- As a Christmas storm bore down on the Irish church, the central figure of the Isle's latest abuse-related tumult used his Midnight Mass to admit to "errors" and accept "full responsibility" for mishandling cases, but won't consider resigning his post. Once private secretary to three Popes and the Vatican's lead liturgical MC, Bishop John Magee of Cloyne faced loud calls to stand down following a church-chartered inquiry's conclusions last week that the Cork diocese's child-protection efforts were "inadequate and in some respects dangerous" and that its youth "have been placed at risk of harm" as a result. Along the way, as Magee's supporters sought to pin the furor on the media, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin implied in a statement that the Cloyne findings had damaged the credibility of the post-crisis national protocols for youth safety, threatening to break rank and enact a stronger system in the capital if "serious doubts" on the policy's "coherence and consistency" persisted, all as the national press led its Christmas Eve editions with reports that the bishops had begun distancing themselves from the onetime Vatican high-flier and that the Cloyne findings had set the Irish bishops' decade-long efforts at restoring trust back "decades." Following news coverage of a perceived difference of strategy between the Dublin prelate and the island's primate, Cardinal Sean Brady of Armagh, over a proposed marriage bill and subsequent disclosures that Martin spent in the area of €500,000 (US$700,000) on renovations to the historic Archbishop's House, the Cloyne Report marks just the latest round of difficult press the scandal-scarred bench has taken in recent weeks, with more likely to come: the final report on what Martin himself has termed a "staggering" number of cases in the Dublin church is expected shortly after its inquiry closes in late January.
- Meanwhile, on these shores, the "Long Lent" likewise continues to take its toll: as part of its bankruptcy proceedings, Alaska's diocese of Fairbanks reported receipt of 288 allegations against 40 individuals over the last sixty years. Elsewhere, over 24 hours last week the archdiocese of Chicago paid out $2.6 million in settlements to two survivors who sued over abuse that occurred within the last two decades (as one of the accused responded by suing his accuser for slander); keeping with Bishop Sal Matano's unique strategy of letting its cases proceed to trial, Vermont's diocese of Burlington was handed a $3.6 million civil judgment last week (bringing the grand total of jury-awarded damages owed Vermont survivors to $12 million... with 25 more cases to go) as, in Maine, Bishop Richard Malone of Portland appealed an ecclesiastical tribunal's recent decision in favor of an accused cleric to the Apostolic Signatura, the church's highest court. Closing out a year in which he met for the first time with clergy sex-abuse survivors, the Pope included a remembrance of victims in his homily at Midnight Mass.
- Over their final Christmases in their respective sees, the occupants of English-speaking Catholicism's two most prominent posts addressed the global economic crisis in their Yuletide messages: Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor of Westminster focused on the downturn's fruits of "humiliation" and a "breakdown in trust" in his Midnight homily, while Cardinal Edward Egan of New York viewed these days through the prism of the Great Depression from the pulpit of St Patrick's Cathedral. Earlier in the week, the Gotham prelate joined in the launch of a city effort to channel aid to the unemployed and vowed to "fight" to keep his archdiocese's Catholic schools operating at full tilt; even before the downturn's most recent spirals, enrollment in New York's system had already fallen 5% this year. In other departure-related news, Cardinal Joseph Zen SDB announced over the holiday that B16 had agreed to accept his retirement as head of the 350,000-member Hong Kong church in short order. Long a scourge of the Communist authorities, while Zen's designated successor John Tong is seen as more amenable to Beijing, the cardinal said he'll devote his freed-up energies toward a closer monitoring of church affairs on the Chinese mainland. Bishop of what's been called the "world's busiest diocese" since the 2002 death of Cardinal John-Baptist Wu, the "Viagra of Hong Kong" turns 77 next month.
- Barely four months into his pastorate of the US Virgin Islands, Bishop Herbie Bevard's celebrated knack with the books has already become even more of an asset after word that the diocese of St Thomas lost close to $2 million by investing in Bernard Madoff's $50 billion "Ponzi" scheme. The island church's savings and endowment funds for its schools included in the wipe-out, after his own investigation found that diocesan officials had done sufficient due diligence and research before making the move, Bevard said the now-arrested former NASDAQ chair was "just very successful at fooling people."
- Lest any doubt remain with the Inauguration 23 days hence, the Holy See is optimistic about working with the Obama administration. In comments at a Rome foreign policy conference, while Cardinal Pio Laghi twice cautioned that "one must wait to see how [it] acts with regard to the fundamental commitments... to protect the family and the sacredness of human life from conception to the tomb," the founding nuncio to Washington added that "the Vatican does not fear" the new West Wing, citing the positive aspects it'll bring to the table on issues ranging from health care, aid for the poor and support for the middle class to "the defense of Christians" persecuted across the globe and returning the US' foreign policy to a first emphasis on peace. And he even had a kind word for the new VP, to boot. An occasional tennis partner of "Bush 41" who became a personal friend of the outgoing First Family during his decade (1980-89) at 3339 Massachusetts Ave. NW, in early 2003 Laghi was sent to the White House by John Paul II to lobby the current President Bush against a US operation in Iraq. As 2009 marks the silver anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Pope's House and the White House, the current DC nuncio Archbishop Pietro Sambi will attend the 20 January swearing-in of the 44th President. Meanwhile, the president-elect's transition team met with its Catholic base of support last week and -- on a family note beyond the water's edge -- around a million Spaniards gathered in Madrid on this Holy Family Sunday for an outdoor Mass and rally protesting the social policies of the Zapatero government. From Rome, Benedict XVI devoted a graf of this morning's Angelus catechesis to the event, speaking in Spanish to tell the Madrid crowd that "the Pope is on your side" and praising the gathered for "giving the world a beautiful testimony of how important the family is for the human being and all of society."
- And, lastly, half the nation might've gotten a "White Christmas," but two local churches on these shores are celebrating something even rarer -- and, round these parts, more coveted: a Purple Christmas. Last week, papal honors for six clergy and 18 laity were conferred in Florida's diocese of St Petersburg, and three new monsignori were announced for Long Island's diocese of Rockville Centre. Congrats to one and all.