Thursday, November 29, 2018

In "Land of Enchantment," A Double Hit

As if Wednesday's descent on Houston Chancery by the civil authorities wasn't enough on its own, only later did it emerge that, at the very same time, things were likewise brewing across the other side of Texas.

While the 12-hour search of the headquarters of the US' sixth-largest diocese – which, it's since become known, involved Federal agents alongside state Rangers and county-level law enforcement – dominated the headlines, reports from New Mexico subsequently brought word of a similar warrant served on the archdiocese of Santa Fe amid a previously announced statewide probe, one of the 15 currently underway across the country.

According to the local New Mexican, the seizure of files was ordered by state Attorney General Hector Balderas due to "a disagreement over a layer of confidentiality that covers certain documents investigators are seeking," which the AG claimed would inhibit the investigation were the records to remain sealed. In addition, the prosecutor alleged that church officials had missed his deadline to voluntarily provide the documents.

Fresh from that development, however, this afternoon saw a second shoe drop for the 330,000-member church, as Archbishop John Wester announced the archdiocese's intention to file for Chapter 11 reorganization, citing a combination of "diminished resources" and the expectation of more litigation ahead.

With its plan set to be formalized next week, Santa Fe becomes the 17th US diocese to declare bankruptcy upon a wave of abuse suits – a figure that now brings the proportion of the nation's local churches which've taken that step to just under 10 percent. Yet far more significantly, the New Mexico process would be the first diocesan Chapter 11 case to occur alongside a full civil inquest of abuse and its cover-up, both proceedings likely to wend on for years.

At a press conference following today's emergency meeting of his presbyterate, Wester said that the archdiocese faced 35 open lawsuits – five of them brought in recent weeks once the bankruptcy decision had been made, according to local reports.

On a broader front, meanwhile, the double-whammy of the raid and a reorganization is but the latest rough turn for one of the US' most tormented venues over the long history of the abuse crisis; a diocese that's undergone a full quarter-century of tumult, beginning from the 1993 resignation of Archbishop Robert Sanchez upon revelations of the prelate's misconduct with three teenage girls.

One of two senior US prelates forced from office over a sex scandal in the early 1990s, the fall of Sanchez – who, two decades earlier, made history on becoming the nation's first Latino archbishop – simultaneously unearthed the first lawsuits alleging Santa Fe's history of negligence in overseeing abusive priests: a steady stream of cases that, over decades, was estimated to number into the dozens. (In the wake of August's Pennsylvania grand-jury report, the Albuquerque Journal found that another 60 suits were filed against the archdiocese between 2010 and 2015 alone.)

As previously noted, the confluence of the rapid spread of civil investigations and a new cycle of legal claims – the latter aided by emboldened calls for state-level "window" legislation that would suspend the statute of limitations on filing suits – all portend another long, costly slog for the US church: one that, by its end, could exact an even bigger financial toll than the crisis' first nationwide outbreak in 2002.

With the majority of the nation's state legislatures set to convene for new sessions in January, the ongoing wake of the landmark Pennsylvania report – and a political environment that's only recently seen "taking on the church" become palatable or, indeed, even desirable across the partisan divide – is likely to bring another round of scandal-related civil proposals to enforce accountability and/or liability all across the map.

Though most diocesan bankruptcy filings have ended up with smaller settlement amounts than had Chapter 11 not been filed, the largest such deal by far was reached earlier this year – the $210 million June payout from the archdiocese of St Paul and Minneapolis to resolve the cases brought by 450 victim-survivors, now the second-biggest settlement made by the US church.


Wednesday, November 28, 2018

In H-Town, A Hard Day's Night

(SVILUPPO: And, well, it's over – per a Whispers op, the sweep ended around 9.45pm local/Central: almost exactly 12 hours after it began.)

Ten hours into the prosecutorial operation Houston Chancery doesn't want to be described as a "raid," the senior officials of the US' sixth-largest diocese – led by the sitting president of the bench – remain shut out of their offices and huddled in a conference room at 1700 San Jacinto as a crowd of "at least 50, if not more" state law enforcement agents continue poring through the files....

Between the symbolism, substance – and, indeed, surprise – of the moment, there's a lot in the air, and at least as much to be untangled.

Ergo, with this long day's "late edition" in the works – and no shortage to unravel over time ahead, both here and beyond – the reminder's in order that these pages only keep coming your way thanks to your support....

*   *   *
(11.45pm CT) – Just to be clear, when it comes to Houston Chancery, the adage "Where there's smoke..." doesn't apply like it usually would.

Along those lines, on the eve of today's warrants – which, according to a Harris County op, have actually been expected from the Montgomery County DA for the last several months – late Tuesday saw the Cardinal-President of the US bench give his most significant off-script talk before or since this month's cataclysmic USCCB meeting in Baltimore to the NBC affiliate of his home-church: the nation's fourth-largest city and its 1.8 million Catholics (a fold grown six times over since 1990).

That the tape began with an ask to confirm Whispers' reporting from a month ago was rather amusing... then again, given how Texas first received word of its watershed red hat, that Houston media still haven't learned how this beat works under good circumstances leads one to wonder how they can duly cover this. (To wit, that a lead anchor in a major market can even think that the US has "246 dioceses" – 49 over the mark – let alone say it on air is clearly something beyond this scribe's pay grade.)

As the venerable Pietro Sambi (blessings and peace be upon him) famously warned DiNardo before dropping the scarlet bomb: "Sit down"...

...and 11 years later, the wisdom of that word needed well elsewhere – yet in the final year of a term he had to be dragged to accept in the first place – here now, the President of the United States (Bishops):

On the other side, meanwhile, the "Appetite for Destruction"-esque decibel levels that accompanied the Fall Classic – which only seemed to increase with one's distance from the Floor – served to drown out the most striking crisis-induced shift that the helm of the US' largest religious body has ever witnessed, even if the beginning of its effect still remains to emerge:

If history's any indicator, it'd be a shock if 5 percent of this readership bothered to click into either of these clips... yet in a time when some kind of "leadership" from the trenches is the cry – a task which begins with listening – even more than usual, folks, ignoring what's right in front of you is even less of an excuse.


Amid Warrant for Files, Houston Chancery Has(n't) Been Raided

Eleven years ago this week, the eyes of American Catholicism were on the South, as the church's epochal ascent in Texas was capped by the region's first-ever red hat.

Now, with Cardinal Daniel DiNardo leading the US bishops through the bench's signal crisis of its modern history, another sign of the times hit Houston Chancery this morning, as the home-base of the 1.8 million-member fold was served with a search warrant by Texas Rangers, joined by a wider horde of law-enforcement officials sent by a local prosecutor.

To be clear, early indications are that the search is limited in scope – the order for files issued by the district attorney of one of the ten counties that comprise the Galveston-Houston archdiocese (and not its demographic core in Harris County, at that), jurisdictional issues are bound to arise quickly. Accordingly, in the broad sweep of things, the significance of today's move is more symbolic than anything – and to a staggering degree, at that.

With at least 14 states and the District of Columbia already under statewide probes – not to mention the even more seismic launch by the US Department of Justice of what could become a nationwide investigation – the civil sweep of the South's most prominent local church nonetheless adds the home base of the USCCB president to a list of Stateside outposts under inquest that already included the bulk of the nation's 15 largest dioceses (by size, New York, Chicago, Brooklyn, Rockville Centre, Miami, Newark, Philadelphia and Detroit), encompassing well over a third of American sees in total, and now brings the specter of the ongoing crisis into the place which has represented the Stateside church's most marked growth and vibrance over the last quarter-century.

In response to this morning's development, the following statement has just emerged from Houston Chancery:
"This morning, the District Attorney of Montgomery County executed a search warrant for records and information related to an ongoing investigation. The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston continues to cooperate, as we have since the outset, with this process. In fact, consistent with Cardinal DiNardo’s pledge of full cooperation, the information being sought was already being compiled. Also, “secret archives” is merely a Church term pertaining to confidential documents kept in a secure manner for the protection of the privacy of individuals — not unlike medical records. Pending additional information or developments, the Archdiocese will have no further comment on this ongoing investigation. Finally, please note any use of the term “raid” is an inaccurate and unprofessional reference to a request for records to a party that has been cooperating and will continue to cooperate fully."
* * *
On a related note, as this morning's news now means that investigations of one sort or another are underway in five of the six largest states, it might seem that the one glaring exception to date is California – led by the 5 million-member behemoth in Los Angeles (the biggest local church American Catholicism has ever known), home to one-sixth of the nation's 75 million faithful all told.

Despite the appearance, however, Whispers ops on the ground out West have been on high alert for weeks in anticipation that the files of the Golden State's dozen dioceses will likely be subpoenaed by Attorney General Xavier Becerra for a statewide probe. Though that step hasn't yet been taken, Becerra's office recently launched a webpage to solicit "information from the public" on clergy sex-abuse cases.

Having already spent in excess of $1 billion to settle lawsuits – topped by LA's $660 million payout in 2007, still by far the largest deal ever reached by a US diocese – a legislative attempt at a second "window" suspending the civil statute of limitations (15 years since a prior opened the floodgates) was vetoed earlier this month by departing Gov. Jerry Brown. Yet with the onetime Jesuit scholastic set to leave office in January, Democratic Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom is reportedly in favor of the legislation.

Developing – more to come.

SVILUPPO: A later update.


Sunday, November 25, 2018

"The Mouth That Roared," Madison's Morlino Dies at 71

Even as the US bench is known for its fair share of bomb-throwers, it's an according shock that the most gleeful and fearless among them has been stilled.

Fifteen years into an ever-controversial stewardship of Wisconsin's capital fold, Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison died late Saturday, three days after an unspecified "cardiac incident."

A month shy of 72, the Scranton-born ex-Jesuit was, bar none, the American hierarchy's ultimate provocateur. And just to be fully clear, it was a distinction he didn't mind one bit.

Assembling a full slate of Morlino's various skewerings would take the rest of the year, but among others that suffice to tell the tale, there was the Sunday morning homily in the midst of the 2008 campaign that turned into a spontaneous diatribe against Nancy Pelosi; his blast of the liberal anthem "All Are Welcome" as a lie unsuited for liturgical use; the early depiction of his wildly progressive turf's civic attitude as being "highly comfortable with virtually no public morality"; a Chancery clarification that could've been read as denying funeral rites to openly gay Catholics; the warning to graduates earlier this year that "your peers in this generation and so many others are running toward hell with much more enthusiasm and strength than so many mediocre people are running toward heaven"... and to cap it off, a decade-old academic talk that helped lay the groundwork for a Vatican inquest of the US' religious women.

All told, some would cheer, many would cringe, but the method was simple: to leave no thought unspoken. (That Morlino's diocesan column was always published with a disclaimer unique among the bench – namely, that his musings were intended solely for his own faithful and no one beyond them – merely reinforced the point... the warning, however, was usually honored more in the breach than the observance.)

A late-life favorite of John Paul II – with whom he bonded over their shared Polish heritage – the bishop once noted privately of how, upon his transfer to Madison in 2003, he was told that "Rome wanted a fighter" in the secularist mecca, and that's precisely what they got. Absolutely no one agreed with everything he said – he would've found that boring – yet whatever one made of it, the tidal waves of reaction only went to prove how he could never be ignored.

Still, the octane level of the quotes in print obscured the piece that made it work – the telling glint in the eye that his bark was far worse than his bite. In other words, even if Morlino's zingers made it sound like he'd chew your leg off (if not both), in reality, odds were he'd end up cooking you dinner instead... and sitting down to eat in an open shirt, still wearing his apron – then running back and forth to serve everything himself – those meals were something to behold.

The penchant for controversy hid something else, too. Given Madison's brutal winters, you'd think the day the locals call "Skin Friday" – the end of the first warm spring week – would see the college kids thronged in the streets and down on the lakes, not packed into a downtown adoration chapel at mid-afternoon... but there they were.

Indeed, well beyond recruiting a crop of seminarians that peaked at 35, some 40-plus already ordained – both stunning figures for a diocese of less than 300,000 – Morlino drove an uptick of youth ministry and engagement that would be a standout boast anywhere in the American church. And with the "living stones" already bolstered, last year brought the culmination of the effort: the dedication of a sprawling, almost majestic new Catholic Center on the University of Wisconsin campus (above), replacing a structure wrecked in the '70s whose baptismal font was literally a derelict above-ground swimming pool, its tabernacle a plexiglas black box.

For a bench that usually goes years without a diocesan vacancy upon a bishop's death, the opening of the Wisconsin post is the US' third to occur within four months following its ordinary's sudden illness – in July, Bishop Richard Garcia of Monterey died at 71 after a weeks-long bout with early-onset Alzheimer's, while Saginaw's Bishop Joseph Cistone succumbed in mid-October at 69 to what was thought to be a mild, easily treatable lung cancer.

There will be a time to talk the Madison succession, and this isn't it. For now, it nonetheless bears noting that the void in Morlino's wake adds yet another challenging personnel-choice on top of a docket already brimming with them... but considering the unique state of the diocese the big man leaves behind – one which, among other aspects, hasn't had a cathedral since St Raphael's burned to the ground in 2006 – who takes his place in the "People's Republic" might just be the most fascinating pick of all.

*  *  *
As a boy in Scranton, Morlino once told a friend that he was taught to be faithful to three institutions in life: "The Church, The New York Yankees – and The Republican Party."

Much as that was a private remark, per usual, it was one he left few illusions about in the open...

...but this scribe knows the line as he said it to me.

Practically from the beginning of the Whispers experience, Madison's fourth bishop has been a devoted friend, confidant – and, as you can well imagine, one of the greatest "quote machines" a beat-writer ever could've dreamt to have.

(In just one of a million priceless examples, while walking into the election that would see Tim Dolan shatter precedent to win the USCCB Presidency, I threw my arm around Morlino and asked him to predict the outcome, which sprung this reply: "I don't know what's gonna happen, but I'm gonna make like Chicago today – vote early and VOTE OFTEN!"

(...and because we can't help ourselves, on another vivid front, while going through the morning papers with the bishop during a visit to Badger Nation, one of the day's headlines – what could've been termed his daily "hate-reading" – was Madison's decision to fly the Tibetan flag over City Hall to mark a visit by the Dalai Lama....

("Now, look, I actually don't mind that" – the inimitable cadence went – "I'd just want them to do the same thing for us if the Holy Father came here, which I very much doubt they would.")

Easy temptation that it is, the tendency to caricature the other and celebrate or demonize it on the sole basis of one's own views is one of the crimes of our age. When it happens in the context of a church, it's all the more a counter-witness – a sign that, far from heeding our better angels, we've imbibed the most toxic excesses of a secularized world. Especially as Morlino's champions and critics have lent themselves more to this dynamic over him than possibly any other figure in the discourse – at least, outside of the Pope himself – to measure the man solely on the basis of his shock value is as much a facile disservice to the truth as it'll be a predictable occurrence over the days to come.

Ever the son of Scranton – and woe to anyone who forgot it – the bishop once told me that the happiest act of his ministry wasn't any of the scores of ordinations, confirmations or church dedications he performed, no speech he ever gave, but when he was asked to be lead celebrant for the St Ann's Day Mass at her national shrine in his hometown.

Of course, part of that was the irrepressible local boy in him. But even more, the role spoke to a piece of his life more significant than anything he'd harp on in the public square: an only child whose father died young, Morlino was raised by his widowed mother and her own mother – the beloved Polish "granny" who was his only family for several decades after his Mom died, until her own passing at 99.

Given the mix of her role and his Northeast Pennsylvania roots, both Bob Morlino's "granny" and the Lord's loomed eternally large for him... and as this scribe's own grandmother reached her final years back in Philly, she found an unexpected adopted grandson in the bishop from Wisconsin.

Every time The Boss fell ill over her final lap, as soon as any mention would be made of it, without fail, Morlino was always the first to call promising prayers – and invariably had to be assured that, no, he didn't need to send flowers. Once recovered, she'd get on the phone with him from her nursing home... yet most memorably of all, the one time he made it through town during that stretch, nothing could keep the Midwestern prelate from barreling through her door to exclaim, "Hello, Granny!" just as if he had come home.

Indeed, loved as she was by no shortage of this crowd, Morlino was the only bishop who met Boss before we lost her six years ago... and the mental snapshot of the two lions – both as frequently misunderstood as they were stubbornly faithful (or, sometimes, just faithfully stubborn) – simply basking in each other is as unforgettable a moment as it sounds.

As we left her that day, Boss told Morlino – much like him, in no uncertain terms – "Faddah, I gotta get outta here and go home so I can make you dinner." In that light, shocking and difficult as this loss is, that he would be taken in the week of her birthday, on the calendar's ultimate feast of triumph (not to mention, given his lifelong affinity for Notre Dame, as a come-from-behind Irish win over USC unfolded) makes for a comfort of the kind only Providence can give.

Still, though his long-awaited banquet has come due too soon, as our dear bishop-brother returns to his "granny" and mine, Morlino and his twin specialties – his osso bucco... and no shortage of the most raucous lines any of us will ever hear – will be missed beyond all telling.

May the angels lead him into Paradise, and may his spirit of fortitude and friendship be ours as we strive ahead.


Sunday, November 18, 2018

“O God, Glorify Thea….”

Lest it wasn't already clear, Church, Plenary Week always takes a bit of recovery and time to process... given this one, all the more.

While the scribe's putting the 600-piece jigsaw back together, however, what's arguably the lone "God-moment" born of these last days – by far the meeting's happiest turn – is already springing to life: later this morning, in the northern Mississippi cathedral from which her heroic witness would spread across this global Body, Sister Thea Bowman will be declared a Servant of God upon the formal opening of her cause for sainthood.

For no shortage of us, Wednesday's unanimous bench-vote that endorsed Thea's long-delayed walk to the altars was a dream come true. And if this is somehow news to you, yet again, you haven't been paying attention.

Though the resources of the Jackson church – by land, the largest diocese in the US' eastern half – are starkly thin, enthusiasm over the cause is inversely high across all sorts of quarters. Accordingly, to mark today's launch, a website for the cause has been rolled out, and with it, the following prayer for the intercession of our Sister and She-ro....

Ever loving God,
who by your infinite goodness
inflamed the heart of your Servant and religious,
Sister Thea Bowman,
with an ardent love for You and Your People, the Church:

a love expressed through her indomitable spirit,
her deep and abiding faith, dedicated teaching, exuberant singing,
and unwavering witnessing of the joy of the Gospel.

As her prophetic ministry continues to inspire us
to share the Good News with those whom we encounter
– most especially the poor, oppressed, and marginalized –
may Sister Thea’s life and legacy compel us
to walk together,
to pray together,
and to remain together as missionary disciples
ushering in a new evangelization for the Church we love.

Gracious God,
imbue us with the grace and perseverance
that you gave your Servant, Sister Thea.
For in turbulent times of racial injustice,
she sought equity, peace, and reconciliation.
In times of intolerance and ignorance,
she brought wisdom, awareness, unity, and charity.
In times of pain, sickness, and suffering,
she taught us how to live fully
until called home to the land of promise.

If it be your Will, O God,
glorify our beloved Sister Thea,
by granting the blessing I now request through her intercession
(mention your request)
so that all may know of her goodness and holiness
and may imitate her love for You and Your Church.

We ask this through Your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ.
*  *  *
Meanwhile, for those in need of Thea 101, here again is the Servant of God's celebrated preach to the bench at the US bishops' June 1989 meeting at Seton Hall, nine months before her death from bone cancer at 52.

At her insistence, two words were carved on her tombstone: "She Tried."

Especially in these days, may we who remain know the grace to begin to do just that.

Blessed Thea, pray for us... please help us to get home.


Tuesday, November 13, 2018

On the Floor, A "Free" For All

BALTIMORE – Even if the climactic votes have been nixed at Rome's behest, this afternoon's USCCB sessions still bring the presentation of the various reform drafts being proposed and – even more importantly – a lengthy period of "free discussion" among the prelates on the crisis: the first chance they've had to do that since this fresh season of scandal erupted in June.

Here, the livefeed – on-demand video of the hourlong open exchange, which'll extend into an unusual third day of public session on Wednesday...

...and as ever, more to come.


The "Gold Standard" Returns – Amid Abuse Mess, Pope Restores Scicluna To CDF

Especially as yesterday's Vatican move to nix the US bishops' votes on several crisis-spurred reforms had the effect of detonating an ecclesial bomb of confusion and outrage, this Tuesday's latest salvo from Rome is all the more significant: six years since "The Most Dangerous Man in the Vatican" was quietly slipped out of town, Archbishop Charles Scicluna is coming home to the "Holy Office."

At Roman Noon, the Pope named the 59 year-old Maltese (above right) as adjunct secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – a second #3 official, joining the Bronx-born Archbishop Gus DiNoia OP, another Ratzinger favorite alongside whom Scicluna worked closely during his first CDF tour. In a unique arrangement not seen for the Curia in a half-century, however, the announcement added that Scicluna "will remain archbishop of Malta," where he was recently given an auxiliary to help balance his already increased Roman workload.

(Correcting an earlier part of this piece, while DiNoia reached the retirement age of 75 in July – and has already voiced a hope to return to the US upon its acceptance – earlier this year, Francis asked the Yale-trained theologian to remain in post for the time being. Considering CDF's vastly expanded role as the global church's clearinghouse of abuse cases – now including accusations against bishops – on top of its traditional role as guardian of doctrine, the provision of two additional top officers tracks with the rapid growth of the caseload and related issues.)

Having spent over a decade at CDF as promoter of justice – the lead prosecutor who oversaw the removal of some 3,000 abusive clerics worldwide once the congregation wrested competence for the cases in 2001 – Scicluna's star has risen even further over the last year after the archbishop led Francis' probe of the roiled Chilean church, whose damning findings saw the country's bishops submit their resignations as a bloc during a May summons to Rome.

To date, the Pope has removed seven of Chile's diocesan bishops – a quarter of that bench – from office, with more in process.

Coming in tandem with the Holy See's last-minute "insistence" for the USCCB to delay this week's planned approvals of a new code of conduct for bishops and investigations of accused prelates, today's move further highlights the critical significance of February's summit in Rome for the presidents of the global church's episcopal conferences – the Vatican's first-ever worldwide gathering on the abuse crisis.

During a briefing at last month's Synod that quickly became dominated by questions over the scandals and Francis' handling of the storm, Scicluna pleaded for doubters of the pontiff to "give him time," underscoring with it his sense that the winter meeting would produce concrete outcomes on the accountability of bishops. In light of today's move, the latter result suddenly seems all the more bankable, let alone the potential for global norms addressing those cases (e.g. prelates involved in cover-ups or other abuses of power) not treated in existing law.

As he's retaining his diocese – and with it, the presidency of Malta's three-man bishops' conference – Scicluna notably remains an ex officio delegate to the February talks, a role he wouldn't have were he moving full-time to the new post.


Monday, November 12, 2018

Roma Locuta – Voting Finita Est

BALTIMORE – From literally the first minute of this morning's business, the meeting was thrown into disarray given a sudden call from Rome....

Lest anyone forgot, if the Pope had his way from the outset, this plenary wouldn't be taking place.

On a separate front, within minutes of the shift of plans – which clearly rattled the Floor – two Whispers ops relayed another significant change: long slated to be held in Santa Barbara, California, the bench's standard summer meeting in June 2019 will instead take place here in Baltimore. While no reason was given for the switch-up, the ostensibly larger than normal media presence and need for staff would require a bigger venue than previously foreseen. (Under the usual circumstances, the summer meetings are notorious for low turnout of bishops, aides and observers alike.)

Meanwhile, full texts are posted of Pierre's significant talk and DiNardo's Presidential Address.


At Long Last, The Floor Is Open

(Updated 9.40am)

BALTIMORE – And now, five months since the storm broke, what's arguably the climactic moment of the US church's response is now upon us.

Over 13 years of these weeks in the cradle of American Catholicism, the scene around the harborside hotel has most often been referred to as "The Circus." But this year, with a media contingent five times its normal size and protests outside slated to peak tomorrow, the term "Fortress" has taken its place; where you'd usually find two security staffers for the whole complex, this time even riding the escalators requires a credential, each of them ringed by a mix of private guards and city cops.

As for the mood, even if the weekend's arrivals and committee gatherings proceeded without incident, there's no shortage of apprehension around. Indeed, even now – while the bench quietly received the drafts of a proposed code of conduct and plans for the creation of a new, majority-lay commission to address allegations against bishops some 10 days ago – no one knows what's going to happen by this plenary's end; that this is the first chance the 250-odd bishops have had to hear each other out is a more significant variable than the wider world tends to grasp.

All that said, the standard Opening Monday will feature several twists from its 9am Eastern start – first, even before Houston's Cardinal Daniel DiNardo gives his customary Presidential Address, a separate major statement "on the crisis" will be delivered, word of which only emerged over the weekend. Yet later in the morning might just bring the day's principal fireworks –  all eyes are on the remarks of the Nuncio to Washington, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, whose unexpected private audience with Francis on Saturday morning was greeted with shock among the gathered prelates. (That, just this morning, the pontiff's Domus homily focused on the qualities of a bishop is no less significant.)

Here, the livefeed, and the full agenda for the unusual three days of public sessions:

As ever, more to come.

SVILUPPO: From this morning's session, a new piece contains further significant developments.


Tuesday, November 06, 2018

On Election Day, The Pope's "Midterms"

Before anything else, to everyone here in the States, Happy Election Day (finally) – if you haven't already, Go Vote, and may the line not be too long.

Back to this side of the First Amendment, as this beat's annual round of ballots won't come for another week, greetings from the calm before Baltimore... well, what passes for it, especially this year.

With 6 Days until the US bishops sit for their most consequential Fall Plenary in a generation, a full preview's in the works. For now, though, as a first stab at sizing up the context in which it'll unfold, one aspect stands out.

Lest anyone hasn't already noticed, after moving at a striking clip for the last two years, American Catholicism's second round of an all-out abuse storm has seen the nation's appointment docket essentially grind to a halt.

Since the end of the Vatican's summer recess, just one pick has come from the Pope: the Twin Cities pastor and seminary don Juan Miguel Betancourt, all of 48, shipped across the country in mid-September as auxiliary bishop of Hartford.

The first Puerto Rican to join the Stateside bench in some three decades – sent to Connecticut amid a marked and rapid growth of its Hispanic population – Betancourt (above right, at his ordination last month) is likewise the first member of a Schoenstatt community to be named a US bishop... and for good measure, it bears noting that New England's new arrival wasn't even born when Hartford's senior prelate – the venerable Archbishop Daniel Cronin – was himself raised to the hierarchy. (The last auxiliary of Richard James Cushing, Cronin – almost 91 and still well on the move – marked his golden jubilee as a bishop in September.)

Back to the wider board, there are several reasons for the slow-down, but well among them, the DC Nunciature's usual bandwidth has ostensibly been sucked up with handling the various and widespread aspects of the crisis' fallout (not all of which have likely emerged as yet). Yet when it comes to the docket itself, another extraordinary thing has quietly taken hold: as of this writing, no less than five vacant Stateside dioceses are either currently or just have been under investigation, civil or canonical alike.

All but one are focused on the scandals – and one happens to be the nation's capital, to boot.

Beyond the archdiocese of Washington – now the focus of an investigation by the DC attorney general, and as the local US Attorney's Office likewise moves toward its own process as Cardinal Donald Wuerl's succession is decided – the others are Las Cruces and Saginaw (both under newly opened statewide probes in the wake of August's Pennsylvania grand-jury report), Wheeling-Charleston (under both a Roman inquest over the misconduct claims that forced the resignation of Bishop Michael Bransfield, as well as a subsequent state-level subpoena of files), and Memphis (where – regardless of who he might blame in televised apparitions – Bishop Martin Holley's ill-advised management triggered an A-list apostolic visitation in June that spurred his removal from office at 63 last month).

As if that wasn't enough, the list is set to grow: given the ongoing "tsunami" in Buffalo over Bishop Richard Malone's handling of cases – which has seen the embattled prelate's former secretary and his canonical adviser both seek recourse to 60 Minutes, while no less than Francis' lead aide on child protection has openly sensed "just so many violations of the [Dallas] Charter" in the debacle – it seems increasingly palpable that the 72 year-old Harvard man (a onetime auxiliary to Cardinal Bernard Law) won't be able to survive a sea of hurdles that merely includes the lone active Federal probe of a diocese beyond the Department of Justice's recently-charted investigation of the Pennsylvania church... and that was before the Western New York diocese's fresh disclosure yesterday of another 36 credibly accused priests, beyond the 42 it revealed earlier this year. All that said, adding the even-more-loaded nature of the Buffalo case to an already daunting slate of openings just goes to underscore the challenge the Hatmakers face in finding multiple suitable replacements to tackle the fires on the ground.

In a normal time, filling just one of these hotspots would be difficult... but in case it wasn't already clear: This. Is. Not. Normal.

Still, with at least 14 attorneys general having opened statewide investigations (which, in total, span across a full third of the nation's dioceses) within ten weeks – to say nothing of the nascent Federal probe's ability, if not likelihood, to cross state lines at will – this roiled scene is shaping up to be American Catholicism's "New Normal," at least for several years to come.... Yet what's even more, Rome's picks to start righting the ship represent not merely the Pope's Stateside "Midterm," but arguably – in terms of the largest religious body on these shores – the singular defining task of Francis' pontificate.

To be sure, you won't be hearing about this on the Floor next week – at least, not during the open sessions... yet once the "flock of shepherds" leaves the ballroom, it's all very fair game.

As always, stay tuned.