Friday, July 29, 2011

Quote of the Day

“Nothing is more practical than
finding God, than
falling in Love
in a quite absolute, final way.

What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.
It will decide
what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read, whom you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.

Fall in Love, stay in love,
and it will decide everything.
--Pedro Arrupe SJ (1907-91)
28th Superior General of the Society of Jesus

* * *
Sure, the feast of the Company's saintly founder might not come 'til Sunday -- and advance tidings to the Jebbies among us in its run-up. Still, at the close of the wildest, most brutal six months this scribe's known -- and, barring the Apocalypse, probably ever will know -- at this work, the reminder seems useful to the lot of us of what, at its heart, Everything Is All About.

Indeed, and in ways that'd take too boringly long to explain, the lines above are the story of my life, albeit put far more elegantly -- not to mention succinctly -- than this one ever could.

Honestly, though, it feels like a minor miracle to still be standing and -- at least, to some debatable degree -- to have remained in one piece through a surreal cycle, both at home and beyond, professionally and emotionally alike.

And at its end, church, suffice it to say... finally....

WHEW. *Wipe brow*

To one and all, blessings on your weekend, and thanks beyond words for being along on the ride (and, to be sure, keeping this journey afloat). Sometimes the road can be bumpier than any of us would want... even when it is, though -- and for each of us, it's always going to be at one or another point -- it's the goodness of friends that doesn't just keep us safely aboard, but unable to even think of wanting to be anywhere else.

All that said, these last months have made for quite the walk....

Given that, please God, here's to a quiet August. Lord knows we'll all need it to prep for what's ahead.


The Shadow of Pietro

Before all else, according to late word yesterday, the shape of Archbishop Pietro Sambi's Stateside farewell has changed.

While a 6 August funeral Mass in Washington was initially eyed as the American sendoff for the late "Super-Nuncio," logistical hurdles amid the summer slowdown were reported to have shelved the plan.

The archbishop's body now slated to return this weekend to his native Italy for burial, a capital liturgy for the US church and the diplomatic corps is now said to be in the works for 14 September, the feast of the Triumph of the Cross, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Even without the development, the new date would have much of the bench's top brass in DC for that week's Fall Administrative Committee meeting of the USCCB, at which the agenda for the following November's plenary is decided.

On a procedural note, with 3339 Massachusetts Ave. NW (above) now fallen vacant for the first time upon the death of its occupant, the #2 diplomat at the Washington Nunciature, Msgr Jean François Lantheaume, now becomes interim chief of the Holy See's US mission pending Rome's appointment of the next Nuncio and the latter's presentation of his credentials to President Obama.

While the current "deputy mayor" of Vatican City, 70 year-old Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, had been tipped to succeed Sambi as earlier indications foresaw a handover of the post on the late Nuncio's expected move to a Curial slot, any move is subject to change lacking a formal announcement from the Holy See.

* * *
Either way, the lack of a permanent legate for what could be several months until a successor's arrival is likely to create a backlog in the Nunciature's workflow, both as extraordinary matters would optimally be held for a new ambassador's input, and given the time needed for the fresh arrival to learn his sprawling, complex turf and form his own impressions of civil and ecclesial affairs alike.

As internal tasks go, the transition-related delays are almost certain to impact the crucial area of the appointment of bishops, where a Nuncio's extensive dossier on the state of a vacant diocese tends to be the linchpin element of the selection process.

Even if the docket's turnover time has, of late, slimmed to its quickest levels in nearly a decade, it bears recalling that several vacancies extended anywhere from 24 to 30 months at the time of Sambi's arrival in early 2006, and the late Nuncio needed the better part of three years on the ground to build a sufficient network of information and fine-tune the searches to meet his standards.

Further up the chain, however, the presence of five American cardinals of divergent leanings on the Congregation for Bishops -- to say nothing of a Pope keen to "own" his personnel picks in the trenches -- has made for its share of curveballs in domestic appointments during Sambi's tenure. But even that crucial group is set to change markedly over the coming year, as two of the home-grown quintet will leave the Thursday Table on their 80th birthdays, at which point cardinals automatically "age out" of their Curial memberships.

The longest-serving US members of the body that recommends episcopal nods to Pope Benedict, the respective superannuations of Cardinals Bernard Law in November and Francis Stafford next July will likewise leave the Stateside church with eight electors in a hypothetical conclave, a figure which will have taken a net loss of four (that is, a third) just since early 2010.

Given Benedict XVI's prior elevation of five of the eight US electors who'll remain -- and, for three of them, their respective entrances into the "papal senate" in their early 60s -- the current and impending openings set the stage for the completion of the most sweeping revamp of American Catholicism's pre-eminent leadership caucus since the number of the nation's cardinals was multiplied from the US' historic quota of three in the years following World War II.

As Sambi's chosen cardinals-in-waiting in stand to remain in office for the better part of two decades, his successor isn't left with terribly much to shape on the bench's top tier, save for Chicago, where Cardinal Francis George reaches the retirement age of 75 in January. After the Windy City and barring the unexpected, the next of the traditional scarlet-clad seats to come open for reasons of age is Washington, but Cardinal Donald Wuerl's walking papers aren't due until the last weeks of 2015.

With seven Latin dioceses currently vacant and another seven led by ordinaries remaining in office beyond the retirement age pending their successors' arrivals, the wider docket is currently topped by the metropolitan openings in Denver and San Francisco. A dozen more diocesan bishops on these shores will turn 75 between now and the end of next year.

* * *

Thursday, July 28, 2011

"My Joy and My Crown"

Keeping with the theme of memory and tribute, the following is fullvideo of Archbishop Pietro Sambi's final address to the US bishops at last November's Plenary in Baltimore.

As the meeting took place days after the late Nuncio's 25th anniversary as a bishop, Sambi reflected on the milestone and his four decades in the diplomatic service of the Holy See before returning to the key thread of his first November speech to the bench in 2006: his call for a fresh "wave of proclamation of the Word of God, a [new] evangelization with faith and courage" in the Stateside church.

PHOTO: Custody of the Holy Land / VIDEO: USCCB/Telecare


For the Nuncio, A "Super" Sendoff

As multiple late reports have it, the domestic funeral rites for Archbishop Pietro Sambi are said to be set for the late "Super-Nuncio's" liturgical home-base -- Washington's Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception -- on Transfiguration Day: Saturday, 6 August, at 2pm.

(SVILUPPO: Given scheduling challenges, plans for a DC liturgy in August have been nixed. A Memorial Mass for the diplomatic corps and the US bishops is now being eyed for 14 September, the feast of the Triumph of the Cross.)

As ever -- and, indeed, as if the last fortnight hasn't already been dramatic enough for the Stateside church -- more to come.

In the meantime, though, as the man from Jerusalem (via Rimini) has, by all accounts, cast a broad swath across the American Catholic landscape over his five years as The Pope's Man on these shores, this readership's Sambi stories are more than welcome, from every side, in these pages' inbox, with an eye to at least some being run over the week to come, in remembrance and gratitude alike.

To be sure, this scribe's got a hundred and more colorful memories of his own... yet in these first days, it's far better for the church to lay out the story.

Whether we knew him or not, thanks be to God for such a great gift to us all. Many of us will miss our guy beyond words -- and from those of us who grieve on a personal level, joined by so many others far and wide, may our faithful friend rest with the angels... and pray for the lot of us as he does.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Goodnight, Big Boss -- "Super-Nuncio" Sambi Dies at 73

Having received credible word from multiple sources, these pages are heartbroken to report that the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, died around 8pm Eastern tonight.

Pope Benedict's representative to these shores since 2006 -- and tipped to be in line for a Vatican post just a few weeks back -- Sambi turned 73 in late June.

As previously reported here, the veteran diplomat -- a beloved figure in chancery and embassy circles alike -- had been in grave condition at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore following a radical procedure early this month that involved the removal of half of one of his lungs. Having been kept sedated and on a ventilator since complications arose in the surgery's wake, a decision on continuing the archbishop's treatment had been expected before the end of the week.

In his final hours, the Nuncio's sister, niece and nephew were said to be at his bedside after having been called over from Italy last week. The niece on hand was married by Sambi in his last trip to his beloved hometown of Rimini in mid-June.

As of this writing, plans for a domestic lying-in-state and funeral remain to be discussed, let alone decided. Once any developments emerge on that front, they'll be posted as quickly as they're received.

In a way, though, this is uncharted territory for the Stateside church -- since the founding of an Apostolic Delegation at Washington in 1893, no papal legate to the US has ever died in office... that is, until tonight.

Ordained a priest in 1964, Sambi entered the diplomatic service of the Holy See five years later. In 1986, he was named an archbishop and nuncio to Burundi (a posting in which one of his successors would be killed in an ambush amid an outbreak of local bloodshed).

Each of Sambi's four postings as a mission chief saw the Italian's jovial, conciliatory personality parachuted into delicate, high-stakes situations where his gentle touch would be employed to its maximal effect: after five years in Africa, the archbishop was moved to Indonesia -- the world's largest Muslim country. Then, in 1998, came a rough, but beloved triple assignment -- representing the Vatican in civil war-ravaged Cyprus, and above all, as papal legate to Palestine and Israel, where Sambi said he "came to know Jesus" by walking in the Lord's footsteps.

After seven years in Jerusalem -- a tenure highlighted by John Paul II's successful Jubilee Year pilgrimage to the Holy Land -- and having won plaudits for his ability to bridge the region's impassioned factions, late 2005 brought his final posting: the assignment to Washington and, with it, Sambi's elevation to one of Vatican diplomacy's "Big Four" nunciatures.

More to come. Above all, though, blessings and peace be upon a great friend to so many of us....

God love our "Super-Nuncio" forever, and may his work of uplifting be ours for the road ahead.

* * *
Having known, cherished and closely studied the Nuncio since his first weeks among us, and run just a few of his many pointed signal texts over the roller-coaster of these last weeks, admittedly -- tough as it's been to think about -- there's been one last word of his that this scribe's held onto in the dread of this moment.

The son and brother of schoolteachers, Pietro Sambi's episcopal ministry was especially devoted to the work of teaching -- in Catholic education, in the media, in every member of this church by our witness and example... but above all, it's the role he eagerly, unmistakably wanted his bishops to evidence most in their ministries.

Along those lines, it was beyond fitting that, in his final American road-trip, aware of the "delicate" surgery that'd befall him, B16's Man among us received an honorary doctorate from Denver's Jesuit-run Regis University, in the presence of the prelate to whom, just a few weeks later, Sambi would make his tenure's final -- and, on several angles, most consequential -- phone-call bearing news of the Pope's decision.

(But clearly -- and, indeed, par for the course -- Sambi enjoyed the added gift of a cowboy hat as much as he did another doctoral hood.)

As the Big Boss rides off into the sunset, though, one talk he especially enjoyed giving is worth recalling: the late Nuncio's 2007 keynote to the nation's Catholic educators at the National Catholic Education Association's Easter Week convention in Baltimore, its key grafs -- especially poignant in this hour -- reprinted here below (emphases original):
[A] young man, 22 years old, once took a piece of marble and sculpted in it two of the most deep human sentiments: suffering accepted from the hand of God does not diminish the beauty of the human person but increases it, and -- second sentiment -- even in death, a son continues to have full confidence in his mother.

This is the Pietá of Michelangelo, that you can see everytime you enter in the Basilica of St Peter in Rome.

Michelangelo, the author of the Pietá, is considered one of the greatest artists in the world. I don't believe it! The greatest artists are the educators -- are you -- because you try to sculpt the best of yourselves, of who you are and what you know, not in a piece of marble, but in living, breathing human beings, who are the glory of God.
And for all the things he's given the church on these shores -- both individually and by the thousands -- whatever our place in the mix, God give us all the grace to teach ever better in word and witness today, tomorrow and forever.

And for the man from Jerusalem who's been a friend and guide to so many among this readership -- this scribe included -- let the old prayer be ours....
Saints of God, come to his aid
Hasten to meet him, angels of the Lord
Receive his soul, and present him to God the Most High....
Goodnight, Big Boss, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

Eternal memory, and everlasting thanks, from no shortage of the church you leave behind.

While a 6 August Washington funeral for Sambi was initially eyed, plans have reportedly changed, with a Memorial Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception now said to be in the works, to be held on September 14th.

PHOTO: Jeff Malet


Monday, July 25, 2011

For Spain's "Holy Leader," Holy Smoke

As today brings the feast of St James, time to roll out one of the Catholic imagination's many great pieces of eye candy: the Apostle's own flying "smokeboat."

Of course, that's the botafumeiro -- the celebrated flying thurible suspended from the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, a pilgrims' mecca for at least a millennium, where the remains of Spain's patron are kept.

Its purpose eventually "baptized" after its practical roots as an air-freshener for the massive crowds of the long-traveled was eventually superseded, the device is said to measure five feet tall and weigh in at 176 lbs. Filled by shovels, the botafumeiro's peak swing sees it hit a height of some 200ft off the cathedral floor at speeds in excess of 40mph.

The footage below comes from last November's papal visit to the shrine as part of B16's journey to Spanish Catholicism's most revered venues, which climaxed the next day with the pontiff's dedication of Barcelona's Basilica of Sagrada Familia, the Gaudì masterpiece still well under construction nine decades after its architect's death.

(Sung during the rite above is the traditional Compostelan hymn to St James: "Holy Leader, Patron of the Spaniards....")

While we're at it, the above serves as a good curtain-raiser for the Pope's 20th overseas trip: to Madrid for the triennial global celebration of World Youth Day -- the church's "Olympic event," now all of three weeks away, and expected to draw crowds in excess of a million.

For today, though, to all our Jameses and Jims out there, buon onomastico... however you say it in Spanish.


Friday, July 22, 2011

Nunciature: For Sambi, "Sacrifices and Prayers"

In the wake of this morning's advance word, the following late-day statement is making the rounds from 3339 Massachusetts Avenue NW -- that is, the Apostolic Nunciature to these United States:
The Most Reverend Pietro Sambi, Apostolic Nuncio, underwent a delicate lung surgery two weeks ago.

Unfortunately, there have been post-surgery complications. Currently he has been placed on assisted ventilation to attempt recovery of his lung function.

The Apostolic Nunciature and the Nuncio’s family kindly ask that Bishops, priests, religious, and lay faithful offer sacrifices and prayers for the health of the Apostolic Nuncio.
In one of his innumerably memorable and colorful moments on these shores, the "Super-Nuncio" once cracked -- as always, loudly so -- that, even before they pray, there's something far lesser that a good chunk of the Stateside church begins its days with.

Along those lines, let us all spend these hours lifting up a good, faithful friend -- someone who's been an instrument of tremendous grace among the lot of us.

* * *
For good measure, two more of the "greatest hits" of our "man from Jerusalem" -- first, Sambi's powerful message from last fall's San Antonio installation of Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller....

...and in his last appearance in a local church on these shores, the "Super-Nuncio"'s remarks at the Holy Week ordination of Altoona-Johnstown's Bishop Mark Bartchak, the well-regarded past president of the Canon Law Society of America:


On the Magdalen....

As today brings the feast of the "Apostle to the Apostles" -- a figure who's come to be "rediscovered" of sorts by a wider crowd over recent years -- two B16 reflections on Mary Magdalene....

First, from a 2006 Angelus:
Yesterday, we celebrated the liturgical Memorial of St Mary Magdalene, a disciple of the Lord who plays a lead role in the Gospels. St Luke lists her among the women who followed Jesus after being "healed of evil spirits and infirmities", explaining that "seven demons had gone out" from her (Lk 8: 2).

The Magdalene would be present beneath the Cross with the Mother of Jesus and other women. In the early morning on the first day after the Sabbath she was to be the one to discover the empty tomb, beside which she stood weeping until the Risen Jesus appeared to her (cf. Jn 20: 11).

The story of Mary of Magdala reminds us all of a fundamental truth: a disciple of Christ is one who, in the experience of human weakness, has had the humility to ask for his help, has been healed by him and has set out following closely after him, becoming a witness of the power of his merciful love that is stronger than sin and death.
...and from a General Audience talk during Easter Week 2007:
In these days [of the Octave of Easter], the liturgy recalls Jesus' various encounters after his Resurrection: with Mary Magdalene and the other women who went to the tomb at the crack of dawn the day after the Sabbath; with the Apostles who gathered unbelieving in the Upper Room; with Thomas and other disciples....

The Evangelist John recounts that when Peter and he heard Mary Magdalene's news, they ran to the sepulchre each trying as it were to outstrip the other (cf. Jn 20: 3ff.). The Fathers of the Church have seen in their haste to reach the empty tomb an exhortation to compete in the only legitimate race between believers: the competition in seeking Christ.

And what can be said of Mary Magdalene? She stood weeping by the empty tomb with the sole desire to know where they had taken her Lord. She encounters him and only recognizes him when he calls her by name (cf. Jn 20: 11-18). If we seek the Lord with a simple and sincere mind, we too will find him; indeed, he himself will come to meet us; he will make us recognize him, he will call us by name, that is, he will admit us to the intimacy of his love....

To Mary Magdalene the Lord said: "Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father" (Jn 20: 17). These words surprise us, especially if we compare them to what, on the other hand, happened to Doubting Thomas. There in the Upper Room, the Risen One himself presented his hands and his side to the Apostle so that he could touch them and thereby be sure that it was truly he (cf. Jn 20: 27).

In fact, the two episodes are not contradictory. On the contrary, the one helps us to understand the other.

Mary Magdalene would have wanted to have her Lord as he was before, considering the Cross a tragic memory to be forgotten. Henceforth, however, there was no longer room for a merely human relationship with the Risen One. To meet him, we must not turn back but relate to him in a new way. We must move ahead! St Bernard underlines this: Jesus "invites us all to this new life, to this passing.... We will not see Christ with a backward glance"....

It is towards the future, in fact, that we now turn our gaze. The disciple's task is to witness to the death and Resurrection of his Master and to his new life. For this reason Jesus invited his unbelieving friend to "touch him": he wanted him to witness directly to his Resurrection.

Dear brothers and sisters, we too, like Mary Magdalene, Thomas and the other Apostles, are called to be witnesses of Christ's death and Resurrection. We cannot keep this important news to ourselves. We must convey it to the whole world: "We have seen the Lord!"

For "Catholic Ireland," Does Enda = "The End"?

Even if the domestic press has largely spent the last few days parsing the church-state perspective of the latest high-profile appointee on these shores, as the Catholic presence in the public square goes, this week's dominant Anglophone development has instead come from Ireland, where last week's publication of a fourth civil inquiry on the church's handling of abuse cases has pushed public fury to a new boiling point.

In the wake of the three-year inquest into the diocese of Cloyne -- which found the Irish bishops' own protocols for reporting allegations and the treatment of survivors neglected as late as 2009 -- early hopes for a papal visit to coincide with next June's International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin have reportedly been derailed, a prominent ad intra call has been made for the resignation of all still-active Irish bishops named before 2003, and legislation has been proposed that would see priests prosecuted for failing to report crimes they learned in the confessional, irrespective of the obligation of the sacramental seal.

As Benedict XVI himself said in his 2010 Letter to the Isle's church, the decades-long scandals "have obscured the light of the Gospel to a degree that not even centuries of persecution succeeded in doing" in a place once widely seen as the global church's staunchest daughter and -- in terms of the missionaries it exported -- the faith's most fruitful of outposts.

Along those lines, the picture at top shows the father of modern Ireland, Eamon de Valera -- in his time both the country's Taoiseach (Prime Minister) and President -- paying the customary obeisance of an earlier era to the then-archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid. Yet in the latest blow to the long tradition of reflexive public deference, Wednesday's response to Cloyne in the Dáil (Parliament) by the current Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, has quickly come to be viewed as a signal tear in the deteriorating link between the church and the Irish state -- a bond historically held as so inviolate that it was enshrined in the Republic's first constitution.

Either hailed for his fiery candor or viewed as an exemplar of "overheated" and "almost complete hysteria," Kenny's "unprecedented attack" included the following (quoted as written)....
It's fair to say that after the Ryan and Murphy Reports Ireland is, perhaps, unshockable when it comes to the abuse of children.

But Cloyne has proved to be of a different order.

Because for the first time in Ireland, a report into child sexual-abuse exposes an attempt by the Holy See, to frustrate an Inquiry in a sovereign, democratic little as three years ago, not three decades ago.

And in doing so, the Cloyne Report excavates the dysfunction, disconnection, elitism....the narcissism .......that dominate the culture of the Vatican to this day.
The rape and torture of children were downplayed or 'managed' to uphold instead, the primacy of the institution, its power, standing and 'reputation'.
Far from listening to evidence of humiliation and betrayal with St Benedict's "ear of the heart"......the Vatican's reaction was to parse and analyse it with the gimlet eye of a canon lawyer.

This calculated, withering position being the polar opposite of the radicalism, humility and compassion upon which the Roman Church was founded.
The radicalism, humility and compassion which are the very essence of its foundation and purpose.
The behaviour being a case of Roma locuta est: causa finita est.
Except in this instance, nothing could be further from the truth.

Cloyne's revelations are heart-breaking. It describes how many victims continued to live in the small towns and parishes in which they were reared and in which they were abused... Their abuser often still in the area and still held in high regard by their families and the community. The abusers continued to officiate at family weddings and funerals... In one case, the abuser even officiated at the victim's own wedding...
There is little I or anyone else in this House can say to comfort that victim or others, however much we want to. But we can and do recognise the bravery of all of the victims who told their stories to the Commission.
While it will take a long time for Cloyne to recover from the horrors uncovered, it could take the victims and their families a lifetime to pick up the pieces of their shattered existence....

I believe that the Irish people, including the very many faithful Catholics who - like me - have been shocked and dismayed by the repeated failings of Church authorities to face up to what is required, deserve and require confirmation from the Vatican that they do accept, endorse and require compliance by all Church authorities here with, the obligations to report all cases of suspected abuse, whether current or historical, to the State's authorities in line with the Children First National Guidance which will have the force of law.

Clericalism has rendered some of Ireland's brightest, most privileged and powerful men, either unwilling or unable to address the horrors cited in the Ryan and Murphy Reports.
This Roman Clericalism must be devastating for good priests.... some of them old... others struggling to keep their humanity....even their they work so be the keepers of the Church's light and goodness within their parishes...... communities... the human heart.

But thankfully for them, and for us, this is not Rome.
Nor is it industrial-school or Magdalene Ireland, where the swish of a soutane smothered conscience and humanity and the swing of a thurible ruled the Irish-Catholic world.
This is the 'Republic' of Ireland 2011.
A Republic of laws.....of rights and responsibilities....of proper civic order..... where the delinquency and arrogance of a particular version..... of a particular kind of 'morality'..... will no longer be tolerated or ignored.
As a practising Catholic, I don't say any of this easily.
Growing up, many of us in here learned we were part of a pilgrim Church.
Today, that Church needs to be a penitent Church.
A church, truly and deeply penitent for the horrors it perpetrated, hid and denied.
In the name of God. But for the good of the institution.
When I say that through our legislation..... through our Government's action to put Children First.......those who have been abused can take some small comfort in knowing that they belong to a a democracy......where.... humanity......power...rights...... responsibility..... are enshrined and enacted .....always....always.... for their good.
Where the law - their law - as citizens of this country, will always supercede canon laws that have neither legitimacy nor place in the affairs of this country.

This report tells us a tale of a frankly brazen disregard for protecting children. If we do not respond swiftly and appropriately as a State, we will have to prepare ourselves for more reports like this.
For purposes of context, remember well that this is the country where, by law, the pubs are closed on Good Friday, the state broadcaster traces its establishment to a Eucharistic Congress, and the national evening news doesn't begin until "Six-One" -- 6.01 -- as the Angelus still runs over the RTE's radio and TV airwaves at the top of the hour.

For his part, having voiced "anger" as his dominant reaction to the findings of the same commission that previously investigated the capital church he leads, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin took to the airwaves following Kenny's speech to say he was "impressed" by the Taoiseach's "emotion," and -- given the Holy See's 2001 instruction on abuse cases -- to ask rhetorically how the "cabal" of Cloyne's diocesan leadership could "still refuse to recognize the norms of the church."

At the same time, Martin chided Kenny for ignoring the failure of the civil authorities to exercise due oversight in prior times by their permissiveness for the church to handle the complaints internally.

The Cloyne revelations have come as a particular drubbing for the Cork diocese's now-retired head, Bishop John Magee. A former private secretary to Popes Paul VI, John Paul I and II, the 74 year-old prelate was stripped of his authority by Rome in 2009, remaining in office in name only until his resignation last year.

Found by the inquiry to have engaged in improper conduct toward a young man discerning a vocation to the priesthood, Magee has been in an undisclosed location since before the report's release.


Reports: Amid Transfer Talk, "Super-Nuncio" Gravely Ill

SVILUPPO (9.45pm): By day's end, the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington released a statement requesting "sacrifices and prayers" for Archbishop Sambi, and declining further comment.

Just last week, these pages relayed word of Archbishop Pietro Sambi's tipped return to Rome and -- in the footsteps of all but two of his predecessors -- a "cardinalatial post" at the end of his five-year stint as the Holy See's representative to the US.

In recent days, however, indications are that the situation has changed considerably, with the archbishop said to be gravely ill following surgery last week.

Late last week, the Vatican's Nuncio to Washington since 2006 was reported to be in guarded care at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore after a "radical" procedure on his lung, the complications of which were initially said to have left him unresponsive. More recently, with the colorful, candid diplomat remaining in intensive care, these last hours have brought word that Sambi's family has been called to his bedside from Italy, where the 73 year-old prelate celebrated his grand-niece's wedding in mid-June.

Having completed work on his final major appointment on these shores in early June, as a Stateside friend of the archbishop's remarked, Sambi "never worked in Rome," and didn't necessarily feel a significant a significant attachment to it. At the end of the day, "all he's wanted was Rimini" -- his hometown -- "and to retire to his family."

At this point, though, with the future said to be up in the air, prayers would seem well and much in order.

* * *
The following was initially intended to be part of last week's post on the reported transfer of the "Super-Nuncio" from these shores, but as the recap of Sambi's eventful tenure ended up running too long on its own, it had to be laid aside for the moment.

Still, it's worth returning to -- that is, the archbishop's first major address to the US bishops, given in Baltimore during the 2006 November Meeting, which coincided with the rededication of the nation's first cathedral, the Premier See's Basilica of the Assumption.

A fitting "mission statement" of Rome's expectations for the future of the Stateside church -- and, indeed, Sambi's penchant for blunt talk -- here are those remarks in full:


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

And now, at long last, the wind-down... at least, the start of it.

More after a good, full head-clear; sometimes, you just need to hit yourself with a fire extinguisher, and after the last few days, admittedly, it's past time for that on this end.

What a week, gang... whew. Thanks for being a part of it and, finally, Happy Summer.


With Savannah, Father Francis Gets a Two-Fer

Of course, yesterday's Mega-Move on the home-front might've rightly dominated the headlines. Still, it was notable that B16 cleared out both of the longest-pending openings on the Stateside docket, retiring Bishop Kevin Boland of Savannah 15 months after his 75th birthday, and naming Conventual Franciscan Fr Gregory John Hartmayer (left), 59, currently a pastor in Metro Atlanta, as his successor.

The mother-diocese of Georgia, encompassing some 90 counties -- its roots dating to 1850, with the state's top half only split off in 1956 -- Savannah's 14th bishop is, like his Irish-born predecessor, an emigré to the South who's spent a significant amount of his priesthood there. A native of Buffalo with advanced degrees in pastoral counseling and education, Hartmayer worked for over a decade in the North before taking a teaching assignment in Florida in 1995, then the Hotlanta parish.

While not an incardinated priest of Atlanta, the last time a cleric in the 404 was named a bishop outside it came in 1978, when then-Fr Eusebius Beltran was named bishop of Tulsa. Later archbishop of Oklahoma City, Beltran retired earlier this year. Likewise, the bishop-elect becomes the second "Black Franciscan" named to the current bench, following Bishop William Callahan of La Crosse.

Hartmayer's ordination is scheduled for 18 October.

With yesterday's desk-clearing moves before Rome hits high summer, seven Stateside dioceses now stand vacant, with another seven led by ordinaries serving past the retirement age.

PHOTO: Steve Bisson/Savannah Morning News


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

"Running A Supertanker," Eastern Edition

Suffice it to say, gang, on a break from a morning of live TV, getting to see the sun's first beams hit the Big House could well have made for the Moment of the Day... even more than getting to see this scribe's onetime driver done good -- and, for good measure, trigger a couple magnitude-7 earthquakes in the room thanks to his money quotes.

Roundup to come... in the meanwhile, though, one observation to start: not all that long ago, such was the scene 'round here that The Great D'Addezio's latest multi-tiered, budget-defying spectacle made for the most anticipated, guess-inducing element of diocesan events.

Now, that'll come with something far more pedestrian -- namely, when the Boss rises to speak.

Here below, the rollout in full:

Midnight in River City -- a century ends... and nothing short of a new world begins.

Surreal as it is to say, church, The Hour has arrived:

Before all else, as logistics go, the traditional 10am presser is on and -- in a first for a Philadelphia Appointment Day -- Archbishops past and future will concelebrate a Noon Mass of the Holy Spirit in the Cathedral-Basilica that's open to one and all. Livestream info to come.

Having arrived quietly on Saturday, the archbishop-designate has spent the time since getting adjusted to Eastern time and, above all, taking his first briefings on the daunting situation he inherits.

To be sure, the challenges #9 faces are towering and exist on a host of fronts... then again, being responsible for this scribe's soul might just make for the toughest part of the job.

The installation is scheduled for Thursday, 8 September, the feast of the Birth of Mary.

For now, though, as we set into this new dawn -- lest any of us needed it -- Harry and fans, remind us of the best thing we can carry on the road ahead:

Archbishop, go get 'em. Saints John Neumann and Katharine Drexel, pray for us.


Monday, July 18, 2011

Veni, Creator....

OK, gang, so -- despite trying to keep it down as long as possible out of deference to the ways of things -- the news is out.

For what it's worth, keeping lid since Friday night was no mean task.

Now, though, the work is just beginning... and it won't be the archbishop's alone. In reality, anything but.

For the rest of us here on the ground, though, we need to let this new beginning get off to the best possible start.

In that spirit, Phils fans, locals -- and anyone else out there who wishes to join in -- here's an idea: as we approach what's looking to be on-deck, it seems particularly fitting to the moment to spend these next hours in prayer and fasting for our Ninth Archbishop, for the success of his ministry among us, for the gifts of healing, hope, unity and reconciliation in our midst... and above all, to implore from God the blessing of a new Pentecost for this church of Philadelphia, our mother and home:


Thanks be to God for his goodness to us. Truly, we are blessed beyond words.

That said, for now, silence....


Render Unto Chaput -- Sources: Denver's Capuchin = Philadelphia's Revolution

He is brash, outspoken and fearless -- energetic, colorful, cultured... indeed, even hard-core....

And if multiple indications from near and far have it right, he stands set to bring the most revolutionary change American Catholicism’s most traditional major outpost has known in at least a century, to begin its rebuilding from the ashes of the darkest hour in its long, storied history.

After months of fevered, omnidirectional speculation over the succession to the 1.1 million-member archdiocese of Philadelphia, numerous reports over recent hours have narrowed their focus to the figure who’s arguably the standout voice of the nation’s Catholic right: 66 year-old Archbishop Charles Chaput, the Capuchin Franciscan and New York Times best-selling author who’s led the 550,000-member Denver church since 1997.

Five months since a second grand-jury report on the Philadelphia chancery’s handling of clergy sex-abuse cases led to the largest suspension of accused priests in the national crisis’ long history, blowing the lid on numerous concerns over the administration of the once-vaunted local church in the process, the La Stampa vaticanista Marco Tossati cited Chaput in a Friday brief as the “probable” pick to take over from Cardinal Justin Rigali, who reached the canonical retirement age of 75 in April 2010. In the time since, however, credible reports have spoken of “all systems go” for the move’s announcement, widely tipped for tomorrow, as local officials braced to receive the Kansas native as their ninth archbishop.

Given Chaput's reputation as a tough, clear, no-nonsense overseer with a knack for shaking things up, that phrasing is no accident. At the same time, though, it is worth noting that for the first time since Edmond Francis Prendergast -- the "Big Man" and native son who governed the Philly church from 1911-18 -- a Philadelphia archbishop will have served as pastor of a parish.

A member of the Potawatomi Prairie Band tribe, the archbishop’s Native American name is Pietasen (“rustling wind”) -- a moniker that led his late mother to call him “Windy.” Accordingly, for an ecclesial model that’s stood as the nation’s oldest, most enduring clone of institution-centric, clericalist Catholicism in the spirit of its roots in 18th-century Ireland, the reported move would represent nothing short of a hurricane.

The son of a small-town funeral director, the high-octane choice -- a veteran of leading two intense Apostolic Visitations -- would ostensibly come armed with a mandate to significantly revamp a two-century-old ecclesial culture that's been engulfed by the damning conclusions of the civil inquest and, just as much, by the eruptive aftermath it's birthed on fronts ranging from the courts, budgets and pews to the all-important presbyterate, whose traditional penchant for docility, widely-known across the Catholic world, has recently undergone a serious shift.....


And so, friends -- at the dawn of what's tipped to be an epochal week for this River City church -- before all else, let this town's own beloved heroic instrument ring out a fitting Entrance Hymn...

...still, as our next Shepherd isn't (by his own admission) exactly a guy of high-classical taste, something well more up his alley seems to be in order.

Something, that is, along these lines:

And now, back to preparing the rollout piece for what's set to be the most revolutionary shift of leadership this place has known in at least a century.

In one sense, Phils fans, this is a return to our roots... in another, it's a reflection of the best gifts our own have given to the wider church...

...yet above all, it marks the beginning of a very new, very different era from the way things have long been 'round here.

God love you lot forever and may the Lord give you peace... especially to you, buddy -- thanks to the heavens for your "yes" to us, and welcome home. Can't wait to start showing you around the most wonderful place in the world.

For all the rest, gang, as always, stay tuned.

SVILUPPO: Now it can be told -- at Roman Noon tomorrow, Pope Benedict is expected to name Charles Joseph Chaput, the 66 year-old Franciscan Capuchin and New York Times best-selling author who's served as archbishop of Denver since 1997, as the Ninth Archbishop of Philadelphia.


Saturday, July 16, 2011

It's On

...and so, Phightin church, at the close of a long, wild four months since consultations got underway -- two weeks precisely since B16 is said to have decided The File -- at long last, the dust cleared....

While, to be sure, things can theoretically change until the literal last minute before Roman Noon, as indications stand, The Announcement is foreseen for next week, with Tuesday the most frequently-tipped date.

As ever, more to come.


Friday, July 15, 2011

In China, "It's a War"

For all the local difficulties that could easily keep the Vatican brass up at night, by far, one situation likely trumps all the rest these days.

That distinction belongs to the state of the beleaguered church in China, where recent months have witnessed a spike of tensions that've served to further roil an already tenuous balance between the state-sanctioned "official" church and the "underground" faithful who clandestinely maintain communion with Rome.

Even if secularism and challenges to religious expression in society rate as key concerns on the ecclesial radar in Europe and the Americas, the Chinese drama that's flared in fits and starts over recent years rises to a threat level practically all its own. Because, in a nutshell, while many Westerners have come to be alarmed over external hurdles perceived to limit the presence of faith and the rights of believers in the public square, in the world's largest country, the church is unable to merely exist according to its own determination, its internal governance carried out under the close supervision of the state -- and, often, contingent upon the latter's approval.

Of the estimated 12 million Chinese Catholics, two-thirds are said to be affiliated with the clandestine church. Still, after a period of quiet interaction and public strides toward rapproachment in the wake of the Pope's 2007 Letter to the Chinese church, the temporary thaw between Beijing and Rome blew over last Fall as the government-sponsored Patriotic Catholic Association -- the Mainland's sole legal, public form of Catholicism -- signaled a return to its pre-detente practice of ordaining bishops on its own authority, lacking papal mandate (nor, for that matter, the discreet consultation that briefly had the Holy See signing off on the candidates presented by the state church).

Over the months since December's national PA meeting in Beijing which set the stage for the new appointments -- a gathering for which several clergy with Roman sympathies were reportedly rounded up by the civil authorities and forced to attend -- matters have only worsened. Following a first illicit ordination in November, a second rite was provocatively scheduled on last months' feast of Saints Peter and Paul, and today brought another of what could be as many as ten Patriotic-church elevations over the course of the coming months.

Notably, at least some of the clerics ordained by the PA were elected by the clergy and lay representatives of the dioceses in question. In at least two reported instances, though, the prelate chosen was the lone candidate on the ballot.

* * *
Much as it's been somewhat muted in mainstream news, the Vatican has taken to responding to the developments with a rare ferocity, publicly lobbing warnings of excommunication at the ordaining bishops and the candidates presented to them -- provided, however, that the participants were not made to perform the rites under force. And given said context, recent days have again brought reports that prelates in communion with Rome were either kidnapped or otherwise pressed to ensure their presence at the ordinations.

Shortly after the Holy See's "law office" released a lengthy statement outlining the penalties for illicitly-ordained bishops and "call[ing] for the bishops involved" in the liturgies "to recover their authority through signs of communion and penance," the Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi spoke of the Pope's "pain and concern" over the deteriorating situation following today's move. And elsewhere, the church's veteran lead voice on Chinese matters, Hong Kong's retired Cardinal Joseph Zen SDB, described the current state of affairs as "war" at a New York press conference held in response to the ceremony.

Earlier this week, Zen took out a half-page ad in a Hong Kong newspaper calling on Chinese President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao to halt the Mass. On his retirement in 2009, the 79 year-old cardinal was succeeded by Bishop John Tong, a considerably more moderate voice on Mainland matters. (The appointment made amid the high season of Sino-Vatican calm, Tong's promotion was widely considered a Roman concession to Beijing.)

In the background, meanwhile, the downturn of relations has made for a significant first test for the Holy See's newA-team on China policy: Archbishop Savio Hon (above), a Hong Kong native and now #2 of the church's missionary office, who became the first-ever Chinese named a senior Vatican official late last year, and his freshly arrived boss at the Propaganda Fide, Archbishop Fernando Filoni, a veteran of the Hong Kong-based "study mission" that, during the 1990s, served as the Vatican's quiet diplomatic back-door to the Mainland.

Between them, the two bring an unprecedented depth of contacts and on-ground experience to Rome's dealings with the Forbidden City. Even amid the almost historically grave circumstances, expectations remain high that they'll be able to craft some sort of resolution, albeit with a strong awareness that no lack of time or delicacy is certain to be needed for the task.

In the meanwhile, though, signs of lasting progress that were felt to be increasingly possible not all that long ago -- high among them, a move of the Holy See's Chinese nunciature from Taipei to Beijing -- are now indefinitely on ice.

* * *
Sure, this isn't the sexiest of stories -- and one that, to some, might seem too far removed to matter terribly much in our own orbits.

In a church that's interconnected by definition, though, nothing -- or, for that matter, no one -- is ever "too far" to not be close to each of us... and in a world that's ever more catching up with a concept of communion, a shifting balance of power promises to have global implications over the decades to come, and not just on the political or economic fronts.

Along those lines, a strong commentary was published in the wake of today's latest ordination by the Rome-based editor of the comprehensive, influential AsiaNews website, the Italian missionary Fr Bernardo Cervellera, that Benedict's "pain and concern" shouldn't just be his alone, and calls out to be felt more, both in the church and the wider world:
The Pope’s "pain and concern," is due to the fact that through these moves to dominate the Church in China, the patient work of mending bonds between the underground and official Church that John Paul II and Benedict XVI both attempted, is unravelling. A divided church is slow to evangelization and moreover, it fails to guarantee its right and space for religious freedom from the Chinese Communist Party which, in theory, the same Chinese constitution allows....

The "pain and concern" is also for the lives of [its] bishops. Because of the Shantou ordination, Mgr. Paul Pei Junmin of Liaoning has not been able to leave his diocese, helped by all the priests who were with him to praying continuously for days, to prevent their bishop being kidnapped. Another pastor, Mgr. Cai Bingrui Xiamen managed to hide. But he is now wanted by the government authorities. Last December, another bishop, Mgr. Li Lianghui of Cangzhou (Hebei), went into hiding in order not to have to participate in another gesture against the Pope (the Assembly of Representatives of Chinese Catholics). The police hunted for him for days like a "criminal" and after finding him, forced him to three months of isolation and brainwashing to convince him of the Party’s "good intentions" towards the Church. It is possible that Mgr. Pei and Mgr. Cai have been subjected to isolation and political sessions, to tear them from their ministry and destroy them from a psychological point of view.

With all of this, we must say that those sharing the Pope’s "pain and concern," are all too few.

And first of all, they are too few in the Church. The World Day of Prayer for the Church in China, commissioned and implored by Pope Benedict XVI with the appeal of last May 18, found few dioceses ready to pray for the Church in China, its persecuted and "opportunistic" bishops.

Not to mention civil society. By now, the Yangtze River’s white dolphin, which risks extinction due to pollution in China, provokes a greater outcry than the extinction of freedom in a country that is destined to rule the world, but which uses heavy handed methods without batting an eyelid.

A rosé of presidents further encourages this attitude (including the Italian president) as well as Secretaries of State, who visiting China never fail to eulogise the "positive path" taken by Beijing on human rights, while – beyond bishops and priests - thousands of activists, petitioners, artists and writers are imprisoned and forcibly silenced....

It is not just a case of simple greed, of interest in the Chinese market, it is a matter of short-sightedness in not seeing that attacks on religious freedom, sooner or later, become attacks on all freedoms.
Indeed, even as many in the West might feel this "attack" on one front, across the globe, it's being experienced to a degree most of us couldn't fathom.

Luckily, though, it's not as if this church has to resign itself to look on powerlessly: not just in Rome, after all, the Catholic world is blessed with resources, networks, numbers, conviction -- above all, a voice -- to seek the good and to speak to the many wounds of this hurting world... but especially when they involve our own who're being made to suffer precisely because they're one with the rest of us.

That's not to say the world will change overnight, but if things are ever going to improve, it's gotta start somewhere, right? Ergo, even barring the bigger stuff, as a brutal story plays out for our own a world away, but not far at all from any of us, may we know the grace to simply be mindful of it, to use what we have to aid those who don't... and, no question, to remember how blessed we are in our own freedom, and to exercise it to its most life-giving result.

PHOTOS: Reuters(2,3)


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Sure, Phils fans, it might be All-Star Week, our guys on the road to do some sweepin' this weekend...

...still, even for ad intra purposes, indications yield at least a slight pause before that bell starts swinging just yet.

Doesn't mean the wires aren't burning -- yet with the chorus remaining sufficiently split, on time and name alike, no reasonably secure definitive has emerged. And given the stakes, better to get the first shot on-target than attempting 18 stabs at it.

That said, and above all, a thousand thanks to everyone who's lent a hand these last hours... especially with everything else on the plate, it's a huge help and then some in the Breathing (Much) Easier department, not to mention a shot of encouragement whilst keeping at it in the mines.

Gratefully, about one and a half of the travel bills are now safely knocked out, but still another full one and a half to go, though, on top of all the usual shop-tabs. So even as the shape of things atop the home-front might be the prime news-concern of these next days, as ever, the future of this little slice of Churchworld depends far more on its readership than any one hierarch... even as, in the end, we all mix in together.

That's how these pages can be called a work of The Church, and even for all the debates over the divisions among our own in these days, round here, the guiding (read: non-institutional) principle remains sacrosanct.

And now, back to the tracking telethon -- as it unfolds, more to come.


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

"Super-Nuncio," Rome-Bound?

Afoot for months, the buzz has only grown more insistent over recent days that, after a considerably successful half-decade as B16's man on these shores, the "Super-Nuncio" is set to leave the domestic stage, returning to Rome and the traditional reward for the Holy See's representatives to the US.

With as many as four open Vatican posts cited as possible destinations for Archbishop Pietro Sambi to be placed in line for the red hat that's been given to all but two papal emissaries to Washington over the last 120 years, La Stampa's Andrea Tornielli was sufficiently constrained to say merely that the 72 year-old veteran of the diplomatic corps will receive a "cardinalatial" slot in relaying the move.

Tipped to succeed to the DC "laboratory" is the current "deputy mayor" of Vatican City, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, 70.

Unlike the current occupant of at 3339 Massachusetts Avenue NW, however, Sambi's rumored replacement has only served once previously as a nuncio -- a seven-year stint in Nigeria, Africa's largest country, from 1992-99.

A member of the diplomatic corps since 1973, the majority of Viganò's assignments have been within the Vatican, in the direct ranks of the Secretariat of State.

While internal concerns like the appointment of bishops, handling disputes and keeping the Home Office briefed invariably tend to dominate the Stateside mission's agenda, no shortage of observers will seek to parse a handover of the Holy See's US headquarters for its secular significance -- that is, if the move indicates any hint of a Vatican change of tone toward the Obama administration, to which Rome has sent favorable signals over time despite the former's stance on legal abortion, a state of affairs which has riled a critical mass of American Catholics (and, indeed, the bishops who lead them).

In that light, with Sambi's White House relations having remained predominantly cordial over the first half of the President's term, it bears recalling that any change at the "Pope's House" in the nation's capital would have to pass the muster of Benedict's all-powerful Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone SDB, who's perceived to be the lead force behind the Vatican's fairly dove-ish approach to the White House.

* * *
The architect of a sweeping post-scandal reboot of the Stateside bench and 2008's warmly-received PopeTrip to Washington and New York, Sambi was named to the DC posting within eight months of Pope Benedict's election.

The move maintained a half-century custom of a change at the Washington Nunciature as one of a new pontiff's first symbolic stamps on his global diplomatic presence, reflecting the US post's critical importance at the Vatican, both for geopolitical reasons and given the scope and influence of the nation's church.

Over the years since, the colorful, charming, even bubbly prelate, who turned 73 in late June, has both won friends and sparked frustration among his various constituencies; a big hit with church interest-groups and the press for his open style, emphasis on consultation and a decided lack of aversion to mixing things up, Sambi's penchant for zingers has served to rankle a notable portion of the Stateside bench at least occasionally, and the nuncio's diligence at drilling into local situations where he finds pertinent concern has left some of his bishops feeling weighed upon in the governance of their dioceses. (Once described as a "quick, effective and thorough" overseer of the things that fall on his desk, the mission-chief's hard-charging style has likewise made for a conspicuous turnover rate of the Nunciature staff since Sambi's arrival in March 2006.)

Since the founding of an Apostolic Delegation to the United States in 1893, all but two of the 13 prelates who've represented the Holy See in the nation's capital have been recalled to Rome at the end of their tenures and given the cardinal's red hat. Only three other missions have yielded the same near-constant result for their past heads: Paris, Rome and the United Nations' New York seat -- which, together with Washington, are often viewed as the "Big Four" of Vatican diplomacy.

The two US nuncios who didn't make the "Pope's Senate" were both fairly recent occupants of the Mass Ave. compound -- the controversial Jean Jadot, whose post-Conciliar term (1973-80) yielded episcopal nominees who subsequently garnered disfavor in Rome, and the gentleman Gabriel Montalvo (1999-2005), the reserved Colombian who, having helped steer the US church's initial path through the sex-abuse crisis, retired from the post only months before his death from lung cancer at 76. Yet now -- a year after Sambi was reportedly advised to "look around Rome" with an eye to being returned there -- the predominant tradition looks set to continue.

While Italian reports have indicated the nuncio's transfer to one of three ex officio cardinalatial posts in Rome -- the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See, heading the Governatorato that runs the services of the Vatican City-State, or even overseeing the Basilica of St Mary Major in succession to Boston's exiled Cardinal Bernard Law (who turns 80 in November) -- arguably the most natural fit for the "man from Jerusalem" is another open red-hat slot he'd likely relish well more than the others: Grand Master of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre.

Though based just by St Peter's, the latter slot's two most important areas are particularly well known to the archbishop -- Sambi's beloved Holy Land, where he's said he "came to know Jesus" while serving as nuncio to Jerusalem from 1998 until his transfer to DC; and the US itself, where a majority of the order's knights and dames live, and which provides the lion's share of the equestrian order's aid to the works of the small, struggling church in Israel and Palestine.

Usually a hyper-observant presence at USCCB meetings, the nuncio was conspicuously absent from last month's plenary in Seattle. Known for spending most of every summer in his Italian hometown -- and filling in for the local pastor so the priest can get a vacation -- Sambi headed back earlier than usual for a family wedding.

While any move had long been expected to not take place until fall, a wildfire of chatter over recent days has indicated a faster timetable. Either way, provided the buzz pans out, Viganò will have especially difficult shoes to fill -- whatever one's feelings about these last years, Sambi's residency on these shores has been one for the ages.

Not since the legendary Pio Laghi, after all, has one Stateside nuncio installed his picks in a supermajority of the nation's traditional cardinalatial sees, let alone most of the 32 archbishoprics -- a legacy that will top the bench for some two decades to come.

Yet while the sum total of Washington, New York, Los Angeles, Detroit, Baltimore, St Louis, Miami and, soon, Philadelphia stands as a herculean feat in itself, as this tenure's gone, even that barely scratches the surface.

PHOTOS: The White House(2); Doug Mills/
The New York Times(3); Getty(4)


And Now, Crunch Time....

So, gang, you were advised over the 4th that -- to a bigger extent than usual -- the Vatican's Year-End fireworks for these shores were still to arrive, no?

Ergo, with the Cleveland Visitation having marked the first leg of the display, its next stage is apparently being moved into place...

...and looking elsewhere, Phils fans, multiple indications on the front remain that the End of Days is close at hand.

No, that's not The Rapture -- at least, unless our Ninth Archbishop wishes it so.

In that light, this scribe's taking these last hours to gather buzz and, frankly, my own thoughts before heading into the final stretch of a long, brutal spring... before we head into what's looking to be a Grand Finale, though, the friendly reminder's especially needed that these pages keep coming your way thanks to one thing above all -- namely, their readership's (that is, your) support.

While that word could well be aired far more often than it tends to be 'round here, suffice it to say, the double-whammy of covering Beatification Week from Rome, then last month's Plenary from Seattle -- and those on top of all the usual costs of running the shop -- have combined to make for what remains quite the hole.

Given that, but particularly with the travel bills on-deck, your generosity in helping toward keeping things afloat allows your narrator to keep the focus where it belongs... and given the torrent of news right now, that relief is worth its weight in gold.

To be sure, without fail, this makes for the most difficult part of the job... and above all, as ever, a world of thanks to everyone who can lend a hand with it:

To those who've already been so good as to be mindful of the budget these last few weeks, thanks a ton -- and please forgive the behind-the-scenes chaos that's kept me from acknowledging each as it deserves. After a wild, seemingly relentless five months, just know your kindness has made breathing a good bit easier in the last drag to the finish line.

And now, as they say, here goes nothin'....

More once it's nailed down -- as always, stay tuned.


Monday, July 11, 2011

Cleveland Rocked: Vatican Probes Bishop, Church Closings

Two years after Bishop Richard Lennon's move to close 50 parishes plunged the diocese of Cleveland into a ferocious cycle of reaction from the pews -- which, among other things, saw one of the communities move to form a renegade "independent" parish with its former pastor late last year -- the head of the 750,000-member Ohio church announced this morning that the Holy See had launched an investigation into "all aspects" of diocesan activities, the bishop citing discontent expressed to the Vatican over "my leadership of the diocese" as the reason behind it.

Saying that the Visitation was taking place at his own request, Lennon revealed that Rome had appointed the recently-retired Bishop John "Mort" Smith of Trenton to conduct the probe and report his conclusions.

Already on the ground, the Jersey prelate will spend this week in Cleveland gathering information. The chancery said no timetable was known for the process.

A canon lawyer by training who spent significant stints of his priesthood both as a pastor and top administrator in his native Newark, Smith became a particularly well-loved figure among his people and priests in Trenton, even while overseeing his own difficult rounds of parish planning efforts over 13 years at the helm of the 850,000-member "great diocese," home to the nation's second-largest group of permanent deacons and, invariably over recent years, a notably high number of priestly ordinands for a mid-sized fold.

Pummeled by the stark realities of drastic location and population shifts, significantly lower rates of Mass attendance and sacramental practice, and sizable net losses of priests, practically every local church in the Northeast and Midwest has been forced to grapple with the triple-shot of decline that's combined to, at best, render the Rust Belt's century-old parish configurations ill-suited to the church's present circumstances there.

In the cycle's two-decade span -- which has seen the Last Mass mark the end of nearly 2,000 parishes nationwide -- dioceses have tackled the new dynamic with diverse approaches that, while all geared toward the same end of thinning burdensome numbers of largely-empty churches, have met with wildly varied reactions depending on the scope and time-frame of the planning effort, the levels of consultation employed in it and, above all, the degree to which diocesan leaders have been able to heal reeling parishioners, who are inevitably made to live with a change often as difficult as it's needed, one that invariably stokes anger, hurt, shaken faith, and worse.

As vicar-general of his native Boston, Lennon oversaw 2005's tumultuous closing of 67 parishes there, which came only three years after American Catholicism's onetime-flagship was rocked by the revelations of sex-abuse and cover-up that sparked the national crisis. The swath of moves did cut fairly, however; among the closings the then-auxiliary recommended was that of his own boyhood church.

Traumatic as the scandals' emergence was, losing the churches made for "the sting people feel," as one Boston pastor pressed into consolidating parishes reflected, adding that it took his merged entity five years to definitively move forward from the scars of reconfiguration.

In a related development, the Boston chancery recently announced plans for a second wave of mergers which, according to some early estimates, could see the archdiocese's current parish-count of 300 cut in half over the next several years. On the broader scene, while the toll of the closings has already been beyond significant, an equal or possibly greater sweep is likely still to come over the next decade, as the last large classes of priests (the group mostly ordained in the years immediately following the Council) reach retirement age -- a demographic tidal wave that will wipe out a full half, or even a majority, of many of today's active presbyterates in an astonishingly short space of time.

The Vatican's move for an inquest of the Cleveland situation is but the latest evidence of a shift of sentiment on the part of the Roman Curia when it comes to mass consolidations of American parishes. While bishops have long been given a relatively free hand to act in the best interests of their dioceses as a whole -- provided, that is, the procedures used faithfully follow the provisions of canon law -- the Holy See has overturned several closings in Pennsylvania, New York and Massachusetts through the first six months of 2011 after parishioners appealed to the Congregation for the Clergy, a filing known in ecclesial terms as administrative recourse.

Where applicable, the issue of parish mergers and their optimal scope is expected to figure prominently during the US bishops' meetings with the Pope and Curia during the bench's coming ad limina visit to Rome -- the USCCB's first seven-yearly report to Benedict XVI -- which begins through November and December with the Northeastern provinces of Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Newark.

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Named to Cleveland in the wake of his hometown tempest, repeating the tough task on a proportionally-larger scale proved even more brutal for the 64 year-old bishop -- a mathematician and self-trained canonist whose hard-charging, sometimes brusque style lends itself to making tough calls, but at the same time allows Lennon to be effortlessly portrayed as the proverbial "bad cop." Accordingly, while it was intended as a gesture of solicitude and support, the prelate's practice of celebrating the final Mass of the shuttering parishes -- most of them in the city's once-bustling ethnic bastions, now largely a shadow of their former selves -- has made for some ugly incidents, as one congregation walked out when the bishop began to preach, shouting from the pews elsewhere led to a mid-Mass argument, and Lennon reportedly confided that he had likewise been cursed at and spat upon by irate members of the affected communities.

Given the tensions, the city's paper of record said that bishop was accompanied to the parish "funerals" by uniformed and plainclothes police.

Though the Clevelander said he requested the visitation on his own, it is exceedingly rare for Rome to make an intervention of this sort into the life of a local church.

Before now, the last time an American see was examined on-site is believed to have taken place in 1983, when concerns over Seattle Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen's handling of several major areas of church life -- including liturgy, formation of seminarians, ministry to gay and lesbian Catholics and the tribunal -- brought the appointment of then-Archbishop James Hickey of Washington as apostolic visitor. Two years later, the findings resulted in the appointment of then-Fr Donald Wuerl of Pittsburgh as auxiliary to Hunthausen while stripping the archbishop of much of his authority as Rome gave Wuerl ultimate jurisdiction over the hot-button areas examined by Hickey and his team.

The tension wrought by the move served to short-circuit the arrangement after little more than a year, and with a coadjutor subsequently named, Hunthausen retired at age 70 in 1991.

Elsewhere, the most recent high-profile visitation of a single diocese was the 2007 calling of an inquest into the Australian diocese of Toowoomba after local parishioners complained to Rome over an enduring illicit use of the Third Rite of Reconciliation -- i.e. general absolution without individual confessions -- outside of emergency situations, and Bishop William Morris' note in a 2006 pastoral letter that, in light of the rapidly declining number of priests, "several responses have been discussed," among which, he said, the church was being urged to consider the ordination of women and married men to the priesthood, as well as accepting the validity of ministers from other Christian communities to perform Catholic rites.

After the Holy See dispatched Archbishop Charles Chaput OFM Cap. of Denver to survey the scene firsthand, years of discussions between the Curia and Morris culminated in February when the Pope removed the Queensland prelate from office. In response, the bishop said in a letter to the diocese that, despite Vatican officials calling for his resignation in six separate instances, he refused, as leaving the post voluntarily, he wrote, "would mean that I accept the assessment of myself as breaking communio, which I absolutely refute and reject."

Back to the shores of Lake Erie, though, the message first released to the Cleveland clergy early this morning, here below is Lennon's announcement in full:
Acting on the request of Most Rev. Richard G. Lennon, The Holy See has asked Most Rev. John M. Smith, Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Trenton (N.J.), to visit the Diocese of Cleveland.

Bishop Lennon said, “While I am confident that I am faithfully handling the responsibilities entrusted to me, I personally made this request earlier this year because a number of persons have written to Rome expressing their concerns about my leadership of the Diocese. This visit will be an opportunity to gather extensive information on all aspects of the activities of the Diocese and will allow for an objective assessment of my leadership. I ask for prayers that this process will support the vibrancy and vitality of our Diocese going forward.”

Bishop Smith will be in Cleveland this week. Following the conclusion of his visit, Bishop Smith will submit a report to The Holy See; no timetable has been announced.
...and lastly, for a snapshot of what the place will find in its Roman inquisitor, Smith's closing remarks from a May Mass in Trenton marking the emeritus' golden jubilee as a priest:

Suffice it to say, all this gives "Mortification" a whole new meaning.

PHOTOS: Gus Chan/
Cleveland Plain-Dealer(2)