Tuesday, April 26, 2016

In Havana, The Revolution Continues – After Cuban Church's "Prince," Pope Picks A Pastor

For the last four years, this has arguably been the global church's most important pending appointment... and over that time, the stakes have only increased.

After the long wait – and a geopolitical shift that revolutionized the context – it's finally come to pass: at Roman Noon this Tuesday, the Pope named Juan García Rodríguez, the 68 year-old archbishop of Camagüey in central Cuba, as archbishop of Havana and de facto chief of the island's church, retiring Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino after a landmark reign of almost 35 years.

In an unusual shot for its time, the archbishop-elect – then the president of the Cuban bishops – is seen above at the right hand of President Raul Castro during the 2010 dedication of the new national seminary outside Havana, which marked the island's first opening of a religious building since the 1959 Revolution that swept Communism into power. And with today's nod, García – a native son of the diocese he's led until today – now fully trades the intimate, earthy confines of "cow country" for the religious and political gauntlet of the capital in an ongoing moment of massive transition, one whose outcome is far from settled.

On one side, the incoming archbishop becomes the church's principal voice in Cuba and its lead representative to the Communist government, a role which saw Ortega secure major incremental concessions for the church's freedom from the officially atheist state, but likewise made him a magnet for scorn among the influential exile community, which accused the cardinal of turning a blind eye to the regime's human-rights violations in exchange for the increased openings for Catholic life and activity in the open.

As if navigating that tightrope wasn't enough, the 2.8 million-member Havana church is said to be in need of better cohesion in light of both the diversity of its presbyterate and a sense of listlessness at the helm given Ortega's priority on working the political stage both at home and abroad, a legacy whose capstone came in the cardinal's role as a linchpin intermediary in securing the watershed 2014 agreement between Cuba and the US which marked the most significant breakthrough between the estranged countries since the 1959 Revolution. Already a figure close to the now-Pope – whose game-changing "mission statement" given during the pre-Conclave General Congregations of the cardinals was released by Ortega days after Francis' election – the Cuban's victory lap saw another triumphant moment on Palm Sunday when, minutes after President Obama became the first US head of state to visit the island since the 1920s, the cardinal was the First Family's tour-guide as they visited Havana Cathedral (right).

While Ortega's critics have seen fit to deride him for his realpolitik strategy and the "prince"-like style he took up as the capital's archbishop, one meaningful backstory nonetheless bears recalling: like many other young Cuban priests and religious who chose not to flee the island during what's been called "the worst repression" of the faith in the Revolution's wake, the future cardinal was imprisoned in a government "re-education camp" with the intent to break the remnant's commitment to the church and their ministry. As a ranking op mused about the experience, "the generation that stayed went to hell and back [to] keep the faith alive" in their homeland.

Amid the multi-tiered scene, following the Pope's mobilization of his diplomatic A-team to facilitate the pact – which brought the restoration of full bilateral relations and a major easing of half-century old financial and travel restrictions for Americans – the choice of Ortega's successor only became a more charged matter for Francis and his team, especially as one of its key players (the Sostituto of the Secretariat of State, Archbishop Angelo Becciu) was himself Nuncio to Havana from 2009-11.

Indeed, at the US deal's inception, the delicacy surrounding the negotiations was so intense that when Becciu's successor on the island, Italian Archbishop Bruno Musaro, aimed to publicly accuse the Cuban government of "human and civil degradation" during a 2014 Mass while on vacation at home, he was quickly whisked out of the post. Yet even as the initial thaw has now been expanded to include regular US flights and cruises to Cuba and an ever-increasing flood of American investment has been allowed to pour onto its shores, last week's Communist Party Congress set the stage for more long-term tumult as Fidel Castro alluded to facing death in a rare public appearance, while the gathering's choice of hard-line figures for its top leadership posts signals little political change should President Raul Castro fulfill his pledge to leave office in 2018. (Whoever succeeds Raul as head of state, last week saw the president's reelection to the party's top post for the next five years.)

Against the challenging backdrop, meanwhile, the most striking thing about Francis' appointee is García's concerted lack of political involvement. Said by those who know him to be "very humble," "low-key" and "bearing the smell" of his flock, a 2013 primer on the Cuban bishops with an eye to Ortega's succession noted that – at least, at the time – the now-chosen prelate hadn't figured much in conversations for Havana, but pointedly perceived the eventual choice as "very much a bishop in the style of Pope Francis: known for his missionary spirit and as a man of prayer with the ability to remain calm in the midst of any storm."

Along these lines, Whispers' Havana Desk relayed that García's name began credibly circulating for the post shortly after Ortega's 50th anniversary as a priest in summer 2014, an event which was notably attended (left) by the Pope's principal North American adviser, Cardinal Seán O'Malley OFM Cap. of Boston, himself a figure with a long history of involvement in Cuban affairs. From the flip-side, meanwhile, with members of his own family living in the exiles' prime base of South Florida – where he was recently spotted on visits – García is no stranger to his opposite end of the 93 Mile strait, either.

On another significant front, having been president of the island's dozen-member bench from 2007-10, García led the Cuban delegation to the decennial plenary of the Latin American bishops at Aparecida in 2007, whose closing message – rooted in a call for the church to engage an ongoing "continental mission" – was drafted by then-Cardinal Bergoglio of Buenos Aires in a document that remains a very clear and specific manifesto of Francis' vision of the church. In his own diocese, meanwhile, the Havana pick is said to have an exemplary, unpretentious closeness with his priests in Camaguey, where he pastored several parishes before his appointment as the lone auxiliary in 1997. He was named to succeed his mentor, Archbishop Adolfo Rodríguez Herrera, five years later.

Asked about the role of bishops in the new evangelization as the lone Cuban present at the 2012 Synod on the topic, García defined his task as "going into the homes of the people.

"When I go out [to the people]," he said, "the priests follow, the deacons follow... the nuns follow, the laity follow, and often, they even get ahead of me."

"A mother doesn't rest," García replied when asked about the church's optimal style of outreach. "She wants to feed, she wants to teach. She always hopes her child says 'yes,' that he might learn, and she has patience and creativity" to accomplish that end.

Boiled down, it doesn't get more Francis than that. And while time will tell for certain whether the Pope's choice of a pastor from his ever-cherished "peripheries" was geared more toward achieving the church's internal conversion – or, indeed, to maintain Ortega's wide berth as the church's Negotiator-in-Chief with the Castros – odds are it's a bit of both. In any case, it's already been said that the choice of his successor has come as a "surprise" even to Ortega, himself.

The first indication of the new state of things is likely to come once the government broaches its rumored intent to "regularize" the fraught status of the island's church – a process which will involve high-wire talks over the return of parish and institutional property seized by the Communists after the fall of Batista – to say nothing of the ostensible, long-frame road toward a concordat: the treaty between the Holy See and Cuba which would establish the rights and conduct of the island's Catholic life in international law.

On the broad scene, with the retirement of the Cuban titan months before his 80th birthday, one last long-reigning cardinal holds the helm of his diocese as his ninth decade quickly approaches: Karl Lehmann of Mainz, long the godfather of German Catholicism's progressive wing, who ages out of his Conclave vote on 16 May.

The most prominent figure by far to express an openness to the resignation of John Paul II as the now-canonized Pope struggled through his final months – a move for which Lehmann was excoriated by conservatives (among other things which wouldn't happen today) – the cardinal chaired the German bench for an extraordinary 21 years as the conference's elected head from 1987 to 2008. Since 2014, the post has been held by Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich – a member of Francis' all-important "Gang of 9," whose ascent has seen him become no less a lightning rod.


Sunday, April 24, 2016

To the Young, and Well Beyond, "Love Doesn't Happen Because We Talk About It, But When We Live It"

As the Amoris Wars rage on – with nary a glimmer of light nor witness to show for all the mountains of clickbait – this weekend saw one of the Vatican’s largest events of this 13-month Holy Year: a Jubilee pilgrimage for teenagers, which drew over 100,000 young people to Rome as the Pope pitched in to hear their Confessions yesterday in the Square (above) and the city’s Olympic Stadium hosted a prayer rally and concert.

Closing out the gathering this morning with the Jubilee’s biggest outdoor liturgy to date, Francis’ homily was more a life’s lesson from the high-school teacher he once was than any kind of high-church exegesis. If anything, though, it fits the moment – as recent days have shown how at least some of the ecclesial conversation needs to re-engage the faith at a far simpler level than magisterial documents, this message’s most important audience might just be a bit different than its intended one….
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35).

Dear young friends, what an enormous responsibility the Lord gives us today! He tells us that the world will recognize the disciples of Jesus by the way they love one another. Love, in other words, is the Christian’s identity card, the only valid “document” identifying us as Christians. It is the only valid document. If this card expires and is not constantly renewed, we stop being witnesses of the Master. So I ask you: Do you wish to say yes to Jesus’ invitation to be his disciples? Do you wish to be his faithful friends? The true friends of Jesus stand out essentially by their genuine love; not some “pie in the sky” love; no, it is a genuine love that shines forth in their way of life. Love is always shown in real actions. Those who are not real and genuine and who speak of love are like characters is a soap opera, some fake love story. Do you want to experience his love? Do you want this love: yes or no? Let us learn from him, for his words are a school of life, a school where we learn to love. This is a task which we must engage in every day: to learn how to love.

Before all else, love is beautiful, it is the path to happiness. But it is not an easy path. It is demanding and it requires effort. Think, for example, of when we receive a gift. It makes us happy, but receiving a gift means that someone generous has invested time and effort; by their gift they also give us a bit of themselves, a sacrifice they have made. Think too of the gift that your parents and group leaders have given you in allowing you to come to Rome for this Jubilee day dedicated to you. They planned, organized, and prepared everything for you, and this made them happy, even if it meant that they had to give up a trip for themselves. This is putting love into action. To love means to give, not only something material, but also something of one’s self: one’s own time, one’s friendship, one’s own abilities.

Look to the Lord, who is never outdone in generosity. We receive so many gifts from him, and every day we should thank him… Let me ask you something. Do you thank the Lord every day? Even if we forget to do so, he never forgets, each day, to give us some special gift. It is not something material and tangible that we can use, but something even greater, a life-long gift. What does the Lord give to us? He offers us his faithful friendship, which he will never take back. The Lord is a friend forever. Even if you disappoint him and walk away from him, Jesus continues to want the best for you and to remain close to you; he believes in you even more than you believe in yourself. This is an example of genuine love that Jesus teaches to us. This is very important! Because the biggest threat to growing up well comes from thinking that no one cares about us - and that is always a sadness - from feeling that we are all alone. The Lord, on the other hand, is always with you and he is happy to be with you. As he did with his first disciples, he looks you in the eye and he calls you to follow him, to “put out into the deep” and to “cast your nets wide” trusting in his words and using your talents in life, in union with him, without fear. Jesus is waiting patiently for you. He awaits your response. He is waiting for you to say “yes”.

Dear young friends, at this stage in your lives you have a growing desire to demonstrate and receive affection. The Lord, if you let him teach you, will show you how to make tenderness and affection even more beautiful. He will guide your hearts to “love without being possessive”, to love others without trying to own them but letting them be free. Because love is free! There is no true love that is not free! The freedom that the Lord gives to us is his love for us. He is always close to each one of us. There is always a temptation to let our affections be tainted by an instinctive desire to “have to have” what we find pleasing; this is selfishness. Our consumerist culture reinforces this tendency. Yet when we hold on too tightly to something, it fades, it dies, and then we feel confused, empty inside. The Lord, if you listen to his voice, will reveal to you the secret of love. It is caring for others, respecting them, protecting them and waiting for them. This is putting tenderness and love into action.

At this point in life you feel also a great longing for freedom. Many people will say to you that freedom means doing whatever you want. But here you have to be able to say no. If you do not know how to say “no”, you are not free. The person who is free is he or she who is able to say “yes” and who knows how to say “no”. Freedom is not the ability simply to do what I want. This makes us self-centred and aloof, and it prevents us from being open and sincere friends; it is not true to say “it is good enough if it serves me”. No, this is not true. Instead, freedom is the gift of being able to choose the good: this is true freedom. The free person is the one who chooses what is good, what is pleasing to God, even if it requires effort, even if it is not easy. I believe that you young men and women are not afraid to make the effort, that you are indeed courageous! Only by courageous and firm decisions do we realize our greatest dreams, the dreams which it is worth spending our entire lives to pursue. Courageous and noble choices. Do not be content with mediocrity, with “simply going with the flow”, with being comfortable and laid back. Don’t believe those who would distract you from the real treasure, which you are, by telling you that life is beautiful only if you have many possessions. Be sceptical about people who want to make you believe that you are only important if you act tough like the heroes in films or if you wear the latest fashions. Your happiness has no price. It cannot be bought: it is not an app that you can download on your phones nor will the latest update bring you freedom and grandeur in love. True freedom is something else altogether.

That is because love is a free gift which calls for an open heart; love is a responsibility, but a noble responsibility which is life-long; it is a daily task for those who can achieve great dreams! Woe to your people who do not know how to dream, who do not dare to dream! If a person of your age is not able to dream, if they have already gone into retirement… this is not good.Love is nurtured by trust, respect and forgiveness. Love does not happen because we talk about it, but when we live it: it is not a sweet poem to study and memorize, but is a life choice to put into practice! How can we grow in love? The secret, once again, is the Lord: Jesus gives us himself in the Mass, he offers us forgives and peace in Confession. There we learn to receive his love, to make it ours and to give it to the world. And when loving seems hard, when it is difficult to say no to something wrong, look up at Jesus on the cross, embrace the cross and don’t ever let go of his hand. He will point you ever higher, and pick you up whenever you fall. Throughout life we will fall many times, because we are sinners, we are weak. But there is always the hand of God who picks us up, who raises us up. Jesus wants us to be up on our feet! Think of the beautiful word Jesus said to the paralytic: “Arise!”. God has created us to be on our feet. There is a lovely song that mountain climbers sing as they climb. It goes like this: “In climbing, the important thing is not to not fall, but to not remain fallen!. To have the courage to pick oneself up, to allow oneself to be raised up by Jesus. And his hand is often given through the hand of a friend, through the hand of one’s parents, through the hand of those who accompany us throughout life. Jesus himself is present in them. So arise! God wants us up on our feet, ever on our feet!

I know that you are capable of acts of great friendship and goodness. With these you are called to build the future, together with others and for others, but never against anyone! One never builds “against”; this is called “destruction”. You will do amazing things if you prepare well, starting now, by living your youth and all its gifts to the fullest and without fear of hard work. Be like sporting champions, who attain high goals by quiet daily effort and practice. Let your daily programme be the works of mercy. Enthusiastically practice them, so as to be champions in life, champions in love! In this way you will be recognized as disciples of Jesus. In this way, you will have the identification card of the Christian. And I promise you: your joy will be complete.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Four days.... Two major movements....

But, folks, we're not done yet – indeed, nowhere close.

If anything, Friday's release of Amoris Letitia and this morning's appointment of the new Stateside Nuncio are merely the beginning of storylines whose fallout will continue to loom large on the scene over the next several weeks.

Between those two, another round of the usual curveballs – and a "Final Four" soon in the offing – the spring cycle ahead should make for a very full plate. As it's always been 'round here, though, keeping at the news is only possible thanks to this readership's part at keeping the shop's bills paid.

Much as this scribe likes keeping the only ad you'll ever see here at a minimum, with the usual monthly expenses currently running into the annual tax onslaught, the Whispers budget faces another mountain to get past for these pages to continue doing what they do best.

Long story short: as it's the one thing the news-side can't pull off, Church, this one's all yours....

...and now, back to it. At least, here's hoping.

Even more than usual, this should be fun... and as it awaits, God reward you real good – all thanks as always.


The Pope's Border Song – Francis Names Pierre as Nuncio to US

Expected for weeks, it's now real: at Roman Noon, the Pope named 70 year-old Archbishop Christophe Pierre as his Nuncio to the United States, retiring Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò three months after the post's holder since 2011 turned 75.

While the incoming occupant of 3339 Massachusetts Av NW may exercise the ecclesial prerogatives of his new posting immediately, the secular piece of Pierre's role – as the Holy See's ambassador to the Federal government – can only get underway once he presents his credentials to President Obama.

Given the Frenchman's assignment until today as Nuncio to Mexico, his arrival is expected to take place within a quicker timeframe than the usual 6-8 weeks since, unlike any prior choice for the DC posting, Pierre doesn't need to move across an ocean to make it there.

For all the rest, the following piece anticipating the move was originally published here last month as reports of the choice began to emerge.

More to come... in the meantime, discerning readers might want to revisit Francis' now-famous February speech to the Mexican bishops, in whose drafting Pierre's voice is said to have held a significant weight.

* * *
10 March 2016 – Less than two months since Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò reached the retirement age of 75 – and, indeed, all of two days after the topic came up here – the choice of his successor as Apostolic Nuncio to the US is reportedly at hand: in a piece published earlier today on his Settimo Cielo blog, the conservative Italian vaticanista Sandro Magister indicated that Archbishop Christophe Pierre (above), the 70 year-old French-born legate to Mexico, is the Pope's selection for the Washington posting, with an announcement said to be "imminent."

A mission-chief for 20 years – and the Vatican's man in the global church's second-largest outpost since 2007 – the reported choice would mark another move by Francis to highlight the "peripheries" toward which the pontiff has ceaselessly prodded the church; Pierre's first assignment as a Nuncio was a four-year stint (1995-99) in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. In addition, two weeks after the Pope's long-desired stop at Mexico's US border – and subsequent doubling-down on the advocacy that spurred it – what would be a provocative transfer north given the US' current political climate would bring a figure intimately familiar with matters of immigration as the Holy See's representative to the US government, to say nothing of the Nuncio's role as the Pope's eyes, ears and voice to an American Catholic fold which has been transformed (and, in some quarters, roiled) by a historic influx from Latin America. On yet another key front, unlike the prior lead occupants of 3339 Massachusetts Av NW, Pierre would arrive in the States with an unusually well-steeped understanding of the church in the Southern and Western US, which have jointly surpassed the old bastions of the Northeast and upper Midwest over recent years to become the home of a majority of the nation's 70 million faithful.

All at once, the prospect of Pierre's appointment would both come as a surprise and not as one. While the name of the Frenchman has circulated in authoritative circles only over the last six weeks or so, from the outset of the succession planning, the most widely cited name for the DC post has been Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the bubbly Italian who won great acclaim and affection in New York's church and diplomatic circles over his eight years as the Holy See's permanent observer to the United Nations headquarters there.

Now 63 and transferred to Poland in 2010, the onetime "deputy foreign minister" in the Secretariat of State notably became the first quarterback for the Vatican's amplified environmental push under Benedict XVI, which Migliore championed on the Holy See's behalf in the UN's deliberations. That said, a current of opposition to Migliore's appointment to the US began circulating early this year, and given the word of Pierre's selection, the Mexico rep.'s experience with migration issues – and the Pope's ostensible desire to send another message on their import – would appear to have tipped the balance in his favor, as well as a likely reluctance to transfer the Nuncio to Warsaw with months to go before Francis' late July trek to Poland for World Youth Day in Krakow.

An informal cleric described as friendly and "savvy," one ranking op who knows Pierre praised the choice, telling Whispers that the archbishop "knows how to hold onto the rudder in the midst of storms." Given the tensions of the moment on church and civil fronts alike on this side of the border, that skill would be in for quite the test.

*   *   *
As Francis marks the third anniversary of his election on Sunday, it bears recalling that Papa Bergoglio has bucked the tradition of his predecessors in opting to stick with the US representative he inherited for a lengthy period of time. Over the last half-century and more, each new Pope has traditionally placed a diplomat of his own choosing in Washington within the first year or two of his pontificate, reflecting the assignment's immense clout both on geopolitical and ecclesial fronts, above all in the Nuncio's most consuming and consequential function: compiling the extensive amounts of consultation, research and reports which set the stage for the appointment of every American bishop.

Named to the US in October 2011, Viganò's assignment to the post was widely perceived as an "exile" from Rome in the wake of his unsuccessful campaign to root out mismanagement and graft in Vatican City's finances and contracts as the city-state's deputy mayor. Within weeks of his arrival in Washington, the archbishop's earlier pleas to Benedict for his support in the reform effort became a centerpiece of the incendiary "Vatileaks" document haul, which destabilized the Curia for the bulk of 2012 while winning Viganò a reputation for courage in the face of apparently irredeemable corruption.

In the wake of Francis' election, the new Pope's push for Curial accountability and a financial cleanup led to well-placed expectations that Viganò would see his triumphant return to Rome in a top post. The speculation turned to naught, however, after a smear campaign by the archbishop's enemies which circulated in the Italian press is believed to have short-circuited the move.

Having laid the groundwork for the Pope's markedly successful East Coast trip last September, the career diplomat landed in the center of another firestorm in the visit's wake when it emerged that Kim Davis – the Kentucky county clerk whose brief imprisonment for refusing to perform same-sex marriages on religious freedom grounds became a cause celebre in the culture wars – was quietly greeted by Francis at the DC Nunciature between public engagements. In a remarkable clarification issued in response to the furore caused by word of the meeting, a Vatican statement said that, with Davis among "several dozen" people present, "such brief greetings occur on all papal visits and are due to the Pope’s characteristic kindness and availability."

Emphasizing that "the Pope did not enter into the details of the situation of Mrs Davis and his meeting with her should not be considered a form of support of her position in all of its particular and complex aspects," the statement sought to further distance Francis from the clerk in adding that "the only real audience granted by the Pope at the Nunciature was with one of his former students and his family." Long based in Washington, the former student was later found to be openly gay and had brought his partner to the encounter.

Having won wide esteem among the US bishops with his gracious style, quiet assists and commitment to a heavy travel schedule to take part in local church events, Viganò was feted by the bench at last November's plenary in Baltimore with the traditional champagne sendoff which the USCCB accords to a Vatican representative attending his final meeting. That said, as the archbishop's success at ultimately obtaining the appointments of those he's recommended has largely been stymied by the influence of the Stateside cardinals on the Congregation for Bishops – whose votes determine the ultimate endorsement of a candidate to the Pope – Viganò's "swan song" pick on these shores is understood to have been the July elevation of one of his favorites, Fr Robert Barron, as auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles. At the time, the move stoked widespread amazement among the American hierarchy given the highly unusual transfer of the Chicago-based media titan to the global capital of pop culture.

As previously reported, with almost a dozen of the nation's 197 dioceses currently awaiting new leadership, the bulk of the docket has been in a holding pattern over the last several months in anticipation of a new Nuncio. Once the transition has taken place, further delays are expected as the newcomer reviews the pending files and familiarizes himself with the lay of the land.


Friday, April 08, 2016







The Joy of Love experienced by families is also the joy of the Church. As the Synod Fathers noted, for all the many signs of crisis in the institution of marriage, “the desire to marry and form a family remains vibrant, especially among young people, and this is an inspiration to the Church”. As a response to that desire, “the Christian proclamation on the family is good news indeed”.

The Synod process allowed for an examination of the situation of families in today’s world, and thus for a broader vision and a renewed awareness of the importance of marriage and the family. The complexity of the issues that arose revealed the need for continued open discussion of a number of doctrinal, moral, spiritual, and pastoral questions. The thinking of pastors and theologians, if faithful to the Church, honest, realistic and creative, will help us to achieve greater clarity. The debates carried on in the media, in certain publications and even among the Church’s ministers, range from an immoderate desire for total change without sufficient re ection or grounding, to an attitude that would solve everything by applying general rules or deriving undue conclusions from particular theological considerations.

Since “time is greater than space”, I would make it clear that not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium. Unity of teaching and practice is certainly necessary in the Church, but this does not preclude various ways of interpreting some aspects of that teaching or drawing certain consequences from it. This will always be the case as the Spirit guides us towards the entire truth (cf. Jn 16:13), until he leads us fully into the mystery of Christ and enables us to see all things as he does. Each country or region, moreover, can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its traditions and local needs. For “cultures are in fact quite diverse and every general principle... needs to be inculturated, if it is to be respected and applied”.....

Francis' Feast – Pope's Hymn to Family "Is A Matter of Reaching Out to Everyone"

When you get to the part of Amoris Laetitia where the Pope says, “I certainly value feminism,” seeing the statement in a document of the Magisterium is enough to drop one’s jaw.

And, indeed, there’s more where it came from… most of which you’ll find in Chapter Eight. Yet while Francis himself warns against a “rushed reading” of the product, though the pontiff re-employs his maxim that “Time is greater than space,” another Francis-ism (albeit one unspoken here) offers the better summary:

“Life is bigger than explanations.”

Over 250 booklet pages – 60,000 words in length, including the yet-again critical footnotes – the most feverishly-awaited text of Francis’ pontificate closes the three-year Synodal process on the family by opening the wider church to a more sensitive and personalized style of pastoral outreach, even to the point where, as he defines today, it “can no longer simply be said that all those in any ‘irregular’ situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace.”

In terms of the church’s response to hot-button issues of family life, while no teaching has formally been altered – and the pontiff repeatedly takes pains to underscore the “Christian ideal” of a couple’s lifelong, exclusive commitment while echoing the Synod’s firm rejection of same-sex marriage – the shift of tone from the top represents a sea-change, above all in extending the possibility of a “discernment” which recognizes that, in complex situations vis a vis church teaching, “the consequences or effects of a rule need not necessarily always be the same” (300), adding in a footnote that “this is also the case with regard to sacramental discipline,” citing the church’s “solid body of reflection concerning mitigating factors and situations.”

Given the intensity of focus on the most prominent and charged front for those questions: the admission of civilly remarried couples to the Eucharist – a practice rejected categorically by St John Paul II in 1981’s Familiaris Consortio – Francis’ reluctance to “provide a new set of general rules, canonical in nature and applicable to all cases” while going on to say “that in an objective situation of sin… a person can be living in God’s grace, can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church’s help to this end” is capped by another footnote (351) which begins, “In certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments,” making reference to his earlier comments that the Confessional is not to be used as “a torture chamber” and "that the Eucharist 'is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.'"

“[A] pastor cannot feel that it is enough simply to apply moral laws to those living in ‘irregular’ situations, as if they were stones to throw at people’s lives,” Francis writes. “This would bespeak the closed heart of one used to hiding behind the church’s teachings, ‘sitting on the chair of Moses and judging at times with superiority and superficiality difficult cases and wounded families’” – the Mosaic reference an echo to Jesus' Matthew 23 warning to the scribes and Pharisees about their hypocrisy.

“No one can be condemned for ever," the Pope says, "because that is not the logic of the Gospel!”

As for what it all means in practice, the old story bears recalling of the bishop who, on a visit to the CDF, was asked how prevalent internal forum conclusions for the remarried to receive Communion were in his area, only for the dumbfounded prelate to reply that the sacramentally-sealed nature of said discernment made it impossible to have any statistics on it.

“In every situation,” the Pope says, “when dealing with those who have difficulties in living God’s law to the full, the invitation to pursue the via caritatis must be clearly heard. Fraternal charity is the first law of Christians.” By contrast, meanwhile, the one occasion where the pontiff calls anyone’s disposition to Communion in question is focused on his usual target: “When those who receive [the Eucharist] turn a blind eye to the poor and suffering, or consent to various forms of division, contempt and inequality,” he says, the Blessed Sacrament “is received unworthily” (186).

All that said, even if Francis’ musing that “everyone should feel challenged by Chapter Eight” and its delving into discernment will likely get some significant takeup, the bulk of the mammoth text is disarmingly calm, dominated by lyrical reflections on family life, an extended meditation on 1 Corinthians 13 – St Paul’s treatise on love, the ever-ubiquitous reading at weddings – as well as a long take on the education of children and what appears to be a papal document’s first-ever citation of a movie (Babette’s Feast, long said to be the Pope’s favorite), not to mention a long quote from Dr Martin Luther King.

For the most part, with the text’s easily accessible meditations on the dreams of family life, it wouldn’t be hard to see much of it adapted as some kind of guidebook for marriage preparation or ongoing ministry to couples. Yet while Amoris likewise echoes its precursor – the Pope’s 2013 “manifesto” text, Evangelii Gaudium – in featuring a host of passages from documents issued by the world’s bishops’ conferences, the most heavily-quoted sources are the closing Relatii of 2014’s Extraordinary Synod and last October’s Ordinary assembly, with the Pope often letting extended pieces of both take up a hefty portion of the document, giving those lines the added weight of his teaching authority in the process. In other turns, the same elevation is given to several homilies and General Audience catecheses given by Francis over his three-year reign, most notably the blockbuster February 2015 preach to the last Consistory for the creation of cardinals, where the pontiff sought to hammer home his belief that the way of the church must be "the way of Jesus" – namely, "the path of reinstatement."

As for individual fingerprints on the finished product, especially in Francis’ weighing of the more fraught pastoral realities, Amoris’ conclusions on natural law, the weight of conscience in individual discernment – “We are called to form consciences,” he says, “not replace them” – and the Pope’s call for “respectful pastoral guidance… that those who manifest a homosexual orientation can receive the assistance they need to understand and fully carry out God’s will in their lives” are strikingly clear echoes of comments made during the 2015 Synod by his top US appointee to date, Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago.

Shortly after the October gathering ended, word got back that, having been present there as the Pope's choice (in addition to four elected USCCB delegates), at one point Cupich was privately buttonholed by the Pope with praise for the points he was making. Suffice it to say, now we’ve got the proof.

In the final analysis, as the twin assemblies of 2014 and 2015 wended on, Papa Bergoglio faced the high-wire challenge of threading the needle between warring, almost diametrically-opposed approaches which, at their extremes, represented what he terms an “immoderate desire for total change without sufficient reflection or grounding, [or] an attitude that would solve everything by applying general rules or deriving undue conclusions from particular theological considerations.”

Whatever one’s opinion of the result, Francis has taken his best shot at striking a balance… and with the text’s arrival, the discussion is over, but now comes the really hard part – the outcome’s integration into the life of a church which, to use the Pope’s old line reprised today, he envisions to be both "a mother with an open heart" and “the house of the father, with doors always wide open.”


Live from Rome: (Non-)Judgment Day

Good Friday morning, folks – this day's been almost three years in the making... and, well, away we go.

At 1130 Rome (5.30am ET/2.30PT), the pub-day presser for the release of the Pope's Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love) begins, with the Secretary-General of the Synod Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri joined by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn OP of Vienna – a figure who first rose to prominence as the general editor of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and on a more personal angle, himself a child of divorce.

Here, the livestream – English translation in real-time has been promised (the video will become on-demand at the event's close):

For the record, the document files will be available here upon the text's release at Roman Noon (6am ET). Given the distinct likelihood of the Vatican website crashing for at least some of the morning under the weight of demand to read the 60,000-word message, don't worry – it'll be backed up here.

(SVILUPPO: Amoris Laetitia's English fulltext and a first analysis.)

If nothing else, this should all be memorable, and both the main page and real-time wire – check your right sidebar – will be updated through the day with reactions, etc. as things come in. Among other notable response plans, at mid-morning two Synod Fathers, the USCCB President Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville and Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago, will offer separate media briefings at 10am Eastern and half an hour later respectively.

All that said, happy reading – and as ever, these pages keep coming your way solely by means of your support....

SVILUPPO 2: With the document now on the street, English translations of the long presentations given by Baldisseri and by Schönborn at this morning's Vatican event have likewise been circulated by the Holy See.

And here, links to the livestreams on-demand vids of the twin Stateside pressers mentioned above: first, the 10am Eastern USCCB briefing...

...and here, the feed from Cupich's 9.30 Central Q&A at Chicago's Chancery at Quigley:


Sunday, April 03, 2016

"Jesus Wishes To Throw Open Our Closed Doors" – On Mercy Sunday, The Pope's Coming "Gospel"

At least in the minds of many, with Friday's release of Amoris laetitia ("The Joy of Love") – the all-important, hysterically-anticipated Apostolic Exhortation closing out the twin Synods on the Family – the Pope faces the most consequential moment to date of his three-year reign.

Keeping in mind that the news and a circus are two very different things, more of the former in due course. In the meantime, it is significant that – even for the ongoing Jubilee Year dedicated to the mercy of God – the imminent frame for the sprawling text's rollout is today's observance of Divine Mercy Sunday, the feast added to this liturgical date by John Paul II to honor the 20th century devotion born from the visions of St Faustina Kowalska: a cause which the Polish Pope intensely sought to integrate into the mainstream of Catholic life, and largely succeeded.

In light of the feast, this weekend brought the Vatican's Jubilee event focused on Faustina's message from the merciful Jesus, with Francis himself leading a vigil in St Peter's Square last night – likewise the 11th anniversary of John Paul's death – and an outdoor Mass this morning.

Sticking to his usual practice, while the Pope's homily at today's Mass kept a surface focus on this Sunday's Gospel – the Risen Christ's encounter with Thomas, one of the few texts assigned across the three-year lectionary cycle – the striking five-paragraph preach can be viewed as an interpretive key behind the contents of Amoris, and even Francis' unofficial "curtain-raiser" to the coming document.

Here, its English translation in full (emphases original):
“Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book” (Jn 20:30). The Gospel is the book of God’s mercy, to be read and reread, because everything that Jesus said and did is an expression of the Father’s mercy. Not everything, however, was written down; the Gospel of mercy remains an open book, in which the signs of Christ’s disciples – concrete acts of love and the best witness to mercy – continue to be written. We are all called to become living writers of the Gospel, heralds of the Good News to all men and women of today. We do this by practicing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, which are the hallmarks of the Christian life. By means of these simple yet powerful gestures, even when unseen, we can accompany the needy, bringing God’s tenderness and consolation. Thus continues the great work of Jesus on Easter day, when he poured into the hearts of his fearful disciples the Father’s mercy, bringing them the Holy Spirit who forgives sins and bestows joy.

At the same time, the story we have just heard presents an evident contrast: there is the fear of the disciples, who gathered behind closed doors; and then there is the mission of Jesus, who sends them into the world to proclaim the message of forgiveness. This contrast may also be present in us, experienced as an interior struggle between a closed heart and the call of love to open doors closed by sin. It is a call that frees us to go out of ourselves. Christ, who for love entered through doors barred by sin, death and the powers of hell, wants to enter into each one of us to break open the locked doors of our hearts. Jesus, who by his resurrection has overcome the fear and dread which imprison us, wishes to throw open our closed doors and send us out. The path that the Risen Master shows us is a one way street, it goes in only one direction: this means that we must move beyond ourselves to witness to the healing power of love that has conquered us. We see before us a humanity that is often wounded and fearful, a humanity that bears the scars of pain and uncertainty. Before the anguished cry for mercy and peace, we hear Jesus’ inspiring invitation: “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” (Jn 20:21).

In God’s mercy, all of our infirmities find healing. His mercy, in fact, does not keep a distance: it seeks to encounter all forms of poverty and to free this world of so many types of slavery. Mercy desires to reach the wounds of all, to heal them. Being apostles of mercy means touching and soothing the wounds that today afflict the bodies and souls of many of our brothers and sisters. Curing these wounds, we profess Jesus, we make him present and alive; we allow others, who touch his mercy with their own hands, to recognize him as “Lord and God” (Jn 20:28), as did the Apostle Thomas. This is the mission that he entrusts to us. So many people ask to be listened to and to be understood. The Gospel of mercy, to be proclaimed and written in our daily lives, seeks people with patient and open hearts, “good Samaritans” who understand compassion and silence before the mystery of each brother and sister. The Gospel of mercy requires generous and joyful servants, people who love freely without expecting anything in return.

“Peace be with you!” (Jn 20:21) is the greeting of Jesus to his disciples; this same peace awaits men and women of our own day. It is not a negotiated peace, it is not the absence of conflict: it is his peace, the peace that comes from the heart of the Risen Lord, the peace that has defeated sin, fear and death. It is a peace that does not divide but unites; it is a peace that does not abandon us but makes us feel listened to and loved; it is a peace that persists even in pain and enables hope to blossom. This peace, as on the day of Easter, is born ever anew by the forgiveness of God which calms our anxious hearts. To be bearers of his peace: this is the mission entrusted to the Church on Easter day. In Christ, we are born to be instruments of reconciliation, to bring the Father’s forgiveness to everyone, to reveal his loving face through concrete gestures of mercy.

In the responsorial Psalm we heard these words: “His love endures forever” (Ps 117/118:2). Truly, God’s mercy is forever; it never ends, it never runs out, it never gives up when faced with closed doors, and it never tires. In this forever we find strength in moments of trial and weakness because we are sure that God does not abandon us. He remains with us forever. Let us give thanks for so great a love, which we find impossible to grasp; it is immense! Let us pray for the grace to never grow tired of drawing from the well of the Father’s mercy and bringing it to the world. Let us ask that we too may be merciful, to spread the power of the Gospel everywhere, and to write those pages of the Gospel which John the Apostle did not write.