- Underscoring the difficulties that stand between the much hoped-for meeting between Pope Benedict and the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexei II, the delegation of the Moscow Patriarchate stormed out of the Catholic-Orthodox dialogue currently taking place in Ravenna, citing the presence of an Estonian delegation that the Russians continue to see as part of their fold. Quoting a senior Russian hierarch present at the gathering, Interfax reported that the attendance of the Estonian Apostolic church -- whose formation by the Constantinople Patriarchate, the Muscovites allege, infringed on their canonical territory -- inflamed Alexei's representatives, who "warned" that if the Estonians didn't walk, the Russian delegates would. Even despite the disruption, however, a spokesprelate for the Moscow Patriarchate maintained the importance Alexei and his eparchs place on good relations with Rome. The most prized and sensitive ecumenical dialogue of the current pontificate is at the top of the papal radar these days as Archbishop Paul Josef Cordes, head of the Holy See's humanitarian efforts, prepares for his own meeting with the Russian Patriarch a week from today, and month's end will see the ordination of B16's new choice to head Moscow's Catholic fold, Archbishop-elect Paolo Pezzi. While a Roman ordination for the Italian-born prelate -- whose appointment was viewed as a further conciliatory move toward the Orthodox -- could've been easily explained, Pezzi will be ordained in his new charge's Cathedral of the Mother of God by his departing predecessor, Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, on 27 October; the outgoing archbishop is headed back to his native Belarus as its top prelate. To celebrate with the ordinand, 47, a pilgrimage is being arranged by his confreres of Comunione e Liberazione; previously seminary rector in St Petersburg, Pezzi is a member of Missionaries of St Charles Borromeo -- the priestly community of Pope Benedict's favorite movement. In a statement announcing Cordes' trip, the Holy See sought to play up the extent of the church's charity efforts on Russian soil, a diplomatic counter to allegations that the Catholic presence is one bent on proselytism. "In Russia," the release said, the work of charity "is the root of many experiences of fruitful collaboration with the Orthodox church." Cordes' trip, the Vatican noted, is "a moment to show how Deus caritas est" -- Benedict's first encyclical -- "has inspired the pledge of charity" in the "vast country." As a further sign of the increasing warmth between Rome and Moscow, plans came to light over the summer for a Patriarchate-sponsored autumn symposium on the papal encyclical. Despite the confluence of conference and Cordes' visit, no mention was made of his attendance at the gathering.
- In terms of stories, there's a lot coming out of California these days... and even more looks set to follow in about three hours. To brief: while much has been made of San Diego Bishop Robert Brom's "invite" for his clergy to chip in a month's salary each to help fund the diocese's $198 million abuse settlement, one initiative that reportedly fell through the cracks was a wished-for effort to spare the SoCal see's chancery and seminary from the selling block. To date, no list of the property divestitures the diocese will undergo to raise its $107 million share of the payout has yet emerged. However, whether the final stages of restitution end up being another's work is an open question. Said to have been keen to hand over the reins of the flock of a million-plus Catholics before its months-long bankruptcy debacle and September's agreement to the second-largest settlement paid by a US diocese, word is that the search for a coadjutor to aid and, in time, succeed the 69 year-old Brom has stepped up, with a couple heavy-hitters already rumored to have begged off being considered for the post. Meanwhile, just up the I-5, the archdiocese of Los Angeles has announced that the ripple effects of its $660 million deal with victim-survivors will force the closing of an inner-city high school at the current academic year's end. Behind the scenes, however, the buzz that the site is being eyed as the new home of the central administration of the nation's largest local church; in the mega-settlement's immediate wake, the archdiocese disclosed that it was seeking a buyer for its longtime headquarters on prime Wiltshire Boulevard real estate. To date, no winning bid for the current chancery plot has publicly emerged. (On a side note from the SoCal beat, congrats to the Union-Tribune's Sandi Dolbee, the reporter who's led the local coverage of the San Diego story. For a second time, Dolbee won the Templeton Prize -- the Religion Newswriters' top honor, given to the Reporter of the Year -- at the gang's recent convention in San Antonio.)
- For all their differences of personality and outlook, one trait that the top-level appointees of the reigning pontificate share is a lack of personal ambition alongside a keen attachment to their existing mission-field when The Call comes in. Between Archbishop Edwin's O'Brien's vocal tremors on mentioning the Military Services at his appointment press conference in Baltimore, Archbishop Wuerl of Washington's emotional reiterations that the diocese of Pittsburgh will always be his "first love" and the widespread awareness that one A-list post in the States had been declined by the first prelate B16 invited to take it, among other examples, the trend runs far and deep... and, though most are quite pleased, it would seem not everyone's happy about it. The reigning Pope's tendency to decide appointments around the globe on additional counsel beside the verdict of the Congregation for Bishops is already quite well-known, and the "upset" of one such passed-over prelate was recently overheard within earshot of the Vatican. (As they say over there, "Brutta, brutta, brutta"... and better luck next time.) What's more, as plans for the spring papal visit to the States continue to develop behind doors slightly ajar, a high-level push from within the papal circle has reportedly been attempted to kibosh preliminary arrangements for Benedict's journey to Boston, which has already been slated as the five-day April trip's climactic stop. On a related note, while it is, of course, priceless, in terms of a Popevisit's security and logistical arrangements, such is reality that even the papal presence has a cost... and that shakes out at $1.5 million. A day.
- Lastly, even though the Pope received a jersey -- and #16, at that -- from members of the Italian soccer squad AC Ancona at yesterday's General Audience, the Holy See denied reports that it had moved to acquire the team; other speculation said that a controlling stake in the side had been purchased by the Italian episcopal conference, the CEI.... The simple truth, however, is that the team signed onto a "code of ethics" drafted by a lay-run organization seeking to infuse Catholic values into the world's most popular sport (and, arguably, Catholicism's rival for the place of Italy's most-populous religious body) and that the Vatican's top calcio enthusiast -- occasional match-day color analyst Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, SDB, the Secretary of State -- had praised the initiative. Some might find the notion of an ethical code in sport a little superflous, but evidence of the usual state of the game and its ephemera is provided by the case of the Italian squad whose leading sponsors included, until recently, a local brothel. Location of said franchise: a little village called Trent.