Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Midnight Edition

As 90 minutes of sleep, a mountain-sized in-tray, a holiday-delayed fortnightly column and the Pope's impending departure for what one of his top aides has called the "minefield" of Turkey don't make for the best of combos, bear with me. And to everyone who was away for the long weekend, hope the festivities were fun and the traffic light. Welcome home.

Here's your ecclesiastical potpourri:
  • Pope Benedict departs for Ankara this morning at 9am Rome time, 3am Eastern. As the final details were being worked out, reports from the region indicated that the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, would be involved in the unprecedented security operation for the three-day trip. The Popemobile will be shelved in favor of an armored car, with several others employed as decoys. One late, unconfirmed report said that Cardinal Walter Kasper, the Holy See's top ecumenist, "might also have been" viewed as a soft "target" for an alleged attack plot. Picking up a report from the Italian weekly Gente, a Turkish publication says that Papa Ratzi's "elevated blood pressure" is the underlying cause of his "recent gaffes." Benedict "has undergone a small operation in preparation for an eventual bypass operation," goes the brief. As for the rest, stay tuned.
  • There's a bit of a storm brewing in the diocese of Wilmington, just south of here. Ten days ago, after a retired priest of the diocese was arrested on abuse charges in his current residence of upstate New York, Bishop Michael Saltarelli released the names of the 20 secular priests who against whom "admitted, corroborated or otherwise substantiated" accusations of sexual abuse had been filed, including some deceased clerics. While the move won plaudits for its swiftness and made Saltarelli the first US bishop to be dropped from the national lawsuit demanding the names of all credibly accused priests, the focus of public fury has now shifted to the religious communities which operate high schools in the diocese: namely, the Oblates of St Francis de Sales and the Norbertines. As it's a matter beyond his purview -- the goverance of the communities being proper to their superiors -- the bishop has "recommended" that the orders cough up the approximately ten names of their members who've been accused. To date, the religious have refused. Under the slogan "No Names, No Money," parents at the schools have started moving to withhold tuition payments, as some among them assert that Saltarelli enjoys the prerogative to "de-invite" the orders from the diocese (in a nutshell, he doesn't... not unilaterally, at least). Delaware's top paper accused the religious of "pompous arrogance" in a Sunday editorial, and yesterday afternoon the state's radio dial was filled with questions of what can and can't be done to force the revelations, canonically speaking.... Five years on and, clearly, still a ways to go......
  • Appointments, anyone? As always, the speculation keeps up. If things weren't interesting enough before, a long-mused angle has returned with a new verve: talk of the potential merging or suppression of some American dioceses. Over a year ago, word was that the possibility had been eyed in Rome as far back as the mid-80s. Given the mammoth docket of vacancies both real and impending, the average appointment process almost tripling in length since '02, don't be surprised if a study of the question resurfaced, this time with an added emphasis. While buzz going around Pittsburgh of a merger with the diocese of Greensburg (separated from the Steel City in 1951) wouldn't seem to hold water at first glance, one consolidation scenario long-advocated in some quarters lies just across the western line: Youngstown-Steubenville. But fret not, Ohioans -- all indications are that the former, open for 20 months, will have a new bishop of its own... eventually.
  • And lastly, as many of you know, I don't terribly mind eating crow. It comes with the territory of responsible and accountable reporting. In light of that, one correction's come to light that I'm particularly pleased to make. On Saturday morning, the Bollettino of the Holy See Press Office released a revised list of appointments to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. Simultaneously, a slate published earlier in the month disappeared without a trace. At the time, the discrepancy was noted that the updated list failed to re-include the name of the eminent US church commentator Russell Shaw and, consequently, I mused if, as public record of his reappointment had vanished, something had gone awry. Gratefully, however, all's well -- Shaw checks in with confirmation that, as only appointments of new consultors are typically published, his reappointment stands; the letter effecting it was signed 7 October by the Secretary of State, all things to the contrary notwithstanding. Still, coming on the heels of the ad limina address that wasn't and other recent bungles of translation and message-bearing, the confusion caused by the dance of the dueling releases is but further proof that the Vatican's communications apparatus (charitably described as "dysfunctional") isn't enjoying its finest hour. With my profuse apologies for unwittingly abetting the chaos, it's a blessing to eat my crow knowing that the Holy See will continue to count on the wisdom and expertise of Shaw's counsel, which he's also extended to me, and for which I'm immeasurably grateful.
Oremus pro Pontifice nostro Benedicto. Dominus conservet eum, et vivificet eum, et beatum faciat eum in terra, et non tradat eum in animam inimicorum eius.

Happy Tuesday to all.