On the Road Again
- Earlier this morning, the Pope left Rome for Vienna and a two-day trip to mark the 850th anniversary of the founding of Austria's national shrine, dedicated to Our Lady of Mariazell. Expectations are, admittedly, low for the trip, with upwards of 40% of Austrians expressing indifference to the visit in polls. Beyond his daylong calendar at the shrine tomorrow, Benedict XVI will be spending an ample amount of his calendar in the capital -- where, he said during an en route briefing earlier today, he "felt that [he] needed more time... to be with diverse components of Austrian society." Responding to a question about the turmoil of the last 15 years in the Austrian church -- when internal divisions turned its focus inward and waves of abuse and other revelations forced the then-archbishop of Vienna Cardinal Hans Hermann Gröer OSB and the nation's most outspoken prelate, Bishop Kurt Krenn of Sankt Polten, into early retirement -- the Pope said that "I know that the church in Austria has lived through difficult times, and I’m grateful to everyone – laity, religious, priests – who, during all these difficulties, remained faithful to the church, to its witness to Jesus, and who in this church of sinners nevertheless recognized the face of Jesus." He noted, however, that "I would not say all the difficulties have been solved." Of his planned stop at a Holocaust memorial, which took place shortly after his arrival, the Pope said the visit was intended "in order to demonstrate our sadness, our repentance, and also our friendship with our Jewish brothers." More as things progress.
- As reported last week, a pending court decision remanding several abuse suits against the diocese of San Diego from federal bankruptcy protection to civil trial in state court has spurred the SoCal see to finalize a settlement for the majority of its 150 pending claims. Negotiations have been going long in recent days, and the expected final decision of the bankruptcy court has been postponed in light of the close-to-deal state of the talks. The morning papers out west report that the likely outcome is foreseen averaging in the area of $1.3 million per case, which would shake out totaling $195 million, the second-highest payment to victim-survivors by a US diocese, yet still dwarfed by the archdiocese of Los Angeles' $660 million settlement inked in July.
- Against the backdrop of likely parliamentary elections next month that'll find it playing a rather potent role, a new cloud has gathered over Poland's controversial Radio Maryja empire. The broadcaster's head, Redemptorist Fr Tadeusz Rydzyk, stoked his latest brush with unsavory press over the summer as a Polish magazine released a tape in which the cleric -- known widely at home as "Father-Director" -- fired off remarks widely viewed as anti-Semitic (an accusation not foreign to his networks' content), and also took aim at the wife of President Lech Kaczynski after Maria Kaczynska stated her qualms with Poland's outright ban on abortion. "Witch! You'll see!" the priest was recorded as saying of the first lady. "If you want to kill people, why don't you start with yourself." In early August -- after the Polish Redemptorists opened and closed an investigation that cleared the media baron -- Rydzyk was granted a coveted baciamano greeting by Pope Benedict following the pontiff's Sunday Angelus at Castel Gandolfo. After photos circulated of the encounter -- at which the head of the Polish Redemptorists was also present -- the Holy See was forced to issue a statement saying that the meeting did not signal "any change" to the church's "well-noted" teaching on its relations with the Jewish people. When one's mere appearance incites fears of a rollback on such a sensitive topic, of course, it's not the best of signs, and the latest salvo was fired earlier this week as comments from Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow, the longtime private secretary to John Paul II, were leaked to Tygodnik Powszechny, the Polish Pope's favorite newspaper. "We cannot remain indifferent to what is happening," the cardinal told a closed-door meeting of the Polish bishops late last month. "We are at the threshold of a dangerous crisis -- somebody else is guiding the direction of the ministry in Poland," he said, going on to note that "more and more, Radio Maryja is not contributing to unity in the church but is becoming an element of ... political and social jockeying." Recommending that a new board for the radio station and its TV component, Trwam, be established to bring it more into line with the Magisterium, Dziwisz's intervention makes the situation all the more fluid. As they say in broadcasting, stay tuned.
- "Everything through love, nothing through force" is one of the many statements attributed to St Francis de Sales whose value remains considerable even in our own time. And earlier this week, in his ad limina address to the bishops of Laos and Cambodia, the Pope took it unto himself. "Jesus is the Good News for the men and women of every time and place in their search for the meaning of existence and for the truth of their own humanity,'" B16 said, "and in her announcement to all peoples, the church does not wish to impose herself but to bear witness to her respect for human beings and for the society in which she lives." Going on to note that dialogue with other faiths in the majority-Buddhist countries can only proceed "with a solidly founded Christian faith," the Pope exhorted the visiting prelates that, as "they eloquently highlight God's love for all human beings with distinction... it is very important that the Church's charitable work maintains all of its splendor and does not become just another form of social assistance."
- And, finally, the stars were out in force last night for Cardinal William Keeler's appreciation dinner in the Baltimore Convention Center. As the hometown Orioles lost another one next door at Camden Yards, retired auxiliary Bishop William Newman joked -- and, with the O's 24 games back in the AL East, maybe rightly -- that more of the faithful had come downtown for their outgoing archbishop than for the ballgame. Leading the lauds to his much-beloved predecessor, who formally hands him the reins of the Premier See on 1 October, incoming Archbishop Edwin O'Brien said that "You can't retire experience -- you must use it. Nor can you retire goodness or kindness." "I hope you can manage a day off here or there in the months and years ahead," the 14th successor of John Carroll told the 13th, "but not too many." Clearly, Rome agrees; in his own remarks, Keeler announced that, at the request of the Holy See, he will step up his involvement in international ecumenical and interreligious affairs, beginning next month at the next round of Catholic-Orthodox dialogue in Ravenna. He'll also remain the American hierarchy's top liaison for Catholic-Jewish relations. As the crowd of 2,000 -- headlined by Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington, Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley and the cardinal's sister, Julia, in from Toronto for the event -- looked on, a half-hour tribute video ended with a greeting from Keeler's longtime friend and sidekick, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, whose excuse for his absence underscored that, indeed, there's life after retirement: "I'm in the Arctic Ocean," the Ted said, "probably eating raw fish, while you're eating all kinds of good stuff in Baltimore." McCarrick -- who's racked up more air miles than ever since leaving the DC church to Wuerl's care 15 months ago -- is serving as papal legate to a weeklong symposium in Greenland on "Religion, Science and the Environment" sponsored by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.
Just a thought. Happy Friday to one and all.
PHOTO: REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger