Thursday, February 21, 2019

Calling Church to "Hear The Cry For Justice," Pope To Summit: "Be Concrete"

(1500 Rome/9amET – updated with content of Pope's printed "reflection points.")

Over the weeks leading up to this unprecedented convocation of the world's bishops conference presidents on the abuse of minors in the church, the Vatican – and even the Pope himself – have explicitly sought to downplay expectations on the summit's outcome.

But then, in the event's opening minutes this morning, Francis conspicuously nixed that messaging – which had stoked outrage among victim-survivors – suddenly insisting upon a tangible result from the three-day talks.

Here, the English fulltext of the pontiff's brief, blunt address:
Dear Brothers, good morning!

In light of the scourge of sexual abuse perpetrated by ecclesiastics to the great harm of minors, I wanted to consult you, Patriarchs, Cardinals, Archbishops, Bishops, and Religious Superiors and Leaders, so that together we might listen to the Holy Spirit and, in docility to his guidance, hear the cry of the little ones who plead for justice. In this meeting, we sense the weight of the pastoral and ecclesial responsibility that obliges us to discuss together, in a synodal, frank and in-depth manner, how to confront this evil afflicting the Church and humanity. The holy People of God looks to us, and expects from us not simple and predictable condemnations, but concrete and effective measures to be undertaken. We need to be concrete.

So we begin this process armed with faith and a spirit of great parrhesia, courage and concreteness.

As a help, I would share with you some important criteria formulated by the various Episcopal Commissions and Conferences – they came from you and I have organized them somewhat. They are guidelines to assist in our reflection, and they will now be distributed to you. They are a simple point of departure that came from you and now return to you. They are not meant to detract from the creativity needed in this meeting.

In your name, I would also like to thank the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the members of the Organizing Committee for their outstanding and dedicated work in preparing for this meeting. Many thanks!

Finally, I ask the Holy Spirit to sustain us throughout these days, and to help us to turn this evil into an opportunity for awareness and purification. May the Virgin Mary enlighten us as we seek to heal the grave wounds that the scandal of paedophilia has caused, both in the little ones and in believers. Thank you.
The moment was punctuated by a notable sight: as the Pope spoke, aides suddenly appeared in the aisles of the Aula, handing out leaflets featuring the mentioned compilation of best practices already being applied in parts of the global church. (Comprising 21 "reflection points" for use in local norms – or, given Francis' endorsement, possibly to appear as universal law in due course – the handout's contents are reproduced in full below.)

This first day is dedicated to the "responsibility" of bishops and religious superiors in combatting abuse; tomorrow and Saturday will respectively focus on "accountability" and "transparency" in addressing the scandals.

Francis will give a more extensive closing address to close the meeting on Sunday, following a concluding Mass – which, in an exceedingly rare occurrence, won't be preached by the pontiff himself, but the president of the Australian bench, Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane.

*  *  *
Following Francis' introduction, the morning session brought two of the day's three main talks – a reflection on the spiritual "wound" of abuse from Manila's Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, and an overview of the legal procedures for handling allegations by Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, a member of the meeting's four-man organizing committee, and the figure most widely affiliated with the global church's "gold standard" response to the crisis.

Now restored to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – where he previously oversaw the dismissal of some 3,000 accused clerics over a decade as its lead prosecutor – the Maltese departed from his canonical task to employ a stark pastoral lesson to the gathered prelates:

Interspersed between the prelates’ talks were brief testimonies by victim-survivors, among them a woman whose abuse as a girl saw her pressured into three abortions, and a middle-aged priest’s recounting of his childhood trauma at the hand of a cleric.

With the summit soon to break for lunch – and the first daily press briefing – more as it emerges.

SVILUPPO: As mentioned above, here's the complete text of the Pope's 21 "reflection points" toward a "concrete" outcome, circulated among the participants as Francis spoke and subsequently released to journalists by the Holy See Press Office:
1. To prepare a practical handbook indicating the steps to be taken by authorities at key moments when a case emerges.

2. To equip oneself with listening structures that include trained and expert people who can initially discern the cases of the alleged victims.

3. Establish the criteria for the direct involvement of the Bishop or of the Religious Superior.

4. Implement shared procedures for the examination of the charges, the protection of the victims and the right of defence of the accused.

5. Inform the civil authorities and the higher ecclesiastical authorities in compliance with civil and canonical norms.

6. Make a periodic review of protocols and norms to safeguard a protected environment for minors in all pastoral structures: protocols and norms based on the integrated principles of justice and charity so that the action of the Church in this matter is in conformity with her mission.

7. Establish specific protocols for handling accusations against Bishops.

8. Accompany, protect and treat victims, offering them all the necessary support for a complete recovery.

9. Increase awareness of the causes and consequences of sexual abuse through ongoing formation initiatives of Bishops, Religious Superiors, clerics and pastoral workers.

10. Prepare pathways of pastoral care for communities injured by abuses and penitential and recovery routes for the perpetrators.

11. To consolidate the collaboration with all people of good will and with the operators of mass media in order to recognize and discern real cases from false ones and accusations of slander, avoiding rancour and insinuations, rumours and defamation (cf. Pope Francis’ address to the Roman Curia, 21 December 2018).

12. To raise the minimum age for marriage to sixteen years.

13. Establish provisions that regulate and facilitate the participation of lay experts in investigations and in the different degrees of judgment of canonical processes concerning sexual and / or power abuse.

14. The right to defence: the principle of natural and canon law of presumption of innocence must also be safeguarded until the guilt of the accused is proven. Therefore, it is necessary to prevent the lists of the accused being published, even by the dioceses, before the preliminary investigation and the definitive condemnation.

15. Observe the traditional principle of proportionality of punishment with respect to the crime committed. To decide that priests and bishops guilty of sexual abuse of minors leave the public ministry.

16. Introduce rules concerning seminarians and candidates for the priesthood or religious life. Be sure that there are programs of initial and ongoing formation to help them develop their human, spiritual and psychosexual maturity, as well as their interpersonal relationships and their behaviour.

17. Be sure to have psychological evaluations by qualified and accredited experts for candidates for the priesthood and consecrated life.

18. Establish norms governing the transfer of a seminarian or religious aspirant from one seminary to another; as well as a priest or religious from one diocese or congregation to another.

19. Formulate mandatory codes of conduct for all clerics, religious, service personnel and volunteers to outline appropriate boundaries in personal relationships. Be specific about the necessary requirements for staff and volunteers and check their criminal record.

20. Explain all information and data on the dangers of abuse and its effects, how to recognize signs of abuse and how to report suspected sexual abuse. All this must take place in collaboration with parents, teachers, professionals and civil authorities.

21. Where it has not yet been in place, establish a group easily accessible for victims who want to report any crimes. Such an organization should have a certain autonomy with respect to the local ecclesiastical authority and include expert persons (clerics and laity) who know how to express the Church's attention to those who have been offended by improper attitudes on the part of clerics.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Theodore McCarrick, Ex-Cleric

Over the last two decades, some 5,000 men worldwide have been dismissed from the clerical state following a credible allegation of the sexual abuse of a minor.

Only now has one of them once worn the red hat of a cardinal.

Anticipated for months, the Pope's decree ousting Theodore Edgar McCarrick, now a former archbishop and priest, from the ranks of the ordained was published by the Holy See just before 9.30 Rome time (3.30am US Eastern) this Saturday morning. With word of the decision conveyed to the 88 year-old yesterday, the act has immediate effect.

Eight months since a first report of abuse was substantiated against the onetime cardinal-archbishop of Washington, today's move caps the most precipitous fall of an American prelate in history – indeed, of a top-level cleric anywhere in modern times – and marks a new stage in the church's still-intensifying effort to address the scourge of abuse and punish its perpetrators.

Since 2001, when full-on laicization became a standard practice for priests found guilty of abusing a minor or or possessing child pornography, only three other bishops have been similarly removed worldwide, none of them from the US.

Here, the English text of the Vatican announcement:
On 11 January 2019, the Congresso of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, at the conclusion of a penal process, issued a decree finding Theodore Edgar McCarrick, archbishop emeritus of Washington, D.C., guilty of the following delicts while a cleric: solicitation in the Sacrament of Confession, and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power. The Congresso imposed on him the penalty of dismissal from the clerical state. On 13 February 2019, the Ordinary Session (Feria IV) of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith considered the recourse he presented against this decision. Having examined the arguments in the recourse, the Ordinary Session confirmed the decree of the Congresso. This decision was notified to Theodore McCarrick on 15 February 2019. The Holy Father has recognized the definitive nature of this decision made in accord with law, rendering it a res iudicata (i.e., admitting of no further recourse).
While weeks of reports foreseeing McCarrick's laicization have taken the surprise out of the result, the seismic nature of it remains, all the more given the immense influence and profile the now-removed cleric masterfully wielded across the Catholic world and the nation's capital alike over a generation.

Even when McCarrick resigned under pressure from the College of Cardinals last July – becoming the first "ex-member" of the Pope's Senate in a century – the notion of removing the then-archbishop from the priesthood altogether remained a near-unthinkable outcome in most church circles. However, as public anger remained blistering over what became multiple abuse charges – coupled with ample revelations of McCarrick's history of harassment and molestation of seminarians and young priests – once word emerged in late December that an allegation of solicitation in the context of Confession had become part of the CDF investigation, the ultimate banishment was suddenly viewed as a fait accompli.

As the action against McCarrick stemmed from a man's report last year to the archdiocese of New York that the then-monsignor had fondled him as a 16 year-old in the early 1970s – followed quickly by the testimony of a second man that the future cardinal (a longtime friend of his family) had abused him for years, beginning at age 11 – what's now the standard canonical penalty in such cases has been executed here.

Nonetheless, today's announcement brings one major innovation: until now, a cleric's sexual misconduct with adults has not risen to the level of a CDF charge nor a tribunal process. Usually addressed as a discretionary matter, that acts with adults are listed among the graviora delicta (grave crimes) warranting McCarrick's dismissal – specifically "with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power" – represents a massive sea-change in the church's handling of allegations beyond those involving minors, one which could well have significant ramifications going forward, both in Rome and at the local level.

With his laicization now imposed, McCarrick – a particular favorite of Popes John Paul II and Francis alike – loses all the titles, responsibilities and privileges of a priest and hierarch, except for one emergency role: namely, the faculty to absolve a person in imminent danger of death. As for his descriptor going forward, he should be referred to as "the dismissed cleric Theodore McCarrick," with the ranks or offices he once held only used after his name to reflect that they no longer apply.

Given his dismissal, it remains to be seen whether the now-former cleric will keep his residence at the Capuchin friary in Kansas where Francis ordered McCarrick to live in prayer and penance pending the outcome of Rome's investigation; as a result of today's decree, the onetime cardinal is no longer bound by obedience to his now-former superior.

Today's move is merely the curtain-raiser for two of the most consequential moments of Francis' six-year pontificate: Thursday brings the opening of the four-day Vatican "summit" that'll convene the presidents of the world's bishops for the church's first-ever global meeting on clergy sex-abuse and its optimal response, while the eyes of Stateside Catholicism remain fixed on Washington, where the Pope's all-important appointment of the capital's next archbishop amid the twin scandals that engulfed McCarrick and his successor, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, has been expected over these weeks.

On a timing note, it's long been understood among Whispers ops that the Vatican's final judgment on McCarrick would necessarily precede the Pope's pick for the helm of DC's 800,000-member church.

SVILUPPO: Before 7am ET, the following brief, unsigned statement was issued by the Washington Chancery:
The imposition on former Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick of the penalty of his dismissal from the clerical state, thus prohibiting him any type of priestly ministry, underscores the gravity of his actions.

Our hope and prayer is that this decision serves to help the healing process for survivors of abuse, as well as those who have experienced disappointment or disillusionment because of what former Archbishop McCarrick has done. We also pray that the Church may be guided to move forward in her mission.
And shortly thereafter, the national response came from the USCCB President, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston – the US delegate to next week's Vatican talks:
The Holy See’s announcement regarding Theodore McCarrick is a clear signal that abuse will not be tolerated. No bishop, no matter how influential, is above the law of the Church. For all those McCarrick abused, I pray this judgement will be one small step, among many, toward healing. For us bishops, it strengthens our resolve to hold ourselves accountable to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I am grateful to Pope Francis for the determined way he has led the Church’s response.

If you have suffered sexual abuse at the hands of someone within the Catholic Church, I urge you to contact local law enforcement and your local diocese or eparchy. Victims Assistance Coordinators are available to help. We are committed to healing and reconciliation.

Friday, February 01, 2019

In Texas – And Beyond – The "Reckoning" Continues

Eight months into the US church's latest round of abuse crisis, January's final hours brought yet another sharp curve, but one whose proactive nature on a broad scale makes it unique even at this point.

Reflecting their long-standing habit of close collaboration in pastoral activity beyond the standard teaming up on public policy, the bishops of Texas' 15 dioceses released their lists of clerics credibly accused of abuse of minors in unison late yesterday, the sum total of which offers an unusually sprawling chronicle of the scandals that spans nearly seven decades.

All told, the disclosures named nearly 300 accused priests and religious who've served in the Lone Star state since 1950. For context, here it bears recalling that last August's grand-jury report on six of Pennsylvania's eight Latin-church dioceses relayed a figure of over 300 accused clergy, while a preliminary report in December from the Illinois Attorney General alleged a history of some 500 accused clerics who've gone unnamed (vs. fewer than 200 publicly identified to date) as part of a fresh probe in the Pennsylvania inquiry's wake.

As previously reported, the top prosecutors of at least 14 states and the District of Columbia have launched statewide investigations since the Pennsylvania report – and, of course, the US Department of Justice has opened a far more consequential inquest, currently limited to Pennsylvania but likely to spread across at least part of the wider country.

In that light, the Texas disclosure is in a class by itself not merely given the staggering scale involved, but that the move was made by the bishops on their own volition instead of as an attempt to get ahead of a civil inquest already in progress. (To be sure, though scores of US dioceses have released similar lists over the last six months, the only similar statewide reveal came in Pennsylvania in the weeks ahead of the grand-jury's findings.)

Sprawling as the Texas effort has been – and at least some staffs were working late into Wednesday night to meet the deadline – the process toward Thursday's release has been more challenging than meets the eye.

On one front, the exceptional growth of the Texas church over the time period at hand (which has seen Catholics become the state's largest religious body) has raised a significant amount of jurisdictional issues. As Catholic News Service cited, no fewer than nine of the 15 dioceses were established from 1950 to 2000, a reality which could see one priest having served in two or three different local churches without ever leaving the territory for which he was originally ordained; relatedly, a newer diocese could have a cleric with an allegation which was handled by the prior diocese and thus isn't part of local institutional memory. What's more, Texas' longtime status as mission territory due to a historically sparse Catholic presence until recent times yielded a considerably greater reliance on religious priests, which necessarily requires the involvement of their respective superiors both in the handling of abuse cases and the disclosure of the identities of the accused.

Yet in particular, the coordination that marked the release conspicuously did not extend to the standards and processes employed by the dioceses. While several of the Chanceries employed outside counsel or consulting firms to review their files, others charted internally-picked "special commissions" or called on their already-existing review boards to conduct the task.

And above all, the compilation of the lists has again underscored the dilemma baked into the Dallas Charter – the definition (or lack thereof) of a "credible" allegation, which in its specifics essentially remains a determination by each bishop. On that aspect, according to Whispers ops apprised of the four-month process, an attempt among the Texas prelates to agree to a common standard of "credible" came to an impasse as the lists were being prepared, as did a push for a universal method of reporting which, among other things, would've cited when a diocese first became aware of the respective allegation(s). Albeit obliquely, the disparities of method are reflected in the finished products.

Among the group, the largest bloc released – 57 – came from San Antonio, reflecting that archdiocese's historic place as the seat of Texas Catholicism both in terms of population and, until 2004, the state's sole metropolitan entity. Of those named, nearly half were religious.

In Houston, meanwhile, the upstart archdiocese that's rapidly become home to 1.7 million Catholics in the US' fourth-largest city published the names of 25 diocesan clerics and 13 religious.

Of the former, two cases remain under investigation, the internal handling of which saw Cardinal Daniel DiNardo ambushed by a CBS News crew as he presided over November's USCCB meeting in Baltimore, then prompted a county prosecutor's extraordinary raid of his Chancery two weeks later that stretched over some 12 hours, seeing 50 agents swoop in as a throng of local and national media hovered outside. (To date, no further developments from that search have emerged.)

In a local statement released prior to the lists, DiNardo – speaking not in his national capacity, but as de facto head of the Texas bench – said that among the reasons behind the decision to publish was so "anyone with any additional information about any abuse of a minor that may have taken place... [would] notify the civil authorities immediately."

With an eye to this month's "extraordinary Synod" on abuse in Rome – at which, as conference president, he'll be the sole representative of the US bishops – the cardinal said that he intended to reiterate "my firm conviction that the time for action and accountability at all levels of the church cannot wait."

While most of the Texas dioceses simply issued their lists with a printed introduction from the bishop, for a sampling of how things played out on the ground, Bishop Ed Burns of Dallas – a former chair of the USCCB's safe environment arm – held a full briefing on making the release from his 1.4 million-member church:

*  *  *
Speaking of Big D, yesterday brought a separate, unrelated disclosure from Louisiana's capital church in Baton Rouge of 37 accused clerics (a third of them religious).

In making the announcement, however, Bishop Mike Duca – a Dallas native and onetime rector of Holy Trinity Seminary there – offered an especially potent reflection, not merely on the importance of the release itself, but of the ongoing change and conversion which the exercise is supposed to represent.

(Emphases original):
Some have asked why must we do this. As I said in my [prior] letter, the fact that this wound will not heal tells us that we must continue to bring everything into the light. This is not easy. I have listened to some victims share their stories, and there are no words to express the depth of sadness and shame that was experienced in our Church and is part of OUR diocesan history. It is hard to lay this list out for all to see, but real renewal and healing cannot take place until we acknowledge the truth of our past.

This list reflects the lives of real people and a path of pain and suffering that affects most deeply the persons who are victims of abuse, but also the friends and family that journey with them and the innocent family members of the priests who are accused. Each name represents a unique case. Some only had one victim and others abuse gouged a wide path of pain in the lives of many victims. In some cases the victims were male and in others female. But there is one thing, most importantly, they have in common, they all have been credibly accused of sexual abuse of a minor or minors....

In the process of creating this list of names I have heard from some, and even felt this myself in the beginning, that once this is done we can move beyond the crisis mode and get back to normal. But I have come to see quite clearly that in this thinking there is already a return to an old standard to once again “sweep it under the carpet.” This list is not the end but an attempt to open the door on child sexual abuse that none of us want to open. In every case of abuse on this list I am sure that the victim was told, “don't tell anyone.” They heard this from their abuser, but also from the church, sometimes overtly, “Okay, we will take care of Father and you just keep this a secret,” or they felt an unspoken institutionally expressed rule of the Church that, you just are not supposed to talk about these things. Unfortunately, to keep the status quo the victims of abuse must bear the pain for others’ peace of mind and must do this alone.

My hope is that this list is a concrete sign that we do want to talk about this. Hopefully a victim of abuse will see a name on this list and say, that's me, and this will give them the courage to go to a trusted friend, counselor, family member or come talk to me and share their story and no longer bear the pain alone. We must be willing to share their pain, admit our part in this tragedy so that we can help ease their burden and be for the victims of sexual abuse a support and not a barrier on the path to healing. So this list is not the final piece of “dealing with this” but rather I see it as a beginning step in a foundational change in our Church’s way of acting that will renew all the programs we have in place to protect our children with a focus on the healing of the victims of abuse rather than the protection of the status quo.
*  *  *
Lastly for now, the singular case which plunged the Stateside church into the current crisis-cycle is soon to see its denouement.

Seven months since now-Archbishop Theodore McCarrick was initially removed from ministry following a substantiated report of abuse (followed quickly by a second allegation), a lead Whispers op relays that the onetime cardinal – already stripped of his red hat by Pope Francis – will be dismissed from the clerical state by the Holy See within days.

By any measure, that outcome would've been unthinkable a year ago.... In many ways, it still is.

Though a handful of other bishops have been laicized over the last half-decade following canonical convictions for abusing minors or possessing child pornography, the penalty hasn't yet been levied on an American prelate. Yet even more, in any context, never has a "prince of the church" been removed from the priesthood altogether.

Clearly, terms like "unprecedented" and "watershed" can easily be overemployed or misused in moments like these.

In this singular case, however, to say they apply is the height of understatement.


Thursday, January 17, 2019

At Crisis' Ground Zero, A Muted March

In a normal year, these days would see the Stateside church storm the nation's capital with bells on to carry out American Catholicism's most prominent act of advocacy in the public square.

For the millionth time, however, these days are anything but normal.

That tomorrow's March for Life was destined to unfold in the epicenter of this season of scandal was always bound to make for a tricky confluence. And that was before the last week turned Washington's Catholic scene even more roiled, battered and irate than it had already been.

Now held on the Friday before the 22 January anniversary of the Supreme Court's 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade, the annual interfaith demonstration against legalized abortion – long the city's largest annual protest – has historically been the District fold's showcase moment, a reality only amplified by the 800,000-member archdiocese's remarkable growth over the last two decades. But now, with the ongoing fallout of multiple abuse allegations against now-Archbishop Theodore McCarrick freshly compounded by Cardinal Donald Wuerl's extraordinary scrambling upon last week's disclosure that he had learned of his predecessor's misconduct with adults in 2004 – two years before his own promotion there – to say that the mood on the ground is "fit to be tied" is putting it mildly.

Three months since Wuerl's long-delayed resignation as archbishop was accepted by the Pope – but with the 78 year-old cardinal remaining in charge until his successor is installed – the embattled prelate was still slated to take a major role in the March events, above all in keeping the presider's chair for the archdiocese's massive youth rally and liturgy in the capital's basketball and hockey venue for some 20,000 pilgrims (below). Yet after the DC Chancery took a notable degree of quiet objections over Wuerl's presence in the wake of the latest fiasco, only yesterday was it announced that the Nuncio to the US, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, would fill in as celebrant at tomorrow morning's rites in Capital One Arena.

While there are no indications to date that the process has reached its final stages, as previously reported here, the next archbishop is expected to emerge before February's Vatican abuse summit.

Still, with the Washington church already reeling from McCarrick's removal from ministry last June and the subsequent tumult over allegations of Wuerl's mishandling of cases in August's Pennsylvania grand-jury report, the developments of the last week have served to up the stakes of the succession even further – as if the move hadn't been "too big to fail" before.

As context goes, one key aspect bears recalling: significant as it is on its own that Washington's last two archbishops have now brought grave discredit to the office – and all in a matter of seven months – the situation is intensified in that the DC church's brutal cycle represents the archdiocese's first local immersion in the crisis. With Cardinal James Hickey widely credited as having done the kind of cleanout that most other places wouldn't broach until 2002 and its wake through the 1980s and '90s, even as the scandals have ricocheted from coast to coast over the last 17 years, when the daily drip moves from the National section to the Metro page, it becomes a whole different reality.

*  *  *
In a normal year, the March for Life – beginning with its jammed vigil in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception – attracts somewhere around 100 US bishops.

Again underscoring the state of things this time, tonight's opening Mass barely managed to draw 40 of them... and instead of the standard six or so cardinals on hand, tonight saw all of two (with Wuerl and Cardinal Timothy Dolan – currently facing his own heat over a recent case in New York – both conspicuous by their absence).

To be sure, some of the depressed turnout can likely be attributed to an intense round of winter storms running cross-country. But not a drop like this.

All told, it should be a hale season for the Catholic movement against abortion – 46 years since Roe, a Republican administration whose premium on the unborn is matched only by its targeting of immigrants has just placed a second justice on the Supreme Court, while a mix of freshly-enacted state laws and evolving public attitudes have brought the number of procedures to a historic low: for the first time, even fewer than took place in 1973 itself.

Nonetheless, the shadow of the scandals could clearly be felt looming over a traditionally exuberant occasion. In his first turn at a homily that, by long practice, doubles as a "State of the Movement" address, the new USCCB Pro-Life chair, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, had little choice but to note that "the failure to respond effectively to the abuse crisis undermines every other ministry of the church."

The sense was further punctuated by the complete lack of applause during a preach that usually overflows with cheers.

An especially devout veteran of the movement who won the bench's most prominent policy role with an unprecedented defeat of a cardinal – and the US' first Pro-Life Czar who's publicly denied the Eucharist to politicians who support legal abortion – here's Naumann's homily in full:


Thursday, January 03, 2019

"The Church Has Been Shaken" – Amid US Scandals, Pope Seeks "A New Ecclesial Season"

Signed on New Year's Day and given to the US bishops late last night, below is the English text of the Pope's letter to the bench on the opening of its retreat amid the abuse crisis at Chicago's Mundelein Seminary.

Stretching eight pages in its printed form, the letter was released both by the Holy See and the USCCB this morning.

* * *
To the Bishops of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Dear Brothers,

During my meeting on 13 September last with the officers of your Conference of Bishops, I suggested that together you make a retreat, a time of seclusion, prayer and discernment, as a necessary step toward responding in the spirit of the Gospel to the crisis of credibility that you are experiencing as a Church. We see this in the Gospel: at critical moments in his mission, the Lord withdrew and spent the whole night in prayer, inviting his disciples to do the same (cf. Mk 14:38). We know that, given the seriousness of the situation, no response or approach seems adequate; nonetheless, we as pastors must have the ability, and above all the wisdom, to speak a word born of heartfelt, prayerful and collective listening to the Word of God and to the pain of our people. A word born of the prayer of shepherds who, like Moses, fight and intercede for their people (cf. Ex 32:30-32).

In that meeting, I told Cardinal DiNardo and the other bishops present of my desire to accompany you personally for several days on that retreat, and this offer was met with joy and anticipation. As the Successor of Peter, I wanted to join all of you in imploring the Lord to send forth his Spirit who “makes all things new” (cf. Rev 21:5) and to point out the paths of life that, as Church, we are called to follow for the good of all those entrusted to our care. Despite my best efforts, I will not be able, for logistical reasons, to be physically present with you. This letter is meant in some way to make up for that journey which could not take place. I am also pleased that you have accepted my offer to have the Preacher of the Papal Household direct this retreat and to share his deep spiritual wisdom.

With these few lines, I would like to draw near to you as a brother and to reflect with you on some aspects that I consider important, while at the same time encouraging your prayer and the steps you are taking to combat the “culture of abuse” and to deal with the crisis of credibility.

“It cannot be like that with you. Anyone among you who aspires to greatness must serve the rest; whoever wants to rank first among you must serve the needs of all” (Mk 10:43-45). With these words, Jesus intervenes and acknowledges the indignation felt by the disciples who heard James and John asking to sit at the right and left of the Master (cf. Mk 10:37). His words will help guide us in our shared reflection.

The Gospel is not afraid to mention certain tensions, conflicts and disputes present in the life of the first community of disciples; it would even appear to want to do so. It speaks of seeking places of honor, and of jealousy, envy and machinations. To say nothing of the intrigues and the plots that, whether secretly or openly, were hatched around the message and person of Jesus by the political and religious leaders and the merchants of the time (cf. Mk 11:15-18). These conflicts increased with the approach of the hour of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, as the prince of this world, and sin and corruption, appeared to have the last word, poisoning everything with bitterness, mistrust and resentment.

As the elderly Simeon had prophesied, difficult and critical moments can bring to light the deepest thoughts, tensions and contradictions present in the disciples individually and as a group (cf. Lk 2:35). No one can consider himself exempt from this; we are asked as a community to take care that at those times our decisions, choices, actions and intentions are not tainted by these inner conflicts and tensions, but are instead a response to the Lord who is life for the world. At times of great confusion and uncertainty, we need to be attentive and discerning, to free our hearts of compromises and false certainties, in order to hear what the Lord asks of us in the mission he has given us. Many actions can be helpful, good and necessary, and may even seem correct, but not all of them have the “flavour” of the Gospel. To put it colloquially, we have to be careful that “the cure does not become worse than the disease”. And this requires of us wisdom, prayer, much listening and fraternal communion.

1. “It cannot be like that with you”

In recent years, the Church in the United States has been shaken by various scandals that have gravely affected its credibility. These have been times of turbulence in the lives of all those victims who suffered in their flesh the abuse of power and conscience and sexual abuse on the part of ordained ministers, male and female religious and lay faithful. But times of turbulence and suffering also for their families and for the entire People of God.

The Church’s credibility has been seriously undercut and diminished by these sins and crimes, but even more by the efforts made to deny or conceal them. This has led to a growing sense of uncertainty, distrust and vulnerability among the faithful. As we know, the mentality that would cover things up, far from helping to resolve conflicts, enabled them to fester and cause even greater harm to the network of relationships that today we are called to heal and restore.

We know that the sins and crimes that were committed, and their repercussions on the ecclesial, social and cultural levels, have deeply affected the faithful. They have caused great perplexity, upset and confusion; and this can often serve as an excuse for some to discredit and call into question the selfless lives of all those many Christians who show “an immense love for humanity inspired by the God who became man”.[1] Whenever the Gospel message proves inconvenient or disturbing, many voices are raised in an attempt to silence that message by pointing to the sins and inconsistencies of the members of the Church and, even more, of her pastors.

The hurt caused by these sins and crimes has also deeply affected the communion of bishops, and generated not the sort of healthy and necessary disagreements and tensions found in any living body, but rather division and dispersion (cf. Mt 26:31). The latter are certainly not fruits and promptings of the Holy Spirit, but rather of “the enemy of human nature”,[2] who takes greater advantage of division and dispersion than of the tensions and disagreements reasonably to be expected in the lives of Christ’s disciples.

Combatting the culture of abuse, the loss of credibility, the resulting bewilderment and confusion, and the discrediting of our mission urgently demands of us a renewed and decisive approach to resolving conflicts. Jesus would tell us: “You know how among the Gentiles those who seem to exercise authority lord it over them; their great ones make their importance felt. It cannot be like that with you” (Mk 10:42-43). Loss of credibility calls for a specific approach, since it cannot be regained by issuing stern decrees or by simply creating new committees or improving flow charts, as if we were in charge of a department of human resources. That kind of vision ends up reducing the mission of the bishop and that of the Church to a mere administrative or organizational function in the “evangelization business”. Let us be clear: many of those things are necessary yet insufficient, since they cannot grasp and deal with reality in its complexity; ultimately, they risk reducing everything to an organizational problem.

The loss of credibility also raises painful questions about the way we relate to one another. Clearly, a living fabric has come undone, and we, like weavers, are called to repair it. This involves our ability, or inability, as a community to forge bonds and create spaces that are healthy, mature and respectful of the integrity and privacy of each person. It involves our ability to bring people together and to get them enthused and confident about a broad, shared project that is at once unassuming, solid, sober and transparent. This requires not only a new approach to management, but also a change in our mind-set (metanoia), our way of praying, our handling of power and money, our exercise of authority and our way of relating to one another and to the world around us. Changes in the Church are always aimed at encouraging a constant state of missionary and pastoral conversion capable of opening up new ecclesial paths ever more in keeping with the Gospel and, as such, respectful of human dignity. The programmatic aspect of our activity should be joined to a paradigmatic aspect that brings out its underlying spirit and meaning. The two are necessarily linked. Without this clear and decisive focus, everything we do risks being tainted by self-referentiality, self-preservation and defensiveness, and thus doomed from the start. Our efforts may be well-structured and organized, but will lack evangelical power, for they will not help us to be a Church that bears credible witness, but instead “a noisy gong, a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor 13:1).

In a word, a new ecclesial season needs bishops who can teach others how to discern God’s presence in the history of his people, and not mere administrators. Ideas can be discussed but vital situations have to be discerned. Consequently, amid the upset and confusion experienced by our communities, our primary duty is to foster a shared spirit of discernment, rather than to seek the relative calm resulting from compromise or from a democratic vote where some emerge as “winners” and others not. No! It is about finding a collegial and paternal way of embracing the present situation, one that, most importantly, can protect those in our care from losing hope and feeling spiritually abandoned.[3] This will enable us to be fully immersed in reality, seeking to appreciate and hear it from within, without being held hostage to it.

We know that times of trial and tribulation can threaten our fraternal communion. Yet we also know that they can become times of grace sustaining our commitment to Christ and making it credible. This credibility will not be grounded in ourselves, our statements, our merits or our personal or collective good name. All these are signs of our attempt – nearly always subconscious – to justify ourselves on the basis of our own strengths and abilities (or of someone else’s misfortune). Credibility will be the fruit of a united body that, while acknowledging its sinfulness and limitations, is at the same time capable of preaching the need for conversion. For we do not want to preach ourselves but rather Christ who died for us (cf. 2 Cor 4:5). We want to testify that at the darkest moments of our history the Lord makes himself present, opens new paths and anoints our faltering faith, our wavering hope and our tepid charity.

A personal and collective awareness of our limitations reminds us, as Saint John XXIII said, that “it must not be imagined that authority knows no bounds”.[4] It cannot be aloof in its discernment and in its efforts to pursue the common good. A faith and consciousness lacking reference to the community would be like a “Kantian transcendental”: it will end up proclaiming “a God without Christ, a Christ without the Church, a Church without its people”. It will set up a false and dangerous opposition between personal and ecclesial life, between a God of pure love and the suffering flesh of Christ. Worse, it could risk turning God into an “idol” for one particular group. Constant reference to universal communion, as also to the magisterium and age-old tradition of the Church, saves believers from absolutizing any one group, historical period or culture within the Church. Our catholicity is at stake also in our ability as pastors to learn how to listen to one another, to give and receive help from one another, to work together and to receive the enrichment that other churches can contribute to our following of Christ. The catholicity of the Church cannot be reduced merely to a question of doctrine or law; rather, it reminds us that we are not solitary pilgrims: “If one member suffers, all suffer together” (1 Cor 12:26).

This collegial awareness of our being sinners in need of constant conversion, albeit deeply distressed and pained by all that that has happened, allows us to enter into affective communion with our people. It will liberate us from the quest of false, facile and futile forms of triumphalism that would defend spaces rather than initiate processes. It will keep us from turning to reassuring certainties that keep us from approaching and appreciating the extent and implications of what has happened. It will also aid in the search for suitable measures free of false premises or rigid formulations no longer capable of speaking to or stirring the hearts of men and women in our time.[5]

Affective communion with the feelings of our people, with their disheartenment, urges us to exercise a collegial spiritual fatherhood that does not offer banal responses or act defensively, but instead seeks to learn – like the prophet Elijah amid his own troubles – to listen to the voice of the Lord. That voice is not to be found in the tempest or the earthquake, but in the calm born of acknowledging our hurt before the present situation and letting ourselves together be summoned anew by God’s word (cf. 1 Kg 19:9-18).

This approach demands of us the decision to abandon a modus operandi of disparaging, discrediting, playing the victim or the scold in our relationships, and instead to make room for the gentle breeze that the Gospel alone can offer. Let us not forget that “the collegial 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”.[6] Let us try to break the vicious circle of recrimination, undercutting and discrediting, by avoiding gossip and slander in the pursuit of a path of prayerful and contrite acceptance of our limitations and sins, and the promotion of dialogue, discussion and discernment. This will dispose us to finding evangelical paths that can awaken and encourage the reconciliation and credibility that our people and our mission require of us. We will do this if we can stop projecting onto others our own confusion and discontent, which are obstacles to unity,[7] and dare to come together, on our knees, before the Lord and let ourselves be challenged by his wounds, in which we will be able to see the wounds of the world. Jesus tells us: “You know how among the Gentiles those who seem to exercise authority lord it over them; their great ones make their importance felt. It cannot be like that with you”.

2. “Anyone among you who aspires to greatness must serve the rest; whoever wants to rank first among you must serve the needs of all”

God’s faithful people and the Church’s mission continue to suffer greatly as a result of abuses of power and conscience and sexual abuse, and the poor way that they were handled, as well as the pain of seeing an episcopate lacking in unity and concentrated more on pointing fingers than on seeking paths of reconciliation. This situation forces us to look to what is essential and to rid ourselves of all that stands in the way of a clear witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

What is being asked of us today is a new presence in the world, conformed to the cross of Christ, one that takes concrete shape in service to the men and women of our time. I think of the words of Saint Paul VI at the beginning of his pontificate: “If we want to be pastors, fathers and teachers, we must also act as brothers. Dialogue thrives on friendship, and most especially on service. All this we must remember and strive to put into practice on the example and precept of Christ (Jn 13:14-17)”.[8]

This attitude is not concerned with respect or success and garnering applause for our actions; instead, it requires that we as pastors really decide to be a seed that will grow whenever and however the Lord best determines. That decision will save us from falling into the trap of measuring the value of our efforts by the standards of functionalism and efficiency that govern the business world. The path to be taken is rather one of openness to the efficacy and transformative power of God’s Kingdom, which, like a mustard seed, the smallest and most insignificant of seeds, becomes a tree in which the birds of the air make their nests (cf. Mt 13:32-33). Amid the tempest, we must never lose faith in the quiet, daily and effective power of the Holy Spirit at work in human hearts and in all of history.

Credibility is born of trust, and trust is born of sincere, daily, humble and generous service to all, but especially to those dearest to the Lord’s heart (cf. Mt 25:31-46). It will be a service offered not out of concern with marketing or strategizing to reclaim lost prestige or to seek accolades, but rather – as I insisted in the recent Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate – because it belongs to “the beating heart of the Gospel”.[9]

The call to holiness keeps us from falling into false dichotomies and reductive ways of thinking, and from remaining silent in the face of a climate prone to hatred and rejection, disunity and violence between brothers and sisters. The Church, as the “sign and instrument of communion with God and of the unity of the entire human race” (Lumen Gentium, 1), bears in her heart and soul the sacred mission of being a place of encounter and welcome not only for her members but for all humanity. It is part of her identity and mission to work tirelessly for all that can contribute to unity between individuals and peoples as a symbol and sacrament of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for all men and women, without distinction. For “there does not exist among you Jew or Greek, slave or freeman, male or female. All are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). This is the greatest service she offers, all the more so today, when we are witnessing a resurgence of inflammatory rhetoric and prejudices old and new. Our communities today must testify in a concrete and creative way that God is the Father of all, and that in his eyes we are all his sons and daughters. Our credibility also depends on the extent to which, side by side with others, we help to strengthen a social and cultural fabric that is not only in danger of unravelling, but also of harboring and facilitating new forms of hatred. As a Church, we cannot be held hostage by this side or that, but must be attentive always to start from those who are most vulnerable. With the words of the Eucharistic Prayer, let us ask the Lord that, “in a world torn by strife, your people may shine forth as a prophetic sign of unity and concord” (Masses for Various Needs, I)

How sublime is the task at hand, brothers; we cannot keep silent about it or downplay it because of our own limitations and faults! I recall the wise words of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, that we can repeat, both as individuals and together: “Yes, I have many human faults and failures… But God bends down and uses us, you and me, to be his love and his compassion in the world; he bears our sins, our troubles and our faults. He depends on us to love the world and to show how much he loves it. If we are too concerned with ourselves, we will have no time left for others”.[10]

Dear brothers, the Lord was well aware that, at the hour of the cross, lack of unity, division and dispersion, as well as attempts to flee from that hour, would be the greatest temptations faced by his disciples – attitudes that would distort and hinder their mission. That is why he asked the Father to watch over them, so that at those times they would be one, even as he and the Father are one, and that none of them would be lost (cf. Jn 17:11-12). Entering with trust into Jesus’ prayer to the Father, we want to learn from him and, with firm resolve, to begin this time of prayer, silence and reflection, of dialogue and communion, of listening and discernment. In this way, we will allow him to conform our hearts to his image and help us discover his will.

On this path we are not alone. From the beginning, Mary accompanied and sustained the community of the disciples. By her maternal presence she helped the community not to lose its bearings by breaking up into closed groups or by thinking that it could save itself. She protected the community of the disciples from the spiritual isolation that leads to self-centeredness. By her faith, she helped them to persevere amid perplexity, trusting that God’s light would come. We ask her to keep us united and persevering as on the day of Pentecost, so that the Spirit will be poured forth into our hearts and help us in every time and place to bear witness to the resurrection.

Dear brothers, with these thoughts I am one with you during these days of spiritual retreat. I am praying for you; please do the same for me. May the Lord bless you and Our Lady watch over you.



Vatican City, 1th January 2019


[1] Cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 76.
[2] IGNATIUS OF LOYOLA, Spiritual Exercises, 135.
[3] Cf. JORGE M. BERGOGLIO, Las Cartas de la Tribulación, 12. Ed. Diego De Torres, Buenos Aires (1987).
[4] Cf. JOHN XXIII, Pacem in Terris, ed. Carlen, 47.
[5] PAUL VI, Ecclesiam Suam, ed. Carlen, 85.
[6] Gaudete et Exsultate, 50.
[7] Cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 96.
[8] PAUL VI, Ecclesiam Suam, ed. Carlen, 87.
[9] Gaudete et Exsultate, 97.
[10] MOTHER TERESA OF CALCUTTA, as cited in Gaudete et Exsultate, 107.


As Retreat Opens, Pope Raises "Crisis of Credibility" In US Bench

Before all else, a Blessed New Year to one and all – hope you've had a great rest; Lord knows some of us could use a good bit more....

Either way, here we go again.

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Eight decades ago, an "Enchanted Forest" was raised some 40 miles outside America's "Second City" – an epically grand seminary to anchor a church that the Successors of Peter would come to see as "Maxima": that is, Stateside Catholicism's "greatest" (read: largest) outpost.

In the beginning, the house-turned-town which would bear the name of its builder – the Brooklyn-born George Mundelein, the first "Cardinal of the West" – saw 750,000 of the faithful trek on foot from Chicago to mark the International Eucharistic Congress of 1926: the event that arguably put a US church beyond the Eastern seaboard on the global map for the first time.

This week, however, the same site is host to a far different moment from the teeming pilgrims and dozen-plus scarlet-painted train cars of that age... but no less an act at the behest of the Pope.

Far from the adoring crowds – and, indeed, deluxe celebrations – of Mundelein's postwar spectacle, today's US bishops have come to Chicagoland amid an overarching scandal, in penitence and listening for the future of the American Church.

At least, that's the intent – even if other hubs have supplanted O'Hare Airport, the place remains the crossroads of the country, perhaps never more for its largest religious body than in these days.

Led by the preacher of the Papal Household, Capuchin Fr Raniero Cantalamessa, ten weeks after its summons, the bench's weeklong crisis retreat at Francis' behest opened earlier tonight with a lively talk to the 280-odd prelates...

...but even more, as it's still Christmas, this first night was headlined by a gift from the Pontiff – an eight-page letter which the USCCB will publish in full Thursday morning.

To be clear, the Pope's letter was brought by Cantalamessa without any advance knowledge by US officials. As previously relayed, a similar "very Ignatian" text was given by Francis to the Chilean bishops at the opening of their "command performance" for Roman discernment last May – a week which ended with the national hierarchy's resignation en bloc.

First reported by Whispers as this retreat opened, then given to the US bishops in printed copies both in English and Spanish for their private reading during tonight's Holy Hour, here's the first page of the coming message:

For those keeping score at home, this is the second critical missive from the Vatican to emerge within the last 36 hours over the handling of abuse-related issues between Rome and the States. Meantime, as these pages have relayed at length, the Stateside bench is due for its first ad limina visit to Papa Bergoglio's Vatican and Curia late this year.

For now, as the builder of this Retreat Week's site put it on his own entrance as Corporation Sole a century ago: "I am different... the Lord cast me in a different mold. I am quicker in grasping a thing; and I am more likely to act more quickly."

Beginning with a certain prominent post which "no one wants," there'll be more of this from the Corporation Rome over the weeks to come – yet even before all the rest, the coming days will be quite full.

Lest it wasn't already clear, you're seeing reporting here that can't be found anywhere else.

Ergo, in the hopes of keeping it going, it apparently bears reminding that these pages only keep on by means of your support... otherwise, welp, what better way to go out?

SVILUPPO: Published Thursday morning by both the Vatican and the USCCB, here, the letter's full text.


Monday, December 24, 2018

"Lord, I Want To Realize... That You Are The Bread of My Life"

24 DECEMBER 2018

Joseph with Mary his spouse, went up “to the city of David called Bethlehem” (Lk 2:4). Tonight, we too, go to Bethlehem, there to discover the mystery of Christmas.

Bethlehem: the name means house of bread. In this “house”, the Lord today wants to encounter all mankind. He knows that we need food to live. Yet he also knows that the nourishments of this world do not satisfy the heart. In Scripture, the original sin of humanity is associated precisely with taking food: our first parents “took of the fruit and ate”, says the Book of Genesis (cf. 3:6). They took and ate. Mankind became greedy and voracious. In our day, for many people, life’s meaning is found in possessing, in having an excess of material objects. An insatiable greed marks all human history, even today, when, paradoxically, a few dine luxuriantly while all too many go without the daily bread needed to survive.

Bethlehem is the turning point that alters the course of history. There God, in the house of bread, is born in a manger. It is as if he wanted to say: “Here I am, as your food”. He does not take, but gives us to eat; he does not give us a mere thing, but his very self. In Bethlehem, we discover that God does not take life, but gives it. To us, who from birth are used to taking and eating, Jesus begins to say: “Take and eat. This is my body” (Mt 26:26). The tiny body of the Child of Bethlehem speaks to us of a new way to live our lives: not by devouring and hoarding, but by sharing and giving. God makes himself small so that he can be our food. By feeding on him, the bread of life, we can be reborn in love, and break the spiral of grasping and greed. From the “house of bread”, Jesus brings us back home, so that we can become God’s family, brothers and sisters to our neighbours. Standing before the manger, we understand that the food of life is not material riches but love, not gluttony but charity, not ostentation but simplicity.

The Lord knows that we need to be fed daily. That is why he offered himself to us every day of his life: from the manger in Bethlehem to the Upper Room in Jerusalem. Today too, on the altar, he becomes bread broken for us; he knocks at our door, to enter and eat with us (cf. Rev 3:20). At Christmas, we on earth receive Jesus, the bread from heaven. It is a bread that never grows stale, but enables us even now to have a foretaste of eternal life.

In Bethlehem, we discover that the life of God can enter into our hearts and dwell there. If we welcome that gift, history changes, starting with each of us. For once Jesus dwells in our heart, the centre of life is no longer my ravenous and selfish ego, but the One who is born and lives for love. Tonight, as we hear the summons to go up to Bethlehem, the house of bread, let us ask ourselves: What is the bread of my life, what is it that I cannot do without? Is it the Lord, or something else? Then, as we enter the stable, sensing in the tender poverty of the newborn Child a new fragrance of life, the odour of simplicity, let us ask ourselves: Do I really need all these material objects and complicated recipes for living? Can I manage without all these unnecessary extras and live a life of greater simplicity? In Bethlehem, beside where Jesus lay, we see people who themselves had made a journey: Mary, Joseph and the shepherds. Jesus is bread for the journey. He does not like long, drawn-out meals, but bids us rise quickly from table in order to serve, like bread broken for others. Let us ask ourselves: At Christmas do I break my bread with those who have none?

After Bethlehem as the house of bread, let us reflect on Bethlehem as the city of David. There the young David was a shepherd, and as such was chosen by God to be the shepherd and leader of his people. At Christmas, in the city of David, it was the shepherds who welcomed Jesus into the world. On that night, the Gospel tells us, “they were filled with fear” (Lk 2:9), but the angel said to them “Be not be afraid” (v. 10). How many times do we hear this phrase in the Gospels: “Be not afraid”? It seems that God is constantly repeating it as he seeks us out. Because we, from the beginning, because of our sin, have been afraid of God; after sinning, Adam says: “I was afraid and so I hid” (Gen 3:10). Bethlehem is the remedy for this fear, because despite man’s repeated “no”, God constantly says “yes”. He will always be God-with-us. And lest his presence inspire fear, he makes himself a tender Child. Be not afraid: these words were not spoken to saints but to shepherds, simple people who in those days were certainly not known for their refined manners and piety. The Son of David was born among shepherds in order to tell us that never again will anyone be alone and abandoned; we have a Shepherd who conquers our every fear and loves us all, without exception.

The shepherds of Bethlehem also tell us how to go forth to meet the Lord. They were keeping watch by night: they were not sleeping, but doing what Jesus often asks all of us to do, namely, be watchful (cf. Mt 25:13; Mk 13:35; Lk 21:36). They remain alert and attentive in the darkness; and God’s light then “shone around them” (Lk 2:9). This is also the case for us. Our life can be marked by waiting, which amid the gloom of our problems hopes in the Lord and yearns for his coming; then we will receive his life. Or our life can be marked by wanting, where all that matters are our own strengths and abilities; our heart then remains barred to God’s light. The Lord loves to be awaited, and we cannot await him lying on a couch, sleeping. So the shepherds immediately set out: we are told that they “went with haste” (v. 16). They do not just stand there like those who think they have already arrived and need do nothing more. Instead they set out; they leave their flocks unguarded; they take a risk for God. And after seeing Jesus, although they were not men of fine words, they go off to proclaim his birth, so that “all who heard were amazed at what the shepherds told them” (v. 18).

To keep watch, to set out, to risk, to recount the beauty: all these are acts of love. The Good Shepherd, who at Christmas comes to give his life to the sheep, will later, at Easter, ask Peter and, through him all of us, the ultimate question: “Do you love me?” (Jn 21:15). The future of the flock will depend on how that question is answered. Tonight we too are asked to respond to Jesus with the words: “I love you”. The answer given by each is essential for the whole flock.

“Let us go now to Bethlehem” (Lk 2:15). With these words, the shepherds set out. We too, Lord, want to go up to Bethlehem. Today too, the road is uphill: the heights of our selfishness need to be surmounted, and we must not lose our footing or slide into worldliness and consumerism.

I want to come to Bethlehem, Lord, because there you await me. I want to realize that you, lying in a manger, are the bread of my life. I need the tender fragrance of your love so that I, in turn, can be bread broken for the world. Take me upon your shoulders, Good Shepherd; loved by you, I will be able to love my brothers and sisters and to take them by the hand. Then it will be Christmas, when I can say to you: “Lord you know everything; you know that I love you” (cf. Jn 21:17).

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And, well, that's a wrap – again, every joy and grace of the Babe's Coming and these days ahead to you and yours.

Keeping house custom, as ever, our sign-off belongs to this scribe's beloved countryman, teacher and friend: for a quarter-century, "The Voice" of this Holy Night.

Buon Natale a tutti – Merry Christmas... dear "Foleyness," bring us home:

More than at any other point in our lifetimes, this Church has needed the Light of a Child to guide – and indeed, redeem – it...

...and not soon enough, that's the Coming we celebrate tonight.

To one and all, your loved ones and those you serve, every wish for a Blessed Christmas – may all the joy, goodness and new life the Bambino brings be yours on this Holy Night and all through the days ahead.

On a housekeeping note, once tonight's Vatican Midni – er, 9.30pm – Mass is in the can, this scribe's taking the Octave to catch up on sleep and grab some downtime with the clan. It's been a long, grueling six months, and Lord knows we can all use a quiet stretch, so here's to soaking it up to the hilt. The Show picks up on 2 January given the opening of the USCCB's Pope-mandated Retreat at Mundelein (a moment the bench has greeted with no end of griping).

Overwhelming as the experience of this cycle has been, the line used since time immemorial as part of the Gospel of Christmas Day has felt all the more resonant: "The light shines in the darkness / and the darkness has not overcome it."

To all of you who've shone this Light in the midst of these days – in so many ways in the trenches, and especially through all the kindness, encouragement and understanding you've beamed this way amid the waves – no words can say thanks enough... just know how it'll always be an unforgettable grace.

Christus Natus Est pro nobis – Venite adoremus! Buon Natale a tutti – however young or otherwise we might be, may the gifts and lessons of this Night never grow old. Merry Christmas, Church!


Friday, December 21, 2018

Amid Year of Scandals, "The State of The Church" – A Choice "Between David and Judas"

In terms of policy, Christmas at the Vatican is a tale of two speeches – the season's end in early January brings the annual address to the Holy See's accredited diplomats long known as "The State of The World," while the start to the festivities sees a talk that's only recently become a pontiff's most consequential annual reflection on the life of the church.

The latter practice begun by Benedict XVI with his first Christmas "greeting" to the Roman Curia in 2005 – a sweeping message still cited as the programmatic text of his reign – under Francis, the speech has become ever more loaded, and consistently geared toward his charted reform of the church's central government: a process both practical and spiritual.

This year, however, just as "The State of The Church" has taken a considerable turn with the re-emergence of the abuse crisis across the Catholic world, so the Pope shifted course, dedicating this morning's talk to the "afflictions" which've surfaced far from the Vatican through 2018, with but a smattering of "joys" at the end. (Along the way, Francis veered off-script to say that the Curial reform "will never end, but the steps so far are good.")

Portraying the dynamic of a scandal-scarred church in evocative Scriptual terms – as a choice between King David, who repented of his sins, and Judas Iscariot, "another man chosen by the Lord who sells out his Master and hands him over to death" – here below is the full English rendering of the Pope's address, as prepared for delivery.

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"The night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light" (Rom 13:12).

Filled with the joy and hope that radiate from the countenance of the Holy Child, we gather again this year for the exchange of Christmas greetings, mindful of all the joys and struggles of our world and of the Church.

To you and your co-workers, to all those who serve in the Curia, to the Papal Representatives and the staff of the various Nunciatures, I offer my cordial good wishes for a blessed Christmas. I want to express my gratitude for your daily dedication to the service of the Holy See, the Church and the Successor of Peter. Thank you very much!

Allow me also to offer a warm welcome to the new Substitute of the Secretariat of State, Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra, who began his demanding and important service on 15 October last. The fact that he comes from Venezuela respects the catholicity of the Church and her need to keep expanding her horizons to the ends of the earth. Welcome, dear Archbishop, and best wishes for your work!

Christmas fills us with joy and makes us certain that no sin will ever be greater than God’s mercy; no act of ours can ever prevent the dawn of his divine light from rising ever anew in human hearts. This feast invites us to renew our evangelical commitment to proclaim Christ, the Saviour of the world and the light of the universe. “Christ, ‘holy, blameless, undefiled’ (Heb 7:26) did not know sin (cf. 2 Cor 5:21) and came only to atone for the sins of the people (cf. Heb 2:17). The Church, however, clasping sinners to her bosom, at once holy and always in need of purification, follows constantly the path of penance and renewal. She ‘presses forward amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God’, announcing the cross and death of the Lord until he comes (cf. 1 Cor 11:26). But by the power of the risen Lord, she is given the strength to overcome, in patience and in love, her sorrows and her difficulties, both those from within and those from without, so that she may reveal in the world, faithfully, albeit with shadows, the mystery of the Lord until, in the end, it shall be manifested in full light” (Lumen Gentium, 8).

In the firm conviction that the light always proves stronger than the darkness, I would like to reflect with you on the light that links Christmas (the Lord’s first coming in humility) to the Parousia (his second coming in glory), and confirms us in the hope that does not disappoint. It is the hope on which our individual lives, and the entire history of the Church and the world, depend.

Jesus was born in a social, political and religious situation marked by tension, unrest and gloom. His birth, awaited by some yet rejected by others, embodies the divine logic that does not halt before evil, but instead transforms it slowly but surely into goodness. Yet it also brings to light the malign logic that transforms even goodness into evil, in an attempt to keep humanity in despair and in darkness. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (Jn 1:5).

Each year, Christmas reminds us that God’s salvation, freely bestowed on all humanity, the Church and in particular on us, consecrated persons, does not act independently of our will, our cooperation, our freedom and our daily efforts. Salvation is a gift that must be accepted, cherished and made to bear fruit (cf. Mt 25:14-30). Being Christian, in general and for us in particular as the Lord’s anointed and consecrated, does not mean acting like an élite group who think they have God in their pocket, but as persons who know that they are loved by the Lord despite being unworthy sinners. Those who are consecrated are nothing but servants in the vineyard of the Lord, who must hand over in due time the harvest and its gain to the owner of the vineyard (cf. Mt 20:1-16).

The Bible and the Church’s history show clearly that even the elect can frequently come to think and act as if they were the owners of salvation and not its recipients, like overseers of the mysteries of God and not their humble ministers, like God’s toll-keepers and not servants of the flock entrusted to their care.

All too often, as a result of excessive and misguided zeal, instead of following God, we can put ourselves in front of him, like Peter, who remonstrated with the Master and thus merited the most severe of Christ’s rebukes: “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on the things of God but on the things of men” (Mk 8:33).

Dear brothers and sisters,

This year, in our turbulent world, the barque of the Church has experienced, and continues to experience, moments of difficulty, and has been buffeted by strong winds and tempests. Many have found themselves asking the Master, who seems to be sleeping: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mk 4:38). Others, disheartened by news reports, have begun to lose trust and to abandon her. Still others, out of fear, personal interest or other aims, have sought to attack her and aggravate her wounds. Whereas others do not conceal their glee at seeing her hard hit. Many, many others, however, continue to cling to her, in the certainty that“the gates of hell shall not prevail against her” (Mt 16:18).

Meanwhile, the Bride of Christ advances on her pilgrim way amid joys and afflictions, amid successes and difficulties from within and from without. Without a doubt, the difficulties from within are always those most hurtful and destructive.

Many indeed are the afflictions. All those immigrants, forced to leave their own homelands and to risk their lives, lose their lives, or survive only to find doors barred and their brothers and sisters in our human family more concerned with political advantage and power! All that fear and prejudice! All those people, and especially those children who die each day for lack of water, food and medicine! All that poverty and destitution! All that violence directed against the vulnerable and against women! All those theatres of war both declared and undeclared. All that innocent blood spilled daily! All that inhumanity and brutality around us! All those persons who even today are systematically tortured in police custody, in prisons and in refugee camps in various parts of the world!

We are also experiencing a new age of martyrs. It seems that the cruel and vicious persecution of the Roman Empire has not yet ended. A new Nero is always being born to oppress believers solely because of their faith in Christ. New extremist groups spring up and target churches, places of worship, ministers and members of the faithful. Cabals and cliques new and old live by feeding on hatred and hostility to Christ, the Church and believers. How many Christians even now bear the burden of persecution, marginalization, discrimination and injustice throughout our world. Yet they continue courageously to embrace death rather than deny Christ. How difficult it is, even today, freely to practice the faith in all those parts of the world where religious freedom and freedom of conscience do not exist.

The heroic example of the martyrs and of countless good Samaritans – young people, families, charitable and volunteer movements, and so many individual believers and consecrated persons – cannot, however, make us overlook the counter-witness and the scandal given by some sons and ministers of the Church.

Here I will limit myself to the scourges of abuse and of infidelity.

The Church has for some time been firmly committed to eliminating the evil of abuse, which cries for vengeance to the Lord, to the God who is always mindful of the suffering experienced by many minors because of clerics and consecrated persons: abuses of power and conscience and sexual abuse.

In my own reflections on this painful subject, I have thought of King David – one of “the Lord’s anointed” (cf. 1 Sam 16:13; 2 Sam 11-12). He, an ancestor of the Holy Child who was also called “the son of David”, was chosen, made king and anointed by the Lord. Yet he committed a triple sin, three grave abuses at once: “sexual abuse, abuse of power and abuse of conscience”. Three distinct forms of abuse that nonetheless converge and overlap.

The story begins, as we know, when the King, although a proven warrior, stayed home to take his leisure, instead of going into battle amid God’s people. David takes advantage, for his own convenience and interest, of his position as king (the abuse of power). The Lord’s anointed, he does as he wills, and thus provokes an irresistible moral decline and a weakening of conscience. It is precisely in this situation that, from the palace terrace, he sees Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite, at her bath (cf. 2 Sam 11) and covets her. He sends for her and they lie together (yet another abuse of power, plus sexual abuse). He abuses a married woman and, to cover his sin, he recalls Uriah and seeks unsuccessfully to convince him to spend the night with his wife. He then orders the captain of his army to expose Uriah to death in battle (a further abuse of power, plus an abuse of conscience). The chain of sin soon spreads and quickly becomes a web of corruption.

The sparks of sloth and lust, and “letting down the guard” are what ignite the diabolical chain of grave sins: adultery, lying and murder. Thinking that because he was king, he could have and do whatever he wanted, David tries to deceive Bathsheba’s husband, his people, himself and even God. The king neglects his relationship with God, disobeys the divine commandments, damages his own moral integrity, without even feeling guilty. The “anointed” continues to exercise his mission as if nothing had happened. His only concern was to preserve his image, to keep up appearances. For “those who think they commit no grievous sins against God’s law can fall into a state of dull lethargy. Since they see nothing serious to reproach themselves with, they fail to realize that their spiritual life has gradually turned lukewarm. They end up weakened and corrupted” (Gaudete et Exsultate, 164). From being sinful, they now become corrupt.

Today too, there are consecrated men, “the Lord’s anointed”, who abuse the vulnerable, taking advantage of their position and their power of persuasion. They perform abominable acts yet continue to exercise their ministry as if nothing had happened. They have no fear of God or his judgement, but only of being found out and unmasked. Ministers who rend the ecclesial body, creating scandals and discrediting the Church’s saving mission and the sacrifices of so many of their confrères.

Today too, there are many Davids who, without batting an eye, enter into the web of corruption and betray God, his commandments, their own vocation, the Church, the people of God and the trust of little ones and their families. Often behind their boundless amiability, impeccable activity and angelic faces, they shamelessly conceal a vicious wolf ready to devour innocent souls.

The sins and crimes of consecrated persons are further tainted by infidelity and shame; they disfigure the countenance of the Church and undermine her credibility. The Church herself, with her faithful children, is also a victim of these acts of infidelity and these real sins of “peculation” [Ed. akin to "embezzlement"].

Dear brothers and sisters,

Let it be clear that before these abominations the Church will spare no effort to do all that is necessary to bring to justice whosoever has committed such crimes. The Church will never seek to hush up or not take seriously any case. It is undeniable that some in the past, out of irresponsibility, disbelief, lack of training, inexperience, or spiritual and human short-sightedness, treated many cases without the seriousness and promptness that was due. That must never happen again. This is the choice and the decision of the whole Church.

This coming February, the Church will restate her firm resolve to pursue unstintingly a path of purification. She will question, with the help of experts, how best to protect children, to avoid these tragedies, to bring healing and restoration to the victims, and to improve the training imparted in seminaries. An effort will be made to make past mistakes opportunities for eliminating this scourge, not only from the body of the Church but also from that of society. For if this grave tragedy has involved some consecrated ministers, we can ask how deeply rooted it may be in our societies and in our families. Consequently, the Church will not be limited to healing her own wounds, but will seek to deal squarely with this evil that causes the slow death of so many persons, on the moral, psychological and human levels.

Dear brothers and sisters,

In discussing this scourge, some, even within the Church, take to task certain communications professionals, accusing them of ignoring the overwhelming majority of cases of abuse that are not committed by clergy, and of intentionally wanting to give the false impression that this evil affects the Catholic Church alone. I myself would like to give heartfelt thanks to those media professionals who were honest and objective and sought to unmask these predators and to make their victims’ voices heard. Even if it were to involve a single case of abuse (something itself monstrous), the Church asks that people not be silent but bring it objectively to light, since the greater scandal in this matter is that of cloaking the truth.

Let us all remember that only David’s encounter with the prophet Nathan made him understand the seriousness of his sin. Today we need new Nathans to help so many Davids rouse themselves from a hypocritical and perverse life. Please, let us help Holy Mother Church in her difficult task of recognizing real from false cases, accusations from slander, grievances from insinuations, gossip from defamation. This is no easy task, since the guilty are capable of skillfully covering their tracks, to the point where many wives, mothers and sisters are unable to detect them in those closest to them: husbands, godfathers, grandfathers, uncles, brothers, neighbours, teachers and the like. The victims too, carefully selected by their predators, often prefer silence and live in fear of shame and the terror of rejection.

To those who abuse minors I would say this: convert and hand yourself over to human justice, and prepare for divine justice. Remember the words of Christ: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of scandals! For it is necessary that scandals come, but woe to the man by whom the scandal comes! (Mt 18:6-7).

Dear brothers and sisters,

Now let me speak of another affliction, namely the infidelity of those who betray their vocation, their sworn promise, their mission and their consecration to God and the Church. They hide behind good intentions in order to stab their brothers and sisters in the back and to sow weeds, division and bewilderment. They always find excuses, including intellectual and spiritual excuses, to progress unperturbed on the path to perdition.

This is nothing new in the Church’s history. Saint Augustine, in speaking of the good seed and the weeds, says: “Do you perhaps believe, brethren, that weeds cannot spring up even on the thrones of bishops? Do you perhaps think that this is found only lower down and not higher up? Heaven forbid that we be weeds!… Even on the thrones of bishops good grain and weeds can be found; even in the different communities of the faithful good grain and weeds can be found (Serm. 73, 4: PL 38, 472).

These words of Saint Augustine urge us to remember the old proverb: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”. They help us realize that the Tempter, the Great Accuser, is the one who brings division, sows discord, insinuates enmity, persuades God’s children and causes them to doubt.

Behind these sowers of weeds, we always find the thirty pieces of silver. The figure of David thus brings us to that of Judas Iscariot, another man chosen by the Lord who sells out his Master and hands him over to death. David the sinner and Judas Iscariot will always be present in the Church, since they represent the weakness that is part of our human condition. They are icons of the sins and crimes committed by those who are chosen and consecrated. United in the gravity of their sin, they nonetheless differ when it comes to conversion. David repented, trusting in God’s mercy; Judas hanged himself.

All of us, then, in order to make Christ’s light shine forth, have the duty to combat all spiritual corruption, which is “worse than the fall of the sinner, for it is a comfortable and self-satisfied form of blindness. Everything then appears acceptable: deception, slander, egotism and other subtle forms of self-centeredness, for ‘even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light’ (2 Cor 11:14). So Solomon ended his days, whereas David, who sinned greatly, was able to make up for his disgrace” (Gaudete et Exsultate, 165).

Our joys have been many in the past year. For example: the successful outcome of the Synod devoted to young people; the progress made in the reform of the Curia. [Many are asking themselves, "Will it ever end?" It'll never be finished, but the steps so far are good:] the efforts made to achieve clarity and transparency in financial affairs; the praiseworthy work of the Office of the Auditor-General and the AIF; the good results attained by the IOR; the new Law of the Vatican City State; the Decree on labour in the Vatican, and many other less visible results. We can think of the new Blesseds and Saints who are “precious stones” adorning the face of the Church and radiating hope, faith and light in our world. Here mention must be made of the nineteen recent martyrs of Algeria: “nineteen lives given for Christ, for his Gospel and for the Algerian people … models of everyday holiness, the holiness of “the saints next door” (Thomas Georgeon, “Nel segno della fraternità”, L’Osservatore Romano, 8 December 2018, p. 6). Then too, the great number of the faithful who each year receive baptism and thus renew the youth of the Church as a fruitful mother, and the many of her children who come home and re-embrace the Christian faith and life. All those families and parents who take their faith seriously and daily pass it on to their children by the joy of their love (cf. Amoris Laetitia, 259-290). And the witness given by so many young people who courageously choose the consecrated life and the priesthood.

Another genuine cause for joy is the great number of consecrated men and women, bishops and priests, who daily live their calling in fidelity, silence, holiness and self-denial. They are persons who light up the shadows of humanity by their witness of faith, love and charity. Persons who work patiently, out of love for Christ and his Gospel, on behalf of the poor, the oppressed and the least of our brothers and sisters; they are not looking to show up on the first pages of newspapers or to receive accolades. Leaving all behind and offering their lives, they bring the light of faith wherever Christ is abandoned, thirsty, hungry, imprisoned and naked (cf. Mt 25:31-46). I think especially of the many parish priests who daily offer good example to the people of God, priests close to families, who know everyone’s name and live lives of simplicity, faith, zeal, holiness and charity. They are overlooked by the mass media, but were it not for them, darkness would reign.

Dear brothers and sisters,

In speaking of light, afflictions, David and Judas, I wanted to stress the importance of a growing awareness that should lead to a duty of vigilance and protection on the part of those entrusted with governance in the structures of ecclesial and consecrated life. In effect, the strength of any institution does not depend on its being composed of men and women who are perfect (something impossible!), but on its willingness to be constantly purified, on its capacity to acknowledge humbly its errors and correct them; and on its ability to get up after falling down. It depends on seeing the light of Christmas radiating from the manger in Bethlehem, on treading the paths of history in order to come at last to the Parousia.

We need, then, to open our hearts to the true light, Jesus Christ. He is the light that can illumine life and turn our darkness into light; the light of goodness that conquers evil; the light of the love that overcomes hatred; the light of the life that triumphs over death; the divine light that turns everything and everyone into light. He is the light of our God: poor and rich, merciful and just, present and hidden, small and great.

Let us keep in mind this splendid passage of Saint Macarius the Great, a fourth-century Desert Father, about Christmas: “God makes himself little! The inaccessible and uncreated One, in his infinite and ineffable goodness, has taken a body and made himself little. In his goodness, he descends from his glory. No one in the heavens or on earth can grasp the greatness of God, and no one in the heavens or on earth can grasp how God makes himself poor and little for the poor and little. As incomprehensible is his grandeur, so too is his littleness” (cf. Ps.-Macarius, Homilies IV, 9-10; XXII, 7: PG 34: 479-480; 737-738).

Let us remember that Christmas is the feast of the “great God who makes himself little and in his littleness does not cease to be great. And in this dialectic of great and little, we find the tender love of God. Greatness that becomes little, and littleness that becomes great” (Homily in Santa Marta, 14 December 2017; cf. Homily in Santa Marta, 25 April 2013).

Each year, Christmas gives us the certainty that God’s light will continue to shine, despite our human misery. It gives us the certainty that the Church will emerge from these tribulations all the more beautiful, purified and radiant. All the sins and failings and evil committed by some children of the Church will never be able to mar the beauty of her face. Indeed, they are even a sure proof that her strength does not depend on us but ultimately on Christ Jesus, the Saviour of the world and the light of the universe, who loves her and gave his life for her. Christmas gives us the certainty that the grave evils perpetrated by some will never be able to cloud all the good that the Church freely accomplishes in the world. Christmas gives the certainty that the true strength of the Church and of our daily efforts, so often hidden, rests in the Holy Spirit, who guides and protects her in every age, turning even sins into opportunities for forgiveness, failures into opportunities for renewal, and evil into an opportunity for purification and triumph.

Thank you very much and a Happy Christmas to all!