Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Ecco Papa – At Long Last, Pope's US Dance Card Revealed

After a notably longer wait than usual, this morning the full schedule for the Pope's late September swing through the Northeast was unveiled by the Holy See and the USCCB with some 90 days to spare before the journey takes place.

For the Vatican, the 22-27 September Stateside trek is the second leg of a tour that'll first see Francis spend four days in Cuba. In any case, now comes the chaotic part – the coordination of ticketing and invitations amid heated demand and a frightful level of security, not to mention the credentialing for a global media contingent tipped to number close to 10,000 on its own between the stops in Washington, New York and Philadelphia.

On the all-important messaging front, while the inclusion of powerfully personal encounters – an interfaith prayer service at Ground Zero alongside visits to a Philadelphia prison, immigrant families in East Harlem and the homeless served by Washington's Catholic Charities – will all make for evocative visuals, given the Pope's lack of facility in English (which he's long termed his "toughest language" to master), the overwhelming bulk of the 16 major homilies and addresses Francis is slated to give are expected to be delivered in Spanish with a translator at his side, both for ease of understanding and, indeed, to allow him to veer off-the-cuff.

Here, via the Mothership, the complete US itinerary:


  • 4:00 p.m. Arrival from Cuba at Joint Base Andrews
  • 9:15 a.m. Meeting with President Obama at the White House
  • 11:30 a.m. Midday Prayer with the bishops of the United States, St. Matthew's Cathedral
  • 4:15 p.m. Mass of Canonization of Junipero Serra, Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception [Ed. Note: East Portico of Shrine – outdoor liturgy]

  • 9:20 a.m. Address to Joint Session of the United States Congress 
  • 11:15 a.m. Visit to St. Patrick in the City and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington
  • 4:00 p.m. Depart from Joint Base Andrews
  • 5:00 p.m. Arrival at John F. Kennedy International Airport
  • 6:45 p.m. Evening Prayer (Vespers) at St. Patrick's Cathedral 

  • 8:30 a.m. Visit to the United Nations and Address to the United Nations General Assembly
  • 11:30 a.m. Multi-religious service at 9/11 Memorial and Museum, World Trade Center 
  • 4:00 p.m. Visit to Our Lady Queen of Angels School, East Harlem
  • 6:00 p.m. Mass at Madison Square Garden

  • 8:40 a.m. Departure from John F. Kennedy International Airport
  • 9:30 a.m. Arrival at Atlantic Aviation, Philadelphia 
  • 10:30 a.m. Mass at Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul, Philadelphia 
  • 4:45 p.m. Visit to Independence Mall
  • 7:30 p.m. Visit to the Festival of Families Benjamin Franklin Parkway

  • 9:15 a.m. Meeting with bishops at at St. Martin's Chapel, St. Charles Borromeo Seminary 
  • 11:00 a.m. Visit to Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility 
  • 4:00 p.m. Mass for the conclusion of the World Meeting of Families, Benjamin Franklin Parkway 
  • 7:00 p.m. Visit with organizers, volunteers and benefactors of the World Meeting of Families, Atlantic Aviation 
  • 8:00 p.m. Departure for Rome

Monday, June 29, 2015

On Peter's Day, Itinerary Eve

(SVILUPPO – 8am ET, 30 June: As expected, the schedule for the September visit has been released.)

Lest anyone forgot the enduring foundation this feast commemorates, let's return again to the opening page of its latest chapter....

Even if the ancient observance is always big enough on its own, the significance of this year's Petermas is ever more heightened in the Stateside church thanks to what's coming next – early tomorrow, if not at Roman Noon then slightly thereafter, the full schedule for Francis' intensely-awaited first trip to the US (22-27 September) is slated to be released.

Its most significant pieces already announced in drips over recent months, Jorge Bergoglio's first-ever visit to these shores – stopping in Washington, New York and Philadelphia – will be headlined by the first-ever papal address to a joint meeting of Congress and Canonization Mass on US soil, a massive South Lawn welcome at the White House and meeting with the US bishops in the capital's St Matthew's Cathedral, the traditional speech at the United Nations headquarters in New York followed by a Mass for the nation's clergy and religious in Madison Square Garden, all before culminating with the biggest open-air PopeEvent the country's seen since before 9/11: the mega-Mass on Philly's Benjamin Franklin Parkway on the trek's closing Sunday, with realistic crowd-estimates in the range of a million.

All that said, much as every PopeTrip is eagerly anticipated, to say the expectation over this one is greater than most is a decided understatement... and when it comes to the "why" behind the mood, no explanation can beat the poetic tribute offered by Francis' first domestic host – his Stateside Nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò – on the first anniversary of Papa Bergoglio's election as 266th Bishop of Rome:


"Teach Prayer By Praying, Proclaim Faith By Believing, Give Witness By Living!" – To New Archbishops, Pope's Rules of the Road

On this foundational feast of the church of Rome, the Pope again commemorated Saints Peter and Paul by giving the pallium to the 46 new metropolitan archbishops named over the last year... yet in a change from the ritual devised by St John Paul II in 1984, the group weren't vested with the lambswool band signifying their new jurisdiction by Francis, but will instead have it placed over their shoulders in Cathedral Masses at home over the coming months.

A significantly larger class than usual, this year's crop included two cardinals – the German Rainer Maria Woelki, returned from Berlin to his native Cologne (by most accounts, the Catholic world's richest diocese), and the former Worship chief Antonio Cañizares Llovera, now in Valencia – alongside Francis' marquee US appointee to date, Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago, who only met Papa Bergoglio for the first time in a private audience on Friday.

Among others, the group included Archbishops Eamon Martin of Armagh (the new Irish primate), Anthony Fisher OP of Sydney, John Wester of Santa Fe, Charles Scicluna of Malta (the former lead CDF prosecutor on sex-abuse), and the pontiff's pick for the Spanish capital, Carlos Osoro Sierra of Madrid.

Its roots dating to Christian antiquity and given by the Popes as a "bond of love and incentive to courage" symbolizing the particular link each archbishop enjoys with the Roman pontiff, Francis' decision to return to the pallium's actual presentation within the local church restores the tradition which extended until 1984, when John Paul chose to gather the new metropolitans in Rome to confer it himself.

Cupich will receive his pallium in a 23 August Mass in Chicago's Holy Name Cathedral, while Wester's conferral date in Santa Fe's Cathedral-Basilica of St Francis has yet to emerge. In both cases, the rite will be performed by the Nuncio to Washington, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò.

Traditionally accompanied by large pilgrimages from the archbishops' new flocks, the pallium events signal the end of the Vatican's working year before the Curia's summer exodus, the week usually accompanied by a host of wrap-up meetings and releases as the church's Home Office heads into hiatus until early September. As appointments go, the last batches decided over these days are customarily announced on or before July 15th.

Back to the main event, here below, for those who missed it overnight, on-demand video of the morning liturgy...

...and the Vatican's English translation of the Pope's homily at it (emphases original):

The reading, taken from the Acts of the Apostles, speaks to us of the first Christian community besieged by persecution. A community harshly persecuted by Herod who “laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the Church… proceeded to arrest Peter also… and when he had seized him he put him in prison” (12:1-4).

However, I do not wish to dwell on these atrocious, inhuman and incomprehensible persecutions, sadly still present in many parts of the world today, often under the silent gaze of all. I would like instead to pay homage today to the courage of the Apostles and that of the first Christian community. This courage carried forward the work of evangelisation, free of fear of death and martyrdom, within the social context of a pagan empire; their Christian life is for us, the Christians of today, a powerful call to prayer, to faith and to witness.

A call to prayer: the first community was a Church at prayer: “Peter was kept in prison; but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the Church” (Acts 12:5). And if we think of Rome, the catacombs were not places to escape to from persecution but rather, they were places of prayer, for sanctifying the Lord’s day and for raising up, from the heart of the earth, adoration to God who never forgets his sons and daughters.

The community of Peter and Paul teaches us that the Church at prayer is a Church on her feet, strong, moving forward! Indeed, a Christian who prays is a Christian who is protected, guarded and sustained, and above all, who is never alone.

The first reading continues: “Sentries before the door were guarding the prison; and behold, an angel of the Lord appeared, and a light shone in the cell; and he struck Peter on the side… And the chains fell off his hands” (12:6-7).

Let us think about how many times the Lord has heard our prayer and sent us an angel? An angel who unexpectedly comes to pull us out of a difficult situation? Who comes to snatch us from the hands of death and from the evil one; who points out the wrong path; who rekindles in us the flame of hope; who gives us tender comfort; who consoles our broken hearts; who awakens us from our slumber to the world; or who simply tells us, “You are not alone”.

How many angels he places on our path, and yet when we are overwhelmed by fear, unbelief or even euphoria, we leave them outside the door, just as happened to Peter when he knocked on the door of the house and the “maid named Rhoda came to answer. Recognizing Peter’s voice, in her joy she did not open the door” (12:13-14).

No Christian community can go forward without being supported by persistent prayer! Prayer is the encounter with God, with God who never lets us down; with God who is faithful to his word; with God who does not abandon his children. Jesus asked himself: “And will not God vindicate his elect, who cry to him day and night?” (Lk 18:7). In prayer, believers express their faith and their trust, and God reveals his closeness, also by giving us the angels, his messengers.

A call to faith: in the second reading Saint Paul writes to Timothy: “But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength to proclaim the word fully… So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil and save me for his heavenly Kingdom” (2 Tim 4:17-18). God does not take his children out of the world or away from evil but he does grant them strength to prevail. Only the one who believes can truly say: “The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want” (Ps 23:1).

How many forces in the course of history have tried, and still do, to destroy the Church, from without as well as within, but they themselves are destroyed and the Church remains alive and fruitful! She remains inexplicably solid, so that, as Saint Paul says, she may acclaim: “To him be glory for ever and ever” (2 Tim 4:18).

Everything passes, only God remains. Indeed, kingdoms, peoples, cultures, nations, ideologies, powers have passed, but the Church, founded on Christ, notwithstanding the many storms and our many sins, remains ever faithful to the deposit of faith shown in service; for the Church does not belong to Popes, bishops, priests, nor the lay faithful; the Church in every moment belongs solely to Christ. Only the one who lives in Christ promotes and defends the Church by holiness of life, after the example of Peter and Paul.

In the name of Christ, believers have raised the dead; they have healed the sick; they have loved their persecutors; they have shown how there is no power capable of defeating the one who has the power of faith!

A call to witness: Peter and Paul, like all the Apostles of Christ who in their earthly life sowed the seeds of the Church by their blood, drank the Lord’s cup, and became friends of God.

Paul writes in a moving way to Timothy: “My son, I am already on the point of being sacrificed; the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Tim 4: 6-8).

A Church or a Christian who does not give witness is sterile; like a dead person who thinks they are alive; like a dried up tree that produces no fruit; an empty well that offers no water! The Church has overcome evil thanks to the courageous, concrete and humble witness of her children. She has conquered evil thanks to proclaiming with conviction: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (cf. Mt 16:13-18).

Dear Archbishops who today receive the Pallium, it is a sign which represents the sheep that the shepherd carries on his shoulders as Christ the Good Shepherd does, and it is therefore a symbol of your pastoral mission. The Pallium is “a liturgical sign of communion that unites the See of Peter and his Successor to the Metropolitans, and through them to the other Bishops of the world” (Benedict XVI, Angelus of 29 June 2005).

Today, by these Palliums, I wish to entrust you with this call to prayer, to faith and to witness.

The Church wants you to be men of prayer, masters of prayer; that you may teach the people entrusted to your care that liberation from all forms of imprisonment is uniquely God’s work and the fruit of prayer; that God sends his angel at the opportune time in order to save us from the many forms of slavery and countless chains of worldliness. For those most in need, may you also be angels and messengers of charity!

The Church desires you to be men of faith, masters of faith, who can teach the faithful to not be frightened of the many Herods who inflict on them persecution with every kind of cross. No Herod is able to banish the light of hope, of faith, or of charity in the one who believes in Christ!

The Church wants you to be men of witness. Saint Francis used to tell his brothers: “Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words!” (cf. Franciscan sources, 43). There is no witness without a coherent lifestyle! Today there is no great need for masters, but for courageous witnesses, who are convinced and convincing; witnesses who are not ashamed of the Name of Christ and of His Cross; not before the roaring lions, nor before the powers of this world. And this follows the example of Peter and Paul and so many other witnesses along the course of the Church’s history, witnesses who, yet belonging to different Christian confessions, have contributed to demonstrating and bringing growth to the one Body of Christ. I am pleased to emphasize this, and am always pleased to do so, in the presence of the Delegation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, sent by my beloved brother Bartholomew I.

This is not so straightforward: because the most effective and authentic witness is one that does not contradict, by behaviour and lifestyle, what is preached with the word and taught to others!

Teach prayer by praying, announce the faith by believing; offer witness by living!

Friday, June 26, 2015

"A Profound Turning Point" – On Marriage, The Court Rules... and The Church Responds

(2pm ET – Updated with a host of reactions from US church's leadership below.) In a sweeping ruling that represents the ultimate civil judgment on same-sex marriage, this morning a 5-4 majority of the Supreme Court held full recognition of gay unions as a constitutional right of equal protection under the 14th Amendment, thus redefining the institution across the 50 states.

With 36 states and the District of Columbia already having extended marriage to same-sex couples – a significant increase since the 2013 Windsor decision striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act – yet again the majority opinion was written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, a Catholic who has consistently been the court's dominant player in advancing gay-rights cases.

Among the Supremes' six-justice Catholic bloc, Kennedy was joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, while the other four – Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito – dissented.

The broadest possible ruling SCOTUS could make on the two cases at hand, the decision comes a month after Ireland became the first nation to redefine civil marriage by popular vote, sanctioning the change in a referendum margin of nearly 2-to-1. While Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin said the result called the church to a "reality check" on how it communicates its teaching, particularly with young people, in subsequent comments to Italian reporters the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, termed the vote "not merely a defeat for Christian principles, but a defeat for humanity," a line subsequently clarified as representing the stance of the Holy See.

Given the US hierarchy's significant investment of voice and effort in its defense of traditional marriage – and the possible, if not likely move by at least some bishops to remove their priests and deacons as witnesses of civil marriage in the wake of today's decision – reaction from church leadership will be posted below as it emerges both here and via Page Three (accessible either directly or down the right sidebar of the main Whispers page). Among these, particularly of note will be responses from the states where the decision will legalize same-sex unions for the first time – among them Michigan, Ohio, Texas, Missouri, Georgia, Louisiana and Kentucky, the latter being the home-turf of the USCCB president, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville.

In the meantime, given his longtime standing as the Stateside bench's lodestar figure on societal questions and their impact on culture, it feels fitting to start things off with the text of the letter written by the late Cardinal Francis George to the Chicago church as Illinois enacted same-sex marriage through legislation in November 2013:

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

As you all know, the State of Illinois has entered into law the recogni􏰁on of same-sex unions as marriages. The Church was part of the public debate, as you also know. We tried to explain that this is not primarily a religious issue, since marriage comes to us from nature as the union of a man and a woman, long before Christ walked the earth or the state came into being.

Nevertheless, there will be consequences for the Church and society that will become clearer as the law is used to sue for discrimina􏰁tion. The law has made some gays and lesbians happy, and that is not a bad thing in itself. The law, however, is bad law because it will contribute over the long run to the further dissolu􏰁on of marriage and family life, which are the bedrock of any society. The Church will therefore con􏰁tinue and strengthen her ministry to families. We have lived with bad laws before, and we will do our best to adjust to this one for the sake of social harmony.

One of the consequences for our religion is already evident in the misuse of Pope Francis’ words, spoken last summer, about our atti􏰂tude toward an individual gay person who has asked God for forgiveness. The Pope was not speaking about approving gay marriage. To use his words against his teaching, as they were used on the floor of the State House of Representati􏰁ves on November 5, is less than intellectually honest.

We are called, by reason of our belief that every person is made in God’s image and likeness, to love and respect all of our brothers and sisters, without excep􏰁tion. But we express this respect within the context of our belief in how God has made us and made the world. This belief and this love is the basis of our joy in living the Catholic faith with integrity of mind and heart.

I thank you for your life of faith. God bless you and those you love.
SVILUPPO (11.40am ET) – In a statement released solely under his signature (that is, lacking the body's controversial Marriage Czar, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco), Kurtz has issued the following response in the name of the US bishops:
Regardless of what a narrow majority of the Supreme Court may declare at this moment in history, the nature of the human person and marriage remains unchanged and unchangeable. Just as Roe v. Wade did not settle the question of abortion over forty years ago, Obergefell v. Hodges does not settle the question of marriage today. Neither decision is rooted in the truth, and as a result, both will eventually fail. Today the Court is wrong again. It is profoundly immoral and unjust for the government to declare that two people of the same sex can constitute a marriage.

The unique meaning of marriage as the union of one man and one woman is inscribed in our bodies as male and female. The protection of this meaning is a critical dimension of the “integral ecology” that Pope Francis has called us to promote. Mandating marriage redefinition across the country is a tragic error that harms the common good and most vulnerable among us, especially children. The law has a duty to support every child’s basic right to be raised, where possible, by his or her married mother and father in a stable home.

Jesus Christ, with great love, taught unambiguously that from the beginning marriage is the lifelong union of one man and one woman. As Catholic bishops, we follow our Lord and will continue to teach and to act according to this truth.

I encourage Catholics to move forward with faith, hope, and love: faith in the unchanging truth about marriage, rooted in the immutable nature of the human person and confirmed by divine revelation; hope that these truths will once again prevail in our society, not only by their logic, but by their great beauty and manifest service to the common good; and love for all our neighbors, even those who hate us or would punish us for our faith and moral convictions.

Lastly, I call upon all people of good will to join us in proclaiming the goodness, truth, and beauty of marriage as rightly understood for millennia, and I ask all in positions of power and authority to respect the God-given freedom to seek, live by, and bear witness to the truth.
On a context note, the marriage issue has a particular resonance for the USCCB chief – the first chair of what was initially an ad hoc bishops' committee for the protection of marriage, Kurtz's 2010 statement that the nation faced "1973" for the institution (a reference to the court's sea-change ruling on abortion in Roe v. Wade) showed a communications skill that arguably launched him into the conference's top rank; the day after making the comment, the bishops elected Kurtz their vice-president.

Meanwhile, in the first statement from a group of prelates in a locale impacted by the ruling's strike-down of a ban, the bishops of Michigan have issued the following joint response:

Today’s decision from the U.S. Supreme Court to redefine marriage represents a profound legal turning point in the contemporary and cultural understanding of spouses and family. We continue to teach that every human person deserves respect and compassion. The experience of same-sex attraction is a reality that calls for attention, sensitivity and pastoral care. While every person is called to love and deserves to be loved, today’s momentous decision will not change the truth of the Church’s teaching on marriage.

The Catholic Church teaches that marriage is and can only be the union of one man and one woman. This union brings two persons together and, because of their natural biological composition, each bring qualities to the marriage that differ from one another. Man and woman complement each other; they then become united as one in marriage and together are unique in their ability to create new life based on sexual and reproductive differences.

Every child has a mother and a father and even though each child deserves to be loved and raised by them together, we are conscious of and loving toward those circumstances in which this arrangement of a married mother and father in the home is not reality. Married couples unable to conceive children or family structures that differ – single parents, widowed parents, adopted children and those being raised by grandparents or other family members – merit compassion and support for their life situations, which at times can be difficult and challenging. The Church and her ministries must remain conscious of and respectful toward these differing dynamics, especially when support, counsel and love is sought.

Going forward, the Supreme Court’s decision to redefine marriage will have a significant ripple effect upon the first amendment right to religious liberty. It sets the Church’s teaching about marriage in opposition to the law and will create inestimable conflicts between the state and religious persons and institutions. As the impact of the decision plays out over the coming weeks and months the Catholic Church will continue to preach the truth about marriage and will promote, in the public square, this truth as what is good for society and our world.
In similar fashion, from another state whose ban was overturned – Nebraska – its three bishops have likewise issued a shared response:
The Catholic bishops of Nebraska remind all people of good will that marriage is the sacred union of one man and one woman. Marriage, as ordained by God, is the cornerstone of every human family, an ancient tradition in every culture. No one can change that reality. The truth about marriage is written into the complementarity of men and women in the context of the family. We encourage all believers to be witnesses to the goodness and beauty of marriage as God has revealed it, and by their example to foster peace, love, mercy and joy as a witness to that truth.
...from Ohio – whose marriage law was the direct focus of the case upon which the court made today's ruling – the following was just released by the state's lead cleric, Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati:
Under the false banner of ‘marriage equality,’ the United State Supreme Court today redefined marriage by judicial fiat. In so doing, it has disregarded not only the clearly expressed will of the electorate in Ohio and other states, but also an understanding of marriage that was shared by virtually all cultures – secular as well as religious – until recently.

Every nation has laws limiting who and under what circumstances people can be married. This is because lawmakers have always understood that marriage does not exist just for the mutual satisfaction of the two people involved but for the betterment of society. Traditional marriage is the cradle of the family, the basic building block of society. As Pope Francis has reminded us, every child has a right to be raised by two parents, a father and a mother. Both parents are important, and they are not interchangeable. The sad reality that so many children are deprived of this right because of the crisis in traditional marriage does not make it any less important. It is deeply disappointing and worrisome that our courts do not understand this.

Although the decision is disappointing, it is undeniable that families headed by same-sex couples are growing in number and visibility. These families deserve everyone’s love, respect, compassion, sensitivity and, where appropriate, pastoral care from the Church.
...here, from one of the US church's prime voices on the issue – and a USCCB-elected delegate to October's Synod on the Family – Archbishop Charles Chaput OFM Cap. of Philadelphia:
The Supreme Court's 5-4 decision on marriage is not a surprise. The surprise will come as ordinary people begin to experience, firsthand and painfully, the impact of today's action on everything they thought they knew about marriage, family life, our laws and our social institutions. The mistakes of the court change nothing about the nature of men and women, and the truth of God's Word. The task now for believers is to form our own families even more deeply in the love of God, and to rebuild a healthy marriage culture, one marriage at a time, from the debris of today's decision.
...from Miami's Archbishop Thomas Wenski – one of the US' key defenders of Laudato Si', who's previously linked the marriage cause to Pope Francis' call for an "integral ecology":
The decision of the Supreme Court redefining marriage as merely an affective union between two people of any sex was disappointing if not unexpected. As the minority of the judges said in their dissent, “The majority’s decision is an act of will, not legal judgment.” This is simply a wrong, mistaken decision. Of course, this is not the first time the Supreme Court got it wrong.

In the 19th Century, in the Dred Scott decision, the Court decided that a black man had no rights that a white person had to respect. In the 20th Century, the Court decided in Roe v. Wade that a baby could be killed in her mother’s womb at any time before birth. And now in the 21st Century, the Supreme Court makes another wrong decision.

Bad decisions lead to bad consequences and do not “settle” anything. Dred Scott made inevitable a bloody Civil War that cost more lives than any other war in our history and the racism that inspired the Dred Scott decision is still a cancer on America’s soul.

Roe v. Wade has resulted in more than 50 million abortions. Yet, abortion still troubles the conscience of America and an increasing majority of Americans reject “abortion on demand”.

This decision redefining marriage will also bring bad consequences. Losing the understanding of marriage in our culture as a conjugal union of a man and a woman in a permanent and exclusive commitment conducive to welcoming and raising the children born from such a union weakens the family as the basic cell of society; and it imperils the human flourishing of future generations. Allowing “an act of the will” to be substituted for “legal judgment” is a recipe for tyranny.
...from another state that's seeing the overturn of a marriage ban, a one-sentence reax of St Louis' Archbishop Robert Carlson:
The decision issued today by the Supreme Court to effectively change the legal definition of marriage in the United States does not alter the unassailable truth that marriage is, and always will be, the life-long, life-giving union of one man and one woman.
...from the nation's capital, a measured, unsigned statement from the archdiocese of Washington, issued on behalf of Cardinal Donald Wuerl, likewise a US delegate to the Synod as a member of the body's 15-man governing council:
The U.S. Supreme Court has issued a ruling that in effect redefines the civil definition of marriage nationwide. The law of the land affirms that “marriage” in civil law may now include two persons of the same sex. While this is not the Church’s understanding of marriage, it is a definition confirmed by the Court.

Our Catholic faith teaches that every person, regardless of race, creed, color, age, gender or sexual orientation, has dignity and is loved by God. The Church’s teachings on human sexuality and life reflect this truth.

Marriage as the union of one man and one woman is a truth that predates courts and constitutions. This understanding transcends cultures, religions and all time – it is the foundation of civilization. More than just a bond between people who love and are committed to each other, marriage is also about creating and nurturing the next generation – something that requires both a man and a woman with their distinctive and complementary gifts. This is the reason that civil governments have given marriage special recognition throughout all of human history. Men and women are not interchangeable. Marriage is not ours to define. History, nature and revelation all profess these truths.

Today’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court changes none of this. The Court deals with civil law not revealed truth or religious faith.

The Court’s opinion rightly affirms the freedom of religious organizations to continue to express and teach the truth of marriage. Nonetheless, the Court’s ruling has the potential to create circumstances in which the Church’s teaching and practices may be perceived to conflict with civil law. As such situations arise, the local Church will have to undertake a moral evaluation to determine, on a case-by-case basis, the manner in which it will respond to this conflict.
...from Georgia – whose state ban was overturned with today's ruling – a similarly low-octane response from Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, a key USCCB moderate:
Each U.S. Supreme Court decision that has ever been rendered has resulted in deep disappointment for some people and vindication for others. If we all agreed on the outcomes of these divisive cases, there would simply be no reason for the Court to convene. This most recent decision is no different.

By the same token, every court decision is limited in what it can achieve; again, this one is no exception. It does not change the biological differences between male and female human beings or the requirements for the generation of human life, which still demands the participation of both. It does not change the Catholic Church’s teaching regarding the Sacrament of Matrimony, which beautifully joins a man and woman in a loving union that is permanent in commitment and open to God’s blessing of precious new life.

This judgment, however, does not absolve either those who may approve or disapprove of this decision from the obligations of civility toward one another. Neither is it a license for more venomous language or vile behavior against those whose opinions continue to differ from our own. It is a decision that confers a civil entitlement to some people who could not claim it before. It does not resolve the moral debate that preceded it and will most certainly continue in its wake.

This moral debate must also include the way that we treat one another – especially those with whom we may disagree. In many respects, the moral question is at least as consequential and weighty as the granting of this civil entitlement. The decision has offered all of us an opportunity to continue the vitally important dialogue of human encounter, especially between those of diametrically differing opinions regarding its outcome.

The decision has made my ministry as a pastor more complex since it demands that I both continue to uphold the teachings of my Church regarding the Sacrament of Matrimony while also demanding that I insist upon respect for the human dignity of both those who approve of the judgment as well as those who may disapprove.
...from the lead prelate of Texas as its ban was struck down, the response of Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, the USCCB vice-president as well as an October Synod delegate:
The Supreme Court’s narrow majority decision today is gravely unjust as it attempts to change the nature of marriage. Mandating marriage redefinition across the country is a tragic error harming the common good and the most vulnerable among us. The ruling does not and cannot change what marriage really is. No one and no court can make what is false true.

Marriage is a perennial institution, with deep roots in who we are and in our nation’s culture and laws. Marriage is and always will be the union between one man and one woman. This truth is inseparable from the duty to honor the God-given dignity of every human person, to protect the beautiful truth of marriage, which concerns the essential well-being of the nation, especially children. Children have a basic right, wherever possible, to know and be loved by their mother and father together. The law has a duty to support every child in this most basic right.

With renewed purpose, we call upon all people of good will to promote and defend marriage as the union of one man and one woman for life. The redefinition of legal marriage to include any other type of relationship has serious consequences, especially for religious freedom.

Our Church will continue its efforts to support public policy issues, including a version of the marriage and religious freedom act, which would prohibit the government from discriminating against those who act in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is the union between a man and woman.

I encourage the faithful of the Archdiocese to move forward with faith, hope, and love: faith in the unchanging truth about marriage, hope that these truths will once again prevail in our society, and love for all our neighbors. Together, we must increase our efforts to strengthen marriages and families and rebuild a marriage culture. And, we shall continue to reach out with love and support to all people, including those who experience same-sex attraction knowing that all people are loved by God and are called to love Him.
...and lastly for now, the mid-afternoon statement from Pope Francis' principal North American adviser, Cardinal Seán O'Malley OFM Cap. of Boston:
As a citizen of the United States and a Catholic bishop, I am saddened by the Supreme Court decision on same sex marriage.

The institution of marriage understood in its human, moral and legal dimensions is a fundamental building block of any society. The protection of marriage and families is a shared responsibility for all of us.

In a pluralistic society we inevitability face disagreements about important political and legal questions. But our division over this question in its moral, political and legal significance is particularly painful.

Certainly every citizen of this land, regardless of their sexual orientation, deserves to be respected in their personal and civic life. But enshrining same sex marriage in our constitutional system of governance has dangers that may become fully evident only over time.

I can only express my disappointment with the decision and invite members of my own religious community to remember and reaffirm the fundamental truths of our faith about marriage. At the same time, faced with a decision that embodies a quite different understanding of the meaning of marriage than held by the Church, we should as citizens and Catholics both protect our own deeply held values and participate with civility and charity in the continuing national discussion about this decision.
While the dust begins to settle, conspicuous by their absences as mid-afternoon turns to evening remain reactions from the heads of the nation's three largest dioceses – by population, Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago – as well as Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, the US bishops' designated leader in their efforts on the protection of traditional marriage.


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Seeking "An Open, Inviting Language," Synod II Is Set

And after a second round of global consultation, it has arrived – at Roman Noon, the instrumentum laboris (baseline text) for October's climactic Synod on the Family was released... for now, however – much like last year's first volume – the full sequel is only available in Italian.

(SVILUPPO: A full English translation of the document was released by the Holy See a week after its initial publication.)

Stacking out at 147 paragraphs – some 20,000 words – the text is arranged around three pillars: the challenges families face, the "discernment of the family's vocation," and "the mission of the family today," each of them slated to take up a week of the discussions at the 4-25 October assembly.

Among other highlights, the final portion of the framework deals with the proposed changes of practice cited by their supporters as necessary for the church to better respond to families in challenging situations amid current pastoral practice.

On the assembly's most hot-button issue of all, the instrumentum speaks of a "common accord" among the world's bishops toward "eventual access" to the sacraments for divorced and civilly remarried couples, but only following "an itinerary of reconciliation or a penitential path under the authority of the [diocesan] bishop," and only "in situations of irreversible cohabitation." The text cautions that the proposal is only envisioned "in some particular situations, and according to well-precise conditions," citing the interest of children born in a second union. On a related front, ample treatment was given to the state of marriage tribunals, with calls for a "decentralization" of the annulment courts and the floating of the "relevance of the personal faith" of spouses in terms of their understanding of the marital bond as a means for declaring the nullity of a marriage.

In particular, the latter point echoes a longstanding line of the Pope's – having quoted the impression of his predecessor in Buenos Aires, the late Cardinal Antonio Quarracino, that "half" of failed Catholic marriages there "are null" solely on the grounds of unformed faith, a papal commission formed quietly by Francis last summer is studying possible changes to the annulment process independent of the Synod itself. No timeline is set for its work.

Elsewhere, three paragraphs were devoted to pastoral ministry to families "having within them a person of homosexual orientation." While reaffirming the 2003 CDF declaration that "there exists no foundation whatsoever to integrate or compare, not even remotely, homosexual unions and the design of God for the family," the text urges that "independent of their sexual tendency," gays "be respected in their dignity and welcomed with sensibility and delicateness, whether in the church or society."

Perhaps most boldly – reflecting a key emphasis of one of the gathering's three presidents, Cardinal Chito Tagle of Manila – the text emphasizes that "The Christian message must be announced in a language that sustains hope.

"It is necessary to adopt a clear and inviting communication [style]," the instrumentum reads, one that is "open, which doesn't moralize, judge, nor [aim to] control, and bears witness to the moral teaching of the church, while at the same time remaining sensible to the situations of each person."

Along the same lines, the theme of "mercy" – the core of the extraordinary Holy Year conceived by Francis and opening in December – runs pointedly throughout the document, with the term cited over 30 times. Arguably in a hand-showing of the Pope's intent, the Synod's conclusions will be entrusted to the pontiff for him to decide upon, with the results likely to emerge sometime in mid-2016, squarely in the midst of the Jubilee Year he's chartered.

All that said, especially given the topic's place at the core of the church's long polarization on family issues, one word was especially conspicuous by its absence: "contraception."

Unlike its Extraordinary precursor last October – a mostly ex officio group dominated by the presidents of the episcopal conferences – the Ordinary Synod is composed of a far larger group, with the largest national churches eligible to send four delegates each. While the slates of elected Fathers have been rolling out over recent weeks – most controversially, the Belgian bench's choice (with Rome's approval) to be represented by Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp, who's encouraged the church's "formal recognition of relationality... also present in gay couples" – Francis still has yet to release the slate of his personal appointees who, even if they have an equal vote to the elected members, arguably carry a greater clout in the deliberations due to their selection ex Pontifice.

Arguably the core ad intra element of Francis' "revolution" of governance for the universal church, as this September marks the 50th anniversary of the Synod's creation by Pope Paul VI during the Council's final weeks, a celebration of the milestone is planned to take place during the October assembly... and with it, likely an even further elevation of its role for the path ahead.


Monday, June 22, 2015

Another Week, Another Wait... Or Several

While the skirmishes over Laudato Si’ are still barely breaking out – if only the combatants had taken the time to actually read it – this Monday brings the final hours of anticipation for another papal text of critical import.

With Francis in Turin for a two-day visit to its cherished Shroud (video above) – and even more poignantly, a private family reunion today with the cousins who remained in the Piemonte after Jorge Bergoglio's parents and paternal grandparents sailed for Argentina some 85 years ago – Tuesday brings the release of the instrumentum laboris (baseline text) for October’s Ordinary Synod of Bishops on "the vocation and mission of the family in the church and the modern world," whose conclusions are expected to form the base of potential changes to church's pastoral approach to couples and families, especially those in difficult situations where the Magisterium is concerned.

(On a side-note for the more intrigue-oriented, the current Pope-Trip to Italy's northwest corner – which'll likewise include a morning stop at an Evangelical church – is the first Francis has made to one of the country's traditional cardinalatial sees whose head has been routinely denied the red hat in this pontificate. Now 70, Archbishop Cesare Nosiglia – a former vicegerente (vicar-general) of Rome – was named to the post in 2010; his predecessor, Cardinal Severino Poletto, lost his Conclave vote on turning 80 just days after Papa Bergoglio's election in March 2013.)

Reflecting the consultations submitted by the world's episcopal conferences (all of them again tasked with canvassing the responses of the faithful on December's lineamenta in the form of a questionnaire), the text of the instrumentum was edited and approved by the 15-man Synod Council at its late May meeting, yet again presided over in full by the Pope.

Even as the Synod Secretariat urged the conferences to keep their reports to Rome confidential, perhaps the most polarizing of the responses – that of a German bench driven to shift the church's response to the civilly remarried – maintained its prior practice of not just releasing its national summary, but having it translated into English (among others), alongside a separate text on "assisting remarried divorcees." For his part, the USCCB President, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, gave a public briefing on the Stateside church's consult during the body's meeting earlier this month in St Louis, noting as he did that far from each of the nation's 198 ecclesiastical jurisdictions – 126, to be precise (63%) – submitted their findings for this second round.

Set to be released in a host of translations at Roman Noon, per custom the instrumentum will be presented at a late-morning Vatican presser to be led by the three principal players of both last October's assembly and the one to come: the Synod's secretary-general Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri; the relator-general of the twin gatherings, Budapest's Cardinal Peter Erdö; and their secretary, Archbishop Bruno Forte of Chieti-Vasto, the star Italian theologian widely implicated as the hand behind the passages on "welcoming homosexual persons," which infuriated defenders of the current praxis on their inclusion in the last gathering's "halftime" report and ever since.

Of course, more on the Synod front as it emerges.... Right alongside it, however, all sides closer to home are bracing for an even more imminent and far-reaching development: the Supreme Court's rulings in two cases which could (and, a consensus of legal scholars predict, will) establish same-sex marriage as a constitutional right across the 50 states.

With the Supremes in the last days of their term, the decision can drop at any time until month's end – for purposes of context, the 2013 Windsor decisions that struck down the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act and overturned California's 2008 referendum banning full legal recognition of gay unions came down on 26 June, the closing day of that term.

Given the full-throttle investment of American Catholic entities in the issue, a concerted, real-time response is already in the works regardless of the result. Yet amid an already drastic sea-change of marriage laws since Windsor – in the space of three years, 32 state bans on gay marriage now flipped to redefinition in 36 states and the District of Columbia, mostly by means of federal court rulings citing the 2013 precedent – even for the civil tide's shift, no ecclesial authority to date has taken the oft-floated step of barring his clergy from witnessing civil marriage in the context of the sacrament of matrimony.

In that light, as it's been posited that the US bishops – each of whom would make the call for his respective diocese – have refrained from such a move to avoid acknowledging same-sex marriage as the "settled law" of the land in the absence of a universal SCOTUS decision, at this point it can be said that at least a handful of prelates are readying to remove their priests as legal officiants at weddings in the event of the anticipated broad ruling. Should a sweeping final word come from the high court, then, keep an eye: where, how quickly – and, of course, from whom – the church's "other shoe" begins to drop will be deeply telling, and likely determinative of how widely the dramatic move ends up being made across the ecclesial landscape.

Lastly for now, with the first American Pope headed home over the 4th of July weekend for an eight-day pilgrimage to Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay, it bears reminding that the full schedule for Francis' late September visit to Washington, New York and Philadelphia still remains to be released – and with it, the full shape of a six-day swing that'll include the first fully open-air papal events since before 9/11, beginning with an unprecedented Canonization Mass on US soil and papal address to a joint meeting of Congress.

In other words, even if these last days of June always bring the "Vatican year" to its end with a bang, sometimes that's more the case than others... and this time, an epic Eco-cyclical was just the start.


Thursday, June 18, 2015






“Laudato si’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs”.

This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.

More than fifty years ago, with the world teetering on the brink of nuclear crisis, Pope Saint John XXIII wrote an Encyclical which not only rejected war but offered a proposal for peace. He addressed his message Pacem in Terris to the entire “Catholic world” and indeed “to all men and women of good will”. Now, faced as we are with global environmental deterioration, I wish to address every person living on this planet. In my Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, I wrote to all the members of the Church with the aim of encouraging ongoing missionary renewal. In this Encyclical, I would like to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home....


Act I: The Briefing

Good morning to one and all – below is a livestream on-demand video of the Vatican's rollout press conference for Laudato Si', set to begin which began at 11am Rome time....

Following the Vatican presser, this morning's next major briefing starts at 8.30 Eastern, as Washington's Cardinal Donald Wuerl and the USCCB President Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville hold a joint rollout event at the capital's National Press Club (fullvid below).

SVILUPPO (6.10am): Even as the Vatican's rollout wended past the 70-minute mark, the talks given by the participants – among whom a fifth, a "teacher on the Roman peripheries," was added at the last minute – were published in today's Bollettino.

SVILUPPO 2 (9.30am): Essentially the Stateside church's rollout of the encyclical, with the DC briefing just wrapped up, below is fullvid of the hourlong USCCB-organized event:


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

And Now, The Main Event

Even if folks on all sides are whipped up and more on this Eco-cyclical Eve, for our purposes, all that matters is actual news: after a yearlong ramp-up, the schedule for tomorrow's release.

At 11am Rome (5am Eastern/2 Pacific/0900 GMT), the traditional pub-day press conference begins in the Vatican's Synod Hall, its venue moved from the usual Press Office to accommodate a far larger crowd. Upon its start, a livestream of the event will run here, with the video subsequently available on-demand.

Featuring the late addition of Carolyn Woo, the Baltimore-based president of the US' Catholic Relief Services, to the speakers' panel alongside the Holy See's social justice chief Cardinal Peter Turkson, the Orthodox theologian Metropolitan John of Pergamon (representing the Patriarchate of Constantinople), and the German climate-change expert John Schellnhuber, while the session is likely to be heavily in English, whatever isn't will be translated in real time, as well as into Italian, French, Spanish and German.

An hour later – Roman Noon (6am ET/3 PT/1000 GMT) – brings the publication of Laudato Si' itself, translated into eight languages (including, for the first time on a release day, Arabic). The links to the complete text will appear here upon release... and, to be sure, in the possible if not probable event of a crash of the Vatican website, backup plans are ready to go.

From there, the rest of the day 'round these parts will be taken up with the briefings and reactions set to flood in from top prelates across the spectrum... then a brief breather before the release of the "other" major text that's been intensely awaited over recent months: the instrumentum laboris (principal working document) for October's Ordinary Synod of Bishops on the family – the most consequential Vatican event of 2015 – which the Holy See announced this morning will come next Tuesday, the 23rd.

See you early, folks – til then, all that remains is bracing for an eventful day... and, indeed, just another reminder that these pages only keep coming your way by means of your support:


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Laudato Eve... Almost.

Given all the frenzy surrounding Thursday's release, you'd think the encyclical to come is the programmatic manifesto of this pontificate....

Oh wait.

In any case, as noise pollution isn't just an environmental concern, but a spiritual and moral one too, where it counts, we're still on the clock:

Meanwhile, of course, such are the days that no Francis Event can be complete without a right sideshow. (All anticipation and prognostication exhausted by this point, see, something's gotta fill the gaping news-hole 'til the Main Event.)

Simply put, Church, if you've been on this beat long enough, you know how one's batting average isn't merely what you swing at, but what you don't. Along those lines, a 2,000 year-old church can teach the 24-hour news-cycle a thing or two more often than it gets credit for, and yet again, this is one of those moments.

And through it all, oddly enough, the main point of this whole exercise seems to remain lost to the fray. Lest anyone forgot, the call the Original Francis received – the mandate that formed the core of his mission – wasn't "hug animals." To quote one key voice close by the first Roman pontiff to take his name, however, perhaps the prime key to the Poverello's effectiveness in his time (an attribute that's clearly endured well beyond his earthly life) was his charism as "universal brother"... and, with it, his commitment to "repair[ing] the church" precisely by means of the work that Seán O'Malley has so often and fervently embraced in even more ancient words: "Tikkum Olam" – that is, "to repair the world."

All that said, everybody ready?


Monday, June 15, 2015

In Twin Cities, A Clean Sweep – Amid Scandal, Archbishop and Auxiliary Take the Fall

After two years of damning charges and revelations on several misconduct-related fronts, the Pope has moved on the beleaguered Twin Cities church with a historic wipeout of its top leadership.

At Roman Noon this Monday, the Holy See announced that Francis had accepted the resignations of both Archbishop John Nienstedt of St Paul and Minneapolis (above) and his senior auxiliary, Bishop Lee Piché, an unprecedented joint ouster coming just ten days after Minnesota's lead diocese was hit with six criminal charges of child endangerment in the case of Curtis Wehmeyer, a laicized cleric who admitted to abusing three boys in 2012 after years of concerns raised to archdiocesan officials over his conduct.

With Rome unprepared to name a new archbishop immediately, the Vatican likewise revealed that Coadjutor-Archbishop Bernard Hebda of Newark – Francis' first top-level US appointee, and a figure widely admired for his mix of administrative skill, pastoral heart and an unimpeachable integrity – had been named apostolic administrator of the 825,000-member archdiocese, entrusted with the full powers of the archbishop until a permanent successor can emerge. Among other imminent challenges the archdiocese faces include the fallout of Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization, another year remaining in the Minnesota "window" law which has suspended the statute of limitations for the filing of civil sex-abuse cases, the court process for the criminal charges and a state of morale among priests and people that's said to have left the local church "paralyzed."

In brief statements released upon Rome's announcement, both Nienstedt, 68, and Piché, 57 – who became the archbishop's top deputy shortly after Nienstedt's 2008 succession – spoke of a need for the archdiocese to move forward.

"My leadership has unfortunately drawn attention away from the good works of [the] Church and those who perform them," the archbishop said, adding that he left office "with a clear conscience knowing that my team and I have put in place solid protocols to ensure the protection of minors and vulnerable adults."

For his part, Piché – a Columbia graduate who, before serving as auxiliary and vicar-general, was Wehmeyer's pastor in the abuser's first assignment – conceded that "the people of the archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis need healing and hope. I was getting in the way of that, and so I had to resign."

Notably, the move comes as the Twin Cities presbyterate begins their annual convocation in Rochester, some 90 miles south of the archdiocese's hub. In a letter to the priests obtained by his former canonical Chancellor, Jennifer Haselberger – whose whistle-blowing on the Chancery's handling of cases in late 2013 sparked the long-simmering tumult – Nienstedt relayed that he "would have preferred to share this with you in person, but the desire of the Holy See to announce this made it impossible to wait until [the Rochester gathering] to tell you."

At this point, it is unclear what drove the Vatican to determine that the positions of both the archbishop and his lead auxiliary had become untenable. Beyond the corporate charges and the ongoing civil litigation over the abuse cases, Nienstedt – whose outspoken conservatism made him a polarizing figure in the archdiocese since his 2007 arrival – was likewise the subject of a Chancery-sponsored probe last year by a private law firm over allegations of misconduct with adult males. No conclusions of the latter process have emerged.

In any case, a top-tier push to bring a resolution to the situation became apparent last week at the USCCB June meeting in St Louis, as several senior officials – including the Nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, and the conference's general secretary, Msgr Ronny Jenkins – were seen huddled in conversations late last Tuesday with the Twin Cities' junior auxiliary, Bishop Andrew Cozzens, while a relaxed-looking Nienstedt (in shirtsleeves without his clerical collar) holed up across the Hyatt lobby with the bench's vice-president, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, whose longstanding close ties to Hebda from their days as priests of Pittsburgh would indicate his role as a likely architect of the striking arrangement that's seen the Jersey archbishop shipped in to begin containing the fiasco.

Currently the chair of the bishops' committee on canonical affairs and church governance, before his 2010 appointment as bishop of Gaylord in northern Michigan, Hebda (above, with Francis) served as the #3 official at the Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts, the Holy See's clearinghouse for juridical questions. Known universally as "Bernie" and just as well-regarded among clerics and layfolk alike, the incoming administrator's easygoing, unpretentious style conceals a considerable CV: degrees from Harvard, Columbia Law and the Gregorian, a chaplain to Blessed Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity as well as a years-long assignment as the lead canonist guiding the global Caritas federation of the church's charitable agencies through the recent daunting revision of its statutes.

In 2013, the new Pope shocked most observers by tapping the then 54 year-old as archbishop-in-waiting of the 1.4 million-member Newark church, one of the US' ten largest, amid controversy over Archbishop John Myers' handling of the case of Michael Fugee, a priest found to be working with young people despite a history of misconduct.

Keeping to his usual earthy ways, Hebda chose to live in a chaplain's room in the dorms at the diocesan-owned Seton Hall University, where he regularly celebrates the 10pm Sunday liturgy for students. As one colleague of the archbishop's from Hebda's former side-role as a spiritual director at the Pontifical North American College recently said of the prelate, "Our Lady of Humility" – the NAC's historic patron – "has her arms wrapped all around him."

While Hebda could theoretically be tapped as the next Twin Cities' archbishop, such a move would ostensibly be unlikely, even if it would hearken back to the early 1990s strategy (employed in Atlanta and Santa Fe) of initially "test-piloting" a potential successor as administrator of a scandal-scarred archdiocese before giving him the permanent appointment. If anything, with the coadjutor perceived as being largely kept to a backseat role in the operations of the considerably larger Newark church, the Twin Cities arrangement allows Hebda a role for his gifts to be employed to their fullest extent over the remaining 13 months before Myers reaches the retirement age of 75 in late July 2016. (Himself a onetime coadjutor for three years in his native Peoria, Myers has resolutely declined to cede Newark's governance to his successor any earlier than required by the canons.)

In a signal of the rapid execution of the move, the newly-named administrator was not present at a morning press conference outside the Twin Cities Chancery, which was instead led by Cozzens, 47, who has handled the archdiocese's public messaging over recent months given the scrutiny facing both Nienstedt and Piché.

In his own statement as a nearby bell tolled, the auxiliary said that the long season of scandal "has been a painful process. A change in leadership provides us an opportunity for greater healing and the ability to move forward.

"Archbishop Hebda and I will work closely to bring our archdiocese into a new day," he said, "so that the work of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ which we have done here for almost 165 years may continue."

Beyond the local ramifications, Nienstedt's resignation brings a premature end to his three-year term as chair of the USCCB's doctrine committee, which was slated to pass in November to one of his closest friends, Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit.

With today's ground-shift, four US dioceses stand vacant (the others being Superior, Salt Lake City and a likewise reeling Kansas City), with just three others – Memphis, Cajun Louisiana's Lafayette diocese and Long Island's 1.5 million-member Rockville Centre church – led by a bishop serving past the retirement age.

SVILUPPO (Tuesday, 16 June – 7.30am): Having kept a prior commitment Monday night in his native Pittsburgh to deliver a (livetweeted) talk for the diocese's clergy and lay ministers on "Leadership with the Heart of Christ," Hebda will arrive in the Twin Cities this morning to begin his work. Between meetings with senior staff and travel to the priests' convocation in Rochester, no press conference or other public appearances are expected.

For now, how the apostolic administrator will juggle his schedule between Newark and the temporary assignment remains unclear, as does whether (or who) Hebda will appoint as his delegate to oversee the day-to-day operations of the St Paul Chancery. Under the norms of the canons, all of the archdiocese's vicars lost their offices with Nienstedt's resignation, and may not function in the sede vacante unless and until they receive reappointment from Hebda.


Sunday, June 14, 2015

"Nature Never Forgives" – For Eco-cyclical, The Final Countdown

Indeed, folks, the clock is ticking....

...yet while Sunday papers the world over lead this morning's editions with an amusing game of "Pin the Frame on the Laudato," as its Thursday release approaches, the most credible curtain-raisers you'll find haven't figured on the mainstream radar – and as ever, if you're surprised about that, you haven't been paying attention.

The focus of what's become the most intensely awaited (or, depending on one's worldview, dreaded) papal text since 2007's Summorum Pontificum which "liberated" the pre-Conciliar liturgy – but this time, the sense of ideologically-induced foreboding is on the other foot – in a marked change from its traditional sphinx-like approach, the Vatican has introduced Laudato Si' with a concerted, apparatus-wide rollout effort over the last several months to place an unavoidable spotlight on the document's importance both to the Pope himself and for the wider church.

While Francis himself has led the charge with a host of statements worked into his various talks, the "guts" of the operation began rolling in March, when the Curia's Social Justice Czar Cardinal Peter Turkson made the coming text the focus of his turn at the annual Lenten lecture for the Irish bishops' charitable arm Trócaire.

Revealing that the document would "explore the relationship between care for creation, integral human development and concern for the poor," the Ghanaian prelate added that "the timing of the encyclical is significant [as] 2015 is a critical year for humanity," with three major international conferences on development and climate change intertwining in the year's second half.

Beyond the text itself, Turkson's opening intervention revealed what's become another core piece of the Vatican's messaging strategy: placing Francis' push for an "integral ecology" squarely in line with the teachings of John Paul II and Benedict XVI dating back to Solicitudo Rei Socialis, the former's 1987 encyclical on "the church's social concern," and even stretching through Paul VI to the documents of Vatican II itself.

In a second preview, the cardinal laid out the moral arguments for the church's intervention at the April conference on climate change hosted in tandem at the Vatican by the Pontifical Academies for Science and Social Sciences, whose respective leaders have since engaged in a remarkable – and, for Curial appointees, practically unprecedented – pushback at critics of the initiatives, with the head of the science arm, Archbishop Marcel Sanchez Sorondo, citing a root of its resistance from "the Tea Party and all those whose income derives from oil." (In a detail that shouldn't be overlooked, Sanchez is an Argentine compatriot of the Pope's.)

Most recently, meanwhile, another authoritative foresight came last week from Civiltà Cattolica – the Jesuit-run journal whose contents are only published after receiving clearance from the Secretariat of State, and whose editor, Fr Antonio Spadaro, has become a critical adviser to and shadow spokesman for the Pope.

In a sweeping, meticulous editorial providing the backdrop to Laudato – which, in a rarity, was simultaneously released in English alongside the usual Italian – Civiltà recalled Francis' 2013 inaugural homily, which conspicuously included the line "Let us protect Christ in our lives, so that we can protect others, so that we can protect creation!"

Again linking the text to the heritage of the prior pontiffs, the journal pointedly cited among them a passage from B16's 2010 message for the annual World Day of Peace, for whose theme the now-retired Papa Ratzinger chose the the topic "If you want to cultivate peace, protect creation" (itself a play on Paul VI's famous maxim, "If you want peace, work for justice"):

"Can we remain indifferent before the problems associated with such realities as climate change, desertification, the deterioration and loss of productivity in vast agricultural areas, the pollution of rivers and aquifers, the loss of biodiversity, the increase of natural catastrophes and the deforestation of equatorial and tropical regions? Can we disregard the growing phenomenon of 'environmental refugees,' people who are forced by the degradation of their natural habitat to forsake it – and often their possessions as well – in order to face the dangers and uncertainties of forced displacement? Can we remain impassive in the face of actual and potential conflicts involving access to natural resources?"
All that said, for every frame that's been tossed around and the host of lineages cited, perhaps the most remarkable absence from the fevered anticipation is the very setting Francis chose for his springboard... and, given its classic rendering in English, well, what's an ecclesial moment without an opening hymn?

As all this goes, you can hardly get more traditional than that.

Still, not to be outdone, at the close of his noontime Angelus today, the Pope plugged Thursday's release, asking prayers "that everyone might receive its message and grow in our responsibility toward the common home that God has entrusted to us."

"This encyclical is addressed to all," Francis said, urging the crowd "to accompany" its release "with a renewed attention to the situations of environmental degradation, but also of recovery, where you live."

All that said, for now, a final word of advice: in a nutshell, until this thing finally appears – and mass reading habits being what they are, likewise well afterward – there's no limit to the projections, interpretations and/or wishful thinking of what it will or won't say, nor on how many spins the blindfolded "exegete" has taken before making their stab at it. And even once pub-day arrives, the tendency to "insta-analaysis" won't shed much light on the content itself; indeed, that'll only come with time.

Given this backdrop, all the more amid the charged environment of the moment, the reminder bears repeating that it's better to be more discerning about what you read as credible than the person who aimed to write it. Even for everything that's in circulation right now, church, that choice remains... so choose wisely.