Sunday, February 28, 2010

Dolan on Everything, Part Deux

Earlier today saw the last of Archbishop Tim Dolan's "re-launch" interviews on the first anniversary of his appointment to New York... and just like Thursday's sit-down with NY1, this morning's chat with WABC's Diana Williams had its share of headline-making quotes -- maybe, given its enhanced ad intra focus, even more notable zingers this time around.

Asked for his thoughts on matters ranging from gay seminarians to denying the Eucharist to pro-choice public officials, school vouchers to priests' birthdays, his mentor and becoming a cardinal -- and, as ever, much more -- here's the half-hour session in three parts... and, frankly, it's best to watch the whole deal as opposed to the snip-and-spins that're bound to crop up:

PHOTO: Getty


Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Countdown Begins

As our friends out West are well aware, today is Cardinal Roger Mahony's 74th birthday... and at this hour, the curtain formally rises on the most significant Stateside transition of B16's pontificate as a prayer for Mahony's successor debuts at this weekend's Masses in the 288 parishes of the nation's largest local church.

Given the impact the pontiff's impending selection of an LA coadjutor will have far beyond the 5 million-member SoCal fold, the prayer -- to be used liturgically until the appointment -- is one worth keeping in mind well outside the archdiocese's three counties.

With that in mind, here it is....
Lord God, you are our eternal shepherd and guide.

In your mercy, grant to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles a shepherd who will walk in your ways and whose watchful care will bring us your blessing.

In your love for us, give us the joy of receiving a shepherd who will be an example of goodness to your people and who will fill our hearts and minds with the truth of the gospel.

We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
* * *
LA might be the mother of 'em all... still, it's far from the only major Stateside opening en route.

With the holders of three cardinalatial sees reaching the retirement age of 75 over the next two years, and a staggering half of the nation's 12 cardinal-electors turning 80 -- and, ergo, losing their conclave rights -- within the same time-frame, the top rank of the 68 million-member US church is soon to undergo a clip of moves that, as one Vatican aide recently put it, will bring about "the greatest change we'll see in our lives."

For all of it, as always, stay tuned.


Friday, February 26, 2010

Beseeching a "Welcome"

A decade in the making, the most significant change to the English Mass in some forty years is close at hand.

Its confirmation by Rome expected as soon as April, with implementation most-often tipped for Advent 2011, the third edition of the Missale Romanum has garnered no shortage of attention in church circles over the years, with a heated divide spurred between supporters celebrating the new rendering's uptick in "sacral language" and enhanced fidelity to the Missal's original Latin, and critics contending that the rebooted text would signal a departure from the conciliar premium of the people's "full active participation" in worship.

To be sure, the split of opinion hasn't just been among liturgists; the US bishops became the lone national bench to reject a section of the new texts when they failed to pass the Proper of Seasons on a mail ballot following a high-octane debate at their 2008 summer meeting in Orlando. (After the Holy See sent a pointed signal by granting its recognitio for the Missal's most recognizable element -- the standard Order of Mass -- days after the failed vote, the Stateside bench approved the Proper at their subsequent fall assembly in Baltimore.)

The first vernacular text to be identical for English-speaking Catholics worldwide -- and one that sparked a tempest on its premature implementation in South Africa -- the Missal overhaul arguably remains unknown to the bulk of the people in the pews, so a catechetical effort planned by several of the 11 Anglophone conferences is soon to be launched. Yet in the meanwhile, taking to the same pages where the rector of Seattle's cathedral made waves in December by sounding a call for a delay (and garnering support from over 17,000 signatories), the Stateside church's chief liturgist, Bishop Arthur Serratelli of Paterson, has penned an extensive essay for America with an eye to "welcoming" the new texts and explaining how they came to be.

Tempting as it is to snip, the fulltext of Serratelli's piece is especially worth reading for all sides... so, well, have at it.

While the OM1 recognitio was granted in order for catechetical efforts to proceed and sufficient musical settings to be prepared for the text's arrival, it's bears noting that, as of this writing, the Missal's other eleven sections remain in edits, their final form only to emerge once confirmed by the Holy See.


"Rejected of Men...."

Lest any of us forgot, our Lenten journey continues apace... and wherever you are, hope yours is going great.

Especially for those who could use it, let's take a minute to reflect again on these pages' Friday chorus:

And while you're at it, if you could keep a very special intention in your prayers, it'd mean the world.

With another foot or so of snow on the ground, livefeed later, as the day winds down... and abstinence and all, a Happy Friday to everyone. Stay warm, gang.


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Tim on... Everything

Closing out a week that saw a packed-house debut at Theology on Tap and the first anniversary of his appointment to the Big Apple, Archbishop Tim Dolan ran a half-hour TV gantlet earlier tonight, fielding questions on seemingly every hot-button under the sun in a prime-time chat that ran on the New York cable outlet NY1, and quickly posted for on-demand viewing on the channel's page.

Taped earlier this week in the drawing room of 452 Madison, among other topics to come up were... same-sex marriage, Obama at Notre Dame, immigration, the grace of "prudence" for public officials, potholes on Madison Avenue, the "prophetic vs. persuasive" balance for church leaders, John O'Connor, dog breeds, sledgehammers, St Patrick's Day, the 60 year-old prelate's weight... and all that just for starters.

Along the way, Dolan likewise made some notable comments on the legacy of former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo -- the father of the "personally opposed, but" publicly pro-choice stance on abortion that's bedeviled the bench for some three decades.

Asked if he'd "softened" any of his positions since arriving last April to lead the 2.5 million-member Gotham church, the archbishop began by replying, "I've softened my position... that the Yankees are diabolical."

As for the rest, just watch... and as ever, be prepared for money quotes galore.

PHOTO: Getty


The Lion... The Legend

Six weeks before the tenth anniversary of his death, the legacy of the Stateside bench's last household name -- Gotham's John Cardinal O'Connor -- will be the focus of a 27 March conference at Dunwoodie.

From today's Catholic New York, the schedule...
Archbishop [Timothy] Dolan will speak at 10 a.m. on "Cardinal O'Connor: Priest and Churchman for Our Times."

Mother Agnes Mary, S.V., superior general of the Sisters of Life, will give the closing conference at 2:30 p.m., "The Spirituality of Cardinal O'Connor."

Speaking at 11:15 a.m. will be Helen Alvare, professor at George Mason University School of Law and past pro-life spokeswoman for the U.S. Catholic bishops on life issues. Her topic will be "Cardinal O'Connor: Leader and Servant of the Truth."

Father Charles P. Connor, historian of the Diocese of Scranton and an author, will speak at 1:15 p.m. on "A Transforming Element: The Contribution of Cardinal O'Connor to the Culture of Life in the United States."...

The event is sponsored by the archdiocesan Family Life/Respect Life Office. Registration will begin at 8:30 a.m. and Mass will be celebrated at 8:45 a.m.
...and from a 1994 Charlie Rose interview, the man in full:

Even now, the goldleafer's son from Southwest Philly remains in a class by himself. May his words and example never fade from our midst.


"Election" Returns

With the week's diocesan newspapers beginning to drop, some added numbers are coming in from the weekend's Rites of Election... and while Hotlanta's throng of 2,000-plus catechumens and candidates was impressive given its Catholic population of roughly a million, an even higher ratio was drawn from the archdiocese of Denver (Catholic pop. 385,000), which welcomed over 1,100 newcomers in advance of their Easter Night reception.

Likewise no slouch was the diocese of St Petersburg (spring training home of your NL champions) -- on the mother of all episcopal blogs, Bishop Bob Lynch reported that the 425,000-member church likewise boasts a convert class of 1,000-plus. New York, meanwhile -- with 2.5 million Catholics, the second largest diocese in the country -- saw 600 catechumens at last weekend's rites in St Patrick's Cathedral, with another 850 candidates to be received this coming weekend. (Counting absentees, archdiocesan officials estimate at least 1,600 RCIA participants this year, and possibly even more.)

All told, the Stateside church initiated "as many as" 150,000 adults at last year's Easter Vigil.

Whatever the figures by diocese, the Mothership's recent reminder is worth repeating: namely, that the work of welcoming and making the newest among us feel at home is never just for these pages or the papers, but the lot of us all... so, well, let's to it.

PHOTO: St James Cathedral, Seattle


Back in the Fray

With today seeing the much-anticipated bipartisan "summit" on health-care reform between Congressional leaders and President Obama, late yesterday the following letter emerged from the leadership of the US bishops to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid:
Dear Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid:

On behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), we strongly urge the congressional leaders from both parties meeting on February 25, 2010 to commit themselves to enacting genuine health care reform that will protect the life, dignity, consciences and health of all. It is time to set aside partisan divisions and special interest pressures to find ways to enact genuine reform. We encourage the Administration and Congress to work in a bipartisan manner marked by political courage, vision and leadership.

The Catholic bishops have long supported adequate and affordable health care for all, because health care is a basic human right. As pastors and teachers, we believe genuine health care reform must protect human life and dignity from conception to natural death, not threaten them, especially for the voiceless and vulnerable. We believe health care legislation must respect the consciences of providers, taxpayers, purchasers of insurance and others, not violate them. We believe universal coverage should be truly universal and should not be denied to those in need because of their condition, age, where they come from or when they arrive here. Providing affordable and accessible health care that clearly reflects these fundamental principles is a public good, moral imperative and urgent national priority.

The U.S. Catholic bishops continue to urge the House and Senate to adopt legislation that:
  • Ensures access to quality, affordable, life-giving health care for all;
  • Retains longstanding requirements that federal funds not be used for elective abortions or plans that include them, and effectively protects conscience rights; and,
  • Protects the access to health care that immigrants currently have and removes current barriers to access.
For details on the bishops’ positions on health care, please visit

We will continue to work vigorously to advance true health care reform that ensures affordability and access, keeps longstanding prohibitions on abortion funding, upholds conscience rights, and addresses the health needs of immigrants. Dialogue should continue and no legislation should be finalized until and unless these basic moral criteria are met. Without commenting on specific proposals that may be brought to the summit, we will work to ensure that legislation meets these criteria and will oppose legislation that does not meet them. We hope and pray that the Congress and the country will come together around genuine health care reform that protects the life, dignity, consciences and health of all.


Bishop William F. Murphy
Diocese of Rockville Centre
Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo
Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston
Committee on Pro-life Activities

Bishop John Wester
Diocese of Salt Lake City
Committee on Migration

Off and Running

Just up the Blue Route, it might've taken WNEP's Scott Schafer months to get Scranton's last ordinary on-camera, and barely at that... but with the ink barely dry on his appointment to lead one of the Stateside church's most, er, "challenge-rich" dioceses, Bishop-elect Joe Bambera sat down yesterday for the full treatment:

Sure, he's already taken to the pectoral cross... moral of the story, though: as they say, eighty percent of life is showing up.

Seemingly to a man, to say the natives are out-and-out "thrilled" with the selection of one of their own is no understatement. No less than Commonweal is "doubly pleased," while in an open hand no less than jaw-dropping, the head of the diocesan high-school teachers union Michael Milz -- who led demonstrations against Bishop Joseph Martino after the now-retired prelate withdrew the diocese's recognition of the group -- wrote Bambera within hours, admitting that "having personally experienced your kindness and concern during our meeting this past October... I am particularly excited about your appointment."

Still, with questions lingering over the future of the diocese's schools, emotions still raw over the ongoing parish realignment process (which'll see Bambera's twin pastorates consolidate by June), a sizable financial hole to fill -- and more -- the bishop-elect's trying to keep expectations low.

While "the fact that the people know me gives me [an] advantage in facing the temporary challenges," Bambera said at Tuesday's presser, "the same people that know me well know my weaknesses and my idiosyncrasies. So you never know."


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Mormon Pioneers: Smith, Young... George

Lest anyone's interested -- and given the backdrop, you should be -- this afternoon's aforementioned lecture of the USCCB president, Cardinal Francis George, on Catholic-LDS relations at Brigham Young University will be livestreamed from 11am Mountain time (1pm Eastern, 1800GMT), with on-demand feeds slated to follow.


"God Walks With Us"

For anyone who didn't catch it live, fullvideo of this morning's Scranton presser is up and streaming on-demand... as is the nominee's prepared text.

As noted at the gathering's start, Bishop-elect Joe Bambera will be ordained and installed on Monday, 26 April at 2pm in the Electric City's St Peter Cathedral. While he'll technically continue until then as the delegate of the diocese's apostolic administrator, Cardinal Justin Rigali, Bambera's likely to immediately enjoy the full power of governance de facto following this morning's appointment.

It should stand as a particular underscore of the 53 year-old's uniquely standout qualifications for the post -- and the sizable trust being placed in him -- that the native son is the first Scranton pick in almost six decades to be given the seat without prior episcopal experience elsewhere.

And lastly, in keeping with the local context that played the dominant role in Bishop Joseph Martino's early retirement last summer, it's worth noting that secular politics never once came up during the ample question period for the media, which was instead dominated by the nuts-and-bolts of the diocese's governance.

While Bambera's tone marked a significant shift from that of his predecessor, the substance remained intact as the appointee took pains to underscore that the tough but needed administrative calls made by Bishop Joseph Martino would not be revisited. However furious the emotional fallout of the diocese's realignment of parishes and schools undertaken over recent years, the bishop-elect emphasized that the moves were a key component of strengthening the 350,000-member diocese's footing by adapting its structures for the future, and that it'd make little sense to reverse decisions reached only after significant consultation and planning.

SVILUPPO: Late in the day, fullvid likewise surfaced of the Ogdensburg presser with Bishop-elect Terry LaValley.

Normally, of course, we'd say "introducing"... as with Bambera, however, the locals already know the "new" sheriff rather well.

The first native son to lead the 150,000-member North Country church in nine decades, LaValley will be ordained and installed on 30 April.

PHOTO: Michael J. Mullen/Scranton Times-Tribune


North Countries, High Hats

Welcome to a Two-Fer Tuesday, folks -- B16's put two of the three longest-standing US vacancies to bed, naming the interim hands overseeing the dioceses of Ogdensburg and Scranton as the next ordinaries of each.

The pontiff's picks of now Bishops-elect Terry LaValley and Joseph Bambera, both 53, bring the number of vacant Stateside sees (Latin-rite) to a modern low of... three (in order, Springfield, Harrisburg and LaCrosse).

And if that ain't news on this beat, then what is?

(For the record, four more -- Lafayette in Indiana, Seattle, Spokane and Oklahoma City -- are led by ordinaries serving past the retirement age of 75. That's another decade-long low.)

What's more, it's rare that one, let alone two, diocesan administrators have been named to the posts they've been seat-warming for... last time it happened even once on these shores came in late 2005, when the "teddy bear"-esque Fr David Choby was named bishop of his native Nashville.

SVILUPPO: While the Ogdensburg press conference -- called for 10.30 at the Bishop's Residence -- is shaping up to be a quieter but still very happy affair, the 10am Scranton presser's likely to have a particular feel of exuberance. You'll find a stream of the latter right here just before, so check back then.

On a couple context notes... first, it's already been pointed out that, born five days apart and having run their respective charges ad interim, today's appointees could be considered "twins." And not just on those accounts, either -- both bishops-elect studied canon law at St Paul's in Ottawa: Bambera from 1989-91, then LaValley from 1992-94.

And lastly, while no shortage of names (led, unsurprisingly, by New York auxiliaries) were floated for Ogdensburg, it's likewise little surprise that a native son ended up with the nod -- the last two months of buzz have foreseen as much, explicitly with an eye to ending the "revolving door" that's seen the diocese's last three bishops shuffled to other posts within five years of their respective arrivals.

Named the North Country's 14th bishop, LaValley is the first native of the Ogdensburg diocese to take the reins since 1921.

SVILUPPO 2: At the start of the Scranton presser (video), Bambera's ordination/installation was announced for 2pm on 26 April in St Peter's Cathedral.

According to the Ogdensburg chancery, the date for LaValley's rites remains to be determined.


He Shall Be Peace: Bambera Gets Scranton... For Good

Good morning... and as expected, the gang up the Blue Route can officially start dancing: the Pope has named Msgr Joseph Bambera, 53 -- native son, "very much loved" pastor of two parishes, the day-to-day overseer of the Scranton diocese these last six months -- as Northeast Pennsylvania's tenth bishop.

Just shy of the six-month timetable Cardinal Justin Rigali set for the succession to the 350,000-member church, the apostolic administrator delivered, by all appearances with the cleric who was his first choice to succeed Bishop Joseph Martino, whose stormy six-year tenure ended with the embattled 63 year-old's early resignation on 31 August.

A former chair of the diocese's presbyteral council, regional dean and tribunal judge in addition to five pastorates, the bishop-elect quit Martino's curia in 2007 to return to parish life. Two years later, three weeks after the roof of one of his parishes caved in, Bambera re-emerged as Rigali's surprise pick to essentially run the diocese during the vacancy, after Rome's freshly-named administrator bypassed the leadership team Martino had left behind.

One of the Stateside church's most solid bastions, its "formidable challenges" on the personnel, pastoral and financial fronts as staggering as they've been decades in the making, the move gives Scranton a second native son among its last three bishops... and a particularly cherished one at that.

Since August, many testimonies to the nominee's traits -- prayerfulness, people-savvy, "good guy" -- have been quietly registered. Of them all, one -- from a local who's known the nominee for some four decades -- sums the rest up:
About Joe Bambera... he’s definitely not a prima donna, he’s a gentle soul with a quiet presence. His intelligence goes without question as does his goodness. He’s a really good guy and steady. Ever since ordination, Joe has taken on greater and greater responsibility in the diocese... he would be a great choice because he’s a hometown guy and knows the diocese and its people because they are his family. The priests trust Joe and they really need someone they can trust right now. This mess is not going to get cleaned up very quickly but the right choice in a bishop could save it from a cascade effect into total ruin. Joe would have the support of the priests, I think. That could make all the difference.
Within weeks of the Labor Day handover, Bambera set into patching up one of the higher-profile faceoffs of the Martino era -- the former bishop's withdrawal of recognition from the diocesan high-school teachers union.

The 2007 move sparked public protests, and even the proposal of statewide legislation which would've forced Pennsylvania's Catholic schools to recognize unions (a move that reportedly sent shockwaves through the Keystone State's church leadership).

After meeting with the delegate, union leader Michael Milz said he found the session "very encouraging."

And as he heads into the hot seat on a permanent basis, Bambera could use all the encouragement he can get.

In accord with the norms of the canons, the bishop-elect must be ordained and installed within four months of this morning's appointment. As previously noted, a 10am Eastern press conference has already been announced -- livestream link to come.

PHOTO: Scranton Times-Tribune/File


Monday, February 22, 2010

"Electric City"... Appointment Eve

After an afternoon's worth of mounting buzz, around 8pm tonight a statement emerged from the diocese of Scranton with bold-faced word of a 10am news conference tomorrow.

No specifics were given, of course... but all signs point firmly to the announcement of the roiled Northeastern Pennsylvania diocese's tenth bishop.

Among other early reports to come from sources in the 350,000-member church, an unscheduled meeting of the College of Consultors has reportedly been called for 9.30... and Msgr Joseph Bambera -- the highly-regarded local pastor tapped to serve as the delegate of the apostolic administrator, Cardinal Justin Rigali -- cancelled his plans to attend tomorrow's meeting of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference in Harrisburg.

A canonist and onetime member of Bishop Joseph Martino's curia before leaving diocesan administration in 2008, the roof of one of the delegate's two parishes memorably caved in just before Martino's August resignation and Bambera's appointment as the diocese's day-to-day overseer during the vacancy.

By the looks of it, that roof's gonna become someone else's to fix.

Curtain goes up at 6, gang. For all of it, as always, stay tuned.

SVILUPPO (10.28pm): At the top of tonight's 10pm local ABC newscast in Scranton, WNEP's Scott Schaffer -- who chronicled his near-futile quest for an interview with Martino in a, er, unique May sweeps piece last year -- reported that Bambera "will be named the new Bishop."

To be sure, keeping the 53 year-old permanently in post would be the least surprising result; facing "formidable challenges" ranging from $15 million in deficits and investment losses over the last year, the fraught legacy of Martino's six-year tenure, low morale among the presbyterate and the continuing fallout of broad swaths of parish and school closings that hit the locals hard, any Scranton appointee would have little room for a learning curve.


A Year Later, Tim on Tap

One year ago tonight, the top line here ran thus: "Well, gang, greetings from the Big Apple...."

The rest, as they say, is history -- the next morning, after a memorable month of frenzied waiting, B16 named Tim Dolan to the archbishopric of New York.

It's been an eventful year, and really hard to believe where the time's gone... but, well, here we are again.

Fresh off his 60th birthday earlier this month, tonight Dolan will celebrate the milestone with an unprecedented event for a holder of the post dubbed the "American Pope" as the tenth archbishop takes over a Midtown bar to kick off the city's Lenten run of Theology on Tap.

And, indeed, your pages are here to cover it.

The festivities are slated to start around 7.30 ET. And for all the rest, just kick back, relax and enjoy the feed -- but click the play button first.

SVILUPPO: As the Gotham media's learned well what their Milwaukee counterparts held as Gospel -- namely, "Timmy = Ratings" -- an anniversary sitdown (well, part of it) ran tonight on the city's top-rated WABC:

PHOTOS: Getty(1); Archdiocese of New York(2)

Happy Monday, folks -- hope everything's great on your end and your Lent's off to a winning start. Even if it isn't, though, fret not; we can all learn a lot from watching the spills at the Winter Olympics -- they just get up again and keep pushing, eh?

Anyways, just so you know, today's taken up with prep for a special presentation coming your way tonight. So if you're around, you might want to drop in as the clock nears 7pm Eastern (0000GMT) -- as the fun stuff goes 'round here, you'll probably enjoy this one more than most.

In the meanwhile, thanks as always for reading, writing and, of course, keeping the lights on and the feed a-clickin'.

More later... as always, stay tuned.


Peter and His Churches

As previously noted, this Washington's birthday likewise sees the ecclesial equivalent of "President's Day" -- the ancient feast of the Chair of Peter... and keeping along our Southern trip-tik, it's worth sharing that the first apostle's famous 13th century statue at the Vatican has got itself some competition.

At Disney World.

Just as the worn-toed likeness of the first Pope traditionally gets decked out in pontificals (tiara and all) for today's feast and the 29 June solemnity of Peter and Paul, so does the life-sized bronze (right) at Orlando's sanctuary of Mary, Queen of the Universe. And this 22 February, the get-up's especially appropriate -- last summer, the Magic Kingdom's parish church, opened in 1993, became the US' 63rd minor basilica, becoming (by far) the youngest of those churches whose history and significance see them given the special link with the Roman pontiff.

There's been something of a basilica binge happening of late on these shores. Since the Disney parish's July elevation, two other Stateside churches have likewise been honored: West Virginia's Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Charleston got the nod in November, and tonight'll see a solemn vespers formally inaugurating Connecticut's second "papal church," Stamford's Basilica of St John the Evangelist.

Of the 65 US sites where the traditional ombrellino (left) and tintinnabulum are on display, half have received the distinction within the last two decades.

PHOTO: Loggiarazzi/Diocese of Orlando(1); Flickr(2)


Sunday, February 21, 2010

In Hotlanta, the Class of 2,015

And so, church, welcome to the closest thing we've got to 8pm on the first Tuesday of November... at least, outside a conclave.

Whether all together or at multiple sites, as every local church has spent this afternoon welcoming the catechumens and candidates who'll join the lot of us come Easter, this is, literally, our Election Night... albeit one on which there are no losers.

Still, in a church which could use all the good news it can get, that the Rites of Election which've taken place through the day get little more than cricket-grade coverage is baffling... and as even press releases on the event are nigh impossible to find, any sort of breakdown of the numbers is even more tightly held.

That is, with certain, notable exceptions.

Already known as an especially vibrant and booming new hub of American Catholic life, the church of Atlanta -- the "Capital of the South"... where they can't open parish schools quickly enough; just ordained 15 permanent deacons, as many new priests within a year, and the first auxiliary bishop in a half-century; home of what, practically overnight, has become the South's largest church gathering... and, above all, now stands at nearly six times its 1990 size with a membership in striking distance of a million Catholics (nearly half of them Hispanic) -- has taken the national cake with a record-sized convert class of over 2,000 strong:
Officials at the Archdiocese of Atlanta say it's the largest number of people who have ever taken part in the Rite of Election and the Call to Continuing Conversion, which began at 3 p.m. at the Boisfeuillet Jones Atlanta Civic Center. The ceremony, where the church officially welcomes future Catholics, is always held during the start of the Lenten season. Those who participate will join the church during Easter Vigil masses.

"It's very exciting," said the Rev. Theodore Book, director of the Archdiocese of Atlanta's Office of Divine Worship. He said it shows the church in North and Central Georgia, "is very alive and very dynamic. I think people see something special in the Catholic Church."

Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory will preside over the ceremony, assisted by [auxiliary] Bishop Luis R. Zarama. It will be conducted in 11 languages, including Haitian Creole, Vietnamese, Korean and Yoruba, which illustrates the growing diversity of the church in North and Central Georgia.
According to archdiocesan communications chief Pat Chivers, the 404's Easter intake topped out at 2,015 -- a figure that, somehow, increased by 133 since a Peachtree Tweet reported it just three days back.

By contrast, two of the Northeast's once-vaunted bastions, counting a combined Catholic population of some 3.3 million, welcomed roughly 1,500 catechumens and candidates between them at this weekend's rites, the larger diocese's crop of "over 600" said to represent "a significant increase" from last year.

To keep per capita pace with Wilt Country, however, the duo would've needed, oh, another 5,500 or so.

Lest any forgot, just another reminder that this ain't your grandfather's Stateside church.

PHOTOS: Michael Alexander/Georgia Bulletin


Gone Prayin'

And, well, right there's all the B16 you'll be seeing for a bit....

At this hour, one of the weightier weeks of his five-year reign now behind, the Pope and his senior Curia are beginning their weeklong Lenten Retreat, during which much of the Vatican 's workload grinds to a halt.

While the traditional papal exercises for the penitential season were long grist for the Roman buzzmill given the habit of both Paul VI and John Paul II to tap high-profile papabili to preach it, the reigning pontiff has largely curtailed the chatter by choosing his retreat masters from a more improbable mold -- at least, as advancement goes.

Since his election, Benedict first turned to a string of four retired cardinals to guide the week. This year, however, the at least a bit of the old buzz is back as the preaching honors have fallen to no retiree, but a 59 year-old Salesian, Fr Enrico dal Covolo -- a longtime consultor to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith... and even more tellingly, another confrere of the Secretary of State to get a prominent turn on the Vatican stage.

All that said, before heading into six days of conferences on "'Lessons' of God and the church on the priestly vocation," the Pope made his lone appearance of the week for his noontime Angelus:
Benedict XVI explained the significance of [Lent] as "a time of spiritual renewal," with a personal commitment so the "the world may improve is we start from each one of ourselves, changing, thanks to the grace of God, what is wrong in our lives".

In this the faithful should follow the example of Jesus who struggled "in first person against the Tempter, right to the Cross." "Christ - the Pope said - came into the world to free us from sin and the ambiguous lure of planning our lives devoid of God."

The pontiff referred to the temptations of Christ (recounted in today’s Gospel, Luke 4, 1-13): the first, which "takes its origin from hunger, ie from material need" and the second, with "the deception of power that Jesus unmasks and rejects "the third, in which “the Tempter offers Jesus to perform a spectacular miracle".

"Referring to the Sacred Scripture - explained the pope - He [Jesus] places the sole authentic criterion ahead of all human criteria: obedience to God's will. This too, is a key lesson for us: if we bear the Word of God in mind and heart, if it enters into our lives, then we can reject any kind of deception of the tempter. Also, the image of Christ, emerges from the episode, as the new Adam, the Son of God, humble and obedient to the Father, unlike Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden who had succumbed to the seductions of the spirit of evil".

"Lent - concluded Benedict XVI - is like a long 'retreat', during which we gather in reflection to meditate and listen to the voice of God, to overcome the temptations of the devil. A time of spiritual 'agonism' to experience with Jesus, not with pride and conceit, but using the weapons of faith, that is prayer, listening to the Word of God and repentance. In this way we can celebrate Easter in truth, ready to renew the promises of our Baptism. "
PHOTO: Reuters


New Kid On the... Tube

Crazy though it seems, this week sees a year since the Appointment of the Century (well, the first one)... but while Tim Dolan's TV savvy arguably helped write his ticket to the Big Apple and since prompted him to blog, a year in, one of the few places the archbishop of New York still has yet to appear are his charge's major media stops, whether the Today Show, the Daily Show, the Late Show, the three evening newscasts, cable news in prime-time -- or, for that matter, anything in-between as national exposure goes in the boob-tube's "capital of the world."

To be fair, Dolan did log a sit down with Regis Philbin... but that was just before a Christmas Mass.

Sure, the New York church has its own continent-wide radio outlet, but these days, the church's media engagement is -- well, needs to be -- at least as focused on the "scattered" as the "gathered"... in other words, far from geared just toward those who come looking.

And along these lines, the whole Stateside bench looks to have been trumped up North... and by its junior prelate, at that.

Fresh off his ordination last month as Canada's first non-white high-hat -- and at 43, its youngest -- new Toronto auxiliary Vincent Nguyen appeared in early February on The Hour, the CBC's late-night flagship, which ran him as its first guest, featuring the Vietnamese-born prelate's story of fleeing his homeland in a boat, and even his martyred great-grandfather, both in a prepared package and on-set interview (fullvideo).

"You're really gonna love this guy," host George Stroumbolopolous told viewers. And for a raucous 11pm audience seemingly more comfortable with screaming than silence, the moving sit-down took place in a setting of rapt respect from host and crowd alike.

Lest anyone's still thinking the forum some sort of house organ or whitewash, following Nguyen on-set was Joey McIntyre, the Boston native still milking his days as frontboy of New Kids on the Block. And to be sure, it's not as if the "baby bishop" was entering a public square clear of controversy, either: the ordinations of Nguyen and his fellow appointee Bishop Bill McGrattan were Canada's first since last fall's stunning resignation of Bishop Raymond Lahey of Antigonish following the Nova Scotia prelate's arrest on charges of possessing child pornography.

For the record, neither controversies nor scandals came up... because in the media world, showing up to tell one's own story tends to be the soundest strategy of all.

* * *
Speaking of the North -- where the Vancouver Olympics have reached their halfway-point -- some ecclesial fireworks broke out just before the games' opening as the country's opposition leader called for the inclusion of abortion funding in a new Canadian push to aid women's health efforts in the developing world.

After Michael Ignatieff went public with his "astonishing" stance, the Liberal leader was promptly rounded by two of the country's top prelates: Toronto Archbishop Thomas Collins called the idea "sad," noting in a statement that "even those who think that abortion should be allowed do not, however, propose it as a positive contribution to the good of society," while Bishop Fred Henry of Calgary went a step further, deeming the proposal "pathetic."

PHOTO: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation


Saturday, February 20, 2010

"Electric City"... Eye-Popping Debt

Whoever he is, whenever he's named, here's hoping the cleric who'll emerge in due time as the tenth bishop of Scranton comes prepared to face more than his share of headaches.

First on his plate: restoring lasting calm following the contentious six-year tenure of Bishop Joseph Martino, whose divisive administrative style and outspoken presence on the national stage roiled one of the US church's staunchest bastions, pressuring the bookish, brilliant 63 year-old's early retirement last August....

Then, he'll need to deal with the fallout over the arrests of two of his priests during the interregnum on respective charges of possessing child-porn and attempting to buy cocaine....

And somewhere along the way, he'll need to manage a 350,000-member local church operating in the red, to the tune of multi-millions:
[Losses] for fiscal year 2009 totaled almost $15.5 million, according to financial statements published Thursday in the Catholic Light, the diocesan newspaper. That is more than twice the $7.1 million loss reported in 2008 and the $6.7 million in 2007 by the 11-county diocese.

"While the diocesan finances are deeply troubling and present formidable challenges, with God's help we will find creative ways to meet the challenges and reverse the significant losses that are evident in the published financial statement. I ask for your prayers for our Diocese," [apostolic administrator] of the diocese Cardinal Justin Rigali wrote in a letter accompanying the annual report....

Of the $15.5 million deficit, $7.1 million is for bad debts, most from parishes that borrowed money to fund Catholic schools, according to the letter from Rigali.

School consolidations, tuition increases, program cuts, major fundraising efforts and more options are all on the table, said Bill Finnegan, head of the Holy Redeemer School Board.

"I can't get into any details because we still have to sit down and look at the decisions to be made," Finnegan said. "It's a multi-layered situation."

In a release last Feb. 11, the diocese reported $15.2 million in non-performing loans. The majority are directly related to schools or made to parishes for supporting schools. In addition, during the last two years, schools had an operating loss of $5.6 million, according to the release....

In addition to school-related losses for the diocese, $3.6 million is related to changes to the pension system, according to the financial statements. An additional $1.5 million is from unrealized losses on investments, an effect of the struggling economy and financial markets.

Improved market performance this current fiscal year could help the diocese recover some losses on investments, Rigali wrote.

During 2009, the diocese had a $3.2 million operating deficit, as compared to a $640,000 deficit in 2008 and a $1.4 million surplus in 2007.

In a bright note, donations and bequests jumped from $28,000 in 2008 to $1.4 million in 2009. The reason was not clear from the report.
This might just be one high-profile example... as things stand, however, more Stateside dioceses are at the fiscal brink than one's able to keep atop of.


Friday, February 19, 2010

"He Was Despiséd..."

Again, church, hope your Lent's off to a great start... and to that end, another reminder of what our journey's all about.

Admittedly, your narrator was hoping to have another, uniquely moving version of the following up... if only somebody answered the call for help with capturing Flash video. Either way, while watching a certain piece performed in the run-up to Christmas, the idea came to use part of it as a chorus for the Fridays of these 40 Days.

When you're from a part of the world where the Lenten Fridays of life are marked far less by fish-fries than The Stations, this is what happens. That said, its verses taken from Isaiah's prophecy of the Passion, just soak this up for everything it's worth -- even if it's in two parts....

Abstinence and all, gang, a Happy Friday and every blessing of the weekend to one and all.


The Chief's Bridge to Brigham

As of this writing, nine months remain in Cardinal Francis George's three-year mandate as president of the US bishops... and so it seems, the Chief's keen to make the most of it.

First, there was the fall release of a well-received book on American culture and Catholic communion... then, November's USCCB assembly saw the Chicago prelate unveil a significant push for ensuring the Catholic identity of institutions which claim ecclesial ties... and now, fresh off clarifying the standing of a leading church lobby for gays and lesbians (a move which garnered a protest last weekend at his cathedral), next week has George making Stateside Catholicism's highest-profile overture yet to the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- better known, of course, as the Mormons:
Cardinal Francis George, archbishop of Chicago and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, will speak Tuesday at Brigham Young University as part of the Provo school's forum series.

George's talk will be titled "Catholics and Latter-day Saints: Partners in the Defense of Religious Freedom," according to an announcement by the Salt Lake City diocese of the Roman Catholic Church.

He will speak at 11:05 a.m. in the Marriott Center. Tickets are not required.
Against the backdrop of a rapidly-expanding Catholic presence on the LDS' home-turf of Utah, relations between Catholics and Mormons -- warm from the start -- have become ever closer over the last decade.

While the venues of cooperation have ranged from humanitarian efforts to the LDS deployment of volunteers and other backup for World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto, the most-prominent front of joint engagement has come on social issues, particularly in efforts to combat same-sex marriage. Only after an appeal from Mormon Country's prior shepherd -- now Archbishop George Niederauer of San Francisco, a close friend of current LDS President Thomas Monson -- did the LDS leadership go all-in with the mobilization of their membership that arguably secured the passage of California's controversial Proposition 8, which restored the one man-one woman definition of civil marriage in 2008, ending the state's two-year sanctioning of gay unions.

Though theological tensions have likewise flared in recent years over the validity of Mormon baptisms and the community's posthumous baptism of deceased pontiffs, for the first time, members of the Quorum of the Twelve -- essentially the LDS equivalent of the College of Cardinals -- were included in an ecumenical prayer with a Pope, joining Benedict XVI for the pan-Christian service during his 2008 visit to New York.

And, lastly, the shot above -- the emblematic depiction of George's role in the American Catholic orbit these days -- comes from an earlier instance of the Chief's Latter-day bridge-building; in June 2007, the cardinal was invited to conduct the Mormon Tabernacle Choir during a Windy City performance.


68 Million Strong... and Growing

With this weekend seeing the traditional Rites of Election -- the annual welcome of Easter's catechumens and candidates into the local churches -- it's worth noting the fresh news that the new intake will be joining what's already the US' largest religious grouping... and a growing bunch, to boot:
An annual tally of church membership in the U.S. found gains by the Roman Catholic Church, the Mormon church and the Assemblies of God last year, while mainline denominations continued their decades-long decline.

The data was published in the latest Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches, released this month by the National Council of Churches, based in New York.

Membership in the Catholic Church rose nearly 1.5 percent to more than 68 million, the largest denomination by far in the country. The church rebounded from a slight drop last year.
While the Rite is traditionally held in the cathedral church -- or, in some vast dioceses, celebrated at several locations -- such is this year's RCIA crop in the booming archdiocese of Atlanta that the 2010 welcome's taking place in the city's civic center.

Now within striking distance of a million members -- triple its 1990 size -- the Hotlanta church customarily has one of the country's largest convert classes.

PHOTO: Diocese of Shreveport


Thursday, February 18, 2010

In the Fold

OK, that Prague post took a bit longer than expected, so things are a tad delayed... thanks for the early queries -- see you 'round 4 Eastern.


With Duka, B16 Scores Czech-Mate

It largely took a backseat in coverage to the Irish summit, but the Pope's Saturday appointment of a new archbishop of Prague bears noting... even if matters Czech don't rate too high on your radar.

Indeed, B16's selection of Dominik Duka OP (above) -- a 66 year-old Bohemian once barred from ministry and imprisoned under the country's fallen Communist regime -- continues what's essentially been the pontiff's universal model for his major picks worldwide: prelates already well-known in the public square with roots in the classroom, faithful in substance yet provocative only when necessary, savvy in the ways of politics and the media and able to forge solid ties across partisan and ideological lines... but all of it, again, never coming at the expense of the church's message.

Nearly five years into his reign, the sketch fits Benedict's "big four" in the Anglophone world -- the archbishops of Washington, Toronto, Westminster and New York -- as well as his picks for the other leading posts of Warsaw, Munich, Sao Paulo, and most recently, Brussels. Yet while the rest of the pack largely remain in their late 50s or early 60s, Duka's age -- like that of the freshly-named Belgian primate Andre-Joseph Leonard, who'll turn 70 in May -- is an ostensible move to avoid lengthy back-to-back tenures in the Czech capital.

Now 77, Prague's retiring archbishop, Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, took office in 1990, just as Leonard will be installed next month to succeed Cardinal Godfried Danneels, who had led the Brussels church since 1979 before his retirement last month.

The Prague appointment came five months after the Pope's weekend visit to the Czech Republic, during which Benedict pondered the country's turn toward secularism as Vlk took to the airwaves to berate himself for, in his mind, accomplishing little as archbishop. Beyond the religious environment, two elusive goals the cardinal passes to his successor are an agreement for the restoration of church property seized by the Communists and still in the possession of the state, and a concordat governing relations between the government and the Holy See -- an agreement which the Czech Republic is reportedly the lone European entity to lack.

Professed into the Order of Preachers a year before his 1970 ordination, Duka is but the second religious to number among this pontificate's major appointees; the other is the 59 year-old archbishop of Rio de Janiero, Cistertian Orani Tempesta, who was named to the Brazilian post last year. What's more, just weeks after the Pope devoted an entire General Audience to recalling the community's founder, the archbishop-elect is also the second Dominican to be given a major assignment in recent months; in June, Benedict tapped his lead American protege, the Bronx-born Gus di Noia, to become an archbishop and #2 of the Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments -- one of the current Curia's most sensitive top slots.

While Prague, Rio and the other archdioceses noted above are traditionally headed by cardinals, such is the backlog in the college -- and Benedict's own custom -- that the new occupants will almost certainly not be elevated until after their predecessors reach their 80th birthdays, at which point the retirees lose their voting rights in a conclave.

Said to enjoy "warm ties" with both current Czech President Vaclav Klaus and his predecessor, Vaclav Havel, Duka's installation in St Vitus' Cathedral -- one of the contested properties still held by the state -- has been scheduled for 10 April.


"Repent and Believe," Irish Edition

In his first appearance since early week's unprecedented Vatican summit on sex-abuse in the Irish church, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin led the Ash Wednesday rites not from his chair at the capital's Pro-Cathedral, but among its young at University College chapel.

It's a standing commitment for the onetime papal diplomat -- and, at least publicly, getting home in time for the UCD Mass was the reason behind Martin's conspicuous absence from Tuesday's press conference of top Irish prelates following the Rome meeting's close.

Even on Lent's first day, however, the scene remained overshadowed by the fallout of November's Murphy Report on the handling of allegations in the Dublin church and the unimpressed reaction of leading survivors to the Vatican sit-down.

Having been both praised and savaged for his uniquely attuned response to the abuse scandals which've rocked the global church, Martin's message for the Lenten kickoff returned to the crisis' wake, repeating his oft-stated call that the moment required a new push for genuine, wholesale ecclesial renewal....

Here, a snip:
Ash Wednesday is a unique day in which within the Catholic tradition we are called to reflect on where we stand in our own lives and on what our value system is. Lenten penance is not a punitive activity; it is not a form of religious masochism in the sense that we fell good through punishing some aspect of our lives.

That is not the Christian way of life. There is, however, a sense in which we can only attain authenticity through an inevitably painful path of renunciation of what is non-essential. It means renouncing any tendency to live if the purpose of life was just our own fulfillment and our own rights and our own image....

“Repent and believe the Gospel” is one of the formulas used on the occasion of imposing Ashes. It is an appeal to each of you, to identify where you have drifted away from authenticity in faith – very often almost without knowing it - into being above all self-seeking.

“Repent and believe the Gospel” is a call to the members, the structures and the leaders of the Church who have also in many ways been unfaithful to their calling and have allowed personal and institutional reputation to influence their decisions.

We all have to repent; we are all called to turn back to what is authentic in the faith so that we can be more authentic in our lives. The touchstone for measuring our repentance will be our belief in the Gospel. There is no way in which we can think that we know God without knowing the Jesus that is revealed in the Gospel.... That means taking up the Gospel and getting to know Jesus as he presents himself to us through his life, words and action, gathered in a systematic way in the Gospels. I challenge each of you to take up the Gospel of Saint Luke, in the privacy of your heart, and come to know the liberating message of Jesus.

Getting to know that Jesus can change your life and lead you on a path to that real authenticity that each you and also myself must seek. Getting to know the Jesus of the Gospels is also the challenge needed for renewal of the Church. The Church today perhaps more than at other times has itself to respond to the same call: “Repent and believe the Gospel.”
As one analyst pointedly observed in today's papers, "If Archbishop Diarmuid Martin had said in Rome on Tuesday what he finally said in Dublin yesterday, the summit talks between Pope Benedict XVI and the Irish bishops would not have been dismissed so forthrightly as a charade and an insult to clerical abuse victims."

Over at PoliticsDaily, meanwhile David Gibson's sent up a fine study of the Dublin prelate, likening Martin to another St Patrick.

The two go back a ways -- Martin received Gibson into the church during the PD scribe's time at Vatican Radio in the late 1980s.


Before anything else, gang, here's hoping that the many thumbs out there that worked overtime yesterday are getting something of a rest... you've all earned it. And to one and all, every wish that your Lenten journey's off to a wonderful start.

For the curious, another "Back Page" will be up and running later -- hopefully around 3.30ish Eastern (2030GMT), so either feel free to get an early start sending whatever questions or thoughts you might have, or just let 'em rain in the livebox.

In the meantime, more posts to come... and, well, away we go.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Quote of the Day

Let us understand the appeal the austere rite of ashes addresses to us, one expressed in two formulas: 'Repent and believe the Gospel' and 'You are dust and to dust you shall return'.

"The first is a call to conversion, a word that must be considered in its extraordinary seriousness. The call to conversion, in fact, exposes and denounces the easy superficiality that often characterizes our life. Conversion means to change direction in the path of our life: not, however, a small adjustment, but a real turnaround.
"Conversion is to swim against a current of lifestyle that is superficial, incoherent and illusory, a current that often drag us down, dominates us and makes us slaves of evil or at least prisoners of moral mediocrity. With conversion, instead, we aim for the high standard of Christian life, we entrust ourselves to the living and personal Gospel, which is Jesus. He is the path we all are called to follow in life, allowing ourselves to be enlightened by His light and supported by His strength that moves our feet. Conversion is not simply a moral decision that corrects the way we live, but it is a choice of faith that draws us fully into intimate communion with the living and concrete person of Jesus.

"His person is the final goal, He is the deepest meaning of conversion. Repent and believe the Gospel are not two different or casually combined things, rather they express the same reality. Conversion is the total 'yes' of those who surrender their lives to the Gospel, responding freely to Christ who first offers Himself to man as the way, truth and life, as the only one who liberates and saves.
"Repent and believe the Gospel is not only at the beginning of Christian life, but it accompanies us at every stage. Every day is a time of favor and grace. Every day, even when there are difficulties and fatigue, tiredness and falls, even when we are tempted to abandon the path of following Christ and close in on ourselves, in our selfishness, without realizing that we need to open ourselves to the love of God in Christ, to live the same logic of justice and love.
--Pope Benedict XVI
General Audience (via AsiaNews)
Ash Wednesday, 17 February 2010

PHOTOS: Reuters(1), AP(2-4)