Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Spanning the Hierarchy

For your viewing pleasure, another episode of the roundup:
  • There’s much in the mill these days that speaks to the end of an era…. Several eras, actually, as age and openings push open another round of chair-shuffling in Benedict XVI’s Vatican. One of these was augured just the other day; as the Pope left Austria, a friend wrote in to say that, “And now, Piero Marini closes two decades of devoted service to the Popes.” That’s been said, but only wishfully, on multiple occasions by critics of the longtime Maestro of Vatican ceremonial (almost from the minute of Joseph Ratzinger’s election to Peter’s chair). Yet this time, the message came from a friend of Marini… and, indeed, this time, it’s for real. It won’t be long before the Pope places Marini, 65, in line for the cardinal’s red hat, most likely as head of the Pontifical Commission for Eucharistic Congresses, taking the place of Cardinal Josef Tomko, the former prefect of the Propaganda. The move will see the man who’s become the papal circle’s most familiar face – well, aside from the Boss – getting a lower profile and, with it, a good bit more time to travel, write and speak. (Be careful what you wish for….) Having first come to the Vatican as private secretary to the late Archbishop Annibale Bunigni, the liturgical adviser to Paul VI, Marini’s reflections on the liturgical reform, published in Italian two years back, will be released in English come November. Il Giornale’s Andrea Tornielli reports that – surprise, surprise – Marini's successor will be culled from the Genovese farm team of the Secretary of State. The rumored appointee’s name? Marini. No joke. (Msgr Guido, 46, a former MC and secretary to Bertone and Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi, would become the Curia’s third Marini. None are related... whether your criterion's blood or gustibus.) As predictable as the rising of the sun, the blogs and forums blamed the Pope’s Technicolor vestments from last Saturday’s Mass at Mariazell on the Maestro, even though they were designed and presented by the Austrians. Among what would be their swansong of potshots at their favorite bete noire, one inflamed commentor said that the choice of vestments made the celebrants look “like the cast of Hair.” Appropriate enough, as when the announcement drops they’ll likely be singing "Let the Sunshine In"… or however one intones that in Latin. (On another note -- and as further proof that the natives are taking over everything the Apartment can give 'em these days -- Tornielli’s let slip that an Italian priest, Fr Carlo Pezzi, 45, is tipped to become archbishop of Moscow, in a move that would reportedly further “extend” the goodwill of the Russian Orthodox toward Benedict, who's exceptionally keen on better ties with Patriarch Alexei II and longs to visit Russia. The current Moscow prelate, Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, is slated to return to his native Belarus as archbishop of Minsk… where he, too, will likely end up with his red hat.)
  • Another glorious run’s close comes in two days' time – not with the implementation of B16’s motu proprio on the 1962 Missal Summorum Pontificum, but the 80th birthday of the US’ senior bishop-maker in Rome, Cardinal Edmund Szoka. He might’ve retired last year from the Governatorato – the Vatican’s “city hall” – but the former archbishop of Detroit has arguably wielded his greatest clout over the years in the selection of new prelates as a member of the Congregation for Bishops. From Friday, his seat there falls vacant, as does another elector’s slot in a hypothetical conclave (bringing the number of voting cardinals to 104). As first intimated here in late June, it’s looking as if the college will be replenished at a consistory in late November over Christ the King Weekend. The Curia is in dire need of “working cardinals,” they say – that is, red-hats able to aid the work of the dicasteries by actively participating in the work of five or six congregations. And, alongside Marini, among the next crop of these will be Philadelphia’s own John Foley, currently awaiting the “sacred purple” as the newly-named Pro-Grand Master of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre. Already three months into a spate of "pre-game" celebrations for the elevation of the River City’s favorite son, news of Foley's likely emergence with a seat on Bishops -- and, ergo, a kingmaker in his own right -- will get the locals even more revved up. To think, Phillyites, that a hometowner will boldly go where no Krol – nor, for that matter, any Pharaoh – has gone before…. Was the wait was worth it or what?
  • A key crux of the journalist’s craft is the ability to decipher leads from “leads.” There’s a big difference between a genuine, organic movement toward an outcome and an appearance of the same that, in reality, is little more than a ploy. Especially in this business, separating the wheat from the chaff is often no easy task, and all of us who do this beat are likely, if not bound, to fall into the trap at some point. Bottom line, however: if there’s one thing that Rome frowns upon, it’s any semblance of campaigning or pressure – often the best way of ensuring that a party’s publicly-sought outcome will yield the precise opposite. As unfortunate evidence of the dangers of this, one need look no further than the venerable Times of London’s recent anointing of Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Birmingham as “the front-runner” to succeed Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor as archbishop of Westminster. Cormac may have turned 75 just last month, but even from a year before his letter crossed the English Channel, there’s been no dearth of articles in the British press purporting that the wheels are absolutely, positively turning on a succession process that (quite unlike the race for the Big Apple) hasn’t yet been broached in any meaningful way. Coverage of the sort isn't just a disservice to the reading public, either; key to the Times’ analysis was its report that Nichols’ celebration of Mass for and high-profile remarks at an Oxford conference on the Extraordinary Use late last month would be rapturously received in Rome. Appearing merely days after the Oxford gathering, the notably positive hair-splitting of the archbishop’s words and actions there (e.g. his use of the 1970 Mass in Latin as opposed to the ’62 Missal -- a choice which, the paper said, showed him to be "sympathetic to traditionalists while at the same time not being their prisoner") did Nichols the grave embarrassment -- brutta figura, even -- of making his appearance and address seem less driven by a heartfelt desire to encourage the Pope’s intended reintegration of the church's fullest liturgical tradition than a calculated attempt to garner attention and favor along the Tiber with an eye to returning to the primatial see of England and Wales, where his episcopal ministry began. Then again, the piece did say that "the biggest mark against Archbishop Nichols is that he is perceived as ambitious"... and, candidly, the story didn't do much to douse the perception. (Just when you thought that, if all else fails, at least the liturgy was safe from politics.) Especially in this tight-lipped pontificate of surprises, the rule of thumb seems to be that “He who goes in the ‘front-runner’ comes out to cancel the moving vans.” For proof of that, look no further than Benedict's top picks to date in the English-speaking world, precisely none of whom dominated the pre-appointment chattering in the mass media -- and, if anything, were barely mentioned before ending up with, well, the only nod that actually counts. What's more, just as then-Auxiliary Bishop Nichols was heavily tipped to succeed Cardinal Basil Hume in 2000, another of the press’ top designees in the last go-round was the then-Master General of the Dominicans, Fr Timothy Radcliffe, whose name has, reality aside, already surfaced anew in print…. Surely, if they believe in the "front-runner" logic of media selection, the Nicholites wouldn’t mind the thought of an Archbishop Timothy, either? (Pause for response.) Thought so.
  • Continuing with the thread that pressure-group tactics are best checked by the church's gates, it seems that – lest anyone be surprised – Voice of the Faithful could use a thorough education in the ways and culture of ecclesial governance.... That is, if it truly seeks to be of service, or get its point across... neither of which it's accomplished of yet. Cardinal Francis George's ascent to the presidency of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops come November was already a fait accompli, but if any doubt lingered that the archbishop of Chicago will face no hurdles to becoming the first cardinal chosen to lead the US hierarchy since 1971, VotF secured his landslide victory last week with a letter to the bishops asking them not to elect the cardinal, calling into question his "track record of protecting children." Clearly, someone forgot to remind the good Bostonians that it’s the Conference of Catholic Bishops, not some open powwow longing to be crashed by a shadow hierarchy (whose intervention will simply circle the episcopal wagons even more tightly). Already the intellectual leader of the conference – and, arguably, more its co-president than its deputy these last three years – the 70 year-old cardinal is said to be looking better than ever after two brushes with ill health over the last year, and appears to be gearing up for his late autumn coronation in Baltimore. After a year of little travel following surgery for bladder cancer, then a broken hip at Easter, he's re-sprung into his old form, having headed straight from last week’s Vox Clara meeting on liturgical translations in Rome to Washington for the USCCB administrative committee’s pre-November prep session. Nominations for the presidency close on Friday, and while no vice-president in the conference's history who’s ever stood for the presidency has failed to win it, an extra amount of attention this year will focus on the race for the #2 slot, which comprises the nine non-winners of the presidential ballot. Since George narrowly defeated then-Bishop Wuerl of Pittsburgh for the VP post three years ago, it’d be an understatement to say that the landscape of things has changed, and dramatically at that. But still, not being The Times -- and, ergo, not clairvoyant -- the soundings to date will remain under seal until things actually, you know, get moving.
Forgive the slow posting this week – the fall travel has begun in earnest….

To our Jewish readers (and there are more than a few) L’Shana Tovah, Happy New Year and all best wishes as the calendar turns to 5768.

And to our Catholic readers, keeping always in mind that the church is the daughter of the synagogue, Happy Motu Proprio.