Monday, April 30, 2007

Vocations, B16 Style: You Can't Have One Without the Others

Well, friends, Ordination Season is at hand. And unless you've been living on Mars, you know that an amped-up focus on seeking out vocations to the priesthood has become a major concern of practically every diocese in the US.

Some have taken to terming it "Code Black." But whatever it's been called, you know it's gotten a bit out of hand when even I'm asked if entering the seminary is completely out of the question.

How the lot are doing at it is, of course, well worth looking at -- much more so than inquiring whether your narrator would reconsider. Some local churches have continued making great strides at little more than windmill-tilting, while others have experienced significant booms, and the success stories offer several truisms.

The first of these is the irreplaceable worth of the involved, invested diocesan bishop. For example, Bishop Arthur Serratelli's three years in the diocese of Paterson have seen his corps of seminarians go from 6 to 38 (all without, until a month or so ago, a full-time vocation director); Bishop Robert Morlino's stated first priority in Madison has paid off with an increase from 4 sems in 2003 to a projected bounty of 30-plus come September; and while Bishop Robert Carlson of Saginaw arrived in Michigan to find but two men in formation in early 2005, it's looking like he'll have something like 32 more in the fall. In just over two years. And with a new house of formation up and running, to boot.

Mirror, mirror, on the wall... who's the greatest rainmaker of 'em all? "It's never been any secret that Carlson is," replieth the mirror, Carlson's effectiveness at the task being such that no less than B16, himself, wanted to know his secret, calling the Michigan prelate in for a shock private audience a year ago this week. (Secret #1: The bishop acts as his own vocation director.)

Looking around, it seems that getting the job done isn't as difficult as many might think; results are accomplished not so much through leaving the legwork to one delegated office, but pushing towards it from the top and across the board, with significant personal commitment, concerted team effort, a creative approach, contagious enthusiasm and zeal, and basically everything else that comprises the best exercise of Catholicism's "good humanity" as its keys.

In a nutshell, predicting the yield can be accomplished by a rather simple exercise: the more a diocese looks and feels like Fortune 500 than Faith-Filled Flock, the emptier its nets will be -- "People, not paper," they say.

Don't shoot the messenger... nor throw paper at him. Or, for that matter, anyone else. Because it just doesn't work.

A total of 475 transitional deacons have been called to orders this year in the States, and a CARA survey of a majority of these is now floating around. While the report finds that "relatively few ordinands say that TV, radio, billboards, or other vocational advertising was instrumental in their discernment," it goes on to note that "eight in ten were encouraged to consider the priesthood by a priest. Close to half report that friends, parishioners, and mothers also encouraged them to consider priesthood." However, only "four in ten ordinands participated in a 'Come and See' weekend." After the US (on 69%), Vietnam and Mexico are tied for the most common country of birth at 6% each. Six percent are also adult converts.

At the same time, it's become something of a concern out there that, for all the talk of priestly vocations, the concept of vocation in general has been sacrificed. And, it must be noted, to detrimental effect.

Another quality of the places that've reaped the sacerdotal windfall is that this is anything but the case; a blessed complementarity and mutual respect of roles exists between the lay and ordained without any of the "ecclesiastical class warfare" that, more often than not, distracts the church from its true work and its most effective exercise of said mission ( if there weren't enough obstacles to begin with). In these places, genuine collaboration and ecclesial spirit has produced genuine church, where each vocation is emphasized, encouraged and nurtured, and good things happen like gangbusters.

In his famous 2005 Q&A with the priests of his vacation diocese, the Pope warned against the dangers of the "tribal chief" mentality in priestly formation. And, again, it's no less than B16, himself, riding to the rescue; Benedict highlighted the full meaning of vocation in a recent encounter with the pastoral council of a Roman parish, using as his springboard the religious community serving it:
[W]e are in a place where the seed of the Word of God grew from the outset and the "agape", love, also developed, so that 100 years later -- more or less in the year 100 -- St Ignatius could say that Rome presides in charity. And so it should be. It is not enough for the Pope to be in Rome. An active, committed Church must thrive in Rome, a Church which presides in charity. Therefore, it is a very happy experience for me to see in the parish that this Church of Rome exists, that she is still alive even after 2,000 years....

Here you have the Vocationist Fathers. The word "Vocationist" is reminiscent of "vocation". We can examine two dimensions of this word. First of all, we think immediately of the vocation to the priesthood. But the word has a far broader, more general dimension.

Every person carries within himself a project of God, a personal vocation, a personal idea of God on what he is required to do in history to build his Church, a living Temple of his presence. And the priest's role is above all to reawaken this awareness, to help the individual discover his personal vocation, God's task for each one of us. I see that many here have discovered the project that concerns them, both with regard to professional life in the formation of today's society -- where the presence of Christian consciences is fundamental -- and also with regard to the call to contribute to the Church's growth and life. Both these things are equally important.

A society where Christian conscience is no longer alive loses its bearings; it no longer knows where to go, what it can do, what it cannot do, and ends up in emptiness, it fails. Only if a living awareness of the faith illumines our hearts can we also build a just society. It is not the Magisterium that imposes doctrine. It is the Magisterium that helps enable the conscience itself to hear God's voice, to know what is good, what is the Lord's will. It is only an aid so that personal responsibility, nourished by a lively conscience, may function well and thus contribute to ensuring that justice is truly present in our society: justice within ourselves and universal justice for all our brothers and sisters in the world today. Today, globalization is not only economic: there is also a globalization of responsibilities, this universality, which is why we are all responsible for everyone.

The Church offers us the encounter with Christ, with the living God, with the "Logos" who is Truth and Light, who does not coerce consciences, does not impose a partial doctrine but helps us ourselves to be men and women who are completely fulfilled and thus to live in personal responsibility and in deeper communion with one another, a communion born from communion with God, with the Lord. I see here this living community. I am grateful to the priests, I am grateful to all of you, their collaborators. And I hope that the Lord will help you and enlighten you always.
By and large, we're still coming to grasp this here in the East. It could well explain why, at the diocesan level, the concept of "vocation boom" isn't so much the reality in these parts, but an ever-elusive sign of ecclesial health...

...then again, so, too, is the concept of "pastoral council."


On the Common Good

As the dance between religion and politics notches up alongside the ever-earlier kickoff of the presidential primary cycle, much has been said over the last month on the role of faith -- particularly the Catholic variety -- in preserving and enhancing the common good.

The first of these came at the midmonth National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington during the annual event's keynote address, given this year by the reigning pontificate's lead torchbearer among the nation's hierarchy, Archbishop Donald Wuerl.
Among the earliest European colonists to arrive in what is now the Northeastern United States were the pilgrims who landed on the coast of Massachusetts. Before they left the small ship, the Mayflower, and ventured to shore to establish what would be for them a new experience in living, they reached an agreement known historically as the Mayflower Compact. In 1620 these intrepid women and men seeking a life of freedom determined that they would recognize two principles by which their freedom would be guided: the law of God and the common good.

“In the name of God amen” they began this first written articulation of a political philosophy in the English Colonies that has served as an underpinning for the American political experience for almost four hundred years. At the heart of this formula is the understanding that God and God’s law – however it is known – is normative for human action and that in the application of that basic principle and its translation into positive civil law the common good would also exercise a normative function....

To explore the developments in the relationship of faith and public policy we need to begin with a recognition that in recent years we have witnessed a movement in some public opinion forums away from an appreciation of the basic religious values that underpin our laws – religious values accepted and expressed by a great variety of faith communities – to the assertion of the need to substitute a so-called secular frame of reference within which public policy should be articulated.

Yet the opposite conviction has long been a cornerstone of the American experience. It finds expression in our deep-seated conviction that we have inalienable rights from “the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God.”

Thomas Jefferson stated that the ideals and ideas which he set forth in the Declaration of Independence were not original with him, but were the common opinion of his day. In a letter to Henry Lee, dated May 8, 1825, Jefferson writes that the Declaration is “intended to be an expression of the American mind and to give that expression proper tone and spirit.”

The development of American political thought from the time of the Mayflower Compact resulted eventually in a composite political philosophy which guided the colonists at the time of the Revolution. It is found in a multiplicity of sources such as the Bible, sermons, classics in philosophical literature, platform addresses, newspaper discussions, pamphlets, official pronouncements and directives, resolutions of colonial assemblies, colonial charters and constitutions.

Out of all of these many threads, there is woven one common principle that is formative of the American political experience. The belief in the binding character of moral law is fundamental to any understanding of American thought. Government must be guided by foundational moral principles. All human government must be limited.

The intimate relation of the law of nature to God’s law was stated in terms of identity by John Barnard in his Massachusetts election sermon of 1734 where he stated: “This voice of nature is the voice of God.”

The understanding of God’s law at work and discernable through our rational nature also finds resonance in the Catechism of the Catholic Church which speaks not only of the foundational nature of the natural moral law but describes the commandments themselves as privileged expressions of the natural law.

We have become accustomed over centuries to the voice of the Church as the voice of conscience. Today the current debate on our military presence in Iraq is framed in no small part in principles rooted in Catholic moral theology. So is the question of abortion, embryonic stem cell research, physician assisted suicide and immigration involving Asian, Pacific rim and Latin American people.

As believers we look to our faith. We are both citizens of the nation and members of the Church. We should look to our most deeply held convictions when we address matters that affect our nation’s activities at home or abroad.

As Catholics we also look to our Church for guidance that can only come from God. We believe that the teaching of the Church represents for us an opening on to the wisdom of God.

Where the impact of well articulated faith-based principles most evidently helped to form public policy in the United States is in the area of human dignity and the working conditions that were a routine part of the American scene at the time of our grandparents and even parents. The Church brought to the debate the strongest moral voice even when she was not always welcome. Most of the social legislation of the 30’s and later finds its moral antecedent in the magisterium of the Church.

Catholic social teaching has traditionally marked as a milestone the publication of the encyclical letter Rerum Novarum in 1891 by Pope Leo XIII. This was the first focused and concentrated articulation of the Church’s understanding of the dignity of workers and their rights. It also provided a rationale for explaining the worth of human labor itself – not that this was completely new. Over many centuries, commentators on the Book of Genesis expounded on the importance of human work and its place in God’s plan.

The reason Rerum Novarum is highlighted so regularly is because it was the beginning of a long series of papal encyclicals and statements constantly developing the theme of human dignity and social justice.

Today our struggle is to achieve the same success using Pope John Paul II’s encyclical, Evangelium Vitae, and the Church’s teaching tradition on the dignity of life in the defense of unborn human life.

Religious faith has played and continues to play a significant role in promoting social justice issues as it does in defending all innocent human life.

The dramatic shift that would substitute a secular vision of life for the traditional faith inclusive one disconnects us from our history.

The assertion that the "secular" model of society is the only acceptable way of addressing public policy issues causes us to look again at the place of religion and Gospel values in our efforts to build the common good.

What faith brings to our world is a way of seeing life and reality, a way of judging right and wrong, a norm against which we can see our life measured in light of the wisdom of God.

We simply cannot put aside all of this conviction of how we live and make important decisions and still be who we are as Catholics and as heirs to the American dream of personal freedom, faith and the common good.
Eight days later, a daylong conference at St Charles Borromeo Seminary here in Philadelphia devoted its focus to "Promoting and Protecting the Common Good." The annual symposium of the John Cardinal Krol Chair of Moral Theology, four papers were presented on the roles of the various players in attaining the end: the individual, law and government, religion, and the media.

While all the papers can be found (in pdf) at the Krol Chair website, two of these are of particular note. First, the intervention on religion, presented by Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver.
Religious believers built this country. Christians played a leading role in that work. This is a fact, not an opinion. Our entire framework of human rights is based on a religious understanding of the dignity of the human person as a child of his or her Creator. Nietzsche once said that "convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies." But that's false. Not even he believed that, or he couldn't have written a single book.

In fact, the opposite is often true. Convictions can be the seeds of truth incarnated in a person's individual will. The right kinds of convictions guide us forward. They give us meaning. Not acting on our convictions is cowardice. As Catholics we need to live our convictions in the public square with charity and respect for others, but also firmly, with courage and without apology. Anything less is a form of theft from the moral witness we owe to the public discussion of issues. We can never serve the common good by betraying who we are as believers or compromising away what we hold to be true.

Unfortunately, I think the current American debate over religion and the public square has much deeper roots than the 2006 or 2004 elections, or even John Kennedy or the Second Vatican Council. A crisis of faith and action for Christians has been growing for many years in Western society. It's taken longer to have an impact here in the United States because we're younger as a nation than the countries in Europe, and we've escaped some of Europe's wars and worst social and religious struggles....

But Americans now face the same growing spiritual illness that Tolkien, Chesterton, Christopher Dawson, Romano Guardini and C.S. Lewis all wrote about in the last century. It's a loss of hope and purpose that comes from the loss of an interior life and a living faith. It's a loss that we can only make bearable by creating a culture of material comfort that feeds -- and feeds off of -- personal selfishness. And no one understood this better than Georges Bernanos.

Most of us remember Bernanos for his novels, especially "The Diary of a Country Priest" and "Under Satan's Sun." Some of us may remember that he was one of the major European Catholic writers to reject the Franco uprising in Spain. He spent the Second World War in South America out of disgust with European politics, both right and left. He didn't have a sentimental bone in his body. He criticized Catholic politicians, Church leaders and average Catholics in the pew with the same and sometimes very funny relish. But he loved the Church, and he believed in Jesus Christ. And exactly 60 years ago, in 1946 and 1947, he gave a final series of lectures that predicted where our civilization would end up today with complete clarity. Regnery published the lectures in English in 1955 as "The Last Essays of Georges Bernanos." I hope you'll read them for yourselves. They're outstanding.

Bernanos had an unblinkered vision of the "signs of the times." Remember that just after the Second World War, France had a revival of Catholicism. Recovering from a global conflict and the Holocaust, the world in general and France in particular seemed to turn back -- briefly -- to essentials. It was during that hopeful season that the fathers of the Second Vatican Council gave us "Gaudium et Spes."

But Bernanos always saw the problems beneath the veneer. He wasn't fooled by the apparent revival of Catholic France. And so his work is a great corrective to the myth that our moral confusion started in the 1960s. As Bernanos makes clear, our problems began with the machine age -- the industrial revolution -- but not simply because of machines. They were the fruit of a "de-spiritualization" that had been going on for some time.

Bernanos argues that the optimism of the modern West is a kind of whistling past the graveyard. The Christian virtue of hope, he reminds us, is a hard and strong thing that disciplines and "perfects" human appetites. It has nothing to do with mere optimism. Real Christian hope comes into play as the obstacles to human happiness seem to grow higher.

Bernanos takes it upon himself to show us just how high the obstacles to real human freedom have become, even in liberal democracies. He argues that our modern optimism is a veneer over a despair bred by our greed and materialism. We try to fool ourselves that everything will turn out for the best, despite all the evidence to the contrary -- crime, terrorism, disease, poverty -- and we even concoct a myth of inevitable progress to shore up our optimism. American optimism in particular -- Bernanos refers to the United States bitterly as "the Rome, the Mecca, the holiest sanctuary of this civilization" -- is really only the eager restlessness of unsatisfied appetites.

Two themes dominate these last essays by Bernanos. The first is man's eagerness to abolish, forget or rewrite his own history in favor of determinisms like liberal capitalism, which makes society nothing more than a market system, and Marxism. For Bernanos, the attack on human memory and history is a primary mark of the antichrist.

As Bernanos explains it, big ideological systems "mechanize" history with high-sounding language like progress and dialectics. But in doing so, they wipe out the importance of both the past -- which they describe as primitive, unenlightened or counterrevolutionary -- and the present, which is not yet the paradise of tomorrow. The future is where salvation is to be found for every ideology that tries to eliminate God, whether it's explicitly atheistic or pays lip service to religious values. Of course, this future never arrives, because progress never stops and the dialectic never ends.

Christianity and Judaism see life very differently. For both of them, history is a place of human decision. At every moment of our lives, we're asked to choose for good or for evil. Therefore, time has weight. It has meaning. The present is vitally important as the instant that will never come again; the moment where we are not determined by outside forces but self-determined by our free will. Our past actions make us who we are today. But each "today" also offers us another chance to change our developing history. The future is the fruit of our past and present choices, but it's always unknown, because each successive moment presents us with a new possibility.

Time and freedom are the raw material of life because time is the realm of human choice. Bernanos reminds us that the antichrist wants us to think that freedom really doesn't exist because when we fail to choose, when we slide through life, we in effect choose for him. Time is the Devil's enemy. He lives neither in the eternity of God nor the realm of man. Satan has made his choice against God and he is forever fixed in that choice. But as long as man lives in time, which is the realm of change, man may still choose in favor of God. And of course, God is always offering the help of his grace to do just that. If the Devil can sell us the idea that history is a single, determined mechanism, if humanity's freedom of will can be forgotten or denied, then man will drift, and the antichrist will win.

Incidentally, if he were alive today, Bernanos might throw an interesting light on the language of the abortion debate. When we examine "pro-choice" vocabulary, it really isn't about choice at all. Instead, it's phrased in terms of "what choice did I have?" "I couldn't choose not to have sex." "I couldn't choose not to kill the child." "You have no right to expect more from me; I had to have an abortion, and so I had a right to do it." In the abortion debate, pro-choice means agreeing to the fiction that nobody really had a choice. As for the Devil, rapid technological change very much serves his purposes in any bioethical debate by helping us believe that only the future matters and that there isn't time to consider fundamental questions.

Just a hundred years ago our material lives were not all that different from what they had been a thousand years before. Men walked and rode and tilled and sold. Suddenly, things have changed more in 100 years than they had in the previous 5,000. And we expect things to be different tomorrow from what they are today. What Bernanos says in his essays about the atomic bomb, we could say today about the technological tsunami that engulfs and submerges our lives. To a consumer culture that says we're essentially animals and smart monkeys incapable of restraint, technology has now given the most dangerous machines. Can they have come from God? Bernanos doesn't seem to think so.

One of my favorite passages from Frank Sheed is this:

"It's incredible how long science has succeeded in keeping men's minds off their fundamental unhappiness and its own very limited power to remedy their fundamental unhappiness. One marvel follows another -- electric light, phonograph, motor car, telephone, radio, airplane, television. It's a curious list, and very pathetic. The soul of man is crying for hope of purpose or meaning; and the scientist says, 'Here is a telephone' or 'Look, television!' -- exactly as one tries to distract a baby crying for its mother by offering it sugar sticks and making funny faces."

The tidal wave of our toys, from iPods to the internet, is equally effective in getting us to ignore history and ignore our own emptiness.

The struggle for real human freedom depends upon the struggle for human history. Unlike the ideologies that deny the importance of the past and the present and focus on the illusions of a perfect future, Christianity sees the most important moments of the human story to be the past event of the Incarnation and the present moment of my individual opportunity to love.

The Catholic faith is grounded in what God has done. Our love is what we choose to do now, and our hope is founded in God's past acts of love and our present ones. Without history, there is no Christianity. So the fundamental question, for Bernanos, is "whether history is the story of mankind or merely of technology." Modern man must be convinced again that he is free, that he can really choose in this moment of time between very different paths to very different futures. In the act of choosing, we regain history as our own.

But part of the reasoning needed to convince man of his freedom must include reaffirming sacred history. And that must include remembering and retelling the fundamental choices made by Adam and Eve and Mary and Jesus and all the intermediate choices for or against God in that history. In hearing our Catholic faith narrated, it becomes recognizable as a history of choice, leading us to the present moment of choice, right here and right now. So the first requirement in regaining human freedom is to regain human history, to tell the human story as a chronicle of free will.

For Bernanos, the act of remembering the love of God and the history of our salvation begins the only kind of revolution that matters. In the words of Bernanos, "It is a question of starting tomorrow, or even today, a revolution of liberty which will essentially also be an explosion of spiritual forces in the world, comparable to the one that occurred 2,000 years ago -- in fact, the same."
...and the intervention on the media, presented by Russell Shaw, the pre-eminent American commentator on things church and a consultor to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.
During the last hundred years or so there has been an ongoing evolution in the Church's official thinking about news media. Chadwick holds that Leo XIII was the first pope to understand "that the press, even when it was Catholic, was a fourth estate, and to begin to treat it accordingly." With ups and downs, this way of thinking gradually spread throughout the twentieth century. Pope Pius XII -- grandson of the co-founder of the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano -- played an especially notable role. He expressed appreciation for the press, praised the service of the press to society, and, famously, even recognized the necessity of public opinion in the Church.

As with so many other things, the great turning point was the Second Vatican Council. Its Decree on the Media of Social Communication, Inter Mirifica, is commonly dismissed as the weakest of its sixteen documents. Even so, in a passage addressed to civil authorities, it says "the progress of modern society" requires "a true and just freedom of information."20 It also directed that after the council a pastoral instruction on the means of social communication be prepared. This turned out to be Communio et Progressio, which was written by a team of experts under the supervision of the Pontifical Commission (now, Council) for Social Communications and published in 1971. I quote just a few passages, under the heading "Access to the Sources and Channels of News," that suggest the document's approach:
Modern man cannot do without information that is full, consistent, accurate and true. Without it, he cannot understand the perpetually changing world in which he lives.

Society, at all levels, requires information if it is to choose the right course. The community requires well-informed citizens. The right to information is not merely the prerogative of the individual, it is essential to the public interest.

Those whose job it is to give the news have a most difficult and responsible role to play.
Concerning the press and the Church, the pastoral instruction says: "Since the development of public opinion within the Church is essential, individual Catholics have the right to all the information they need to play their active role in the life of the Church. In practice this means that communications media must be available for the task."...

I close this brief sketch of news media and the Church with something the Pastoral Instruction for Social Communications says:
The modern media of social communication offer men of today a great round table. At this they are in search of, and able to participate in, a world-wide exchange of brotherhood and cooperation. It is not surprising that this should be so, for the media are at the disposal of all and are channels for that very dialogue which they themselves stimulate. The torrent of information and opinion pouring through these channels makes every man a partner in the business of the human race. This interchange creates the proper conditions for that mutual and sympathetic understanding which leads to universal progress.
How realistic this picture is I leave to you. But even if it can never be entirely realized in this fallen world of ours, it continues to be a noble ideal that we must strive to accomplish.
Ditto especially to that.


Why Popes Wear White

As many of you are quite well-aware, today is the feast of Pope St Pius V, who reigned from 1566 to 1572.

A Piedmontese Dominican, Michele Ghislieri taught theology, defending church teaching to such effect that he came to the attention of the office then known as the Inquisition, which brought him aboard first as a regional supervisor, then calling him to its Roman hub. Depending on the pontificate, his zeal won him reward and scorn, each in their turn.

In 1566, he was elected to the chair of Peter. According to one account, "he began his pontificate by giving large alms to the poor, instead of distributing his bounty at haphazard like his predecessors." Pius worked to simplify the papal court, curbed other excesses of what had been a decadent period for the church's top ranks, and instituted the feast of the Most Holy Rosary, having reigned during the European victory at Lepanto which the 7 October observance commemorates.

Oh, and he "forbade bull fights," to boot.

But, of course, his most significant accomplishment was the tying up of the loose ends of Trent and the promulgation of the Missale Romanum of 1570 which, with few changes, served for almost four centuries as the liturgy of the Latin church. Its wider comeback was anticipated by many this morning, which had been among the dates tipped for the release of Pope Benedict XVI's long-expected motu proprio granting wider permission for celebration of the Mass that bears Pius' name.

The document didn't drop today, but reported elements of it have trickled into light over recent weeks.

Having been through at least four drafts, the impending release of the document -- a source of tension among much of the current pontiff's team -- has been confirmed on-record by two senior curialists, including the Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. Its exact formulation remains unclear, but it's believed that the text will permit unfettered celebration (i.e. beyond the realm of episcopal sanction) of the Old Mass in private... which liturgies the faithful could just happen to hear about and show up for, albeit within a certain numerical limit. It's also likely to be stated that, in parishes, public celebrations according to the 1962 Missal cannot overtake the scheduled celebrations of the post-Conciliar Novus Ordo, the Mass promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1969.

(Given the opposition of many bishops to the move, don't be surprised if a new fervor for enforcing the rules on bination and trination starts to pop up in certain places.)

Pius V died on 1 May 1572. He was beatified in 1672 and canonized in 1712. As a tribute to the sanctity of the Dominican pontiff, who refused to shed his community's habit on his election to the papacy, his successors have donned the now-famous white cassock ever since.

On the liturgical calendar established under his watch, his feast is celebrated on 5 May.


Sunday, April 29, 2007

On the Environment: A VP's "Inconvenient Truth" = The Vatican's "Inescapable Reality"

Friday's announcement of the papal "yes" to a UN visit -- likely to take place in 2008, at the earliest -- adds another stop of spotlight on Rome's man at the organization's headquarters, Archbishop Celestino Migliore.

The former Undersecretary for Relations with States (Vaticanese for "deputy foreign minister"), Migliore's meteoric rise through the diplomatic ranks landed him in the New York-based post not long after his 50th birthday. The fourth Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, the 54 year-old prelate's two direct predecessors were brought back to Rome and given red hats at the end of their UN days; before Migliore's 2002 arrival, the post was held for 15 years by then-Archbishop Renato Martino, now on double duty as cardinal-president of the Pontifical Councils for Justice and Peace and Migrants and Itinerant Peoples.

In a recent speech in Columbus, the Observer cited the "inescapable reality" of the "degradation" of the cosmos and offered some tips on how to combat climate change:
It comes down to "working less, wanting less, spending less," thus reducing the impact each person has on the environment, Archbishop Celestino Migliore told participants gathered in Columbus for the second in a series of regional Catholic conversations on climate change April 14. [In the interests of context, the full quote was "In the States this movement is often expressed in terms of so-called voluntary simplicity, that is, a way of life that tends to involve patterns of working less, wanting less and spending less. In other parts of the world, it focuses on a radical criticism and opposition to the current economic and market systems."]

Citing Genesis' call to humanity to oversee creation while protecting it and the church's social doctrine, the Vatican diplomat outlined the Holy See's position on the need for Catholics to heed the environmental dangers the planet faces....

"There is no doubt that the latest assessment has established a strong connection between human activity and climate change," he said, referring to a February statement by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Archbishop Migliore acknowledged that although not all scientists agree that climate change is occurring other environmental threats, such as indiscriminate deforestation, water pollution, the lack of potable water in many parts of the world and the depletion of fish stocks, demand action from the world community and individual Catholics alike.

"We need to drink deep from this fascinating foundation of knowledge and wisdom, known as the aggressive and progressive degradation of the environment, that has become an inescapable reality," he said.

Archbishop Migliore called God's placing of humans in the Garden of Eden with the instruction not only to tame nature, but to keep, or preserve, it as well. God's instruction was not so much a commandment but a blessing "to perfect, not destroy, the cosmos," he said.

Any steps to protect the environment must depend on more than the use of technology and traditional economics; they must depend on "ethical, social and religious values as well," he said.

Likewise, any corrective steps require turning to people in the developing world, especially those living in dire poverty, and making decisions with their advice and consent, the papal nuncio said.

"With humans open to love, creation becomes the place for the mutual exchange of gifts among people," he said.
Right in time for last Sunday's observance of Earth Day, the intervention was but the latest high-level Vatican plug for better care of the environment; Cardinal Martino hosted a rather "heated" top-level international conference on climate change earlier this week, and Pope Benedict's recent Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis reiterated at its close the pontiff's numerable interventions to date on the importance of being good stewards of the earth.

"The world is not something indifferent, raw material to be utilized simply as we see fit," Benedict said. "Rather, it is part of God's good plan, in which all of us are called to be sons and daughters in the one Son of God, Jesus Christ.

"The justified concern about threats to the environment present in so many parts of the world is reinforced by Christian hope, which commits us to working responsibly for the protection of creation."

And Benedict's not just talking the talk, either: zipping around behind the Vatican walls, his ride of choice is an electric golf cart.



To Know, To Love, To Lead

On this World Day of Prayer for Vocations, the Pope ordained 22 deacons of the diocese of Rome to the priesthood at a Mass in St Peter's.

The Rite of Priestly Ordination provides an optional homily that is often used, but it shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that Benedict XVI laid it completely aside.

The following is the Whispers translation of what he came up with.

* * *

Dear Brothers in the Episcopate and the Priesthood,

dear Ordinandi,

dear brothers and sisters!

This Fourth Sunday of Easter, traditionally called "Good Shepherd," recalls for us, gathered here in this Vatican Basilica, a particular significance. It's an absolutely singular day above all for you, dear Deacons, on whom, as Bishop and Pastor of Rome, I am happy to confer priestly Ordination. And so you will become part of our "presbyterium." Together with the Cardinal Vicar, the Auxiliary Bishops and the priests of the Diocese, I thank the Lord for the gift of your priesthood, which enriches our Community with 22 new Shepherds.

The theological density of this brief Gospel passage, which was just proclaimed, helps us to better perceive the sense and worth of this solemn Celebration. Jesus speaks of himself as the Good Shepherd who gives eternal life to his sheep (cf Jn 10:28). The shepherd is an image well-rooted in the Old Testament and dear to the Christian tradition. The title of "shepherd of Israel" became attributed by the Prophets to the future descendant of David, and so took on an indubitable messianic relevance (cf Ez 34:23). Jesus is the true Shepherd of Israel, in which he is the Son of man who wished to share the condition of human beings to give them new life and lead them to salvation. Significantly, to the word "shepherd" the evangelist joins the adjective kalós -- "good" -- which he uses only in reference to Jesus and to his mission. Also in the account of the wedding of Cana the adjective kalós was called upon twice to connote the wine offered by Jesus and is easy to see in this the symbol of the good wine of the messianic temples (cf Jn 2:10).

"I give them (my sheep) eternal life and they shall never perish" (Jn 10:28). Thus affirms Jesus, who first had said: "The good shepherd offers his life for his sheep" (Jn 10:11). John uses the verb tithénai -- to offer, repeating it in the following verses (15,17,18); this same verb we find in the account of the Last Supper, when Jesus "took off" his garments to then "put them back on" (cf Jn 13:4, 12). It's clear that he wishes in this way to affirm that the Redeemer disposes of his own life with absolute freedom, so to be able to offer it and therefore take it up again freely. Christ is the true Good Shepherd who gave his life for his sheep -- for us -- pouring himself out on the Cross. He knows his sheep and his sheep know him, as the Father knows Him and He knows the Father (Jn 10:14-15). It isn't spoken of as mere intellectual knowledge, but as a profound personal relationship; a knowledge of heart, that of he who loves and who is loved; of he who is faithful and who knows himself to be able to trust; a knowledge of love in virtue of which the Shepherd invites his own to follow him, and which is manifested fully in the gift of eternal life he makes for them (cf Jn 10:27-28).

Dear Ordinandi, may the certainty that Christ doesn't abandon us and no obstacle can block the realization of his universal plan of salvation be for you an impetus of constant consolation -- even in days of difficulty -- and of steadfast hope. The goodness of the Lord is always with you and is strong. The Sacrament of Orders that you are to receive will make you participants of the same mission of Christ; you are called to scatter the seed of his Word -- the seed that bears in itself the Kingdom of God -- to spread the divine mercy and to nourish the faithful at the table of his Body and Blood. To be his worthy ministers you must feed yourselves incessantly with the Eucharist, source and summit of the Christian life. Drawing near to the altar, your daily school of holiness, of communion with Jesus, the way of entering into His feelings; drawing near to the altar to renew the sacrifice of the Cross, you will always find ever more the richness and tenderness of the love of the divine Teacher, who today calls you to a more intimate friendship with Him. If you listen docilely, if you follow him faithfully, you will learn to translate into your life and pastoral ministry his love and his passion for the salvation of souls. Each one of you, dear Ordinandi, will become with the help of Jesus a good shepherd, prepared to give, if necessary, even your own life for Him.

So it was at the beginning of Christianity with the first disciples, for, as we've heard in the first Reading, the Gospel began to spread amid consolations and difficulties. It's worth underscoring the final words of the passage from the Acts of the Apostles that we've heard: "The disciples were full of joy and of the Holy Spirit" (13:52). Despite incomprehensions and differences, the apostle of Christ did not lose joy, or rather is the witness of that joy that springs from being with the Lord, from love for Him and for his brothers. On this World Day of Prayer for Vocations, which this year takes as its theme "vocation in service of the Church in communion," let us pray that those chosen for this high mission may be accompanied by the communal prayer of all the faithful.

Let us pray that there might grow in each parish and Christian community an attention for vocations and for the formation of priests: this begins in the family, continues in the seminary and involves all those who've taken to heart the salvation of souls. Dear brothers and sisters who participate in this auspicious celebration, and first of all you, parents, relatives and friends of these 22 Deacons who shortly will be ordained priests! Let us surround them, our brothers in the Lord, with our spiritual solidarity. Let us pray that they might be faithful to the mission to which, today, the Lord calls them and that they might be ready to renew each day their "yes" to God, their "here I am" without reserve. And let us ask the Father of the masses, on this Day for Vocations, that he might continue to sustain many and holy priests, totally given to the service of the Christian people.

In this most solemn and important moment of your lives, dear Ordinandi, I address myself with affection to you. To you today Jesus repeats: "I no longer call you servants, but friends." Welcome and cultivate this divine friendship with "eucharistic love"! May Mary, the heavenly Mother of Priests, accompany you; may She, who under the Cross united herself to the Sacrifice of her Son and, after the Resurrection, in the Cenacle together with the Apostles and the other disciples welcomed the spirit, help you and each one of us, dear brothers in the Priesthood, to allow ourselves to transform internally by the grace of God. Only so is it possible to be for us to be faithful images of the Good Shepherd; only so can one develop with joy the mission of knowing, leading and loving the sheep who Jesus won at the cost of his blood. Amen!

Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi


Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Young Faithful

It may be First Communion season but, at the tender age of 7, one Washingtonian is already well-ahead of the curve:
Among the faithful gathered at the 7 a.m. Mass at St. Peter's Catholic Church on Capitol Hill, one face in the front pew always stands out.

James Higgins, 7, has been attending daily Mass since he was 3 years old. His parents, Stephen and Lauren, never have to drag him out of bed or away from his Lucky Charms to get him there either.

"I have it in my heart to go," said James, decked out in a blue sweat suit, a Red Sox jacket and cap. He's currently undecided between a career with the Red Sox — or as the first American pope.

Given this boy's encyclopedic knowledge of the church, the safe money is on the Vatican job.

He rarely stops swinging an imaginary baseball bat, trotting bases in a fantasy diamond and making crowd noises. When asked if the best part of his day is Mass, he looks at you with the quizzical nature that only a first-grader can muster.

"No way," he says. "PE is."

Still, James is really proud of a nearly 200-day communion streak — he hasn't missed a day since last October, when his pastor gave him a special dispensation to receive his First Communion a year and a half early....

You might think it would be easy to stump a 7-year-old. Not this 7-year-old. Even the priests at St. Peter's say they can't do it.

"What are the 10 commandments?"

James spouts them back, correctly. It takes about eight seconds.

"Give me something hard," he says, "really hard!"

"OK, what's the feast day of Saint Augustine of Hippo?"

James sighs and shrugs, disappointed he didn't get something more difficult.

"Aug. 27," he says.

He stops, pauses and corrects himself. "I mean Aug. 28th. Saint Monica is the 27th." He's correct.

Sts. Peter Damascene, Basil the Great, Bonaventure, Joan of Arc, Margaret, Titus — name this kid a saint and he's got the feast day and vital stats on their life.

His favorite saint? St. James the Greater (they do have the same name, after all). Feast day? July 25.

He can also explain the joys and sorrows of Mary, how all the martyrs of the church have died, the seven deadly sins, the corporal and spiritual works of the Holy Spirit, the 14 holy helpers, and the 33 "doctors" of the church — in order, including the pope who appointed them.

Speaking of the church's most eminent theologians, who was No. 8?

James sits and thinks, rolling his eyes as if scanning reams of church history in his head. St. John Chrysostom, the doctor of preachers, he says 30 seconds later. Born in A.D. 345, to be precise.

Just to be sure, he asks his father to check. He's correct.

After a thorough 20-minute pop quiz, there just aren't any more questions.

"Day in and day out, even though it's early, I see his face at Mass and it inspires me," said the Rev. Bill Hegedusich, the associate pastor at St. Peter's. "He's a child, but he has that enthusiasm that we are all called to have."

Since taking an interest in baseball, James has had to balance his dream of becoming pope with visions of playing at Fenway Park.

James plays an active role at the early morning Mass. Sitting in the front pew, he's always the first to stand or kneel. His distinctly youthful voice stands out from the congregation. After Mass, he cleans up the altar, bowing reverently at each stage of the process.

"It's incredible," said his dad, Stephen, who sparked James' interest in the Mass with his own daily attendance. "As his faith builds, so does mine — they feed off each other and I'm able to teach him more about everything else."
God love 'im -- he should start blogging, eh?

Valerie Dryden/Religion News Service


Friday, April 27, 2007


In a private audience last week with Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary-General invited Pope Benedict to the organization's headquarters in New York.

This morning, an announcement from the Holy See confirmed that the Pope has accepted Ban's invitation for a visit, to take place at an unspecified "mutually convenient time."

Of the seven papal visits to the United States since Pope Paul VI's one-day trek to New York on 4 October 1965, most have had as their centerpiece a visit and address to the UN's General Assembly, which meets in early autumn. The journey -- the first papal trip to these shores since 1999 and Papa Ratzi's first since 1998 -- will likely include a swing-through of US cities, but an American tour independent of the international body is contingent on a formal invitation from the nation's bishops.

Of course, more to come.

Ettore Ferrari/Pool


"The Harvest Is Great..."

Back home in the River City of the Pharaohs, a certain high school at 45th and Chestnut has long loomed large.

West Catholic, now staffed by the Christian Brothers, has produced one of the largest contingents of priest and religious alumni of any high school in the US. The most-known of these was one of the "good priests" of my formative years: John Cardinal O'Connor of New York, Class of 1938, called to the Father's house seven years ago next week.

Of those who remain, many converged on their alma mater yesterday for a special reunion:
Since its founding as a boys' school in 1916, and the addition of the girls' school in 1926, West Catholic has turned out more than 1,000 religious sisters, 600 priests, at least 300 Christian Brothers, six bishops, and Cardinal John O'Connor, the late archbishop of New York - Class of '38.

That may be a record for any Catholic high school in America, according to West Catholic's president, Brother Timothy Ahern.

But the 180 cassocked and habited alumni who came for Mass and a light breakfast were having too much fun to solve the mystery of their great numbers.

"Are you a St. Joseph?" Sister Elizabeth Heller shouted above the din in the crowded library after the morning Mass. She meant a Sister of St. Joseph.

"No, I'm an RSM" - that's Religious Sisters of the Americas - answered Sister Kathleeen Waugh, who stuck out her hand in greeting.

"Betty Heller, Class of '54," said Heller, clasping Waugh's hand.

"Fifty," replied Waugh. In an instant, the two were laughing and reminiscing about their girlhoods at "West" a half-century ago.

Milling around them, clutching foam cups of coffee, doughnuts, and a few canes and walkers, were gaggles of SBSs, IHMs, OPs, OSFs and many more nuns, along with 14 priests, two deacons and a handful of CBs, or Christian Brothers, the school's male teaching order. (SBS is Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament; IHM is Immaculate Heart of Mary; OP is Order of Preachers-Dominican, and OSF is Order of Saint Francis.)

Yesterday's reunion was the idea of the Rev. David Engo, a Capuchin priest who arrived at West only last fall as the school's chaplain.

He and Ahern sent out invitations two months ago and were "amazed," Ahern said, when nearly 10 percent of all the school's religious graduates replied that they were coming....

In the 1950s - an era when many of yesterday's visiting alums were teenagers - West was one of the nation's largest Catholic high schools. Actually, it was two campuses, West Catholic for Girls and West Catholic for Boys, and in any given year each had about 3,000 students in grades 9-12.

But those numbers, like the school's vocation supply, are history.

The boys' and girls' schools merged in 1989 because of declining enrollment, and today West Catholic numbers just 561 pupils, only 52 percent of whom are Catholic.

"Only a few" have entered a seminary or convent in recent years, according to Ahern. Since 1995, he said, "none of our graduates has joined the Christian Brothers."

And so, while celebration was the theme of yesterday's joyful gathering, the call for Catholic vocations was its subtext.

The homilist at the Mass was Msgr. James T. McDonough (Class of '49), who told how the school's principal had stopped him in the hall one day and asked: "James, did you ever think of becoming a priest? I think you would be a good one."

In fact, McDonough said, he had been thinking about it since he was 4 or 5, when he had asked his mother who the man on the altar was.

"He's a priest," she said. "And you can be one too."

McDonough urged any students who felt called to religious life to "listen to that voice within, and respond."

"See how old we all are up here?" he joked, pointing to the other gray-haired priests at the auditorium altar, who laughed. "We need some of you to come along and take over."
Meanwhile, just up the Northeast Extension in Scranton, one of those who's come along to supplement the new generation did so after a bit more journeying than usual. Eric Bergman is now Fr Bergman, again; a former priest of the Episcopal church, he, his wife and four children crossed the Tiber with over 60 of his parishioners, who've formed an Anglican Use community.

Last weekend, Bergman was ordained to the Catholic priesthood by means of the pastoral provision.
Deacon Bergman, 36, and his wife Kristina, 29, grew up as an Episcopalians in Bethlehem. He attended James Madison University followed by Yale University, where he received his master’s degree in divinity. The couple met at the Cathedral Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and were married there in 1996. They have four children: Clara, 5, Eric, 3, Julia, 2, and Joan, 5 months.

Qualities that Mrs. Bergman sees in her husband also makes him a good priest, she said.

“He’s very caring, very thoughtful and he likes to take care of people and he wants to spread the Gospel and the truth of the Gospel and he doesn’t waver, just like the Roman Church doesn’t waver,” she said. “And he’s very dedicated. If he says something, it’s true. That goes for being a priest, and a husband and father.”

With many memories, friends and milestones wrapped up in their faith, leaving the Anglican Communion was not a rushed decision.

“We had been talking for a very long time about where the Episcopal Church was going and what we were going to do,” Mrs. Bergman said. “We thought, Eric and I thought, that one day we’d be united with the Catholic Church.”

The ordination of women, ordination of an openly gay bishop in 2003 and the increasingly liberal stance on birth control and abortion have led to great divisions within Anglicanism over the years. The Bergmans’ strong pro-life beliefs played a major role in their decision.

“The Catholic Church is pro-life, pro-responsibility and pro-unity,” Deacon Bergman said.

“The Roman Church hasn’t changed with the culture,” said Mrs. Bergman. “That appealed to us.”

The road has been difficult and uncertain for the once and future Father Bergman and his wife.

Renouncing his vows in late 2004, meant the loss of his salary. The Bergmans also had to move out of the Good Shepherd rectory, where they had been living, and rent a home.

“That was the scary part — not knowing how we were going to be provided for,” said Mrs. Bergman. “Fortunately, the children were young enough so they knew we moved but they didn’t ask a lot of questions.”

At least 60 parishioners left Good Shepherd and Anglicanism, following the Bergmans to the Catholic Church.

Ray Hays, 55, of Scranton was one of that flock. He said he was raised Episcopalian because his mother brought her faith with her to the United States from England.

“I never really felt comfortable in the Episcopal Church,” he said. Like the Bergmans, Mr. Hays found his beliefs at odds with the church, though he wouldn’t elaborate on specific complaints.

“I think things over the years built up,” he said.

Deacon Bergman became simply Mr. Eric Bergman again, but continued serving as a spiritual leader for the former Anglicans as they moved through catechism classes taught by the Rev. Charles Connor, pastor of St. Peter’s Cathedral, to confirmation by the Most Rev. Joseph F. Martino, bishop of Scranton, on Oct. 31, 2005.

In March, Mr. Bergman was ordained a deacon in the Catholic Church.
Speaking of the Anglican Use in the Roman rite, a conference on it will be held at the Catholic University of America in Washington from 31 May to 2 June. Among the slated speakers is Msgr Bruce Harbert, himself a convert and currently the executive director of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy.


Mexico: Abortion on Appeal

Amid protests over Tuesday's vote to legalize abortion in Mexico City, a group of Catholic lawyers will appeal the law to a tribunal of the Organization of the American States as the capital's cardinal-archbishop prepares to "lash out" this weekend in reaction to it:
"The College of Catholic Lawyers, a secular association of believers, is going to start an international campaign to take this case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ... to show the world the lack of democracy in Mexico City," said Father Hugo Valdemar, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Mexico City.

The lawyers plan to take their complaint on Wednesday to the Costa Rica-based rights court, an arm of the Organization of American States.

Valdemar said the abortion law goes against a clause in Mexico's constitution that says the state must defend human life "from conception until its natural end."

Mexican law bars the church from taking the case to the Supreme Court, and the measure's opponents in the Mexico City assembly are too weak to launch an appeal.

In Latin America, only Cuba, Guyana and U.S. commonwealth Puerto Rico allow abortion on demand. Some countries permit it in special cases, such as after rape.

The Mexican law, effective in the coming days, means women in the capital can abort in the first three months of pregnancy. A ban remains elsewhere in the country.

Opinion polls show people in Mexico City divided over abortion, but nationally seven in 10 are opposed to it. Around 90 percent of Mexicans say they are Catholic.

The abortion law follows the legalizing of gay civil union in the capital and one other state. Mexico City lawmakers have also pushed for a euthanasia law.

Valdemar said Cardinal Norberto Rivera, Mexico's top clergyman, will lash out after Mass on Sunday at the abortion law, which Pope Benedict had urged Mexican bishops to fight.

"Mexican culture is profoundly rooted in Christianity," Valdemar said. "The church feels a pastoral right to defend life from the time it starts and to raise its voice and oppose these kind of perverse laws."

Reuters/Daniel Aguilar


Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Latino Infusion, Studied

A new report from the Pew Trusts surveys the "transformation" of the American religious and demographic landscape augured by the nation's expanding Hispanic population. According to the authors, its most notable aspect is the "distinctive form of Christianity" -- "the prevalence of spirit-filled religious expressions and of ethnic-oriented worship" -- that, they say, "is essential to understanding the future of this population as well as the evolving nature of religion in the United States."

On the Catholic front, the news is mixed:
The study examines religious beliefs and behaviors and their association with political thinking among Latinos of all faiths. It focuses special attention on Catholics, both those who retain their identification with the church and those who convert to evangelical churches.

About a third of all Catholics in the U.S. are now Latinos, and the study projects that the Latino share will continue climbing for decades. This demographic reality, combined with the distinctive characteristics of Latino Catholicism, ensures that Latinos will bring about important changes in the nation's largest religious institution.

Most significantly given their numbers, more than half of Hispanic Catholics identify themselves as charismatics, compared with only an eighth of non-Hispanic Catholics. While remaining committed to the church and its traditional teachings, many of these Latino Catholics have witnessed or experienced occurrences typical of spirit-filled or renewalist movements, including divine healing and direct revelations from God. Even many Latino Catholics who do not identify themselves as renewalists appear deeply influenced by spirit-filled forms of Christianity.

Similarly, the renewalist movement is a powerful presence among Latino Protestants. More than half of Hispanics in this category identify with spirit-filled religion, compared with about a fifth of non-Hispanic Protestants.

The study also shows that many of those who are joining evangelical churches are Catholic converts. The desire for a more direct, personal experience of God emerges as by far the most potent motive for these conversions. Although these converts express some dissatisfaction with the lack of excitement in a typical Catholic Mass, negative views of Catholicism do not appear to be a major reason for their conversion.

The practice of religion is not only often renewalist in character, but for most Latinos across all the major religious traditions it is also distinctively ethnic. Two-thirds of Latino worshipers attend churches with Latino clergy, services in Spanish and heavily Latino congregations.
Ergo, the national rush on the bi-lingual formation at Assumption Seminary....

The study's making waves in today's NYTimes, and the one in LA, too.


Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Burke's Plea: No Crow

In a streaming-video statement released today, Archbishop Raymond Burke of St Louis takes issue with an appearance by the pop singer Sheryl Crow at a weekend benefit for a Catholic hospital there.

Saying that Crow -- herself a Missouri native -- is "well-known as an abortion activist" and that the entertainer "has lent her celebrity status to the promotion of legislation, such as Missouri’s Amendment 2, that creates legal protection for human cloning and the destruction of human beings who are embryos," Burke made public his protest over Crow's scheduled performance at Saturday's fund-raiser for SSM Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center.

While the archbishop had previously requested that Crow be disinvited in private, he said that he's speaking out after having received definitive word from the event organizers that she will be attending and playing. "As the shepherd of this Archdiocese, I am required to address an issue that could call into question in the minds of the faithful the commitment of the medical center and the Archdiocese to the cause of life," he said in his statement, continuing that "When, for economic gain, a Catholic institution associates itself with such a high profile proponent of the destruction of innocent lives, members of the Church and other people of good will have the right to be confirmed in their commitment to the Gospel of Life." Burke has asked that his name be removed from materials promoting the event, and he announced that he has resigned as chair of the medical center's board of governors. if the hubbub over Crow's recent exhortation on toilet paper wasn't enough controversy for one week.


Farewell to "the Family"

So your narrator might be enjoying a couple days here in the heart of Badger Country, but my mind and heart are never far from the East, from home. (And from the Boss, of course.)

Last week's bit on the Humanitas-as-weapon cameo in Episode 2 of the final run of The Sopranos really got me thinking... and not just of the Paulists who award the annual prizes. Luckily, the good Fathers have offered their stage to explain my clan's affinity for the legendary-in-its-own-time HBO mob drama, so for those who haven't yet seen it, "Almost Holy" has made a return cameo of its own over at BustedHalo.

(And some related "six degrees of hierarchy" trivia: the brother of Tony Sirico -- known to the world as "Paulie Walnuts" -- is none other than Fr Bob Sirico, known to many as president of the Acton Institute.)

On a final note, some have been so kind to ask what happened to the column over the last couple months. To quote BH editor-in-chief/rockstar/award-winning panel moderator, Bill McGarvey the short answer is that I've become "allergic to deadlines." Honestly, it isn't so much that I've become, but the symptoms have gotten out of control of late.

Unfortunately, they haven't come up with a shot to cure that yet... unless you count shots of espresso. And one can only have so many of those... a lesson I learned the hard way.


You Want Your PopeTV?

No, this is not a doctored photo -- the current German edition of Vanity Fair features Papa Ratzi on its cover, the photo said to have been taken in the garden of Benedict XVI's private home in Pentling during his return to Bavaria last September.

The shot is accompanied by a piece, of course, and from quite the source: Peter Seewald, who renounced atheism for Catholicism after compiling three book-length interviews with the then-Cardinal Ratzinger. You can enjoy the photos, but you'll have to know German to get the story straight from one of His Fluffiness' lay circle.

In other things from behind-the-walls, The Times (of London) notes the recent video (link) of the Pope on his downtime in the Apostolic Palace.

Sure, his secretary handled the remote before the cameras, but the famous blue tracksuits were conspicuous by their absence.

More, and consistently updated, Pope-video at

Vanity Fair


The Vote That Shook Mexico

In the home-city of the pro-life movement's patroness, Mexico City's legislature has legalized first-trimester abortions:
The vote came despite strong opposition from Mexican President Felipe Calderon's conservative National Action Party (PAN) and the powerful Mexican Catholic church, with Calderon's wife having taken part Sunday in an anti-abortion protest.

After seven hours of fierce debate, the vote was 46 in favor, 19 against and one abstention in the city legislature, which is dominated by the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution.

Backers and opponents of the bill had demonstrated outside the legislature as the 66 lawmakers debated, with police deployed as the two sides traded bitter insults which mirrored the emotional nature of the abortion debate in this socially conservative country.

"Damn fascists," one man yelled out at the anti-abortion protesters, to which a rival demonstrator answered "they should have aborted you, bloody murderer."

Placards stating "yes for life" were countered by those calling "for the right to decide."

The law made the megalopolis one of the rare parts of Latin America where abortion is legal without restrictions in the first three months of pregnancy. Cuba, Guyana and Puerto Rico, a US territory, have similar legislation.

The bill makes first trimester abortions legal in the capital, even though they remain generally illegal in the rest of the country.

Until now abortions in Mexico were only legal in cases of rape or if the pregnancy entailed serious health risks.

Tuesday's debate followed months of controversy, with Roman Catholic Pope Benedict XVI urging Mexicans to reject the bill and local Catholic officials threatening to excommunicate anyone supporting it.

The Catholic bishop of Chiapas state compared the legislators who drafted the text with Adolf Hitler, though he also condemned the fact some of them received death threats.

Supporters of the bill said a prohibition on all abortion only accentuates social inequalities, with impoverished women getting clandestine abortions in unhygienic backstreet clinics, and Mexicans who can afford to pay about 1,000 dollars undergoing the procedure in well-appointed, though still-illegal, facilities.

About 100,000 women have abortions every year in Mexico, according to official figures, though some non-governmental organizations say the figure is as high as 500,000.

According to the leftist Alternative party, clandestine abortions have killed more than 1,500 women over 10 years.

AFP/Luis Acosta


Twin Cities, Twin Archbishops

Yesterday, the Pope awarded the archdiocese of St Paul and Minneapolis with its long-expected coadjutor, tapping Bishop John Nienstedt of New Ulm as heir apparent to Archbishop Harry Flynn, who turns 74 next week. Last June, Flynn told the archdiocesan paper that he had requested a coadjutor from the Holy See; the incumbent archbishop had been coadjutor for a year and a half before taking the reins of the 750,000-member Twin Cities fold in 1995.

A Detroit native, the archbishop-elect -- who turned 60 last month -- is one of the US hierarchy's handful of prelates with a specialty in bioethics. A graduate of Rome's Alfonsiana, where he earned his doctorate in theology, Nienstedt served as secretary to Cardinal John Dearden during the latter's last three years as archbishop of Detroit, then returning to Rome for a six year stint in the Secretariat of State. He was ordained an auxiliary to Detroit's Cardinal Adam Maida in 1997 alongside Bishop Allen Vigneron, now head of the diocese of Oakland and often cited as another "rising star." Nienstedt was transferred to New Ulm in 2001; he announced yesterday that, at his own request "in light of the Diocesan 50th Anniversary celebrations we have planned for 2007-2008" he's been appointed apostolic administrator of the rural Minnesota see until his successor is named there.

Today's stories are a bit of a contrast: the Star takes a balanced look at the appointee's interests while the Pioneer-Press' hed screams "hard-line." Literally.

As the long wait for a new head of Detroit's 1.5 million faithful continues, the appointment sends the signal that, though months off his 80th birthday, the long arm of Cardinal Edmund Szoka continues to hold sway on the Congregation for Bishops. The appointment -- to date, only the third of an American archbishop by Benedict XVI -- is noteworthy as, albeit "in-waiting," a metropolitan has been culled from within the province where he's currently serving as a suffragan bishop.

While the last time that happened here came in late 2005, when then-Bishop Niederauer of Salt Lake was tapped for the archbishopric of San Francisco, yesterday's news is but the fourth instance of a US archbishop's elevation from inside his current province since 1993. As half of those owe themselves to the last two years, whether the trend toward in-province appointments will continue or are simply blips on the screen is anyone's guess. And further proving the current adage that "you know who's going somewhere -- it's figuring out where they're going that's the hard part," Ann Rodgers' July '06 list of eight names for Pittsburgh is now down to six, Nienstedt being the second from it to get another major post in as many months.

The archbishop-elect arrived as the faithful of the Twin Cities bade their final farewells to a local legend, Msgr Richard Schuler. Hero to liturgy-philes and musicheads of a traditional vintage and for many years pastor of St Paul's nationally-known St Agnes parish, Schuler was called home last week at 86; the Star-Tribune relayed the comment that, 62 years a priest, he's survived by "many spiritual sons."

This fall, the archdiocese will welcome the nation's largest class of incoming seminarians. Himself a formator of extensive experience, Nienstedt will take up his duties there in June.


Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Postcard from Beer City

Good morning from Packers' Country -- or, ecclesiastically speaking, Dolan Nation: Milwaukee.

Forgive the slow posting; still seeking a cheesehead (as seen at left) and getting a blessed midwestern breather before heading off to Madison later today.

Fret not -- here comes the morning feed.


Sunday, April 22, 2007

B16 in Pavia: Two Saints, Two Popes

The Pope spent the weekend in Northern Italy, where today he paid homage to the remains of the saint he's called his "favorite": St Augustine, whose bones are enshrined at St Peter's... in Pavia.

Before praying at the resting place of the 5th century bishop and doctor of the church -- whose concept of the people of God was the topic of Joseph Ratzinger's doctoral dissertation -- B16 celebrated an outdoor liturgy at a local college, where he spoke of the three "decisive points" in Augstine's conversion, a topic the pontiff often alludes to in his extemporaneous public engagements when speaking of the church's contemporary challenges and opportunities.

But even more intriguingly, as "motumania" grips the (traditionalist) universe -- and National Catholic Reporter correspondent/blogger John Allen -- a related "backstory" of Benedict's two-day jaunt somehow got lost in the shuffle.

Until now, that is.

Writing from Rome, my Tablet colleague Robert Mickens notes that, once upon a time, a young cleric went through the same Pavia, where he taught for sixteen years. He ended up in Rome, becoming Grand Inquisitor of the Holy Office, and was then elected to the Chair of Peter.

If you're thinking Papa Ratzi, think again...

The priest-prof's name was Antonio Ghislieri. But he's better known as St Pius V. As in "Pian Rite." As in "Tridentine Mass." As in (not for nothing) his feast day being but a week away -- or a fortnight, for those a bit behind....

Behind the celebrant, that is.

AP/Stefano Rellandini


Around the Circuit

After a vacancy of over two years, Lake Charles finally gets its bishop back tomorrow when Bishop-elect Glen John Provost is ordained and installed at the Southwest Louisiana city's Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

Provost, 57, took canonical possession of the 80,000-member diocese at a Vespers service earlier tonight. Appointed in March, it's a sort of homecoming for the young diocese's third bishop; young Fr Provost served in the see city when it was part of his native diocese of Lafayette. Current Lafayette Bishop Michael Jarrell (a famed humorist) and founding Lake Charles Bishop Jude Spreyer will lead 26 other attending bishops as co-consecrators, with Archbishop Alfred Hughes of New Orleans as the ordaining prelate. Among the other attendees will be three veteran US prelates who, with Provost, were ordained to the priesthood by Pope Paul VI on 29 June 1975: Archbishop Raymond Burke of St Louis and Bishops Michael Cote of Norwich and Patrick Zurek, auxiliary of San Antonio.

While the anticipation in the Hurricane Rita-ravaged diocese has been running high, the farewells in Lafayette have been bittersweet:
Fatima students are "very, very special," Provost said in his address, because they do well in their studies, are "studious" and "thoughtful" and dedicated to not only studying, but living their Catholic faith.

"Our Catholic faith is not just lip-service to you. It is in your heart and mind, as well. It is a faith you try to live. Sometimes you will fail. The important thing is to try and don't give up. Never give up," Provost said as he stood in the center of the packed sanctuary....

Students, teachers and school staff after the 30-minute service filed passed Provost on their way back to school. Some paused to offer a handshake. Others reached in for a hug. Many said "goodbye" and "thank you for your service."

"Goodbye," he said, would not suffice. Provost told students he prefers the French au revoir or the Italian arrive-derci, which both mean "until we see each other again."...

During the mid-morning Chrism Mass held Thursday at the Cathedral, those assembled gave Provost a standing ovation. Bishop Michael Jarrell extended "love and best wishes" on behalf of Lafayette Diocese members, staff and clergy.

Jarrell also recounted a trip he made to the Lake Charles Diocese on Wednesday with Provost to conduct the Chrism Mass there, during which, he said, the bishop-elect "watched carefully to make sure it was done correctly."

The Lake Charles Diocese, Jarrell added, will be in the capable hands of a proven leader who will "make sure our western borders are secure."
A couple hours across the Texarkana axis, final touches are being made for what's been called next week's "Big Show" in Big D: the May Day installation of Bishop Kevin Farrell as head of the diocese of Dallas (a million strong... and growing). Today, St Matthew's Cathedral in Washington saw Farrell's farewell to the nation's capital, where the Dublin-born ex-Legionary was incardinated in 1986 and has served as vicar-general and auxiliary bishop since 2001.

The warning's already gone out to the locals: if you're going to the Catedral Santuario de Guadalupe for the installation, come early and take public transport:
[T]he downtown church where the installation will occur, the Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe, has the same 1,100 seats today as it did in 1990. And the diocese has more than 900,000 Catholics now, compared with about 200,000 then.

A lot of those seats will be filled with official guests: about 200 priests and more than 150 deacons, plus seminarians, nuns, media, friends and family.

For everyone else, seating for the 2 p.m. ceremony will be first come, first served, said diocese spokesman Bronson Havard.

Parking will be at a premium. The two-hour ceremony will be followed by a reception. And that means the end will coincide with the start of rush-hour traffic.

"Don't make this too scary," Mr. Havard said. "We want people to come."

The diocese is working to accommodate attendees. Plans include a 200-seat tent in the cathedral plaza, where giant TV screens will show what's going on inside. And the procession will start outside, weather permitting.

"So there will be some color for people to see even if they don't get inside," Mr. Havard said.

At least one local radio station, KATH-AM (910), has said it will broadcast the event live. Local TV stations have not announced plans. But several, including WFAA-TV (Channel 8), offered streaming video on their Web sites of Bishop Farrell's initial news conference after his selection was announced.

The time of the event – midafternoon on a workday – probably will cut the crowd down a bit, Mr. Havard said. There's also a vespers ceremony with Bishop Farrell set for the night before, an alternative to attending the installation.

As retiring Bishop Charles Grahmann succeeded to the throne as coadjutor in 1990, next week's liturgy will mark the first welcome of a diocesan bishop of Dallas since 1969.

Diocese of Lafayette


Saturday, April 21, 2007

More From the China Desk

As many of you know, B16's top foreign policy focus has been China, particularly out of concern for the state of the church there. A Vatican summit on the sensitive brief was held in January and, tipped for an Easter release, the promised papal letter to the mainland's Catholic community still has yet to materialize.

Further complicating matters is the death, announced yesterday, of Michael Fu Tieshan, the archbishop of Beijing in the state-approved Patriotic Association, and the latter's national president. Fu was 75 and, according to AsiaNews, will receive a funeral "fit for a head of state" -- but without a representative of the Holy See in attendance.

The archbishop's passing creates a major strategic opening at the helm of the country's publicly-sanctioned Catholic community, which counts 5 million members; an illegal "underground" church, which has maintained its fidelity to Rome, is said to number twice that. In the past, Cardinal Joseph Zen SDB of Hong Kong -- Benedict's trusted counsel on things Chinese -- has noted that despite being chosen and ordained by the state church, the lion's share of "official" bishops have quietly been recognised by the Holy See.

To date, the Vatican has issued no public response to Fu's death.

Reuters/Andrew Wong