Browsing News Entries

In Harvey's Wake, All Hands On Deck

Before anything else, to all our folks on the Texas Gulf Coast, you're in more prayers over these days than you know – hope you're hanging in there, and as things allow, please send word on how you're getting through and what things are looking like on your end.

For the rest of us, meanwhile, with the weekend storm now on record as the worst single rainfall ever to hit the continental US – 40 to 50 inches across four dioceses and tens of thousands of square miles – and making a second land-drop later tonight into Louisiana, it's time to do what the Church does best: reach out, and pitch in.

For a sense of the scope, early projections have pegged the eventual damage costs in the realm of $50-80 billion. And with rivers just now cresting and levees and dams still threatening to fail, both for families and institutions, the full shape of the recovery and rebuilding ahead simply can't begin to be broached. Right now, though, with Catholic entities on the ground already mobilizing to provide imminent aid, shelter and services – and which, outside of metro Houston, were already stretched to the limit in meeting the usual needs of rural, scattered populations – they're going to need a quick infusion of support to get this part of the job done.

While a national collection for the relief programs will be taken up over the next two weekends and administered by Catholic Charities USA, it'll be some time yet before those proceeds reach their destination. On another critical front, both the indefinite suspension of mail service and the impossibility of travel across much of the zone only add more complications to the scene.

Ergo, if you're looking to send a helping hand that'll have the most direct and immediate impact where it's most needed, your best bet is to donate straight to the diocese-based aid efforts in Corpus Christi, Victoria, Beaumont or Galveston-Houston – as everything from cots, blankets and towels to diapers, walkers, bottled water and more needs to be amassed and put to use in rapid order, your goodness will help get it done by the folks who know their turf and people best.

Yet even for a best-case scenario that has the locals stranded and boiling water for some time to come, the relatively few ops who haven't lost power (or have been lucky enough to charge up in non-submerged cars) have all been asking for one thing most: prayers. Given the historic role of New Orleans' Our Lady of Prompt Succour as Protectress of the American South, seeking her intercession has pride of place over these days... but whoever one might choose to beam yours to, let's just do it well and often.

Again, to everyone facing the storm and the road ahead, we're pulling for you – stay safe, and touch base as you can, especially if there's anything y'all can use from the rest of us.

-30-

"In the Breach of the Divide" – On Day One, ArchChuck Talks Church's Checkered Flag

All of six years ago, Fr Chuck Thompson was a parish priest in Louisville and vicar-general to its archbishop.... And today, a rapid rise completes itself – across the Ohio River from his hometown, he’s now his former boss’ equal as head of Indiana’s metropolitan church.

For the first time in the reign of Francis, an appointee of his own holds the distinction of being the youngest American archbishop. Yet anyone who’d conflate the 56 year-old’s youth with "inexperience" is sorely mistaken; whether as an alum and professor of Indy’s Benedictine seminary at St Meinrad, his lifelong closeness to his now-predecessor, Archbishop Daniel Buechlein, or his time already served on the Indiana bench, as transitions go, this one’s as seamless as it gets.

Nevertheless, there are some things even the “ArchChuck” still has to learn – for one, the Pallium “nail” (pin) is worn over one’s left shoulder, not the right.

Having marked the hour of his June appointment by taking a run through the streets he’s long known as an “adopted son” of Indianapolis, after breaking into tears on being seated in its Chair, the Pope’s pick formally took the reins today with an unusual, but fitting break from custom, sharing his vision for the 300,000-member church’s road ahead – a call from polarization to reconciliation rooted in what (a decade ago this week) Benedict XVI once termed the church’s “Great ‘Et Et’... and doing so as two of this pontificate’s Stateside “great powers” – one of them his cardinal-predecessor – approvingly looked on.

Given the possibility that the preach was really a stealth plea for BBN loyalties to be accepted in Hoosier Country, well, even an archbishop can dream....

For the substance, meanwhile, here’s the game-film:


Moving rapidly to bridge the long divide within Stateside Catholicism's most gerrymandered outpost – uniquely carved so that Meinrad would remain within its lines – the traveling Chuck-show begins this very weekend with a Sunday Mass two hours and over 100 miles to the south in New Albany: a significant nod to his new charge's heavily-Protestant, oft-disregarded rural tier... or, as the archbishop of Anchorage calls it, "home."

-30-

In Raleigh, The Church Has Arrived

Over the decade ending next spring, the Stateside church will have opened four new cathedrals. The sign of the times, however, lies in the specifics – all but one have been built to serve Catholicism's epic emergence in the heart of the American South.

Though the cycle doesn't wrap up until early 2018, yesterday saw the dedication of the largest of the group: Raleigh's 2,000-seat, $46 million Cathedral of the Holy Name of Jesus – the new hub for a 550,000-member fold not only doubled in size over the last decade, but tripled since 1990 on the back of massive migration both from the Rust Belt and Latin America.

Impressive as the upgrade is on its own, that's all the more the case considering what the new structure replaces: the 250-seat downtown church dedicated to the Sacred Heart, designated as the diocesan seat upon Raleigh's founding in 1924, and until now the smallest cathedral in the continental United States. Given the population boom, the parish's dozen weekend Masses have invariably drawn overflow crowds stretching past its doors; over the site's final Sunday, it was said that some of the liturgies saw people gathered around the windows outside and straining to follow along. (Even with the expanded space, the new cathedral parish will still celebrate seven liturgies each weekend.)

Built on a century-old property initially acquired by Maryknoll missionaries, while local officials have aimed to compare Holy Name's size to St Patrick's in New York and the Stateside fold's other storied outposts, another stat is more telling: with its launch, Raleigh is now home to the largest mother church of an American see that isn't an archdiocese. As Catholics barely comprised a single percent of North Carolina's population until the last quarter-century, the milestone further consolidates the faithful's historic ascent in the Tar Heel State, which has likewise birthed what's said to be the nation's largest parish – the 10,000-family behemoth at St Matthew's in suburban Charlotte.

Its copper dome already an established presence on the Raleigh skyline, the finished cathedral represents an evolved design from its first draft; after the early plans garnered criticism over their cost and concept, a scaled-back reworking based on wider consultation expanded the narthex, loaded the transepts with altar-facing pews and ditched a number of bells and whistles like an underground parking garage. At the same time, as a nod to its local context, the Romanesque-inspired product features quintessentially American touches – mostly red brick on the outside, and apart from the stained glass and life-size statues of 26 saints around the nave, a lack of interior adornment in favor of a strikingly white decor, both a traditional hallmark of the South’s Protestant churches as well as a choice reminiscent of the nation's first cathedral, Baltimore's Basilica of the Assumption, which was conceived with an eye to architecturally inculturating Catholicism to the American experiment. (In this particular instance, the latter piece is all the more significant: North Carolina’s first resident bishop, James Gibbons, was baptized in the Baltimore shrine and was sent to Wilmington as the state’s founding vicar-apostolic, serving there from 1868-72 before returning home to the Premier See, where he would become its first cardinal-archbishop and reign for 45 years.)

Marked in turns by reverence and exuberance, yesterday's rites capped an unusually emotional year for the project's builder, who fittingly – and gratefully – returned to do the honors with relish.

Upon learning of his transfer to Arlington last fall as nearly a decade of planning, fundraising and construction neared the finish line, Bishop Michael Burbidge understandably wept. And on coming back to see his vision brought fully to life – delivering it on-time, on-budget and without any enduring debt – as he said early yesterday, "My knees buckled."

In the end, however, the moment was nonetheless bound to be fleeting. Handed the keys to the building by the construction team as the first of multiple ovations thundered through the space, Burbidge promptly passed them to his successor, Bishop Luis Zarama, who takes possession of the cathedral and its marble and gilt throne as his own in late August.


And if that poetic moment – the handover from a Northeast-born Anglo to a Hispanic immigrant in the church's "New South" – doesn't sum up the reality of this era in the nation's Catholic history, then nothing ever could.

*   *   *
Here, fullvid of the three-hour Dedication Mass – and its 70-page worship aid:


...and to mark the occasion, a prime-time special aired last night on the city's NBC affiliate, WRAL:


In the short term, the final lap of the US' new cathedral crop comes early next year – of course, again in the South. Amid the church's exponential growth in East Tennessee, Knoxville's $28 million, 1,500-seat replacement for Sacred Heart Cathedral will be opened on March 3rd, overflowing with frescoes and capped by a Florentine-style dome.

That said, what's arguably the Stateside fold's most prominent and intensely-watched project of the kind is now formally underway out West: within the last six weeks, construction finally began for the conversion of Orange County's landmark Crystal Cathedral into the seat of its 1.3 million-member diocese, with completion currently eyed for sometime in mid-2019.

Five years since the 34-acre campus made famous by Dr Robert Schuller's "Hour of Power" was purchased for a song by the growing Orange church, the work on its centerpiece belies the reality that the rest of the site's half-dozen buildings have already been put to ecclesial use, with the diocesan Chancery, a school, several media entities and more already based there at full tilt.

Liturgically, meanwhile, the campus' first worship space – the 1960s-era Arboretum – is serving as the de facto Cathedral church for the time being, hosting most of the diocese's major events and drawing over 12,000 people every weekend across 14 Masses in four languages: English, Spanish, Vietnamese and Chinese.

-30-

Quo Vadis?

To be sure, the Vatican doesn't observe The 4th... still, the place's annual obsession with fireworks over these days has never exactly been a secret.

At least, it's not for those who've been around here long enough. Even for that, though, in terms of the broad sweep of things, what we've just seen – and what's yet to come of it – is simply on another level.

Long story short, apart from the days surrounding B16's resignation and the Conclave that followed, this scribe simply can't recall a more dramatic nor impactful news-cycle than the one suddenly sprung over the last 10 days: to top it off, of what're now the three principal dicasteries of the Roman Curia, two of their heads were wiped out within 48 hours.

Lest that didn't sink in the first time, read it again.

Put another way, when a Consistory isn't the top-line of the week – let alone the month – in which it happens, Peter and Paul gets lost in the shuffle, and no less than the Pope's pick for the largest diocesan seat in Europe is practically an afterthought, if you don't know how uncharted this is, you're not paying attention.

All around, while July 1 normally signals the end of the circus, the threads now afoot have made the period ahead anything but routine. For starters, we're 10 days out from a moment without precedent – the Vatican's de facto #2 cardinal in a criminal court back home, facing the specter of watershed sex-charges (their precise nature still to be clarified). And that's leaving aside the customary last files already decided, but not yet announced... a good few events of wider import on tap... and, indeed, the sheer unknown that's always with us.

As you might expect, by this point in a "normal" July, this scribe can really use a breather. Frankly, that's all the more so this time around, but finding one will be a bit trickier than usual. So if and when things are able to go quiet here for a couple days here and there over the next few weeks, hope you'll understand – as they take the brunt the rest of the time, my family and friends would appreciate it.

When it comes to the major stuff, however, the intent is to be in the saddle here – at least, to the degree that you make it happen.

Ergo – with a boatload of thanks to everyone who's helped the shop get through the first round of these days – as the bills are ever a work in progress, keeping all this going is the one part of this work that's in this readership's hands...


Again, all thanks – especially now, this side of the screen sure doesn't want the plug pulled... but for those who haven't yet grasped the ongoing lesson of the Northeast, well, looking at somebody else and thinking that "They'll do it" is the ultimate reason for why things close.

Lastly, while some have been griping this way over how the "Holy Office" train blew through last weekend, suffice it to say, the initial reports on it simply didn’t meet Whispers’ standards of verification – and on a move as high-octane as that, the sheer risk of getting it wrong just wouldnt've been worth destroying one’s reputation over (even if, given history, that very confluence would’ve been deliciously fitting).

Still, much as the standard “rule of three” wasn't reached before the announcement itself, one senior Vatican op did confirm the buzz amid the war-zone of last Friday afternoon, tipping the full outcome of the moment at hand in these words:

“Yes, Müller is leaving.... And Pell will never return.”

At least so far, time and events have proven him right....

For the rest, stay tuned – that is, as you will so permit.

-30-

Ambrose, Charles, Montini, Martini... and Mario – For Milan, The Pope's "Inside Job"

And so, after months of anticipation, "The Big One" has arrived – arguably the most significant personnel choice of any Pope Francis will make across his pontificate.

Yet while the ancient chair of Milan has been occupied over 18 centuries by saints, future Popes – and, more recently, the intellectual heavyweights of their respective ecclesial eras – in selecting its 144th holder, Papa Bergoglio opted instead for the "man behind the curtain," picking Bishop Mario Delpini, the 65 year-old auxiliary and lead vicar-general of the Lombard church, to lead Europe's largest diocese, comprising some 5 million Catholics served by more than 1,100 parishes. (Above, the archbishop-elect is seen with Francis during his March visit to the city.)

Despite having served as top aide to Cardinal Angelo Scola practically since the now-retiring prelate's arrival six years ago, a contrast of style was clear at the noontime announcement in the Milanese Curia, as Scola donned his red-trimmed house cassock, while the archbishop-elect – known for bicycling around Italy's financial and media hub – made his debut in a faded tab-shirt and rumpled suit (below).

Oft-tipped in the Italian rumblings leading up to today's move, among the locals Delpini's ascent has evoked comparisons to the newly-elected Paul VI's pick of another native son – his own lead deputy, Giovanni Colombo – to fill the seat after the then-Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini became the post's last holder to be elected to the papacy.

Over his 42 years of priesthood, the incoming archbishop's ministry has been spent mostly in the central rungs of the sprawling, immensely complex local church, being tapped by its successive chiefs as seminary rector, regional vicar, auxiliary, and then the de facto overseer of the Curia. (At the behest of Scola's predecessor, Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi, Delpini was named an auxiliary in 2007 by then-Pope Benedict XVI.)

Beyond allowing for a remarkably smooth transition that'll see Delpini hit the ground running, it was indeed observed during the stakes that the eventual choice shares a key focus with Francis' recent nominee as vicar for Rome, Archbishop Angelo DeDonatis: on top of his duties as vicar-general, like DeDonatis the Milanese likewise coordinates the mega-diocese's efforts for the continuing formation of priests.

Striking a humble tone in his first remarks upon the appointment, Delpini joked to the throng of clergy and media on hand today that, "people who know me might say I'm a good guy... but archbishop of Milan? Somebody else would be better.

"My inadequacy can be found just in the names [of prior archbishops]," he said "illustrious [names] like Angelo, Dionigi, Carlo Maria, Giovanni, Giovanni Battista, etc. But Mario – what kind of name is that?

"As you can see, it's just some run-of-the-mill bishop."

The "biking bishop" can say that all he likes, but history shows his new reality to be rather different – beyond being thrust into the global stratosphere with his ascent, as noted here over recent weeks, five of Delpini's nine predecessors over the last century have either been beatified, elected to the Papacy, or both.

"I need everybody," Delpini said today, voicing his hope that "our church should reveal in an ever more evident way the threads of synodality and co-responsibility that Vatican II marked out.... I need all the men and women who live in this diocese... to help this Ambrosian church to be creative and welcoming, poorer and more simple, that it might be freer and happier."

In keeping with recent custom for the post, Delpini will be installed in the seat of Saints Ambrose and Charles in late September to coincide with the beginning of the church's pastoral year after the summer hiatus. By longstanding tradition, the formal "entrance" of a new archbishop into the city is conducted as a grand spectacle, with the region's civic leadership, the top brass of the Italian church, and an overflow throng outside the Duomo (cathedral) all out in force; the future Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini SJ is seen above at his 1979 arrival, having been ordained as the 141st archbishop at the Vatican by John Paul II.

While most Curial business has ceased for the vacation season of July and August, it's standard procedure that diocesan appointments already decided will still be announced over the next ten days or so.

Above all, however, given the fallout of last week's transition at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the most important nod on-deck is that of its new Archbishop-Secretary to replace the incoming Prefect, Archbishop Luis Ladaria SJ.

Though the lead official of a Roman dicastery sets his office's general direction and serves as its external "face," the second-in-command is at least as critical a figure in light of his responsibility for managing the daily nuts and bolts of its workload – which, in the CDF's case, tends to involve no shortage of the Curia's most sensitive and significant business.

-30-

For the New Cathedral, Un Nuevo Pastor – At Long Last, Zarama Nabs Raleigh's Big Chair

(Updated 9.30am with presser video, etc.)

For all the twists and turns (and loops) of an eventful vacancy in Eastern North Carolina's 59-county fold, the nod still falls to the long-tipped frontrunner: at Roman Noon on this 5th of July, the Pope tapped Luis Rafael Zarama, the 58 year-old auxiliary of Atlanta, as sixth bishop of Raleigh – its more than 500,000 Catholics doubled in size over the last decade, a majority of them Hispanic.

The move completes a rare "trade" of hats rolled out over the last several weeks, as the latter's own Fr Ned Shlesinger was snapped up by Archbishop Wilton Gregory as a second auxiliary for the million-member Atlanta church. And as those who listened closely at the May presser announcing that move might recall the veiled yet conspicuous Wilt-line that "Raleigh may talk to me again – soon"... well, "soon" has come to pass (and on the foreseen timetable, to boot).

With his move to the land of the Blue Devils and Tar Heels, the Colombian-born pick inherits the new crown jewel of the church's landmark emergence in the "New South": the 2,000-seat, $41 million Cathedral of the Holy Name of Jesus (below), which will be dedicated three weeks from today in fittingly massive form by the project's visionary, Bishop Michael Burbidge, who was transferred to Arlington last October.

Zarama will be installed in the new space on Tuesday, 29 August. Gratefully, the cathedral's cost isn't among the challenges ahead – thanks to a redo of the initial plans that removed several of the proposed structure's pricier elements, in a rarity for an effort of this magnitude, its construction and outfitting is said to be practically paid off.

On another historic front, the choice marks a watershed – recruited by Atlanta from his homeland before his 1993 ordination, Zarama becomes the first Latino to helm a Southern diocese outside of Florida. As for what awaits, meanwhile, given reports of some tensions between Colombians and Mexicans in the Raleigh trenches, that situation – among others – just got rather more interesting.

Himself a sweetheart par excellence, even for today's usual introductory presser, Zarama's already had his maiden turn before his new charge – the act indeed seen as an "audition" at the time, the eventual appointee was brought in to celebrate this year's Chrism Mass in Raleigh due to the vacancy, nabbing high marks across the board with this homily, beginning with his admission that "my legs are shaking":



The local intro set for 10am ET today, here's the Chancery livefeed:



Developing – again, lest anybody forgot, there's no shortage of "more to come" going around.

-30-

"This Is the Dignity of America, The Reason She Exists...."


And so, from the place where it all began, to one and all, a blessed and Happy 4th.

Much as the text is part and parcel of every civic feast here, it's never more fitting than on this day: the Prayer for the Nation written and first delivered 225 years ago (at the first National Synod) by John Carroll of Baltimore – a cousin of the lone Catholic to sign the Declaration, the founding shepherd of the church in these United States....
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[/her] 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.
*   *   *
In the time since, the Nativist paranoia of ages past actually did end up panning out: the Popes have indeed made their conquest across the Atlantic... just not by "commanding" the faithful across an ocean to dig a tunnel beneath it to Rome.

The outlandish we'll always have with us – and, to be sure, no one should understand that better than an American Catholic.

In reality, the story of (Romish) church and state on these shores has mostly come to embody the promise sketched out by James Gibbons at Trastevere some 13 decades ago: namely, that when it comes to the practice and spread of the faith in these States, "we are indebted... to the civil liberty we enjoy in our enlightened republic."

What this age tends to forget, however, is that with freedom comes responsibility... and filling in the blanks is the unique and irreplaceable service of the free institutions of faith.

On that front, Catholicism's ultimate tribute to the American experiment marks its 30th anniversary this fall: John Paul II's farewell to the country – the final word of the now-saint's most extensive coast-to-coast tour....
As I leave, I express my gratitude to God also for what he is accomplishing in your midst. With the words of Saint Paul, I too can say with confident assurance "that he who has begun the good work in you will carry it through to completion, right up to the day of Christ Jesus" (Phil. 1, 6-7). And so I am confident too that America will be ever more conscious of her responsibility for justice and peace in the world. As a nation that has received so much, she is called to continued generosity and service towards others.

As I go, I take with me vivid memories of a dynamic nation, a warm and welcoming people, a Church abundantly blessed with a rich blend of cultural traditions. I depart with admiration for the ecumenical spirit that breathes strongly throughout this land, for the genuine enthusiasm of your young people, and for the hopeful aspirations of your most recent immigrants. I take with me an unforgettable memory of a country that God has richly blessed from the beginning until now.

America the beautiful! So you sing in one of your national songs. Yes, America, you are beautiful indeed, and blessed in so many ways:

- in your majestic mountains and fertile plains;
- in the goodness and sacrifice hidden in your teeming cities and expanding suburbs;
- in your genius for invention and for splendid progress;
- in the power that you use for service and in the wealth that you share with others;
- in what you give to your own, and in what you do for others beyond your borders;
- in how you serve, and in how you keep alive the flame of hope in many hearts;
- in your quest for excellence and in your desire to right all wrongs.

Yes, America, all this belongs to you. But your greatest beauty and your richest blessing is found in the human person: in each man, woman and child, in every immigrant, in every native-born son and daughter.

For this reason, America, your deepest identity and truest character as a nation is revealed in the position you take towards the human person. The ultimate test of your greatness in the way you treat every human being, but especially the weakest and most defenceless ones.

The best traditions of your land presume respect for those who cannot defend themselves. If you want equal justice for all, and true freedom and lasting peace, then, America, defend life! All the great causes that are yours today will have meaning only to the extent that you guarantee the right to life and protect the human person:

- feeding the poor and welcoming refugees;
- reinforcing the social fabric of this nation;
- promoting the true advancement of women;
- securing the rights of minorities;
- pursuing disarmament, while guaranteeing legitimate defence; all this will succeed only if respect for life and its protection by the law is granted to every human being from conception until natural death.

Every human person – no matter how vulnerable or helpless, no matter how young or how old, no matter how healthy, handicapped or sick, no matter how useful or productive for society – is a being of inestimable worth created in the image and likeness of God.

This is the dignity of America, the reason she exists, the condition for her survival – yes, the ultimate test of her greatness: to respect every human person, especially the weakest and most defenceless ones, those as yet unborn.

With these sentiments of love and hope for America, I now say goodbye in words that I spoke once before: "Today, therefore, my final prayer is this: that God will bless America, so that she may increasingly become - and truly be - and long remain one Nation, under God, indivisible. With liberty and justice for all."

May God bless you all.

God bless America!
-30-

The Francis Inquisition – Amid Tumult on Amoris and Abuse, Pope Switches Hands at CDF

Capping a week of shockwaves at the topmost levels of the Roman Curia, at Roman Noon this Saturday, the Pope declined to reconfirm Cardinal Gerhard Müller as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the close of the German's first five-year mandate, and handed the reins of the "Holy Office" to its longtime #2 official, Archbishop Luis Ladaria SJ.

Despite the delicacy of the formal language, the move can indeed be viewed as Francis' ouster of the 69 year-old German, who brought a combination of firmness on moral teaching and affinity for liberation theology to the Doctrine office upon his appointment by then-Pope Benedict XVI five years ago tomorrow.

Under normal circumstances, a pontiff's renewal of a Curial prefect for successive quinquennial terms is a pro forma act done without public notification.

Himself a veteran collaborator of Joseph Ratzinger over the latter's quarter-century at the CDF's helm, Ladaria, 73, has served as the congregation's secretary since 2008. With his ascent to the top post, the Spanish Jesuit takes on the additional duties linked to the role: the presidencies of the International Theological Commission, the Pontifical Biblical Commission and the Ecclesia Dei Commission, the lead liaison for the church's relations with traditionalist groups and questions on the use of the pre-Conciliar "Extraordinary Form" of the Roman rite.

On a related front, Ecclesia Dei is the Curial organ responsible for the ongoing reconciliation talks with the Society of St Pius X, which have notched multiple major inroads through the last year, paving the way to the Swiss-based group's potential return to communion with the Catholic church. Yet another major item in the main congregation's portfolio – of particular interest in the English-speaking world – is its complete jurisdiction over the Personal Ordinariates for former Anglicans, which were established in England, North America and Australia by Benedict following 2009's Anglicanorum coetibus.

The historic successor to the "Holy Office of the Inquisition" – rechristened after Vatican II – the congregation's founding dates to 1542. The principal Congregation of the Curia, amid Francis' ongoing reform CDF (its Sant'Uffizio headquarters seen below) is now viewed as ranking third among the dicasteries, after the Secretariats of State and for the Economy.

In making the shift official roughly 18 hours after reports began to swirl – yet could not be independently verified – that Müller was told of his departure in an audience yesterday with the Pope, the Holy See gave no indication of the 69 year-old cardinal's next assignment. While some speculation has tipped the theological heavyweight for the role of Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, as of late Friday Whispers ops close to that post's current holder, Cardinal Edwin O'Brien, were blindsided on learning of said rumors, and relayed that the 78 year-old New Yorker – who was en route to the US for this holiday weekend – had not been informed of any move.

As for Müller's potential landing spots, it's worth noting that no major posts in his homeland – where he served as bishop of B16's adopted base of Regensburg until his transfer to Rome – are currently open. Closing out a recent flurry of top-level moves in Germany, the last key post to go was Mainz, where Francis named Peter Kohlgraf – a 50 year-old pastoral theologian – in April as successor to Cardinal Karl Lehmann, the progressive titan who chaired the country's formidable bishops' conference for two decades.

While the now-former CDF chief had drawn considerable attention for staking out a skeptical position on Francis' potential openings in Amoris Laetitia toward the civilly remarried and others in difficult situations vis a vis church teaching, it bears no less recalling that Müller had come in for ferocious criticism by survivors of clergy sex-abuse and their advocates given the office's role as the church's global clearinghouse of those cases. Above all, the cardinal was roundly blasted by the prominent Irish survivor Marie Collins, who resigned her seat on the Pope's new Commission for the Protection of Minors (PCPM) in April over the congregation's refusal to comply with Francis' directive that they reply to inquiries sent by victims, then continued to rap Müller for not changing course after the fact.

Among other related issues was the CDF's ostensible resistance to the pontiff's 2015 push to establish a tribunal to hear cases of abuse of office by bishops, a block that forced Francis to devise a workaround in norms issued last year. In a move that was taken as a sign of papal frustration on the accountability front, in mid-January the Pope conspicuously named the head of the PCPM, Boston's Cardinal Seán O'Malley OFM Cap., to the congregation's membership despite the Capuchin's lack of an advanced background in theology.

Along the way, too, Francis had gradually undercut Müller's standing by openly highlighting other figures on theological questions, most prominently Cardinals Walter Kasper and Christoph Schönborn, and the Argentine Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernández, the pontiff's longtime confidant, widely reputed to be the "ghostwriter" of Papa Bergoglio's major texts.

Developing... you were told there was "more to come," eh?

-30-

For The Cardinal-Prefect, "My Day in Court"

For all the spectacles the Vatican tends to witness, this one was simply surreal.

At the same dais where the Pope's major documents are unveiled and the global press briefed on Catholicism's showcase events – on what's usually one of the most joyous feasts of the year – today the Curia's third-ranking cardinal addressed his new fate as the church's most senior figure by far to face criminal charges of sexual abuse:


To understand the full import of Cardinal George Pell's return to Australia to appear in court and "clear my name," there's more to it than his current profile as the founding Secretary for the Economy, initially entrusted by Pope Francis with sweeping powers over finances and personnel across the Holy See's sprawling apparatus.

Indeed, what makes the 76 year-old prelate's quick move to go home for an 18 July initial hearing so significant is that Pell has not returned to his homeland since departing in early 2014 to take up his Vatican post – neither for the late 2014 installation of his hand-picked successor in Sydney, Archbishop Anthony Fisher, nor for what became a four day summons to testify before the national inquiry on religious institutions' handling of child abuse, obtained by video link from Rome.

With the scenario of a first-ever court process against a cardinal on sex crimes alleged by "multiple claimants" – the precise nature of which have not been clarified by law enforcement in his native state of Victoria – the Italian media's traditional summer "soap opera" involving the church is now set, albeit some 4,000 miles afield.

Still, despite the inevitable circus that will surround the scrutiny on one of the top rank's most enduring figures – a presence on the global scene over some two decades – for the apex of the Catholic world, it just doesn't get more serious than this.

For starters, even as Pell announced his own "leave" from his Vatican duties – and the Holy See's lead spokesman, Greg Burke, indicated that the cardinal would not "participate in public liturgies" for the duration of the judicial process – the moves amount to a de facto suspension from ministry.

Regardless of whose volition spurred the act, a recusal of the kind is without precedent for a top Curial official. What's more, however, while two decades of revelations of abuse and cover-up have been treated as a political football among the church's ideological camps, Pell is one of the few major prelates whose trajectory and alliances cut across partisan lines.

Long a favorite of the Catholic right for his unapologetic approach to moral teachings, the Oxford-trained onetime fullback – who's long relished his reputation for being a "bull in a china shop" – was initially tapped by then-Pope Benedict XVI to take the helm of the Congregation for Bishops in 2009, a move which would've made the Aussie the first prelate from the English-speaking world to oversee the all-powerful body that recommends candidates for appointments to the pontiff.

In response, what was widely perceived in Rome as a "smear campaign" went into overdrive, raising the specter of a 2002 allegation of abuse against the cardinal which dated to the 1960s. Though Pell had been cleared years earlier by an internal probe chartered by the archdiocese of Sydney, conducted by a retired judge – during which he stood aside as archbishop for several months – the ferocity of opposition to Benedict's plan led the now-retired Pope to scuttle the move before it was formally made. (Along the way, however, Pell's hard-charging style saw him successfully tackle another high-wire Vatican mission: as chair of the Vox Clara committee of senior prelates tasked with managing English liturgical translations, he led the push that brought the group's major project – the long-stymied overhaul of the Roman Missal – to completion and a historic implementation across the Anglophone world in 2011.)

Of course, that wouldn't be the end of the story. Perceived by many as angling for a Roman office from his days as an auxiliary in Melbourne – when, as one Curialist recalled, Pell "was always showing up" at the Vatican – the 2012 outbreak of the Vatileaks fiasco provided the cardinal with an opportunity for payback, and Benedict took him up on it, bringing Pell into an ad hoc group of cardinal-advisers Papa Ratzinger had convened on tackling the crisis.

Months later, the election of Pope Francis would surprisingly bring the Australian's rebound to its zenith – with his profile as a blunt, sharp-elbowed manager (and one seen as wronged by the Vatican's old guard), Pell's temporal acumen landed him a seat on the new pontiff's "Gang of 8" for the reform of the Curia (below), arguably the most surprising choice for the group given his conservative leanings.

Less than a year afterward, Francis would deliver the ultimate call – with the new Pope and his "crown council" determined to clean up the famously murky orbit of the Holy See's finances, Pell was unveiled as the choice to consolidate all control of budgets and investments under one umbrella, a first-ever CFO to replace the small village of separate entities which oversaw various pieces of the books, with varying degrees of success.

To say that the Aussie was ready would be an understatement – Pell's full-time arrival in Rome came shortly after the opening of the Domus Australia, a onetime convent converted into a hostel and event center for pilgrims from Down Under, with an ample living space already created for himself.

To be sure, though, if there was one area that the natives guarded more jealously than appointments, it was the money – and Francis' putting Pell in charge of it was greeted as something of an apocalyptic event. Unlike Benedict, however, Papa Bergoglio's Italian stubbornness wouldn't be as easily conquered.

At least, that's how it seemed at the start. While Francis has stood by his man – re-confirming the cardinal's position after he reached the retirement age of 75 last year – the Curia's penchant for bureaucratic turf-war has challenged Pell's mandate at practically every turn and made significant inroads against the new bureau's initial remit, most prominently in last year's move to suspend a first-ever external audit of all Vatican entities, which had been ordered by the Secretariat.

At the same time, the financial reform hit another major speed-bump last week as Libero Milone – the freshly empowered auditor-general hired by Pell's team – suddenly resigned from the post as reports on the move spoke of an unspecified "ugly situation" that could "get worse."

Amid the fallout from Milone's surprise departure, the Council for the Economy – the mixed group of  15 top prelates and lay experts to which Pell's Secretariat reports – had already summoned its members to an extraordinary meeting set for early July in Rome to discuss the way forward. With the new development of the charges against the cardinal-prefect – and no clarity yet on the leadership of the Economy office in the wake of Pell's leave for the court case – any long-term resolutions just became considerably more difficult.

Back in Australia, meanwhile, the indictment has come as a fresh firestorm for a church already struggling under a cloud of abuse developments. With the cardinal's polarizing shadow ever looming large despite years of absence from the scene, the nation's hierarchy has spent 2017 bracing for what's widely expected to be a damning report from the national inquiry on sex-abuse in religious institutions, which is due by the end of its mandate in mid-December.

Beyond the wide attention – and equal heaping of scorn – that Pell's 2016 testimony to the Royal Commission drew, the Australian archbishops were likewise deposed at length by the panel last February. And in another moment of major impact, a rising star of the Aussie bench – Vietnamese-born Franciscan Bishop Vincent Long of Parramatta – revealed to the probe that he had been a victim of abuse by a cleric.

All the while, another major shoe from Rome is likely soon to drop: the Pope's appointment of the next archbishop of Melbourne – already a critical move given the city's place as the continent's largest local church, yet now even more of a "hot seat" as the venue for Pell's state trial on the charges.

In a letter released after the charges were filed, Sydney's Fisher – himself a civil lawyer – warned his clergy and people that his predecessor's return to face justice "will be unsettling for many of us."

While defending Pell as "a man of integrity in his dealings with others... a thoroughly decent man," the archbishop emphasized that "we must now allow the impartial pursuit of justice," adding that the church "is not responsible" for the cardinal's legal costs and won't be footing them.

Keeping with Australian conventions for the accused, a recent biography which levied a new allegation of abuse by Pell has been pulled from sale in Victoria pending the trial. On another context note, the southern coastal state does not allow cameras in its courts, so the impending hearings will not be filmed nor televised.

-30-

To Cardinals New and Old, "Jesus Has Not Called You To Be 'Princes,' But To Serve"

From St Peter's Basilica, here's the on-demand video of this morning's Public Consistory for the elevation of five new cardinals:



Marking yet another historic shift for the Pope's "Senate" – that is, Francis' "extreme makeover" of its composition and a banishment of the role's historic prestige – the pontiff underscored his intents in an address as brief as it is loaded, having chosen Jesus' Gospel warning against ambition as the Scripture reading for today's rites:
“Jesus was walking ahead of them”. This is the picture that the Gospel we have just read (Mk 10:32-45) presents to us. It serves as a backdrop to the act now taking place: this Consistory for the creation of new Cardinals.

Jesus walks resolutely towards Jerusalem. He knows fully what awaits him there; on more than one occasion, he spoke of it to his disciples. But there is a distance between the heart of Jesus and the hearts of the disciples, which only the Holy Spirit can bridge. Jesus knows this, and so he is patient with them. He speaks to them frankly and, above all, he goes before them. He walks ahead of them.

Along the way, the disciples themselves are distracted by concerns that have nothing to do with the “direction” taken by Jesus, with his will, which is completely one with that of the Father”. So it is that, as we heard, the two brothers James and John think of how great it would be to take their seats at the right and at the left of the King of Israel (cf. v. 37). They are not facing reality! They think they see, but they don’t. They think they know, but they don’t. They think they understand better than the others, but they don’t....

For the reality is completely different. It is what Jesus sees and what directs his steps. The reality is the cross. It is the sin of the world that he came to take upon himself, and to uproot from the world of men and women. It is the innocent who suffer and die as victims of war and terrorism; the forms of enslavement that continue to violate human dignity even in the age of human rights; the refugee camps which at times seem more like a hell than a purgatory; the systematic discarding of all that is no longer useful, people included.

This is what Jesus sees as he walks towards Jerusalem. During his public ministry he made known the Father’s tender love by healing all who were oppressed by the evil one (cf. Acts 10:38). Now he realizes that the moment has come to press on to the very end, to eliminate evil at its root. And so, he walks resolutely towards the cross.

We too, brothers and sisters, are journeying with Jesus along this path. I speak above all to you, dear new Cardinals. Jesus “is walking ahead of you”, and he asks you to follow him resolutely on his way. He calls you to look at reality, not to let yourselves be distracted by other interests or prospects. He has not called you to become “princes” of the Church, to “sit at his right or at his left”. He calls you to serve like him and with him. To serve the Father and your brothers and sisters. He calls you to face as he did the sin of the world and its effects on today’s humanity. Follow him, and walk ahead of the holy people of God, with your gaze fixed on the Lord’s cross and resurrection.

And now, with faith and through the intercession of the Virgin Mother, let us ask the Holy Spirit to bridge every gap between our hearts and the heart of Christ, so that our lives may be completely at the service of God and all our brothers and sisters.
-30-