Thursday, July 30, 2009

Live from the LV

More in a bit, but on a quick note for the legion of folks here who enjoy clicking over to the livestreams, the webfeed for Bishop-elect John Barres' ordination and installation in Allentown should go live just before 2pm Eastern (1800GMT)... and, of course, your worship aid.

In the meantime, fulltext is up of last night's stemwinder homily from the new head of the 250,000-member Lehigh Valley church, and the local Morning Call has a shot-gallery from the Vespers that saw the 48 year-old take the Profession of Faith and Oath of Fidelity required of all incoming bishops.

PHOTO: Monica Cabrera/Allentown Morning Call


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Crossing Virginia, Sustained By Providence

One of the more daunting but, so they say, fulfilling experiences in the spiritual life is to set off for a journey with nothing, abandoning oneself to the generosity of the human instruments God places in the path.

Along these lines, as they prepare to make final vows, a group of four Chicago Franciscans decided to follow in their Founder's footsteps, making a six-week, 300-mile pilgrimage to Washington by foot (photos).

Even before the trek's close earlier today, the friars had made an impression on the road... and were already witnessing to the beautiful things they've found along the way:

The sight of six men in flowing habits, trudging single file on the side of the road, prompted many to pull over and talk, even confess. People on their way to work described their loneliness. College students wanted help figuring out what to do with their lives. Children, mistaking them for the Shaolin monks in movies, ran up to ask the friars if they knew how to beat up bullies.

"Dressed like we are in our habits, it's like a walking sign that says, 'Tell us your life's problems,' " explained Cliff Hennings, the youngest of the friars at 23.

In every instance, the friars made time for conversation. They shot the breeze with a gang of drunk bikers, dispensed relationship advice to the brokenhearted commuters and bore witness to one and all, yea, even to the Chik-fil-A employee dressed as a cow.

The pilgrimage was the idea of four young friars just finishing their training in Chicago and working toward taking lifelong vows. Seeking to emulate the wanderings of their founder, Saint Francis of Assisi, they wanted to journey together as a fraternity, ministering to one another and to strangers, while depending on God for every meal and place to sleep....

They tried to live by the ascetic rules Jesus laid out for his 12 disciples: "Take nothing for the journey -- no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic." The less they brought, they reasoned, the more room they could leave for God. The friars did make a few modifications, carrying a toothbrush, a wool blanket, water and a change of underwear ("a summer essential," one explained), as well as one cellphone in case of emergency.

Some rules, however, had to be made on the fly. They had agreed not to carry any money, but just minutes into their first day, strangers were pressing dollar bills into their hands. So they made a pact to spend what they received each day on food, often high-protein Clif bars, and to give the rest to the needy.

They walked 15 miles their first day and found themselves at dusk in front of a fire station just outside Roanoke. One of the friars, Roger Lopez, a former fireman himself, knocked on the station door and asked whether there was somewhere they could sleep. As they talked, the friars spotted a giant trampoline out back.

"It seemed like such a good idea at the time," said Lopez, 30.

The six spread out on the trampoline as if they were spokes on a wheel. But soon they realized gravity was against them, pulling everyone toward the center. Some tried to sleep clutching the side railing. When one person rolled over, the rest bobbed uncontrollably like buoys. No one got much sleep, but the firefighters did send them off the next morning with corned beef sandwiches.

Since then, they have slept on picnic tables outside Lynchburg, basement floors in Charlottesville, even on office tables at a food pantry.

One night they were hosted by a man with tattoos on his arms, an unkempt ponytail and all of his front teeth missing. He had pulled up in his beat-up Jeep and offered to let the friars stay with him in an old one-room schoolhouse in Nelson County.

"He looked like he had just gotten out of prison," said Hennings, but the man turned out to be a Native American healer. The friars stayed up all night talking to him. He told them Native stories and played his double flute. They chanted Latin hymns in return and told him stories from the Gospel.

Such moments of grace became a daily occurrence for the friars. Sure, some passersby gave them the finger. One guy even leaned out the window to add a sprinkling of Nietzsche ("God is dead!") to his vulgarities. But most encounters were meaningful, even profound.

Just outside Harrisonburg, a woman in her 40s with a young daughter pulled over in her old Dodge sedan to talk to 25-year-old friar Richard Goodin.

She'd recently caught her husband cheating on her. He had kicked her and her daughter out of their house, she told Goodin. Now, like the friars, they were wandering through the wilderness, unsure of their next meal or their next move.

As they talked, the woman's daughter rummaged through the car and gave the friars a soda. Then she found a chocolate bar and offered that. As the conversation began winding down, the daughter said there was nothing more in the car. The woman reached for her purse and told Goodin, "I want to give you what we have left."

She pressed $3.52 into his hand, which he accepted reluctantly.

"I realized she wasn't giving this to us or to me," Goodin said. "I think she heard us talk about trusting in God and she wanted to try to trust in the same way. She was giving that money to God."

He and the other friars have thought about the woman a lot. Last week, they thought about her as they walked along Lee Highway in Fairfax, where Mary Williams and her three kids pulled over in their minivan and offered to take the brothers to a Chik-fil-A.

"It was the oddest experience sitting there at Chik-fil-A with everyone staring at us," said Williams, 45. "The high point was when the guy dressed up like a cow came out and gave us all high fives. He was in costume. They were in robes. A lot of people were wondering what was going on."

People had much the same reaction Tuesday as the friars crossed the Memorial Bridge and wandered past the Lincoln Memorial. In an instant, tourists went from posing in front of Lincoln's statue to posing with the Franciscans.

Their plan was to spend one last night wherever God provided and then arrive this morning at the monastery near Catholic University. They hope to spend the day there, telling the story of their journey and the goodness they encountered to anyone who wanted to listen.

Their message will be simple: "Anything can happen when you live in the moment, one step at a time," said Mark Soehner, 51, one of the mentors to the young friars. "But to find that out, you have to be willing to take that one step."

Now numbering over a half-million members worldwide, this year the Franciscan family is celebrating the 800th anniversary of Pope Innocent III's first approval of the Poverello's Rule.

PHOTOS: Marcus Yam(1,3); Linda Davidson(2)/Washington Post


Boston Mourns "Everybody's Priest"

Today, Beantown prepares to send off a legend -- Fr Bill McCarthy, the parish priest whose decision to set up overfill cots for the homeless in his church basement a quarter-century ago led to the building of Father Bill's Place, a free-standing shelter that's taken in over 25,000 folks from the streets... in the last six months alone.

Ordained in 1952 and pastor of Quincy's St John the Baptist parish until his 1995 retirement, McCarthy kept an active hand at the shelter until his death last week at 82:
Born to Irish immigrant parents in Haverhill, the Rev. McCarthy had friends and admirers ranging from shelter guests to the late Thomas Flatley, the billionaire Milton real estate developer who called him “the salt of the earth.”

For Massachusetts housing advocate and former Father Bill’s Place director Joe Finn of Quincy, the Rev. McCarthy was a man of deep, matter-of-fact faith – “a very generous human being with an intense awareness of the need of people around him.”

Nationally known homeless advocate Philip Mangano called the Rev. McCarthy “a modern good Samaritan” who tended to the immediate needs of those on the street and worked to get them into secure housing and a stable life.

“He saw them not as ‘the other,’ but as his neighbor,” said Mangano, director of the federal Interagency Council on Homelessness in President George W. Bush’s administration.

As pastor at St. John's in Quincy and later the face of Father Bill’s Place, the Rev. McCarthy was tireless in his efforts to raise attention and money for “those who aren’t recognized,” as he put it in a 2007 Patriot Ledger interview.

Terse and persistent, he would not hesitate to push wealthy donors like Flatley for additional donations, even after they had handed him checks for $50,000 or $60,000. When he went to city hall to press his case, he usually parked his aging car in the mayor’s reserved space. No one objected.

Finn, now a Quincy city councilor, said the Rev. McCarthy was an early advocate for dealing with poverty and housing as the root cause of homelessness, “not as a matter of charity but as a matter of justice.”

At the same time, Finn said the Rev. McCarthy never lost sight of the immediate needs of those who came knocking at the church door for help.

Once, at St. John’s, another priest on staff discovered that all the mattresses had been removed from the rectory’s guest rooms. The Rev. McCarthy had given them to a family that had just found a place to live but had no furniture.

The Rev. McCarthy said he never considered another vocation. A graduate of St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, he was assistant pastor in Chelsea and Dorchester before becoming pastor at St. John’s in 1977.

He opened the emergency shelter that became Father Bill’s Place in the winter of 1984 with a few cots in the church basement as overflow beds for the Salvation Army’s shelter. He quickly discovered that did not sit well with all his parishioners.

“If you want to be popular, don’t start a homeless shelter,” he said.
The tributes to "everybody's priest" have overtaken the local papers, but one testimony from a former Place resident pretty much sums it up: "He was like God."

Last night, Father Bill's Place pulled in $300,000 at its annual "Food Fest" funder, the first of which raised $3,000 in 1994.

As McCarthy's successor at the helm noted that "Father Bill never wanted to turn anyone away," the evening's proceeds were pledged to "go directly to making sure, all year round, we never turn anyone away who comes to our doors."

On a related note, faced with an ever more pressing shortage of its active clergy, the 2.1 million-member Boston church has raised its priests' retirement age from 70 to 75.

While the pre-change policy of eligibility to seek "senior priest" status at 70 will remain in place, early retirees must now remain available to fill-in at parishes until reaching the later milestone.

PHOTO: Greg Derr/Quincy Patriot-Ledger


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

MoJo's Mid-Mich Message: "Obedience and Docility"

Here below, fulltext of Bishop Joseph Cistone's homily at from this afternoon's Installation Mass in Saginaw.

Suffice it to say... "Boom":

Via the Diocesan Blog.

PHOTO: Diocese of Saginaw


For Saginaw, a New "Waiter"

It's a pretty lonely Tuesday here in the River City; the gang's picked up and gone to Michigan.

No, the Shore hasn't moved or anything -- keeping with tradition, the hometown crowd's chartered a plane and headed en masse to Saginaw, where local boy Joe Cistone's installation as Mid-Michigan's sixth bishop begins at 2pm Eastern (1800GMT) on this, the fifth anniversary of his episcopal ordination.

For the curious, both the area's ABC and CBS affiliates are offering webstreams, as is the local Saginaw News.

(The more, the merrier -- it keeps a lone provider's servers from crashing.)

As events of the sort go, this one's especially worth watching... not because of any local prejudice, but as, so they say, Ken Untener once danced around the Saginaw chancery with a plant on his head, telling of being "so sad I didn't get to go to Philadelphia," now Philadelphia takes his chair... and the meeting of the two should make for, er, quite the experience.

Today's rites begin a four-day swing that'll come East to see two other bishops-elect take up their posts at week's end: Allentown's John Barres on Thursday, and new Philly auxiliary Tim Senior on Friday.

PHOTO: Octavian Cantill/Bay City Times


Monday, July 27, 2009

Joy in Hotlanta

Lest anyone wants to hear how news of the Old South's first auxiliary in a half-century is being received down in Atlanta, Peachtree Street's posted the audio from this morning's jubilant press conference announcing the elevation of Bishop-elect Luis Zarama.

Suffice it to say, cheers were had... and laughs... and, no joke, howling.

As another senior Stateside prelate memorably observed that the Second Coming would likely arrive before the auxiliary he petitioned from Rome, those keeping score might enjoy knowing that The Wilt set into the path leading up to today's appointment roughly 18 months ago.

On a process note, see, these days, an ordinary must receive the Holy See's consent to seek out an auxiliary before he's invited to submit names of worthy candidates.

Put bluntly, he has to ask for one before he can ask for one.

That's no typo, either.

After his late September ordination, Zarama will "keep his day job" in full, adding the standard bishop-fare of confirmations, ordinations, dedications, national obligations, etc. to his already overflowing plate as the 800,000-member see's vicar-general, judicial vicar and Gregory's delegate to North Georgia's Hispanic community, whose estimated 250,000 undocumented members place the Atlanta church's de facto Catholic population within striking distance of a million.

As if his iPhone's battery wasn't already taxed enough.

And lastly, on a historic note, this morning's move brings to thirteen the number of foreign-born clerics who've become US bishops this decade. The lion's share were chosen for their Hispanic cred... but for two of the group (at least, so far), the high-hat was just the beginning the ride.

In 2001, 49 year-old Fr Jose Gomez was named an auxiliary bishop of Denver. Within four years, the Mexican-born prelate -- the first Opus Dei priest ever to join the Stateside bench -- was rocketed to archbishopric of San Antonio, becoming the nation's ranking Latino churchman.

The following year, Dublin-born Kevin Farrell -- fluent in Spanish from having spent the bulk of his priesthood ministering to the community -- was named an auxiliary of Washington. Today, the ex-Legionary of Christ serves as head of the 1.2 million-member diocese of Dallas, its Catholic population likewise increased five-fold over the last two decades.



For your early Monday, a story not seen in a half-century: this morning, the Pope has given an auxiliary bishop to the "Capital of the South."

As the Atlanta church's stunning growth in recent years gains ever-wider notice, B16 has tapped its vicar-general, Msgr Luis Zarama (right), 50, to aid Archbishop Wilton Gregory, until now the lone active bishop in the 69-county (22,000-square mile) North Georgia fold, its Catholic presence more than quintupled since 1990.

Born in Colombia, the bishop-elect emigrated to the States shortly before being ordained a priest for Atlanta at 35 in 1993; he became a US citizen in 2000. A canonist by training, Zarama was quickly pressed into chancery work alongside full-time parish assignments; in 2000, then-Archbishop John Donohue named the cleric assistant director of vocations, with secondary responsibilities at the Tribunal. Within months of Gregory's 2005 arrival, the new archbishop tapped Zarama as one of his two vicars-general -- the first Hispanic given a top archdiocesan post.

Spun off in 1956 from the then-statewide diocese of Savannah and elevated to metropolitan rank just six years later, Atlanta's only known one auxiliary prior to this morning's move: in 1966, then-Msgr Joseph Bernardin was the hand-picked choice of founding Archbishop Paul Hallinan, who came to know the 37 year-old appointee as his chancellor in Charleston and sought Bernardin's elevation due to illness. Two years later, Bernardin was transferred to Washington as full-time general secretary of the then-newborn National Conference of Catholic Bishops, subsequently to wind up as cardinal-archbishop of Chicago... where one of his proteges would eventually become archbishop of Atlanta.

While the Hotlanta church has exploded from a Catholic contingent 50,000 at the time of Bernardin's ordination to -- officially -- close to 800,000 today, Peachtree Street explains that the on-record number fails to account for "many thousands of Spanish-speaking Catholics" who reside in the archdiocese but, as is common among Latino immigrants, haven't registered in its parishes. Regardless, the appointment of an auxiliary to it can be taken as a further Roman nod to the historic rise of Southern Catholicism... with even more likely to come.

The customary 10am press conference has been called; more as it happens. In the meantime, though, one last bit of historical context: Zarama's episcopal ordination will be the first ever to take place in the North Georgia church.

SVILUPPO: The ordination will take place on 29 September (the feast of the Archangels) at the Cathedral of Christ the King.

PHOTO: Michael Alexander/Georgia Bulletin


Saturday, July 25, 2009

"Churchman and Citizen": Lessons of the "People's Prince"

To celebrate the 175th birthday of Stateside Catholicism's home-grown "pontifex maximus," the 15th archbishop of Baltimore led a noontime Mass Thursday in the cathedral church where James Gibbons was baptized and said his first Mass, was made a bishop and installed as head of the nation's "Premier See," where he received the red hat and, after 44 years as the faith's "unchallenged" face and voice on these shores, was laid to rest.

Gibbons once compared the Basilica of the Assumption to St Peter's in Rome and the Temple of Jerusalem, often saying that he "love[d] every stone of" the boyhood parish that became his ministry's seat. Even now, nobody's known the place better. But while the early period's "Founding Johns" -- Charm City's Carroll, Boston's Cheverus, and New York's Hughes -- likewise left an indelible impact on the local churches they each brought to life and prominence, none who came before enjoyed the length of days nor breadth of clout that belonged to Gibbons: the first titanic figure of an increasingly national church and, arguably, still the most overpowering of all.

Aided by his era's circumstances -- and, indeed, a lifelong inclination to vanity -- Gibbons' one-man empire saw him function as a mix of de facto papal delegate to America and unelected leader of its bishops, shepherd of the nation's capital, teacher of his epoch, adviser to (and occasional emissary of) the government, the Vatican's first Stateside "heavy" and first of his countrymen to elect a Pope, all while juggling various other tasks of church and state, and all while being -- as one of the nine Commanders-in-Chief who sought the cardinal's counsel dubbed him -- "the most respected and venerated and useful citizen of our country."

As the Irish ecclesial culture overtook much of the rest of the growing American fold, its fortress-friendly ways only fanning the flames of wider suspicion, the first-generation citizen whose boyhood witnessed the bigotry of the mobs up close worked less to enable the emigres' tendency toward the comfortable, inward-looking ghetto than to resurrect the languished approach of his first predecessor, its design set not on the faithful's domination of a pluralistic society, but the church's most constructive and loyal contribution to it.

For Gibbons, as for Carroll, the church's optimal place in America was the "friend of the people," its 2,000 years of wisdom and experience confidently given as a light to aid the journey, never standing solely for the good of her own, but the benefit of all. And just as hordes of callers from every race, standing and creed poured daily into his salon seeking a word or a favor, or his hat could barely return to his head before being lifted for another salute as he walked the streets every afternoon, when his Golden Jubilee as a priest came, another President would come to lead the public homage as, among others, a Rabbi blessed the nation's senior prelate as "holy unto the Lord."

Made a bishop at 33 and a cardinal at 51, Gibbons' 86 years had more than their share of shining moments. Yet of them all, four prophetic pillars of his legacy -- all in the realm of learning and teaching -- remain paramount.

Two of these contributions were domestic, but distinctly Catholic, strengthening the church's identity and voice on the national stage. The other two were quintessentially American, but ecclesiastically global, impacting the life and emphasis of the church universal, even into the present.

At home, taking on resistance from within his own hierarchy, through the 1880s the cardinal undertook a decade-long drive to found an institute of higher studies in Washington (part of the Baltimore church until 1947), which became the Catholic University of America, currently enjoying the greatest prestige and regard of its 122-year history. Beyond the "bishops' academy," Gibbons became a presence in every American Catholic classroom for nearly a century -- the National Catechism crafted under his leadership in 1884 can still be quoted verbatim by generations of students and even, in some quarters, remains in use today.

Beyond these shores, shortly after his 1886 elevation to the "papal senate," the new cardinal -- "alarmed," he wrote, "at the prospect of the church being presented before our age as the friend of the powerful rich and the enemy of the helpless poor" -- penned an extensive protest of the Holy See's condemnation of the Knights of Labor, an early labor union.

Of his motivation, Gibbons later said that "the one body in the world which had been the protector of the poor and the weak for nearly 1800 years, could not possibly desert these same classes in their hour of need." Thanks to his intervention, not only did the Baltimorean win an unprecedented reversal of Rome's judgment, but four years later, the church's support for unions was enshrined in Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum -- the foundational text of Catholic social teaching -- and, more recently, underscored anew in Benedict XVI's Caritas in Veritate.

Yet for all that, the tableau's final piece might just be its most significant.

A century after the French Revolution and two decades after the seizure of the Papal States, the Popes well into their 60 years of self-imposed exile as the "Prisoner of the Vatican," late 19th century Rome remained a place suspicious of religious freedom and democratic government -- especially in America, from which reports of negligence or advocacy for changes to church teaching aroused considerable upset echoing across the reigns of multiple pontiffs.

While a decade earlier, the continent's first cardinal quietly accepted a red hat that owed itself more to his predecessor's attributes than his own, John Carroll's eighth successor seldom shared John McCloskey's ways of meekness. And so, egged on by his agent in the Eternal City, Gibbons aimed to defend the American experiment on the Pope's turf days after being placed in the perch opened by McCloskey's death.

Already a provocative move, the second Transatlantic cleric ever elevated to the College of Cardinals upped the stakes by choosing the possession of his titular church, Santa Maria in Trastevere, as the scene of his "heroic" stand for what, today, the Roman pontiff embraces as "positive secularism."

Arguably Stateside Catholicism's equivalent of the Gettysburg Address, here's a transcript (emphases original) of Gibbons' remarks -- now known simply as the "Trastevere Speech" -- given in English on Annunciation Day, 25 March 1887:
The assignment to me by the Holy Father of this beautiful basilica as my titular church fills me with feelings of joy and gratitude which any words of mine are inadequate to express. For, as here in Rome I stand within the first temple raised in honor of the ever-blessed Virgin Mary, so in my far-off home, my own Cathedral Church, the oldest in the United States, is also dedicated to the Mother of God. This venerable edifice in which we are gathered leads us back in contemplation to the days of the catacombs. Its foundation was laid by Pope Calixtus in the year of our Lord, 224. It was restored by Pope Julius in the fourth century, and renovated by another Supreme Pontiff in the twelfth.

That never-ceasing solicitude which the Sovereign Pontiffs have exhibited in erecting these material temples, which are the glory of this city, they have also manifested on a larger scale in rearing spiritual walls to Zion throughout Christendom in every age. Scarcely were the United States formed into an independent government, when Pope Pius VII established a Catholic hierarchy and appointed the illustrious John Carroll the first Bishop of Baltimore. Our Catholic community in those days numbered a few thousand souls, and they were scattered chiefly through the States of New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland. They were served by a mere handful of priests. But now, thanks to the fructifying grace of God, the grain of mustard seed then planted has grown to a large tree, spreading its branches through the length and breadth of our fair land. Where only one bishop was found in the beginning of this century, there are now seventy-five exercising spiritual jurisdiction. For this great progress we are indebted, under God and the fostering vigilance of the Holy See, to the civil liberty we enjoy in our enlightened republic.

Our Holy Father, Leo XIII, in his luminous encyclical on the constitution of Christian states, declares that the Church is not committed to any form of civil government. She adapts herself to all. She leavens all with the sacred leaven of the Gospel. She has lived under absolute monarchies, under constitutional monarchies, in free republics, and everywhere she grows and expands. She has often, indeed, been hampered in her Divine mission. She has even been forced to struggle for her existence wherever despotism has cast its dark shadow, like a plant shut out from the blessed light of heaven. But in the genial atmosphere of liberty she blossoms like a rose.

For myself, as a citizen of the United States, and without closing my eyes to our shortcomings as a nation, I say, with a deep sense of pride and gratitude, that I belong to a country where the civil government holds over us the aegis of its protection, without interfering with us in the legitimate exercise of our sublime mission as ministers of the Gospel of Christ. Our country has liberty without license, and authority without despotism. She rears no wall to exclude the stranger from among us. She has few frowning fortifications to repel the invader, for she is at peace with all the world. She rests secure in the consciousness of her stength and her good will toward all. Her harbors are open to welcome the honest emigrant who comes to advance his temporal interests and find a peaceful home.

But, while we are acknowledged to have a free government, perhaps we do not receive the credit that belongs to us for having, also, a strong government. Yes, our nation is strong, and her strength lies, under the overruling guidance of Providence, in the majesty and supremacy of the law, in the loyalty of her citizens and in the affection of her people for her free institutions. There are, indeed, grave social problems now employing the earnest attention of the citizens of the United States, but I have no doubt that, with God's blessing, these problems will be solved by the calm judgment and sound sense of the American people, without violence or revolution, or any injury to individual right.

As an evidence of his good will for the great republic in the West, as a mark of his appreciation of the venerable hierarchy of the United States, and as an expression of his kind consideration for the ancient See of Baltimore, our Holy Father has been graciously pleased to elevate its present incumbent, in my humble person, to the dignity of the purple. For this mark of his exalted favor I beg to tender the Holy Father my profound thanks in my own name and in the name of the clergy and faithful. I venture to thank him also in the name of my venerable colleagues, the bishops, as well as the clergy and Catholic laity of the United States. I presume also to thank him in the name of our separated brethren in America, who, though not sharing our faith, have shown that they are not insensible—indeed, that they are deeply sensible—of the honor conferred upon our common country, and have again and again expressed their admiration for the enlightened statesmanship and apostolic virtues and benevolent character of the illustrious Pontiff who now sits in the Chair of St. Peter.

Friday, July 24, 2009

"Salut, Salut"

Via the papal spokesman, a moment in Les Combes:
In his daily update, Vatican Press Office Director Fr Federico Lombardi gave a glimpse of one of the more intimate moments of the Pope’s vacation period, describing one of the rare and un-programmed encounters between the Pope and families from the local community.

He described how last night during his usual evening walk, near the village of Les Combes Pope Benedict came upon a group of five children, accompanied by their mothers, with whom he stopped to share a few words. During the course of the conversation one of the children described to the Pope how in winter-time his home in the Rhemes Valley, is covered by snow reaching up to 6 metres in depth, at which the Holy Father expressed his surprise and wonder....

Fr Lombardi also informs that a portable X-ray machine has been brought to the wooden Chalet where the Pope is staying, from the local hospital in the capital town Aosta, to check up on the Holy Father’s progress in recovery.
PHOTO: Reuters


"We Are Not Constituencies... We Are Not Partisans": Unity Day in Omaha

Using a half-century old crozier as one of the nation's three cathedral choir schools provided the music, George Lucas was installed as the fifth archbishop of Omaha on Wednesday as a capacity crowd of 1,000-plus packed St Cecilia's Cathedral, led by two cardinals, some 40 bishops and 200 priests.

Inheriting a 250,000-member local church that's grown by a fifth since his predecessor's arrival in 1993, the rites welcoming the 60 year-old St Louisan (fullvideo/Mass-book) saw several pointed appeals for unity in the Nebraska archdiocese, both from Lucas and papal nuncio to the US Archbishop Pietro Sambi. What's more, the papal bull formally appointing the new Omaha prelate contained an unusually direct exhortation (relatively speaking) from B16 to his pick, which could be read as Lucas' "marching orders" on taking the reins:
Finally, Venerable Brother, with the Virgin Mary interceding, we beseech for you the choicest gifts of the Paraclete Spirit: aided by them, you will fulfill your new office of shepherd by words, and especially by the persuasive eloquence of [your] life example, mindful of the well-known dictum: "Words impress, but examples persuade."
Translation from the Vaticanese: "Energize the place -- and, please, mind your temper."

Not that Lucas -- by all accounts, a sweet and gentle type -- has shown evidence of one... his predecessor, however.....

For all the rest, the local World-Herald's compiled an impressive photo-gallery, religion-scribe Christopher Burbach's wrap-up is an example of the beat at its knowledgeable, context-savvy best, the archdiocesan Voice runs a full spread... and here below are snips from the new archbishop's homily, a call to a unified witness amid the church's manifold gifts:
St. Paul tells us very clearly that there will be different spiritual gifts – different charisms – in the church. Each true gift is a manifestation of the one Holy Spirit; they are ordered in their diversity to serve the one Lord Jesus Christ. We give thanks to God that these God-given gifts are so evident as we gather for this sacred liturgy. We are the proof that St. Paul is right about the nature of the Church....

[Thanks to various dignitaries and groups in attendance -- prelates, clergy, laity, family and friends, organizers, musicians, et al.]

Do you need any further evidence that St. Paul is right? All of these different people whom I have mentioned manifest the action of the one Holy Spirit. We are not separate constituencies; we are not partisans. We are members of the Body of Christ. It is the living Lord that is present in this sacred liturgy. Through our various forms of service, Jesus is known in the Archdiocese of Omaha, known in the Church throughout the world. Drinking freely of the one Spirit, we come to offer fitting praise, honor and glory to Our one Father.

This is the same Holy Spirit that enabled Peter to address Jesus as Lord. Just a few days earlier, Peter had denied Jesus 3 times. “I do not know the man,” he had protested. Now to the 3-fold question of Jesus, Peter confesses Him as Lord. What had changed since Peter’s denial? In a real sense, everything had changed. The Son of God had offered Himself up to death on the cross. But as Peter could clearly see, Jesus was not dead, He was alive. It was the certain knowledge of that truth, the greatest truth mankind can know – Jesus is alive – that enabled Peter to be no longer a boastful, yet cowardly disciple, but now a fearless witness to the risen Christ. The Holy Spirit led Peter to martyrdom rather than back away from proclaiming Jesus as Lord.

I reflected on that witness of Peter in Rome several weeks ago. At the spot of Peter’s martyrdom I received the pallium from his successor, Pope Benedict XVI. The Vicar of the risen Christ exhorted me to tend God’s flock by my own witness to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Modern transportation and peace in our part of the world made it easy for me to get from Rome to Omaha with the pallium. But think of all who have put themselves on the line to witness to our faith since Peter encountered the risen Lord.

We cannot just take for granted that the light of gospel truth would reach us here in this corner of Nebraska in the 21st century. We give thanks for Mary’s gift of her life for Christ, for the witness of the apostles, and the generations of martyrs, including our patroness, St. Cecilia. We recall with gratitude the missionaries who braved great hardship to bring others to Christ. We don’t forget our own grandparents and parents. They put themselves on the line because they knew that Jesus is alive. They learned as Peter did, not to focus on their weaknesses and fear, but to put all their trust in the power of his risen life. Because of their witness, we know the risen Christ.

You and I will never be able to put ourselves on the line in our time and place – to profess our faith in Jesus – to be witnesses as well as disciples – unless we are sure that He is alive – risen from the dead. We will never be convinced of that truth unless we have a personal encounter with Him, as Peter did. The Holy Spirit makes that personal encounter with the Lord possible right where we live, in the sacraments, especially in the Eucharist. In our Catholic faith, we not only remember Jesus, we meet him. We are formed into His living Body by the Holy Spirit. If we are really witnesses to Christ, then we look for opportunities to bring others to Him. We will never convince anyone to put faith in the risen Jesus unless we can offer them a personal experience of Him. That becomes possible when we put ourselves on the line for Him – when it is clear to our neighbors that we will not turn away from Jesus, the living truth, no matter what.

None of us would be here today if we were not convinced that Jesus is calling us to be his witnesses. And we see that none of us have to do it alone. We are given to each other that we might strengthen each other in the midst of a culture that is often inhospitable to faith and witness. The devil tempts us to become discouraged, but we lift each other up with the hope given to the baptized.

Since Jesus is alive, no good thing is impossible for us. Will we who know that Jesus is risen allow ourselves to think that chaste marriages are impossible? It is not impossible to witness to the risen Christ in this way. Knowing that Jesus lives, can we give up on feeding the hungry or sheltering the homeless? Will we ever let ourselves think that it is impossible to foster a culture of life, to revere our brothers and sisters in the womb, the sick, the dying? Has it become impossible to teach the beauties of our Catholic faith to our children, including poor children?

Is it impossible to think that gifted young people would put aside their own plans to follow Jesus in the priesthood and the consecrated life? Is it impossible to accept forgiveness, even for grievous sins, as Peter did, from the crucified and risen Christ?

It is difficult now to be witnesses to the risen Christ – as it has been in every age. We are weak and we fall short. However, let us not think for a moment that the resurrection of Jesus from the dead has somehow become a smaller event over the years. Let us not think that the Holy Spirit has gotten tired over so many generations and so many miles, that we might not have a full portion of the Spirit in Northeast Nebraska in 2009.

Jesus has asked Peter to care for the flock. Pope Benedict repeated this exhortation recently to me and 33 other new archbishops from around the world. The responsibility of shepherding the flock of Christ belongs in a particular way to bishops. But you will soon be reminded of what you already know – I can’t do it by myself. We all share, each in our own way, in extending the care of the Good Shepherd to a fragmented world. Let us commit ourselves to think, pray, work and worship together – with all of our attention on the risen Christ. Then our every sacrifice will be so fruitful, and our witness will be so clear, that no one in Northeast Nebraska will ever wonder whom we love and serve.
PHOTOS: Jeff Beiermann(1), James R. Burnett (2)/Omaha World-Herald


Under the Arch, Carlson Brings Backup... Again

Shortly after his arrival in Saginaw in early 2005, then-Bishop Robert Carlson raised eyebrows by bringing along Nancy Werner, his closest collaborator in Sioux Falls, and naming her Chancellor of the Michigan diocese.

While a handful of other US prelates have likewise imported aides from their prior posts, see, not in memory had one been named to a canonical office.

On Carlson's appointment to St Louis earlier this year, whether Werner would again follow -- this time, to one of Stateside Catholicism's most clericalized chanceries -- quickly became a topic of high interest in the "Rome of the West." In a Wednesday memo to his new staff, the question was settled with the archbishop's announcement that, indeed, his longtime lieutenant would come to the iconic, 60s-era "Roundhouse" (above) as the first non-priest to serve as Chancellor of the 550,000-member archdiocese, the first layperson ever to take up one of its top-line posts.

Its origins drawn the medieval monarchies of Europe -- from which the word "curia" (court) likewise derives -- the 1983 revision of the Code of Canon Law opened the Chancellor's post to non-clerics. While the sole explicit function of its holder is to notarize official documents of a diocesan staff, in most local churches the post was given a wider brief until the current Code envisioned the newly-created office of "moderator of the curia" as the optimal clearinghouse; as with any vicar, the moderator must be a priest, although some dioceses have given the task to laypeople, albeit with a little creativity on the title (e.g. "delegate/secretary for administration") to get around the canons.

As a non-ordained chancellor may not perform certain functions pertaining to priests, Carlson named the departing "gatekeeper," Msgr Jerome Billing, as Chancellor for Canonical Affairs; Billing's office and the bulk of his responsibilities, however, will move to the archdiocesan Tribunal.

Werner's appointment takes effect in late August, following which, the archbishop said, "a revised governing structure" would be implemented.

Best known for recruiting prolific numbers of seminarians in his two prior dioceses, Carlson's record of placing women in positions of influence belies a reputation widely viewed as conservative; while Werner runs the office, another laywoman serves as one of the archbishop's two spiritual directors (alongside a priest). In an interview prior to his June installation in St Louis, Carlson said that the "very helpful" counsel of Trudy McCafferty allowed him to understand things "from a spiritual woman's point of view."

Carlson remains apostolic administrator of Saginaw until next Wednesday's installation of Bishop Joseph Cistone, who was given an emotional Philadelphia farewell on Tuesday.

SVILUPPO: More, including an interview with the Chancellor-designate, from the Gateway City's doyenne of church-watchers, the Beacon's Patricia Rice.


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Sorry for the quiet, gang -- no, the feed hasn't shut down... anything but, actually. Unfortunately, pieces don't write themselves, and as the phone keeps ringing along the way, please just be patient.

On a related note, a quick thanks to the good folks who've either provided the ever-needed support that keeps these pages running, or just been so kind as to write in and ask if your narrator's found his way to the Shore yet. For what it's worth, all I've seen of the beach so far came over some 36 hours in early June... but more on that once the work-pile still at hand, at long last, gets cleared through.

Hope you're all having a beautiful, restful and Happy Summer... and in the meantime, as the 26th draws near, don't forget the Novena to the Good Lord's Grandma, Good St Anne.

As ever, church, more soon, and all thanks for all the notes, prayers, sweetness of word, thought and every other good gift. God love you lot today and always.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Hearing the Nominee

First word on this morning's Senate confirmation hearing for Holy See Ambassador-designate Miguel Diaz comes from the Washington Times' Julia Duin:

To start with, fellow Catholic Sen. Bob Casey, the presiding member of the Senate Foreign Relations [sub]committee, hardly grilled the nominee. His major question: What was Mr. Diaz's sense of the recent meeting at the Vatican between Pope Benedict XVI and the president? The nominee responded that the pair discussed outreach to Muslims, Middle East peace, Cuba, the political situation in Honduras and the pope's encyclicals on "bioethics and abortion." Now the former would have been the just-released Caritas in Veritate and I'm guessing the latter was the Dignitas Personae, released late last year.

His recitation differs somewhat from the official Vatican press release so it's possible Mr. Diaz got some information from the White House

Mr. Diaz's brief prepared speech and replies to Mr. Casey's questions were so bland and boilerplate that I didn't even take notes. And Mr. Casey seemed far more interested in questioning the would-be ambassador to Saudi Arabia on anti-Semitic textbooks in Saudi schools than probing Mr. Diaz.

Afterward the hearing was over, I and another reporter rushed Mr. Diaz, hoping to get some decent comments plus contact information.... The nominee brushed us aside, only saying he was "very proud" to be nominated but he had to be with his family. Well, his family, which consisted of wife Marian and four children standing a few feet away, were hardly going anywhere.

When we protested Mr. Diaz's seeming inability to say much of anything, we were reminded that we had to go through the State Department for interviews. Ah, yes, the State Department; always so helpful when it comes to connecting reporters with elusive ambassadors. And the other nominees were standing around, chatting with reporters and bystanders. But no, Mr. Diaz marshalled his family for a photo in the front part of the briefing room, then escaped through a back door for Senate staff only. Bad sign.

...and an outlet on-hand from the designee's home-state of Minnesota provides even more:
During the hour-and-a-half meeting, which seemed like kiddy court next to last week’s marathon Supreme Court confirmation hearing of Sonia Sotomayor, Minnesota Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken enthusiastically introduced [Diaz and Morocco Amb.-des. Sam Kaplan] before they gave their opening statements and faced one question from subcommittee chairman Sen. Bob Casey, D-Penn....

Diaz, in his opening comments, discussed how his unique background could positively inform his work in Vatican City.

If confirmed, Diaz would be the first Hispanic to serve as ambassador to the Holy See. Diaz, who was born in Cuba and moved to Florida at age nine, is fluent in English, Spanish and Italian. In addition to his current teaching posts, he has also taught religious studies and theology at three other universities, including Notre Dame.

“As a Cuban American, my identity has been shaped by two cultures,” Diaz said. “I strongly believe that this has made me more open to others.”

But Diaz stressed that his experience is “not limited to the realm of books... and the classroom.”

“At the College of St. Benedict, I have worked with religious leaders to [engage] communities,” Diaz said.

Diaz added that if confirmed he would focus on issues of cultural diversity, immigration, poverty and the role of religion in society.

Casey asked Diaz to give his assessment of the recent meeting between President Obama and Pope Benedict XVI and how it might affect his work as ambassador.

Diaz said that the president and the Pope had touched on many subjects of common interest: inter-culture dialogue, outreach to the Muslim community, establishing mutual commitments to the peace process, foreign assistance and abortion issues.

“It set up a great foundation for our work in years to come,” Diaz concluded.

The full Foreign Relations Committee is expected to approve the nomination next week; provided it does, the pick would move to the Senate floor for a final vote.

SVILUPPO: From the Twin Cities' Star Tribune, a bit more context:
The formalities were provided by Minnesota Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, Democrats who read laudatory opening statements. Then came friendly questioning from Pennsylvania Democrat Robert Casey, who did all he could to lend the impression of a smooth ride to confirmation later this month....

Diaz made a few remarks about President Obama’s recent meeting with Pope Benedict XVI.

Significantly, the word abortion was never mentioned.

Wrist and All, the Work Continues

The Pope might be on vacation and still "learning how to live" with a cast, but even so, the day-job hasn't completely ground to a halt; B16's shown at left meeting earlier today with his "Vice-Pope," the Cardinal-Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone SDB, whose northern hometown set the stage for the pontiff's Sunday Angelus.

Given Joseph Ratzinger's enjoyment of long-frame writing while on holiday, last week's fracture of his right wrist has likely proven a tad frustrating. But in a statement released earlier today, the Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi said that Benedict was "in a good mood" and had "been equipped with a small recorder to dictate his thoughts, as he is unable to use a pen with ease these days."

With his long-delayed social encyclical now published, the remaining major project atop the Pope's writing docket is the second book of his Jesus of Nazareth, whose first installment sold over 2.5 million copies worldwide following its May 2007 release.

Started on his 2003 summer holiday, Benedict set into the project with an eye to his retirement as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith... not knowing, of course, that Providence would have other plans.

While the Tour de France sped through the papal party's temporary home of Les Combes yesterday, B16 greeted the riders with a statement but didn't emerge to watch; the Pope's next public appearance will come Friday evening at a Vespers for the clergy and religious of his vacation diocese.

PHOTO: Getty


Stream Watch

Sure, this Wednesday might bring the feast of St Mary Magdalen... but from a distance, that's a shot of Omaha's St Cecilia's Cathedral, where the summertime circuit's last blast gets underway later today with Archbishop-elect George Lucas' installation at 2pm local time (3pm ET, 1900GMT).

For those watching over the web, the chancery promises a worship aid on its page by Mass-time; both EWTN and CatholicTV will livestream the liturgy, the latter providing its customary on-demand viewing as soon as the feed can be coded.

And that's not all -- today likewise brings the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's confirmation hearing for Vatican Ambassador-designate Miguel Diaz.

While the omnipresent C-Span hasn't yet scheduled a showing, the Holy See nominee's first public comments since his May selection for the post will likely pop up at some point during the day... so keep an eye for 'em 'round here as soon as any reports emerge.

As always, stay tuned... and to one and all, a Happy Mid-Week.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

"The Bishop of the Moon"

With yesterday seeing the 40th anniversary of Man's First Moonwalk, an anecdote from Baltimore about Charm City's much-beloved "Ironman" prelate... and the scope of his first diocese:
[Archbishop William Borders] was ordained bishop in 1968 and made the first Bishop of Orlando, Florida. The new diocese encompassed central Florida and included Cape Canaveral, from where, the following year, Apollo 11 launched, bound for the moon. After that historic launch and lunar landing, with all the images of our astronauts walking, golfing, and planting the flag, Borders made an ad limina visit to Rome to meet with Paul VI.

During their meeting, Borders rather nonchalantly observed, "You know, Holy Father, I am the bishop of the Moon."

Pope Paul looked at him rather perplexed - probably wondering where along the line this American prelate lost his mind. Borders then continued by explaining that by the existing (1917) Code of Canon Law, he was the de facto ordinary of this "newly discovered" territory.
For the record, Paul VI was genuinely taken with the advent of lunar landing; three months after their return, the telescope-toting pontiff received the Apollo 11 crew in a private audience, during which he praised the astronauts for their voyage's "tribute to the capacity of modern man to reach beyond himself, to reach beyond human nature, to attain the perfection of achievement made possible by his God-given talent."

In return, Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins gave Paul a piece of the Moon, still kept today at the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, soon to cease its longtime role as the headquarters of the Vatican Observatory.

As for the founding "lunar bishop," he's still alive and kicking -- a World War II chaplain still fairly active in ministry in the Premier See, Borders turns 96 in October. Meanwhile, the DisneyWorld diocese can now boast a second basilica within a stone's throw of Epcot.

Tip to the ever-keen New Advent, where even in the dead of summer, the news runneth over.


And With Your Passage: The "New Mass" Train Rolls On

As an American arrived in the Vatican post that'll oversee the English-speaking church's global transition to the controversial new rendering of the Roman Missal, the US bishops did their part to keep the process moving, approving each of the four action-items on the new text presented last month in San Antonio... albeit on mail ballot given the meeting's "inconclusive vote" from the floor:

The translation of the Order of Mass II (of the Roman Missal) received 191 votes in favor, 25 against and five abstentions.

The translation of the Masses and Prayers for Various Needs and Intentions passed by 163 votes, while 53 bishops voted against it and five abstained.

The translation of the rituals for Votive Masses and Masses for the Dead passed 181 to 32 with two abstentions.

And the translation of the text for Ritual Masses received 186 votes in favor, 32 nays and two abstentions.

As things didn't go so smoothly last year, this is progress.

Come November, the USCCB will take its final votes on the 2002 editio typica in English. From there, so they say, it's not without possibility that Rome's recognitio (confirmation) for the completed Missal could arrive even before year's end.

To date, however, just two of the eleven Anglophone conferences have green-lighted the entire revised package of Mass-texts, which prematurely appeared in South Africa late last year. Once the Holy See grants its blessing to the "new" Mass -- which, in a change from present practice, will utilize the same text across the English-speaking world -- it falls to each national conference to fix an implementation date.


"Ireland Braces"... Again

Two months after Irish Catholicism was rocked by the Ryan Report on abuse in church-run residential schools, the next blow could arrive as early as later today as the three-year state inquiry looking into the archdiocese of Dublin's handling of allegations delivers its findings to the government, which'll publish the final report:
Up to 450 victims have also been identified by the commission which will present the report to the Irish justice minister Dermot Ahern.

The Irish government now has to decide whether it should publicly name the clergy identified in the report.

"The report will shock and horrify Ireland," according to Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, who played a key role in setting up the investigation and is seen by the Vatican as someone determined to reform the image of the Catholic church in Ireland.

It will name 15 priests, 11 of whom have been convicted through the Irish courts and four who are already well known.

The report was established in March 2006 and examined child sex abuse allegations against 46 priests and how each case was handled by 19 Dublin bishops between 1975 and 2004.

Part of the report will heavily criticise a so-called power culture among the Dublin bishops who have been accused of not taking the allegations seriously.

Ahern is understood to be preparing to hand over the report to the Republic's attorney general for legal advice....

Of the 19 bishops investigated in the report, seven are deceased.
In the run-up to the second report's release, the Dublin church has posted liturgical resources for use in its parishes, among which is a "Prayer of Support" written by a victim-survivor:
Lord, we are so sorry for what some of us did
to your children: treated them so cruelly,
especially in their hour of need.

We have left them with a lifelong suffering.

This was not your plan for them or us.
Please help us to help them.

Guide us, Lord, Amen.
Given the thousands of residential school victims who've overwhelmed advocacy and aid groups by coming forward since May's report, two major survivor lobbies have sought a delay of the Dublin inquest's publication.



Monday, July 20, 2009

"Orthodox But Tolerant"

It might be the dead of July, but the week does bring a big event on the circuit as Archbishop-elect George Lucas takes the reins of the 220,000-member church in Omaha on Wednesday... and with it, the chair of Catholic Mutual, the largest insurer of Stateside dioceses.

The latest yield of the "Pharaoh Effect" that's come to dominate the storyline of recent appointments on these shores, yesterday's local World-Herald profiled the new arrival in Cornhusker Country, who completed the seven-hour journey from Springfield behind the wheel of his "trusty Ford Taurus":
In the Land of Lincoln, the popular Lucas was widely regarded as a humble pastor and able administrator, a kind and steady hand in troubled times for the faithful and clergy of the Springfield diocese. As bishop, he confronted a nasty sex scandal mostly inherited from the previous bishop, and guided the local church through such challenges as a declining number of priests and shifting demographics in Catholic schools and parishes.

Lucas’ history in Illinois and his native St. Louis provides a glimpse of what the future could be like with him as one of Nebraska’s major religious figures, the leader of northeast Nebraska’s 220,000 Catholics.

Published accounts and interviews with more than two dozen people suggest that Archbishop Lucas will be theologically orthodox but tolerant. He has preferred gentle guidance to loud denouncements.

Unlike a handful of U.S. bishops, Lucas hasn’t threatened to deny communion to pro-choice Catholic politicians or to church members with dissident views. But he has made official church positions clear in direct conversations with such politicians as Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., as well as in his diocesan newspaper column and other formats.

Lucas closed a few parishes. He consolidated Catholic schools in Quincy, Ill. He also rejected a proposal to consolidate Catholic schools in Springfield after parents opposed it. But he directed schools and parishes in Springfield to work together more on planning and marketing and to otherwise cooperate.

Officials at a Catholic hospital and a Catholic college in Springfield described Lucas as supportive but not controlling.

The closest thing to a recent controversy with either came this spring. Lucas’ official diocesan newspaper published an article about a U.S. bishops’ committee ruling on the Japanese healing art of Reiki. The committee ruled that the practice is un-Christian and not supported by science. The Hospital Sisters of St. Francis, who own St. John’s Hospital in Springfield, read the article and stopped teaching Reiki.

The nuns retain a high opinion of Lucas.

“He’s been very supportive,” said Sister Ritamary Brown, assistant administrator of St. John’s. “He’s vitally concerned about the well-being of his people. He’s been a very steadying influence on the diocese.”

The diocese needed steadying. Lucas was named to replace former Bishop Daniel L. Ryan in 1999. A scandal was brewing over rumors of sexual misconduct by Ryan, including that he had used male prostitutes.

It got worse before it got better. The Springfield diocese faced lawsuits stemming from two priests’ sex abuse of minors in the 1970s and 1980s. The diocese in 2004 paid more than $3 million to settle sex abuse lawsuits.

In late 2004, the Rev. Eugene Costa, then-chancellor of the Springfield diocese, was beaten in a park by two young men who said he had solicited sex from them.

In the wake of Costa’s arrest, Lucas named a panel in 2005 to investigate clergy misconduct. He hired a former federal prosecutor, Bill Roberts, to lead the probe.

The panel’s 2006 report found that Ryan, though he denied it, and a handful of priests had engaged in sexual or financial misconduct. Lucas initiated steps to remove Costa from ministry. He put two other highly placed priests on indefinite leave of absence. Ryan was removed from public ministry.

Lucas followed the panel’s recommendations to set up a hot line for any future reports of clergy misconduct and to refer criminal allegations to law enforcement.

Roberts, who in January worked for the Illinois Legislature in the impeachment of Gov. Rod Blagojevich, said in an interview that the Springfield probe was no whitewash. He said Lucas wanted as complete an investigation as possible....

While he directly responds to questions about the scandal, Lucas prefers happier topics. During his tenure, the diocese started a permanent deacon program, expanded lay ministry and began an adult catechism program that has 8,000 students. The diocese had a successful $24 million capital campaign. Lucas launched a major restoration of Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Springfield. He often spent entire weekends at parishes, saying all the Masses and talking with all comers.

Through it all, Lucas remained calm and happy, friends said.

“If he were a captain of a ship, you would never see him flustered, no matter what kind of storm was blowing,” said the Rev. Richard Chiola, a Springfield pastor. “He likes things calm. He likes people to be able to work together, to deal with tough things but without creating more anger and chaos.”

A Jesuit scholar in St. Louis, the Rev. John Padberg, said “Omaha really lucked out” when Pope Benedict XVI named Lucas archbishop in June....

Thursday night in Springfield, more than 500 people attended a farewell prayer service and reception for Lucas. People waited in line for up to an hour to shake his hand.

While there were hard feelings about some hard decisions Lucas made, he was beloved in Springfield, and people are sorry to see him go, said Kathie Sass, spokeswoman for the diocese.

A goopy grilled cheese sandwich figures in one of Sister Claudia Calzetta’s telling memories of Lucas.

Students cooked dinner for Lucas a couple of years ago on one of his many visits to Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, where Calzetta is Catholic campus ministry director.

It was Ash Wednesday. As usual, Lucas said Mass, delivering a well-prepared homily in which he related the Scripture to the students’ lives. As usual, he stayed to eat with the students and talk about whatever was on their minds.

“The sandwiches came out a little flat, with cheese dripping off the sides,” Calzetta said.

Lucas paid no mind. He simply ate the sandwich and focused on the students.

“He never comes off as pretentious,” Calzetta said. “He’s a gentleman, and a gentle man.”

Lucas confirmed the dinner anecdote, then quipped, “Now I’m going to get a lot of grilled cheese sandwiches in Omaha.”

“That’s George,” said the Rev. Richard Stoltz, a New Melle, Mo., parish priest who’s been friends with Lucas for some 40 years. “He’s plain as an old shoe, and what you see is what you get.”

Bridgeport's Last Stand

After Connecticut's highest court ruled last month in favor of newspapers seeking the release of 12,000 files on clergy accused of sex abuse in the diocese of Bridgeport, the church's legal team announced its plans to appeal the decision to the US Supreme Court:
"The diocese believes there are important constitutional issues touching on religious beliefs and privacy issues that are important to pursue," Johnson said.

Church officials said in a statement Friday that there are two main reasons to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court: the state court's unconstitutional interpretation of what a "judicial document" is and the First Amendment rights of the priests involved.

The Connecticut Supreme Court was wrong to decide that all documents filed with the court, sealed or not, are "judicial documents" and presumed to be accessible to the public and the media, church officials said.

"The purpose of the 'judicial document' doctrine is to shine light on the information used in the decision-making process of the courts, not to grant the media unfettered access into the private affairs of individuals and organizations," the church statement said.

It will then take time for the U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether to hear the case. The court gets thousands of writs but usually decides to hear fewer than 100 each session.

The church is asking the state Supreme Court to keep the files sealed at least until the higher court has decided whether to take up the diocese's appeal. Critics of the diocese questioned the church's motives for continuing a legal fight that it has lost at every step of the process.

"No one wins here except a handful of self-serving, secretive top Catholic officials whose complicity in child sex crimes remains hidden even longer," said David Clohessy, national director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "This is more evidence that there has been virtually no reform in the church hierarchy despite repeated pledges of openness about pedophile priests."

The attempt to get the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case, known officially as Rosado v. Bridgeport Roman Catholic Diocesan Corp., is the last legal maneuver church officials can take in what has been a protracted battle with media organizations trying to get the files unsealed.

Four newspapers, The [Hartford] Courant, New York Times, Boston Globe and Washington Post, have been fighting since 2002 to get the files unsealed.

Many of the lawsuits go back to the mid-1990s and were settled all at once in March 2001. The files, however, were not destroyed and the newspapers went to court seeking intervenor status in the cases.

The state Supreme Court ruled in May, 4-1, that the court documents involving 23 lawsuits against seven priests from the diocese should be unsealed.

The court ruled that all but 15 of the more than 12,600 documents in the 23 separate files are public records. Those 15 documents, at least two of which are depositions, were not submitted as legal documents and are to remain sealed.
Under the Supreme Court's standard protocol, four justices must agree to hear a case for it to make the docket. When certiorari (review) isn't granted, the prior ruling is upheld.

The Supremes are in recess until October. With the expected confirmation of Judge Sonia Sotomayor likely to come before the Senate's August break, the ascent of the first Latino justice would give the top bench its sixth Catholic.


Friday, July 17, 2009

PopeCare 101

Break one's wrist... go to the hospital... undergo surgery... get a cast... keep smiling for the cameras... and thank everyone....

...all in a matter of hours... and all while on vacation.

Moral of the story, church: in everything, give thanks... and never, ever, stop smiling -- even with a broken wrist.

To one and all, a Blessed Friday and a restful, Happy Weekend.



Emeritus 101

Not usually known for a keenness on interviews, Cardinal Edward Egan made his first post-retirement TV appearance earlier today on a Gotham morning show.

Slated to plug his beloved Catholic schools on Good Day New York, along the way Egan said he "came to brag" over President Obama's selection of two products of Catholic education for high-profile posts -- city native Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court, and Alabama-born Dr Regina Benjamin as Surgeon General.

Along with another church-school alum -- new Xerox CEO Ursula Burns -- the White House appointees made it "a great week for Catholic education," the cardinal said.

A graduate of Manhattan's Cathedral Girls High, Burns became the first African-American woman to lead a Fortune 500 company earlier this month.

In full, eccolo:

Compared to last time, it would seem the burden has lifted.

He might've stepped down in April as head of the 2.5 million-member church in the "capital of the world," but the first New York archbishop ever to "get out alive" hasn't left the fray: a June farewell dinner for the 77 year-old cardinal at the city's Temple of Dendur raised money for the archdiocesan schools and made the society pages, and a "loosened up" Egan was likewise noted during his successor's reception of the pallium in Rome at month's end.

Speaking of said successor, next week marks Archbishop Tim Dolan's 100th Day at 452 Madison... and in some quarters, presidential-style coverage is planned.


In Memphis, What Shortage?

Sure, it might be best known as the home of "The King" -- whose annual Memorial Mass there is just around the corner again... but in this Year of the Priest, the 73,000-member diocese of Memphis is well in contention for another crown: King of Vocations.

OK, of sorts.

See, while a handful of dioceses have larger groups of seminarians, even the smallest of those are exponentially more sizable than the West Tennessee church, which'll ordain six new priests by summer's end -- twice as many as this year's diocesan crop in New York (Catholic pop.: 2.5 million), two-thirds the size of Chicago's (2.1 million) and the same number as were ordained for the nation's largest see, the 4.5 million-member archdiocese of Los Angeles.

For the stat-fans among us, LA is 61 times larger than its Elvisland counterpart.

Experience shows that in those places where identity and community are strong, every call in the life of the church is cherished and encouraged and -- most of all -- a living, joyful Spirit breathes in its members, vocations boom.... So how'd Memphis do it? The local paper tries to figure it out:
"Memphis is in the growth mode," said Father John Geaney, spokesman for the diocese....

Memphis, with 25 seminarians and 73,000 parishioners, ranks in the top five in the nation for recruits, said Geaney, although Catholics in the city make up only 3 to 4 percent of the population.

The two reasons for this growth, he said, were Bishop J. Terry Steib and Father Keith Stewart.

"The bishop insists that we keep looking for and doing all we can to form young men for the priesthood," said Geaney.

Stewart, the diocese's vocational director, has been called aggressive in his pursuit.

"He goes after people," said Geaney.

Stewart attributes his success to monthly "Evenings of Discernment" where interested parishioners are invited to pray and reflect on the calling.

"I'm just helping Jesus get his due," said Stewart. "There's a lot out there competing for a guy's attention. It's the chance to awaken somebody to church vocation, whether it's religious life as a sister or a priest."

Stewart also travels to other countries, where the priesthood is growing. Newly ordained priest Jacek Cowal hails from Poland, and the two priests to be ordained in August are both from Mexico....

Another factor that might help explain the boom in Memphis is age. Memphis recruits are younger than the national average, said Geaney. The four priests ordained in June were in their late 20s.

While former Pope John Paul II had a particular pull with youth, Geaney said the church's leadership under Pope Benedict XVI did not factor into the overall decline of the priesthood.

"Frankly, it does not have much to do with the personality of the pope," he said. "It's the fact they believe they are called by God to do this work."

Over the last year, Memphis saw another seven men enter formation -- an increase of 40%. In the neighboring (112,000-member) diocese of Little Rock, last year's sem-class skirted 30 -- its highest count since 1966.

Bottom line: Southland, take a bow... again.