Saturday, November 28, 2020

hether you’ve been waiting three decades or just three weeks for this, the “mountaintop” is at hand. 

From 4pm Rome (10am US ET), the livefeed of a Public Consistory like no other – from the Altar of the Chair in St Peter’s, an unusually sparse rite for the elevation of 13 new Cardinals... and with it, a watershed for American Catholicism as Washington’s Archbishop Wilton Gregory receives his red hat: 

Due to the pandemic, the customary packed house of global pilgrims and full-on turnout of the 200-member College have been severely whittled to a crowd of roughly 100. And indeed, for the first time since 1998, a voting pick won’t be present for the conferral of the biretta and ring – both this intake’s Asian designates (Brunei’s Cornelius Sim and the Filipino José Advincula) have been forced to stay home in light of travel restrictions. Though the insignia will be sent to them and received in local ceremonies, they will have full membership in the Pope's "Senate" when their names are read out by the Pope alongside the others, thus "publishing" the list of his choices.
Among other concessions in the name of safety, the traditional evening "courtesy visits" to the incoming class will not take place, nor will the sign of peace among the cardinals after the new picks are invested. However, the standard close of the event – the Pope's concelebrated Mass with the new cardinals – will be held Sunday morning.
*  *  *
SVILUPPO: Having chosen Jesus' warning against ambition in St Mark's Gospel and its exhortation to be "servant of all," as the reading for today's rites, in his homily, Francis urged the new intake to avoid any sense of "a worldly spirit" and – citing the title that comes with the rank – the temptation to become "secular eminences": 

The road. The road is the setting of the scene just described by the Evangelist Mark (10:32-45). It is always the setting, too, for the Church’s journey: the road of life and history, which is salvation history insofar as it is travelled with Christ and leads to his paschal mystery. Jerusalem always lies ahead of us. The cross and the resurrection are part of our history; they are our “today” but also and always the goal of our journey.

This Gospel passage has often accompanied consistories for the creation of new Cardinals. It is not merely a “backdrop” but also a “road sign” for us who today are journeying together with Jesus. For he is our strength, who gives meaning to our lives and our ministry.

Consequently, dear brothers, we need carefully to consider the words we have just heard.

Mark emphasizes that, on the road, the disciples were “amazed” and “afraid” (v. 32). Why? Because they knew what lay ahead of them in Jerusalem. More than once, Jesus had already spoken to them openly about it. The Lord knew what his followers were experiencing, nor was he indifferent to it. Jesus never abandons his friends; he never neglects them. Even when it seems that he is going his own way, he is always doing so for our sake. All that he does, he does for us and for our salvation. In the specific case of the Twelve, he did this to prepare them for the trials to come, so that they could be with him, now and especially later, when he would no longer be in their midst. So that that they could always be with him, on his road.

Knowing that the hearts of his disciples were troubled, Jesus “once more” called the Twelve and told them “what was to happen to him” (v. 32). We have just heard it ourselves: the third announcement of his passion, death and resurrection. This is the road taken by the Son of God. The road taken by the Servant of the Lord. Jesus identifies himself with this road, so much so that he himself is the road. “I am the way” (Jn 14:6), he says. This way, and none other.

At this point, a sudden shift takes place, which enables Jesus to reveal to James and John – but really to all the Apostles – the fate in store for them. Let us imagine the scene: after once again explaining what will happen to him in Jerusalem, Jesus looks the Twelve squarely in the eye, as if to say: “Is this clear?” Then he resumes his journey, walking ahead of the group. Two of his disciples break away from the others: James and John. They approach Jesus and tell him what they want: “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory” (v. 37). They want to take a different road. Not Jesus’ road, but a different one. The road of those who, perhaps even without realizing it, “use” the Lord for their own advancement. Those who – as Saint Paul says – look to their own interests and not those of Christ (cf. Phil 2:21). Saint Augustine speaks of this in his magnificent sermon on shepherds (No. 46). A sermon we always benefit from rereading in the Office of Readings.

Jesus listens to James and John. He does not get upset or angry. His patience is indeed infinite. He tells them: “You do not know what you are asking” (v. 38). In a way, he excuses them, while at the same time reproaching them: “You do not realize that you have gone off the road”. Immediately after this, the other ten apostles will show by their indignant reaction to the sons of Zebedee how much all of them were tempted to go off the road.

Dear brothers, all of us love Jesus, all of us want to follow him, yet we must always be careful to remain on the road. For our bodies can be with him, but our hearts can wander far afield and so lead us off the road. The scarlet of a Cardinal’s robes, which is the colour of blood, can, for a worldly spirit, become the colour of a secular “eminence”.

In this passage of the Gospel, we are always struck by the sharp contrast between Jesus and his disciples. Jesus is aware of this; he knows it and he accepts it. Yet the contrast is still there: Jesus is on the road, while they are off the road. Two roads that cannot meet. Only the Lord, through his cross and resurrection, can save his straying friends who risk getting lost. It is for them, as well as for all the others, that Jesus is journeying to Jerusalem. For them, and for everyone, will he let his body be broken and his blood shed. For them, and for all, will he rise from the dead, and forgive and transform them by the gift of the Spirit. He will at last put them back on his road. 

Saint Mark – like Matthew and Luke – included this story in his Gospel because it contains a saving truth necessary for the Church in every age. Even though the Twelve come off badly, this text entered the canon of Scripture because it reveals the truth about Jesus and about us. For us too, in our day, it is a message of salvation. We too, Pope and Cardinals, must always see ourselves reflected in this word of truth. It is a sharpened sword; it cuts, it proves painful, but it also heals, liberates and converts us. For conversion means precisely this: that we pass from being off the road to journeying on God’s road.

May the Holy Spirit give us this grace, today and forever. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Fearing "Attack" On "Fundamental Values," The Bishops Warn Biden's White House

As the US bishops face a moment unseen in most of their lifetimes – the nation's election of a Catholic to the Presidency – the issue of Joe Biden's faith emerged by surprise at today's public close of the USCCB plenary, as the bench's leadership suddenly moved to draw a line in the sand with the incoming Democratic administration over its support of legal abortion.

Five days since the President-elect received a congratulatory phone call from the Pope – during which the two discussed the common causes of "caring for the marginalized and the poor, addressing the crisis of climate change, and welcoming and integrating immigrants and refugees" – while Archbishop José Gomez made a passing nod of hope that Biden's "faith commitments will move him to support some good policies," the conference president quickly pivoted to underscore that the new White House "will support policies that attack some fundamental values we hold dear as Catholics... [which] undermine our 'preeminent priority' of the elimination of abortion."

In an unannounced statement that revealed a new working group led by the USCCB vice-president, Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit, rounded out by several key committee chairs, Gomez said that "when politicians who profess the Catholic faith support" abortion and a concept of religious freedom that allows enforcement of protections for civil rights, "there are additional problems. 

"Among other things, [the scenario] creates confusion with the faithful about what the church actually teaches on these questions."

Much as the election of a Catholic adds a deeply potent aspect to the calculus – and with it, the cited fears of a competing influence over the 70 million members of the nation's largest religious body – there is precedent for an intervention of this kind, but only with a prior Democratic administration. 

At its November plenary following Barack Obama's 2008 election – which, with Biden as his Vice-President, likewise inflamed a sizable bloc of the bishops – the conference approved a statement written by its then-president, Chicago's Cardinal Francis George OMI, warning that the new administration would attempt to codify the Supreme Court's 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade into US law; a move that, some predicted, would result in the closing of Catholic hospitals forced to comply with a legislated abortion mandate.

At the time, the bishops said they were "single-minded" on the issue "because they are, first of all, single-hearted."

For context, then-candidate Obama signaled that he would sign a proposed Freedom of Choice Act in a speech to Planned Parenthood during the 2008 primary season, but such a bill was never introduced in Congress once he took office. At the time, Democrats notably enjoyed majorities in both houses and a filibuster-proof 60 seats in the Senate.

By contrast, the full bench's reaction upon President Trump's 2016 win was palpably more muted. Originated as a statement of the Committee on Migration (as opposed to the conference president) and only subsequently adopted by the entire body, the message focused less on Trump than as a gesture of solidarity with migrants given the former's incendiary rhetoric and proposals on immigration – a platform which, of course, had already scored an explicit condemnation from the Pope during the campaign itself. 

On the whole, today's statement signals that, while several leading moderate and progressive prelates indicated tacit support for Biden during the campaign despite Trump's anti-abortion stance, the conference as an institution is preparing to take a more aggressive line toward the incoming administration. 

This dynamic reportedly stretched into the closed-door executive session that closed Tuesday's business. According to Whispers ops, a steady chorus of conservative prelates rose in the private talks to urge a unified opposition to a Biden White House, lest any cooperation with it be perceived as undermining the church's pro-life witness on abortion. 

In practical terms, however, the first test of the coming church-state dynamic might be a matter where the prelates have little choice but to play ball. With plans for a further round of COVID-related economic stimulus effectively dead on arrival in the waning days of the Trump Administration – despite the President-elect urging a stopgap agreement as the pandemic's biggest wave causes further havoc for workers and businesses – after the springtime CARES Act and its Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) served as a mammoth lifeline which allowed a broad range of Catholic entities to survive without mass layoffs or furloughs, the bishops have voiced concerted support for a new round of stimulus, without which no shortage of dioceses, parishes and schools would be forced into insolvency, or significant downsizing at best. 

Along those lines, as the first round of PPP funding expired without being renewed, only in recent weeks have several dozen local churches needed to make their most drastic cuts of ministries and staff over the course of the pandemic – a reality which threatens to become ever more widespread as the status quo persists.

Below, the fulltext of Gomez's statement, the push for which reportedly unfolded over the last 48 hours:

Brothers, the Chairmen of several Committees have come to me recently to express a particular concern in the wake of the election. I had the opportunity to consult with the Executive Committee about this concern, and I found unanimous support for what I am about to present. 

We are facing a unique moment in the history of the Church in this country. For only the second time, we are anticipating a transition to a President who professes the Catholic faith. This presents certain opportunities, but also certain challenges. 

The President-elect has given us reason to believe that his faith commitments will move him to support some good policies. This includes policies in favor of immigration reform, refugees, and the poor; and against racism, the death penalty, and climate change. 

But he has also given us reason to believe that he will support policies that attack some fundamental values we hold dear as Catholics. These policies include the repeal of the Hyde amendment and the preservation of Roe v. Wade. Both of these policies undermine our “preeminent priority” of the elimination of abortion. These policies also include restoration of the HHS mandate, the passage of the Equality Act, and the unequal treatment of Catholic schools. 

These policies pose a serious threat to the common good whenever any politician supports them. We have long opposed these policies strongly, and we will continue to do so. But when politicians who profess the Catholic faith support them, there are additional problems. Among other things, it creates confusion with the faithful about what the Church actually teaches on these questions. 

This is a difficult and complex situation. In order to help us navigate it, I have decided to appoint a Working Group, Chaired by Archbishop Vigneron, and consisting of the Chairmen of the Committees responsible for the policy areas at stake, as well as Doctrine and Communications. I will provide more information about this initiative shortly after the conclusion of our meeting. 

But for now, I will note that this follows the precedent of four years ago. Cardinal DiNardo, then-President of the Conference, similarly faced a transition to a new Administration threatening grave and imminent harm on critical issues. 

Then as now, Committees already existed to address those issues, and the goal was to emphasize our priorities and enhance collaboration. Thank you, brothers, for raising this concerns, and please stay tuned as this develops further.


On Day Two, The "Viruses" Take Center Stage

Set to begin at 1pm Eastern, this final day of a virtual – and heavily curtailed – USCCB Plenary will be underpinned by what've arguably been the two key threads of American life in 2020: the bench's free-form discussions on COVID-19's impact on the nation's largest religious body, and the shape of the church's witness against racism.

To be sure, these aren't debates leading up to a vote, simply pastoral talks to compare notes on best practices and possible areas of improvement. In that light, these conversations tend to be even more revealing of the mind of the body than exchanges over specific policy questions.

Yet again, here's the livefeed....


Monday, November 16, 2020

Amid COVID and Ted, The Bench "ZOOMs" Forward

And now, for something completely different – a hundred forty years since the collegial governance of American Catholicism began with a November meeting of its archbishops, a full century since the entire bench convened as the global church's first episcopal conference, the leadership of the nation's religious body has never experienced a moment like this... quite possibly in more ways than one.

Due to COVID-19, the annual five-ring circus in Baltimore has fallen by the wayside, with the 250 voting members and 50-odd retirees gathering from home via Zoom – a platform with which the prelates have become all too familiar since the pandemic's initial lockdowns began in March.  On the bright side, however, as a good few bishops have long griped about the outlays of money and logistics that go into in-person meetings, their thesis that the bench can sufficiently handle its business with an online plenary can finally be put to the test.

Of course, the setting of the two-day talks isn't the only exceptional matter at hand. The timing of last week's release of the Vatican's McCarrick Report was dictated by this meeting – largely as its continued absence would've made for a fiasco, even among the broad middle of the conference given the two-year delay. Accordingly, today's planned 1pm start has been delayed by 90 minutes to allow for an initial discussion of the 450-page text and its findings in closed-door executive session. 

Beginning with the customary twin addresses by the Nuncio to Washington, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, and the first speech by Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles as the conference president, the virtual public "Floor" – which will likewise include open-mic time on McCarrick – opens at 2.30pm Eastern (11.30 Pacific/1830 Rome).

Livefeed below... and as ever, more to come.


Tuesday, November 10, 2020

In Vatican Report, The Many Faces of Ted

And so, almost two years since the former cardinal-archbishop of Washington Theodore McCarrick became the highest-ranking cleric ever to be dismissed from orders amid serial credible reports of sexual abuse, the Holy See's report has finally arrived – the 449-page whopper was released this morning, underpinned by testimonies from 17 victims of the 90 year-old ex-prelate.

As no advance copies were circulated ahead of the 2pm Rome (8am ET) publish time – not even to practically any senior figures in either Rome or the US – the findings of the intense, exhaustive probe are just being absorbed across the board. Still, as for the major element in McCarrick's five-decade ascent, to repeat, if you're surprised, start paying attention.

Though it's not exactly the internet's strong-suit, with a product as sprawling as this, it's best to read it first and only react once one has... and as with any major Vatican document, but even more here, don't skip the footnotes.

Processing this will take a while. But for something of this gravity and scope, it deserves nothing less. Ergo, more in due course.


Saturday, November 07, 2020

From the Pews to "The People's House" – Biden Wins, Becoming US' Catholic-in-Chief

(Ed. Note: Updated with statements from competent ecclesial authority.)
Yet again, the votes of the nation's largest religious body held the keys to the White House. And for just the second time in the 231-year history of the Republic, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue will be home to an American Catholic.

After 87 hours of counting across several states, at 11.30am today, the nation's major news outlets called the election of Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr of Delaware, 77, as the 46th President of the United States, defeating the incumbent Donald Trump. 

The projection came as the Democratic nominee widened his lead in Pennsylvania, one of the three heavily-Catholic states that flipped to Trump in 2016 by a combined 77,774 votes. (At top, Biden is seen accepting the University of Notre Dame's 2016 Laetare Medal – the most prestigious honor for a US Catholic – receiving it jointly with the Republican House Speaker John Boehner.)

Already the first Catholic ever to be elected Vice-President over two terms at Barack Obama's side, the Scranton-born Biden – taught by his hometown's Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Norbertines of Archmere Academy in his adopted First State – now takes his place alongside John F. Kennedy (1961-63) as the lone members of the faithful to ascend to the Oval Office. A five-decade member of St Joseph on the Brandywine parish at the suburban edges of Wilmington, the President-elect is a weekly attendee at Sunday's 9am Mass in the quaint church, built in 1841 by the Dupont family for their chemical company's immigrant laborers.

According to exit polling by the Associated Press, Biden wiped out the GOP's usual dominance with white Catholics nationwide – a feat last accomplished by Bill Clinton in his two victories in the 1990s – but took the church's at-large vote on the back of a 2-to-1 split among Hispanics, who were the largest minority bloc in this election for the first time. With the Democratic ticket on pace to win roughly 300 electoral votes (clearing the requisite threshold of 270), the ongoing popular tally has made Biden the first presidential contender ever to attain 75 million votes.

In a year marked by titanic upheavals of American society amid the COVID-19 pandemic and a national reckoning on race relations, Trump sought to shift his re-election from being a referendum on his polarizing, disaster-prone first term, hitching his bid for Catholic support on the basis of his opposition to abortion – a push fueled by his surrogates' baseless, but no less concerted attempts to portray Biden as out of communion with his own church. 

While the Democrats' increasingly dogmatic abortion policy has exacerbated tensions between the party and much of the church's leadership over the last two decades, the incoming President has never been sanctioned by any ecclesiastical authority – as Biden's home-ordinary, Bishop W. Francis Malooly of Wilmington reiterated at the campaign's start last year that he "has consistently refrained from politicizing the Eucharist, and will continue to do so."

Despite the significant divide on the unborn, Biden has formed a solid bond with Pope Francis since the pontiff's election in 2013, finding common cause on several key concerns of the latter's social Magisterium opposed by Trump's nationalist base, among them climate change, racial and economic justice and the plight of migrants. 

Though he was quietly received by then-Pope Benedict XVI as Vice-President in 2011, in a 2015 tribute to Francis he penned for TIME magazine, Biden said that the reigning Pope began their first meeting by pointedly telling him "You are always welcome here" at the Vatican. 
Even as global travel is severely complicated amid the pandemic, it's virtually certain that a historic encounter between an American Pope and the US' "Catholic-in-Chief" would be at the top of a Biden Administration's wish-list of road stops as soon as circumstances allow. 

For its part, odds are the Holy See will have a better rapport with the incoming White House than the departing one. Beyond the Pope's longstanding and explicit revulsion at Trump's immigration policy, just last month, the Vatican's two lead diplomats made a rare expression of public displeasure after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was seen as openly pressuring Francis against renewing the church's provisional accord with China's Communist government over the appointment of bishops. 
The Sino-Vatican pact was extended shortly after a visit to Rome by Pompeo, during which the secretary was not granted a private audience with the Pope.

As for the nation's hierarchy, while it is customary for the president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops to issue a statement congratulating the POTUS-to-be once the election is called, no reaction has yet emerged. (SVILUPPO: A statement was released Saturday evening – text below) In any case, though the bench's conservative flank leaned heavily on opposition to abortion and the GOP's advocacy for Christians' religious liberty as the linchpin of their people's discernment, this campaign was marked by a notable pushback against "single-issue voting" by an unusually sizable bloc of prelates largely seen as key allies of Francis.

How the dynamic will translate to the church's relations with a Catholic White House remains to be seen, but experience indicates a warmer ride than the transactional, whiplash-like nature of Trump's one term in office, capped by last month's confirmation of now-Justice Amy Coney Barrett – a favorite of pro-life activists – to the Supreme Court.

While supporters of the winning ticket have taken to the streets of major cities to celebrate the election's outcome, the mood doesn't lessen the mountain of challenges Biden will inherit upon his Inauguration on January 20th. Nonetheless, that day will begin with a special touch of history, as the President-elect attends early Mass at the Jesuit-run Holy Trinity Church in Georgetown before heading to the Capitol for his oath of office.

It will be 60 years to the day since JFK opened his swearing-in at the same altar. 

SVILUPPO: At 6pm Washington time, the USCCB President, Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, released the bench's customary statement congratulating the President-elect.

Notably, however, the text conspicuously ducked the term in reference to Biden – ostensibly in light of Trump's refusal to concede and Republican threats of legal challenges to the result.

Here, Gomez's full comment:

We thank God for the blessings of liberty. The American people have spoken in this election. Now is the time for our leaders to come together in a spirit of national unity and to commit themselves to dialogue and compromise for the common good.

As Catholics and Americans, our priorities and mission are clear. We are here to follow Jesus Christ, to bear witness to His love in our lives, and to build His Kingdom on earth. I believe that at this moment in American history, Catholics have a special duty to be peacemakers, to promote fraternity and mutual trust, and to pray for a renewed spirit of true patriotism in our country. 

Democracy requires that all of us conduct ourselves as people of virtue and self-discipline. It requires that we respect the free expression of opinions and that we treat one another with charity and civility, even as we might disagree deeply in our debates on matters of law and public policy. 

As we do this, we recognize that Joseph R. Biden, Jr., has received enough votes to be elected the 46th President of the United States. We congratulate Mr. Biden and acknowledge that he joins the late President John F. Kennedy as the second United States president to profess the Catholic faith. We also congratulate Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California, who becomes the first woman ever elected as vice president. 

We ask the Blessed Virgin Mary, patroness of this great nation, to intercede for us. May she help us to work together to fulfill the beautiful vision of America’s missionaries and founders — one nation under God, where the sanctity of every human life is defended and freedom of conscience and religion are guaranteed. 

SVILUPPO 2: While several US bishops have issued their own responses to the outcome – with all the variation you can imagine – Sunday afternoon brought a statement from Biden's local hierarch, Wilmington's aforementioned Bishop Fran Malooly.

Soon to be three years past 75, as Whispers reported in July, the Vatican delayed the retirement of Delaware's statewide prelate until the campaign was completed. Even so, the Baltimore native now becomes the second prelate to be the bishop of an American President, joining Boston's legendary Cardinal Richard Cushing, the chaplain to the Kennedys, who died 50 years ago this week.

Named to lead the 250,000-member Wilmington fold in summer 2008 – just as Biden was tapped as Obama's running mate – given Malooly's usual reticence for public comment on his most prominent parishioner, to use a famous Biden-ism, his bishop's statement "is a BFD":

“St. Paul reminds us in today’s second reading that as Christians, we are called to be people of hope. No matter where we might fall on the political spectrum, we must seize this moment as an opportunity to begin to heal the crippling divisions in our great nation. These fractures were forged over decades and reconciliation will take time and patience. It begins with each of us. Today I congratulate President-elect Biden. We all must pray for the President-elect and President Trump during this time of transition and we look to the future with hope that as one Nation under God, we will continue be a beacon of freedom and prosperity to the world.”

...and speaking of Wilmington, today's morning after brought this:


Tuesday, November 03, 2020

"We Vote As Many... We Pray As One"

And so, waged against the backdrop of a cataclysmic year for the Union, the long, bitter campaign has reached its end... and the nation's largest religious body might just be standing at the threshold of history.

It's going to be a long night – according to some indicators, it might end up being a long couple days. But regardless of the outcome, per custom on these nights, we return again to the foundational prayer of American Catholicism: the Prayer for the Nation written and given in 1791 by John Carroll of Baltimore – the nation's founding bishop, a cousin of the lone Catholic to sign the Declaration of Independence.

We pray, Thee O Almighty and Eternal God! Who through Jesus Christ hast revealed Thy glory to all nations, to preserve the works of Thy mercy, that Thy Church, being spread through the whole world, may continue with unchanging faith in the confession of Thy Name. 

We pray Thee, who alone art good and holy, to endow with heavenly knowledge, sincere zeal, and sanctity of life, our chief bishop, Pope Francis, the Vicar of Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the government of his Church; our own bishop, N., all other bishops, prelates, and pastors of the Church; and especially those who are appointed to exercise amongst us the functions of the holy ministry, and conduct Thy people into the ways of salvation.

We pray Thee O God of might, wisdom, and justice! Through whom authority is rightly administered, laws are enacted, and judgment decreed, assist with Thy Holy Spirit of counsel and fortitude the President of these United States, that his administration may be conducted in righteousness, and be eminently useful to Thy people over whom he presides; by encouraging due respect for virtue and religion; by a faithful execution of the laws in justice and mercy; and by restraining vice and immorality. Let the light of Thy divine wisdom direct the deliberations of Congress, and shine forth in all the proceedings and laws framed for our rule and government, so that they may tend to the preservation of peace, the promotion of national happiness, the increase of industry, sobriety, and useful knowledge; and may perpetuate to us the blessing of equal liberty. 

We pray for his excellency, the governor of this state, for the members of the assembly, for all judges, magistrates, and other officers who are appointed to guard our political welfare, that they may be enabled, by Thy powerful protection, to discharge the duties of their respective stations with honesty and ability. We recommend likewise, to Thy unbounded mercy, all our brethren and fellow citizens throughout the United States, that they may be blessed in the knowledge and sanctified in the observance of Thy most holy law; that they may be preserved in union, and in that peace which the world cannot give; and after enjoying the blessings of this life, be admitted to those which are eternal.

Finally, we pray to Thee, O Lord of mercy, to remember the souls of Thy servants departed who are gone before us with the sign of faith and repose in the sleep of peace; the souls of our parents, relatives, and friends; of those who, when living, were members of this congregation, and particularly of such as are lately deceased; of all benefactors who, by their donations or legacies to this Church, witnessed their zeal for the decency of divine worship and proved their claim to our grateful and charitable remembrance.

To these, O Lord, and to all that rest in Christ, grant, we beseech Thee, a place of refreshment, light, and everlasting peace, through the same Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior. Amen.

As ever, more to come as things allow. For now, hope everyone's hanging in there... and buckle up.


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.)
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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.

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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.