Thursday, June 29, 2017

For The Cardinal-Prefect, "My Day in Court"

For all the spectacles the Vatican tends to witness, this one was simply surreal.

At the same dais where the Pope's major documents are unveiled and the global press briefed on Catholicism's showcase events – on what's usually one of the most joyous feasts of the year – today the Curia's third-ranking cardinal addressed his new fate as the church's most senior figure by far to face criminal charges of sexual abuse:

To understand the full import of Cardinal George Pell's return to Australia to appear in court and "clear my name," there's more to it than his current profile as the founding Secretary for the Economy, initially entrusted by Pope Francis with sweeping powers over finances and personnel across the Holy See's sprawling apparatus.

Indeed, what makes the 76 year-old prelate's quick move to go home for an 18 July initial hearing so significant is that Pell has not returned to his homeland since departing in early 2014 to take up his Vatican post – neither for the late 2014 installation of his hand-picked successor in Sydney, Archbishop Anthony Fisher, nor for what became a four day summons to testify before the national inquiry on religious institutions' handling of child abuse, obtained by video link from Rome.

With the scenario of a first-ever court process against a cardinal on sex crimes alleged by "multiple claimants" – the precise nature of which have not been clarified by law enforcement in his native state of Victoria – the Italian media's traditional summer "soap opera" involving the church is now set, albeit some 4,000 miles afield.

Still, despite the inevitable circus that will surround the scrutiny on one of the top rank's most enduring figures – a presence on the global scene over some two decades – for the apex of the Catholic world, it just doesn't get more serious than this.

For starters, even as Pell announced his own "leave" from his Vatican duties – and the Holy See's lead spokesman, Greg Burke, indicated that the cardinal would not "participate in public liturgies" for the duration of the judicial process – the moves amount to a de facto suspension from ministry.

Regardless of whose volition spurred the act, a recusal of the kind is without precedent for a top Curial official. What's more, however, while two decades of revelations of abuse and cover-up have been treated as a political football among the church's ideological camps, Pell is one of the few major prelates whose trajectory and alliances cut across partisan lines.

Long a favorite of the Catholic right for his unapologetic approach to moral teachings, the Oxford-trained onetime fullback – who's long relished his reputation for being a "bull in a china shop" – was initially tapped by then-Pope Benedict XVI to take the helm of the Congregation for Bishops in 2009, a move which would've made the Aussie the first prelate from the English-speaking world to oversee the all-powerful body that recommends candidates for appointments to the pontiff.

In response, what was widely perceived in Rome as a "smear campaign" went into overdrive, raising the specter of a 2002 allegation of abuse against the cardinal which dated to the 1960s. Though Pell had been cleared years earlier by an internal probe chartered by the archdiocese of Sydney, conducted by a retired judge – during which he stood aside as archbishop for several months – the ferocity of opposition to Benedict's plan led the now-retired Pope to scuttle the move before it was formally made. (Along the way, however, Pell's hard-charging style saw him successfully tackle another high-wire Vatican mission: as chair of the Vox Clara committee of senior prelates tasked with managing English liturgical translations, he led the push that brought the group's major project – the long-stymied overhaul of the Roman Missal – to completion and a historic implementation across the Anglophone world in 2011.)

Of course, that wouldn't be the end of the story. Perceived by many as angling for a Roman office from his days as an auxiliary in Melbourne – when, as one Curialist recalled, Pell "was always showing up" at the Vatican – the 2012 outbreak of the Vatileaks fiasco provided the cardinal with an opportunity for payback, and Benedict took him up on it, bringing Pell into an ad hoc group of cardinal-advisers Papa Ratzinger had convened on tackling the crisis.

Months later, the election of Pope Francis would surprisingly bring the Australian's rebound to its zenith – with his profile as a blunt, sharp-elbowed manager (and one seen as wronged by the Vatican's old guard), Pell's temporal acumen landed him a seat on the new pontiff's "Gang of 8" for the reform of the Curia (below), arguably the most surprising choice for the group given his conservative leanings.

Less than a year afterward, Francis would deliver the ultimate call – with the new Pope and his "crown council" determined to clean up the famously murky orbit of the Holy See's finances, Pell was unveiled as the choice to consolidate all control of budgets and investments under one umbrella, a first-ever CFO to replace the small village of separate entities which oversaw various pieces of the books, with varying degrees of success.

To say that the Aussie was ready would be an understatement – Pell's full-time arrival in Rome came shortly after the opening of the Domus Australia, a onetime convent converted into a hostel and event center for pilgrims from Down Under, with an ample living space already created for himself.

To be sure, though, if there was one area that the natives guarded more jealously than appointments, it was the money – and Francis' putting Pell in charge of it was greeted as something of an apocalyptic event. Unlike Benedict, however, Papa Bergoglio's Italian stubbornness wouldn't be as easily conquered.

At least, that's how it seemed at the start. While Francis has stood by his man – re-confirming the cardinal's position after he reached the retirement age of 75 last year – the Curia's penchant for bureaucratic turf-war has challenged Pell's mandate at practically every turn and made significant inroads against the new bureau's initial remit, most prominently in last year's move to suspend a first-ever external audit of all Vatican entities, which had been ordered by the Secretariat.

At the same time, the financial reform hit another major speed-bump last week as Libero Milone – the freshly empowered auditor-general hired by Pell's team – suddenly resigned from the post as reports on the move spoke of an unspecified "ugly situation" that could "get worse."

Amid the fallout from Milone's surprise departure, the Council for the Economy – the mixed group of  15 top prelates and lay experts to which Pell's Secretariat reports – had already summoned its members to an extraordinary meeting set for early July in Rome to discuss the way forward. With the new development of the charges against the cardinal-prefect – and no clarity yet on the leadership of the Economy office in the wake of Pell's leave for the court case – any long-term resolutions just became considerably more difficult.

Back in Australia, meanwhile, the indictment has come as a fresh firestorm for a church already struggling under a cloud of abuse developments. With the cardinal's polarizing shadow ever looming large despite years of absence from the scene, the nation's hierarchy has spent 2017 bracing for what's widely expected to be a damning report from the national inquiry on sex-abuse in religious institutions, which is due by the end of its mandate in mid-December.

Beyond the wide attention – and equal heaping of scorn – that Pell's 2016 testimony to the Royal Commission drew, the Australian archbishops were likewise deposed at length by the panel last February. And in another moment of major impact, a rising star of the Aussie bench – Vietnamese-born Franciscan Bishop Vincent Long of Parramatta – revealed to the probe that he had been a victim of abuse by a cleric.

All the while, another major shoe from Rome is likely soon to drop: the Pope's appointment of the next archbishop of Melbourne – already a critical move given the city's place as the continent's largest local church, yet now even more of a "hot seat" as the venue for Pell's state trial on the charges.

In a letter released after the charges were filed, Sydney's Fisher – himself a civil lawyer – warned his clergy and people that his predecessor's return to face justice "will be unsettling for many of us."

While defending Pell as "a man of integrity in his dealings with others... a thoroughly decent man," the archbishop emphasized that "we must now allow the impartial pursuit of justice," adding that the church "is not responsible" for the cardinal's legal costs and won't be footing them.

Keeping with Australian conventions for the accused, a recent biography which levied a new allegation of abuse by Pell has been pulled from sale in Victoria pending the trial. On another context note, the southern coastal state does not allow cameras in its courts, so the impending hearings will not be filmed nor televised.


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

So, folks, another "Scarlet Bowl" is now in the books... but its full picture is still to be had. And as the usual clearing of desks that marks the end of the "Vatican Year" is only just getting underway, in terms of news, there's simply no end in sight.

Even if it's already made for quite the week in the mine, don't be surprised that – both at home and from Rome – there's more to come....

At least, if you’ll make it happen.

As this shop has its bills to pay – and at month's end, the costs especially tend to gang up – yet again, the reminder's in order that these pages keep running solely by means of your support:

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SVILUPPO (9pm ET, Wed 28 June) – In a watershed development after a lengthy, high-profile investigation, early Thursday morning in Australia, law enforcement in the state of Victoria made the blockbuster announcement that Cardinal George Pell – Pope Francis' hand-picked field marshal to lead a wholesale financial reform of the Vatican as Secretary of the Economy, as well as a member of the pontiff's "Gang of 9" principal advisers for the revamping the Roman Curia – had been charged with multiple "historical sexual assault offenses" and was summoned to appear in court there on July 18th:

For clarity's sake, the counts against Pell – now, by far, global Catholicism's highest-ranking cleric to face criminal scrutiny on sex-abuse claims – are not tied to the work of the Royal Commission (the years-long Federal inquiry on abuse in religious institutions), its final report expected to be released late this year.

Formerly the archbishop of both Sydney and Melbourne – respectively the Australian church's most prominent and largest outposts – Pell testified before the national probe over four days in early 2016 via videolink from Rome, after the cardinal's legal team argued that his health prevented him from returning home. At that time, a viral song released by the Aussie comedian/musician Tim Minchin which blasted Pell whilst beseeching him to "come home" and face the moment topped the continent's singles charts over its week of release; the song's effect likewise fueled a successful crowdfunding push that allowed a group of survivors from the cardinal's home-diocese of Ballarat (in Victoria) to make the trip and watch his testimony in person.

Having "strenuously denied" the charges anew in a written statement issued overnight, Pell is slated to make a live response to the media – from no less than the Holy See Press Office – at 8.30 Thursday morning in Rome (2.30am ET, 4.30pm Sydney), an hour before the Pope's major Mass on this feast of Saints Peter and Paul.

As ever, no shortage of context and institutional memory are needed to flesh out this story, and this shop has a good bit of it stocked up...

..but when it comes to the Economy, well, that's the one job here that belongs to the other side of the screen. And with what's now on deck – long, complex and ugly as it's bound to be – the necessary high-grade content will only be possible with this readership's according backup.


To Cardinals New and Old, "Jesus Has Not Called You To Be 'Princes,' But To Serve"

From St Peter's Basilica, here's the on-demand video of this morning's Public Consistory for the elevation of five new cardinals:

Marking yet another historic shift for the Pope's "Senate" – that is, Francis' "extreme makeover" of its composition and a banishment of the role's historic prestige – the pontiff underscored his intents in an address as brief as it is loaded, having chosen Jesus' Gospel warning against ambition as the Scripture reading for today's rites:
“Jesus was walking ahead of them”. This is the picture that the Gospel we have just read (Mk 10:32-45) presents to us. It serves as a backdrop to the act now taking place: this Consistory for the creation of new Cardinals.

Jesus walks resolutely towards Jerusalem. He knows fully what awaits him there; on more than one occasion, he spoke of it to his disciples. But there is a distance between the heart of Jesus and the hearts of the disciples, which only the Holy Spirit can bridge. Jesus knows this, and so he is patient with them. He speaks to them frankly and, above all, he goes before them. He walks ahead of them.

Along the way, the disciples themselves are distracted by concerns that have nothing to do with the “direction” taken by Jesus, with his will, which is completely one with that of the Father”. So it is that, as we heard, the two brothers James and John think of how great it would be to take their seats at the right and at the left of the King of Israel (cf. v. 37). They are not facing reality! They think they see, but they don’t. They think they know, but they don’t. They think they understand better than the others, but they don’t....

For the reality is completely different. It is what Jesus sees and what directs his steps. The reality is the cross. It is the sin of the world that he came to take upon himself, and to uproot from the world of men and women. It is the innocent who suffer and die as victims of war and terrorism; the forms of enslavement that continue to violate human dignity even in the age of human rights; the refugee camps which at times seem more like a hell than a purgatory; the systematic discarding of all that is no longer useful, people included.

This is what Jesus sees as he walks towards Jerusalem. During his public ministry he made known the Father’s tender love by healing all who were oppressed by the evil one (cf. Acts 10:38). Now he realizes that the moment has come to press on to the very end, to eliminate evil at its root. And so, he walks resolutely towards the cross.

We too, brothers and sisters, are journeying with Jesus along this path. I speak above all to you, dear new Cardinals. Jesus “is walking ahead of you”, and he asks you to follow him resolutely on his way. He calls you to look at reality, not to let yourselves be distracted by other interests or prospects. He has not called you to become “princes” of the Church, to “sit at his right or at his left”. He calls you to serve like him and with him. To serve the Father and your brothers and sisters. He calls you to face as he did the sin of the world and its effects on today’s humanity. Follow him, and walk ahead of the holy people of God, with your gaze fixed on the Lord’s cross and resurrection.

And now, with faith and through the intercession of the Virgin Mother, let us ask the Holy Spirit to bridge every gap between our hearts and the heart of Christ, so that our lives may be completely at the service of God and all our brothers and sisters.

"Broaden Your Gaze and Open Your Hearts": For Laos, Ikea – and Romero – The Scarlet Is Served

Much as the journey is the same, the scene today is rather different.

For one, no prelate in his right mind would be caught dead wearing the old Cappello Romano in these times...

...yet most of all, here we go again – another crop of new cardinals drawn mostly, like the Pope who made them, "from the edge of the world."

In a shift from ancient practice, the Consistory to create five voting members of the papal "Senate" will take place in the afternoon – 4pm Rome time on this Wednesday's vigil of Saints Peter and Paul. (The live video will appear here at the time, and the ritual booklet – with English translations – is already up.)

Among other benefits, the change of hour ends the routine early-morning havoc around the Vatican preceding a Scarlet Bowl, as the usual crush of far-flung pilgrims would start queuing up from 2 or 3am to ensure their spots in the Basilica. In any event, given the size of the crop – the smallest since Blessed Paul VI inducted four with his final class in 1977 (four decades ago this week) – the logistics are much more manageable than with the "mega-Consistories" elevating a dozen or more Porporati, which've been the usual case over recent decades.

That said, for the second time running, the entire College has not been summoned to Rome for this week's doings, and the daylong consultation both Francis and Benedict XVI have usually held with the body likewise won't take place again.

While no one should be surprised that the session's absence has been ideologized in some quarters, in reality the rationale is the result of Francis' procrastination. Unlike the pontiff's first two classes – which were slated several months in advance – both last November's intake and this one were decided upon at the last minute, and having once been a cardinal an ocean away with better things to do than upend a full schedule for a long flight and week in Rome, convoking the global College on a month's notice is a practice the Pope has been resolutely determined to avoid.

As an example of the haul, though many US and Latin American red-hats have direct flights or something close, among more recent creations, Tonga's Cardinal Soane Paini Mafi – the first ecclesial "prince" to be given the island's minority fold of 15,000 Catholics – has to make three or four connections over a 24-hour trip and, despite being a relatively young 55, collapsed while making the journey for Curial meetings in April.

Yet speaking of the "peripheries" which form this pontificate's philosophical core, this Consistory marks a particularly salient milestone: while Francis will have chosen forty percent of his successor's eventual electors once the new crop's names are formally pronounced at the rites, another stat puts the new shape of things in an even clearer context – with this wave's additions of Mali, Sweden, Laos and El Salvador, Papa Bergoglio has named 13 cardinals with voting rights who are each the first representatives of their home-countries in the College.

In other words, that group now comprises more than 10 percent of the total electorate for the first time.

Still, even that doesn't completely put the ramifications of this shift in full light... one needs a completely different angle of looking at it.

Over days like these, see, the world is told almost ad nauseam that the College of Cardinals "chooses the next Pope." The actual point, however, is hidden within that: 

One of them will be the next Pope.

And when you remember how Conclave Math works, even if nothing else changes after this morning, the "shape of the pieces" when that day comes has already shattered the mould from anything that's preceded it.

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As recent history goes, each of Francis' addresses to his new red-hats ranks among the most loaded messages he's given as Pope, and another of the line is duly expected at this morning's liturgy.

That said, though, the text which seems to have made the greatest impression on this front is a far shorter, simpler one: the letter the pontiff sent to his first class of 19 cardinals-designate on revealing their names in January 2014, and subsequently released by the Vatican....
Dear brother,

On the day that your designation as part of the College of Cardinals is made public, I wish to send you a cordial greeting along with the guarantee of my closeness and prayer. It is my hope that, joined with the Church of Rome and “clothed in the virtues and sentiments of the Lord Jesus,” you may help me with fraternal efficacy in my service to the Universal Church.

The cardinalate does not imply promotion; it is neither an honour nor a decoration; it is simply a service that requires you to broaden your gaze and open your hearts. And, although this may appear paradoxical, the ability to look further and to love more universally with greater intensity may be acquired only by following the same path of the Lord: the path of self-effacement and humility, taking on the role of a servant. Therefore I ask you, please, to receive this designation with a simple and humble heart. And, while you must do so with pleasure and joy, ensure that this sentiment is far from any expression of worldliness or from any form of celebration contrary to the evangelical spirit of austerity, sobriety and poverty.

Until we meet, then, on 20 February... I remain at your disposal and ask you, please, to pray for me and to ask for prayers on my behalf.

May Jesus bless you and the Holy Virgin protect you. 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

"The Lord Asks Us To Carry On" – On Pope's Jubilee, "Hope Is Without Walls"

Twenty-five years ago, Fr Jorge Mario Bergoglio lived in "exile," the enemies who consigned him to it resting comfortably in the thought that the polarizing Jesuit would never meaningfully resurface again.

But then, all of a sudden, he came back even stronger.

Early this morning, as the 266th Bishop of Rome marked the silver jubilee of his banishment's surprise end with his ordination as an auxiliary of Buenos Aires (above), that past is prologue... and facing yet another crop of internal critics who'd like to similarly cast him off the map, the message from the now-Pope Francis can be paraphrased in four simple words:

"I'm not dead yet."

Observed with a low-key Mass in the Pauline Chapel – the same venue where the newly-elected Papa Bergoglio later said he was "transformed" as he prayed before facing the world in white for the first time – today's anniversary is far from the top line of this week's news, but it arguably provides the key to understanding the rest.

More on that later – for now, here's the Vatican translation of Francis' homily for the occasion:
In the first Letter we have heard how the dialogue continues between God and Abraham, that dialogue that begins with that “Go from your country…” (Gen 12: 1). And in this continuation of the dialogue, we find three imperatives: “Arise!”, “Look!”, “Hope!”. Three imperatives that mark the road Abraham must travel, and also the way in which he must do so, the inner attitude: arise, look, hope.

“Arise!”. Get up, walk, do not stay still. You have a task, you have a mission and you must fulfil it on the move. Do not stay seated: get up, on your feet. And Abraham begins to walk. On the move, always. And the symbol of this is the tent. The Book of Genesis says that Abraham went forth with a tent, and when he stopped he pitched his tent. But Abraham had made a house for himself, while there was this imperative: “Arise!”. He built only an altar: the only thing. To adore Him, He Who ordered him to get up, to go on the road, with his tent. “Arise!”

“Look!”. The second imperative. “Look around from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west” (Gen, 13: 14). Look. Look to the horizon, do not build walls. Always look. And go ahead. And the mysticism of the horizon is that the more you go ahead, the farther away the horizon it. Look ahead, head forward, walking, but always towards the horizon.

The third imperative is, “Hope!”. There is that beautiful dialogue: “[Lord], you have given me no children, so a servant in my household will be my heir” – “A son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir”. Hope! (cf. Gen 15: 3-4). And this, said to a man who could not have had offspring, due both to his age and to his wife’s barrenness. But he will be “your own flesh and blood”. And your offspring will be “like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted” (Gen 13: 16). And a little later: “Look up at the sky and count the stars – if indeed you can count them. … So shall your offspring be”. And Abraham believed, and the Lord credited to him as righteousness (cf. Gen 15: 5-6). In the faith of Abraham there begins that righteousness that [the Apostle] Paul will carry on in his explanation of righteousness.

“Arise! Look! The horizon, no walls, the horizon – hope!” And hope is without walls, it is pure horizon.

But when Abraham was called, he had more or less our age: he was about to retire, to rest…. He started at that age. An elderly man, with the burden of old age, that old age that brings pains, illnesses. … But you, as if you were a youngster, get up, go, go! As if he were a scout: go! Look and hope. And this Word of God is also for us, who are about the same age as Abraham… more or less – there are some young ones here, but the majority are at that age – and to us today the Lord says the same thing: “Get up! Look! Hope!” He tells us that it is not the time to close up our lives, not to bring our history to a close, not to start compiling our history. The Lord tells us that our history is open, still: it is open right up to the end, it is open with a mission. And with these three imperatives He indicates the mission: “Arise! Look! Hope!”

Some, who does not wish us well say that we are the gerontocracy of the Church. It is an insult. They do not understand what they are saying: we are not geriatrics, we are grandfathers, we are grandfathers. And if we do not feel this, we must ask for the grace to feel it. Grandparents whom our grandchildren look up to. Grandparents who must give a meaning to their life with our experience. Not grandparents wrapped up in the melancholy of our history, but open to give this. And for us, this “arise, look, hope” is called “dreaming”. We are grandfathers called upon to dream and to give our dream to the youth of today: they are in need of it. Because they will take from our dreams the strength to prophesy and to go ahead in their task.

There comes to my mind that passage from the Gospel of Luke (2: 21-38), Simeon and Anna: two grandparents, but how much capacity for dreaming they had, those two! And all this dream they told to St. Joseph, to Our Lady, to the people… And Anna went around chatting here and there, and said, “It is He! It is He!”, and she told the dream of His life. And this is what the Lord asks of us today: not to close ourselves up, but to give the best of ourselves: they expect this from our experience, from our positive dreams, to carry ahead the prophecy and the work.

I ask the Lord for all of us that He give us this grace. Also for those who have not yet become grandfathers: let us see the president of [the bishops of] Brazil [Ed.: Cardinal Sergio da Rocha of Brasilia, 57], he is a youngster... but he will get there! The grace of being grandfathers, the grace of dreaming, of giving that dream to our young people: they need it.

For Allentown, The Hat Is Home – Longtime VG Gets Upstate Chair

(Updated 2.30pm ET with presser video, etc.)

For the last twenty years, Msgr Al Schlert has been the closest collaborator to the last three bishops of Allentown.

And now, he's the Fifth Bishop of Allentown.

Deciding the next chapter of the 280,000-member upstate Pennsylvania fold in just over six months, at Roman Noon this Tuesday the Pope named the 55 year-old native son as successor to Bishop John Barres, who was transferred to Long Island's 1.6 million-Catholic behemoth of Rockville Centre last December. (At left, Schlert's seen at a 2016 event to support the horses of a local mounted police unit.)

With the move, the bishop-elect becomes the first Lehigh Valley product to head its local church since Allentown was spun off from the archdiocese of Philadelphia in 1961 (fittingly, the year of Schlert's birth). Then again, that independence was fairly cosmetic for most of the last half-century – until Barres' appointment in 2009, the diocese's first three bishops had all been auxiliaries down the Northeast Extension of the Turnpike, a quirk which made the place seem less its own shop than a vicariate of the Pharaohs, even as Allentown priests came to be named bishops elsewhere.

Ordained in 1988, Schlert spent a decade in the trenches before becoming secretary to then-Bishop Thomas Welsh, quickly rising to vicar-general a year later (at 37) on the arrival of Bishop Edward Cullen and remaining in the #2 post ever since. Along the way, he's become well-steeped in the church's activity at state level thanks to a longtime involvement with the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference – the bishops' joint lobbying arm in Harrisburg – of which he's already vice-president.

During his early years in ministry, meanwhile, today's pick notably echoes several of Francis' other Stateside appointees in having served in college campus ministry, in Schlert's case three years as chaplain at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, during which time he doubled up as a teacher at his high-school alma mater, Notre Dame in Easton.

While it's indeed rare that an administrator is tapped to permanently fill the vacancy he's managing, it seems almost as elusive of late that the lead deputy to a departing bishop is even elected to the temporary post. Just over recent months, the consultors of both Raleigh and Nashville each went beyond the respective officials already in place, in both cases choosing well-regarded retired pastors as diocesan administrator in the hope of keeping their Chanceries in check until the respective next bishops arrive.

To be clear, moves of the kind send a potent signal to the Hatmakers on the state of a place... even if it seems not everyone in North Carolina has gotten the memo. (Read: "Yep, still chaotic.") In any case, that Schlert had obtained the local vote of confidence – one which, again, can't be taken for granted these days – allowed Rome to register its own in fairly rapid order.

As the scene in Allentown goes, even if Schlert's done two decades' worth of legwork behind the scenes, the fifth bishop steps into the spotlight with most of a sizable parish consolidation project – which merged the previous 121 communities into 84 – already in the can. (Just yesterday, the diocese announced the Vatican's rejection of another round of appeals from members of closed churches.) At the same time, however, with a sizable recent influx of Hispanic immigration ballooning the upstate fold's Latino bloc to almost 40 percent – by far the largest presence of its kind in a Pennsylvania diocese, per USCCB figures – it is conspicuous that the bishop-elect doesn't speak Spanish, at least not enough for the skill to be listed in the usual spot of his Vatican-issued biography, which does note his ability in Italian.

On another critical front, Allentown is one of six suffragan see currently under investigation by a statewide grand jury, which was empaneled last year after a similar probe uncovered decades of abuse and cover-up in the Midstate diocese of Altoona-Johnstown.

Begun last September with subpoenas of priests' records from the 1940s into the present from the dioceses of Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton alongside Allentown, the probe – in terms of scope, the most sprawling abuse inquiry to date into the US church – is expected to extend for several years.

With an 11am presser called at the Cathedral of St Catherine of Siena, Allentown Chancery has already announced that Schlert's ordination will take place there on Thursday, 31 August.

Upon today's move – and as the last appointments begin to roll out before the Curia's summer hiatus – five Stateside Latin-church sees remain vacant, with another five led by (arch)bishops serving past the retirement age of 75.

While the latter crop is led by Washington – where the ever-influential Cardinal Donald Wuerl reached the milestone in November 2015 – a transition in the nation's capital is not expected until at least the first half of next year. To that end, this December's dedication of the Trinity Dome – the massive mosaic "capstone" of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception – is being sensed in ranking circles as the beginning of the cardinal's "victory lap."

SVILUPPO: Brimming with enthusiasm for "teaching" – the church's, that is – here's fullvid of this morning's local introduction (presser begins at 4-minute mark)....


Thursday, June 22, 2017

In San Francisco, The End of An Era – John Raphael Dies at 88

For the second time in a month, the City of St Francis is made to bury an archbishop... yet this time, it's the "Big One."

The figure who enshrined a progressive style of Catholicism to fit the nation's most liberal city, Archbishop John Raphael Quinn died early this morning at 88.

Head of the San Francisco church from 1977-95, the San Diego native – ordained a bishop at 38 – led the US bench as the modern conference's fourth president from 1977-80, amid the hierarchy's post-Conciliar zenith of action and activism.

Despite months of declining health, the news came suddenly nonetheless; Quinn had just been released from hospital last week and was said to be settling well into a nursing home, until his breathing became labored early today.

Referred to almost majestically in church circles as "John Raphael," the archbishop's condition had first taken a downturn last November in Rome, where he was on hand for the elevation of one of his proteges, now-Cardinal Blase Cupich, who tapped Quinn to pronounce the papal bull granting the Chicago prelate his titular church, St Bartholomew's on Tiber Island, as Cupich took possession of it. (In a similar vein, no shortage of eyebrows were raised at the latter's 2014 installation in Chicago, as the new archbishop pointedly placed Quinn at his side among the major concelebrants at the altar of Holy Name Cathedral, even with most of the American cardinals in attendance.)

Over his two decades at the helm by the Bay, Quinn's sense of the church's role in public life saw the archbishop become the first US prelate to meaningfully tackle the outbreak of AIDS, marshaling his Catholic Charities into its enduring role as the city's lead caregiver to the stricken, while most other locales remained stuck in misunderstandings on the epidemic or a lacking sense of its potential spread. Along the way, history was made in 1987 as – during his sprawling two-week Stateside tour – Pope John Paul II first met victims of the disease in San Francisco, among them two priests.

At the same time, by its mid-1990s end the archbishop's tenure had become mired under a cloud of controversies ranging from his handling of sex-abuse to parish closings, leading Quinn to seek a coadjutor at 66 as his allies accused the local media of "journalistic terrorism." In prior years, meanwhile, he had become the first known American Catholic leader to openly admit to a struggle with depression, entering treatment during a sabbatical in the late 1980s.

Having dedicated his retirement to research and writing on ecumenism – and, consequently, the reform of ecclesial structures to facilitate it – Quinn experienced something of a second spring under Pope Francis, who eagerly sought out the retiree as a sounding board for his own plans to enhance synodality in the Western church.

As the topic was the focus of the archbishop's 1999 book The Reform of the Papacy – written with an eye to rethinking the Pope's role in the name of Christian unity – much of Quinn's vision has come to bleed into Francis' mindset, a meld the pontiff expressed most daringly alongside the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew during the Pope's 2014 visit to Jerusalem, and in his landmark address in October 2015 to mark the 50th anniversary of the Synod of Bishops.

Even before the current pontificate, though, the Quinn renaissance was already underway with then-Pope Benedict XVI's elevation of several of his aides and favorites to the episcopacy, most of them shepherded onto the bench by his San Francisco successor, William Levada, from his eventual cardinal's seat on the Congregation for Bishops.

Led in tandem by Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe (Quinn's onetime secretary) and Bishop Bob McElroy of San Diego – his last vicar-general, now making an increasingly "disrupt"-ive imprint on the national stage – as one of the group once underscored to Whispers, "You say we're Levada's but, really, we're Quinn's."

In a notably effusive statement on the passing of his predecessor – reflecting the devotion with which the elder churchman was held – current San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone (above, with Quinn at his side) said in announcing the death that "our hearts are breaking at losing such a great priest and friend."

Funeral arrangements remain pending. Ever himself, however, Quinn will still have the final word – long in the works, the late prelate's last book was almost completed at the time of his passing, its focus on the First Vatican Council (1869-70), an event headlined by its definition of papal infallibility on matters of faith and morals.

According to Whispers ops close to John Raphael, the author spent his last weeks poring over the galleys from his sickbed.


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Ambrose, Charles... and Francis' Choice – In Italy (and Beyond), All Eyes on Milan

While late last week was supposed to be given to the Midsummer Classic – eventful as it was for a June meeting – more pressing developments have pushed the bench to the side... at least, the Stateside one.

As ever, news has its ways of disrupting the best-laid plans. Still, as sidetracks go, this instance brings the specter of a blockbuster: the most important personnel choice Pope Francis will make, bar none, is said to be on deck.

According to mounting reports from Italy over recent days, Papa Bergoglio has settled upon his pick for the archbishopric of Milan: with 5 million Catholics, Europe's largest diocese by far – above all, the Italian church's most critical assignment outside Rome thanks to the city's place as the country's financial and media hub, not to mention its top population center.

Upon his unveiling, Francis' choice will succeed Cardinal Angelo Scola, who reached the retirement age of 75 last November.

Long a favorite of Benedict XVI, the 2011 choice of Scola – Papa Ratzinger's decades-long collaborator on numerous fronts, above all in seeking to set the goalposts for a dialogue with post-modern culture – was merely the latest instance of how every Pope of the modern era has sought to send an unmistakable message with his appointment to the seat of Saints Ambrose and Charles (Borromeo).

Among others, three more recent turnovers of the post likewise stand out: Pius XII's 1954 call of his Co-Secretary of State, Msgr Giovanni Battista Montini, to the Lombard church, from which he would be elected nine years later as Pope Paul VI; now-St John Paul II's 1979 shock tap of the then-rector of the Gregorian, Fr Carlo Maria Martini, which served to launch the Jesuit Scripture scholar into cult figure status across broad swathes of progressives and others worldwide, then the 2002 choice of his successor, Dionigi Tettamanzi – already cardinal-archbishop of Genoa and, a decade prior, the primary ghostwriter of JPII's pro-life manifesto, Evangelium Vitae.

As a pontiff's ability to run the table only extends for the course of his own reign, beyond the confidence of his Maker in White – and with it, the Milanese prelate's day-to-day influence over the life of a mega-fold spread across 1,000-plus parishes – that five of the city's nine archbishops over the last century have either been beatified or elected to the papacy (or both) speaks to an enduring imprint long beyond their respective turns at its helm.

Indeed, in an act underscoring the post's nonpareil standing in papal eyes, Benedict continued the tradition (begun with Martini) of conferring Scola's pallium privately, in this case at Castel Gandolfo (above), instead of doing so alongside the world's other newly-named archbishops. In its last instance, however, the move echoed the 2002 moment when – breaking the norm that restricts the wool band to metropolitans – John Paul II placed it on the shoulders of Joseph Ratzinger, effectively singling out his eventual successor.

Accordingly, that Scola's considerable buzz as Papabile in 2013 was only short-circuited, at least in part, by sudden civil investigations into the cardinal's allies in local government – a probe which curiously leaked onto the front-pages of Italian papers on the very morning before the cardinals entered Conclave – just emphasized further both the outsize shadow of Milan and B16's unspoken "message" bolstering it. And in one of the most priceless "comic relief" moments that are Italian ecclesiastics' stock-in-trade, when the election was accomplished within 24 hours, the country's bishops' conference famously didn't let the the choice's actual identity prevent them from issuing a statement exulting over Scola as the new "Pope." (And especially these days, how that hasn't birthed a Fiat factory's worth of conspiracy theories is anyone's guess.)

In light of said lineage, then, whether the Milan pick comes this week, next month or (at the latest) early next year, it's nonetheless the ultimate venue for Francis – as both the first non-European Pope in over a millennium, and ever the son of Northern Italian emigres – to set his stamp, both for the direction of Catholicism on the "Boot" and across the wider church... let alone, on a personal level, serving as an especially meaningful act given his marked devotion both to the now-Blessed Montini – whose post-Conciliar efforts Francis sees himself as "picking up" after a half-century of Curial obstruction – and the late Martini, whose posthumously-released final interview given just before his August 2012 death (read: six months before the last Conclave) could be read as a "tell" into the election that followed on its heels, and the current moment writ large.

Within Italy itself, a new occupant for the Lombard seat – the place which, 18 centuries ago, witnessed the conversion and baptism of a certain Augustine – would cap an epochal hat-trick by Papa Bergoglio over recent weeks, following last month's appointment of now-Archbishop Angelo De Donatis, 63, a "career pastor" and spiritual director to priests, as Francis' Vicar for Rome, then his assent to the Italian bishops' choice of Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti of Perugia as the new president of their national conference, known as the CEI.

In both cases, the respective choices merely capped off trajectories signaled by the Pope himself: the preacher of the Lenten retreat for pontiff and Curia in 2014, De Donatis was catapulted into Rome's diocesan leadership a year later – when, in a rarity for one of his auxiliaries, Francis performed the ordination himself (right) in St John Lateran – while, in another shock to the system, Bassetti (a prior vice-president of the Italian bench) was plucked for the red hat in the Pope's first intake, as the cardinalate's traditional destinations in Venice and Turin were (and remain) bypassed.

On the other hand, meanwhile, both choices were the result of freshly-amplified attempts at consultation ordered from the Domus: for the Roman seat (technically the Pope's vicar-general), earlier this year Francis issued an open call for input among the clergy and faithful to be sent to him by mid-April, while in a first for the CEI's corner office – a key power-center of Italian life in the not-so-distant past – Bassetti's selection only came after the Italian bishops voted on a terna (three-man shortlist) of preferred presidents at last month's plenary, with the cardinal handily coming out on top.

That said, it is indeed conspicuous that – as the vicariate of Rome invariably brings its holder a red hat – despite having decided on De Donatis prior to his announcement of a Consistory next week, the Pope still opted against making a cardinal of the de facto head of his own diocese.

In a perfect world, that alone should end any complaints about any other place not seeing the scarlet again. Yet in an age that prefers decibel levels to actual context, it won't.

As speculation goes for Milan, listing potential names is only healthy as clickbait; in factual terms it's simply pointless in this case. Keeping with his established practice for other critical nods, it's an easy call that Francis will reserve the file to himself, taking his own soundings by phone, private letter or face-to-face and short-circuiting any debate or vote from the Congregation for Bishops.

While no shortage of possibilities have been buzzed about among Roman ops for months on end, the most scintillating among them – Pierbattista Pizzaballa, 52, the longtime head of the Franciscans' centuries-old mission in the Holy Land – is ostensibly off the table due to early days into his new assignment as archbishop-administrator of Jerusalem's Latin Patriarchate, armed with a mandate to remedy what he's termed "a critical situation, mainly financial" facing the jurisdiction which encompasses Israel, Palestine and Jordan. (And as one op summed up the scene facing the widely-regarded friar, "When an Italian's been sent in to fix the money, you really know it's bad.")

*   *   *
Immense as the expectation's running for Milan, however, Italy's super-seat is just one of three of the world's premier local churches awaiting the Pope's choice of a new leader in short order.

Likewise Catholicism's most sizable outposts on their respective continents, the archdioceses of Kinshasa and, as of early this month, Mexico City are now in play as their respective occupants have submitted their retirement letters. On the latter front, lest anyone forgot a certain "bombshell" address in the heart of global fold's second-largest national turf some 16 months ago – widely seen as Francis' pointed critique on Cardinal Norberto Rivera's leadership of the Mexican hierarchy over two decades at its helm – well, do the math.

What's more still, considering the ample audience el Arzobispo Primado de México now enjoys North of the Border – in light of Univision and Telemundo (the networks of choice for the Stateside Church's emerging majority bloc) often besting ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC and in major-market TV ratings – as the future of the US fold goes, Rivera's succession is a move of almost unparalleled domestic consequence, to boot.

Speaking of (fading European) numbers, it's a sign of the times that Italy's largest diocese is now the smallest among the A-list trio pending before Francis: the principal seat of the onetime Belgian Congo, Kinshasa's growing fold comprises over over 6 million Catholics, and while Mexico City – the global church's largest diocese of all – is said to number close to 8 million members, that figure is likely low-balled due to migration patterns and iffy record-keeping.

Though last Thursday brought the antique celebration of Corpus Christi – a holy day within Vatican City itself (read: all offices closed) – in a rarity, the Holy See apparently saw fit to troll the Italian press' outbreak of "Milanese fever" by opening shop to roll out a number of appointments in Albania, Mexico and Colombia.

Meanwhile, in a first, the Vatican observance's traditional outdoor Mass at St John Lateran and procession to St Mary Major was moved to Sunday, ending a longtime work-week ritual which tended to reflect some degree of liturgical schizophrenia and/or longing for the restoration of the Papal States.

Simply put, in choosing to match the Monstrance-march to Italy's actual calendar, the Pope didn't just opt to facilitate the convenience of the faithful, but – like so much else in the works – chose to abide by the decision of the episcopal conference... even if it took some four decades after the fact.


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Arise, @ArchChuck – Indy’s “Adopted Son,” Thompson Inherits Brickyard Church

(Updated with presser feed, Installation date, etc.)

True story: amid the frigid splendor of Cardinal Joe Tobin’s installation at Newark in early January, this scribe hitched a couple bus rides with the amply sized Indiana delegation, which made the trek to see their former boss to his new home.

Along the way, the shop’s daily mailbag essentially came to life as, at one point or another, what seemed like the bulk of the Hoosiers on-board leaned in, warmly besieging a reporter with just one question:

“Who’s coming to Indy?”

Especially in these days of a process that’s anything but linear, one can see how the chips will fall only so far in advance…. Still, even for the usual caginess that comes with the turf, it was even more impossible to be fully candid with them, at least in words – for most of the trips, the already-tipped frontrunner happened to be sitting at my side. And now, he is indeed the Pope’s choice… or, as some might put it, the “Heir to the Joe.”

In the least surprising major move Stateside Catholicism has seen in some time, at Roman Noon this Tuesday, Francis named Bishop Charles Thompson of Evansville (right) as the Seventh Archbishop of Indianapolis, the move coming smack in the midst of the USCCB's June Meeting in the city, whose public sessions start tomorrow.

At 56, the Louisville native – an established social media presence known always and everywhere as “Chuck” – becomes the nation’s youngest metropolitan, ending the nearly five-year run over which the distinction was held by Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland, the last provincial head named by Benedict XVI. Yet perhaps most poignantly, having been a spiritual son and protege of two archbishops – Louisville’s late Tom Kelly OP and Indy’s retired Daniel Buechlein OSB – over his 30 years of priesthood, it seems no accident that Thompson has risen to the rank himself.

Wiry and easygoing with a self-described "social justice" bent dating to his teens, the archbishop-elect was said to be "anxious, but ready" for today's rollout, according to a Whispers op informed of the appointment.

A resolutely "Francis man" among a bench whose extremes tend to make disproportionate noise, Thompson outlined the pontiff's imprint on his vision at considerable length in a 2016 pastoral letter to the Evansville church, a text built around the Pope's imperative of "missionary discipleship." And speaking of emphases, that the Indy pick recently took to issuing a rare public message from a Catholic prelate to his local Muslim community – "our brothers and sisters in Abraham" – to mark Islam's penitential month of Ramadan... well, it didn't hurt.

Despite his roots in Marion County – the heart of Kentucky’s centuries-old Catholic mecca, the celebrated “Holy Land” – the archbishop-elect has long been as steeped as any “outsider” could be in the life of Indiana’s principal church, now home to some 300,000 members.

For starters, Thompson's hometown lies just across the Ohio River from the Indy archdiocese’s mostly Protestant, sparsely populated southern tier… but in particular, the fold he now inherits was his home as a seminarian in formation at St Meinrad – the source of his bond with Buechlein, then its rector – before returning to the Benedictine house in the early 2000s as a professor of the canons, juggling that role with a Louisville pastorate (with the then-retired Kelly as his "parochial vicar") and Chancery work as vicar-general to Archbishop Joseph Kurtz. Upon his 2011 appointment to Evansville – a heavily rural outpost in Indiana’s southwest corner – that familiarity was only burnished given his seat on the Hoosiers’ provincial bench and the strong history of coordination among the state’s bishops on common causes.

All this goes to underscore the backstory and needs which framed today’s move – much of the paradigm reportedly set by Tobin himself. On one critical front, the move toward a “young” choice speaks to a premium on stability; upon his installation, “Archbishop Chuck” will be the fourth prelate to lead the Indy church in the last six years – named in 2011 due to Buechlein’s declining health, then-auxiliary Chris Coyne served a year as apostolic administrator with full powers until Tobin’s late 2012 arrival from Rome, then was quickly whisked home to New England as head of Vermont’s statewide diocese of Burlington.

At the same time, a significant ongoing concern within the archdiocese has been the apparent balkanization between the population core within the see city’s metro area and feelings of neglect in the south, which Thompson’s experience almost uniquely equips him to bridge. Most of all, however, the repeated turnover of leadership and other pressing challenges – among them a parish planning effort begun by the now-cardinal – will now be remedied by an extraordinarily smooth and easy transition, with little to no time needed in terms of learning curve. And along with it, the incoming archbishop brings a decent knowledge of Spanish, an ever more necessary skill given his new charge’s growing Latino bloc.

As first reported here yesterday, a 10am Eastern presser has been called at the Chancery – here, the livefeed for on-demand video of the event... and with it, the text of the archbishop-elect's first statement:

Per the norms of the canons, Thompson must be installed within two months of today’s move. With this pick, Francis has now named a quarter of the 32 Stateside Latin archbishops.

(SVILUPPO: Per the archdiocese, the Installation is scheduled for Friday, 28 July – and, with the archbishop-elect now slated to head to Rome to receive his Pallium at month's end alongside two other prelates with Hoosier ties, will be invested with the metropolitan gear at the same time.)

Developing – more to come.


Monday, June 12, 2017

Hoosiers, Start Your Engines – In Indy, A Green Flag... and The Checkered One

(SVILUPPO: The appointment reported below was formally announced by the Vatican at Roman Noon on Tuesday, 13 June.)

Of course, this week brings the Midsummer Classic – the June Meeting of the US bishops, the bench’s first plenary of both a Donald Trump White House and a Dan DiNardo Presidency. Yet while the former’s ascent provides no shortage of things to be discussed, such is the latter’s disposition that no session will run a second longer than it absolutely has to.

But, no, the reason for that is not – repeat: is not – politics.

While a handful of committee meetings got underway this morning, the full Floor business opens on Wednesday morning. Though the agenda's full shape won’t be plotted out until tomorrow’s meeting of the Administrative Committee, the most prominent item of the first day will come at its end: an evening Mass of Prayer and Penance “for survivors of sex-abuse within the church” – the US’ first response to last year’s call by the Pope for each episcopal conference to designate a national day toward the effort.

Notably, the liturgy falls precisely 15 years to the week since the fateful 2002 summer meeting, when the nationwide revelations of abuse and cover-up made the issue the sole item of the plenary, culminating in the passage of the Charter and Norms now known by where they were approved – Dallas.

The Dallas meeting memorably closed with a “Mass for the Gift of Tears,” no similar national gesture has been replicated since, until now. And fittingly, the “face” of the church’s response in those days – Wilton Gregory, providentially suited to tackling a storm unknown upon his election as president – will preach this week’s encore, with DiNardo celebrating as the incumbent Chief.

* * *
All that said, as this week approached, the statisticians had some brushing up to do – given this meeting’s venue, no one could remember an instance when the bench had convened in a city which was lacking a bishop as host.

Of course, that was by accident – the traveling June circus is booked years in advance, and it was just in November that the Pope shocked many by plucking Joe Tobin from Indianapolis on the eve of a watershed red hat, parachuting his oldest Stateside friend into Newark with a mission to heal the roiled Jersey fold.

In any case, with remarkable timing, the notion of a host-less meeting is now moot – in a message sent to the Brickyard clergy and lay leaders this morning, the Indy administrator Msgr Bill Stumpf invited the locals to a Chancery press conference at 10am tomorrow, its purpose stated only as “news affecting the archdiocese.”

Among Whispers ops, it is indeed understood that the event – couched as it is in the usual code – will introduce the Pope’s pick to be Indiana’s seventh archbishop, the appointment itself arriving at Roman Noon (6am ET). And given the surreal nature of some 150 prelates all landing in the place at the same time, well, this admittedly feels more like the Flying Elvises scene from Honeymoon in Vegas than anything this scribe ever thought to expect on this beat.

By virtue of his appointment alone, the impending archbishop-elect will complete a unique Hoosier troika heading to Rome at month’s end to celebrate Saints Peter and Paul alongside the Pope and receive the pallium with which he’ll be invested after his installation: alongside tomorrow’s pick and his now-predecessor, Archbishop Paul Etienne of Anchorage is an Indy native with a local fanbase as big as his family’s two-century roots in the diocese run deep...

...and if only the Alaska file came up a couple weeks later than it did last September... er, complete the sentence.

Alas, such is the budget that these pages can’t be on-site for the week’s events... but if that's the price for not being bought by an overlord, it's well worth paying. Still, as the usual stem-to-stern coverage rolls into gear – not to mention a Consistory on tap... and all the other curveballs to be had as the "Vatican year" winds to a close – the reminder's ever in order that these pages can only keep coming your way by means of your support....

And yet again, folks, buckle up.