Thursday, March 30, 2017

"A Pastoral Priority" – For Lent, "The Light Is On"... or Is It?

Along with Friday fish-fries, the weekly Stations and giving up something (or doing something more), recent years have brought a new tradition of Lent: the Pope going into overdrive to plug his favorite sacrament.

Yet even as The World's Most Coveted Pitchman again devoted the better part of a week this month (and amid the high exposure of his election anniversary, at that) to another round of all-Confession, all-the-time messaging – topped as usual by taking his own turn as a penitent during the season's annual penance service in St Peter's – in at least a hefty chunk of the trenches, the takeup on that call is still running strangely thin, above all in terms of its widespread availability.

After reprising his broader invite to "our Father's mercy" during the week around the Vatican's rite, Papa Bergoglio returned to chiding the world's pastors over doing their part, using his mid-month talk to a training-course for confessors to remind that easy access to the box or Reconciliation Room "is a pastoral priority" – and urging that, in their parishes, "please, do not let there be those signs that say, 'Confessions only on Monday and Wednesday at such-and-such a time.'

"One [hears confessions] whenever one is asked," Francis said, asking that "if you are there [in church] praying, stay with the confessional open, which is the open heart of God."

While the most recent figures report that nearly half the US' Catholic population "never" partakes of the sacrament, on a coast-to-coast anecdotal level, two other realities help flesh out the nuances of the scene. For starters, it's broadly become the case that the standard timeframe inherited from another age – namely, only one dedicated hour (or, these days, often 30 to 45 minutes) on a Saturday afternoon – simply isn't the "sweet spot" it once might've been in terms of the convenience of the faithful. On the flip-side, however, ask practically any pastor who's added scheduled availability on weeknights, elsewhere on the weekends – or even, especially in major cities, during workday lunch-hours or quitting time – and pretty much as a rule, the lines show up in short order. (And on a lesser, but still notable front, while the words "or by appointment" are a universal add-on to Confession times, most of us are still looking to meet someone who's actually done so.)

Of course, this time of year sees an attempted remedy with the time-honored patchwork of parish penance services on a lone Lenten weeknight. Given the habits of the modern faithful, though – lives either spent "parish-hopping" due to family or job schedules or, as is mostly the case, participating less than weekly for any number of reasons – for all their good intentions, even these efforts can easily get lost in the mix beyond the proverbial "choir."

Along these lines, then, it's worth recalling that as the "Death of Confession" storyline doesn't fully hold water, for its most prominent counter-evidence, this year brings a major milestone.

The longest-running major initiative of its kind, these 40 Days mark the tenth anniversary of Washington's launch of "The Light is On For You" – the annual push that, now held in tandem with the diocese of Arlington, sees every church in the capital metro area open for Reconciliation from 6.30-8pm every Wednesday of Lent. In subsequent years, Cardinal Donald Wuerl's relayed that some 80 percent of the DC presbyterate sought for the move to become an ongoing diocese-wide custom, noting that "in many parishes each successive Wednesday brought more people to church for reconciliation, and in some cases during Wednesday of Holy Week priests heard confessions for three, four or five hours." What's more, diocesan officials there even recall receiving unbidden thank-you calls from people who randomly came across word of the effort, and felt great about taking up the invite after years adrift.

While several other dioceses have picked up the weekly "Light" format – among others, the churches of the 2 million-member Boston archdiocese hold it every Lenten Monday – the season's end brings another style of major local Confess-a-thon: New York's Reconciliation Monday, held at the start of every Holy Week, which sees each of the 700-plus sites across the archdiocese and the dioceses of Brooklyn and Rockville Centre open with priests at the ready from 3-9pm. Covering an area with over 5.5 million Catholics in the nation's largest statistical area, the Gotham event likewise takes place in Advent, on the Monday before Christmas.

In case one's missing the obvious: do you notice how every place that has an hour on Saturday afternoon isn't being mentioned here?

Again, much as the shape and timing is adapted by place, in an age when the church's target audience is broadly dispersed and equally difficult to reach, despite the differences, these full-scale local initiatives haven't merely succeeded, but become widely anticipated – and, hence, you're reading about 'em – for two critical reasons: first, a consistency that allows a precise day and time to be easily taken to memory, an instinctive act of recall which only grows over several years of it... and most of all, the commitment across not just one local church, but several dioceses in the same media market, which helps the joint spread of paid advertising (transit ads, TV spots, etc.; one example seen above at the Mets' ballpark) and drumming up free "blanket" coverage on the effort by mainstream press, whose circulation almost always spreads across several sets of diocesan lines.

On the latter point, when the topic's Confession, you can always bank on a boatload of public interest (lest anyone forgot, look at all the "Live at 11" ratchet The Indult racked up). Adding to that is the unique reality (read: boon) of a moment when any release from official channels which begins with: "Responding to the call of Pope Francis..." is de facto catnip for local newsrooms – and just about everyone else. In any case, this is the kind of coordination for which dioceses were made, and when it's handled at that macro level, the amount of planning and resources it entails is a relative drop in the bucket considering the likely result.

Lastly, as ever, no riff on the box can come without recalling the first challenge of communicating Penance: namely, acknowledging and easing the intimidation factor that – especially for folks who've been away from the sacrament, and quite possibly the pews at large, for a long stretch – is more prevalent, and often deeply-felt, than tends to be addressed, and which remains the foremost inhibition of all. Yet even that's no overpowering hurdle; for a Pope who's fond of sharing – or, perhaps, reassuring – that the Confessional "isn't a torture chamber" atop giving voice to a widely-felt sense of welcome, all that remains is amplifying the message where it needs to be heard most.

Long story short: if Lent's a time to get one's own priorities straight, that's all the more the case for ecclesial life writ large. And when it comes to a matter that, even more than a simple "priority," is arguably the most pressing pastoral emergency the nation's largest religious body faces, it's not that taking action has failed... it's that, across much of the map, it still just hasn't been tried.


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

In Carroll's Crypt, The Last Goodbye

“What the Temple of Jerusalem is to the Israelite,
what St Peter’s Basilica in Rome is to the faithful of the church universal,
such is this cathedral to the American Catholic....”
Though that line was uttered by the first cardinal to be born of the nation's Premier See, a century later, it would become almost loudly etched upon the heart of the "imported" heir who'd follow in James Gibbons' footsteps, who now likewise takes his rest in the heart of American Catholicism's founding fold, but only after he passed that quote and the life it contained to so many of us.

Here, from the mother-church of these shores – the Baltimore Basilica he so lovingly and faithfully restored as a gift for the future – the fulfillment of William Cardinal Keeler's last wish: the 14th Archbishop's burial in its crypt alongside the founding pastors of these United States – the first such moment in seven decades... and one only come to pass after a quick tour was given the newest of the line, just recently arrived from Cathedral Street's now-spinoff in Washington:

To be sure, there's an epilogue to all this, for the man and the moment... but when it comes to an era of history – and, in this instance, a piece of one's own life – as ever, if it's fleeting clickbait you're looking for, you've come to the wrong place.


Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Last Prince of Baltimore, Cardinal Keeler Dies at 86

In the annals of the Premier See of these United States, two figures form the center of a legend born alongside the Constitution.

Yet even for all John Carroll and James Gibbons would bequeath to posterity, it would fall to another to bring the Maryland Tradition of American Catholicism into the 21st century. And this morning, the cleric who made that mission his own has been called to his rest.

The only man ever to wear both the badge of an Eagle Scout and the scarlet of a Roman prince, William Henry Keeler – 14th archbishop of Baltimore, ninth President of the nation’s bench, only the third of Carroll’s heirs to be raised to the papal Senate – died overnight at 86 after a long, gradual illness.

Named to Charm City in 1989 – amid the 200th anniversary of the nation’s founding diocese – Keeler’s two-decade tenure at the helm of the Birdland fold didn’t merely burnish the crown jewel he inherited, but served to achieve some history of its own. Above all else, the cardinal brought a Pope to the Calverts' colony, as now-St John Paul II celebrated Mass at Camden Yards and lunched with the homeless at Our Daily Bread on the lone sunny day of his final Stateside tour in 1995. And at his ministry's end, only after a sound footing for the archdiocese’s schools and charities was ensured through over $100 million in fundraising, the third cardinal pursued his long-desired legacy project, restoring the nation’s first cathedral – the Basilica of the Assumption – to the simple splendor with which it was conceived, stripping away a century’s worth of darkness to the recapture the vision Carroll hatched with Benjamin Latrobe: Catholicism's tribute in stone to the American experiment of religious freedom, a dream fused together in light.

A son of Harrisburg and Philadelphia ordained first in his class in 1955, the future cardinal attracted early notice on the Roman scene, so much so that, as a student-priest, he was dubbed “Ruby Keeler” given the shoes that went with the red hat in that era. Not even ten years in, Keeler would have his first brush with the spotlight during the Second Vatican Council as the secretary who led the daily English-language press briefings, a heady task given the involvement of 2,500 bishops and the Council's business being conducted entirely in Latin. Despite being almost painfully shy – a trait that expressed itself in a soft-spoken and dignified reserve – the experience birthed a driven interest in and support of the press which would remain for the rest of his life.

The lone prelate to lead the nation's hierarchy both by prerogative of place as well as through election – likewise the first conference president to be given the red hat while at the bench's helm – the Keeler legacy on the broad stage is most intimately linked to another lifelong commitment: interfaith relations, above all with the Jewish community.

Having remained the church's lead figure on the national Catholic-Jewish dialogue well into his retirement, it was at Keeler's behest that, in the 1990s, John Paul conferred the first papal knighthoods on non-Catholics, to two rabbis who were the cardinal's counterparts in the effort. Such was the prelate's devotion to the cause that – even for an adherence to history that could border on the fanatical – Keeler shirked the almost sacred 19th century aesthetics of the "Gibbons Room" of the Archbishop's Residence on Charles Street to place one modern item within it: a menorah strikingly sculpted with six human figures, each one representing a million Jews killed during the Holocaust.

As with every prelate of his generation, Keeler's greatest challenge at home erupted in 2002 with the national revelations of clergy sex-abuse and cover-up. Yet while the storm placed an eternal cloud over several of his fellow cardinals and a host of other prelates, the unique response from Baltimore quickly made the scandals a local afterthought.

In a marked contrast to most places, where prosecutors or plaintiffs’ attorneys resorted to legal force to attain disclosures from the Chanceries, Keeler ordered the publication of the archdiocese's complete record of accused priests – a list of 57 names, their assignments, and the dates and nature of the alleged misconduct, all of it stretching back to the 1950s.

For much of the Baltimore presbyterate, the revelation – especially the list’s inclusion of the dead – proved an unforgiveable act of betrayal by their archbishop, who nonetheless remained unswayed in his conviction that it was “the right thing to do.” Almost 15 years later, his archdiocese spared the tide of charges, litigation and distrust which would devastate much of the East, the wisdom of the act almost speaks for itself… and in the eyes of those closest to the cardinal, his move to publish remains “his finest hour.”

All these aspects, however – the commitment to transparency and dialogue, the sense of history and community – are merely parts of a piece, its core found in the golden thread Keeler viewed as his unique treasure not merely to guard, but to revive for a new age.

As crafted by Carroll and reborn under Gibbons, the Maryland Tradition of Catholicism was forged as a leavening model of the church’s presence in American society: a distinctly home-grown and confident counter to the importing of Europe’s heavily-encrusted ecclesiology, all of whose variations failed to reflect the circumstances of a pluralistic society in formation an ocean away. In its vision, the American concept of freedom represented no threat to the faith, but a priceless gift, and the free institutions of state, press and religion were likewise no adversary, but partners for the common good, a goal which demands the church’s best contribution for the flourishing of all.

In a moment when both the civil and ecclesial order find themselves gravely challenged by breakdowns of trust and outbursts of selfishness – and, indeed, the very freedoms and promise that define this nation find themselves under siege – it could be said that the lessons of America’s founding fold provide an ideal antidote. And if the departure of the greatest champion of this heritage might bring about a return to learning and heeding its hard-won lessons, for the man, his dying breath would be worth it.

In any case, one lasting legacy on the national front still comes to the fore every year: on what would be the morning of the 9/11 attacks, during the USCCB's September Administrative Committee session in Washington, Keeler – then on his second stint as the bench's chair for Pro-Life Activities –  proposed that the November meeting be moved from the capital back to Baltimore, where the collegial governance of the nation's church (and, by extension, the entire concept of an episcopal conference) saw its inception more than a century earlier with the annual gathering of the archbishops.

Initially envisioned as a temporary gesture when the move was approved, the Fall Plenary hasn't returned to Washington since.

Never one to express emotion publicly – even after surviving a 2006 car accident that claimed the life of his best friend, and whose injuries kept him from his most cherished goal – the warm soul behind those steely blue eyes nevertheless had its ways of reaching out. Simply put, you knew Keeler’s affection when it was made clear that he wanted you close by... and just as being successor of John Carroll in Baltimore was the greatest love of his life, he had the self-awareness to know where he fell short.

Accordingly, it is a testament that the auxiliaries he chose – Fran Malooly, Mitch Rozanski, and Denis Madden – each were and remain more cherished than the other among the locals. And as a wider affirmation of what they learned at his side, it is no accident that the latter two have been chosen in turn to lead the US bishops’ arm for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, all the more that the votes were taken without the cardinal in the room... nor, indeed, likely aware that it was even happening.

Of course, all this is the life of the church in its living stones. Still, for a figure who became almost as much a part of Baltimore as Old Bay and the Orioles – or, these days, Under Armour – despite hailing from outside, for the 14th archbishop, his crowning joy was reclaiming the temple which had been built to serve as the symbol of the Catholic presence on these shores, a holy place which had fallen on hard times.

In the late 1990s, the city's resurgence underway with the development of the Harbor and building of Camden Yards, that new spirit had yet to make it up the hill to Carroll's cathedral. At its lowest point in those days, an attempted robbery of a homeless man ended with the victim's fatal stabbing on the basilica's front portico.

Given the prevailing mood of the time, a push for a $30 million restoration was widely panned within the archdiocese as a needless extravagance or the manifestation of an "edifice complex." Yet again, though, Keeler would prove immovable in the face of opposition, and when the finished product was previewed to the locals days before its rededication, another round of begrudging admissions that "he was right" only added to his serene satisfaction in the moment. And for the kicker, the basilica project ended up jump-starting the revival of its Mount Vernon neighborhood, transforming the area into an urban hub again bursting with life.

Upon the cardinal's retirement a year later, it shouldn't have come as a surprise that Keeler couldn't bear to leave American Catholicism's equivalent to the White House, and so he didn't; ever the gracious sort, the incoming archbishop, Edwin O'Brien, honored his predecessor's wishes by holing up in an apartment across town owned by the Sulpicians.

Yet even as he handed over the reins of Cathedral Street, the cardinal's eye for the long sweep of history pulled off one final stroke for the future: asked by O'Brien to select his priest-secretary in advance of his arrival, Keeler plucked a certain 35 year-old from his first pastorate for the job. Having become indispensable to the two archbishops since, the foresight of that call came full circle in January as Adam Parker, at 45, was ordained the youngest bishop in a Stateside diocese and the first to be born in the 1970s – the same decade that Msgr William Keeler, then likewise a priest-secretary in his 40s, became a bishop himself.

For all the shimmering grandeur of American Catholicism's mother-church, to cross the footbridge from 408 N. Charles into the basilica always brings a sobering sight: on making their entry from their house into the nation's first cathedral, a century of archbishops have been faced with the crypt where Carroll and seven of his early successors are laid to rest.

Since the opening of the "New Cathedral" of Mary Our Queen in 1956, the bishops of the Premier See have all opted instead for the ample burial space there. That is, until now: in fulfillment of his last wish, late Tuesday afternoon Keeler will be interred beneath the basilica's High Altar, the first committal within its walls since Archbishop Michael Curley – the last Baltimore prelate whose territory included Washington – died in 1947.

The stone already chiseled out with an expansive Latin text in 19th century font, it is eminently fitting that Birdland's third cardinal will be placed next to its first: the celebrated Gibbons, the native son and citizen-prince he always yearned to imitate most.


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

"We Are With You" – "In Unsettled Times," US Bench Makes Fresh Call to Immigrants, Refugees

Amid a roiled political environment – and capping off a remarkable across-the-board protest of President Trump's signature policy commitment – the top leadership of the US bishops has used its first meeting of the year in Washington to issue a significant call that "It is necessary to safeguard the United States in a manner that does not cause us to lose our humanity."

As reports around the country indicate a broad spike in arrests and detainments by federal Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, and with the new administration's ban on travel from seven Muslim-majority countries stalled in the courts, the statement from the USCCB Administrative Committee' signals a further doubling-down of advocacy for the undocumented and at-risk refugees on the part of the nation's largest religious body, which has spent recent months ramping up numerous local initiatives ranging from very public prayer services in solidarity to programs informing parishioners of their rights and how to respond should they find themselves or their families targeted.

Comprised of all the bench's committee chairs and other prelates representing the US church's 15 regions, the 30-man Administrative meets four times a year, but only twice outside the June and November plenary sessions of the whole 270-member conference. In that light, a statement from the Admin is understood as representing the mind of the entire body of bishops.

Adding to its significance, this week's discussions at the DC Mothership marked the top board's first gathering led by the new conference executive, Houston's Cardinal Daniel DiNardo and Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles (top left), whose historic election as the bench's president and vice-president days after the White House vote was widely seen as a sign of the church's resolve on the immigration front in the face of the campaign season's scorching rhetoric on the issue.

With that context in mind, here's the entire Admin statement – billed as a "pastoral reflection" bearing the title "Living as a People of God in Unsettled Times":
The word of God is truly alive today. "When an alien resides with you in your land, do not mistreat such a one. You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; you shall love the alien as yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt" (Lev. 19:33-34).

To live as a people of God is to live in the hope of the resurrection. To live in Christ is to draw upon the limitless love of Jesus to fortify us against the temptation of fear. Pray that our engagement in the debate over immigration and refugee issues may bring peace and comfort to those most affected by current and proposed national policy changes.

Let us not lose sight of the fact that behind every policy is the story of a person in search of a better life. They may be an immigrant or refugee family sacrificing so that their children might have a brighter future. As shepherds of a pilgrim Church, we will not tire in saying to families who have the courage to set out from their despair onto the road of hope: "We are with you." They may also be a family seeking security from an increased threat of extremist violence. It is necessary to safeguard the United States in a manner that does not cause us to lose our humanity.

Intense debate is essential to healthy democracy, but the rhetoric of fear does not serve us well. When we look at one another do we see with the heart of Jesus? Within our diverse backgrounds are found common dreams for our children. Hope in the next generation is how the nation will realize its founding motto, "out of many, one." In doing so, we will also realize God's hope for all His children: that we would see each other as valued sisters and brothers regardless of race, religion or national origin.

Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh (Jn. 1:14), strengthens us to bring our words to life. How might we, as Catholics and in our own small way, bring our words of solidarity for migrants and refugees to life?

1. Pray for an end to the root causes of violent hatred that force mothers and fathers to flee the only home they may have known in search of economic and physical security for their children.

2. Meet with members of your parish who are newcomers, listen to their story and share your own. Hundreds of Catholic parishes across the country have programs for immigrants and refugees both to comfort them and to help them know their rights. It is also important to reach out in loving dialogue to those who may disagree with us. The more we come to understand each other's concerns the better we can serve one another. Together, we are one body in Christ.

3. Call, write or visit your elected representative and ask them to fix our broken immigration system in a way that safeguards both our security and our humanity through a generous opportunity for legal immigration.

As Pope Francis said, "To migrate is the expression of that inherent desire for the happiness proper to every human being, a happiness that is to be sought and pursued. For us Christians, all human life is an itinerant journey towards our heavenly homeland."

Friday, March 17, 2017

Irish or Not, Happy Indult Day

And on this third Friday of Lent, Top o' the Mornin' and Beannachtai la Fhéile – a blessed feast... at least, across most of the Stateside church.

Given the state of the discourse these days, it shouldn't come as a surprise that some folks have seen fit to scream about a sandwich. By and large, though, this year's edition of The Corned Beef Indult™ brought a record amount of consensus to St Paddy's table, with fully two-thirds of the US' 179 dioceses granting a deviation from Lenten abstinence for today's celebrations of the Apostle of Ireland.

Updated into this morning as the stragglers roll in, for the convenience of the faithful the full Master List of the dispensed is below. That said, as the overwhelming bulk of permissions come with the stipulation or encouragement that another sacrifice be substituted instead of avoiding meat, those who plan to partake are advised to check their local church's website/social media for the specific conditions that apply.

Again, to one and all, however you celebrate (or not), here's to a day of grace... and to everyone who pitched in on compiling The List, Go raibh míle maith agat – a thousand thanks.
For the commemoration of St Patrick, 17 March 2017, the following local churches are generally dispensed or granted commutation from Lenten abstinence by act of the respective (arch)bishop or the proper solemnity of the diocesan patron – conditions/substitions may vary by jurisdiction:

All dioceses of Wisconsin and Georgia (by common action)

Archdioceses of Anchorage, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Dubuque, Galveston-Houston, Hartford, Indianapolis, Kansas City in Kansas, Los Angeles, Louisville, Miami, The Military Services USA, Mobile, Newark, New Orleans, New York, Omaha, Philadelphia, Saint Paul and Minneapolis, San Antonio, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington DC

Dioceses of Albany, Allentown, Arlington, Austin, Baton Rouge, Beaumont, Belleville, Birmingham, Boise, Bridgeport, Brooklyn, Brownsville, Buffalo, Burlington, Camden, Charleston, Cleveland, Colorado Springs, Corpus Christi, Covington, Dallas, Davenport, Des Moines, Duluth, Erie, Fall River, Fargo, Fort Wayne-South Bend, Fort Worth, Fresno, Gary, Gaylord, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Honolulu, Jackson, Jefferson City, Joliet, Juneau, Kalamazoo, Kansas City-St Joseph, Knoxville, Lafayette (La.), Las Cruces, Las Vegas, Lexington, Manchester, Memphis, Metuchen, Nashville, Norwich, Oakland, Ogdensburg, Owensboro, Palm Beach, Paterson, Peoria, Pensacola-Tallahassee, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Portland (Maine), Providence, Raleigh, Rochester, Rockford, Rockville Centre, Sacramento, St Augustine, St Cloud, St Petersburg, San Bernardino, San Diego, Scranton, Spokane, Springfield (Mass.), Springfield-Cape Girardeau, Steubenville, Stockton, Syracuse, Toledo, Tucson, Tyler, Venice (Florida), Victoria, Wheeling-Charleston, Wilmington, Winona, Worcester, Yakima, Youngstown

Thursday, March 16, 2017

For Wyoming, A Border Bishop – In "Rapid" Move, Cheyenne Nabs Its Neighbor

(Updated with press conference video.)

When one senior American prelate recently termed the new Nuncio to Washington "a real Speedy Gonzalez" on the appointments front, he wasn't kidding – even if Archbishop Christophe Pierre's prior assignment ostensibly went forgotten in the moment.

As fresh proof of a striking acceleration on the Stateside files since Pierre's Border-crossing last summer, Roman Noon this Thursday brings quite the "speedy" surprise: after a vacancy of just over five months, the Pope has named Fr Steve Biegler, 58 next week – until now vicar-general of Rapid City and Rector of Western South Dakota's Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help – as the ninth bishop of Cheyenne: Wyoming's statewide diocese of 60,000 members, spread across almost 100,000 square miles.

Once described in the same breath as "low-key [and] super-organized" and elsewhere as "humble with a quick smile," the bishop-elect – one of 13 children born onto his family's ranch – succeeds now-Archbishop Paul Etienne, who earned sky-high marks among the Cowboy State's priests and people before being quickly promoted to Anchorage last October. While Biegler's Indiana-born predecessor famously reveled in the outdoorsman's paradise that came with the Wyoming post, the incoming bishop is quite possibly even better adapted to his new turf given the proximity of the move; located along the far edge of the SoDak's "West River" half, Rapid City is only some 30 miles from the eastern border of the Cheyenne church.

Ordained from the Pontifical North American College in 1993 at age 34 (after several years spent working on the family farm), until becoming the diocese's #2 in 2011, Biegler spent his priesthood in full-time ministry as a pastor and school chaplain with two exceptions: a three-year return to the NAC as its pastoral formation chief (2003-6) and his election from the trenches in 2010 as diocesan administrator of Rapid City – one of the nation's smallest and poorest local churches – amid a yearlong vacancy in the bishop's office.

The latter instance is especially notable in this case, as Biegler became administrator in the wake of then-Bishop Blase Cupich's departure for Spokane. Now a cardinal-member of the Congregation for Bishops – and, from that seat, the linchpin figure on practically any move in the American West – Cupich would've enjoyed a considerable amount of "steering clout" on the Wyoming nod. Along the same lines, that Etienne was a year ahead of his now-successor at the NAC is likewise something one shouldn't easily discount.

According to the Rapid Chancery, Biegler's ordination and installation in Cheyenne is set for June 5th.

Upon today's move, six Stateside Latin church sees remain vacant, another four led by (arch)bishops serving past the retirement age.

On the broader front, with the recent openings in three million-member dioceses now put to bed, in terms of prominence the current diocesan docket is led by the Pope's impending picks for Indianapolis and Cleveland, both of which are said to be gathering steam and likely to come in relatively short order.

That said, however, given the relatively small number of current diocesan vacancies, the focus and energy-level of the Stateside files is quickly shifting toward resolving the massive backlog of requests for auxiliary bishops from coast to coast, many of which have been piled up for two years or more. With roughly a dozen of the slots already filled over the last several months, it is likely that at least some 20 more assistant hats will be named over the coming year – a development which won't merely have ramifications in their respective dioceses, but above all on the shape of the (voting) membership of the conference of bishops, thus securing Francis' stamp on the church's national leadership and direction for the next decade and beyond.

SVILUPPO: And here, via Cheyenne's diocesan Facebook – in the relaxed style unique to the rural West on occasions like these – this morning's presser introducing the Ninth Bishop to his new charge....

Alas, no tales involving power tools this time.... Then again, given the burden that comes with the call, it could be said that just once was enough.


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Pontificatus Nostro Quinto

“And Jesus came into the quarters of Caesarea Philippi: and he asked his disciples, saying: Whom do men say that the Son of Man is?

But they said: Some John the Baptist, and other some Elias, and others Jeremias, or one of the prophets.

Jesus saith to them: But whom do you say that I am?

Simon Peter answered and said: Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God.

And Jesus answering, said to him: Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven.

And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven....
...just so we're clear, did He miss something?

With this stuff, see, it always helps to remember where to start.


Monday, March 06, 2017

Where's the (Licit) Beef? – Amid St Pat's (Fri)Day, The Indult Desk Is Open

(SVILUPPO: Following its most recent update, the Master List now comprises a record 120-plus US dioceses – fully two-thirds of the nation's Latin-church sees.)

Just because it's Lent doesn't mean there isn't some fun to be had... and in that light, this edition of the 40 Days just so happens to bring a long-awaited return to one of this shop's favorite exercises.

Eleven years ago, among the first splashes made here was a national take on what came to be termed the The Corned Beef Indult – that is, the dispensation granted by a diocesan bishop so the Irish faithful can enjoy the patronal sandwich with a clear conscience when St Patrick's Day falls on a Lenten Friday, thus pitting the feast against the obligatory abstinence from meat.

This year marks the first collision of the two observances since, and in most cases the announcements are just beginning to bubble up, numbering over 40 so far. As history goes, in 2006 the general permission was given by nearly half of the nation's 179 Latin-church jurisdictions.

In any case, this is indeed a thing – if you will, the "Amoris Wars" for the non-chattering class (just without the invective). That the story takes on a life of its own in local media and over dinner tables is a sound testimony to two linchpin realities an "anger first" discourse seems to easily forget: first, that the identity-marker of "Fish Fridays" holds an enduring place among the faithful, with the practice maintained by close to a supermajority of American Catholicism's 70 million souls (per CARA figures)... even more significantly, meanwhile, it just goes to show again that when it comes to widespread fascination with this faith, nothing beats even the relatively minor elements of the Catholic imagination (however much Dan Brown may try).

Before going into this edition's master list of dispensed dioceses, a couple pieces of context bear recalling.

First, in those places where the Apostle of Ireland is the patron of the diocese or of the parish church, within said territory Paddymas ranks as a proper solemnity, thus exempting the obligatory abstinence from meat by the law itself. Among other examples, this is the case in New York, and was clarified as such by Cardinal Timothy Dolan in a late January letter to his priests.

To be fully specific, that general rule only applies where Patrick is patron of the diocese, not diocese-wide where he's patron of the cathedral – unless his diocesan patronal status is likewise formally in place, the cathedral's name-day only ranks as a proper feast and mandatory abstinence remains intact. (In another related instance, as St Joseph's Day and Annunciation are universal solemnities, abstinence is not observed across the Catholic world whenever March 19th or 25th fall on a Friday.)

Second, even as the bulk of the 70 million Stateside faithful will likely get the green light at the diocesan level owing to large-scale Irish populations and simple concern for the welfare of souls, it bears recalling that – in cases where a diocesan indult hasn't been granted – pastors of parishes may dispense their own people from avoiding meat given "just cause" as with any Lenten Friday; this is usually done on an individual basis by request (for example, for a parishioner attending a wedding rehearsal dinner with meat on the menu).

Just to name three, Detroit, Portland (Oregon) and Salt Lake have gone that route this year in lieu of the blanket indult, while the diocese of Trenton and archdiocese of St Louis are only granting the permissions to functions held on church property (for the latter, a notably more restrictive stance than then-Archbishop Raymond Burke took there last time). Elsewhere, keeping with their shared reputation for seeking to bolster an ironclad Catholic identity, the archdiocese of Denver and diocese of Lincoln are the lone US sees to have publicly denied granting a broad dispensation.

Thirdly, to be clear, nobody's getting off scot-free regardless of local policy – in each instance where the indult's been granted, the move is accompanied by a pro forma encouragement (albeit not an order) that abstinence should either be transferred to the prior or following day, or that some other act of penance or charity be substituted for digging into the beef. In any event, those traveling on the 17th itself are bound by the decision of the diocese in which they happen to be, not that of the place where they reside.

All that said, just because you don't see your own local church listed below doesn't mean you're out of luck – if anything, these announcements are usually made with little fanfare, or simply circulated internally to the parishes.

Ergo, as the following was initially compiled from publicly available notices, the list will be kept updated as the day approaches, so wherever a permission has been granted and isn't noted here, please do send it along – you can email it, tweet it... and given the priority on getting word around, even the combox is open. (NB: anything not germane to the topic will not be published.)

And lastly, much as keeping you lot out of Hell (at least, on this count) is its own reward, alas, that alone can't pay the bills – as ever, these pages keep afloat solely by means of your support....

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For the commemoration of St Patrick, 17 March 2017, the following local churches are generally dispensed or granted a commutation from Lenten abstinence by act of the respective (arch)bishop or the proper solemnity of the diocesan patron – conditions/substitions may vary by jurisdiction:

All dioceses of Wisconsin and Georgia

Archdioceses of Anchorage, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Dubuque, Galveston-Houston, Hartford, Indianapolis, Kansas City in Kansas, Los Angeles, Louisville, Miami, The Military Services USA, Mobile, Newark, New Orleans, New York, Omaha, Philadelphia, Saint Paul and Minneapolis, San Antonio, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington DC

Dioceses of Albany, Allentown, Arlington, Austin, Baton Rouge, Beaumont, Belleville, Birmingham, Boise, Bridgeport, Brooklyn, Brownsville, Buffalo, Burlington, Camden, Charleston, Cleveland, Colorado Springs, Corpus Christi, Covington, Dallas, Davenport, Des Moines, Duluth, Erie, Fall River, Fargo, Fort Wayne-South Bend, Fort Worth, Fresno, Gary, Gaylord, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Honolulu, Jackson, Jefferson City, Joliet, Juneau, Kalamazoo, Kansas City-St Joseph, Knoxville, Lafayette (La.), Las Cruces, Las Vegas, Lexington, Manchester, Memphis, Metuchen, Nashville, Norwich, Oakland, Ogdensburg, Owensboro, Palm Beach, Paterson, Pensacola-Tallahassee, Peoria, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Portland (Maine), Providence, Raleigh, Rochester, Rockford, Rockville Centre, Sacramento, St Augustine, St Cloud, St Petersburg, San Bernardino, San Diego, Scranton, Spokane, Springfield (Mass.), Springfield-Cape Girardeau, Steubenville, Stockton, Syracuse, Toledo, Tucson, Tyler, Venice (Florida), Victoria, Wheeling-Charleston, Wilmington, Winona, Worcester, Yakima, Youngstown

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

"Repent and Believe" – In Lent, "A Time To Breathe Again"

A journey and grace at least a few of us need even more this time around, to one and all, every blessing and richness of these 40 Days....

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Usually cited as the most-crowded day of the church year across the Anglophone world – a reality most powerfully underscored by the upwards of 60,000 who customarily flock for ashes at St Patrick's Cathedral in New York – this Lent's opening word nonetheless comes from the first Roman Station: the centuries-old practice continued tonight on the Aventine Hill, as the Pope led the penitential procession from the Benedictine mother-house at Sant'Anselmo to the Dominican-run Santa Sabina for Mass (readings).

Here, the official translation of Francis' homily:
“Return to me with all your heart… return to the Lord” (Jl 2:12, 13). The prophet Joel makes this plea to the people in the Lord’s name. No one should feel excluded: “Assemble the aged, gather the children, even infants at the breast, the bridegroom… and the bride” (v. 16). All the faithful people are summoned to come and worship their God, “for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (v. 13).

We too want to take up this appeal; we want to return to the merciful heart of the Father. In this season of grace that begins today, we once again turn our eyes to his mercy. Lent is a path: it leads to the triumph of mercy over all that would crush us or reduce us to something unworthy of our dignity as God’s children. Lent is the road leading from slavery to freedom, from suffering to joy, from death to life. The mark of the ashes with which we set out reminds us of our origin: we were taken from the earth, we are made of dust. True, yet we are dust in the loving hands of God, who has breathed his spirit of life upon each one of us, and still wants to do so. He wants to keep giving us that breath of life that saves us from every other type of breath: the stifling asphyxia brought on by our selfishness, the stifling asphyxia generated by petty ambition and silent indifference – an asphyxia that smothers the spirit, narrows our horizons and slows the beating of our hearts. The breath of God’s life saves us from this asphyxia that dampens our faith, cools our charity and strangles every hope. To experience Lent is to yearn for this breath of life that our Father unceasingly offers us amid the mire of our history.

The breath of God’s life sets us free from the asphyxia that so often we fail to notice, or become so used to that it seems normal, even when its effects are felt. We think it is normal because we have grown so accustomed to breathing air in which hope has dissipated, the air of glumness and resignation, the stifling air of panic and hostility.

Lent is the time for saying no. No to the spiritual asphyxia born of the pollution caused by indifference, by thinking that other people’s lives are not my concern, and by every attempt to trivialize life, especially the lives of those whose flesh is burdened by so much superficiality. Lent means saying no to the toxic pollution of empty and meaningless words, of harsh and hasty criticism, of simplistic analyses that fail to grasp the complexity of problems, especially the problems of those who suffer the most. Lent is the time to say no to the asphyxia of a prayer that soothes our conscience, of an almsgiving that leaves us self-satisfied, of a fasting that makes us feel good. Lent is the time to say no to the asphyxia born of relationships that exclude, that try to find God while avoiding the wounds of Christ present in the wounds of his brothers and sisters: in a word, all those forms of spirituality that reduce the faith to a ghetto culture, a culture of exclusion.

Lent is a time for remembering. It is the time to reflect and ask ourselves what we would be if God had closed his doors to us. What would we be without his mercy that never tires of forgiving us and always gives us the chance to begin anew? Lent is the time to ask ourselves where we would be without the help of so many people who in a thousand quiet ways have stretched out their hands and in very concrete ways given us hope and enabled us to make a new beginning.

Lent is the time to start breathing again. It is the time to open our hearts to the breath of the One capable of turning our dust into humanity. It is not the time to rend our garments before the evil all around us, but instead to make room in our life for all the good we are able to do. It is a time to set aside everything that isolates us, encloses us and paralyzes us. Lent is a time of compassion, when, with the Psalmist, we can say: “Restore to us the joy of your salvation, sustain in us a willing spirit”, so that by our lives we may declare your praise (cf. Ps 51:12.15), and our dust – by the power of your breath of life - may become a “dust of love”.