Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Fulton's Feast – For "Blessed Sheen," Peoria Races To Beatification Day

As last week in Baltimore was marked by a general mood of siege mentality among the US bishops, these last weeks of 2019 will bring a rare feel-good moment for the bench: for just the second time ever, the elevation of one of their own to the altars... and the Big One at that.

Barely four months since the decade-long "Body Wars" ended with the transfer of Venerable Fulton Sheen's remains from St Patrick's Cathedral in New York back to his native Peoria – then the Pope's confirmation within days of a miracle attributed to his intercession – late yesterday the Illinois diocese announced that the Beatification Mass for the pioneering televangelist will be held on Saturday, December 21st in its St Mary's Cathedral, where Sheen was ordained a priest and is now entombed.

Per custom since the last step before sainthood was returned to the local churches by then-Pope Benedict XVI, the prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Italian Cardinal Angelo Becciu, will lead the rites as papal legate.

While a month's notice for an event of the kind is unusually rapid – all the more in a prominent instance like this – the timing reflects Peoria's wish that Sheen's beatification be held in the centenary year of his ordination to the priesthood, which took place in St Mary's 100 years ago last September, as well as the 40th anniversary of the archbishop's death on December 9th. That said, the site-choice and timing (on the Saturday before Christmas, amid rural Illinois' eventful winters) make for a Sheen-sized logistical headache, above all as what will likely be the most high-profile elevation of any Stateside Blessed will be limited to roughly 1,000 attendees.

Given the mammoth devotion to "Bishop" Sheen – in particular, among the baby boomers who made his weekly prime-time catecheses television's highest-rated program of the 1950s and early '60s – odds are they could fill the cathedral just with the clergy who'd want to show up.

In the two prior instances of major beatifications on US soil, the 2016 Oklahoma City Mass that elevated the homegrown martyr Stanley Rother was held in the city's convention center, and what was initially pegged as an over-ambitious setup for a crowd of 15,000 ended up being swamped by a turnout that stretched outside the space. Moreover, two years ago yesterday in Detroit, the beatification of the Capuchin friar Solanus Casey – revered throughout the Midwest as a miracle-worker in life – took over Ford Field, the city's NFL stadium, filling most of its 70,000 seats.

Again, given the exponential magnitude of Blessed Sheen's cult on the global stage – to say nothing of the landmark of the first US-born bishop to reach the threshold of canonization – the move for a small venue, however symbolic, is baffling at best. As one commentor noted, though, perhaps the most fitting thing about the decision is how it means practically everyone will be left to watch the rites on TV: the medium that arguably made Sheen the 20th century's most significant and beloved American cleric.

On a happier front, one of the key calls Rome and Peoria face over the next month is the choice of Sheen's feast-day – a celebration which, by definition, will initially be restricted to either the latter diocese alone or the wider Chicago province (which comprises all of Illinois).

Given the tradition that a feast is held on the date of death of the respective saint or blessed, that's not an option in this case as December 9th is taken by the commemoration of the Guadalupe visionary St Juan Diego, while in a more general sense, observances ranked as memorials are muted in deference to Advent. Among other dates likewise off the table are September 20th – Blessed Fulton's priestly ordination-date – as the mandatory memorial of the Korean Martyrs already holds it, as well as June 11th (his ordination as a bishop), the feast of St Barnabas.

The one significant life-date that is open, however, is Sheen's birthday, May 8th... which, falling as it does during the Marian month, also makes for an apt call-back to the poem he famously made his own on-air:

All told, with Sheen becoming the first US bishop to be sanctioned for devotion since John Nepoumecene Neumann, the Czech-born fourth bishop of Philadelphia, was beatified in 1963 (then canonized in 1977), the new blessed adds to an impressive array of figures elevated over the last decade or so whose feasts would potentially argue for inclusion on the national calendar.

Beyond the emergence of Rother – the first North American in modern times to be declared a martyr in odium fidei – and Casey, as the recent canonizations of Óscar Romero and John Henry Newman now allow for their global veneration, there is a notable backlog of observances which to some degree enjoy the requisite "national cultus," yet are not currently permitted for celebration across the States. Of course, any bishop may petition the USCCB's Secretariat for Divine Worship for the addition of a feast, which (upon the recommendation of its staff) would then be presented to the entire bench for a vote and need the confirmatio of the Holy See before taking effect.

Even for the ample queue, however, something says the wider take-up of Fulton's feast won't take terribly long.


Tuesday, November 12, 2019

And Now, The Vote

(Updated 10am with election results)

BALTIMORE – Nine years ago on this Election Morning, as the leadership of the nation's largest religious body hung in the balance, this scribe asked a favorite op what he thought would unfold as we headed onto the Floor... and Bishop Morlino of Madison (now gone to his reward) shot back in imitable form: "I really don't know what's gonna happen, but I'm gonna make like Chicago today – 'Vote early and vote often!'"

To be sure, this body has never lacked for characters. Still, no take on this edition of the Making of the President will be as memorable as that.

Of course, that 2010 vote produced a shock result, upending a half-century of precedent to give the bench's helm not merely to a figure other than the sitting vice-president, but the archbishop of New York. That trajectory is virtually set to continue today as, for the first time, the bench chooses the head of the nation's largest diocese as its elected leader.

As for the rest, the rule of thumb holds – namely, no one knows until everyone shows up... and this time, that's all the more the case.

With the voting set to begin shortly after 9am Eastern, here's the livefeed:

...and all the rest as it ensues.

SVILUPPO (10am ET): To no one's surprise, history came – and with a sizable mandate....
With the vote, Gomez represents several "firsts": beyond being the first Latino to lead the bench – and, again, the first bishop ever to hold the nation's largest diocese and the presidency at once – the Opus Dei numerary is the first chief (¿o jefe?) to be chosen from Southern California, now home to nearly one in seven American Catholics, the largest regional concentration of the faithful on these shores. (He is not, however, the first Californian president, all told: that was John Raphael Quinn – the "godfather" of the post-Conciliar progressive bloc – who stormed to the post in 1977, months after being named archbishop of San Francisco.)

For the Vice-Presidency, meanwhile, with Detroit's Archbishop Allen Vigneron having bested Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Miltary Services in a 151-90 vote, the outcome bears a notable curveball – with the incoming #2 currently 71, Vigneron would be 74 (read: a year short of the retirement age) at the next executive vote in 2022.

In the lone prior instance of the scenario, Cardinal John Carberry of St Louis, then the incumbent vice-president, declined to stand for the presidency in 1977, when he was 73. Ergo, the next executive cycle could well bring an open contest for the top slot for the first time in nearly a half-century.

As ever, more to come.


Monday, November 11, 2019

On Opening Day, More Questions Than Answers

BALTIMORE – A hundred years since the bishops of the United States – freshly gathered into an episcopal conference – made their first collective strike on the national stage with a sweeping Program of Social Reconstruction, the bench has returned to its cradle in this Premier See with a considerably less ambitious agenda, but the specter of history still hanging over the place.

Per usual, the Fall Classic opens shortly after 9am Eastern, the morning sessions headlined by the programmatic talk by the Nuncio to Washington, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, and what'll be Cardinal Daniel DiNardo's farewell address from the USCCB presidency at the close of his three-year term as the de facto leader of the nation's largest religious body. As for the rest, the agenda is posted.

The marquee item of this three-day plenary – the election of the bench's new executive – takes place first thing Tuesday morning. In a change from standard procedure, nearly a tenth of the electorate (the 21 bishops of New York State) will be voting by paper ballot from the North American College in Rome due to their ad limina visit, which will prevent the usual immediate result of the electronic voting carried out on the Floor itself.

Means aside, while the body is widely expected to maintain its half-century custom and elevate the current Vice-President, Los Angeles' Archbishop José Gomez, to the top spot – itself a shattering of precedent on several fronts – even more uncertainty than usual looms over the choice of the next #2. Then again, this opening Monday is always "Super Tuesday" on that front: in other words, it's still very early in the process, and a lot can (and likely will) happen over the next 24 hours.

All that said, as a thanks to everyone who's made the coverage at hand possible, the donors received a 4,000-word curtain-raiser going into the weekend... and in it, they learned how this place isn't the only scene of movement over the days ahead.

You'll see the others as they emerge – for now, here's your livefeed on-demand feed from the Floor; texts, etc. to follow:

SVILUPPO (10.25am): While every one of these meetings opens with some sort of curveball, this time featured two.

First, a sudden motion on the Floor to add a particularly live-wire topic to the agenda....

...and above all, a rare, stunning direct prod at the bench from the Pope's representative – one all the more extraordinary as the bishops prepare to meet with Francis at length over the next two months:

Sunday, November 03, 2019

"Dialogue Is Our Method" – As Pope's US "Exam" Begins, The Style Is The Substance

If you're thinking the "Main Event" is over, in reality, it's just beginning....

Only now, see, will this scribe need to "bilocate."

Eighteen months in the making, the all-important ad limina visit of the US bishops – the national church's first report to Pope Francis – begins early tomorrow as the bishops of New England celebrate Mass in St Mary Major. Already, however, this edition has broken precedent: in a first, the visitors are staying at the pontiff's residence, the Domus Santa Marta behind the Vatican walls, as opposed to their traditional lodgings up the Hill at the (USCCB-run) North American College – in other words, this time they're in Peter's House, not their own.

Last conducted under Benedict XVI in 2011-12, this visit has the added facet of a historic milestone, coinciding with the bicentennial of the first Stateside ad limina, made in 1820-21 by Ambrose Marechal, the French-born Sulpician who had become third archbishop of Baltimore.

Despite the change of circumstances since, as it turns out, the backdrop to this visit is almost eerily similar to that first pilgrimage: on one front, with the crippling trusteeism wars raging to Marechal's north, the most powerful fault-line in American Catholic history – the balance of power between clergy and laity in the church's internal affairs – made for a scandal-inducing dilemma that cried out for Roman intervention, while on the brighter side, an ever-diversifying crop of immigrants brought new energies and new tensions to the table, and the creation of new dioceses at Richmond, Charleston and Cincinnati underscored an aggressive growth in points beyond the church's Mid-Atlantic cradle.

Two hundred years later, all these threads are well in evidence again, even if the responses to them will be different this time.
A cycle set to be repeated 15 times between now and mid-February (with only a brief pause for Christmas), the weeklong treks by each of the USCCB regions combine prayer at the major basilicas – above all, before the tombs of Peter and Paul, the act which gives this exercise its name – with extensive group meetings at each Curial dicastery: a total of 16 offices, but only five of them mandatory for all the visiting prelates.

On top of the required stops at the Vatican's "foreign ministry" in the Secretariat of State and the Congregations for the Doctrine of the Faith, Bishops, Clergy and Catholic Education, all the regions will have a scheduled time with the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors – a first as it was founded in 2014. Yet according to early indications, attending the session with the child-protection dicastery is only mandatory for some of the groups.

Of course, however, the highlight of each region's pilgrimage will be its audience with the Pope – an unscripted "free dialogue" with Francis after each prelate introduces himself, and one for which the pontiff has blocked out an extraordinary two and a half hours for each US group. (As Papa Bergoglio's ad limina audiences generally run about an hour shorter, the length here is ostensibly due to the need for translation.)

To repeat an earlier line, as history's repeatedly shown how one papal comment on a plane can dominate – and, indeed, outrage – the nation's Catholic discourse and beyond for days, if not weeks on end, 15 weekly doses of an unfiltered Francis expounding at length on his sense of the domestic scene might just see a run on antacids or certain prescription meds in some quarters.

Along those lines, with the first of the audiences slated for Thursday, Whispers has learned that the Pope has gone beyond the traditional sole means of information in hand – the sprawling Quinquennial Reports submitted by each diocese – to reach into his own network of US contacts outside the hierarchy, seeking their advice on "what [he] should say to the bishops."

Add in that since only half of the nation's prelates have met Francis since his 2013 election – and most of those encounters have been fleeting, reception-line pleasantries – the variables that could end up figuring into the talks are strikingly broad, and even that's putting it mildly.

On matters ranging from parish mergers and the rise of the "nones" to crisis response, the role of laity in governance and more still, the weeks ahead will have an outsize impact on the life of the nation's largest religious body over the next decade. Put another way, for all the focus and energy lavished on the Amazon Synod, the moment now beginning is the one this shop has awaited most.

For an American Catholic news-outlet, the kaleidoscopic range and depth of the weeks ahead makes the ad limina our equivalent to the Olympics... and just in recent days, developments here at home have again served to add to an already loaded plate of issues this visit will likely see addressed at one or another point over these four months to come.

As this scribe's own region has its turn with Francis on Thanksgiving morning, suffice it to say, sic transit gloria turkey. Still, for all the planning and prep of the last year and a half, it's admittedly a relief to finally get this most critical of cycles up and running.

That said, as the work can only proceed if its bills are paid – an even bigger concern than usual as the pending road costs for next week's plenary in Baltimore remain to be met – in these days as ever, the budget depends on you:

A fuller look-ahead is in the works... but for now, as the scene can use a reminder of the lone on-record "baseline" we have, here below is the Pope's first and only address to the full US bench during his September 2015 visit at St Matthew's Cathedral in Washington, in which Francis laid out his impressions and expectations of the bishops in stark, memorably intense terms.

*   *   *


Dear Brother Bishops,

First of all, I wish to send a greeting to the Jewish community, our Jewish brothers and sisters, who today are celebrating Yom Kippur. May the Lord bless them with peace and help them to advance on the path of holiness, as we heard today in his word: “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (Lev 19:2).

I am pleased that we can meet at this point in the apostolic mission which has brought me to your country. I thank Cardinal Wuerl and Archbishop Kurtz for their kind words in your name. I am very appreciative of your welcome and the generous efforts made to help plan and organize my stay.

As I look out with affection at you, their pastors, I would like to embrace all the local Churches over which you exercise loving responsibility. I would ask you to share my affection and spiritual closeness with the People of God throughout this vast land.

The heart of the Pope expands to include everyone. To testify to the immensity of God’s love is the heart of the mission entrusted to the Successor of Peter, the Vicar of the One who on the cross embraced the whole of mankind. May no member of Christ’s Body and the American people feel excluded from the Pope’s embrace. Wherever the name of Jesus is spoken, may the Pope’s voice also be heard to affirm that: “He is the Savior”! From your great coastal cities to the plains of the Midwest, from the deep South to the far reaches of the West, wherever your people gather in the Eucharistic assembly, may the Pope be not simply a name but a felt presence, sustaining the fervent plea of the Bride: “Come, Lord!”

Whenever a hand reaches out to do good or to show the love of Christ, to dry a tear or bring comfort to the lonely, to show the way to one who is lost or to console a broken heart, to help the fallen or to teach those thirsting for truth, to forgive or to offer a new start in God… know that the Pope is at your side, the Pope supports you. He puts his hand on your own, a hand wrinkled with age, but by God’s grace still able to support and encourage.

My first word to you is one of thanksgiving to God for the power of the Gospel which has brought about remarkable growth of Christ’s Church in these lands and enabled its generous contribution, past and present, to American society and to the world. I thank you most heartily for your generous solidarity with the Apostolic See and the support you give to the spread of the Gospel in many suffering areas of our world. I appreciate the unfailing commitment of the Church in America to the cause of life and that of the family, which is the primary reason for my present visit. I am well aware of the immense efforts you have made to welcome and integrate those immigrants who continue to look to America, like so many others before them, in the hope of enjoying its blessings of freedom and prosperity. I also appreciate the efforts which you are making to fulfill the Church’s mission of education in schools at every level and in the charitable services offered by your numerous institutions. These works are often carried out without appreciation or support, often with heroic sacrifice, out of obedience to a divine mandate which we may not disobey.

I am also conscious of the courage with which you have faced difficult moments in the recent history of the Church in this country without fear of self-criticism and at the cost of mortification and great sacrifice. Nor have you been afraid to divest whatever is unessential in order to regain the authority and trust which is demanded of ministers of Christ and rightly expected by the faithful. I realize how much the pain of recent years has weighed upon you and I have supported your generous commitment to bring healing to victims – in the knowledge that in healing we too are healed – and to work to ensure that such crimes will never be repeated.

I speak to you as the Bishop of Rome, called by God in old age, and from a land which is also American, to watch over the unity of the universal Church and to encourage in charity the journey of all the particular Churches toward ever greater knowledge, faith and love of Christ. Reading over your names, looking at your faces, knowing the extent of your churchmanship and conscious of the devotion which you have always shown for the Successor of Peter, I must tell you that I do not feel a stranger in your midst. I am a native of a land which is also vast, with great open ranges, a land which, like your own, received the faith from itinerant missionaries. I too know how hard it is to sow the Gospel among people from different worlds, with hearts often hardened by the trials of a lengthy journey. Nor am I unaware of the efforts made over the years to build up the Church amid the prairies, mountains, cities and suburbs of a frequently inhospitable land, where frontiers are always provisional and easy answers do not always work. What does work is the combination of the epic struggle of the pioneers and the homely wisdom and endurance of the settlers. As one of your poets has put it, “strong and tireless wings” combined with the wisdom of one who “knows the mountains” (Edgar Lee Masters, Spoon River Anthology).

I do not speak to you with my voice alone, but in continuity with the words of my predecessors. From the birth of this nation, when, following the American Revolution, the first diocese was erected in Baltimore, the Church of Rome has always been close to you; you have never lacked its constant assistance and encouragement. In recent decades, three Popes have visited you and left behind a remarkable legacy of teaching. Their words remain timely and have helped to inspire the long-term goals which you have set for the Church in this country.

It is not my intention to offer a plan or to devise a strategy. I have not come to judge you or to lecture you. I trust completely in the voice of the One who “teaches all things” (Jn 14:26). Allow me only, in the freedom of love, to speak to you as a brother among brothers. I have no wish to tell you what to do, because we all know what it is that the Lord asks of us. Instead, I would turn once again to the demanding task – ancient yet never new – of seeking out the paths we need to take and the spirit with which we need to work. Without claiming to be exhaustive, I would share with you some reflections which I consider helpful for our mission.

We are bishops of the Church, shepherds appointed by God to feed his flock. Our greatest joy is to be shepherds, and only shepherds, pastors with undivided hearts and selfless devotion. We need to preserve this joy and never let ourselves be robbed of it. The evil one roars like a lion, anxious to devour it, wearing us down in our resolve to be all that we are called to be, not for ourselves but in gift and service to the “Shepherd of our souls” (1 Pet 2:25).

The heart of our identity is to be sought in constant prayer, in preaching (Acts 6:4) and in shepherding the flock entrusted to our care (Jn 21:15-17; Acts 20:28-31).

Ours must not be just any kind of prayer, but familiar union with Christ, in which we daily encounter his gaze and sense that he is asking us the question: “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” (Mk 3:31-34). One in which we can calmly reply: “Lord, here is your mother, here are your brothers! I hand them over to you; they are the ones whom you entrusted to me”. Such trusting union with Christ is what nourishes the life of a pastor.

It is not about preaching complicated doctrines, but joyfully proclaiming Christ who died and rose for our sake. The “style” of our mission should make our hearers feel that the message we preach is meant “for us”. May the word of God grant meaning and fullness to every aspect of their lives; may the sacraments nourish them with that food which they cannot procure for themselves; may the closeness of the shepherd make them them long once again for the Father’s embrace. Be vigilant that the flock may always encounter in the heart of their pastor that “taste of eternity” which they seek in vain in the things of this world. May they always hear from you a word of appreciation for their efforts to confirm in liberty and justice the prosperity in which this land abounds. At the same time, may you never lack the serene courage to proclaim that “we must work not for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures for eternal life” (Jn 6:27).

Shepherds who do not pasture themselves but are able to step back, away from the center, to “decrease”, in order to feed God’s family with Christ. Who keep constant watch, standing on the heights to look out with God’s eyes on the flock which is his alone. Who ascend to the height of the cross of God’s Son, the sole standpoint which opens to the shepherd the heart of his flock.

Shepherds who do not lower our gaze, concerned only with our concerns, but raise it constantly toward the horizons which God opens before us and which surpass all that we ourselves can foresee or plan. Who also watch over ourselves, so as to flee the temptation of narcissism, which blinds the eyes of the shepherd, makes his voice unrecognizable and his actions fruitless. In the countless paths which lie open to your pastoral concern, remember to keep focused on the core which unifies everything: “You did it unto me” (Mt 25:31-45).

Certainly it is helpful for a bishop to have the farsightedness of a leader and the shrewdness of an administrator, but we fall into hopeless decline whenever we confuse the power of strength with the strength of that powerlessness with which God has redeemed us. Bishops need to be lucidly aware of the battle between light and darkness being fought in this world. Woe to us, however, if we make of the cross a banner of worldly struggles and fail to realize that the price of lasting victory is allowing ourselves to be wounded and consumed (Phil 2:1-11).

We all know the anguish felt by the first Eleven, huddled together, assailed and overwhelmed by the fear of sheep scattered because the shepherd had been struck. But we also know that we have been given a spirit of courage and not of timidity. So we cannot let ourselves be paralyzed by fear.

I know that you face many challenges, and that the field in which you sow is unyielding and that there is always the temptation to give in to fear, to lick one’s wounds, to think back on bygone times and to devise harsh responses to fierce opposition.

And yet we are promoters of the culture of encounter. We are living sacraments of the embrace between God’s riches and our poverty. We are witnesses of the abasement and the condescension of God who anticipates in love our every response.

Dialogue is our method, not as a shrewd strategy but out of fidelity to the One who never wearies of visiting the marketplace, even at the eleventh hour, to propose his offer of love (Mt 20:1-16).

The path ahead, then, is dialogue among yourselves, dialogue in your presbyterates, dialogue with lay persons, dialogue with families, dialogue with society. I cannot ever tire of encouraging you to dialogue fearlessly. The richer the heritage which you are called to share with parrhesia, the more eloquent should be the humility with which you should offer it. Do not be afraid to set out on that “exodus” which is necessary for all authentic dialogue. Otherwise, we fail to understand the thinking of others, or to realize deep down that the brother or sister we wish to reach and redeem, with the power and the closeness of love, counts more than their positions, distant as they may be from what we hold as true and certain. Harsh and divisive language does not befit the tongue of a pastor, it has no place in his heart; although it may momentarily seem to win the day, only the enduring allure of goodness and love remains truly convincing.

We need to let the Lord’s words echo constantly in our hearts: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, who am meek and humble of heart, and you will find refreshment for your souls” (Mt 11:28-30). Jesus’ yoke is a yoke of love and thus a pledge of refreshment. At times in our work we can be burdened by a sense of loneliness, and so feel the heaviness of the yoke that we forget that we have received it from the Lord. It seems to be ours alone, and so we drag it like weary oxen working a dry field, troubled by the thought that we are laboring in vain. We can forget the profound refreshment which is indissolubly linked to the One who has made us the promise.

We need to learn from Jesus, or better to learn Jesus, meek and humble; to enter into his meekness and his humility by contemplating his way of acting; to lead our Churches and our people – not infrequently burdened by the stress of everyday life – to the ease of the Lord’s yoke. And to remember that Jesus’ Church is kept whole not by “consuming fire from heaven” (Lk 9:54), but by the secret warmth of the Spirit, who “heals what is wounded, bends what is rigid, straightens what is crooked”.

The great mission which the Lord gives us is one which we carry out in communion, collegially. The world is already so torn and divided, brokenness is now everywhere. Consequently, the Church, “the seamless garment of the Lord” cannot allow herself to be rent, broken or fought over.

Our mission as bishops is first and foremost to solidify unity, a unity whose content is defined by the Word of God and the one Bread of Heaven. With these two realities each of the Churches entrusted to us remains Catholic, because open to, and in communion with, all the particular Churches and with the Church of Rome which “presides in charity”. It is imperative, therefore, to watch over that unity, to safeguard it, to promote it and to bear witness to it as a sign and instrument which, beyond every barrier, unites nations, races, classes and generations.

May the forthcoming Holy Year of Mercy, by drawing us into the fathomless depths of God’s heart in which no division dwells, be for all of you a privileged moment for strengthening communion, perfecting unity, reconciling differences, forgiving one another and healing every rift, that your light may shine forth like “a city built on a hill” (Mt 5:14).

This service to unity is particularly important for this nation, whose vast material and spiritual, cultural and political, historical and human, scientific and technological resources impose significant moral responsibilities in a world which is seeking, confusedly and laboriously, new balances of peace, prosperity and integration. It is an essential part of your mission to offer to the United States of America the humble yet powerful leaven of communion. May all mankind know that the presence in its midst of the “sacrament of unity” (Lumen Gentium, 1) is a guarantee that its fate is not decay and dispersion.

This kind of witness is a beacon whose light can reassure men and women sailing through the dark clouds of life that a sure haven awaits them, that they will not crash on the reefs or be overwhelmed by the waves. I encourage you, then, my brothers, to confront the challenging issues of our time. Ever present within each of them is life as gift and responsibility. The future freedom and dignity of our societies depends on how we face these challenges.

The innocent victim of abortion, children who die of hunger or from bombings, immigrants who drown in the search for a better tomorrow, the elderly or the sick who are considered a burden, the victims of terrorism, wars, violence and drug trafficking, the environment devastated by man’s predatory relationship with nature – at stake in all of this is the gift of God, of which we are noble stewards but not masters. It is wrong, then, to look the other way or to remain silent. No less important is the Gospel of the Family, which in the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia I will emphatically proclaim together with you and the entire Church.

These essential aspects of the Church’s mission belong to the core of what we have received from the Lord. It is our duty to preserve and communicate them, even when the tenor of the times becomes resistant and even hostile to that message (Evangelii Gaudium, 34-39). I urge you to offer this witness, with the means and creativity born of love, and with the humility of truth. It needs to be preached and proclaimed to those without, but also to find room in people’s hearts and in the conscience of society.

To this end, it is important that the Church in the United States also be a humble home, a family fire which attracts men and women through the attractive light and warmth of love. As pastors, we know well how much darkness and cold there is in this world; we know the loneliness and the neglect experienced by many people, even amid great resources of communication and material wealth. We also know their fear in the face of life, their despair and the many forms of escapism to which it gives rise.

Consequently, only a Church which can gather around the family fire remains able to attract others. And not any fire, but the one which blazed forth on Easter morn. The risen Lord continues to challenge the Church’s pastors through the quiet plea of so many of our brothers and sisters: “Have you something to eat?” We need to recognize the Lord’s voice, as the apostles did on the shore of the lake of Tiberius (Jn 21:4-12). It becomes even more urgent to grow in the certainty that the embers of his presence, kindled in the fire of his passion, precede us and will never die out. Whenever this certainty weakens, we end up being caretakers of ash, and not guardians and dispensers of the true light and the warmth which causes our hearts to burn within us (Lk 24:32).

Before concluding, allow me to offer two recommendations which are close to my heart. The first refers to your fatherhood as bishops. Be pastors close to people, pastors who are neighbors and servants. Let this closeness be expressed in a special way towards your priests. Support them, so that they can continue to serve Christ with an undivided heart, for this alone can bring fulfillment to ministers of Christ. I urge you, then, not to let them be content with half-measures. Find ways to encourage their spiritual growth, lest they yield to the temptation to become notaries and bureaucrats, but instead reflect the motherhood of the Church, which gives birth to and raises her sons and daughters. Be vigilant lest they tire of getting up to answer those who knock on their door by night, just when they feel entitled to rest (Lk 11:5-8). Train them to be ready to stop, care for, soothe, lift up and assist those who, “by chance” find themselves stripped of all they thought they had (Lk 10:29-37).

My second recommendation has to do with immigrants. I ask you to excuse me if in some way I am pleading my own case. The Church in the United States knows like few others the hopes present in the hearts of these “pilgrims”. From the beginning you have learned their languages, promoted their cause, made their contributions your own, defended their rights, helped them to prosper, and kept alive the flame of their faith. Even today, no American institution does more for immigrants than your Christian communities. Now you are facing this stream of Latin immigration which affects many of your dioceses. Not only as the Bishop of Rome, but also as a pastor from the South, I feel the need to thank and encourage you. Perhaps it will not be easy for you to look into their soul; perhaps you will be challenged by their diversity. But know that they also possess resources meant to be shared. So do not be afraid to welcome them. Offer them the warmth of the love of Christ and you will unlock the mystery of their heart. I am certain that, as so often in the past, these people will enrich America and its Church.

May God bless you and Our Lady watch over you! Thank you!


Sunday, October 27, 2019

As Synod Closes With Call for "Creativity," The Pope's Pledge: "I Will Pick Up the Gauntlet"

Six years ago, even as it initially became clear that the Synod of Bishops would emerge as "the key to [Francis'] shake-up" of the ecclesial order, to sense that a bulked-up assembly could give the Pope a mandate to explore the possibility of female clergy and a "universal approach" to married priests would've seemed like a liberal fever dream.

Yet now, here we are.

A far cry from the pre-2013 rote that saw anodyne texts kept within tight "guardrails" from the Curia, given Saturday's complete passage of a Final Document that even hinted at changes to the church's hierarchical makeup and urged a sweeping, ground-up approach to inculturation, it wouldn't seem a stretch to say that, had this text been presented before Francis, its authors – and anyone who voted for it – likely would've risked being removed from office (or placed under CDF investigation). In that light, that each of the document's 120 propositions secured the requisite two-thirds' approval is simply astonishing in itself.

To be sure, and as expected, the final language of the most live-wire elements – the call for a resumed study of women in the diaconate, and affirming the normative place of priestly celibacy while seeking a local adaptation for "viri probati" "in the most remote areas of the Amazon" – was duly massaged with enough conditionals to make the proposals acceptable to Fathers on the fence. Still, and regardless of what happens from here, that the sheer concepts made the final product and attained passage represents a watershed – not since its 1985 edition adopted the freshly-elevated Cardinal Bernard Law's idea to seek the church's first universal catechism since Trent has any Synod done anything that could impact Catholic life and practice anywhere... and that the editor of said catechism would emerge as the "broker" in this scenario yields a distinct impression of history drawing straight with crooked lines.

Especially as the church has conferred priestly ordination on several hundred married men in the Latin church over the last four decades – first through John Paul II's Pastoral Provision, then Benedict XVI's Anglican ordinariates – it's striking that, by the vote-counts, the notion of possibly admitting women to the permanent diaconate showed itself to be palpably less troublesome for the Synod Fathers than granting a further, merely regional dispensation for married priests.

In any case, the reactions from the warring camps outside the Aula made for a fitting last lap of the circus atmosphere that's surrounded these three weeks: while the Italian press blared that the outcome represented "the triumph of the reformers" – and one progressive lobby-group exulted (presumably with a straight face) that "We are ready to deliver new forms of ministry for women!... The cardinalate!... The papacy!" – the Synod's traditionalist opposition called a demonstration outside today's closing Mass "to prevent the evil" of the stolen Amazonian statues retrieved from the Tiber on Friday from making a last appearance in St Peter's.

Ostensibly to prevent any disturbance of the Mass with an attempt to steal the images again, the now-famous statues were conspicuous by their absence.

*  *  *
Returning to matters of actual substance, among other perks of being the Roman Synod's sole legislator, the body's president doesn't get just one "last word," but three.

Accordingly, while the closing Mass saw Francis heap scorn on the Pharisee in today's Gospel who "stands in the temple of God, but he worships a different god: himself" – adding for good measure that "many 'prestigious' groups, 'Catholic Christians,' go along this path" today – the more significant final talk (so far) came last night with the Pope's usual programmatic wrap-up in the Aula.

Unlike his prior three Synods, such was the agenda at hand and the pace of developments that the pontiff didn't have a written text for his evening remarks, but gave them off-the-cuff.

Ergo, here's the translated film – and an English translation of the remarks has just emerged:

Of course, the ultimate "last word" yet awaits – and in the Aula close, Francis surprised the group by noting that his Post-Synodal Exhortation (which had been forecast for release in the first months of 2020) would likely be finished "before the end of the year."

As with the discernment that produced Amoris Laetitia – the product of his first two Synods – Papa Bergoglio again faces the challenge of "threading the needle" between what, in that instance, he termed an "immoderate desire for total change without sufficient reflection or grounding, [or] an attitude that would solve everything by applying general rules or deriving undue conclusions from particular theological considerations."

What's more, though, with this test-pilot for the Synod's fullest capability as a change-agent now successfully in the can – at least, as Francis & Co. would judge it – the Pope slipped another stealth "bomb" into the talk, revealing his thought that the assembly's next edition might just focus on "synodality" itself.

As the rebooted process has, on its own, become an increasing frustration for his critics, the prospect that a future Synod could be made to tackle the substance of decentralizing ecclesial governance in full is the clearest sign yet that, for Francis, the "journey" – and its changes – are far from finished.


Tuesday, October 22, 2019

In Synod's Home Stretch, The "Revenge of the Statues"?

As trade-offs go, it would be one for the books – after traditionalist opponents of the Pope stole the much-ballyhooed statues of Amazonian women from a Roman church early yesterday and tossed them into the Tiber, actual Amazonian women could just emerge from the "river" of this Synod clad in the stole of Holy Orders.

With the draft of this weekend's Final Document now in discussion among the gathering's 12 language-based workgroups, a report earlier today from Chris Lamb of the London-based Tablet said that a proposition for the ordination of women to the permanent diaconate in Amazonia has made it into the current stage of the all-important closing text.

While unsurprising given the explicit openness to the idea from a majority of the circuli minores in their Friday reports, that the sheer prospect of ordaining women would be contained in a Vatican document – even in preliminary form – is staggering to a degree that, on this beat, few things genuinely are. Yet even as the ultimate product lies in the hands of the 13-man drafting team led by the Relator-General, the Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes OFM, you can bet the house that nothing would be put on the table without Francis' implicit approval... and even so, the notion of extending the priesthood to married men in the Amazon – and, for that matter, the admittance of women to the instituted ministries of lector and acolyte – suddenly doesn't feel so big after all.

That said, as discussion on and proposed amendments to the draft Final continue from within the small groups, there's still a long way between now and Friday, when the finished proposals – usually over 100 in all – are presented in the Aula before Saturday's voting, where each proposition must receive two-thirds approval from the 185 clerical members (i.e. 124 "placets") to pass. And again, given the now-explicit possibility that the Pope can simply ratify a Synod's Final Document as a text of the Magisterium at will, the stakes are higher than most would've anticipated.

Along those lines, it wouldn't be surprising if yesterday's vandalism and dumping of the indigenous images of a naked, pregnant woman – which various commentators deemed as representing everything from the Madonna to Mother Earth to "pagan idols" – had at least some effect on the vote-count for a female diaconate, or a significant step toward it... and to be sure, that effect likely wouldn't be a surge of opposition to the proposal, but its opposite. If anything, even before yesterday's brazen spectacle was circulated by its perpetrators on YouTube to the delight of Francis' critics worldwide – while being blasted by the Vatican as an act of "hatred" and "contempt" – it doesn't take much to see the hysterics of "Statue-gate" as having muffled a reasoned sense of concern and criticism over an enhanced ministry for women in the Amazon, especially due to its potential global impact. So if that ends up being Saturday's outcome, the longtime campaigners on the issue – who, until recently, made for the most outré of the lobbyists who flood Rome for events like these – might well have their even more crazed counterparts on the "other side" to thank.

In any case, the axiom remains that "process is process," and should the proposal remain in Friday’s final edition, its precise wording will be determinative of the result. Accordingly, it's notable that the drafting team for the Final Document has four figures particularly adept at handling the nuances of procedural thickets: beyond Hummes, the newly-elevated Canadian Cardinal Michael Czerny SJ (who recently said that the ordination of women as priests "shouldn't be off the table") is an ex officio member of the group as a secretary of this assembly, as is the Synod chief Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri (a veteran top-level diplomat with a specialty in negotiations), and above all, Vienna's Cardinal Christoph Schönborn OP – the editor of the universal Catechism as a wunderkind theologian – who's expressed palpable caution in recent days about "viri probati priests," but has shown no such qualms about "one day" ordaining women to the diaconate.

Perhaps most intriguingly of all, Saturday's vote will come 10 years to the day when Benedict XVI published a motu proprio (Omnium in mentem) enacting a slight tweak to the Code of Canon Law, altering Canon 1009 to read that while "those who are constituted in the order of the episcopate or the presbyterate receive the mission and capacity to act in the person of Christ the Head, whereas" – that is, by contrast – "deacons are empowered to serve the People of God in the ministries of the liturgy, the word and charity."

As the canon's original 1983 text included deacons among those who "fulfill, in the person of Christ the Head, the offices of teaching, sanctifying and governing," Benedict's alteration has long been seen in some quarters as potentially removing an obstacle to the proposal now at hand. Yet again, then, it would appear that Papa Ratzinger's precedents have come home to roost.

While Hummes' opening day "roadmap" to the Synod made no explicit mention of female deacons – merely stating that, in light of the "great number of women who nowadays lead communities in Amazonia, there is a request that this service be acknowledged and there be an attempt to consolidate it with a suitable ministry for them" – the event's lead planner did have a more instructive passage elsewhere in his initial report, one all the more telling when read after the weekend fiasco:
It is moving forwards that makes the Church loyal to its true tradition. Traditionalism, which remains linked to the past, is one thing, but true tradition, which is the Church’s living history, is something else through which every generation, accepting what has been handed down by previous generations, such as understanding and experiencing faith in Jesus Christ, enriches this tradition in current times with their own experience and understanding of faith in Jesus Christ.

The light means announcing Jesus Christ and untiringly practising mercy in the Church’s living tradition. It means showing the path to be followed in moving forwards inclusively in a way that invites, welcomes and encourages everyone, with no exceptions, as friends and siblings, respecting the differences between us.

“New pathways.” One must not fear what is new. In his 2013 Pentecost homily, Pope Francis already expressed the idea that, “Newness always makes us a bit fearful, because we feel more secure if we have everything under control, if we are the ones who build, programme and plan our lives in accordance with our own ideas, our own comfort, our own preferences... (...) We fear that God may force us to strike out on new paths and leave behind our all too narrow, closed and selfish horizons in order to become open to his own. Yet throughout the history of salvation, whenever God reveals himself, he brings newness - God always brings newness -, and demands our complete trust.” In the Evangelii Gaudium (no. 11), the Pope portrays Jesus Christ as “eternal newness”. He is always new, He is always the same newness, “yesterday, today and forever” (Heb 13, 8) He is what is new. That is why the Church prays using the words, “Send forth your spirit and they shall be created, and you shall renew the face of the earth.” So we must not fear newness, we must not fear Christ, the new. This Synod is in search of new pathways.
...and, clearly, any move toward women in orders would make for the "newest" thing of all.

*  *  *
While inculturation has squarely emerged as the flashpoint of this Synod – and if you're surprised, start paying attention – as previously reported, the Vatican gathering is but one element of this Fall Cycle in which the ever-charged topic is a central thread.

As next month brings the Pope’s long-awaited pilgrimage to Japan – a visit both especially deep in personal significance for Francis, not to mention his destination’s centuries-old status as the premier battleground of the tension between local culture and Rome-based decision-making – the Synod’s opening coincided with an open letter from the recently-retired archbishop of Tokyo, Peter Takeo Okada, that pleaded for an enhanced respect for inculturation as the first key to enabling ecclesial renewal: a path which, he said, needed to begin with Rome itself.

Noting the Vatican's historic resistance to petitions from the Japanese bishops – which has extended into recent years – Okada voiced his calls for "inculturation, decentralization, [and] spiritualization" in the hope that the Holy See might "become as holy as its name indicates."

"We humbly ask for acknowledgement of our qualification to decide" the optimal course for for the local church, Okada wrote.

While Francis hasn't yet issued a reply to the Japanese prelate, odds are the optics and messaging throughout the November visit will make for quite the memorable response.

Meanwhile, as Okada's calls came in the context of the conference of bishops, another proposal likely to figure in the ongoing Synod's closing text would "break down borders" of a different sort. Beyond the provision for an Amazonian Rite to reflect the region's unique "liturgical, theological, disciplinary and spiritual" realities, a less dramatic, but still significant plan raised in Friday's "halftime" reports would see the dioceses of the Amazon's nine-country spread joined into their own, trans-national episcopal conference – itself a move without precedent in the Latin church.

Given the standard competence of bishops' conferences to regulate matters of liturgy and discipline within their respective territories (albeit contingent upon the recognitio of the Holy See), the erection of a pan-Amazonian structure of governance by Rome would ostensibly have the effect of letting the area's bishops determine their church's future path on their own – or, as it's been termed, to "Save Amazonia with Amazonia" – while likewise removing at least a few potential hot-button items from Saturday's voting agenda.

All told, for all the months of prep, suspense and cage-rattling, only now are things really getting interesting. Thing is, though, that's how process works – and whatever one's impressions, the process can't be thrown into the Tiber.

Again, all this is merely the first stage of a very full cycle over these next six weeks... and as ever, keeping at it here relies solely on your support:

To be sure, there’s some interesting stuff moving on other fronts – Buffalo among them – but for now, the Bills in this shop need to come first.


Friday, October 18, 2019

Viri Probati... Et Mulieribus? – At Synod's "Halftime," The Reports Are In

So it seems, there's more than one way of "covering" this Amazon Synod – one can either focus on process... or if that's too much, it's apparently become sufficient to just cast aspersions on a statue for days on end.

Even if it doesn't keep a few folks from trying, as ever, you can't make it up. Still, the disparity again underscores the Pope's Opening Day warning, echoing that of his predecessor – namely, there is a Synod "within" the Aula and "another" outside it... and only one is an ecclesial act.

Accordingly, in the lone forum that matters, while the last two weeks have brimmed with the interventions from the Floor, only today was the gathering's trajectory fully fleshed out for the first time with the release of the initial reports from the 12 circuli minores – the language-based "working groups" which have met over the last eight days as the Synod's focus shifted from the speeches in the full Aula to the breakout sessions.

As Francis' ongoing "reinvention" of the Synod continues, the circuli have become an ever more critical piece of the gathering: first to show which of the "markers" laid down in the interventions have resonated with the assembly at large; and from there, in indicating which facets of the talks (both in terms of broad issues and specific proposals) will be integrated into the Final Document, whose paragraph-by-paragraph votes  – each requiring two-thirds passage – can now be enacted as a text of the "ordinary Magisterium of the Successor of Peter" on its own should the Pope so wish.

While such a scenario was always able to be the case given the pontiff's "full, immediate, and universal ordinary" authority by virtue of the Petrine office, the provisions of Episcopalis Communio – Francis' revised 2018 norms on the Synod – make that potentiality explicit. Ergo, today's reports are anything but busywork... and when they call, as one group did today, for “a church that breaks down borders,” there’s little choice but to take notice.

On a key process-front, given the ever-changing methodology of the Synod, today's reports will be the lone contribution from the circuli minores in the course of the three-week event – by contrast, last year's Synod on Youth saw the groups submit three summaries each. However, the timeline on those made for hellish circumstances both for the realtori (spokesmen) of the groups as they scrambled amid deadlines, as well as for the drafting team for the Final Document, which needed to work the flood of input into their ultimate product. (Relatedly, such is the chaos surrounding the process-tweaks– and these days as a whole – that, as of earlier this week, at least one Synod official didn't know how many rounds of circuli reports there'd be this time around... but now we know, and the answer makes today's product all the more significant.)

In terms of the reports' content, as Whispers has telegraphed for quite some time – and as the nuggets emerging from the Aula have gleaned anew over the last 10 days – the foundations are indeed being laid for a cultural ground-shift. And that today's unsurprising prime proposal – for a full-on "Amazonian rite" to reflect the unique "liturgical, theological, disciplinary and spiritual" aspects of the nine-country region – was presented at the Vatican's daily press briefing by no less than the Italian Archbishop Rino Fisichella, the Curia's New Evangelization Czar (whose office is charged by statute with the promotion of the Catechism of the Catholic Church), essentially said it all.

In other words – with the two Italian work-groups practically certain to be the most change-resistant of all given their dominance by the Curial chiefs – the "medium" is the message.

More broadly, the reports go well past last Monday's opening assertions from the Synod's Relator-General, Cardinal Claudio Hummes, that the call for the priestly ordination of married indigenous men in stable situations ("viri probati") was no Curial subterfuge, but a genuine "request" of the communities themselves relayed in the preliminary consultations. (Notably, as Relator, Hummes will oversee the drafting of next weekend's Final Document, to which group Francis added a conspicuously non-Latin American earlier this week: Cardinal Christoph Schönborn OP of Vienna, the B16 protege who first came to fame under then-Cardinal Ratzinger as his choice to lead the editing of the 1992 Catechism.)

While no group explicitly urged a halt to the movement toward ordaining married priests – even the Pope's ever-cagey Laity Czar, Cardinal Kevin Farrell, merely said earlier this week that "some proposals" will require wider consultation, as the Italians simply observed today that the Holy See may dispense from priestly celibacy by the law itself – in a far more striking step, several of the groups brought the discussion to the door of ordaining women to the permanent diaconate, with one Portuguese circule saying the call was "valid" given Vatican II's restoration of the order for married men and, in this particular case, the "decisive role" played by women "in the life and mission" of the Amazonian church.

As the notion of an "Amazonian rite" goes – a development Fisichella linked both to the Council's teaching on the Eastern Catholic churches and Benedict XVI's Summorum Pontificum (2007) enabling a wider use of the pre-Conciliar liturgy – the clearest precedent to such a move is Papa Ratzinger's Anglicanorum coetibus, which (perhaps not coincidentally) marks its 10th anniversary this weekend.

While some social media commentary has aimed to posit the Rome-sanctioned "Zaire Use" as the closer antecedent to a potential "Amazon rite," such a thesis is lacking at best: for one, unlike the nature of the proposal at hand, the Zaire book – approved in 1988 for what's now the Democratic Republic of the Congo – is restricted to a national territory...

...even more, however, unlike today’s call for integrating a distinct "liturgical, theological, disciplinary and spiritual" concept into ecclesial life, the adaptations for Zaire are simply a matter of worship and no more. By several magnitudes' difference, as Anglicanorum didn't merely permit a major departure from liturgical norm on an international scale, but granted significant concessions in terms of discipline (read: the dispensation of clerical celibacy) and governance (e.g. a de facto diocesan structure with married ordinaries; a governing council invested with real authority, and more) to accommodate a non-Catholic cultural patrimony into a Catholic context for the sake of evangelization, anyone who's still confusing inculturation as a matter of liturgy alone is missing the entire point of this exercise. (And how many times does that need to be made clear before it's actually grasped?)

Here, another piece as relayed this morning in these pages' real-time feed:

If nothing else, as sensed earlier in the week, this assembly has already paved the way toward securing what 80 percent of the 2008 Synod on the Word voted to approve – namely, opening the former "minor orders" of instituted lector and acolyte to women.

While next to nobody batted an eyelid at that time when Benedict rejected said proposal out of hand, the now-retired pontiff's decision merely underscored the reality that the Pope – each Pope – "owns" the Synod and may deploy or dismiss its conclusions however he sees fit.

And now, a decade later, Benedict's china-breaking precedents have come home to roost. Yet what's more, given the sense going in that these days would define the balance of Francis' pontificate, far from the wheels having fallen off the Pope-bus, they might just be more firmly affixed now than they were a fortnight ago.

*  *  *
As today's reports stack out at 50 pages of dense text spread across three languages, absorbing all this is a full day's work, if not that of the weekend to come...

Yet as it still beats going into seizures over wood-carvings – rather, in the hope that it does – as ever, covering the bills that make this reporting possible is solely in the hands of this readership:

As the broader cycle goes, full as these last two weeks have been, just know that we're not even at full tilt yet...

...and unless you're looking for "lights out" here once it hits, again, making sure the power stays on depends on you.

Ergo, to the degree you allow, stay tuned.