Sunday, September 30, 2007

Benedict's Angels

As previously noted, on Saturday the Pope performed the first episcopal ordinations of his pontificate, conferring the mitre and crozier on six of his high-profile appointees, including his new Culture Czar Gianfranco Rivasi and the longtime papal co-secretary Mietek Mokryczki, now archbishops both.

Given the day's confluence with the feast of the three Archangels, the principal consecrator's homily took the calendar's implication to heart:
[Benedict] recalled that in the early Church – and in Revelations – bishops are referred to as “angels”. Just as angels, explained the pope, bishops must lead humanity to God; they must knock on the door to their hearts to announce Christ; they must heal the wounds of relations between man and woman and save them from sin with reconciliation and forgiveness.

Throughout his entire discourse the pontiff referred to this similitude, starting with the names of the three Archangels, which contains the suffix “El”, which in Hebrew is the name of God. “God – said the pope – is written in their names, in their very nature…. they are His messengers. They bring God to mankind, they reveal the heavens and thus, they reveal earth….. the Angels speak to man about what constitutes his true being, what is often is often covered or buried in his life. They call man to himself, touching him on God’s behalf”. And he added: “In this way even we humans must become angels for one another – angels who lead us from the wrong path and guide us once again towards God…..A bishop must be a man of prayer, who intercedes on behalf of mankind with God”....

Michael (“Who is as God?”) “defends the cause of the one God against the dragon’s presumption, the “ancient serpent” as his called by John. It is the serpent’s continuous attempts to make men believe that God must disappear, in order for making to obtain greatness; that God stands in the way of our freedom and so we must be rid of Him”.

In reality, explains the pontiff, “he who puts God aside, does not make mankind great, rather he denies mankind his dignity. And thus, man becomes an unsuccessful product of evolution”.

This is why, adds the pope; “it is the Bishop’s duty, as a man of God, to make space in the world for God against those who would negate Him and in doing so defend the greatness of man”. And again: “Faith in God defends man from all of his weaknesses and inadequacies: God’s radiance shines on every individual”....

“The book of Tobias – added the pope – speaks of the healing of blind eyes. We all know that today we are threatened with blindness to God…… healing this blinded through the message of the faith and witness of love, is Raphael’s service which is entrusted each and every day to priests and in a particular way to bishops. Thus we are spontaneously led to think of the sacrament of reconciliation and penitence, which in the deepest meaning of the word, is a healing sacrament. The true wound of the soul, in fact is sin. And only is a forgiveness in virtue of the power of God, in virtue of the power of Christ’s love exists, can we be healed, can we be redeemed”.

In other "musical curialists" (i.e. chair-shifting) news, Il Giornale's Andrea Tornielli reported at the weekend that the much-foreseen transfer of the longtime Master of Papal Liturgical Ceremonies Archbishop Piero Marini will come this week, likely as soon as tomorrow.

Prior reports have tipped Genovese Msgr Guido Marini -- a former private secretary to the "Vice-Pope" Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone -- as the new supremo of the Cappella Papale, the public liturgies of the "Papal Chapel."

Previously an official of the Prefecture of the Papal Household, a Maltese priest, Msgr Alfred Xuereb, recently took up his duties as B16's deputy private secretary in succession to the newly-anointed Archbishop Mietek.

PHOTO 1: AP/Pier Paolo Cito
PHOTO 2: Reuters/Dario Pignatelli


Gallup Goes Roswell

In case anyone thought things in New Mexico were already molto originale... well... um... the latest:
Gallup police reported receiving an emergency call [Thursday] from Bishop [Donald] Pelotte. According to a 911 dispatch log, Pelotte told operators [that] "...gentle little people, about 3 to 4 feet tall, and wearing Halloween masks were in the hall while Pelotte hid in a closet."

Police report they never found anyone inside Pelotte's home....

The diocese told reporters in Gallup that priests who consult Pelotte will make decisions concerning his involvement in the church.

Friday, September 28, 2007

A New Shepherd's Crook(ston)

As intimated last night (see next post), Crookston's day has arrived.

This morning, the Pope accepted the resignation of Bishop Victor Balke, who turns 76 tomorrow, naming in his stead Msgr Michael Hoeppner, heretofore vicar-general of Winona.

A native Minnesotan, the 58 year-old bishop-elect comes with a background steeped both in parish work and administration, and with a good bit of teaching ministry, to boot. An alum of the Pontifical North American College, Hoeppner is yet another member of the class of 29 June 1975 -- when Pope Paul VI ordained 359 priests to mark the Holy Year -- to be elevated to the episcopacy, and the second US appointee this year to come from the group, which also counts Archbishops Raymond Burke of St Louis, the prefect of the Papal Household James Harvey and Michael Miller CSB, now the coadjutor of Vancouver, among its members.

Possessed of a JCL from St Paul's in Ottawa and a master's in Education from a Winona-area university, the bishop-elect's priestly ministry included a seven-year stint in the triple roles of high school teacher, school administrator and diocesan director of vocations. He served as Winona's judicial vicar from 1988-97, when then-Bishop John Vlazny named him vicar-general.

Following Vlazny's 1997 transfer to the archbishopric of Portland in Oregon, Hoeppner was elected to oversee the diocese during the interregnum before the appointment and arrival of Bishop Bernard Harrington, who subsequently confirmed Hoeppner as his chief deputy.

For the northern diocese of 36,000, Balke's resignation marks the end of an era -- the bishop observed his 31st anniversary in the Northwestern Minnesota outpost earlier this month.

To become the seventh ordinary of Crookston, the bishop-elect must be ordained and installed in the post within four months from his reception of the papal decrees of his appointment. And once he does, another celebration won't be far off -- the diocese marks its centenary on the last day of 2009.


Thursday, September 27, 2007

All the News That's Fit to... Bullet

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 Beingwill 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.

"The Transparency of God"

At yesterday's General Audience, a continuation of B16's exposition of St John Chrysostom:
Last week the pope had already spoke of the first part of the life and works of the great thinker, who was bishop of Constantinople in the IV century; today before a crowd of 20 thousand in his general audience he dwelt on the years of the saint’s life when he was the leader of the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire when he was twice exiled. His relics were transferred to Rome and now lie in the canonical chapel of St Peter’s, and in 2004, the pope reflected “a large part of them” were donated to the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I.

Retracing the works of St John Chrysostom, Benedict XVI underlined that his meditation of the works carried out by God in the six days of creation led him to affirm that Genesis shows us the beauty of creation reveals the face of God to us, there is the “transparency of God” and therefore “our wonder at the beauty of creation should lead us to give glory to the Creator”. A second step follows on from this in which it is highlighted that the Creator is also a “Tender Father”: “we are weak, in lifting our gaze our eyes are weak and so God becomes a tender Father and sends mankind the Word, the Sacred Scripture”. The third step is that God not only transmits the Word, but “in the end He Himself comes down to us”, he becomes the Word Incarnate until death, he really does become “God with us”, our brother. The fourth and last step is that through which the “the vital and dynamic principal “, the Holy Spirit, God is within us, “he enters our very existence and transforms our hearts”.

In his works, the model of the early Church becomes a model for society, it is a “utopia of the ideal city, giving it a Christian face and soul”. Chrysostom’s, “truly one of the great fathers of the Church”, affirms that it is not sufficient to give alms, or occasionally come to peoples aid, but that a new model is needed in which “the old idea of the Greek polis is substituted by a city inspired by Christian life. His project corrects the traditional Greek vision of the city in which large swathes of the population are denied the rights of citizenship, while in the Christian cities the person is given primacy and as a result the city is built from the individual up, while in the polis the person was subordinate to the city”. And when the bishop added “our city is another, our home is in the heavens”, he makes us all equal, brothers and sisters and obliges us to full solidarity towards humanity”.
From the archives, a useful snip from the bishop-doctor on the liturgy and its optimal end.

In the course of his weekly talk -- delivered before a crowd of 20,000 in St Peter's Square -- the Professor-Pope referred to Chrysostom as "one of the great fathers of the church's social doctrine."

Summer may be over, but Papa Ratzi's still talking a hefty bit about the Social Magisterium, eh?

Hint, hint... "Et, et."

AP/Plinio Lepri


Bye-Bye, Bishop's House

In keeping with tradition, you lot got first word on it, but back in the Burgh today's Post-Gazette picks up the story of Bishop David Zubik's decision to relinquish the Episcopal Manse:
The decision ends a 57-year tradition of bishops living at the 2 1/2-story, 11-bedroom brick home on Warwick Terrace.

The 9,248 square-foot home, built in 1911, is appraised at $1,498,400 on the Allegheny County property Web site.

Bishop Zubik announced his intentions last week before 240 Catholic priests from Pittsburgh who were at the triennial gathering of diocesan priests at Oglebay Park in Wheeling, W.Va., for continuing education, fellowship and recreation.

They applauded his announcement.

"It was an ancient tradition of the bishop to live at the seminary to assist with the formation of priests and to get to know them better," said the Rev. Ronald Lengwin, spokesman for the diocese.

"It's also a sign of our need to foster and encourage vocations in the priesthood."

Father Lengwin said no decision has been made about the future of the house, which sits on a private drive on 1 3/4 acres....

The first bishop to live in the residence was the Most Rev. John Dearden, the diocese's seventh bishop, in 1950. It has been the residence of every bishop since....

Its most famous visitor may have been Giovanni Cardinal Montini, who stayed overnight in 1951. In 1963, he became Pope Paul VI.

According the county property Web site, the house has 24 rooms, six full baths and one half-bath.
In an interview with the Steel City's ABC affiliate late on the night of his July appointment, Zubik related his finding that, in Catholic life, the temptation remains of being “attached to buildings,” which can lead some to forget that the church is “bigger than buildings.”

Standard set + standard followed = credibility won... and not just for the gospel of building-detachment.

The installation festivities begin tonight with the customary Evening Prayer gathering in St Paul's Cathedral. To unite the diocese in prayer "for the needs of the church," each of Pittsburgh's 214 parishes have been asked to hold a Holy Hour concurrent with the 7-8pm cathedral service, or at least to remain open for private prayer.

John Heller/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Crowning Glory

Just days ago, it was noted here that no archbishop of Philadelphia had ever held that most coveted of Curial appointments: a seat among the kingmakers of the Congregation for Bishops...

...that is, until today.

This morning, in a move considered both historic and a personal homecoming, the Pope named Cardinal Justin Rigali to the membership of the congregation, the all-powerful Vatican body that oversees the appointment of bishops to non-missionary dioceses the world over.

Then-Archbishop Rigali served as the congregation's secretary from 1989 to 1994, when he was named to the archdiocese of St Louis. Before going to the Midwest, the native of Los Angeles had served in the Roman Curia for three decades, including stints as the senior English-language aide to three pontiffs and the first American to head the diplomatic school of the Holy See, the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy.

Since 2002, when Cardinal Bernard Law resigned as archbishop of Boston and moved to Rome, no resident US prelate has held a seat on Bishops. Not even two weeks after Cardinal Edmund Szoka's 80th birthday -- a milestone that, by law, required the Midwesterner's departure from the congregation's oblong table of 30 cardinals and bishops -- the dicastery's American contingent returns to four members. What's more, its senior English-language staffer is a local product, Msgr Andrew Baker of the diocese of Allentown.

Returning to the table, the Pharaoh joins not a few friendly faces, including his seminary classmate Cardinal William Levada, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and his longtime collaborator in the Secretariat of State Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, who as prefect of Bishops runs the congregation's meetings and presents the body's opinions to the Pope in a weekly Saturday audience.

While John Paul II usually assented to the congregation's choices during the encounter, Benedict XVI is known to be more thorough in his deliberations, sometimes choosing a different appointee than the congregation's stated preference.

During his days in St Louis, Rigali served as an informal, yet no less effective, kingmaker as multiple priests of the onetime "Rome of the West" were elevated to the episcopacy at a notable clip, whether as hometown auxiliaries or diocesan bishops in their own right. The group includes Archbishops Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas and Timothy Dolan of Milwaukee, Bishops George Lucas of Springfield, Paul Zipfel of Bismarck, John Gaydos of Jefferson City, Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs, Edward Braxton of Belleville and Robert Finn of Kansas City-St Joseph.

In large part, the unlikely emergence of the 72 year-old Philadelphia prelate as a voting member of his last curial home can be chalked up to a need to replenish the congregation's membership with keen talent scouts, particularly given the recent difficulties of finding suitable and willing candidates for episcopal appointment in the United States.

The requirement that cardinals step aside from their dicastery memberships at age 80 has done much to deprive Bishops of some of its most experienced hands in recent months. Besides Cardinal Szoka, six other longtime veterans of the table have entered mandatory retirement over the last year: Cardinals William Wakefield Baum, Eduardo Martinez Somalo, Jorge Arturo Medina Estevez, Agostino Cacciavillan, Jean-Marie Lustiger and Franciszek Macharski, John Paul II's successor as archbishop of Krakow. The congregation's eighth departure of note for the year comes in late November when Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the former Secretary of State, reaches his superannuation date.

As of this writing, a consistory for the creation of new cardinals is still on-schedule for 24 November. Shortly thereafter, each of the 17 freshly-gazetted princes of the church under the age of eighty will be given seats on differing combinations of curial offices.

Also a member of Vox Clara -- the blue-ribbon commission overseeing the revision of English-language liturgical translations -- Rigali additionally holds the US bishops' most-prominent committee portfolio as chair of its pro-life efforts. In a national message released earlier this week to mark the annual observance of Respect Life Sunday, the cardinal wrote that "the truth about the incomparable dignity and right to life of every human being... is no sectarian creed."

Quoting Pope Benedict's recent homily at the Austrian shrine of Mariazell, the message noted that "If truth does not exist for man, then neither can he ultimately distinguish between good and evil. And then the great and wonderful discoveries of science become double-edged: they can open up significant possibilities for good, for the benefit of mankind, but also, as we see only too clearly, they can pose a terrible threat, involving the destruction of man and the world."


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Curia's "First Lady"

Some might remember the name of Sr Enrica Rosanna...

...and those who hadn't before have good reason to get up to speed.

In 2004, John Paul II broke reams of Vatican precedent by naming Suor Enrica -- an Italian Salesian with an academic background in sociology -- as the #3 official of the Roman dicastery overseeing all matters pertaining to the world's religious communities and professed men and women.

While widely acclaimed in the global church, the first-ever appointment of a woman (and, for that matter, any non-ordained person) to hold "superior" rank in a top-level Vatican office was met with some resistance among the Curia's old guard. Shortly thereafter, amid complaints citing canon law's stipulation that a nonordained person couldn't exercise jurisdiction over clerics, a priest was named to serve alongside Rosanna as co-undersecretary of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.

Last March, however, Benedict XVI shuttled the sister's priest-collaborator to a diocese of his own. More significantly, the Pope did not name a replacement for the cleric. In a new pontificate, the move served to definitively settle the question over Rosanna's supervisory status in her favor, and was soon followed by an announcement from the Cardinal-Secretary of State (himself a Salesian, of course) that plans are in the works to bring more women, professed and lay, into the upper echelons of the church's central administration.

While Benedict's keen record of affirming and relying on the exponents of the "feminine genius" he keeps around him is no secret (at least not to anyone here), the unlikely trailblazer doesn't give many interviews on the work she's termed "this obedience." However, Suor Enrica recently broke her low profile to record a chat with Salt + Light Television's Fr Thomas Rosica.

Conducted in Italian, the conversation's webstream is up (with subtitles). Watch.

Money quote, on the declining numbers and attendant prophecies of doom: "The apostles were only 12, but they conquered the world. And I don't believe the apostles had fewer difficulties than we have today.... Perhaps we lack in faith. The Lord told us that if we had the faith of a mustard seed we could move mountains. And we haven't moved, at least to my knowledge, we haven't moved that mountain [yet]."

Again, you don't want to miss this.


More from the Big Tent

Forgive the slow posting of recent days, but a sinus infection can do wonders... to mess with one's brain.

Here's a quick roundup:
  • Well, it's September and school's back... even for bishops. The annual "New Bishop School" -- organized by the Congregation for Bishops as an aid to prelates named over the last year -- is in session this week in Rome, with several top-tier veterans of episcopal ministry called in from around the world to serve as visiting lecturers. And just like most school sessions the world over, the program began with a speech from the top teacher. Receiving the flock of new shepherds on Saturday, the Pope told them that their office "demands" that serve in a particular way as "animators of prayer in society." "Prayer teaches love and opens the heart to pastoral charity," B16 said, "welcoming all" who cross a bishop's path. Quoting the "pastoral rule" of St Gregory the Great, the papal talk -- one which dealt with prayer alone -- noted that "in a singular way," a shepherd "must be able to lift himself [away from] all other things for prayer and contemplation." With "each" of priests, the pontiff said, a bishop isn't simply to be always close by in prayer, but "always ready to welcome, to listen, to nourish and to encourage." While the aesthete-Pope is known for his appreciation of all things old and ritual, aside from a brief reference to it, Benedict didn't address the public prayer that is the liturgy... he even shirked an opportunity to plug his motu proprio.
  • Once upon a (leaner) time in the River City, so committed was its bishop to priestly formation that he quartered his seminarians with him; founded in 1832, St Charles Borromeo Seminary had its first location in the home of then-Bishop Francis Patrick Kenrick, who named himself its first rector and professor. These days, the sem and the Archiepiscopal Mansion lie a half-mile apart on opposite sides of City Avenue, but in between stands St Joseph's University... where the sitting president has adopted the Kenrick approach. Despite the ample on-campus residence for the Jesuit community that's operated "Hawk Hill" for over 150 years, Fr Tim Lannon recently began his second year in a university-owned apartment complex for upperclassmen. As one of his neighbors told the local paper of record, "Everyone thinks I'm kidding when I say I live across the hall from the president of the university." For his part, the head of the 7,700-student institution said that "the kids are terrific. They're so uplifting," and he appreciates their invites to parties and hangouts. The archdiocese may be observing the bicentennial of its erection this year, but 2008 also marks the 275th anniversary of Old St Joseph's -- the Jesuit foundation that, in the beginning, held the distinction of being the one of the few public places in the British Empire where Mass could be celebrated openly without fear of reprisal. The dual milestones will be marked by a conference on Philadelphia's Catholic history at the university scheduled for early next year. (Full disclosure: as some might remember, this author spoke at a Hawk Hill event earlier in the year and was paid nicely for it.... However, I've been saying that "The Hawk will never die" -- and getting hell for it from Villanova fans -- for years prior to that.)
  • In other "turning down the house" news, during the convocation of his once and future presbyterate last week, incoming Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh announced his plans to decline the Steel City's episcopal residence. A bequest to the diocese which his predecessors have called home for the better part of the last century, the future of the opulent domicile in an upscale section of the city is still to be decided. Underscoring his wish to be open and available to his future priests, Zubik will make his home in a suite at St Paul's Seminary, where he had lived during his prior run as an official in his native curia. With just over two days to go before his Friday installation and as the local frenzy -- which, among other things, has overshadowed even the 75th anniversary of the town's much-loved football team -- over his return ramps up, what's been dubbed "Zubikmania" has even spread to one of the homecoming prelate's favorite dining haunts; the exterior of an Isaly's Deli in the North Hills is reportedly covered with a painted rendition of Zubik's coat of arms and a message blaring "Welcome home!"..... (Inside, it seems they haven't forgotten to keep the green peppers off his breakfast omelette, either.) The tickets to Friday's liturgy may be coveted, with the parking situation slated to cause headaches, but the web traffic should make for smooth watching of the rites via livestream; no less than four Pittsburgh outlets will broadcast the Mass on their homepages, two of which are killing their regular programming to televise it. While odds on an impromptu rendition of the "Steeler Polka" are currently at even money, late word says that the Polish classic "Serdeczna Matko" is very much on the program.
  • Friday's pilgrimage to the city of the Three Rivers kicks off an unprecedented confluence of events for the US hierarchy. Sure, the traveling circuit's used to one mega-installation every year or so... but possession-takings by three senior prelates in four days is very new territory, a leap that's caused no small amount of episcopal calendar panic on these shores. From Pittsburgh, the traveling delegation of 40 high-hats will bulk up over the course of the weekend as it heads to Baltimore for Archbishop Edwin O'Brien's inauguration as the Premier See's 15th head; over 70 bishops -- including eight cardinals -- are slated to headline Monday's Mass in the "New Cathedral" of Mary Our Queen. Hours later, it's off to Birmingham, where Bishop Robert Baker's rollout the following day will, at long last, end the longest vacancy of a Stateside diocese since the early 19th century. As the Alabama diocese of 90,000-plus has never had an emeritus prelate all its own, Bishop David Foley recently handed in the keys to the diocesan's house and settled into his new digs: a simple one-bedroom apartment. EWTN will televise and stream the latter two liturgies of the Installation Trifecta; check schedule for details.
  • And, lastly, in yet another reflection of the national situation post-2002 (i.e. over $2.5 billion in settlements paid), Cardinal Adam Maida of Detroit informed his priests last week that the archdiocese will spin-off its parishes as individual non-profit entities in civil law, ending its "corporation sole" status. "According to church law and theology each parish and diocese has its own unique set of rights and responsibilities," Maida said in his letter to the clergy. "Creating non-profit parish corporations is the simplest and most effective way of ensuring that the rights of parishes regarding church property are respected not only in church law, but also in civil law." While an attached Q&A form from the Motor City chancery said that "parish incorporation allows for direct involvement of the laity and a proper ordering of the rights and responsibilities of parishes and the diocese," it also noted that the Holy See has been prodding the dioceses of the United States to move away from corporation sole status since 1911. Even now, however, it remains the predominant form of civil identity for American Catholicism's institutional structures. As the 1.5 million-member Detroit church continues to await word on the appointment of a successor to the 77 year-old cardinal, the reorganization is scheduled to be completed before the end of the calendar year. Whether said successor-to-be was consulted is, of course, unknown... for the time being.

On Climate

It shouldn't come as a surprise to longtime readers of these pages that, what you've long known, the rest of the world is just finding out.

For over a year now, the Pope and various Vatican officials have been sounding a series of notable warnings on questions of the environment and climate change. Even B16's Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis closed with a message linking a "justified concern about threats to the environment" to a Eucharistic spirituality -- a bond drawn more from the principles of natural law than a secular train of thought that sees environmentalism as an end in itself.

Since the spring document, the Vatican's biggest energy-guzzler has gone solar and taken other steps to reduce its carbon footprint, its statements have only increased, and a "diplomatic source" told the London daily the Independent that the Pope's address to the UN next spring will focus on the international community's "moral obligation" on the climate challenge. Echoing reports that've circulated from Rome since the spring, the paper's source also indicated that the foreseen next encyclical on development will have a heavy climate-related component.

Of course, even within the church, the interventions have been portrayed against the backdrop of secular politics, as more environmentally-inclined folks have embraced the papal promotion without the imperative to likewise increase its commitment to other aspects of protecting and defending life, and -- on the other side -- the more Hummer-friendly end of the spectrum has sought to downplay the Pope's "green" outreach as an overblown, misportrayed story-line.

Given this backdrop, hopefully a bit of clarity will be gleaned by the Holy See's latest intervention on the topic, delivered yesterday at the UN in New York by the Vatican's "deputy foreign minister," the undersecretary for Relations with States Msgr Pietro Parolin.

Published in its entirety in today's Bulletin of the Holy See Press Office, below is Parolin's statement in its original English.

Read carefully and in full.
Mr. Chairman,

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to express some considerations of the Holy See in light of what we have heard today from the preceding distinguished speakers.

Climate change is a serious concern and an inescapable responsibility for scientists and other experts, political and governmental leaders, local administrators and international organizations, as well as every sector of human society and each human person. My delegation wishes to stress the underlying moral imperative that all, without exception, have a grave responsibility to protect the environment.

Beyond the various reactions to and interpretations of the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the best scientific assessments available have established a link between human activity and climate change. However, the results of these scientific assessments, and the remaining uncertainties, should neither be exaggerated nor minimized in the name of politics, ideologies or self-interest. Rather they now need to be studied closely in order to give a sound basis for raising awareness and making effective policy decisions.

In recent times, it has been unsettling to note how some commentators have said that we should actually exploit our world to the full, with little or no heed to the consequences, using a world view supposedly based on faith. We strongly believe that this is a fundamentally reckless approach. At the other extreme, there are those who hold up the earth as the only good, and would characterize humanity as an irredeemable threat to the earth, whose population and activity need to be controlled by various drastic means. We strongly believe that such assertions would place human beings and their needs at the service of an inhuman ecology. I have highlighted these two extreme positions to make my point, but similar, though less extreme attitudes, would also clearly impede any sound global attempts to promote mitigation, adaptation, resilience and the safeguarding of our common future.

Mr. Chairman,

Since no country alone can solve the problems related to our common environment, we need to overcome self-interest through collective action. On the part of the international community, this presupposes the adoption of a coordinated, effective and prompt international political strategy capable of responding to such a complex question. It would identify ways and means of mitigation and adaptation which are economically accessible to most, enhance sustainable development and foster a healthy environment. The economic aspect of such ways and means should be seriously taken into account, considering that poor nations and sectors of society are particularly vulnerable to the adverse consequences of climate change, due to lesser resources and capacity to mitigate their effects and adapt to altered surroundings.

It is foreseeable that programmes of mitigation and adaptation would meet a series of barriers and obstacles, not so much of a technological nature, but more so of a social nature, such as consumer behaviour and preferences, and of a political nature, like government policies. We must look at education, especially among the young, to change inbred, selfish attitudes towards consumption and exploitation of natural resources. Likewise, government policies giving economic incentives and financial breaks for more environmentally friendly technologies will give the private sector the positive signal they need to programme their product development in such direction. For instance, present-day research into energy mixes and improving energy efficiency would be made more attractive if accompanied by public funding and other financial incentives.

Mr. Chairman,

We often hear in the halls of the United Nations of "the responsibility to protect". The Holy See believes that applies also in the context of climate change. States have a shared "responsibility to protect" the world’s climate through mitigation/adaptation, and above all a shared "responsibility to protect" our planet and ensure that present and future generations be able to live in a healthy and safe environment.

The pace of achieving and codifying a new international consensus on climate change is not always matched by an equally expeditious and effective pace of implementation of such agreements. States are free to adopt international conventions and treaties, but unless our words are matched with effective action and accountability, we would do little to avert a bleak future and may find ourselves gathering again not too long from now to lament another collective failure. We sincerely hope that States will seize the opportunity that will be presented to them shortly at the next Conference on the Framework Convention on Climate Change in Bali.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Pope Welcomes Democrats

True, but incomplete...

Let the above be an example of the power of headlines, and the reactions they can cause.

Speaking of which, today's headers were rather keen: "Pope warns against undermining democracy in fight against terrorism," Catholic News Service said, while the UK's Daily Telegraph hailed B16's "veiled attack on Muslim countries" and the Daily Mail blared on the pontiff's "'freedom' blast at Islam."

By the looks of it, Papa Ratzi had a busy day yesterday... all this explosive speechifying in so little time.

But how much did he actually say? In terms of talk-time, not a whole lot -- each of the aforementioned stories drew from a papal greeting to an international group of Christian Democratic politicians, a text that measured a mere seven paragraphs in length.

However, despite the brevity, the words do pack a handful of punches.

For those interested in the richest possible context, below are Benedict's remarks in full -- without explanation, an English translation was conspicuously released by the Holy See Press Office alongside the Italian original.
Mister President,

Honourable Members of Parliament,

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am pleased to welcome you during the conference of the Executive Committee of Centrist Democratic International, and I extend cordial greetings to the Delegates present from many nations throughout the world. I thank your President, the Honourable Pier Ferdinando Casini, for the kind words of greeting he has offered to me on your behalf. Your visit gives me an opportunity to bring to your attention some of the values and ideals that have been moulded and deepened in a decisive way by the Christian tradition in Europe and throughout the world.

Notwithstanding your different backgrounds, I know that you share several basic principles of this tradition, such as the centrality of the human person, a respect for human rights, a commitment to peace and the promotion of justice for all. You appeal to fundamental principles, which, as history has shown, are closely interconnected. In effect, when human rights are violated, the dignity of the human person suffers; when justice is compromised, peace itself is jeopardized. On the other hand, justice is truly human only when the ethical and moral vision grounding it is centred on the human person and his inalienable dignity.

Ladies and Gentlemen, your activity, inspired by these principles, is subject to increasing challenges today due to the profound changes taking place in your respective communities. For this reason, I wish to encourage you to persevere in your efforts to serve the common good, taking it upon yourselves to prevent the dissemination and entrenchment of ideologies which obscure and confuse consciences by promoting an illusory vision of truth and goodness. In the economic sphere, for example, there is a tendency to view financial gain as the only good, thus eroding the internal ethos of commerce to the point that even profit margins suffer. There are those who maintain that human reason is incapable of grasping the truth, and therefore of pursuing the good that corresponds to personal dignity. There are some who believe that it is legitimate to destroy human life in its earliest or final stages. Equally troubling is the growing crisis of the family, which is the fundamental nucleus of society based on the indissoluble bond of marriage between a man and a woman. Experience has shown that when the truth about man is subverted or the foundation of the family undermined, peace itself is threatened and the rule of law is compromised, leading inevitably to forms of injustice and violence.

Another cause highly esteemed by all of you is the defence of religious liberty, which is a fundamental, irrepressible, inalienable and inviolable right rooted in the dignity of every human being and acknowledged by various international documents, especially the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The exercise of this freedom also includes the right to change religion, which should be guaranteed not only legally, but also in daily practice. In fact, religious liberty corresponds to the human person’s innate openness to God, who is the fullness of truth and the supreme good. An appreciation for religious freedom is a fundamental expression of respect for human reason and its capacity to know the truth. Openness to transcendence is an indispensable guarantee of human dignity since within every human heart there are needs and desires which find their fulfilment in God alone. For this reason, God can never be excluded from the horizon of man and world history! That is why all authentically religious traditions must be allowed to manifest their own identity publicly, free from any pressure to hide or disguise it.

Moreover, due respect for religion helps to counter the charge that society has forgotten God: an accusation shamelessly exploited by some terrorist networks in an attempt to justify their threats against global security. Terrorism is a serious problem whose perpetrators often claim to act in God’s name and harbour an inexcusable contempt for human life. Society naturally has a right to defend itself, but this right must be exercised with complete respect for moral and legal norms, including the choice of ends and means. In democratic systems, the use of force in a manner contrary to the principles of a constitutional State can never be justified. Indeed, how can we claim to protect democracy if we threaten its very foundations? Consequently, it is necessary both to keep careful watch over the security of civil society and its citizens while at the same time safeguarding the inalienable rights of all. Terrorism needs to be fought with determination and effectiveness, mindful that if the mystery of evil is widespread today, the solidarity of mankind in goodness is an even more pervasive mystery.

In this regard, the social teaching of the Catholic Church offers some points for reflection on how to promote security and justice both at the national and international levels. This teaching is based on reason, natural law and the Gospel: that is, principles that both accord with and transcend the nature of every human being. The Church knows that it is not her specific task to see to the political implementation of this teaching: her objective is to help form consciences in political life, to raise awareness of the authentic requirements of justice, and to foster a greater readiness to act accordingly, even when this might involve conflict with situations of personal interest (cf. Deus Caritas Est, 28). In this her mission, the Church is moved only by love for humanity and the desire to work together with all people of goodwill to build a world in which the dignity and inalienable rights of all persons will be safeguarded. For those of you who share a faith in Christ, the Church asks you to bear witness to that faith today with even greater courage and generosity. The integrity of Christians in political life is indeed more necessary than ever so that the "salt" of apostolic zeal does not lose its "flavour", and so that the "lamp" of Gospel values enlightening the daily work of Christians is not obscured by pragmatism or utilitarianism, suspicion or hate.

Your Excellencies, I thank you once again for this welcome opportunity to meet with you. Wishing you success in your respective missions, I assure all of you of a remembrance in my prayers, that Almighty God may bless you and your families, and that you may receive the wisdom, integrity and moral strength to serve the great and noble cause of human dignity.
As visible above (front row, right), among the group received at yesterday's audience were the former Mexican President Vicente Fox and his wife, Marta Sahagun.

Fox and Sahagun -- her eventual husband's onetime spokeswoman -- caused a bit of tumult when they entered a civil marriage in 2001. Both were divorced and lacking annulments of their prior unions, a situation made more prominent by Fox's leadership of the church-friendly National Action Party and his use of Catholic imagery in his 2000 presidential run.

While Fox's first marriage remains ecclesiastically binding, Sahagun's prior union was annulled in 2005.

The timing of the couple's Castelgandolfo visit, it could be said, was an accident of coincidence -- at his Wednesday General Audience, the Pope brought up divorce in a catechesis on St John Chrysostom.



Beijing's New Bishop: Commie-Tested, Ratzi-Approved

Arguably the most-watched episcopal ordination in recent years took place yesterday in Beijing, as 41 year-old Fr Joseph Li Shan was made its archbishop at the hands of prelates of the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, the state-controlled church in the People's Republic.

Succeeding Michael Fu Tieshan, who died in April, Li -- the former rector of Beijing's seminary -- already boasts a credential that eluded his predecessor: the consent of the Holy See, formally announced yesterday on the cover of the Vatican daily L'Osservatore Romano, which also extended papal approbation to another recent ordination by the Patriotic church.
[L'Osservatore] indicated that both ordinations had been carried out with the approval of Pope Benedict XVI. The local Catholic communities, who elected the bishops, had indicated to the Vatican that they were worthy candidates, the newspaper said.

"The Catholic communities of Guiyang and Beijing, having received news of the communion granted by the pope to Bishop Xiao and Bishop Li, gathered in celebration around the new pastors," the newspaper said.

At Bishop Li's ordination, there was no announcement of Vatican approval.

Father Sun Shang'en of Beijing, diocesan spokesman, told the press afterward, "If the Vatican approves Bishop Li, we are happy and welcome it, but we have not yet seen the apostolic bull from the Vatican."...

L'Osservatore Romano noted that the principal consecrating bishops at both ordinations were in communion with Rome but said some of the co-consecrators were not -- a "cause of regret," it said.

"In entrusting the difficult mission of these two young bishops and their diocesan communities to the Virgin Mary, there arises the spontaneous hope that all the dioceses can have worthy and qualified pastors, capable of living in full communion with the Catholic Church and with the successor of Peter, and of announcing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the Chinese people," it said.

The article noted that Pope Benedict, in his recent letter to Chinese Catholics, had called for a "respectful dialogue" between church and state authorities, and added: "Catholics in China and in the rest of the world are praying so that this may become a reality."

The Vatican comments added to speculation that the two ordinations may mark the beginning of a new and improved stage in Vatican-China relations.

The Rome-based missionary news service AsiaNews, which follows events in China closely, quoted a Chinese source as saying the Chinese government was no longer imposing its own candidates as bishops and was now allowing the church more freedom.
In other news from ecclesio-political hotspots, as previously reported the Pope yesterday reshuffled the top of his Russian deck, naming Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz of Moscow to the archdiocese of Minsk in his native Belarus, and tapping Italian Fr Carlo Pezzi, 47, as the new head of the church in the Russian capital.

It's been noted elsewhere but bears repeating that Pezzi -- heretofore a seminary rector in St Petersburg -- is a member of the Missionaries of St Charles Borromeo, the community of priests associated with Benedict XVI's favorite movement, Comunione e Liberazione.

First revealed some weeks ago by Andrea Tornielli, the resident Vaticanista of Il Giornale, the appointment is viewed as another papal overture to the Russian Orthodox church, with which Benedict is heavily keen on improving relations.

Speaking of CL, the movement will be holding a retreat for US priests in late March at a Jesuit house in Los Altos, California. In true Giussani style, its topic will be "The Catholic priest does that which allows the memory of Christ to become the Event that generates our humanity." One of the brightest stars of the cielini firmament, Msgr Lorenzo Albacete, will lead the conferences.

In other "highly favored of The Apartment" news, the rector-major of the Salesians Fr Pascual Chavez is currently undertaking his first US tour.

Reuters/Reinhard Krause


The Traveling NAC Show

Yesterday's feast of St Matthew provided two red-letter gatherings for alums of the Pontifical North American College... for reasons beyond the color of the day.

Against the backdrop of the parity of the loonie to the greenback for the first time in 31 years, a goodly number of Gianicolo-dwellers past and present converged on Pembroke, Ontario yesterday for the ordination of the diocese of 63,000's new shepherd, Bishop Michael Mulhall, NAC '89.

Since Mulhall's appointment on 30 June, the see city at the convergence of the Muskrat and Ottawa Rivers has been dubbed the "Cradle of Bishops," and with good reason. The new bishop, 45, was named the day after Pembroke's two previous ordinaries received the pallia tied to their new posts, and both those predecessors -- now-Archbishops Brendan O'Brien of Kingston and Richard Smith of Edmonton -- were also in their 40s on their respective arrivals at the doors of St Columbkille Cathedral. Yesterday also marked the 125th anniversary of the ordination of the diocese's first bishop, Narcisse Zepherin Lorrain, whose original crozier was entrusted to his seventh successor during the liturgy.

A decade-long official at the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, Mulhall -- a low-key cleric who loves to fish -- was vicar-general of his native Peterborough at the time of his elevation, also pastoring a parish there. The ordination was performed by the nuncio to Canada, Archbishop Luigi Ventura, assisted by the metropolitan, Archbishop Terence Prendergast SJ of Ottawa and Bishop Nicola de Angelis of Peterborough. The US delegation was led by Bishop Frank DeWane of Venice, a friend of Mulhall's from the Florida prelate's days as undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

Giving credit where it's due, Ventura scored another ace with the Pembroke appointment -- total time-lapse between Smith's March transfer to Alberta and yesterday's resumption of ordinary governance: six months, minus a day.

Indeed, Yanks, such things are still possible.... That's not to say, however, that the delays on this side of the 49th Parallel don't have their reasons... and wise ones at that.

* * *

Closer to Rome, another delegation of NAC-wishers found themselves in Louvain yesterday for the installation of Msgr Ross Shechterle as rector of the Belgian university's American College of the Immaculate Conception. The festivities at the oldest foreign seminary established by the US bishops happily coincided with the new rector's 47th birthday; Shechterle served on the North American's faculty before taking the reins of the Louvain house over the summer.

Presided over by the college's board chair, Bishop David Ricken of Cheyenne (shown above with the new rector), the conferral of the traditional symbols of office -- the keys to Louvain's chapel and record book -- were augmented by the Holy See as Shechterle, a Milwaukee native, was vested in his new robes as a Chaplain of His Holiness prior to the Mass.

Earlier in the week, the college's faculty and students paid their traditional house call to the local ordinary, Cardinal Godfried Danneels of Mechelen-Brussels, who offered the following advice: "Pray. Study hard. Love the Church. Pray without ceasing. Prayer is the ground, the foundation of your life of ministry. Become intimate with Christ. Study hard. The Church needs intelligent, educated priests. And love the Church. If you do not love the Church, do not start this path toward priesthood."

The Belgian primate -- who recently marked his golden jubilee of priestly ordination with the release of a book-length interview titled "Big Boys Don't Cry" -- is preparing to undertake a speaking tour in the States, with talks on Populorum Progressio in San Francisco and the liturgy at Catholic University of America in DC on the roster.

The latter engagement will launch an annual memorial lecture honoring Msgr Fred McManus, the father of the American liturgical renewal who died in November 2005.

Next up on the NAC reunion calendar: the 1 October installation of the Hill's former rector (and current board chair), Archbishop Edwin O'Brien, in the Premier See of Baltimore. However, it's not the only classmate meet-up the native New Yorker's got on tap -- he'll be at his 50th high-school reunion tonight.

SVILUPPO: Video highlights of the Pembroke ordination have been posted.

Diocese of Pembroke
PHOTO 2: American College of the Immaculate Conception


Thursday, September 20, 2007

Pope to Alums: Keep It Simple, Students

The Pope went back to his cherished role of being Professor Ratzinger this week, as his doctoral students in theology gathered again at Castel Gandolfo for their annual tradition of the Schülerkreis.

A weeklong symposium on a specific topic begun by the Professor-Pope in the 1970s as a continuing education program, not just for his alums but also himself, this year's topic returns to the theme of last year's meeting -- creation, evolution and the means of design.

However, beginning the gathering with a private Sunday Mass for his alums -- now theology professors in their own right -- their Doktorvater offered a rather pointed message, which has since leaked out:
Pope Benedict has warned Roman Catholic theologians against becoming arrogant and forgetting God in a broadside following reports that the Vatican is probing the writings of a priest in the United States.

In a sermon at a private mass on Sunday, Benedict said theologians could know everything about the history of the Scriptures and how to explain them, but know nothing about God....

Benedict said at a mass with some of his former doctoral students that theologians sometimes "only talk in the end about ourselves (and) don't go beyond ourselves and beyond people."

So it sometimes happened "that God cannot come to us and speak to us through all our knowledge of human things that we don't hear him and don't know him," he said according to an audio report posted on the Vatican Radio website in German.

The Vatican Radio report on the speech was entitled: "Pope warns against theological arrogance."
(The homily runs much along the same thread as B16's Christmas Midnight homily from last year.)

Among the 40 or so Ratzinger students who've showed for the gathering, two are especially well-known in English-speaking circles: Cardinal Christoph Schönborn OP of Vienna, and Fr Joseph Fessio SJ, founder of Ignatius Press, now scholar in residence at Ave Maria University in Florida.

Such was the interest in last year's roundtable that, in a first, the Pope agreed to have its papers and talks published. The volume was recently released in German -- the language of the sessions -- and an Italian version is said to be on its way.

In other things Vatican, albeit on the ad extra side, it would seem that the Pope keeps his Castel Gandolfo retreat just as sacrosanct as the President does his Crawford ranch.

Corriere della Sera -- Italy's largest newspaper -- reported yesterday that amid "disagreements over foreign policy," yet seeking the "credential" of a private audience before heading back to Middle East talks, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was denied a meeting with B16 at the Pope's summer residence.
The latest request was made during the summer. The US secretary of state Condoleeza Rice indicated to the Vatican that she urgently needed to meet Benedict XVI. She was on her way back into the viper’s nest of the Middle East and it would have been no bad thing to meet her counterparts with the credentials of a papal audience. Ms Rice had hoped that the audience could be fixed for early August at Castelgandolfo, the papal summer residence, when Benedict XVI returned from Lorenzago in the Dolomites, but she was told the Pope was on holiday. She insisted but to no avail. Vatican diplomats were adamant and “Benedict XVI is on holiday” continued to be the official reply.

As far as we know, Ms Rice was able to discuss the Middle East, and Lebanon in particular, during a telephone conversation with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. In early August, the Vatican secretary of state was on a visit to America for the annual meeting of the Knights of Columbus in Nashville. But the failure to arrange a meeting between Benedict XVI and Ms Rice has taken on a significance perhaps beyond the intentions of the Holy See. It has been seen as confirming the divergence of views on the Bush administration’s Middle East initiatives and growing friction on Iraq and relations with Iran. The Vatican believes that the United States may be taking too lightly the issue of guarantees for religious minorities in the new Iraqi constitution and has said so to the government in Baghdad. In reply, it was told that threats and violence against Christians are no more severe than those experienced by other minorities. The Americans were also approached but they replied that troops were unable to maintain full control of the territory and had difficulty in protecting non-Muslims.

On Iran, the Vatican is known to detest the truculent anti-Semitism of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad but regards another preventive war as a disaster. Despite all this, US-Vatican relations continue to be very good. Information and assessments on hot zones is exchanged all the time, even though the strategies remain different, and moral issues continue to bring the Catholic Church and the Bush administration together. The problem is that foreign policy is an constant source of discord and Ms Rice is not one of the Vatican’s favourite interlocutors. When contacts were first made for her abortive encounter with the Pope, it was explained that President Bush was also pressing for the meeting. His talks in the Vatican on 9 June with Benedict XVI had gone well and the US secretary of state’s encounter could have been a continuation. In fact, for Ms Rice to have obtained an audience on the lake at Castelgandolfo would have required willingness on the Vatican’s part, which was not the case. In August, the Pope tends to shun talks with politicians, with very few exceptions. A papal vacation, it was thought, was a good excuse for avoiding a meeting that was seen as not essential and could have created confusion or misunderstanding in international public opinion, above all in the Middle East.

No one will say so officially but the refusal may also have been prompted by Ms Rice’s stance in 2003, when she was Mr Bush’s national security adviser. On the eve of the Iraqi conflict, it was Ms Rice who said bluntly that she did not understand the Vatican’s anti-war stance. She treated John Paul II’s envoy, Cardinal Pio Laghi, with a coolness that bordered on disrespect when he was sent to Washington on 2 March 2003 on a desperate mission to avert military intervention. Clearly, the incident has not been forgotten.
Useless trivia of the day: the name "Condoleezza" has its root in the Italian term con dolcezza... Ironically enough given the situation, it means "with sweetness."

In other Vatican-US diplo-matters, DC's geopolitical crowd is said to be lovefesting all the way to its last operative with Benedict XVI's hand-picked representative to these shores, Archbishop Pietro Sambi.

Sure, veteran readers -- i.e. you good ad intra folks -- are quite familiar with Sambi... but his recent dubbing as "The Super-Nuncio" comes from well outside the hierarchical circles.

Moral of the story: name-roots aside, ain't no limit to what a hearty helping of dolcezza can do for the church's good rep.

On a final note, B16 honored his eponymous order today by elevating the abbot of the Benedictine Mother-Abbey of Montecassino to a residential archdiocese.

The transfer of Bishop Fabio D'Onorio -- already a bishop given the abbey's status as one of the few remaining religious houses whose head has ordinary jurisdiction over its surrounding turf (a phenomenon dating from the days when prelates couldn't travel too far too easily) -- to the archdiocese of Gaeta creates a vacancy to be filled by the election of Montecassino's professed membership. While the monks elect an abbot, the designee's jurisdiction over the "abbacy" outside its walls only comes from papal confirmation of the election.

Speaking of rising Benedictines, it's been repeatedly mused that, despite his known distaste for contemporary mass-market music, the Pope's appointment of a new archbishop of Munich and Freising might just find his native see riding along the "Highway to Hell"...

...not literally, of course. If you know, you know. And for the rest, take a shot at connecting the dots.


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

"Benedict's Mozart"

From the National Catholic Register, a piece on the music-lover Pope and his favorite composer:
Austria’s president honored Pope Benedict on the final day of his visit to the “Alp Republic” Sept. 9 with Mozart music in the Vienna Concert House. After the music, the Holy Father met with Church and civil volunteers in order to honor their service.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in the Austrian city of Salzburg in 1756, but that’s not why his music was played for the Pope. In fact, there have hardly been any cultural events that Pope Benedict has attended in which a piece of Mozart has not been performed.

That’s because it is well known that Mozart is the Pope’s favorite composer.

Consider what Pope Benedict contributed last year to a book collecting 58 testimonies for the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth:

“When in our home parish of Traunstein on feast days a Mass by Mozart resounded, for me, a little country boy, it seemed as if heaven stood open. In the front, in the sanctuary, columns of incense had formed in which the sunlight was broken; at the altar the sacred action took place of which we knew that heaven opened for us. And from the choir sounded music that could only come from heaven; music in which was revealed to us the jubilation of the angels over the beauty of God. …

“I have to say that something like this happens to me still when I listen to Mozart. Mozart is pure inspiration — or at least I feel it so. Each tone is correct and could not be different. The message is simply present. …

“The joy that Mozart gives us, and I feel this anew in every encounter with him, is not due to the omission of a part of reality; it is an expression of a higher perception of the whole, something I can only call inspiration out of which his compositions seem to flow naturally.”

Music for the Pope is much more than mere entertainment.... “The encounter with the beautiful can become the wound of the arrow that strikes the heart and in this way opens our eyes, so that later, from this experience, we take the criteria for judgment and can correctly evaluate the arguments,” he wrote in August 2002 in a remarkable message, dedicated to the “contemplation of beauty” and directed to a meeting of the Communion and Liberation Movement in Rimini, Italy.

In the same text, he recalls an experience he had after listening to a Bach concert conducted in Munich by Leonard Bernstein.

After the last tone had faded away, he looked spontaneously at the person next to him “and right then we said: ‘Anyone who has heard this knows that the faith is true.’ The music had such an extraordinary force of reality that we realized, no longer by deduction, but by the impact on our hearts, that it could not have originated from nothingness, but could only have come to be through the power of the Truth that became real in the composer’s inspiration.”

Since his childhood, the Holy Father had learned to appreciate music that “had a bigger and bigger role in our family life,” as he recounts in the 1997 book-length interview “Salt of the Earth.”

For 30 years, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, the Pope’s brother, was the director of Regensburger Domspatzen (The Cathedral Sparrows of Regensburg), perhaps Germany’s most prestigious boys choir. And even as Pope Benedict, Joseph Ratzinger continues to play the piano in some free moments he may find in the midst of his heavy workload.

Before he became Pope, Cardinal Ratzinger wrote that he remembers that Traunstein, where he spent most of his youth, “very much reflects the influence of Salzburg. You might say that there Mozart thoroughly penetrated our souls, and his music still touches me profoundly, because it is so luminous and yet at the same time so deep. His music is by no means just entertainment; it contains the whole tragedy of human existence.”
Tip to Kevin Knight and the great New Advent aggregator.


On Labor

Summer's end might've come and gone... but while many of us were at the beach getting our last bits of R&R out of Labor Day weekend, the archbishop of Washington was keeping up his rep and working.

With the Pope's next encyclical expected to be on development and other socio-economic concerns, and given the closeness of mind between B16 and the most-prominent US appointee of his pontificate, Donald Wuerl's homily from DC's annual Labor Day Mass is a notable one to keep in mind.

Across town in the small park in front of the Shrine of the Sacred Heart church is a statue of Cardinal James Gibbons. Seventy-five years ago, at the unveiling of the statue, the President of the United States, then Herbert Hoover, highlighted the significance of Cardinal Gibbons’ contribution to our country, including championing “the cause of labor in moments of crisis.” While the ceremony took place before the Great Depression, it followed on decades of the successful application, not without much struggle, of Catholic social teaching to the world of economics, business, labor and management.

At the heart of Catholic social teaching are the respect due to each person, precisely because each of us is created in the likeness of God, and the call to be attentive to the needs of one another.

As in the Gospel today, where Jesus invites us to turn our attention to those in need, so the Church constantly calls us to the awareness of our relationship with each other. We are reminded that basically our respect for each person must be because of who they are and not because of what they have.

President Hoover, in speaking of Cardinal Gibbons, highlighted that the Cardinal “succeeded in carrying into the minds of other people the feeling that the truths of religion are really their primary aids in solving the perplexities of everyday living.”

The history of the labor movement in our country has been intertwined with the articulation and application of the Church’s basic social teaching on the dignity of each person and the value and worth of human labor.

In fact, there are those who make a very strong case, and arguably a decisive one, that the moral and philosophical framework that energized and sustained the struggles of working women and men in the early days of organized labor are found in Catholic teaching.

As the United States Bishops Conference Labor Day statement reminds us, the “message of solidarity and the pursuit of the global common good builds on the tradition begun by Pope Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum in 1891 and extends through the twentieth century in a powerful series of papal encyclicals. It was embraced and expanded by the prophetic words and witness of Pope John Paul II, an apostle of solidarity, who constantly stood with workers and the poor.”

With the promulgation of Rerum Novarum in 1891, the Church sought to confront the terrible exploitation and poverty of European and American workers at the end of the nineteenth century. With this document the Church applied the principles of her social teaching to the conditions and issues emanating from the Industrial Revolution.

The focus of the encyclical includes the dignity of work, the right to private property, the principle of collaboration instead of class struggle as the fundamental means of social change, the rights of the weak, the dignity of the poor and the obligations of the wealthy, the perfecting of justice through change and the right to form professional or labor associations.

The roots of the Church’s social teaching are found in the revelation of the Judeo-Christian tradition and in the Christian vision of the human person as the image of God. As God created us, man and woman are meant to be transforming agents of society. Human labor takes on a value and worth in itself because it represents a participation in the very creative action of God. There is a sense in which we see ourselves as mirrors of that power of God that brought everything into being from nothing. While obviously our powers are far more limited, we still see in our work a reflection of the awesome deeds in the Book of Genesis.

Christ also calls on us to recognize that not only do we have the power to bring into being good things through our energy, industry and labor, but we also share in the power of God’s Spirit to bring about a whole new level of creation – the new creation in Christ’s grace....

The same principles that call for the recognition of the dignity of work and workers also call for addressing working people concerns, such as health care, adequate and affordable housing, adequate medical leave and of course the promotion of fair wages.

Catholic social teaching calls on everyone in leadership positions to demonstrate in our increasingly materialistic world principled moral leadership.

In Luke’s Gospel account of the beginning of Christ’s public ministry, we find Jesus in the synagogue at Nazareth quoting the prophet Isaiah: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord" (Lk 4:18-19).

Christ came to proclaim a kingdom that is not yet fully with us, but at the same time, is already unfolding in our midst. He validated his vision by revealing that he was sent by God to tell us of God's plan and will. For the follower of Jesus, revelation of God’s plan, the reality of the kingdom of God and the daily struggle to realize something of the kingdom in this life are all foundational beliefs. Catholic social teaching is grounded in these truths and the tensions they create. It also rests on the firm conviction that what we do in this life, what justice we realize in this world, endures as a sign of God's presence and the beginnings of God's kingdom (cf. Mt 25:31-46).

For Catholics, Labor Day 2007 is an opportunity to recommit in our own small ways to our own work, to treat others justly and to defend the lives, dignity and rights of workers, especially the most vulnerable. This is a requirement of our faith and a way to advance the promise of our nation.

May this annual tradition of celebrating workers and their unions bring us to a renewed awareness of our solidarity in the effort to build a truly good and just society and our firm conviction that what we do now can be the beginnings here in our world of that realm of truth, justice, compassion, kindness, love and peace that we know is the Kingdom of God.

TB's Coming-Out Party?

For veteran readers of these pages, the longtime buzz surrounding the oft-floated conversion of the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is no secret. Many will recall that the years of "Will he or won't he?" reached their peak in June, as Blair took the final major meeting of his decade-long premiership at the Vatican with none other than the Pope.

Following Blair's departure from No. 10 and handover to his longtime heir, Gordon Brown, the conversion chatter died down as the ex-PM took an appointment as an international Mideast envoy and dropped off the radar for an extended holiday. The tongues are, however, wagging again on both sides of the Pond in recent weeks as it's come to light that TB's first major appearance since leaving office will take place next month...

...when he delivers the main address at American Catholicism's most famous meal -- the annual Al Smith Dinner in New York.

No kidding.

Officially speaking, the Smith Dinner is an annual fund-raiser for Catholic Charities of the archdiocese of New York. Given its proximity to Election Day, however, and in testament to the historic clout of the heads of the nation's most prominent see, the white-tie, $1,000-a-plate event has long been a magnet for Gotham's political, financial and media circles... but especially the political; in both 1960 and 2000, the reigning archbishop was flanked by both presidential nominees on the traditional multi-tier dais. On both occasions, the evening at the Waldorf-Astoria would be the only time during the campaign's home stretch that the contenders met up for reasons other than a presidential debate.

While, to a degree, the high-profile choice of speaker reflects that this year's Al Smith is expected to be Cardinal Edward Egan's last as archbishop of New York, there's also a historic thread to the selection: 60 years ago next month, the first dinner honoring Smith -- the son of the downtown tenements who became the first Catholic nominee for the White House -- was addressed by the once and future occupant of Downing Street, Winston Churchill.

Back in the UK, notice of Blair's slated appearance made the pages of The Tablet, and the Mail on Sunday called it "a straw in the wind" of the ex-PM's Tiber-swimming. Born an Anglican and still (at least, publicly) a member of the church of England, Catholic New York noted that Blair "has shown an interest in the Catholic church."

Whether he reveals more than an interest on the dais remains to be seen... but the surprise would almost be greater if he didn't.

Phillip Riley/Riley Photos


Pope '08: Here Come the Wires

Building on your Saturday briefing, Reuters' Phil Pulella runs the Roman feed:
Pope Benedict will make his first trip to the United States next spring in a visit that will likely try to heal some of the wounds caused by recent sexual abuse scandals.

The Pope will visit New York and several other cities in the East, Vatican sources said on Tuesday, adding that the itinerary was still being worked out.

The main purpose of the trip, expected for the second half of April or the start of May, will be to address the United Nations at the invitation of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Apart from New York, several other cities will be included....

The trip will probably run for about five or six days.

While a visit to Boston has not been confirmed by that archdiocese, such a stop would be significant following the priestly sexual abuse scandal centered there which forced its archbishop, Cardinal Bernard Law, to resign in disgrace in 2002.

The state of American Catholicism in the wake of the scandal will likely be a major theme of the trip and offer an opportunity to heal lingering wounds.
If you're surprised, you haven't been paying attention.

Wolfgang Radtke/POOL