Monday, September 30, 2013

"I Will Change the Church" – On Super 8 Eve, Interview #2

(SVILUPPO: The text of the Pope's interview with La Repubblica has been obtained; here's the first English report on it.) 

Six and a half months into the new Rule of Francis, among other patterns to emerge is that, when the Pope gets excited, he likes to "load the cannon."

One earlier example of this came on 5 July, when – within a matter of hours – Papa Bergoglio released his first encyclical (a work "of four hands" with his predecessor), announced the canonizations of John XXIII and John Paul II and made his first joint public appearance with B16. And now, on the day that he formally set next 27 April for the first sainting of two Popes at once, announced his oft-used theme of building a "culture of encounter" as the focus of the next World Communications Day – and with the all-important summit of what's now officially in business as the "Council of Cardinals" opening in the morning – an already full news-cycle will reportedly soon see an added dose of chaos: namely, another interview.

The Pope's second on-the-record conversation to emerge in 11 days, a notice late tonight on the website of Italy's largest daily, La Repubblica, announced the imminent publication of an interview with Francis conducted by the paper's co-founder, the atheist Eugenio Scalfari, long a significant figure of the Italian Left. It's not the first interaction between the two; a July letter Scalfari sent to Francis was replied to by the pontiff in an extensive op-ed for the paper earlier this month.

The news was likewise relayed in a midnight tweet from the daily's editor, Ezio Mauro.

While no text of the sit-down has appeared of yet, La Repubblica's headline of the article reads: "Thus I will change the Church" ["Così cambierò la Chiesa"], with a subhed quoting Francis that "'To open oneself to modernity is a duty.' The Pope's plans for reforming the Curia." 
However, as the "get" was prefaced by the words "in edicola" – "on newsstands" – it may be the case that the exchange's initial run is held exclusively for the paper's print edition.

Even if the inaugural meeting of the "Super 8" and the scheduling of the joint canonization have already drawn a renewed heavy spotlight on the Vatican this week – one bound to only increase with another papal interview – the events of these hours are merely Francis' prelude to what's set to be a very dramatic, intense moment: the Pope's daylong Friday visit to Assisi to mark the feast of the saint whose name he bears, his counselors duly in tow and with no less than six speeches planned.

As ever, more when it hits.


Saturday, September 28, 2013

"Pastor Bonus Is Over... We Need to Write Something Different" – Live from Canada, The Óscar Pre-Show

Two years ago, Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga was licking his wounds on the Roman scene.

After a power play orchestrated by the Roman Curia, the Honduran cardinal's top collaborator at Caritas Internationalis – the charity confederation's secretary-general, Lesley Anne Knight – had been denied a second term by the Vatican, for reasons that the Caritas board wouldn't disclose, but greeted with stated "incomprehension." Widely seen as the most formidable laywoman in a global-level church post, Knight's allies later portrayed the British-Zimbabwean chief's black-balling in the context of her gender, lack of orders and outspokenness at high levels in defending her agency's work.

Yet now, as only a transition of Popes can bring about, it's suddenly a new world: Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Salesian confrere with whom Rodriguez shared little else in common, is 17 days from retiring... and this week, the Honduran's restoration to center stage (and then some) completes itself as Don Óscar takes the principal place alongside Pope Francis at the first summit of Bergoglio's advisory commission of eight cardinals as the group's designated "coordinator."

Believed to have been the key driver behind the Latin American bloc that put the Argentine on this Conclave's map in the first ballot, it's not a stretch to say that Rodríguez, 70 – a dynamic polyglot with three decades' experience on the global stage – now enjoys the role of papal "shadow," and the near-limitless portfolio that comes with it, which in times past had been the province of the Secretary of State. Indeed, unburdened with the minutiae of running a dicastery as he cris-crosses the globe, perhaps it isn't even too much to cast the first of the "Super-Cardinals" as Francis' "Vice-Pope"... at least, with one key difference from before: unlike the Benedict-Bertone tag-team, the new Pope has no qualms about being his own linebacker.

Earlier this week, Rodríguez popped up North of the Border for the Canadian bishops' Fall Plenary, both to address the bench on the responsibility of charity in their ministries, and in a closed-door session (said to have been marked by "excitement"), to take the prelates'
 temperature on the state of the Curia and their proposals for its reform. 

Along the way, the cardinal-coordinator of the "Super 8" sat down with Fr Tom Rosica CSB of Toronto's Salt + Light for a half-hour interview that, after a touch of biography, veered into the mandate of the commission, and a preview of what's likely to emerge from the days ahead....

In an earlier sit-down with the network during the CCCB plenary, Rodríguez likewise pointed anew to the apparent centerpiece of Francis' Curial reform with his declaration that "The Synod [of Bishops] will be transformed."

While the "Gang" members have remained in frequent contact both amongst themselves and with the Pope since the council's constitution in April, early expectations are that the group will gather with Francis on a quarterly basis; the path forward will reputedly be set in stone at this week's summit.

On the other side of the inaugural meeting, meanwhile, Rodríguez's world tour is set to hit these shores: the cardinal is slated to give both the English and Spanish keynotes at the annual University of Dallas Ministry Conference, set for October 25th in Irving. Keeping with the profile of his new post, the talk's topic in both languages is no less than "The State of the Church," albeit with an added eye to the New Evangelization. And speaking of Synods, the day after brings Rodríguez to Miami, where he'll be the main speaker at the closing of an archdiocesan Synod for the 1.3 million-member South Florida church. (The Miami Synod is one of an unusually high three of the local legislative processes currently taking place among Stateside archdioceses; the others are in New Orleans and Washington.)

In announcing a Monday briefing on the upcoming summit, the Vatican prodded journalists to keep in mind that "the Group is constituted to offer advice to the Pope, and not to take decisions per se."


"What? Me Tarzan?" – To the Young, and Those Who Serve, Francis' Word of Encouragement

Good Saturday morning, folks, and Happy Weekend.

As the last few days have proven more intense than expected, and just ahead lies what's shaping up to be the most significant week of this pontificate to date, for now, let's put things on a lighter note – at least, of sorts.

First, though, an observation: much as the papal security team's working overtime these days, there's a second group of staffers whose load has increased exponentially since 13 March – namely, the translators. Sure, having un Papa Chiacchieron' who can "flood the space" is a boon for getting the message out, but given Francis' steady stream of words – and even more, the Pope's penchant for shredding his prepared (and already-translated) texts by either adding a host of unscripted asides or veering into a full stream-of-consciousness talk – keeping up is no mean task.

Along those lines, one talk that stuck out among the recent raft was Francesco's reflection to a mass rally for young people at the close of last Sunday's trip to Sardinia, before which a group of youth put questions to the Pope. Accordingly, the visitor spontaneously worked in some answers – which produced some rather brow-raising quotes – but most of all, it made for a useful and hopeful message easily able to apply to pastoral life in places far beyond the Mediterranean island.

Admittedly, while this scribe spent whatever free time these last few days allowed attempting to hack out a translation of the talk, too many sudden eruptions came up to finish the job. Gratefully, then, the Vatican's English rendering of the dialogue has just dropped, and here it is – emphases original and slightly precised....

Dear Young People of Sardinia,

It seems as if there are a few young people, doesn’t it? A few or many? [Crowd cheers.] There are lots of you!

Thank you for coming to this meeting in such large numbers! And thank you to the “spokespeople”. Seeing you reminds me of the World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro. Perhaps several of you were there, but many must certainly have followed it on television and on the internet. It was a very beautiful experience, a celebration of faith and brotherhood that filled one with joy. The same joy that we feel today. Let us thank the Lord and the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Bonaria: it is she who has enabled us to meet here. Pray to her often, she is a good mother, I assure you! Some of your “queries”, your questions [were hard to understand]... but I also speak in dialect, here too! Some of your questions are similar. I am thinking of the Gospel by the shores of the Sea of Galilee, where Simon, who Jesus was later to call Peter, and his brother Andrew, together with James and John, also brothers, all lived and worked as fishermen. Jesus was surrounded by the crowd who wanted to listen to his word. He saw those fishermen mending their nets beside the boats. He climbed on to Simon’s boat and asked him to put out a little from the shore. So it was that he spoke to the people sitting in the boat; Jesus addressed the people from the boat. When he had finished, he told Simon to put out into the deep and let down his nets. This request was a “trial” for Simon — you know the word: a “trial” ["una prova": a test] — for he and the others had just come back from fishing all night with nothing to show for it. Simon was a sincere and practical man, and he immediately said to Jesus: “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing”.

This is the first point: the experience of failure. In your questions there was this experience: the sacrament of Confirmation, — what is this sacrament called? Confirmation... No! Its name has changed: the “sacrament of farewell”. They do this and then they leave the Church. Is this true or not? This is an experience of failure. The other experience of failure: young people aren’t in the parishes: you yourselves have talked about this. This experience of a failure, something that goes wrong, a disappointment. Youth looks ahead, but at times it happens to experience failure, some frustration. This is a trial and it is important! And now I want to pose a question to you; however, do not reply out loud but in silence. May each one one of you think in his or her heart, think of your own experiences of failure, think about them. It is certain: we all have these experiences, we all have them.

We very frequently have this experience in the Church: priests, catechists, and animators tire themselves out, they spend so much energy, they put everything into it, and in the end they do not always see results that correspond to their efforts. Your “spokespeople” also said this in their first two questions. They referred to the communities where faith seems somewhat faded, where few of the faithful take an active part in the life of the Church, Christians are seen who are sometimes weary and sad and many young people move off after receiving Confirmation. The sacrament of farewell, of goodbye, as I said. It is an experience of failure, an experience that leaves emptiness and discourages us. Is this true or not? [Crowd responds "Yes"] Is it true or not? [Crowd "Yes"].

In the face of this situation you are right to wonder: what can we do? Of course one thing is to let oneself be overcome by pessimism and distrust. Pessimistic Christians: how awful! You young people can’t and mustn’t be lacking in hope, hope is part of your being. A young person without hope is not young but has aged prematurely! Hope is part of your youth! if you don’t have any hope, think seriously, think seriously.... A young person without joy and without hope is upsetting: he is not young. And when a young person has no joy, when he lacks confidence in life or loses hope, where can he go to find a bit of tranquillity, a bit of peace? Without trust, without hope and without joy? You know, the merchants of death, these merchants that sell death, offer you a way out when you are sad, when you are without hope, without trust and disheartened! Please don’t sell your youth to these people who sell death! All of you know what I’m talking about! You have all got it: don’t sell!

Let’s return to the scene of the Gospel: Peter, in that critical moment, takes a risk. What could he have done? He could have given in to weariness and to discouragement, thinking that it is pointless and that it is better to withdraw and go home. Instead, what does he do? With courage, he steps out of himself and decides to trust Jesus. He says: “Well, alright! At your word I will let down the nets”. Be careful! He does not say: at my strength, my calculations, my experience as an expert fisherman, but rather “at your word”, at the word of Jesus! And the result is an incredible catch, the nets are filled to the point that they almost tear.

This is the second point: trusting Jesus, trusting Jesus. And when I say this I want to be sincere and to tell you that I do not come here to sell you an illusion. I come here to say: there is a Person who can keep you going, trust in him! It is Jesus! Trust in Jesus! And Jesus is not an illusion! Trust in Jesus. The Lord is always with us. He comes to the shores of the sea of our life, he makes himself close to our failures, our frailty, and our sins in order to transform them. Never stop staking yourselves on him, over and over again, as good sportsmen — some of you know this well from experience — who can face the strain of training in order to achieve results! Difficulties must not frighten you but on the contrary spur you to go beyond them. Hear Jesus’ words as though they were addressed to you: put out into the deep and let down your nets, young people of Sardinia! Put out into the deep! Be ever more docile to the Lord’s word; it is he, it is his word, it is following him that brings to fruition your commitment to witnessing. When your efforts to reawaken faith in your friends seem to be in vain, like the nocturnal efforts of the fishermen, remember that with Jesus everything changes. The word of the Lord has filled the nets and the word of the Lord makes the missionary work of his disciples effective. Following Jesus is demanding, it means not being satisfied with small goals of little account but aiming on high with courage!

It is not good — it is not good — to stop at “we took nothing”; rather, go further, to “put out into the deep and let down your nets”, once again, and without tiring! Jesus repeats this to each one of you. And it is he who will give you the strength! There is the threat of complaining or of resignation. Let’s leave these epithets to the followers of the “goddess of lamentation”. And you, are you following the “goddess of lamentation”? Are you continuously wailing as in a funeral wake? No, young people can’t do that! The “goddess of lamentation” is a deception: she makes you take the wrong road. When everything seems to be standing still and stagnant, when personal problems disturb us and social hardships do not meet with the right responses, it is not good to consider oneself vanquished. Jesus is the way: get him to embark on our “boat” and put out into the deep with him! He is the Lord! He changes the prospect of life. Faith in Jesus leads to a hope that goes further, to a certainty based not on our qualities and skills alone, but on the word of God, on the invitation that comes from him. Without making too many human calculations and without worrying about checking whether the situation that surrounds you coincides with your points of security. Put out into the deep, go out of yourselves: go out of our small world and open ourselves to God, to open ourselves increasingly also to our brethren. Opening ourselves to God is opening ourselves to others. Take a few steps outside ourselves, little steps, but take them. Little steps, going out of yourselves toward God and toward others, opening your heart to brotherhood, to friendship and to solidarity.

Third — and I conclude; [this] is somewhat lengthy! “Let down your nets for catch” (v. 4). Dear young Sardinians, the third thing I want to tell you, and in this way I am answering the other two questions, is that you too are called to become “fishers of men”. Don’t hesitate to spend your life witnessing joyfully to the Gospel, especially among your peers. I want to tell you of a personal experience. Yesterday I celebrated the 60th anniversary of the day when I heard Jesus’ voice in my heart. I am not telling you this so that you will make me a cake here, no, that is not why I’m saying it. However, it is a commemoration: 60 years since that day. I will never forget it. The Lord made me strongly aware that I should take that path. I was 17 years old. Several years passed before this decision, this invitation became concrete and definitive. So many years have gone by, with some successes and joys but so many years with failures, frailties, sin... 60 years on the Lord’s road, behind him, beside him, always with him. I only tell you this: I have no regrets! I have no regrets! Why? Because I feel like Tarzan and I feel strong enough to go ahead? No, I have not regretted it because always, even at the darkest moments, the moments of sin and moments of frailty, moments of failure, I have looked at Jesus and trusted in him and he has not deserted me. Trust in Jesus: he always keeps on going, he goes with us! However, listen, he never let us down. He is faithful, he is a faithful companion. Think, this is my witness: I am glad about these 60 years with the Lord. However, something more about moving ahead.

Have I gone on for too long? [Crowd: "No!"]. Let’s stay united in prayer. And journey on in this life with Jesus: the saints did it.

Saints are like this: they are not born perfect, already holy! They become so because, like Simon Peter they trust in the word of the Lord and “put out into the deep”. Your land has contributed so many witnesses and recently too: the Blesseds: Antonia Mesina, Gabriella Sagheddu, Giuseppina Nicoli; the Servants of God: Edvige Carboni, Simonetta Tronci and Fr Antonio Loi. They are ordinary people who instead of complaining “let down their nets for a catch”. Imitate their example, entrust yourselves to their intercession and always be men and women of hope! No complaining! No discouragement! Never be depressed, never go to purchase comfort from death: none of it! Go forward with Jesus! He never fails, he never disappoints, he is loyal!

Pray for me. And may Our Lady go with you.
...and just to work in one last line, the beginning of Francis' address in the cathedral of the Sardinian capital, Calgiari, to an audience of prisoners, the poor and those who minister to them:
Thank you all for being here today. I see exhaustion in your faces but I also see hope. Feel loved by the Lord and also by many good people who aid and alleviate their neighbour’s suffering with their prayers and action. 
I feel at home here. And I also hope that you feel at home in this Cathedral, as we say in Latin America: “this home is your home”. It is your home.
Indeed, it's a new opening for the church... as for seeing it borne out at "ground level," well, we can only hope.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Quote of the Day

“The doctrine of the law is enriched with Jesus and that ‘Jesus makes all things new.’ The law allows you to hate the enemy, instead Jesus says to pray for him, to not hate him. This, then, is the Kingdom of God that Jesus preached. It is renewal, true renewal. And this renewal begins first of all in our heart.

Being a Christian means being renewed by Jesus in this new life. I am a good Christian, every Sunday, I do this as if it were a collection. But the Christian life is not a collage of things. It's a harmonious whole, and the Holy Spirit does it. You cannot be a Christian in bits and pieces, part-time. It’s full-time. Being a Christian does not mean the end of things, but being renewed by the Holy Spirit, or, to use the words of Jesus, to become the new wine.

The newness of the Gospel is a newness in the law itself which is inherent in the history of salvation. It is a newness that goes beyond us and renews structures. That is why Jesus said new wine needs new skins. In Christian life, even in the life of the Church, there are ancient structures: it is necessary to renew them! And the Church has always been attentive to that, through dialogue with the cultures. Always renew according to places, times and people.

From the first moment, we remember the first theological battle: to become a Christian you must keep all the Jewish practice or not? They said no! The Gentiles may come as they are: OK ... come to Church and receive Baptism. A first renewal of the structure. And so the Church has always let the Holy Spirit renew these structures, structures of churches. Do not be afraid of the newness of the Gospel! Do not be afraid of the news that the Holy Spirit is in us! Do not be afraid of the renewal of the structures that imprison us.

* * *
With those pointedly timed and chosen words in his morning homily of July 6th (emphases added), the Pope signed off from the Domus pulpit for the summer break... 

...and now, the much-sought, intensely awaited discernment undertaken before and since begins its full emergence to the fore.

Established 30 days after his election with the expressed mandate 
"to advise him in the government of the universal church and to study a plan for revising the Apostolic Constitution on the Roman Curia, 'Pastor Bonus,'" as the members of Francis' "Gang of Eight" commission of cardinals begin the trek to Rome for their first meeting with Papa Bergoglio starting Tuesday – or possibly even earlier – for those who forgot, just be reminded at the outset that notice of the changes to come has already been served.


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

For Newark, Enter Bernie... For the Bench, Enter Francis

For all the smiles at the cameras and talk of a smooth transition, the difference between Newark Catholicism's present and future can be boiled down to this: while John Myers prefers to be addressed as "His Grace" – the British/Canadian style for archbishops – whatever title his successor might be saddled with, the next metropolitan of New Jersey will forever be known to all as, simply, "Bernie." 

The mottoes are instructive, too: the incumbent chose for himself the refined, maybe even esoteric "Mysterium ecclesiae luceat" ("Let the mystery of the church shine forth"), a reference to the Vatican II constitution Lumen Gentium. His coadjutor's is straightforward and in English – two words: "Only Jesus."

Shot into the stratosphere as shepherd-in-waiting of the nation's ninth-largest diocese, Bernie Hebda's ascent to North Jersey has been described as "the first truly Francis appointment" on these shores: a distinctly pastoral, nonideological figure with a penchant for sharp ideas, hard work, close ties and creating oceans of goodwill across all sorts of divides.

Even on a normal day, Newark is one of the most complex and intense Stateside dioceses to run. Yet with the added high-wire at hand, all the nominee's qualities are set to come even more to the fore.

A former priest-secretary to Washington's Cardinal Donald Wuerl – who has quietly emerged as a key Stateside figure in Francis' orbit over recent months – the Pittsburgh-born Hebda is being sent in to quell a firestorm following months of damaging claims that Myers neglected to sufficiently supervise a priest who remained in ministry despite the cleric's admission to fondling a 14 year-old boy. Then again, perhaps Francis himself explained the coadjutor's mission ahead even more clearly in his interview with Antonio Spadaro SJ: "to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful."

Driven by a steady stream of blistering coverage in the local Star-Ledger, the storm began in February, after Fr Michael Fugee was named director of the archdiocesan office of Continuing Education for Priests 12 years after admitting to the misconduct with a minor. In late May, after the cleric was found to have violated a court agreement by continuing to work with young people, the role of the archdiocese – likewise a party to the deal which averted further prosecution against Fugee after his 2003 criminal trial fell apart on a technicality – came under even greater scrutiny, resulting in Myers' removal of his vicar-general. At the same time, the youth ministers who allowed Fugee to engage with kids under their supervision – both former employees of the Newark Chancery – were fired, the pastor of the parish where the events occurred was placed on leave, and Fugee resigned from active ministry shortly before his arrest for flouting the court deal; he was subsequently freed on bail.

A further onslaught came last month, when Myers' native diocese of Peoria, which he led from 1990-2001, settled a lawsuit for $1.35 million. The case centered on a priest there (now deceased) who continued to abuse after allegations were received by the now-archbishop. In a 2010 deposition for the suit, Myers attributed the confusion to inadequate record-keeping, but admitted to receiving gifts including rare coins and a prized camera from the accused cleric, who was made a monsignor after the complaints against him were levied. Following the settlement, the mother of the victim called for the archbishop "to go to jail," terming him a "predator" at a press conference organized by survivors' groups in front of the Newark offices. 

Even as the media was thronged inside today, a handful of protestors were gathered again outside the Chancery during the morning press conference. One of the group went to far as to mock Myers' preferred moniker by carrying a sign that read "From His Grace to Disgrace."

A figure of considerable clout in Rome as chairman of the board of the Pontifical North American College – where his eventual successor likewise studied and later served as a spiritual director alongside his Curia job – the archbishop responded in a variety of forums, from a May YouTube video on the archdiocesan website to a Catholic press interview in which Myers said that Fugee's admission to groping the boy was a "mistake" the cleric had made "because he was tired" after hours of interrogation by police.

The most prominent defense, however, became an August letter to priests in which the archbishop charged his critics with being "simply evil, wrong, immoral and only focused on their self-aggrandizement," adding that "God will surely address them in due time."

One of the American hierarchy's leading conservatives for two decades – a onetime EWTN host who penned a controversial pastoral letter on marriage to coincide with his 25th anniversary in the episcopacy – the archbishop went on to muse over whether the stinging focus on him was based on "animus against our Roman Catholic Faith and its Teachings... of which I have always been a staunch and outspoken supporter despite their 'unpopularity' in the secular and 'politically correct' society that has developed around us?" 

In a more recent riposte to the Star-Ledger, the longtime archdiocesan spokesman, Jim Goodness, accused the paper of turning a blind eye to "the financial gains, agendas, backgrounds, lives, and lifestyles of the detractors whom you have been regularly featuring as so-called 'protectors of children,'" challenging the daily to publish an "investigative piece" on the chorus calling for Myers' head.

But it's not the critics in print who can prod a selection process into motion. And as the developments turned uglier and the defenses became more heated, among the American hierarchy, their name became legion. 
Put another way, having written a 2008 science-fiction novel with his boyhood best friend, the storyline must've felt eerily familiar for Myers: justly or not, the long trail of decisions past had suddenly converged, creating a monster he could no longer control.

Beyond the continuing drip of ugly press in the US' largest media market, the story's endurance raised hackles elsewhere in New Jersey as complaints circulated that – in what was already one of the nation's most secularized states – the Newark situation was complicating the church's efforts to fight a bill extending the statute of limitations on civil abuse suits, as well as a fresh push to legalize same-sex marriage in the Garden State.

Though a bill to redefine marriage already passed the legislature in a prior session, it was vetoed by Gov. Chris Christie, a Catholic Republican, who has called for a ballot referendum on the question. New Jersey currently permits civil unions for gay couples, which confer all state benefits of marriage.

*   *   *
The move for a Newark coadjutor is significant on numerous fronts: beyond representing Francis' most consequential US personnel-choice to date – both in terms of the archdiocese's size and Rome's tackling of a high-visibility crisis situation – the speed of the appointment represents a marked shift from prior practice. Instead of the standard months-long search process, the first indications that Myers would receive an early successor only began circulating within the last month, reflecting the case's priority as well as the new Pope's willingness to move quickly, guided by the advice of his own channels.

For his part, Myers said today that he had requested a coadjutor "some time ago" in light of his increasing age and that of two of his four auxiliary bishops, as well as several long-frame initiatives for the life of the Newark church. Even when they are made, however, petitions for a coadjutor are routinely denied by Rome and usually only granted in the presence of exceptional circumstances. 

The archbishop sought to categorically refute any connection between the recent torrent and the early appointment of his successor, but declined to elaborate on the nature and timing of his "conversations with Rome." Citing Christ's command to "pray for those who persecute you," Myers added that the media remained in his prayers.

As for the nominee, much as the choice is a surprise, it's just as formidable of a pick. After being at Wuerl's side while the now-cardinal waged a years-long battle against the Vatican's supreme court, the Apostolic Signatura, to secure the removal of an abusive Pittsburgh priest, Hebda became the latest of several clerics from Steeler Country to impress the Rome crowd with his smarts and diligence, and just as much for an obvious lack of interest in becoming a lifer in the Curia. (The most prominent Pittsburgher of the same mould – now Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston – passed the Council ring he wore as a bishop to Hebda.)

After 13 years at the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts – half of that time as the office's undersecretary – while the top Vatican lawyer was arranging to return home for good through most of 2009, Pope Benedict had other plans. Hebda's appointment to Gaylord was announced during what was supposed to be a visit with his family; given Rome's mild temperatures relative to his hometown, the appointee arrived in Michigan without owning an overcoat. That would change quick, however – "flurries" having been forewarned, three inches of snow fell during Hebda's December 1st ordination.

Over the years since, as noted at his introduction today, he was probably "the only bishop in the country to have a deer blind in his back yard" and, along the way, "confirmed a higher percentage of 'Huberts,' all seeking the intercession of the patron saint of hunters" than any other American prelate.

Despite having escaped Rome, the place didn't forget him – when, in 2012, the Secretariat of State sought to tighten up the juridical status of Caritas Internationalis (the global umbrella-group for Catholic charitable and humanitarian organizations), Hebda was the lone American among the three prelates tapped to chart the task. As a member of Caritas' executive board, the new coadjutor has ostensibly become well acquainted with the body's president – the Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga SDB, now the coordinator of Francis' "Super 8" council of principal advisers, which will hold its inaugural meeting with the Pope next week.

All that said, the effectiveness of the new arrangement can't necessarily be dictated from across the water. While the appointment of coadjutors to salvage abuse-related situations goes back to the US' first eruption – 1985 in Louisiana's Lafayette diocese, when the New York-born Harry Flynn (now retired from the Twin Cities) was sent in to right the ship – and has long been a face-saving response to concerns over misadministration of any kind, the most recent attempt at the strategy in light of the scandals memorably, and spectacularly, failed.

That, of course, was in Dallas, where Bishop Joseph Galante was dispatched in 1999 as coadjutor to Bishop Charles Grahmann in the wake of a $117 million court judgment against the diocese for failing to protect children from a predator priest. Five years later, with the two prelates not on speaking terms and the diocese effectively split into rival camps behind each bishop, Galante sought and received a transfer elsewhere as Grahmann clung to office, only leaving after his 75th birthday in 2007.

Speaking at today's press conference, Myers indicated his intent to remain in office until he reaches the retirement age in July 2016. In the interim, the archbishop said his coadjutor would be involved in all aspects of the governance of the archdiocese.

*   *   *
While the appointment returns the incoming archbishop to the East Coast for the first time since his law school days across the Hudson, for those at a distance, just to be clear, Newark isn't New York: if anything, the only proximity is geographic. 

The smallest US archdiocese by territory – all of 500 congested square miles – the four-county archdiocese encompasses an eclectic, almost chaotic mix of settings: from a see-city racked with violence and poverty to some of the country's wealthiest suburbs, key Hispanic enclaves in Union City and West New York to the gentrified extensions of Manhattan in Hoboken and Jersey City. Topping off the cake is the US' most prominent diocesan-owned university, complete with no less than three seminaries, including the largest formation house on these shores. (Over recent years, the archdiocese has routinely ordained the Stateside church's largest priesthood classes, a mark of distinction going back to the days of then-Archbishop Theodore McCarrick and ably maintained under Myers, who first made his name as a "vocations machine" in Peoria.)

Even if the key challenge of the moment overshadows the rest on the public radar, you could have the quietest media cycle possible in the church and Newark would still be an immensely difficult diocese to handle. A lot of gear-shifting's involved – and not just on being stuck in Turnpike traffic. In the only US fold to boast two NFL teams at home, one hour can find the archbishop fund-raising over lunch in Short Hills, then heading to a Brazilian street-procession in the inner city's Ironbound quarter the next, before capping the day's schedule with a visit from Cory Booker.

In Newark, that'd be a fairly normal day, to boot.

If there's one drawback here, it's that in a diocese whose population is at or near a Hispanic majority, the new arrival is limited in the language. (Portuguese has become an increasingly important local tongue as well; in 2003, Myers moved for the appointment of the US' first Brazilian-born bishop, Fr Edgar daCunha, who was named as lead vicar general in the wake of the Fugee debacle.)

Still, even the polyglot part can be worked on with time – in this case, more than most, what matters above all is the temperament. This is Jersey, after all.

Well before the controversies of late, Myers' 12-year tenure has left no shortage of locals with the lingering sense of an awkward match of prelate and place. It doesn't exactly take a sociologist to sense that a genteel rural milkman's son and gritty urban dockworkers  might not have much to bond about. In all fairness, though, to be sent to succeed the man who brought the Pope to the Meadowlands, only to be plunged into the depths even before arriving as 9/11 struck a seismic emotional and logistical blow to the region and its people, perhaps it was unavoidable that at the last go-around, the deck was stacked beyond almost anyone's grasp.

The circumstances might seem exceptional today, but they're actually a lot more normal now than they were then. City or burbs, yuppies or migrants, Giants or Jets, the thing about Newark is that it's simply a rough and tumble place: Chris Christie's hometown... and not for nothing, albeit in fiction, Tony Soprano's home diocese.

To be sure, that's not to say the Big Man who'll be the Sixth Archbishop is a mobster or a politician – indeed, he's nothing of either. It means that, for a flock known far and wide for its earthy, colorful characters, Bernie fits the bill... and if he weren't already around for Francis to pick, in this instance, they just would've had to invent him.


Amid Newark Scandal, Pope Ships "Steel" – Bernie Hebda Named Next Jersey Abp.

As only Lou Vallone could sum it up: "It just gets better and better, all the time." 

At Roman Noon this Tuesday, reacting with lightning speed to a considerable brutta figura in one of the nation's largest dioceses, the Pope made his most consequential Stateside move to date, naming Bishop Bernard Hebda, the 54 year-old head of Michigan's Gaylord diocese, as coadjutor-archbishop of Newark.

In New Jersey's 1.4 million-member principal church, the Pittsburgh-born star – a beloved, unassuming cleric, yet one armed with degrees from Harvard and Columbia Law and over a decade's experience in the Vatican's office for legal affairs – will eventually succeed Archbishop John Myers, 72. One of the US church's leading conservatives for a quarter-century and an influential figure on both the national and Roman scenes as chairman of the board of the Pontifical North American College, the Illinois-born metropolitan has been embroiled over recent months in an ongoing, increasingly ugly furore over claims of lacking oversight in cases of priests accused of sexual abuse.

While the new coadjutor will likely arrive to begin learning the turf as archbishop-in-waiting within two months, no timetable has yet been indicated for Myers' handover of the reins. It's likewise unknown whether the successor-to-be has been granted any special faculties by the Holy See, which would transfer sole authority over specified elements of the archdiocese's governance to Hebda even while Myers remains in office. In any event, given the most high-profile issue at hand, it is notable that Hebda serves on the USCCB's Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People.

The Newark Chancery has called an 11am press conference to introduce the Steeler devotee to the Giants and Jets faithful. At top, Hebda is shown being looked to by Francis during a May audience with the officials and staff of Caritas Internationalis – the global federation of Catholic charitable and humanitarian efforts – on whose board the new archbishop serves by Vatican appointment.

(SVILUPPO: Hebda's Mass of Welcome – the typical rite marking the launch of a coadjutor's ministry – has been scheduled for 2pm on Tuesday, 5 November, in Newark's Cathedral-Basilica of the Sacred Heart. Signaling an even quicker shift of the nominee's focus, meanwhile, the Gaylord Curia announced this morning that its consultors would be gathered within "the next few days" to elect a diocesan administrator to serve until a new bishop is named.)

A much fuller piece to come... for now, in 2010 these pages indicated Hebda as one of four recently-named Stateside prelates likely to impact the future on the wider scene. 
Three years to the week, he's not only become the second-youngest US archbishop, but among the heads of the nation's ten largest local churches, he's now the youngest by more than eight years. 

Here's that earlier piece:
*   *   * 
Bernard Hebda, 51, bishop of Gaylord: The paper-trail is unusually distinguished, even for an American bishop -- Harvard BA, JD from Columbia Law, JCL from the Gregorian, for 13 years a top-flight Vatican canonist as the #3 official at the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts.

Ask the folks back in Pittsburgh, though, and you’re more likely to hear stories of Bernie Hebda doing the “Electric Slide” at parish festivals on return trips to his hometown.

Over the course of his reign, B16’s shown a distinct liking for the Steel City, naming three more of its native sons to head dioceses (for a grand total of seven), sending the native-born former ordinary to the nation’s capital, bringing the energetic, pastorally savvy Bishop David Zubik home in Donald Wuerl’s footsteps... and above all, in Dan DiNardo, giving the Burgh its second native-son to reach the brass ring and don the cardinal’s red hat. [Ed.: Wuerl subsequently became the third.]

The trend’s been wise -- if you’re rebuilding a bench, Steeler Country’s a great place to start; Eastern enough to boast a strong Catholic ethos, but Midwestern enough to be devoid of the ecclesiastical grandeur that’s only expedited the faith’s epic fall along much of the Amtrak/I-95 corridor. Moreover, Pennsylvania’s western edge prides itself on its down-home sensibility -- and like DiNardo before him, Hebda’s yearning to trade St Peter's for PNC Park became so well-known that, one night a couple years back, a friend in the Canadian hinterlands called with word that “Bernie wants out,” even if the "news" was never a pontifical secret.

In the end, Hebda had to settle for half his wish -- as opposed to a return to the Burgh, his ticket out of the Vatican saw him dispatched to the northern reaches of Michigan, where the nuances of the canons are about as useful as shorts in December. But the move was no exile -- despite his path, like most of his fellow appointees under Benedict, Hebda’s blood runs more pastoral than administrative; fresh from the Greg, he spent three years on a pastoral team tasked with serving a new parish formed from the closure of seven churches, then was campus minister at a local college when the call to Curial service came. Seen far more widely as “brilliant, generous, gentle and pious” than through the lens of ambition -- the latter being, as never before, a particular file-killer in Benedict’s value-judgment -- even if he was heading to a place he’d never been before, simply returning to the trenches made for an especially happy homecoming.

Still, the story is just seeing its start.

When DiNardo was named the American South’s first-ever Roman prince three years ago, this scribe asked a friend what would happen to the simple “Council ring” the cardinal-designate received at his 1997 ordination as bishop of Sioux City -- the only bishop’s ring he would wear until the pope slipped the gold bas-relief of the Crucifixion (today’s version of the now-abolished sapphire band) on his finger.

Quickly, the answer came: “He’s holding it for Bernie.”

After seven happy years in northwestern Iowa’s 125,000 miles of cornfields, the cleric who'd become "Sixburgh’s" second Roman prince was transferred to Texas, and the rest is history.

Hebda marks his first anniversary in Gaylord come December... so for the rest, see you in 2016, or sometime thereabout.
And well, three years ahead of projection, here we are.


Monday, September 23, 2013

Good Monday morning, Church – for all the thousand and more Rorschach test-results that've bloomed over the weekend, just do your intelligence a favor and Read It Again.


For Houma-Thibodaux, A New Road – NOLA's Fabre Heads Next Door

As the docket progressively returns to life after the summer lull, this Monday morning brings the third turnover of a Stateside see in five days: at Roman Noon, the Pope named Bishop Shelton Fabre, the 49 year-old auxiliary of New Orleans since 2006, to head the neighboring Houma-Thibodaux diocese, succeeding Bishop Sam Jacobs, who reached the retirement age of 75 last March 5.

On a context note, that word of the move didn’t leak last week – with over 350 of Louisiana's priests, and all the state's bishops, gathered in the Crescent City for the US’ only province-wide convocation – approaches the miraculous. (This scribe was there, and it was a beyond graced and moving experience. More on it in a bit... but for now, grazie mille to everybody for the welcome – and, again, above all, for all your work and witness.)

One of the few active American bishops who’s an alum of the late, lamented American College Louvain, the Baton Rouge-bred nominee has juggled double duty as a pastor and Chancery official both before and after his 2006 arrival as a NOLA auxiliary, and even after subsequently becoming the archdiocese’s lead vicar general/moderator of the curia. Warmly regarded and more on Louisiana soil, Fabre has kept a low profile on the wider scene, keeping with what friends have termed a “lovable” shyness.

At the same time, the ascending prelate holds a prominent distinction that sticks in no shortage of craws: nearly seven years after his appointment, Fabre remains the last African-American priest to be named a bishop on these shores. As the 25th anniversary of Thea’s glistening prophecy to the US bishops approaches next June – and, booming anew thanks to recent migration from Africa and the Caribbean, the nation’s 4 million Black Catholics ever more comfortably outnumber the entire membership of the Episcopal Church – the long, strange drought has made for an added impact on the community's morale as the second “Golden Age” of the 1970s and ‘80s was already yielding to a Hispanic ascendancy born of the latter bloc’s eccleisial eruption over the last two decades. (At his ordination in 2007, Fabre was memorably invested with the crozier of Archbishop Joseph Francis Rummel, whose excommunication of several laity for urging public dissent from his 1962 order desegregating his Catholic schools remains a watershed moment in the church's journey through the civil rights movement.)

With today’s nod, six African-American prelates – besides Fabre, Bishops Terry Steib SVD of Memphis, Curtis Guillory SVD of Beaumont, George Murry SJ of Youngstown, Edward Braxton of Belleville, and the community’s preeminent leader, Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta – are now ordinaries of dioceses, with two remaining active auxiliaries: Bishops Joseph Perry in Chicago and Martin Holley in Washington. In New Orleans, meanwhile, the appointment leaves the venerable, 400,000-member archdiocese – 220 years old, but only now gifted with its first native son "really in charge" – without an active auxiliary for the first time in nearly half a century.

In Houma-Thibodaux – whose official diocesan history pointedly includes the Saints’ 2010 Super Bowl win – the diocese’s fourth bishop succeeds one of the more catholic characters of the bench: over his episcopal ministry, Jacobs has simultaneously served as the formal ecclesiastical liaison to both Legatus, the fairly traditional lay apostolate for Catholic CEOs founded by Domino's Pizza/Ave Maria's Tom Monahan, and the church’s branch of the Charismatic Renewal.

As Jacobs marks both his golden jubilee as a priest and silver as a bishop next year, given said broad reach, the liturgical celebration of the milestones should make for quite the event.

In an unusually quick turnaround, Fabre’s installation is slated for 30 October – five days after his 50th birthday – in Houma. The standard Appointment Day presser is slated for 9am Central time, followed by a Mass.

* * *
As Francis’ full drill into administrative matters continues apace, the Pope opened this Appointment Season with two other US shifts last week.

First, after a 20-month apprenticeship, Bishop Cirilo Flores finally came into the reins of the 1.1 million-member diocese of San Diego last Wednesday, succeeding Bishop Robert Brom as the two-decade incumbent’s resignation was accepted on his 75th birthday.

A Stanford Law grad ordained a priest at 43 after a decade in private practice, Flores (above), now 65, inherits one of the most abuse-rocked postings in the US church; after California’s 2003 “window” law suspending the state’s statute of limitations on civil suits, the diocese entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the wake of a $198 million settlement, the second-largest payment to survivors made by any American see or religious order.

On a related note, while the statute halt cost the California dioceses a total exceeding $1 billion a decade ago – a torrent topped by the mammoth $660 million package in the archdiocese of Los Angeles – the specter of a second round is currently afoot. Despite a concerted effort by church leadership, earlier this month the state legislature passed a bill providing for an encore of the one-year period allowing for civil litigation to be filed regardless of when the alleged abuse occurred.

The bill has been sent for Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature; the onetime Jesuit novice has until mid-October to enact it. Should Brown proceed, the second “window” would reopen on January 1st.

*   *   *
And lastly, on Friday the pontiff brought Bishop Donald Kettler of Fairbanks back to the Lower 48 as bishop of central Minnesota’s St Cloud church – a turf roughly 7.5 percent the size of the 410,000 square-mile behemoth (by territory, the nation’s largest diocese, encompassing an area almost equivalent to Texas and California combined) which the 68 year-old Minnesota native had shepherded (largely via plane) since 2002.

Despite being raised in nearby South Dakota, for the nominee, it’s still a homecoming; beyond his student days in the diocese at the Benedictines’ St John’s College, as Kettler explained in a Friday letter, the move allows him to be much closer to “my mother, who turned 100 this year.”

The tenth head of a diocese founded in 1889 as part of John Ireland’s post-pallium consecrating blizzard, Kettler succeeds Bishop John Kinney, who reached the retirement age of 75 in June 2012.

Ordained a bishop at 39, Kinney was unable to be on hand for his successor’s introduction due to a hospitalization for an unspecified cause. Beyond being one of the most distinguished veterans of the bench, for many, he’s likewise among the most cherished; ergo, many prayers for his quick and full recovery.

Via St Cloud Chancery, here’s fullvideo of Kettler’s introduction – his installation is slated for November 7th:

With the moves in aggregate, eight Stateside Latin dioceses now stand vacant, with another five led by (arch)bishops serving past the retirement age. Several other moves are said to be quickly in the offing, including reports of a possible surprise or two... and those barring whatever else an unpredictable Pope might just have in mind.


Sunday, September 22, 2013

"Lord, We Lack Work" – In Cagliari, Pope Goes for the "Gold"

Lord God, look down on us! Watch over this city, this island. Keep an eye on our families.

Lord, for you, work wasn't lacking, you were a carpenter and were happy.

Lord, we lack work.

Idols want to rob us of our dignity. Unjust systems seek to steal our hope.

Lord, do not let us be alone. Help us to help each other; help us forget a little of our selfishness and feel in our heart an "us," a people that wants to move ahead.

Lord Jesus, you who didn't lack for work, give us work and teach us to fight for work and bless us all in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Earlier today, the Pope delivered the preceding spontaneous prayer at a "Meeting with the world of work" – his first event of the day on touching down in Calgiari, the capital of Sardinia, for a daylong visit marked throughout by multiple strong papal condemnations of inequality and the consequences of the global economic system in light of significant unemployment on the island.

Intended principally as a pilgrimage to the isle's patroness, Our Lady of Bonaria – from whom Jorge Bergoglio's hometown of Buenos Aires takes its name – the Pope threw aside his prepared arrival text to castigate a world that he said had become "idolaters of this money god."

"This isn't just a problem for Sardinia – strong though it is here," Francis said, "nor is it a problem just for Italy or some countries of Europe, but it's the consequence of a worldwide choice, of an economic system that brings this tragedy to bear; an economic system that has at its center an idol, which calls itself money."

"Money rules! Cash commands!" Francis lamented, echoing a May address to diplomats on the same topic. "It rules over everything that serves him, this idol. And what happens? To defend this idol [man] piles everything in the middle and the edges [of life] fall away, the elderly fall away because in this world there's no place for them! ... And the young fall who can't find work and their dignity.

"But think of a world where the young – two generations of young – don't have work," he said. "This world has no future."

Handing his prepared text to the city's archbishop to be circulated in print, Francis explained going off-script by saying "I just preferred to say what was in my heart on seeing you all here." Prior to the talk, Francis was addressed by three workers: a factory laborer, an entrepreneur and a trade unionist.

As the Pope recalled, the visit – his second Italian stop outside Rome – was likewise his second to an island, following July's emotional outing to the refugee haven of Lampedusa off the Sicilian coast, where the toll of the modern global economy was also conspicuously front and center.

After an outdoor Mass at the Madonna's shrine, a visit to the cathedral to meet with representatives of the local poor and jobless, as well as a gathering with volunteer and charitable groups, the daylong trip wrapped up with an evening Q&A with young people.

Opening the cathedral encounter by saying that "no one here is better than anyone else," Francis proceeded to speak in strong terms against those who –
 noting that all in attendance "have seen this" – show "arrogance in the service of the poor" and "instrumentalize [i.e. exploit] the poor for personal interests of their own group.

"I know, this is human," the Pope said, "but it's not good! This is not of Jesus. And I will say even more: this is sin! It's a grave sin, because it's using the needy, those in need, who are the flesh of Christ, for my vanity. To use Jesus for my vanity: this is grave sin! It would be better if these people just stayed at home!"

"We cannot follow Jesus on the way of charity if we don't love those around us first of all. It's necessary to do the works of mercy with mercy! The works of charity with charity!"


Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Calling of Pope Francis

For all the voices clawing to claim knowledge of his mind elsewhere, let the Pope remind us about the significance of today – this St Matthew's Day, now 60 years ago – in his life....


In a more general context, the 266th Bishop of Rome explained the import and ramifications of the above-cited moment in his now widely-circulated interview with Antonio Spadaro SJ....

“[P]erhaps I can say that I am a bit astute, that I can adapt to circumstances, but it is also true that I am a bit naïve. Yes, but the best summary, the one that comes more from the inside and I feel most true is this: I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon.... I am one who is looked upon by the Lord. I always felt my motto, Miserando atque Eligendo [By Having Mercy and by Choosing Him], was very true for me.”

The motto is taken from the Homilies of Bede the Venerable, who writes in his comments on the Gospel story of the calling of Matthew: “Jesus saw a publican, and since he looked at him with feelings of love and chose him, he said to him, ‘Follow me.’” The pope adds: “I think the Latin gerund miserando is impossible to translate in both Italian and Spanish. I like to translate it with another gerund that does not exist: misericordiando [“mercy-ing”].

Pope Francis continues his reflection and says, jumping to another topic: “I do not know Rome well. I know a few things. These include the Basilica of St. Mary Major; I always used to go there. I know St. Mary Major, St. Peter’s...but when I had to come to Rome, I always stayed in [the neighbourhood of] Via della Scrofa. From there I often visited the Church of St. Louis of France, and I went there to contemplate the painting of ‘The Calling of St. Matthew,’ by Caravaggio. [Top.]

“That finger of Jesus, pointing at Matthew. That’s me. I feel like him. Like Matthew.” Here the pope becomes determined, as if he had finally found the image he was looking for: “It is the gesture of Matthew that strikes me: he holds on to his money as if to say, ‘No, not me! No, this money is mine.’ Here, this is me, a sinner on whom the Lord has turned his gaze. And this is what I said when they asked me if I would accept my election as pontiff.” 
Then the pope whispers in Latin: “I am a sinner, but I trust in the infinite mercy and patience of our Lord Jesus Christ, and I accept in a spirit of penance.”

*   *   *
Along the same lines, on giving a retreat to the bishops of Spain prior to his election – a volume now available in English – Jorge Bergoglio proposed the following examen, one which feels particularly fitting in this extraordinary ecclesial moment:

In a discussion about the so-called "base communities" [Ed.: a significant element in liberation theology] Pope Paul VI offers us the foundational criteria that Jesus wanted for his Church. These criteria can shed light on our contemporary situation and our examination of conscience.

The basic foundational attitude is to let oneself be formed in the Church. Jesus wants men [and women] who are rooted and founded in the Church, men [and women] who:

–seek their nourishment in the Word of God and do not allow themselves to be ensnared by political polarization or fashionable ideologies, which are ready to exploit their immense human potential;
–avoid the ever present temptation of systematic protest and a hypercritical attitude, under the pretext of authenticity and a spirit of collaboration;
–remain firmly attached to the local Church in which they are inserted, and to the universal Church, thus avoiding the very real danger of becoming isolated within themselves, then of believing themselves to be the only authentic Church of Christ, and hence of condemning the other ecclesial communities;
–maintain a sincere communion with the pastors whom the Lord gives to his Church, and with the Magisterium which the Spirit of Christ has entrusted to these pastors;
–never look on themselves as the sole beneficiaries or sole agents of evangelization – or even the only depositories of the Gospel – but, being aware that the Church is much more vast and diversified, accept the fact that this Church becomes incarnate in other ways than through themselves;
–constantly grow in missionary consciousness, fervor, commitment and zeal;
–show themselves to be universal in all things and never sectarian.
All apologies if this seems novel or dull for some... but if the Big Story of these days is what the Pope's saying, then it just seems the sane and rational thing to let the Pope do the talking – 60 years since his first conversion, it kinda comes with the new turf:


Thursday, September 19, 2013

"This Is How It Is" – In Mega-Interview, Francis Lowers the Boom. Again.

Another day... another gift from above – or, at least, Room 201 at the Domus.

Early on in this pontificate, a caller to the office of Civiltà Cattolica – the authoritative Italian Jesuit journal vetted by the Holy See before it goes to press – asked to speak with the magazine's editor, Fr Antonio Spadaro.

Spadaro was out, but the Pope tracked him down on his mobile. And now, the priest-scribe – above, with his confrere – has landed a coup for the ages: a 10,000-word interview with Francis published this morning by the 16 journals overseen by the Society of Jesus around the world.

Beyond being merely conspicuous, the timing of the latest bombshell from the wildly candid Jesuit Pope effectively signals the start of Francis' full-bore dive into matters of governance and the church's internal life, a movement which will kick into top gear with Papa Bergoglio's inaugural meeting with his hand-picked "Super 8" commission of cardinal-advisers, scheduled for 1-3 October.

Touching on issues ranging from sin, sexuality, the Curia and the pre-Conciliar liturgy to family, politics, books and film, the English rendering of the conversation – six hours in total, conducted over three sessions in August – is available via the UK's Thinking Faith and the US' America magazine. On its release today, Spadaro called the encounter "one of the most beautiful spiritual experiences of my life." 

Francis approved the original Italian text of the interview before its translation in the relevant languages.

As the story begins to blow up the news-cycle, you will want to read the full text. Repeat: you will want to read the full text, so have at it.  


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Pope At Angelus: "Who Are We to Judge?"

As the kicker of today's Angelus seems to have made a Francis-sized dent out there, here's a house translation of the core of the Pope's Window Talk – delivered before yet another overflowing Square, even in a soaking rain, and dedicated per usual to this Sunday's lengthy Gospel containing "the three great parables of mercy": the Lost Sheep, the Lost Money, and the Prodigal Son....
Jesus is all mercy, Jesus is all love: he is God made man. Each of us, each of us, is that lost sheep, that lost money; each of us is that son who wasted his own freedom following false idols, illusions of happiness, and lost everything. But God doesn't forget us, the Father never abandons us. He's a patient father who always awaits us! He respects our freedom, but remains ever faithful. And when we return to him, he welcomes us as his own, into his house, because [even if we leave him] he never leaves us, not for a moment, but waits for us with love. And his heart rejoices for each son and daughter who returns. He celebrates because he is joy. God has this joy when one of us sinners goes to him and asks his forgiveness.

What is the danger, then? That we presume ourselves of being just, and judging others. We even judge God, because we think that we should castigate sinners and condemn them to death instead of forgiving. Then we risk remaining outside the Father's house! Like that older brother of the parable, who instead of being happy that his brother returned, was angered with his father who welcomed and celebrated him. If in our heart there isn't mercy, the joy of forgiving, we are not in communion with God, even if we observe all the precepts, because it's love that saves us, not the bare practice of precepts. It's the love for God and neighbor that gives completion to all the commandments. And this is the love of God, his joy: forgiveness. It awaits us always! Maybe each of us has something we carry around in our heart: "But I did this, I did that...." – He waits for you! He's a father: he always waits for you!

If we love according to the law "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth," we'll never leave behind the spiral of evil. The Evil One is clever, and he deludes us that with our human justice we can save ourselves and save the world. In reality, only the justice of God can save us! And the justice of God revealed itself on the Cross: the Cross is the judgment of God on all of us and this world. But how does God judge us? By giving his life for us! Here is the supreme act of justice that ... once and for all the prince of this world; and this supreme act of justice is likewise the supreme act of mercy. Jesus calls all of us to follow this way: "Be merciful as your Father is merciful" (Lk 6:36).

I'm going to ask something of you now. In silence, all of us, let us think... let each one of us think of a person who we don't get along with, who we're angry with, who we don't love. Let us think of that person and, in silence, right now, let us pray for this person and that we might become merciful with them. [Silent pause – 15 seconds]

So now, let us invoke the intercession of Mary, Mother of Mercy – Angelus Domini nuntiavit Mariae....