Sunday, May 20, 2018

On Pentecost, Francis Revs Up The Red Machine, Taps 14 New Cardinals

Marking another push to the church's “peripheries” – and even the Vatican’s – at the noontime Regina Caeli on this Pentecost Sunday, the Pope revealed his slate of 14 Cardinals-designate to be elevated at a Consistory on 29 June, the feast of Saints Peter and Paul.

Francis' fifth intake into the College of his five-year pontificate, 11 of the group are younger than 80, and thus eligible to vote in a Conclave. For the remainder of this year, the picks will top up the electoral ranks to 124, four over the standard maximum set by Paul VI – a limit which the soon-to-be saint's successors are, of course, free to break as they see fit.

The list topped by the Baghdad-based Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako, 69 – as a sign of papal solidarity with the decimated Iraqi fold, the second consecutive head of that 1,800 year-old church to be elevated since the US-led invasion in 2003 – yet again, anyone betting on the names would've come up short, even on the group's Curial portion: while the choices of the CDF prefect, now Cardinal-designate Luis Ladaria SJ and the new Vicar for Rome, Cardinal-designate Angelo DeDonatis, maintain usual form, the two other in-house picks – the Sostituto of the Secretariat of State Angelo Becciu, 69, and the Polish-born Papal Almoner Konrad Krajewski, 54 (Francis' very prominent field marshal in providing for the poor and stricken around Rome and beyond) – hold posts whose occupants have never received the red hat. In the former case, given Becciu's current job as deputy to Cardinal Pietro Parolin, his elevation ostensibly signals a new post for the veteran diplomat in the short-term future; by long tradition, a seat in the College only goes to a Sostituto – the Vatican's equivalent of the White House chief of staff – shortly after his departure from the role.

Far from Rome, meanwhile, the biglietto represents yet another kaleidoscope of the church's universality – with, as ever, a preferential option for workaday prelates far removed from major centers of wealth or power.

Among these, Pakistan will have its first new red hat in nearly 50 years, as will Japan in a quarter-century (and not in Tokyo, to boot); the bishop of Fatima was given Portugal's customary seat over the patriarch of Lisbon, and another far-flung Italian – Archbishop Giuseppe Petrocchi, 69, of quake-ravaged L'Aquila (Abruzzo) – joins a home-turf bloc that's seen Francis routinely deny the scarlet to its usual A-list destinations; most conspicuously of all, the new archbishop of Milan – Mario Delpini, the bike-riding native son who Francis tapped to lead Europe's largest diocese last year – is absent from today's list.

With the new class, Francis will have elevated just shy of half (58) of the eventual electors of his successor – even more significantly, the group from which the next Pope will emerge.

While a Consistory at some point in 2018 has been broadly expected from early in the year – with either June or October leading the educated guessing – Francis' penchant for keeping even his picks in the dark until the moment of his public announcement made any anticipation of a timeframe come with the proverbial (heavy) grain of salt until word emerged from the pontiff himself.

As for Francis’ potential future impact on the College’s electoral makeup, barring unexpected deaths, 11 more voting seats open up from now until the beginning of 2020 as their occupants turn 80. Should Papa Bergoglio fill them all, the choices would put his combined crop of appointees – many of them the first cardinals ever given to their respective countries – within striking distance of the two-thirds threshold required to elect a new pontiff: indeed, the most concrete and consequential “reform” of all, extending Francis’ legacy beyond his own reign.

Notably, too, with today's announcement Francis again did not summon the entire College for what had been the customary daylong consultation on significant issues facing the church. A practice instituted by Benedict XVI, Francis hasn't hosted a discussion with all the cardinals since his first Consistory in 2014, when he tapped Cardinal Walter Kasper to deliver a keynote on the church's outreach to the family – the first stage of the synodal process which produced Amoris Laetitia.

*   *   *
Arranged in the usual strict order of seniority by which the designates will be inducted into the Pope's Senate, here's the list (all archbishops unless otherwise noted; ages via Catholic-Hierarchy):

Louis Raphaël I Sako, 69, patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans (Iraq)
Luis Ladaria SJ, 74, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
Angelo De Donatis, 64, vicar-general of Rome
Giovanni Angelo Becciu, 69, Sostituto of the Secretariat of State and papal delegate to the Order of Malta
Konrad Krajewski, 54, Apostolic Almoner
Joseph Coutts, 72, archbishop of Karachi (Pakistan)
António dos Santos Marto, 71, bishop of Leiria-Fatima (Portugal)
Pedro Barreto Jimeno SJ, 74, archbishop of Huancayo (Peru)
Desiré Tsarahazana, 63, archbishop of Toamasina (Madagascar)
Giuseppe Petrocchi, 69, archbishop of L’Aquila
Thomas Aquinas Manyo, 69, archbishop of Osaka (Japan)

And those over 80, thus ineligible to enter Conclave:

Sergio Obeso Rivera, 86, archbishop-emeritus of Xalapa (Mexico)
–Bishop Toribio Ticona Porco, 81, prelate-emeritus of Corocoro (Bolivia)
–Father Aquilino Bocos Merino (age unknown), former superior-general of the Claretians

In closing his announcement, Francis asked for "prayers for the new cardinals that, confirming their adherence to Christ, the merciful and faithful high priest, they might help me in my ministry as Bishop of Rome for the good of all the Holy, Faithful People of God."

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Friday, May 18, 2018

Exodus – After Pope's Abuse Indictment, The Chilean Bench Bails

From the outset, it was clear that this week's summons of the Chilean bishops to Rome for emergency talks on the country's abuse crisis would be unlike any prior Vatican push to address the scandals... and a day after its close, the summit has indeed produced a sweeping, landmark outcome: at a midday press conference in Rome, the secretary-general of the country's bishops announced that the entire 33-man bench – the heads of 27 dioceses and six auxiliary bishops – had placed their resignations "in writing, in the hands of the Pope, that he might freely decide with respect to each one of us."

The letters delivered at yesterday's end of the three-day retreat, the pontiff has not announced any immediate acceptances of the walking papers, which would be required for them to take force, and without which the prelates remain in full possession of their respective offices. It is unclear whether the move was demanded by Papa Bergoglio in the course of the meeting.

Given the standard practice of lining up the successor to a departing prelate before he formally leaves office (except in cases of ill health or other grave reason), should a full clear-out come to pass, putting it into effect could take months at the very least. Alternatively, should the pontiff decide to relieve the bishops on a quicker timeframe, the result could incite chaos, as the consultors of each diocese would need to elect administrators to oversee them pending the appointment of new ordinaries – and given a mass exodus amid an ecclesial cultural shock, the extensive vetting and consultation required to fill even a chunk of open seats, virtually certain to be intensified further here, would swamp the staff of the Nunciature in Santiago (to say nothing of the skeleton crew who man the Spanish desk of the Congregation for Bishops), creating a backlog that could extend for possibly two years or longer until new appointments are finalized. (For context, with an ample diplomatic staff equipped to handle a constant 15 to 20 selection processes at any given time, any US vacancy invariably takes at least six months, and usually much longer, to be resolved.)

In this extraordinary scenario, it is to be expected that the broad indictment of Chilean Catholicism's leadership class – which has extended to the current Nuncio, Archbishop Ivo Scapolo – would see any current crop of files for potential appointees tossed out and compiled from scratch, an overhaul most likely to occur under a new Nuncio – a figure with a fresh set of eyes, untainted by the years-long storm in which no less than Francis himself had become perilously entangled.

Along those lines, it's notable that, according to one Chilean report on the eve of the talks, a petition submitted to Rome by some participants in the recent local investigation conducted by Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta has presented a very specific name for Scapolo's replacement: Fr Jordi Bertomeu, the CDF staffer who assisted with the probe – and temporarily led it after Scicluna was rushed to a hospital with a gallbladder attack shortly after his arrival. A 49 year-old Catalonian, Bertomeu is said to have garnered high marks from those interviewed for his sensitivity, openness and candor in hearing out the suffering of victims and the wider church impacted by the turmoil.

Alongside Scicluna, Bertomeu took part in yesterday's final session of the closed-door talks.

All that said, in the country's most prominent posts, today's group act is purely symbolic: the heads of Chile's two largest dioceses – Santiago and Valparaiso – are already past the retirement age of 75 and had submitted their letters at that point, as has the head of another of the bench's four archdioceses.

On another critical front, the move doesn't include the capital's already-retired Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz Ossa, now 84. Long accused of playing a major role in the cover-up for Chile's most notorious predator, Fernando Karadima, Errazuriz's ongoing membership in Francis "Gang of Nine" lead advisers has drawn the most potent scorn from survivors and their advocates.

While Francis could have unilaterally forced any and all the prelates from office without having their resignations in hand, the bishops' offer to depart en bloc paves the way to an epochal makeover of a national hierarchy of a kind unseen over the church's long trail of abuse scandals.

Over the parallel incidences of nationwide crises in the US and Ireland, only in recent years have a handful of prelates in each stood down over findings of a cover-up – in the States, with the conspicuous exception of the late Cardinal Bernard Law's departure as archbishop of Boston, the concentrated wave of some half-dozen sudden ousters through 2002 were exclusively of bishops whose own histories of having abused came to light. (And in those cases, the men were simply retired, ceased all public ministry and lived restricted lives of prayer and penance, as opposed to being charged and tried in canonical tribunals.)

Today's stunning announcement came in tandem with a leak of the 10-page reflection the Pope delivered to the prelates at the summit's opening. The text obtained (en español) by the Chilean TV outlet TeleTrece/T13, in a stringent upbraiding of their general conduct, Francis told the bishops that their style of governing had seen the church commit the "sin of becoming the center of attention" as opposed to "signaling and announcing" Jesus to the world around it – a shift, he said, born from a "loss of prophetic strength."

"The problems you live today within the ecclesial community," the Pope wrote, "will not be solved solely by taking the concrete cases and reducing them to the removal of persons; this – and let me say it clearly – will have to be done, but it is not sufficient, there is more of a ways to go.

"It would be irresponsible on our part to not deepen our search for the roots and structures which enabled these concrete events to happen and perpetuate themselves."

Looking to the future, Francis sketched a vision of "a church capable to put what's important at its center: serving the Lord in the hungry, the prisoner, the thirsty, the homeless, the naked, the sick, in the abused" – a citation of his beloved Matthew 25, the Last Judgment – "with the[ir] awareness that they have the dignity to sit at our table, to feel themselves 'at home' among us, to be considered family.

"This is the sign of a church which has been wounded by its sin, given mercy by its Lord, and become converted in prophecy by its vocation."

Again, however, who will lead that conversion – and the full shape it will take – is anything but a solution coming overnight.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

From the Home Desk

So, you haven’t been hearing much from here these last weeks…. Then again, there’s no new Prefect of Communications either, eh?

Moral of the story: as feeding a 24-hour news-cycle always bears the temptation of getting ahead of reality – or inventing one – simply to fill space, suffice it to say, it’s an urge best avoided... at least, if you're going to do this right.

More to the point, though, things are just beginning to ease up from one of the more intense – and, frankly, frightening – moments of this scribe’s life and that of my family. It’s not easy to encapsulate, but here’s the quick-and-dirty: in mid-March, amid the last major snowfall of what felt like an endless winter, my father’s legs suddenly and completely failed. Without any warning whatsoever, he couldn’t walk or stand, and any attempt at either brought an immediate fall….

It was late, the streets were covered and icy, but it was clear the hospital couldn’t wait. A long night of tests was had, and then another, before the cause came to light: a hemorrhage in his spinal cord, essentially knocking out his lower nerves. As that’s usually attributable to trauma, but wasn’t the case here, our sudden team of top-shelf neurologists and surgeons – the kind of folks you never think you'd need until you do – are still baffled by how this happened, and that’s made things even less predictable than they already would’ve been.

It’s been a bumpy ride – the fear and incomprehension of Holy Week become very real in an intensive-care unit… and just when things seemed to be turning a corner over the Octave as Dad started rehab, then pneumonia hit, and his inpatient therapy had to start from scratch. It would be another three weeks before he could stand and take a couple steps… and to keep things brief, we finally, gratefully, got him home just last week. While the fullest possible recovery is a question of months, the improvement is gradual and constant. That said, between a spate of follow-up visits and a couple more procedures which aren’t without their risks, we’re not exactly out of the woods just yet, but at least things are becoming “normal” again… well, for the time being, as much as they’re going to be.

All this hasn’t felt like two months… more like two weeks. As those of you who’ve been through the experience know too well, when it comes up, life becomes a matter of dropping everything, putting out fires and trying to stay in one piece in the process – on this end, a task admittedly easier said than done.

Along the way, what little time and energy could be carved out for this work made for a priceless refuge of sanity. But knowing all this, I hope you can understand that my priority needed to be elsewhere, and will remain so as my father's ongoing care and recovery call for it. For the most part, though, it’s a relief to be able to creak back into the saddle here, all the more given the moment now on tap – the annual end-of-cycle flurry, of which this week’s "DEFCON 1" is just one critical piece.

As you can imagine, these weeks have made for an exhausting, oft-disorienting road… but even for the hectic days, long nights and the sheer frustrating uncertainty of it all, we’ve been surrounded by an outpouring of grace which has done so much to pull us through. Among the salient ways it's been felt here, the prayers and check-ins from a humbling many of this crowd remain a precious blessing, and to those who helped keep the scribe's panic from getting worse by minding the shop and continuing to lend a hand with the bills, thanks for being even more of a Godsend than usual – know how I’ll never forget it.

Over the last two years and more, no shortage of ecclesial voices have aimed to prove their fidelity through heated debate on the Catholic response to challenges of family life... yet far from the easy glamor of the fray, some of us still realize that the real test lies in doing our part for the people we love. In that light, again, a world of thanks for all the understanding, patience, goodness and support – if you could, please keep the prayers up… and as you've never been here for the kid behind the curtain, back to the news.

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Saturday, May 12, 2018

"There Is No Turning Back Now" – In Historic Abuse Summit, Vatican Says Chilean Bench to Face "Consequences"

When the Pope hosted Chile's three most prominent survivors of clergy sex-abuse (above) last month for a weekend of private talks at the Domus, an unspoken history proved even more instructive than usual: in an unwitting coincidence, April 2018 marked ten years since the first-ever papal meeting with victims, as Benedict XVI spent an hour praying and listening to a group from Boston in the chapel of the Washington Nunciature, the moment only made public after the fact.

With the encounters now a standard piece of a Pope's travel schedule – and Francis having first welcomed survivors into his home in 2014 – the long-frame speaks to an intensified firsthand management of abuse scandals to a degree that, not all that long ago, would've been unthinkable. Yet even as Papa Bergoglio's recent invitation to personally ask forgiveness from the victims of the now-laicized predator Fernando Karadima and hear them out in full marked another major step in the evolution of the response, it's merely the prelude for the most dramatic Vatican intervention on the crisis of the last decade, if not longer.

Coming to pass over three days of talks beginning Tuesday, in itself the Pope's move to summon the Chilean bishops for "reflection" on the collapse of confidence in their church – one to which he glaringly contributed – is a distinct rarity: you'd have to go back to 1980, when John Paul II convoked a Synod intended to wrest Dutch Catholicism away from its perceived post-Conciliar excesses, to find the last instance of an entire national bench being called to Rome outside of a standard ad limina visit. (At least, that's the precedent in the Latin church; amid years of turmoil and bloodshed impacting its multiple Eastern-church communities, a special Synod for Lebanon was held in 1995.)

Still, as the Dutch group numbered just seven, and the first-of-its-kind Roman assembly devoted to a particular area was a year in the making, the convoking of a far-flung bench five times as large on a month's notice underscores the fresh sense of gravity surrounding the situation at hand. In other words, while no shortage of other local emergencies have routinely been addressed by Curial or Pope-level meetings with a country's cardinals, archbishops and/or the executive officers of an episcopal conference – as has occurred three times for the US, most recently twice amid the domestic abuse eruption in 2002 – the command performance of a full episcopate is about as close as it comes to an ecclesiastical DEFCON 1, and indicates the specter of drastic action to meet an epochal state of affairs.

On another front, it bears noting that the visitors have had little to no input on the agenda for the three-day summit – if anything, in a reversal of fortunes, Francis has tipped that the 2,300-page visitation report compiled by Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta (a famously uninhibited investigator of abuse) would form his basis for addressing the situation, its assessment likely amplified further by his in-person findings from Karadima's victims, who were long and openly derided by Chile's top hierarchs as enemies of the church.

In a press conference following their stay at the Domus, the trio of survivors spoke of being moved by the pontiff's repentance and concern, but nonetheless reserved their final judgment of the outcome pending Francis' public efforts to rectify the damage done. Asked what most stood out from their sessions with the Pope – first at length individually, then together – one of the men, José Andrés Murillo, replied that "when [Francis] said that the abuse and the cover-up was not a sin, but corruption, I thought that maybe he will do something significant," a point echoed by another of the group, James Hamilton, who revealed the pontiff's assurance to them that "there is no turning back now, there is no turning back on this road."

(As should be obvious to anyone who's spent more than 45 seconds reading the pontiff's daily Domus homilies, being distinguished from sinners "which we all are," "the corrupt" are a frequent and uniquely loaded target in Francis' arsenal of criticism – a category of people who are essentially beyond redemption, having lost their sense of sin and thus an awareness of their need for God's mercy. Among other examples, in a 2013 homily, the Pope put it bluntly, citing St John: "The corrupt are the antichrist.")

Categorical as those statements are in a vacuum, Francis' own role in the fiasco given his heated, years-long defense of Karadima's scandal-tarred protege, Bishop Juan Barros, including his own attacks of the victims as "leftists" and guilty of "calumny" – not to mention his almost unique, lifelong familiarity with the Chilean church, most of which borders his native Argentina – merely heightens the stakes.

Historically speaking, what had been the most extensive Vatican move on a localized abuse storm came in 2011, when Benedict placed the four archdioceses of Ireland under a yearlong apostolic visitation led by senior prelates from outside. Despite its scope, however, it was repeatedly emphasized that the probe "was not intended to replace or supersede the ordinary responsibility of bishops and religious superiors," and the closing report's laundry list of recommendations – much of which focused on seminary formation – were not accompanied by any decree giving the proposals juridical force, which left the bulk of the intended resolution to effectively languish.

Among other contrasts to his predecessor, Francis is considerably less reticent about exerting the papal prerogative of "full, supreme, universal and ordinary jurisdiction" over the entire church; the emphasis added here, the latter trait empowers the Pope to govern any part of the global fold as a bishop runs his own diocese. Accordingly, while resignations are widely expected to be in the offing – among others, the cardinal-archbishop of Santiago, Ricardo Ezzati, is over a year past the retirement age – a fuller shakeup would involve a striking imposition of direct authority: a type of Roman receivership (or, it could be said, "martial law") without modern precedent.

While the Chilean conference has spoken of making the trip "with humility and hope" – and called for public prayers across the country through next week – in his April letter summoning the bishops, Francis had said he was coming into the moment "with neither prejudice nor preconceived ideas." Yet in a conspicuous U-turn from that approach, a Vatican statement issued this morning by the Holy See spokesman Greg Burke, but carrying the Pope's implied imprimatur, signaled that the findings of his subsequent meeting with Karadima's victims had sparked his notorious Latin temper, addressing "consequences" and "the conversion of all" among the gathering's imperatives.

Here, a house translation of today's curtain-raiser, which was originally released in Spanish and Italian:
Pope Francis will meet the bishops of Chile from 15-17 May in the auletta [backstage anteroom] of the Paul VI [Audience] Hall.

This encounter follows the prior summons of the Chilean episcopate last April 8th. The Holy Father, recalling the circumstances and extraordinary challenges created by the abuse of power, sex and of conscience that have been uncovered in Chile over recent decades, finds it necessary to examine deeply its causes and consequences, as well as the mechanisms that were used in some cases of the cover-up and grave omissions in interactions with the victims.

In the course of the meetings, Pope Francis wishes to share his personal conclusions in consequence of the recent special mission in Chile entrusted to Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, and Fr Jordi Bertomeu of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and filled out by the numerous testimonies, written and verbal, that His Holiness has continued to receive in these last weeks.

During the encounter, at which 31 [active] diocesan and auxiliary bishops and two bishops-emeritus will participate, the Holy Father will be accompanied by the Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, Cardinal Marc Ouellet PSS.

The objective of this long "synodal process" is to discern together, in the presence of God, the responsibility of all and of each one in these devastating wounds, as well as studying adequate and durable changes which impede the repetition of these always reprehensible acts.

It is fundamental to re-establish trust in the Church by means of good pastors who witness with their lives to having known the voice of the Good Shepherd, and who know to accompany the suffering of victims and work in a determined and tireless way in the prevention of abuse.

The Holy Father is grateful for the availability of his brother bishops in placing themselves in docile and humble listening to the Holy Spirit and renews his petition to the People of God in Chile to continue in a state of prayer, that there might be the conversion of all.

It is not foreseen that Pope Francis will release any statement neither during nor after the meetings, which will take place in absolute confidentiality.
* * *
On two final pre-event notes, while an Associated Press report earlier today sought to portray the summit's venue in the antechamber of the Nervi Hall as something of a disparagement, that depiction doesn't reflect reality – if anything, the modern, mid-sized room is Francis' preferred site for relatively intimate group audiences given the two-minute walk from the Domus; among others he's received there include Queen Elizabeth II (for what was intended to be a warmer, more personal welcome than had the Papal Library in the Apostolic Palace been employed) and the Prince of Wales; the since-abdicated king of Spain, Juan Carlos, victims of terrorist attacks, high-ranking interfaith groups, soccer players, a delegation from the NFL, the leaders of the Knights of Columbus, last year's satellite chat with the astronauts of the International Space Station, and a global group of Pentecostal pastors, who used the moment to continue their usual practice of praying over Francis in tongues (above).

In this instance, there's an added benefit to the choice – as the Audience Hall isn't shared by any offices or residents, and with no entourages milling around, it's out of everyone else's earshot.

Meanwhile, in a liturgical sense, especially given the rationale for the encounter, its timing could hardly be more conspicuous: after all, the period between Ascension and Pentecost recalls the nine-day vigil of the locked-away apostles and disciples to prepare for the coming of the Holy Spirit, and with it, the birth – in this case, rebirth – of the church.

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Monday, April 30, 2018

Down Under, The Reckoning – Pope's CFO To Stand Trial for Abuse

For everything the Catholic world has seen over its decades-long horror show of abuse scandals, this May Day brings news of a rare uncharted moment – a cardinal will stand trial on sex crimes... and not just any cardinal, at that.

Capping a two-month preliminary hearing to weigh the evidence against Cardinal George Pell, a judge in Melbourne ruled early Wednesday that the first-ever Vatican CFO – likewise a member of Pope Francis' "Gang of Nine" lead advisers – would be tried on "multiple historical sexual offenses," with courtroom reports relaying that half the original charges had been dismissed on grounds of lacking witnesses or other corroboration.

Ten months since the 76 year-old's historic indictment after an investigation by police in his native state of Victoria, the number and specifics of the surviving counts remain sketchy, the entire slate having been laid out in earlier proceedings closed to the press and public. According to the state broadcaster ABC, however, at least one charge dates to Pell's time as archbishop of Melbourne in the 1990s.

An Oxford-trained historian with a devoted following among the church's conservative wing, Pell was transferred from Australian Catholicism's largest diocese to its marquee post – the archbishopric of Sydney – in 2001, made a cardinal in 2003 and brought to Rome in 2014 by Francis, who entrusted the battle-ready Aussie with a sweeping mandate to clean up the Vatican's long-troubled, multi-pronged financial behemoth and consolidate it under his control.

In that light, as Pell has been on a self-described "leave" as Prefect for the Economy to fight the charges since their announcement late last June, yet still officially holds the title – and his deputy at the new Secretariat, Msgr Alfred Xuereb, was subsequently promoted as Archbishop-Nuncio to South Korea without being replaced – the fate of what's arguably the most significant plank of the Pope's attempt at internal reform has been thrown into doubt. (And, indeed, it could be said that's just how the natives want it.)

As previously reported, the cardinal is not expected to return to the Roman post following the trial, regardless of its outcome. Pell turns 77 in June, and – at least, under current circumstances – will remain Australia's lone papal elector until his 80th birthday.

While Pell's ideological fan-base has sought to portray the scrutiny of the cardinal as a "persecution" driven by revenge for his china-busting interventions on social issues, even his most bitter critics at home have viewed the likelihood of a conviction as far-fetched. In any case, the court process has taken place against a uniquely brutal double backdrop: Pell's history as perhaps the most polarizing figure in Australian life over the last two decades, compounded by the damning fallout of a five-year national probe of sex-abuse in churches and schools, which saw the cardinal's successor in Sydney admit the church's "criminal negligence," and whose sprawling final report in December (after interviews with some 8,000 survivors) called for changes to the church's hiring and consultation practices as well as a revision to canon law that would remove the pontifical secret from internal investigations and tribunals.

Escorted into the courthouse this morning by police given the usual scrum of protestors and media outside, Pell pled not guilty to the remaining charges. Per wire reports, some spectators in the courtroom broke into applause as the hearing ended.

The date for the cardinal's trial has not been set.

The Australian ruling is but one piece of the impending news-cycle which will plunge the wider church afresh into the scandals and their enduring toll. On one front, having spent last weekend with three prominent Chilean victim-survivors to apologize and hear their stories and recommendations, the Pope will lead an extraordinary summit with all the country's bishops in mid-May after his initial response to the most prominent abuse case there caused a global debacle. In the US, meanwhile, a statewide grand jury probing six of Pennsylvania's eight Latin-church dioceses is expected to publish its final report within the coming weeks, its contents already tipped to be blistering by survivor advocates and church officials alike.

Chartered after a 2016 grand jury on the diocese of Altoona-Johnstown saw three Franciscan provincials charged, decades of cover-ups detailed and the attorney general's office "flooded" with fresh allegations, the statewide panel's mandate is set to expire this spring following two years of testimony, underpinned by the subpoena of personnel files dating back to 1947 from the Chanceries of Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton – a group whose respective handling of cases has conspicuously varied through the years.

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Monday, April 16, 2018

Ex Oriente Shock – In Easter(n) Jolt, US' Ukrainian Chief Resigns at 66

Four days ago, this scribe played backup to Metropolitan Stefan Soroka as the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic diaspora in the States paid tribute to Cardinal Lubomyr Husar a year since the "Moses" of his people died at 84.

Ironically enough, the theme for the journalistic reflection on Husar was drawn from the Pope's homage to the titanic late patriarch of Kiev: "He might've been blind, but he could see beyond" – a reference to the cardinal's near-total lack of sight over his last decade.

This morning, however, literally everyone just woke up blind: at Roman Noon, Francis had accepted Soroka's resignation at 66 as head of the US' largest and oldest Eastern Catholic Church, a subsequent statement from the Philadelphia-based archeparchy citing unspecified "medical reasons" as the rationale for the move.

Numbering some 13,000 Catholics, the metropolia spans the eastern half of Pennsylvania and all of New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia, its three suffragans – in Chicago, Stamford and Parma – extending its reach from coast to coast. Given the constant Eastern tradition – now fully brought out of the shadows in the US by Francis – roughly half its 55 priests are married.

Among Soroka's aides and clergy in the tight-knit community, the decision of the Canadian-born hierarch – named the church's Stateside head in late 2000 – has been received with shock. While he fought back a bout with prostate cancer at the turn of the decade and has rebounded well from a February knee operation, Whispers ops in the archeparchy expressed no awareness of ongoing health concerns early today. If anything, the metropolitan looked in unremarkably fine form at the Thursday event, not giving a single indication of his imminent departure over three hours of sitting together and warmly catching up, the time capped off by a lunch of Husar's beloved hot dogs.

Indeed, as some of his parishes observe Pascha according to the Julian calendar (and thus, as with the Orthodox, a week behind the others), Soroka talked glowingly of celebrating Easter twice across his scattered turf.

Together with the resignation, Soroka's freshly-named auxiliary – Bishop Andriy Rabiy, at 42 the youngest member of the US bench – was appointed apostolic administrator of the archeparchy, granting him the full authority of the ordinary during the vacancy. On being asked last week how his new deputy was faring, Soroka said he hadn't been able to utilize Rabiy enough so far as "he's still at the parish" where he's pastor some 40 miles upstate, in the old coal regions to which Ukrainian immigrants flocked at the turn of the 20th century, the catalyst for the US jurisdiction's establishment in 1913.

As for the compound on two square blocks of what's become immensely valuable Philadelphia real-estate over Soroka's tenure, unlike a Latin-church appointment, the succession to Franklin Street will be charted by the 25-man Ukrainian Synod, which will submit the terna of candidates to the Congregation of the Oriental Churches in Rome, whose own membership makes a final recommendation to the Pope.

While the US' Eastern Catholic population has grown markedly in recent years due to immigration from India and the Middle East – which has respectively spurred the establishment of new eparchies for the Syro-Malabar, Syro-Malankara and Chaldean churches – the Ukrainian archeparchy holds a de facto primacy of place on the broader scene as the nation's oldest and most-established sui iuris (self-governing) community, as well as given the UGCC's place as the global church's largest Eastern fold. (On a related note, only over the last decade the Eastern churches have been constituted as a USCCB region unto themselves, ending the prior practice of the hierarchs' belonging to the Latin-dominant geographic areas where they are respectively based.)

All that said, today's move occurs against the backdrop of a striking generational shift in the leadership of the 7 million-member Ukrainian church, marked by an equal uptick of assertiveness after its Soviet-era persecution and existence "in the catacombs."

Six years since that movement began with another shock – the Synod's choice of one of its most junior members, then 40 year-old Sviatoslav Shevchuk, to succeed Husar at the church's helm – the changing of the guard has been reinforced by a steady tide of elections of new bishops in their early 40s or even late 30s; just last week, an auxiliary in Ukraine was named at 38 after barely a decade as a priest.

To be sure, the pattern extends to these shores – beyond Rabiy, of the UGCC's three domestic suffragans, Bishop Bohdan Danylo of Parma is 46 and Bishop Benedict Aleksiychuk of Chicago arrived last summer at 49. What's more, the trio – each named since 2014 and, as of today, the majority of the US' active Ukie bench – were all born in the church's Eastern European heartland, a trend ostensibly set to continue with the choice of the diaspora's next head.

All told, the movement reflects a fresh round of Ukrainian and Polish immigration to the States over recent years, which has accordingly altered the church's makeup.

While the appointment process is considerably less cumbersome than a Latin-church pick, the naming of a successor could still take several months – for starters, given the post's internal prominence as one of two UGCC metropolitan seats outside Ukraine (the other located in Soroka's native Winnipeg), the hierarchs' deliberations are likely to be equally intense. On another front, unless the terna is submitted by the executive council of the Ukrainian Synod or the full body is convoked in an extraordinary session to address the vacancy, the next global meeting of the eparchs isn't slated to take place until September.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Amid Abuse Probe's Hearing of "Many Crucified Lives," Pope Summons Chile to Rome

In but the latest striking turn of a home-turf debacle which has colored the broad perception of his pontificate, in a letter released tonight on two continents, the Pope told the Chilean bishops that "I have committed grave errors of judgment and perception" in a long-simmering abuse scandal which has rocked the country's church, specifically citing his lack "of true and balanced information" on it.

Released on roughly an hour's warning, the six-page typed missive – dated Sunday – was made public at Francis' insistence at 8pm Rome time in an unusual joint issue by both the Chilean episcopal conference and the Holy See Press Office.

In his message, addressing the 2,300-page dossier compiled last month by Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta – the Vatican's onetime lead prosecutor of abuse cases – the pontiff aimed to "beg for the forgiveness of all who I have offended," ostensibly in light of his prior, repeated defenses of Bishop Juan Barros, a protege of the country's most infamous predator priest, Fr Fernando Karadima.

In numerous earlier instances, Francis sought to base the opposition to Barros – whose 2015 appointment to a diocese sparked ongoing protests – on "calumny" and "Leftists who orchestrated all this." By contrast, the Pope's letter said that his reading of the interviews taken by Scicluna and a priest currently on staff at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith "bring me pain and shame."

Even as the duo form the centerpiece of the entire fiasco, neither Barros nor Karadima – the latter restricted to a life of prayer and penance, but not dismissed from the clerical state – were cited by name in the letter.

Beyond issuing an extraordinary summons of all the Chilean bishops to the Vatican to discuss the situation – which the body's president subsequently said would take place over the third week of May – the Pope said he would likewise meet with at least some of the 64 victims interviewed "over the coming weeks," in the hope of expressing his apology personally.

Notably, Francis' letter made an explicit point of "thanking the various organizations and the means of communication for their professionality in treating this very delicate case, respecting the right of citizens to be informed and the good name of those who spoke out." That line was a starkly direct hit at the criticism voiced by Santiago's retired Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz Ossa, 84 – a hand-picked member of the pontiff's "Gang of Nine" lead advisers – who blamed "profit" motives by Karadima's victims, Barros' own interviews and general media coverage of the abuse eruption for a "parallel focus" of bad optics that trailed the Pope over his January visit to the country.

Yet in another sign that Francis' Latin impatience had hit a boiling point – just with a fresh target – this week's letter rapped the Chilean bench in these memorable words: "Sometimes, when evils rumple our souls and throw us into the world, scared and buttoned-up inside our comfortable 'winter palaces,' the love of God goes into our encounter and makes our intentions pure, that we might love as free, mature and [self]critical men."

Albeit discreetly, today's move garnered a thumbs-up from the camps of both Scicluna and another "Gang" member, Boston's Cardinal Seán O'Malley OFM Cap., who arguably extended the scandal's visibility and range by publicly criticizing Francis after Papa Bergoglio's in-flight blast at victim-survivors seeking Barros' removal during the January trek.

Even if the letter made no clear determination on Barros' fate, the writing there is essentially on the proverbial wall. Well more, though, the message released today puts the fate of two even more critical figures in the balance: Errazuriz, for reasons stated above, not to mention being considerably past Conclave age yet still in Francis' official "inner circle"...

...and above all, the prelate long described as the last Vatican "Sacred Cow" which Francis hasn't dared touch – Cardinal Angelo Sodano: at age 90 still Dean of the College, who as Nuncio to Chile (1977-90) was said to be closely allied with Karadima, then as John Paul II's all-powerful Secretary of State worked to squelch the CDF's probe into the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, Fr Marcial Maciel, who Benedict XVI could only banish from ministry after his election as Pope and a long Curial war, going on to place the entire community under Apostolic Visitation.

Here, something else bears recalling: while the wider world/press corps was focused on a tribunal's conviction of the then-Pope's butler in late 2012 amid the soap-opera known as "Vatileaks," Papa Ratzinger used the multiple distractions of that Saturday morning in October to slip then-Msgr Scicluna (above) far out of Rome and back to his island home as an auxiliary bishop.

On paper, the appointment was a considerable demotion – and, given the duo's history, a shocking one. But in a reality only to become clear with time, that stealth nod was the ultimate sign of the Resignation to come – a departing Pope's sense of his best shot to protect the aide who did the bulk of his footwork in purging at least 3,000 abusive clerics worldwide.

Maybe now, five and a half years later, you lot might finally begin to grasp why these things occurred as they did....

To say nothing of the stakes now ahead.

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