Saturday, October 31, 2009

On Anglican Deal, Vatican Busts "Celibacy" Chatter

We interrupt this weekend breather for a Halloween treat from the Holy See.

Over recent days, the Italian press ran with speculation (quickly picked up by Anglophone media) that the delay in the Apostolic Constitution which'll set up "personal ordinariates" for Tiber-swimming Anglicans owed itself to a "debate" regarding how the celibacy requirement would be handled for married converts who wished to enter formation for the Catholic priesthood.

This morning, in further evidence of a significant shift for its traditionally above-the-fray communications strategy, the Vatican Press Office released the following response to the now-widespread buzz, which included the relevant part of the still-hidden document, whose name likewise remains unknown. While several outlets ran with the story, the statement specifically (and, to be candid, astoundingly) called out one reporter -- the highly-regarded Andrea Tornielli of Il Giornale, who's racked up a reputation over the last several years as the most reliable of the Vatican's "court scribes."

Notably, the clarification was published solely in English.

Here it is in full; emphases original:

There has been widespread speculation, based on supposedly knowledgeable remarks by an Italian correspondent Andrea Tornielli, that the delay in publication of the Apostolic Constitution regarding Personal Ordinariates for Anglicans entering into full communion with the Catholic Church, announced on October 20, 2009, by Cardinal William Levada, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is due to more than "technical" reasons. According to this speculation, there is a serious substantial issue at the basis of the delay, namely, disagreement about whether celibacy will be the norm for the future clergy of the Provision.

Cardinal Levada offered the following comments on this speculation: "Had I been asked I would happily have clarified any doubt about my remarks at the press conference. There is no substance to such speculation. No one at the Vatican has mentioned any such issue to me. The delay is purely technical in the sense of ensuring consistency in canonical language and references. The translation issues are secondary; the decision not to delay publication in order to wait for the ‘official’ Latin text to be published in Acta Apostolicae Sedis was made some time ago.

The drafts prepared by the working group, and submitted for study and approval through the usual process followed by the Congregation, have all included the following statement, currently Article VI of the Constitution:

§1 Those who ministered as Anglican deacons, priests, or bishops, and who fulfill the requisites established by canon law and are not impeded by irregularities or other impediments may be accepted by the Ordinary as candidates for Holy Orders in the Catholic Church. In the case of married ministers, the norms established in the Encyclical Letter of Pope Paul VI Sacerdotalis coelibatus, n. 42 and in the Statement "In June" are to be observed. Unmarried ministers must submit to the norm of clerical celibacy of CIC can. 277, §1.

§2. The Ordinary, in full observance of the discipline of celibate clergy in the Latin Church, as a rule (pro regula) will admit only celibate men to the order of presbyter. He may also petition the Roman Pontiff, as a derogation from can. 277, §1, for the admission of married men to the order of presbyter on a case by case basis, according to objective criteria approved by the Holy See.

This article is to be understood as consistent with the current practice of the Church, in which married former Anglican ministers may be admitted to priestly ministry in the Catholic Church on a case by case basis. With regard to future seminarians, it was considered purely speculative whether there might be some cases in which a dispensation from the celibacy rule might be petitioned. For this reason, objective criteria about any such possibilities (e.g. married seminarians already in preparation) are to be developed jointly by the Personal Ordinariate and the Episcopal Conference, and submitted for approval of the Holy See."

Cardinal Levada said he anticipates the technical work on the Constitution and Norms will be completed by the end of the first week of November.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Saints and Souls

This weekend, November kicks off with one of the church's great "two-fer" moments -- All Saints' Day on Sunday, followed as ever by Monday's commemoration of the faithful departed, All Souls' Day.

To better reflect on both, here below you'll find English translations of the twin catecheses B16 gave on the days last year.

First, the Pope's reflection on Ognissanti -- All Saints...
Dear brothers and sisters!

With great joy, we celebrate today the feast of All Saints. Visiting a nursery garden, one remains taken aback at the variety of plants and flowers, and spontaneously begins to think of the Creator's fantasy that made the earth a marvelous garden. These same sentiments come to us when we consider the spectacle of holiness: the world appears to us as a "garden," where the Spirit of God has sustained with remarkable wonder a multitude of saints, male and female, from every age and social condition, of every tongue, people and culture. Each is different from the others, with the uniqueness of their own personality and their own spiritual charism. All, however, were marked by the "seal" of Jesus, the imprint of his love, witnessed upon the Cross. All now are at joy, in a feast without end as, like Jesus, they reached this goal across toil and trial, each one encountering their share of sacrifice to participate in the glory of the resurrection.
The solemnity of All Saints became recognized in the course of the first Christian millenium as a collective celebration of the martyrs. Already, in 609, Pope Boniface IV had consecrated the Pantheon in honor of the Virgin Mary and All the Martyrs. But this martyrdom could be interpreted in a wider sense, that of loving Christ without reserve, a love expressed in the total gift of oneself to God and one's brothers and sisters. This spiritual measure, to which all the baptized are called, is accomplished in following the way of the evangelical beatitudes, that the liturgy offers to us on today's solemnity. It's the same path traced by Jesus and that the saints pushed themselves to follow, always aware of their human limits. In their earthly existence, in fact, they were poor in spirit, pained by their sins, myths, starved of and thirsting for justice, merciful, pure of heart, peacemakers, persecuted for righteousness' sake. And God himself gave them a share in his own happiness: previewed in this world and, in the hereafter, enjoyed in its fullness. They are now consoled, have inherited the earth, are sated, pardoned, see the God whose children they are. In a word: "theirs is the Kingdom of heaven" (Mt 5:3,10).

On this day let us revive in ourselves an attraction toward Heaven that calls us to carry on in our earthly pilgrimage. Let us lift in our hearts the desire to always unite ourselves to the family of the saints, of which we already have the grace to be a part. As a celebrated "spiritual" song says: "When the saints go marching in, oh how I'd want, Lord, to be in their number!" May this beautiful aspiration burn in all Christians and help them to surpass every difficulty, every fear, every tribulation! Let us place, dear friends, our hand in the maternal one of Mary, Queen of All Saints, and let ourselves be led by her toward our heavenly homeland, in the company of the blessed spirits "of every nation, people and language." And let us unite ourselves in prayer already recalling our dear departed ones who we'll commemorate tomorrow.
(The above photos are, of course, taken from John Nava's celebrated tapestries of the Communion of Saints which line the nave of LA's Cathedral of Our lady of the Angels.)

...and the meditation for All Souls:
Dear brothers and sisters!

Yesterday, on All Saints' Day, we dwelt upon "the heavenly city, Jerusalem, our mother" (Preface of All Saints). And today, our souls turn again to these last things as we commemorate all the faithful departed, those "who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith and sleep in peace." It's very important for us Christians to live our relationship with the dead in the truth of faith, and to look at death and the afterlife in the light of Revelation. Already the Apostle Paul, writing to the first communities, exhorted the faithful to "not be downhearted, like the others who have no hope." "If in fact" he wrote, "we believe that Jesus died and rose, so also God, by means of Jesus, will gather up with him all those who have died" (1 Thes 4:13-14). It's necessary even today to spread the message of the reality of death and eternal life -- a reality particularly subject to superstitious and syncretic beliefs, for the Christian truth cannot risk itself to be mixed up with mythologies of various sorts.

In my encyclical on Christian hope, I myself investigated the mystery of eternal life. I asked: even for the men and women of today, the Christian faith is a hope that can transform and sustain their lives? Even more radically: the men and women of our time likewise desire eternal life? Or maybe their earthly existence has become their only horizon? In reality, as St Augustine already observed, everyone wants the "blessed life," that happiness. We don't know what it is or what it's like, but we feel ourselves attracted toward it. This is a universal hope, shared by people of all times and places. The expression "eternal life" gives a name to this insuppressible expectation: not a progression without end, but the immersion of oneself in the ocean of infinite love, where time, the beginning and end exist no more. A fullness of life and of joy: it's this for which we hope and await from our being with Christ.

Let us today renew our hope in eternal life, one really drawn in the death and resurrection of Christ. "I am risen and now I am always with you," the Lord tells us, and my hand sustains you. Wherever you might fall, you will fall in my hands and I will be present even at the gate of death. Where none can accompany you any longer and where you can bring nothing, there I await you to transform for you darkness into light. Christian hope is never something merely individual, it's always a hope for others. Our lives are deeply linked, one to another, and the good and bad each one does always impacts the rest. So the prayer of a pilgrim soul in the world can help another soul that continues purifying itself after death. And for this, today the church invites us to pray for our beloved dead and to spend time at their tombs in the cemeteries. Mary, star of hope, make stronger and more authentic our faith in eternal life and sustain our prayer of suffrage for our departed brothers.
As both All Saints and All Souls are observed as Vatican holidays -- and to catch up on some back-office work and a bit of rest -- expect a lull in posting 'til Tuesday... and more on that in a bit.

PHOTOS: Archdiocese of Los Angeles(1,2)/L'Osservatore Romano(3)


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

For Cheyenne, Pentecost Amid Power Tools

Great cross that the office is these days, the last thing you'd want near a priest learning of his elevation to the episcopacy is a chainsaw... but earlier this month, that's exactly where Providence placed Fr Paul Etienne when he got word of his appointment as bishop of Cheyenne.

In an extended interview with the Indy Criterion's Sean Gallagher, Wyoming's prelate-to-be tells the story:
[I]t was bizarre. I don’t know what else to say. [The papal nuncio] Archbishop [Pietro] Sambi called the office at the parish and it was my day off. We had to play phone tag. I was up at the [family] farm with a chain saw, working in the woods. And, when he called, I was just getting out of my pickup truck.

I was in my Carhart jeans and in my work boots, and had nothing to take notes with. I was just sitting there in my truck listening to him tell me that I’ve just been named bishop. And he had to say ‘Cheyenne’ four times before I could understand what he was saying.

I still just can hardly believe it. It’s a very unusual experience. What can I say?
There's more, and it's all worthwhile reading.

Earlier this week, the Cheyenne church announced that Etienne's 9 December ordination would be an open-invite Mass at the city's convention center.

PHOTO: Wyoming Tribune-Eagle via Nicolette Etienne OSB


For Phils-Yanks, the Redbirds Play Ball

Of course, with the World Champions ready for a rePheat, the Gods of Baseball spared Tim Dolan the worst crisis of his six-month tenure -- a series between his hometown St Louis Cardinals and new-turf Yankees to decide Stateside sport's most sacred prize.

If that came to pass, the Omnipresent One probably would've gone into hiding. But now, emboldened by the near-miss, Gotham's High Cheese has embarked on a bet with the River City's Most High Pharaoh -- who ordained Dolan a bishop in 2001 and, so they say, championed his protege's naming to New York -- for the Phils-Yanks faceoff, which begins tonight at The House That Jeter Built.

Here, the joint announcement:
Cardinal Justin Rigali, Archbishop of Philadelphia, and Archbishop Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, have placed a friendly wager on the outcome of the 2009 World Series.

These two long-time friends spoke on Tuesday evening to settle the terms of the bet. If the Phillies win, Archbishop Dolan will ship a dozen bagels to the City of Brotherly Love; if the Yankees prevail, Cardinal Rigali will send a box of Tastykakes to the Big Apple.

Archbishop Dolan said, “Cardinal Rigali is one of my closest and dearest friends; for several years he even served as my Archbishop so I feel a particular loyalty to him. I know he has exquisite taste in most matters. I just wish he had better taste in baseball teams.”

Cardinal Rigali said, “I have great esteem for Archbishop Dolan. He is a gifted spiritual leader who has been a true friend for many years. That is why I am so sorry he will be disappointed when the Phillies successfully defend their World Championship. We have the cream cheese ready for the bagels that I know will be arriving shortly after the Repeat in the City of Brotherly and Sisterly love.”
One can't help thinking that, for good measure, they could've thrown in an appointment or two... even if they're probably backing the same horse for Springfield.

Go Pharaoh... and, no question, Go Phils.

Enjoy the Epic, gang -- it's gonna be a beaut.... Prediction: Phightins in 6.

PHOTO: Getty


The A-Train Rides Again

Another day... another appointment... and, yep, yet another pick under 50.

This morning, the Pope named Fr Joseph Siegel, 46, a parish priest in the diocese of Joliet and president of its presbyteral council, as auxiliary bishop of the 660,000-member Illinois church.

Ordained in 1988, the St Meinrad and NAC product did advanced studies in theology at both the Gregorian and Chicago's Mundelein Seminary, but has spent his entire priesthood in parish work. Given his first and only pastorate in 2004, the "highly organized, very kind" -- and, indeed, "very tall" -- bishop-elect has likewise served as diocesan master of ceremonies and a coordinator of the diocese's Respect Life efforts.

In an early-morning letter informing the diocese's priests, Joliet Bishop Peter Sartain said he was "thrilled!" at the news.

"Joe has been an exemplary priest and pastor," Sartain said, "and we priests have often called upon his considerable talents by asking him to serve on councils and committees covering a variety of areas of pastoral life. Each time he has responded generously and with competence, kindness, and love for the Lord and his people.

"He is well known to our people as well, and they respect him deeply."

One of nine children, Siegel will take his place among the Twelve early next year; his ordination's been set for 19 January at Joliet's Cathedral of St Raymond Nonnatus.

Encompassing Chicagoland's further suburbs, the Joliet church has a history of auxiliaries, the last of whom served but a year.

Ordained in March 2002 by now-retired Bishop Joseph Imesch, Bishop James Fitzgerald submitted his resignation within a year due to the onset of an aggressive form of Parkinson's disease. The 64 year-old prelate died four months after it was accepted.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009


B16's weekend integration of Cardinal Peter Turkson into his top team was just the latest instance of this pontificate's significant trait for drawing senior Curialists from among the ranks of diocesan bishops.

For the record, that's Joseph Ratzinger's keen commentary on a longstanding complaint of ordinaries the world over -- namely, that the Roman Curia had enjoyed a too-heavy hand in the oversight of their local churches during the reigns of his recent predecessors.

Almost five years since his election, nearly three-fifths of Benedict's picks to head the global church's 24 cabinet ministries -- ten of the 17 he's named -- have come from the trenches... and with Turkson's appointment now finally put to bed, one of Australia's leading papers is running buzz that Down Under's leading churchman could be next:
Catholic circles in Rome and Australia are abuzz with speculation that Pope Benedict XVI will shortly appoint Australia's Cardinal George Pell to a prestigious job in the top echelons of the Roman Curia.

Cardinal Pell's experience as Archbishop of Sydney and Melbourne, and his service on a range of Vatican organisations, is seen as an ideal background to take on a senior Vatican job.

Cardinal Pell, who was ordained in 1966, served as a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith when Cardinal Ratzinger was in charge.

He is also a member of the Congregation for Divine Worship and president of the Vox Clara Committee, which advises the Vatican on English translations of liturgical texts used at Mass.

One possible senior job becoming vacant in Rome is the powerful position of Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, which helps advise the Pope on the appointment of new bishops across the world.

Its Prefect, Cardinal Battista Re, who has held the job since 2000, reached the retirement age of 75 this year.
Tip to Insight Scoop.

To be sure, speculation on a potential Pell-to-Rome move has been bandied about since the weeks following last summer's World Youth Day in Sydney; talk linking the fiercely outspoken prelate to the Bishops post was reported on these pages last March. As one Oz op put it at the time, Pell "has done everything you could do here," indicating that the 68 year-old cardinal -- who once famously remarked that he didn't "think a Christian can say 'I’m a lover, not a fighter'" -- isn't one to rest on his laurels.

On a related note, only in recent days were the traditional post-WYD papal honors conferred on several of the top planners behind Sydney's staging of the church's "Olympic event."

In its report, the Australian already took to proffering two potential successors to Pell at the helm of the 580,000-member Sydneyside church; Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Canberra, a former Melbourne auxiliary and lead player on the Roman Missal project, and the Oxford-trained Sydney auxiliary Antony Fisher, a onetime barrister, leading moral theologian and Pell protege long seen as a rising star of the English-speaking church worldwide.

That said, Fisher earned scorn during WYD's first days by characterizing the family of a dead abuse victim who garnered a high profile in the event's run-up as "dwelling crankily on old wounds."

In the incident's aftermath, the 50 year-old prelate maintained that he was taken out of context, terming the quote's fallout "very hard."

"It taught me not to criticise the media," Fisher told a local paper, "because they’ll get you back."

Since the internationalization of the Curia began in earnest under Paul VI, there is a history of Australians serving in top Vatican posts; a former archbishop of Melbourne -- Oz's largest diocese -- Cardinal James Knox ran two dicasteries (including the Congregation for Divine Worship) before his 1983 death, and Cardinal Edward Cassidy held the influential post of Sostituto in the Secretariat of State before becoming head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in 1990. (Now 85, Cassidy chose to retire to his homeland.)

The latter's successor at the ecumenical office, Cardinal Walter Kasper, is one of four Curial heads currently serving past the retirement age; alongside Re, Cardinals Franc Rode (prefect of the "Congregation for Religious") and Paul Josef Cordes (president of Cor Unum, which handles humanitarian affairs) both turned 75 last month.


Slating the Chairs

As the days grow shorter, the leaves fade, baseball winds down and the autumn air turns ever more crisp, the countdown continues to Stateside Catholicism's Fall Classic: the bishops' November Meeting, which begins in Baltimore on Monday, the 16th.

Among agenda items including the long-in-the-making marriage pastoral, a text on "reproductive technologies" and the final votes on the re-translated Roman Missal (coming 2011-ish to a parish near you), the body will vote on chairs-elect for several key committees, including those overseeing clergy and vocations, migration, and divine worship.

While the standing committees have always been a significant element of the USCCB structure, the bodies' importance has been even further enhanced since a 2006 reorganization that saw their number slashed from 36 to 16, their various competencies clustered under larger umbrellas.

With that as backdrop, the coming plenary's runoff slates for the chairs were revealed this morning... and the contenders are:
Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life, and Vocations:
Archbishop Robert J. Carlson [St Louis]
Bishop Michael F. Burbidge [Raleigh]

Committee on Divine Worship:
Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond [New Orleans]
Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron [Detroit]

Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development:
Bishop Stephen E. Blaire [Stockton]
Bishop Frank J. Dewane [Venice]

Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth:
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann [Kansas City in Kansas]
Bishop Kevin Rhoades [Harrisburg]

Committee on Migration:
Bishop James A. Tamayo [Laredo]
Archbishop José H. Gomez [San Antonio]
After a yearlong apprenticeship, the chairs-elect will take up their respective posts at the close of the 2010 November Meeting, at which point the conference's presidency will likewise change hands with the end of Cardinal Francis George's three-year mandate.


Roman Delay

On a quick hour-hand note, those of us who like being up for Roman Noon can hit the snooze button for the rest of the week -- like the rest of Europe, Italy reverted to Standard Time last weekend, so 12pm in Rome is 7am Eastern (etc etc)... at least, til North America's clocks go back come Sunday.

That said, a Happy Tuesday to one and all.



Monday, October 26, 2009

"The Gospel" According to Gotham

We interrupt this Phils/Yanks Pre-Game Show for a special bulletin....

Hard as it might be to believe, it's come to pass: the archbishop of New York has a blog.

No joke -- titled The Gospel in the Digital Age, Tim Dolan's 11 posts in since the page's 6 October kickoff... and how it flew under the radar this long is anybody's guess.

That said, in his latest post, B16's man in Gotham jumps into the fray, bringing backup for Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, who, in a late Friday response, took on local Congressman Patrick Kennedy's Thursday statement that the US bishops' warned opposition to abortion-friendly health-care reform legislation was "an absolute red herring" and served "[no]thing to fan the flames of dissent and discord."

Calling the Democratic scion's comments "sad, uncalled-for and inaccurate," Dolan added that Tobin "has a good point: Mr Kennedy owes us an apology."

Suffice it to say, you might want to make The Gospel Appointment Reading... even if the template could use a touch-up.

PHOTO: Getty


"Cordial, Respectful, Constructive": The "Peace Talks" Begin

Following today's first session of the much-awaited "doctrinal dialogue" between the Holy See and the Society of St Pius X, the Holy See Press Office released the following statement, here below in an official translation:
On Monday 26 October 2009 in the Palazzo del Sant'Uffizio, headquarters of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and of the Pontifical Commission "Ecclesia Dei", the study commission made up of experts from "Ecclesia Dei" and from the Society of St. Pius X held its first meeting, with the aim of examining the doctrinal differences still outstanding between the Society and the Apostolic See.

In a cordial, respectful and constructive climate, the main doctrinal questions were identified. These will be studied in the course of discussions to be held over coming months, probably twice a month. In particular, the questions due to be examined concern the concept of Tradition, the Missal of Paul VI, the interpretation of Vatican Council II in continuity with Catholic doctrinal Tradition, the themes of the unity of the Church and the Catholic principles of ecumenism, the relationship between Christianity and non-Christian religions, and religious freedom. The meeting also served to specify the method and organisation of the work.
In comments picked up by the AP over the weekend, the head of the SSPX delegation Bishop Alfonso de Gallarreta said in recent days that "in the best case... we have several years of discussions ahead of us."


Saturday, October 24, 2009

Out of Africa

Ending the better part of a year's worth of speculation, the Pope finally went public with the Vatican's worst-kept secret this morning, naming Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson as president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

Ordained archbishop of Cape Coast -- the West African country's oldest local church -- in 1992 and made a cardinal eleven years later, the rise of the 61 year-old returns an African dicastery-head to the ranks of the Roman Curia, which had gone without a top-tier presence from the continent since last December, breaking a nearly four-decade practice. Reportedly reluctant to leave home and accept the Vatican's social-justice portfolio, the move likewise brings to Rome the church's lone non-retired cardinal with an advanced degree in Scriptural studies.

As the monthlong Synod for Africa closes tomorrow, Turkson has attracted significant attention as the gathering's lead spokesman, alongside the growing chorus that's tapped him as the continent's foremost papabile of the moment.

When asked at his first Synod press briefing whether the future will bring an African Pope, Turkson made global headlines by answering, "Why not?" While the sound-byte won the heart of the press corps -- many of whom he dined with earlier this week -- an answer on the perennial hot-button of condoms and HIV/AIDS garnered enough confusion and attention that the Vatican released a transcript of the cardinal's response.

At the helm of the Iustitia et Pax, Turkson succeeds Cardinal Renato Martino nearly two years after the veteran diplomat reached the retirement age of 75. Before his appointment to head the council in October 2002, Martino had served sixteen years as the Vatican's man at the UN headquarters in New York.



Friday, October 23, 2009

Quote of the Day

The time has already passed for those involved in Catholic media to prepare for the post-print age. The electronic age is upon us, and we have no choice but to move toward the death of the Catholic press. The role of Catholic journalism shall remain, even though the mode of delivery will change. This period of decline can and should be a time to develop the necessary journalistic skills for whatever media the future requires.
--William Grimm, MM
Editor, Katorikku Shimbun
UCAN Commentary
23 October 2009

Tip to the Deacon.


"Africa, Rise Up and Walk!": The Synod Says Farewell

Prior to its close this weekend, the monthlong Second Synod of Bishops for Africa issued its edition of the gathering's customary closing message, addressed as always "to the People of God."

It's a lengthy read, but a worthwhile one... so here below is the draft approved today, albeit not the final version of the text:

In its final working session, tomorrow will see the assembly vote on the propositions formulated over the Synod's course. The 250-odd Fathers will gather once more for the closing Mass on Sunday morning, celebrated by Pope Benedict in St Peter's, for which the "libretto" (worship aid) is already posted.

As the pontiff traditionally gives a gift to each Synod's participants, it was announced earlier today that the chasubles they'll wear for Sunday's Mass are theirs to keep. On green fabric in deference to the season of Ordinary Time, each bears an embroidered gold cross and B16's coat of arms.

PHOTO: Getty


452 Word of the Week: "L'Chaim"

As Respect Life Month draws to a close, Gotham's archbishop took up the cause in his latest column for the 1011 Times:
"I wish I could tell you that Church leaders were brave, countercultural and prophetic," I can still hear him say, "but that would not be the truth."

"With very few exceptions," he went on, "Catholics in the United States did little or nothing to condemn the dramatically moral evil of slavery, and demand its end. And that is to our shame to this day."

Those words came from my mentor, friend and teacher, Msgr. John Tracy Ellis, the legendary professor of the history of the Catholic Church in the United States, during his sobering lecture on the Church and slavery, when I was a graduate student at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

Perhaps we have learned our lesson, for Catholic leaders—committed laity, religious sisters and brothers, clergy, bishops—have been on the front lines of the premier civil rights issue today, the right to life. And that is to our credit. And that's good to ponder during October, Respect Life Month.

The comparison of abortion to slavery is an apt one. The right of a citizen to "own" another human being as property—to control him/her, use him/her, sell him or decide her fate—was, prior to 1865, constitutional, sad to say.

That "right" to own a slave was even upheld by a decision of the U.S. Supreme Court (whose Chief Justice at the time, Roger Brooke Taney, was a Catholic, "personally opposed" to slavery!) in the infamous 1857 Dred Scott Decision, declaring that a slave who had escaped and claimed freedom had to be returned to his "master," because he had no rights at all.

Tragically, in 1973, in Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court also strangely found in the constitution the right to abortion, thus declaring an entire class of human beings— now not African-Americans, but pre-born infants—to be slaves, whose futures, whose destinies, whose very right to life —can be decided by another "master." These fragile, frail babies have no civil rights at all.

Our faces blush with shame as we Catholics admit we did so little to end slavery; but we can smile and thank God that the Church has indeed been prophetic, courageous and counter cultural in the right to life movement....

Many issues and concerns in addition to protecting the baby in the womb fall under the rubric of the right to life—child care, poverty, racism, war and peace, capital punishment, health care, the environment, euthanasia—in what has come to be called the consistent ethic of life. All those issues, and even more, demand our careful attention and promotion.

But the most pressing life issue today is abortion. If we're wrong on that one, we're just plain wrong.

When our critics—and their name is legion—criticize us for being passionate, stubborn, almost obsessed with protecting the human rights of the baby in the womb, they intend it as an insult. I take it as a compliment.

I'd give anything if I could claim that Catholics in America prior to the Civil War were "passionate, stubborn, almost obsessed" with protecting the human rights of the slave. To claim such would be a fib. But, decades from now, at least our children and grandchildren can look back with pride and gratitude for the conviction of those who courageously defend the life of the pre-born baby.

I well remember being in Baltimore two years ago for the installation of their new archbishop, Edwin F. O'Brien, a native son of this archdiocese in whom we are very proud. He gave a stirring homily, recounting how his predecessors had often been on the forefront of promoting issues of justice in our country: Cardinal James Gibbons came up, of course, for his defense of the rights of labor back in the 1880s; Cardinal Lawrence Sheehan, who was jeered at a City Council meeting in 1965 for speaking on behalf of open housing for African-Americans; Cardinal William Keeler, criticized for advocating the rights of immigrants. And now, the new archbishop concluded, the tradition has to continue, as the Church must be on the front lines of the premier justice issue of the day: the protection of the right to life of the baby in the womb.
* * *
While we're at it, two more notes from Timmyworld....

First, completing a handoff in the works for some years now, it was announced this morning that Dolan will succeed Baltimore's retired Cardinal William Keeler as the US bishops' chief for Jewish relations next month.

Named to the national Jewish-Catholic dialogue in 2004, Dolan's eventual emergence as head of its church contingent became a fait accompli on his February appointment to New York, home to the world's largest Jewish community outside Israel.

Cherished by the elder brethren in his prior assignment of Milwaukee -- where he calmed the waters after the Williamson debacle in the days prior to the Gotham announcement -- the archbishop's already begun making significant inroads into the Big Apple's Jewish circles. Clad in a black cassock and simple surplice, Dolan's first major Manhattan address beyond the church's walls came at a Holocaust Remembrance Day service less than a week after his April installation, he's already made several visits to the Midtown headquarters of the Anti-Defamation League, and early November brings a public dialogue on the state of Catholic-Jewish relations at Fordham University.

For Keeler, the appointment caps a quarter-century of building bridges to the temple; regarded as a beloved brother by Jewish leaders and a "great pioneer" of Christian-Jewish relations, the 78 year-old cardinal had been looking forward to his first pilgrimage to Mount Zion this month, but was forced to cancel after suffering a fall on an en route stop in Rome.

Chair of the US bishops' ecumenical efforts from 1984 to 1987 and president of the conference from 1992-95, Keeler has served as the bishops' lead Catholic-Jewish liaison since 1983.

In the coming weeks, the cardinal's likewise handing over the keys to Stateside Catholicism's "White House"; home to Baltimore's archbishops since 1829, O'Brien acceeded to Keeler's request to remain at 408 N. Charles Street on the former's 2007 arrival. Now, however, seeing the import of the place to his effective ministry as archbishop, O'Brien will soon become the 11th head of the Premier See to take up residence within its walls.

Moving to a suburban retirement home, Keeler will find himself in good company; among his neighbors-to-be is his predecessor, Archbishop William Borders, still well and kicking after turning 96 earlier this month.

* * *
And, lastly, nine months after the archdiocese of Milwaukee fell vacant on Dolan's Eastward move, a recent spike of buzz suggests that the appointment of the Beer City's next archbishop could be named within the next fortnight.

While no single front-runner has risen to the top, the interregnum's birthed a lake's worth of speculation, the most common and credible of which has narrowed the field to a Pack of Four: Bishops Gerald Kicanas of Tucson (currently vice-president of the US bishops), Blase Cupich of Rapid City, Jerome Listecki of LaCrosse and Milwaukee's administrator, Auxiliary Bishop William Callahan OFM Conv., a close confidant of Dolan's who attended last week's Al Smith Dinner in New York as the archbishop's guest.

Home to 700,000 Catholics in Wisconsin's southeast corner, the next Milwaukee archbishop will be the 11th since the diocese's 1843 founding.

More as it emerges... as always, stay tuned.

PHOTOS: AP(1); Gregory Shemitz/3VPhoto(2,3); Cathedral of St John the Evangelist, Milwaukee(4)


For RI Bishop, Kennedy = "Disappointment"

After Rhode Island Congressman Patrick Kennedy was quoted yesterday as saying that the US bishops' recent threat to oppose non abortion-neutral health-care reform legislation "does [no]thing but to fan the flames of dissent and discord" and termed the prelates' focus on abortion funding "an absolute red herring," the eight-term Democrat got quite the retort from the Ocean State's Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, who issued the following statement earlier this afternoon:
“Congressman Patrick Kennedy’s statement about the Catholic Church’s position on health care reform is irresponsible and ignorant of the facts. But the Congressman is correct in stating that “he can’t understand.” He got that part right.

As I wrote to Congressman Kennedy and other members of the Rhode Island Congressional Delegation recently, the Bishops of the United States are indeed in favor of comprehensive health care reform and have been for many years. But we are adamantly opposed to health care legislation that threatens the life of unborn children, requires taxpayers to pay for abortion, rations health care, or compromises the conscience of individuals.

Congressman Kennedy continues to be a disappointment to the Catholic Church and to the citizens of the State of Rhode Island. I believe the Congressman owes us an apology for his irresponsible comments. It is my fervent hope and prayer that he will find a way to provide more effective and morally responsible leadership for our state.”

Rethinking Marx?

Two years ago, the Pope might've named a Marx to take his former post in Bavaria... but while the archbishop of Munich and Freising's used the name to critique the father of Communism, an "unlikely appraisal" of Karl Marx has appeared in no less than the pages of the Vatican's daily paper....
L’Osservatore Romano said yesterday that Marx’s early critiques of capitalism had highlighted the “social alienation” felt by the “large part of humanity” that remained excluded, even now, from economic and political decision-making.

Georg Sans, a German-born professor of the history of contemporary philosophy at the pontifical Gregorian University, wrote in an article that Marx’s work remained especially relevant today as mankind was seeking “a new harmony” between its needs and the natural environment. He also said that Marx’s theories may help to explain the enduring issue of income inequality within capitalist societies.

“We have to ask ourselves, with Marx, whether the forms of alienation of which he spoke have their origin in the capitalist system,” Professor Sans wrote. “If money as such does not multiply on its own, how are we to explain the accumulation of wealth in the hands of the few?”...

Professor Sans argues that Marx’s intellectual legacy was marred by the misappropriation of his work by the communist regimes of the 20th century. “It is no exaggeration to say that nothing has damaged the interests of Marx the philosopher more than Marxism,” he said....

Professor Sans’s view of Marx was not without criticism. He argued that Marx’s “materialist” view of history had wrongly reduced man to no more than a product of his material, economic and physical circumstances. He also said that after the fall of communism in 1989, few believed any more that private property was in itself wrong or unjust, and “given the experience of the past half century” no one believed that collectivisation of property was the answer.
In running the story, the Times of London noted that Sans's article first appeared in La Civiltà Cattolica, the authoritative Jesuit journal that, just like L'Osservatore, is vetted by the Vatican Secretariat of State.


For SSPX, Eyes on the Prize

In a statement late last week, the Society of St Pius X might've said that its doctrinal dialogue with the Holy See, "will demand the discretion necessary to ensure serene talks"... even so, though, CNA relays that the breakaway group's head, Bishop Bernard Fellay, is already talking up likely canonical solutions for the Society's reintegration as a result of the exchange, which begins Monday:
In an interview with the Chilean daily, “El Mercurio,” the Superior General of the Society of St. Pius X acknowledged that the Vatican is considering the possibility of converting the Lefebvrist group into a personal prelature as part of the discussions aimed at bringing about reconciliation....

Asked about the speculation that the Society of Pius X could be made into a personal prelature similar to Opus Dei, Fellay responded, “There is a lot of truth to that. I think the Vatican is moving towards that kind of canonical solution.”
Under the provisions for a personal prelature, groups which "accomplish particular pastoral or missionary works for various regions or for different social groups" are permitted to operate their own seminaries and apostolates and ordain their own clerics under the oversight of a prelate named by the Holy See. That said, a personal prelature may only operate in a particular church with the consent of its bishop.

While Opus Dei has been the lone personal prelature in the church since 1982, the arrangement has provided the rough canonical framework for the future "personal ordinariates" announced earlier this week to give disaffected Anglicans a home in the Catholic fold. Yet unlike the 90,000-member Work -- led worldwide by a bishop-prelate based in Rome -- the foreseen Anglican arrangement will see several ordinariates established on a national or regional basis.

In its pre-dialogue statement, the SSPX announced that one of its four bishops, Alfonso de Gallareta, will lead its four-member delegation to the Vatican talks. Ordained without papal mandate in 1988 and, as such, freed from the excommunication the act incurred earlier this year, the rector of the Society's Argentinian seminary will be accompanied by two other heads of SSPX houses, and a theology professor at the group's main seminary in Econe.

PHOTO: Getty


Thursday, October 22, 2009

At the Vatican, Secretaries' Day

Half a year exactly from the annual day set aside to honor assistants, this morning the Pope bolstered two of his second-tier dicasteries this morning with the appointment of new Secretaries to the Pontifical Councils for the Family and Justice and Peace, both of whom reflect B16's technocratic leanings but, notably, come to their posts from outside the offices they'll now help oversee.

To the Family council, where Cardinal Ennio Antonelli arrived a year ago with a more encouraging, affirmative approach in mind, the pontiff named French Msgr Jean Laffitte, 57, until now the #2 at the Pontifical Academy for Life. Unlike his predecessor, Laffitte -- a member of the Emmanuel Community -- was elevated to the episcopacy with this morning's move.

A moral theologian ordained a priest at 36, the bishop-elect has spent most of his priesthood working the life and family beat; a former vice-dean of the John Paul II Institute on Marriage and Family, he served briefly (2005-6) as the #3 official at Family before being named vice-president of the Academy for Life, the Vatican think-tank founded in 1994 by the late pontiff to examine medical and bioethical issues with an eye to forming an ecclesial response geared toward "the promotion and the defense of life."

In the council post, Laffitte succeeds the Polish cleric Gregorz Kaszak, who was named Secretary at Family in late 2007 before being sent home as a diocesan bishop earlier this year.

Meanwhile, three months after the release of B16's "social encyclical," one of the reported hands behind the drafting of Caritas in Veritate has been tapped to serve as #2 at the global church's social-justice arm.

A member of the Salesians of Don Bosco (the community of this pontificate's "Vice-Pope"... and a sizable horde of its appointees), Bishop-elect Mario Toso is not a complete stranger to the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace; he's been a consultor there for some time while serving until earlier this year at the helm of his order's Roman university, where he had been a lecturer in philosophy since 1980.

Born in Treviso, along Italy's northeast coast, the 59 year-old appointee was professed into the Salesians at 17, ordained a decade later, and spent practically his entire priesthood in the academy. A highly-sought expert in Catholic Social Teaching whose studies have delved into the nature of the welfare state, Toso said that Caritas in Veritate "proposed anew, in a positive sense... the construction of an ethical capitalism" in a summer interview with the Italian bishops' daily Avvenire.

Likewise named a bishop this morning, both Toso and Laffitte bring multilingual abilities to their new posts; the Italian speaks four languages, the Frenchman five. That said, while Laffitte's new superior is known to all, who Toso will be working for remains -- at least, officially -- a question mark; with the longtime Justice and Peace chief Cardinal Renato Martino soon to be two years past the retirement age of 75, months of heavy speculation has remained fixed on Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson as the post's next holder... as of this writing, though, the move remains unconfirmed... and so, the wait continues.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Phever Pitch

So, gang, while the aforementioned crazy plate's featured (among other things) four appointments in four days, possibly more shortly en route, a stunning ecumenical concession with wide implications, a bishops' plenary to prep for, a long-overdue book forward almost done, a mountain of sufficient thank-yous to write and e.mails to get back to, and well more... if all goes as planned, this town takes to Broad Street later tonight... or Main Street, Market Street, Germantown Av., Frankford and Cottman, etc., depending on whereabout you are.

Along these lines, just be advised that, if said scenario pans out, don't expect anything too early tomorrow.

For you luckier ball-fans elsewhere who might be somewhat puzzled: yeah, we celebrate pennants here -- we're far from used to 'em... or, for that matter, anything good happening 'round these parts, really.

And when you've seen Popes way more often than nights like this, well, that just makes it all the sweeter.

God love you lot forever... and, of course, Go Phils.



All Roads Lead to... Lynch?

Sorry for the slow trickle of stuff, folks... the shop's descended into chaos and there's only so much energy to go 'round, but more on that in a bit.

Before their respective appointments in the last week, not much would've seemed to link a native son pastor in rural Indiana and a Cuban-born cleric overseeing one of South Florida's largest parishes. But Bishops-elect Fernando Isern of Pueblo and Paul Etienne of Cheyenne already shared another notable common bond: Bishop Robert Lynch of St Petersburg.

In a nutshell, Lynch came to know the Wyoming appointee during his days as general secretary of the US bishops... at whose close he returned home to Miami, where Isern was the lone parochial vicar he ever had.

And so, on the mother of all episcopal blogs -- For His Friends, which he updates daily -- the bishop's posted on both... saying of Isern that:
Father Fernando had already been at St. Mark’s parish in Davie when I was appointed pastor there on June 1, 1995. The large, growing population of both Anglos and Hispanics loved him and rightly so. He worked tirelessly for them all week long.

We had an interesting beginning, the two of us. Three days before I was to begin my pastorate, he took me in a delirious state first to the doctor and then by EMT transport to Hollywood Memorial Hospital West in Pembroke Pines. I was in the emergency room all day and remember little except for the priestly presence of Father Isern giving me the sacrament of the sick....

It was the Monday after Thanksgiving, barely five full months later that the Holy Father’s representative in the U.S., the Apostolic Nuncio, called to tell me of my appointment to St. Petersburg as bishop. Bishop-elect Isern saw firsthand the sadness that accompanied giving up my first and wonderful parish and moving on and the toll it took on myself and others and today that experience is now his as well.

He will make a great bishop. It is also a great day for the priests of the Archdiocese of Miami... Miami’s priests, like my own here in the diocese, consist of many exemplary and dedicated men living what is sometimes a very challenging life and to pick one more of their number for service in the order of bishop should make them feel very good.
...and on Etienne:
Father Paul Etienne first came into my life as a graduate of the College of St. Thomas in 1985. He had been a college seminarian at St. John Vianney College seminary on the campus of St. Thomas and had decided to take some time off to reflect on the commitment to celibacy. The Rector then, now Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines, called our office at the Bishop’s Conference and said he had a young man who was making a mistake, that he had a vocation to priesthood but needed time. Knowing that we were looking for temporary help for the upcoming 1986 papal visit, the General Secretary at that time and my boss, Monsignor Daniel Hoye and I interviewed Paul and were impressed with his very successful background as a young business man after high school graduation and his academic achievements. Even though he came to Washington wearing “cowboy boots” we hired him and I got to know my co-worker well. He did an outstanding job for the papal visit but hated Washington and its big-city, urban environment. He was from Tell City, a small but very Catholic town along the Ohio River where the public school had been run by the parish and nuns. He was from a close-knit family of six children, faith-filled, loving parents, a small town. When the trip was over, he could not wait to return to Tell City, search for a job, and see how a relationship with a young woman he had met developed. That was November.

In December his older brother Bernie announced that he was entering the seminary and studying for the Evansville diocese where he was living. In the first week of January, Paul called me and said that he felt called again to the priesthood and would be approaching the Archbishop of Indianapolis about entering the seminary. At first I was incredulous, skeptical and challenging, wondering if this was not a reaction to Bernie’s decision. His younger sister had already begun the process of entering the Beech Grove Benedictine community. To make a long story short, Paul entered the North American College that Fall and four years later was ordained the first of the Etienne brothers. I vested him at his diaconate and preached his first Mass in Tell City....

One final note. The three priest brothers are avid hunters. For ordination gifts, they gave each other hunting rifles. Come deer season, the boys can be found on their wooded farm behind some blind waiting for a vulnerable deer. I know; I have inadvertently placed a phone call to them only to be greeted by the sound of a rifle going off and told to hang up....

Cheyenne’s lucky. They are getting a pastor, not a Church bureaucrat, and someone who will love and lead them.
Suffice it to say, next month in Baltimore should make for quite the reunion... and just further proof that, while it's six degrees of separation in the wider world, in the Wide World o' Church, it's closer to two and a half.

Still in recovery from a summertime cancer scare that saw him escape death, Lynch made his first public appearance following a five-week hospital stay earlier this month to congratulate his Gulfside church's 19 new permanent deacons at the close of their ordination Mass.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

For Canterbury Exiles, Rome Builds a Bridge

Responding to a rising tide of requests in recent years for full communion from conservative Anglicans who've sought refuge under Rome's umbrella following their Communion's global troubles, this morning the Holy See preemptively announced a forthcoming Apostolic Constitution establishing a "single canonical model" for the intake of large numbers of Anglicans, fulfilling a century-old desire to integrate disaffected Anglicans into the Catholic Church "while preserving elements of the distinctive Anglican spiritual and liturgical patrimony."

In token of the measure's significance -- and, indeed, its sensitivity on the ecumenical front -- the move was revealed at a Vatican press conference by the church's lead doctrinal overseer, US Cardinal William Levada, joined by American Archbishop Gus DiNoia OP, the newly-installed #2 at the global church's "worship office" who served until June as the #3 official at Levada's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which laid the groundwork for the arrangement.

According to an unusually well-crafted CDF statement detailing the plans, the unnamed Constitution -- to be signed by Pope Benedict -- will see "pastoral oversight and guidance [being] provided for groups of former Anglicans through a Personal Ordinariate, whose Ordinary will usually be appointed from among former Anglican clergy."

While the ordination of married former Anglican clergy has become relatively commonplace since the Pastoral Provision was instituted in 1980, the Vatican note re-drew the line at the prospect of married bishops; "historical and ecumenical reasons preclude the ordination of married men as bishops in both the Catholic and Orthodox Churches," the release said. "The Constitution therefore stipulates that the Ordinary can be either a priest or an unmarried bishop."

What's more, though the Holy See aimed to compare the new ordinariates to the national diocesan structures overseeing a country's military forces, the case at hand appears to hearken more closely to the Eastern churches in full communion in light of the arrangement's maintenance of a distinct liturgical custom and the provision for its oversight by a free-standing ecclesial authority drawn from said community. In other words, though the terminology was likely chosen to keep ecumenical headaches at a minimum, the de facto result of the move is an Anglican Rite within the Roman Communion. Like the military churches, however, the structures will ostensibly be nation-wide, established after consultation with the episcopal conferences.

Though the journey from Canterbury to Rome is nothing new -- one of its more celebrated travelers, who became Cardinal John Henry Newman, will be beatified next year -- recent years have seen an uptick of Anglican defections as the Communion's internal life has been roiled by the increasing embrace of the ordination of women and openly gay clerics by many of the Communion's 44 provinces, along with what the Vatican today termed a departure "from the common biblical teaching on human sexuality" in the decision of several provinces to bless same-sex unions.

* * *
Underscoring the move's potential impact on both churches -- and showing an unusual degree of coordination, both in terms of rollout strategy and ecumenical cooperation -- a joint statement on the new protocol from Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster and the Anglican Communion's head, Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury, was included in this morning's Bulletin of the Holy See Press Office.

In their message, the twin primates saw the development as a fruit "of ecumenical dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion."

"The Apostolic Constitution is further recognition of the substantial overlap in faith, doctrine and spirituality between the Catholic Church and the Anglican tradition," they said. "Without the dialogues of the past forty years, this recognition would not have been possible, nor would hopes for full visible unity have been nurtured."

Nichols and Williams likewise held a joint press conference following the Roman briefing.

While the most prominent Tiber-crossing push has come from the 400,000-member Traditional Anglican Communion, and several clergy of the Episcopal diocese of Fort Worth investigated the possibility as their Texas fold voted to secede from the Communion's US branch last year, no mention of any group was made in this morning's announcement. In addition, no timetable was given for the release of the Apostolic Constitution on the formation of the new structures.



Monday, October 19, 2009

A-Train's Next Stop: Cheyenne

Before anything else, gang, as the Cheyenne are a tribe... let the church say A-ha.

Putting the nation's longest diocesan vacancy to rest, this morning the Pope named Fr Paul Etienne -- pastor of his boyhood parish and a rural dean in the archdiocese of Indianapolis -- as bishop of Cheyenne, heading up Wyoming's statewide diocese of 50,000.

Continuing the US' recent streak of young nominees with sizable pastoral experience, Etienne -- a onetime staffer for the US bishops who turned 50 in June -- succeeds Bishop David Ricken, who was transferred to the diocese of Green Bay in July 2008.

One of six children, the bishop-elect comes from an exceptional family as vocations go; two of his younger brothers are priests in the adjacent diocese of Evansville, and his sister Nicolette is... Sister Nicolette -- a professed Benedictine in the Hoosier State who currently serves as an elementary-school religion teacher (and has a blog, to boot).

Ordained in 1992, Paul Etienne (said to be pronounced "A-chen" given the family's Germanic roots) earned a licentiate in spiritual theology in Rome, returning home to parish work while serving by turns as the Indy church's vocation director and vice-rector of its Bishop Bruté College Seminary. Last May, the hunting enthusiast described as "extremely charismatic, charming, humble and family-oriented" was dispatched from the seminary and his city pastorate to a deanery along the archdiocese's rural southwest border, where he's since pastored two parishes -- one, his boyhood church, and another which encompassed an entire county of some 20,000 residents -- doing some spiritual direction at St Meinrad in his spare time.

Suffice it to say, it's been sound prep for what's to come... all 98,000 square miles of it.

Following Ricken's departure, the massive Wyoming church has experienced a difficult interregnum, most prominently evidenced by February's significant budget cuts that slashed everything from the diocese's 57 year-old newspaper to its education and youth ministry offices, and the summer 2008 settlement of a Missouri suit brought by three victim-survivors who alleged abuse by Ricken's predecessor, Bishop Joseph Hart, who retired in 2001.

Given the context, it's especially significant that the new bishop comes with experience of college-level education following Ricken's prominent advocacy for Wyoming Catholic College, a new institute whose founding the prior ordinary championed in concert with Cheyenne's metropolitan, Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput. Per its by-laws, the bishop of Cheyenne serves as WCC's ex officio board chair; founded in 2007 with 35 students and now housed on an interim campus, the college's current academic year was opened early last month by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston.

Yet to receive accreditation to award degrees, WCC expects to graduate its first class in 2011.

While Bishop-elect Etienne must be ordained and installed within the canonical time-frame of four months, smart money says the rites'll be scheduled close to the 10 December ordination of the Denver province's other freshly-named suffragan, Bishop-elect Fernando Isern of Pueblo. Its diocesan staff meeting usually held on Wednesdays, the Cheyenne curia has reportedly been summoned for an 8am MT meeting with the new boss, all the usual Appointment Day rituals to follow.

With the appointment, the longest vacancy now belongs to rural Kentucky's diocese of Owensboro, which opened on the 5 January early retirement of Bishop John McRaith.

Six Latin-rite dioceses on these shores now lack an ordinary, with another eight led by bishops serving past the retirement age of 75. Following last Thursday's hat-trick and the earlier naming of Bishop-elect Bernie Hebda of Gaylord, today's news sees the emergence of the US bench's fifth new member in 11 days... not a bad clip.

And with that, a Happy Monday to one and all.

SVILUPPO: In an early-morning note to his siblings announcing the move, Etienne said that the ordination is "planned for either December 9th or 11th... though subject to change."

On the level of history, meanwhile, it's been two decades since an Indy priest was called to the high-hat: the archdiocese's vicar-general, Fr Gerald Gettelfinger, was named bishop of Evansville in 1989, where he remains today.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

State 1, Chapter 11

Faced with 133 unresolved sex-abuse suits after a two-year "window" law suspended the civil statute of limitations, the diocese of Wilmington announced its intent to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection tonight, hours before the first cases were scheduled to go to trial.

Home to 220,000 Catholics, the local church comprising all of Delaware and Maryland's Eastern Shore becomes the seventh US diocese to initiate the reorganization process, but the first to do so east of the Mississippi.

Following is the announcement of the move, released in a letter to the diocese from Wilmington Bishop Fran Malooly:
My Dear People:

I am today announcing that the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington Inc. has filed for Chapter 11 reorganization under the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. This is a painful decision, one that I had hoped and prayed I would never have to make. However, after careful consideration and after consultation with my close advisors and counselors, I believe we have no other choice, and that filing for Chapter 11 offers the best opportunity, given finite resources, to provide the fairest possible treatment of all victims of sexual abuse by priests of our Diocese. Our hope is that Chapter 11 proceedings will enable us to fairly compensate all victims through a single process established by the Bankruptcy Court.

It has always been my and my predecessor, Bishop Saltarelli’s, highest hope and fervent desire to settle all claims against the Diocese of Wilmington through a mediation process. Our past record as detailed in my May 7, 2009, letter outlines the number of past cases we have settled and the aggregate amount of money the Diocese has paid in settlements. Some months ago, we petitioned the Superior Court to order an Alternative Dispute Resolution process so that a global, equitable settlement for all 142 claimants would be negotiated with the assistance of a court-appointed mediator. On October 6 the court ordered such an ADR process for all cases without long-standing trial dates. Thirty of the 131cases filed against the Diocese have been scheduled for trial, with a set of eight cases to begin trial on Monday, October 19. As has been our policy, we were engaged in negotiations, with the assistance of a mediator, to settle these eight cases. These negotiations continued until today, but we were unable to achieve a settlement. Our concern throughout the negotiations was that too large a settlement with these eight victims would leave us with inadequate resources to fairly compensate the other 133 claimants, and continue our ministry. It is our obligation to ensure that all victims of abuse by our priests are fairly compensated, not just those fortunate enough to secure earlier trial dates.

The Chapter 11 filing is in no way intended to dodge responsibility for past criminal misconduct by clergy – or for mistakes made by Diocesan authorities. Nor does the bankruptcy process enable the Diocese to avoid or minimize its responsibility to victims of abuse. Instead, the Chapter 11 filing will enable the Diocese to meet its obligations head-on and fulfill its responsibility to all victims.

The Diocese of Wilmington is committed to pursuing the truth because truth heals. Three years ago Bishop Saltarelli, whom we buried here last week, released the names of 18 Diocesan priests who had admitted, corroborated or otherwise substantiated allegations of abuse of minors. It was one of the most detailed voluntary disclosures of its kind in the United States. In all of those cases, the Diocese shared information about abuse allegations with law-enforcement authorities. All eight of the priests who were living at the time of Bishop Saltarelli’s announcement previously had been removed from any ministerial duties, and for all eight priests, the Diocese has initiated or completed the process of laicization, or removal from the priesthood – the harshest punishment that the Church can impose on a priest, short of excommunication.

Moreover, the Diocese has never sought to seal depositions of priests accused of sexual abuse, and it consistently has supported the unsealing of such records. The Diocese also has never sought to seal the priest files it has produced in discovery in the lawsuits. The Diocese itself has publicly corroborated many of the incidents of abuse, and has provided more details about what actions were taken – or, sometimes tragically, not taken – by our officials. All such information is in the court records of the cases scheduled for trial on October 19, and we believe that no significant new facts would have emerged at trial.

My decision to file for Chapter 11 reorganization also was agonizing because it meant that, apart from the psychological and spiritual toll on the abuse victims, there will be significant financial losses for creditors who have faithfully supported us for years. The possibility of such losses has been present from the time that the scope of the claims against us first became clear, but the filing unfortunately makes it a certainty.

As regards the parishes and other institutions of the Diocese: It is only the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington Inc. that is seeking reorganization under Chapter 11, not parishes, schools or related church entities which have their own corporate identities. Parishes in the Diocese of Wilmington are set up civilly and by state statute as separate corporations.

It is our moral obligation to make reparations and otherwise see to the healing of legitimate abuse victims and to try to restore the faith that in many cases has tragically been lost. But our moral obligations do not end there. We also are obliged to continue our charitable, educational and spiritual missions and the ministries associated with them. In order to do that, this Diocese must survive. Some see a tension between the claims of those victims who have suffered so greatly at the hands of people in whom they had placed their trust and the need of the Diocese to continue its other necessary works. We believe not only that both goals are compatible but that, with God’s help and yours, they will be achieved.
The diocese will hold a press conference to discuss the filing tomorrow morning.

Prior to tonight's announcement, plaintiffs' attorneys had called a presser for an unspecified "major announcement"... ostensibly in expectation of a settlement which didn't come.