Tuesday, February 08, 2005

And Now, Equal Time....

Before I pull my tongue out for some more lashings, one more bit of popethought, at least until events warrant more. I want to go on-record with a premonition I've had for some years which deserves some buzz in these ominous times, but the credit belongs here.

Every senior official at the Holy See has a close group of collaborators whom he tries to take care of as best possible before he takes his leave. In common parlance, these are referred to as "widows." The most famous, of course, are the gang of four aides to Giovanni Benelli who were quickly moved up the rungs before the Great Sostituto's departure for Florence in 1974, a group known collectively as "the widows of Benelli." Of these great widows, three are cardinals -- Agostino Cacciavillan (once nuncio to Washington, now retired from the APSA, the Holy See's investment office), G.B. Re' (if you don't know what he does, why read on?) and Justin Rigali (who I have the pride and pleasure of not seeing in my newspapers every single day here in Philadelphia) -- and the fourth, Eduardo Rovida, served as nuncio to Lisbon.

Among other examples, Donald Wuerl was a widow of Cardinal John Wright. Once bishop of Pittsburgh, Wright was brought to Rome as prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy and took the young Wuerl -- who stopped John Krol's world whenever he walked into the room -- as his secretary. ("Wuerl ran that office before," the current buzz goes, "and he might well run it again.") Also, the current secretary of Laity, Bishop Josef Clemens, served for twenty years as private secretary to Ratzinger. Your humble writer is a cardinalatial widow and the bearer of a legacy, himself, so I know my brothers when I see 'em.... More on that down the road.

It's always been my thought that we'll know John Paul II sees time as being short when he dispatches his great widow, Dziwisz. Others have been taken care of over time, most prominently Stanislaw Rylko, a priest of Krakow who served as his archbishop's co-secretary during the conclaves of 1978 and was named last November to succeed Frank Stafford as president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, therefore assured of a cardinal's red hat in the next go-round (there are, as of this writing, 119 electors). But it has always been my feeling that, before Wojtyla goes "home," to the next place, he will send his beloved secretary and companion of four decades as the final gift of his heart to the place where it's always remained -- to Krakow, to ascend the chair of another Stanislaw as archbishop there. The passing days make such a transition ever more feasible, given that John Paul's handpicked successor at home, Cardinal Francizek Macharski, will be 78 in May, thus his retirement letter has long been on the desk in Rome.

For Karol Wojtyla to send his first student to continue the work in their beloved diocese would be bittersweet beyond words. There are those who believe that this wish is stipulated in "The Letter" which someone is allegedly keeping in the event of the pope's incapacitation. But the expressed desire of a chirograph is not canonically sound -- it must be executed in a bull and published, so the provisions of law can be fulfilled.

This is the story of stories, and when it happens just remember you heard it here first.....


OK, now to the fun stuff. I get some ribbing -- and, admittedly, sometimes it's justified -- that I don't come down nearly as hard on the more progressive elements in the church as I do on the conservatives. This disproportionate savagery -- which, admittedly again, violates my policy of equal-opportunity flagellation -- is the product of several factors, a precious few of which I will now enumerate:

1. The Right is a fount of material nonpareil, the only exception being the spring of Lourdes. Come on, at least VOTF wasn't headquartered in a pizza shop; and that's the only thing they've done right.
2. The Left would get more lashings from me, if only they followed Rule #1 -- show up for the game. Think of it like this: in the status quo, the conservatives have the home field at Yankee Stadium, packed house, everyone waiting to see a knock-down, drag-out contest, and the progressives are on a sandlot in Yonkers trying to get the game moved there. Who wins?
3. Because the Right has home-field, and is the dominant movement in the biz, the spotlight (and the responsibility) naturally falls more on them. The Left can have all the eccentrics it wants -- and, believe me, it does (but they're dropping like flies, they're all so old) -- however, their priests don't get dioceses, their laity don't get backdoor access to the pope and the dicasteries... if anything, American ecclesiastical progressives scare the curia away as if they were waving 6x10 Arcigay flags -- and they have no one to blame for that but themselves.
4. Lewis Black has said "This is American politics -- the Republican party, a party of bad ideas; and the Democrats, a party of no ideas." It's an appropriate analogy -- not only does the Left not show up for the game most of the time, but when it does, it shows no sense of aecumen and blows up the rules from the outset ("Nice to meet you, Bishop. END CELIBACY NOW!"), killing posthaste whatever credibility it could establish within the institution.

The now-legendary example of this lack of gravitas, nuance and delicacy is Voice of the Faithful which, with the wind to its back and founded on a solid and beneficial premise, was able to completely blow it and, inexplicably, morph into Call to Action's Northeast Branch, to the lasting detriment of so many people of good faith and goodwill. VOTF prided itself that its leadership has been comprised of relatively naive lifers from the pews, and that's its Big Fault #1. To use the analogy of one of my bishops, "The church is not General Motors," and any expressed effort at inception to apply the principles of secular management to an institution its self-appointed leaders really are clueless about is as visionary and wise as parachuting Green Berets into Iran without reinforcements. Again, people, it's not the substance, but the style..... Be wise to remember this.

Big Fault #2 is that any ecclesiastical organization working outside a constituted aegis is bound to become a cult of personalities and the self-aggrandizement of its leaders (from the other side of the fence, just look at LC/RC, the Neocats and Focolare -- all the difference in the world being that Maciel, Arguello and Chiara Lubich know how to play smart), and with time its leaders will claw to hold onto their clout and positions just like the bishops they become ever more hypocritical trying to assail. One of my favorite lines is that Christianity was (is) a revolution, and the church is but the institutionalization of that fervor -- lightning which can't be kept in the proverbial bottle, so you've gotta kill the lightning or the bottle will explode. And so it is with the fringes....

I could go on, but I think VOTF is in a sorry enough state that it doesn't really deserve more attention -- I've heard so much from reasonable bishops who really do their part when it comes to open and astute education, participation and formation of lay vocations of stewardship, but lose their willingness to cooperate when the newbies storm the gates and want to go to war. And on that topic, anyone hear from Jamie Allman lately?

And, lastly, Tom Gumbleton made some noises a couple weeks back about not submitting his resignation letter to Rome on his 75th birthday, whining that progressives are out immediately and the choirboys get to stick around. And some wonder why the Catholic Left in this country gets no respect where it counts. Look, Gumbleton's been a bishop half his life -- you take the job, you swear your oath of fidelity, and thus you play by the rules. When you don't, you make a prize idiot out of yourself and everyone you're associated with.

Tom, do your people a favor and take this one for the team.



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