Friday, February 28, 2014

One Year Ago Today....

...what had long been unthinkable came to pass – the Pope departed the Vatican, and left Peter's Chair behind:

"Thank you – thank you from my heart!

Dear friends, I'm happy to be with you, that I can see the Creator's beauty around us, and all the goodness you've given to me – thank you for your friendship and your affection!

You know that this day of mine hasn't been like those before. I'm no longer the Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic church – at least, at 8 o'clock I won't be – now I'm just a pilgrim beginning the last part of his journey on earth.

With all my heart, with all my love, with my prayer and all my strength – with everything in me – I'd like to work for the common good of the church and all humanity. I feel your kindness so much.

Let us always move together toward the Lord for the good of the church and of the world. Thank you for bringing yourselves [here] – with all my heart, I give you my blessing….

Thank you and goodnight!"
And at 8pm on that incredible 28 February 2013, the Porta Centrale of Castel Gandolfo swung shut and the Swiss Guards stood down as the resignation of Benedict XVI took effect, and the Church of Rome fell vacant.


Saturday, February 22, 2014

"The Church Needs Us To Be Peacemakers": In B16's Presence, Francis' Scarlet Bowl Call

About an hour before this morning's Consistory began, a friend's generous word allowed these pages to break the story:
To be clear, this scribe's nowhere near Rome; if anything, this readership's widespread neglect of your part in this work hasn't allowed for a travel budget or anywhere close.

If nothing else, just let this be a reminder of how news happens on this beat... and never more than in this pontificate. For those in need of the context, meanwhile, the moment would've marked (and did) the first fully public appearance of the Pope and his predecessor together since B16's epochal resignation a year ago this week. Even beyond our time, meanwhile, the duo's joint presence at a major event made for an act never before witnessed in the two-millenia history of the papacy, and one that wasn't expected to be seen until Pope Francis' joint canonizations of Blesseds John XXIII and John Paul II on April 27th.

From some 4,300 miles away, then, it was admittedly sweet to send confirmation some 40 minutes later – an apparent surprise even to some packed into Peter's House:
Once he emerged – greeted at the front by an applause most of the congregation couldn't see to understand – the Pope-emeritus unusually remained in his white grecca (overcoat). Then again, the place was said to be freezing during the midmorning rites.

In any event, Papa Ratzinger – seated alongside the junior cardinal-bishop in the same red silk chair as the rest of the College – made a conspicuous homage to his successor; as Francis approached Benedict on both his entrance and exit from the Altar of the Confession, B16 removed his zucchetto (skullcap), a lower prelate's classic act of homage to the Pope, albeit one which has largely gone by the wayside over recent decades.

All that said, if there was ever a way for these pages to go out, this one seems
 pretty tough to top. And, well, as the bulk of this crowd apparently doesn't see fit to keep this shop running, then it simply feels useless to even attempt this work any longer. 

What a day, what a year, what a ride and incredible grace it's been, Church. God is good, and may he protect, guide, bless and enrich us all on the road ahead.

* * *
Back to what matters, on-demand from St Peter's on this Chairman's Day, here's Pope Francis' first turn at his office's most traditional and concrete duty: creating new members into the clergy of Rome, the College of Cardinals (background/worship aid)....

And here, the Vatican's English translation of Papa Bergoglio's prepared preach...

“Jesus was walking ahead of them…” (Mk 10:32).

At this moment too, Jesus is walking ahead of us. He is always before us. He goes ahead of us and leads the way… This is the source of our confidence and our joy: to be his disciples, to remain with him, to walk behind him, to follow him…

When we joined to concelebrate the first Mass in the Sistine Chapel, the first word which the Lord proposed to us was “to walk”, to journey with him: to journey, and then to build and to profess.

Today this same word is repeated, but now as an action, an action of Jesus which is ongoing: “Jesus was walking…”. This is something striking about the Gospels: Jesus is often walking and he teaches his disciples along the way. This is important. Jesus did not come to teach a philosophy, an ideology… but rather “a way”, a journey to be undertaken with him, and we learn the way as we go, by walking. Yes, dear brothers, this is our joy: to walk with Jesus.

But this is not easy, or comfortable, because the way that Jesus chooses is the way of the Cross. As they journey together, he speaks to his disciples about what will happen in Jerusalem: he foretells his passion, death and resurrection. And they are “shocked” and “full of fear”. They were shocked, certainly, because for them going up to Jerusalem meant sharing in the triumph of the Messiah, in his victory – we see this in the request made by James and John. But they were also full of fear for what was about to happen to Jesus, and for what they themselves might have to endure.

Unlike the disciples in those days, we know that Jesus has won, and that we need not fear the Cross; indeed, the Cross is our hope. And yet, we are all too human, sinners, tempted to think as men do, not as God does.

And once we follow the thinking of the world, what happens? “When the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John” (Mk 10:41). They were indignant. Whenever a worldly mentality predominates, the result is rivalry, jealousy, factions…

And so the word which Jesus speaks to us today is most salutary. It purifies us inwardly, it enlightens our consciences and helps us to unite ourselves fully with Jesus, and to do so together, at this time when the College of Cardinals is enlarged by the entrance of new members.

“And Jesus called them to himself…” (Mk 10:42). Here is the other action of Jesus. Along the way, he is aware that he needs to speak to the Twelve; he stops and calls them to himself. Brothers, let us allow Jesus to call us to himself! Let us be “con-voked” by him. And let us listen to him, with the joy that comes from receiving his word together, from letting ourselves be taught by that word and by the Holy Spirit, and to become ever more of one heart and soul, gathered around him.

And as we are thus “con-voked”, “called to himself” by our one Teacher, I too will tell you what the Church needs: she needs you, your cooperation, and even more your communion, communion with me and among yourselves. The Church needs your courage, to proclaim the Gospel at all times, both in season and out of season, and to bear witness to the truth. The Church needs your prayer for the progress of Christ’s flock, the prayer which, together with the proclamation of the Word, is the primary task of the Bishop. The Church needs your compassion, especially at this time of pain and suffering for so many countries throughout the world. We want to express our spiritual closeness to the ecclesial communities and to all Christians suffering from discrimination and persecution. The Church needs our prayer for them, that they may be firm in faith and capable of responding to evil with good. And this prayer of ours extends to every man and women suffering injustice on account of their religious convictions.

The Church needs us also to be peacemakers, building peace by our words, our hopes and our prayers: let us therefore invoke peace and reconciliation for those peoples presently experiencing violence and war.

Thank you, dear Brothers. Let us walk together behind the Lord, and let us always be called together by him, in the midst of his faithful people, our holy Mother the Church.

The Making of The Cardinal, 2014

Over the years, this day's traditional open here has been this...

...yet all of a sudden, it starts differently now – and not as any movie, but as reality:

Indeed, that's Nicaragua's Cardinal-designate Leopoldo Brenes leaving Managua for Rome on Tuesday.

He's not alone in that spirit, either... and in case it wasn't sufficiently resonant by this point, precisely none of this is an accident.

In the days following the unprecedented election of an American Pope, the choice's explanation of the name he picked ricocheted in the church and beyond alike....
Francis of Assisi. For me, he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation; these days we do not have a very good relationship with creation, do we? He is the man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man … How I would like a Church which is poor and for the poor!
Some months later, in a speech to the Nuncios, another key indicator....
In the delicate task of carrying out [the preparation of] episcopal appointments, be careful that the candidates are pastors close to the people: this is the first criterion. Pastors close to the people. He is a great theologian, has a learned mind? Let him go to university where he will do such great good! Pastors! We need them! May they be fathers and brothers, may they be gentle, patient and merciful; may they love poverty, interior poverty, as freedom for the Lord, and exterior poverty, as well as simplicity and a modest lifestyle; may they not have the mindset of “princes”.
And then, just last month, to his first class of cardinals themselves....
The cardinalate does not imply promotion; it is neither an honour nor a decoration; it is simply a service that requires you to broaden your gaze and open your hearts. And, although this may appear paradoxical, the ability to look further and to love more universally with greater intensity may be acquired only by following the same path of the Lord: the path of self-effacement and humility, taking on the role of a servant. Therefore I ask you, please, to receive this designation with a simple and humble heart. And, while you must do so with pleasure and joy, ensure that this sentiment is far from any expression of worldliness or from any form of celebration contrary to the evangelical spirit of austerity, sobriety and poverty.
Far from the splendid saunter of days gone by, the watered-silk crown of a career spent in the "engine room" of the Barque of Peter, to a degree unseen in recent times, a new breed has arrived in Rome to take its places in the august "Senate" of the Popes.

From the Philippines, there's Orlando Quevedo – just the fifth Oblate of Mary Immaculate to be elevated in the missionary order's two centuries of existence. Called from the majority-Muslim island of Mindanao and revered on all sides there as a figure of peace and reconciliation, his cathedral was once bombed while he celebrated Mass in it, and was last seen before this week seeking technical assistance in an airport cellphone shop. On another front, the rise of the far-flung Filipino incarnates one of this pontificate's early, hidden truths: that the internal vision and focus of Team Francis is far less invested in the temporal battles of US Catholicism's polarized, ever-shrinking Anglo minority than in bolstering a vibrant, growing, unified, oft-persecuted Asian Church, whose decades-long struggle for affirmation in presenting and living an inculturated vision of the faith has reached the hour of its fulfillment.

From the outer Caribbean, there's Kelvin Felix – the first-ever cardinal for the chain's furthest, smaller islands. Now retired as St Lucia's top hierarch, yet happily restored to life as a "country pastor" on his native Dominica, he "miraculously" escaped death in 2006 when a man in the street attempted to slash his throat.

From the hill-country of Perugia, Italy's lone diocesan red hat has fallen to Gualtiero Bassetti – a figure happily nestled in the shadow of the home-turf's "Great Eight," who admitted to having "almost fainted" on learning that he'd become his town's first shepherd in scarlet since the mid-19th century, all while the traditional nominees in Venice and Turin were left in the dust.

From Quebec, amid a shutout of US prelates for the first time in 35 years, this round's closest thing to a Stateside pick is a lumberjack's son raised in New Hampshire, who worked for a time as a graphic designer before learning how to pastor on being dropped into a poor parish in the Colombian countryside which spread across "72 villages and 13 towns."

And from Haiti, the hemisphere's poorest country, still reeling from a cataclysmic 2010 earthquake, comes the youngest of them all – Chibly Langlois, archbishop of neither Port-au-Prince or Jacmel (at least, not yet); just a simple suffragan, but at all of 54, the polyglot president of a bench overseeing what's widely viewed as the country's most reliable and competent institution as the rebuilding continues... and now, the first of his own ever to be a "prince of the church." (For purposes of context, while Catholics comprise at least 80 percent of Haiti's population, 210 years since the half-island's independence, its people elected a priest as the country's president decades before they were given a home-grown cardinal.)

The stories are striking across the board, but two others stand out.

After decades in obscurity, sought out only by the most devoted admirers of the "Good Pope" and his legacy, 50 years since the death of John XXIII, the hat finally goes today to Papa Roncalli's beloved secretary, Loris Capovilla – the oldest figure ever to join the College, and at the dawn of his 100th year, experiencing a sudden twin capstone of his life's work given the new honor and this April's canonization of his boss. (Due to his advanced age, Capovilla won't be present for the rites; according to one Italian report, an empty chair draped in red will be placed among the new cardinals in his honor. He's set to receive his biretta and ring next week from a papal legate at Blessed John's boyhood parish in Sotto il Monte, where he's lived since retiring from Rome.)

In today's Vatican, meanwhile, the sign of the times is subtler – and for many, not as sweet... but still no less significant. After 33 years of one German's dominance in matters of the Doctrine of the Faith, today sees another of Joseph Ratzinger's countrymen take his seat as the cardinal-prefect of the "Holy Office." Even so, a continuity argument would be a challenge to make – despite being reconfirmed in his post, Gerhard Müller has already been eclipsed. Once ranked atop the Curial orbit as "La Suprema," a dicastery technically headed by the Pope, this Consistory finds the CDF taking an inferior place to the power-center of the new pontificate, as the Secretary of a newly-emboldened Synod trumps the "Grand Inquisitor" in seniority and standing, upending an order of rank that dates to the 16th century.

And so, as the new Rule of Francis reaches a year in effect, is it clear yet?

Whatever the case, the whole scene speaks to one of Bergoglio's favorite words, arguably his ministry's governing concept: on the feast of the Chair of Peter, this "Pope's Day," the peripheries have come home to roo – er, to be elevated, and now to take their overdue part in the governance of the universal church.

Reform of structures, trappings, the consequences of teachings or templates of evangelization will take time – and, lest anybody forgot, what one Supreme Pontiff does, another can just as quickly undo.

At least, for the most part. However much he might wish, see, no Pope can unmake a cardinal – if this one could, odds are the College would be looking a bit different by this stage.

Whatever happens from here, then, this Saturday brings the most concrete reinforcement of something many have felt since last March 13th: Today, change comes to the Vatican.

That said, old habits die hard, so as the new cardinals make their way around the scarlet-clad ranks to exchange the sign of peace with their new peers, the Sistine Choir will once again raise the traditional hymn, "Constitues eos principes super omnem terram" – that is, "You shall make them princes over all the earth."


Friday, February 21, 2014

So, everybody buckled up?

Less than 24 hours to go 'til Francis' first Scarlet Bowl, the pieces are in the works and the stage is almost set.

But first, it's time again for the only commercial you'll ever see on these pages. Simply put, folks, the product here doesn't come from out of thin air... and unless this readership does its part to keep the shop running, well, it just can't run anymore.

Sure, there's a Big Weekend and beyond in the offing. As ever, though, what happens from here is less this scribe's call than yours:

The Main Event begins at 11 Rome time (1000GMT, 5am Eastern, 2 Pacific) Saturday morning. Beyond major pieces, for everything up to the minute, Page Three – either down the right sidebar or directly here – will have the running updates.

At least, that's the plan. If it's worth doing, don't just sit there and wait for the next thing – make it happen....

Because without you, it won't.


Throw "Casuistry" To the Wind – For Family Talks, Francis Wants "Theology While Kneeling"

A couple weeks from now will mark a year since the walls of the Synod Hall shook – at least, figuratively – as Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio unleashed his assessment of a "self-referential, sick" church, and many among a stunned pre-Conclave General Congregation punctuated the take with a sudden ovation.

If the Argentine hadn't lit the fuse – with time to spare on his allotted five minutes, to boot – chances are he wouldn't have become Pope. And now, in the same place, the narrative arc of a year that rocked the Catholic world has reached its home stretch.

Any final outcomes, however, remain a good while off.

For the first time as Rome's 266th Bishop, Francis convoked the city's historic clergy – the College of Cardinals – yesterday, opening his first addition to the body with the creation of 19 new members tomorrow morning. Now numbering 218 prelates with the new intake, while some 185 red-hats were initially expected to be on-hand, the first day's turnout was considerably lighter, with only 150 said to be in the room.

In any event, the shape of the day marked a new threshold for the prime function of the papal "Senate" – advising the Pope. As John Paul II had only consulted broadly with the college on a handful of occasions over his 27-year reign, Benedict XVI responded by introducing a "day of prayer and reflection" to preface each of his four major Consistories.

Prepared by the professor-Pope in the style of a seminar, Ratzinger's sense of programming tended to be too packed by long addresses from hand-picked prelates on topics ranging from the retirement age of bishops, clergy sex-abuse and Anglicanorum coetibus to the New Evangelization to allow for any kind of profound interaction. Now, in his turn at the format, Francis has signaled his premium on hearing the "mind of the body" instead by extending the session to two days, while culling back its agenda to just one item: the pastoral challenges facing the family – Papa Bergoglio's marquee issue-item for 2014, set to culminate at October's Extraordinary Synod on the same topic.

At the same time, what the Pope's "script" lacked in a heavy roster, it more than made up for with his choice of messenger. Yet again, no small amount of shockwaves made the rounds on the announcement that the retired Christian Unity Czar, German Cardinal Walter Kasper, would be the keynote speaker at yesterday's opening session. For all the warmth that's marked the unprecedented dynamic of "two Popes" coexisting behind the walls, the move signaled yet another theological turn from the mind of Ratzinger toward a greater openness to the thought of his rivals.

A onetime assistant to Hans Küng, Kasper memorably clashed with the future B16 over the primacy of the universal or local church and, before his 1998 arrival in Rome, over the very issue that's become the flashpoint of Francis' call to reflection on family life: the standing of civilly remarried Catholics, particularly on their reception of the sacraments.

Specifically citing the "adamant refusal" of the Eucharist posed by the latter scenario, Kasper wrote in 2001 that "no bishop should be silent or stand idly by when he finds himself [facing] such a situation."

Within days of his election, the new Pope began showcasing the German iconoclast as – to quote Mickens – "the theologian of his pontificate." At his first Angelus, Francis conspicuously plugged Kasper's recent opus on mercy, hailing him as an "on the ball" thinker. Even before the election, meanwhile, the cardinal – who, having turned 80 days after B16's resignation, was able to vote in the Conclave by the skin of his teeth – said the next Pope "need[ed] to realize the perception of the Second Vatican Council; we have not accomplished this task... to fully realize collegiality."

Kasper went on to call for "a modest Church, not self-referential, perhaps not poor, but modest and humble as well."

In other words, the whole ship he asked for suddenly docked along the banks of the Tiber.

According to the summaries provided by the VatiSpox Fr Federico Lombardi and some participants, Kasper's lengthy reflection yesterday returned to the tension between the application of mercy and the non-negotiable truths of divine revelation. While the cardinal did treat the question of the civilly remarried among other practical pastoral concerns, the keynoter said in the run-up to his turn at the podium that he wasn't looking to push a position so much as lay out the principles at hand. He did, however, probe the possibility of a return to the once-widespread concept (subsequently clamped down upon by Rome) of dealing with civil remarriage as a matter of the "internal forum" – that is, in the context of Confession as opposed to the "external forum" of a tribunal.

While the text of Kasper's talk wasn't released by the Holy See, Francis' brief introductory remarks were published shortly after delivery:

Dear brothers,

I extend a warm greeting to you all and, with you, I thank the Lord who has given us these days of meeting and working together. We welcome especially our brothers who will be created Cardinals on Saturday and we accompany them with our prayers and fraternal affection. I wish to thank also Cardinal Sodano for his words.

During these days, we will reflect in particular on the family, which is the fundamental cell of society. From the beginning the Creator blessed man and woman so that they might be fruitful and multiply, and so the family then is an image of the Triune God in the world.

Our reflections must keep before us the beauty of the family and marriage, the greatness of this human reality which is so simple and yet so rich, consisting of joys and hopes, of struggles and sufferings, as is the whole of life. We will seek to deepen the theology of the family and discern the pastoral practices which our present situation requires. May we do so thoughtfully and without falling into "casuistry", because this would inevitably diminish the quality of our work. Today, the family is looked down upon and mistreated. We are called to acknowledge how beautiful, true and good it is to start a family, to be a family today; and how indispensable the family is for the life of the world and for the future of humanity. We are called to make known God’s magnificent plan for the family and to help spouses joyfully experience this plan in their lives, as we accompany them amidst so many difficulties with a pastoral care that is sound, courageous and full of love.

On behalf of everyone, I thank Cardinal Walter Kasper for his valuable contribution which he will offer us with his introduction.

Thank you all, and have a productive day!
As is his habit, Francis defined his reference to "casuistry" alongside lobbing it into the seats of the Synod Hall. At his morning Mass before today's second session, the Pope recalled the Gospel accounts of "all those who approached Jesus to present him with cases such as: is it lawful to to pay taxes to Caesar?" or the case of the widow, "poor thing, who according to the law had to marry the seven brothers of her husband in order to have a child.

As the two evince, "casuistry is precisely the place to which all those people go who believe they have faith," but instead reflexively rattle off precepts, Francis said. "When we find a Christian [who asks] if it is licit to do this and if the church could do that... [either] they do not have faith, or it is too weak."

The Pope went on to contrast these with figures from the Gospels "who do not know doctrine but have great faith."

"Theoretically, we can say the Creed, even without faith, and there are many people who do so," Francis went on, pointedly adding that "even demons" do.

"Demons know well what is said in the Creed," he added, "and know that it is the Truth."

The other danger alongside "casuistry," he warned, is "ideology": "Christians who think of faith, but as a system of ideas, ideologues: even in the time of Jesus, there were people like this. The Apostle John tells them that they are the antichrist, the ideologues of faith, whatever sign they may be.... [T]hose who fall into casuistry or those that fall into the trap of ideologies are Christians who know the doctrine, but without faith, like demons."

Despite the clarified understanding of the term, again, any firm resolutions remain a significant amount of time away. Following the close of the 14 hours of talks with the cardinals, on Monday the action shifts to the 15-member Synod Council – a global A-list of cardinals and other senior bishops – and its final preparations for the working document of the October gathering.

In keeping with his unique custom since taking office, the Pope is likely to be on hand for most, if not all, of the two-day deliberations down the street. Only once the fruit of its labors – the text of the instrumentum laboris – emerges sometime around Easter can any authoritative sense be had of what is and isn't "on the table" come October.

Along the way, earlier today Francis' choices to lead the autumn meeting emerged. Keeping with the Synod's protocols, the sessions will be conducted by a trio of Presidents-delegate: Cardinals André Vingt-Trois of Paris, the "golden child" Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, and the Brazilian Raymundo Damasceno Assis of Aparecida, a former president of the CELAM and close Bergoglio ally, who's believed to have been a key mover in the last Conclave.

Though the freshly-tapped trio will handle the mechanics of the floor, last October already brought the appointments of the most significant figures in laying the groundwork for the discussions: the Hungarian primate, Cardinal Peter Erdö of Budapest, widely seen as a "conservative," as the 2014 Synod's Relator-General, and Bruno Forte – the Italian theologian-bishop hailed by progressives – as the meeting's Secretary.

All that said, the next round in the Synod Hall isn't the last stage of the effort. With this fall's two-week gathering set to be dominated in its makeup by the presidents of the episcopal conferences from around the globe, the "endgame" isn't slated until October 2015, when an Ordinary Synod (a larger meeting, including non-ordained representatives) will meet to mark the 50th anniversary of the close of Vatican II.

Opening today's second session with his red hats, meanwhile, Francis thanked Kasper again for his keynote, terming it "profound theology, serene theology," which he said reflected the "sensus ecclesiae... that love for Mother Church, right there" contained in the teaching of no less than Bergoglio's own spiritual father: the Jesuit founder Ignatius of Loyola.

"This is called doing theology while kneeling," the Pope said of his chosen keynoter... and so it seems, it's likewise his wish for the long, arduous discernment he's pushed into motion.


Thursday, February 20, 2014

Wichita Lands A "Lincoln" – Springfield VG to Kansas... and For Miami, An Island Aux.

As Pope Francis' first Consistory revs up, the longest Stateside vacancy has likewise been resolved: at Roman Noon, Papa Bergoglio named Msgr Carl Kemme (left), 53, vicar-general of Springfield in Illinois, as bishop of Wichita.

In the Kansas post leading 125,000 Catholics – home to one of the nation's largest crops of seminarians, a rare tuition-free school system funded through active stewardship and all around, an unusually energized ecclesial hotspot – Kemme succeeds Michael Jackels, who was named archbishop of Dubuque last April in one of Francis' first major US appointments.

Having pastored five parishes in Illinois' capital church, Kemme – a product of St Louis' Kenrick Seminary – was named vicar-general by then-Bishop George Lucas in 2002, while keeping his full-time ministry in the trenches. After serving as diocesan administrator for the year between Lucas' 2009 transfer to Omaha and Bishop Thomas Paprocki's arrival, the "Holy Goalie" kept today's appointee as his top deputy.

On a significant front as context goes, given the enduring misperceptions (or campaigning) in some quarters that Francis seeks to somehow alter or abolish the church's teaching on homosexuality, back in reality, it is telling that for the second time since the flagship LGBT magazine The Advocate named the new pontiff its 2013 "Person of the Year," in picking Kemme, the Pope has named a diocesan chaplain of Courage as a US bishop.

In a tweet announcing the appointment, Paprocki said that Kemme's ordination is set for May 1st.

Alongside the Wichita nod, the Pope named Msgr Peter Baldacchino, 53 – a Malta-born priest of Newark currently overseeing the Turks and Caicos islands, which the Jersey archdiocese holds as a mission territory – as auxiliary bishop of Miami.

The first auxiliary given to South Florida – with 1.3 million Catholics, the Southeast's largest diocese – since the 2010 homecoming of Archbishop Thomas Wenski, the long-awaited pick speaks all three of the local church's three main languages: English, Spanish and of course, Haitian Creole. In addition, he likewise becomes the first Maltese to be named a bishop on these shores.

Since the quick promotions of Bishops John Noonan to Orlando in late 2010 and Felipe Estevez to St Augustine six months later, Miami has lacked an active auxiliary. The place hasn't been completely shorthanded, however – Pueblo's recently-retired Bishop Fernando Isern returned to his hometown after his June release from the Colorado post, and has taken a pastorate alongside helping out with episcopal functions.

The manager of a bottling plant on his native Mediterannean island before entering seminary in the US at 29, the Miami pick's background is likewise notable as Baldacchino wasn't formed at Newark's Immaculate Conception Seminary, but the parallel house at Seton Hall run by the Neocatechumenal Way, whose students are immersed in the charism of the lay-led missionary apostolate and available to its global outposts, while being ordained for and incarnated in the diocese where the Redemptoris Mater seminary is situated. Given that experience, the new auxiliary is believed to also be the first US prelate to be formed by the Way.

In an unusually quick turnaround, Baldacchino will be ordained on 19 March, the feast of St Joseph, patron of the universal church, likewise the first anniversary of Francis' inauguration of his Petrine ministry.

Just like that, meanwhile, with the longest US Latin-church vacancy now settled, the distinction leaps forward some five months to Fairbanks, Alaska's massive mission church (a turf almost as large as Texas and California, combined), which opened in September on Bishop Don Kettler's return to the lower 48 as head of Minnesota's St Cloud diocese. Four others – respectively, Gaylord, Toledo, Burlington and Lexington – likewise remain bishop-less.

As ever, more to come.


Saturday, February 15, 2014

"To Confirm in Unity": President's Day... and Pope's Day

For those of us in the States, a long holiday weekend's on – Monday marks the Federal observance of Washington's Birthday, more commonly known as Presidents' Day.

As veterans 'round these parts will recall, though, there's a fun confluence with this beat: the actual birthday of the Father of the Country, 22 February, is marked in the liturgy as the feast of the Chair of Peter – in other words, "Pope's Day," given the ancient celebration's focus on the ministry of the Bishop of Rome. That's why the feast of Chair has been the most common moment for the creation of new cardinals, as Francis will do for the first time next Saturday, 13 years exactly since one Jorge Mario Bergoglio received his own red hat. (For the record, of the nine consistories since 1998, four have taken place over February 22nd, and a fifth – B16's first intake in 2006 – was announced on the Petrine feast.)

In token of the civil holiday, keeping with house custom, below is the Prayer for the Nation written and first delivered in 1791 by the Father of the Stateside Church: John Carroll of Baltimore, the founding bishop of the country, an ally of Washington, cousin of the lone Catholic to sign the Declaration of Independence and a brother of a signer of the Constitution....

We pray, Thee O Almighty and Eternal God! Who through Jesus Christ hast revealed Thy glory to all nations, to preserve the works of Thy mercy, that Thy Church, being spread through the whole world, may continue with unchanging faith in the confession of Thy Name.

We pray Thee, who alone art good and holy, to endow with heavenly knowledge, sincere zeal, and sanctity of life, our chief bishop, Pope Francis, the Vicar of Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the government of his Church; our own bishop, N., all other bishops, prelates, and pastors of the Church; and especially those who are appointed to exercise amongst us the functions of the holy ministry, and conduct Thy people into the ways of salvation.

We pray Thee O God of might, wisdom, and justice! Through whom authority is rightly administered, laws are enacted, and judgment decreed, assist with Thy Holy Spirit of counsel and fortitude the President of these United States, that his administration may be conducted in righteousness, and be eminently useful to Thy people over whom he presides; by encouraging due respect for virtue and religion; by a faithful execution of the laws in justice and mercy; and by restraining vice and immorality. Let the light of Thy divine wisdom direct the deliberations of Congress, and shine forth in all the proceedings and laws framed for our rule and government, so that they may tend to the preservation of peace, the promotion of national happiness, the increase of industry, sobriety, and useful knowledge; and may perpetuate to us the blessing of equal liberty.

We pray for his[/her] excellency, the governor of this state , for the members of the assembly, for all judges, magistrates, and other officers who are appointed to guard our political welfare, that they may be enabled, by Thy powerful protection, to discharge the duties of their respective stations with honesty and ability.

We recommend likewise, to Thy unbounded mercy, all our brethren and fellow citizens throughout the United States, that they may be blessed in the knowledge and sanctified in the observance of Thy most holy law; that they may be preserved in union, and in that peace which the world cannot give; and after enjoying the blessings of this life, be admitted to those which are eternal.

Finally, we pray to Thee, O Lord of mercy, to remember the souls of Thy servants departed who are gone before us with the sign of faith and repose in the sleep of peace; the souls of our parents, relatives, and friends; of those who, when living, were members of this congregation, and particularly of such as are lately deceased; of all benefactors who, by their donations or legacies to this Church, witnessed their zeal for the decency of divine worship and proved their claim to our grateful and charitable remembrance.

To these, O Lord, and to all that rest in Christ, grant, we beseech Thee, a place of refreshment, light, and everlasting peace, through the same Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior. Amen.
In 1790, Washington addressed a letter to American Catholics expressing his supportive hope "that your fellow-citizens will not forget the patriotic part which you took in the accomplishment of their Revolution, and the establishment of your Government, or the important assistance which they received from a nation [i.e. France] in which the Roman Catholic faith is professed."

Aided by the contribution of the early church on these shores – a community then numbering some 25,000 souls (served by 22 priests) scattered across the 13 new states – the first Commander-in-Chief said that, "America, under the smiles of a Divine Providence, the protection of a good government, and the cultivation of manners, morals, and piety, cannot fail of attaining an uncommon degree of eminence, in literature, commerce, agriculture, improvements at home and respectability abroad."

The founding father added his prayer that "the members of your Society in America, animated alone by the pure spirit of Christianity, and still conducting themselves as the faithful subjects of our free government, enjoy every temporal and spiritual felicity."

In our own time, however – reflecting the reality that leadership in every age has its glaring moral deficiencies – only in recent years has the site of Washington's official residence in the nation's pre-DC capital become a memorial: not to the Chief Executive, but to the slaves he kept there.

When Washington died in 1799, the first President had over 300 slaves at his Mount Vernon home, making provision for their freedom only after his wife's death.

* * *
And now, given the other feast of these days, to Rome.

Needless to say, the potential of the Petrine office to turn the world on its ear has been manifested over the last 11 months to perhaps an unprecedented degree in modern times.

Still, it apparently bears reminding in some quarters that a Pope's authority derives not from opinion polls or the arbitrary, relativistic litmus tests of ideological constituencies within the church, however "faithful" or "enlightened" these might consider themselves. Far from any external factor, Tradition and the law itself confer upon the Roman pontiff – that is, he "in whom continues the office given by the Lord uniquely to Peter" – the "supreme, full, immediate and universal ordinary power" to teach, govern and sanctify the whole People of God: a role "which he is always able to exercise freely"... and, indeed, a munus to which each occupant brings his own definition of how best to wield the Keys.

Beyond the unique background and extraordinary public effect of their 266th holder, though, something very interesting has only just begun to develop, but hasn't been too widely noticed.

Nearly a half-century since Vatican II's close, it's rather remarkable that while the Council's ressourcement approach to ecclesiology has seen massive changes across aspects ranging from the liturgy and interfaith relations to inculturation and the role of the laity, much as the reforms significantly altered the optics of the papacy – read: the retirement of the tiara and the abolition of the Renaissance-bred papal court (well, most of it) – the substance of the office's sweeping, almost blank-check authority has remained entirely intact. Sure enough, it could even be argued that the technological advances of the decades since, coupled with the wide, unchecked berth assumed by the Curia over the period, have only served to strengthen Rome's hand even further.

At least, until now. Having written of his own need to consider "a conversion of the papacy," and begun to implement it in bulking up the consultative structures that surround the office – not to mention his design for the most thorough reform of the Curia since 1967's Regimini tinkering of Paul VI – Francis has set into motion a rethinking of the last ecclesial reality left untouched by the Council and its aftermath.

In other words, the biggest "sacred cow" of all will only be increasingly skewered over the reign to come – 11 months in, he's just warming up. And while the rebooted shape of things will only emerge with time, the consultations of the week to come – first with his "Gang of Eight," then the entire College of Cardinals before next weekend's Consistory – represent a milestone of no small significance for the project and its eventual outcome.

As policy goes, among the first major signs of the breadth of Francis' intent came on last June's feast of Saints Peter and Paul, when he spontaneously peppered his homily – always one of a pontiff's major texts of the year – with unscripted references to a more collaborative form of papal governance. (The Pope is shown above in the extraordinary moment at last November's closing of the Year of Faith, when the reliquary containing the bones of Peter was brought into public view for the first time, and put in his hands during the Creed.)

It didn't take long for word to swirl that Papa Bergoglio intentionally left the additions out of his prepared words to avoid leaks, panic or both among the translators and staffers who'd see the preach in advance. In any case, with an eye to the days ahead – and as the talk made for Francis' most extensive reflection to date on the office he's inherited – below is a re-air of the new Pope on the Foundation laid by his First Predecessor... and the mission as he sees it today (emphases original; unscripted portions in brackets):

I would like to offer three thoughts on the Petrine ministry, guided by the word “confirm”. What has the Bishop of Rome been called to confirm?

1. First, to confirm in faith. The Gospel speaks of the confession of Peter: “You are Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:16), a confession which does not come from him but from our Father in heaven. Because of this confession, Jesus replies: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church” (v. 18). The role, the ecclesial service of Peter, is founded upon his confession of faith in Jesus, the Son of the living God, made possible by a grace granted from on high. In the second part of today’s Gospel we see the peril of thinking in worldly terms. When Jesus speaks of his death and resurrection, of the path of God which does not correspond to the human path of power, flesh and blood re-emerge in Peter: “He took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him ... This must never happen to you” (16:22). Jesus’ response is harsh: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me” (v. 23). Whenever we let our thoughts, our feelings or the logic of human power prevail, and we do not let ourselves be taught and guided by faith, by God, we become stumbling blocks. Faith in Christ is the light of our life as Christians and as ministers in the Church!

2. To confirm in love. In the second reading we heard the moving words of Saint Paul: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tm 4:7). But what is this fight? It is not one of those fights fought with human weapons which sadly continue to cause bloodshed throughout the world; rather, it is the fight of martyrdom. Saint Paul has but one weapon: the message of Christ and the gift of his entire life for Christ and for others. It is precisely this readiness to lay himself open, personally, to be consumed for the sake of the Gospel, to make himself all things to all people, unstintingly, that gives him credibility and builds up the Church. The Bishop of Rome is called himself to live and to confirm his brothers and sisters in this love for Christ and for all others, without distinction, limits or barriers. [And not only the Bishop of Rome: each of you, new archbishops and bishops, have the same task: to let yourselves be consumed by the Gospel, to become all things to everyone. It is your task to hold nothing back, to go outside of yourselves in the service of the faithful and holy people of God.]

3. To confirm in unity. Here I would like to reflect for a moment on the rite which we have carried out. The pallium is a symbol of communion with the Successor of Peter, “the lasting and visible source and foundation of the unity both of faith and of communion” (Lumen Gentium, 18). And your presence today, dear brothers, is the sign that the Church’s communion does not mean uniformity. Vatican II, in speaking of the hierarchical structure of the Church, states that the Lord “established the apostles as college or permanent assembly, at the head of which he placed Peter, chosen from their number” (ibid., 19). [To confirm in unity: the Synod of Bishops, in harmony with the primate. Let us go forward on the path of synodality, and grow in harmony with the service of the primacy.] And [the Council] continues, “this college, in so far as it is composed of many members, is the expression of the variety and universality of the people of God” (ibid., 22). In the Church, variety, which is itself a great treasure, is always grounded in the harmony of unity, like a great mosaic in which every small piece joins with others as part of God’s one great plan. This should inspire us to work always to overcome every conflict which wounds the body of the Church. United in our differences: [there is no other Catholic way to be united. This is the Catholic spirit, the Christian spirit: to be united in our differences. T]his is the way of Jesus! The pallium, while being a sign of communion with the Bishop of Rome and with the universal church, [with the Synod of Bishops,] also commits each of you to being a servant of communion.

To confess the Lord by letting oneself be taught by God; to be consumed by love for Christ and his Gospel; to be servants of unity. These, dear brother bishops, are the tasks which the holy apostles Peter and Paul entrust to each of us, so that they can be lived by every Christian. May the holy Mother of God guide us and accompany us always with her intercession. Queen of Apostles, pray for us! Amen.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Live from The Square: Valentine's Pope

The Pope set to appear at Roman Noon, here's the livestream – then on-demand feed – of Francis' Valentine's Day meeting with some 20,000 engaged couples from 30 countries in St Peter's Square (after unusually running very late, the host appears at the 1:35 mark):

As ever, texts to follow... yet most of all, a tutti gli innamorati among this crowd, buona festa with every wish for all its joys, blessings and love.

SVILUPPO: Zenit has produced a full English translation of the Pope's lengthy Q&A with three of the engaged couples.


Thursday, February 13, 2014

A Year Ago, "A New Journey"

While most of the news-focus amid this first anniversary of B16's resignation focused on Tuesday's year since its announcement, it bears reminding that last 13 February saw the beginning of a public tidal-wave of reaction, as Papa Ratzinger led his final public liturgy in office (homily) and left St Peter's for the last time.

Of course, a year ago today was Ash Wednesday, so amid the sudden spike of emotion and history alike, at the last minute the rites were moved from their traditional station of Santa Sabina on the Avventine Hill to the Vatican, both to accommodate a much bigger crowd, and that the departing Pope could offer a final Mass in the Basilica.

Capped by an unplanned singing of the Tu Es Petrus which punctuated the moment, here, the film of the liturgy's close....


"If Plates Fly, So Be It" – For the Engaged, Francis As Valentine

Tomorrow brings another of the tender moments which have become the calling-card of this pontificate: at Roman Noon, the Pope will arrive in St Peter's Square for a meeting with over 20,000 engaged couples to mark Valentine's Day.

Organized by the Pontifical Council for the Family, the event – titled "The Joy of Yes Forever" – was initially slated to be held in the Paul VI Hall, but publication of the encounter quickly saw enough requests to overwhelm the 6,000 seats in the audience hall, hence the move outside.

All told, the couples will represent some 28 countries. According to the Family council, Francis will offer a specially-composed prayer for the engaged, and all the couples present are to receive a gift commemorating their marriage.

Along the way, of course, Papa Bergoglio will speak, answering questions from three couples, adding more to what's already become the papal magisterium's most extensive treatment of marriage since the early days of John Paul II. The renewed focus hasn't just been limited to words, either – after his election, Francis quickly restored John Paul's custom of individually greeting and blessing newly-married couples at every Wednesday audience. A place in the weekly "sposi novelli" group is available to any newlyweds within two months of their Nuptial Mass, upon the request of the couple's diocesan bishop. (The couple shown above in their November turn with the Pope donned clown noses – and obviously brought an extra – to highlight their involvement with an Italian charity which supports "clown-therapy" for the sick and disabled.)

As the days around 14 February are always marked as the church's World Marriage Week, some of Francis' prior words on the sacrament are worth repeating. Among the bunch, during his October trip to Assisi, in a brief aside to representatives of St Francis' diocese in the city's cathedral, the Pope talked married life as a key part of the journey of the entire local church....

[T]he most important thing is to walk together by working together, by helping one another, by asking forgiveness, by acknowledging one's mistakes and asking for forgiveness, and also by accepting the apologies of others by forgiving — how important this is! Sometimes I think of married people who separate after many years. “Oh ... no, we didn't understand each other, we drifted apart”. Perhaps at times they didn't know how to ask for forgiveness at the right time. Perhaps at times they did not know how to forgive. And I always give this advice to newly weds: “Argue as much as you like. If the plates fly, let them! But never end the day without making peace! Never!” And if married people learn to say: “excuse me, I was tired”, or even a little gesture, this is peace. Then carry on with life the next day. This is a beautiful secret, and it prevents these painful separations. It is important to walk in unity, without running ahead, without nostalgia for the past. And while you walk you talk, you get to know one another, you tell one other about yourself, you grow as a family. Here let us ask ourselves: how do we walk? How does our diocese walk? Does it together? And what am I doing so that it may truly walk in unity?
Later that day, meanwhile – responding to a question from newlyweds at a Q&A with the region's youth, Francis expounded on the sacrament, and the question of commitment in general, in the context of his own life (emphases original):
I am glad that the first question came from a young married couple. What a beautiful witness! Two young people who have chosen, who have joyfully and courageously decided to form a family. Yes, it is so true that it takes courage to form a family. It takes courage! And your question, young spouses, is linked to the question of vocation. What is marriage? It is a true and authentic vocation, as are the priesthood and the religious life. Two Christians who marry have recognized the call of the Lord in their own love story, the vocation to form one flesh and one life from two, male and female. And the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony envelops this love in the grace of God, it roots it in God himself. By this gift, and by the certainty of this call, you can continue on assured; you have nothing to fear; you can face everything together!

Let us think about our parents, about our grandparents and great grandparents: they married in much poorer conditions than our own. Some married during wartime or just after a war. Some like my own parents emigrated. Where did they find the strength? They found it in the certainty that the Lord was with them, that their families were blessed by God through the Sacrament of Matrimony, and that the mission of bringing children into the world and educating them is also blessed. With this assurance they overcame even the most difficult trials. These were simple certainties, but they were real; they were the pillars that supported their love. Their lives were not easy; there were problems, many, many problems. However, these simple assurances helped them to go forward. And they succeeded in having beautiful families, and in giving life and in raising their children.

Dear friends, this moral and spiritual foundation is necessary in order to build well in a lasting way! Today, this foundation is no longer guaranteed by family life and the social tradition. Indeed, the society in which you were raised favours individual rights rather than the family — these individual rights. It favours relationships that last until difficulties arise, and this is why it sometimes speaks about relationships between couples, within families and between spouses in a superficial and misleading way. It is enough to watch certain television programs to see these values on display! How many times parish priests — sometimes I myself also heard it — hear a couple that comes to get married say: “But you both know that marriage is for life?” “Ah, we love each other so much, but... we'll stay together as long as the love lasts. When it ends, we’ll each go our separate way”. This is selfishness: when I feel like it, I'll end the marriage and forget the “one flesh” that cannot be separated. It is risky to get married: it is risky! It is this egoism which threatens it, because we each have within us this possibility of a dual personality: the one that says, “I am free, I want this ...” and the other which says, “I, me, to me, with me, for me ...”. Selfishness always returns and does not know how to open up to others. The other difficulty is this culture of the temporary: it seems as though nothing is definitive. Everything is provisional. As I said before: love, as long as it lasts. I once heard a seminarian — a good person — say: “I want to become a priest, but for ten years. Then I’ll rethink it.” This is the culture of the temporary, and Jesus didn't save us temporarily: he saved us definitively!

However, the Holy Spirit is always stirring up new answers to new needs! Thus, programs for engaged couples, marriage preparation courses, parish groups for young couples and family movements have been multiplying in the Church. They are an immense wealth! They are reference points for everyone: young people searching, couples in crisis, parents having difficulties with their children or vice versa. They help everyone! And then there are the different forms of acceptance: foster care, adoption, family homes of various kinds. The imagination — if I may use that word — the imagination of the Holy Spirit is infinite but very practical! And so I wish to tell you to not be afraid to take definitive steps: do not be afraid to take them. How many times I have heard mothers tell me: “But, Father, I have a son who is 30 years old and he won’t get married. I don’t know what to do! He has a beautiful girlfriend, but he won’t make up his mind”. Well, Madame, stop ironing his shirts! That’s how it is! Do not be afraid to take steps which are permanent, like getting married: deepen your love by respecting its seasons and expressions, pray, prepare yourselves well; and then trust that the Lord will not leave you alone! Let him come into your home like one of the family, He will always sustain you!
* * *
As the new pontificate begins its 12th month, tomorrow's event is just the kickoff to an extraordinarily busy week at the Vatican, much of which will focus on the pastoral realities facing the "domestic church."

Monday brings the start of the third meeting of Francis' "C-8" Council of Cardinals, with a further drilling into the Pope's intended reform of the Roman Curia set to top the agenda, and a further elaboration of the announced pontifical commission on sex-abuse likewise expected. The "Super 8" summit will run through Wednesday.

Then, for the first time since his election, next Thursday and Friday will see a papal consultation with the entire, 216-member College of Cardinals, at which Bergoglio has indicated his intent to look primarily toward October's Extraordinary Synod on the Family, whose unprecedented broad consultation was due to the Holy See by January's end.

Following next weekend's Consistory and Francis' conferral of his first 19 red hats, a meeting of the newly-amplified Synod Council will return to discussions on the October gathering with an eye to preparing the fall gathering's working document.

In the Pope's long-ball plan, this October's Synod is intended to serve as just the first major stage of a conversation which will culminate with a second global assembly in late 2015, marking the 50th anniversary of the close of Vatican II.


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

"Cold Butter Doesn't Spread" – On Ordination Day, Marquette Gets the Program

Eight years ago, the bishop of Marquette was ordained on the day B16's first encyclical released. And now, on this first anniversary of Papa Ratzinger's disclosure of his resignation, the successor of the last pontificate's favorite son on the US bench took the reins of Michigan's Upper Peninsula church, adopting the title of Francis' sweeping ecclesial manifesto as his motto, to boot.

At the close of today's rites, Bishop John Doerfler was quick, folksy and memorable in his first remarks, as he took the unusual step of laying out "the core and the center" of his pastoral program within minutes of being placed in the chair.

Here's the film:

The fourth seating of a Francis nominee in the last two weeks – after San Angelo, Fort Worth and Jackson – two more are on deck before month's end: Bishop Bob Deeley's installation in Portland on Friday, and on the other side of the impending Scarlet Bowl, the 27th's ordination of Papa Bergoglio's pick for Pueblo, Bishop-elect Steve Berg.


After 37 Years, Albany Turns – Hubbard Retires, Brooklynite Succeeds

On this first anniversary of a historic papal resignation, the longest episcopal tenure on these shores has reached its close.

At Roman Noon this Tuesday, the Pope retired Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany all of three months after the native son reached the canonical age of 75. Named the New York capital's ninth bishop at the tender age of 38, Hubbard will be succeeded by Msgr Edward Scharfenberger, 65, a priest of Brooklyn currently serving as a pastor and episcopal vicar of Queens.

The Albany church comprises 14 counties up the Hudson, with some 350,000 Catholics.

Alongside the capital nod, Francis named Msgr Andrzej Zglejszewski, 52, the Polish-born co-chancellor and director of worship in Rockville Centre, as auxiliary bishop of the 1.4 million-member Long Island diocese. Returning the suburban turf to its usual complement of three active auxiliaries, Zglejszewski – who came to the US in 1990 to study for the priesthood – fills the slot left by last June's retirement of Bishop John Dunne, who had served for 24 years.

The Big Story, however, is Albany. Beyond being the longest-serving Stateside prelate in the same post, Hubbard's retirement brings the era of the "Jadot bishops" to its end as the last of the young nominees of Paul VI's polarizing legate to Washington from 1973-80 hands over his chair.

In the era of a mandatory retirement age – and with no US prelate having been appointed under 40 in nearly three decades – an epic run of the kind, so many of which have played an equally enduring role across American Catholic history, will not be seen again. In its place, meanwhile, Rome has opted for a relatively brief, bolt-tightening successor in the choice of a cleric with deep pastoral and administrative experience alike.

At his first turn before the Albany crowd this morning, the "humbled" bishop-elect (left) said that "I am not worthy of this office and I hope that our priests, deacons, religious and lay people will pray for me often as, together, we continue along our journey of faith.

"What else do I ask for? What do I hope for? I ask the priests, deacons, religious and laity to help me to be myself – my best self. I promise to love and respect all of you by letting you be who you are and to bring out the best in you. Let’s do this for one another. I will spend every talent that God has given to me, and every ounce of energy, for the Church in Albany."

For his part, the departing bishop added that "we are most grateful that our Holy Father has graced us with such a gifted shepherd and we pledge him our prayers, loyalty, support and love."

Beyond the pleasantries, Scharfenberger's background in both canon and civil law and the handling of clergy sex-abuse cases is notable as the Albany church has been involved in a court fight over the scandals' legacy there. Just last Friday, a Federal appeals court ruled that the diocese didn't have to produce its records of four decades' worth of accusations amid a lawsuit filed by a Vermont man who was abused by an Albany priest.

Having spent most of his Chancery service in the diocesan tribunal, in the wake of the crisis' 2002 eruption Scharfenberger was named promoter of justice for the Brooklyn cases – that is, the chief local prosecutor seeking a cleric's removal, whether in ecclesiastical court or processes involving the Holy See.

Alongside degrees in the canons and moral theology, the bishop-elect became a civil lawyer in 1990 on earning his JD from Fordham, and has been chaplain to Brooklyn's association of Catholic lawyers for the last 12 years. The experience in law will be especially useful in his new charge as – like most large states – New York's capital prelate serves as the principal quarterback for most of the church's public advocacy with the Legislature and other state agencies.

With state government becoming an ever more crucial policy center given the gridlock of a polarized Washington, the role is of increasing import, all the more in the third-largest of the bunch. While the New York bishops have engaged in high-profile clashes with Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo over the state's legalization of same-sex marriage and an ultimately failed 2013 plan to codify Roe v. Wade in state law, in recent days the Empire State's Catholic conference has indicated the passage of a state version of the DREAM Act – a measure allowing the children of undocumented immigrants to receive financial aid for college – as a "top priority" in the current session. (Heavily backed by the US bishops, efforts to pass a Federal DREAM Act have stalled in Congress.)

A divorced Catholic who shares the Executive Mansion with his longtime girlfriend – the Food Network personality Sandra Lee – Cuomo fils (like Scharfenberger, a product of the Outer Boroughs) is expected to be easily re-elected in November.

Back in Brooklyn, meanwhile, the Albany pick is the second priest of the 1.8 million-member diocese to be exported Northward in the last eight months; the auxiliary-vicar general Frank Caggiano was named to Connecticut's Bridgeport church last July.

According to local reports, the ordination is scheduled for April 10th, three days before the start of Holy Week. Having been rector of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception before his appointment as bishop, Hubbard made a sumptuous restoration of the space (above) one of his final projects in office.

With the Albany file handled in unusually rapid time, six Stateside Latin-church diocese currently remain vacant, with all of four others led by a prelate serving past the retirement age.

SVILUPPO: Via the local NBC affiliate, WNYT, video of the bulk of today's handover press conference, opened with a poignant line from the retiring bishop....