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Naumann Wins – In Bench Shocker, Cardinal's Pro-Life Bid Combusts

BALTIMORE – Just as it did on another Tuesday seven years ago this week, the Floor shook a bit first thing this morning.

Upending the last ironclad tradition of the Stateside bench, the USCCB denied its most prominent chairmanship to a cardinal, choosing Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas as its next Pro-Life Czar in a 96-82 vote over Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago.

The result represents the most surprising major conference vote since this week in 2010, when the Kansas prelate's fellow St Louis native, then-Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, bested the sitting vice-president, Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, to take the body's helm. Now, Naumann will succeed Dolan as chair of Pro-Life Activities in late 2018 after the usual yearlong transition. Having served as auxiliaries together in the "Rome of the West," in what was viewed as a stealth sign of support, Dolan tapped Naumann to fill in for him as the life committee's representative at yesterday's lunchtime press conference.

Aside from the conference president and his deputy, the Pro-Life chair is essentially the only prelate whose national duties require daily contact and coordination with the bench's Washington headquarters, reflecting the church's marquee public square concern in the era since abortion was legalized nationwide in 1973. While scores of advocacy letters, pastoral materials and action alerts are issued through the year in the chairman's name, the post's visibility reaches its annual peak on the eve of the January March for Life, when the chair leads hundreds of the US hierarchy in celebrating Vigil Mass in Washington's Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception for tens of thousands of pilgrims on-site and a global TV audience.

Giving Naumann his first chairmanship after nearly two decades as a bishop, today's result flips that of 2008, when the archbishop lost the Pro-Life post to Cardinal Daniel DiNardo by a 165-59 vote. Long devoted to a robust defense of the unborn – to the point of publicly calling on Kansas' then-Governor Kathleen Sebelius (later an Obama administration Cabinet Secretary) to refrain from receiving the Eucharist due to her support for legal abortion – the incoming chair is the US church's first Pro-Life Czar to have pursued that degree of open friction with a pro-choice public official. As with the choice of a non-cardinal for the seat, this thread defies a long-standing history of relevant conference votes; in the most evocative example, after becoming the bench's most prominent advocate for sanctions, then-Archbishop Raymond Burke lost the chair of Canonical Affairs and Church Governance by a 60-40 margin in 2007. (Just over six months after that vote, the Wisconsin-born canonist was brought to Rome by Benedict XVI as prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, the church's "chief justice," then given the red hat.)

While rhetoric surrounding today's ballot portrayed the faceoff as a kind of Armageddon on the nature of the church's pro-life witness – which, by longstanding tradition, has placed the unborn at the center – with abortion policy currently at a de facto stalemate, the prime challenge arguably facing the national life-desk is a burgeoning push at the state level for the legalization of assisted suicide for the terminally ill, the practice now permitted in six US jurisdictions (led by California and the District of Columbia) and under consideration in several others. Backed by a well-funded lobbying effort with a formidable messaging component, the way the issue has begun to track has been compared to the gradual advance of same-sex marriage in the early to mid-2000s.

All that said, as the run-up to today's election saw no shortage of invective and sensationalism hurled by activists and commentators across the ecclesial spectrum, finding one dominant thread in reading the result doesn't hold water. To recall the conference's time-honored moniker, a "flock of shepherds" might come to a shared conclusion, but in this case, 96 voters likely had just as many reasons for bucking a decades-old custom. In other words, with the ink still dry, parse the result at your own risk – at least, for now.

In that light, the pro-life vote was the most-watched of seven ballots for conference slots from which no overarching interpretations can be drawn – indeed, looking at each, the traditional key factors of seniority, prominence or geography went heeded in some races and dispensed in others, with little to no ideological pointers likewise to be found.

Even more than the respective national portfolios today's winners will take up in the leadership of the nation's largest religious body, with their selections, the incoming committee chairs will each have seats on the 30-man Administrative Committee – the USCCB's steering body, which meets four times a year to guide the conference's agenda and oversee its work outside of the June and November plenaries.

As previously reported, this meeting's major snapshot of the body's mind will come in Wednesday's closed-door executive session, when the bishops elect the four-man US delegation to next October's global Synod on Young People.


"Our Egos, Our Worldliness, Our Desire For Respect Must Be Crushed" – On Bench's 100th, The Vice-Pope's Prayer For "Wisdom"

BALTIMORE – We've been building up to this for a good while... and now, you'll understand why.

Well, we can always hope.

Bringing the expected mix of affirmation and challenge to global Catholicism's oldest episcopal conference on its 100th anniversary – and in only the second appearance of its kind from the Pope's lead deputy over said century – Cardinal Pietro Parolin delivered a pointed, resonant homily at tonight's USCCB Centennial Mass in the Basilica of the Assumption, one of two major talks during his first solo trip to the country. (Above right, Parolin is seen before Mass in prayer at the tomb of John Carroll, the founding shepherd of the Stateside Church, in the crypt of the cathedral he envisioned.)

A rare turn in English by the Cardinal-Secretary of State, the 13-minute message delivered on Pope Francis' behalf effectively serves as a papal charter on the qualities that should mark the bench's "second century" of collegial governance... and those that shouldn't.

Here, fullvideo:

After an hour of regional meetings, the business piece of this 100th Plenary begins at 10am Eastern Monday with the usual formalities, headlined by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo's first annual address as conference president, and the customary speech from the Nuncio to Washington, Archbishop Christophe Pierre.

SVILUPPO: After a couple hours' delay due to the institutional convergences at hand, a text copy of the homily – which couldn't be heard in the Basilica due to acoustic hiccups – is now available as a pdf.


On Plenary Eve, Lockdowns and Ballots

BALTIMORE – In the life of a 1.2 billion-member church, there's no event quite like this.

Among global Catholicism's major outposts, the Italian bishops meet at the Vatican or their Roman headquarters, the Brazilians at the country's patronal shrine, the Mexicans in a hall that resembles a parliamentary chamber, all of them more or less behind closed doors.

For the US, however, the annual convening of some 450 prelates, staffers, press, observers and interest groups – and all of it in the glare of TV cameras – can only be compared to one thing: The Circus. And, this time, that's already more the case than usual.

A century since its inception in what's now called the "Gibbons Room" at the Archbishop's Residence here (above), while this 100th Plenary of the Stateside Bench had a quiet first lap in yesterday's opening round of committee meetings, last night brought a bit of panic to the harborside hotel which has now hosted a dozen of these mid-November weeks.

Amid the impending arrival of the Cardinal-Secretary of State Pietro Parolin – as the Pope's principal deputy, the Holy See's head of government – last-minute word spread quickly that the Secret Service would be swooping in for today's events commemorating the USCCB's centennial. And considering this crowd's experiences of hours-long sweeps during papal visits to these shores – not to mention the Federal squad's customary lack of specifics – the news didn't so much produce a sense of security as a siege mentality.

(SVILUPPO: Now on-site, the shot below of Parolin with the American cardinals and the conference's Administrative Committee was released this afternoon by the USCCB general secretary, Msgr Brian Bransfield, via his Twitter account; flanking the Cardinal-Secretary are the bench's president, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, and the Nuncio to Washington Archbishop Christophe Pierre.)

While Parolin's visit to mark the conference's milestone has been in the works for over a year, plans for an overarching protection effort have only transpired over the last 48 hours. Even so, the cardinal's diplomatic status as the #2 official of a sovereign state has made a Secret Service detail for him on American soil a given from the get-go.

As senior officials were still grappling with the shape of the Feds' security demands for the plenary's hotel-base and the Basilica of the Assumption – where Parolin will lead the bench in a 5pm Eastern Mass tonight – the full protection protocols remain unclear, but access to both an afternoon symposium on the conference's history and an evening dinner has been restricted to the bishops and closed to staff and press. Though the liturgy in the nation's first cathedral has been slated to be open to the public, lest anyone was planning on it, actually getting in will take a bit of jumping through hoops.

In any case, the Mass will be broadcast by the usual suspects, and live-streamed here at the hour. As for the rest, just pray that it won't be too tough for this scribe to make the rounds... gratefully, this ain't one's first rodeo.

Given the scenario here, it's apparently the case that a similar flurry will be descending Tuesday morning on the campus of the Catholic University of America, where Parolin will deliver a major lecture on Vatican II as "a prophecy that continues" under Francis.

As if the Floor needed another distraction – and just when the votes are being taken, no less.

Even before embarking on his first solo US trip, the Cardinal-Secretary previewed his message for the occasion in a significant written interview to Catholic News Service, the conference's official outlet.

*   *   *
Speaking of Tuesday's climactic round of elections and ballots, while no shortage of ink's been spilled to foment a showdown in the body's vote on the chairmanship of its most prominent and intensive portfolio – the formidable arm for Pro-Life Activities – a brief lesson on Episcopal Calculus 101 is in order.

To be sure, the matchup between Chicago's Cardinal Blase Cupich and Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas is like catnip for a chattering class divided along partisan lines – depending on how one views it, the choice between unusually contrasting figures is being portrayed as a "plebiscite" on either the definition and scope of the church's pro-life witness amid the current challenges to it, or on the soundness of calling public officials who support abortion laws to refrain from Communion. Yet between the dueling perceptions lie just as many simple facts: first, that since the Supreme Court's 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade legalized abortion nationwide, the bishops' pro-life efforts have always been led by a cardinal to underscore their significance... and second, that long before he took the reins of the nation's third-largest diocese three years ago this week, no living prelate has so needled – and infuriated – this conference's rightward flank as the one who suddenly emerged as cardinal-archbishop of Chicago.

All that said, though, any sense that these votes take place in some sort of vacuum where ideology is the sole, or even prime criterion simply has no foundation in practice.

In reality, conference elections function more according to an algorithm of factors: a shifting mix of qualifications, geography, relationships and seniority, with just a pinch of ecclesiology – or, for lack of a better word, "political" leanings – thrown in. (As a corollary to this, strange as it may sound, you could take the same two people, run them against each other for two different posts, and end up with diverging results.)

As a case in point, for those who buy the narrative of a "conservative" Stateside bench, then logic would dictate that this scribe's archbishop would've been the top vote-getter among the committee chairs chosen here two years ago. The thing is, he wasn't – by three votes, 2015's most decisive pick was the then-archbishop of Indianapolis, his decade-plus bond with the Pope now in full light on his ascent as that most unprecedented of things: a Cardinal in Jersey.

That Joe Tobin took the post overseeing clergy, consecrated life and vocations by besting Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver – a favorite of the "orthodox" set and, indeed, the founding rector who built his hometown's seminary into one of the nation's largest formation houses – merely reinforces the principle.

Back to this week's voting, a factor which has gotten little attention is the ever-changing makeup of the electorate, which has been set into overdrive of late.

To be specific, at last year's annual Roman course for new bishops – widely known as "Baby Bishop School" – there were 15 new US prelates.

This past September (above), that figure was closer to 25.

Change forty slots within two years in a 230-member body – let alone one in which a 60-40 margin is akin to a "landslide" – and a wave is bound to be felt, especially considering the tweaked identikit Francis has sought for the candidates presented to him: one in which "pastoral" isn't a politicized euphemism for a progressive, but a descriptor of a life and ministry lived with a heart for people, albeit one in which its different exemplars won't always reach the same conclusions.

How that mass infusion of new blood will impact the shape of things – not just votes, but the tenor of the debates – is a key focus of the week ahead. Along the way, though, what's arguably this coming week's most significant ballot isn't the Pro-Life chair, but one being reported here for the first time.

In its executive session on Wednesday, the bench will select the US' usual complement of four delegates (and alternates) to next year's Synod on Young People. Yet at least in a few cases, the voters didn't get the memo – literally: while requests for nominations were sent to each bishop by mail early in the fall, several told Whispers over the last week that they had never seen the letter.

Per custom, the 12 most-cited names submitted from that consultation form the first round of a Synod ballot. On a related note, meanwhile, as the Synod Secretariat has made an unprecedented effort to seek direct consultation from young people on the Vatican summit's topics via an online survey, the deadline for responses to it comes at the end of this month.

Long story short, given Francis' super-emphasis on an increased synodality – and with it, the monthlong meeting's evolution from rubber-stamp Roman junket to an intensely collaborative, even contentious process – once it emerges, the makeup of the US delegation to next October's gathering won't just serve as a snapshot of the bench's state of mind on its 100th anniversary, but where a new generation is taking the project for the road ahead.

And to think, this is just the start of what's always a long, full week.

As ever, more to come... yet since pulling off this kind of coverage has its (boatload of) costs, it bears recalling that all this comes your way solely by means of your support.


For USCCB's 100th, "Peter" Takes the Wheel

Ten days from now, it's showtime again in Baltimore, as the nation's bishops return to American Catholicism's birthplace for another edition of the Fall Classic – and, this time, a week with history at the forefront even more than usual.

As this plenary marks the centenary of what's now known as the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, in just the second such instance through the years, the gathering will be presided over by the Pope's top deputy – the Cardinal-Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, who'll lead the bench in an Opening Eve Mass in the Basilica of the Assumption (above), the nation's mother-church.

Following in the footsteps of his predecessor, Cardinal Agostino Casaroli (who represented John Paul II in the same place to mark the American hierarchy's bicentennial in 1989), the presence of the Vatican's "prime minister" in the chair of John Carroll highlights the moment's extraordinary significance, all the more as the trip represents Parolin's first US visit that isn't at Francis' side or to lead the Holy See's delegation to the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

At the same time, however, there's more to it than just the keen symbolism: as the milestone commemorates the global church's first modern effort of collegial governance by a national body of bishops – and with it, the inception of the church's return toward a spirit of synodality which the pontiff has aimed to turbo-charge – between Parolin's current role and his personal history as a doctoral student of the Synod of Bishops, the message the Cardinal-Secretary delivers with his master's voice is likely to have a resonance far beyond these States. (Adding to the context, while the prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, was initially slated to preach the Centennial Mass, the Canadian hatmaker-in-chief suddenly evaporated from the plans over the last year, with Parolin taking the homily for himself.)

Indeed, the scene is bigger than the moment: after decades of Curial attempts to crack down on the purview of the conferences, Francis' new norms on liturgical translations (and the pontiff's subsequent doubling-down on them) are just the latest proof of how dramatically the pendulum has shifted back in the benches' direction. And considering the historic tension in which the oldest conference has been perhaps the ultimate pawn – namely, in the age-old battle between Rome and America for the soul of the Stateside Church – amid its 100th anniversary, the state of affairs today almost couldn't be more poetic.

Accorded abroad with the rank of a head of government – that is, of the Holy See (the church's central authority), not the Vatican City-State – Parolin's only known public event apart from the centenary will be a visit to the Catholic University of America in Washington, the specifics of which remain to emerge.

*   *   *
As a well-timed primer for the moment ahead, yesterday Francis' designated hand in the States – the Nuncio to Washington, Archbishop Christophe Pierre – traded his usual easy humor for the role of a professor, giving one of the year's key lectures for the canon law faculty at CUA, and choosing Francis' synodality push as his focus.

Much as the topic has become increasingly worthy of attention, in the wake of Magnum Principium, that the lecture serves as the university's annual memorial to Msgr Fred McManus – the legendary Catholic dean in the canons, who played an instrumental role in the founding of ICEL – became all the more fitting over recent weeks.

While the hourlong talk makes for a sound primer on the Pope's concept of shifting the church's balance of deliberation back to the local churches, what might be its most brow-raising line was one of Pierre's trademark unscripted asides.

"We are still far away in this church from receiving Evangelii Gaudium – maybe in a few years," the Nuncio mused on Francis' "blueprint" for his papacy. "But we could accelerate the process."

And as the principal architect of the US bench's next generation, he's aiming to do just that.

That said, here's video of the complete lecture....


"The Pain Is Very Real" – In Major Pastoral, Wuerl Tackles Racism

In the Stateside Church's first major text of its kind in nearly two decades, the cardinal-archbishop of the nation's capital has called the church to "be alert to addressing racism wherever we meet it," rapping a current context in which "the persistent evil" of discrimination has been treated with either "selective outrage" or "silent support... by some political forces, some faith-based and church entities, and some media."

Ostensibly galvanized by the August events in Charlottesville, at which a white supremacist demonstration saw a counter-protestor killed as a car tore through the crowd, Cardinal Donald Wuerl's 3,000-word pastoral letter on "The Challenge of Racism Today" is being released this All Saints' Day to the 700,000-member archdiocese of Washington, but is bound to echo far afield in light of the charged state of the discourse, not to mention the DC prelate's double profile of the capital post and as a top American adviser to Pope Francis through his seats on the Congregations for Bishops and the Doctrine of the Faith.

The first racism pastoral from a top US prelate since the late Cardinal Francis George's "Dwell In My Love" was penned for the Chicago archdiocese in 2001, Wuerl's letter comes amid a fresh push on the issue from the US bishops, an effort headlined by a new ad hoc committee chartered in Charlottesville's wake and chaired by Bishop George Murry SJ, the African-American head of Ohio's Youngstown diocese, an academic by trade with a specialization in American society and culture.

Recently bolstered by the unveiling of an A-list membership, while the ad hoc's three-year mandate was launched two years into the planning for the bench's first major document on race relations since 1979's Brothers and Sisters to Us, over recent weeks two Whispers ops have relayed that, amid significant criticism of the new national document's current draft, that product – previously slated for a final vote and publication in November 2018 – has been nixed, with the document to be restarted from scratch. The new committee will deliver its first report at the bishops' mid-month plenary in Baltimore.

Though the racial history of the Washington church has been dominated by the capital's segregationist past and the city's massive African-American community – including one of the nation's largest populations of Black Catholics – it bears noting that the archdiocese's extraordinary growth over the last two decades has come in tandem with a rapidly diversifying population in its pews, a shift signified by major increases of both Hispanics and Asians within the archdiocese, which comprises the District and its five suburban Maryland counties. Yet even as the DC church has doubled in size from the days of Cardinal James Hickey, both Cardinals Theodore McCarrick and Wuerl have maintained the practice begun by their 1980s-era predecessor, who divided Washington's traditional complement of three auxiliary bishops between an African-American, a Latino and an Anglo.

An unusually controversial topic for the famously-guarded cardinal to address at length, Wuerl's racism letter arrives amid what are widely expected to be the cardinal's final months as archbishop of Washington. Soon to turn 77 – and having met with Francis in another private audience last week – Wuerl's December 8th dedication of the gargantuan Trinity Dome, marking the symbolic completion of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, has come to be perceived as a valedictory celebration of sorts, coming on the heels of the Pittsburgh native's 32nd anniversary of his appointment as a bishop. Underscoring the reach of the cardinal's 11 years in the capital, Cardinal Kevin Farrell – the vicar-general Wuerl inherited on his arrival, now his peer in the Pope's "Senate" as head of the new Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life – has been tapped as papal legate for next month's event.

With all that as the context, here below is the fulltext of today's pastoral.

* * *


His Eminence
Donald Cardinal Wuerl
Archbishop of Washington

To the Clergy, Religious and Laity
of the
Church of Washington

Grace and peace to all in Christ.

The sight from the sanctuary of many a church in our archdiocese offers a glimpse of the face of the world. On almost any Sunday, we can join neighbors and newcomers from varied backgrounds. We take great pride in the coming together for Mass of women and men, young and old, from so many lands, ethnic heritages and cultural traditions. Often we can point to this unity as a sign of the power of grace to bring people together.

But we also know that we still have a long way to go to realize the harmony to which we are called as a human family. One wound to that unity is the persistent evil of racism. Tragically, the divisive force of this sin continues to be felt across our land and in our society. It is our faith that calls us to see each other as members of God’s family. It is our faith that calls us to confront and overcome racism.

This challenge is rooted in our Christian identity as sisters and brothers, redeemed by the blood of Christ. Because God has reconciled us to himself through Christ, we have received the ministry of reconciliation. Saint Paul tells us, “God has reconciled the world to himself in Christ… entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).

The mission of reconciliation takes on fresh emphasis today as racism continues to manifest itself in our country, requiring us to strengthen our efforts. We are all aware of incidents both national and closer to home that call attention to the continuing racial tensions in our society. In spite of numerous positive advances and the goodwill of many, many people, too many of our brothers and sisters continue to experience racism. So much is this true that our United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has established an Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism made up of clergy, laywomen and laymen to speak out on this divisive evil that leaves great harm in its wake.

This is not the first time that we bishops have spoken out against racism. We raised our collective voice in the pastoral reflection, Brothers and Sisters to Us (1979). Here in our own archdiocese, we have the edifying example of Cardinal Patrick O’Boyle and his actions to desegregate our Catholic schools years before the Supreme Court moved on this issue. We have also his letter to all of the Catholic faithful reminding them that his actions and his teaching were rooted in the Gospel and “the teachings of the Church on what Catholics must believe and do.” It is in continuity with that same teaching, shared and expressed by every Archbishop of Washington, that I ask us to reflect on and emphasize anew the importance of dialogue on how we can confront racism today.

To address racism, we need to recognize two things: that it exists in a variety of forms, some more subtle and others more obvious; and that there is something we can do about it even if we realize that what we say and the steps we take will not result in an immediate solution to a problem that spans generations. We must, however, confront this issue with the conviction that in some personal ways we can help to resolve it.

Where do we start? Before we turn our attention to some forms of action, we need to reaffirm that what we are doing is not only good but necessary because it is willed by God.

The divisions we face today that are based on the color of one’s skin or ethnic background are obviously not a part of God’s plan. In the first chapter of the book of Genesis we read at the beginning of the story of humanity, "God created man in his image, in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them" (Gen. 1.27).

This teaching is applied to our day with clarity in The Catechism of the Catholic Church. “Being in the image of God the human individual possesses the dignity of a person, who is not just something, but someone… called by grace to a covenant with his Creator, to offer him a response of faith and love that no other creature can give in his stead” (357).

This is the starting point for our reflection. The human race is rooted in the loving, creative act of God, who made us and called us to be a family – all God’s children – made in God’s image and likeness. There is no basis to sustain that some are made more in the image of God than others.

In whatever form, intolerance of other people because of their race, religion or national origin is ultimately a denial of human dignity. No one is better than another person because of the color of their skin or the place of their birth. What makes us equal before God and what should make us equal in dignity before each other is that we are all sisters and brothers of one another, because we are all children of the same loving God who brought us into being.

Racism denies the basic equality and dignity of all people before God and one another. It is for this reason that the United States bishops in the November 1979 pastoral letter on racism, Brothers and Sisters to Us, clearly state: “Racism is a sin.” It is a sin because “it divides the human family, blots out the image of God among specific members of that family and violates the fundamental human dignity of those called to be children of the same Father.” The letter goes on to remind us that “Racism is the sin that says some human beings are inherently superior and others essentially inferior because of race.”

Racism is defined as a sin because it offends God by a denial of the goodness of creation. It is a sin against our neighbor, particularly when it is manifested in support of systemic social, economic and political structures of sin. It is also a sin against the unity of the Body of Christ by undermining that solidarity by personal sins of prejudice, discrimination and violence.

Tragically, the stain of racism has revealed itself through the course of human history, touching seemingly every continent as migration and trade, exploration and colonial expansion created environments for prejudice, denigration, marginalization, discrimination and oppression, whether to indigenous peoples or newcomers.

Our own country’s history has seen exploitation and oppression of indigenous peoples, Asians, Latinos, Japanese-Americans and others, including people from various parts of Europe. But in our homeland, the most profound and extensive evidence of racism lies in the sin of centuries of human trafficking, enslavement, segregation and the lingering effects experienced by African-American men, women and children.

We are called to recognize today that racism continues to manifest itself in many ways. It can be personal, institutional, or social. Often racism is both learned from others and born of ignorance from not interacting with people who are from a different culture and ethnic heritage. This historic experience has been aggravated by the selective outrage at some forms of discrimination and the silent support of other expressions of discrimination by some political forces, some faith-based and church entities, and some media. What should be a blessing – the diversity of our backgrounds, experiences and cultures – is turned into a hindrance to unity and a heavy burden for some to bear. The pain it causes in people’s lives is very real.

As we struggle to remove the attitudes that nurture racism and the actions that express it, we must show how the differences we find in skin color, national origin or cultural diversity are enriching. Differences mean diversity, not being better or worse. Equality among all men and women does not mean that they must all look, talk, think alike and act in an identical manner. Equality does not mean uniformity. Rather each person should be seen in his or her uniqueness as a reflection of the glory of God and a full, complete member of the human family.

Among Christians the call to unity is greater because it is rooted in grace and, therefore, racism merits even stronger condemnation. Everyone who is baptized into Christ Jesus is called to new life in the Lord. Baptism unites us with the Risen Lord and through him with every person who sacramentally has died and risen to new life in Christ. This unity, sacramental and real, brings us together on a level above and beyond the purely physical. It carries that oneness we all share through the natural reality of creation to a higher level -- the realm of grace.

In Christ we live in the same Spirit, we share the same new life and are members of one spiritual body. As members of the Church we are called to be witnesses to the unity of God’s family and, therefore, to be a living testimony to the inclusiveness that is a graced sign of our oneness.

The call to a unity that transcends ethnic ties and racial differences is a hard one for some people to accept. We can become comfortable in the enclave of our own familiar world and even view others who are different from us, ethnically or because of the color of their skin, with suspicion. Nonetheless, to be truly faithful to Christ we must respond to his teaching that we are one in him and, therefore, one with each other. “Through Christ we are one family” (Lumen Gentium 51).

Intolerance and racism will not go away without a concerted awareness and effort on everyone’s part. Regularly we must renew the commitment to drive it out of our hearts, our lives and our community. While we may devise all types of politically correct statements to proclaim racial equality, without a change in the basic attitude of the human heart we will never move to that level of oneness that accepts each other for who we are and the likeness we share as images of God.

Saint John Paul II in the Great Jubilee Year asked for the recognition of sins committed by members of the Church during its history. He called for reconciliation through recalling the faults of the past in a spirit of prayerful repentance that leads to healing of the wounds of sin.

Today we need to acknowledge past sins of racism and, in a spirit of reconciliation, move towards a Church and society where the wounds of racism are healed. In this process, we need to go forward in the light of faith, embracing all of those around us, realizing that those wounded by the sin of racism should never be forgotten.

At the same time, we acknowledge the witness of African-American Catholics who through eras of enslavement, segregation and societal racism have remained steadfastly faithful. We also recognize the enduring faith of immigrants who have not always felt welcome in the communities they now call home.

As brothers and sisters in Christ, we are called to work together for a present and future rooted in the commitment that Pope Francis described in his October 2013 address to the delegation of the Simon Wiesenthal Center: “Let us combine our efforts in promoting a culture of encounter, respect, understanding and mutual forgiveness.”

Responding to Christ’s love calls us to action. We need to move to the level of Christian solidarity. The term, often spoken of by a succession of popes as a virtue, touches the practical implications of what it means to recognize our unity with others. There is a sense in which solidarity is our commitment to oneness at work in the practical order.

Within the archdiocese, we have sought to make our commitment to oneness concrete, and the fight against racism a priority. Recognizing that we are a Church that is universal and composed of people from all lands, races, ethnicities, languages, and socio-economic backgrounds, each of our parishes and schools in this archdiocese accepts the challenge to provide a welcoming and inclusive home for all. We must all seek to affirm and rejoice in the gift of our diversity. Such a task is underscored in our archdiocesan-wide trainings in intercultural competency for parishes, schools, programs for our seminarians, and newly ordained priests to be better able to serve culturally and ethnically diverse communities.

In a particular way, the Office of Cultural Diversity and Outreach provides resources and serves a significant role in our efforts to draw together all of the faithful of this Church in order that we might rejoice in the ethnic and cultural heritage of each of our sisters and brothers. To name just a few, these initiatives involve our celebration of Black Catholic History Month including a Mass featuring the Archdiocese of Washington’s Gospel Choir, and in January at the annual Mass honoring the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we gather as an archdiocesan family to prayerfully celebrate Dr. King’s march for freedom and to resolve to continue that march together.

Our Walk with Mary annually commemorates Our Lady of Guadalupe and we invite local Catholics from all backgrounds to walk and pray together at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in recognition of Mary’s role as our spiritual mother and as patroness of the Americas. Our Church of Washington also joins the Church in the United States in celebrating National Migration Week and encourages Catholics at our local parishes to reflect on the challenges faced by immigrants, refugees and victims of human trafficking.

Our efforts also extend beyond our parishes. Through our Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington and the Spanish Catholic Center, we extend a helping and welcoming hand to all who need it, particularly those newcomers regardless of race or creed. Housing and family assistance, medical and dental care, legal services and job training are all available to men, women, and children from all communities across the archdiocese.

In the area of education, our archdiocesan schools strive to provide students from African American, Hispanic, Asian, and Native Indian American families with an accessible, affordable education that is academically excellent and marked by a strong Catholic identity centered on the life-transforming encounter with Jesus Christ. Catholic schools in this archdiocese continue to be places where students learn to grow in the Gospel virtues of respect for the dignity of the “other,” justice, solidarity and unity.

The archdiocese also expands educational opportunities and a brighter future for all children through archdiocesan and parish tuition assistance so students from more families across our community can benefit from the gift of a Catholic education. We also recognize the importance of promoting federal efforts, such as the Opportunity Scholarship Program for the District of Columbia, and Maryland’s state effort, the BOOST scholarship program.

Through these and many other programs in this archdiocese, I invite all of us to a more profound awareness of our obligations to embrace one another truly as sisters and brothers in Christ, in one human family created by a loving God.

Our parishes can take positive steps to promote unity and understanding among all members of our family of faith. The Sunday Eucharist offers a wealth of opportunities to reflect on this issue. The prayers of the faithful can promote social justice and urge the elimination of racism. Homilies can deal with the implications of the Christian faith for prejudice and racist behavior. Parishes can provide opportunities and catechetical material for adults to begin a dialogue about how to address the issues raised here. Parish efforts at evangelization ought to welcome and reach out to people of every race, culture and nationality. In these ways, we can follow Pope Francis’s example in promoting a spirit of dialogue and encounter with others.

We also must be alert to addressing racism wherever we meet it in our communities. In housing, citizens need to insist that the government enforce fair- housing statutes. In the workplace, recruitment, hiring, and promotion policies need to reflect true opportunity. In public education, we can support the teaching of tolerance and appreciation for each culture as we try to do in our own Catholic schools.

In our criminal justice system, we need to insist on fair treatment of all those accused of wrongdoing, and also promote opportunities for rehabilitation for those suffering from substance abuse, and to rebuild the lives for those being released from correctional facilities. In the public debate on the challenges of our age, we need to stand for the dignity of all human life and we ought also to insist on the place of religious faith. Without God and the sense of right and wrong that religious convictions engender, we will never adequately confront racism.

The elimination of racism may seem too great a task for any one of us or even for the whole Church. Yet we place our confidence in the Lord. In Christ, we are brothers and sisters to one another. With Christ, we stand in the Spirit of justice, love and peace. Through Christ, we envision the new city of God, not built by human hands, but by the love of God poured out in Jesus Christ. On the journey to that "new heaven and new earth," we make our way with faith in God’s grace, with hope in our own determination, and above all with love for each other as children of God.

Faithfully in Christ,

Donald Cardinal Wuerl
Archbishop of Washington

November 1, 2017
All Saints Day


In Magnum's Wake, Pope "Clarifies" Sarah. Again.

In an extraordinary rebuke to one of his own Curial cardinals, the Pope has aimed to "explain simply, and hopefully clearly... some errors" in his Worship chief's understanding of Magnum Principium, his recent motu proprio on liturgical translations, indicating the new norms granting enhanced oversight to bishops' conferences as a fresh development – and, most pointedly, declaring several key pieces of the operative rules in 2001's Liturgiam authenticam "abrogated."

A year since Francis' last open clash with his top liturgical aide, a personal letter from the pontiff to the CDW prefect Cardinal Robert Sarah (above, ad orientem), dated 15 October, was published this morning by the Italian outlet La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana and subsequently confirmed by the Holy See Press Office, then placed on the Italian homepage of Vatican Radio. (SVILUPPO: A full English translation of the letter has been posted.)

Ironically enough, even as this Ordinary Sunday takes precedence, today marks the feast of St John Paul II, under whose authority LA was promulgated.

Noting that a lengthy, widely-circulated commentary published under Sarah's signature earlier this month stated that LA remains "the authoritative text concerning liturgical translations," the Pope responded by relating that paragraphs 79-84 of the 2001 norms – those which deal precisely with the requirement for a vernacular rendering's recognitio by Rome – were now abolished, going on to note that Magnum "no longer upholds that translations must conform on all points with the norms of Liturgiam authenticam, as was the case in the past."

In the new balance of responsibility, Francis said, Sarah's contention that "the words recognitio and confirmatio, without being strictly synonymous [to indicate the Vatican's role], are nevertheless interchangeable" – in essence, that little had changed from LA – was not the case. As the pontiff explained, "the faculty" now belongs to the respective bishops' conferences "to judge the goodness and coherence of terms in the translation of the original, albeit in dialogue with the Holy See"; in other words, not a unilateral call on Rome's part, even at the process' final stage.

Given considerable focus in the new norms' wake on the use of the word "fideliter" – that is, a conference's charge of weighing a translation's fidelity to the original – in Magnum's revision of the Code of Canon Law, the pontiff writes that the term, as judged by an episcopal conference, implies a "triple" meaning: "first, to the original text; to the particular language in which it is translated, and finally to the understanding of the text by its audience."

In light of LA's revision of the prior translation principles – i.e. prioritizing accuracy to the original Latin text over the immediate post-Vatican II "dynamic equivalence" approach that allowed a looser standard to ensure widespread comprehension – as Catholicism's supreme legislator, the Pope's reverted standard articulated here is of particular significance.

While Francis began his letter by thanking the Guinean cardinal for his "contribution," it bears recalling that, on Magnum's release in early September, Sarah – who Papa Bergoglio himself named to CDW in late 2014 – was conspicuous by his absence: an explanatory note on the new norms was instead issued by his deputy, the English Archbishop Arthur Roche. A former bishop of Leeds and chairman of ICEL – the global coordinating body for English-language translations – Roche was likewise received by Francis in a private audience earlier this month by himself.

Given the broad, multi-lingual spread of Sarah's commentary on the new norms – in particular, among circles routinely critical, or even hostile, toward the pontiff – Francis closed the letter by asking the cardinal to transmit his response to the outlets which previously ran Sarah's piece, as well as to the episcopal conferences and CDW's staff and membership.

The letter published today marks the third instance of Sarah's responses to Francis meeting a very public retort from the Pope. In early 2016, as CDW formally moved to allow women to take part in the washing of the feet on Holy Thursday, a papal letter accompanying the congregation's decree revealed that Papa Bergoglio's directive for the change had been held up for over a year.

Six months later, Francis (through the Press Office) issued a "clarification" that Sarah had been "incorrectly interpreted" in calling for priests to adopt the ad orientem stance in celebrating Mass, which the cardinal urged days earlier at a conference for traditionalists in London.

On a separate, but no less charged front, meanwhile, last month Sarah made a high-profile intervention in the US church's ongoing wars over homosexuality with an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, advocating the testimony of an author who renounced an actively gay lifestyle to live in accord with the church's call to chastity.

Back to the matter at hand, in a major speech to Italian liturgists late last summer, Francis declared, "with certainty and magisterial authority," that the Vatican II reforms are "irreversible" – and adding that, for the church, "the liturgy is life, not an idea to be understood."


Vatican "Prime" – Pope Calls Synod for the Amazon (The Forest, That Is)

At the Angelus which wrapped up this morning's canonization of 35 saints – all but two martyrs from indigenous communities in Mexico and Brazil – the Pope took the liberty of making a fitting, yet (another) surprise announcement, here translated into English:
Welcoming the desire of some Episcopal Conferences of Latin America, as well as the voices of pastors and faithful from other parts of the world, I have decided to convoke a Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon region, which will take place in Rome in October 2019. The principal scope of this gathering is to set out new ways for the evangelization of that portion of God's People, especially its indigenous communities, often forgotten and without the chance for a serene living, as well as the crisis of the Amazon forest, a critically important lung for our planet. May the new saints [canonized today] intercede for this ecclesial event, that, in respect for the beauty of creation, all the peoples of the earth might praise God, Lord of the universe [Ed. reference to Laudato si'] and so be enlightened by him to follow the paths of justice and peace.
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To be sure, this development brings numerous ramifications, merely the first of which is a confirmation that the Synod on Young People and Vocational Discernment, slated to take place a year from now, will not be a two-part process, unlike the 2014-5 assemblies on the family which birthed Amoris Laetitia. From another angle, meanwhile, given Francis' keen familiarity with the region encompassing Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Venezuela – not to mention, as the Synod's president, his personal choice of the event's timeframe – today's announcement marks the 80 year-old pontiff's clearest signal to date that he has every intention of remaining at the wheel well into the mid-range future.

In June, Francis told the bishops of Peru during their ad limina conversation that he was considering a Synod for the Amazon, with one of the prelates reporting that significant obstacles to travel within the region made ministry very difficult, as a sparse number of clergy has long been a matter of local concern.

On the procedural front, as opposed to the Synod's topic-based "Ordinary" gatherings – comprised of roughly 200 bishops proportionally elected from across the global church, in addition to the heads of Curial offices and a handful of appointed advisers and experts – a "Special" assembly is focused on one specific area of the Catholic world, from which the bulk of its membership is likewise chosen. To represent the wider church, Special Synods see just a small number of prelates invited by the Pope from outside the region in question, their specific experience being deemed useful for the discussions.

In the device's most prominent use, now-St John Paul II called Special Synods for each of the five super-continents in the immediate run-up to the year 2000; the four-week meeting for "America" – the entire landmass, both north and south – was opened 20 years ago next month. The last Special assembly, however, came in 2010, when Benedict XVI convened one for the Middle East, following a second gathering for Africa a year prior.

As for the dramatis personae of the Amazonian event, a familiar face on the Roman scene again stands out: despite being 83 – that is, supposedly "retired" – the Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes OFM is certain to play a critical role in the preparations given his ongoing role as head of the Pan-Amazon Ecclesial Network, the multi-national coordinating body of the region's bishops, founded in 2014 at Francis' behest.

While the group lacks the juridic standing of an episcopal conference per se, the void is more than compensated for by direct papal imprimatur: seated next to Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio by seniority at the 2013 Conclave, the former archbishop of Sao Paulo famously urged the Pope-to-be "Don't forget the poor!" as the votes piled up in his favor – a word that, he later admitted, would lead the first American on Peter's Chair to shatter even more precedent by taking the name Francis upon accepting his election.

In a gesture that brought their closeness into the spotlight, the new pontiff upended yet another custom (remember: all this took place within the first 15 minutes) by plucking Hummes out from the Sistine Chapel rows to join him on the central balcony of St Peter's for his appearance before the world – a perk traditionally enjoyed solely by the senior cardinal from each of the College's three orders.

Yet what made the moment even more extraordinary was its rich backstory: on his arrival in Rome in late 2006 as Benedict's choice to head the Congregation for the Clergy, Hummes was promptly slapped down within the Vatican for comments he made just before departing Brazil that, in terms of mandatory priestly celibacy, "the majority of the apostles were married," then punctuating the point by saying "the church has to observe these things... [and] advance with history."

By bringing his "good friend" with him on his debut in white, Francis was sending a signal to the Curia he inherited – namely, that the Brazilian behind his shoulder was back at the center of things. As for what that means from here, with both Papa Bergoglio and Hummes stating since that the Amazon's church "must" have an "Amazonian face," with an "indigenous clergy" – and the region's unique culture and challenges having spurred calls from its bishops for the possibility of married priests – at first blush, the 2019 gathering has the prospect of being the most charged moment of Francis' push for an enhanced synodality in the church (...let alone the import of the already-stated environmental focus).

If you've been around here long enough, you already knew that the Synod was the key to everything else, and how a mandate for "the inculturation of the Gospel" is the oft-forgotten "bomb" in this pontificate's programmatic text. 

Even for said awareness, though, today's news just made both a bit more real – indeed, as Hummes himself mapped out during his own 2015 visit to the US, the process ahead will entail "the harmonization of the Catholic Church with the native culture of the Amazon"...

In other words, not the other way around.

Yet again, these are interesting times. As always, stay tuned.


"A Dynamic and Living Reality" – The Catechism at 25... The Council at 55

In the world of the Roman Church, today's date has come to hold something of a mythic significance... yet all of it rooted in the modern age.

Fifty-five years ago on this 11th of October, John XXIII opened the twenty-first ecumenical council in Christian history – the second at the Vatican – with an warning against "prophets of doom" and an exhortation that, "at the present time, the spouse of Christ prefers to use the medicine of mercy rather than the weapons of severity; and she thinks she meets today's needs by explaining the validity of her doctrine more fully rather than by condemning."

Though Papa Roncalli died all of eight months later, on 3 June 1963, this opening day of Vatican II is now marked as his feast.

It was likewise in the vein of the Council that, upon the 20th anniversary of its closing, the then cardinal-archbishop of Boston proposed a universal Catechism – the first since Trent – with an eye to integrating the development of doctrine into a contemporary authoritative form.

In retrospect, it seems all the richer that the idea which would forever enshrine Bernard Law's Roman clout was pitched at a Synod of Bishops; given an enthusiastic takeup in the Aula (at least, from its dais), it was promulgated a quarter-century ago today after an arduous six years of drafts, committees, consultation and discernment: that is, a synodal process in itself.

Often as Catechism of the Catholic Church has been appealed to over these last 18 months – and even longer – it's apparently gone forgotten in those same quarters that the text's authority is contingent on one thing alone: the signature of The Pope... other words, the same stamp likewise borne by more recent contributions to the Magisterium.

Accordingly, returning to the scene of the genesis of both, tonight saw the 266th Bishop of Rome mark this day's milestones by "taking stock"... and – using a memorable example of how the Catechism was already revised within months of its publication – showing along the way how, in a living church, even "the finished product" remains a work in progress.

Here below, the Pope's address from tonight's event, organized by the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization.

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The twenty-fifth anniversary of the Apostolic Constitution Fidei Depositum, by which Saint John Paul II, thirty years after the opening of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, promulgated the Catechism of the Catholic Church, offers a significant opportunity for taking stock of the progress made in the meantime. It was the desire and will of Saint John XXIII to call the Council, not primarily to condemn error, but so that the Church could have an opportunity at last to present the beauty of her faith in Jesus Christ in language attuned to the times. “It is necessary,” the Pope stated in his opening address, “that the Church should never depart from the sacred patrimony of truth received from the Fathers. But at the same time she must ever look to the present, to the new conditions and new forms of life introduced into the modern world which have opened new avenues to the Catholic apostolate” (11 October 1962). “It is our duty,” he continued, “not only to guard this precious treasure, as if we were concerned only with antiquity, but to dedicate ourselves, with an earnest will and without fear, to that work which our era demands of us, thus pursuing the path which the Church has followed for twenty centuries” (ibid.).

It is in the very nature of the Church to “guard” the deposit of faith and to “pursue” the Church’s path, so that the truth present in Jesus’ preaching of the Gospel may grow in fullness until the end of time. This is a grace granted to the People of God, but it is also a task and a mission for which we are responsible, that of proclaiming to our contemporaries in a new and fuller way the perennial Good News. With the joy born of Christian hope, and armed with the “medicine of mercy” (ibid.), we approach the men and women of our time to help them discover the inexhaustible richness contained in the person of Jesus Christ.

In presenting the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Saint John Paul II stated that it should “take into account the doctrinal statements which down the centuries the Holy Spirit has made known to his Church. It should also help illumine with the light of faith the new situations and problems which had not yet emerged in the past” (Fidei Depositum, 3). The Catechism is thus an important instrument. It presents the faithful with the perennial teaching of the Church so that they can grow in their understanding of the faith. But it especially seeks to draw our contemporaries – with their new and varied problems – to the Church, as she seeks to present the faith as the meaningful answer to human existence at this moment of history. It is not enough to find a new language in which to articulate our perennial faith; it is also urgent, in the light of the new challenges and prospects facing humanity, that the Church be able to express the “new things” of Christ’s Gospel, that, albeit present in the word of God, have not yet come to light. This is the treasury of “things old and new” of which Jesus spoke when he invited his disciples to teach the newness that he had brought, without forsaking the old (cf. Mt 13:52).

One of the most beautiful pages in the Gospel of John is his account of the so-called “priestly prayer” of Jesus. Just before his passion and death, Jesus speaks to the Father of his obedience in having brought to fulfilment the mission entrusted to him. His words, a kind of hymn to love, also contain the request that the disciples be gathered and preserved in unity (cf. Jn 17:12-15). The words, “Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ” (Jn 17:3), represent the culmination of Jesus’s mission.

To know God, as we are well aware, is not in the first place an abstract exercise of human reason, but an irrepressible desire present in the heart of every person. This knowledge comes from love, for we have encountered the Son of God on our journey (cf. Lumen Fidei, 28). Jesus of Nazareth walks at our side and introduces us, by his words and the signs he performs, to the great mystery of the Father’s love. This knowledge is strengthened daily by faith’s certainty that we are loved and, for this reason, part of a meaningful plan. Those who love long to know better the beloved, and therein to discover the hidden richness that appears each day as something completely new.

For this reason, our Catechism unfolds in the light of love, as an experience of knowledge, trust, and abandonment to the mystery. In explaining its structure, the Catechism of the Catholic Church borrows a phrase from the Roman Catechism and proposes it as the key to its reading and application: “The whole concern of doctrine and its teaching must be directed to the love that never ends. Whether something is proposed for belief, for hope or for action, the love of our Lord must always be made accessible, so that anyone can see that all the works of perfect Christian virtue spring from love and have no other objective than to arrive at love” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 25).

Along these same lines, I would like now to bring up a subject that ought to find in the Catechism of the Catholic Church a more adequate and coherent treatment in the light of these expressed aims. I am speaking of the death penalty. This issue cannot be reduced to a mere résumé of traditional teaching without taking into account not only the doctrine as it has developed in the teaching of recent Popes, but also the change in the awareness of the Christian people which rejects an attitude of complacency before a punishment deeply injurious of human dignity. It must be clearly stated that the death penalty is an inhumane measure that, regardless of how it is carried out, abases human dignity. It is per se contrary to the Gospel, because it entails the willful suppression of a human life that never ceases to be sacred in the eyes of its Creator and of which – ultimately – only God is the true judge and guarantor. No man, “not even a murderer, loses his personal dignity” (Letter to the President of the International Commission against the Death Penalty, 20 March 2015), because God is a Father who always awaits the return of his children who, knowing that they have made mistakes, ask for forgiveness and begin a new life. No one ought to be deprived not only of life, but also of the chance for a moral and existential redemption that in turn can benefit the community.

In past centuries, when means of defence were scarce and society had yet to develop and mature as it has, recourse to the death penalty appeared to be the logical consequence of the correct application of justice. Sadly, even in the Papal States recourse was had to this extreme and inhumane remedy that ignored the primacy of mercy over justice. Let us take responsibility for the past and recognize that the imposition of the death penalty was dictated by a mentality more legalistic than Christian. Concern for preserving power and material wealth led to an over-estimation of the value of the law and prevented a deeper understanding of the Gospel. Nowadays, however, were we to remain neutral before the new demands of upholding personal dignity, we would be even more guilty.

Here we are not in any way contradicting past teaching, for the defence of the dignity of human life from the first moment of conception to natural death has been taught by the Church consistently and authoritatively. Yet the harmonious development of doctrine demands that we cease to defend arguments that now appear clearly contrary to the new understanding of Christian truth. Indeed, as Saint Vincent of Lérins pointed out, “Some may say: Shall there be no progress of religion in Christ’s Church? Certainly; all possible progress. For who is there, so envious of men, so full of hatred to God, who would seek to forbid it?” (Commonitorium, 23.1; PL 50). It is necessary, therefore, to reaffirm that no matter how serious the crime that has been committed, the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and the dignity of the person.

“The Church, in her teaching, life and worship, perpetuates and hands on to all generations all that she herself is, all that she believes” (Dei Verbum, 8). The Council Fathers could not have found a finer and more synthetic way of expressing the nature and mission of the Church. Not only in “teaching”, but also in “life” and “worship”, are the faithful able to be God’s People. Through a series of verbs the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation expresses the dynamic nature of this process: “This Tradition develops […] grows […] and constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth, until the words of God reach their complete fulfillment in her” (ibid.)

Tradition is a living reality and only a partial vision regards the “deposit of faith” as something static. The word of God cannot be moth-balled like some old blanket in an attempt to keep insects at bay! No. The word of God is a dynamic and living reality that develops and grows because it is aimed at a fulfilment that none can halt. This law of progress, in the happy formulation of Saint Vincent of Lérins, “consolidated by years, enlarged by time, refined by age” (Commonitorium, 23.9: PL 50), is a distinguishing mark of revealed truth as it is handed down by the Church, and in no way represents a change in doctrine.

Doctrine cannot be preserved without allowing it to develop, nor can it be tied to an interpretation that is rigid and immutable without demeaning the working of the Holy Spirit. “God, who in many and various ways spoke of old to our fathers” (Heb 1:1), “uninterruptedly converses with the bride of his beloved Son” (Dei Verbum, 8). We are called to make this voice our own by “reverently hearing the word of God” (ibid., 1), so that our life as a Church may progress with the same enthusiasm as in the beginning, towards those new horizons to which the Lord wishes to guide us.

I thank you for this meeting and for your work, and to all of you I cordially impart my blessing.

In Orange, Tet +Nguyen – Finally, US’ Asian Fold Nabs New Bishop

(Updated 4pm ET with presser video.)

“Are all of your sons here?”

Time and time again, that’s been the Pope’s question to his aides when addressing the appointment of bishops. Citing the Old Testament story of the calling of David, from Francis the line is less an innocent query than a marching order to "go and fetch" those who, like the boy shepherd-turned-king, are off working far afield.

In this, for nearly a decade and a half, one group has been glaringly conspicuous by its absence: the sons and pastors of the roughly 4 million Asian faithful in the US, a community whose constant growth – and ever more prominent sense of commitment – has arguably made them Stateside Catholicism’s most vibrant, and visibly dedicated, bloc….

Yet absent from the "center," that is, until now.

Breaking a 14-year drought for the Stateside church’s Pacific influx, at Roman Noon this Friday, the Pope named Fr Thanh Thai Nguyen (left), 64 – a Vietnamese "boat person" (refugee) serving until now as pastor of St Joseph’s parish in Jacksonville, Florida – as a second auxiliary bishop of Orange: the 1.3 million-member Southern California fold which claims the nation’s largest Vietnamese contingent.

With the nod, the bishop-elect – just the latest of the ongoing "Auxnado" that'll add some 30 new assistant hats to the US bench – becomes only the fourth Asian ever to be called into the American hierarchy, and among them, the second from his homeland. In 2002, Orange received Bishop Dominic Luong as a deputy, likewise plucked from across the country – in his case, after years in New Orleans, itself another major center of the diaspora. (Ordained a priest in Buffalo after being sent from Vietnam at the very start of the war, Luong retired in late 2015 upon turning 75.)

All around, the last time a trans-Pacific priest joined the nation’s hierarchy came in late 2003, when the Filipino-born Oscar Solis was appointed an auxiliary of Los Angeles, the nation’s largest local church. Early this year, Solis came into an even bigger watershed upon his promotion to Salt Lake City, thus becoming the first Asian cleric ever to lead one of the US' 179 dioceses.

As reflected in those earlier instances and again today, potential bishops from non-Anglo ethnic groups tend to be drawn from a national list given their usually small numbers among a local presbyterate. That’s especially been true in this case – with a Vietnamese auxiliary long known to be the explicit wish of Orange’s Bishop Kevin Vann, it is understood that the long dearth of Asian picks required the wider pool of potential nominees to be constituted from scratch, the task daunting and then some due to the intense vetting for any single cleric to be “cleared” for an appointment, and at least three of those needed to fill a terna.

Indeed, such was the extent of the search behind today’s move that, while an ordinary request for twin auxiliaries would normally see both choices unveiled and ordained together, it’s already been more than 10 months since the first half of the petitioned Orange duo – the home-grown veteran pastor and clergy chief, now Bishop Tim Freyer, 53 – was appointed.

Process aside, while Asian-Americans merely make up some four percent of the nation’s 75 million Catholics, the community’s sense of devotion has, in recent years, seen them provide a full quarter of the US’ priestly and religious vocations – in other words, pulling roughly six times their weight. That disparity is even more overpowering out West; among other examples, Orange’s own priesthood class this year was comprised of one Anglo, one Korean, and four Vietnamese ordinands, the latter community long dubbed the “new Irish” in the California church and beyond.

Elsewhere in the country, meanwhile, Nguyen’s fellow emigres have been packing and building their own churches at a striking clip. Last month, a Vietnamese parish in Atlanta which outgrew a makeshift 700-seat site within years broke ground for a new, $15 million church doubled in size, and just before departing the North Texas Metroplex five years ago, Vann himself dedicated Vietnamese Martyrs (above) – a 2,000-seat mecca in Arlington thought to be the nation’s largest “ethnic parish” of any kind.

Most of all, Stateside Catholicism’s second-largest regular gathering takes place every year on a field in rural southwestern Missouri, as tens of thousands of the faithful trek hundreds of miles to take part in “Marian Days” – the long August weekend started by an exiled Vietnamese order in gratitude for finding a home, and freedom, on these shores.

In a normal year, the festival of prayer, music and food sees a crowd of about 75,000 pitch tents in Carthage (usual pop. 14,300). Yet this summer, to mark the event’s 40th anniversary (below), over 100,000 showed up.

Per usual, the only low figure in this mix is the level of interest and/or support the broader (read: Anglo-dominant) "Catholic conversation" has shown toward any of this....

Namely, 0.

And if that’s not just another sign of a people in decline, with its priorities out of whack – because a historic exodus of souls isn’t already enough? – as ever, the remedy seems to lie less in explanations than it does in conversion.

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Impressive as the context is – well, the Asian-American one – the Pope’s pick brings a story that’s nothing short of moving.

While that'd be the case in any circumstance, as the US bishops have mobilized to an extraordinary degree over recent months on behalf of migrants and refugees – and against the backdrop of a planned Federal slashing of receptions for asylum-seekers to their lowest level since 1980 – today's nod sends an even more potent message.

One of 11 children who entered a Vietnamese minor seminary as a teenager, by the mid-1970s Nguyen (pron. "Noo-WIN") and his confreres came under the close scrutiny of the Communist government, culminating in a stint under house arrest.

Fleeing his homeland by boat with 26 of his relatives, their 28-foot vessel was caught in a tropical storm at sea, after which the family was left without food or water for ten of the 18 days it took for them to reach the Philippines, where they would spend nearly a year in a refugee camp.

Able to come to the US thanks to family already living in Texas, the future bishop was taken in by a friend in Connecticut, where – still to be ordained and knowing little English – Nguyen got his start as a janitor at a Catholic Charities facility in Hartford, picking up the language by taking night classes. After several years teaching in inner-city public schools, he returned to discernment with the La Salette Missionaries, who urged him to consider the priesthood after initially applying to be a brother.

Following studies at the Jesuits’ Weston School of Theology (since merged into Boston College), he was ordained in 1991, at the age of 38. Three years later – having been invited to minister to a rapidly-growing Vietnamese presence in northeast Florida – Nguyen incardinated into the diocese of St Augustine, taking the reins of his first assignment there after his then-pastor, Fr Robert Baker, was named bishop of Charleston in 1999. (He of "No more Whispers!" fame, Baker marked his 10th anniversary as bishop of Birmingham earlier this week.)

In the 4,000-family pastorate he's held until today – the largest outpost in Florida's founding diocese; its ample church (above) opened in 1999 – the bishop-elect has overseen a sprawling community spread across a combined nine weekend Masses in English, Spanish, Polish, Portuguese and the "Extraordinary Form" of the Roman Missal, plus a school of 550 students, and everything else that comes with both.

Given the vast scope, energy and diversity of the Orange church – whose larger parishes top 8,500 families of every background – suffice it to say, it's preparation well had.

As Nguyen only touched down at Disneyland late yesterday, and with plans for his move West still unclear, the ordination date remains to be determined.

SVILUPPO: Even if the legendary plot's "Crystal" centerpiece won't be dedicated for Catholic worship until mid-2019, with its 40-acre campus already serving as the diocesan hub, Nguyen turned in a memorable debut at the Cultural Center next to the future Christ Cathedral in Garden Grove... beginning with his own "warning" to the SoCal crowd about his "Vietnamese Boston accent":


For Tucson, The Pope's "Tuesday Memo" – In Latest Border Run, Francis Looks to Kansas

(Updated with debut video, etc.)

Bringing the US' appointment docket back to life after the summer hiatus, at Roman Noon this Tuesday the Pope named Bishop Edward Weisenburger (left), 56 – the head of northwest Kansas' Salina diocese since 2012 – as the seventh bishop of Tucson, the 400,000-member fold comprising the Arizona Borderland.

Notably a key figure in the process which has now produced Blessed Stanley Rother – yet a low-key, surprising choice for this post – the Oklahoma City native succeeds Bishop Gerald Kicanas, who, in a rarity for these days, remained in office past his 76th birthday in August. Then again, as the new retiree's mother, Eva, has kept famously spry – marking her 105th birthday in June – the hat-makers clearly saw no need to rush.

The mother-diocese of an Arizona church undergoing a fresh round of expansion, Tucson is an almost unique nexus of the two defining challenges of this era in American Catholic history: the growth and vitality born of immigration, and the damage and need for rebuilding from revelations of a local history of sex-abuse and its coverup.

On the latter front, in 2004 – a year after Kicanas took office – the diocese became the second Stateside outpost to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy following a crush of over 30 lawsuits stretching back decades. In a striking turnaround, however, the Chicago native's transparency push scored a fresh sense of confidence, so much so that the diocesan appeal in the storm's wake raised record amounts.

A lead deputy to Cardinal Joseph Bernardin before his Southwest transfer, a significant part of Kicanas' outreach came in the form of a pioneering use of digital technology: from taking the diocese's reins in early 2003, the bishop began the online, fully public circulation of his weekly "Monday Memo" – an online bulletin of his own doings and events around the diocese – keeping the practice faithfully until the lack of one yesterday, when he ostensibly didn't want to spill any beans on today's news.

In terms of immigration, meanwhile, amid one of the country's flashpoint local situations over the ever-charged issue, it remains telling that Tucson's nearby border-town of Nogales was chosen as the site for Cardinal Seán O'Malley's evocative 2014 Mass at the fence separating Mexico and the US, at which Kicanas (above) joined Francis' lead North American adviser in distributing Communion into hands stretched through the barrier's slats from the other side.

All that said, this morning's move presents a rather striking study in contrasts: while the predecessor's Lebanese heritage (and Spanish motto) have helped Kicanas look and act the part of a Latino bishop for a diocese that's roughly three-fourths Hispanic, per early word from Salina, his Sooner-bred successor comes "not fully fluent" in the language, but with "a working knowledge" of it.

Then again, stranger things have happened before – and among the genre, the time Kicanas snapped on a fiddle-back to administer Confirmations in the Extraordinary Form returns vividly to mind.

According to late word circulated among the locals, Weisenburger will be introduced unusually early, with Kicanas slated to make the announcement at 7am Arizona time (10am ET/1600 Rome) in St Augustine Cathedral. The installation date yet to be disclosed is slated for Friday, November 29th.

With today's move, just four Stateside Latin sees now stand vacant. As all of three others are led by (arch)bishops serving past the retirement age, in the wake of yesterday's news, it bears noting that the largest among any of the open seats is Las Vegas – an ever-growing community of some 800,000 Catholics, where Bishop Joe Pepe turned 75 in April... and now, six weeks after burying one of his two closest brothers on the bench, is suddenly tasked with handling the fallout of the largest mass shooting in modern US history.

SVILUPPO – With the Pope's pick making a memorable first impression – by quoting "The Wizard of Oz" en español – here below, fullvid of this morning's Cathedral intro....