Tuesday, October 05, 2010

The Benedictine Majority

And so, folks, it's time....

Or is it?

Some might've already seen its earlier leak via Page Three, but here below -- formatted for A1... and with some bonus "Director's Cut" feed -- is the final installment of this scribe's very own "Ring Cycle": the Q&A delved into last week for Michael Sean Winters at the National Catholic Reporter's Distinctly Catholic, this one's focus on a rapidly-changing College of Cardinals in what could be the run-up to the third consistory of B16's pontificate.

Again, to be clear, that's could be -- while reports have circulated since May of a 20 November date for the elevation of new members into the "Pope's Senate," said timetable has not sufficiently been confirmed for the house's customary comfort level; as of this writing, a conspicuous lack of chatter amid what would usually be the final approach to a papal announcement of the next intake bears particular note. (Keep in mind, too, that the prospective slate of cardinals-designate has likewise appeared to evolve since the initial warning sirens and, of course, could continue to do so -- not just until Announcement Day... but, at least in theory, all the way to Consistory Morning itself.)

While the winds of "when" could well make a turnabout over the coming days -- and if they do, as ever, you'll know quick -- a concerted push is understood to have been made from some quarters for a later date. By early April, the Pope will have at least eight additional openings in hand (25 in all) to return the current contingent of 103 cardinal-electors to its full complement of 120, to say nothing of the logistical nightmare that the Christ the King weekend scenario would augur for Stateside pilgrims; not only would the now-customary Consistory Eve consultation between the pontiff and his cardinals begin all of 15 hours following the close of the US bishops' Fall Plenary in Baltimore, but the festivities' end would either see the American delegations heading home amid the costly chaos of Thanksgiving Eve (traditionally the nation's busiest air-travel day of the year), or pilgrims stranded in Rome for the holiday. That said, the take below applies regardless of when Red Dawn deigns to break.

To sum things up editorially, the (one, two, three) four long-frame analyses you've seen here over the last week represent the most intense writing cycle this scribe's undertaken over these last six years -- some 12,000 words in all, the final product crammed with more facts, stories and all-around institutional memory than you'll probably find anywhere in open circulation on this beat.

If anything, that's a perk of the medium -- these pages' ability to be frank, faithful, fair and fluent on this most daunting of subjects is, admittedly, unique; to do this kind of stuff anywhere else would involve a trade-off, whether of nuance and depth on the mainstream-news side... or, on the other, the freedom born of a distance from the institutional or ideological constraints that dominate the "official" ecclesial realm, especially in these polarized days.

Over 20 million hits later, the perch has yielded its dividends in many ways... that is, except in the one place it hasn't: a solvent budget. (And just to be clear, this last week's pieces, while commissioned by an outlet, were produced gratis -- as ever, simply for love of the game... and, candidly, to remind oneself that the A-game remains intact.)

Put simply: per usual, but even moreso now given the distinct possibility of double-whammy road stories just ahead, the fate of this work lies in its readership's hands. As things stand, just the usual bills have served to suck up the shop's traditional shoestring resources, and the short-term outlook doesn't just rule out traveling to cover the stuff, but being able to cover the stuff at all....

As ever, whether Quittin' Time is just around the corner rests in the ineffable design of Providence. Either way, God is good, the ride's been tremendous, and if the day's indeed close at hand, as swan songs go, this would be pretty tough to top.

But let's cut to the fun part. The Final Question is... "According to some reports, Pope Benedict is preparing to name new cardinals, possibly as soon as next month. What can we expect in the College’s next class?"

And here, your narrator's stab at it:

* * *
I’d normally be reluctant to compare people to bulls... but there’s something about that scarlet that really drives folks wild -- and not just in the church. Indeed, a friend once mused that if Martians ever descended, not knowing our languages, customs, anything about us, even they’d be able to quickly tell the difference between a bishop and a cardinal because of how everybody just seems to charge toward anyone wearing the rank’s distinctive color, and what it represents.

Thanks to that, consistory time -- or, as my readers have come to know it, “Red Dawn” -- has a particular magic to it, and one I’m especially fond of. To cite just one example, when Texas got its first cardinal at the last intake in late 2007, the H-Town horde that wildly stormed Rome for the week provided the Eternal City’s first mass-taste of Catholicism in the American South, and the group’s typically-Texan buoyancy served to considerably brighten the impressions of many Vatican folk on the state of the US church after the scandals. (OK, to cite another example -- because I can't resist -- thanks to the coverage that surrounded it, it's because of a consistory that I'm here, doing what I'm doing... so I literally owe my life to one.)

On his return, Dan DiNardo was suddenly thrust into the top rank of the city’s -- and the Lone Star State’s -- civic leadership as no Catholic cleric had ever been. No less than an Evangelical dubbed it the "Second Coming," and above all, I remember hearing that, out of nowhere, at least some local parishes found themselves deluged with calls from people who’d become curious about the church thanks to the wall-to-wall media coverage and were looking to learn even more. As good times go, especially these days, you can’t really ask for more than that.

In its broadest sense, though, the week of celebrations highlights the universality and spirit of the faith at its best -- Vietnamese, Mexicans and Kenyans dancing in St Peter’s Square, Italians kicking (and Spaniards pushing) their way through the crowds to the customary horde of receptions, Americans finding a fresh sense of faith and perspective at absorbing a living history far more extensive than anything we have... all in all, one big happy family -- even if the period inevitably leads one to consider what the mainstream press have come to term the PDE: that is, the “papal death event.”

As of this writing, Benedict XVI has 17 open seats in the college that’ll elect his successor, with two more cardinals reaching the age of 80 -- and, ergo, becoming ineligible to enter a hypothetical conclave -- by 14 November. So that makes nineteen slots to return to the maximum 120 (a number set by Paul VI in 1975).

Already, in the red hats he doled out in March 2006 and November 2007, the pontiff has named thirty -- that is, at least a quarter -- of his successor’s eventual electorate, so restoring the “papal senate” to its voting maximum would give Papa Ratzinger 42% of “his” cardinals in the electoral college, the remainder named by John Paul II.

But here’s where it really gets interesting. Between now and the end of 2012, at least an additional 23 seats will open up just on account of electors “aging out.” The result: within just seven years of his own election, B16 will have an unfettered hand to choose not just a majority of the voting college, but a contingent just shy of the two-thirds necessary to elect the Roman pontiff. What’s more, while John Paul II -- who repeatedly broke with Paul’s 120 limit, once ballooning it as high as 135 -- tended to name his cardinals significantly older, especially toward the end of his reign, as of today Benedict’s additions to the scarlet tide have an average age of just over 68 -- a figure bound to fall considerably once the new class takes its seats.

Lastly, this rapid turnover of the college presents the specter of a scenario that could end up being a rather pointed last word on John Paul’s legacy: the distinct -- and, with time, ever-growing -- possibility that one of Karol Wojtyla’s chosen cardinals will never don the papal white. (A month after becoming archbishop of Munich, Joseph Ratzinger was elevated by Paul VI at his last consistory in 1977 -- only one other Montini creation voted in the 2005 conclave.)

All this is of especially crucial import for the Stateside church: of the cardinals turning 80 within the next two years, no less than six -- almost half of the 13 electors the US started 2010 with -- are ours, four of them either becoming ineligible over the next year or already so rendered since January. For American Catholicism, a glut of openings of this sort is without any precedent. And just as he has with his appointments of bishops, Benedict is playing a conspicuous game of long-ball -- of the two residential prelates he’s already elevated on these shores, Boston’s Sean O’Malley is 66, DiNardo all of 61; upon their elevations, each became the youngest cardinal named on these shores since LA’s Roger Mahony received the scarlet biretta at 55 in 1991.

While we’re at it, one would be wise to recall the relative youth of those who the pontiff’s placed in the pipeline to fill those rapidly-opening seats -- Mahony’s successor-in-waiting, Archbishop José Gomez, is 58; New York’s Archbishop Timothy Dolan is 60, and the coming go-round’s most bankable American pick, the Vatican’s “chief justice” Archbishop Raymond Burke, is 62. In other words, they won’t just be around to elect Benedict’s successor, but maybe even his successor’s successor, to say nothing of the impact they’ll respectively have over nearly two decades among the nation’s topmost church leadership.

At the same time, the pontiff’s already begun undertaking another kind of domestic shake-up: shifting the distribution of the US’ red hats -- a strategy intended both to more accurately reflect the drastically-altered demographic spread of the nation’s 68 million Catholics, and to reward the “growth and dynamism” of the shift's new leading outposts.

Before DiNardo’s elevation, the last time an American city saw its first cardinal came in 1967, when Washington -- still freshly severed from the Premier See of Baltimore -- celebrated the elevation of Archbishop Patrick O’Boyle. Prior to that, you’d have to go back to 1953, when -- the conferral of the red hat (left) still taking its medieval form -- the New York-born archbishop of Los Angeles, James McIntyre, became the nation’s first Roman prince to reign west of Chicago.

While the gameplan began in Texas, the coming churn is, in time, practically certain to make more red-hat history in the South -- most likely with the Harley-riding, cigar-chomping, hyper-competent and ever-colorful native son now heading the 1.3 million-member Miami church, Archbishop Thomas Wenski, or Atlanta (now home to a million Catholics) and Archbishop Wilton Gregory, the much-acclaimed USCCB president in the opening throes of the sex-abuse crisis, and a figure said to enjoy the pontiff’s particular high regard from those turbulent days. And maybe even both. As a bonus, just as Gomez’s certain red hat will mark the rise of the States' first Hispanic cardinal, elevating Gregory -- an especially beloved figure among the progressive crowd -- would see no less a watershed moment: an African-American prince of the church.

While we’re at it, it’s worth adding that, between Wenski’s blasting of "xenophobic politics" and handy summary of Catholic social teaching -- “No man is a problem” -- and Gomez’s bilingual Installation Day message that “no one is a stranger for [God] and no one is an alien for any of us,” thanks to Benedict, the migrant to these shores, irrespective of legal status, hasn’t had such faithful, forceful and high-ranking friends enter the US' top rank since Mahony, whose commitment to migrants has famously been a hallmark of his nearly half-century of priesthood.

In a press conference on his appointment, the pontiff’s Miami pick -- who likewise held a Mass of Reparation over Notre Dame's choice of President Obama as its 2009 commencement speaker and, even before his installation, urged Florida Gov. Charlie Crist to sign a (subsequently vetoed) bill that would’ve mandated ultrasounds for women considering an abortion -- memorably compared the illegality of undocumented immigration to getting “a parking ticket.” Additionally, last week saw history in the South Florida church as Wenski's top aide in Orlando, Sister of St Joseph Elizabeth Worley, took office as Miami's Chancellor and Chief Operating Officer, making the archdiocese the largest Stateside see by far to have a woman in its lead administrative post. (While the even larger churches of Los Angeles and Rockville Centre also have female chancellors, Worley alone holds the distinction of serving as de facto "moderator of the curia" -- a title that, per the canons, can only be formally given to a priest.)

All that said, let’s take a look beyond these shores and toward the class whose ascent is, so they say, soon ahead.

Above all else, the next consistory will almost certainly bring something I’ve been chomping at the bit about for some time: the day when TC makes TC -- that is, at long last, the entrance of Toronto's Archbishop Thomas Collins into The College.

To be sure, the red hat has literally hung over the head of Canada's largest and most diverse local church since early 2007; the galero of TO's first cardinal, James McGuigan, is suspended from the rafters of St Michael's Cathedral, directly above the archbishop's chair. Still, it couldn't find a better head to land on. In a nutshell, Collins is one of the most prayerful, unpretentious, generous, happy and holy prelates I’ve ever been blessed to know... and, truth be told, I’ve known him since I was a kid. That he’s gone on to lead the True North's mega-fold -- its Catholic population quickly approaching 2 million -- never ceases to be astonishing, simply because he’s remained his priceless, earthy, clear and charitable self throughout. (Case in point: you’re almost as likely to find him alone, queued up for a coffee and Timbits on a run to one of downtown TO’s numerous Tim Hortons’ stands -- “St Timothy’s,” to the archbishop -- as in the sanctuary of St Michael’s.) When I simply mentioned the coming inevitable to Collins on a Sunday evening we spent catching up over the summer -- the beginning of a week in Toronto when, among other talks, he asked me to speak with his priests on the value of integrating technology into their ministries -- his face turned even more scarlet than the biretta heading his way, less out of anticipation than a seeming sense of dread.

Recently, though, the signs of Benedict's approving eye have begun to tick up: a January appointment to his first Curial membership (a nod most cardinals only get post-elevation); the May commission to serve alongside Dolan, O'Malley, Ottawa's Jesuit Archbishop Terry Prendergast and other top-shelf Anglophones in leading the high-stakes Apostolic Visitation of the Irish church, and in late 2009, Rome's provision of two auxiliaries for the burgeoning TO church, one of them the archbishop's hand-picked top administrator: 43 year-old Vincent Nguyen, a refugee from Vietnam and engineer by training who became not only Canada's youngest bishop, but its first from an ethnic minority.

A Scripture scholar, longtime seminary formator, cat lover and committed technophile, the “hard-charging” 63 year-old prelate is a refreshing antidote to the frequent griping over the alleged “anti-Catholicism” of media one tends to hear from senior prelates, especially whenever a scandal’s afoot. As the global press bore down on the Vatican over the European revelations in the run-up Holy Week, Collins issued a markedly different message than the chorus of American bishops who slammed what they saw as a battering of the church, telling his Chrism Mass crowd in the cathedral that, if anything, “we should be grateful for the attention which the media devotes to the sins of Catholic clergy, even if constant repetition may give the false impression that Catholic clergy are particularly sinful.

As opposed to scandal-mongering, he added, “that attention is a profound tribute to the priesthood” as “people instinctively expect holiness in a Catholic priest, and are especially appalled when he does evil.”

While the natives were declaring war on The New York Times -- and the paper ferociously blasted right back -- the Grey Lady’s op-ed columnist Ross Douthat saw fit to highlight Collins as a “bishop who gets it.”

Especially these days, high praise, indeed.

* * *
Across the Pond, meanwhile, another global star of the next class presents itself in the person of Joseph Ratzinger’s hand-picked successor in Bavaria’s top post: the archbishop of Munich and Freising, 57 year-old Reinhard Marx.

As the abuse crisis’ most recent turn erupted in Germany earlier this year -- its impact said to have taken a particular toll on the pope -- Marx quietly slipped the scene in early April to make his first major US tour, stopping in New York and Chicago after delivering a well-received turn at Notre Dame, where he devoted the annual Vatican lecture to “The Social Message of the Church in the Context of Contemporary Challenges.”

A trained sociologist, media magnet and long the German bishops’ lead hand on issues of work and the economy, in late 2008 the motorbike-loving, “larger-than-life” Munich prelate -- said to have been part of his predecessor’s drafting committee for what would become B16‘s social teaching manifesto, Caritas in Veritate -- published a book-length retort to Karl Marx’s Das Kapital, today’s Marx subtitling his rebuttal “A Plea for Man.”

The country that, with the US, underwrites the Vatican budget more than any other, not since 2001 has the head of a German diocese been elevated to the Pope’s senate. Beyond his age, Marx’s mind, savvy, provocateur's taste -- and Benedict’s clear über-favor -- make him an ever-rising figure beyond the bounds of the pontiff’s cherished homeland, with the red promising just to speed up the ascent.

* * *
And lastly, the coming consistory will reportedly see B16 go a ways toward remedying one of his early pontificate’s glaring oversights -- the number of cardinal-electors given to the church’s ever-booming contingents in Africa and Asia.

Between the two continents (now home to a combined 270 million Catholics, over a quarter of the world total), the pope bestowed only a combined five red hats in his first two editions of the biglietto -- the document that literally comprises a new batch’s “ticket” to the College -- and this time around could see the figure double.

So the early line has maintained, among several other potential cardinals from the developing church are the archbishops of Tokyo, Bangkok, Yaoundé and Kampala, a first-ever Myanmarese in Rangon’s Salesian Archbishop Charles Maung Bo, and the head of Africa’s largest diocese -- Archbishop Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya of Kinshasa, named by Benedict to lead the 4 million-member fold in 2008, while the 70 year-old prelate was serving as an international co-president of Pax Christi. Even for these, however, one figure particularly stands out, for reasons that speak to both sides of the global north’s ecclesial divide.

Widely anticipated to be among the cardinals-designate is the first Roman prince Sri Lanka could claim in almost half a century: the 62 year-old archbishop of Colombo, Malcolm Ranjith.

More astute readers are probably well familiar with the name; after his first tour of Roman duty -- a four-year stint at the Vatican office overseeing the missions that saw him exiled after reported clashes with one of the “sacred palaces’” quintessential old-guard players, Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe (himself banished by Benedict to Naples in 2006) -- within months of his election the pope restored Ranjith to the Holy See, naming him #2 of the global church’s top liturgy office, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

During his time between Vatican tours, Ranjith served as nuncio to Indonesia -- the world’s largest Muslim country -- giving him a useful immersion in Islamic society. Once back at the Home Office, meanwhile, the archbishop likely stirred up more flack among the Curial establishment thanks to his staunch support for Summorum Pontificum, Benedict’s landmark 2007 “liberation” of the 1962 Missal. Either way, the pontiff’s dispatching Ranjith back home saw the native son re-immerse himself in peace and justice work; as a young auxiliary in the capital, the prodigal prelate served as a government-tapped mediator between the factions in Sri Lanka’s decades-long civil war, and on his return, one local wag went so far as to recall him as “an outrageous supporter of cease-fire.”

On the wider scene of what’s become Catholicism’s global frontier, however, no Asian prelate -- perhaps no African, either -- enjoys Benedict’s favor and closeness more, so for those keeping score at home, remember Colombo... as a “secret weapon” in Papa Ratzi’s arsenal.

* * *
Back home, meanwhile, the two American archbishops most likely to see red at the new intake are the aforementioned, ever-controversial Burke -- whose pointed jabs at President Obama have reportedly seen at least one diplomatic complaint made by the administration -- and the efficient, ever-meticulous theologian archbishop of the nation’s capital, Washington’s Donald Wuerl, himself a Curial veteran from the decade (1969-79) he served as priest-secretary to Cardinal John Wright, during which time he's said to have essentially "run" the Congregation for the Clergy.

Since taking up the appointments given them by Benedict, each has received additional marks of Roman favor -- the DC prelate as the Pope's first host during B16's 2008 visit to the East Coast (most likely to be this pontificate's lone trip to these shores) and, just last month, his selection by the CDF as its Stateside delegate for Anglicanorum coetibus, while the "chief justice" has been gifted with memberships of several key dicasteries, most notably becoming the fifth American to sit on the all-powerful Congregation for Bishops.

In the collective, however, as dynamic duos go, the two more than hold their own; on his arrival as archbishop of St Louis in early 2004, the Wisconsin-born master canonist sparked an enduring national tempest when he famously told an interviewer that he “would have to admonish” the eventual Democratic nominee, Senator John Kerry, “not to present himself for Communion” given Kerry’s pro-choice stance on abortion.

In response, Wuerl (above) -- then bishop of his native Pittsburgh -- led the pushback, writing in a lengthy essay that while “one may well understand the national implications on the part of any diocesan bishop who would rightfully wish to make declarations” on a politico’s fitness to receive the Eucharist in light of public stances that skirt church teaching, the broad “ramifications” of an ordinary's decision to deny Communion demanded a more collegial response. Months later, in his first major American appointment, Benedict named Wuerl to Washington on his own initiative, turning aside the recommendation of the Congregation for Bishops.

After Burke’s 2008 transfer to Rome, the spat flared again early last year as, in a video interview with the prominent anti-abortion activist Randall Terry, the newly-installed prefect of the Apostolic Signatura said that church law “puts the burden upon the minister of Holy Communion” to deny the host to “someone who in any way contributes in an active way to the murder of innocent defenseless infants in the womb.”

“The Canon is completely clear,” Burke said. “It is not subject in my judgment to any other interpretations.”

Within 24 hours -- after Terry released the video at a Washington press conference with a call for Wuerl's removal -- the archbishop issued a statement apologizing for the “confusion and hurt” his remarks caused, adding that he was speaking in a personal capacity and, above all, did not realize that the interview “would be used as part of a campaign of severe criticism of certain fellow bishops.”

Even so, on the eve of Burke's keynote at a Washington prayer breakfast six weeks later, Wuerl responded in an unusually high-profile forum, telling PoliticsDaily’s Melinda Henneberger that “I stand with the great majority of American bishops and bishops around the world in saying this canon was never intended to be used this way,” adding for good measure that he had “yet to see where the canonical approach has changed anyone's heart.''

The Communion Wars provided but the latest stage for a colorful history, one which goes back some two decades. Provided they both make the biglietto, however, Elevation Day will inevitably unite the two for a priceless moment.

Once the Pope places the red hat on the heads of his picks, each new cardinal wends his way around the ranks of the College to exchange the sign of peace with his confreres.

When Wuerl reaches Burke, just remember to take in the scene... and see it as yet another example of every Consistory Week’s great lesson -- that the church is far bigger than any one of us.