cf. Address to the Parish Priests of Rome (6 March 2014).

[16] Cf. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 268.

[17] Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate, 7.

[18] Cf. Apostolic Letter Misericordia et Misera, 13.

[19] Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate, 50.

[20] Ibid., 134.

[21] Cf. JORGE MARIO BERGOGLIO, Reflexiones en esperanza (Vatican City, 2013), p. 14.

[22] Journal d’un curé de campagne (Paris, 1974), p. 135; cf. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 83.

[23] Cf. BARSANUPH OF GAZA, Letters, in VITO CUTRO – MICHAŁ TADEUSZ SZWEMIN, Bisogno di paternità (Warsaw, 2018), p. 124.

[24] L’arte di purificare il cuore, Rome, 1999, p. 47.

[25] Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 2.

[26] Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate, 137.

[27] Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 1.

[28] Ibid., 3.

[29] JORGE MARIO BERGOGLIO, Reflexiones en esperanza (Vatican City, 2013), p. 26.

[30] Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 94.

[31] Meeting with Clergy, Consecrated Persons and Members of Pastoral Councils, Assisi (4 October 2013).

[32] Cf. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 268-270.

[33] Cf. Nican Mopohua, 107, 118, 119.

[34] Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 288.

[35] Cf. AMELIO LUIS CALORI, Aula Fúlgida, Buenos Aires, 1946.

[36] Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 286.

[37] Homily at the Easter Vigil (20 April 2019).


Monday, July 22, 2019

Wheel(ing) In Motion

(Updated with developments.)

So, after an epic week out West, this scribe was looking to come home and finally ease into something of a summer – a gift which eluded us last year....

Alas, three days after a historic set of sanctions on a US prelate, not so much:

Ergo, here comes another long night in the shop... and lest anyone forgot, as the work has its bills – even before the overtime of this latest curveball – as ever, Whispers can only keep coming your way thanks to your support:

Once things fully calm down, the donors are owed a good, long behind the scenes briefing. For now, all thanks – and, welp, here we go again.

See you early.

SVILUPPO: And just as quickly as it began, there goes the night.
Summarizing the broad shock among Whispers ops over the reported Wheeling pick, one ranking cleric – who's long known the choice as "a very shy, pastoral, quiet, holy priest" – sent this scribe three letters on seeing the news....


Asked to explain the sentiment, the op replied that – given the roiled scene amid a year-long drip over Bransfield's moral and fiscal turpitude – he felt Brennan might just be "in over his head."

That's one way of sizing up the scene, and no shortage of others have echoed it tonight.... Yet on the other hand, living history can recall several instances of an "old man in a hurry" with nothing to lose – above all, a Pope elected at 76, who's now brought this move to pass.

As for which one it'll be, we'll have our answer in the morning.


Wednesday, July 17, 2019

"The Hour of Power," Roman Edition

CHRIST CATHEDRAL, ORANGE COUNTY – "This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad."

For a quarter-century, that verse of the Psalmist was Dr Robert Schuller's sign-on from this crystal sanctuary as he began his Sunday broadcasts across the globe... and now, it's fitting to return to it on this day, as one of American Christianity's most prominent and cherished venues begins its second incarnation as a Catholic church and the seat of this 1.5 million-member diocese, now one of the US' ten largest.

Beginning with a 10am local pre-show, here's the livefeed:

The most complex ecclesial rite of all, the Dedication Mass is expected to run approximately three hours.

While today's grand opening marks the fifth launch of a Stateside cathedral since 2008, you'd have to go back even further to find one as significant as this: to September 2, 2002, when the debut of Los Angeles' $190 million, 5,000-seat Our Lady of the Angels altered the Downtown landscape of the nation's Western hub, likewise signaling the culmination of the LA church's rapid emergence as the largest fold American Catholicism has ever known.

On another context note, only after this date was set in 2017 did the locals realize a "magical" confluence of events – as it happens, today marks the 64th anniversary of the opening of the even better-known shrine down the street: Disneyland.

Ergo, it's doubly meaningful that – as with the respective cathedral anniversary of each local church – every July 17th in Orange will be marked as a proper feast, with the texts of the Dedication Mass employed that day across the diocese.

In a rarity for a new diocesan seat on its Opening Day, the wider community will get its first chance to enter Christ Cathedral tonight; with all 2,100 seats (and 1,000 overflow spots) all long taken for this morning's rites, the general public is invited to see the space for themselves from 5-8pm, while an open-air festival takes place in the plaza outside.

And with that, it's been a long wait – away we go.


The Crown Jewel – Today in The OC, The Church Comes Home

“Holy is the Church,
the chosen vine of the Lord,
whose branches fill the whole world,
and whose tendrils, borne on the wood of the Cross,
reach upward to the Kingdom of Heaven.

Blessed is the Church,
God’s dwelling-place with the human race, a holy temple built of living stones,
standing upon the foundation of the Apostles with Christ Jesus its chief cornerstone.

Exalted is the Church,
a City set high on a mountain for all to see, resplendent to every eye
with the unfading light of the Lamb,
and resounding with the sweet hymn of the Saints....
CHRIST CATHEDRAL, ORANGE COUNTY – Once upon a time in America, a Catholic bishop and a secular architect joined forces to envision a radical concept in church design: a temple open to the world around it through the use of clear glass.

The materials sent a message – the Church need not shelter itself behind its imported encrustations, keeping the pluralistic, free society outside at bay… If anything, in this unique setting, she came with an open hand to take her place among the community at large, to help build it up and make it thrive. In sum, the place was meant to say in structure that God’s People had nothing to fear from daylight.

In its original sense, this idea doesn’t refer to what’s happening now, but to the Cathedral of the Assumption in Baltimore – built by the founding Bishop John Carroll and the Capitol designer Benjamin Latrobe, the nation’s first diocesan seat, and the one place every American Catholic can genuinely call home. And today, on the eve of the Assumption’s bicentennial, in the heart of the largest province Carroll’s heirs have ever known, his vision has met its match.

Forty-three years ago, when Rome spun off Orange County from the mothership of Los Angeles as its own local church, the one-county see numbered some 350,000 members. Now become the nation’s sixth-largest civic seat, its Catholic population has boomed to almost five times that. Yet even as it erupted into one of the Stateside church’s densest and most diverse outposts – bigger than Atlanta, Miami, Philadelphia and Seattle among others – the diocese has been an ecclesial nomad, the downtown parish-turned-bishop’s seat quickly overwhelmed by the rapid growth, its major events subsequently imposing by need on its already hectic larger parishes. But today, at last, they’ve now got a “common home” to call their own – one explicitly intended from its birth to emphasize man’s intrinsic link to the creation around him.

To be sure, Orange’s fire-sale acquisition of the Crystal Cathedral and its 33-acre campus has been a failsafe conversation-starter in US church circles ever since the diocese emerged victorious from the 2011 court-fight over the prime property a mile from Disneyland. Regardless, as the long, sometimes challenging journey to today gradually began to bear fruit – first in giving the diocese a ready-made nerve-center in rapid order, then becoming an ad intra “destination” in ways the previously envisioned built-from-scratch compound in Santa Ana never could’ve dreamt of being, it’s become increasingly clear to the locals that this most unlikely of moves has been, as many here have said through the years, no less than “an act of providence.” (Indeed, on handing his creation over to the Orange church, the Crystal’s builder, Dr. Robert Schuller, told then-Bishop Tod Brown and his priests of his longtime hope “that this place would someday return to the mother church.”)

Given the worldwide outpouring of shock and grief upon the Holy Week fire at Notre-Dame, it’s curious that some folks still wonder why cathedrals are necessary. Clearly, their great-grandparents and beyond who sacrificed their pennies to build them felt rather differently. Here, the folks have waited for this day, they’ve believed in it, and even grown some more along the way – already, the dozen weekend liturgies in the 1,000-seat temporary “parish” invariably swamp the space, and with the 2,100-seat centerpiece now complete (in a place where the average parish comprises ten times that number), it’s a pretty safe bet that the regulars won’t be able to count on too much stretching space for long.

All that said, the decade of planning and renderings has come to an end, and it's time for the "Hour of Power" – the Mass of Dedication of Christ Cathedral begins at 10.30am local (1.30pm Eastern, 1930 Rome) today, and you can find the livefeed here at that hour.

To Bishop Kevin Vann and his top-shelf crew, who’ve devoted untold hours over these many years to reach this moment, kudos on a job well-done – thanks to all of you, today, this “periphery” of the City of Angels is the center of the American Church.

SVILUPPO: Livefeed link, etc.


Saturday, June 29, 2019

On Pope's Day, Two Priorities: "Witnesses"... and Processes

By custom the "last day of school" at the Vatican – marking the end of the Curia's working year and opening the 10-week summer recess – the centerpiece of this feast of Saints Peter and Paul is usually the morning Mass which the Pope concelebrates with the world's new archbishops named over the last year (video), at whose close they receive a box containing the Pallium, the symbol of their office.

While today brought the 35th anniversary of that custom, per usual, Francis threw some unexpected fireworks into the gears: shortly after the last major liturgy of the cycle wrapped up, the Holy See released a nearly 5,000-word letter from the pontiff to "the People of God journeying in Germany," intended to serve as his contribution to the "binding synodal process" launched by the bishops there in March, specifically with an eye to potential shifts in its concept of ecclesial governance – read: the responsibilities and composition of leadership, ordained and lay – as well as discussions on the church's teaching on sexuality.

Issued only in its original Spanish and a German translation, Francis urged the German effort to "courage, because what we need is much more than a structural, organizational or functional change." Nonetheless, the Pope did not exclude the possibility that, when approached through a collegial hermeneutic, a synodal push at the national level "can reach and take decisions on essential questions for the faith and the life of the church."

Needless to say, the German letter and its repercussions – together with the freshly-released blueprint for October's all-important Synod on the Amazon – will dominate the summer reading lists in much of Churchworld.

Back to today's feast, however, though Francis has devoted prior homilies on Peter and Paul to significant programmatic reflections on the Petrine ministry and his intended evolution of it, this year's preach on the main papal feast was devoted to the "witness" of the lead Apostles – the twin patrons of Rome – which, of course, led to their respective martyrdoms 1,952 years ago.

Here, the English of the Pope's morning homily (emphases original):
The Apostles Peter and Paul stand before us as witnesses. They never tired of preaching and journeying as missionaries from the land of Jesus to Rome itself. Here they gave their ultimate witness, offering their lives as martyrs. If we go to the heart of that testimony, we can see them as witnesses to life, witnesses to forgiveness and witnesses to Jesus.

Witnesses to life. Their lives, though, were not neat and linear. Both were deeply religious: Peter was one of the very first disciples (cf. Jn 1:41), and Paul was “zealous for the traditions of [his] ancestors” (Gal 1:14). Yet they also made great mistakes: Peter denied the Lord, while Paul persecuted the Church of God. Both were cut to the core by questions asked by Jesus: “Simon son of John, do you love me?” (Jn 21:15); “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4). Peter was grieved by Jesus’ questions, while Paul was blinded by his words. Jesus called them by name and changed their lives. After all that happened, he put his trust in them, in one who denied him and one who persecuted his followers, in two repentant sinners. We may wonder why the Lord chosen not to give us two witnesses of utter integrity, with clean records and impeccable lives? Why Peter, when there was John? Why Paul, and not Barnabas?

There is a great teaching here: the starting point of the Christian life is not our worthiness; in fact, the Lord was able to accomplish little with those who thought they were good and decent. Whenever we consider ourselves smarter or better than others, that is the beginning of the end. The Lord does not work miracles with those who consider themselves righteous, but with those who know themselves needy. He is not attracted by our goodness; that is not why he loves us. He loves us just as we are; he is looking for people who are not self-sufficient, but ready to open their hearts to him. People who, like Peter and Paul, are transparent before God. Peter immediately told Jesus: “I am a sinful man” (Lk 5:8). Paul wrote that he was “least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle” (1 Cor 15:9). Throughout life, they preserved this humility, to the very end. Peter died crucified upside down, since he did not consider himself worthy to imitate his Lord. Paul was always fond of his name, which means “little”, and left behind his birth name, Saul, the name of the first king of his people. Both understood that holiness does not consist in exalting but rather in humbling oneself. Holiness is not a contest, but a question of entrusting our own poverty each day to the Lord, who does great things for those who are lowly. What was the secret that made them persevere amid weakness? It was the Lord’s forgiveness.

Let us think about them too as witnesses to forgiveness. In their failings, they encountered the powerful mercy of the Lord, who gave them rebirth. In his forgiveness, they encountered irrepressible peace and joy. Thinking back to their failures, they might have experienced feelings of guilt. How many times might Peter have thought back to his denial! How many scruples might Paul have felt at having hurt so many innocent people! Humanly, they had failed. Yet they encountered a love greater than their failures, a forgiveness strong enough to heal even their feelings of guilt. Only when we experience God’s forgiveness do we truly experience rebirth. From there we start over, from forgiveness; there we rediscover who we really are: in the confession of our sins.

Witnesses to life and witnesses to forgiveness, Peter and Paul are ultimately witnesses to Jesus. In today’s Gospel, the Lord asks: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” The answers evoke figures of the past: “John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets”. Remarkable people, but all of them dead. Peter instead replies: “You are the Christ” (Mt 16:13-14.16). The Christ, that is, the Messiah. A word that points not to the past, but to the future: the Messiah is the one who is awaited, he is newness, the one who brings God’s anointing to the world. Jesus is not the past, but the present and the future. He is not a distant personage to be remembered, but the one to whom Peter can speak intimately: You are the Christ. For those who are his witnesses, Jesus is more than a historical personage; he is a living person: he is newness, not things we have already seen, the newness of the future and not a memory from the past. The witness, then, is not someone who knows the story of Jesus, but someone who has experienced a love story with Jesus. The witness, in the end, proclaims only this: that Jesus is alive and that he is the secret of life. Indeed, Peter, after saying: “You are the Christ”, then goes on to say: “the Son of the living God” (v. 16). Witness arises from an encounter with the living Jesus. At the centre of Paul’s life too, we find that same word that rises up from Peter’s heart: Christ. Paul repeats this name constantly, almost four hundred times in his letters! For him, Christ is not only a model, an example, a point of reference: he is life itself. Paul writes: “For me to live is Christ” (Phil 1:21). Jesus is Paul’s present and his future, so much so that he considers the past as refuse in comparison to the surpassing knowledge of Christ (cf. Phil 3:7-8).

Brothers and sisters, in the presence of these witnesses, let us ask: “Do I renew daily my own encounter with Jesus?” We may be curious about Jesus, or interested in Church matters or religious news. We may open computer sites and the papers, and talk about holy things. But this is to remain at the level of what are people saying? Jesus does not care about polls, past history or statistics. He is not looking for religion editors, much less “front page” or “statistical” Christians. He is looking for witnesses who say to him each day: “Lord, you are my life”.

Having met Jesus and experienced his forgiveness, the Apostles bore witness to him by living a new life: they no longer held back, but gave themselves over completely. They were no longer content with half-measures, but embraced the only measure possible for those who follow Jesus: that of boundless love. They were “poured out as a libation” (cf. 2 Tim 4:6). Let us ask for the grace not to be lukewarm Christians living by half measures, allowing our love to grow cold. Let us rediscover who we truly are through a daily relationship with Jesus and through the power of his forgiveness. Just as he asked Peter, Jesus is now asking us: “Who do you say that I am?”, “Do you love me?” Let us allow these words to penetrate our hearts and inspire us not to remain content with a minimum, but to aim for the heights, so that we too can become living witnesses to Jesus.

Today we bless the pallia for the Metropolitan Archbishops named in the past year. The pallium recalls the sheep that the shepherd is called to bear on his shoulders. It is a sign that the shepherds do not live for themselves but for the sheep. It is a sign that, in order to possess life, we have to lose it, give it away. Today our joy is shared, in accordance with a fine tradition, by a Delegation from the Ecumenical Patriarchate, whose members I greet with affection. Your presence, dear brothers, reminds us that we can spare no effort also in the journey towards full unity among believers, in communion at every level. For together, reconciled to God and having forgiven one another, we are called to bear witness to Jesus by our lives.
* * *
Upon his election in 2013, Francis slightly tweaked the custom of his predecessors – where now-St John Paul II and Benedict XVI upended centuries of tradition in conferring the Pallium on the new archbishops on this feast, Papa Bergoglio simply gives the woolen band to the metropolitans in a box at the close of the Mass, that each might be invested with it before their people at home: a return to the ancient protocol that, as a jurisdictional insignia, it is never to be worn outside the archbishop's own province.

Among the 31 new metropolitans who took part in today's rites were the head of Australia's largest diocese, Archbishop Peter Comensoli of Melbourne; the new leader of Africa's biggest local church, Archbishop Fridolin Ambongo of Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (with some 6.3 million Catholics, now one of the global church's five largest outposts); two Canadians – Archbishops Peter Hundt of St John's in Newfoundland and Michael Mulhall of Kingston; from Britain, the new archbishop of Southwark, 50 year-old John Wilson – the youngest member of the English bench, now catapulted into one of its top posts; and two Americans: Archbishops Michael Byrnes, the Detroit-born missionary sent to heal an abuse-wracked church on Guam, and Wilton Gregory, now saddled with doing no less under the searing spotlight of the nation's capital.

Though it usually takes several months to line up schedules for the Pallium ceremony to take place in a local church, Francis' Washington pick will formally receive his second one in rapid order: at the 11.30 Sunday Mass on 14 July in St Matthew's Cathedral. (As the vestment is tied to a place, not a person, a transferred archbishop must receive a fresh Pallium for his new charge.)

Notably, today marks the first time since 2017 that a Stateside archbishop has taken part in the Pallium rites, but the US will be making up for the relative dearth over the next two years – as previously reported, no less than six home-turf metropolitans could be named by mid-2020.

In Seattle, the newly-arrived Coadjutor-Archbishop Paul Etienne is expected to take the reins of that million-member fold as early as October; both his replacement in Anchorage and Gregory's own successor atop the 1.2 million-member Atlanta archdiocese are pending, and this very weekend brings the 75th birthdays of both Cardinal Seán O'Malley of Boston and Archbishop Robert Carlson of St Louis, thus signaling the respective "victory laps" of episcopal tenures which began before each turned 40.

All told, the coming ad limina of the US bench – their first Roman report to Francis, beginning this fall – is likely to serve as the Pope's "auditioning" for his next major picks to lead the nation's largest religious body... and, indeed, he'll have ample time to do so: according to preliminary schedules for the visit obtained by Whispers, the Man in White has carved out two-and-a-half-hour blocks for his free-flowing dialogue with each of the USCCB's 15 regions, roughly one group a week from November through February.


Thursday, June 13, 2019

Day 3: At Last, The Votes

BALTIMORE – Normally, the end of a USCCB plenary tends to be more whimper than bang.

For the millionth time, however, these days are anything but "normal"... and indeed, seeing a good few of the bishops trying to mask themselves underneath floppy fisherman's hats while off the Floor has only underscored it.

Fifty-one weeks since the exposure of the then-cardinal, now-laicized Theodore McCarrick as a predator blew open American Catholicism's second round of an all-encompassing abuse crisis – in reality, a crisis of confidence in the ability of church leadership to handle cases – the response has always been focused on what's finally happening today.

In that light, seven months after the first attempt toward more stringent accountability norms was halted by the Vatican at the very last minute, the three main planks come up for debate and vote shortly after 9am Eastern.

Underscoring the significance of the package – and the degree of the 250 prelates' intent to fine-tune it to the utmost degree possible – the trio of items, now headlined by the US protocols for the application of Pope Francis' Vos estis lux mundi, will take up the entire morning session through the usual 12.30 lunchtime.

Here's the livefeed:

As ever, more to come.


Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Day 2: The "Lay" of the Land

BALTIMORE – Lest you're wondering what's going on, well, even the bench is trying to figure that out.

For all yesterday's curveballs and tangents – Woodstock, anyone? – the fault-line on this plenary's prime matter came down just as expected, and produced the only relative "lock" we've got so far: defying the draft of the US' directives for Vos estis, there will be a mandate for lay involvement worked in... but the question remains of how exactly it'll be codified.

On that, the moment of truth won't come until very late tonight – final amendments on the abuse-related texts aren't due until 5pm today, and then have to be vetted by the bishops' canonical arm before hitting the Floor for final debate and vote tomorrow morning: the first order of business on this meeting's last public day.

Nonetheless, when even the USCCB's own lay advisory groups express open and sizable skepticism about "essentially" maintaining the practice of "bishops policing bishops" – and, more pointedly still, the de facto ghostwriter of Francis' new procedural norms urges a means to "institutionalize" the role of the laity in the US' adaptations for the process – the caution of the canonists has little choice but to yield.

All that said, while the crisis-centric documents each require a two-thirds vote in favor to pass, none are being presented for recognitio (approval) by the Holy See, which past major texts have traditionally required to take binding force across the country.

While today's business in regard to the crisis was handled behind closed doors in this morning's meetings of the conference's 15 regions, the bench returns to the Floor at 2pm Eastern for assorted minor votes on liturgy and a cause for beatification.

As ever, here's the livefeed....

...and lastly, as this scribe was able to pull off the trek here by the skin of our budgetary teeth, a world of thanks to everyone who pitched in to make it possible. Yet as there's still a ways to go on the usual bills back home, it bears stating that none of us are off the hook just yet:

Indeed, more to come.