Wednesday, November 30, 2011

For the Mass-Feed, All Thanks

On a quick programming note, after some 230-odd comments, the vox pop on the new Missal's Opening Day is now closed.

To everyone who took a couple minutes to send in your impressions these last few days, a ton of heartfelt thanks -- first, for the thoughtful, honest, often moving impressions you brought to the table, and in general for allowing the rest of us a glimpse into things where you're at. Suffice it to say, a pretty fascinating picture came together from far and wide over the course of the thread, and it was a great service to the wider conversation.

Of course, this won't be the last bit of news or reaction on the new book -- Christmas should be even more colorful than usual, not to mention every last wedding and funeral for the forseeable future. From here, though, shirking the natural tendency to go on "autopilot" and ensuring a sense of consistency and comfort with the texts loom large as continuing challenges on the path ahead. And as it runs along, feel free to send any new impressions you've got or previously unnoticed angles that pop up over time.

That said, as the recent convergence of stories was enough to make for quite a brain-fry -- not to mention taking up most of Thanksgiving Weekend -- the pipeline is chugging along, but please just be patient... it'll be worth the wait.

Above all, much as the warring camps of Liturgy World have already moved on to their next full-out brawl, let's not forget that Advent's upon us... and as this year's calendar provides for a full four weeks of prep -- the season's longest-possible complement -- hopefully we'll all be able to make the most of it.

Again, church, all the blessings and riches of this graced season to you and yours.


Monday, November 28, 2011

Good Grief: Ireland Welcomes the "Roman Missile"... But Does the "Cabal"?

Not long after the word became official early Saturday, one reaction from the Irish trenches to Charlie Brown's game-changing appointment as Nuncio to Dublin put the moment thus...
"Pope Benedict targets lethargy, depression and incompetence with new Roman Missile."
Nice play on words, eh?

That said, given the New York-born CDF man's first task at hand -- that is, shaping up a leadership whose long-set ways have plunged the Isle's vaunted church into an epochal tailspin -- it didn't take too long for reports to emerge that at least one high-level push as Éireann had been made in the hopes of blocking B16's move.

And at hearing that, the now-famous questions (video) of the archbishop of Dublin in the wake of July's Cloyne Report quickly returned to mind...
"What do you do when you've got systems in place and somebody ignores them? What do you do when you've got groups -- either in the Vatican or in Ireland -- who try to undermine what is being done, or who simply refuse to understand what is being done?...

"What is that saying? What sort of a cabal is this, that is in there, and still refuses to recognize what the norms of the church are? ... Now, what is it -- who are these people, and what are they trying to say?
"I find myself today asking myself whether I can be proud of the church that I'm a leader of," Diarmuid Martin added, "and [with] what I'm seeing, I have to be ashamed of these things."

As for the answers, meanwhile, when it comes to "What do you do?," in a word, you do this... because, as far as "the norms of the church" go, no one would know (or could stand over) them better than a two-decade veteran of the Holy Office -- and a native English-speaker, at that.

As for a public welcome of said assist, however, aside from a stock announcement on the website of the Irish bishops, the customary expressions of fáilte to a new Nuncio from the local bench he inherits remain conspicuous by their absence.

Perhaps they didn't have advance word... oh, wait.

If anything, the most enthusiastic of public receptions seems to have come from a rather unlikely (read: ad extra) source -- the Irish Times -- which hailed the choice in a lead editorial as "welcome news... [which] reflects the seriousness of Rome’s intent to put relations between itself and this State on an altogether new footing."

With a background "most uncommon for a papal nuncio," the paper said, the outcome "is an indication of the thought Rome has put into this appointment."

Internally, though -- and, indeed, in the spirit of the Season -- perhaps one can be forgiven for anticipating the nominee's first paces as looking something like this....

Underscoring at least one angle of the above, a report received here earlier today tips Charlie Brown's ordination to the episcopacy to take place on Epiphany Day, 6 January, in Rome.

Yet what's more, to emphasize beyond a doubt who is sending him, while the archbishop-elect's principal consecrator remains officially to be determined, word is that -- for just the fourth time in his nearly six-year reign -- the Pope is seriously considering reserving his cherished aide's dispatching to himself.

Whoever ends up doing the honors, in an unusually quick transition, B16's hand-picked "Director" of his Irish experiment is expected to get to work at Navan Road days later.

PHOTO: Deborah Gyapong


Saturday, November 26, 2011

So, How'd It Go?

Before all else, friends, at the start of a new Ecclesial Year, may all its blessings, joys and gifts be yours -- and, where applicable, with your spirit.

* * *
Well more than usual, of course, this time around it's in with the new....
Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God,
the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ
with righteous deeds at his coming,
so that, gathered at his right hand,
they may be worthy to possess the heavenly kingdom.

Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Minutes after the first Vigil Masses of this First Sunday had wrapped in the East, one friend quickly sent word on his first experience celebrating with the New Book....

"I survived."

As seemingly everyone else did, too, sounds like things are already looking up.

For the rest, meanwhile, maybe it's not too surprising that the early reax are running the gamut, from servers' complaints over the weight of the new Missal, to congregations that laughed and smiled their way through the expected bumps of the changes, to a priest of some three decades who -- saying that he was "very nervous" going in -- wrote of "feeling like a slave to the book."

"But worse," he added, "at least for the first time, I forgot to pray. When I finished the consecration of the 'chalice' I felt cold."

Then again, as another e.mailer noted, "Within the first 50 years [after] Trent there were five editions of that Missal, so we're somewhat blessed -- or is it just the inertia of the church to move more slowly as she ages."

All around, though, as yet another friend wrote, "This is going to take some getting used to."

And, well, there's at least one thing we can unanimously agree on.

* * *
Now, to capture the experiences and stories of this global rollout as best possible, we're going to do something these pages haven't seen in a very long time.

Long story short, to mark this once-in-a-generation event, the comment box is open, and -- lay or ordained, minister or pewsitter -- hopefully you'll take a few minutes to share with the rest of us how everything went at your place, and what the first use of the new texts was like for you.

To make things as smooth as possible, there are a couple ground rules for this:
  • First, to help avoid any attempts at a further Kardashianization of the ecclesial discourse, comments are being moderated that things don't get out of hand.
  • Second, if you could, give us a general impression of where you're writing from and your place in the assembly (celebrant, minister, in the pews, etc.) -- anonymous or pen-name impressions are fine, but anything that descends into irresponsibility, whether rehashing the Liturgy Wars, critiquing translation principles, promoting one viewpoint over another or probing how many angels dance on the head of a pin won't see the light of day. Academic discussions or op-ed columns are not germane to this exercise, and you can find forums for those in abundance elsewhere; these comments intended to take a snapshot of this rollout's lived experience among our people, and anything that veers from that won't be tolerated. In other words, much as -- to put it mildly -- worship can often be a topic that arouses high emotions (and, indeed, lashing out), be honest, but keep it clean.
  • Third, and above all: Please. Just. Keep. It. Simple. -- What happened? How did you and others react? Was there anything that stuck out? How will the road ahead with this text look in your parish/community? The more you stick to those, the better off we all are.
Given these pointers -- read: that some won't choose to follow them -- not every comment will be posted, hence the usual aversion to the box here. But just as this readership is always the shop's greatest strength, gang, no one can tell the story of this weekend like you can -- in your own, unedited words.

Can't wait to hear how things turned out on your end, and while some judgment will have to be exercised in what goes up to ensure a healthy sense of decorum and communio, this moderator pledges to post things in as precise a proportion as possible to the tenor of the comments that are submitted.

Whatever ensued or the reactions among us, in the words of these pages' chief shepherd, may we all experience the grace that this "historic event... also signal a renewed commitment to the Sunday Eucharist: to celebrate it with greater beauty and dignity and to live from it more profoundly and intently."

And with that, Church, The Floor is yours.... As ever, use it well.


Happy Nunciature, Charlie Brown -- Pope Formally Taps CDF Aide as Irish Legate

And so it is... just like our ops said it would be.

Indeed, gang, we can't forget the breeze, most of the time....

And so it is: as first relayed on these pages Thanksgiving Eve, at Roman Noon on what would've been Charles M. Schultz's 89th birthday, in a convention-shattering move on multiple fronts, the Pope has named Msgr Charles Brown, 52 -- priest of New York and longtime cherished aide of B16's at the CDF -- as apostolic nuncio to Ireland.

Elevated to the rank of archbishop with the appointment, Charlie Brown's been given the titular see of Aquileia.

A product of Notre Dame, Oxford and Sant'Anselmo, now armed with a blank check for reshaping the troubled, roiled Irish church to B16's specifications, the "urbane," widely well-regarded Gothamite is expected to take up his duties as papal legate to the Republic -- and, in keeping with long-standing custom, dean of its diplomatic corps -- in January. In the meanwhile, among other hurdles awaiting the next occupant of the Vatican mission on Navan Road, separate reports chronicling the history of clergy sex-abuse and cover-up in two more Irish dioceses are tipped for release within days.

In tribute to the moment, here below, the traditional close of the St Patrick's Day Mass in the Big Apple cathedral dedicated to the Apostle of Ireland, where the new legate to the Blessed Sod was ordained a priest in 1989:

As no less than Tim Dolan's already reacted, "hallelujah... praised be Jesus Christ"... and to an archbishop-elect inheriting an immensely challenging situation on almost every side, suffice it to say, go mbeannaí Dia is Muire duit.

As ever, eaglais, more to come.

PHOTO: Deborah Gyapong


"The Demand of a New Evangelization": From B16's Desk, Bench Talk 1

In the first of a reported five speeches to be given the Stateside bench on its first ad limina visit of his pontificate, earlier today B16 delivered the following remarks to the bishops of USCCB Region II, representing the eight Latin-church dioceses of New York State:
Dear Brother Bishops,

I greet you all with affection in the Lord and, through you, the Bishops from the United States who in the course of the coming year will make their visits ad limina Apostolorum.

Our meetings are the first since my 2008 Pastoral Visit to your country, which was intended to encourage the Catholics of America in the wake of the scandal and disorientation caused by the sexual abuse crisis of recent decades. I wished to acknowledge personally the suffering inflicted on the victims and the honest efforts made both to ensure the safety of our children and to deal appropriately and transparently with allegations as they arise. It is my hope that the Church’s conscientious efforts to confront this reality will help the broader community to recognize the causes, true extent and devastating consequences of sexual abuse, and to respond effectively to this scourge which affects every level of society. By the same token, just as the Church is rightly held to exacting standards in this regard, all other institutions, without exception, should be held to the same standards.

A second, equally important, purpose of my Pastoral Visit was to summon the Church in America to recognize, in the light of a dramatically changing social and religious landscape, the urgency and demands of a new evangelization. In continuity with this aim, I plan in the coming months to present for your consideration a number of reflections which I trust you will find helpful for the discernment you are called to make in your task of leading the Church into the future which Christ is opening up for us.

Many of you have shared with me your concern about the grave challenges to a consistent Christian witness presented by an increasingly secularized society. I consider it significant, however, that there is also an increased sense of concern on the part of many men and women, whatever their religious or political views, for the future of our democratic societies. They see a troubling breakdown in the intellectual, cultural and moral foundations of social life, and a growing sense of dislocation and insecurity, especially among the young, in the face of wide-ranging societal changes. Despite attempts to still the Church’s voice in the public square, many people of good will continue to look to her for wisdom, insight and sound guidance in meeting this far-reaching crisis. The present moment can thus be seen, in positive terms, as a summons to exercise the prophetic dimension of your episcopal ministry by speaking out, humbly yet insistently, in defense of moral truth, and offering a word of hope, capable of opening hearts and minds to the truth that sets us free.

At the same time, the seriousness of the challenges which the Church in America, under your leadership, is called to confront in the near future cannot be underestimated. The obstacles to Christian faith and practice raised by a secularized culture also affect the lives of believers, leading at times to that "quiet attrition" from the Church which you raised with me during my Pastoral Visit. Immersed in this culture, believers are daily beset by the objections, the troubling questions and the cynicism of a society which seems to have lost its roots, by a world in which the love of God has grown cold in so many hearts. Evangelization thus appears not simply a task to be undertaken ad extra; we ourselves are the first to need re-evangelization. As with all spiritual crises, whether of individuals or communities, we know that the ultimate answer can only be born of a searching, critical and ongoing self-assessment and conversion in the light of Christ’s truth. Only through such interior renewal will we be able to discern and meet the spiritual needs of our age with the ageless truth of the Gospel.

Here I cannot fail to express my appreciation of the real progress which the American Bishops have made, individually and as a Conference, in responding to these issues and in working together to articulate a common pastoral vision, the fruits of which can be seen, for example, in your recent documents on faithful citizenship and on the institution of marriage. The importance of these authoritative expressions of your shared concern for the authenticity of the Church’s life and witness in your country should be evident to all.

In these days, the Church in the United States is implementing the revised translation of the Roman Missal. I am grateful for your efforts to ensure that this new translation will inspire an ongoing catechesis which emphasizes the true nature of the liturgy and, above all, the unique value of Christ’s saving sacrifice for the redemption of the world. A weakened sense of the meaning and importance of Christian worship can only lead to a weakened sense of the specific and essential vocation of the laity to imbue the temporal order with the spirit of the Gospel. America has a proud tradition of respect for the sabbath; this legacy needs to be consolidated as a summons to the service of God’s Kingdom and the renewal of the social fabric in accordance with its unchanging truth.

In the end, however, the renewal of the Church’s witness to the Gospel in your country is essentially linked to the recovery of a shared vision and sense of mission by the entire Catholic community. I know that this is a concern close to your own heart, as reflected in your efforts to encourage communication, discussion and consistent witness at every level of the life of your local Churches. I think in particular of the importance of Catholic universities and the signs of a renewed sense of their ecclesial mission, as attested by the discussions marking the tenth anniversary of the Apostolic Constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae, and such inititiatives as the symposium recently held at Catholic University of America on the intellectual tasks of the new evangelization. Young people have a right to hear clearly the Church’s teaching and, most importantly, to be inspired by the coherence and beauty of the Christian message, so that they in turn can instill in their peers a deep love of Christ and his Church.

Dear Brother Bishops, I am conscious of the many pressing and at times apparently insoluble problems which you face daily in the exercise of your ministry. With the confidence born of faith, and with great affection, I offer you these words of encouragement and willingly commend you and the clergy, religious and lay faithful of your Dioceses to the intercession of Mary Immaculate, Patroness of the United States. To all of you I impart my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of wisdom, strength and peace in the Lord.
The Empire State delegation will be followed next week by the bench's Region III, comprising the bishops of Pennsylvania and New Jersey.


Ar Domhan Fanann

Cé go bhfuil ár máthair Éirinn beloved -- to say nothing of Gotham, Rome and, indeed, Church-World at large -- waits on formal word of B16's appointment of Charlie Brown as Nuncio to Dublin, a fitting interlude is seemingly in order....

And while the Holy See plays -- for now -- the part of the Little Red-Haired Girl, it's worth noting that this Saturday marks what would've been the 89th birthday of the legendary Peanuts creator Charles M. Schultz.


Turning the Page

And so, folks, after ten years... Lord knows how many wars... and more hyperventilating among the liturgical crowd than over the preceding two millennia of Christianity combined (and that's saying something), the day has arrived: come dusk, the full implementation of the Third Edition of the Roman Missal in English will be completed across the Anglophone world (except Hong Kong, where a year's delay has been taken).

Of course, the stem-to-stern reworking of the Mass book has attracted no shortage of reactions -- ranging from the church's "gift to our generation" to "Vatican vandalism" -- which have only increased in the run up to this First Sunday of Advent.

Still, the all-out battle for perception (and, for some, comprehension) now fades to the background -- tonight, the text is literally in the people's hands, the rubber now hits the road... and, well, anything can happen.

The story of this weekend in the trenches has always been the core angle and most-anticipated variable of the years-long Missal project, and that'll be the focus of these days here. So once the Vigil Masses are over and all through tomorrow, keep it here as reports come in from the field -- i.e. you, gang -- on how everything went.

One thing to keep an eye out for in your travels: what ensues when the assembly gets to the "C"-word.

To aid anyone who'd find them useful, the worship arm of the bishops of England and Wales has provided downloadable and printable cards of the People's Parts (which, given the text's uniformity across the English-speaking church, can be used anywhere)... for the celebrants among us, meanwhile, suffice it to say, break a leg.

At the same time, it's worth noting that, according to a recent guidance from the Holy See, any part of non-Mass liturgical celebrations -- the sacraments, Communion Services and the like -- which employ a text found in the Missal (e.g. "The Lord be with you" and its response, deacon's blessing before the Gospel, Nuptial Blessing, dismissal, etc.) will, from this Implementation Sunday, be expected to use the form laid out in the new translation of the Mass. An option remains in the Liturgy of the Hours for use of either the Collects in the Breviary or the new renderings; the option does not apply to any other part of the Office, however, where a new Missal exchange would supersede the current text.

All that said, when in doubt -- especially in cases of ministering to the elderly or disabled -- the advice of the USCCB Worship Chair, given to the bench last week in Baltimore, bears recalling: "The guideline is to use the new translation, but pastoral practice may dictate to be more flexible in that in certain circumstances."

Again, to one and all, deep breath, good luck and, above all, early wishes for a Happy New Year -- and, this time, Smooth New Book.

PHOTOS: Mazur/


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving....

For the Peanuts fans among us, a Turkey Day classic...

...and if the buzz currently blowing up the wires as Éireann pans out, then it's all the more perfect, indeed.

As always, gang... well, you know.

SVILUPPO (Thursday, 6.20am): First and foremost, a blessed and happy Thanksgiving to one and all.

As for the above, while some late indications tipped an announcement for today, it'd seem that Rome has taken to playing Lucy with the football.

Hinted at above after chatter ticked up yesterday, a brief in this morning's Irish Times echoes reports received here that, in a convention-shattering move on multiple fronts, the Pope is set to name Msgr Charles Brown (right), 52 -- a priest of New York and long-trusted aide of B16's at the CDF -- as apostolic nuncio to Ireland.

In addition to the ex officio elevation to the rank of archbishop, the job of representing the pontiff in the historically Catholic country carries with it the Deanship of the diplomatic corps accredited to the Irish Republic. Given Ireland's long-vaunted status in the ecclesial orbit, it has long been considered a plum posting of Vatican diplomacy, reserved for meritorious veterans of the Pope's corps.

This time, however, the picture is rather different. The appointment to the Dublin posting has been closely monitored both on Irish soil and beyond given a historic degree of tensions both between church and state, and between the country's bishops and the Holy See in the fallout of multiple civil inquests on a cataclysmic history of sex-abuse and cover-up that have battered the once vaunted Isle church.

While the conclusions of three of the investigations have been made public, the release of a fourth is pending.

In recent weeks, further tumult was stoked as Ireland's coalition government announced the closing of its embassy to the Holy See. While the lack of "economic return" from the mission was officially cited as the rationale, the move was widely viewed as a further snub to the church.

Educated at Notre Dame and Oxford, Toronto and Sant'Anselmo, the widely well-liked, low-key and savvy New Yorker -- a figure, indeed, universally known as "Charlie" -- would prove an unmistakable signal of the degree to which Benedict means business, both in shaking up Irish Catholicism and more forthright and effective relations with the state.

In contrast to the longtime practice of dispatching Italian diplomats at the end of their careers -- all of them said to have been "dominated" and sidelined by a strong, insular native hierarchy -- the appointment to Dublin of a native English-speaker with an instinctive grasp of the Pope's mind and no diplomatic experience whatsoever (let alone on his first posting as a mission chief) would make for a significant recasting of the Nuncio's role as a force to be reckoned with. Add in the key attribute of a direct line to his mentor, and the reported pick would essentially be sent from Rome with a blank check to reshape the Irish church to the pontiff's specifications.

Though no native Anglophone has held the posting in the Phoenix Park since the 1960s, the strategy as proffered would echo the Curia's choice of prelates who conducted last winter's Apostolic Visitation to the country -- namely, foreign-born prelates from the Irish diaspora.

That the Nuncio would follow suit has been spoken of for some months; among others said to have been considered for the post was the Philadelphia-born Archbishop James Green, a former head of the Secretariat of State's English Desk, who instead ended up being transferred to Peru from his prior station in South Africa. Yet as reports cropped up of resistance to the Visitation's far-reaching changes -- most significantly, the reduction and consolidation of Irish dioceses from the current 26, and quite possibly a radically altered approach to priestly formation -- it's ostensibly been determined that the extensive heavy lifting could most successfully be carried out by one of Benedict's own.

According to the Times, the Irish Cabinet granted its requisite clearance for the appointment on Tuesday. Internally, meanwhile, beyond whatever alterations to the landscape Rome is considering, seven of the current 26 dioceses are now on-deck to receive new heads following yesterday's early retirement at 71 of Bishop Séamus Hegarty of Derry, who cited ill health as the reason for his departure.

Three of the vacant sees were led by bishops who resigned under pressure following civil inquests that highlighted their actions (or lack thereof) that contributed to cover-ups. Hegarty's former diocese of Raphoe, which he led from 1982-94, is the next to be reported on by a state panel.

Business aside, church, every blessing and grace of Thanksgiving again to you and your loved ones.

For all the rest, as always, stay tuned.

SVILUPPO: At Roman Noon on Saturday, 26 November, Pope Benedict formally appointed Brown as his legate to Ireland.


Ready or Not, Here It Comes

So, church, the moment is upon us...

...and to those who need the reminder right now: just breathe. Relax. Try not to freak out.

Within 100 hours' time, the Anglophone world will have met its new Missal -- the most sweeping liturgical change to hit a broad swath of global Catholicism since the translation leaving force was introduced in 1973.

After a brief Thanksgiving break, these pages will be at full tilt through Implementation Weekend, taking reports from all over the place -- because with this crowd, odds are that they won't exactly be in short supply... and that's exactly the way we like it, no?

In the meanwhile, it's important to remember that, however massive the rivers of ink that've been spilled over the new books these days, whatever one's reaction from either side of the "Worship Wars," it's fairly fitting to the scene that how it'll all turn out come Mass-time is, indeed, a mystery.

That said, for those among us in parish ministry -- lay or ordained -- pray tell: how's the final run-up looking on your end? If you get a shot these next couple days, feel free to drop a line with your impressions, expectations and what you'll be looking out for to gauge things among your people come Saturday night and Sunday; put mildly, it'll be interesting to see how the predictions match up once the reality of it all hits. As ever, all thanks in advance.

100 Hours left or thereabout... and so, time to buckle up. Lord knows, however this weekend goes down, it's one we'll all remember for a very, very long time.

Whether in service or the seats, folks, blessings on your final preps toward the full rollout. More on Thanksgiving in a bit -- for now, though, lest anyone's hitting the road early, every joy and good thing to you and yours over the holiday. Have a blast and travel safe!


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

On Cecilia's Day, A Sneak Peek....

On the brighter side of this November 22nd, today marks the feast of St Cecilia -- the 2nd century martyr long celebrated as the patron of church music and musicians.

Accordingly, for all the web-inches that've been taken up with one of last week's bigger stories, there's something in the diocese of Orange's $57.5 million arrangement to buy Crystal Cathedral that even the most traditional(ist) among us can celebrate: provided the deal proceeds, the world's sixth-largest pipe organ comes with the package.

After all, the Council documents having called for the organ "to be held in high esteem," in this case you'd be hard-pressed to find another Catholic house of worship that even comes close.

Armed with some 16,000 pipes, the five-manual, 270 rank instrument is a combination of the organ from the departing community's prior sanctuary with a 100-rank 1962 piece originally built for New York's Lincoln Center. While the result is already advertised as the world's "most widely heard organ" thanks to its presence on Rev. Robert Schuller's "Hour of Power" telecasts, it'll now become, by far, the largest organ in a Stateside Catholic worship-space -- surpassing the 154-ranker at Newark's Cathedral-Basilica of the Sacred Heart -- and the second-biggest of the Popish fleet after that of Germany's St Stephen's Cathedral in Passau.

Ergo, with an eye to the future -- at least, pending Rome's sign-off -- here, an advance taste of the sound of things to come:

And lastly on this Ceciliamas, we'd be remiss to not single out all our hard-working, often long-suffering, song-leaders and piece-players out there.

Friends, a world of thanks for everything you do... but especially keeping us safe from anything that sounds like this:


Sendoff to Sendoff

As few likely need reminding, today marks 48 years since the 35th President of these United States -- the first and lone member of this fold to hold the office -- was felled by an assassin's bullet.

Of course, this year's JFK anniversary brings a notable confluence following the late September death at 98 of President Kennedy's close friend and eventual eulogist, the future Archbishop Philip Hannan of New Orleans, who would go on to become a legend in his own right over the half-century since.

Ergo, to fittingly observe the day this time around, here's a re-air video of the climactic tribute given by the then-auxiliary of Washington at the close of the Requiem Mass in St Matthew's Cathedral on 25 November 1963...

...and, at the close of a monumental week of public mourning that saw much of the Crescent City grind to a halt in homage, here, the eulogist's eulogy -- the memorable last word from Hannan's 6 October funeral in NOLA's Cathedral-Basilica of St Louis, given by his third successor and longtime protege, Archbishop Gregory Aymond:

Lest anyone forgot, this month dedicated to the Holy Souls is still very much upon us... so before it fades, may we use these days as best we can.


Monday, November 21, 2011

For Cardinal Law, the End of the Line

Hard as it is to believe, five weeks hence will mark a decade since the Boston Globe's first reporting of abuse and cover-up in New England's marquee church blew open the greatest crisis American Catholicism has ever known. And as the eerie milestone nears, the figure who -- fairly or not -- has come to be viewed as the scandals' emblematic figure has reached his final act.

At Roman Noon today, Cardinal Bernard Law was quietly retired as archpriest of St Mary Major -- the Pope's representative to the Liberian Basilica, where his 2004 appointment has long been cited as an enduring symbol of the Vatican's failure to grasp the magnitude of the crisis.

Law was given the Roman sinecure some 18 months after his resignation as archbishop of Boston, amid an unrelenting firestorm birthed by a year of revelations over the handling of accused priests on the part of his predecessors and early in his own 18-year governance of the nation's onetime "flagship" see.

Notably, the move comes just two weeks after the cardinal's 80th birthday, at which point he aged-out of his memberships on several key dicasteries, most significantly his longtime spot on the Congregation for Bishops. Yet while a prelate's assignments in the Roman Curia automatically cease when he completes his eighth decade, the same rule doesn't carry over to the basilica posts, and Law's departure from the oldest church in the world dedicated to the Mother of God has actually come several years earlier than other recent cardinal-archpriests, both at Mary Major and elsewhere.

The cardinal's own predecessor, Cardinal Carlo Furno, remained the basilica's ceremonial head until he was nearly 83; his predecessor, Cardinal Ugo Poletti, held the post until his death at 82, and Cardinal Andrea Cordero Lanza de Montezemolo served as the first-ever archpriest at St Paul's Outside the Walls until just shy of his 84th birthday in 2009.

Unusually, the Vatican's midday release announcing Law's retirement didn't include the cardinal's name nor notice of his resignation, instead merely stating that Pope Benedict had named Spanish Archbishop Santos Abril y Castelló, 76, as the new archpriest.

A veteran Vatican diplomat, Abril has served as nuncio to Argentina and the former Yugoslavia, among other postings. With the move, the Archpriest's Suite adjoining the basilica that Law has occupied since 2004 now goes to the title's new holder, so the cardinal will have to find a new Roman base.

Whether or not it was a preparation for his fully-retired life, earlier this year Law was understood to have quietly returned to the US for an extended trip, believed to be his first since his "exile" began. Besides spending time with a handful of the cadre of friends who've remained staunchly supportive and loyal to him through the years, the cardinal reportedly presided at the funeral of a friend in Mississippi, where he spent his priesthood.

Over recent months, it's likewise emerged that Law -- who once bestrode the earth as a top Vatican mediator -- has remained involved in geopolitical work on the Holy See's behalf, in at least one instance. Unearthed in September by WikiLeaks, a series of diplomatic cables laid out the significant role that the cardinal played in improving the Vatican's relations with Vietnam, which paved the way toward an unprecedented late 2010 meeting between Benedict XVI and the Communist country's president, in addition to the establishment of full diplomatic relations between the two states.

In his greatest diplomatic triumph, the cardinal -- who met with Fidel Castro from as early as 1990 -- is believed to have had a key part in setting the stage for Blessed John Paul II's seismic January 1998 visit to Cuba, an encore of which is currently in Benedict's plans for the coming Spring.

Earlier this month, a party held for Law in a Roman hotel on his birthday made days of angry front-page headlines in Boston. While the event coincided with the ad limina visit of the New England bishops to the city, his successor as archbishop, Cardinal Seán O'Malley OFM Cap., did not attend.

Further underscoring the continued emotions the cardinal evokes on his onetime turf, the Boston archdiocesan newspaper removed a biographical piece on Law, which ran in its 4 November edition, from its website amid an outcry from survivors.

While referring at length to the abuse scandals, the article in The Pilot ended with the words, "Happy Birthday, Your Eminence."

The piece was the second to be yanked by the nation's oldest Catholic paper in as many weeks, following the controversial October column linking same-sex attraction to "the devil," written by a defense of marriage staffer for the US bishops who quickly resigned amid the fallout of his commentary.

* * *
Beyond its heightened domestic resonance, today's appointment automatically places the new Archpriest in line to receive the cardinal's red hat at the next consistory, which is predominantly expected to come this time next year.

By that point, barring deaths, the College of Cardinals will be reduced to 98 electors in a hypothetical conclave, 22 shy of the group's maximum complement of 120.

Of the open slots, four will have been vacated by American cardinals who turned 80 since the last consistory was held a year ago this week -- besides Law, Baltimore's retired William Keeler reached the ineligibility age last April, as will New York's emeritus Edward Egan on 2 April, followed by the Balto-born Curialist Francis Stafford on 26 July. Given the higher-than usual churn of Stateside red-hats from the electoral ranks, it is reasonable to expect that the American presence in the next class will be augmented beyond each consistory's traditional quota of two new cardinals for these shores.

Currently topping the US' Scarlet Queue are Archbishops Timothy Dolan of New York and Edwin O'Brien, the freshly-named Grand Master of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, as a result of his August appointment to the Rome-based post.


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Farewell to a Friend

As foreseen earlier, when the Pope reached the tomb of his closest friend and colleague of almost three decades -- the "personal, emotional" main purpose for this weekend's trip to Bernardin Gantin's homeland -- the singing fell to silence...

...and walking away, Joseph Ratzinger appeared unusually shaken, and in a rare need of being steadied.

Let the video speak for itself:

“Prophesy, and say to them, "Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves'" (Ez 37: 12). These words from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel ring out full of hope. The liturgy has presented them anew for our meditation while we gather around the altar of the Lord to offer the Eucharist in suffrage for dear Cardinal Bernardin Gantin, who reached the end of his earthly pilgrimage on Tuesday, 13 May. The Lord proclaimed the restoration of Israel to his oppressed and discouraged People, exhausted by the suffering of exile. The grandiose scene evoked by the Prophet foretells the saving intervention of God in human history, an intervention that goes beyond what is humanly possible.
When we feel weary, powerless and disheartened before the impending reality, when we are tempted to yield to disappointment and even desperation, when man is reduced to a heap of "dry bones" then is the moment of hope "against hope" (cf. Rom 4: 18). The Word of God strongly recalls the truth that nothing and no one, not even death, can resist the omnipotence of his faithful and merciful love. This is our faith, founded on the Resurrection of Christ; this is the comforting assurance that the Lord repeats to us even today: "And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves.... And I will put my spirit within you and you shall live" (Ez 37: 13-14).
--Pope Benedict XVI
Eulogy for Cardinal Bernardin Gantin
St Peter's Basilica
23 May 2008
* * *
To be sadly sure, no shortage of onlookers are far more in search of anything Benedict would say about condoms, corruption or Lord knows what else... his lesson here, however, is all the more important, meaningful and universal -- even the Pope needs friends and, however great the hope of what is to come, feels the pain of losing them when they've gone home.

Especially for those of us on these shores at the start of this Thanksgiving Week, may we know the grace of gratitude for the gift of those we've known, loved and come to count on, whether they remain among us, or are gone to prepare a place for us on the other side... where, one day, we will meet again.

PHOTO: Reuters


"What, Then, Is Prayer?": For Benin's Young, Benoît the Catechist

Earlier today, after signing Africae Munus -- "The Commitment of Africa," his wrap-up text of the 2009 Synod of Bishops focused on the continent -- the Pope met with a group of young people at a parish in Cotonou... and, following some time in Eucharistic adoration, quickly transformed into a catechist.

Here, from B16's text:
God our Father has gathered us around his Son and our brother, Jesus Christ, who is present in the host consecrated during the Mass. This is a great mystery before which we worship and we believe. Jesus, who loves us very much, is truly present in the tabernacles of all the churches around the world, in the tabernacles of the churches in your neighbourhoods and in your parishes. I ask you to visit him often to tell him of your love for him.

Some of you have already made your First Holy Communion, and others are preparing for it. The day of my First Holy Communion was one of the most beautiful days of my life. It is the same for you, isn’t it? And why is that? It’s not only because of our nice clothes or the gifts we receive, nor even because of the parties! It is above all because, that day, we receive Jesus in the Eucharist for the first time! When I receive Communion, Jesus comes to live in me. I should welcome him with love and listen closely to him. In the depths of my heart, I can tell him, for example: “Jesus, I know that you love me. Give me your love so that I can love you in return and love others with your love. I give you all my joys, my troubles and my future.” Do not hesitate, dear children, to speak of Jesus to others. He is a treasure whom you should share generously. Throughout the history of the Church, the love of Jesus has filled countless Christians, and even young people like yourselves, with courage and strength. In this way, Saint Kizito, a Ugandan boy, was put to death because he wanted to live according to the baptism which he had just received. Kizito prayed. He realized that God is not only important, but that he is everything.

What, then, is prayer? It is a cry of love directed to God our Father, with the will to imitate Jesus our brother. Jesus often went off by himself to pray. Like Jesus, I too can find a calm place to pray where I can quietly stand before a Cross or a holy picture in order to speak to Jesus and to listen to him. I can also use the Gospels. That way, I keep within my heart a passage which has touched me and which will guide me throughout the day. To stay with Jesus like this for a little while lets him fill me with his love, light and life! This love, which I receive in prayer, calls me in turn to give it to my parents, to my friends, to everyone with whom I live, even with those who do not like me, and those whom I do not appreciate enough. Dear young people, Jesus loves you. Ask your parents to pray with you! Sometimes you may even have to push them a little. But do not hesitate to do so. God is that important!

May the Virgin Mary, his Mother, teach you to love more and more through prayer, forgiveness and charity. I entrust you to her, together with your families and teachers. Look! I have this rosary in my pocket. [Pulls it out and shows it.] The rosary is like a tool that we can use to pray. It is easy to pray the rosary. Maybe you know how already; if not, ask your parents to help you to learn how. At the end of this meeting, each one of you will receive a rosary. When you hold it in your hands, you can pray for the Pope, for the Church and for every important intention. And now, before I bless you all with great affection, let us pray together a Hail Mary for children throughout the world, especially for those who are sick, who are hungry and in places of war.

Let us pray together: Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
PHOTO: Getty


Friday, November 18, 2011

"More Personal, More Emotive": In Benin, Bienvenue Benoit

As crowd reactions to a PopeTrip's start go, the sound of today's B16 touchdown in Benin is pretty tough to top:

* * *
On a more serious note, as laid out here earlier, the figure of Cardinal Bernardin Gantin loomed large on the pontiff's mind today, both en route and on reaching his great friend's native soil.

Three days after a statue of the first African to preside over the College of Cardinals was unveiled in a Cotonou square that now bears his name, Benedict said the following at the usual in-flight presser aboard the Volo Papale (Papal Plane)...
I saw Cardinal Gantin for the first time at my ordination as Archbishop of Munich in 1976 [sic -- it was 1977]. He had come because one of his former students was a disciple of mine. That had been the beginning of a friendship between us, without our having met. On that important day of my episcopal ordination, it was beautiful for me to meet this young African bishop full of faith, full of joy and courage. Then, we worked together a great deal, above all when he was the prefect of the Congregation for Bishops and then in the College of Cardinals. I always marveled at his deep and practical intelligence, his sense of discernment, to not trip over beautiful ideological phrases but to grasp what’s essential and what doesn’t make sense. He also had a true sense of humor which was very beautiful. Above all, he was a man of deep faith and prayer. All this made Cardinal Gantin not just a friend, but an example. He was a great African Catholic bishop, and I’m truly happy now that I’m able to pray at his tomb and to feel his closeness, his great faith, which will always make him an example for me and a friend.
...and again in his formal Arrival Speech:
There exists a third reason [I have come here] which is more personal and more emotive. I have long held in high esteem a son of this country, His Eminence Cardinal Bernardin Gantin. For many years, we both worked, each according to his proper competence, labouring in the same vineyard. We both happily assisted my predecessor, Blessed John Paul II, in the exercise of his Petrine ministry. We had many occasions to meet, to engage in profound discussions and to pray together. Cardinal Gantin won the respect and the affection of many. So it seemed right that I should come to his country of origin, to pray before his tomb, and to thank Benin for having given the Church such a distinguished son.
Suffice it to say, it's not often that a Pope does that... but in this case, clearly, not without reason.

Benedict is scheduled to visit Gantin's tomb at St Gall Seminary in Ouidah just after 11am local time tomorrow.


Off to Benin, B16 Returns to His "African Soul"

Early today, the Pope leaves Rome for a weekend trip to Benin: B16's 22nd overseas visit, and his second to Africa.

While the journey features some rich official business, like celebrating the 150th anniversary of the country's first evangelization, as well as the Pope's presentation of Africae Munus ("The Commitment of Africa") -- Benedict's concluding text of the 2009 Synod of Bishops dedicated to the continent -- what could be considered the visit's key purpose in the pontiff's mind isn't so much ecclesial as personal.

Far from Sunday's exuberant closing Mass in a Cotonou stadium or tomorrow's signing of the Synodal document at Ouidah, the coastal town where the first two French missionaries arrived in April 1861, what's likely to be the trip's most significant moment for the Pope will take place in the relative quiet of a seminary chapel, as Joseph Ratzinger pays a long-desired "farewell visit" Saturday morning at the tomb of the old friend who -- so it's been said -- "made him Pope."

In the annals of history, Cardinal Bernardin Gantin will be recalled as one of the first two native Africans to be named an archbishop in modern times, going on to become the continent's highest-ranking Catholic in some 1,700 years after his 1993 election to the Roman church's #2 post. On a personal level, meanwhile, the longtime head of the Congregation for Bishops and Dean of the College of Cardinals became then-CDF chief's closest friend and ally in the Curia, initially as both remained far more attached to their respective homelands than the cultural ambit of working at the Vatican. (Replete with his land's art and furniture, Gantin's Roman apartment was once described as "a small slice of Africa" on the Pope's turf.)

As friends and colleagues alike, the bond between the Bavarian and the Beninese remains the stuff of legend in the famously-fractious Curial world. Yet while Gantin got to make good on his wish to finally flee Rome, returning home on his 2002 retirement, Ratzinger -- who had the same plan in mind -- obviously didn't get to follow suit. And now, nearly four years after Gantin's death at 86, the Pope himself will make a rare personal visit in tribute.

His surname meaning "iron tree," Gantin was ordained an auxiliary of Cotonou, the country's largest city, in 1957, at the age of 34. In less than three years, he became archbishop there; today the local airport bears his name. A decade later, Pope Paul VI brought him to the Curia as the #2 official at the Propaganda Fide, the congregation that oversees the global church's massive missionary work.

By 1976, he was the first African to ever to head a Vatican office on his appointment as president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. The following year, he received the red hat at Paul's last consistory as one of only four new cardinals, joining the Curial favorite Giovanni Benelli of Florence (below center) -- whose creation was widely believed to be the sole reason the event was had at all -- and the freshly-ordained archbishop of Munich and Freising, 50 year-old Joseph Ratzinger.

At the time, many saw Paul's preferred heir in Benelli. As things turned out, though, the biglietto's less prominent duo would end up having the infinitely greater impact, both at the Vatican and well beyond.

"Many personal memories bind me to this brother of ours," Benedict said in his homily at a 2008 Vatican Memorial Mass for Gantin. While the shared consistory made for the first of those, many more would follow after Ratzinger was called to Rome in 1981 to head up the CDF, and especially from 1984, when John Paul II uprooted his "iron tree" from the Curia's second rank to oversee the all-powerful Bishops' office.

As one longtime Vatican observer once characterized the reaction to the move, "Jaws dropped."

To be sure, given their overlap of concerns, the work of the two congregations always requires an especially close collaboration. That was especially true amid the tides of the time -- with Rome's pushback against both the rise of liberation theology in Latin America and the perceived excesses of the post-Conciliar period elsewhere both in full swing, the dual trends often required either an enhanced supervision of bishops or an added scrutiny in the choice of their successors.

Accordingly, in their meetings, the two Curial chiefs were said to have had a uniquely hand-in-glove way of "playing off each other." The tag-team dynamic once made waves in public during a 1999 exchange, when Gantin famously rapped "careerism" in the episcopacy, urging a return to the practice of a bishop's lifelong union to the diocese for which he was initially named.

As the then-papal vicar for Rome Cardinal Camillo Ruini sought to rebut the just-retired prefect, Ratzinger interjected to voice his agreement with Gantin's line, memorably conceding nonetheless that "I myself have not remained faithful in this regard."

The media spat was a rarity, however. Gantin's normally ironclad reticence at taking on a public profile saw his fellow, albeit less-senior, African -- Nigeria's colorfully loquacious Cardinal Francis Arinze -- become more widely perceived as the continent's key figure in the Vatican, and the one with the best odds in a Conclave. Still, the enduring media frenzy over the prospect of a Black Pope is the enduring fruit of a trail first blazed by Gantin... and when that day finally comes, it won't be the first time the late Dean cut a path to Peter's chair that wasn't his own.

Having retired as prefect of Bishops shortly after his 75th birthday in 1998, the cardinal's role as the College's first among equals required him to remain in Rome, a demand explicitly stated in canon law. Yet on turning 80 -- at which time he became ineligible to enter a Conclave, despite bearing the title that made him a papal election's presiding officer -- Gantin asked to be released from the Deanship to return home.

They say John Paul II took three months to assent to the move. The Cardinal-Dean doesn't just preside over the election of the next Pope, but the funeral of the previous one, as well as the very important daily meetings of the entire College that conduct the church's business during the interregnum. One didn't need to be an elector to carry out any of those tasks, and among other things, the now-Blessed Pope's innate sense of the visual likely understood well that an African at the forefront of the transition after him would provide a powerful testimony to the universality of the church, not to mention highlighting the place where Catholicism under his watch experienced its most vigorous growth.

As his final Vatican act, Gantin oversaw the election of the new Dean. And even as others among the field of five cardinal-bishops brought more extensive records of Curial service or diplomatic finesse to the post, the ballot went to the most forthright, intense and, indeed, polarizing of the group -- and, above all, Gantin's preferred candidate.

Of course, the new Dean was Joseph Ratzinger. And just over two years later, when death came for John Paul, the so-called Panzerkardinal's smooth, evenhanded tending of the barque over 17 days as the Holy See's de facto administrator is still seen as a crucial factor in convincing some very skeptical red-hats that, controversial as the choice would be at first, the temporary frontman had the right stuff to emerge from their number clad in white.

In the end, the conclave only lasted 30 hours. And were it not for the German Dean's elegant yet self-assured turns leading John Paul's funeral and the pre-electoral Mass -- which showcased his comfort in his own skin under the bright lights -- backed up by an efficient, consultative navigation of the daily private sessions over the intervening fortnight, odds are the church wouldn't have seen the ascent of the first lead cardinal to the papacy since 1555.

Three years later, as Gantin was given a hero's sendoff in Benin with full state honors, the most resonant part of his Vatican memorial was the eulogy of his longtime confidant and sounding board:
His human and priestly personality was a marvellous synthesis of the characteristics of the African soul with those proper to the Christian spirit, of the African culture and identity and the Gospel values. He was the first African ecclesiastic to have eminently responsible roles in the Roman Curia and he always carried them out with his typical simple and humble style, whose secret is probably to be found in the wise words his mother chose to address to him when he became a Cardinal on 27 June 1977: "Never forget the little faraway village from which we come"....

Even a rapid glance at the biography of Cardinal Gantin who, in addition to the offices already mentioned, also made a contribution to various other Offices and Dicasteries of the Curia, reminds us of St Paul's assertion that we heard in the Second Reading: "For me to live is Christ and to die is gain" (Phil 1: 21). The Apostle interprets his life in the light of Christ's message, for Christ has made him totally "his own" (cf. Phil 3: 12). We can say that this friend and brother, to whom today we are paying our grateful homage, was also imbued with love for Christ; love that made him loving and ready to listen to and engage in dialogue with all, love that impelled him always to look, as he was in the habit of repeating, at the essential of the life that endures, without losing himself in the incidental which instead is fleeting; a love that made him perceive his role in the various Curial Offices as a service free from human ambition. It was this spirit which on 30 November 2002, when he reached the venerable age of 80, prompted him to submit his resignation as Dean of the College of Cardinals in order to return to his people in Benin where he resumed the evangelizing activity he had begun on the day of his priestly ordination in Ouidah, on that long ago, 14 January 1951.

A constant love for the Eucharist, a source of personal holiness and sound ecclesial communion which finds its visible foundation in the Successor of Peter, came to the fore in Cardinal Gantin. And it was in this very same Basilica that in celebrating his last Holy Mass before leaving Rome he stressed the unity that the Eucharist creates in the Church. In his homily he cited the famous sentence of St Cyprian of Carthage, the African Bishop, which is engraved in the dome of St Peter's: "From here a single faith shines throughout the world; from here is born the unity of the priesthood". This could be the message we inherit from venerable Cardinal Gantin as his spiritual testament....

May our prayers to the Virgin Mary, Queen of Africa, for whom he had a tender devotion, accompany him in the last stage of his earthly journey - he died on an important Marian day, 13 May, the Memorial of Our Lady of Fatima. May Our Lady deliver him into the merciful hands of the Heavenly Father and introduce him joyfully into the "House of the Lord", for which all of us are bound. In the encounter with Christ, may this Brother of ours implore the gift of peace for us and especially for his beloved Africa. Let it be so!
Notably, the Pope's address that day referred to Gantin four times as "venerable" -- the term traditionally reserved in the church for those found to have lived a life of heroic virtue, as part of their path to being declared saints. As another of the cardinal's own once described it, his was a witness of "pure integrity."

To underscore his enduring impact, as of this writing, all but one of the 12 American cardinals eligible to vote in a conclave were either made bishops during Gantin's tenure at the Congregation for Bishops, or received the posts from which they were elevated to the College on his advice to John Paul II.

Of these, one in particular stands out. In his waning months at the Bishop-shop, the cardinal-prefect quietly took care of a long-held personal project, securing an inconspicuous appointment for perhaps his most cherished US-born staffer, who managed to escape the Vatican some years earlier to return to the simple life of a pastor among his own.

Ten years later, by which point Gantin had followed his aide's example, Benedict created said minutante as the first cardinal of the American South.

The move might've shocked many -- well, elsewhere... but just like the Vatican said this week of Benedict's desire to visit Benin, "The choice [was] not by chance."

Hailed among his own even today as the "Father of the Nation" -- even as Catholics comprise just a third of Benin's population -- such is Gantin's legend at home that pop songs have been recorded in his honor....

Yet when the Pope visits his friend's tomb at the seminary where the cardinal was ordained, no liturgy, speeches or music are planned -- nothing more than the silence of memory.

SVILUPPO: Both on the plane and after touching down on Beninese soil, true to form, memories of Gantin loomed particularly large on Benedict's mind.


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Live from Orange: Bishop Tod's "Hour of Power"

SVILUPPO: And as the old song says, "What's done is done, and what's won is won" -- around 7pm Pacific Thursday night, the Federal bankruptcy judge overseeing the Crystal Cathedral case awarded the property's sale to the Orange diocese, for its most recent bid price of $57.5 million.

By late 2014, the terms of the deal stipulate that the landmark mega-church, affiliated with the Reformed Church of America, is to become the seat of the 1.3 million-member suburban SoCal fold.

Shortly after the decision was announced, two days after reaching the retirement age of 75, Bishop Tod Brown of Orange released the following "important message":
Dear Presbyterate and Laity of our Diocese of Orange,

This afternoon Judge Robert Kwan confirmed a bankruptcy plan that awards the Crystal Cathedral and surrounding campus to the Diocese of Orange. I want to thank all of you who were praying for this outcome and for the wise and helpful counsel
I received from my many lay advisors and diocesan staff.

Dr. Schuller has been a key figure both in Orange County and around the globe for many years; I wish Crystal Cathedral Ministries success with their reorganized finances. Dr. Doti and [rival bidder] Chapman University are also pivotal to the life of our county; we wish them well with their future plans.

This outcome addresses our efforts to have a cathedral large enough to meet our present and anticipated needs. I was surprised and gratified that so many people told me they were hoping we would be successful; it is clear by all the interest focused on our efforts that many of our laity understand the need for and importance of such a cathedral for Catholics in Orange County.

As the days draw close to Thanksgiving, let us attend with gratitude to all of the blessings that we have received as a gift from God, not on what we lack.
* * *
(3pm Pacific/6pm ET) -- Much as the sensory overload that is November Meeting might be behind us, gang, as previously noted, only now are things beginning to heat up.

There's a lot currently in the pipeline -- the Pope to Africa tomorrow, two more ad limina visits before month's out, this weekend's 23,000-strong turnout at the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis, The Missal, etc....

Moving most quickly across the wires right now, however, is what could be the most significant act of a drama brewing out West over recent weeks -- the diocese of Orange's astonishing campaign to acquire Crystal Cathedral, the bankrupt Reformed church landmark.

The diocese's bid recently increased to $57.5 million (up $4 million in a week), earlier today the board of the celebrated glass church -- best known for the weekly televised "Hour of Power" hosted by its founding pastor, the Rev. Robert Schuller -- made a U-turn, backing the Orange bid over that of a nearby Christian university which offered both a higher price and more generous provisions for the cathedral's ministries to remain on-site.

By contrast, a Catholic sale would, within three years, transform the 2,700-seat temple into the cathedral of the 1.3 million-member suburban SoCal church, whose rapid growth since its 1981 founding has quickly overwhelmed the capabilities of the current Holy Family Cathedral in Orange city. The diocese's major liturgies -- ordinations, Chrism Masses and the like -- have long been held at its larger parish churches.

Though significant toward the outcome, the board's vote is not the final determination of the winning offer. That is expected to come later today with a ruling from the judge overseeing the cathedral's Chapter 11 filing in Federal bankruptcy court.

The hearing was originally slated for Monday, but had been delayed as the parties continued sweetening their bids.

Beyond being relentless, the diocese's push to win the sale is exceptional on several fronts. In an ecclesial context, however, the most intriguing aspect is that it comes amid the 75th birthday of Orange Bishop Tod Brown, who reached the mandatory retirement age on Tuesday. A local party to mark Brown's milestone -- the birthday, that is -- will be hosted by the diocese on Monday; of course, the prelate spent this week in Baltimore for the USCCB Plenary.

As Brown's successor would inherit the move and its ramifications at the outset of his tenure, a successful offer by the diocese would likely receive considerable scrutiny in Rome, and could possibly even be scuttled by the Holy See should the acquisition be seen as unduly prejudicing the future of the diocese and the freedom of its next bishop to make his own calls.

In the wake of the "window" law suspending California's statute of limitations in sex-abuse suits, the OC church took out, then quickly repaid, a $50 million bridge loan to help settle some 90 cases in 2004 for a total of $100 million. To fund a prospective Crystal purchase, the diocese is understood to be laying the groundwork for a capital campaign. Further revenue would ostensibly come from the sale of a smaller plot long owned by the diocese for an earlier incarnation of its long-sought cathedral project.

While the price of the Schuller campus has been seen as a once-in-a-generation "bargain" given its value, size and location, were the deal to proceed the diocese would inherit another set of sizable costs to maintain the swath of buildings on Crystal Cathedral's 40-acre grounds, most of which date from the late 1970s and early 1980s.

The prospective deal would make for the second-straight glass cathedral in California, following Oakland's Christ the Light, which was dedicated in 2008. The postmodern East Bay project is said to remain mired in a significant debt toward its $175 million cost.