Sunday, April 30, 2006

"Passion" and Prayer

As many of you love it so much, here's the Whispers translation of today's Regina Caeli, delivered by Benedict XVI at the Window.


Dear Brothers and Sisters!

In Eastertide, the liturgy offers us many stimuli to resolidify our faith in the risen Christ. On this Third Sunday of Easter, as an example, St Luke tells of how the two disciples of Emmaus, after having met him "in the breaking of the bread," went on full of joy to Jerusalem to inform the others of that which they had experienced. And exactly while they were speaking, the same Lord made himself present, showing his hands and feet with the signs of his passion. Standing before the incredulous stupor of the Apostles, Jesus was given some baked fish and ate it before their eyes (Lk 24:35-43). In this and other selected recountings there's a repeated invitation to conquer the disbelief and to believe in the resurrection of Christ, as his disciples were called to be witnesses of this extraordinary event. The resurrection of Christ is the central date of Christianity, the fundamental truth to reaffirm with vigor in each age, since to deny it in some way, to be tempted to continue to make or transform it into a purely spiritual event, is to nullify this, our faith. "If Christ is not risen," St Paul affirms, "then our preaching is in vain, and so, too, is our faith" (1 Cor 15:14).

In the days which followed the Lord's resurrection, the Apostles remained amongst themselves, comforted by the presence of Mary, and after the Ascension they persevered together with her in prayer awaiting Pentecost. The Madonna was for them mother and teacher, a role she continues to develop for the Christians of every age. Each year in Eastertide, we relive most intensely this experience and maybe for this reason the popular tradition has consecrated to Mary the month of May, which normally falls between Easter and Pentecost. This month, which we begin tomorrow, is useful for us to rediscover the maternal function which she develops in our lives, that we may always be docile disciples and courageous witnesses of the risen Lord.

To Mary we entrust the necessities of the Church and of the whole world, especially in this moment marked by not a few shadows. Calling also upon the intercession of St Joseph, who we recall in a special way tomorrow, thinking of the working world, to her we send the prayer of the Regina Caeli, the prayer of she who relished in the comforting joy of the presence of Christ risen.

As a side note: no, the SCV hasn't traded in its fleet.... Today was a continuation of one of those quaint Vatican traditions as Rome's "Red Passion" club of Ferrari enthusiasts gathered in the Square for their annual greeting from the Pope.

As you can see, they get the rare privilege of the drive-through Papal Blessing.

PHOTO 1: AP/Pier Paolo Cito
PHOTO 2: Reuters/Chris Helgren


Saturday, April 29, 2006

Holy Office, Holy Boycott

As you all know, it takes a lot to get the Vatican to address any given topic. But when it comes to the DaVinci Code, the trend's indicated that the designated point-man speaking for the Holy See is the Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Last year, in Rome's first counter-offensive, the former holder of CDF's #2 post, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone of Genoa, characterized the book as "rotten food," "a sack full of lies" and said of author Dan Brown that "Great writers did not behave this way." (Bertone also makes cameo appearances as a soccer commentator on Italian television, where he's just as colorful.)

As the 19 May release of the Code movie nears, Bertone's successor at the Palazzo del Sant'Uffizio, Archbishop Angelo Amato, has taken up the torch.

In speaking before a conference in the city, Reuters reported that Amato expressed his hope that "you all will boycott the film."
Amato said the book, written by Dan Brown, had been hugely successful around the world thanks in part to what he called "the extreme cultural poverty on the part of a good number of the Christian faithful."....

In his address to the group, Amato said Christians should be more willing "to reject lies and gratuitous defamation."

He said that if "such lies and errors had been directed at the Koran or the Holocaust they would have justly provoked a world uprising."

He added: "Instead, if they are directed against the Church and Christians, they remain unpunished."

In the piece, Reuters Rome correspondent Phil Pulella doesn't exactly note the venue where Amato gave his remarks.

However, the archbishop was slated to address a 27-29 April conference in Rome on church communications.

The organizer of that gathering? Opus Dei, of course.

SVILUPPO: It's confirmed -- Amato gave the address in question to the above-mentioned conference, held at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross.

How on earth the crucial contextual detail was left out that a senior Vatican official called for a Code movie boycott at Opus Dei's Roman university beggars belief. Must be a conspiracy....


Rat Hats: On Hills, In Marches, At Tables....

So yesterday, as you know, the cardinals took Washington... It also seems that aside from their Rove session, they met with the Minority Leader of the Senate and the senior member of that body from the state of Massachusetts.

I shudder at the potential captions....

And here's a shot from the conclusion of the Prayer for Peace on Thursday. One big happy family, complete with an Uncle Ted.... You can find more shots here.

In his address to the gathering, Sant'Egidio founder Andrea Riccardi called war "the mother of all poverty" and reflected on the continuing legacy of John Paul II and his community's place in it:
For twenty years we have been pilgrims of dialogue among people of different religion. We started back in 1986. It was then, that the Pope John Paul II invited the leaders of the different religions to pray, one next to the other, for peace in Assisi. The Cold War was still going on. The pope had understood that religions could be either the gasoline for the flame of conflict or the water that extinguishes the fire of war. At the end of that memorable day, on the hill of Assisi, full of olives branches and swept by wind, next to the tomb of Saint Francis, a prophet of peace, John Paul II said: “Let us continue to spread the message of peace. Let us continue to live the spirit of Assisi”.

We in Sant’Egidio, took this seriously. We thought this was a great intuition! The Community of Sant’Egidio, born in Rome in nineteen-sixty-eight, is today spread in seventy countries of the world (twenty-five of them are African countries, and it is also present in the United States). The Community felt it had to take the spirit of Assisi seriously, because it is a great resource of peace.

We work with the poor. Everybody can live Sant’Egidio as a simple life of service and of faith....

We have walked a long way from Assisi to here. Along this path men and women who ignored each other began to see one another as brothers and sisters. Friendships were born, bridges were built. Walls have fallen down. The spirit of Assisi is a wind that blows and that breaks down the barriers that men and women build among themselves and within themselves.

The Spirit of Assisi is the building of bridges. There is a civilization that must be realized in the world. It is the civilization of coexistence, in freedom, in peace and in respect. The proposal that comes from Assisi is not dialogue between experts, it is showing the good of living together: that peace that does not fear diversity.

The spirit of Assisi is not giving up our identity. I speak as a Christian: it is because of my faith that I love the others who do not share it, it is because of my faith that I dialogue with them, that I want to live in peace with them. The spirit of Assisi is not denying differences. It would not be respectful for millions of believers.

Differences exist. We believe in a different way. We pray in a different way. But differences cannot be the reason to hate one another. God does not want hatred. He cannot want war and violence.
I'm told the American Cardinals Dinner was, yet again, a stunning success. However, as one caller said following the afternoon Mass, "Francis Cardinal George is conspicuous by his absence."

And, yes, this was very true.

In making his first major remarks before an audience of US Catholics, however, new apostolic nuncio Archbishop Pietro Sambi stole the show.

Using the example of Michelangelo's Pietà, Sambi spoke of "how suffering when embraced in fidelity to Christ makes the Virgin more beautiful and how the peace of the Master's face shows that even in death, the love of a mother brings peace," according to a summary of the evening sent my way.

However, the Holy See's man in Washington went on to say that the statue "is not the greatest masterpiece, for Michelangelo worked only with marble, and parents and teachers work with flesh and blood. It is they who are the greatest artists."

Che belle parole!

The evening ended with a blessing from the junior cardinal-priest in attendance, Boston's Sean O'Malley.

AP/Dennis Cook
PHOTO 2: Georgetown University


Friday, April 28, 2006

Philly Digest

Over a churchmen's dinner Wednesday night, I learned that this town's Cathedral-Basilica of Ss. Peter & Paul was getting a new rector, and quite a good and prayerful one in the person of Msgr. Michael McCulken, a veteran senior administrator in the Philadelphia chancery.

McCulken succeeds the kind and gentle Msgr. John Close, who's heading to the Main Line as pastor of St Katharine of Siena in lovely Wayne.

In the pages of the Catholic Standard & Times, Pharaoh meditates on The Code:
It is pure fiction and the novel is identified as such. Unfortunately, too many people believe the story. One review, printed on the back cover of a paperback edition, states: “Read the book and be enlightened.” Nevertheless, while deeply troubling, the controversy caused by the novel and the release of the film furnishes a teaching moment for the Church. Instead of the falsifications from the novel and the film, would-be readers and movie viewers can take this opportunity to understand Catholic biblical scholarship and theology in a more fulfilling context....

The Church finds nothing new in the controversy and confusion caused by “The DaVinci Code.” Throughout the centuries, the Church has met challenges to the faith that could mislead or harm present or future members of the Church. Among the earliest was Gnosticism, which claimed to have a secret knowledge of Jesus. Gnosticism also taught that the physical world is evil, the product of a fall, and is to be rejected or left behind (cf. Catechism, 285). There is much in “The DaVinci Code” which resurrects old Gnostic doctrines, which according to the author, are found in the paintings of Leonardo DaVinci. Among these are androgyny (a combination of male and female), a dualism (a good god and an evil god), as well as the deification of wisdom, a goddess “Sophia.”
I love it that the Phar had to define "androgyny" for the Standard's demo.... That's priceless.

Oh, and "New Age" comes up, too.


The Word from KC

Last week, some of you may remember the news about catechetical developments in the diocese of Kansas City-St Joseph, and these pages excerpted from last week's edition of the diocesan newspaper, the Catholic Key.

Well, the Key with the relevant articles is posted....


The Pre-Dinner Policy Session

As you all know, the American Cardinals have converged upon Washington for their annual dinner for the Catholic University of America, which takes place tonight. Appropriately enough, three of them took advantage of the location earlier this morning to handle some political business.

Cardinals Roger Mahony, William Keeler and Theodore McCarrick met for an hour today with Karl Rove, the White House deputy chief of staff and counselor to the President. Vincentian Fr David O'Connell, the university's president, was also in attendance at the West Wing session. According to a release from Catholic, "The focus of the meeting was immigration. Rove presented the Bush administration’s position on immigration reform and the cardinals shared the Catholic Church’s position and response to the needs of immigrants."

In case anyone needs refreshing on the positions of the cardinals vis a vis immigration reform, Mahony announced in March that he'd order his priests to break the law if it precluded giving aid and food to undocumented workers, Keeler called plans approved by the House of Representatives "evil," and McCarrick's stance was rearticulated in a recent interview with Beliefnet in which he said that "Everyone should be open to having other people come into their country, for good reason. We're America, a nation that only exists today because people were allowed to come in to try for a better life, to escape persecution or great poverty. Every nation should have some opportunity for people to come in; otherwise they become lost in being nativist, protectionist, and isolationist."

In related news, it seems the immigration debate has traveled past the water's edge. Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor of Westminster has penned a piece on immigration in Britain published in today's edition of The Tablet.

Murphy-O'Connor compared the advent of the UK's "new multiracial and multiethnic" society to the birth of the church 50 days after Easter....
The Church was born from Pentecost: a real and symbolic meeting of peoples and cultures and languages. As Pope John Paul II said in his 1993 message for World Migration Day: “In the Church no one is a stranger, and the Church is not foreign to anyone, anywhere.” For the Church, he went on, is “a sacrament of unity and thus a sign and binding force for the whole human race”.

Thursday, April 27, 2006


Speculation tipping Bishop Donald Wuerl of Pittsburgh as the front-runner to succeed Cardinal Theodore McCarrick as archbishop of Washington has increased markedly in recent days. Earlier today, it was even buzzed that the appointment could come as soon as tomorrow morning; that theory was discounted on further review.

Whatever the case, the timetable for the Washington transition has been noticeably expedited.

In September, when the Washington archdiocese announced that McCarrick's mandatory offer to retire at his 75th birthday last July had been indefinitely postponed, it was said that the succession would likely take place in "two or so years." By January, the cardinal was relatively unguarded in predicting that the change would happen by early fall of this year. Then, last week, in a session with reporters and editors at the Washington Post, Cardinal McCarrick -- who was appointed to the capital in late 2000 and elevated to the College within weeks of his installation -- made it sound as if his successor would be coming even sooner than that.

Word is that the prime mover behind the speeding-up of the process has been McCarrick himself, who is eager to continue his international work on behalf of the Holy See and other church entities while ensuring the sound governance of the 560,000-member archdiocese.

Wuerl, 65, was ordained to the episcopacy by John Paul II in 1986 and has served as bishop of Pittsburgh since 1988. He is widely esteemed in church circles and beyond for his detail-rich policy savvy, keen intellect and proven skill at tackling difficult issues in a sensitive manner.

A former official at the Congregation for the Clergy -- where he served as private secretary to its then-Prefect, the late Cardinal John Wright, in the 1970s -- Wuerl remains highly-regarded in Rome. Last year, while serving as an elected delegate to the Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist, he was invited to speak at the annual program for new bishops organized by the Congregation for Bishops. The Pittsburgh prelate's high standing was further evidenced when he performed the ordination of 2005's class of transitional deacons at the Pontifical North American College.

While Wuerl yet again is at the center of speculation for a senior post -- he has previously been seen as a candidate for the archbishoprics of Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago and New York, in addition to a possible return to the Curia -- he is not the only name in the current round of speculation. Archbishops Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, Edwin O'Brien of the Military Services and John Myers, McCarrick's successor in Newark, have also popped up in various conversations.

The capital is currently the hot spot on the ecclesiastical travelling circuit, given today's Prayer for Peace conference at Georgetown and tomorrow night's American Cardinals' Dinner downtown. The black-tie/ferraiolo Cardinals' Dinner is an annual fund-raiser for the Catholic University of America, and the liturgy which precedes it is always celebrated by the host ordinary.

Cardinal McCarrick will preside at the Mass tomorrow afternoon in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on Catholic U's campus. What follows in the days to come is anyone's guess.


What Is Sant'Egidio?

So the big conference took place at G'town and reports are trickling in..... And it seems that the chickens were spared.

(No, that never actually happened twenty years ago; as a great punchline, however, it just never gets old.)

In the meantime, as they've been mentioned so often these last few weeks, you might be asking who the Sant'Egidio community is and the nature of its mission.

Well, our friends at Busted Halo have put together a package on the group: visiting a growing local community in New York, and a look-forward piece on the Georgetown conference. Check it out.


Wednesday, April 26, 2006

From Death, New Life

Philadelphia laid its great and beloved "Cat Eyes" to rest today, as scores of priests, a phalanx of the faithful, four bishops and a cardinal gathered at a suburban parish for a final farewell to Msgr. James McGrath, who died last week at 89.

Per McGrath's detailed instructions, the Mass of Christian Burial took place at Sacred Heart Church in Havertown, the one parish he pastored in his 63 years of priesthood.

Bishop Walter Sullivan, emeritus of Richmond and the late monsignor's "adopted brother," delivered a homily which reminded the gathered of the immense body of work and accomplishments, usually unsung, which the renowned canonist lavished upon his archdiocese and the wider church. Cardinal Justin Rigali, who celebrated the liturgy, spoke of the effectiveness of McGrath's priestly ministry as "an instrument of grace" for the many people he came into contact with over its course.

And, yes, I was there to pay a quiet homage -- despite having gotten lost on the way and circling through 15 minutes worth of inner-ring suburban developments.

There's something magic about the funeral liturgy, its words and symbols. Many of you know this and have experienced it time and again. But there's one part of the final commendation at the Mass' end which always gets me. It's simple, poetic, and it just resonates no matter how many times I hear it (the fewer, the better, for obvious reasons).....
Merciful Lord,
turn toward us and listen to our prayers:
open the gates of paradise to your servant
and help us who remain
to comfort one another with assurances of faith,
until we all meet in Christ
and are with you and our brother forever....
Note to ICEL: tinker with that graf at your peril.

Over the past week, I've heard from a good number of people scattered across the States and beyond who crossed paths with Jim McGrath in the journey, whether fleetingly or over decades: friends, colleagues, penitents -- admirers all, from near and far. In very moving ways, each told me how the example of his kindness, his loyalty, selflessness, brilliance, his great spirit of prayer and love for his ministry and his church changed their lives indelibly, and their gratitude continues.

He may now be enjoying his eternal reward, but McGrath's legacy, and the lessons and memories he left to those around him, will live forever among us who remain. As with everything in a communion of souls, it's an inheritance which belongs even to those he would never see nor know, and all of us are richly blessed by the gift of it.


From the Disclaimer Desk....

I've long known that, when it comes to its brainpower and long reach, there's no readership so incisive as all of you. And you have no idea how great a help and joy that is, not to mention how grateful I am for it.

Well, it seems that we should think twice before taking this morning's sensational report from Venezuela at face value.... A reader writes:
I assume that you don't realize that you linked to a story on a pro-Chavez propaganda website. The allegations may turn out to be true, but I remain skeptical until they are reported by a credible source. Nothing would please Chavez's "revolutionary" government more than to embarrass the Venezuelan Catholic hierarchy--especially if it would help deflect attention from the wave of high-profile murders and kidnappings afflicting the country.
Given that Hugo Chavez's record on things Catholic is no secret, it's good food for thought....


Happy St. Mark's Day

You've got to love the Vatican humor of it: on the patronal feast of the Canal City, Venice got a new bishop.

Venice, Florida, that is.... Where gondolas are sight unseen.

Msgr. Frank Dewane, a priest of Green Bay serving as under-secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, was named coadjutor of the one diocese in the world so eminent it encompasses both Venice and Naples.

Forgive the Italians if they seem confused.

Dewane, 56, one of those cherished "late vocations" who was ordained at 38, is an American University grad who got his Master's in international relations there. After ordination and seven years at home, he was sent on to the Holy See's mission to the UN in New York, where the then-Permanent Observer was Archbishop (now Cardinal) Renato Martino.

From the UN, Bishop-elect Dewane went back to Rome, where he had completed his STB and JCL a decade earlier. Three years at Cor Unum and in 2002 he was elevated to superior rank at Iustitia et Pax, where the then-new President was Archbishop (now Cardinal) Renato Martino.

Anyone see a trend here?

The local press pulled up this nugget...
Before becoming a priest in 1988, Dewane worked for a Pepsico subsidiary in New York and for NBC in Moscow.
...and they're making a lot about his expertise on immigration issues:

"He spoke in terms of immigration reform that has been such a big issue at this point in time in our country and the need to respect the human dignity of everyone," said Peter Arroyo, head of Catholic Charities for the diocese.

"It's good that he's been involved in those issues because he's going to be confronting them when he's here," Arroyo said. "We've got more immigrants here than most of the dioceses in the state of Florida put together."

Dewane's interest in social issues goes beyond immigration, however.

"He spoke to the challenge that faces the family and the disintegration of the family," Arroyo said.

Bizarre and... Bizarre

This one's already being chewed over in Rome. It ain't pretty:
Following news early this morning that the dead body of a Barquisimeto priest had been found in a room at the Hotel Bruno (close to Avenida Casanova) in Caracas, Venezuelan Conference of Bishops (CEV) secretary, Monsignor Ramon Viloria has told reporters of the Catholic Church hierarchy's concern over the weekend death which police investigators are treating as having taken place "under strange circumstances."

Father Jorge Pinango Mascareno (47), a CEV under-secretary and an ordained priest for the last 20 years, was alleged to have had a meeting with a young male companion in the down-market hotel in Caracas' red-light district and had checked in with his acquaintance at 5.20 a.m. on Saturday morning.

Venezuelan Cardinal, Archbishop Jorge Urosa Davino and the CEV, leadership are admitting only that the death occurred under "very strange circumstances" but sources within the Church say that the priest's sexual preferences were "well-known but not spoken about publicly."
Be forewarned -- the details aren't so... um... family-friendly.


Happy Sant'Egidio Day

Keep an eye: Tomorrow begins the long-awaited mega-conference at Georgetown University in Washington marking the 20th anniversary of the Assisi Prayer for Peace.

Of course, the event has been organized by the Sant'Egidio Community, which some American Catholics see as viciously dissident, even if its founder routinely writes for the front page of that notable fringe-hippie journal, L'Osservatore Romano.

And Andrea Riccardi is fully prepped to show the Stateside crowd what exactly cardinale laico means. (We don't get to see it often enough.) The roster is action-packed -- at least four cardinals, Diarmuid Martin, an all-star assembly of Protestants, Grand Rabbis, Chief Rabbis, Great Rabbis, the rector of Al-Azhar, Islam's most eminent place of scholarship -- and Giuliano Amato and EJ Dionne, to boot.

May a great time be had by all in attendance... and, while you're at it, keep me looped in on the doings.


"Communion in Time: Tradition"

God only knows if it was meant to get tongues wagging -- for reasons which need not be explained in this space -- but the topic of Benedict XVI's catechesis at this morning's general audience was *DRUMROLL* Tradition.

This better not be some kind of vicious tease.

Looks like I'll have to translate the fulltext, but in the English summary of the talk, the Pope said that "This ongoing actualization of the presence of Jesus - through the work of the Spirit and through the Church’s apostolic ministry and fraternal communion - is what we mean by the term Tradition," noting that "it is not just a transmission of ‘things’ but the efficacious presence of the Lord who accompanies and guides the gathered community.

"The Holy Spirit nurtures this communion, assuring the connection between the apostolic faith experienced by the first communities of disciples, and our experience today of Christ in his Church," Benedict told the crowd gathered in St Peter's Square. "Let us rejoice in the presence of the Saviour who comes to meet us, to redeem us, and to sanctify us through the ministry of his Church!"

Very interesting, indeed.

And yes, for those who were curious, I'm fine. Will report on what's been doing in a bit.


Sunday, April 23, 2006

"The Mystery of Loving Mercy"

For those keeping score, Benedict XVI did deliver a Regina Caeli message this morning that was rich in Divine Mercy.

Here's the Whispers translation of the Pope's talk given, per usual, from The Window:
Dear brothers and sisters!

This Sunday, the Gospel of John tells us that the risen Jesus appeared to the disciples, locked in the Cenacle, on the evening of "the first day after the sabbath" (Jn 20:19), and that he showed himself to them again "eight days later" (Jn 20:26). Going forward, therefore, the Christian community began to live a weekly rhythm articulated by the encounter with the Risen Lord. This is what was also underlined by the Constitution of the Second Vatican Council on the liturgy, affirming that: "According to the apostolic tradition, which takes its origins from the same day of the Resurrection of Christ, the Church celebrates the Paschal mystery every eighth day, on that which is justly called the Lord's day or Sunday" (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 106).

The Evangelist also records that in both apparitions the Lord Jesus showed to the disciples the signs of the crucifixion, quite visible and tangible even on his glorious body (cf. Jn: 20:20-27). These sacred scources, on his hands, his feet and in his side, are the inexorable surges of faith, of hope and of love of him that all may receive, especially those souls most thirsty for divine mercy. In consideration of this, the servant of God John Paul II, valuing the spiritual experience of a humble Sister, Saint Faustina Kowalska, wished that the Sunday after Easter be dedicated in a special way to the Divine Mercy; and Providence disposed that he would die on the vigil of this day. The mystery of the loving mercy of God was at the center of the pontificate of this, my venerable predecessor. We remember, in particular, the Encyclical Dives in misericordia (Rich in mercy), of 1980, and the dedication of the new Sanctuary of the Divine Mercy at Krakow, in 2002. The words which he pronounced on the latter occasion were like a synthesis of his magisterium, evidencing that the cult of the divine mercy is not a secondary devotion, but an integral dimension of the faith and the prayer of the Christian.

May Mary Most Holy, Mother of the Church, to whom we now turn with the Regina Caeli, help all Christians to live Sunday in fullness as the "weekly Easter," tasting the beauty of the encounter with the risen Lord and coming to the font of his loving mercy, to be apostles of his peace.

Regina Caeli, laetare, alleluia....
In greeting the French-speaking pilgrims, the Pope did use the term "Mercy Sunday." He also prayed for the victims of the recent flooding in Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria.

PHOTO: Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi


Saturday, April 22, 2006

"Fortified By the Content of Truth"

While it has not yet been published online, I have gotten my hands on Bishop Robert Finn's column from yesterday's Catholic Key; thanks to a loyal reader of both the KC paper and these pages for the assist.

In announcing the establishment of the Bishop Helmsing Center as the diocese's new organ for lay formation, Helmsing's successor as bishop of Kansas City-St Joseph said his choice of name was in tribute to the late bishop, who "courageously fostered the full implementation of the Second Vatican Council, and who was, at the same time, a champion of the integrity of church teaching."

Bishop Finn praised Helmsing for his strong stance "in defense of the faith against forces that would splinter the church by dissent" in 1968 -- a clear, albeit unspoken, reference to the Encyclical of Pope Paul VI, Humanae vitae, which was released that year.

(Like the current Kansas City prelate, Bishop Helmsing hailed from St Louis, where he was ordained an auxiliary bishop in 1949; he became bishop of the merged diocese in 1962. I'm told the ring worn by Finn in the above photo was originally given to Helmsing by his seminary classmates.... Further proof that vesture says more than meets the eye.)

Finn said he was "excited" to announce the partnership with Ave Maria's Institute of Pastoral Studies, who will provide "a comprehensive and integrated 36 credit hour program" which begins in the fall. "It is specifically adapted to meet the needs of adults of all ages seeking serious graduate studies in theology," the bishop wrote.

In explaining the change from the diocese's previous Center for Pastoral Life and Ministry to the new institute, Bishop Finn noted that, alongside the previously-mentioned issues of cost, "we are in a time of a more mature self-understanding in the church than the period immediately following the Second Vatican Council." (CPLM was founded in 1977.)

Even more to the point, the bishop wrote of the new exigencies that "We are in an era of Catholic education and formation that is clearly dominated by the Catechism of the Catholic Church," saying that the universal catechetical text, "promulgated in 1992, must be the primary reference point for all catechetical endeavors."

Balancing the two sides of the coin of the Christian experience, Finn wrote that "The Gospel experience of Jesus Christ... will be shallow if it is not fortified by the content of the truth of his teaching entrusted to the church," alongside the caution that "The knowledge of the deposit of the faith... will become sterile if it is not awakened in the living light of the encounter with the Incarnate Lord and Savior."

"This dynamic interchange must define the primary methodology of Catholic education and formation."

The Catholic Key


New Wine, Indeed

Word from the Midwest is that Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St Joseph has announced a new lay formation program for his diocese in partnership with Ave Maria University.

Talk about your 180s.

Last year, Finn announced the scaling back of the Center for Pastoral Life and Ministry, which facilitated New Wine, the diocese's home-grown formation program. New Wine was viewed in some quarters as theologically suspect for its overly-progressive take on church teaching. The Ave Maria program -- which, like New Wine, will be a three-year certification course -- was announced in yesterday's edition of the diocesan paper, the Catholic Key, whose contents have not yet been posted on the paper's website.

In an interview last summer with the Key, Finn cited the high cost of the New Wine program as the basis for his decision to cut the CPLM budget in half. "For all the good [New Wine] has accomplished, can we really afford to have that much of our resources to do the work of the Center? We've got to do it cheaper," he said.

The vehicle for the new formation program seems to be named for Bishop Charles Helmsing, who headed the diocese from 1962-77. In advertising for the directorship of the Bishop Helmsing Institute, the diocese seeks someone who "will be committed to the educational mission of the Diocese, which is the education of the whole person in the Catholic liberal arts tradition, as articulated in Ex Corde Ecclesiae, Veritatis Splendor, and Fides et Ratio" with established competencies in "patristics, moral theology and all magisterial teaching."

Elsewhere on the map, rumors flew a while back that Ave Maria had also sought the permission of Bishop Allen Vigneron to establish an outpost in the diocese of Oakland, which Vigneron heads. There's a lot of history behind that potential move, but of yet nothing has come to light.

SVILUPPO: For those checking in from Open Book, you can find excerpts from Bishop Finn's column announcing the new program at the link.


Dear Jesuits....


This morning, the Pope greeted and addressed a sizable delegation of Jesuits at the close of a Mass in St Peter's Basilica to mark the Society of Jesus' Tri-Jubilee year of its founders, commemorating the the 450th anniversary of Ignatius of Loyola's death, the 500th birthday of St. Francis Xavier and the 500th birthday of Bl. Peter Faber.

Benedict XVI is shown above greeting the Society's "Father-General," Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, who announced in late January that he intends to break the tradition of his predecessors dating back to Ignatius of Loyola and retire at the Company's 35th General Congregation, which will convene in January, 2008.

Below is the Whispers translation of the Pope's remarks to the Jesuits in attendance, and the Society at large, as recorded in Italian by the Holy See.


Dear Fathers and Brothers of the Company of Jesus,

It is with great joy that I meet you in this historic Basilica of St Peter, after the Holy Mass celebrated for you by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, my Secretary of State, on the occasion of various Jubilee occurrences of the Ignatian Family. To all I extend my cordial greeting. First, I greet the Superior General, Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, and I thank him for the kind words with which he has manifested to me your shared sentiments. I greet the Cardinals, the Bishops and the priests and all those who have desired to participate in this event. Together with the Fathers and Brothers, I greet also the friends of the Society of Jesus here present, and among them the many religious men and women, the members of the Communities of Christian Life and of the Apostolate of Prayer, the students and former students with their families from Rome, from Italy and from Stonyhurst in England, the teachers and students of your academic institutions, your numerous collaborators. This visit of yours offers me the opportunity to thank together with you the Lord for having granted to your Company the gift of men of extraordinary sanctity and of exceptional apostolic zeal such as St Ignatius of Loyola, St Francis Xavier and Bl Peter Faber. They are for you the Fathers and Founders: it's right, therefore, that in this centenary year you recall with gratitude and look to them to lead you and make secure your spiritual path and that of your apostolic activity.

St Ignatius of Loyola was above all a man of God, who gave the first place of his life to God, to his greater glory and his greater service; he was a man of profound prayer, which found its center and its culmination in the daily Eucharistic Celebration. In this way he left his followers a a precious spiritual inheritance which must not be lost or forgotten. As a man of God, St Ignatius was a faithful servant of the Church, in which he saw and found the spouse of the Lord and the mother of Christians. And from the desire to serve the Church in a more useful and effective way was born the vow of special obedience to the Pope, who he classified as "our first and principal foundation" (Constitutions of the Society of Jesus, I,162). This ecclesial character, so specific to the Society of Jesus, continues to be present in your persons and in your apostolic activity, dear Jesuits, as you make yourselves able to encounter faithfully the Church's urgent necessities of each time. Among these, I find it important to mark out the cultural imperative in the areas of theology and philosophy, the traditional environs of the apostolic presence of the Society of Jesus, as well as the dialogue with modern culture which, [translation corrected in italics] while on one part can boast of marvelous progresses in the scientific realm, remains firmly marked by positivist and materialist scientism. Certainly, the force of promoting in close collaboration with the other ecclesial realities a culture inspired toward the values of the Gospel calls for an intense spiritual and cultural formation. For this reason, St Ignatius wished that young Jesuits be formed for many years in the spiritual life and in their studies. It is good that this tradition be maintained and reinforced, given the growing complexities and vastness of modern culture. Another great preoccupation for him was that of Christian education and the cultural formation of the young: from this impulse with he gave to the institution of the "colleges" [high schools], which, after his death, sprung up in Europe and across the world. Continue, dear Jesuits, this important apostolate maintaining unaltered the spirit of your Founder.

Speaking of St Ignatius we cannot leave behind a remembrance of St Francis Xavier, whose 500th birthday was marked on 7 April: not only their history which was interwoven for many years from Paris and Rome, but a unique desire -- it could be said, a unique passion -- moved and sustained them through different human events: the passion to give to God-Trinity a glory always greater and to work for the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ to the peoples who had been ignored. St Francis Xavier, who my predecessor Pius XI of venerated memory proclaimed "Patron of Catholic Missions," made his mission that of "opening new ways" to the Gospel "in the immense continent of Asia." His apostolate in the East lasted just ten years, but its fertility revealed itself wonderfully in the four and a half centuries of the life of the Society of Jesus, as his example sustained among the young Jesuits so many missionary vocations, and still remains the call that you may continue the missionary work in the great countries of the Asian continent.

If St Francis Xavier worked in the countries of the East, his confrere and friend from his years in Paris, Bl Peter Faber, Savoyard, born 13 April 1506, worked in the European countries, where the Christian faithful aspired to a true reform of the Church. A modest man, sensible, of a profound interior life and given to a strong rapport of friendship with all kinds of people, attracting in his time many young people to the Company, Blessed Faber spent his brief life in different European countries, especially in Germany, where by order of Paul III he took part in the diet of Worms, of Regensburg and of Spira, at conferences with the heads of the Reformation. It was a mode of practice in an exceptional way the vow of special obedience to the Pope "for the missions," becoming for all future Jesuits a model to follow.

Dear Fathers and Brothers of the Company, today you look with particular devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, remembering that on 22 April 1541 Ignatius and his first companions took their solemnn vows before the image of Mary in the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls. May Mary continue to keep watch over the Society of Jesus that each of its members carry in his person the "image" of Christ Crucified so to have a part in his resurrection. For this, I assure you of a remembrance in prayer, while to each one of you present and to your entire spiritual family I gladly impart my blessing, which extends to all the other religious and consecrated persons who have come to this Audience.

AP/Plinio Lepri


Mantras of O'Malleyization

So I've been combing through the full transcript of Cardinal Sean O'Malley's session with editors and reporters of the Boston Globe, which was summarized in yesterday's paper. And some interesting things -- at least, those things which perked my antennae -- were there which didn't get to fit in print.

When the question of adoptions by same-sex couples came up, O'Malley took pains to note that the eight members of the Boston Catholic Charities board who resigned in protest of the archdiocese's request of an exemption from a Massachusetts anti-discrimination statute did so of their own accord. "No one asked anyone to leave the board," the Boston prelate said.

"Obviously, we know that there are Catholics who have dissenting ideas on church doctrine, and in many ways, it's a great challenge to us to try and to educate and motivate people to understand what the church's teachings are."

The most notable comment, however, came from John Kaneb, a member of the archdiocesan financial council. After Cardinal Sean had made his reply on the adoptions, Kaneb piped in to say that "My son is chairman of the Catholic Charities board, and he disagrees with the church's teaching. And he's still a chairman of the Catholic Charities board. And I don't believe everybody who disagreed resigned, and certainly no one was asked to resign."

Make of that what you will.

At several points, the cardinal made light of the controversies which have overshadowed the Boston church in the wake of the abuse revelations. Seeming to refer to speculation that he has been in a state of depression at the size of the task, one reporter said that "Many people would have been ground to dust by now by all that you've put up with."

"You think I'm not ground to dust? Thank you!" O'Malley replied to the laughter of the group.

The cardinal's use of the word "illustrious" to describe the Globe -- the paper which broke the first Boston sex-abuse story on 6 January 2002, jump-starting the greatest crisis in the history of the church in the United States -- was, in one reporter's view, "breathtaking."

The adjective "is not a word that has come easily to the lips of many before you," the reporter said -- a pointed reference to the now-famous 1993 statement when Cardinal Bernard Law called down "the power of God" on the Globe in response to the paper's coverage of a previous case of a pedophile priest.

Even the implication of Law's highly-fraught statement was greeted with laughter.

The new cardinal seems dead-set on turning over a new leaf with the press and putting the rough waters of the past under the bridge.

"Well," he replied when asked about the session, "it wasn't as bad as I thought."

Dina Rudick/Boston Globe


Financial Rebuilding

While the archdiocese of Boston's $46 million operating deficit -- said to be the largest in the history of American Catholicism -- has made a lot of tongues wag the last few days, did you know that the archdiocese of New Orleans is running $1 million-a-month in the red as it rebuilds from Hurricane Katrina?

As if that wasn't staggering enough, the monthly figure is on top of an $86 million discrepancy between what the archdiocese will get from insurance and the actual amount of the storm's damage.

As Fr Bill Maestri, the archdiocesan spokesman, put it:
[T]here's always a tension between mission and money. The archdiocese is now operating on the side of mission.

It's very important for the church, at this particular time, to be present to people educationally, sacramentally, pastorally, and with social services. We are operating at a $1-million-a-month deficit.

This should answer the question of whether they're out in the woods just yet....

Great piece on the Big Easy's religious rebuilding from The Newshour, with video.


Full, Conscious, Active Participation: The New Frontier

A couple weeks back, I got a very touching e.mail from a deaf priest who's been able to minister full-time to the hearing-impaired community. In a time when ministry has become ever more arduous to carry out and takes a toll on many a good and faithful servant, it was wonderful to hear from someone who's able to experience the utmost fulfillment and has the full support of his bishop and diocese.

Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Second Vatican Council's document on the reform of the liturgy, declared that in its mandate of fittingly celebrating the "memorial of [Christ's] death and resurrection," "The Church, therefore, earnestly desires that Christ's faithful, when present at this mystery of faith, should not be there as strangers or silent spectators; on the contrary, through a good understanding of the rites and prayers they should take part in the sacred action conscious of what they are doing, with devotion and full collaboration" (48).

Going forward from this statement -- a break from the past which has not been fully heeded, for one reason or another -- I've seen priests and people with various physical limitations be able to enter fully into the mystery of redemption which the Mass celebrates. It's a beautiful thing, it resonates with people, and it's one of the fruits of the liturgical renewal which don't often go remarked on....

The church's outreach to deaf Catholics, however, is still coming up to speed -- and bearing good fruit. It's highlighted in today's New York Times:

"Attending Mass with a deaf priest who uses sign language is more inspiring than an interpreted Mass," Ms. Lomastro, who now volunteers as a lector at the deaf Mass, wrote in an e-mail message. "When Father Bruce signs, it is coming from his inner self."

Father Bruce is one of seven deaf priests ministering in the United States, said the Rev. Thomas Coughlin, head of the Dominican Missionaries for the Deaf Apostolate in Hayward, Calif. Four deaf seminarians are studying to be priests, the most ever at one time, according to the National Catholic Office for the Deaf.

The four seminarians, along with an increase in lay participation, show signs of growth in a small Catholic community that has long struggled with its identity.

Only about 4 percent of deaf Catholic adults nationwide attend Mass, said Arvilla Rank, executive director of the Office for the Deaf. That is largely because the experience of attending a spoken Mass falls flat, and for some a signed Mass does not adequately convey inflections and nuances of a speaking priest's homily. A speaking priest, deaf people say, cannot bridge the gap beyond language and into deaf culture.

"It's really kind of boring to sit there on the other end and not understand, to be missing information," Connie Wild, director of the deaf ministry in the Diocese of Orange County, Calif., said. "There's an opinion of, Why go? The relationship with a deaf priest is one of sameness, of similar experiences and an understanding of culture."

Deaf ministry is steadily growing. About half of all dioceses offer deaf-ministry programs. Most have Masses interpreted into American Sign Language. Some larger dioceses have hearing priests who are fluent in American Sign Language sign a weekly Mass.

The biggest change, those who work in deaf ministry said, is that more deaf lay people are attending church and becoming involved in parish life.

With everything else going on right now, it's nice to have a reminder that there ain't nothin' can stop the Big Tent.


Brutta Figura in Birmingham

The Scandal hits EWTN:
A Roman Catholic ministry that bills itself as the largest global religious media network kept a priest on its staff for almost seven years despite knowing of his history as an admitted child abuser while serving in Maine and Massachusetts.

The Birmingham-based Eternal Word Television Network said the Rev. Real Bourque [OMI] conducted mass, held weekly Bible study for workers and visitors and gave talks at retreats, but he wasn't allowed on the air or to be around young people after 1995, when executives say they learned of his past....

Officials said they were unaware of any allegations of misconduct by Bourque related to his time in Alabama.

But responding in writing to questions from The Associated Press, EWTN President Michael P. Warsaw said "it is clear that we should have asked a lot more questions" about Bourque before letting him remain with the network....

On part of its Web site answering questions about the sexual abuse scandal within the Catholic church, EWTN has a section that says all abuse should be "severely punished."

"(EWTN) has tremendous influence and wields tremendous respect among traditional Catholics all over the world," she said. "This just isn't consistent with what it preaches."

Bourque now lives in a Catholic retirement home in Belleville, Ill. In an interview published last week in The Belleville News-Democrat, Bourque admitted sexually abusing boys in the late 1970s and early 1980s while serving as a priest in Maine and Massachusetts.

"I was a victim myself," he said. "I'm retired. I'm 78 years old. I don't want to be part of a witch hunt."


Easter Joy, Easter Sadness

Word's come via the nation's capital that Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, the recently-retired apostolic nuncio to Washington, has been hospitalized in Rome with the final stages of lung cancer. He is in critical condition.

Montalvo, 76, served as the Holy See's representative to the United States from 1999 until his retirement last December. Before his appointment to the diplomatic plum of Washington, the archbishop guided the next generation of the San Damaso corps as president of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy -- known universally as the Accademia -- where promising clerics from around the world are prepared for careers in the church's vaunted diplomatic service, which is currently present in 195 countries and widely sought as an interstate arbiter.

Late last year, after reaching the age limit as set in canon law, Montalvo became the first US representative to retire from the post, and Archbishop Pietro Sambi was named to succeed him. The Colombian-born archbishop chose to retire to Rome, where friends who saw him during last month's consistory celebrations were concerned at his appearance, saying that he looked notably ill at the time. Montalvo has long been known for his affinity for hand-rolled cigarettes.

Ordained to the episcopacy in 1974, Archbishop Montalvo served the Holy See as its chief of mission in Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Yugoslavia and Belarus before being named to head the Accademia in 1993. In the United States, he presided over a return to native-son appointments to dioceses -- an option his two predecessors shirked. The "Montalvo bishops" were by and large younger than those appointed by any nuncio since the controversial Jean Jadot in the 1970s and, in the aftermath of the abuse revelations which rocked the American church, Montalvo's shortlists signalled a marked departure from the traditional path of naming high chancery officials to the episcopacy.

Also from DC, one of the city's most prominent religious priests died earlier today. Bernard Dooley, SJ, whose work went a long way toward the renaissance of the District's Gonzaga College High School, suffered a massive heart attack while enjoying one of his beloved rounds of golf. Dooley, who served as Gonzaga's president for 17 years, was long a trusted and widely-admired leader in the city's Catholic circles and beyond, so much so that Gonzaga's main building -- which had been dedicated by Baltimore's James Cardinal Gibbons in 1912 -- was renamed in Dooley's honor.

Gonzaga, founded in 1821, has been called Washington's "premier Catholic high school" by no less than the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal.


Friday, April 21, 2006

O'Malleyization Continues... in the Belly of the Beast

Bringing with him an entourage of no fewer than nine, Cardinal Sean O'Malley's Red Hat Goodwill Tour continued yesterday with a session at the offices of the Boston Globe.

The combined effect of the Beantown prelate's recent elevation to the College of Cardinals and the transfer of Bishop Richard Lennon from O'Malley's right hand to the diocese of Cleveland have seemingly reinvigorated the new Porporato, who has been more public and proactive in recent weeks than at almost any other point since the first days of his three-year tenure in the embattled local church.
Alluding to the collision between the liberal values of Massachusetts and the church's conservative positions on sexuality, O'Malley said wistfully that ''in a little town in the Midwest, where none of these things are even an issue, it's much easier to be a country pastor." But, in a wide-ranging conversation with Globe journalists, he also said: ''Where our people are bumping up against these kinds of questions and are looking for answers and strengthening their faith and their commitment, I think that's an exciting aspect of being in the church in Massachusetts." ....

The conversation, which was initiated by the archdiocese in an effort to improve communications with the general public through the news media, marked the first time a Catholic archbishop has visited the Globe since 1997. O'Malley said he saw such outreach as part of his job as archbishop of Boston, a post he has held since the summer of 2003.

''I think that a newspaper has a very special responsibility and an opportunity to help build community and to bring people together, to inform them, mostly to encourage positive initiatives," O'Malley said. ''And so, we do want to be in communication with the Globe and the rest of the Boston media."

Cardinal Sean put an interesting spin on the difficulties he has faced:
He said the many controversies in Boston have helped him to keep his mind on what he views as the basics of his faith.

''I think it makes me focus more on what is essential, and that is my vocation, to try and follow the Lord, to try and be faithful, and to realize that a lot of other things that you thought were important really, really aren't that important," he said. ''I think in general, for many Catholics, the [abuse] crisis has caused us to focus more on what is essential, why we are a church, why we are Catholics, who our God is, and the vision he's given to us."
Earlier this week, the Goodwill Tour made a triumphant stop in Fall River, where O'Malley served as bishop from 1992 until his 2002-3 stint in another abuse-ravaged Florida diocese. At his installation in Boston, he joked that "Now I'm like the lace-curtain Irish -- I can say I wintered in Palm Beach."

The air in Fall River, however, was one of great love for the man they knew as Bishop Sean. O'Malley was known for holding court at Pizza Hut during his time there, but he shed his Capuchin habit for the evening to don the cardinal's red choir cassock.

And a portion of his homily was devoted to the unique message voiced the world over this Easter: "Christ is Risen -- and The Code is bunk." Because, you know, just to say "it's fiction" and laugh it off isn't giving it more attention than the latter already deserves.
O’Malley said he was reading in Tuesday’s newspaper about how President Bush "is looking for a new team" of advisers, and the cardinal wondered "what the resumes on the Lord’s team would look like."

The cardinal said Mary Magdalene liked to be called "Mimi" and might have been "involved in the sex industry," while Peter was "bombastic," a lousy fisherman who spoke with a heavy accent.

"Actually, I’m very comforted by these resumes," O’Malley said. "Jesus calls on ordinary people to be his friends, followers. ... Today they are our saints."

In another light moment, O’Malley told the audience that Mary Magdalene is "about to be given a Hollywood makeover" in the soon to be released movie "The Da Vinci Code."

"They want to make her Mrs. Jesus," O’Malley said.

After the Mass, O’Malley told reporters that he read "The Da Vinci Code," the controversial novel upon which the movie is based, and said it had a "terrible ending."

When asked what he misses most about Fall River, O’Malley responded, "Besides the Portuguese food?"

"In some ways, it’s like you never left," O’Malley said about returning to the Spindle City. "I hear familiar voices, see familiar faces."
Sounds like a welcome respite. At least he's getting one somewhere in Massachusetts.

AP/Steven Senne


One Cardinal's "Lesser Evil" is Another's....

I have the fulltext of the conversation in Italian and will parse it sometime today, but the BBC's already running with the story: in the new edition of L'Espresso -- Magister's publication -- Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the Jesuit archbishop-emeritus of Milan, has made public his support for the use of condoms to combat the spread HIV/AIDS.

Of course, this flies in the face of relatively stringent Vatican condemnations of the option.
Martini said that in couples where one had HIV/Aids, which could pass to the partner, the use of condoms was "a lesser evil"....

In [the interview] he says that the fight against Aids, which has caused more than three million deaths, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, must be pursued by all available means.

The Vatican has made no official comment on the article, in which the cardinal also raises the possibility of single mothers adopting abandoned children.

As You Know, Italians Love to Fight -- and Keep Fighting

Just in case anyone hasn't kept an eye, last week's Italian election debacle (think Florida, 2000) went to the nation's top court, which sided with the center-left leader Romano Prodi.

The US has recognized the result, but Silvio Berlusconi shall not be moved.
Mr Berlusconi has not made any public comments since the court announcement.

His economy minister, Giulio Tremonti, told Italian TV that some "anomalies" were yet to be cleared up.

The national co-ordinator of Forza Italia, Sandro Bondi, said the court should widen its review to include "irregularities" in overseas voting.
Word is that Berlusca's running a parallel push to be named Italy's president, a mostly ceremonial post currently being vacated by the retiring and extremely popular Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.


Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Quality of Mercy Is Not Strain'd....

Folks, this is what heaven must be like: it's skirting 80 degrees here in Philly, and I'm sitting on a lawn where there's wi-fi, and friends and beauties abound.

Right now, life is good. But, even from this relaxing setting, back to business.

As many of you know and are eagerly anticipating, this coming Sunday -- Dominica in albis, or "Low Sunday" as it's often called -- is what has become known as Divine Mercy Sunday. The celebration began in deference to a command which Faustina Kowalska, the Polish nun and mystic, reported to have received from Jesus over the course of several apparations. In the years immediately following Kowalska's death in 1938, the diaries which contained her accounts of the experiences were viewed with suspicion at the Vatican, and the Divine Mercy devotion was largely confined to Poland, particularly Krakow, where Faustina's convent was located.

Of course, the Divine Mercy's fortunes changed drastically under the aegis of the Pope from Faustina's town. An unabashed devotee of the message, John Paul II made its universal propagation in the church a high priority, beatifying Faustina Kowalska in 1993 and canonizing her in the Jubilee Year on the Second Sunday of Easter, which was eventually given optional liturgical texts for the Divine Mercy feast. His death on the vigil of the feast was widely viewed as an act of providential timing.

Among the more devotionally-oriented of the faithful, Faustina and her message have been received with a rapt embrace, and the number of parishes, even cathedrals, which will be holding Divine Mercy celebrations on Sunday afternoon can only be measured in the thousands. However, while Benedict XVI has made several mentions of John Paul's focus on the imperative of mercy since succeeding the amato Papa, he has notably stopped short of invoking Faustina or Divine Mercy proper. It has been interpreted as one contrast of note between the two men.

With that in mind, keep an eye on this weekend's Angelus, as it will show this Pope's hand on one of his predecessor's most highly favored causes.


The Battle Lines, Drawn

The New Yorker has a very long, very interesting piece up on Gene Robinson and the shockwaves which have been reverberating around the Anglican world.

Of course, it is the New Yorker and the piece is sympathetic in parts to Robinson. However, it seems to side with the belief that the church's lack of a strong doctrinal core has contributed to the global communion's near-meltdown experience of recent years.

Oh, and it's very edifying to see Anglicans longing for a Pope-like figure....
“The problem is that in Anglicanism, as presently constituted, we have no means of officially disciplining people,” says Archbishop Drexel Gomez, the Primate of the West Indies. Some, such as Paul Zahl, Dean of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, began to despair that Anglicanism’s very DNA bore the seeds of its undoing. “This whole crisis has revealed a very serious deficiency in the character of Anglicanism,” Zahl told me. “It’s a severe deficiency in Anglicanism because there isn’t really a church teaching in the same way that there is in the Church of Rome. . . . I would say there is a constitutional weakness, which this crisis has revealed, which may in fact prove to be the death of the Anglican project—the death, at least in formal terms, of Anglican Christianity. We’ve always said that we’ve had this great insight, and I used to think that we did. But I’m not quite sure whether we’re not on very sandy ground. . . . It’s at the edge of the abyss. It’s about to be extinguished, and that’s not histrionic.”
Wow. And the piece opines that Peter Akinola, the archbishop of Nigeria, is "the most powerful figure in Anglicanism."

Why is this of particular import now, three years after Robinson's election as bishop coadjutor of New Hampshire? Well, in two months' time (13-21 June), the Episcopal church's triennial General Convention will be meeting in Columbus, Ohio. And it's not just any old GC -- it's the novennial one which chooses a new Presiding Bishop for the body. The new PB will be installed in January and serve a decade.

As the wounds over Robinson's confirmation battle continue to loom large, a bloodbath might well come to pass....

So much for the "frozen chosen."


Irish Gone Wild?

Well, my inbox is telling me that Ireland is all up in a twist over an Easter Mass at which a priest of the (Anglican) church of Ireland "concelebrated" alongside an Augustinian priest.

The liturgy took place in the Republic, in the archdiocese of Armagh (which straddles the north-south border). Suffice it to say, Archbishop Sean Brady -- St Patrick's successor as primate of All Ireland -- isn't pleased. He's opened an investigation.

Oh, and my fearless leader is quoted.

The deep-rootedness of the differences between the Roman Catholic Church and even 'high-church' Anglicanism at the official level were seen in the South not so long ago when Cardinal Desmond Connell berated President Mary McAleese for receiving the Anglican Eucharist.

Significantly, the Church of Ireland Primate, Robin Eames, has come out in support of Sean Brady and, no doubt, will be interviewing the Rev Graham about what he sees as a well-intentioned but misguided initiative.

Signficantly, too, the Drogheda Rising has become a subject of intense interest among English Roman Catholics and Anglicans alike. According to Catherine Pepinster, the editor of the influential Catholic weekly, 'The Tablet', Catholics and Anglicans including church leaders in England regularly attend each others' services.

Catholics, she points out, however, are not supposed to receive Communion at an Anglican service, although liberal Catholics wish that they could as a sign of unity.

And here's something of note which didn't resonate back in January, when the mega-ecumenical conference at Durham was held....
In January at an ecumenical conference in Durham attended by some Irish theologians, the local Anglican bishop, Tom [NT] Wright, presided at a Communion Service in a Catholic chapel.
Wasn't aware that it was a Catholic chapel. Hmm.

Stay tuned -- this story's got Eire downright transfixed. Or befuddled. Take your pick.


Terrestrial Mayhem?

Longtime readers will know that one of my vices -- if you could call it that -- is the Howard Stern Show. For years, it's been my wake-up call. And, yes, I went over with him to Sirius.

Well, this morning, Howard reported one of those precious few things which might be of interest to more than just a handful of this readership.

Media-watchers'll be well aware that CBS Radio has been in a ratings free-fall since Stern's December departure for satellite. To prevent another monopoly forming around one host, the AM drive-time slot in Stern's old markets was divided between three replacements, the most prominent of which -- the former Van Halen frontman/EMT David Lee Roth -- has been universally panned since taking Stern's place in six markets including Philadelphia, Boston, Dallas and New York, where he's based.

A spate of recent stories have indicated that, after only three months in the gig, it's widely believed that Roth's days at the mic are numbered. And buzz reported by Stern this morning says that his successor's likely replacement is the team of Opie and Anthony.

"Who're Opie and Anthony?" some of you might be asking. And you might be asking why you should care, too.

Well, once upon a time, Opie and Anthony were the syndicated afternoon drive hosts for CBS under its former incarnation, Infinity Radio. They were run off the air in 2002 after a stunt in which they encouraged a couple to have sex in New York's St. Patrick's Cathedral as the hosts, and their nationwide audience, listened in by phone.

Predictably, the act was widely denounced as a giant step across the boundaries of decency and good taste.... And their rumored return to the big time is no laughing matter.


Mother Mac

Word hasn't gotten too far around just yet, but Philadelphia's most prominent community of women religious chose a new head yesterday.

At their chapter of election, the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary tipped Sr Lorraine Mulgrew, IHM to be the next "Mother-General" -- the title is no longer used formally but, Philly being Philly, it's still routinely employed.

The IHMs, known too as "The Macs," have become legendary (and seemingly omnipresent) in these parts thanks to their place as the great teaching order of the parochial schools of the archdiocese and the wider region. Their exurban headquarters in Chester County is also home to Immaculata University, which was a single-sex college for girls until 2004. The "Mighty Macs" are remembered in sports circles for having swept the first three national Women's College Basketball Championships in 1972, 73 and 74.

As some of you will be curious, yes, the Macs remain a veiled community -- for the most part. The veil was made optional a few years back, but the broad majority of the sisters have maintained it.

The liturgy which opened the chapter was presided over by birthday boy Cardinal Justin Rigali, who turned 71 yesterday. As few things make Rigali happier than the presence of veiled women religious -- the cardinal is well-known as a staunch supporter of the cause -- we can be sure he had a very happy birthday. As always, all good wishes to the Boss.


O'Malleyization Continues in Boston...

...and better late than never.

See what a red hat can do?

The archdiocese of Boston released its long-awaited financial disclosure statement yesterday, with Cardinal Sean O'Malley announcing that its "programs and ministries are at risk" and that the Boston church is currently $46 million in the red.

"The revenue numbers reflect the painful experience of our recent past, the anger over the sexual abuse crisis and the closing of parishes,'' he said in a letter to the region's Catholics. "These numbers are one response of a wounded community, an expression of deep hurt and a measure of our need to remain focused on the long process of healing that lies ahead."....

The reports are fairly grim in tone. "The central administration of the archdiocese is not sustainable in its current form,'' says one document. "While we do have liquidity, we have little left to sell, and we are faced with substantial obligations. In spite of reductions in force of 19 percent since the beginning of the abuse crisis, our central administration, in an effort to maintain services at pre-crisis levels, has operated with deficits in each year.''

Behind the scenes, the new cardinal has previously used the term "financial free-fall" to describe the "dire" state of the archdiocese.

As you can see, however, his own penchant for austerity continues unabated.

Reuters/Jessica Rinaldi


The Word from Washington

Uncle Ted continues the valedictory tour in today's Washington Post, confirming yet again that the days are coming.

And you've all known this since... January -- and not in the pages of the Post, either.

Speaking of the capital, I've been kicking around the idea of showing up at the Sant'Egidio conference next week at Georgetown commemorating the 20th anniversary of the "Prayer for Peace" gathering at Assisi. Because someone has to, you know, keep an eye out for chickens in the vicinity of Dahlgren Chapel.


Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Philadelphia's Loss, Heaven's Gain

The history of the church in the United States has always been a chronicle made most beautiful by its silent souls who spoke not in fleeting words, but great and lasting deeds.

For a cleric, there's a name for this calibre of eminence which is slowly, sadly, fading into eternity: the churchman. And one of this town's finest to ever earn the distinction, Msgr. James McGrath, passed on to his eternal reward last night, days after his 89th birthday.

Jim McGrath -- known around town as "Cat Eyes" for his almost-superhuman competence in canon law, which was widely sought -- is one of those names you won't find in the history books unless you look deeply. However, for what he lacked in a wide public profile or in the renown of high ecclesiastical office, like the greatest of churchmen the fruits of his immense body of work manifested over 63 years of priesthood will remain evidenced and alive for all time.

While I was familiar with Msgr. McGrath only through the legend of his quiet service and the eminence of his reputation, his wide circle of friends around the world mourn the loss of a mentor, fellow-traveler and wise counsel.

To provide a fitting tribute, I've asked one of those dear friends, Fr Milton Jordan, to put some words together. A priest of the archdiocese of Washington, Fr Jordan is currently pastor of Our Lady of Victory parish in the District. For several years, he served as executive director of the Papal Foundation, the Philadelphia-based entity which assists the humanitarian work of the Holy See. I'm honored to share Jordan's reflections with all of you:
In each priest's life there is more often than not the experience of meeting extraordinary people. Rare, however, is the occasion when there is the gift of not only meeting but of becoming a dear friend of a great man, a great priest. Monsignor James McGrath was a classic example of a man of God in the twentieth century.

After teaching high school in Reading, a career began that would bring this man not only into contact with priests, bishops, cardinals and even Popes. At the same time, through his years of compassionate adjudication in the Philadelphia Marriage Tribunal, which he headed for 20 years, he met what some would call "the ordinary folk." For him these were the hidden pearls; these were the lost coins he was sent to find. A man of refined style but a priest who could talk to anyone regardless of station in life.

Few knew that rare was the day when his "Holy Hour" did not light up the small chapel at St. Bridget's church. This was his daily practice that only doubled and almost tripled during the winter days of his life.

An aficionado of learning, the good Monsignor never simply wrote a letter or canonical opinion. Next to his desk stood his army -- the five or six tomes against which he would test his writing. He left no doubt that he would use his skill to craft not just a letter but a work of intelligence, leaving no doubt as to the intent of the writing.

Throughout his canonical work, Msgr. McGrath became for many Bishops the private consultant who could carefully and precisely weave the strands of intricate legal theory. He was respected and loved in this work because he forever strove to balance the law with the love of God for each individual. And it was his love of the language that fostered the confidence that churchmen placed in his thinking and evaluations. Cases in French, German, Spanish or Italian often were brought to him because there was no one in a local office who could combine the testy idiom of another language with a canon.

Of great joy was the tiresome but uplifting work to bring to the minds and hearts of the members of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints the evidence that John Neumann, the Little Bishop of Philadelphia, was indeed what he personally believed: a genuine saint. Msgr. McGrath made more than 150 trips to Rome to meet and meet and meet with canon lawyers, medical doctors, members of the Congregation and others because Cardinal John Krol had told him: "This man is a saint, make them understand that."

And despite the acclaim that was tendered when John Neumann was canonized, he did not rest on his accomplishments. Immediately, he took up the beginning stages of the process for the canonization of Sr. Katherine Drexel. However, when the days of retirement came upon him, he quietly and peacefully entrusted to others the mission to help in bringing to the Church of Philadelphia yet another saint.

To have known him well, to have been with him often, was to know a man, a priest who was on the one hand quite complex but on the other one like the rest of humanity -- always struggling to be good at his vocation, to be a priest of God for the people. Rarely in parish work due to his role at the chancery, he was the weekend priest for so many parishes throughout his entire life, even until the week before he died. Those duties of office work, meetings, interviews, searching for "miracles" and weekend work were only a part of the energized bunny. How strong was his dedication for almost twenty years to St. Joseph's Hospital and the Sisters.

What a wonderful birthday, his last, on Holy Thursday, the day he renewed his priestly life for a final time in a parish. If you had to opportunity to know him well, saw beneath whatever he was doing, whomever he was helping, wherever he was going that there is one message that we have been recently reminded to revisit: Deus caritas est -- God is love.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has produced a number of great priests who have touched the heart of the Church and the hearts of God's people. Those who knew Msgr. James McGrath -- fellow priests, laity and especially his very large family -- all came to know this: God came to them through this man in so many unique and very personal ways. Theif lives are forever different because this one man touched them.
May the great and beloved "Cat Eyes" -- the likes of whom we shall never see again -- rest in the peace and joy of the risen Christ, our High Priest.


A Year of Benedictions

A year ago at this hour, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected to the chair of Peter, taking the name Benedict XVI.

The Pope returned from his brief rest at Castel Gandolfo this morning to preside over the weekly General Audience in St Peter's Square. He departed from his usual thread of catechetical talks to offer reflections on the Petrine ministry in the church, his place in it and a meditation on the meaning of Easter.

Below is the Whispers translation of the Italian fulltext as recorded by the Holy See.

Dear brothers and sisters!

At the beginning of this General Audience, which takes place within the joyous climate of Easter, together with you I would like to thank the Lord, who after having called me exactly a year ago to serve the Church as Successor of the Apostle Peter -- thank you for your joy, thank you for your acclamation -- has not failed to aid me with his indispensable help. How quickly the time has passed! It has already been a year since, in a way which was for me absolutely unexpected and surprising, the Cardinals gathered in Conclave chose me to succeed the late, beloved Servant of God, the great Pope, John Paul II. I remember with emotion the first impact I felt on the central Loggia of the Basilica, immediately after my poor election, with the faithful who had come to this same Square. That encounter, which so many followed so closely, remains impressed in my mind and in my heart, and truly gave me a mode of experimentation for what I said in the courst of the solemn concelebration with which I solemnly undertook the exercise of the Petrine ministry: "I am greatly aware that I should not carry alone that which, in reality, I could not carry alone." And I always feel that, alone, I wouldn't be able to carry this charge, this mission. But I feel that, also, you all carry it with me: I am in a great communion and together we can carry forward the mission of the Lord. The heavenly protection of God and the saints irreplacably sustains me, and your closeness comforts me, dear friends, for you have not made me lack the gift of your indulgence and of your love. I truly thank from my heart all those who in various ways support me by their closeness or have spiritually followed me from afar with their affection and their prayer. To each, I ask you to continue to sustain me, praying that God may allow me to be a mild and firm pastor of his Church.

John the Evangelist tells us that Jesus, after his resurrection, called Peter to take unto himself the care of his flock. Who would've been able then to humanly imagine the development which would be marked in the course of centuries by this little group of disciples of the Lord? Peter, together with the apostles and then their successors, first in Jerusalem and then proceeding to the utmost ends of the earth, spread with courage the Gospel message in which the fundamental and unignorable nucleus is constituted by the Paschal Mystery: the passion, the death, the resurrection of Christ. The Church celebrates this mystery at Easter, prolonging its joyous resonance over the following days; singing the alleluia for the triumph of Christ over evil and over death. "The celebration of Easter according to a date of the calendar," Pope St Leo the Great notes, "recalls for us the eternal feast which surpasses all human time." "The current Easter," he then notes, "is the shadow of the future Easter. Because of this, we celebrate by passing from an annual feast toward a feast that will be eternal." The joy of these days extends itself to the entire liturgical year and renews itself particularly on Sunday, the day dedicates to recalling the resurrection of the Lord. In it, which is like the "little Easter" of each week, the liturgical assembly comes together for the Holy Mass proclaiming in the Creed that Jesus rose on the third day, adding that we await "the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come." It's indicated in this that the the event of the death and resurrection of Jesus constitutes the center of our faith and it's on this announcement that the Church is based and grows. As St Augustine recalls in an incisive way: "Let us consider, dearest ones, the Resurrection of Christ: in fact, as his Passion has signified our old life, so his resurrection is the sacrament of new life... You have believed, you have been baptized: the old life is dead, taken on the cross, buried in Baptism. The old was buried in that which you used to live: the new rises. Live well: live so that you may live, than when you die, you may not die."

The Gospel accounts, which refer to the appearances of the Risen one, routinely conclude with the the invitation to surpass each uncertainty, to face the event with the Scriptures, to announce with Jesus that from death has come eternal life, the source of new life for all those who believe. So it happens, as an example, in the case of Mary Magdalene (Jn 20:11-18), who discoveres the tomb open and empty, and immediately fears that the body of the Lord has been carried away. The Lord then calls her by name, and at that point a profound change takes place in her: her discomfort and disorientation are transformed into joy and enthusiasm. With solicitude, she goes to the Apostles and announces: "I have seen the Lord" (Jn 20:18). Behold: whoever encounters the risen Jesus becomes internally transformed; one can't "see" the Risen one without "believing" in him. Let us pray to him that he may call each of us by name and so convert us, to take the leap of courage and freedom which makes us shout to the world: Jesus is risen and lives forever. This is the mission of the disciples of the Lord of every age and also of our time: "If you are risen with Christ," exhorts St Paul, "seek the things that are above... think of the things above, and not those of the earth" (Col 3:1-2). This is not to say that we should estrange ourselves from our daily duties, disinteresting ourselves from earthly realities; it means rather to revive each human activity as with a supernatural breath, meaning to make ourselves joyous announcers and witnesses of the resurrection of Christ, who lives in eternity (Jn 20:25; Lk 24:33-34).

Dear brothers and sisters, in the Pasch of his only-begotten Son God reveals himself fully, his victorious strength over the forces of death, the force of his threefold Love. May the Virgin Mary, who is intimately associated with the passion, death and resurrection of her Son and at the foot of the Cross became the mother of all believers, help us to understand this mystery of love which changes hearts and makes us fully taste the joy of Easter, that we may be able to communicate it in our time to the men and women of the third millennium.

Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi