Thursday, June 13, 2019

Day 3: At Last, The Votes

BALTIMORE – Normally, the end of a USCCB plenary tends to be more whimper than bang.

For the millionth time, however, these days are anything but "normal"... and indeed, seeing a good few of the bishops trying to mask themselves underneath floppy fisherman's hats while off the Floor has only underscored it.

Fifty-one weeks since the exposure of the then-cardinal, now-laicized Theodore McCarrick as a predator blew open American Catholicism's second round of an all-encompassing abuse crisis – in reality, a crisis of confidence in the ability of church leadership to handle cases – the response has always been focused on what's finally happening today.

In that light, seven months after the first attempt toward more stringent accountability norms was halted by the Vatican at the very last minute, the three main planks come up for debate and vote shortly after 9am Eastern.

Underscoring the significance of the package – and the degree of the 250 prelates' intent to fine-tune it to the utmost degree possible – the trio of items, now headlined by the US protocols for the application of Pope Francis' Vos estis lux mundi, will take up the entire morning session through the usual 12.30 lunchtime.

Here's the livefeed:

As ever, more to come.


Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Day 2: The "Lay" of the Land

BALTIMORE – Lest you're wondering what's going on, well, even the bench is trying to figure that out.

For all yesterday's curveballs and tangents – Woodstock, anyone? – the fault-line on this plenary's prime matter came down just as expected, and produced the only relative "lock" we've got so far: defying the draft of the US' directives for Vos estis, there will be a mandate for lay involvement worked in... but the question remains of how exactly it'll be codified.

On that, the moment of truth won't come until very late tonight – final amendments on the abuse-related texts aren't due until 5pm today, and then have to be vetted by the bishops' canonical arm before hitting the Floor for final debate and vote tomorrow morning: the first order of business on this meeting's last public day.

Nonetheless, when even the USCCB's own lay advisory groups express open and sizable skepticism about "essentially" maintaining the practice of "bishops policing bishops" – and, more pointedly still, the de facto ghostwriter of Francis' new procedural norms urges a means to "institutionalize" the role of the laity in the US' adaptations for the process – the caution of the canonists has little choice but to yield.

All that said, while the crisis-centric documents each require a two-thirds vote in favor to pass, none are being presented for recognitio (approval) by the Holy See, which past major texts have traditionally required to take binding force across the country.

While today's business in regard to the crisis was handled behind closed doors in this morning's meetings of the conference's 15 regions, the bench returns to the Floor at 2pm Eastern for assorted minor votes on liturgy and a cause for beatification.

As ever, here's the livefeed....

...and lastly, as this scribe was able to pull off the trek here by the skin of our budgetary teeth, a world of thanks to everyone who pitched in to make it possible. Yet as there's still a ways to go on the usual bills back home, it bears stating that none of us are off the hook just yet:

Indeed, more to come.


Tuesday, June 11, 2019

On The Floor, Deja Vu

Under normal circumstances, the June meeting of the US bishops travels to a different city each year, staffed by a skeleton crew and with barely a quorum of prelates on hand.

Of course, however, these days are anything but normal, so the bench has returned to its usual November site in Baltimore for two reasons – first, the level of business at hand requires a larger presence of the DC-based staff... and, as one senior prelate said of the initial venue (in Santa Barbara), “We didn’t want a Ritz-Carlton.” Even so, just the cancellation fee to make the switch ran into six figures.

The complete agenda released late yesterday, with the Floor slated to get underway at 9am Eastern, the crisis-related items shelved in November remain the focus, but abuse and its fallout won’t be the only topic at hand. Among the other matters on tap are a discussion on the church’s engagement with the growing population of the religiously unaffiliated (the so-called “nones”), a vote to integrate the Pope’s categorical ban on capital punishment into the US’ adult catechism, and the bench’s approval of the first text to fall under Francis’ new rules on liturgical translations, which give the Holy See less of an oversight role.

All that said, here’s the livefeed – beyond the usual opening formalities, today’s business will be dominated by the usual preliminary presentations of the matters at hand; the final debates and votes won’t take place until later on Wednesday and early Thursday.

As ever, more to come.... On another scheduling note, though, the public meetings between now and Thursday will be unusually spotty: all Wednesday morning will be spent in closed-door regional meetings and, above all – given the lead role to be played by metropolitans in Francis’ new accountability norms, this afternoon brings a private summit of the nation’s 32 archbishops, the first time that’s happened in at least some three decades.

While all this is the brief version of what we do know, the focus from here tends to be on what we don't. With that in mind, stay tuned.


Thursday, June 06, 2019

Coming Soon: "High Noon," Part 2

As if the run-up to next week's USCCB plenary in Baltimore wasn't tense already, a round of fresh stories over the last 48 hours – capped by a brutal Washington Post report detailing the six-month investigation into West Virginia's quickly-retired and now-suspended Bishop Michael Bransfield – has thrown a new batch of fuel and focus onto the bench's attempt to finish the job they hoped to accomplish last November, until being thwarted by Rome: the final passage of enhanced accountability protocols for prelates accused of abuse or grave negligence in the handling of cases.

Granted, that's a long sentence... but, well, it's been a long year. And if recent days have served as a reminder that, even at its 12-month point, this cycle of the abuse crisis hasn't lost its ability to shock, well, don't expect that to let up over the short-term road ahead.

That said, much as the new disclosures – including the revelation of over $10 million in lobbying fees spent by Northeastern dioceses in the hope of keeping civil statutes of limitation intact – have added to the drama and pressure surrounding the four-day Baltimore meeting, the substance of the plenary's agenda hasn't yet been reported in depth....

Until now.

According to drafts of the major documents obtained by Whispers, despite significant calls across ideological lines in the wider church for an ample lay role to be assured in investigating prelates, the proposed US adaptations for Pope Francis' new accountability norms do not mandate a place for non-clerics in the processes, merely recommending that a delegated investigator – chosen by the metropolitan archbishop overseeing a probe – "can make use of other proven experts... chosen predominantly from among lay persons" in performing the task.

An almost wholesale adoption of the "metropolitan plan" successfully argued for by Chicago's Cardinal Blase Cupich and now executed by Francis, the proposed USCCB tweaks for the domestic implementation of Vos estis lux mundi – which entered into global force last weekend – have summarily ditched the conference's initial design for a national lay panel to oversee allegations and make final recommendations on cases involving bishops.

As the push for lay-led reviews was nixed by Rome last fall, an attempt earlier this year by the bench's leadership for a "hybrid" model that would combine the metropolitan's role with an in-built collaboration of newly-charted regional review boards is likewise absent from the draft "Directive" being presented to the 250-odd voting prelates for their approval. In its place is a clause that a metropolitan is "highly encouraged" – yet by no means bound – to choose from a list of persons previously approved by his province to aid in handling top-level cases.

On another salient front, the draft does not obligate a metropolitan to inform a complainant of the Holy See’s decision on the outcome of an investigation, but simply suggests that the archbishop “may inquire whether and how” he might inform the accuser of the result, with that determination being made by the relevant Curial dicastery.

Of course, drafts like these are virtually certain to be heavily amended by the body of bishops before their final debate and passage. Nonetheless, the starting provision for laity as optional assistants chosen by and under the supervision of the relevant investigating archbishop is especially significant. (While it's fairly standard that most of the bishops don't start poring over a meeting's proposed texts and agenda until the weekend before a plenary, it's a pretty safe bet that some have already taken to sharpening buzz-saws to criticize the proposed setup.)

Together with a redo of November's delayed protocols to allow for restricting the ministry of retired bishops accused of abuse of adults or covering up cases – a lacuna not addressed by either the Dallas Charter or Vos estis (which pertains solely to reports against active hierarchs) – and other items, each of the accountability documents require a two-thirds vote in favor to pass.

In that light, two things bear noting: first, November's drafts garnered such broad skepticism or disagreement over the specifics that, in hindsight, a consensus quickly came to realize that the texts wouldn't have garnered the needed supermajority at that time; and with it, while summer meetings traditionally have a high level of absent bishops, this one will likely be a "full house" given the matters at hand, but no firm turnout can be gauged until everyone is in place.

In another crisis-related item, the bench is to vote on a joint statement called "Acknowledging Our Episcopal Commitments" which, toward its close, contains this striking passage:
We realize that too often, some bishops have acted more as administrators than as pastors. In his personal letter to the U.S. bishops in January 2019, Pope Francis reminded us that the consequences of our failures cannot be fixed by being administrators of new programs, or new committees. They can only be resolved by self-examination, humility, and conversion. It is our hope that by acknowledging what the Word of God and the Church expects of us, we will continue our efforts in regaining the trust of the people of God.
On one last top-line front, the bishops are slated to discuss and decide on the establishment of a national third-party hotline to receive allegations.

As the setup's projected $1 million cost has caused at least some sticker-shock among the prelates, we'll see what happens.

* * *
Beyond the Floor business which starts Tuesday morning, the broader scene along the Inner Harbor will be a moment of taking stock.

If anything, look at it this way – of the 12 Stateside dioceses which claim Catholic populations larger than 1.3 million, all but two are currently under some kind of investigation or review by civil authorities. While some of these have been charted at the municipal or county level, last week saw Iowa become the 18th US jurisdiction to open a statewide probe since last August's release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report. And none of these include the Federal investigation opened last October which, for the time being, is understood to remain limited to Pennsylvania's seven dioceses and two eparchies, but can expand at any time.

On another front, with the USCCB's first ad limina report to the Vatican in nearly eight years – its first to Francis – beginning in November, the conference faces a "Quo vadis?" moment in terms of its wider direction.

In other words, the background of next week's talks will serve as a gut-check on the state of the bench and its needs ahead of this fall's election of the bishops' next President and his deputy. Normally this would take place in the run-up to the November voting but, as previously reported, a sizable chunk of prelates will be absent from that meeting due to the ad limina, casting their votes in real-time from Rome. (And of course, all this doesn't include the prospect of another round of protests outside over these coming days.)

All that said, while it's obviously Whispers' intent to be in Baltimore for the meeting, as things stand, the budget is preventing this scribe from pulling it off... and lest anyone forgot, no budget = no content.

Ergo, as ever, the only way it can happen is thanks to your support:

If there was ever a time when radio silence wouldn't be so good, this is it.


Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Live from "Borys-fest"

After three decades abroad, the longtime "star" hierarch of the US' largest Eastern Catholic fold has come home to the nation's top non-Roman post.

Born in Syracuse, a Harvard Ph.D., until now the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic church's leader in Western Europe – and for most of his priesthood, the lead architect of his people's intellectual rebuilding on its native turf as the persecuted church emerged from the Communist-era catacombs – this morning sees the enthronement of Borys Gudziak, 59, as metropolitan of Philadelphia and head of the nation's 65,000 members of the global church's largest Oriental branch.

With the de facto Patriarch Sviatoslav Shevchuk on hand to preside, the choir flown in from the Motherland, and some 3,000 of the faithful overflowing into tents on the archeparchy's sprawling campus – now prime real-estate in a gentrified neighborhood – here's a livefeed of the 11am rites in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception...

...and even more importantly than usual, the full liturgy-book with side-by-side translations.

SVILUPPO: Due to a technical flub, the livefeed above began just before the three-hour liturgy's midpoint, well after the rite of enthronement at its start.

Ergo, here's delayed video of the seating of the new metropolitan, punctuated as ever by the threefold chant of "Axios!" ("Worthy!"):

As Shevchuk remained the liturgy's principal celebrant throughout given his role as "Father and Head" of the Ukrainian church, he likewise kept the preaching duties, so Gudziak didn't get to give an inaugural homily per se.

At the morning's close, however, the prodigal hierarch repeatedly turned emotional while giving an unscripted post-Communion talk, roaming around the main aisle of his new cathedral and notably focusing on the women of the metropolia:


Sunday, June 02, 2019

Our "Ordinary Joe"

If he hadn't become a priest and bishop, Joe Galante would've been a damn good sportswriter. Yet gratefully for us, it'd be a very different arena – an even bigger victory – that held the biggest claim on his outsize heart.

Early last Saturday – a week after South Jersey's 7th ordinary marked 55 years of priesthood – we lost Bishop Joe at 80 after a short hospitalization. The reality of it is still sinking in; for practically the entire run of Whispers, this scribe couldn't have asked for a more faithful sounding-board, wiser strategist, brilliant storyteller, fount of institutional memory and ecclesial judgment....

That list goes on and on. And I know I'm far from alone in just beginning to grasp the extent of an absence many of us will feel ever more powerfully with time. But if we're going to be an Easter people, there's a comfort in knowing that, having suffered intensely over the last several years – above all given the better part of a decade spent on dialysis three times a week – Joe carried every cross he was given to its completion, he did it with gratitude and grace... and somehow, however great the pain and sacrifice his trials entailed, he never stopped making a place – in his prayer, his life, and his living room – for the unlikely collection of folks who looked to him as our pastor, brother and friend. (Indeed, this accumulated "flock" was so eclectic it made his rows of sports memorabilia on the walls seem tame.)

Of course, there was another grace at the end – well, two. First, having been taken to his first NFL game at age 7, riding the streetcar to high-school alongside his first heroes in kelly green, if the Primate of Eagles Country hadn't lived to see his team win the Super Bowl, this loss would feel infinitely worse. Yet back on the field that mattered most, while the Philadelphian in him understood to the core that the concept of "Ubi Petrus, ibi Ecclesia" was always far bigger than his feelings, for Bishop, watching Francis rattle the Roman china gave him a fresh shot of hope, and a new cause for which to offer up his suffering over these last years.

As both the Birds and the Boss could use all the aid from above they can get, well, they've got a new, potent linebacker up there now. But even for the depth of his understanding that a community which preserves institutions for their own sake is more empire than Church – and the immense pleasure he took in doling out papal honors less to the great donors among his fold than the unsung secretaries in the office, daily communicants and retirees who did sacristan duty in the parishes – the one overarching quality that made the man and his ministry so special lay in his ability to give a "Yes" to his people which, in turn, gave them life.

Those of you who've been around here awhile will recall how one of these folks was Danny Parrillo, who quickly became more like Bishop's little brother than his seminarian after Joe parted the Delaware River to bring him in.

Among this crowd, that part is well-known... but what isn't is this: the night we lost Parrillo in a car crash, amid the shock and horror of it, it didn't take long to realize the first call this scribe had to make.

Galante and I both had a very hard time of getting words out – in those first hours, the sobbing was simply uncontrollable. Still, there was one thing he needed to hear: "Bishop, thank you – you gave Danny the 'Yes' he waited for his whole life, and that was all he needed to be able to go in peace."

A dozen years after that brutal August night, the ways are many in which our folks seek this "Yes" for themselves – sometimes journeying long and hard to find it, sometimes giving up because the struggle becomes too great. That we've lost a great priest and good shepherd who gave this gift freely and to the end leaves a quiet yet unmistakable void in our midst... but that Bishop's departure comes right in the middle of Ordination Season almost feels like a prod to the brothers who remain: do this, do it better tomorrow than you did yesterday, and your reward will be great in Heaven – because this is what it's all about.

As if these last 12 months haven't been rough enough on the news front, they've also brought some especially difficult departures from the ranks – the kind of characters and bright lights you just can't replace here below, and especially not overnight. Thing is, though, each in our own way, it falls to us to become ever more like them for the sake of those who come next.

Such are these days that – even among those who grasp what they're saying – not a few of our own are having a tough time professing faith in "one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church." If it weren't for Joe Galante, that exercise would be much harder for a good many of us.

In his wake, may we know the grace to succeed as he did: in giving a waiting world a Church worthy of its belief.

Love you, bud – you will be missed beyond all telling.

Pray for us. And Go Birds.

*  *  *
So, that's this scribe's tribute... but to know Bishop Joe is to know how the last word belongs elsewhere.

Clearly, when someone is formed over decades to be a hyper-clericalized Philadelphia institutionalist and comes out rather differently, "something" had to happen along the way. Accordingly, two experiences accomplished this transformation in Galante – first, his early assignment as a missionary in Texas, where he was loaned as a young canonist to aid in the formation of the diocese of Brownsville: then a Borderland fold of some 200,000 souls, now comprising 1.8 million Catholics from the foundation he helped build.
The other force was equally powerful yet more enduring: as a priest along the Rio Grande, and then back home, Joe fell under the spell of the work and witness of women religious, eventually proving so adept at dealing with the sisters that he spent a five-year term at the Vatican as the #3 official at the "Congregation for Religious," a post which made him the Holy See's second-ranking American at the time.

On returning home to South Jersey in 2004, he put what some would come to call the "Galante Rule" into full effect – that is, "If you want something done, get a nun." In short order, an incoming wave of sisters were doing the Chancery desk-jobs long held by clerics so the latter might be freed up to tend the flock....

And if you think this led to complaints among the guys, well, you're onto something.

Indeed, such was sitting in Galante's living room in retirement that, in the space of an hour, there'd be enough phone calls from nuns near and far that he could've convened a general chapter (or an LCWR meeting). But the empowerment ran both ways – just as he set the sisters' talents and charisms loose in the top rung of the diocese, if it weren't for them, he never could've realized the vision he set for himself: showing a disaffected, atrophied Northeast what a missionary bishop (and by extension, a missionary church) looks like.

Fittingly, then, yesterday's funeral brought together a kaleidoscope of religious women – the closest thing to a Pentecost of nuns we'll likely ever see outside Rome: postulants, principals and retirees; Asians, Latinas and Anglos; adorers and activists...

...and, to be sure, more habit codes between them than grains of sand in downtown Wildwood.

Impossible as it would be to represent them all, one stands out – in a rarity for any cleric, let alone a bishop, Joe chose a woman religious to be his spiritual director in his last years. In that light, this scribe would be remiss if we didn't close with a word from said "first among equals" among his professed clan: Sister Peggy Devlin, a Dominican Sister of Hope who's long served the Camden church....
In the early morning hours of Saturday, May 25, 2019 we lost a “gentle giant” and I lost a very dear friend, Bishop Joseph Galante. Many accolades will be forthcoming but I have been invited to share my very special relationship with him – as his spiritual director for the past 7 years.

It all began with a tap on my shoulder when I was attending a gala diocesan celebration. Surprised to see that the tapper was none other than the Bishop of the Camden Diocese. His request stunned me: “Peggy, I’m looking for a spiritual director.” My response: “I have a whole list of references.” His response: “No, I’m wondering if you would consider this request.” And, so I did – cherishing this role as a graced invitation and privilege.

My connection with Joe actually began years before when we both served as Vicars for Religious: he in Philadelphia and I, as Associate Vicar in Camden. We often connected at regional and national meetings. One meeting remains burned in my memory. Joe, as President of the Vicars Conference, arranged that our annual meeting one year be held in Rome with the officials of the Congregation for Religious (later on he would become the Undersecretary of the Congregation!) I will never forget his passionate and eloquent representation of the important role of American Women Religious – it touches my heart even now.

Joe’s friendship with “NUNS” is legendary, so it was no surprise when in 2004 the good news of his coming to Camden as our 7th Bishop spread like wildfire – it’s hinted that the phone lines in convents went on overload. And, typical of him, one of his first official acts was a formal visit with the women religious – why would we be surprised!

Back to my connection: over these past years during our monthly visits in Somers Point I got a glimpse into this man’s soul. The depth of his faith and his spirituality knows no words. I learned over time the primary sources. In addition to his parents and his family, there were two others: His “SUPREME MENTOR” (Joe’s words) Bishop Humberto Medeiros – later to become cardinal-archbishop of Boston – along with his ministry in Texas among the poor and marginalized in the Dioceses of Brownsville, Beaumont and Dallas. These influences were profound and lasting and contributed to his conviction that listening to the Spirit through others was crucial to his role in Church leadership.
In my monthly visits to Joe in Somers Point, my eye would get fixed on a cherished icon he received from Brother Mickey McGrath, OSFS, featuring St. Joseph holding the Infant Jesus with a quote from St. Francis de Sales: “NOTHING IS SO STRONG AS GENTLENESS / NOTHING SO GENTLE AS TRUE STRENGTH.”

There could be no more perfect description of my dear friend. And so, with a hole in my heart and a tear in my eye that I say: Farewell – and well done, good and faithful servant!