Browsing News Entries

The Fallout, Part One

Later this week, nine days after a historic storm cloud broke over the Stateside church, Catholic Washington will gather for the ordination of a new auxiliary of the capital's 750,000-member fold.

The rites coming all of three weeks since Bishop-elect Mike Fisher's appointment – an unusually quick timeframe – while the longtime DC Chancery personnel chief is widely well-regarded as a gentle, low-profile operator, the whole tenor of the moment has changed, the joy of the occasion now overtaken by the sudden elephant in the room.

To be sure, Cardinal Donald Wuerl has known for several months that a judgment of some kind was at hand on an allegation of abuse against his predecessor, but whether the rapid scheduling of Fisher's elevation was intended to get ahead of the findings on Cardinal Theodore McCarrick's case or circle the wagons in its wake is unclear.

In any event, with the now-removed iconic figure likely never to be seen at a major liturgy again, and a full turnout of the capital's laity and clerics, the Mid-Atlantic hierarchy and the Nuncio all to converge in the Basilica of the National Shrine for the non-ticketed Mass, the stage is set for one of the more daunting moments of Wuerl's three decades as a diocesan bishop...

...yet as if the aftershocks of last week weren't palpable enough, Friday's ordination will take place on the anniversary of another notable entrance into the episcopate: McCarrick's own, 41 years to the day, at the hands of his mentor, Cardinal Terence Cooke.

*  *  *
In the modern era of the church's sex-abuse crises – usually defined as 2002 onward – for everything the period has seen across the globe, Wednesday's announcement from the New York Chancery was genuinely uncharted territory on a number of levels.

For starters, it's been nearly a quarter-century since a cardinal has left the public stage amid substantiated charges of abusing a minor – and the last time it happened, Vienna's Cardinal Hans Hermann Gröer was already 75 and merely retired from the Austrian church's lead post, slipping off to a secluded monastery of his Benedictine community with no process to determine the veracity of the multiple claims, nor public penalties beyond disgrace.

Here, by contrast, what hasn't been sufficiently absorbed yet is how a system often – and, at least sometimes, rightly – criticized or not trusted for being a stacked clerical deck has effectively been upended: for the first time in memory, an ecclesial process saw laypeople sit in judgment of a cardinal, and the Pope enforce their conclusion.

By no means did things need to happen that way – if anything, it defies practically every classic argument in the canons. But if you're looking for evidence that a cultural shift has broadly, consequentially taken hold, even as a hypothetical, it would be difficult to find a clearer example than this. That it came to pass within the same week as the anniversary of the passage of the Dallas Charter is merely coincidental, but it underscores the point.

At the same time, correcting an element in Wednesday's first story, given the sole accountability of cardinals to the Pope himself, with the suspension in place imposed as a temporary remedial act, the final determination of McCarrick's sentence is pending before Francis alone, unless – as happened with the preliminary investigation in New York – the pontiff delegates the CDF to conduct a process of its own, whether administratively through its staff or a full tribunal.

As previously noted, while the since-deceased Scottish Cardinal Keith O'Brien was made to resign the rights and privileges of the red hat in 2015 over admitted sexual misconduct with adults, to repeat, an instance of a cardinal facing a substantiated report of abuse against a minor hasn't occurred since Groer. What's more, though, among the College, never before have both degrees of scandal converged at once – that is, until now.

Again, this is simply uncharted territory... and given the other shoe to come, it seems the summer ahead won't be as quiet as one might've hoped.

*   *   *
Among other cobbled notes, two aspects from the process' "ground zero" stick out.

First, it bears recalling that the abuse allegation against McCarrick came in the context of one of the more underreported stories in the recent trajectory of the scandals. Amid ongoing fears among the New York bishops that the state assembly in Albany will eventually pass a "window" law suspending the statute of limitations on civil abuse suits for a year or two – a move which has sent roughly a dozen dioceses in other states into Chapter 11 bankruptcy – in late 2016 the Gotham archdiocese initiated the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program: an in-house effort to resolve reports of past abuse out of court, with settlements determined by mediators retained by the church.

While the strategy has since been echoed by other Chanceries upstate, in the nation's third-largest diocese, the first phase reported payments of $40 million to some 200 survivors late last year. Including the accusation against the cardinal (filed in January), the process' second round closed in April; last week, the lawyer representing McCarrick's victim told New York outlets that his client's compensation offer had not yet been conveyed.

In total, the program's costs are being drawn from a $100 million loan on the archdiocese's considerable real-estate holdings.

On another front, meanwhile, Wednesday's development might just have ramifications in terms of the still-active American hierarchy. For starters, even if late-2017 expectations pegging Wuerl's retirement and successor in Washington to come right within these weeks had suddenly dwindled earlier this year – in hindsight, perhaps in light of the unexpected abuse case which would impact the 750,000-member capital church – though the process' opening stage hasn't begun as of this writing, once it does get underway, in one form or another the fallout of the removal is likely to figure into the calculus that produces DC's next archbishop.

Yet even more to the point, ever since Easter, ranking ops both in Rome and the States have focused to an unusual degree on an even stranger prospect: with Cardinal Edwin O'Brien said to be "feeling his age" at 79 amid a constant slate of heavy travel as Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, a remarkably prominent and consistent buzz through the spring has tipped Cardinal Timothy Dolan as O'Brien's potential successor again, repeating a handover first seen in 1994, when Dolan replaced the Bronx-born Army chaplain as rector of the Pontifical North American College, the start of a staggeringly rapid ascent through the hierarchy's ranks.

Of course, the kicker would be seismic – the chair of St Patrick's being held until death by each of its occupants from John Hughes in 1850 until the last one "got out alive" on his 2009 retirement, a Dolan return to Rome would vacate the archbishopric of New York for a man of Francis' choosing in the place the Vatican still sees as the "capital of the world," still by far the most prominent office in the American church. As for who could take it, well, the thousand year-old order would've had to lend this scribe some body armor to survive what would easily shape up as the most significant and contentious US selection process of this pontificate.

Clearly, a rumor of the kind is normally the type of thing that'd instinctively be tagged as beyond far-fetched and promptly howled down... yet given where it was coming from, it couldn't be in this case. And all that said, prevalent as it had been for a good while, the trail has suddenly halted in the wake of McCarrick's removal amid an early sense of two things: either that a move to open New York would inevitably be viewed as a papal commentary on the case... or, indeed, that further related developments would dictate a need for stability at the helm in 1011.

Whatever happens, the report is placed here for the sake of the historic record – if nothing else, far too many scribe-hours have gone into tracking it lo these many weeks.

*  *  *
And, lastly... well, that can wait.

For now, it's been a long four days and a good bit else to put together. Just in the last two hours, several sudden blips have made for shifts of focus; along the way, there's a Consistory on Thursday, the usual wrap-up announcements before the Vatican's summer exodus begins next weekend, and perhaps another curveball or two, to boot.

As it's quite the mix to trudge through, the one thing this scribe doesn't need to sweat about is being able to pay the bills that keep this shop running... ergo, lest anybody forgot, these pages only keep coming your way thanks to your support:


-30-

With A Cardinal's Fall, The Crisis Returns Home

With the specter of sex-abuse returned to the fore with a vengeance across the Catholic world, the story's mounting American angle has suddenly yielded a historic, shocking development: early Wednesday, the archdiocese of New York announced that the Holy See had removed Cardinal Theodore McCarrick from all public ministry following a 47 year-old allegation of abusing a minor during his days as a priest in the city.

By far, the 87 year-old retired archbishop of Washington – who marked his 60th anniversary of ordination last month – becomes the highest-ranking US cleric to be suspended due to a report deemed credible and substantiated, and the third member of the global College of Cardinals to face a founded allegation of sexual misconduct. A fourth, Cardinal George Pell – the Australian tapped by Pope Francis as the founding head of the Vatican's Secretariat for the Economy – will face a double trial in his home country over the coming weeks on two charges of historic sex crimes; since becoming the first cardinal to be criminally charged on abuse counts a year ago next week, Pell has been on a voluntary leave from public ministry and his Roman role pending the outcome of the court process in Melbourne, where the 77 year-old served as archbishop through the 1990s.

Having remained one of American Catholicism's most influential prelates despite being well over a decade into retirement, McCarrick – who recently moved to a Washington nursing home – said in a statement this morning that he was "shocked by the report" and was "maintaining my innocence."

"In obedience I accept the decision of The Holy See, that I no longer exercise any public ministry," he said.

"I realize this painful development will shock my many friends, family members, and people I have been honored to serve in my sixty-years as a priest.

"While I have absolutely no recollection of this reported abuse, and believe in my innocence, I am sorry for the pain the person who brought the charges has gone through, as well as for the scandal such charges cause our people."

The cardinal is reportedly planning to appeal the finding to Rome; while a canonical recourse of the kind would normally be judged by the Congregation for the Clergy in the case of a priest, here it would ostensibly fall under the purview of the Congregation for Bishops, whose membership includes his successor in the capital, Cardinal Donald Wuerl.

Together with the announcement of the abuse finding, the current holders of the cardinal's first two diocesan assignments – northern New Jersey's archdiocese of Newark and diocese of Metuchen – made the joint revelation that their Chanceries had "received three allegations of sexual misconduct [by McCarrick] with adults decades ago; two of these allegations resulted in settlements." The cardinal's response made no mention of this aspect of the announcement.

On the historical front, in the lone prior case of similarly established misconduct with adults by a cardinal, in 2015 Francis "accepted the resignation of the rights and privileges" of membership in the College – an exceedingly rare act – submitted by the Scottish Cardinal Keith O'Brien, who forfeited his participation in the 2013 Conclave as the allegations surfaced. Following his renunciation, O'Brien lived in exiled obscurity in England until his death at 80 in March.

According to the New York statement, the finding of the abuse report as credible came by means of the standard process to which all allegations against priests, deacons and lay employees are submitted in the wake of the US bishops' 2002 "Dallas Charter" and Norms, which are particular law for the national church. As bishops are exempt from the remit of the Charter, the archdiocese said that the Holy See – which enjoys exclusive competence in matters pertaining to prelates – directed that the protocols applying to any other case be maintained, a decision without precedent in the case of a high-ranking cleric.

In itself, that context is extraordinary given the process' central role of a diocesan review board comprised exclusively of independent lay experts, which deemed the allegation credible and provided the basis for McCarrick's removal from ministry, a judgment carried out by the Pope's top deputy, the Cardinal-Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, on Francis' behalf.

Given the allegation's cited timeframe of 47 years, in 1971 then-Msgr McCarrick would have been freshly named as priest-secretary to New York's Cardinal Terence Cooke after a stint as rector of the Catholic University of Puerto Rico.

By tradition the most powerful post in the Gotham Chancery after the archbishop himself, the future cardinal remained at the helm of Cooke's office even after his appointment as an auxiliary bishop in 1977 at the age of 46.

Notably, while a push for the beatification of Cooke has been a passionate cause among many since the cardinal's death from leukemia in 1983, the momentum for the project has stalled in recent years amid reports that Cardinal Timothy Dolan was concerned over his late predecessor's perceived mishandling of abuse cases during his 15-year tenure, fearing that the Roman investigation into Cooke's life would resurface the issue. At the time, a source close to McCarrick relayed to Whispers that the DC cardinal was irate over the blocking of his mentor's cause.

*   *   *
All that said, while a development of this sort would be seismic regardless of which cardinal it involved, that sense is exponentially amplified given the outsize role McCarrick has held both on the national and global stage for more than three decades.

Even before he transformed the role of Washington's archbishop into a formidable pulpit far beyond its own turf, from his days in Newark, the slight figure in a threadbare jacket universally known as "Ted" has been and remained one of the Stateside leadership's principal forces of nature, carving out a massive profile that's extended from raising untold millions of dollars for church causes of every stripe to serving as the American church's de facto goodwill ambassador to the wider world and parachuting into more humanitarian emergencies than most folks knew existed, so much so that the long-standing quip among his priests was that "his official portrait should be taken through the window of an airplane."

Along the way, his fan-base transcended borders – when George W. Bush came to the White House in 2001, his first dinner party in Washington was at the cardinal's Chancery apartment; to the expletive-laden fury of his then-counterpart across the Hudson, McCarrick prodded John Paul II to land instead in New Jersey on the now-saint's last US tour in 1995 (with then-President Bill Clinton waiting on the tarmac); as the cardinal was being treated at a Roman hospital shortly after the 2013 Conclave, the newly-elected Francis rang his cellphone to check up on him, and last summer, before a crowd of 90,000 at the capital's FedEx Field, U2's Bono dedicated "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" to "our old friend."

At the church's topmost levels, meanwhile, the legacy is no less widespread: now the senior of McCarrick's "sons," his vicar-general in Washington has joined him in the Pope's "Senate" on becoming the cardinal-head of the Vatican's organ for the laity and family life, while in his beloved Newark, it was a "Ted talk" to Francis that saw New Jersey score a red hat of its own in the form of the Pope's closest Stateside friend...

...and for now, shattering and simply unreal as all this is, it's to that "adopted son," Cardinal Joe Tobin, that the last word belongs:
Cardinal McCarrick served this Archdiocese for almost fifteen years. No doubt many of you developed strong relationships with him and appreciate the impact of his service. Those feelings are likely hard to reconcile with the news of a credible and substantiated claim of abuse of a minor. While Cardinal McCarrick maintains his innocence and the canonical process continues, we must put first the serious nature of this matter with respect and support for the process aimed at hearing victims and finding truth.

The abuse crisis in our Church has been devastating. We cannot undo the actions of the past, but we must continue to act with vigilance today. I renew my commitment to seek forgiveness and healing, while ensuring a safe environment for children in this Archdiocese. I will continue to report immediately to civil authorities any accusation of sexual abuse of a minor by clergy and will cooperate fully in the investigation and adjudication. I continue to urge anyone who was abused by clergy to come forward, as brave survivors before you have done. To the priests, religious and all other members of this community, I join you in continued prayer that God carry us together in his love with commitment to our faith and each other.
*   *   *
Even as today's news represents a watershed moment in the US church's three-decade journey through the scandals, McCarrick's removal nonetheless heightens the epochal nature of the days at hand.

Sometime next week, the Pennsylvania attorney general, Josh Shapiro, is expected to release the most extensive civil report to date on the US church's response to abuse, the result of a two-year grand jury that's probed six of the state's eight Latin-church dioceses (Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton).

As first reported by the British daily The Guardian, the findings – drawn from extensive testimony and subpoenaed personnel-files dating back to the late 1940s – are expected to fill nearly 900 pages.

Though the sprawling text is tipped to make for an explicit drubbing of the handling of cases by prelates long since retired or deceased, Sunday's Philadelphia Inquirer reported that no criminal charges will be recommended by the panel, ostensibly against neither alleged abusers nor diocesan officials.

The nation's first civil investigation of abuse to stretch beyond a single diocese, the six local churches will respond individually to the report upon its release.

SVILUPPO (4.40pm): In an unexpected ruling late Wednesday afternoon, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued a stay preventing the publication of the grand jury report amid unspecified "legal challenges" to its release.

According to the two-paragraph ruling, the report's issuance has been halted "pending further order" of the seven-member court – all its members elected on party lines, currently a Democratic majority of 5-2.

No timeframe for a potential order to publish was given, and the breakdown of the justices' vote was not disclosed.

-30-

With Prime Target's Ouster, Pope's Chilean Cleanout Begins

Three weeks since the bishops of Chile offered their joint resignation to the Pope in an unprecedented response to a deepening abuse crisis, Francis' concrete moves to right the ship have begun precisely as the victims would've hoped.

At Roman Noon this Monday – all of five months since the pontiff's last public defense of Bishop Juan Barros – Francis' stunning turnabout came full circle as he accepted the 61 year-old prelate's resignation from the helm of the diocese of Osorno, ending a three-year tenure marked on the ground by protests and resistance from its outset. (Above, Barros is seen caught in the midst of demonstrators at his 2015 installation.)

On his transfer to the remote, southern church from Chile's military ordinariate, Barros was implicated by the victims of the country's most notorious predator, Fr Fernando Karadima, of having witnessed their abuse as a young priest in Santiago in the 1980s. Over the last six weeks, the Pope has invited groups of Karadima survivors for two weekends' worth of talks at the Domus.

Having previously submitted his resignation twice only for it to be declined by Francis, while Barros had become the most prominent target of calls for his removal – all as the Osorno cathedral has been occupied by "sit-in" vigils since his arrival – today's departures did not extend to the handful of other Karadima proteges who've since become diocesan bishops. Then again, the trio of moves announced today are only expected to be the first strike of an ongoing clearout that, according to some projections, will eventually see roughly half of the nation's 33-man active bench leave office.

Alongside Barros, the two other prelates relieved of their posts – Archbishop Christián Caro Cordero of Puerto Montt and Bishop Gonzalo Duarte García de Cortazar of Valparaiso, the country's second-largest diocese – are both over the retirement age of 75, thus rendering their participation in the en bloc resignation a purely symbolic act.

While a Chilean priest recently said he had lodged an allegation of Duarte's complicity in "sexual abuse, abuse of conscience and power" with the country's Nuncio in 2008 and never received a response, the Pope's move to include Caro in the first wave of the ousters is especially notable on two fronts: first, as metropolitan of the province which includes Osorno, the archbishop has had a degree of supervisory authority over Barros and the suffragan diocese. In the face of the protests, Caro proved one of Barros' most resolute defenders in the hierarchy, openly attacking the Osorno demonstrators and maintaining as recently as last month that, although the scandals presented a serious issue for the Chilean church, the ongoing tide of revelations and outrage was not to be considered "a crisis."

On another significant front, today's announcements come as the Pope's special investigators for the Chilean church, Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta and the CDF staffer Msgr Jordi Bertomeu, are slated to return tomorrow for a week of further interviews with victims and other impacted parties, only now shifting their focus from Santiago to Osorno itself.

Given both the delicate situation and the separate need to reconstruct the country's apparatus for episcopal appointments in light of the implication of the current Nuncio, Archbishop Ivo Scapolo, in the handling of events, alongside today's resignations Francis named apostolic administrators for the three vacant dioceses. As two of the temporary picks are auxiliaries of Santiago, the choices further indicate that not all of the bishops' resignations will be accepted, not to mention that it will almost certainly be a long wait until permanent successors are appointed. (Unlike elected diocesan administrators, as an apostolic administrator's mandate derives from papal appointment, the latter may exercise the full authority of a diocesan bishop for the duration of their mission.)

As previously noted, even with Barros' departure from center stage, the Chilean church's three most critical personnel decisions remain pending before Francis: a new archbishop of Santiago, the country's most senior post, where Cardinal Riccardo Ezzati is well over a year past 75; a new Nuncio to replace the tainted Scapolo and manage the bench's rebuilding, and perhaps most prominently, the fate of the retired Santiago Cardinal Francisco Errazuriz Ossa – long an outspoken opponent of Karadima's victims – who maintains his seat on the Pope's "C9" group of lead advisers.

On the latter piece, the 25th meeting of the "Gang of Nine" began today at the Domus. Whether Errazuriz was in attendance won't be disclosed by the Vatican until the gathering's close on Wednesday.

Among other recent developments, following the bishops' return from their three-day May summit with Francis, the local landscape was further roiled by the suspension of 15 priests amid fresh allegations in the diocese of Rancagua, whose ordinary, Bishop Alejandro Goic, happens to be the chairman of the Chilean church's commission on sexual abuse.

While Barros issued a statement seeking forgiveness for his "limitations" and "what I couldn't accomplish," the de facto face of Karadima's victims, Juan Carlos Cruz, issued the following response shortly after the resignations were announced:
Having been among the first group of survivors to meet with Francis in late April, in other statements Cruz has used the phrase "Que se vayan todos" in reference to the bishops – that is, "They all should go."

-30-

"In This Way, We Live 'Eucharistically'" – On Corpus Christi, Today's "Abandoned Tabernacles"

For the first time since John Paul II came to Peter's Chair, a Pope took the traditional Corpus Christi Mass and procession outside the majestic heart of Rome....

That Francis did it, however, should surprise no one – yet again, the inspiration came from Paul VI, who led the rite in the same ancient port of Ostia fifty years ago.

Whether this year's departure from the customary site at St John Lateran is a one-off remains to be seen. But in a reinforcement of Papa Bergoglio's intent in moving the event to the "peripheries" of Rome's eldest suffragan church, his homily tonight offered a potent reflection on what the reception and veneration of Christ's Body and Blood entails....
The Gospel we just heard speaks of the Last Supper, but surprisingly, pays more attention to the preparations than to the dinner itself. We keep hearing the word “prepare”. For example, the disciples ask: “Where do you want us to go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?” (Mk 14:12). Jesus sends them off with clear instructions to make the necessary preparations and they find “a large room… furnished and ready” (v. 15). The disciples went off to prepare, but the Lord had already made his own preparations.

Something similar occurs after the resurrection when Jesus appears to the disciples for the third time. While they are fishing, he waits for them on the shore, where he has already prepared bread and fish for them. Even so, he tells the disciples to bring some of the fish that they have just caught, which he himself had shown them how to catch (cf. Jn 21:6.9-10). Jesus has already made preparations and he asks his disciples to cooperate. Once again, just before the Passover meal, Jesus tells the disciples: “I go to prepare a place for you… so that where I am, there you may be also” (Jn 14:2.3). Jesus is the one who prepares, yet before his own Passover, he also asks us urgently, with exhortations and parables, to be prepared, to remain ever ready (cf. Mt 24:44; Lk 12:40).

Jesus, then, prepares for us and asks us to be prepared. What does he prepare for us? A place and a meal. A place much more worthy than the “large furnished room” of the Gospel. It is our spacious and vast home here below, the Church, where there is, and must be, room for everyone. But he has also reserved a place for us on high, in heaven, so that we can be with him and with one another forever. In addition to a place, he prepares a meal, the Bread in which he gives himself: “Take; this is my body” (Mk 14:22). These two gifts, a place, and a meal are what we need to live. They are our ultimate “room and board”. Both are bestowed upon us in the Eucharist.

Jesus prepares a place for us here below because the Eucharist is the beating heart of the Church. It gives her birth and rebirth; it gathers her together and gives her strength. But the Eucharist also prepares for us a place on high, in eternity, for it is the Bread of heaven. It comes down from heaven – it is the only matter on earth that savors of eternity. It is the bread of things to come; even now, it grants us a foretaste of a future infinitely greater than all we can hope for or imagine. It is the bread that sates our greatest expectations and feeds our finest dreams. It is, in a word, the pledge of eternal life – not simply a promise but a pledge, a concrete anticipation of what awaits us there. The Eucharist is our “reservation” for the heavenly banquet; it is Jesus himself, as food for our journey towards eternal life and happiness.

In the consecrated host, together with a place, Jesus prepares for us a meal, food for our nourishment. In life, we constantly need to be fed: nourished not only with food but also with plans and affection, hopes and desires. We hunger to be loved. But the most pleasing compliments, the finest gifts, and the most advanced technologies are not enough; they never completely satisfy us. The Eucharist is simple food, like bread, yet it is the only food that satisfies, for there is no greater love. There we encounter Jesus really; we share his life and we feel his love. There you can realize that his death and resurrection are for you. And when you worship Jesus in the Eucharist, you receive from him the Holy Spirit and you find peace and joy. Dear brothers and sisters, let us choose this food of life! Let us make Mass our priority! Let us rediscover Eucharistic adoration in our communities! Let us implore the grace to hunger for God, with an insatiable desire to receive what he has prepared for us.

As he did with his disciples, so too today Jesus asks us, today, to prepare. Like the disciples, let us ask him: “Lord, where do you want us to go to prepare?” Where: Jesus does not prefer exclusive, selective places. He looks for places untouched by love, untouched by hope. Those uncomfortable places are where he wants to go and he asks us to prepare his way. How many persons lack dignified housing or food to eat! All of us know people who are lonely, troubled and in need: they are abandoned tabernacles. We, who receive from Jesus our own room and board, are here to prepare a place and a meal for these, our brothers and sisters in need. Jesus became bread broken for our sake; in turn, he asks us to give ourselves to others, to live no longer for ourselves but for one another. In this way, we live “eucharistically”, pouring out upon the world the love we draw from the Lord’s flesh. The Eucharist is translated into life when we pass beyond ourselves to those all around us.

The Gospel tells us that the disciples made their preparations once they “set out and went to the city” (v. 16). The Lord calls us also today to prepare for his coming not by keeping our distance but by entering our cities. That includes this city, whose very name – Ostia – means entrance, doorway. Lord, how many doors do you want us to open for you here? How many gates do you call us to unbar, how many walls must we tear down? Jesus wants the walls of indifference and silent collusion to be breached, iron bars of oppression and arrogance torn asunder, and paths cleared for justice, civility and legality. The vast beachfront of this city speaks to us of how beautiful it is to open our hearts and to set out in new directions in life. But this requires loosening the knots that keep us bound to the moorings of fear and depression. The Eucharist invites to let ourselves be carried along by the wave of Jesus, to not remain grounded on the beach in the hope that something may come along, but to cast into the deep, free, courageous and united.

The Gospel ends by telling us that the disciples, “after singing a hymn, went out” (v. 26). At the end of Mass, we too will go out; we will go forth with Jesus, who will pass through the streets of this city. Jesus wants to dwell among you. He wants to be part of your lives, to enter your houses and to offer his liberating mercy, his blessing and his consolation. You have experienced painful situations; the Lord wants to be close to you. Let us open our doors to him and say:

Come, Lord, and visit us.
We welcome you into our hearts,
our families and our city.
We thank you because you have prepared for us
the food of life and a place in your Kingdom.
Make us active in preparing your way,
joyous in bringing you, who are the Way, to others,
and thus to bring fraternity, justice, and peace
to our streets. Amen.
-30-

"To These, O Lord...."

Fortunately for once, the standard reality that's long seen US holidays coincide with outbreaks of Peak Francis hasn't been the case this weekend... maybe the Boss was told that Memorial Day was last week.

In any case, and all seriousness, if there's a day on the civic calendar to pause and reflect, this is it – all the more as, far from the beaches and barbecues that mark the occasion for many, the ultimate sacrifice continues....


As ever for one of the great feasts of state, here again is the Prayer for the Nation and its Church written and first delivered in 1791 by American Catholicism's founding pastor, John Carroll of Baltimore – one offered especially today for the Premier See, where catastrophic flooding from a storm leveled the core of at least one suburban town overnight:
We pray, Thee O Almighty and Eternal God! Who through Jesus Christ hast revealed Thy glory to all nations, to preserve the works of Thy mercy, that Thy Church, being spread through the whole world, may continue with unchanging faith in the confession of Thy Name.

We pray Thee, who alone art good and holy, to endow with heavenly knowledge, sincere zeal, and sanctity of life, our chief bishop, Pope Francis, the Vicar of Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the government of his Church; our own bishop, N., all other bishops, prelates, and pastors of the Church; and especially those who are appointed to exercise amongst us the functions of the holy ministry, and conduct Thy people into the ways of salvation.

We pray Thee O God of might, wisdom, and justice! Through whom authority is rightly administered, laws are enacted, and judgment decreed, assist with Thy Holy Spirit of counsel and fortitude the President of these United States, that his administration may be conducted in righteousness, and be eminently useful to Thy people over whom he presides; by encouraging due respect for virtue and religion; by a faithful execution of the laws in justice and mercy; and by restraining vice and immorality. Let the light of Thy divine wisdom direct the deliberations of Congress, and shine forth in all the proceedings and laws framed for our rule and government, so that they may tend to the preservation of peace, the promotion of national happiness, the increase of industry, sobriety, and useful knowledge; and may perpetuate to us the blessing of equal liberty.

We pray for his excellency, the governor of this state, for the members of the assembly, for all judges, magistrates, and other officers who are appointed to guard our political welfare, that they may be enabled, by Thy powerful protection, to discharge the duties of their respective stations with honesty and ability.

We recommend likewise, to Thy unbounded mercy, all our brethren and fellow citizens throughout the United States, that they may be blessed in the knowledge and sanctified in the observance of Thy most holy law; that they may be preserved in union, and in that peace which the world cannot give; and after enjoying the blessings of this life, be admitted to those which are eternal.

Finally, we pray to Thee, O Lord of mercy, to remember the souls of Thy servants departed who are gone before us with the sign of faith and repose in the sleep of peace; the souls of our parents, relatives, and friends; of those who, when living, were members of this congregation, and particularly of such as are lately deceased; of all benefactors who, by their donations or legacies to this Church, witnessed their zeal for the decency of divine worship and proved their claim to our grateful and charitable remembrance.

To these, O Lord, and to all that rest in Christ, grant, we beseech Thee, a place of refreshment, light, and everlasting peace, through the same Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior. Amen.
-30-

Doubling Down – Bishops’ Fates In the Balance, Pope To Consult Chile Victims. Again.

Five days after all the Chilean bishops moved to offer their historic joint resignation to the Pope, late tonight brought a further sign of Francis' immersion in the country's abuse crisis – a sudden Vatican announcement that a second group of victims would spend next weekend staying with the pontiff at the Domus (above) for private talks.

Most critically of all, the five men – survivors of what, in a striking description, the Vatican termed the "systemic abuse" or "abusive system" of the now-removed predator priest Fernando Karadima – are all now priests in their own right, marking the first occasion that a Pope will have met with clerics who have themselves been victims.

Their names not disclosed, during their 1-3 June stay, the priests will be accompanied by two other unnamed clergy "who have assisted in their legal and spiritual journey," and two laypeople who've likewise supported them. Francis will celebrate Mass with the group on June 2nd, then meet with them all together before sitting down alone with each.

While much of the focus on the Chile storm has centered on the embattled Bishop Juan Barros – the Karadima protege accused by his victims of having witnessed the abuse, now stationed in a far-flung diocese – as with the trio of survivors received last month for a first weekend visit, the invite to the next group indicates that Francis' spotlight remains fixed on "El Bosque," the wealthy Santiago parish where Karadima was pastor and carried out his crimes through the 1970s and '80s, during which time he was considered one of the country's most powerful clerics. As the succession to Cardinal Riccardo Ezzati at the helm of the capital's archdiocese – by far, the country's largest and most prominent see – was already pending before the en bloc resignations with the top prelate a year past the retirement age of 75, the coming talks will accordingly be part of the consultation that informs Francis' call on the most significant personnel-choice he'll make for the future of Chilean Catholicism.

On yet another front, meanwhile, extraordinary as the papal U-turn on the situation has been since January, tonight's development has broader implications: just a few months after Francis came in for heavy criticism from some leading survivors for temporarily letting the initial mandate for his child-protection commission lapse, then reconstituting the group without representatives of victims in its membership (a marked change from its initial makeup), the pontiff has suddenly taken an aggressive shift to approaching survivors and inviting them in on his own, without the involvement of intermediaries.

Whether this new tack is unique to Chile remains to be seen, but it is significant that it comes three months before another major test-case of his and the wider church's response to abuse: the Pope's August visit to Ireland for the World Meeting of Families in Dublin, against the backdrop of what remains the most devastating and widespread outbreak of the scandals over their three-decade trajectory across the global church. (According to one Whispers op, Papa Bergoglio has already begun his standard quiet conversations to prepare his talks and the general approach he'll take for the summer trip.)

Back to Chile, even as the Pope's determinations for the path ahead remain to be made, the combination of factors has already spurred a remarkable state of affairs – with last week's yet-unaccepted resignations of the 33 bishops having again upped the ante for Francis to act decisively, while prior Vatican attempts at managing abuse crises have largely been entrusted to the Curia or specially-tapped investigators (as took place for the Chilean church earlier this year), that dynamic has shifted, and we're now seeing an apostolic visitation effectively being carried out by the Pope himself, its resolution to be orchestrated by him alone.

In tonight's announcement, the Holy See Press Office said that, by inviting the second group, "the Pope wants to show his closeness to the abused priests, to accompany them in their pain and hear their valuable sense of how to improve the current preventive measures and the [overall] fight against abuse in the church.... These priests and laypeople represent all the victims of abuse by clergy in Chile."

While the Vatican said that the June talks will conclude "this first phase" of Francis' meetings with Chilean survivors, "it cannot be discounted that similar initiatives will be repeated in the future."

*  *  *
Before word of the next survivors' visit emerged, the return of abuse and its fallout across the world's front-pages was reinforced further by this morning's conviction of one of Australia's leading prelates, Archbishop Philip Wilson of Adelaide, on a criminal count of failing to report another cleric's misconduct to police in the 1970s, when he was a parish priest.

Twice elected president of the Australian bench a decade ago, Wilson, now 67 and reportedly in the early stages of Alzheimer's Disease, could face up to two years in prison upon his sentencing in June.

As of tonight, the Vatican has issued no reaction to the verdict.

The church's lead figure in Southern Australia since 2001, Wilson has remained in office throughout the court proceedings and pleaded not guilty to the charge. According to a response from the Australian conference, he has not indicated whether he plans to appeal the ruling.

-30-

A New Marian Feast... Another "Montini Moment"

Five years in, one of the dominant leitmotifs of the Rule of Francis is how a great deal of the current pontificate and its priorities derives, in a fairly direct line, from the unfinished business of Paul VI – so much so that it sometimes feels like the intervening period didn't happen... well, almost didn't.

Indeed, pick any top-shelf, long-term Bergoglio project and odds are it finds its roots in what he's termed Montini's "farsightedness and wisdom" on Peter's Chair – from completing the simplification of the papacy to the internationalization of the College of Cardinals (both reforms which Paul began in earnest), to Francis' return to the foundational role Paul intended for the Synod he founded, the shared activist approach to poverty, justice, peace and human development, to Francis' recovery of the "pastoral document" – a style Paul first charted with Evangelii Nuntiandi, which has now found its modern echo in the just-released Gaudete et Exsultate, arguably the most accessible, most personal teaching text a Pope has issued in recent times.

Along these lines, it bears recalling that while Francis has finished what his two immediate predecessors respectively started in declaring the sainthoods of John XXIII and John Paul II, Paul is the lone Pope who will be both beatified and canonized by the same pontiff.

As the 40th anniversary of his death approaches in August, this Pentecost weekend brings two more "completions" by Francis of Papa Montini's work: first, there was yesterday's formal announcement of Paul's canonization on October 14 (alongside Blessed Oscar Romero and four others: two priests and two religious women) and, in a particularly poignant move, tomorrow's first celebration of a universal memorial of Mary, Mother of the Church – the title declared by Paul toward the end of Vatican II – which the Pope decreed in February would be marked each year on the Monday following the "birthday of the church."

On a liturgical note, especially as the observance was created following the printing of this year's Ordos, the provisions for the new feast insist on proper readings for its Mass – which the USCCB has helpfully released in English – and the proper presidential prayers are already contained in the Roman Missal as Votive Mass 10B (to Our Lady, Mother of the Church) with this Collect:
O God, Father of mercies,
whose Only Begotten Son, as he hung upon the Cross,
chose the Blessed Virgin Mary, his Mother,
to be our Mother also,
grant, we pray, that with her loving help
your Church may be more fruitful day by day
and, exulting in the holiness of her children,
may draw to her embrace all the families of the peoples.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Most of all, though, given these milestones, the wider confluence they represent – and as an aid for homilies or other reflection on Monday's feast – below is Blessed Paul's original declaration of the Madonna as Mater Ecclesiae, which he delivered at the close of the Council's third session. Fittingly, this text will serve as the proper Second Reading of the Office of Readings for the new feast.

*  *  *
ADDRESS OF POPE PAUL VI
CLOSING OF THE THIRD SESSION OF THE SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL
SAINT PETER’S BASILICA
21 NOVEMBER 1964

(Excerpt)

And now, in conclusion, another thought strikes us. Our thought, venerable brothers cannot but rise with sentiments of sincere and filial gratitude to the Holy Virgin. Also, to her whom we like to regard as the protectress of the present council, the witness of our toil, our most kindly adviser, because it is to her, as a heavenly patron, together with St. Joseph, that the work of our ecumenical assembly was entrusted by Pope John XXIII right from the start.

Moved by these same sentiments, last year we offered to the Most Blessed Mary a solemn act of common homage, by gathering in the Liberian basilica, round the image venerated with the glorious title of “Salus Populi Romani” (“Salvation of the Roman people”).

This year, the homage of our council appears much more precious and significant. By the promulgation of today’s constitution, which has as its crown and summit a whole chapter dedicated to Our Lady, we can rightly affirm that the present session ends as an incomparable hymn of praise in honor of Mary.

It is the first time, in fact — and saying it fills our souls with profound emotion — that an ecumenical council presents such a vast synthesis of the Catholic doctrine regarding the place which the Blessed Mary occupies in the mystery of Christ and of the Church.

This corresponds to the aim which this council set itself of manifesting the countenance of the Holy Church, to which Mary is closely linked, and of which, as it has been authoritatively affirmed, she is portio maxima, portio optima, portio praecipua, portio electissima (the greatest, finest, principal, most elect part) (Rupert, in Ape. I, VII, c 12, P.L. 169,10434).

Truly, the reality of the Church is not exhausted in its hierarchical structure, in its liturgy, in its sacraments, in its juridical ordinances. The intimate, the primary source of its sanctifying effectiveness are to be sought in its mystic union with Christ; a union which we cannot conceive as separate from her who is the Mother of the Word Incarnate and whom Jesus Christ Himself wanted closely united to Himself for our salvation. Thus the loving contemplation of the marvels worked by God in His Holy Mother must find its proper perspective in the vision of the Church. And knowledge of the true Catholic doctrine on Mary will always be a key to the exact understanding of the mystery of Christ and of the Church.

Meditation on these close relationships between Mary and the Church, so clearly established in today’s conciliar Constitution, makes us feel that this is the most solemn and appropriate moment to fulfill a wish which, after we mentioned it at the end of the preceding session, very many council Fathers made their own, pressing for an explicit declaration at this council of the Motherly role of the Virgin among the Christian people.

To achieve this aim, we have felt it opportune to consecrate in this very public session, a title which was suggested in honor of the Virgin from various parts of the Catholic world and which is particularly dear to us because it sums up in an admirable synthesis the privileged position recognized by the council for the Virgin in the Holy Church.

Therefore, for the glory of the Virgin Mary and for our own consolation, we proclaim the Most Blessed Mary Mother of the Church, that is to say of all the people of God, of the faithful as well as of the pastors, who call her the most loving Mother. And we wish that the Mother of God should be still more honored and invoked by the entire Christian people by this most sweet title.

This is a title, venerable brothers, not new to Christian piety; it is precisely by this title, in preference to all others, that the faithful and the Church address Mary. It truly is part of the genuine substance of devotion to Mary, finding its justification in the very dignity of the Mother of the word Incarnate.

Just as, in fact, the divine maternity is the basis for her special relationship with Christ, and for her presence in the economy of salvation brought about by Jesus Christ, thus it also constitutes the principal basis for the relations between Mary and the Church, since she is the mother of Him who, right from the time of His Incarnation in her virginal bosom, joined to Himself as head His Mystical Body which is the Church. Mary, then as mother of Christ, is mother also of all the faithful and of all the pastors.

It is therefore with a soul full of trust and filial love that we raise our glance to her, despite our unworthiness and weakness. She, who has given us in Jesus the fountainhead of grace, will not fail to succor the Church, now flourishing through the abundance of the gifts of the Holy Ghost and setting herself with new zeal to the fulfillment of its mission of salvation.

And our trust is even more lively and fully corroborated if we consider the very close links between this heavenly Mother of ours and mankind. Although adorned by God with the riches of admirable prerogatives, to make her a worthy Mother of the Word Incarnate, she is nevertheless very close to us. Daughter of Adam, like ourselves, and therefore our sister through ties of nature, she is, however, the creature who was preserved from original sin in view of the merits of the Savior, and who possesses besides the privileges obtained the personal virtue of a total and exemplary faith, thus deserving the evangelical praise, beata quae credidisti (blessed art thou who believed). In her earthly life, she realized the perfect image of the disciple of Christ, reflected every virtue, and incarnated the evangelical beatitudes proclaimed by Christ. Therefore in her, the entire Church, in its incomparable variety of life and of work, attains the most authentic form of the perfect imitation of Christ.

We trust then, that with the promulgation of the Constitution On the Church, sealed by the proclamation of Mary as Mother of the Church, that is to say of all the faithful and all the pastors, the Christian people may, with greater ardor, turn to the Holy Virgin and render to her the honor and devotion due to her.

As for ourselves, just as at the invitation of Pope John XXIII we entered the council hall, along with “Mary, the Mother of Jesus,” so at the close of the third session we leave this temple with the most holy and sweet name of Mary, Mother of the Church.

As a sign of gratitude for her loving assistance, lavished on us during this last conciliar period, let each of you, venerable brothers, pledge himself to hold high among the Christian people the name and the honor of Mary, indicating in her the model of faith and of the full response to any call from God, the model of the full assimilation of the teaching of Christ and of His charity, so that all the faithful, united in the name of the common Mother, may feel themselves ever more firmly rooted in the faith and in union with Jesus Christ, and at the same time fervent in charity toward the brothers, promoting love for the poor, dedication to justice and defense of peace. As the great St. Ambrose exhorted: “sit in singulis Mariae anima ut magnificet Dominum; sit in singulis spiritus Mariae et exultet in Deo” (“Let the soul of Mary be in individuals, that it may magnify the Lord; let the spirit of Mary be in individuals, that it may rejoice in the Lord”) (St. Ambrose, Exp. in Luc. II, 26, 15, 1642).

Above all, we desire that it should be made clear that Mary, the humble handmaid of the Lord, exists only in relation to God and to Christ, our sole Mediator and Redeemer. And likewise, may the true nature and the aims of the Marian veneration in the Church be illustrated, particularly where there are many separated brothers, so that those who are not part of the Catholic community may understand that devotion to Mary, far from being an end in itself, is instead a means essentially ordained to orient souls to Christ and thus unite them with the Father in the love of the Holy Ghost.

While we turn in ardent prayer to the Virgin, that she may bless the ecumenical council and the entire Church, hastening the hour of the union of all Christians, our glance opens on the endless horizons of the whole world, the object of the most lively care of the ecumenical council, and which our venerated predecessor, Pius XII of venerated memory, not without inspiration from on high, solemnly consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Today, we consider it particularly opportune to recall this act of consecration. Bearing this in mind, we have decided to send a special mission to Fatima in the near future in order to carry the Golden Rose to the sanctuary of Fatima, more dear than ever not only to the people of the noble Portuguese nation — always, but particularly today, dear to us — but also known and venerated by the faithful throughout the entire Catholic world. In this manner we intend to entrust to the care of this heavenly Mother the entire human family, with its problems and anxieties, with its legitimate aspirations and ardent hopes.

O, Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, to you we recommend the entire Church and our ecumenical council!

You, auxilium Episcoporum, aid of bishops, protect and assist the bishops in their apostolic mission, and all those priests, Religious and laymen, who help them in their arduous work.

You who were presented by your Son Himself, at the moment of His redeeming death, as Mother to His best-loved disciple, remember the Christian people who entrust themselves to you.

Remember all your sons; support their prayers to God, preserve their faith, strengthen their hope, increase their charity.

Remember those who are in tribulation, in need, in danger and particularly those who suffer persecution and who are in prison because of their faith. For these, O Virgin, obtain fortitude and hasten the desired day of just freedom.

Look with benign eyes on our separate brothers and condescend to unite us, you who brought forth Christ as a bridge of unity between God and men.

O, temple of light without shadow and without blemish, intercede with your only Son, mediator of our reconciliation with the Father (cf. Rom. 5, 11) that He may have mercy on our shortcomings and may dispel any difference between us, giving us the joy of loving.

To your Immaculate Heart, O Mary, we finally recommend the entire human race. Lead it to the knowledge of the sole and true Savior, Jesus Christ; protect it from the scourges provoked by sin, give to the entire world peace in truth, in justice, in liberty and in love.

And let the entire Church, by celebrating this great ecumenical assembly, raise to the God of mercy the majestic hymn of praise and thanksgiving, the hymn of joy and of exultation, because the Lord has worked great things through you, O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.

-30-

On Pentecost, Francis Revs Up The Red Machine, Taps 14 New Cardinals

Marking another push to the church's “peripheries” – and even the Vatican’s – at the noontime Regina Caeli on this Pentecost Sunday, the Pope revealed his slate of 14 Cardinals-designate to be elevated at a Consistory on 29 June, the feast of Saints Peter and Paul.

Francis' fifth intake into the College of his five-year pontificate, 11 of the group are younger than 80, and thus eligible to vote in a Conclave. For the remainder of this year, the picks will top up the electoral ranks to 124, four over the standard maximum set by Paul VI – a limit which the soon-to-be saint's successors are, of course, free to break as they see fit.

The list topped by the Baghdad-based Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako, 69 – as a sign of papal solidarity with the decimated Iraqi fold, the second consecutive head of that 1,800 year-old church to be elevated since the US-led invasion in 2003 – yet again, anyone betting on the names would've come up short, even on the group's Curial contingent: while the choices of the CDF prefect, now Cardinal-designate Luis Ladaria SJ and the new Vicar for Rome, Cardinal-designate Angelo DeDonatis, maintain usual form, the two other in-house picks – the Sostituto of the Secretariat of State Angelo Becciu, 69, and the Polish-born Papal Almoner Konrad Krajewski, 54 (Francis' very prominent field marshal in providing for the poor and stricken around Rome and beyond) – hold posts whose occupants have never received the red hat. In the former case, given Becciu's current job as deputy to Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the veteran diplomat's elevation ostensibly signals a new post for him in the short-term future; by long tradition, a seat in the College only goes to a Sostituto – the Vatican's equivalent of the White House chief of staff – shortly after his departure from the role.

Far from Rome, meanwhile, the biglietto represents yet another kaleidoscope of the church's universality – with, as ever, a preferential option for workaday prelates far removed from major centers of wealth or power.

Among these, Pakistan will have its first new red hat in nearly 50 years, as will Japan in a quarter-century (and not in Tokyo, to boot); the bishop of Fatima will now be Portugal's second active "prince of the church" alongside his metropolitan, the patriarch of Lisbon (creating the global church's lone province with two cardinals helming dioceses); and another far-flung Italian – Archbishop Giuseppe Petrocchi, 69, of quake-ravaged L'Aquila (Abruzzo) – joins a home-turf bloc that's seen Francis routinely deny the scarlet to its usual A-list destinations; most conspicuously of all, the new archbishop of Milan – Mario Delpini, the bike-riding native son who Francis tapped to lead Europe's largest diocese last year – is absent from today's list.

With the new class, Francis will have elevated just shy of half (58) of the eventual electors of his successor – even more significantly, the group from which the next Pope will emerge.

While a Consistory at some point in 2018 has been broadly expected from early in the year – with either June or October leading the educated guessing – Francis' penchant for keeping even his picks in the dark until the moment of his public announcement made any anticipation of a timeframe come with the proverbial (heavy) grain of salt until word emerged from the pontiff himself.

As for Francis’ potential future impact on the College’s electoral makeup, barring unexpected deaths, 11 more voting seats open up from now until the beginning of 2020 as their occupants turn 80. Should Papa Bergoglio fill them all, the choices would put his combined crop of appointees – many of them the first cardinals ever named in their respective countries – within striking distance of the two-thirds threshold required to elect a new pontiff: indeed, the most concrete and consequential “reform” of all, extending Francis’ legacy beyond his own reign.

Notably, too, with today's announcement Francis again did not summon the entire College for what had been the customary daylong consultation on significant issues facing the church. A practice instituted by Benedict XVI, Francis hasn't hosted a discussion with all the cardinals since his first Consistory in 2014, when he tapped Cardinal Walter Kasper to deliver a keynote on the church's outreach to the family – the first stage of the synodal process which produced Amoris Laetitia.

*   *   *
Arranged in the usual strict order of seniority by which the designates will be inducted into the Pope's Senate, here's the list (all archbishops unless otherwise noted; ages via Catholic-Hierarchy):

Louis Raphaël I Sako, 69, patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans (Iraq)
Luis Ladaria SJ, 74, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
Angelo De Donatis, 64, vicar-general of Rome
Giovanni Angelo Becciu, 69, Sostituto of the Secretariat of State and papal delegate to the Order of Malta
Konrad Krajewski, 54, Apostolic Almoner
Joseph Coutts, 72, archbishop of Karachi (Pakistan)
António dos Santos Marto, 71, bishop of Leiria-Fatima (Portugal)
Pedro Barreto Jimeno SJ, 74, archbishop of Huancayo (Peru)
Desiré Tsarahazana, 63, archbishop of Toamasina (Madagascar)
Giuseppe Petrocchi, 69, archbishop of L’Aquila
Thomas Aquinas Manyo, 69, archbishop of Osaka (Japan)

And those over 80, thus ineligible to enter Conclave:

Sergio Obeso Rivera, 86, archbishop-emeritus of Xalapa (Mexico)
–Bishop Toribio Ticona Porco, 81, prelate-emeritus of Corocoro (Bolivia)
–Father Aquilino Bocos Merino CMF 80, former superior-general of the Claretians (Spain)

In closing his announcement, Francis asked for "prayers for the new cardinals that, confirming their adherence to Christ, the merciful and faithful high priest, they might help me in my ministry as Bishop of Rome for the good of all the Holy, Faithful People of God."

-30-

Exodus – After Pope's Abuse Indictment, The Chilean Bench Bails

From the outset, it was clear that this week's summons of the Chilean bishops to Rome for emergency talks on the country's abuse crisis would be unlike any prior Vatican push to address the scandals... and a day after its close, the summit has indeed produced a sweeping, landmark outcome: at a midday press conference in Rome, the secretary-general of the country's bishops announced that the entire 33-man bench – the heads of 27 dioceses and six auxiliary bishops – had placed their resignations "in writing, in the hands of the Pope, that he might freely decide with respect to each one of us."

The letters delivered at yesterday's end of the three-day retreat, the pontiff has not announced any immediate acceptances of the walking papers, which would be required for them to take force, and without which the prelates remain in full possession of their respective offices. It is unclear whether the move was demanded by Papa Bergoglio in the course of the meeting.

Given the standard practice of lining up the successor to a departing prelate before he formally leaves office (except in cases of ill health or other grave reason), should a full clear-out come to pass, putting it into effect could take months at the very least. Alternatively, should the pontiff decide to relieve the bishops on a quicker timeframe, the result could incite chaos, as the consultors of each diocese would need to elect administrators to oversee them pending the appointment of new ordinaries – and given a mass exodus amid an ecclesial cultural shock, the extensive vetting and consultation required to fill even a chunk of open seats, virtually certain to be intensified further here, would swamp the staff of the Nunciature in Santiago (to say nothing of the skeleton crew who man the Spanish desk of the Congregation for Bishops), creating a backlog that could extend for possibly two years or longer until new appointments are finalized. (For context, with an ample diplomatic staff equipped to handle a constant 15 to 20 selection processes at any given time, any US vacancy invariably takes at least six months, and usually much longer, to be resolved.)

In this extraordinary scenario, it is to be expected that the broad indictment of Chilean Catholicism's leadership class – which has extended to the current Nuncio, Archbishop Ivo Scapolo – would see any current crop of files for potential appointees tossed out and compiled from scratch, an overhaul most likely to occur under a new Nuncio – a figure with a fresh set of eyes, untainted by the years-long storm in which no less than Francis himself had become perilously entangled.

Along those lines, it's notable that, according to one Chilean report on the eve of the talks, a petition submitted to Rome by some participants in the recent local investigation conducted by Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta has presented a very specific name for Scapolo's replacement: Fr Jordi Bertomeu, the CDF staffer who assisted with the probe – and temporarily led it after Scicluna was rushed to a hospital with a gallbladder attack shortly after his arrival. A 49 year-old Catalonian, Bertomeu is said to have garnered high marks from those interviewed for his sensitivity, openness and candor in hearing out the suffering of victims and the wider church impacted by the turmoil.

Alongside Scicluna, Bertomeu took part in yesterday's final session of the closed-door talks.

All that said, in the country's most prominent posts, today's group act is purely symbolic: the heads of Chile's two largest dioceses – Santiago and Valparaiso – are already past the retirement age of 75 and had submitted their letters at that point, as has the head of another of the bench's four archdioceses.

On another critical front, the move doesn't include the capital's already-retired Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz Ossa, now 84. Long accused of playing a major role in the cover-up for Chile's most notorious predator, Fernando Karadima, Errazuriz's ongoing membership in Francis "Gang of Nine" lead advisers has drawn the most potent scorn from survivors and their advocates.

While Francis could have unilaterally forced any and all the prelates from office without having their resignations in hand, the bishops' offer to depart en bloc paves the way to an epochal makeover of a national hierarchy of a kind unseen over the church's long trail of abuse scandals.

Over the parallel incidences of nationwide crises in the US and Ireland, only in recent years have a handful of prelates in each stood down over findings of a cover-up – in the States, with the conspicuous exception of the late Cardinal Bernard Law's departure as archbishop of Boston, the concentrated wave of some half-dozen sudden ousters through 2002 were exclusively of bishops whose own histories of having abused came to light. (And in those cases, the men were simply retired, ceased all public ministry and lived restricted lives of prayer and penance, as opposed to being charged and tried in canonical tribunals.)

Today's stunning announcement came in tandem with a leak of the 10-page reflection the Pope delivered to the prelates at the summit's opening. The text obtained (en español) by the Chilean TV outlet TeleTrece/T13, in a stringent upbraiding of their general conduct, Francis told the bishops that their style of governing had seen the church commit the "sin of becoming the center of attention" as opposed to "signaling and announcing" Jesus to the world around it – a shift, he said, born from a "loss of prophetic strength."

"The problems you live today within the ecclesial community," the Pope wrote, "will not be solved solely by taking the concrete cases and reducing them to the removal of persons; this – and let me say it clearly – will have to be done, but it is not sufficient, there is more of a ways to go.

"It would be irresponsible on our part to not deepen our search for the roots and structures which enabled these concrete events to happen and perpetuate themselves."

Looking to the future, Francis sketched a vision of "a church capable to put what's important at its center: serving the Lord in the hungry, the prisoner, the thirsty, the homeless, the naked, the sick, in the abused" – a citation of his beloved Matthew 25, the Last Judgment – "with the[ir] awareness that they have the dignity to sit at our table, to feel themselves 'at home' among us, to be considered family.

"This is the sign of a church which has been wounded by its sin, given mercy by its Lord, and become converted in prophecy by its vocation."

Again, however, who will lead that conversion – and the full shape it will take – is anything but a solution coming overnight.

-30-

From the Home Desk

So, you haven’t been hearing much from here these last weeks…. Then again, there’s no new Prefect of Communications either, eh?

Moral of the story: as feeding a 24-hour news-cycle always bears the temptation of getting ahead of reality – or inventing one – simply to fill space, suffice it to say, it’s an urge best avoided... at least, if you're going to do this right.

More to the point, though, things are just beginning to ease up from one of the more intense – and, frankly, frightening – moments of this scribe’s life and that of my family. It’s not easy to encapsulate, but here’s the quick-and-dirty: in mid-March, amid the last major snowfall of what felt like an endless winter, my father’s legs suddenly and completely failed. Without any warning whatsoever, he couldn’t walk or stand, and any attempt at either brought an immediate fall….

It was late, the streets were covered and icy, but it was clear the hospital couldn’t wait. A long night of tests was had, and then another, before the cause came to light: a hemorrhage in his spinal cord, essentially knocking out his lower nerves. As that’s usually attributable to trauma, but wasn’t the case here, our sudden team of top-shelf neurologists and surgeons – the kind of folks you never think you'd need until you do – are still baffled by how this happened, and that’s made things even less predictable than they already would’ve been.

It’s been a bumpy ride – the fear and incomprehension of Holy Week become very real in an intensive-care unit… and just when things seemed to be turning a corner over the Octave as Dad started rehab, then pneumonia hit, and his inpatient therapy had to start from scratch. It would be another three weeks before he could stand and take a couple steps… and to keep things brief, we finally, gratefully, got him home just last week. While the fullest possible recovery is a question of months, the improvement is gradual and constant. That said, between a spate of follow-up visits and a couple more procedures which aren’t without their risks, we’re not exactly out of the woods just yet, but at least things are becoming “normal” again… well, for the time being, as much as they’re going to be.

All this hasn’t felt like two months… more like two weeks. As those of you who’ve been through the experience know too well, when it comes up, life becomes a matter of dropping everything, putting out fires and trying to stay in one piece in the process – on this end, a task admittedly easier said than done.

Along the way, what little time and energy could be carved out for this work made for a priceless refuge of sanity. But knowing all this, I hope you can understand that my priority needed to be elsewhere, and will remain so as my father's ongoing care and recovery call for it. For the most part, though, it’s a relief to be able to creak back into the saddle here, all the more given the moment now on tap – the annual end-of-cycle flurry, of which this week’s "DEFCON 1" is just one critical piece.

As you can imagine, these weeks have made for an exhausting, oft-disorienting road… but even for the hectic days, long nights and the sheer frustrating uncertainty of it all, we’ve been surrounded by an outpouring of grace which has done so much to pull us through. Among the salient ways it's been felt here, the prayers and check-ins from a humbling many of this crowd remain a precious blessing, and to those who helped keep the scribe's panic from getting worse by minding the shop and continuing to lend a hand with the bills, thanks for being even more of a Godsend than usual – know how I’ll never forget it.

Over the last two years and more, no shortage of ecclesial voices have aimed to prove their fidelity through heated debate on the Catholic response to challenges of family life... yet far from the easy glamor of the fray, some of us still realize that the real test lies in doing our part for the people we love. In that light, again, a world of thanks for all the understanding, patience, goodness and support – if you could, please keep the prayers up… and as you've never been here for the kid behind the curtain, back to the news.

-30-