Saturday, February 28, 2009

Right By Disneyland, Hooray for "Hollywood"

After a week in which some folks out West took the news that a certain Eastward see remains the nation's most prominent a bit too personally, the stage belongs exclusively to American Catholicism's largest local church this weekend as the archdiocese of Los Angeles hosts another edition of its celebrated showcase: the annual Religious Education Congress in Anaheim, one of the largest and most significant yearly gatherings of the Stateside fold... and, quite possibly, the most star-packed.

It is LA, after all.

Held in a convention center a stone's throw from Disneyland, the first days of every Lent see upwards of 40,000 catechists, clerics and all other sort of churchfolk converge for four days of liturgies and seminars on topics ranging from the social magisterium of B16 and HIV/AIDS to women in the church, the "cosmic Christ" and a "spirituality of sports." The atmosphere, in a nutshell, is more liturgical dancing than lingua antica -- reflecting the "big tent" dynamism that's made the Western church the nation's polestar of ecclesial vitality, the breakout sessions are offered in a mix of English, Spanish, Vietnamese and Korean.

While the vice-president (read: chief-in-waiting) of the US bishops, Tucson's Gerald Kicanas, is this year's marquee facilitator, helming sessions on adult faith formation and collaboration in ministry, presiding over it all as always is the nation's top churchman by seniority: LA's Cardinal Roger Mahony, who took up his traditional chats with local schoolkids and the general public yesterday morning, holding forth on matters from his two cats to Revelation to unemployment benefits to the continued use of the Tridentine Mass -- a concession "meant for those who could not make the transition from Latin to English [or other languages] after the [Second Vatican] Council," he said of the latter.

Adding his mind that "there is no participation by the people" in the forma extraordinaria of the Roman rite, Mahony said he "do[es]n't believe that instills the spirit of Christ among us."

Keynoted by the progressive Evangelical Jim Wallis, the Congress ends tomorrow afternoon with the traditional Sunday mega-Eucharist in the Anaheim center's arena. Invariably picketed by churchfolk of a more conservative stripe, this year's gathering has been christened an "Obama victory party" by the ever-present critics of the 73 year-old cardinal, who Pope John Paul II famously nicknamed "Hollywood."

The LA Congress might often be touted as the Stateside church's largest annual meetup, but its turnout has been eclipsed by two lower-profile celebrations that've grown bigger with each passing year: August's Marian Days in Missouri, which now draws 70,000-plus Vietnamese-American Catholics, and the blockbuster celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe at suburban Chicago's Maryville shrine, where last 12 December's throng approached some 150,000.

Figures and fireworks aside, just further proof that it's a big church... whose biggest and best stuff mostly lies not at its charged edges, but quietly in the middle.

PHOTO: Archdiocese of Los Angeles


With HHS Pick, "Armageddon" Has Arrived

Late this Saturday afternoon, word hit the wire that Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius -- a pro-choice Catholic exhorted to refrain from the Eucharist in her home diocese -- accepted President Obama's offer to serve as secretary of Health and Human Services:

Ms. Sebelius... will be introduced by Mr. Obama at the White House on Monday, said administration officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid upstaging the formal announcement. The selection comes just days before Mr. Obama hosts a health care summit meeting at the White House.

Ms. Sebelius became one of Mr. Obama’s most valued allies when she endorsed him early in the presidential nomination battle. She has been discussed for a variety of positions, including vice president and other cabinet jobs. A two-term state insurance commissioner and second-term Democratic governor in a reliably Republican state, Ms. Sebelius has a reputation for bipartisanship.

“She is one of the nation’s best and most respected governors,” a senior administration official said in explaining Mr. Obama’s decision. “As a former state insurance commissioner, she has a real depth on health care. And she has a history of working across party lines.”

In selecting Ms. Sebelius, Mr. Obama has decided to risk running headlong into the nation’s volatile abortion wars. Since Ms. Sebelius’s name emerged as a leading candidate for the health job, anti-abortion groups have assailed her record and vowed to fight her confirmation.
And within the walls, that sound you hear is a firestorm -- or, as a prior post termed it, "Armageddon."

While the second-term chief executive has been panned by the church's anti-abortion base, taking its lead from the nominee-in-waiting's ordinary, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City (who publicly advised Obama against picking Sebelius as his running mate during the summer "Veepstakes") the Democratic-leaning lobbies in the pews are already pushing hard to drum up support for the pick, running talking points touting the governor's "pro-life" credentials onto the street within minutes of the leak's emergence.

Having vetoed a bill that would've restricted late-term abortions in Jayhawk Country last April -- which move earned her Naumann's "pastoral action" -- on Sebelius' plate in Washington (pending the requisite Senate confirmation) will be two conflicting items of high note vis a vis abortion policy: the administration's agenda for a "pragmatic" approach to abortion reduction, and the freshly-announced rollback of the Bush administration's conscience protection norms for healthcare providers, whose retention was a central plea of the January letter to the then President-elect from the USCCB president Cardinal Francis George.


Friday, February 27, 2009

Delayed. Again.

Its repeatedly-shelved release last promised for sometime in the first six months of this year -- even next month -- the Pope took up the prior line of his advisers yesterday, telling the priests of Rome at their annual meeting with their bishop that his long-expected social encyclical had been pushed back yet again, owing to the economic crisis:
If the encyclical "does not deal competently with the economic reality, it cannot be credible," Pope Benedict said Feb. 26 in response to a question from a priest of the Diocese of Rome.

During the pope's annual question-and-answer session with more than 400 priests ministering in Rome, a pastor from a poor neighborhood asked how church members could do more to push for a real reform of the global economic system.

Pope Benedict said he did not want to give a simplistic answer to a complicated question about the reality of global finance and said that, in fact, the complexity of the current situation is what has delayed the publication of his social encyclical, tentatively titled "Caritas in Veritate" ("Love in Truth").

"As you know, for a long time we have been preparing an encyclical on these points, and on its long journey one can see how difficult it is to speak competently about it," the pope said.

On the level of global economic systems, he pope said almost every person in every country is feeling the consequences of "these fundamental errors that have been revealed in the failure of the large American banks; the error at the basis of it is human greed."

"We must denounce this (system) with courage, but also with concreteness because moralizing will not help if it is not supported by an understanding of reality, which also will help us understand what can be done concretely to change the situation," he said.

Pope Benedict said the crisis demonstrates that "original sin really exists. If it did not exist, we could appeal to reason, lucidly, with arguments that are accessible to all and incontestable and to the good will of everyone."

But the force of reason and good will are not strong enough to overcome the sins of greed and selfishness and the temptation to put one's own interests first, he said.

While the global financial system must be reformed, the pope said, individuals also must accept the fact that they will have to make some sacrifices in order to help the poor and move the world toward justice.

"Justice cannot be created only with economic reforms, which are necessary, but it also requires the presence of just people," he said.

"As long as original sin exists, we will never have a radical and total correction" of unjust systems, "but we must do all that we can to achieve at least a provisional, sufficient correction that would permit humanity to live and would be an obstacle to selfishness," Pope Benedict said.

The economy was just one of the topics discussed when the pope met the priests, spending more than 90 minutes listening and responding to questions posed by eight of them.

Pope Benedict told the priests that it was important for him to know the life, experiences, challenges and joys facing the priests in his diocese.

"I want to learn, to draw closer to the daily reality from which someone in the Apostolic Palace risks being a bit too distant," the pope said, in a reference to his residence.
PHOTO: Reuters


Lord Cormac

Soon to retire as archbishop of Westminster, reports from Britain say that Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor will be offered a seat in the House of Lords after he departs the top ecclesiastical post in England and Wales:

The prospect of offering Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor a life peerage is understood to have been discussed during [Prime Minister] Gordon Brown’s meeting with the Pope at the Holy See last week.

Mr Brown said: “He has shown not just a great modesty, but a great sensitivity to representing the feelings and sentiments of people throughout the Church.

“He is widely respected across the world for his interest in international development. He has shown great leadership on those issues, such as world poverty, where people look to the Church for leadership.

“I think he has shown great integrity right throughout the period in which he has been Cardinal and that has earned the respect of people far beyond the Catholic Church and right across the country.”

The Church of England, as the Established Church, has 26 lords spiritual. The ennoblement of Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor would, however, require a special dispensation from the Pope because the Catholic Church bans its clergy from any office that might involve the exercise of political power.

Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, 76, will be the first Archbishop of Westminster since the Reformation to retire; previous archbishops have died in office. He will remain an active member of the College of Cardinals and retain an interest in the affairs of the Holy See.

The move would strengthen the Catholic Church’s increasingly significant role in political debate on issues such as euthanasia, gay adoption, church schools and abortion.

The Cardinal is due to retire in the next few weeks after his successor is announced. The Congregation for Bishops in Rome is examining the candidates and a decision is expected in mid-March.

Last night in Westminster Cathedral, Murphy-O'Connor gave a major lecture "reflecting on his ministry as archbishop of Westminster"; the 76 year-old cardinal was named to succeed the legendary Basil Hume in early 2000.

Here's the fulltext... and the video:

Before his death in June 1999, Queen Elizabeth II inducted Hume into the Order of Merit, one of the four UK honors in the sovereign's personal gift.

SVILUPPO: At America's group-blog, Austen Ivereigh -- a former press secretary to the cardinal -- reports that Murphy-O'Connor's farewell Mass has already been scheduled for 25 March, and the installation of the new archbishop for 23 April.

A formal announcement of the Westminster successor is expected by mid-March.


Bench Notes

Before anyone else sends an e.mail posing the question -- and God knows how many already have -- let's just clarify one thing: your narrator has no idea who the next archbishop of Milwaukee is. And neither does Tim Dolan. And neither does the Pope.

See, gang, this is why we've got a process to figure these things out. It may sound trite, but it's really true that the only person who knows at this stage is the Holy Spirit... and discerning His will takes some time (...and discovering said will often costs the house a quarter a minute).

As with all things, however, do stay tuned. The way things usually shake out, the first phase of a Milwaukee seat-filling -- namely, the in-house report on the state of the archdiocese -- will take at least some weeks to complete.

That said, the Beer City opening raises the number of orphaned Stateside sees to seven, while the succession of the longest-standing US prelate over the retirement age has temporarily lowered the gang of dioceses with bishops serving past 75 to twelve. The latter figure reverts to thirteen on Monday, as the former USCCB president Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane marks the milestone.

Of the docket's top two layers, longest vacant remains Biloxi, without an ordinary since last 2 April and, with New York settled, now leading the over-75 queue is Archbishop Elden Curtiss of Omaha, who sent his letter over in June 2007.

Speaking of Omaha, a decision for the Nebraska archdiocese is said to be on-deck in short order, and several weeks of buzz have indicated that the much-awaited appointment to St Louis won't be far behind.

Even more intriguing, however, is an unrelated possibility repeatedly floated by ops in the Midwest: the suppression of a diocese and division of its parts -- an occurrence that, on these shores, hasn't happened in five decades.

* * *
Were the following factoid to run on its own, headlining it "The Pope Is Not a Conference Man" wouldn't, it seems, be the most off base thing.

By naming Tim Dolan to New York, B16 made it three for three -- that is, with Monday's appointment now in the books, the last three prelates to come up short in the head-to-head for the USCCB vice-presidency have each been named to cardinalatial sees within roughly 18 months of the vote.

At the 2007 November Meeting, Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson bested Dolan 128-106 in the balloting for the post; in 2004, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago edged then-Bishop Donald Wuerl of Pittsburgh (now archbishop of Washington) by six votes, 118-112, and then-Archbishop Justin Rigali of St Louis lost the runoff in both 1998 and 2001 before being transferred to Philadelphia and elevated to the papal "senate" with record speed in mid-2003.

Named to the capital in May 2006, Wuerl will likely see his day in red after July 2010, when his predecessor, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, becomes ineligble to vote in a conclave on his 80th birthday. As for the Gotham appointee, with Cardinal Edward Egan turning 77 on 2 April, the tenth archbishop's wait for a red hat could be longer than the Big Apple is used to, unless the pontiff decides to break his own rule against having two electors from one diocese, a situation without precedent in the US ranks.

Bottom line: whoever becomes the Bench's #2 might always go on to take the top spot for three years, but a red hat lasts forever. So as "consolation prizes" run, one could do far worse... which brings another potential header to mind:

"When the Bishops Close a Window, The Pope Opens the Doors... to St Patrick's Cathedral."

Manhattan might be filled, but with the next vice-president scheduled to be chosen in November 2010, the electorate might just want to keep the lesson in mind.

PHOTO: AP/Steve Ruark


Thursday, February 26, 2009

Rend Your Hearts... and Your Garments

Best known for his affinity for the finer things, the papal MC must've been feeling especially penitent yesterday -- in a first, Guido Marini wore linen for the traditional procession and Mass on the Aventine Hill that mark the opening day of Roman Lent.

In keeping with the longtime custom of the pontiffs, the bishop of Rome annually presides over Ash Wednesday at the day's "Station Church" of Santa Sabina after a ritual journey up the Avventino his predecessors once walked barefoot in token of their repentance.

While today's Popes no longer continue the path of the station churches over Lent's 40 Days, no shortage of Romans keep the practice, including the city's Anglophone community; a daily 7am Mass is offered at each Lenten station for the seminarians of the Pontifical North American College and any other English-speakers in town looking to take part in the tradition.

More importantly, however, is B16's Lenten message, which was rolled out some weeks back. Its 2009 theme "He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry," here's the text in full:

Hope everyone's Ash Wednesday gave Lent a beautiful kickoff... and to all our folks in ministry, here's hoping your thumbs have begun to heal.

And now, back to work.

PHOTO: Getty Images


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

"Quia Pulvis Es...."


On this Ash Wednesday and over the 40 Days ahead, every blessing, grace and good gift of Lent's journey to one and all.

PHOTO: AP/Kathy Willens


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Back in Beer City, "I Wasn't Asked"

Noting early on that it was the "last day of the Lenten fast" -- and that he'd already begun downing his Fat Tuesday paczkis -- the Stateside church's Strongman-elect appeared on Milwaukee radio (fullaudio) before sunrise to recount his rollout in the Big Apple, his "awe" at what lies ahead... and his curiosity over being "called collect" from the White House.

Smuggled out of Brewerland early Saturday by private jet, Tim Dolan reportedly landed at North Jersey's Teeterboro strip -- a scenario foreseen over recent days to keep the Gotham crowd off the scent. Now administrator of the 850,000-member Milwaukee church until his final departure for 452 Madison, he returned to his home since 2002 late last night.

Meanwhile, the New York press has welcomed the Pope's choice for the US church's hottest seat with glee... led by the Post, whose full cover screamed "GODSEND!" and dubbed Dolan a "Rev-elation" on its inner pages.

The Times' Page One ran with a photo of the archbishops-elect and emeritus above the fold, the News ran a column down its front, featuring a shot of the city's "Man of Mass Appeal."

What's more, both tabloids ran lead editorials both to welcome Dolan and praise Cardinal Edward Egan's legacy of wise, oft-unsung stewardship, which served to both restore the Big Apple church to solvency after the deficits of the O'Connor years and strengthen its footing mightily for the future his successor inherits.


Monday, February 23, 2009

It's a Wrap

Well, folks, what a day. And to think, it's just Day One.

Over these last few weeks, no shortage of new arrivals have shown up alongside the longtime crowd, but to everyone who's kept the watch here, a ton of thanks and hopefully it's all been as enjoyable to read as it's been to compile and witness.

And now, with the historic transition officially underway, the work finally begins. As it proceeds -- and, of course, with an eye to 15 April -- stay tuned for continuing coverage of all things Gotham as only these pages can swing it.

In the meantime, wow. Just... wow. You'll hear more about it once your narrator's rested and got his brain (and voice) back together, but as experiences and events go, this day was something to behold.

With thanks again to one and all -- especially the many folks who've made these last weeks of feed possible in seemingly every way under the sun -- God love ya... and goodnight... from Timmytown.

PHOTO: AP/Mary Altaffer


Return of the Rector

At the close of a historic Appointment Day tour that began with two archbishops of New York praying in the cathedral crypt where their predecessors are buried, New York's new arrival was whisked to Yonkers and the hotspot of his new charge where he'll probably find himself most at home: St Joseph's Seminary, Dunwoodie.

Just before Tim Dolan sat in for Vespers, however, he stopped to take a congratulatory call from that other recently-elect Midwesterner: the President of the United States.

From the Westchester Journal-News' Gary Stern's crib notes on the 452-elect's first suburban jaunt:
When Dolan entered the [seminary's] main lobby and received a long ovation from seminarians, faculty and guests, he looked like he had just walked into a surprise party—grinning ear to ear. I mean, this was after a full day of meetings and congratulatory phone calls.

Speaking of which, Dolan said that he got a phone call from President Obama just before leaving NYC for Yonkers. “I said ‘Thank you, Mr. President. I need those prayers.’ He said, ‘I need your prayers, too.’ ” He also got calls from [NYC Mayor] Mike Bloomberg, Gov. Paterson and others....

During vespers, [Cardinal Edward] Egan expanded on his role in Dolan’s rise. Egan explained that when he was chairman of the North American College, he sought out the best possible rector. He heard about Dolan and went to St. Louis to recruit him.

In the lobby, Egan and Dolan talked about the pressing need for more seminarians. Egan suggested that each current seminarian recruit four more. Dolan responded: “If you get more than four, I’ll ordain you early.” More applause….

The choir loft at the seminary was filled with more than two dozen reporters and cameramen. Several reporters were doing live reports for their 5 p.m. broadcasts while the service was going on. Not too much interruption, though.

Addressing the seminarians, Dolan said that after a long, packed day of excitement, the one thing that stood out from the rest was…Mass. “That is the most important thing that I ever do,” he said.

Tomorrow, Dolan may take part in a Milwaukee tradition for “Fat Tuesday:” eating jelly rolls made of fat and grease. He hopes his doctor won’t object.
PHOTOS: AP/Mary Altaffer(1); Westchester Journal-News(2)


Gotham Past, Gotham Future

So, what's changing in the Big Apple?

For all the words that could be said -- and already have -- one shot sums it up:

On a related note, while distributing Communion at this morning's St Patrick's Mass, Tim Dolan appeared to be mouthing out a "thank you" or two to folks who seemed to be whispering congrats alongside their amens.

Earlier in the liturgy, Cardinal Edward Egan took a parting tweak at the gathered press, saying that he already informed his successor that "the New York media always treats the archbishop so wonderfully."

And from the pews, one overheard murmur summed up the line's reception: "He's so angry."

Confirming reports first aired in May, Egan -- the first holder of the post to leave it alive -- said at the midday presser that he'll move to a former rectory, later identified as the long-buzzed choice on East 33rd Street, a quick hop from the cathedral, chancery and the city's airports.

Having greeted B16's choice with notable enthusiasm, the gifted canonist and pianist poked some fun at himself, too, adding that he'd be ready and willing to lend a hand if his successor "feels I know how to say Mass and have funerals and do confirmations."

Dolan slapped Egan on the back and, with a grin, readily said "You're hired." And the crowd ate the two-man show up.

A traditional courtesy given by the Holy See to retiring cardinal-archbishops, Egan now serves by papal appointment as apostolic administrator, enjoying the full powers of a diocesan bishop until Dolan's 15 April installation.

PHOTO: Yana Paskova/
The New York Times


"My Brother Priests, I Love You"

Just back from a very happy, quasi-rollicking press conference (fullvideo) and raucous introduction of "our new Boss" to the 1011 staff.

Buzzwords from Gotham's archbishop-elect: "love" for the priests, "engagement" not "confrontation" in the public square, job #1 is being a "pastor." And the departing archbishop has, he says, one major regret: that the number of priestly vocations weren't what he hoped, noting along the way that they're just now on an uptick.

Here below, the appointee's statement in full:
Thank you, Cardinal Egan, for your gracious words of welcome. To know you are and will be at my side is a genuine blessing indeed.
Thank you, members of the media, and so many listening and watching with us this morning, for your interest and your welcome. You’ve made me feel at home already.

Thank you, most of all, to Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who is alive in His Church, without whom nothing is possible, with whom nothing is impossible.
Thank you, Pope Benedict XVI, for your trust in naming me archbishop of this historic and vibrant Archdiocese of New York.

My brother bishops, priests, religious women and men, seminarians, committed Catholics of this wonderful Church, I pledge to you my love, my life, my heart, and I can tell you already that I love you, I need so much your prayers and support, I am so honored, humbled, and happy to serve as your pastor.

To our cherished collaborators in metropolitan New York, our Christian, Jewish, Islamic and interfaith colleagues, my pledge to you of continued friendship; to our civic leaders, and so many neighbors, men and women of such good will, my assurances of a continued alliance in all that is noble in our devotion to this expansive community.

[In Spanish] My special greeting to our Latino brothers & sister, such a blessing to our Church and our community. I look forward to knowing and loving you.

Thank you, Mom, family and friends at home in St. Louis, and in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. It will be tough to leave you.

I come before you in awe, with some trepidation, knowing I have a lot to learn, -- about you and about this dynamic local church.. Yet I come so confident in God’s grace and mercy, and so hopeful in the dream that is ours for a “future full of hope” as promised by God.

I relish the blessing of spending the rest of my life as your pastor, neighbor, and friend.
And by the by, fullaudio of this morning's first crack at the Man of the Hour has been posted for on-demand listening on the homepage of Sirius XM Radio's The Catholic Channel.

PHOTOS: AP/Mary Altaffer


"New York: Rejoice!"

A pull-quote from Milwaukee is especially fitting for this Monday morning:
“I was at the vespers when he was installed as [arch]bishop. And there’s a part where the bishop knocks on the door. Most do it timidly. Tap, tap. Not him — ‘Bang! Bang!’ It echoed through the cathedral and let everyone know that Timothy Dolan was there.”
And now, he's here. In the Capital of the World. And thank God.

This morning, many of us in no shortage of places are celebrating -- a new day for American Catholicism's flagship see and its one post that has risen to the rank of myth, sure.

But more than that, we're celebrating the ascent of a friend.

Just as there's much jubilation at Archbishop Tim Dolan's appointment to New York, there's a flood of stories of the man... many among this crowd have several, and your narrator will share his as time and chaos allow.

In the meantime, though, two pieces stand out, the first from the prophet who first foresaw a Dolan path to the Big Apple in print: Patricia Rice, who reported in June 2002 for the St Louis Post-Dispatch that the possibility was already being mentioned in Rome prior to Dolan's appointment as archbishop of Milwaukee.

Having covered Dolan for decades in his hometown, Rice's piece today for the web-only Beacon is a must-read.

And from Michael Sean Winters of America magazine -- like the nominee, a student of the great scholar of American Catholic history John Tracy Ellis -- comes a glowing first reax:
The Church in New York, and indeed all of America, rejoices this morning at the announcement that Pope Benedict XVI has named Archbishop Timothy Michael Dolan to be the next Archbishop of New York.

I have never seen Archbishop Dolan that he didn’t have his arm around someone. We first met in Rome when, coincidentally enough, I was working on an article about Cardinal John O’Connor. Dolan was hosting a reception in his apartment at the North American College for Thanksgiving Day. Every American Catholic in the Eternal City seemed to be crammed into the rector’s living room. Cocktails flowed, cigars were lit, and the sense of loneliness one has when celebrating a national holiday abroad was dispersed thoroughly by Dolan’s hospitality....

It will be interesting to see how Dolan’s intellectual formation in history, so different from most hierarchs who have degrees in theology or canon law, will shape his tenure. But, the more enduring contribution of Ellis to Dolan (and to me) was his love of his own priesthood. He had never been a pastor in the canonical sense of the word. But, the day my best friend died from AIDS in 1989, when some religious leaders still considered AIDS a punishment from God, Msgr. Ellis helped me grieve, and find a faithful context for my grief, the way a good priest should. His devotion to the Eucharist was as obvious as his bias in favor of Cardinal Gibbons, whose biographer he was. Ellis was a priest's priest....

It has been easy to applaud most of Pope Benedict’s appointments. But, in choosing Dolan to assume the cathedra at St. Patrick’s, Benedict has made a truly great choice. Dolan will be great with the necessary, if unseemly, task of fundraising. He will be great with the media. He will help build up the morale of his clergy. Ellis once said that Cardinal O’Connor was "a lion" in the mold of the greatest of American bishops such as Gibbons, John Ireland, and John Hughes. Dolan could be another in that tradition, a bishop who is unafraid to love his flock, to defend his Church, and to preach to a culture that is desperately hungry for the Gospel. Two weeks ago, in the Gospel reading, Simon Peter said to Jesus, "Everyone is looking for you!" This is as true today as it was two thousand years ago, although many people not even know who they are looking for, or even that they are looking at all. It is Archbishop Dolan’s task to help them look for Christ and find him. I can’t think of a finer appointment. Rejoice indeed!
For those keen for streams of the 11am (1600GMT) press conference, best bet is to check the pages of Gotham's three main TV stations: WCBS, WNBC and WABC.

PHOTO: Reuters


Interview #1

Fresh off his first Mass in St Patrick's Cathedral (at which, so it seemed, more media were present than pewfolk), Archbishop Tim Dolan is slated to give his first interview following his appointment as archbishop of New York at 9.15 Eastern to Sirius Satellite Radio's The Catholic Channel.

A joint venture of the pay-radio provider and the Gotham church, non-subscribers can listen in by signing up for the three-day free preview; the channel is expected to offer wall-to-wall coverage of today's events, including the 11am press conference at New York's Catholic Center.

This evening, Dolan will preside at Vespers at St Joseph's Seminary, Dunwoodie.

SVILUPPO: In the session, Dolan said he was formally informed of his appointment "nine, ten days ago."

As opposed to his appointments as an auxiliary of St Louis and archbishop of Milwaukee when he was told that the Pope "would like [him] to" take the post, he added that Archbishop Pietro Sambi "was quite factual" in that the nuncio to Washington told him that "the Pope had appointed me" to New York -- in other words, that he had little choice but to accept.

Additionally, Dolan sent the following letter to his collaborators in Milwaukee:
Dear Friends united in love and service of Jesus Christ and His Church:
Yes, I realize these weekly communications with you usually come on Tuesday, but, I want to share with you word of an announcement to be made today.

At noon in Rome (5 a.m. our time), the Vatican will announce that Pope Benedict XVI has named me Archbishop of New York.

Today, I am in New York for the official announcement, media conference, and a day full of meetings and visits.

The installation, please God, will be on April 15, 2009, Wednesday of Easter Week.

So, there you have it. There has been, as you know, a lot of speculation about this for over a year. I have constantly responded to teasing and questions about these rumors with, “I don’t know anything about it. I want to stay right here in Milwaukee.”

I was not fibbing. It was only recently that I was told of this appointment. It’s hardly a position one applies for! I was surprised, and still am. I was not asked if I would accept the position. The Papal Nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, gently informed me, “The Holy Father has appointed you Archbishop of New York.”

Do I want to go? Do I consider myself qualified? Are there much better candidates for the position?

All of that is really beside the point. The obedience I freely and enthusiastically promised to Jesus Christ, His Church, and His vicar on earth, our Holy Father, is a very liberating act. So, I place my future in the hands of the Lord, whose grace and mercy endure forever, and I go.

As Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta encouraged, “Let God use you without consulting you.”

I am honored by this appointment, as I was by my appointment as Archbishop of Milwaukee, deeply grateful for the confidence of Pope Benedict XVI, and filled with hope as I anticipate serving the historic, vibrant Archdiocese of New York.

Yet, I must admit sadness in the prospect of leaving you. In my brief six and a half years as your pastor, I have come to know, love and appreciate you very much. I am at home here. It will be very tough to leave.

As you’ve heard me say so often, in the end, it’s not about me or us at all: It’s all about Jesus and His Church.

The bustling life and promising initiatives of this great Archdiocese of Milwaukee go on as strong as ever: Our parishes, schools, religious formation, outreach in charity and justice, our prayer, worship, rich sacramental life and quest for holiness, our evangelization, support of marriage and family, promotion of the culture of life, encouragement of vocations, and our fostering of stewardship in our Faith in Our Future Capital Campaign and 2009 Catholic Stewardship Appeal – this all goes on full speed ahead, because none of this depends on me, just on Jesus Christ, and your faith in His promise to remain with us forever.

In forty-eight hours we begin Lent. I’ll be with you here as your archbishop throughout these forty days. I’ll need Lent’s invitation to more intense prayer, penance, and acts of charity more than ever as I open myself to the grace and mercy of Christ on the cross. I ask you, please, to pray with and for me.
PHOTO: AP/Seth Wenig


Milwaukee Takes Manhattan: Dolan Gets New York

What's long been touted as the American hierarchy's "marriage made in heaven" has come to pass.

After weeks of speculation, it's finally official: this morning, Pope Benedict named Archbishop Timothy Dolan of Milwaukee to the archbishopric of New York -- Stateside Catholicism's most prominent post, the chief pastorate of what the Vatican considers to be the "Capital of the World."

Soon to become the tenth occupant of 452 Madison, the appointee -- seen as the "natural choice" for the slot from as far back as 2001 -- succeeds Cardinal Edward Egan, whose resignation was accepted for reasons of age. Head of the 2 million-member Gotham church since 2000, Egan reached the retirement age of 75 in April 2007. Dolan, who turned 59 earlier this month, was promoted to Milwaukee in June 2002, less than a year after his ordination as a bishop.

As reported last evening, the appointee's first public appearance is expected to come at an 8am Mass alongside Egan in St Patrick's Cathedral, with the customary press conference to follow at midmorning.

Best known for his contagious, energetic enthusiasm, love for priesthood -- and, of course, media-savvy -- Dolan will be installed as head of the nation's second-largest local church on Easter Wednesday, 15 April, in the nation's best-known house of worship.

Founded in 1808 and elevated to an archdiocese in 1850, the transition of governance from one living ordinary of New York to his successor is without precedent. The last time a Gotham archbishop was named without any prior experience in the local church's ranks came in 1939, when the newly-elected Pope Pius XII tapped his close friend, then-Boston auxiliary Francis Spellman, for the post.

As always, more to come.

SVILUPPO: From the Gotham release, the Quote of the Day... well, the first one:
In a statement, Archbishop Dolan addressed New Yorkers, saying, "My brother bishops, priests, religious women and men, seminarians, committed Catholics of this wonderful Church, I pledge to you my love, my life, my heart, and I can tell you already that I love you, I need so much your prayers and support, I am so honored, humbled, and happy to serve as your pastor."
PHOTO: Archdiocese of Milwaukee


Sunday, February 22, 2009

Gotham Eve

(6.17pm) Well, gang, greetings from the Big Apple... and, for now, 'nuff said.

More soon, so stay tuned -- and a ton of thanks to everyone who's helped with the travel budget.

SVILUPPO: If you don't know why your narrator's in the "Capital of the World" (and, ergo, have been under a rock for the last three weeks), here's the brief: at Roman Noon tomorrow -- 6am in the East -- it is expected that the Pope will appoint Timothy Michael Dolan, 59, the archbishop of Milwaukee, as the tenth archbishop of New York.

Dolan reportedly left Milwaukee for Gotham earlier today, and informed word says that his first public appearance as archbishop-elect will come at an 8am Mass in St Patrick's Cathedral alongside the retiring ordinary of the 2 million-member Big Apple church, Cardinal Edward Egan.

An 11am press conference is said to be on tap.

At 11.01pm Eastern, the Associated Press ran with the following:
The Associated Press has learned that Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy Dolan will be appointed as the next Roman Catholic archbishop of New York.

A church official with knowledge of when Vatican appointments are announced told the AP that the Holy See plans to announce Dolan's appointment Monday.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to discuss the appointment.

The spokesman for the New York archdiocese would not comment.
A call to the New York archdiocesan spokesman from this outlet earlier in the evening went unreturned.


With Sainthood Set, Joy in Hawaii

His bronze likeness has long kept watch outside the state capitol in Honolulu, but yesterday's news that Blessed Damien deVeuster will be canonized on 11 October sparked a new surge of Hawaiian pride over the Belgian priest who'll become the islands' first saint:
This morning, a special Mass of Thanksgiving was to be held in Kalaupapa, where Damien died in 1889. Last night it was standing room only at Our Lady of Peace Cathedral in downtown Honolulu as the Rev. Marc Alexander, diocesan vicar general, celebrated a Thanksgiving Mass.

"I think he was pretty much acclaimed as a saint from the beginning," said Hawaii Catholic Bishop Larry Silva, who was in Rome yesterday for the gathering at which the Pope set the canonization date for 10 people. Silva said the story of Damien's heroic service was told while he was still alive and for generations since then, "So in that sense, it is long overdue."

The Belgian missionary priest came to Hawaii in 1864. In 1873, he volunteered to go to the remote Molokai peninsula where the government banished victims of leprosy — which had reached epidemic proportions, mostly among native Hawaiians. He worked there — providing health care and building housing as well as being a spiritual mentor — for 16 years until his death of the disease.

"I think what this really means is that the story of Kalaupapa will be told forever," Silva said in a teleconference call to a news conference at the Honolulu diocese headquarters. He said Damien and Mother Marianne Cope, who led Franciscan nuns to Hawaii to care for leprosy patients, "will be the storytellers into perpetuity, of the suffering and yet the human warmth, and the faith that changed the suffering into a place of love and joy."

Church leaders spoke at the press conference but the one who drew the most rapt attention was 80-year-old Audrey Toguchi, a retired public schoolteacher, whose spontaneous healing from cancer in both lungs is considered a miracle attributable to Damien. She told about praying to ask Damien to intercede with God on her behalf.

Asked if she is proud of her part in the sainthood process, Toguchi said, "I don't feel proud, I feel very humble. Here's a great man who reached out and loved all of these people even though they were outcasts, and made them feel that they were special."...

Toguchi said she remembers when Damien's remains, which had been buried next to the church he built in Kalaupapa, were returned to Belgium. "In 1936, my class went down to Fort Street and saw his casket carried from the cathedral to the ship." She was a student at St. Augustine Church.

Toguchi plans to be in Rome for the canonization.

So does Clarence "Boogie" Kahilihiwa, 67, a Kalaupapa resident since 1959. "We always knew he was a saint," said Kahilihiwa, one of 25 former Hansen's disease patients who still live there. They are among the last people to be sent into forced isolation during the 100 years of quarantine, which was finally lifted by the state in 1969.

There have been religious services and other celebrations memorializing Damien at the remote Molokai peninsula for generations. It is common to hear residents speak of Damien in the present tense....

"You don't have to be Catholic to be connected to Damien," he said. "We all are human, we can all love one another."...

The announcement yesterday generated exuberant response in Belgium, where the effort to get church recognition for Damien was begun in 1937. In a popularity poll last year, Belgians named Damien as the best-known Belgian, topping the votes for a popular athlete.

A front-page story today in Het Nieuwsblad, one of the country's largest daily papers, reports that the mayor of Tremeloo has invited Hawaii-born President Barack Obama to come along to the Oct. 4 festivities honoring the saint Belgium and Hawaii share.
The Kalupapa colony will close on the death of its last occupant, but will remain a national park. Within its bounds stands St Philomena's, the church built by the saint-to-be shortly after his arrival.

PHOTO: Dennis Oda/Honolulu Star-Bulletin


Saturday, February 21, 2009

Stand By for Text

While The World Waits (Just A Bit Longer) for the Big One, a tad of news has popped up from another highly-awaited vacancy....

In preparation for the appointment of the ninth archbishop of St Louis, in recent days the Gateway City Roundhouse unveiled a first-of-its-kind alert system that'll beam the name of the chosen via text message on whatever day the announcement is made at Roman Noon -- or, as it's known in the "Rome of the West," 5am.

Smart phones. Brilliant move.

That said, the timing of the venture's rollout (eight full months after Archbishop Raymond Burke was tapped to serve as the church's "chief justice") might be something to ponder...

...and for now, let's just leave it at that.

As always, more to come, so just stay tuned. And, most importantly, gang, relax.

PHOTO: Cathedral-Basilica of St. Louis/Bettina Woolbright


Got Lent?

As the final Sunday before Ash Wednesday dawns, the Cardinal of the South relates that, just like no shortage of the flock, he's shirking the sugar for Lent:
Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of the Catholic Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston will give up snacks and sweets — especially doughnuts...
But that's not all:
...and spend more time in meditative reading with the Gospels.
Just a reminder for the more procrastinatory among us -- narrator included -- who still have yet to hash our gameplan out that time's running short; hard as it is to believe, just over 72 hours remain.

PHOTO: Ellis Lucia/New Orleans Times-Picayune(1); Smiley N. Pool/(Removed by order of the) Houston Chronicle(2)


Of Saints and Senators

This morning, the Pope presided over the aforementioned public consistory to approve ten causes of canonization, which took place during Midday Prayer in the Apostolic Palace.

With Bishop Larry Silva of Honolulu in attendance, Benedict XVI set 11 October as the canonization date for both Blessed Damien deVeuster, the "leper priest" of Molokai and Blessed Jeanne Jugan, the foundress of the Little Sisters of the Poor. Three other blesseds will likewise be elevated on that date in Rome, most likely in an outdoor Mass in St Peter's Square, while the remaining five will be formally declared saints on 26 April.

Speaking of consistories, some have asked of late when the College of Cardinals will see its next intake.

The last consistory took place in November 2007, when B16 elevated 23 cardinals, 18 of them under 80. As of this writing, the papal "senate" stands only five members short of its maximum complement of 120 cardinal-electors under age 80; barring deaths, just three more slots will open before 2009's end.

While the possibility for a small class later this year remains viable in some segments of the mill, the more likely bet is a new helping of scarlet moiré in 2010, when no less than eleven electors become ineligible to vote in a conclave.

And in the meantime, let the shortlisting begin... that is, in case it already hasn't.



Weekend Varia

Good Saturday morning to one and all... a couple quick-hits from around the beat:
  • First, dubbing it the "Holy Smackdown," FOX News hosted a uniquely-placed analyst for context on Wednesday's papal "non-audience" with the Speaker of the House: Archbishop Charles Chaput OFM Cap. of Denver, who took the lead on correcting Nancy Pelosi's Meet the Press comments last August, which were given in the Mile High City on the eve of the Democratic National Convention. Released just before the DNC, green-lighted by the Vatican's daily paper and with a long run on the New York Times best-seller list under its belt, Chaput's Render Unto Caesar is currently on its 11th printing.
  • Elsewhere, with Lent's coming likely to make the reconciliation lines longer -- and not just at Gotham's upcoming Confess-a-Thon -- Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta sends up a brief vademecum for confessors in his weekly column. On another note from Peachtree Street, the former USCCB chief recently ordained 13 permanent deacons, a "baker's dozen" for the burgeoning local church of 800,000-plus.
  • Fresh off the historic Super Bowl victory that's seen his hometown formally re-christened "Sixburgh," Steeler Nation's Bishop David Zubik released these shores' most in-depth reflection yet on the economic crisis earlier this week. Titled The Church Sharing!, the 16-page pastoral focuses on ways the 850,000-member Pittsburgh church "can best support each other in the name of, and with the heart of, Christ in these difficult times." Meanwhile, the 11th bishop of Pittsburgh -- now Washington's Archbishop Donald Wuerl -- has rolled out his latest Lenten pastoral, Belonging to God's Family, this time asking the capital see's 560,000 fold to help bring fallen away members back. "It is time for us to invite them home," the DC prelate wrote in his weekly column accompanying the letter, with a YouTube video still to come. (SVILUPPO: From the newly-dedicated Italian Oratory at the capital's Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, ecco video.....

  • And from the Man of the Hour -- Archbishop Tim Dolan of Milwaukee -- the latest edition of his running internal meditation for his collaborators, its focus on the image and place of the church as "one big leper colony." As of last sweep, the New York frontrunner remained holed up in his Packerland residence on his customary, long-scheduled pre-Lenten vacation; the archbishop's public schedule resumes on Tuesday.
And lastly, with a "staggering" state inquiry into his archdiocese reportedly soon to drop and the shadow of abuse scandals still haunting the Irish church, a talk given earlier in the week by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin is worth particular note.

Given in honor of the South African Anglican primate and Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu at Trinity College -- an institution where, until recent decades, Catholic students were forbidden from enrolling under pain of excommunication -- Martin's address features some potent commentary as it dwells on the twin major themes of the church's evolution "to a new and a different form of presence" in society, and the standards by which its witness in today's context is judged.

Here's the fulltext:

On one final note, tomorrow sees the start of the annual Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in Washington, which'll feature two especially key interventions: Sunday's opening homily from the USCCB president Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, and Monday's keynote on "Catholic Social Teaching in the Life and Ministry of the Church" from the papal nuncio to these shores, Archbishop Pietro Sambi.

More on those as the texts surface.


Friday, February 20, 2009

"Have We Mourned Like This Before?"

A century after his grandfather died in a Korean prison for the crime of being a Catholic, the prelate who led the church into the mainstream on the peninsula -- Seoul's Cardinal Stephen Kim -- was mourned by weeping thousands at a state funeral earlier today in the South's capital.

The first Korean cardinal, Kim -- who led the Seoul church for three decades, watching it grow sixfold in the process -- died Monday at 86. Including the country's current and former presidents, some 400,000 mourners of all faiths were said to have filed past his coffin over its four-day lying in state in the city's Myeongdong Cathedral.

Hailed as a "true guiding light" and the last "reliable leader in Korean society" despite the church's minority status -- around 15% of South Korea's 38 million citizens are Catholic -- the outpouring of reaction at the cardinal's death moved one newspaper to lead its coverage with a headline asking "Have We Mourned Like This Before?"
Religious leaders from Protestantism, Buddhism, Won-Buddhism and Cheondoism took up the first-row at the funeral Mass.

Monk Wontaek from Haein Temple said, ``I hope Cardinal Kim, the spiritual leader of Korea, takes a kind interest in us in Heaven.''

Italian Ambassador Massimo Andrea Leggeri also attended the Mass. ``I came to the Mass because I want to honor his good nature,'' he said.

Gong Ji-young, a celebrated novelist and Catholic, said, ``Cardinal Kim left us new `eyes' in many aspects. All these people waiting to pay their respects to the late Kim shows how much we needed someone to depend on.''

Park Bi-ho, 42, arrived in Myeongdong at 6 a.m. He had visited the cathedral for the five days preceding the funeral as the cardinal lay in state, arriving there early in the morning and returning home between 9 and 10 p.m.

``I saw the cardinal being placed into the cedar coffin, Thursday. It was snowing as if Heaven was blessing Kim's last moments. I was moved that he only had rosary beads in his coffin, simple and frugal, as his life was before. I will live for other people without greed like Cardinal Kim,'' Park said.

Eighty-year-old Jeong Il-hwa also came to see the cardinal's last moments before the public. She said, ``I come today again because I feel sorry for missing the coffin rite, Thursday. He was a great priest. I feel like I am losing a family member.''

Citizens who couldn't make it to the cathedral watched the funeral Mass on television. The viewer rate marked 19.2 percent, according to an aggregated total of the three major broadcasting stations, KBS, MBC and SBS.

Heo Ye-jin, 20, a university student and Catholic, watched the mass on television. ``I visited the cathedral, Wednesday, and cried a lot. I wanted to go and see the mass, but I couldn't. But I watched it all on TV instead. I couldn't forget his words, `You can step on me','' she said.

``You can step on me, before you can take away the students'' is a famous saying of the late cardinal ― words uttered in 1987, when police came to the cathedral to arrest student activists seeking refuge from former President Chun Doo-hwan.

The crowd began to cry when Kim's coffin was moved outside on its way to the Catholic Priests' Cemetery in Yongin, Gyeonggi Province. Female Catholics held their veils in a show of respect to the cardinal.

Sohn Myeong-suk, 50, who watched the cardinal's hearse leaving the cathedral, said, ``I feel as if Kim is already in Heaven and saying the Mass with us,'' as she wiped away tears.

Arriving at the cemetery around 1 p.m., Kim was buried next to Archbishop Paul Marie Ro Ki-nam. His grave is small and simple, 2.5 meters long and 1.5 meters wide. His tombstone will bear his pastoral motto and his favorite phrase from the Bible's Book of Psalms, ``The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.''
The sentiments echoed in another daily's lead editorial:
The mourning transcended age, social status and political ideology.

People gathered at the cathedral from 2 to 3 a.m., and by 6 a.m., when people were allowed in to pay their condolences, a line stretching for 3 km had already formed, while people continued to pour in until midnight when the cathedral closed its doors. Mourners had to wait three to four hours in the freezing cold, but there was no jostling, shouting or cutting in line. Rather, people yielded their spots to let the elderly go first.

We’ve all waited in long lines to buy tickets to our hometowns during holidays or to sign up for new apartment units. But never has there been a time when we formed a line for something that transcends personal gain. Cardinal Kim, who taught us the spirit of sharing through his words and actions, left us something much more valuable.

A wise society uses the deaths of great people to mark the era that preceded that event and to prepare for the next one. The 58 years that transpired from 1951, when Cardinal Kim was ordained as a priest, until his death in 2009, were a microcosm of Korea’s history of trials and accomplishments, ranging from war and devastation, the division of a nation, dictatorship, industrialization and democratization to social polarization. Cardinal Kim embraced all Koreans living in such difficult times, consistently urging us to be patient. He told us that there is an end to pain. And in doing so, he gave us both courage and hope.
Already, reports from the peninsula indicate that the public focus on the church since the cardinal's death hasn't just led to an increase in queries from potential converts, but a spike of interest in the previously-unpopular practice of organ donation which had been Kim's "lifetime wish."

His organs removed to be given to others after his death, the cardinal's eyes were quickly used in two successful cornea transplants.

PHOTOS: AP/Jin Sung-chul(1); Reuters(2)


Thursday, February 19, 2009

In the City That Never Sleeps, Confessions 'Round the Clock

Sure, the Big Apple might remain in high suspense -- OK, downright frenzy -- in its vigil for the tenth archbishop. With Lent's arrival just six days away, though, it's not as if everything in Gotham's ground to a halt... however much one could be easily forgiven for thinking it.

Organized by the young-adult group of St Patrick's Cathedral, 20 Manhattan parishes will start Lent with "24 Hours of Confession," keeping their booths open for a combined 120 hours from 7am on March 6th until 7 the following morning.

While most participating churches will either just stay open during the day or add on to their already scheduled confession times, a handful are planning to have priests on-call for the entire daylong period. In the cathedral itself, the usual afternoon availability (noon-1.20) will be joined by a unique evening confession slot that'll run from 5-10pm.

With the penitential season's opening day drawing ever closer, it's worth recalling that Ash Wednesday is invariably the Midtown landmark's busiest day of the year; upwards of 60,000 workers and tourists annually flood St Patrick's to receive the burnt palm symbolizing man's mortality and need for redemption.



They Met... "It Went Well"... and Nothing's Changed

As yesterday's unphotographed meeting between the Pope of Rome and Speaker of the House recalled Nancy Pelosi's September invite to a "conversation" with her ordinary, it's worth noting that Our Sunday Visitor's "Daily Take" has confirmed that a session between the Speaker and Archbishop George Niederauer of San Francisco took place on 8 February.

The meeting was "so private," the paper's blog notes, "that the archbishop's own press spokesman... seemed unaware of it"... and subsequently cited a "mixup in internal communications."

A Pelosi spokesman told OSV that the Speaker "is not changing her position on abortion" and continues to attend Sunday Mass and receive the Eucharist either at her home parish in the City by the Bay or on the road.

On a related note, another prominent pro-choice Catholic -- Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius -- has re-emerged as President Obama's top choice for Secretary for Health and Human Services following the collapse of former Sen. Tom Daschle's nomination to the post.

A lead contender for the HHS slot before Daschle's selection, the Kansas chief was publicly asked to refrain from the Eucharist by the state's top prelate, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, after her April veto of a bill that would've strengthened restrictions on late-term abortions.


Martino On the March. Again.

As a follow-up to yesterday's big story on the church-state front, the last election cycle's most outspoken prelate on the preeminence of the life issues for Catholic voters is keeping his "line in the sand" strategy alive and well for next month's St Patrick's Day celebrations in his Irish-heavy see city:
In a letter to the heads of three local Irish-American organizations, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Scranton has threatened to close St. Peter’s Cathedral during St. Patrick’s Day celebrations if the groups feature elected officials who support abortion rights at their annual events.

The letter, which was signed by Auxiliary Bishop John M. Dougherty, reports that Bishop Joseph F. Martino is “determined to prevent scandal,” which would be caused if the organizations “in any way” should “honor pro-abortion officials” by giving them parade or dais positions or opportunities to speak and “the Catholic Church is seen to be involved in this honoring.”

In direct terms, the letter reiterates the bishop’s publicly stated position that elected officials who vote to support abortion rights will be denied Holy Communion if they attempt to receive the sacrament in the diocese, including at St. Patrick’s Day Masses. The closing of St. Peter’s Cathedral is offered as an additional measure to prevent the honoring of such officials.

Auxiliary Bishop Dougherty wrote that the bishop hopes the groups’ “judicious choices” about which elected officials to honor will make any actions by the bishop unnecessary, but that the letter was sent “to avoid any surprise should (Bishop Martino) be required to take action in this most serious matter.”

The morning Mass at St. Peter’s Cathedral has been a traditional element of the parade day celebration for decades. An additional Mass on the feast day also is offered at the cathedral and is particularly important for the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, one of the groups the auxiliary bishop addressed....

The annual St. Patrick’s Parade through downtown Scranton is one of the largest in the country, and the dinners hosted by the Friendly Sons and the Society of Irish Women often have featured prominent national and international figures. Last year, President Barack Obama, then a senator, spoke at the Irish Women’s dinner; Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern spoke at the Friendly Sons’ dinner and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, then a senator, marched in the parade.
Bottom line: no Biden.

In recent weeks, Martino's likewise made headlines for publicly correcting one of his own parishioners -- Democratic US Senator Bob Casey -- for a January vote against an amendment that would've reinstated the "Mexico City" policy overturned by President Obama in his first hours in office, and for expressing his "absolute disapproval" over a local Catholic university's honoring of Keith Boykin, an openly-gay author, Clinton administration staffer and Harvard Law classmate of the President.

In a statement issued Monday -- a day before Boykin's appearance at Misericordia University -- Martino termed the invitee's views "disturbingly opposed" to the church's moral teaching and "so antithetical to Catholic teaching," rapping the Sisters of Mercy-run college for, he said, "seriously failing in maintaining its Catholic identity."

Late last month, the Scranton diocese announced that, due to falling numbers of priests and fewer resources to go around, almost half its 209 parishes will be closed or consolidated.

PHOTO: Scranton Times-Tribune


In Hanoi, Preparing the Way

Just months after a renewed round of tensions between the nation's Communist authorities and its Catholic community, a high-level Vatican delegation has spent the week in Vietnam meeting with top Hanoi officials in the hope of laying the groundwork... not just toward diplomatic relations, but a possible papal visit, to boot:
Talks between the government and Vatican have been held since 1990, but the latest round marked the first meeting of a working group studying the renewal of diplomatic ties.

It was held in a "very frank and open atmosphere," Monsignor Pietro Parolin, Vatican vice foreign minister, told reporters after meeting with Nguyen The Doanh, head of Vietnam's religious affairs commission.

"We have already set up good basis for further progress," he said, adding that it was impossible to say how long the process would take. "The outcome will be diplomatic relations."

Parolin told reporters he hoped the Pope might come to Vietnam this year, although no plans had been made for a visit.

"It depends on many things to be discussed, to be reflected upon, and I think that it's impossible to say yes or no," he said.

The working group held its first sessions on Monday and Tuesday, when Parolin met with Vice Foreign Minister Nguyen Quoc Cuong.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Dung said this week's meeting was an "important step" in the development of relations between Vietnam and the Vatican.

"The two sides acknowledged the encouraging developments in the relations between Vietnam and the Holy See and also agreed to continue their efforts," he said.

Parolin's delegation is scheduled to visit two dioceses in northern Vietnam later this week before departing on Sunday.

Although communist authorities closely monitor faith groups and insist on approving most church appointments, relations between Hanoi and the Holy See have begun to thaw.

Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung became the highest official to meet the Pope when he visited the Vatican in 2007.

Vietnam has one of Asia's largest Catholic populations, with more than 6 million followers.
In their ever-emergent Stateside diaspora, Vietnamese Catholics put on one of the US church's largest annual gatherings: summer's Marian Days in Missouri, which has grown to attract 75,000-plus over a weekend in August.

Last year saw another milestone for the group -- the election of the first Vietnamese member of Congress, the Louisiana Republican Anh Joseph Cao, an immigration lawyer and former Jesuit seminarian.

PHOTO: Reuters