Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Whispers Anesthi

It's the joyous cry of the ages, and now it is our own: "Christ is risen! Peace to you!" ...and it's good to be back.

Renewed wished to each of you, your loved ones and those you serve for every blessing and good gift of Easter. To the "tens of thousands" who completed their initiation at the Vigil, a hundred-thousand welcomes, and for the old hands among us, here's hoping your Holy Week was transformative, your Triduum inspiring, and that the joy of Easter morn stays fresh, fun and new through the 50 days ahead.

Good morning from Mother Baltimore and opening day of the 104th convention of the National Catholic Education Association. Somewhere around 10,000 of the intrepid souls who keep the church's mission of education up and running here in the States have converged on Charm City, and whether they're here or elsewhere (enjoying their well-deserved week off), it's an occasion to be reminded of the countless heroes in our midst who devote themselves to the work of Catholic education in every place and at every level, often at great sacrifice. For the gift of them, the gifts they give, and the enrichment each of us have received from them, may we never cease to be grateful and supportive with everything we've got.

So, two weeks away have made for a handful stories in the queue.... Here's a quick grab-bag to get back up to speed:
  • Clerics, turn and face the wall.... Nothing untoward -- if anything, it's just a sign of things to come... liturgically speaking, at least. In a Palm Sunday interview with magazine of Le Figaro, the conservative French paper, Cardinal-Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone SDB confirmed Pope Benedict's impending publication of the long-expected motu proprio extending the indult for the celebration of the Tridentine Mass. Especially in light of the well-known and ferocious campaign of the French bishops against the move, it shouldn't surprise anyone that Bertone -- the career non-diplomat who's staked his rep as the Vatican's top diplomat by (undiplomatically) speaking his mind -- announced the Pope's decision in a French publication. "The Pope will explain his motivations and the framework behind his decision," the pontiff's top aide said, noting that Benedict "will also personally present his vision of the old missal's use to the Christian people and, in particular, the bishops." The feast of St Pius V -- who promulgated the Mass to which is name is often joined -- falls on 30 April on the General Roman Calendar, and 5 May on the Gallo-Germanic liturgical calendar. Interested parties are advised to save the dates.
  • As if one zinger wasn't enough, Bertone also used his Figaro turn to decry what he called the "fixation" on questions of sexual morality exhibited by "some Western media" in their coverage of things Catholic. "We face an extremely grave problem," the prelate recently dubbed Benedict's "Vice-Pope" said, according to wire reports. "The church's messages are subject to a type of manipulation and falsification.... I see a fixation by some journalists on moral topics, such as abortion and homosexual unions, which are certainly important issues but absolutely do not constitute the thinking and work of the church." ($20 says some of you are finding that latter point a moment of revelation... and not unjustifiably, either.) Italian culture is such that message-discipline is a rare find and so, within hours of Bertone's comments making print, his chosen CEI president and successor in Genoa Archbishop Angelo Bagnasco sparked a new tempest by equating the church's opposition to the DICO -- the Italian government's proposal to grant rights to unmarried cohabitating couples, gays included -- to its opposition to incest and pedophilia. It didn't take long for graffiti reading "Bagnasco Shame" to be scrawled on the walls of the Genoa Duomo, and the archbishop has since been accompanied by police guard amid threats on his life. Only a few weeks after his appointment to the Italian hierarchy's top job, the lower profile Bertone hoped for by lobbying for the CEI presidency to be moved outside Rome has already shown itself to be more dream than reality -- and Bagnasco hasn't even gotten his red hat yet....
  • Even though it was Holy Week, Bertone's seeming omnipresence in the news cycle made it difficult for his Boss (you know, the Fluffy One) to get a bit in edgewise. And when he did, it just bolstered his #2's standing even further. On Spy Wednesday, B16 accepted the retirement of Cardinal Eduardo Martinez Somalo from the post of Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church in light of the Spaniard's coming 80th birthday. To take his place as the interregnum custodian of the Holy See, the Pope named... Bertone, whose appointment became the big story of Vatican Holy Week as it raised the specter of that magic word which fixates the media more than sex: "conclave." (Case in point: when, two years ago this month, Martinez Somalo performed the camerlengo's tasks of blessing and sprinkling the body of John Paul II and sealing the papal apartment, abortion, gay unions and contraception all went missing without a trace.) Following the announcement, photos of camerlenghi past and present blazed across the wires alongside buzzing stories, and the world press looked to the dome of St Peter's -- not so much to commemorate the death and resurrection of the Lord, but to check if any rooftop space remains for the next death and resurrection of the Pope. Benedict marks his 80th birthday next Monday with an open-air Mass in the Square on its eve, and his second anniversary on Peter's chair four days later.
  • Speaking of the papal electorate, the Easter edition of The Tablet gives its marquee feature to a look at the vaunted tradition of Rome's titular churches, to which the cardinals -- the historic descendants of the Urb's clergy -- are each assigned as spiritual "protectors"... and financial benefactors. Both for natives and pilgrims alike, one of the highlights of Consistory Week and the handing-out of new red hats is the flurry of activity as the freshly-elevated intake of the college of cardinals celebrate their "Mass of Possession" at the churches given them. It's an experience we'll likely be seeing again shortly; elsewhere in the paper, Robert Mickens reports -- and other credible sources echo -- that, at present, all signs point to Benedict XVI's creation of a new batch of "princes of the church" in late June, most likely to coincide with the Solemnity of Ss. Peter and Paul on the 29th and, simultaneously, the 30th anniversary of Joseph Ratzinger's own elevation to the Papal Senate at the hand of Pope Paul VI. While in 1977, the new archbishop of Munich and Freising was one of but four prelates admitted to the college in Paul's last group of new cardinals, word is that, this time, "as many as" 20 clerics could get the call. Prepare for chaos... not to mention campaigning.
  • It seems as if a dark cloud has passed over the final preparations for next month's plenary assembly of the Latin American episcopal conference. On Holy Saturday, not six weeks before Pope Benedict steps on a Brazil-bound plane to open the decennial mega-gathering of the CELAM, Archbishop Luis Robles Diaz -- the vice-president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America -- died suddenly at 69. Before being called to Rome to take the Vatican's top full-time post on South America in 2003, the Mexican prelate had served as a decorated nuncio in the Sudan, Uganda and Cuba; as vice-president of the PCAL, Robles was an ex officio voting delegate to the CELAM assembly, to be held at the Brazilian shrine of Aparecida. His death leaves a key vacancy in the final run-up to the monthlong meeting, but a score of other Vatican hands will be present (and with a vote, no less) on-the-ground -- alongside the heads of several Roman dicasteries who'll be attending by papal appointment, Benedict XVI also named the retired and superannuated Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina Estevez as a voting delegate. The choice of the controversial Chilean, formerly prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and still protodeacon of the college of cardinals, breaks an established Vatican precedent; in 1997, the US bishops' choice of retired Archbishop John Quinn of San Francisco as a delegate to the Synod of Bishops for America in Rome was vetoed by the Holy See on the grounds of Quinn's retirement two years earlier.... As they say, nobody breaks canon law like a Pope.
  • Here in the States, at a Georgetown University event last month the head of the USCCB's child and youth-protection efforts offered a powerful take on the realities of five years of revelations in the US church's sex abuse crisis. Bishop Gregory Aymond of Austin said that the five-year mark since January 2002's first rumblings from Boston isn't an anniversary, but "a commemoration, because in it people were hurt and there was pain," going on to call the scandal of abuse and cover-up "our 9/11." While the rest of the church "learned that in some parishes, and rectories, and schools, we did not have safe environments," Aymond went on to say that, in the places where the abuse occurred, "we also did not have 'faith environments.'" While the evening's event -- moderated by Jesuit Fr Tom Reese, the editor-emeritus of America -- was billed as a "conversation," and the USCCB site features the fulltext and video of Aymond's talk, the only evidence we have of a "spirited" exchange between the bishop-chair and victim-survivors who were present comes from a CNS story.... The talk was good, but in the spirit of the Dallas charter (which promised "open and transparent" communications "with the public") and the general interests of restoring trust via full disclosure, audio and/or video of the Q&A that followed wouldn't just be desirable, but a public service.
  • In happier news from Boston, Cardinal Sean O'Malley last week doled out his first papal honor: a Knighthood of St Gregory the Great... to a rabbi. And in the run-up to Passiontide, no less. Then again, as the Bloggin' Eminence reminded Catholics and Jews alike in a speech last year, "The Church is the daughter of the Synagogue." On a related note, as the archdioceses of Boston, Louisville, New York and Philadelphia kick off the bicentennial year of their existence as local churches, it'll feel a bit more like home when your narrator hits Madison in a couple weeks: the place just got a fresh sprinkling of Purple Rain. The old line about "April Showers" (or almost-April ones) also applies to ecclesiastical precipitation... at least, that's East Coast Revelation for you.
So, again, it's good to be back. The C&R (contemplation and relaxation) were great and of true benefit. I could've used a bit more -- even the Pope's fled town, having headed to Castel Gandolfo for a few days of peace after the Triduum -- but such is life, and all apologies if getting back to full tilt takes a bit of wind-up time. Thanks as always for the notes, gifts, kindnesses, feedback and prayers... especially the prayers, which are my gas in the tank.

Christos voskres! Christos anesthi!
He is risen -- Happy Easter!