Friday, October 28, 2005

The Friday Line

Don't worry, people, I'm fine. Just a little more edgy than usual, but I'm OK. It's been a barnstormer here, one of those moments when the cycle of the universe is such that I can't be all things to all people, however hard I try. Not that I should even dare try. But oh well.

There was some interesting stuff in yesterday morning's Bollettino. In a matter of an hour, the number of Americans who have had one-on-one private audiences with B16 went from one to three, as the Pope received Cardinal Keeler of Baltimore and Archbishop O'Malley of Boston in separate sessions. (The USCCB leadership and Papal Foundation don't count as those were group encounters.)

I did an interview with the Boston Globe yesterday afternoon about O'Malley's audience; didn't make it to this morning's paper, but John Allen takes precedence in limited inches, as he should; I was just happy to be called and give some background. As I told the reporter, it might just be wise to remember that the last time an American archbishop walked into a private audience with this Pope, he came out with a job offer.

The Globe piece stated that O'Malley was keen to talk with Benedict XVI about new auxiliary bishops in Boston -- there are already five. However, be wise to remember who sits on the Congregation for Bishops: someone who, thanks to his own Boston experience, can practically dictate who gets the nod from the voting sessions. That reality could well tie O'Malley's hands and cause some anguish, barring a gift from above.

It seems, however, that the Archbishop in the Shadows is starting to show some muscle
''O'Malley holds these [auxiliary bishops] in high regard," said an archdiocesan official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation. ''But he has a completely different management style than [former Cardinal Bernard] Law did. He needs younger people to whom he can delegate more."
Keep an eye there.

In other things salient, there's been a bit of hubbub about the Catholic high school in North Jersey -- an entity distinct from South Jersey -- which banned its students from blogging (story here).

If you ask me, it's a BAD BAD move. Stupid and short-sighted, too... As I wrote in a comment elsewhere
If this school is really keen for its students to engage that world, then they wouldn't have taken this step. That they have just shows a lack of confidence in their student body -- and banning blogging is a poor scapegoat for a problem of their own device.
Think about it. Even if it's just a personal place to vent or air boring details about your life and what you do, a blog is an outlet, one which exalts the written word, encourages self-expression (which isn't the most encouraged quality in this or any time), and might well inspire in these kids a love and appreciation for good writing, which will help them all through their lives. (Has everybody forgotten already that writing is now a major section on the SAT, and most American high schools are flipping out about the addition because their students positively suck at it?)

Could it be that the school's ashamed of the writing skills (or, rather, lack thereof) with which it has imbued its kids? Hmm-hmm. Values-based Catholic education, you say?

Whatever the case, and yet again, just another reason for me to amp up my daily thanksgiving to God and my parents that I went to 12 years of public school (where my teachers were better Catholics than many parochial school climbers) and then was blessed to attend an institution founded on the purpose that clericalism and the academy are a dangerous combination.

Thank you, Jesus.

And the last word, as it should, belongs to Robert Mickens of The Tablet, summarising the Synod
The final version of Proposition 2 described not only the “goodness” (bontà) of the Second Vatican Council [liturgical] reform, but also its “validity” – a word that was a final addition. Two hundred and thirty-six fathers voted in favour of this proposition, four abstained and only two voted against it. More strikingly, the proposition that called for an expanded use of Latin at Mass (No. 36) received the fewest favourable votes – 170. It also received the most negative votes – 56 – and 16 abstentions. The synod’s position was clear: most of the bishops do not want to return to the Old Mass and a significant number of them would even like to shelve the use of Latin....

The one-hour “open forum” was Pope Benedict XVI’s attempt to “get the bishops talking”, said one seasoned synod participant. But, for a variety of reasons it was not a great success. All participants said the Pope was “actively listening” and was careful not to dominate or impose his views on the assembly. But several theologian-experts reported that there seemed to be a low level of theological understanding among many of the bishops “and some of the cardinals”. At one point the Pope – who inherited the already-planned synod from his predecessor – intervened and offered “a very basic” lecture on the nature of the Eucharist. “It was very good and very sound,” said one theologian, “but it was Eucharist: the basics.”
That last commentary reminds me of the curial cardinal -- no progressive heresiarch, he -- who once walked out of a meeting with a visiting bishop, shaking his head. When a priest-aide asked the cardinal what was wrong, the eminent one said, "I can't help but be amazed that that man is supposed to be the teacher of his people."

B16 might well agree.


Wednesday, October 26, 2005

All in the Family

Thanks and tip to Zadok the Roman for this photo of my great-great-great uncle's monument.

Pietro Gasparri was probably the most consequential figure of modern Vatican history who wasn't himself a Pope. Called from the Institut Catholique du Paris in 1898 to receive episcopal consecration and serve as a nuncio in Latin America, he was summoned back to Rome in 1904 to take the post of Secretary for the Commission for the Codification of Canon Law, in which he spent the next 13 years in seclusion, digesting volumes of decrees and studies compiled over centuries to create the first definitive legal text in the history of Catholicism.

You know a man is a genius when the work he gets done in 13 years on his own takes a team of canonists 24 years to simply revise.

As if that wasn't enough on its own, Gasparri became the Master of San Damaso in 1914, serving as Secretary of State to two Popes and mentor to a third. His sixteen years remain the longest reign in office of a Cardinal-Nepos since the 1770s; however, the record will be tied by Angelo Sodano on December 1. The highlight of Gasparri's stewardship, of course, was the realization of the Lateran Pacts on 11 February 1929 which created the Vatican City-State and ended the self-imposed "prisoner" status of the Popes which began after the end of the Papal States in 1870.

I'm told that, around the time of Pietro's death in 1934, a cousin who had also sailed to the States received one of his rings. But as my grandmother got into a fight with this cousin, or vice versa, and the cousin then died, I never got to see it and its whereabouts are unknown.

There was also another Cardinal in the family: Pietro's nephew Enrico, who was elevated to the Sacred College at the tender age of 53 in 1925. Like his uncle, the junior Cardinal Gasparri had also worked his way up in the ranks of the diplomatic corps.

I can't help that my loyalties toward Stato were in the cards long before I got into this line of work. It's a blood thing -- I can't mess with that.


"Vermaarde" Whispers? Oh, My....

You know, because I keep an eye on the numbers and where readership's coming from, interesting things pop up all the time.... Lots of Google searches -- everybody, it seems, does a search for "Whispers in the Loggia" (thank you) -- links from the usual suspects, fatwa lists, etc.

But one of the more interesting ones came up today -- you know, one of those things that makes a writer go "Huh?!" -- so I took a check and found that my cred is, indeed, rising.

Stijn Fens is a Dutch Vaticanologist who covers the beat for radio and TV in the Netherlands. You can find his blog (in Dutch) here; it provides a solid round-up of things Vatican and coverage in the Italian press.

Well, apparently, Stijn saw something he enjoyed here the other day, so he cited "Rocco Palmo on his renowned weblog Whispers in the Loggia..."

Good grief. Now I'm "renowned"? In Dutch? Beware when men say nice things of you.... But I'm touched and honored. Astonished, really. I'm admittedly still getting used to this kind of thing. If only I could make an actual gig of it (hint, hint, outlets).

Whatever the case, Fens cited my report about Archbishop Dziwisz's full-throttle sense of mission vis a vis the canonization of John Paul II. I'm glad someone made some use of it.

And, for the Stan Fans out there, here are some shots of the Legend attending the opening of the "John Paul II and Rome" exhibit last week.


Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Battle of the Ateliers

For those who have no clue what "Papa Ratzi ha smesso i Gamarelli" means, this might help. It's a translation from a deutschsprachigen news dispatch -- danke to the German desk....
Cassock Wars: Gammarelli vs Mancinelli

Who has the best buttons for the Holy Father? The cassock war rages on at the Vatican. Tailors Annibal Gammarelli and Raniero Mancinelli are battling over who has the right to make the 30-buttonhole Papal cassocks for Benedict.

“Gammarelli’s cassocks are sewn beyond all the rules of tailoring art. The Pope was visibly not comfortable in them. So he came back to us and is breaking with tradition,” Mancinelli explains in the newspaper Die Aktuelle. For 45 years, he has had his small shop directly across the Vatican. Maria Ratzinger who came with her brother to Rome as his housekeeper, “discovered" Mancinelli’s shop.

“That is malicious gossip and plain envy,” says Gammarelli in the same paper. “We work with absolute accuracy and with the best seamstresses. I am not going to let Raniero Mancinelli get me out of the way.” Gammarelli’s family enterprise, located behind the Pantheon, has provided Popes with their garments ince 1792. But Benedikt, who stands at 1.7 meters, has broken with that tradition.

He has been Mancinelli’s faithful customer for over 20 years. While he was cardinal, he would purchase three of each item of clothing that he ordered – 2 in his usual size and a third one, half a size larger, presumably to be worn for holiday feasting.

Gammarelli, of course, famously prepared the garments for the next Pope before the Conclave - in large, medium, and small sizes, whoever it was going to be. Whether he wanted it or not, Benedict had to wear one of Gammarelli’s cassocks for his first appearance as Pope. But he has now decided to continue with Mancinelli and has given him a long list of orders: cassocks for daily wear and for feast days, shoes, socks, ritual garments, coats, etc.

A tailor needs 4.5 meters of material for one cassock. In winter, this is made of fine wool, in summer of cotton. Each cassock takes the seamstresses 20 hours to finish.
Why are all these people around Papa Ratzi fighting for dominance in his eyes? First Georg and Clemens, then TNT and Ingrid, Stato and CDF, Gessica and all others, and now the Sartoriali.

Good grief -- can't we all just get along?

I'm off to watch Game Three. Go ChiSox.


Post-Synodal Apostolic Guessing Game

OK, now that the Synod Fathers have gone home to do the work of an evangelist (tut-tut), discussion in Rome has turned to more important matters.

As an example, with All Saints' Day -- the traditional beginning of ecclesiastical winter -- just around the corner, the buzzing has begun as to whether B16 will return to the use of the camauro. If you don't know what the camauro is, it's the fur-lined thing on Good Blessed Pope John's head on the right. He absolutely loved the thing, he's even buried in it.

John Paul the Magnificent hated anything wintery because it got him too hot. John Paul I never got to wear anything wintery as he reigned but for a September. Povera chiesa.

A friend the other day passed along a Roman tale that the SCV ("Stato della Citta' dal Vaticano" -- Italian for "State of Vatican City") on the Holy See's license plates really meant "Se Cristo Vedesse" -- "If only Christ saw this."

God love my countrymen, for they have seen everything.

You know, if I had my pick between the camauro and the ermine-lined mozzetta, modelled here by the Servant of God Paul VI (whatta Pope!), I'd pick the latter. The winter mozz is regal, the camauro's just... something.

Whatever the case, word's come 'round the campfire that this Pope's vesture choices will not be executed by the traditional atelier of the Popes.

That's right, people -- Papa Ratzi ha smesso i Gammarelli.


Monday, October 24, 2005

NPR's Church Day

My goodness, NPR is obsessing about Catholicism today like an enraged combox fiend.... First a former priest and former nun -- along with their author-son -- on Fresh Air, and now a former nun for an hour with Diane Rehm. (Audio feeds available at the links.)

This is surreal. What could possibly be next?


Philadelphia's Third Saint

I was asked a good while back for the name of someone who, in my view, exemplifies the social gospel.... And I respectfully submit the name of Sister of Mercy Mary Scullion as one of those rare people who genuinely lives the Eucharistic charism.

Sister Mary is the founder of Project H.O.M.E. here in Philly. In a nutshell, thanks to her tireless spirit and ability to inspire, she has birthed a series of ventures which have enabled thousands of homeless people seeking a better life to find work, be educated and get the skills they need to contribute to society, build a home of their own and, in turn, to build strong, healthy communities. She is, in short, a wonder, and one of this city's shining assets.

From today's Inky, the intrepid Sister announces her latest partnership. Germantown Academy ("GA," as it's known around these parts) is one of the most exclusive area prep schools, tuition running in the $15K a year range. Project H.O.M.E. is partnering with GA to open a private prep school in North Philadelphia for disadvantaged elementary-age kids.

In what national education officials say will be a first in the country, [GA] and Project H.O.M.E. in September will open a private elementary school in North Philadelphia to prepare talented, low-income youngsters to attend top prep schools....

"Less than 1 percent of the kids who are high school age or younger go to schools like Germantown Academy," said James Connor, head of Germantown Academy. "The idea is to export our educational program and spawn an independent school."

Classes will be limited to a dozen students. Teachers will use Germantown Academy's curriculum, and Project H.O.M.E. will provide social services and support for students and their families.

Although parents pay between $10,200 and $19,335 to send children to Germantown Academy, tuition at Partnership will be on a sliding scale based on parents' ability to pay. "Everybody will pay something, but it could be as little as $100," Connor said, even though the cost for each student is $12,000.

The school already has raised more than $400,000 of the $2 million it needs to cover the first two years of its operating costs from foundations and private contributions. No public funds are involved.

Project H.O.M.E already runs an after-school program at the Honickman Learning Center.

"We see this as another educational resource for kids in our community," Scullion said.

The Rev. Keith Williams Sr., pastor of the Nazarene Baptist Church in Nicetown and a Germantown Academy parent, said all children deserved the educational opportunities his children had had at the private school.

"We hope to bring those kind of experiences to kids in the area of North Philadelphia," said Williams, who is serving on a joint board overseeing the Community Partnership School.

Although plans call for the new school to grow to include fifth grade with two sections for each grade, it will open in the fall with 36 children from pre-kindergarten to first grade.

Students will be selected using the same admissions process that Germantown Academy uses with its youngest students, which includes testing, observations and teacher recommendations. Connor said the goal was finding students "who have the best chance of being successful in this program."

He said educators from Project H.O.M.E.'s after-school program would guide families through admissions.

James Nevels, chairman of the Philadelphia Reform Commission, which oversees the city's public schools, and Paul Vallas, the district's chief executive officer, endorse the new school. "I support any educational initiative that benefits children," Vallas said.

See, people, it's all about opportunity. Thank God, and thank Sister Mary, that some kids who can really shine might just get to live the American dream.

Good news like this makes my idealistic heart weep with joy.


Here's Something We Really Need To Be Worried About

OK, people, Catholic issue here -- a real pro-life challenge if there ever were one.... Time to get on the ball
UN charity Unicef says 18 million children in sub-Saharan Africa could be orphaned by Aids by the end of 2010.

The warning comes as the children's charity launches a global campaign to help the disease's youngest victims.

Unite For Children, Unite Against Aids, will focus on Africa but also target central Asia and eastern Europe.

Unicef says millions who lose their parents to Aids get no financial support and less than five percent of HIV-positive children get medical help.
The stats are almost numbing. But, if anything, that just adds to how imperative the challenge is.


Good Journalism Makes For... Well, What Does Good Journalism Make For?

On June 4, you heard it here first
And, lastly, this nugget: It's being whispered that the first encyclical of Benedict XVI is being targeted for a December 8 publication, to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the close of the Second Vatican Council.
And on July 22, you heard it here first again
the first Encyclical (coming to a bookshelf near you on December 8)
And only today, Reuters chimes in

Pope Benedict has written his first encyclical, the highest form of papal writing addressed to all members of the Roman Catholic Church, a Vatican source said on Monday.

The source said the encyclical, which is expected to be published before the end of the year, deals with one's personal relationship with God.

The work is just under 50 pages long and will probably be published to coincide with the feast of the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8, the source said.

Forgive my lack of erudition but, well, duh. Not like I didn't say this, um, almost five months ago.

Suffice it to say, I've got my beat covered. Again.


Downfall of the Christian Lip-Service Coalition

You know, I do have friends who are conservative.... Family members, even.


Don't cry, libs -- I get out of dinner conversations with my soul and integrity intact. But I've gotta say, the Miers thing really has the crunchy people all kinds of turned up. I mean, religious conservatives I've talked to are almost giving Bush the Clinton treatment. Almost. I haven't heard any screaming innuendos about Laura Bush and dildos on the White House Christmas tree just yet -- just like in their favorite Hillary Clinton fable -- but it's early.

I'm also waiting for them to train their dogs to bark ferociously at the mention of W's name, just like they trained the pups to do with Bubba.

I guess this is what happens when, after being a true believer for five years, you wake up one day and finally realize that all you ever were was just another vote for an economic agenda and all the talk of loving God, kicking gays and saving unborn babies were just red meat electoral devices to tickle your ears and exploit you, nothing more.

If I were that dupable, I'd be pretty angry, too. But would I have the right to be so angry for being so easily dupable?

It's a valid question.

Dick Polman, our local Inquirer's sterling national political correspondent, details the cleavages in the Republican party in today's paper

[I]t's getting very personal. Consider the insult directed at Bush the other day by conservative commentator Jonathan V. Last. After learning that high-court nominee Miers had stated in 1989 that she couldn't recall "the last time I read a whole book," Last remarked: "Those who voted for George W. Bush were promised a mind like [Antonin] Scalia's for the Supreme Court. Instead, they've been given a mind like George W. Bush's."

Mark Rozell, a political analyst at George Mason University who tracks the conservative movement, said: "There is so much bitter frustration right now. Conservatives were out of power for so long, and once they got into power, their expectations were so high. But those expectations are not being met.

"So they're firing not just at Bush, but at each other. The conservative movement has always been, in a sense, a dysfunctional family. They get along well when times are good, but when times are bad, you start to see all these fights between purists and pragmatists."

H.L. Mencken, the famed political commentator of yesteryear, remarked during the New Deal that the Democratic Party comprised "gangs of natural enemies in a precarious state of symbiosis." That's also a fair description of the GOP during the Bush era. The factions that muted their differences when Bush was riding high - small-government conservatives, religious conservatives, war-hawk "neocons," big-business conservatives - now appear to be forming a circular firing squad, and hunting for betrayers of the movement. Similar actions will occur during the next few years, as conservatives seek a presidential candidate who can restore purity and rescue the movement from Bush's alleged transgressions.

For instance, the religious conservatives, who care about values, are now openly attacking the business conservatives, who care about money. Tony Perkins, who runs the Family Research Council, launched an assault the other day on Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a former corporate lobbyist in Washington, because Barbour is bringing new casinos to his state. Meanwhile, Gary Bauer, another religious-conservative leader, is attacking Grover Norquist, a prominent tax-cut activist, for his decision last week to share his economic conservatism with an audience of gay Republicans.

My God, as if it wasn't clear that these people were all one big repressed, self-immolating mess before....

Yo progs, there is hope!


"Best of the Best?"

VOTF wants everyone to know how wonderful it is.
Voice of the Faithful, a national lay Catholic reform group launched at the height of the clergy sex abuse scandal, has a membership that is deeply devoted to Catholicism but will need to recruit more active members if it wants to remain vibrant, according to academics who gathered for a symposium on the organization's future yesterday at Boston College.

The academics based their observations on a survey the Voice of the Faithful conducted earlier this year.

The organization will use the survey, which included responses from 1,300 members nationwide, to help it develop a new action plan to broaden lay people's role in Church decisions.

Among some of the key findings praised by the group and academics yesterday:

93 percent are ''cradle Catholics," meaning worshipers raised in the Church.

2 out of 3 attend Mass at least once a week, opposed to 34 percent nationally.

8 out of 10 pray at least once a day.

Half are members of parish councils; 45 percent are on liturgy committees.

87 percent have college degrees, with six out of 10 members holding a graduate or professional degree.

I can't say I'm a terribly huge fan, seeing VOTF more as a bull in a china shop than a group which actually understands the nuances of ecclesiastical governance, one able to distinguish canonical issues from doctrinal ones.

Then again, if it's better to light one candle than curse the darkness, they've got this outrageously angry Boston pseudo-Catholic beat.

Tip to Jim Mac.


Kasper: Not So Fast

The president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity has something to say to everyone who thinks a consultative Synod closed the question of optional celibacy

"I can't imagine that the debate on [married priests] is closed. This is a reality and we have to at least reflect on how to respond," said Cardinal Walter Kasper, head of the Vatican's department for Christian unity.

One point of discussion in the synod that ended on Sunday was the plight of millions of Catholics who have divorced and remarried outside the Church without an annulment.

Since the Church still recognises their first marriage, they are banned from receiving communion because they are considered to be living in sin. Synod documents voted by a majority of the more than 250 bishops present reaffirmed the existing policy.

But Kasper said the debate was not closed and suggested it would be up to Pope Benedict to make a final decision based on debate, including the minority opinion, during the synod.



The Church Awakening?

If there are any readers of this humble outfit in Passau, take notes.

The German Desk has briefed me on what sounds to be an interesting symposium tonight at the Passau Publishing Group's Media Centre on "Pope Benedict XVI: The Church Awakening" and what to expect of his pontificate.

They've got an all-star lineup. The moderator will be Stephan Kulle, a journalist who covered the interregnum for German television in Rome. Georg the Papstbruder -- fresh from a weekend with Joseph -- will headline. Also speaking will be Abbot Odilio Lechner, a Benedictine who I'm told is quite influential with the progressive strain of German Catholicism, and Professor Gesine Schwan, who clashed with then-Cardinal Ratzinger on the issue of abortion counseling, which was supported by the German bishops but firmly rejected by the Holy See.

On the conservative side, the evening will feature two members of Ratzinger's social circle: Princess Alessandra Borghese and the social commentator Princess Gloria von Thurn und Taxis, seen here, accompanied by her daughter Elizabeth, greeting her man after Thursday night's gala concert, which was sponsored by her publication of choice, the German magazine Bild.

I'm told that Gloria -- or TNT, as she's often known -- has raised eyebrows in statements she's made about Africa, and the spread of the AIDS pandemic on the continent. A reformed wild child once known as the "punk princess," she credits Ratzinger (whom she calls her "model and hero") with her return to the church. She in turn converted Borghese, who refers to TNT as "Apostle."

Should make for an interesting evening.


Broken "Vows"

You know, Terry Gross -- the host of NPR's Fresh Air -- really has a thing for the Catholic church. And, especially as she records in my town, why haven't I been in studio with her yet?

A couple weeks back, she had the anonymously gay priest on, followed-up by Joe "Gay Priests are like Pyromaniac Firemen" Fessio. Today's show looks like another all-Catholic showing: Terry's guest is Peter Manseau, author of the newly-released Vows. Manseau's father was (is?) a priest, his mother was a religious.... And, well, something else happened along the way.

Should make for interesting listening. Check your local NPR affiliate for airtimes, or listen to the audio stream which goes up here later in the afternoon. And then come here to discuss.


The American Visitation

This morning, the Pope received in audience the leadership of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops -- president Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane, vice-president Cardinal Francis George of Chicago and Msgr. William Fay, the outgoing general secretary -- who are in Rome on their semi-annual visit to the dicasteries.

At their plenary in Washington, scheduled for November 14-17, the American bishops will elect a successor to Fay, 56, a priest of Boston who has served as general secretary since 2001. As his two immediate predecessors before him -- Bob Lynch and Dennis Schnurr -- were made diocesan bishops quickly after the end of their respective terms at the Conference, keep an eye to see if the pattern holds.

And remember that, come Wednesday, it'll be four whole months since the last American appointment was released. You can make what you will of that.


Stan's Back -- And He's Got a Request

From this morning's audience for the canonization pilgrims, B16 greets the archbishop of Krakow.

Several sources have told me that Stanislaw Dziwisz is motivated by one and only one thing these days -- the canonization of his beloved boss. (Because beatification just isn't enough.) He's been telling reporters in interviews that he hopes Benedict XVI will work the papal magic and canonize JP on his planned trip next June to Poland.

These two'll be together again in a couple weeks. CBS announced the other day that it will screen its upcoming mini-series on John Paul II starring Jon Voight for the Pope, Dziwisz and 6,000 of their closest friends on 17 November in the Paul VI Hall. This is the second time the Pope will be watching a movie about his predecessor in public.

"Pope John Paul II" will air in the States in two parts, to be shown December 4 and 7.

PHOTO: L'Osservatore



Six months and he's really looking the part, no?

So there were two concerts in Papa Bear's honor over the weekend. In the words of one attendee, it was "just delightful."

Yet there were some murmurs of discontent. The Thursday concert of the Munich Philharmonic, Germanic in its emphases, went over the top in the eyes of a few by bringing Wagner back to the Vatican -- the overture from Tannhauser was the grand finale of the evening. As one Roman said, "Six months ago, it would have been unthinkable to perform a piece by Wagner in the Vatican," a seeming reference to John Paul II's extraordinary sensitivities to the Jewish community.

Present for both shows was Brother Georg, a piece of whose was played on Thursday night and who took a special pride of place on Saturday evening at the concert by the Regensburg Cathedral Choir -- which he headed for thirty years -- in the Sistine Chapel. At both events, the Papstbruder was conspicuous by wearing a simple black suit and pants, which are supposedly verboten in the papal presence.

PHOTO 1: Reuters/Tony Gentile



"Lo 'Tzunami' in Curia"

OK, time to put my translator's hat on again.

An Italian news agency cried "reshuffle" over the weekend in the context of speculation about Cardinal Ruini's future after his 75th birthday in February, 2006. According to the dispatch, names currently being thrown around for the vicariate of Rome include Rino Fisichella, Vicenzo Paglia and the uber-hyped Bruno Forte, who Sandro Magister went so far as to predict some weeks back was B16's chosen successor.

Anyway, this passage is of some interest -- the piece was dated Saturday and this is my own translation
The next 48 or 72 hours will see published news of the destination and new charge of an Italian bishop, until now in the Vatican's nomenclature among the few whom, at Cologne, had the privilege of being near the altar where the German Pope celebrated.

This transfer will signify that the "Curial tsunami" [lo "tzunami" in Curia] awaited by many has begun in fact, and that Pope Benedict XVI has started to build a governing team of his own.
This sounds mighty ominous. I take no responsibility for its veracity, or lack thereof... I'm just the messenger, after all. But it does seem a bit more reliable than a furious insistence of rumors at week's end that a consistory was to be called yesterday morning.

But don't be so quick to think "near the altar" immediately means the liturgist. Marini has been far from the most-tipped curialist to be sent away.... Remember well that a current cardinal is all but a lock to end up in Naples, which is open for reasons of age.


Lex Credendi est Lex Vestiti

There are no gems on this chasuble. Ditto for the mitre.

Grazie Dio, it's a Marini Special.

The Pope has taken on use of a very unique set of vestments which seem to be a special-order. Alongside the white (shown here at yesterday's Synod closing liturgy) he's also worn this style in red and another in lime green -- he used the latter to open the Synod. Each is a simple, ample-cut Gothic with an embroidered pattern, usually the Ratzingerian shell. As a departure from customary liturgical vesture, there is no orphrey (the central design down the front or along the shoulders which marks most celebrant's chasubles), a move seemingly undertaken to not distract attention from B16's face, and also to maintain a focus on the distinctive "Petrine Pallium" which this Pope has made his own.

And, of course, a homily snip
Dear and venerated Synodal Fathers, for three weeks we have lived together a climate of renewed Eucharistic fervour. Now I would like, with you and in the name of the entire episcopate, to send a fraternal greeting to the Bishops of the Church in China. We have felt the absence of their representatives with sharp sadness. Nonetheless I want to assure all the Chinese bishops that we are close in prayer to them, their priests and their faithful. The suffered journey of the communities entrusted to their pastoral care, is present in our heart: it will not remain without fruit because it is a participation in the Easter Mystery, for the glory of the Father. The deliberations of the Synod have allowed us to go deeper into salient aspects of this mystery given to the Church from the beginning. Contemplation of the Eucharist must urge all members of the Church, first and foremost priests, ministers of the Eucharist, to renew their faith commitment. The celibacy, received as a precious gift an sign of their undivided love for God and neighbour, is founded on the Eucharistic mystery. For lay people too, Eucharistic spirituality must be the interior motor of every activity and no dichotomy between faith and life in their mission of Christian animation of the world is allowed. As the Year of the Eucharist comes to an end, how not to thank God for so many gifts given to the Church in this time - And how not to take up again the invitation of the beloved Pope John Paul II to "start again from Christ"? Like the disciples of Emmaus who, heartened by the words of the Resurrected One and illuminated by his living presence recognised in the breaking of the bread, returned without lingering to Jerusalem where they became proclaimers of the resurrection of Christ, we too must take up our walk again, animated by the living desire to testify the mystery of this love which gives hope to the world.
Hmm. A reaffirmation of celibacy in the Pope's homily -- his first direct comments on the issue. You don't need me to remind you that Ratzi chooses his words with the utmost care.

AP/Pier Paolo Cito


Sunday, October 23, 2005

Of Pectoral Crosses

This coming Wednesday, the cross on the left will be given to Benedict XVI as a gift from Rome's community of artisans.... Notice the coat of arms at the center of the chain. Notice further that that is not a tiara surmounting the coat of arms at the center of the chain.

It'd be nice if he wore this new one every once in awhile, no? Since his ascent, Ratzinger has made daily use of a plain, long gold pectoral with a filigreed pattern at the edges of the arms. For choral dress, he's brought out the emeralds.

Of course, as highlighted by George Weigel and others, John Paul II was known to wear but one pectoral cross throughout the whole of his pontificate. As archbishop of Krakow, Karol Wojtyla had inherited the cross simplex given his mentor, the Prince-Cardinal Adam Stefan Sapieha, when the latter was ordained to the episcopate by Pius X (of Econe fame). When John Paul II received then-Archbishop Francizek Macharski after his ordination as Wojtyla's successor in Krakow in January, 1979, the Pope gave the new archbishop the Sapieha cross with the words, "This belongs to the Archbishop of Krakow." Macharski immediately had a copy made, and John Paul wore it exclusively until his death. (See below for clarification.)

With thanks to the Italian desk, here's an explanation of the new cross for a new Pope by its creator, the Roman jeweller Fausto Maria Franchi
". . . I prepared myself for the project of the Pectoral Cross, seeking to express in it both my own language, as an artistic goldsmith, which communicates through its own medium, as well as the spirituality so incisive a sign wants to and must transmit. The simplicity and confines (rigor) of the form, appropriate for exalting the strength of the message, are communicated through the ‘texture’ of the surface, obtained through a detailed work of chiseling, and from the blue that leaps out from the very plain style, lightly projecting from the cross, forming a second sign of the cross (a cross within a cross) . . ."
Hey, the Big Man's already gone for modern vestments, what's a streamlined pontifical or two?

SVILUPPO: A sterling sacerdote has sent me photos proving that, indeed, the Sapieha replica cross was not John Paul's sole cross for the whole of his pontificate. Early on, he experimented with jewels, and toward the end, he donned a cross which looks conspicuously like the one used daily by B16.

Santo subito.


Saturday, October 22, 2005

A Prayer for Philadelphia

Before he returns to his wounded archdiocese on Monday, Cardinal Justin Rigali made a noteworthy visit earlier today in Rome.

According to a source on the ground, Rigali, accompanied by what were described as "a couple monsignori-types," was sighted at the church of Ss. Redentore e San Alfonso, the mother-church of the Redemptorist order, located on the Via Merulana a stone's throw from St. Mary Major. The Philadelphia prelate spent some time in prayer and took a tour of the church, small by Roman standards, which will celebrate its 150th anniversary next month.

Well, you ask, of all the churches in Rome, why this one?

The Philadelphia ties of St. Alphonsus run deep. In a 1991 address to its new honorary pastor, a new cardinal, John Paul II said that, "It is particularly fitting that your titular church in Rome is the church of the Most Holy Redeemer and St. Alphonsus on the Via Merulana. Under the care of the Redemptorist Fathers, it brings to mind the life and example of the great St. John Neumann, the first Redemptorist to be professed in America, who was one of your predecessors as Bishop of Philadelphia."

A mosaic of St. John Neumann -- portrayed with his city's Cathedral-Basilica of Ss. Peter and Paul over one shoulder and St. Peter's Church (Philadelphia's Redemptorist hub, where Neumann is buried) over the other -- can be found in a niche near the back of the church. The church's titular is Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, Philadelphia's retired archbishop whose handling of clergy sex-abuse cases was heavily disparaged in a recent grand jury report.

Bevilacqua's affinity for St. John Neumann is well known. At his 1988 installation as archbishop of Philadelphia, he recounted the story of his recently-deceased mentor, Fr. Andrew Francis Klarmann, who "had kept a relic of St. John Neumann for years. And every time he passed it, he would always look at it and say, 'Please take care of my little Tony' -- that's me. So I owe a lot to St. John Neumann."

Whether Klarmann's prayer was on Rigali's lips is, of course, unknown. But there's much to be said for the context.


Go West?

So I got an e.mail the other day from one of the vaunted Three Queens of San Francisco letting me know that su casa es mi casa, should I ever so desire. (For the curious, this came from the Humanitarianess. For the really curious, the other two are the Lawyeress and the Actress. The latter is currently in exile in North Carolina, but oh well. I digress.)

Man alive, is that a dangerous invitation these days -- when the Queens congregate, the effect is much like the blessedly eventful flip side of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. And I sure as hell could use a change of scenery. And enough people have materialised from out of nowhere to say that Sodom by the Sea is pure heaven that it's almost freakishly omenesque.

Now, I've been promising myself that I'll make the trip to crown Darth fils when the day comes. Who knows if I'll ever return here?

I mean, c'mon, if I can tell you that Rigali and Stika noshed Lungotevere last night, that a Synod Father "conspicuous by his arrogance" was bypassing his small group and sending his personal modi to the floor and that a certain national college went all kinds of nutty about an archiepiscopal "intruder" from six time zones away, then what's another three?

Hell, from this chair in which I'm sitting right now, I was The San Francisco Chronicle's source that that city's archbishop would become the most powerful American in Vatican history ten days out. (Observant readers will remember that I wrote an op-ed to celebrate, to boot.) Some still can't get over that -- and the paper didn't believe it themselves at first, even after I had the champagne in the fridge. But when the call comes through that "It's time to Rock 'n Roll," well, it's time to Rock 'n Roll, no?

Best of all, I don't think Archbishop Niederauer's curia is big on intimidating into silence independent observers keen to do their jobs. That's a big plus.

And, lest I forget, there's the divinely-inspired Mark Morford, whose columns have become the Bible of our times.

Suffice it to say, the wheels are a-turnin'. I'm in dire need of a Love Parade.


One Flapjack Too Many

Good God, I wonder what this would fetch on eBay.


Smiling, Crying and Celebrity

His name is Bono, and he is a rock star -- and a diplomat, politician, fair trade activist, etc.

In sum, this man is the Saviour of the World. But what's he doing wearing a tie? He didn't even wear one when he visited with JP -- a new photo of said encounter's out, by the by. They always told me Niente foto was the rule. Apparently not.

So Bono Vox, Doctor of Laws honoris causa (a gong I helped him get when I put his name forward to serve as commencement speaker to the 248th graduating class of the University of Pennsylvania), returned to his honorary (and my real) alma mater last night to speak on the state of the planet and receive the Philly World Affairs Council's International Statesman Award.

The Inky was there
Bono, an advocate for African aid for more than two decades, broke up the audience of World Affairs Council members in the cavernous Irvine Auditorium as he appeared to struggle to find a nonjudgmental way of saying he had been surprised Bush knew so much about the negative effects of American trade on Africa.

Bono backed away from using the word surprised, and also backed away from saying he was "delighted" by the level of the President's knowledge.

Finally he said he thought Bush was much better briefed about the trade problem than he [Bono] was.

Trade policies, which prevent African farmers from selling their products on the world markets, are part of the developed world's "corruption" that has fed poverty and disease in Africa, Bono said.

Bono noted that a combination of ACTUP, the gay advocacy group, and U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (R., Pa.), who has been attacked for making allegedly anti-gay remarks, had helped get additional AIDS funding for Africa.

"If they can work together on this," Bono said, "so can we all."
And even B16 -- no man of lax doctrinal cred, he -- has mentioned AIDS and Africa more than abortion, more than gay marriage, more than everything that gets our comboxes all fired up.

It's a Catholic issue, people. Time to get movin'.



Isn't it Rich?

You know, the pastor of the Church of the Annunziata in Ladue, Missouri picked a marvelous time to be in the Eternal City -- his mentor-patron just happened to be in town.

Serendipity, you say?

Word's come across the water that Cardinal Justin Rigali was spotted at a Roman trattoria last night noshing with Msgr. Richard Stika, the aforementioned pastor of Ladue -- and, more to the point, Rigali Protege #1.

Stika was 37 in 1994 when Rigali, the newly-arrived archbishop of St. Louis, catapulted the young priest, who had served for some months as his secretary, into the offices of Chancellor and, three years later, Vicar-General.

Stika was tapped to coordinate the 1999 Papal Visit to St. Louis -- an event which included the largest indoor gathering in American history when John Paul II celebrated Mass in the TransWorld Dome -- and has maintained extremely close ties with Rigali even after the Cardinal's departure for Philadelphia in 2003. (As a sidenote, at his installation Mass in Philadelphia, Rigali did raise some local eyebrows by inviting Stika and his other St. Louis priest-secretary, Henry Breier, to stand at the altar as chief concelebrants for the Eucharistic Prayer alongside the auxiliary bishops of Philadelphia. Breier was recently given papal honors.)

After undergoing multiple bypass surgery in the summer of 2004 -- at which time Rigali flew back to St. Louis for a week to aid his friend's first stages of recovery -- Stika was relieved of his chancery obligations and made pastor of the Annunziata, a luxe suburban parish located right off a golf course.

One of his primary claims to fame is that, when the then-bishop of LaCrosse Raymond Burke was walking into the St. Louis archbishop's residence for dinner with Rigali in August, 2003, Stika introduced the guest as "the archbishop-elect of St. Louis," an appointment Burke didn't receive for another four months.

Due to his personal vicinity to the metropolitan of the Philadelphia province, Stika's name has come up in speculative discussions for vacancies in Pennsylvania since Rigali's arrival here. As he's still at a tender age, and given Rigali's prolific record of placing sons of St. Louis at the head of dioceses, that buzz may have some life in it yet.

But all that aside, they surely had an enjoyable meal.


Friday, October 21, 2005

Campaign Season

There's a kook-o caller on Sean Hannity's radio show thanking Hannity "for being a true American." Good God.

It's a dreary, cloudy, damp day here in Philadelphia. I hate the weather this time of year. But I love the election run-ups.

In Pennsylvania, as most of the country, the post-presidential year is the political "off-year." It isn't across the river, though, as our nightly broadcasts air wave after wave of attack ads in the New Jersey governor's race between Democratic Sen. Jon Corzine and Republican businessman (and UFO enthusiast) Doug Forrester.

It's such a boring race -- two multi-millionaire businessmen who've self-financed their campaigns and are blowing fortunes on mass messages that say nary a nice thing about themselves or each other. Corzine'll win and Forrester's just... weird. It's not a way to select a chief executive.

My favorite race for the cycle is the contest for America's only single-term governorship in Virginia.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have family in Virginia -- they live in Lynchburg and work for Jerry Falwell (imagine the fun), and heading down there every so often provides a useful prism with which to view the world.

The election pits Republican Jerry Kilgore, the former Attorney General, against Democratic Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine. The race is marked by several exceptional dynamics: first off, the unusual popularity of Mark Warner, the outgoing Democratic governor, who leaves office with approval numbers in the 70% range. Even among Republican audiences, Warner is acclaimed for holding a moderate line on the God, guns and abortion questions which weigh heavy along the Southside and Southwest corridors of the Commonwealth.

Warner's glow hasn't exactly rubbed off on his designated standard-bearer -- the latest polls show Kaine and Kilgore head-to-head. And Kilgore's ads have drowned out the crucial economic and taxation questions which dominate in Northern Virginia (an area in which he's making inroads, albeit outside the Beltway) to cast the race as a referendum on Kaine's "faith-based" opposition to capital punishment. The dynamic of Virginia is such that Kaine's tried to side step the question by saying "No one can tell me to give up my faith." It's a fascinating message strategy, one I've never seen before anywhere, specifically crafted to play off the importance of religion to Virginia's heavy Evangelical presence in the electorate.

Kaine is Catholic and took a year off from Harvard Law to serve as a Jesuit missionary in Honduras. He claims that his death penalty stance would not inhibit him from signing and executing death warrants as governor, but a Kilgore ad which made hay out of Kaine's statement that he wouldn't even execute Adolf Hitler has had a mixed effect, serving to either revolt voters at the Kilgore campaign's gable or Kaine's statement.

Despite the sinister content, the Kilgore ads -- produced by Pennsylvania-based consultants BrabenderCox -- are the best gubernatorial ads I've ever seen. That said, however, Jerry Kilgore reminds me of a bobblehead doll.

It's amazing.

Another race which I've been keeping an eye on is the campaign to succeed Michael Howard as leader of the UK Conservative party -- which resembles the Catholic church in so many ways.

After a second narrowing yesterday, the party activists will now have the choice between company man David Davis, a veteran MP, and the come-from-nowhere David Cameron, a 39 year-old moderniser, in a national ballot to be concluded in early December.

As only the Tories do can, the vying to this point has had a disproportionate presence of planted news stories involving drugs, denials and prostitutes.

More on that as time allows....


From the Cambridge School

I'm told that this break would be of interest to some of our more literate readership....

In his new study of the fall of the British Empire, After the Victorians, the social commentator A.N. Wilson makes a stunning accusation about one of the most famous figures of 20th century English Catholicism.

According to one of our more prominent Anglo-Catholics who has seen the book, Wilson cites "private information" in reporting that the sudden exile of the legendary Jesuit author and scholar Martin D'Arcy from Cambridge to the United States was precipitated after the suicide of a Jesuit scholastic whom D'Arcy had "introduced to different ways of love," as my source put it....

Interesting.... So it wasn't just the dioceses that did the laundry in strange and sinister ways.


It's Been 20 Hours and Earth Hasn't Yet Imploded

Well, here he is....
"I'm a Roman Catholic priest and I'm gay."

With that confession, 63-year-old Karl Clemens became the first priest in Canada to openly declare his homosexuality.

Clemens - a priest for 33 years who retired from the Kingston diocese seven years ago - now lives in Toronto, calling Church Street in the city's gay village his parish.

"I don't have a parish," Clemens told 360 Vision in a documentary that aired last night on VisionTV. "My parish is the street - the highways, the byways, the bars."

Clemens, who wears a priest's collar and says mass every day in his living room, said he is celibate.

"If I were any more celibate, I don't know that I'd be alive," Clemens said, recalling a joke he once told a bishop.

Did anyone see this unfold last night? Any impressions?


Thursday, October 20, 2005

Metro Digest

Good God, people. Good God. The Archdiocese has got itself some company on the local suicide watch dock.

At 6 o'clock tonight, Jim Gardner -- America's highest-rated and longest-serving affiliate news anchor, Philadelphia's Voice of God who has covered every major event since, well, The Creation -- and every other local newscast kicked off with helicopters up in the Center City sky, cameras focused on the tower of Philadelphia City Hall. Rick Mariano, a colorful City Councilman (D) who's facing down an indictment on federal corruption charges, declared that he would jump from the seventh floor observation deck.

Talk about your incredible television moments.

Between this and the gay priest coming out on Canadian telly tonight (see post below), this is a red-letter day for the medium. We haven't seen anything of this kind in Pennsylvania since Bud Dwyer, the State Treasurer who called a press conference after being indicted on a corruption rap in 1987. Dwyer walked in, pulled out a .357 magnum and shot himself in the mouth as the cameras rolled.

I kid you not.

Fortunately, things turned out differently tonight. The Mayor and Police Commissioner were able to talk Mariano down from the tower, and Mariano left City Hall in the embrace of his political patron, Bob Brady, a Congressman who hates being a Congressman but loves his real job: Chairman of the Philadelphia Democratic Party.

Suffice it to say, it made for apprehensive viewing; our 6PM newscasts became, for all intents and purposes, a 30-minute liveshot of City Hall's North Tower.

Whatever the case, Ricky's too entertaining to go anywhere. Thank God he's OK.


Coming Out in Style

Here's something for our Canadian readers to tune into and report on.
A Canadian television network is airing a special report tonight at 10 ET featuring a Catholic priest declaring his homosexuality, which according to VisionTV, makes him the first Canadian priest to come out publicly. The multifaith multicultural network's signature current affairs series, 360 Vision, is tackling the debate over gays in the Catholic priesthood. The Canadian priest being interviewed on 360 Vision says he is celibate and estimates that as many as 50% of all priests in Canada are gay. The Vatican is expected to soon release a document outlying its policy to allow gay men into the priesthood if they can show they have been celibate for at least three years, but it will bar those who publicly announce their homosexuality.
If this were happening in the States, they'd need armed guards to stand sentry at the studio. God love Canada.


Walter's Goose Was Cooked

From the Globe, stunning new developments from Newton

The Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, the priest who replaced the Rev. Walter H. Cuenin at Our Lady Help of Christians parish in Newton, revealed at a meeting with parishioners last week that officials of the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston asked him in June if he would be interested in replacing the outspoken Cuenin. That was two months before the completion of the financial audit that archdiocesan officials said led them to ask for Cuenin's resignation.

The news outraged parishioners, who say it shows that the audit was never the real reason Cuenin was ousted.

Unbelievable. This rates high on the hubris scale.

A friend of mine in Boston always keeps talking about the archdiocesan "Stupid Committee" there that cooks up wild stuff like this that makes the church look horrrrrrrible on the front pages.

Boston's not the only place with such a body of idiots, theirs is just the longest one running.


A Man Stands Up, Part Two

You know, sometimes I wonder if my lot would be better if I were a journalist in Venezuela. Maybe I'd feel safer. More on that in a sec.

I was sitting at the desk this morning, checking my e.mail, enjoying my first cup of coffee and Stevie Wonder on the Stern show, when I got a call telling me to tune into the Michael Smerconish show on AM radio here in Philly.

Father Bob McLaughlin -- the suburban pastor and former Newman chaplain who had the temerity to speak up about the grand jury and has been savaged by his brother priests of Philadelphia in my inbox as a dissident disobedient misinformed misformed schismatic heretic apostate priss -- was Smerco's guest. On a side note, I welcome him to the fraternity: I was Smerconish's guest on the morning the conclave opened, after I had been spat upon by the Archdiocese, which attempted to silence me after I had the temerity to say nice things about Cardinal Rigali in an interview with a national wire service.

That was the interregnum that was.

In the hot seat, McLaughlin -- a veteran media commentator on things Catholic in Philadelphia (he has a doctorate in communication) -- kept going with his tack of the last two weeks: That we were duped, that this was kept even from the priests in the trenches (which it was) and that our people need hope and affirmation for their emotions, because "everywhere you turn" it seems there was a predator priest of Philadelphia who had been kept in ministry.

Mac alone cited that his spiritual director from the Seminary, his confessor and six of his classmates were in the report, and he didn't have a clue at all about any of it. And he's always been so detached from the center of action, preferring to actually do the church's work, that I believe him.

The people came out of the woodwork -- this is what happens when about 92% of the parishes allow for no open forum for the people to vent and heal before they can find it in themselves to move on. The calls must've blown out a couple phone lines at the WPHT studios, because callers were run through at a furious clip, each one feeling angry, betrayed, furious, looking for some reassurance -- looking for some hope.

And then one of the JPII Boys chimed in, "Um, our Holy Father Pope John Paul the Great...."

Sorry, Charlie -- there's a new Pope in town. And he's much better on sex abuse than JP was. It's true -- who resurrected the Marcial Maciel case, after all?

Anyway, the choirboy (from Malvern, hmm-hmm) went on to give the stock defense that "you know, it wasn't really pedophilia, just pederasty," (good thing I wasn't in that chair, as I would've vomited) and that we have to blame sex abuse by clergy on people who support gay marriage, because JP said so.

So we should blame predator priests and an alleged cover-up on... the laity? Not the clericalist culture? Not lax fidelity? Not horrific seminary oversight?

Wonderful. Brilliant. Gag me with a crozier.

Father Mac also made a return appearance in the pages of the Daily News today (this is SO my strategy: Archdiocese spits on you, then appear on Smerconish and in the Daily on the same day. This is so six months ago for me. It's like deja vu.) Apparently, having found no comfort from many of their shepherds, the Catholic people of Philadelphia have come out to thank Fr. Bob.

Father Mac "may bring me back to Sunday Mass," e-mailed Karen P., adding that she "never realized that there are priests out there feeling the same as parish members - betrayed."

While Father Mac is reader Frank M.'s "new hero," e-mailer Raymond C. thinks Father Mac should head the Philadelphia Archdiocese.

"This man is the one who should be in the position of cardinal, so he can bring [the church] back to holiness and truthfulness," Raymond declared.

And reader Jean M. echoed others when she promised to keep Father Mac in her prayers because, she feared, "his bishop will soon try to transfer him" as punishment for being honest.

After all, if the church promoted liars and pedophiles - as maintained in the grand jury's report on the Philadelphia Archdiocese's handling of its sex scandal - is it unreasonable to assume they might demote an honorable and outspoken man of God?

Gee - is the pope Catholic?

As I've always told priests in need of a bit of reality, "Priesthood isn't what you wear, it isn't what people call you -- it's what you do for them." (Many of them still don't get it, in which cases I have to resort to the Steven Tyler strategy: "Girl, you got to change your crazy ways!" For some reason, that usually works.) By speaking up and giving people an outlet, the faithful who've turned to columnist Ronnie Polaneczky and Father Mac with gratitude are doing so because they feel that, in the person of McLaughlin, the church is listening to them, that the church understands their pain, that the church is united with its faithful.

We do not see those qualities in overwhelming amounts in this town. Even now. And this response is just proof positive of it. Ronnie continues:
Having been raised in the Philadelphia Archdiocese, I logged a lot of time in church confessionals over the years, taking counsel from men of the cloth. So it feels both weird and presumptuous now to offer them some counsel of my own.

But indulge me.

Because what I want to say to the good priests who feel the way Father Mac does but are afraid to speak out is this:

Just do it.

Your people are hungry for you to declare that you're angry that the church coldly bartered the safety of its children for the protection of its financial assets.

You know it's true. Your people know it's true. And they are desperate for you to say it for them, because they know their official church leaders never will.

If you can find the courage to speak out as vociferously as Father Mac has, your people will not throw you to the Archdiocesan wolves.

They will rally behind you.

But don't take my word for it.

Take the word of reader Ruth L., who wrote, "Our pastor is nice but has addressed this problem in a lukewarm fashion, without any courage, and I am so frustrated."

And Stephen M., who swears that "if the church was filled with more Father Macs, it would be a much better organization, worthy of our trust and respect."

And John R., who refuses to put another dime in church coffers "unless I decide to drive down to St. Basil's and hear a Father Mac sermon."

Wow - honesty in the pulpit leading to more coins dropped into the collection plate?

That's a sound that the church actually pays attention to.

And it might make them start heeding what you - and Father Mac - have to say, too.

When I got into the church journalism biz in this town, I knew it'd be tough. Little did I imagine how much of an understatement that was.

Over the years, I've had more than my share of intimidation, acid, and pure turpitude thrown at me by the institution here which has purported to act in the name of a Christ and of a Church foreign to the Christian understanding, the Catholic understanding, of what the Holy Temple is. They've spent eons trying to shut me up, shut me down, crush my spirit and run me out of the commentariat. And I haven't an answer as to why.

A priest once alluded to "your voodoo doll over at the [chancery] office." And I chuckled along, at least for the first couple times I heard it. But when I heard it from the eighth person, I concluded that there had to be some truth to it. And I've been threatened enough, spat upon enough and defamed enough within the church here that some nights I've gone to sleep thinking that "the office" won't be at peace until there's either a bullet in my head or I'm in a coma, because only then would I be silenced for good -- it hasn't helped that suspicious visitors have shown up at my house, my address written on a piece of paper, looking for me. Hence the analogy to being safer in Venezuela.

I'm dead serious. This is the environment that needs to be changed, because the church here is a church no longer.

I don't feel at home in my own church anymore, the church I've given a lot of my life to loving and studying and caring deeply about, because some within it have tried to take it from me and, by extension, away from our people. And I hope they haven't won, but they've gone a long way toward it.

I've felt a stranger here since the Holy Thursday a couple years back when I first began this work, a morning when battle lines I would've never imagined were drawn by men of God, and the whiff of judgment lingered in the air.

I felt my chest crush in on me and the sensation of great pain -- an unbearable, excruciating sense of heartbreak -- swept over me. And as much as I wanted to celebrate my favorite day of the calendar together with everyone, as I had done for years before, the message had been sent my way: "Leave or else."

I literally felt like I was about to die.

That climate hasn't changed one bit, and it won't change until its stewards are sent back into the trenches where they belong and reminded of what ministry is, what priesthood is, what Christ is.

And they might well try and break me, or my windows, or my legs -- or worse -- before that day comes, if it ever comes; they broke my heart long ago. But I'll wait, I'll pray, and I'll hope against hope that, from the ruins of human decadence and power, the church can one day return to this city again.


No Men to Fish

True story: So a priest gets sent this story lede from Religion News Service
Catholic Bishops Ask Priests to Recruit New Men to the Priesthood
(RNS) America's Roman Catholic priests will be asked to increase their dwindling ranks by personally reaching out to recruit new priests under a new program launched by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
But does the Good Father have any prospects to put forward??? He sent this in reply
No, sorry.

I know so few young men who are longing to go to (and in most cases, pay for) graduate school for four years, being subject to every dimension of psychobabble known to the human race, mod nun-speak, and now it appears Vatican-ese sexual-identity-gobbledygook whose end result is to end up being treated like shit both by the institution they've been sent from and the people they've been sent to and for reimbursement that barely covers living expenses . . .

There may be some few of those outside locked mental wards, but I just don't know of any.
Hmm. That's another failed vocation strategy down.... Next?


Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Mystical Marriage

Commentor RightJack (who I wish would drop me an e.mail, because I like what he says) has a question for everyone in light of the debate brewing down here
I don't know how many priests read this blog, but would any priests who do -- and who pray, preach, speak or think of themselves as being in a mystical marriage with the church -- please chime in?

Lay men and women who read this blog: when was the last time you heard your priest preach, speak or define himself as being in a mystical marriage with the church?
For my part, I hear the "mystical marriage" blather all the time -- it's a sign of the hyper-cultic mentality. I even have a name for those who mouth it. You can guess what that is.


Let Them Eat Cold Cuts

Last week, I praised Fr. Bob McLaughlin, a priest of my archdiocese who had the temerity take the pulpit and tell his people "We Was Duped" about the disparity between what we were told before the abuse grand jury rolled out and what the devastating investigation actually found.

As expected, I was promptly spat upon and accused of ruining my good name for speaking favorably of a "dissident, misinformed, misformed, disobedient apostate."

You see, our "orthodox" contingent here has a very tough time coming to terms with the reality that the local church's public relations message strategy is not an element of Revelation.

Well, if that's what I got last week, I might well wake up one morning to find my tires slashed (or worse) after taking on another one of those "Catholics Are From Mars, Philadelphians Are From Venus" things with which our, um, unique ecclesiastical culture is rife -- you know, those kind of things that inspire people from other dioceses to marvel and ask, "You lot still do that?!"

I took the Loggia on the road yesterday afternoon and made some courtesy calls around the area. I try to make it a point every so often to pop in on the good soldiers in the trenches, because they're the ones who keep the church purring and keep our people Christo-centric, faith-filled and well-served.

At one point, I spent some time with one of Catholic Philadelphia's exceptional servants, a true shepherd-leader who just makes you feel so proud to be Catholic. We hadn't talked since before The Report, so we spent some time commiserating and just trying to figure out, "Well, what do we do now? How the hell do we get past this?" Because we've been told that now is the time for moving forward and so, as Benelli said, "OK, OK, we go, we do."

But we've gotta think, talk and pray about it first.

We talked about the culture, this culture of church which we were told would get us through everything and vindicate us, because while everyone else was off "dissenting" and allowing all kind of things, we were told we were doing everything as Rome and the Holy Father would have us do. That made us special, faithful -- and, most importantly, we were told it made us Catholic, we were told it made us correct.

To believe that now would stretch reason.

And then my friend brought up an idea, "You know, if we're really serious about reparation, about all of us getting through this together, then we should show it by doing away with the Forty Hours Dinners."

My jaw dropped. Not out of any revolt at the idea, but of an amazement -- "Why didn't I think of this?!"

As a primer to everyone, the observance of the Forty Hours is our cherished tradition. Its American iteration was instituted by St. John Neumann, our fourth bishop, during his episcopate (1852-60). The solemn celebration of it, which rotates through the parishes of this archdiocese through the year, is a highlight of ecclesial life and provides a beautiful opportunity for our people to experience and deepen the spirit of prayer, renewal and Eucharistic mission.

But it's not the Hours itself that's at issue here. It's the decadent festivals that they enable in our Rectories.

On the last night of a parish's Forty Hours, a bevy of priests who weren't there the two nights prior show up -- classmates, neighboring pastors, sons of the parish, friends, everyone and their mother, basically. And, either before or afterward, the boys are treated to a sumptuous -- and I mean sumptuous -- meal for which those pastors most eager to impress are known to call Williamson's (the big Catholic caterer in town), and Williamson's brings portable ovens to cook on-site. Because, you know, one oven just ain't enough for the Pastor's Showcase.

As a corollary, the booze that goes around at these affairs is legendary. I remember hearing from someone who had been to a Forty Hours close that, "I could smell the alcohol from my pew." And, unless an indult had been granted for the liturgical use of scotch, it wasn't the whiff of what was going in the chalice.

The quest to put on the best, most lavish, most memorable and filling Forty Hours Dinner has rightly been called "a competition." Coming out on top brings bragging rights. And, if they're lucky, the People of God get chips and soda in the parish hall. No bragging rights there because, well, we love our priests in Philadelphia, and we love our priests, too.

But if we're all about the reparation these days -- Cardinal Rigali has mandated a weekly Holy Hour of prayer and penance in each parish -- should that spirit not be a substantive one as opposed to a superficial one? Do away with the dinners, or at the very least trim them down sizably, because the double standard of bacchanal for the clergy and sackcloth for the congregation sows no beneficial seeds at all. If we're all going to move forward, won't it be best if we do it together for once?

We need to think about this. Especially when the best example of the optimal austerity might just be the sitting Archbishop, himself.

When a friend of mine was to host Cardinal Rigali for a meal at his rectory, he asked the archbishop's secretary what kind of setout he should have. (For the record, Rigali's a man of simple tastes who rarely eats at the parishes on his visits, preferring to spend his time with the people. And when he does eat somewhere, he insists on cleaning the table and doing the dishes. God love him, I'm such a fan.)

The priest -- who had been expecting some esoteric epicurean reply -- was damn near bowled over when the secretary said, "Just get some cold cuts and bread; he likes building his own sandwich." (We're not used to such a literal adherence to Presbyterorum Ordinis' exhortations on priestly poverty here.)

When the visit came, this good father was putting mustard on his corned beef sandwich only to look up and see his Archbishop standing next to him, spoon in hand, saying "Would you like some cole slaw?"

Suffice it to say, a little cole slaw would go a long way these days.


The Vanguard Worker-Bishop

Um, OK, so what's the hubbub?

Bill Tammeus in the Kansas City Star reports that Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph has confirmed his affiliation with the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross, the supernumerary group of Opus Dei.

Finn, who became bishop earlier this year when the Vatican accepted the resignation of Bishop Raymond Boland, has not talked about his Opus Dei connection in previous interviews with The Kansas City Star. But in response to requests for comment on Tuesday, Finn issued a statement that said:

“I haven’t seen John Allen’s book on Opus Dei. He contacted me some months ago to ask my permission to list my name among bishops who are associated with the Work. I said yes.

“I became familiar with the Work in the mid-1990s and went to days of ‘recollection’ they have offered for diocesan priests. I benefited — then, as now — from spiritual direction from a priest of the (Opus Dei) prelature. Later I became a ‘cooperator’ in the Work and, in recent years joined the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross. (A cooperator is someone who wants to help Opus Dei without being a member.) Of course, most people don’t speak publicly of all the details of their spiritual life, their prayer and spiritual challenges, except with their spiritual director.”

Now, why is this a news story? Somebody tell me.

I knew Bob Finn before he became a bishop and count him as a dear friend, and I've long known of his affiliation with the Work. (It was never any kind of state secret.) And, to be honest, I've come to respect the Work more because, if anything, its spirituality gives him the enrichment which enables him to be the remarkably kind, self-giving and holy priest and stellar shepherd of souls that he is. Same goes for Jose Gomez in San Antonio, an incredible person and a fearless pastor.

By its fruits you shall judge it, no? First off, in my experience, people affiliated with the Work are some of the healthiest people I've ever met in my own work. The Work could teach the Trads so very much about what Christianity is, let alone what faith is, what love is, what charity is. That alone would make it invaluable.

But here are two bishops of the same school of spirituality -- Finn and Gomez -- who "get it," who live it and who do wonderful work. In a time when those attributes are sadly not the province of every bishop, it seems there's some good fruit in them thar hills.

If the Work's spirituality is as effective on the broad scale as it is in the ministries and prayer lives of these two men, then every bishop should be Opus Dei. I'm dead serious and would be very happy with the result, because we'd have a better, purer, healthier church for it.

Bring it on.

(And tip to Todd.)


"My Life is Brilliant"

OK, so I've been bad. Despite having next to no money, the iTunes beast -- which is as devoursome as that red thing that ate Cardinal Pell in Dusseldorf -- has gotten to me.

But fear not, I'm only dabbling. It goes a long way toward my sanity.

As everyone saw the other day with my Top Ten list, I veer to the singer-songwritery mould of things. So, thanks to the satellite, I found this guy named James Blunt, who's extremely emotional and romantic for a straight male (something to which I can relate). He was, as it turns out, a guardsman in the British Army who did ceremonial duty. On his discharge, he went to LA, got high, and wrote a beautiful album. I'll probably have to pay my tributes when he comes to Philly on All Saints Day. I wonder if Blunt has an ethereal ginger celloist... But that's another story altogether.

And then there is the figure of Antony Hegerty, the voice behind Antony and the Johnsons. My goodness.

When I heard his "For Today I Am a Boy" a couple weeks back on XPN, I thought to myself, "This is perfect for seminary admissions." Yes, I really thought that -- you can find the lyrics out there yourself. And "Hope There's Someone" will just bring tears to your eyes.

But his voice is just so soulful, it's really amazing. Hegerty fancies himself a male Nina Simone -- no small feat, that is, and the results are just stunning.

I like it when my secular music has liturgical cadences. None less than Rufus Wainwright, after all, opened his latest album with an arrangement of the Agnus Dei. What I wouldn't give to see it performed at a parish liturgy. Well, a Catholic one -- the Episcopalians have probably been doing it already for months.


Tuesday, October 18, 2005

From the Aula

As the Synod winds down, John Thavis of CNS reviews the propositions of the circuli minores, presented earlier today

-- Proposition 40 said Catholics who have divorced and civilly remarried without an annulment "cannot be admitted to holy Communion" because they are in clear contrast with church teaching on marriage. It encouraged other pastoral efforts toward such Catholics; it suggested that some margin of flexibility might be found in further study of church law on the conditions for annulments.

-- Proposition 46 said there is no "eucharistic coherence" when Catholic politicians promote laws that go against human good, justice and natural law. It indicated that in determining whether specific politicians should receive Communion bishops should "exercise the virtue of prudence."

-- Proposition 41 repeated church teaching that shared Communion with non-Catholic Christians "is generally not possible." An "ecumenical concelebration" of the Eucharist would be even more objectionable, it said. At the same time, it said exceptions that would allow for shared Communion when "precise conditions" are present should be respected.

-- Regarding Sunday Liturgies of the Word when no priest is present, Proposition 10 said it was up to bishops' conferences to set policies on distribution of Communion, but it asked the Vatican to consider preparing a new document spelling out universal rules on such liturgies.

The issue of ordaining married men of proven virtue, or "viri probati," was raised by several bishops in discussion of the shortage of priests that afflicts many parts of the world.

Proposition 11 said the lack of priests was a cause of "acute pain" and said the situation called for "effective pastoral initiatives."

But it added: "In this context, the synod fathers affirmed the importance of the inestimable gift of ecclesiastical celibacy in the practice of the Latin Church." Catholic faithful, it said, need to better know the reasons behind the relationship between celibacy and ordination.

"Some participants made reference to 'viri probati,' but in the end the small discussion groups evaluated this hypothesis as a road not to follow," it said.

And in other Synodal Buzz, one prelate, "conspicuous by his arrogance," in the words of one attendee, caused consternation by "writing his own modi [proposals] in the small groups without running them by the group."

The propositions were discussed in small groups this afternoon. They will be voted on later in the week.


For Your Consideration

OK, we don't need to rehash how much I love EWTN, as you all well know. But Jacob the Vatican Watcher raises an objective concern: that the network doesn't offer closed-captioning for its programs.

Yeah, my own opinions aside, we've got an issue here.

Interested parties can do either one of two things: for those who donate, charitable choice would allow you to specifically earmark a donation for a particular purpose -- be it captioning, satellite maintenance, whatever. Or, as an alternative, the Army of Hate in LA can lean on The Rog to fork over some cash for the project.... After what we've seen from him in this past week, it'd be a suitable beginning to his reparation process. Mind you, that's me saying such a thing.



Monday, October 17, 2005

Waiting on #1

OK, thought this'd be a fun groupthink exercise.

When I'm not listening to my sumptuous satellite radio -- God's gift to the picky media-type -- I usually keep my radio tuned to the Great 88.5 WXPN in Philadelphia. XPN is the ultimate radio station, a Penntity (i.e. it operates under the aegis of the University of Pennsylvania) that boasts an eclectic, open-minded educated style, so it's a magnet for the Ivy League, yuppie, intelligentsia types... one of which is your humble writer, in case you haven't already noticed.

But to mark their first anniversary at their new facility, XPN is hosting a countdown of the 885 Greatest Albums of All Time, as judged by their listenership. Right now, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (#2) is blaring over my speakers.

This is the Top 10 to this point....

# 10 – THE BEATLES – Rubber Soul
# 9 – THE BEATLES – Revolver
# 8 – THE CLASH – London Calling
# 7 – U2 – The Joshua Tree
# 6 – THE BEATLES – The Beatles (White Album)
# 5 – BOB DYLAN – Blood On The Tracks
# 3 – PINK FLOYD – Dark Side Of The Moon
# 2 – THE BEATLES – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

I'll post my Top 10 in the combox below. But what are yours?


A Man Stands Up

You know, I'm somewhat dreading the comments this will get, but this guy deserves praise for his courage. It's Syracuse, for the curious.
It wasn't until two years after his ordination as a Roman Catholic priest that the Rev. Fred Daley acknowledged he might be gay.

"I was coming down the stairs for morning Mass, and I felt this real deep ache and pain in the pit of my stomach," he said. "It was the first time I was recognizing an ache within that my activity and work and ministry was covering up, and avoiding something."

A light went on, he said.

"I began to become aware of my sexual feelings and desires," he said. He was 27.

Almost 30 years later - after a painful, prayerful and mostly lonely journey - he disclosed his sexual orientation to his Utica congregation in May 2004. As speculation grows that the Vatican is preparing a document that would bar gays from ordination, Daley says he's proud to be a celibate, gay priest.

He said news of the forthcoming Vatican document and visits to American seminaries worries many people - clergy and lay, gay and straight - that the Roman Catholic Church does not welcome gays in its pulpits or pews.

"The church is least faithful to Jesus when it is in the business of excluding," Daley said. "The church should be rejoicing that gay men are ready and willing to use their talents to energize the church. To deprive the church of these gifted men would be a terrible loss."
You know, I've gotten a lot of flack for saying that not every gay priest is a Ryan Erickson waiting to happen -- an exurban legend, and a bad one at that. (Even now, it seems, he's still the conservatives' dream priest. Ugh.) And I know that, by the time this is posted, there will already be five vexed-out e.mails in my box from people who really should have better things to do than scream at me. But, as I see it, it all comes down to the sheer fact that the overwhelming majority of the gay priests I've known have just been incredibly good priests and, in my experience, their orientation lived in chaste celibacy has been no impediment whatsoever to the sterling service they've provided to the People of God.

OK, so there was the one who tried to come onto me during a liturgy at which he was the celebrant -- he was one of those big bells, smells, fiddle-back and adoration types, hmm-hmm -- but, honestly, I thought nothing of it and it was actually good for a laugh. (And, guess what, it still is.)

Maybe I'm either too well accustomed to reality or my ecclesiastical travels have made me comfortable with clerical camp, but at the end of the day, priests are people, too. And I'll just shrug my shoulders and recognize that while Mount St. Blog's erupts with vengeance.

Also from Syracuse, we've even got a straight supporter playing backup -- welcome company for me
The Rev. Brian Lang, pastor of St. Joseph's Church in Camillus, said he has received more than 120 e-mails and letters affirming the piece he wrote for his church's Sept. 18 bulletin.

"If they do bar gays, they are making a mistake," said Lang, who said he is heterosexual and celibate. "They are insulting a number of men who are in the priesthood who are in chaste and holy lives."

In his essay, Lang wrote that Vatican visits to American seminaries seem to be positive. But he questions the motivation and criticizes the comments of the organizer of the seminary visits, Archbishop Edwin O'Brien, who has said gays should neither apply to nor be accepted in the seminary.

O'Brien later qualified his point, saying he was speaking for himself and not the Vatican.

Lang said initial news accounts of the controversy may have been inaccurate, but he stands by his main points. He said the clergy abuse scandal unfairly links homosexuality and pedophilia, and the scandal's root causes are about church structure and power and transparency.

"I think my point of view is a fairly common perspective," Lang said. "People are saying, 'Hold on, let's look at the interior of the church and what are the real issues here?' "

Lang, 45, was ordained in 1998. He attended St. Mary Seminary, in Baltimore, a school he said had a reputation as "a pink palace," a reference to a gay subculture.
Hmm-hmm. If I had a dime for every time I heard an ecclesiastical institution referred to as a "pink palace"....