Sunday, August 26, 2018

From the Crisis Desk

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Buona domenica to one and all... and, well, this is where we're at.

Lest it wasn't already clear, an already surreal two months took yet another wild turn late Saturday – and now, even as weekends aren't the best time to reach the house ops (for obvious reasons), this Sunday's still being taken up with collecting impressions and reactions; in that light, the phone ain't just hot because of its battery usage.

As previously noted, for an Italian, this is no kind of August. Still, as the significance and intensity of these days only have one equal over 13 years of Whispers (i.e. the immediate aftermath of B16's resignation and the subsequent Conclave), if there was ever a time for this work, this is it.

To be sure, there's more to come... and to keep it coming your way here, as ever, these pages can only keep at the task thanks to your support:


Saturday, August 25, 2018

Viganò Goes "Nuclear" – Targeting Rome and US, Ex-Nuncio's "Saturday Night Massacre"

Even before last week's release of the Pennsylvania grand-jury report, several key US prelates privately told Whispers of their sense that the coming storm was already "worse than 2002 – because this time, it's about the bishops."

Suffice it to say, that feeling has become all the more profound amid the sudden development of this late Saturday – in an 11-page memo that can only be described as "nuclear," to say nothing of fresh fuel for the burgeoning crisis, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò (above), the now-retired Nuncio to the US who served in Washington from 2011-16, testified that he had informed the Pope in 2013 about then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick's harassment and abuse of seminarians, only to be ignored.

Along the way, Viganò – a lead whistle-blower behind the 2012 "Vatileaks" fiasco, who's more recently become a public critic of Francis' over the Pope's approach in Amoris Laetitia – produces a laundry list of leading prelates both in the Vatican and the US who he alleges were aware of McCarrick's misconduct, as well as other indications of the disgraced prelate's influence with the current pontiff.

Notably, however, one thing the former Nuncio doesn't mention is his own reported pressure on the auxiliaries of the Twin Cities in early 2015 to quash a diocesan investigation into similar allegations of misconduct and harassment by then-Archbishop John Nienstedt, which played a part in the outspoken conservative's early resignation at 68 that summer as a multi-front scandal enveloped Minnesota's lead fold, dragging most of the state's dioceses into Chapter 11 bankruptcy due to a torrent of abuse suits. (Only this past May, the Twin Cities church settled its own bankruptcy filing with a $210 million settlement for some 450 survivors – the second-largest payout ever made by an American see.)

To be sure, the statement contains a fair share of seeking to settle scores – among other gripes, Viganò (who lamented his transfer to Washington as a "punishment" from the outset) grinds his long-standing ax toward Benedict XVI's "Vice-Pope," the then-Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, alongside lambasting several allies of Francis while defending prelates the Pope reputedly views as "right-wing." That the ex-Nuncio's memo was first reported by LifeSiteNews – a conservative outlet devoted to opposing the Pope at practically every turn – merely underscores the point.

Nonetheless, given the source and the broad indictment laid out, here below is Viganò's fulltext – either scrollable in the window, or expandable by clicking the arrow-in-square icon at top right:

Just when you thought it was "safe," more to come.

SVILUPPO: After some leading Whispers ops expressed caution over taking Viganò's authorship of the document at face value late Saturday – with one skeptic musing that the ex-Nuncio has long been "pissed as hell" at Francis – early Sunday, the archbishop confirmed its authenticity to the Washington Post...

"The Stains on Our State" – In Ireland, The Scandals Take Center Stage

While every PopeTrip has its challenges of one kind or another, apart from a trek into an active war-zone, for Francis, this weekend was always bound to be the diciest road-show of all.

And that was even before the latest storm hit.

As practically every commentary going into these days has rehashed, 39 years since the vigorous, newly-elected John Paul II bestrode Ireland like a colossus on the Isle's first-ever papal visit, the soil of saints and missionaries which welcomed Francis this morning is now "Post-Catholic Ireland" – a radically altered tiger from the age of its militant triumphalism... at least, of the ecclesiastical kind.

All of eight decades since John Charles McQuaid (the future archbishop of Dublin) served as a de facto ghostwriter of the Republic's 1937 Constitution, then the 1979 visit marked Éireann's cultural equivalent of the moon landing, the collapse of Irish Catholicism as bulwark of the state has resonated powerfully across the globe over the last decade – first with three massive state inquiries over abuse and its cover-up by dioceses and religious orders alike, then punctuated by successive referenda in 2015 and last spring which respectively abolished constitutional bans on same-sex marriage and abortion, both by roughly 2-to-1 margins.

Within the walls, meanwhile, the change of epoch has been even more pronounced. Despite the church's ongoing near-monopoly control of state-funded schools, the level of religious practice continues a two-decade plummet – in most dioceses, meanwhile, the active presbyterates are in the midst of an epochal crunch of priests. On the latter front, with what's left of the last large ordination classes of the 1960s and '70s now entering retirement, most local churches will have lost two-thirds of their assignable clerics by this decade's end – and it's no outlier, either, to find that the youngest priest in most places is already older than 40.

Like the site-choice of the last World Meeting of Families, the selection of Dublin to host this edition of the triennial Vatican event was intended to spur a reboot for a fallen church that had once been a prized boast of the Catholic world. Under the weight of the latest global round of revelations of abuse and cover-up, however, where John Paul once brought the country to a halt on telling its youth that "I love you," this time Francis' treatment of the scandals has seen the reaction of a new generation of public reaction openly term the Pope "disgraceful" while on Irish soil. In short, even if the church's response to abuse was always bound to loom large over this visit, the crisis' recent amplifications from Chile to Australia – and, above all, last week's cataclysmic grand-jury report after a two year probe of six Pennsylvania dioceses – has effectively scuttled any hope that the weekend visit could serve as a launching-pad for the renewal of the Irish church, long the goal of the capital's Archbishop Dublin Martin, one of the global church's most outspoken top figures on the crisis' toll.

Adding to the cosmic strangeness of it all, in a first for any papal visit, the pontiff's official host for these days is an openly-gay man – Leo Varadkar (below), the physician-son of an Indian immigrant, who came out shortly before his election as Taoiseach (prime minister) at 40 last year.

Having celebrated May's national vote repealing the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution – the state's protection of the right to life of the unborn – as the culmination of a quarter-century's "quiet revolution" that shifted the foundations of Irish society, with Francis already taking sizable criticism even from his usual fan-base over a lacking sense of tone in his Monday letter to the global church on the latest scandals, it's arguably a sign of these roiled times that Varadkar's speech welcoming Francis earlier today at Dublin Castle has been roundly perceived as holding more of the moral high ground on the charged issue than the Pope's subsequent comment on it.

Here, the relevant piece of the Taoiseach's talk:
At times in the past we have failed. There are ‘dark aspects’ of the Catholic Church’s history, as one of our bishops recently said. We think of the words of the Psalm which tells us that ‘children are a heritage from the Lord’ and we remember the way the failures of both Church and State and wider society created a bitter and broken heritage for so many, leaving a legacy of pain and suffering.

It is a history of sorrow and shame.

In place of Christian charity, forgiveness and compassion, far too often there was judgement, severity and cruelty, in particular, towards women and children and those on the margins.

Magdalene Laundries, Mother and Baby Homes, industrial schools, illegal adoptions and clerical child abuse are stains on our State, our society and also the Catholic Church. Wounds are still open and there is much to be done to bring about justice and truth and healing for victims and survivors.

Holy Father, I ask that you use your office and influence to ensure this is done here in Ireland and across the World. 
In recent weeks, we have all listened to heart-breaking stories from Pennsylvania of brutal crimes perpetrated by people within the Catholic Church, and then obscured to protect the institution at the expense of innocent victims. It is a story all too tragically familiar here in Ireland.

There can only be zero tolerance for those who abuse innocent children or who facilitate that abuse.

We must now ensure that from words flow actions.

Above all, Holy Father, I ask to you to listen to the victims....
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Long in the planning – but only announced earlier this week amid a public outcry over its absence from the public schedule – earlier tonight the Pope kept his usual practice in abuse-scarred countries of meeting privately with a group of victims. According to a statement released by several of the survivors in attendance, Francis referred to the church's history of corruption and cover-up as "caca" – in English, literally "shit."

Still, what's likely to be Papa Bergoglio's strongest word on Ireland's 25-year trail of scandal won't come until this visit's tail end – only after Sunday afternoon's closing Mass in the Phoenix Park is Francis slated to deliver his speech to the Irish bishops, literally on the way to Dublin Airport.

Usually a first-day activity for a PopeTrip – and, regardless of location, always the most biting text Francis unleashes on the road – the unusual timing for the encounter leads one to believe the host-bench will be happy to see the back of him... well, even more than they would've been already.

As always, stay tuned.


Tuesday, August 14, 2018

In Pennsylvania Church, "The Weaponization of Faith"

After a two-year process, an 884-page Pennsylvania grand jury report detailing seven decades of sexual abuse and its cover-up in the dioceses of Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton was released at 2pm Eastern, the end of a court-imposed deadline.

The most sprawling probe of its kind for the American church – equaled only by similar state inquiries in Ireland and Australia – the grand jury identified some 300 accused clerics across the six dioceses and 1,000 victim-survivors found through testimonies and seven decades' worth of subpoenaed personnel files and other records.

The entire report can be found here. With the impacted dioceses set to react at separate news conferences later today, more to follow; as ever, real-time developments are being posted in these pages' running side-feed.


Wednesday, August 01, 2018

"Our Church Is Suffering From A Crisis of Sexual Morality" – Amid "A Grievous Moral Failure," The Bench's "Way Forward"

Four days after the watershed resignation of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick as a member of the College of Cardinals following allegations of abuse of minors and several revealed instances of misconduct with and harassment of adults – and with calls for an enforceable, binding accountability being taken up by an ever-growing chorus of US prelates – shortly after 1pm Eastern Wednesday, the following major statement laying out a first course of action was released by the president of the US bishops, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston:
The accusations against Archbishop Theodore McCarrick reveal a grievous moral failure within the Church. They cause bishops anger, sadness, and shame; I know they do in me. They compel bishops to ask, as I do, what more could have been done to protect the People of God. Both the abuses themselves, and the fact that they have remained undisclosed for decades, have caused great harm to people's lives and represent grave moral failures of judgement on the part of Church leaders.

These failures raise serious questions. Why weren't these allegations of sins against chastity and human dignity disclosed when they were first brought to Church officials? Why wasn't this egregious situation addressed decades sooner and with justice? What must our seminaries do to protect the freedom to discern a priestly vocation without being subject to misuse of power?

Archbishop McCarrick will rightly face the judgement of a canonical process at the Holy See regarding the allegations against him, but there are also steps we should be taking as the Church here in the United States. Having prayed about this, I have convened the USCCB Executive Committee. This meeting was the first of many among bishops that will extend into our Administrative Committee meeting in September and our General Assembly in November. All of these discussions will be oriented toward discerning the right course of action for the USCCB. This work will take some time but allow me to stress these four points immediately.

First, I encourage my brother bishops as they stand ready in our local dioceses to respond with compassion and justice to anyone who has been sexually abused or harassed by anyone in the Church. We should do whatever we can to accompany them.

Second, I would urge anyone who has experienced sexual assault or harassment by anyone in the Church to come forward. Where the incident may rise to the level of a crime, please also contact local law enforcement.

Third, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops will pursue the many questions surrounding Archbishop McCarrick's conduct to the full extent of its authority; and where that authority finds its limits, the Conference will advocate with those who do have the authority. One way or the other, we are determined to find the truth in this matter.

Finally, we bishops recognize that a spiritual conversion is needed as we seek to restore the right relationship among us and with the Lord. Our Church is suffering from a crisis of sexual morality. The way forward must involve learning from past sins.

Let us pray for God's wisdom and strength for renewal as we follow St. Paul's instruction: 'Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect' (Romans 12:2)."

"Our Time Has Come" – Amid Aussie Crisis, In Melbourne, "A First Step" Forward

Long before the abuse eruptions in Chile – and now, an increasingly destabilizing encore up and down the US' East Coast – came to dominate the scene, the church in Australia has weathered a years-long immersion in the scandals, its tentacles reaching to the very top of the hierarchy Down Under.

While the ongoing fallout of a nationwide civil probe on the church's response to abuse recently saw the country's archbishops in talks with the prime minister – himself a convert – on the way forward, and twin trials for the Vatican's finance chief, Cardinal George Pell, on historic sex crimes are set to get underway over the coming weeks, yet another front made global news over recent months: after widespread calls for his resignation on being found guilty of a 1970s cover-up and sentenced to a year's house arrest, Archbishop Philip Wilson of Adelaide reversed his prior intent to stay in office through an appeal and resigned on Monday.

While Wilson cited the "pain and distress" of the community in yielding to the outcry, the move only came in the wake of a strikingly public push from his own confreres, led by the Pope's fresh pick to helm the country's largest fold, Archbishop Peter Comensoli of Melbourne.

The first outsider to the cultural heart of Oz Catholicism to take its reins in a half-century, Francis' June choice of the New South Wales native completed a generational shift for the top rank of the Aussie church – at 54, Comensoli could lead the wildly diverse, 1.1 million-member outpost into 2040, while Archbishop Antony Fisher OP of Sydney and Bishop Vincent Long OFM of Parramatta (the third-largest diocese) likewise remain shy of their 60th birthdays. And with the Australian church embarking on a two-year process of broad consultation toward a rare Plenary Council (effectively a national synod) in 2020, the sense of drastic cultural change is only set to accelerate.

Having already met with victims since arriving on Sunday, then embarking on a media spree that's seen him talk the scandals' toll on his own family, Comensoli's formal launch came at an evening liturgy tonight marked by the cultural melting pot within its pews... and the "newbie's" call for "a first step" toward a more missionary church.

Here, the fullvideo:

...and the archbishop's inaugural homily:
We can be reasonably confident that the Apostle Paul’s determination to get to Rome was not for the spaghetti and coffee. St Paul’s extraordinary missionary journey of faith took him from Jerusalem, and the Semitic world of the one true God, through Athens and the Greek world of the intellectual gods, to Rome and the cultural world of the political gods.

Paul always saw it as God’s intention to get him to Rome. For it would be from Rome that he could bring the name of Jesus Christ from the peripheries into the centre of the world. He was certainly determined, even driven, to proclaiming Christ with gospel boldness; there was a deep intentionality about all he did.

Paul was unfailingly open and accountable for what he had been given in Christ. He was a man who boldly carried the yoke of the crucified Christ, both as a burden and a joy, but was also a man of deep sensitivity, being gratefully encouraged, as we heard, from the Christian community he was soon to live and die among.

For its part, the Church in Rome had known of Paul for some time and were eager for his coming. They were a community of many languages and faces: Jews, Gentiles, Asiatic, Middle Eastern, African, European – citizens and immigrants from all over the empire. The Church in Rome was young and vibrant, though somewhat messy and not without its struggles. They had found in Christ a way of living a common life in friendship, amid the disorienting and fragmenting commotion of a world – and worldly – city. Here were a people who had been found by God, and worthy to be considered a pearl of great price.

These were the faithful to whom Paul had been anointed and sent by God. His final missionary journey to them, made as a ‘prisoner in the Lord,’ passed from Israel, through the Mediterranean, and on to Italy. He survived starvation, shipwreck and a deadly snake bite (on Malta, of all places!), until, around the year 60AD, as St Luke rather casually observed: And so we came to Rome.

In our own way, and in this time and place, we are at a Pauline/ Roman moment, you and me. This particular successor of the Apostles, who began his missionary journey in Wollongong, having travelled via Broken Bay, has come to Melbourne. I am a sinner, who has been found by God, and now sent to you.

And you? You are God’s own people, living in this metropolis of the south. You carry the wounds and grief of a shameful past, yet you have stood up tonight to be counted as friends of God. As the Romans gathered from the far reaches of that great city, so you have gathered from up north beyond Mount Macedon, over into the east past the Dandenong Ranges, out west from Geelong and Port Philip Bay, down south along the Mornington Peninsula, and everywhere in between.

You are the living Church in Melbourne, who have also been found by God, and are now welcoming me.

Like Luke before us, now we might say: And so we come to Melbourne. But how do we proclaim a Gospel from the peripheries into the centre? How do we speak of grace and mercy in a diverse society? How do we become signs of hope and joy in a culture of rival visions? Though we need accountable structures to do this, the Church is not an institution; though we strive to do good works, we are not an NGO; though we have things of beauty to show, we are not a museum.

The Church we belong to is a ‘she’, not an ‘it’; a living person, not a lifeless thing. We are a pilgrim People of God, called to be missionary disciples. We are the Body of Christ, where the weakest and most vulnerable have the places of honour. We are the Temple of the Holy Spirit and stewards of God’s grace.

Our common task, then, is a missionary one. Having been anointed and sent, our task is to go with the gospel of Jesus Christ into our families, our local neighbourhoods, and the wider society. How do we do this? Well, a good start might be to get the soil of our culture under our fingernails as we plant seeds of grace and peace. Pray for one another; befriend each other. Forgive, and seek forgiveness. Barrack for Gospel Joy, not just your footy team. Make mercy our calling card and healing our gift. Be open, warm and honest in the way we attend to others.

Nurture a faith that trusts, foster a hope that encourages, and offer a love that is tender. This is what it means to proclaim Jesus Christ, because it is what Jesus Christ proclaimed. We need only to take a first step.

Here, in Melbourne, we have a home-grown example of one such first-stepper, Mary of the Cross MacKillop. Just up on Brunswick St, in the ACU quadrangle you will pass on the way to this evening’s reception, there is a statue of a young Mary on the threshold of her missionary journey. She is sitting on a bench looking out, poised for her future, about to get on the move.

I’ve come from the city where Mary completed her missionary journey, to the city where she began it. You are the Church that produced Australia’s first saint. And as Mary sits eager and expectant to what lies before her, I now join you on this threshold, poised in anticipation of what we are to do in Christ Jesus.

So, Church of Melbourne, may I claim a newbie’s boldness and remind you of what I already know about you? You are a Church that can produce great fruits. You have it in you already to do this, for you – we – are saint whisperers here! As you pass Mary’s statue tonight, or on some other occasion, go and sit with her. Look out with her. Get up with her. Our time has come to see the gospel- need, and to do something about it.

Yes, we carry great wounds and griefs, and faith can be such a struggle, but we – the Church in Melbourne – can be young again, by being young in Jesus Christ. May we prefer nothing to Him, for He prefers nothing to us.