Tuesday, August 02, 2005

And Nathan the Ostian....

Before all else, a shout-out to Zadok the Roman, who keeps a fun (and well-informed) journal on life in the Eternal City. He's got a great story about stumbling across B16 riding to the Quirinale.

I was just taking a moment outside, trying to get my bake on in this oppressive humidity, and I thought of one of my favorite books. If you want to get a good demonstration of how "the more things change, the more they stay the same," find a copy of Henry Morton Robinson's The Cardinal. (Otto Preminger made a movie in 1963 of the same name; it's now on DVD. The book is better.)

The book delineates the rise and struggles of a son of Irish Boston to the upper echelons of Rome and has long been mandatory reading for the doe-eyes over at the NAC. But I was just reminded of how, in chronicling the appointment of one character to his own diocese, Robinson noted that it was no surprise as it was warranted "by seniority and desserts."

It's this century-old, de facto model of appointing bishops in the United States which has been eviscerated before our eyes. Until recently, even an amateur observer could predict three or four moves ahead who would be going where as dictated by "S&D." And around 80% of the time, they'd be right.

But 2002 changed everything. And the Rise of B16 -- the event, not the book reviewed in the LA Times today -- changed it even more.

Whereas being a vicar-general, seminary rector or some kind of prominent curialist was once, in effect, a bankable promise of bigger things to come, we are getting more and more surprises on Tuesday mornings. And now that everything slated to happen has been put on ice pending further review by the Fifth Floor, so the traditional founts of objective, valid speculation on episcopal appointments have for the most part been sidelined.

Unfortunately, in another example of news being replaced by fiction, this has opened the door to political campaigning for bishoprics, as we saw with the anointing of a fringe's preferred successors to Cardinal McCarrick -- a new low of erroneous spin undertaken for no other reasons than jealousy, anger and the lust for a power play. And liberals had nothing to do with it.

Does anyone need ask why I cringe at the idea of electing bishops locally?

Just as many were surprised by Levada's transfer to the CDF, the surprises won't stop coming anytime soon. Nor, it seems, will the screams of "Heresiarch," as opposed to a logical argument. But the game is all about taking the shit with the sugar. That's life.

Such a broad net approach, the lack of "farm teaming" in terms of appointments, is a very encouraging development, one which discourages careerism and encourages a balanced, genuine commitment to service across the board. It sure puts curialists everywhere on notice that being a good desk jockey does not a healthy priesthood make. This wasn't always made clear in the past.

The opposite of seniority and desserts is innovative risk-taking, going the course which might not necessarily be the most fail-safe one, but the one that shows the greatest ability of growth and promise.

Pleasant surprises and a healthy dose of faith are a good thing, and Ratzi has long shown himself to be a man of both. But above all, he remembers well that it's that kind of risk-taking that got a theologian-professor named the archbishop of Munich and Freising. Look how that one turned out.

Get ready for a suspenseful ride.



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