Saturday, December 21, 2019

"Brothers and Sisters, Christendom No Longer Exists!" – At Curial Christmas, The Pope's "Hermeneutic of 'Change'"

Over the last two pontificates, what's formally known as the Pope's Christmas "greeting" to his Curial chiefs has gone well beyond glad tidings – if anything, the forum has arguably made for the most significant in-house speech of the year for Benedict and Francis both.

The traditional opening "bookend" to Vatican Christmas – which closes in early January with the "State of the World" address to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See – at today's appointment, the reigning pontiff yet again focused on his continuing effort on the reform of the Roman Curia, the wholesale thrust of which might finally be executed in the New Year with the most sweeping makeover of the church's central government since Vatican II. Yet while Francis employed today's talk to deliver a pointed counter to his predecessor's 2005 manifesto on "continuity," the Pope's message of "change" was exponentially amplified with his announcement that the Curia's most powerful figure of the last generation would leave his final post.

Despite being retired as Secretary of State since 2006, Cardinal Angelo Sodano has managed to retain a staggering degree of clout in the Vatican ranks, above all through his proficiency at filling the middle management of the dicasteries with loyalists over his 16 years as the Holy See's de facto COO under John Paul II. Yet at the same time, as reports piled up of the now 92 year-old cardinal's direct involvement in several major scandals – above all the cases of two globally known predators: the Legion of Christ founder Marcial Maciel Degollado and Chile's most prominent abuser, Fernando Karadima, both close Sodano allies – the veteran diplomat remained a glaringly public presence given his enduring role as Dean of the College of Cardinals: by law the church's #2 figure, and the one who presides over nearly every aspect of a vacancy of the papacy itself.

As of this morning, that dilemma is over: long perceived as needing to be "waited out" by Francis, the Pope accepted Sodano's resignation as Cardinal-Dean, with a successor soon to be elected by the now 10 cardinal-bishops (the top rank of the College, comprised of the most senior Curial prefects).

Together with this month's naming of Cardinal Chito Tagle as prefect of the Propaganda Fide, the long-awaited opening of the Deanship – a critical moment given the post's role in an eventual interregnum – represents the second instance of "succession planning" Francis has dealt with in as many weeks. Accordingly, in tandem with Sodano's departure, the pontiff issued a motu proprio changing the rules for the office of Cardinal-Dean; until now a lifetime post upon election (and its requisite confirmation by the Pope), Francis' new norms provide that the Dean is to be elected for a term of five years, which may be "renewable."

In practice, the norms will short-circuit the odd hypothetical that risked becoming reality over recent years – namely, that with all the cardinal-bishops already older than 80 (and thus ineligible to enter a Conclave), as presiding over the election falls either to the Dean or the senior cardinal-bishop if the Dean is aged out, the voting for the next Pope would've been overseen by one of the Eastern Patriarchs who had been given the red hat.

As Francis began to remedy the lacuna by adding four Curialists of electoral age to the ranks of the Cardinal-Bishops last year – any of whom would've enjoyed precedence over a patriarch – today's reform virtually ensures that future Deans will be of voting age. (As an aside, today's norms conspicuously lack any changes to the role and term of the Vice-Dean of the College; the holder of that post, the retired Bishops' Czar Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, will turn 86 next month. As the senior Cardinal-Bishop of voting age, Re presided over the 2013 Conclave.)

Yet what's more, as the Dean conducts the all-important General Congregations of the cardinals leading up to the Conclave – as well as presiding at (and preaching) both a papal funeral (where applicable) and the final public Mass before the election – it's no less significant that the role's outsize importance in setting the stage for the Making of a Pope even before the vote will belong to a still-active figure. Along these lines, it's important to recall that the last time an active Dean presided over a Conclave, he – namely, Joseph Ratzinger – ended up being elected, with his deft handling of the transition cited as a sizable asset in assuaging skeptics.

With that procedural note duly handled, now for the main event – below is the official English translation of today's loaded address by the Pope, its significance likely to see it dubbed Francis' "hermeneutic of 'change'" speech going forward.

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“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14)

Dear brothers and sisters,

I offer all of you a cordial welcome. I express my gratitude to Cardinal Angelo Sodano for his kind words and in a particular way I thank him, also in the name of the members of the College of Cardinals, for the valued service he has long provided as Dean, in a spirit of helpfulness, dedication and efficiency, and with great skill in organization and coordination. In the manner of “la rassa nostrana”, as the Piedmontese writer Nino Costa would say. Now the Cardinal Bishops have to elect a new dean. I am hoping they will elect someone who can carry this important responsibility full time. Thank you.

To each of you here, to your co-workers and all those who serve in the Curia, but also to the Papal Representatives and their staff, I extend my best wishes for a holy and joyful Christmas. And I add my appreciation for the dedication that you bring daily to your service of the Church. Thank you very much.

Once again this year, the Lord gives us the opportunity to gather for this moment of fellowship which strengthens our fraternity and is grounded in our contemplation of God’s love revealed at Christmas. A contemporary mystic has written that “the birth of Christ is the greatest and most eloquent witness of how much God loved man. He loved him with a personal love. That is why he took a human body, united it to himself and made it his own forever. The birth of Christ is itself a ‘covenant of love’, sealed for all time between God and man”.[1] As Saint Clement of Alexandria writes, “Christ came down and assumed our humanity, willingly sharing in our human sufferings, for this reason: so that, having experienced the frailty of those whom he loves, he could then make us experience his great power”.[2]

In the light of this boundless benevolence and love, our exchange of Christmas greetings is yet another chance to respond to Christ’s new commandment: “Even as I have loved you, you must also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:34-35). Jesus does not ask us to love him in response to his love for us; rather, he asks us to love one another as he does. In other words, he asks us to become like him, since he became like us. As Saint John Henry Newman prayed: “May each Christmas, as it comes, find us more and more like Him, who at this time became a little child for our sake, more simple-minded, more humble, more holy, more affectionate, more resigned, more happy, more full of God”.[3] And he went on to say: “[Christmas] is a time for innocence, and purity, and gentleness, and mildness, and contentment, and peace”[4].

This mention of Newman brings to mind his well-known words in his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, a book that coincided chronologically and spiritually with his entry into the Catholic Church: “Here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often”.[5] Naturally, he is not speaking about changing for change’s sake, or following every new fashion, but rather about the conviction that development and growth are a normal part of human life, even as believers we know that God remains the unchanging centre of all things.[6]

For Newman change was conversion, in other words, interior transformation.[7] Christian life is a journey, a pilgrimage. The history of the Bible is a journey, marked by constantly new beginnings. So it was with Abraham. So it was too with those Galileans who two thousand years ago set out to follow Jesus: “When they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him” (Lk 5:11). From that time forward, the history of God’s people – the history of the Church – has always been marked by new beginnings, displacements and changes. This journey, of course, is not just geographical, but above all symbolic: it is a summons to discover the movement of the heart, which, paradoxically, has to set out in order to remain, to change in order to be faithful.[8]

All of this has particular importance for our time, because what we are experiencing is not simply an epoch of changes, but an epochal change. We find ourselves living at a time when change is no longer linear, but epochal. It entails decisions that rapidly transform our ways of living, of relating to one another, of communicating and thinking, of how different generations relate to one another and how we understand and experience faith and science. Often we approach change as if were a matter of simply putting on new clothes, but remaining exactly as we were before. I think of the enigmatic expression found in a famous Italian novel: “If we want everything to stay the same, then everything has to change” (The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa).

The more healthy approach is to let oneself be challenged by the questions of the day and to approach them with the virtues of discernment, parrhesía and hypomoné. Seen in this light, change takes on a very different aspect: from something marginal, incidental or merely external, it would become something more human and more Christian. Change would still take place, but beginning with man as its centre: an anthropological conversion.[9]

We need to initiate processes and not just occupy spaces: “God manifests himself in historical revelation, in history. Time initiates processes and space crystalizes them. God is in history, in the processes. We must not focus on occupying the spaces where power is exercised, but rather on starting long-run historical processes. We must initiate processes rather than occupy spaces. God manifests himself in time and is present in the processes of history. This gives priority to actions that give birth to new historical dynamics. And it requires patience, waiting”.[10] In this sense, we are urged to read the signs of the times with the eyes of faith, so that the direction of this change should “raise new and old questions which it is right that we should face”.[11]

In discussing a change that is grounded mainly in fidelity to the depositum fidei and the Tradition, today I would like to speak once more of the implementation of the reform of the Roman Curia and to reaffirm that this reform has never presumed to act as if nothing had preceded it. On the contrary, an effort was made to enhance the good elements deriving from the complex history of the Curia. There is a need to respect history in order to build a future that has solid roots and can thus prove fruitful. Appealing to memory is not the same as being anchored in self-preservation, but instead to evoke the life and vitality of an ongoing process. Memory is not static, but dynamic. By its very nature, it implies movement. Nor is tradition static; it too is dynamic, as that great man [Gustav Mahler] used to say: tradition is the guarantee of the future and not a container of ashes.

Dear brothers and sisters,

In our previous Christmas meetings, I spoke of the criteria that inspired this work of reform. I also explained some changes already implemented, whether definitively or ad experimentum.[12] In 2017, I highlighted some new elements in the organization of the Curia. I gave as examples: the Third Section of the Secretariat of State, which is working very well; the relationship between the Roman Curia and particular Churches, with reference also to the ancient practice of the Visits ad limina Apostolorum; and the structure of some Dicasteries, especially that for the Oriental Churches and those for ecumenical and interreligious dialogue, particularly with Judaism.

In today’s meeting, I would like to reflect on some other Dicasteries, beginning with the heart of the reform, that is, with the first and most important task of the Church, which is evangelization. As Saint Paul VI stated: “Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize”.[13] Today too, Evangelii Nuntiandi continues to be the most important pastoral document of the post-conciliar period. Indeed, the aim of the current reform is that “the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation. The renewal of structures demanded by pastoral conversion can only be understood in this light: as part of an effort to make them more mission-oriented” (Evangelii Gaudium, 27). Consequently, inspired by the magisterium of the Successors of Peter from the time of the Second Vatican Council until the present, it was decided to give the title Praedicate Evangelium to the new Apostolic Constitution being prepared on the reform of the Roman Curia. A missionary outlook.

For this reason, I would like to discuss today some of the Dicasteries of the Roman Curia whose names explicitly refer to this: the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. I think, too, of the Dicastery for Communication and the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

The first two Congregations mentioned were established in an age when it was easier to distinguish between two rather well-defined realities: a Christian world and a world yet to be evangelized. That situation no longer exists today. People who have not yet received the Gospel message do not live only in non-Western continents; they live everywhere, particularly in vast urban concentrations that call for a specific pastoral outreach. In big cities, we need other “maps”, other paradigms, which can help us reposition our ways of thinking and our attitudes. Brothers and sisters, Christendom no longer exists! Today we are no longer the only ones who create culture, nor are we in the forefront or those most listened to.[14] We need a change in our pastoral mindset, which does not mean moving towards a relativistic pastoral care. We are no longer living in a Christian world, because faith – especially in Europe, but also in a large part of the West – is no longer an evident presupposition of social life; indeed, faith is often rejected, derided, marginalized and ridiculed.

This point was clearly made by Benedict XVI when he proclaimed the 2012 Year of Faith: “Whereas in the past it was possible to recognize a unitary cultural matrix, broadly accepted in its appeal to the content of the faith and the values inspired by it, today this no longer seems to be the case in large swathes of society, because of a profound crisis of faith that has affected many people”.[15] This also led to the establishment in 2010 of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization for the sake of fostering “a renewed evangelization in the countries where the first proclamation of the faith has already resonated and where Churches with an ancient foundation exist but are experiencing the progressive secularization of society and a sort of ‘eclipse of the sense of God’, which pose a challenge to finding appropriate means to propose anew the perennial truth of Christ’s Gospel”.[16] At times I have spoken about this with some of you… I think of five countries that filled the world with missionaries – I told you which ones they are – and today lack the vocational resources to go forward. That is today’s world.

The realization that epochal change raises serious questions about the identity of our faith did not burst suddenly on the scene.[17] It gave rise to the term “new evangelization”, then taken up by Saint John Paul II, who wrote in his Encyclical Letter Redemptoris Missio: “Today the Church must face other challenges and push forward to new frontiers, both in the initial mission ad gentes and in the new evangelization of those peoples who have already heard Christ proclaimed” (No. 30). What is needed is a new evangelization or a re-evangelization (cf. No. 33).

All of this necessarily entails changes and shifts in focus, both within the above-mentioned Dicasteries and within the Curia as a whole.[18]

I would also add a word about the recently established Dicastery for Communication. Here too we are speaking of epochal change, inasmuch as “broad swathes of humanity are immersed in [the digital world] in an ordinary and continuous manner. It is no longer merely a question of ‘using’ instruments of communication, but of living in a highly digitalized culture that has had a profound impact on ideas of time and space, on our self-understanding, our understanding of others and the world, and our ability to communicate, learn, be informed and enter into relationship with others. An approach to reality that privileges images over listening and reading has influenced the way people learn and the development of their critical sense” (Christus Vivit, 86).

The Dicastery for Communication has been entrusted with the responsibility of unifying in a new institution the nine bodies that, in various ways and with different tasks, had previously dealt with communications. These were the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, the Holy See Press Office, the Vatican Press, the Vatican Publishing House, L’Osservatore Romano, Vatican Radio, the Vatican Television Centre, the Vatican Internet Service and the Photographic Service. This consolidation, as I have said, was meant not simply for better coordination, but also for a reconfiguration of the different components in view of offering a better product and keeping to a consistent editorial line.

The new media culture, in its variety and complexity, calls for an appropriate presence of the Holy See in the communications sector. Today, we are living in a multimedia world and this affects our way of conceiving, designing and providing media services. All this entails not only a change of culture but also an institutional and personal conversion, in order to pass from operating in self-contained units – which in the best cases had a certain degree of coordination – to working in synergy, in an intrinsically interconnected way.

Dear brothers and sisters,

Much of what I have been saying is also applicable to the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. It too was recently established in response to the changes that have taken place on the global level, and amalgamates four previous Pontifical Councils: those of Justice and Peace, Cor Unum, and the pastoral care of Migrants and of Healthcare Workers. The overall unity of the tasks entrusted to this Dicastery is summed up in the first words of the Motu Proprio Humanam Progressionem that instituted it: “In all her being and actions, the Church is called to promote the integral development of the human person in the light of the Gospel. This development takes place by attending to the inestimable goods of justice, peace and the care of creation”. It takes place by serving those who are most vulnerable and marginalized, particularly those forced to emigrate, who at the present time represent a voice crying in the wilderness of our humanity. The Church is thus called to remind everyone that it is not simply a matter of social or migration questions but of human persons, of our brothers and sisters who today are a symbol of all those discarded by the globalized society. She is called to testify that for God no one is a “stranger” or an “outcast”. She is called to awaken consciences slumbering in indifference to the reality of the Mediterranean Sea, which has become for many, all too many, a cemetery.

I would like to recall how important it is that development be integral. Saint Paul VI observed that “to be authentic, development must be integral; it must foster the development of every man and of the whole man” (Populorum Progressio, 14). In a word, grounded in her tradition of faith and appealing in recent decades to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, the Church consistently affirms the grandeur of the vocation of all human beings, whom God has created in his image and likeness in order to form a single family. At the same time, she strives to embrace humanity in all its dimensions.

It is precisely this integral aspect that nowadays makes us recognize that our common humanity unites us as children of one Father. “In all her being and actions, the Church is called to promote the integral development of the human person in the light of the Gospel (Humanam Progressionem). The Gospel always brings the Church back to the mysterious logic of the incarnation, to Christ who took upon himself our history, the history of each of us. That is the message of Christmas. Humanity, then, is the key for interpreting the reform. Humanity calls and challenges us; in a word, it summons us to go forth and not fear change.

Let us not forget that the Child lying in the manger has the face of our brothers and sisters most in need, of the poor who “are a privileged part of this mystery; often they are the first to recognize God’s presence in our midst” (Admirabile Signum, 6).

Dear brothers and sisters,

We are speaking, then, about great challenges and necessary balances that are often hard to achieve, for the simple fact that, poised between a glorious past and a changing, creative future, we are living in the present. Here there are persons who necessarily need time to grow; there are historical situations to be dealt with on a daily basis, since in the process of the reform the world and history do not stop; there are juridical and institutional questions that need to be resolved gradually, without magic formulas or shortcuts.

There is, finally, the dimension of time and there is human error, which must rightly be taken into consideration. These are part of the history of each one of us. Not to take account of them is to go about doing things in abstraction from human history. Linked to this difficult historical process there is always the temptation to fall back on the past (also by employing new formulations), because it is more reassuring, familiar, and, to be sure, less conflictual. This too is part of the process and risk of setting in motion significant changes.[19]

Here, there is a need to be wary of the temptation to rigidity. A rigidity born of the fear of change, which ends up erecting fences and obstacles on the terrain of the common good, turning it into a minefield of incomprehension and hatred. Let us always remember that behind every form of rigidity lies some kind of imbalance. Rigidity and imbalance feed one another in a vicious circle. And today this temptation to rigidity has become very real.

Dear brothers and sisters,

The Roman Curia is not a body detached from reality, even though this risk is always present. Rather, it should be thought of and experienced in the context of the journey of today’s men and women, and against the backdrop of this epochal change. The Roman Curia is not a palace or a wardrobe full of clothes to be changed. The Roman Curia is a living body, and all the more so to the extent that it lives the Gospel in its integrity.

Cardinal Martini, in his last interview, a few days before his death, said something that should make us think: “The Church is two hundred years behind the times. Why is she not shaken up? Are we afraid? Fear, instead of courage? Yet faith is the Church’s foundation. Faith, confidence, courage… Only love conquers weariness”.[20]

Christmas is the feast of God’s love for us. The divine love that inspires, guides and corrects change, and overcomes the human fear of leaving behind “security” in order once more to embrace the “mystery”.

A happy Christmas to all!

In preparation for Christmas, we have listened to sermons on the Holy Mother of God. Let us turn to her before the blessing.

[Hail Mary and blessing].

Now I would like to give you a little gift of two books. The first is the “document” that I wanted to issue for the Extraordinary Missionary Month [October 2019], and did do in the form of an interview; Senza di Lui non possiamo fare nulla – Without Him We Can Do Nothing. I was inspired by a saying, I don’t know by whom, that when missionaries arrive in a place, the Holy Spirit is already there waiting for them. That was the inspiration for this document. The second gift is a retreat given to priests recently by Father Luigi Maria Epicoco, Qualcuno a cui guardare – Someone To Whom We Can Look. I give you these from the heart so that they can be of use to the whole community. Thank you!


[1] MATTA EL MESKEEN, L’Umanità di Dio, Qiqajon-Bose, Magnano 2015, 170-171.

[2] Quis dives salvetur 37, 1-6.

[3] Sermon 7, “The Mystery of Godliness”, Parochial and Plain Sermons, V.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Chapter 1, Section 1, Part 7.

[6] In one of his prayers, Newman writes: “There is nothing stable but Thou, O my God! And Thou art the centre and life of all who change, who trust Thee as their Father, who look to Thee, and who are content to put themselves into Thy hands. I know, O my God, I must change, if I am to see Thy face!” (Meditations and Devotions, XI, “God Alone Unchangeable”).

[7] Newman describes it like this: “I was not conscious to myself, on my conversion, of any change, intellectual or moral, wrought in my mind... it was like coming into port after a rough sea; and my happiness on that score remains to this day without interruption” (Apologia Pro Vita Sua, 1865, Chapter 5, 238. Cf. J. HONORÉ, Gli aforismi di Newman, LEV, 2010, 167).

[8] Cf. J. M. BERGOGLIO, “Lenten Message to Priests and Religious”, 21 February 2007, in In Your Eyes I See my Words: Homilies and Speeches from Buenos Aires, Volume 2: 2005-2008, Fordham University Press, 2020.

[9] Cf. Apostolic Constitution Veritatis Gaudium (27 December 2017), 3: “In a word, this calls for changing the models of global development and redefining our notion of progress. Yet the problem is that we still lack the culture necessary to confront this crisis. We lack leadership capable of striking out on new paths”.

[10] Interview given to Father Antonio Spadaro, Civiltà Cattolica, 19 September 2013, p.468.

[11] Schreiben an das Pilgernde Volk Gottes in Deutschland, 29 June 2019.

[12] Cf. Address to the Curia, 22 December 2016.

[13] Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi (8 December 1975), 14. Saint John Paul II wrote that missionary evangelization “is the primary service which the Church can render to every individual and to all humanity in the modern world, a world which has experienced marvellous achievements but which seems to have lost its sense of ultimate realities and of existence itself” (Encyclical Letter Redemptoris Missio, 7 December 1990, 2).

[14] Cf. Address to Participants at the International Pastoral Congress on the World’s Big Cities, Consistory Hall, 27 November 2014.

[15] Motu Proprio Porta Fidei, 2.

[16] Benedict XVI, Homily, 28 June 2010; cf. Motu Proprio Ubicumque et Semper, 17 October 2010.

[17] An epochal change was noted in France by Cardinal Suhard (we can think of his pastoral letter Essor ou déclin de l’Église, 1947) and by the then-Archbishop of Milan, Giovanni Battista Montini. The latter also questioned whether Italy was still a Catholic country (cf. Opening Address at the VIII National Week of Pastoral Updating, 22 September 1958, in Discorsi e Scritti milanesi 1954-1963, vol. II, Brescia-Roma 1997, 2328).

[18] Saint Paul VI, some fifty years ago, when presenting the new Roman Missal to the faithful, recalled the correspondence between the law of prayer (lex orandi) and the law of faith (lex credendi), and described the Missal as “a demonstration of fidelity and vitality”. He concluded by saying: “So let us not speak of a ‘new Mass’, but rather of ‘a new age in the life of the Church’” (General Audience, 19 November 1969). Analogously, we might also say in this case: not a new Roman Curia, but rather a new age.

[19] Evangelii Gaudium states the rule: “to give priority to actions which generate new processes in society and engage other persons and groups who can develop them to the point where they bear fruit in significant historical events. Without anxiety, but with clear convictions and tenacity” (No. 223).

[20] Interview with Georg Sporschill, S.J. and Federica Radice Fossati Confalonieri: Corriere della Sera, 1 September 2012.


Tuesday, December 10, 2019

"His Heart Is Broken" – On Call to Rome, The Prefect's "Fiat"

Already a major moment in Manila and across the Philippines as the country's main celebration of its patronal feast, to the surprise of no one, Cardinal Chito Tagle's first appearance following his Sunday appointment as prefect of the Propaganda Fide was a four-hankie affair.

While the Pope's pick to oversee the church's worldwide missions – and, soon, the "New Evangelization" of the global north as well – only referred in allegory to his transfer to Rome, using the frame of accepting God's "narrative" as opposed to one's own, at the post-Communion of yesterday's packed Mass of the Immaculate Conception in Manila Cathedral, the Nuncio to the islands, Archbishop Gabriele Giordano Caccia, put Francis' call to Tagle in not just deeply emotional, but strikingly biblical terms as the new prefect broke down in the cathedra he'll soon depart:

Especially with the now-pending vacancy for the capital already dominating the local focus, it bears noting that Caccia – who would normally oversee the succession – is himself outbound over the coming weeks: in late November, Francis tapped the Italian as the Holy See's new mission-chief at the UN headquarters in New York.

Notably (and unusually) a veteran of the First Section of the Secretariat of State – that is, the Curia's operational hub, in contrast to the Second Section, which manages diplomatic relations – the 61 year-old legate will inherit one of the Vatican's main geopolitical listening posts, and a major center of the "soft power" the Holy See has concertedly aimed to burnish under Francis. What's more, the UN mission has become one of Vatican diplomacy's most intensive postings over recent years, requiring a prodigious output of contributions on practically every question facing the international community, so much so that the Pope himself once joked that Caccia's well-loved predecessor, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, had to "write with both hands at the same time."

Himself a Filipino, Auza departed New York last week for Madrid to begin his new posting as Nuncio to Spain. While his public statements will be far fewer, the "both hands" skill will come in handy for all the reports he'll need to prepare – some three-quarters of the 32 Spanish archbishops will be reaching the retirement age of 75 over the next two years, led by the "cardinalatial" incumbents of Valladolid, Valencia, Sevilla, Barcelona, and the capital itself.

Back to Manila, meanwhile, much as a succession atop Asia's marquee diocese would be of immense, worldwide importance in any period, it is all the more so given the present scene, specifically in terms of the prominent tensions between the Filipino bishops and the country's authoritarian president, Rodrigo Duterte, a convert to an Evangelical church who has used the church's leadership as a consistent target in his ongoing campaign to impose "law and order," including through extrajudicial means.

For context, the islands' Catholic population of 80 million-plus (more than 80 percent of the total population) constitutes the global church's third-largest national bloc after Brazil and Mexico.

In that light, though Tagle has pointedly dialed back the open activism of the Manila archbishopric – a history that saw his predecessor, Cardinal Jaime Sin, effectively preside over the 1986 "People Power" revolution (based at a city shrine) that toppled President Ferdinand Marcos – with several of the bench showing considerably less reticence in confronting Duterte (and receiving death threats for it), the preferred tenor of the capital church's next occupant toward the Filipino "White House," Malacañang, is arguably the frame that will define the choice.

Having made several public appeals to seeking "harmony" and "dialogue" since his move was announced – albeit without making reference to any particular situation – Tagle will have an outsize role in the selection of his successor.

Yet at the same time, it shouldn't be lost on anyone that Francis is the Pope who declared Óscar Romero a saint.

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Speaking of successions, inevitable as it was, it's still no less significant that Sunday's announcement spurred a considerable uptick of chatter on the next Conclave... and far above the "peanut gallery" at that.

To be sure, with his 83rd birthday coming next week, Francis is showing no signs of slowing down. However, it can be said that by calling Chito Tagle to Rome, a new phase of his nearly eight-year pontificate is underway – one which will bring several long-gestating projects to completion.

Of course, one of those was already on tap for these weeks, with the crucial Post-Synodal Exhortation on Amazonia promised for "the end of the year." On the broader front, meanwhile, as 2019 marked the year in which Francis' voting cardinals first comprised a majority of the College – a figure only set to increase with time – that reality highlights two unique angles set to dominate the making of the next Pope, whenever it should come.

On one side, as Papa Bergoglio has halted Benedict XVI's practice of convening the College for a day of consultation prior to each Consistory – in large part so they could size each other up – what's now a majority of the current body of electors simply don't know each other at all, rendering anyone among them with a significant profile an immediately outsize figure, to an even greater degree than in the past.

Yet what's more, given Francis' insistence on turning away from the traditional centers of prestige to spread the bulk of his red hats across the church's far-flung "peripheries," and usually to smaller dioceses at that, the flip-side to the diversity and pastoral depth of his choices is the extent to which many of them, if not most, lack the administrative experience of running a sprawling, complex local church – let alone the Vatican – above all in terms of the bureaucracy that comes with it.

Here as well, Tagle's backstory stands out: even before taking the helm of Manila's fold of 4 million in 2011, his prior diocese of Imus in Cavite (his own hometown) comprised some 2.5 million Catholics.

As the selection of every new Pope essentially boils down to a sliding scale between pastoral gifts and aecumen in governance – that is, which mix of the two is deemed optimal for the ecclesial moment – how the incoming "Red Pope" fares in the crucible of a major Curial post (especially in the team he recruits to fill out his weaknesses) could well prove determinative for the future of the church, full stop.

Indeed, only a fool would dare prognosticate what a post-Francis stakes will look like – beyond the historic axiom that "Il Papa si fa in Conclave" ("The Pope is made in the Conclave," and there alone), what happened 2013 is more than sufficient proof of the perils of looking too far ahead.

Still, given the past century's precedent that anytime a single figure was perceived as "the man to beat" going in, he's tended to emerge in white – think Pius XII, Paul VI, even Tagle's own "maker," Benedict XVI – what was already one of the most compelling possibilities next time around just got bigger still. And whatever might happen from here, at least for now, that's nothing to sneeze at.


Sunday, December 08, 2019

"Let Us Tell the World...."

For the world's oldest continuous office, it was "the most fabulous crowd" Peter ever saw.

Five years ago next month – two decades after a record 5 million thronged the Quirino Grandstand in Manila's Luneta Park for Mass with John Paul II – Cardinal Chito Tagle and Pope Francis combined to outdo their respective predecessors by at least seven figures, drawing some 6 to 7 million souls (in a driving rain) to yet another closing Eucharist in the heart of global Catholicism's third largest outpost.

As the historic moment for a global Catholicism wrapped up, the call first used at the 1995 edition of a Pope's "Biggest Day Ever" returned to the space, to be taken up with vigor by a new generation.

It took this long, but today's news goes to prove the degree to which Francis never forgot the scene. And now – as the Mission Czar of a missionary pontificate – the figure dubbed long ago as "The Golden Child" has been given worldwide carte blanche to "tell the world of His love" not from the "peripheries," but from the very "center" of the church.

As as a late call from a senior Vatican op put this all-important move: "What [Francis] wants is clear – his successor."

If that concept is news to you, start paying attention.

Either way, the major question now presents itself: does he get the apartment over the Ancora bookshop?

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All that said, if there was ever a day for this scribe to be shocked awake from Rome for the first time since B16's resignation, this would've been it – and, indeed, this was it.

As if the week just past wasn't already full enough, these days, one can't even take peace on an Advent Sunday for granted.

Of course, rising to the moment – in this case, literally – is what the moment demanded. Yet the amusing thing is how much of Whispers' more "established" peers were either too stunned or clueless to do the same... and we haven't even reached the more expected critical pieces of these weeks.

Ergo, much as this scribe is hoping to keep at the work, as ever, given the costs that come with it, that can only happen by means of your support:


As Star of the "New" Evangelization, Pope Calls "Golden Child" to Rome

Over the seven years since Francis' election, the activity of the Roman Curia has largely taken a back-seat to the doings of the Pope himself. Yet while that reality is due to a number of factors, for once, it is certainly not the case today.

In an extraordinarily rare Sunday announcement – and on a major feast, no less – at Roman Noon on the Immaculate Conception, Francis named Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, 62, until now the head of Asia's largest diocese in Manila, as prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples: the 400 year-old entity which oversees the missionary works of the global church.

The last cardinal to be elevated by Benedict XVI before his resignation from the papacy, Tagle's full-time arrival on the Vatican stage – and the massive notice it'll be showered with – reflects that rarest of things on this beat: genuine, undisputed "star power." Over his decade on the global scene, the new Propaganda chief has attracted a cult following that extends well beyond the sizable Filipino diaspora worldwide, in large part given his tendency to wear his heart on his sleeve (and, with it, use his sleeve as a Kleenex).

In terms of the "old Curia," today's move represents Francis' most significant personnel pick since the then-new pontiff named now-Cardinal Pietro Parolin as his Secretary of State within six months of his election in 2013. Then again, not for nothing has the prefect of the Prop Fide long been dubbed the "Red Pope" for the considerable power that the post exercises across a broad swath of the Catholic world.

Known mostly by his own nickname, "Chito," Tagle's habit for either riding a bicycle or the bus even after becoming a bishop at 44 saw him cited as a sentimental papabile going into the 2013 Conclave, and while his seasoning since has kept that thought in evidence through Francis' pontificate, the addition of a major Curial post on his CV will inevitably be seen in some quarters as a move toward "succession planning" on the part of the reigning Pope, who once reportedly confused the boyish-looking cardinal for a seminarian in an elevator at the Domus.

In that light, given his new office's mammoth real-estate holdings and liquid assets – all accrued over centuries to fund the mission works – the fresh scrutiny on the Vatican's portfolios amid a new round of financial scandals hands Tagle (pron.: "Tahg-LAY") an equally formidable challenge, both in terms of the daily stewardship of de Prop Fide's sprawling resources and, even more, flagging concerns over mismanagement.

Given that, as well as the congregation's responsibility for recommending appointments of bishops in the mission territories, this particular assignment can be viewed as a "test-pilot" for the papacy itself, arguably more than any other role. At the same time, though Francis' long-awaited constitution to drastically reform the Roman Curia remains in edits with his "Gang of 6" cardinal-advisers, it is notable that the last major draft of the text, titled Predicate Evangelium ("Preach the Gospel"), would see the Propaganda absorb the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, which Benedict XVI founded during the 2010-11 Pauline Year.

A theological historian of Vatican II, as the cardinal received his doctorate not in Rome, but at the Catholic University of America in Washington (under Fr Joseph Komonchak), today's move brings the first Roman stint of Chito's 37-year priesthood. Even prior to today's move, however, Tagle was already a regular in the city for his secondary work as president of Caritas Internationalis, the worldwide confederation of the church's charitable and humanitarian efforts.

Beyond his extensive travel, Tagle's visibility in the wider church has been bolstered by The Word Exposed – the half-hour TV program he hosts in metro Manila on each Sunday's readings, which is syndicated to other Catholic media outlets worldwide.

Today's move was made possible by Francis' transfer of Cardinal Fernando Filoni – the Propaganda's head since 2011 – to be grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. A former Sostituto best known as the lone ambassador who didn't flee Baghdad's "Green Zone" during the US-led invasion in 2003, it's notable that Filoni was moved 16 months before reaching the retirement age of 75.

With Filoni's appointment to the Grand Magistrate, the Bronx-born Cardinal Edwin O'Brien has retired as head of the millennium-old order dedicated to the protection of the holy sites in Jerusalem and Palestine, and the general support of the church in the Holy Land.

The 15th archbishop of Baltimore, and a Vietnam vet who later served a decade as chief of the 1.5 million US Catholics serving in uniform around the world, O'Brien has kept up a frenetic pace of travel on the order's behalf despite turning 80 in April.

In a change of his long-set plans, while O'Brien had aimed to return to the US – specifically, Baltimore and not New York – on his release from the Holy Sepulchre post, a Whispers op close to the cardinal relays that he will instead keep his primary base in Rome for the time being.

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SVILUPPO: Even if formal word of Tagle's appointment surfaced at 7pm Manila time, the Chancery of the Pinoy capital says that the new prefect's first comment on the move won't come until tomorrow's Mass of the Immaculate Conception, the national patroness of the Philippines.

All told, meanwhile, if the epic significance of this move can be boiled down to an analogy from history, this is it:

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

With Malone Ouster, Buffalo Is Vacant

10.30am – Beginning by saying that "this family is in need of a tremendous amount of healing" following 22 months of crisis, now capped by today's resignation of Bishop Richard Malone, below is on-demand video of this morning's first local appearance of the newly-named apostolic administrator of Western New York, Bishop Ed Scharfenberger of Albany; the Buffalo Chancery press conference extends for over an hour:

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(6.01am ET) And now, it's official – as first reported here on Monday, at Roman Noon this Wednesday the Pope has accepted the resignation of Richard Malone as 14th bishop of Buffalo, and named Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of Albany as apostolic administrator until the 15th bishop takes office.

Both moves have immediate effect.

On a context front, while unnamed allies of the now-departed prelate have misled some Western New York outlets into portraying Malone's ouster as some sort of "early retirement," for clarity, it bears emphasizing that no such arrangement exists in the Catholic Church. Under canon law, a bishop resigns his office for one of two reasons: either upon reaching the age of 75, or otherwise due to ill health or another "grave reason" which has inhibited his ability to effectively govern.

Having become the sixth head of a US diocese to resign over his handling of abuse allegations since his hometown mentor, Cardinal Bernard Law, left the archbishopric of Boston 17 years ago next week, Malone nonetheless holds the title of "bishop emeritus" of Buffalo, and the diocese will remain responsible for his upkeep and living costs. According to the 2010 update to the USCCB norms on resigned or retired US bishops, a bishop emeritus is to receive a stipend of at least $1,900 a month, adjusted higher should the local cost of living index demand it.

Already said to be at his personal home on Cape Cod ahead of today's announcement, the extent of Malone's public role and activity – that is, to the degree that he seeks it – will be decided with his permanent successor, in consultation with the Holy See.

Switching gears, now tasked with beginning to right the ship – and facing tough calls that begin with the likelihood of seeking Chapter 11 bankruptcy amid a crush of over 200 abuse lawsuits, to say nothing of an ongoing FBI investigation into the diocese – Scharfenberger is expected to appear at the Buffalo Chancery this morning to meet with the diocese's staff and, likely, hold a press conference.

While it is not unheard of for a Rome-tapped administrator to figure among the possibilities for the permanent successor, at 71, the Albany prelate is ostensibly beyond the preferable age for Buffalo's next bishop, who will need to provide stability over the mid-range future. At the same time, two names among the handful already cited in church circles as potentially matching the identikit for the post – Bishops Lawrence Persico of Erie and Gregory Hartmayer of Savannah (a Western New York native who joined the Conventual Franciscans) – are respectively 69 and 68.

As ever, more to come.

SVILUPPO (6.50am): Pledging himself to "a lot of listening and learning" in the interim role, Scharfenberger will appear at a 10.30am press conference – livefeed to come.

For his part, meanwhile, in a three-page statement on Rome's announcement of his resignation, Malone continued to mischaracterize his resignation as an "early retirement" while admitting "that the spiritual welfare of the people of the diocese of Buffalo will be better served by a new bishop who perhaps is better able to bring about the reconciliation, healing and renewal that is so needed.

"It is my honest assessment that I have accomplished as much as I am able to," he said, "and that there remain divisions and wounds that I am unable to bind and heal."

As bishop-emeritus, he said he plans to remain living in the diocese.

For more context and the general state of play, shortly after the announcement, a familiar voice for this crowd showed up on Buffalo's WBEN news-radio:


Monday, December 02, 2019

Dear Buffalo: It’s Over – Capping Year of Scandal, Malone Set To Resign

After a year and a half of crisis and torment for the 570,000 Catholics of Western New York, the wait is over – on Wednesday, the diocese of Buffalo is set to fall vacant upon the resignation of Bishop Richard Malone in the wake of a staggering outbreak of scandals.

The first and most important outcome of October’s Apostolic Visitation of the Buffalo church, four Whispers ops confirm the report first delivered to this scribe early yesterday.

Beyond announcing the Pope’s acceptance of Malone’s resignation at 73, house sources likewise indicate that the Holy See is to name Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of Albany as apostolic administrator of Buffalo until a permanent replacement is installed.

Set to be granted the full faculties of the diocesan bishop for the duration of the vacancy – a significant contrast to an interim leader elected by the local Consultors – the Albany prelate is notably a product of Brooklyn, whose Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio conducted the Buffalo Visitation on Francis’ behalf.

For clarity, while the groundwork is already being prepared under these provisions, it nonetheless remains the case that – however unlikely – anything can change until an announcement is formally made by the Holy See, and no move has any legal effect until that point. Accordingly, in the process of reporting this story, one op relayed that the Wednesday time-frame for Malone's departure was not the initial planned date for it.

At the same time, no indication has been received on the future of Buffalo’s lone auxiliary, Bishop Edward Grosz, whose role in being the first point of contact on abuse allegations has come in for heavy criticism over the last year.

As the focus now turns to the succession, two things bear noting. First, all indications are that the process shouldn’t take too long – as reported here upon the Visitation’s launch, with the vacancy now triggered, the Roman investigation’s report will essentially comprise the opening stage of the search: the required consultation of the diocese’s rank-and-file, which establishes the state and needs of the local church. Beyond that, given the keen awareness in several quarters that the situation has already been dragged out to excess, it’s to be expected that the Buffalo file will be placed ahead of the nation’s 20 other diocesan openings in being processed through the Washington Nunciature and Congregation for Bishops with all possible speed.

Along these lines, as Whispers reported to the page’s stakeholders in their November briefing, with informal conversations on potential Malone successors having been underway in significant circles over the last several months, a rough frame of possible choices is already well in the works.

Beyond the now globally-known festival of misconduct – which, beyond charges of a cover-up of abuse cases, included what Malone himself termed a “love triangle” involving the bishop’s priest secretary, another cleric and a seminarian – as well as the general fury and distrust of the people (which saw 86 percent of locals in a Buffalo News poll call for the embattled prelate's ouster, and Malone's halt to publishing his calendar of public events due to protests at his appearances), the diocese’s financial and legal future have come to loom heavily on the scene, even beyond an ongoing FBI investigation.

Already a defendant in over 200 lawsuits filed under New York State’s one-year “window” suspending the civil statute of limitations, Buffalo is widely perceived as the most likely Empire State see to declare Chapter 11 bankruptcy, following the diocese of Rochester’s filing shortly after the “window” opened in August. According to one internal projection obtained by Whispers, a majority of the New York province’s eight sees could end up following suit as the decades’ worth of litigation piles up over the next nine months.

Lastly, however delayed it might be in the eyes of most observers, Malone’s ouster is likely to satisfy the consensus sentiment of the US bishops, one of whom called the now-departing prelate a “shit-storm” as the Buffalo crisis wore on, while several others have voiced exasperation in asking “What on earth is taking so long?” over the last year.

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All that said, though Malone’s departure has been prematurely heralded elsewhere at various points over these last months, for the purposes of these pages – guided as ever by a sense of process – it was simply impossible for Whispers to report the move until a decision and date were firmly in hand….

And so, here we are.

With thanks to the donors who’ve kept the shop afloat this far, with another process now at hand – and no shortage of other threads on tap, to boot – as ever, these pages only keep coming your way through your support:

SVILUPPO (9pm ET): And now, 15 months since the first alerts on Malone's handling of cases were reported by Buffalo's WKBW, earlier tonight this scribe talked the road ahead with the colleague whose diligent, often thankless work brought Rome to this moment, Charlie Specht:


For Alberto, The "Empire" – Capping Long Transition Plan, Chicago Aux. To San Bernardino

In the space of just four decades, the church in Southern California's "Inland Empire" based in San Bernardino has grown at a nearly unparalleled rate in modern times: today, the two-county diocese's 1.8 million Catholics now comprise a fold as large as Brooklyn, and just slightly smaller than Boston – all told, American Catholicism's sixth-largest outpost, now some seven times its size upon its founding in 1978.

And now, for just the second time since then, San Bernardino is under new management... or will be soon – at Roman Noon, in a surprise pick, the Pope named Bishop Alberto Rojas (above), the 54 year-old auxiliary of Chicago, as coadjutor to Bishop Gerald Barnes. The Mexican-born choice (de Aguascalientes), who came to the US as a seminarian before his ordination in 1997, will succeed Barnes at the mammoth see's helm shortly after the veteran incumbent – who's led the diocese since 1996 – reaches the retirement age of 75 next June.

The culmination of a two-year transition plan charted by the East LA-bred Barnes, his succession has fallen to the only active Hispanic auxiliary in any of the nation's three largest dioceses. In other words, with Rojas' promotion, the only active Latino prelate serving in Los Angeles, New York and Chicago will – at least, for the short-term future – be LA's Archbishop José Gomez, now the USCCB President. While that reality underscores the immense docket-wide challenge of meeting demand for native sons to minister to American Catholicism's de facto rising majority, it's likewise no accident that Rojas – a soft-spoken type whose low profile on the wider scene (until now) belies the affection with which he's regarded both at home and among the bench – has been sent to a charge whose Latin contingent is among the nation's largest, with Hispanics comprising some three-quarters of San Bernardino's faithful.

At the same time, even as the Pope's pick has overseen two of Chicago's six ample-sized regions in turn since his 2011 appointment as an auxiliary to Cardinal Francis George, the incoming Californian nonetheless faces a remarkable change of scale. For one, it's been a decade since a Stateside prelate has been catapulted into a post of this size without experience as a diocesan bishop. Yet what's more, while the now-retired Bishop Rutilio del Riego still lends a hand with Confirmations and other functions, Rojas will have no active auxiliary upon becoming the third bishop. (By contrast, San Bernardino's more established peers in terms of size each have four or more active deputies.)

Home to an unusually collaborative ecclesiology – the fruit of Barnes' lifelong premium on forging consensus (and asking questions) – the Inland church's growth and the unusually public transition planning have combined to leave no shortage of decisions for Rojas upon his ascent. Among others, Barnes has reportedly left to his successor whether the diocese should embark on building a new cathedral given the relative inability of the 700-seat Our Lady of the Rosary (a parish church at the founding) to host major events due to its space limitations amid the ongoing boom. At the same time, though the growth has occasionally led to rumblings that the diocese could be split, with its Riverside County half spun off, that notion is currently on ice amid a prevalent sense that two separate local churches would have difficulties being financially solvent on their own.

On another logistical front, San Bernardino faces the challenge of finding and forming sufficient priestly vocations to serve the growth. Accordingly, it's notable here that the incoming bishop spent nearly a decade on the faculty of Mundelein Seminary, and has taken a lead role on Hispanic vocations as Chicago's lead Latin prelate.

His Welcome Mass reportedly set for mid-February, Rojas will be introduced to his charge-to-be at a 10am Pacific press conference:

While the naming of coadjutors does not impact the US' docket-totals in the immediate sense, as of today, five Stateside dioceses are vacant, with another dozen led by (arch)bishops serving past retirement age. To broad shock, the former count increased yesterday with the sudden death at 59 of Bishop Paul Sirba of Duluth from a cardiac arrest as the Minnesota prelate was preparing for morning Mass in a local parish.

All told, the current pile-up of pending moves is merely a prelude to the "generational wave" set to hit through the next two years, over which time Francis will have a rare ability to recast the American hierarchy as more than 50 diocesan seats – nearly 30 percent of the nation's 179 Latin-church postings – come open due to age-outs and upward movement.