Warning -- big mix below:
- On Saturday, reports Il Giornale’s Andrea Tornielli, the Pope will officially make the long-expected appointment of Giovanni Maria Vian as the new editor of the Vatican daily L’Osservatore Romano. Even a last-minute push by some in favor of Andrea Ricciardi, the influential head of the Sant’Egidio movement, couldn’t divert the momentum toward Vian, a 55 year-old scholar of the patristics and frequent editorialist in the Italian bishops daily paper, L'Avvenire. The new editor will replace Mario Agnes, who’s helmed the paper’s masthead since 1984. At the same time, says Tornielli, a new deputy editor will be named: Carlo Di Cicco, the Vaticanista for an Italian news agency and author of a favorable book on Benedict XVI. While both are reported to be well-known to the Secretariat of State – whose Information Office oversees the Holy See’s news organs – L’Espresso’s Sandro Magister says that another of the closely-linked Vatican publications, the Jesuit-run La Civiltà Cattolica, also has “a new editor”: the Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone SDB. Returning to a practice not seen in the Apostolic Palace since the reign of Paul VI, Magister says that Bertone has been keeping a keen eye on the weekly journal, scrapping or re-writing pieces and, in an unprecedented move, even offering topics he’d like to see covered, among them a study of priests who’ve left ministry then returned.
- One of the pieces that Civiltà was ordered to scrap was a leader article on China prepared for the time surrounding June's papal letter to Chinese Catholics. However, one wrinkle in last week’s developments from the China front came and went with barely a ripple. In its public announcement that two recently-ordained bishops chosen by the state-controlled Patriotic Association were in communion with the Holy See – a significant step in itself – L’Osservatore Romano referred to the new appointees in Beijing and Guizhou as “Archbishop.” While the designation practically faded into the ether (with all other reports referring to the Beijing prelate, Li Shan, as "bishop"), an expert on the situation of the church in China described the promotion-by-Vatican as “provocative,” in that the Chinese government abrogated the concept of ecclesiastical provinces in the 1950s, redrawing diocesan boundaries and effectively making each local church immediately subject to the PA. There is precedent to Beijing’s sensitivity on the issue of archbishops: in 1981, John Paul II’s elevation of the then-administrator of Guangzhou, Bishop Dominic Tang, to the see’s proper archiepiscopal rank set of a diplomatic firestorm, with the Chinese government accusing the Vatican of intolerably and “rudely interfer[ing] in the sovereign affairs of the Chinese church.” Imprisoned for 22 years, Tang ended up in exile in Connecticut, where he died in 1995. In his China letter, Benedict XVI said that “the Holy See is prepared to address the entire question” of provinces and diocesan boundaries “in an open and constructive dialogue” with the Chinese bishops – and, “where opportune and helpful,” with the government. No protest has yet come from Beijing over Rome’s quiet elevation of the two recent appointees.
- On the first Sunday of January, the 35th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus will come to order in Rome. In an unprecedented cycle of events, its first order of business will be the transition of leadership from a living Superior-General of the church’s largest religious community to his freshly-elected successor. With a little over three months until the Jesuit electors enter the pre-balloting period of murmuratio, the ballfield remains wide open for many surprises, but recent visitors to the order’s offices on the Borgo Santo Spirito have been encouraged to meet Fr Orlando Torres, who’s euphemistically plugged as a “very important [figure] for the future of the Society.” Accordingly, the former provincial of Puerto Rico, currently assistant for formation to the outgoing Father-General Peter Hans Kolvenbach, is widely viewed as the preference of the Society’s current leadership. Whether that makes him a front-runner among the global group of GC electors, however, is another question entirely. Torres has scored high marks in his travels – one prominent North American Jesuit lauded him as a “lovely man” – but the same could be said of the other most-mentioned favorites, including Australia’s Mark Raper, Italy’s Franco Imoda and Torres’ chief Latin American competition, the popular rector of Mexico City’s Iberoamericana University, Fr Jose "Pepe" Morales. While the Society's American provincials recently began taking steps toward establishing standards to “preserve and promote the… Catholic character” of the institutions under their watch – and agreed to a long-awaited consolidation plan that’ll slash the number of US provinces from ten to five – its General Curia recently sent the names of 42 generabili the Vatican for vetting. The preliminary candidate list was drawn up from shortlists sent by regional groups of the electors.
- For the first time ever, the synod of an Eastern church in communion with Rome is meeting in the US; yesterday, the governing body of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic church opened its biannual session in Philadelphia, the seat of its Stateside diaspora. The synod’s relocation from its usual home of Kiev to the Archeparchial chancery on Franklin Street commemorates the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the Philadelphia metropolia's founding prelate, Bishop Stephen Ortynsky, in the States – an event which’ll be commemorated Sunday with a hierarchical Divine Liturgy (a spectacle of prayer which is, truly, a window into heaven). Topics on the synod’s agenda include youth ministry, the customary personnel decisions and maintaining the distinctly Ukrainian identity of the 5 million-member church, the largest of the self-governing Oriental rites united to the Holy See. The synod and Sunday liturgy will be presided over by one of the church’s great witnesses, its major archbishop Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, who this author had the pleasure of interviewing for The Tablet on his last stop in the River City. Sunday’s liturgy will be broadcast on EWTN – do yourselves a favor and watch… you won’t regret it. Welcome to all the synod participants and, to them and the people of the US Metropolia, mnohaya lita.
- Some quick calendar notes: Cardinal Godfried Danneels’ previously-mentioned US tour will also take him to Cleveland for a 26 October lecture on the liturgy at John Carroll University.... Further West, Archbishop George Niederauer of San Francisco – the onetime English prof who's said that, were it ever necessary, his “desert island book” would be Flannery O’Connor’s The Habit of Being – will speak on Flannery’s “Vision of Faith, Church and Modern Consciousness” tomorrow (28 September) at the University of San Fran.... And, closer to home, we’re but two weeks away from this year’s Scarpa Conference – the annual meeting of the minds on Catholic and American legal theory – at Villanova Law School. This time around, the latter's keynote falls to none other than Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia.
- And, lastly, the warning bells have gone off in Northwestern Minnesota’s diocese of Crookston, where an e.mail sent earlier today to the clergy announced a “press conference” scheduled for tomorrow morning. Home to the nation’s longest-serving ordinary, Bishop Victor Balke will turn 76 on Saturday. After more than 31 years of leading the 36,000-member diocese, Rome’s sending the bishop's birthday present a day early -- the gift of his successor. And the mitre goes to… an in-stater with a sterling reputation. More after Roman Noon.