Sunday, July 29, 2018

Suffice it to say, folks, the last few days haven't made for the easy family downtime this scribe was hoping to have... but such is this work in what's become a defining moment.

Wrenching as it is on some levels, what's unfolding over these days is no less necessary – still, it's worth recalling that the resolution won't come thanks to any social-media truculence, but as the outcome of ecclesial discernment and process.

Far from the ongoing ideological warfare in the open, that movement is already – quietly – underway... and as the scene happens to be these pages' wheelhouse, it'd be a grace to report this moment as it deserves.

Sure, that's a nightmare of a job description for an Italian going into August. If it's going to be done, though, much as the prayers and kind words from many have been a priceless reassurance, before anything else, this shop has its bills to pay – as ever, these pages only keep coming your way by means of your support.


Saturday, July 28, 2018

Archbishop McCarrick, Ex-Cardinal

Shortly after noon in Rome, the Holy See released the following statement:
Yesterday evening the Holy Father received the letter in which Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop Emeritus of Washington (U.S.A.), presented his resignation as a member of the College of Cardinals.

Pope Francis accepted his resignation from the cardinalate and has ordered his suspension from the exercise of any public ministry, together with the obligation to remain in a house yet to be indicated to him, for a life of prayer and penance until the accusations made against him are examined in a regular canonical trial.
* * *
Until now the first member of the College to face substantiated reports of child sex-abuse in nearly a quarter-century, with the 88 year-old prelate's renunciation of the red hat amid two known allegations of abuse of minors and several claims of misconduct with and harassment of adults – two of them the focus of freshly revealed legal settlements in the mid-2000s – the move marks the first full-on flight of a cardinal since 1927, when the Frenchman Louis Billot, a Jesuit theologian, left the papal Senate over his membership of the Action Française, a reactionary movement condemned by the Holy Office (the now-CDF).

As previously reported, following his 2013 admission of serial harassment and misconduct with seminarians and priests, the late Scottish Cardinal Keith O'Brien was made to resign "the rights and privileges" of the cardinalate, but not the title itself. Likewise, after multiple allegations of abusing minors were aired in the 1990s against the Austrian Cardinal Hans Hermann Gröer, the Benedictine monk quickly retired as archbishop of Vienna and died in seclusion a decade later with the scarlet intact.

With the loss of the title he's held since 2001 – when he was created a cardinal alongside the now-Pope and 42 others – as McCarrick remains archbishop-emeritus of Washington, all references to him going forward now revert to "Archbishop McCarrick." At the same time, deprivation of the dignity of archbishop remains a potential penalty should he be found guilty at the coming tribunal – the first process of its kind to be held for a onetime "prince of the church."

The highest-ranking US prelate by far ever to be removed over abuse claims, while McCarrick's de facto suspension from ministry already took place on Francis' orders upon the archdiocese of New York's June judgment that his abuse of a 16 year-old boy on two occasions in the early 1970s was "credible and substantiated," today's statement notably refers to "accusations" in plural.

Beyond the finding which spurred the archbishop's initial removal, the specifics of any further canonical charges are unknown.

Archbishop McCarrick's precise whereabouts have remained tightly held since the June allegation was made public, when he was moved out of the Washington nursing home run by the Little Sisters of the Poor.

Weeks before the New York report was revealed – knowing that it was to come, and already under pressure to keep a low profile at home – the fallen cleric chose to make one final trip in active ministry: an early June pilgrimage to the shrine of Poland's Black Madonna at Czestochowa, where he marked the 60th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood.

SVILUPPO (9am ET): In a rare Saturday release, a significant yet terse statement on McCarrick's resignation from the College was issued by the president of the US bishops, Houston's Cardinal Daniel DiNardo:
"I thank the Holy Father for his leadership in taking this important step. It reflects the priority the Holy Father places on the need for protection and care for all our people and the way failures in this area affect the life of the Church in the United States."

Friday, July 27, 2018

Gentlemen, Start Your... Reports – US Church's First "Exam" By Francis, Bench's Ad Limina On Tap

Amid the specter of a fresh round of sex-abuse crises and a roiled summer for the American Catholic leadership, the US church is indeed set to come under the Vatican's microscope – but not due to the recent scandals.

One of the last major benches to make its ad limina visit to Benedict XVI, the USCCB will have its first Roman "checkup" under Francis beginning in November 2019 – eight years to the month since the last "quinquennial" got underway.

The summons was delivered in a late June letter from the Nuncio to Washington, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, which was circulated to the bench in mid-July.

Whispers has obtained the documents, which included a schedule that sees the bishops of Region I (New England) being received by the Pope on 7 November 2019. As has become standard, the conference's 15 regions – 14 geographic clusters of neighboring states, and one comprising the nation's Eastern-church hierarchs, spanning 197 (arch)dioceses and eparchies in all – will be making their visits in numerical order, essentially running up and down the country from the Northeast to the Northwest and Alaska, before ending with the Southeast and the eparchs.

While the pilgrimages of all the world's bishops are supposed to take place on a five-year schedule, the sheer logistics of what's now a global episcopate in excess of 5,000 members has seen the gap considerably lengthened over the last decade and a half; before the late 2011-early 2012 visit – which took six months – the 250-man US bench's prior trek "to the threshold of the apostles" had stretched over eight months of 2004. (In a notable coincidence, both visits came at the tail-end of the respective pontificates of St John Paul II and B16.)

A duty required of every bishop, the ad limina has three major facets: the prelates' prayer at the tombs of Peter and Paul (usually in the form of a Mass at each), a meeting with the pontiff, and morning or afternoon-long sessions with all of the congregations, tribunals and councils of the Roman Curia, one by one.

Over recent cycles, the latter two elements have changed considerably – where John Paul would meet individually for 15 minutes with each diocesan bishop (together with his auxiliaries) and give a speech to every group, toward the end of Benedict's reign, Papa Ratzinger began receiving the prelates in groups for an extended dialogue, and on the last US visit, the number of addresses was cut back to five: respectively, the speeches covered the topics of the new evangelization, religious freedom, sexuality and family life, education, and immigration and the unity of the church – all of them addressed to the entire conference and the nation's church at large.

For his part, Francis has almost entirely ditched the formal addresses – unless, that is, there's a critical message he'd like to make public – and his group sessions, which begin with each bishop speaking briefly about his diocese before heading into a free-form conversation, usually reach or exceed the two-hour mark. On the Curia front, meanwhile, where prelates of the past can easily recall being read the riot act by dicastery chiefs – or, alternatively, a prefect or two who dozed through the sessions – continuing a shift started under Benedict, the rounds at the offices are notably more collegial, interactive and service-oriented, with the staffs eager to offer their assistance on the visitors' concerns and advice on the relevant challenges they face at home. Of course, in light of Francis' consolidation of several pontifical councils into two super-dicasteries (Laity, Family and Life; and Human Development), the number of stops are considerably less numerous than they've been on prior visits. Still in all, the entire process normally takes a week to ten days.

*  *  *
As for the schedule, while the US' previous ad liminae would, as noted above, extend for the better part of a year, the 2019 edition is occurring on something of a lightning-round timeframe – by November's end, no less than the first seven regions are slated to be blown through, with Francis receiving the different groups every three or four days. As the Vatican doesn't accommodate national holidays outside Italy, the visits will not be suspended over Thanksgiving – on Turkey Day itself, the Pope is slated to meet with the bishops of Region VII (Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin), while others will likewise be in Rome continuing their dicastery rounds.

However, an even bigger scheduling hitch comes earlier – as the November plans conflict with the USCCB Fall Meeting in Baltimore, the timeline as given would put three East Coast regions (five provinces in all, stretching from New York to the Carolinas) in a particular bind: while a conference plenary can normally go missed by prelates without much impact, with the 2019 Fall Classic headlined by the election of the bench's next president and vice-president, it would be exceedingly difficult to hold the vote with a sizable chunk of the electorate missing. (In addition, the meeting would normally bring the bishops' final sign-off for the updated Faithful Citizenship materials on Catholics' political responsibilities with an eye to the next year's Federal elections.)

While the plenary can't be moved due to hotel contracts set years in advance, according to an op apprised of the situation, other potential remedies are already under consideration, including the possibility of swapping ad limina dates with another country's bishops – almost certainly bringing an earlier start for the impacted US groups – or an arrangement that would see the overseas USCCB members cast their votes by electronic ballot (presumably at the traveling prelates' base at the North American College) at the same time as the election takes place in the Premier See. That said, as the weekend-long private conversations around the Marriott leading up to the vote are always a decisive factor behind the making of the vice-president – the incumbent #2 traditionally being elevated to the top post – the absence of a significant number of prelates from the Harborfront would inevitably alter the dynamic ahead of the ballot, and accordingly its result.

For Francis, meanwhile, the visit will provide his most significant immersion experience to date in a national church that he arguably knows less about than any of his predecessors over the last half-century or more. Having only visited the States for the first time on his September 2015 trek to Washington, New York and Philadelphia, though Papa Bergoglio is surrounded by a formidable cadre of US advisers and confidants, Popes ranging from Pius XII and Paul VI to John Paul and Benedict had extensive firsthand experience of the country and its ecclesial profile before coming to Peter's chair, whether as diplomats, from extensive US travel – or, in Benedict's case, that and 25 years of dealing with no shortage of American figures and issues at the helm of the CDF.

As with the last few visits, however, the church Francis will hear of in depth is really a tale of two Stateside Catholicisms – a reality of constricting structures and declining, aging populations in most of the Northeast and upper Midwest, countered by the extraordinary growth and vitality of the Catholic outposts of the South and West, which now claim the bulk of the nation's 75 million faithful. Yet what's more, given the pontiff's lack of facility in English, it wouldn't be surprising if at least some of the meetings with the later regions are conducted entirely in Spanish, in which the overwhelming majority of "Sun Belt" prelates are fluent or at least conversant. Should it happen, that in itself would be a first.

In any case, while Francis has met a sizable chunk of the US episcopate either in the reception lines at his Wednesday audiences or the annual crop of rookies (his own new appointees) attending each September's "Baby Bishop School," aside from a moment of brief pleasantries with each, for all but a few prelates, the visit will make for their most extensive personal time by far with the Pope – and with the bench's constant cycle of vacancies and appointments, there's inevitably a degree of "auditioning" prospects for higher office on the pontiff's part. (On this front, by November 2019 it especially bears noting that two key Eastern archdioceses will be freshly pending new leaders, as both Cardinal Seán O'Malley of Boston and Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia will have reached the retirement age of 75 over the preceding months.)

While the ad limina's theological import is as a moment of communion with the Roman Pontiff and for the bishops to recall their own role as successors of the apostles whose tombs give the moment its name, in practical terms the visit is the Vatican's preeminent exercise of accountability – a topic given fresh prominence in the wake of the now-multiple abuse and misconduct allegations raised against Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. Along those lines, the centerpiece of the process' managerial aspect is the preparation of the Quinquennial Report – an extensive, heavily detailed snapshot of the life of every diocese, which easily extends past 100 pages for most.

Split into 22 general sections, the Quinquennial's areas of focus roughly overlap with the topic-areas of the Curial offices – aspects like worship, ecumenism, Catholic education, the life of the clergy, religious and laity, and the care of migrants, capped by the bishop's assessment of his own ministry and the context in which he works. (Notably, among special appendices required of the US is a section on the diocese's response to abuse and its safe environment procedures.) Along these lines, as the reports generally need to be submitted to the Vatican six months ahead of the visit – and its parts are divided up among the relevant dicasteries upon receipt – it isn't unheard-of for concerns expressed to the offices by letter-writers at home to be raised during the meetings, or even, in especially grave situations, by the Pope himself.

With Francis' baseline for the bench already articulated in full detail in his 2015 address to the bishops in Washington's St Matthew's Cathedral (above), the following is a general list of major issues – among no shortage of others – likely to come up during the visit (in no particular order):
  • immigration in general, and specifically the local churches' efforts on behalf of migrants and refugees;
  • the worsening polarization of American Catholic life and the broader state and quality of the church's witness in the wider culture and the public square;
  • marriage and family life, especially their evolution in light of Amoris Laetitia and Francis' 2015 annulment reboot – on a related front, the coming visit will be the US bench's first since same-sex marriage was legalized nationwide in the Supreme Court's 2015 Obergefell ruling;
  • youth ministry and outreach to the “nones,” following on the heels of this October's Synod on young people (and the Pope's major closing text for the gathering, likely to be released by the time of the visit);
  • the integration of Stateside Catholicism's rising Hispanic majority into the mainstream and leadership of the national church, and the way forward from this September's 5th Encuentro in Texas – a keen focus for Francis himself, the US fold's most significant event of 2018;
  • the US church's environmental efforts and integration of Francis' concept of "human ecology" in Laudato Si';
  • changing structures – whether consolidations of parishes and schools and how the institutional void is filled, or the church's effectiveness at engagement in a context of burgeoning "mega-parishes";
  • the core concepts of Francis' papacy – missionary discipleship, the “field hospital,” a Synodal church, "a poor church for the poor," "pastoral conversion," etc. – and how they're being applied at the local level;
  • the state of priestly vocations and formation, especially given the new Ratio Fundamentalis governing seminaries (its US adaptation still being worked out);
  • sex abuse and misconduct, as well as broader questions of accountability and transparency – including on finances;
  • clericalism and the development of lay leadership/co-responsibility at every possible level of ecclesial life;
  • priestly morale and the relationship between bishops and their priests – an especially fraught issue in some places in the post-Dallas Charter age;
  • the ongoing reception of the new Roman Missal, as well as the enhanced oversight of episcopal conferences on liturgical translations as granted by Francis in Magnum principium.
On one final note, while an op familiar with the process relays that there are no major changes to the format of the Quinquennial Report from Benedict to Francis, contrary to the headline above, the preparation of the sprawling text will need to wait a little while longer – according to the usual protocols, the data period for the figures and impressions conveyed to the Holy See normally ends on December 31st of the year prior to the visit.


Monday, July 23, 2018

"A Reluctant Prophet" – Three Decades After Seattle "Wars," "Dutch" Hunthausen Dies at 96

Yet again, it is the end of an era in the Stateside Church: on Sunday afternoon, Raymond Gerhardt Hunthausen – the US' last living Father of Vatican II, whose controversial tenure as archbishop of Seattle prefigured the hope and the strains of Francis-era Catholicism – died surrounded by his large, tight-knit family in his native Helena, a month short of his 97th birthday.

Named bishop of the Montana church at 41 on the eve of the Council, by all accounts its four sessions saw Hunthausen undergo a "conversion experience." By the time he was sent to the Northwest's top post as Seattle began its own transformation into a cultural and tech hub, through the 1980s the Emerald City's second archbishop would come under the scrutiny of Rome and Washington alike, his respective advocacies for the church's marginalized and against the scourge of nuclear arms both running afoul of the prevailing winds of church and state.

A first, searing glimpse of the polarization which would warp American Catholic life at large over the age to come, what became known as the "Hunthausen Wars" – two high-level Vatican inquests into the archbishop's ministry, capped by St John Paul II's 1986 imposition of an auxiliary bishop with special powers (whose own ferocious reception by the locals would see him relieved within a year) – remains an instructive moment in many ways. Yet even as the clamor took decades to fully subside – going well beyond the archbishop's early retirement at 70 in 1991 – it's long been said that for all the heat that ill-fated, 45 year-old assistant endured, the now-Cardinal Donald Wuerl left Seattle with Hunthausen as his one firm friend, a bond that continued into the present.

A full obituary posted within minutes by the National Catholic Reporter, the piece contains a surprise – word of the coming release of a biography Hunthausen asked to be published only upon his death.

Meantime, though the prelate known universally as "Dutch" has long been off the wider scene (choosing instead to immerse himself in hearing confessions), the sense of fresh life for his example was underscored earlier this year by the Pope's choice of Hunthausen's last vicar-general, George Thomas, as bishop of Las Vegas – itself a freshly booming outpost, now the West's largest diocese outside California.

Having delivered a potent homily outlining Francis' vision of the church at his May installation – a text that was said to be a joy for his onetime boss over the archbishop's final weeks – Thomas (himself a Montana native, who ended up as his mentor's own bishop in Helena) issued the following statement on tonight's news:
"Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen will be remembered in the public eye as a vocal pacifist, a compassionate pastor, and a reluctant prophet of peace.

In the 1980s, his strident criticism of the nuclear arms build up and his controversial decision to withhold half of his federal taxes catapulted him into the limelight in the highly militarized Pacific Northwest.

In that same era, the Vatican initiated an investigation into the archbishop’s administration for what was characterized as his “weak doctrinal leadership.”

Ever uncomfortable on the world stage, Archbishop Hunthausen was personally pained by the controversies and criticisms that swirled around his vision and leadership. He took solace in his highly supportive family and found peace through an active and profound life of prayer.

The “Dutch” I knew had a steel backbone, an implacable conscience, uncompromising tenacity, and a willingness to pay any price to follow the dictates of his conscience.

In recent years, he spoke frequently of his desire to go home with the Lord. Each day he would say, “I am one day closer to Paradise.”

Today his dream came true."
According to Whispers ops, Hunthausen's funeral will begin with a farewell in Helena – to which he returned upon his retirement – before a final return to Seattle, climaxing with his burial alongside his coadjutor and successor, Archbishop Thomas Murphy, beneath the sanctuary of St James Cathedral: one of the nation's most active diocesan hubs, itself a living legacy of a tenure whose impact has long, quietly endured, yet only now exists in its fullest light.

SVILUPPO: The funeral slated to culminate on Wednesday, 1 August, in Seattle, here's a brief on the sendoff's first stage in Helena...


Thursday, July 19, 2018

For "Uncle Ted," The Final Cut

Put simply, the report is a nuclear bomb.

Even as last month's credible, substantiated allegation that Cardinal Theodore McCarrick abused a minor in the early 1970s resulted in the Pope's direct suspension of the 88 year-old prelate, and with it emerged two decade-old settlements by the dioceses he led over his misconduct with adults, late Thursday afternoon The New York Times published the apparent epitaph of one of American Catholicism's towering figures of the late 20th and early 21st centuries: the testimony of some 20 years of abuse of one man by the retired Washington prelate, beginning when the victim – the son of a close friend of the future cardinal – was 11 years old.

Not merely for the Stateside church, but Catholicism beyond, the fresh charge – which the now 60 year-old survivor, identified only as James, said he revealed to his family in the wake of McCarrick's removal – represents a seismic moment. Even for the torrent of 2002, it's a confluence that would've been unthinkable: a graphic return to the crisis’ major eruption at an unprecedented level of the US hierarchy... yet now beyond, a practically uncharted frontier of new processes and potential penalties for clerics of all stripes over claims of sexual harassment or exploitation of those under their authority: as Francis himself has re-framed the issue over recent weeks in personally aiming to repair the roiled church in Chile, "the abuse of sex, the abuse of power, the abuse of conscience."

As previously reported, the first allegation against McCarrick – levied last January, the 1971 abuse of a 16 year-old boy which, in a historic step, was found credible through the standard Dallas Charter process – itself represented the first time in a quarter-century that a cardinal's assault of a minor was openly aired and acted upon by Rome.

While the removed prelate was said to have been planning an appeal of that judgment – and the final determination of McCarrick's penalty remains pending before the Pope – a second accusation of child abuse effectively short-circuits an attempt at recourse. What's more, however, given last month's simultaneous disclosure of the twin settlements over the then-bishop's misconduct toward two priests – the first of them reached in 2005 – it bears repeating that "among the College of Cardinals, never before have both degrees of scandal converged at once – that is, until now."

In today's piece, James and his attorney told the Times that a police report on the allegations was filed earlier this week, but a civil suit over the abuse has yet to be broached.

* * *
Significant as Monday's front-page Times piece was in that it marked the public emergence of one of McCarrick's adult targets – Robert Ciolek, a now-married former priest who filed the first misconduct suit – in terms of policy, a buried comment from Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark delivered the biggest impact.

A Francis confidant and favorite of McCarrick's who was sent to New Jersey's top post at the latter's behest, Tobin said in a statement that he would "discuss this tragedy with the leadership of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in order to articulate standards that will assure high standards of respect by bishops, priests and deacons for all adults."

In as many words, that means another "Charter," at least to some extent – and as both a cardinal and chair of a major USCCB committee, just as Tobin got his declared wish for a top-shelf conference delegation to visit and minister to families separated at the Mexican border earlier this month, he will have this as well.

In the wake of the comment, what's become a fairly rote November agenda in Baltimore just got a lot more interesting – if anything, the Stateside bench's most consequential plenary on the scandals since the famous June 2002 summit in Dallas is now teed up.

Given the circumstances, though – above all, a marked lack of consensus among the body on how to address the thicket at hand – odds are a new conference entity devoted to the issue will need to be created. Accordingly, as the relevant concerns span the respective purviews of the bench's arms for Clergy/Consecrated Life (which Tobin oversees) and Canonical Affairs, not to mention the safe-environment work of the Committee for Child and Youth Protection, the announcement of a task-force or ad hoc committee on harassment and adult abuse can likely be expected over the coming weeks – at the latest by mid-September's closed-door meeting of the conference's all-important Administrative Committee, which sets the agenda for the November sessions.

Developing – more to come.


Wednesday, July 11, 2018

For San Jose, Obispo Oscar – Amid Transformation, Pope Makes Evocative Pick for Silicon Valley Church

(Updated with video, further context.)

The simple fact that you're reading this is testament to the reality behind today's lead story: given the shifts of the last two decades, it can be argued that no place has a greater impact on modern American life than Santa Clara County, California, a state of affairs that begins with the three behemoths all based there – Google, Facebook, and Apple.

With the rise of the local tech empires fueling a growth that's extended to their local church, the spurt has underscored a premium on youth and smarts...

...and now – a full two years ahead of schedule – the Vatican has responded in kind.

In a surprisingly early move, at Roman Noon this Wednesday the Pope named Bishop Oscar Cantú of Las Cruces – at 51, already a well-experienced hand on the national, and even global stage – as coadjutor of San Jose: now the US' tenth-largest city, and the seat of a countywide fold now numbering upwards of 700,000 Catholics, a doubling in size within a quarter-century.

Ordained an auxiliary of San Antonio at 41 in 2008, then head of New Mexico's border diocese since 2013, the Houston-born Cantú becomes heir apparent to Bishop Patrick McGrath, who reaches the retirement age of 75 in June 2020. Known as "PJ" among the locals, the Irish-born prelate – the last San Francisco auxiliary of John Raphael Quinn – has overseen the bulk of San Jose's transformation; 20 years ago this summer, as Netscape and Oracle led the first wave of the tech boom and Apple began its resurgence with the return of Steve Jobs, McGrath arrived as coadjutor to Bishop Pierre DuMaine, succeeding to the chair within 18 months.

While some rumblings that McGrath had sought an early succession have made the rounds over recent weeks, a selection was not expected until later in the year.

As for the turf itself, even for Silicon Valley's reputation of a white, wealthy enclave, the church that encompasses it is a markedly different story. Together with the growth of the diocese, Hispanics have claimed a solid majority of its membership – comprising close to 60 percent – while its contingent of Anglos has shrunk by nearly a fifth. Notably, however – especially in the context of California – the diocese's statistical report for the coming V Encuentro (slated for September in the North Texas Metroplex) states that the bulk of its Latino population is US-born as opposed to immigrants. In that light, the choice of a native-born Hispanic with crossover appeal strikingly mirrors the profile of the people he'll inherit; that Cantú was "imported" from outside California – a rarity among the state's bishops – indicates the degree to which the particular background and skill-set was a priority in the search.

Meanwhile, one of the church's key challenges is likewise hidden from the headlines – at least, most of the time. Together with the tech boom's infusion of people and capital, the resulting spike in housing prices that's made Santa Clara County one of the nation's richest (and with it, home to the US' most expensive costs of living) has birthed a homeless population recently estimated as the country's largest; in one prominent example of the scourge, some of the unsheltered were found to be spending their nights aboard a public-transit bus. Especially in the age of Francis – who has famously received each of the Valley's "Big Three" tech chiefs in private audiences – the sense of responsibility to "the least" in the midst of an opulence almost without peer anywhere else stands out as a glaring Job One.

All that said, though much will rightly be made of Cantú's youth and the prospect of another long tenure, the incoming bishop's experience belies his years. Having come to the bench with the backing of past and future USCCB presidents – Houston's founding Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza and his successor, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo – his formation as a bishop in San Antonio took place under the conference's next head, Archbishop José Gomez... and on the wider scene, all of it has ostensibly rubbed off: in 2013, Cantú was elected chair of the bishops' foreign policy arm – one of the US hierarchy's most intensive portfolios – becoming, at 46, the youngest head of a major committee in recent times. Given the global clout of the multinational corporations on his new turf – led by what's now the world's largest company by revenue – Cantú's specialized experience brings an added, almost unique match to this particular assignment.

As a coadjutor assumes the governance of a diocese immediately upon the death or resignation of his predecessor without a ritual act, the substitute for an understudy’s installation – the Mass of Welcome – has been slated for 28 September in the picturesque Cathedral-Basilica of St Joseph (above), which was both restored and realigned to an "in the round" style in 1990.

With today's move creating an opening in Las Cruces, three Stateside Latin dioceses would've been vacant, but at 6.30am local time today, the death at 71 of Bishop Richard Garcia of Monterey after a three-month battle with Alzheimer's disease has made for a fourth.

Led in terms of size by Southern California's 1.1 million-member outpost in Fresno, another four US dioceses are led by (arch)bishops serving past the retirement age. As previously noted, however, even as the docket winds down for the Curia's summer hiatus, its top line remains the flood of auxiliaries gradually recasting the leadership of the nation's largest religious body for a generation and beyond.

SVILUPPO: At his local rollout in San Jose, Cantú noted the challenge and opportunity of ministry to young people in a hyper-secularized culture from the very outset... and with it, reflecting the said omnipresent influence of his new charge, terms like "Googled" and "iPad" were dropped as a matter of habit.

That the event was streamed over YouTube is just as resonant – it, too, is a product of Santa Clara County:

On a final note, the arrival of one of the USCCB's lead policy wonks only serves to bolster what's already the most active – and, arguably, influential – state bench in terms of public policy.

Driven largely by Gomez from the nation's largest diocese, the California Catholic Conference pushes a sprawling agenda in Sacramento, its priorities ranging from the standard pro-life and immigration angles to environmental issues and criminal-justice reform. Meanwhile, highlighting the demographic shift of the largest religious body in the largest state, for the first time, last month a Latino took the helm of the CCC as its executive director.

Until now LA's diocesan chief for government affairs with a prior stint at the USCCB, along the way Andy Rivas was likewise the church's chief lobbyist in Texas, where the faithful's historic ascendancy of recent years has seen an equally monumental uptick of Catholic advocacy in Austin – a trajectory now capped by the election of Lone Star Country's first governor from the pews since the days of Mexican rule.


Friday, July 06, 2018

Well, folks, if this last week hasn't made for a full cycle – indeed, another one – few things ever will... so much for the beat grinding to a halt.

To be sure, the usual July lull will still kick in at some point – for now, though, the thing about summer weekends is that if you don't use them, you lose 'em... so here's to a bit of that for us all – and as the shop's still got bills to handle alongside some wrap-up pieces in the works, if you've been enjoying the product of these days, as ever, these pages only keep coming your way thanks to your support:

Again, all thanks to everyone who's already lent a hand – as you've seen, it helps the content. Meantime, as this scribe'll have some non-breaking news days to play with (at least, one can hope), if there's anything in particular you'd want to hear about over these next weeks, just say the word.


Five Years Since Lampedusa, "Today's Pharisees Build Walls"

It might be apocryphal, but a story from the first weeks of the rule of Francis nonetheless resonates five years after the fact.

In sum, after Papa Bergoglio read in the papers about the near-daily shipwrecks of migrants crossing the Mediterranean, hundreds drowning by the month, out of nowhere the Curia was said to have been alerted by Alitalia that someone claiming to be the new Pope was trying to book seats on the morning flight to the boats' landing spot at Lampedusa.

To be sure, every new pontificate is a matter of adjustment as it wends through its initial paces. But that tale highlighted the degree to which this one would be more than most – if anything, five years on, in many quarters the acclimation to the "new normal" remains an ongoing process.

As the world marked the fifth anniversary of Francis' election in March, a single word on the milestone from the Pope himself was conspicuous by its absence. Four months later, however, he chose instead to commemorate five years since his first trek outside Rome – his penitential pilgrimage to Europe's "Island of Tears" at Italy's (and the continent's) southern tip, whose bishop he would subsequently make a cardinal as a sign of his enduring closeness and solidarity.

Announced only on Wednesday, at mid-morning today the pontiff led a rare papal Mass at the Altar of the Chair at the back of St Peter's – arranged with the explicit purpose of being a liturgy for migrants, the congregation was comprised of some 200 invited refugees.

Coming amid a year which began with Francis' release of his first full-on magisterial document on immigration – and with today's Gospel a significant one in his own life – while this morning's homily largely restated his well-burnished appeals to remedy the plight of itinerant peoples, as a sign of this latest message's importance to the Pope, the text was widely translated in advance:
“You who trample upon the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land… Behold the days are coming… when I will send a famine on the land… a thirst for hearing the words of the Lord” (Amos 8:4.11).

Today this warning of the prophet Amos is remarkably timely. How many of the poor are trampled on in our day! How many of the poor are being brought to ruin! All are the victims of that culture of waste that has been denounced time and time again. Among them, I cannot fail to include the migrants and refugees who continue to knock at the door of nations that enjoy greater prosperity.

Five years ago, during my visit to Lampedusa, recalling the victims lost at sea, I repeated that timeless appeal to human responsibility: “ ‘Where is your brother? His blood cries out to me’, says the Lord. This is not a question directed to others; it is a question directed to me, to you, to each of us (Homily, 8 July 2013). Sadly, the response to this appeal, even if at times generous, has not been enough, and we continue to grieve thousands of deaths.

Today’s Gospel acclamation contains Jesus’ invitation: “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28). The Lord promises refreshment and freedom to all the oppressed of our world, but he needs us to fulfil his promise. He needs our eyes to see the needs of our brothers and sisters. He needs our hands to offer them help. He needs our voice to protest the injustices committed thanks to the silence, often complicit, of so many. I should really speak of many silences: the silence of common sense; the silence that thinks, “it’s always been done this way”; the silence of “us” as opposed to “you”. Above all, the Lord needs our hearts to show his merciful love towards the least, the outcast, the abandoned, the marginalized.

In the Gospel we heard, Matthew tells us of the most important day in his life, the day Jesus called him. The Evangelist clearly records the Lord’s rebuke to the Pharisees, so easily given to insidious murmuring: “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice’” (9:13). It is a finger pointed at the sterile hypocrisy of those who do not want to “dirty the hands”, like the priest or the Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan. This is a temptation powerfully present in our own day. It takes the form of closing our hearts to those who have the right, just as we do, to security and dignified living conditions. It builds walls, real or virtual, rather than bridges.

Before the challenges of contemporary movements of migration, the only reasonable response is one of solidarity and mercy. A response less concerned with calculations, than with the need for an equitable distribution of responsibilities, an honest and sincere assessment of the alternatives and a prudent management. A just policy is one at the service of the person, of every person involved; a policy that provides for solutions that can ensure security, respect for the rights and dignity of all; a policy concerned for the good of one’s own country, while taking into account that of others in an ever more interconnected world. It is to this world that the young look.

The Psalmist has shown us the right attitude to adopt in conscience before God: “I have chosen the way of faithfulness, I set your ordinances before me” (Ps 119,30). A commitment to faithfulness and right judgement that all of us hope to pursue together with government leaders in our world and all people of good will. For this reason, we are following closely the efforts of the international community to respond to the challenges posed by today’s movements of migration by wisely combining solidarity and subsidiarity, and by identifying both resources and responsibilities.

I would like to close with a few words in Spanish, directed particularly to the faithful who have come from Spain.

I wanted to celebrate the fifth anniversary of my visit to Lampedusa with you, who represent rescuers and those rescued on the Mediterranean Sea. I thank the rescuers for embodying in our day the parable of the Good Samaritan, who stopped to save the life of the poor man beaten by bandits. He didn’t ask where he was from, his reasons for travelling or his documents… he simply decided to care for him and save his life. To those rescued I reiterate my solidarity and encouragement, since I am well aware of the tragic circumstances that you are fleeing. I ask you to keep being witnesses of hope in a world increasingly concerned about the present, with little vision for the future and averse to sharing. With respect for the culture and laws of the country that receives you, may you work out together the path of integration.

I ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten our minds and to stir our hearts to overcome all fear and anxiety, and to make us docile instruments of the Father’s merciful love, ready to offer our lives for our brothers and sisters, as the Lord Jesus did for each of us.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

A Lay "Cardinal" – In Media Reform's Take Two, Francis Makes History

As an op with the early word put it on Tuesday, "this is going to be big" – and indeed it is: in a move without precedent for the 500 year-old Roman Curia, the Pope has entrusted the leadership of a Vatican department to a member of the laity.

Marking an attempted reboot at his fraught reform of the Holy See's media properties, at Roman Noon this Thursday Francis named Paolo Ruffini – the 61 year-old serving until now as head of the Italian bishops' broadcast outlet TV2000 – as prefect of the recently-renamed Dicastery for Communications, the new umbrella organ encompassing Vatican Radio, TV, the Press Office, the publishing house, a growing editorial operation, and the functions of the now-suppressed Pontifical Council for Social Communications. (As is now customary for occasions of the sort, a photo of the new prefect with Francis – who reportedly chose Ruffini earlier this week – was released to mark the appointment.)

With the move, the married Sicilian shatters a "stained-glass ceiling" – while a handful of laypeople or women religious have occupied the #3 posts of major Curial offices over the last half-century, and John Paul II first put a layman at the helm of the lower-ranking Press Office in 1984, a non-ordained figure has never risen to the level of Prefect: a position that, under the Pastor Bonus norms of 1988, belonged exclusively to the heads of the nine Congregations, the top judge of the Apostolic Signatura (the church's highest court) and the head of the Papal Household, all but the last one ex officio cardinals. Put simply, the title represents the pinnacle of executive power in the church's central government – and the merged media arm's massive spread of some 650 employees only amplifies the significance of the choice.

Said to be very well-regarded among his colleagues – so much so that, according to one report, some of his TV2000 staff wept on learning of today's announcement – Ruffini succeeds Msgr Dario Viganò, whose March ouster after misrepresenting a letter from Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI brought to a head a long-simmering discontent among staffers and vested observers over his execution of the reform.

While ops report that the new prefect doesn't speak English and lacks much exposure to the international media world, by early accounts, Ruffini nonetheless comes to the post with two key attributes that eluded his predecessor: experience in management alongside a history in content production, and a knack for the "personal relationships" that, according to some, Viganò didn't adequately maintain amid the deep sensitivities and high stakes of consolidating the media entities, each with their own long-standing culture and sense of turf.

Along those lines, two of the key bonds the incoming media chief will need to build at the outset are likely to make for a particular high-wire act: with Viganò himself, who Francis placed in the dicastery's third-ranking post following his resignation, and with the office's top deputy, Argentine Msgr Lucio Ruiz, who was reportedly being "test-piloted" for the prefect's role at the start of the vacancy. In addition, while Viganò assembled a high-powered global team of consultants for the office – including both the progressive lead voice of the Jesuits' America magazine, Fr James Martin, and Michael Warsaw, the CEO of EWTN – in a sign of the project's disarray, the dicastery's advisers and prelate-members still have yet to be gathered together nearly 18 months since the bulk of them were named.

Among other challenges ahead, the reform still has yet to absorb L’Osservatore Romano – the Vatican’s daily newspaper and the oldest piece of the Pope’s communication apparatus – whose staff has been said to be overtly reluctant to cede their semi-autonomous standing.

Prominent and historic as today's nod is, though, the Comms portfolio isn't the most critical personnel pick facing Francis over the summer break: that choice remains the Pope's appointment of the next Sostituto of the Secretariat of State – the Curia's "nerve center" role, roughly equivalent to the White House Chief of Staff.

Having opened up due to the newly-elevated Cardinal Angelo Becciu's transfer to the helm of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, according to several ops, the twin frontrunners for the post present a study in contrasts. The current Nuncio to the Philippines, Archbishop Gabriele Giordano Caccia, 60, would be the ultimate "inside man," both as an Italian and having spent seven years as Assessore, the Sostituto's deputy – a period during which his counterpart on the diplomatic side was notably Msgr Pietro Parolin, now a cardinal and Francis' formidable "prime minister." On the flip-side, meanwhile, the Filipino-born Archbishop Bernardito Auza, 59, has served since 2014 in one of Vatican diplomacy's most prestigious postings – the Holy See's permanent observer at the United Nations headquarters in New York – after a six-year stint as Nuncio to Haiti. Known universally as "Barney," the ebullient prelate has carved out a markedly high profile in the UN post – to an unusual degree for a top diplomat – and would represent a milestone as Parolin's top deputy, becoming the Curia's highest-ranking Asian in history.

Either way, amid perceptions that Francis' internal reform has stalled, the next Sostituto could have an even more enduring impact than most occupants of the post – on top of the usual clearinghouse role, it'll fall to the Pope's pick to implement the long-germinating new constitution slated to rearrange the Roman Curia.

The text's first complete draft submitted to Papa Bergoglio last month by his "Gang of Nine" cardinal-advisers, the new regolamento – the first since John Paul issued Pastor Bonus 30 years ago last week – is expected to be published next year.


Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Blase Scores "Hat Trick" – Pope Taps 3 Auxiliaries for Chicago

In the works for quite some time from his seat on the Congregation for Bishops, Cardinal Blase Cupich's much-anticipated backup has arrived – at Roman Noon, the Pope named three auxiliary bishops for the 2.4 million-member archdiocese of Chicago: Fathers Ron Hicks, 50, the vicar-general; Mark Batosic, 56, until now chaplain of the Cook County Jail; and Robert Casey, 50, until now pastor of the city's St Bede Parish.

Cupich's first batch of deputies since his arrival in late 2014, the bishops-elect were all classmates at Mundelein and ordained priests together by Cardinal Joseph Bernardin in 1994. With the triple nod, the number of Stateside auxiliaries added to the bench within the last two years now stands at 25.

While the lack of a Hispanic appointee is conspicuous given the Windy City's rapid evolution into a majority-Latino outpost over recent years, all three speak Spanish; in particular, prior to his ascent as Cupich's lead clerical aide, Hicks spent five years as a missionary in El Salvador (where, as seen below, the locals gave him a celebratory lift on his birthday), while Casey previously led Casa Jesus, the archdiocese's program for seminarians born in Latin America. All told, in light of the cardinal's laser-like focus on finding a new generation of prelates across the board who bear the smell of Francis, The Blase's home-turf trio were deliberately chosen to each have an outsize impact, and thus will inevitably be viewed as models of Papa Bergoglio's rebooted concept of pastoral leadership far beyond Chicagoland.

The lone US diocese ever to receive four hats at once since the Roman clampdown on auxiliary appointments in the early 1980s, some estimates during the process forecasted an encore for the latest crop by the Lake. Still, even if a repeat of the record didn't come to pass, the group's youth and preparation for prime time makes for enough of a splash – by contrast, the last time a US diocese was given three auxiliaries, in 2015 Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York opted for three low-profile veterans in their late 60s as opposed to rising stars who would eventually be assured of leading dioceses in their own right.

All three viewed as effective witnesses and leaders not just by Cupich, but among the Chitown presbyterate, while Hicks (below left) will remain at Quigley Chancery, in keeping with local custom Batosic (center) and Casey (right) will take the reins of the two openings among the archdiocese's six geographic vicariates. American Catholicism's most developed structure of the kind, the Chicago vicariates essentially function as mini-dioceses – and, in terms of population, are each larger than roughly 90 percent of the nation's stand-alone local churches.

Together with the announcement, Francis granted the retirements of Bishops Frank Kane and George Rassas, who both turned 75 over the last year. With today's nods, the archdiocese will have seven active auxiliaries once the bishops-elect are ordained on September 17th in Holy Name Cathedral.

As the last six months have seen no less than 10 auxiliaries tapped – in Orange, Brownsville, Atlanta, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington, Rockville Centre, and now Chicago – according to higher estimates, the ongoing "Auxnado" that's recasting the voting makeup of the USCCB could see the naming of another 15 to 20 assistant hats over the next year or so. As the Vatican's working year begins to wrap up, openings still waiting to be filled include as many as three auxiliaries for Cardinal Joe Tobin in Newark, likely two each for New York, Boston, the Military Services and Cleveland, and at least one each still pending in Houston, Dallas, San Diego, the Twin Cities... and beyond.

All told, the flood of auxiliaries – representing nearly half the 60-plus appointments carried out to date by Archbishop Christophe Pierre over his two years as Nuncio to Washington – arguably represents Francis' most influential and enduring legacy for the Stateside bench: in some cases, one that will extend to the threshold of 2050.

Back to Chicago, despite the understandable visions of Cupich setting off fireworks outside Quigley at 10am sharp to mark the arrival of his creations, with Hicks away from the city on a 30-day Ignatian retreat, a local op relays that no press conference will be held for today's appointments.

While the business of the Curia has ground to a halt for the Vatican's traditional summer exodus and the Pope's "stay-cation" at the Domus, appointments already decided tend to be announced through mid-July.


Monday, July 02, 2018

At The Border, "There Are No Villains"

For all the statements the leadership of the US' largest religious body might issue, moments like these are the thing that'll actually be remembered.

After a quickly arranged whirlwind tour that ended up unfolding over two days (doubling the original plan), the USCCB executive – Cardinal Daniel DiNardo and Archbishop José Gomez – wrapped up their visit to separated immigrant families at the Southern Border with a press conference earlier tonight at the Rio Grande Valley's Basilica of San Juan de la Valle.


With media access curtailed for most of today's stops at sites supervised by Federal agencies, according to the comments of the five-man delegation, the most intense leg of the trip was ostensibly the prelates' journey to Casa Padre – the former Wal-Mart converted into a particularly notorious shelter for some 1,500 boys separated from their parents – where they celebrated Mass for several hundred of the young detainees.


Sunday, July 01, 2018

Bench On A Mission – In Latest Push For Immigrant Families, USCCB Chiefs Run For The Border

Less than three weeks since Cardinal Joe Tobin of Newark called for a delegation of US bishops to head to the Mexican border in a show of solidarity with immigrant families being separated there, the plans have come together with stunning speed: late Friday, the conference announced that an unspecified group would make the visit on Monday, July 2nd, with the ground zero of the 2,000-plus displacements of parents from their children, South Texas' Rio Grande Valley, as the site.

The journey reportedly eyed at first for sometime in the fall by conference staff, but markedly sped up as key players cited the urgency of the moment, given the quick timeframe and the according logistical challenges, no other details have been formally relayed as yet. However, Whispers has learned that the core group for the trip is expected to be small, but top-level, led by the conference president, Houston's Cardinal Daniel DiNardo – who canceled his planned trip to Rome for last Thursday's Consistory to prioritize the border visit – and his deputy, Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, the de facto lead hand on messaging and strategy for the church's sharply ramped-up engagement on immigration matters. (The duo elected in the wake of President Trump's ascent to the White House, as vice-president, the Mexican-born Gomez is virtually certain to succeed DiNardo at the helm when their current three-year terms expire in November 2019, marking the first time the conference's top post will belong both to a Latino and the head of the nation's largest diocese.)

Beyond the USCCB executive, an op close to the planning said Saturday that just a handful of other, far junior prelates would be present aside from the mission's host and "tour-guide," Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville. A force in his own right – and one who enjoys a unique amount of high regard across the church's ideological divide – the 56 year-old's combination of intellectual heft and public-square skill has yielded a markedly increased profile for the booming 1.6 million-member fold encompassing the Valley: with the faithful comprising some 90 percent of its total population, long the Stateside church's most densely-Catholic turf, and a majority of it aged younger than 25.

Since Francis' election, Brownsville's newfound prominence has coincided with a "perfect storm" at its southern edge – the confluence of a Pope who's made advocacy for migrants his calling card amid increasing tensions over the issue in American politics and the church alike.

As the Valley church's daily ministry to the immigrant tide has arguably seen it emerge as the US' "poster diocese" for Francis' premium on the suffering "peripheries" of human existence, Flores and his team have been duly bolstered by both the pontiff and the wider Catholic scene: for the first time, earlier this year saw an auxiliary named to Brownsville, the 48 year-old Oratorian Mario Avilés – a Mexican-born local pastor with Roman experience – while the head of the diocese's Catholic Charities, Missionary of Jesus Sister Norma Pimentel, has rapidly become one of the US' most visible women religious, a trajectory capped this spring by her acceptance of Notre Dame's Laetare Medal (above), the first Latina ever to receive American Catholicism's most venerable award. (On the eve of the bishops' visit, the current spike of asylum seekers saw Sr Norma take to the local airwaves asking for help in finding a larger space to adequately serve those coming to Catholic Charities for aid, which she estimated as 100 to 200 families a day over recent weeks.)

Capped by a press conference with the visitors, tomorrow's event will be the US hierarchy's third major manifestation at the border in the last three years, following a 2014 Mass at Arizona's border fence led by Francis' top North American adviser, Cardinal Seán O'Malley OFM Cap. of Boston, and the 2016 gathering of several top US prelates at the Rio Grande's banks in El Paso, watching from the Texas side as the Pope celebrated Mass in Ciudad Juarez and laid a wreath at the border's edge in tribute to those who died making the effort to cross over (below). (Due to logistical hurdles, Francis' stated desire to pass into the US himself at the time could not be accommodated.)

With the specifics of tomorrow's schedule still to be released, the only known event of yet will be an 11am Central Mass today in the arena-esque Basilica of San Juan de la Valle, Brownsville's de facto cathedral employed for major diocesan events.

As ever, more as it transpires.