Thursday, July 19, 2018

For "Uncle Ted," The Final Cut

Put simply, the report is a nuclear bomb.

Even as last month's credible, substantiated allegation that Cardinal Theodore McCarrick abused a minor in the early 1970s resulted in the Pope's direct suspension of the 88 year-old prelate, and with it emerged two decade-old settlements by the dioceses he led over his misconduct with adults, late Thursday afternoon The New York Times published the apparent epitaph of one of American Catholicism's towering figures of the late 20th and early 21st centuries: the testimony of some 20 years of abuse of one man by the retired Washington prelate, beginning when the victim – the son of a close friend of the future cardinal – was 11 years old.

Not merely for the Stateside church, but Catholicism beyond, the fresh charge – which the now 60 year-old survivor, identified only as James, said he revealed to his family in the wake of McCarrick's removal – represents a seismic moment. Even for the torrent of 2002, it's a confluence that would've been unthinkable: a graphic return to the crisis’ major eruption at an unprecedented level of the US hierarchy... yet now beyond, a practically uncharted frontier of new processes and potential penalties for clerics of all stripes over claims of sexual harassment or exploitation of those under their authority: as Francis himself has re-framed the issue over recent weeks in personally aiming to repair the roiled church in Chile, "the abuse of sex, the abuse of power, the abuse of conscience."

As previously reported, the first allegation against McCarrick – levied last January, the 1971 abuse of a 16 year-old boy which, in a historic step, was found credible through the standard Dallas Charter process – itself represented the first time in a quarter-century that a cardinal's assault of a minor was openly aired and acted upon by Rome.

While the removed prelate was said to have been planning an appeal of that judgment – and the final determination of McCarrick's penalty remains pending before the Pope – a second accusation of child abuse effectively short-circuits an attempt at recourse. What's more, however, given last month's simultaneous disclosure of the twin settlements over the then-bishop's misconduct toward two priests – the first of them reached in 2005 – it bears repeating that "among the College of Cardinals, never before have both degrees of scandal converged at once – that is, until now."

In today's piece, James and his attorney told the Times that a police report on the allegations was filed earlier this week, but a civil suit over the abuse has yet to be broached.

* * *
Significant as Monday's front-page Times piece was in that it marked the public emergence of one of McCarrick's adult targets – Robert Ciolek, a now-married former priest who filed the first misconduct suit – in terms of policy, a buried comment from Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark delivered the biggest impact.

A Francis confidant and favorite of McCarrick's who was sent to New Jersey's top post at the latter's behest, Tobin said in a statement that he would "discuss this tragedy with the leadership of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in order to articulate standards that will assure high standards of respect by bishops, priests and deacons for all adults."

In as many words, that means another "Charter," at least to some extent – and as both a cardinal and chair of a major USCCB committee, just as Tobin got his declared wish for a top-shelf conference delegation to visit and minister to families separated at the Mexican border earlier this month, he will have this as well.

In the wake of the comment, what's become a fairly rote November agenda in Baltimore just got a lot more interesting – if anything, the Stateside bench's most consequential plenary on the scandals since the famous June 2002 summit in Dallas is now teed up.

Given the circumstances, though – above all, a marked lack of consensus among the body on how to address the thicket at hand – odds are a new conference entity devoted to the issue will need to be created. Accordingly, as the relevant concerns span the respective purviews of the bench's arms for Clergy/Consecrated Life (which Tobin oversees) and Canonical Affairs, not to mention the safe-environment work of the Committee for Child and Youth Protection, the announcement of a task-force or ad hoc committee on harassment and adult abuse can likely be expected over the coming weeks – at the latest by mid-September's closed-door meeting of the conference's all-important Administrative Committee, which sets the agenda for the November sessions.

Developing – more to come.


Wednesday, July 11, 2018

For San Jose, Obispo Oscar – Amid Transformation, Pope Makes Evocative Pick for Silicon Valley Church

(Updated with video, further context.)

The simple fact that you're reading this is testament to the reality behind today's lead story: given the shifts of the last two decades, it can be argued that no place has a greater impact on modern American life than Santa Clara County, California, a state of affairs that begins with the three behemoths all based there – Google, Facebook, and Apple.

With the rise of the local tech empires fueling a growth that's extended to their local church, the spurt has underscored a premium on youth and smarts...

...and now – a full two years ahead of schedule – the Vatican has responded in kind.

In a surprisingly early move, at Roman Noon this Wednesday the Pope named Bishop Oscar Cantú of Las Cruces – at 51, already a well-experienced hand on the national, and even global stage – as coadjutor of San Jose: now the US' tenth-largest city, and the seat of a countywide fold now numbering upwards of 700,000 Catholics, a doubling in size within a quarter-century.

Ordained an auxiliary of San Antonio at 41 in 2008, then head of New Mexico's border diocese since 2013, the Houston-born Cantú becomes heir apparent to Bishop Patrick McGrath, who reaches the retirement age of 75 in June 2020. Known as "PJ" among the locals, the Irish-born prelate – the last San Francisco auxiliary of John Raphael Quinn – has overseen the bulk of San Jose's transformation; 20 years ago this summer, as Netscape and Oracle led the first wave of the tech boom and Apple began its resurgence with the return of Steve Jobs, McGrath arrived as coadjutor to Bishop Pierre DuMaine, succeeding to the chair within 18 months.

While some rumblings that McGrath had sought an early succession have made the rounds over recent weeks, a selection was not expected until later in the year.

As for the turf itself, even for Silicon Valley's reputation of a white, wealthy enclave, the church that encompasses it is a markedly different story. Together with the growth of the diocese, Hispanics have claimed a solid majority of its membership – comprising close to 60 percent – while its contingent of Anglos has shrunk by nearly a fifth. Notably, however – especially in the context of California – the diocese's statistical report for the coming V Encuentro (slated for September in the North Texas Metroplex) states that the bulk of its Latino population is US-born as opposed to immigrants. In that light, the choice of a native-born Hispanic with crossover appeal strikingly mirrors the profile of the people he'll inherit; that Cantú was "imported" from outside California – a rarity among the state's bishops – indicates the degree to which the particular background and skill-set was a priority in the search.

Meanwhile, one of the church's key challenges is likewise hidden from the headlines – at least, most of the time. Together with the tech boom's infusion of people and capital, the resulting spike in housing prices that's made Santa Clara County one of the nation's richest (and with it, home to the US' most expensive costs of living) has birthed a homeless population recently estimated as the country's largest; in one prominent example of the scourge, some of the unsheltered were found to be spending their nights aboard a public-transit bus. Especially in the age of Francis – who has famously received each of the Valley's "Big Three" tech chiefs in private audiences – the sense of responsibility to "the least" in the midst of an opulence almost without peer anywhere else stands out as a glaring Job One.

All that said, though much will rightly be made of Cantú's youth and the prospect of another long tenure, the incoming bishop's experience belies his years. Having come to the bench with the backing of past and future USCCB presidents – Houston's founding Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza and his successor, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo – his formation as a bishop in San Antonio took place under the conference's next head, Archbishop José Gomez... and on the wider scene, all of it has ostensibly rubbed off: in 2013, Cantú was elected chair of the bishops' foreign policy arm – one of the US hierarchy's most intensive portfolios – becoming, at 46, the youngest head of a major committee in recent times. Given the global clout of the multinational corporations on his new turf – led by what's now the world's largest company by revenue – Cantú's specialized experience brings an added, almost unique match to this particular assignment.

As a coadjutor assumes the governance of a diocese immediately upon the death or resignation of his predecessor without a ritual act, the substitute for an understudy’s installation – the Mass of Welcome – has been slated for 28 September in the picturesque Cathedral-Basilica of St Joseph (above), which was both restored and realigned to an "in the round" style in 1990.

With today's move creating an opening in Las Cruces, three Stateside Latin dioceses would've been vacant, but at 6.30am local time today, the death at 71 of Bishop Richard Garcia of Monterey after a three-month battle with Alzheimer's disease has made for a fourth.

Led in terms of size by Southern California's 1.1 million-member outpost in Fresno, another four US dioceses are led by (arch)bishops serving past the retirement age. As previously noted, however, even as the docket winds down for the Curia's summer hiatus, its top line remains the flood of auxiliaries gradually recasting the leadership of the nation's largest religious body for a generation and beyond.

SVILUPPO: At his local rollout in San Jose, Cantú noted the challenge and opportunity of ministry to young people in a hyper-secularized culture from the very outset... and with it, reflecting the said omnipresent influence of his new charge, terms like "Googled" and "iPad" were dropped as a matter of habit.

That the event was streamed over YouTube is just as resonant – it, too, is a product of Santa Clara County:

On a final note, the arrival of one of the USCCB's lead policy wonks only serves to bolster what's already the most active – and, arguably, influential – state bench in terms of public policy.

Driven largely by Gomez from the nation's largest diocese, the California Catholic Conference pushes a sprawling agenda in Sacramento, its priorities ranging from the standard pro-life and immigration angles to environmental issues and criminal-justice reform. Meanwhile, highlighting the demographic shift of the largest religious body in the largest state, for the first time, last month a Latino took the helm of the CCC as its executive director.

Until now LA's diocesan chief for government affairs with a prior stint at the USCCB, along the way Andy Rivas was likewise the church's chief lobbyist in Texas, where the faithful's historic ascendancy of recent years has seen an equally monumental uptick of Catholic advocacy in Austin – a trajectory now capped by the election of Lone Star Country's first governor from the pews since the days of Mexican rule.


Friday, July 06, 2018

Well, folks, if this last week hasn't made for a full cycle – indeed, another one – few things ever will... so much for the beat grinding to a halt.

To be sure, the usual July lull will still kick in at some point – for now, though, the thing about summer weekends is that if you don't use them, you lose 'em... so here's to a bit of that for us all – and as the shop's still got bills to handle alongside some wrap-up pieces in the works, if you've been enjoying the product of these days, as ever, these pages only keep coming your way thanks to your support:

Again, all thanks to everyone who's already lent a hand – as you've seen, it helps the content. Meantime, as this scribe'll have some non-breaking news days to play with (at least, one can hope), if there's anything in particular you'd want to hear about over these next weeks, just say the word.


Five Years Since Lampedusa, "Today's Pharisees Build Walls"

It might be apocryphal, but a story from the first weeks of the rule of Francis nonetheless resonates five years after the fact.

In sum, after Papa Bergoglio read in the papers about the near-daily shipwrecks of migrants crossing the Mediterranean, hundreds drowning by the month, out of nowhere the Curia was said to have been alerted by Alitalia that someone claiming to be the new Pope was trying to book seats on the morning flight to the boats' landing spot at Lampedusa.

To be sure, every new pontificate is a matter of adjustment as it wends through its initial paces. But that tale highlighted the degree to which this one would be more than most – if anything, five years on, in many quarters the acclimation to the "new normal" remains an ongoing process.

As the world marked the fifth anniversary of Francis' election in March, a single word on the milestone from the Pope himself was conspicuous by its absence. Four months later, however, he chose instead to commemorate five years since his first trek outside Rome – his penitential pilgrimage to Europe's "Island of Tears" at Italy's (and the continent's) southern tip, whose bishop he would subsequently make a cardinal as a sign of his enduring closeness and solidarity.

Announced only on Wednesday, at mid-morning today the pontiff led a rare papal Mass at the Altar of the Chair at the back of St Peter's – arranged with the explicit purpose of being a liturgy for migrants, the congregation was comprised of some 200 invited refugees.

Coming amid a year which began with Francis' release of his first full-on magisterial document on immigration – and with today's Gospel a significant one in his own life – while this morning's homily largely restated his well-burnished appeals to remedy the plight of itinerant peoples, as a sign of this latest message's importance to the Pope, the text was widely translated in advance:
“You who trample upon the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land… Behold the days are coming… when I will send a famine on the land… a thirst for hearing the words of the Lord” (Amos 8:4.11).

Today this warning of the prophet Amos is remarkably timely. How many of the poor are trampled on in our day! How many of the poor are being brought to ruin! All are the victims of that culture of waste that has been denounced time and time again. Among them, I cannot fail to include the migrants and refugees who continue to knock at the door of nations that enjoy greater prosperity.

Five years ago, during my visit to Lampedusa, recalling the victims lost at sea, I repeated that timeless appeal to human responsibility: “ ‘Where is your brother? His blood cries out to me’, says the Lord. This is not a question directed to others; it is a question directed to me, to you, to each of us (Homily, 8 July 2013). Sadly, the response to this appeal, even if at times generous, has not been enough, and we continue to grieve thousands of deaths.

Today’s Gospel acclamation contains Jesus’ invitation: “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28). The Lord promises refreshment and freedom to all the oppressed of our world, but he needs us to fulfil his promise. He needs our eyes to see the needs of our brothers and sisters. He needs our hands to offer them help. He needs our voice to protest the injustices committed thanks to the silence, often complicit, of so many. I should really speak of many silences: the silence of common sense; the silence that thinks, “it’s always been done this way”; the silence of “us” as opposed to “you”. Above all, the Lord needs our hearts to show his merciful love towards the least, the outcast, the abandoned, the marginalized.

In the Gospel we heard, Matthew tells us of the most important day in his life, the day Jesus called him. The Evangelist clearly records the Lord’s rebuke to the Pharisees, so easily given to insidious murmuring: “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice’” (9:13). It is a finger pointed at the sterile hypocrisy of those who do not want to “dirty the hands”, like the priest or the Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan. This is a temptation powerfully present in our own day. It takes the form of closing our hearts to those who have the right, just as we do, to security and dignified living conditions. It builds walls, real or virtual, rather than bridges.

Before the challenges of contemporary movements of migration, the only reasonable response is one of solidarity and mercy. A response less concerned with calculations, than with the need for an equitable distribution of responsibilities, an honest and sincere assessment of the alternatives and a prudent management. A just policy is one at the service of the person, of every person involved; a policy that provides for solutions that can ensure security, respect for the rights and dignity of all; a policy concerned for the good of one’s own country, while taking into account that of others in an ever more interconnected world. It is to this world that the young look.

The Psalmist has shown us the right attitude to adopt in conscience before God: “I have chosen the way of faithfulness, I set your ordinances before me” (Ps 119,30). A commitment to faithfulness and right judgement that all of us hope to pursue together with government leaders in our world and all people of good will. For this reason, we are following closely the efforts of the international community to respond to the challenges posed by today’s movements of migration by wisely combining solidarity and subsidiarity, and by identifying both resources and responsibilities.

I would like to close with a few words in Spanish, directed particularly to the faithful who have come from Spain.

I wanted to celebrate the fifth anniversary of my visit to Lampedusa with you, who represent rescuers and those rescued on the Mediterranean Sea. I thank the rescuers for embodying in our day the parable of the Good Samaritan, who stopped to save the life of the poor man beaten by bandits. He didn’t ask where he was from, his reasons for travelling or his documents… he simply decided to care for him and save his life. To those rescued I reiterate my solidarity and encouragement, since I am well aware of the tragic circumstances that you are fleeing. I ask you to keep being witnesses of hope in a world increasingly concerned about the present, with little vision for the future and averse to sharing. With respect for the culture and laws of the country that receives you, may you work out together the path of integration.

I ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten our minds and to stir our hearts to overcome all fear and anxiety, and to make us docile instruments of the Father’s merciful love, ready to offer our lives for our brothers and sisters, as the Lord Jesus did for each of us.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

A Lay "Cardinal" – In Media Reform's Take Two, Francis Makes History

As an op with the early word put it on Tuesday, "this is going to be big" – and indeed it is: in a move without precedent for the 500 year-old Roman Curia, the Pope has entrusted the leadership of a Vatican department to a member of the laity.

Marking an attempted reboot at his fraught reform of the Holy See's media properties, at Roman Noon this Thursday Francis named Paolo Ruffini – the 61 year-old serving until now as head of the Italian bishops' broadcast outlet TV2000 – as prefect of the recently-renamed Dicastery for Communications, the new umbrella organ encompassing Vatican Radio, TV, the Press Office, the publishing house, a growing editorial operation, and the functions of the now-suppressed Pontifical Council for Social Communications. (As is now customary for occasions of the sort, a photo of the new prefect with Francis – who reportedly chose Ruffini earlier this week – was released to mark the appointment.)

With the move, the married Sicilian shatters a "stained-glass ceiling" – while a handful of laypeople or women religious have occupied the #3 posts of major Curial offices over the last half-century, and John Paul II first put a layman at the helm of the lower-ranking Press Office in 1984, a non-ordained figure has never risen to the level of Prefect: a position that, under the Pastor Bonus norms of 1988, belonged exclusively to the heads of the nine Congregations, the top judge of the Apostolic Signatura (the church's highest court) and the head of the Papal Household, all but the last one ex officio cardinals. Put simply, the title represents the pinnacle of executive power in the church's central government – and the merged media arm's massive spread of some 650 employees only amplifies the significance of the choice.

Said to be very well-regarded among his colleagues – so much so that, according to one report, some of his TV2000 staff wept on learning of today's announcement – Ruffini succeeds Msgr Dario Viganò, whose March ouster after misrepresenting a letter from Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI brought to a head a long-simmering discontent among staffers and vested observers over his execution of the reform.

While ops report that the new prefect doesn't speak English and lacks much exposure to the international media world, by early accounts, Ruffini nonetheless comes to the post with two key attributes that eluded his predecessor: experience in management alongside a history in content production, and a knack for the "personal relationships" that, according to some, Viganò didn't adequately maintain amid the deep sensitivities and high stakes of consolidating the media entities, each with their own long-standing culture and sense of turf.

Along those lines, two of the key bonds the incoming media chief will need to build at the outset are likely to make for a particular high-wire act: with Viganò himself, who Francis placed in the dicastery's third-ranking post following his resignation, and with the office's top deputy, Argentine Msgr Lucio Ruiz, who was reportedly being "test-piloted" for the prefect's role at the start of the vacancy. In addition, while Viganò assembled a high-powered global team of consultants for the office – including both the progressive lead voice of the Jesuits' America magazine, Fr James Martin, and Michael Warsaw, the CEO of EWTN – in a sign of the project's disarray, the dicastery's advisers and prelate-members still have yet to be gathered together nearly 18 months since the bulk of them were named.

Among other challenges ahead, the reform still has yet to absorb L’Osservatore Romano – the Vatican’s daily newspaper and the oldest piece of the Pope’s communication apparatus – whose staff has been said to be overtly reluctant to cede their semi-autonomous standing.

Prominent and historic as today's nod is, though, the Comms portfolio isn't the most critical personnel pick facing Francis over the summer break: that choice remains the Pope's appointment of the next Sostituto of the Secretariat of State – the Curia's "nerve center" role, roughly equivalent to the White House Chief of Staff.

Having opened up due to the newly-elevated Cardinal Angelo Becciu's transfer to the helm of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, according to several ops, the twin frontrunners for the post present a study in contrasts. The current Nuncio to the Philippines, Archbishop Gabriele Giordano Caccia, 60, would be the ultimate "inside man," both as an Italian and having spent seven years as Assessore, the Sostituto's deputy – a period during which his counterpart on the diplomatic side was notably Msgr Pietro Parolin, now a cardinal and Francis' formidable "prime minister." On the flip-side, meanwhile, the Filipino-born Archbishop Bernardito Auza, 59, has served since 2014 in one of Vatican diplomacy's most prestigious postings – the Holy See's permanent observer at the United Nations headquarters in New York – after a six-year stint as Nuncio to Haiti. Known universally as "Barney," the ebullient prelate has carved out a markedly high profile in the UN post – to an unusual degree for a top diplomat – and would represent a milestone as Parolin's top deputy, becoming the Curia's highest-ranking Asian in history.

Either way, amid perceptions that Francis' internal reform has stalled, the next Sostituto could have an even more enduring impact than most occupants of the post – on top of the usual clearinghouse role, it'll fall to the Pope's pick to implement the long-germinating new constitution slated to rearrange the Roman Curia.

The text's first complete draft submitted to Papa Bergoglio last month by his "Gang of Nine" cardinal-advisers, the new regolamento – the first since John Paul issued Pastor Bonus 30 years ago last week – is expected to be published next year.


Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Blase Scores "Hat Trick" – Pope Taps 3 Auxiliaries for Chicago

In the works for quite some time from his seat on the Congregation for Bishops, Cardinal Blase Cupich's much-anticipated backup has arrived – at Roman Noon, the Pope named three auxiliary bishops for the 2.4 million-member archdiocese of Chicago: Fathers Ron Hicks, 50, the vicar-general; Mark Batosic, 56, until now chaplain of the Cook County Jail; and Robert Casey, 50, until now pastor of the city's St Bede Parish.

Cupich's first batch of deputies since his arrival in late 2014, the bishops-elect were all classmates at Mundelein and ordained priests together by Cardinal Joseph Bernardin in 1994. With the triple nod, the number of Stateside auxiliaries added to the bench within the last two years now stands at 25.

While the lack of a Hispanic appointee is conspicuous given the Windy City's rapid evolution into a majority-Latino outpost over recent years, all three speak Spanish; in particular, prior to his ascent as Cupich's lead clerical aide, Hicks spent five years as a missionary in El Salvador (where, as seen below, the locals gave him a celebratory lift on his birthday), while Casey previously led Casa Jesus, the archdiocese's program for seminarians born in Latin America. All told, in light of the cardinal's laser-like focus on finding a new generation of prelates across the board who bear the smell of Francis, The Blase's home-turf trio were deliberately chosen to each have an outsize impact, and thus will inevitably be viewed as models of Papa Bergoglio's rebooted concept of pastoral leadership far beyond Chicagoland.

The lone US diocese ever to receive four hats at once since the Roman clampdown on auxiliary appointments in the early 1980s, some estimates during the process forecasted an encore for the latest crop by the Lake. Still, even if a repeat of the record didn't come to pass, the group's youth and preparation for prime time makes for enough of a splash – by contrast, the last time a US diocese was given three auxiliaries, in 2015 Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York opted for three low-profile veterans in their late 60s as opposed to rising stars who would eventually be assured of leading dioceses in their own right.

All three viewed as effective witnesses and leaders not just by Cupich, but among the Chitown presbyterate, while Hicks (below left) will remain at Quigley Chancery, in keeping with local custom Batosic (center) and Casey (right) will take the reins of the two openings among the archdiocese's six geographic vicariates. American Catholicism's most developed structure of the kind, the Chicago vicariates essentially function as mini-dioceses – and, in terms of population, are each larger than roughly 90 percent of the nation's stand-alone local churches.

Together with the announcement, Francis granted the retirements of Bishops Frank Kane and George Rassas, who both turned 75 over the last year. With today's nods, the archdiocese will have seven active auxiliaries once the bishops-elect are ordained on September 17th in Holy Name Cathedral.

As the last six months have seen no less than 10 auxiliaries tapped – in Orange, Brownsville, Atlanta, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington, Rockville Centre, and now Chicago – according to higher estimates, the ongoing "Auxnado" that's recasting the voting makeup of the USCCB could see the naming of another 15 to 20 assistant hats over the next year or so. As the Vatican's working year begins to wrap up, openings still waiting to be filled include as many as three auxiliaries for Cardinal Joe Tobin in Newark, likely two each for New York, Boston, the Military Services and Cleveland, and at least one each still pending in Houston, Dallas, San Diego, the Twin Cities... and beyond.

All told, the flood of auxiliaries – representing nearly half the 60-plus appointments carried out to date by Archbishop Christophe Pierre over his two years as Nuncio to Washington – arguably represents Francis' most influential and enduring legacy for the Stateside bench: in some cases, one that will extend to the threshold of 2050.

Back to Chicago, despite the understandable visions of Cupich setting off fireworks outside Quigley at 10am sharp to mark the arrival of his creations, with Hicks away from the city on a 30-day Ignatian retreat, a local op relays that no press conference will be held for today's appointments.

While the business of the Curia has ground to a halt for the Vatican's traditional summer exodus and the Pope's "stay-cation" at the Domus, appointments already decided tend to be announced through mid-July.


Monday, July 02, 2018

At The Border, "There Are No Villains"

For all the statements the leadership of the US' largest religious body might issue, moments like these are the thing that'll actually be remembered.

After a quickly arranged whirlwind tour that ended up unfolding over two days (doubling the original plan), the USCCB executive – Cardinal Daniel DiNardo and Archbishop José Gomez – wrapped up their visit to separated immigrant families at the Southern Border with a press conference earlier tonight at the Rio Grande Valley's Basilica of San Juan de la Valle.


With media access curtailed for most of today's stops at sites supervised by Federal agencies, according to the comments of the five-man delegation, the most intense leg of the trip was ostensibly the prelates' journey to Casa Padre – the former Wal-Mart converted into a particularly notorious shelter for some 1,500 boys separated from their parents – where they celebrated Mass for several hundred of the young detainees.


Sunday, July 01, 2018

Bench On A Mission – In Latest Push For Immigrant Families, USCCB Chiefs Run For The Border

Less than three weeks since Cardinal Joe Tobin of Newark called for a delegation of US bishops to head to the Mexican border in a show of solidarity with immigrant families being separated there, the plans have come together with stunning speed: late Friday, the conference announced that an unspecified group would make the visit on Monday, July 2nd, with the ground zero of the 2,000-plus displacements of parents from their children, South Texas' Rio Grande Valley, as the site.

The journey reportedly eyed at first for sometime in the fall by conference staff, but markedly sped up as key players cited the urgency of the moment, given the quick timeframe and the according logistical challenges, no other details have been formally relayed as yet. However, Whispers has learned that the core group for the trip is expected to be small, but top-level, led by the conference president, Houston's Cardinal Daniel DiNardo – who canceled his planned trip to Rome for last Thursday's Consistory to prioritize the border visit – and his deputy, Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, the de facto lead hand on messaging and strategy for the church's sharply ramped-up engagement on immigration matters. (The duo elected in the wake of President Trump's ascent to the White House, as vice-president, the Mexican-born Gomez is virtually certain to succeed DiNardo at the helm when their current three-year terms expire in November 2019, marking the first time the conference's top post will belong both to a Latino and the head of the nation's largest diocese.)

Beyond the USCCB executive, an op close to the planning said Saturday that just a handful of other, far junior prelates would be present aside from the mission's host and "tour-guide," Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville. A force in his own right – and one who enjoys a unique amount of high regard across the church's ideological divide – the 56 year-old's combination of intellectual heft and public-square skill has yielded a markedly increased profile for the booming 1.6 million-member fold encompassing the Valley: with the faithful comprising some 90 percent of its total population, long the Stateside church's most densely-Catholic turf, and a majority of it aged younger than 25.

Since Francis' election, Brownsville's newfound prominence has coincided with a "perfect storm" at its southern edge – the confluence of a Pope who's made advocacy for migrants his calling card amid increasing tensions over the issue in American politics and the church alike.

As the Valley church's daily ministry to the immigrant tide has arguably seen it emerge as the US' "poster diocese" for Francis' premium on the suffering "peripheries" of human existence, Flores and his team have been duly bolstered by both the pontiff and the wider Catholic scene: for the first time, earlier this year saw an auxiliary named to Brownsville, the 48 year-old Oratorian Mario Avilés – a Mexican-born local pastor with Roman experience – while the head of the diocese's Catholic Charities, Missionary of Jesus Sister Norma Pimentel, has rapidly become one of the US' most visible women religious, a trajectory capped this spring by her acceptance of Notre Dame's Laetare Medal (above), the first Latina ever to receive American Catholicism's most venerable award. (On the eve of the bishops' visit, the current spike of asylum seekers saw Sr Norma take to the local airwaves asking for help in finding a larger space to adequately serve those coming to Catholic Charities for aid, which she estimated as 100 to 200 families a day over recent weeks.)

Capped by a press conference with the visitors, tomorrow's event will be the US hierarchy's third major manifestation at the border in the last three years, following a 2014 Mass at Arizona's border fence led by Francis' top North American adviser, Cardinal Seán O'Malley OFM Cap. of Boston, and the 2016 gathering of several top US prelates at the Rio Grande's banks in El Paso, watching from the Texas side as the Pope celebrated Mass in Ciudad Juarez and laid a wreath at the border's edge in tribute to those who died making the effort to cross over (below). (Due to logistical hurdles, Francis' stated desire to pass into the US himself at the time could not be accommodated.)

With the specifics of tomorrow's schedule still to be released, the only known event of yet will be an 11am Central Mass today in the arena-esque Basilica of San Juan de la Valle, Brownsville's de facto cathedral employed for major diocesan events.

As ever, more as it transpires.