Thursday, June 22, 2017

In San Francisco, The End of An Era – John Raphael Dies at 88

For the second time in a month, the City of St Francis is made to bury an archbishop... yet this time, it's the "Big One."

The figure who enshrined a progressive style of Catholicism to fit the nation's most liberal city, Archbishop John Raphael Quinn died early this morning at 88.

Head of the San Francisco church from 1977-95, the San Diego native – ordained a bishop at 38 – led the US bench as the modern conference's fourth president from 1977-80, amid the hierarchy's post-Conciliar zenith of action and activism.

Despite months of declining health, the news came suddenly nonetheless; Quinn had just been released from hospital last week and was said to be settling well into a nursing home, until his breathing became labored early today.

Almost majestically in church circles as "John Raphael," the archbishop's condition had first taken a downturn last November in Rome, where he was on hand for the elevation of one of his proteges, now-Cardinal Blase Cupich, who tapped Quinn to pronounce the papal bull granting the Chicago prelate his titular church, St Bartholomew's on Tiber Island, as Cupich took possession of it. (In a similar vein, no shortage of eyebrows were raised at the latter's 2014 installation in Chicago, as the new archbishop pointedly placed Quinn at his side among the major concelebrants at the altar of Holy Name Cathedral, even with most of the American cardinals in attendance.)

Over his two decades at the helm by the Bay, Quinn's sense of the church's role in public life saw the archbishop become the first US prelate to meaningfully tackle the outbreak of AIDS, marshaling his Catholic Charities into its enduring role as the city's lead caregiver to the stricken, while most other locales remained stuck in misunderstandings on the epidemic or a lacking sense of its potential spread. Along the way, history was made in 1987 as – during his sprawling two-week Stateside tour – Pope John Paul II first met victims of the disease in San Francisco, among them two priests.

At the same time, by its mid-1990s end the archbishop's tenure had become mired under a cloud of controversies ranging from his handling of sex-abuse to parish closings, leading Quinn to seek a coadjutor at 66 as his allies accused the local media of "journalistic terrorism." In prior years, meanwhile, he had become the first known American Catholic leader to openly admit to a struggle with depression, entering treatment during a sabbatical in the late 1980s.

Having dedicated his retirement to research and writing on ecumenism – and, consequently, the reform of ecclesial structures to facilitate it – Quinn experienced something of a second spring under Pope Francis, who eagerly sought out the retiree as a sounding board for his own plans to enhance synodality in the Western church.

As the topic was the focus of the archbishop's 1996 book The Reform of the Papacy – written with an eye to rethinking the Pope's role in the name of Christian unity – much of Quinn's vision has come to bleed into Francis' mindset, a meld the pontiff expressed most daringly alongside the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew during the Pope's 2014 visit to Jerusalem, and in his landmark address in October 2015 to mark the 50th anniversary of the Synod of Bishops.

Even before the current pontificate, though, the Quinn renaissance was already underway with Benedict's choices of several of his aides and favorites to the episcopacy, most of them shepherded onto the bench by his San Francisco successor, William Levada, from his eventual cardinal's seat on the Congregation for Bishops.

Led in tandem by Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe (Quinn's onetime secretary) and Bishop Bob McElroy of San Diego – his last vicar-general, now making an increasingly "disrupt"-ive imprint on the national stage – as one of the group once underscored to Whispers, "You say we're Levada's but, really, we're Quinn's."

In a notably effusive statement on the passing of his predecessor – reflecting the devoted status with which the elder churchman was held – current San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone (above, with Quinn at his side) said in announcing the death that "our hearts are breaking at losing such a great priest and friend."

Funeral arrangements remain pending. Ever himself, however, Quinn will still have the final word – long in the works, the late prelate's last book was almost completed at the time of his death, the work to focus on the First Vatican Council, an event headlined by its definition of papal infallibility on matters of faith and morals.

According to Whispers ops close to John Raphael, the author spent his last weeks poring over the galleys from his sickbed.

-30-

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Ambrose, Charles... and Francis' Choice – In Italy (and Beyond), All Eyes on Milan

While late last week was supposed to be given to the Midsummer Classic – eventful as it was for a June meeting – more pressing developments have pushed the bench to the side... at least, the Stateside one.

As ever, news has its ways of disrupting the best-laid plans. Still, as sidetracks go, this instance brings the specter of a blockbuster: the most important personnel choice Pope Francis will make, bar none, is said to be on deck.

According to mounting reports from Italy over recent days, Papa Bergoglio has settled upon his pick for the archbishopric of Milan: with 5 million Catholics, Europe's largest diocese by far – above all, the Italian church's most critical assignment outside Rome thanks to the city's place as the country's financial and media hub, not to mention its top population center.

Upon his unveiling, Francis' choice will succeed Cardinal Angelo Scola, who reached the retirement age of 75 last November.

Long a favorite of Benedict XVI, the 2011 choice of Scola – Papa Ratzinger's decades-long collaborator on numerous fronts, above all in seeking to set the goalposts for a dialogue with post-modern culture – was merely the latest instance of how every Pope of the modern era has sought to send an unmistakable message with his appointment to the seat of Saints Ambrose and Charles (Borromeo).

Among others, three more recent turnovers of the post likewise stand out: Pius XII's 1954 call of his Co-Secretary of State, Msgr Giovanni Battista Montini, to the Lombard church, from which he would be elected nine years later as Pope Paul VI; now-St John Paul II's 1979 shock tap of the then-rector of the Gregorian, Fr Carlo Maria Martini, which served to launch the Jesuit Scripture scholar into cult figure status across broad swathes of progressives and others worldwide, then the 2002 choice of his successor, Dionigi Tettamanzi – already cardinal-archbishop of Genoa and, a decade prior, the primary ghostwriter of JPII's pro-life manifesto, Evangelium Vitae.

As a pontiff's ability to run the table only extends for the course of his own reign, beyond the confidence of his Maker in White – and with it, the Milanese prelate's day-to-day influence over the life of a mega-fold spread across 1,000-plus parishes – that five of the city's nine archbishops over the last century have either been beatified or elected to the papacy (or both) speaks to an enduring imprint long beyond their respective turns at its helm.

Indeed, in an act underscoring the post's nonpareil standing in papal eyes, Benedict continued the tradition (begun with Martini) of conferring Scola's pallium privately, in this case at Castel Gandolfo (above), instead of doing so alongside the world's other newly-named archbishops. In its last instance, however, the move echoed the 2002 moment when – breaking the norm that restricts the wool band to metropolitans – John Paul II placed it on the shoulders of Joseph Ratzinger, effectively singling out his eventual successor.

Accordingly, that Scola's considerable buzz as Papabile in 2013 was only short-circuited, at least in part, by sudden civil investigations into the cardinal's allies in local government – a probe which curiously leaked onto the front-pages of Italian papers on the very morning before the cardinals entered Conclave – just emphasized further both the outsize shadow of Milan and B16's unspoken "message" bolstering it. And in one of the most priceless "comic relief" moments that are Italian ecclesiastics' stock-in-trade, when the election was accomplished within 24 hours, the country's bishops' conference famously didn't let the the choice's actual identity prevent them from issuing a statement exulting over Scola as the new "Pope." (And especially these days, how that hasn't birthed a Fiat factory's worth of conspiracy theories is anyone's guess.)

In light of said lineage, then, whether the Milan pick comes this week, next month or (at the latest) early next year, it's nonetheless the ultimate venue for Francis – as both the first non-European Pope in over a millennium, and ever the son of Northern Italian emigres – to set his stamp, both for the direction of Catholicism on the "Boot" and across the wider church... let alone, on a personal level, serving as an especially meaningful act given his marked devotion both to the now-Blessed Montini – whose post-Conciliar efforts Francis sees himself as "picking up" after a half-century of Curial obstruction – and the late Martini, whose posthumously-released final interview given just before his August 2012 death (read: six months before the last Conclave) could be read as a "tell" into the election that followed on its heels, and the current moment writ large.

Within Italy itself, a new occupant for the Lombard seat – the place which, 18 centuries ago, witnessed the conversion and baptism of a certain Augustine – would cap an epochal hat-trick by Papa Bergoglio over recent weeks, following last month's appointment of now-Archbishop Angelo De Donatis, 63, a "career pastor" and spiritual director to priests, as Francis' Vicar for Rome, then his assent to the Italian bishops' choice of Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti of Perugia as the new president of their national conference, known as the CEI.

In both cases, the respective choices merely capped off trajectories signaled by the Pope himself: the preacher of the Lenten retreat for pontiff and Curia in 2014, De Donatis was catapulted into Rome's diocesan leadership a year later – when, in a rarity for one of his auxiliaries, Francis performed the ordination himself (right) in St John Lateran – while, in another shock to the system, Bassetti (a prior vice-president of the Italian bench) was plucked for the red hat in the Pope's first intake, as the cardinalate's traditional destinations in Venice and Turin were (and remain) bypassed.

On the other hand, meanwhile, both choices were the result of freshly-amplified attempts at consultation ordered from the Domus: for the Roman seat (technically the Pope's vicar-general), earlier this year Francis issued an open call for input among the clergy and faithful to be sent to him by mid-April, while in a first for the CEI's corner office – a key power-center of Italian life in the not-so-distant past – Bassetti's selection only came after the Italian bishops voted on a terna (three-man shortlist) of preferred presidents at last month's plenary, with the cardinal handily coming out on top.

That said, it is indeed conspicuous that – as the vicariate of Rome invariably brings its holder a red hat – despite having decided on De Donatis prior to his announcement of a Consistory next week, the Pope still opted against making a cardinal of the de facto head of his own diocese.

In a perfect world, that alone should end any complaints about any other place not seeing the scarlet again. Yet in an age that prefers decibel levels to actual context, it won't.

As speculation goes for Milan, listing potential names is only healthy as clickbait; in factual terms it's simply pointless in this case. Keeping with his established practice for other critical nods, it's an easy call that Francis will reserve the file to himself, taking his own soundings by phone, private letter or face-to-face and short-circuiting any debate or vote from the Congregation for Bishops.

While no shortage of possibilities have been buzzed about among Roman ops for months on end, the most scintillating among them – Pierbattista Pizzaballa, 52, the longtime head of the Franciscans' centuries-old mission in the Holy Land – is ostensibly off the table due to early days into his new assignment as archbishop-administrator of Jerusalem's Latin Patriarchate, armed with a mandate to remedy what he's termed "a critical situation, mainly financial" facing the jurisdiction which encompasses Israel, Palestine and Jordan. (And as one op summed up the scene facing the widely-regarded friar, "When an Italian's been sent in to fix the money, you really know it's bad.")

*   *   *
Immense as the expectation's running for Milan, however, Italy's super-seat is just one of three of the world's premier local churches awaiting the Pope's choice of a new leader in short order.

Likewise Catholicism's most sizable outposts on their respective continents, the archdioceses of Kinshasa and, as of early this month, Mexico City are now in play as their respective occupants have submitted their retirement letters. On the latter front, lest anyone forgot a certain "bombshell" address in the heart of global fold's second-largest national turf some 16 months ago – widely seen as Francis' pointed critique on Cardinal Norberto Rivera's leadership of the Mexican hierarchy over two decades at its helm – well, do the math.

What's more still, considering the ample audience el Arzobispo Primado de México now enjoys North of the Border – in light of Univision and Telemundo (the networks of choice for the Stateside Church's emerging majority bloc) often besting ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC and in major-market TV ratings – as the future of the US fold goes, Rivera's succession is a move of almost unparalleled domestic consequence, to boot.

Speaking of (fading European) numbers, it's a sign of the times that Italy's largest diocese is now the smallest among the A-list trio pending before Francis: the principal seat of the onetime Belgian Congo, Kinshasa's growing fold comprises over over 6 million Catholics, and while Mexico City – the global church's largest diocese of all – is said to number close to 8 million members, that figure is likely low-balled due to migration patterns and iffy record-keeping.

Though last Thursday brought the antique celebration of Corpus Christi – a holy day within Vatican City itself (read: all offices closed) – in a rarity, the Holy See apparently saw fit to troll the Italian press' outbreak of "Milanese fever" by opening shop to roll out a number of appointments in Albania, Mexico and Colombia.

Meanwhile, in a first, the Vatican observance's traditional outdoor Mass at St John Lateran and procession to St Mary Major was moved to Sunday, ending a longtime work-week ritual which tended to reflect some degree of liturgical schizophrenia and/or longing for the restoration of the Papal States.

Simply put, in choosing to match the Monstrance-march to Italy's actual calendar, the Pope didn't just opt to facilitate the convenience of the faithful, but – like so much else in the works – chose to abide by the decision of the episcopal conference... even if it took some four decades after the fact.

-30-

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Arise, @ArchChuck – Indy’s “Adopted Son,” Thompson Inherits Brickyard Church

(Updated with presser feed, Installation date, etc.)

True story: amid the frigid splendor of Cardinal Joe Tobin’s installation at Newark in early January, this scribe hitched a couple bus rides with the amply sized Indiana delegation, which made the trek to see their former boss to his new home.

Along the way, the shop’s daily mailbag essentially came to life as, at one point or another, what seemed like the bulk of the Hoosiers on-board leaned in, warmly besieging a reporter with just one question:

“Who’s coming to Indy?”

Especially in these days of a process that’s anything but linear, one can see how the chips will fall only so far in advance…. Still, even for the usual caginess that comes with the turf, it was even more impossible to be fully candid with them, at least in words – for most of the trips, the already-tipped frontrunner happened to be sitting at my side. And now, he is indeed the Pope’s choice… or, as some might put it, the “Heir to the Joe.”

In the least surprising major move Stateside Catholicism has seen in some time, at Roman Noon this Tuesday, Francis named Bishop Charles Thompson of Evansville (right) as the Seventh Archbishop of Indianapolis, the move coming smack in the midst of the USCCB's June Meeting in the city, whose public sessions start tomorrow.

At 56, the Louisville native – an established social media presence known always and everywhere as “Chuck” – becomes the nation’s youngest metropolitan, ending the nearly five-year run over which the distinction was held by Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland, the last provincial head named by Benedict XVI. Yet perhaps most poignantly, having been a spiritual son and protege of two archbishops – Louisville’s late Tom Kelly OP and Indy’s retired Daniel Buechlein OSB – over his 30 years of priesthood, it seems no accident that Thompson has risen to the rank himself.

Wiry and easygoing with a self-described "social justice" bent dating to his teens, the archbishop-elect was said to be "anxious, but ready" for today's rollout, according to a Whispers op informed of the appointment.

A resolutely "Francis man" among a bench whose extremes tend to make disproportionate noise, Thompson outlined the pontiff's imprint on his vision at considerable length in a 2016 pastoral letter to the Evansville church, a text built around the Pope's imperative of "missionary discipleship." And speaking of emphases, that the Indy pick recently took to issuing a rare public message from a Catholic prelate to his local Muslim community – "our brothers and sisters in Abraham" – to mark Islam's penitential month of Ramadan... well, it didn't hurt.

Despite his roots in Marion County – the heart of Kentucky’s centuries-old Catholic mecca, the celebrated “Holy Land” – the archbishop-elect has long been as steeped as any “outsider” could be in the life of Indiana’s principal church, now home to some 300,000 members.

For starters, Thompson's hometown lies just across the Ohio River from the Indy archdiocese’s mostly Protestant, sparsely populated southern tier… but in particular, the fold he now inherits was his home as a seminarian in formation at St Meinrad – the source of his bond with Buechlein, then its rector – before returning to the Benedictine house in the early 2000s as a professor of the canons, juggling that role with a Louisville pastorate (with the then-retired Kelly as his "parochial vicar") and Chancery work as vicar-general to Archbishop Joseph Kurtz. Upon his 2011 appointment to Evansville – a heavily rural outpost in Indiana’s southwest corner – that familiarity was only burnished given his seat on the Hoosiers’ provincial bench and the strong history of coordination among the state’s bishops on common causes.

All this goes to underscore the backstory and needs which framed today’s move – much of the paradigm reportedly set by Tobin himself. On one critical front, the move toward a “young” choice speaks to a premium on stability; upon his installation, “Archbishop Chuck” will be the fourth prelate to lead the Indy church in the last six years – named in 2011 due to Buechlein’s declining health, then-auxiliary Chris Coyne served a year as apostolic administrator with full powers until Tobin’s late 2012 arrival from Rome, then was quickly whisked home to New England as head of Vermont’s statewide diocese of Burlington.

At the same time, a significant ongoing concern within the archdiocese has been the apparent balkanization between the population core within the see city’s metro area and feelings of neglect in the south, which Thompson’s experience almost uniquely equips him to bridge. Most of all, however, the repeated turnover of leadership and other pressing challenges – among them a parish planning effort begun by the now-cardinal – will now be remedied by an extraordinarily smooth and easy transition, with little to no time needed in terms of learning curve. And along with it, the incoming archbishop brings a decent knowledge of Spanish, an ever more necessary skill given his new charge’s growing Latino bloc.

As first reported here yesterday, a 10am Eastern presser has been called at the Chancery – here, the livefeed for on-demand video of the event... and with it, the text of the archbishop-elect's first statement:



Per the norms of the canons, Thompson must be installed within two months of today’s move. With this pick, Francis has now named a quarter of the 32 Stateside Latin archbishops.

(SVILUPPO: Per the archdiocese, the Installation is scheduled for Friday, 28 July – and, with the archbishop-elect now slated to head to Rome to receive his Pallium at month's end alongside two other prelates with Hoosier ties, will be invested with the metropolitan gear at the same time.)

Developing – more to come.

-30-

Monday, June 12, 2017

Hoosiers, Start Your Engines – In Indy, A Green Flag... and The Checkered One

(SVILUPPO: The appointment reported below was formally announced by the Vatican at Roman Noon on Tuesday, 13 June.)

Of course, this week brings the Midsummer Classic – the June Meeting of the US bishops, the bench’s first plenary of both a Donald Trump White House and a Dan DiNardo Presidency. Yet while the former’s ascent provides no shortage of things to be discussed, such is the latter’s disposition that no session will run a second longer than it absolutely has to.

But, no, the reason for that is not – repeat: is not – politics.

While a handful of committee meetings got underway this morning, the full Floor business opens on Wednesday morning. Though the agenda's full shape won’t be plotted out until tomorrow’s meeting of the Administrative Committee, the most prominent item of the first day will come at its end: an evening Mass of Prayer and Penance “for survivors of sex-abuse within the church” – the US’ first response to last year’s call by the Pope for each episcopal conference to designate a national day toward the effort.

Notably, the liturgy falls precisely 15 years to the week since the fateful 2002 summer meeting, when the nationwide revelations of abuse and cover-up made the issue the sole item of the plenary, culminating in the passage of the Charter and Norms now known by where they were approved – Dallas.

The Dallas meeting memorably closed with a “Mass for the Gift of Tears,” no similar national gesture has been replicated since, until now. And fittingly, the “face” of the church’s response in those days – Wilton Gregory, providentially suited to tackling a storm unknown upon his election as president – will preach this week’s encore, with DiNardo celebrating as the incumbent Chief.

* * *
All that said, as this week approached, the statisticians had some brushing up to do – given this meeting’s venue, no one could remember an instance when the bench had convened in a city which was lacking a bishop as host.

Of course, that was by accident – the traveling June circus is booked years in advance, and it was just in November that the Pope shocked many by plucking Joe Tobin from Indianapolis on the eve of a watershed red hat, parachuting his oldest Stateside friend into Newark with a mission to heal the roiled Jersey fold.

In any case, with remarkable timing, the notion of a host-less meeting is now moot – in a message sent to the Brickyard clergy and lay leaders this morning, the Indy administrator Msgr Bill Stumpf invited the locals to a Chancery press conference at 10am tomorrow, its purpose stated only as “news affecting the archdiocese.”

Among Whispers ops, it is indeed understood that the event – couched as it is in the usual code – will introduce the Pope’s pick to be Indiana’s seventh archbishop, the appointment itself arriving at Roman Noon (6am ET). And given the surreal nature of some 150 prelates all landing in the place at the same time, well, this admittedly feels more like the Flying Elvises scene from Honeymoon in Vegas than anything this scribe ever thought to expect on this beat.

By virtue of his appointment alone, the impending archbishop-elect will complete a unique Hoosier troika heading to Rome at month’s end to celebrate Saints Peter and Paul alongside the Pope and receive the pallium with which he’ll be invested after his installation: alongside tomorrow’s pick and his now-predecessor, Archbishop Paul Etienne of Anchorage is an Indy native with a local fanbase as big as his family’s two-century roots in the diocese run deep...

...and if only the Alaska file came up a couple weeks later than it did last September... er, complete the sentence.

Alas, such is the budget that these pages can’t be on-site for the week’s events... but if that's the price for not being bought by an overlord, it's well worth paying. Still, as the usual stem-to-stern coverage rolls into gear – not to mention a Consistory on tap... and all the other curveballs to be had as the "Vatican year" winds to a close – the reminder's ever in order that these pages can only keep coming your way by means of your support....


And yet again, folks, buckle up.

-30-

Monday, May 29, 2017

From A Soup Kitchen to The Panhandle – For Summer Kickoff, Pope Plays Wack-The-Noles

(Updated 1pm ET with Press Conference video.)

Over recent weeks, the growing community at St Ignatius Martyr parish in Austin has been planning a “bash” for their pastor’s 50th birthday.

However, the Pope now sends word that their late June event for Father Bill will now double as a farewell... to Bishop-elect Wack.

In an unheard-of act on a US civil holiday, this Memorial Day indeed brings an appointment – at Roman Noon, Francis named the South Bend-born priest of the Congregation of Holy Cross (a onetime vocation director at Notre Dame) as sixth bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee, tapped to lead a minority fold of 70,000 across the broad swath of the heavily-Evangelical Florida Panhandle: a charge spanning two time zones and some 14,000 square miles. (In a shot circulated this past March, the bishop-elect is seen test-piloting the new parking lot on his parish plant.)

Even as Papa Bergoglio has long taken any notion of holiday weekends for the Stateside press to the shredder, today's move is simply on a different plane, and in more ways than one at that.

His ordination reportedly set for late August, Wack succeeds Bishop Gregory Parkes, the Florida State alum sent on a fittingly giant leap across the Sunshine State late last year with his transfer to St Petersburg, the province’s second-largest post. Yet where Parkes was already quite familiar with and devoted to Noles Country from his college days, his successor arrives sight unseen... so in this instance, any expectation that a lifelong son of the Fighting Irish will lead The Chop on Day One might be a bit much to ask.

Described by Whispers ops as “a simply joyful priest” and “the kind of guy you’d want for everything [in ministry],” the bishop-elect’s road since his 1994 ordination has been unusually varied, and features an especially potent example of the identikit Francis has repeatedly demanded for those to whom he entrusts the mitre and crozier.

Before his stint until today at the Austin parish, Wack served for seven years as director of Andre House, a homeless shelter and soup kitchen in a Phoenix drug corridor where, according to a recent interview, he and his team would serve more than 500 plates every night on top of caring for the daily laundry and lodging of anyone who came.

Already a veteran of social media – a trait which will serve him well given the spread he inherits – Wack posts audio of his homilies online... his reasons for being “really keyed up” about yesterday’s preach now in the open:

Said by an associate to “not be given to administration” – a common (but not universal) lack among Francis' recent Stateside appointees – that hasn’t stopped the Panhandle pick from making his goal in pledges for a $2.5 million capital campaign for his Texas parish. Still, Wack nonetheless has the good fortune of inheriting a charge where the locals report no major pressing issues. Meantime, with the diocese’s Hispanic population steadily ticking up due to an influx for its service industries, the elect brings ample proficiency in Spanish, a first for the bishop there.

As local media were quietly alerted on Friday – and, Florida being Florida, was then brazenly announced in Pensacola Cathedral at yesterday’s Masses – a 10am Central presser has already been called at the western hub’s Chancery. One of the US church’s few twin-seat dioceses, the joint see cities are some 200 miles apart, a roughly three-hour drive.

Among other aspects, it is of note that Wack’s appointment marks but the latest instance of Francis choosing an American bishop from a remarkably large family. The seventh of ten kids born to a doctor and a nurse, Bill was eventually followed into the CSCs by his brother, Neil, who was ordained a decade later and now holds his brother’s onetime vocations post at Notre Dame. Yet as the brothers' social feeds are each unusually sparse, it's even more salient how both follow the son of another Midwestern "tribe" who ostensibly shepherded this appointment across the finish line from his seat on the Congregation for Bishops – namely, Blase.

All that said, just a few weeks ago, an Austin pastor was but a face in the crowd among the 5,000-odd faithful who converged from across Texas for the church’s annual Advocacy Day at the Lone Star Capitol (above) – an event highlighted by the bishops' breakfast with the turf's first governor from the fold since Mexican rule.

And with today’s move, Bill Wack suddenly becomes Catholicism’s principal voice in the capital of what's now the third-largest state.

Just further proof of how these days, in this church, life really comes at you fast.

As chaos reigns in Raleigh, Indianapolis collects advice for its next occupant – and an ongoing "Auxnado" reshapes the bench's voting ranks more than anything else afoot – six Stateside Latin sees remain vacant, with another four led by (arch)bishops serving past the retirement age.

SVILUPPO: A feast of "oversharing" – a tendency the bishop-elect easily admitted to – here's fullvid of this morning's presser, which saw the Pope's pick riff at length without a scripted text....


-30-

Thursday, May 25, 2017

On "Collection Thursday" – or "Fauxcension Sunday" – The Song Remains The Same

To one and all in the Northeast, Nebraska, The Vatican (yet not Italy) – and the handful of other places where this is still Ascension Day – a blessed and buona festa with all its joys and graces....

...to everyone else, no news for you. At least, not 'til the weekend.

Given the unique patchwork of how American Catholicism observes this 40th Day of Easter (or, for the most part, doesn't), it bears recalling how the split decision – and its ever-resulting confusion – owes itself to a 1994 vote granted by Rome to the bishops of each of the nation's 33 Latin-church provinces: a concession which followed a five-year "experiment" that initially allowed the five Westernmost jurisdictions to move their Ascension date to the then-Seventh Sunday of Easter and see how it unfolded.

To put it mildly, no shortage of things have changed since then, above all the makeup of the bench. Indeed, it's hard to think of more than five still-active prelates (of some 250) who would've cast a vote on this question, and all but one of them are now in very different provinces than they were at the time.

More to the point, the last two decades have brought something of a tidal shift across the board, even as its wake has pulled in two very different directions: in the Northeast, where 1994's ample numbers of priests and people have largely been obliterated due to aging and atrophy, the region's historic premium on "tradition" – read: the Obligatory Collection – is a lot more costly these days... while even as a thousand and more new communities have bloomed to points South and West, amid presbyterates that've either grown or, at best, barely kept pace to serve the boom, in many places said epochal ascent has brought a more deeply-rooted sense of Catholic identity to the fore, one in which days like this make for a particular flashpoint, and a very desirable one to maintain at that.

In other words, since there's no need whatsoever for the prior generation's judgment to hold today's Church hostage, the Ascension Day vote can be retaken at any time... and if it were, one way or another, odds are the resulting map would look rather different.

It wouldn't exactly be rocket-science to pull off, either – the majority of diocesan bishops in any given province would be able to petition for a change on their respective turf at any time, but a spirit of collegiality seems to prod something more, well, "catholic" for the broader scene. Toward that end, the exigencies of a different Church in a different age make this question feel like something at least worth discerning anew, that the needs and aspirations of God's People in our situations today might best be served as they are, instead of as they were two decades – and an ecclesial epoch – ago.

All that said, in the grand scheme of things, the date is but window dressing. For all the hand-wringing that remains over when this feast is (or isn't) celebrated, to engage in that while missing out on what the day actually means – and the responsibility and work that it requires – only creates yet another vapid distraction from the lone thing that matters most....

Evangelization takes place in obedience to the missionary mandate of Jesus: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20). In these verses we see how the risen Christ sent his followers to preach the Gospel in every time and place, so that faith in him might spread to every corner of the earth.

The word of God constantly shows us how God challenges those who believe in him “to go forth”.... The Church which “goes forth” is a community of missionary disciples who take the first step, who are involved and supportive, who bear fruit and rejoice. An evangelizing community knows that the Lord has taken the initiative, that he has loved us first (cf. 1 Jn 4:19), and therefore we can move forward, boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast. Such a community has an endless desire to show mercy, the fruit of its own experience of the power of the Father’s infinite mercy.


Let us try a little harder to take the first step and to become involved. Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. The Lord gets involved and he involves his own, as he kneels to wash their feet. He tells his disciples: “You will be blessed if you do this” (Jn 13:17). An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary, and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others. Evangelizers thus take on the “smell of the sheep” and the sheep are willing to hear their voice. An evangelizing community is also supportive, standing by people at every step of the way, no matter how difficult or lengthy this may prove to be. It is familiar with patient expectation and apostolic endurance. Evangelization consists mostly of patience and disregard for constraints of time. Faithful to the Lord’s gift, it also bears fruit. An evangelizing community is always concerned with fruit, because the Lord wants her to be fruitful. It cares for the grain and does not grow impatient at the weeds. The sower, when he sees weeds sprouting among the grain does not grumble or overreact. He or she finds a way to let the word take flesh in a particular situation and bear fruits of new life, however imperfect or incomplete these may appear. The disciple is ready to put his or her whole life on the line, even to accepting martyrdom, in bearing witness to Jesus Christ, yet the goal is not to make enemies but to see God’s word accepted and its capacity for liberation and renewal revealed. Finally an evangelizing community is filled with joy; it knows how to rejoice always. It celebrates every small victory, every step forward in the work of evangelization. Evangelization with joy becomes beauty in the liturgy, as part of our daily concern to spread goodness. The Church evangelizes and is herself evangelized through the beauty of the liturgy, which is both a celebration of the task of evangelization and the source of her renewed self-giving.

I am aware that nowadays documents do not arouse the same interest as in the past and that they are quickly forgotten. Nevertheless, I want to emphasize that what I am trying to express here has a programmatic significance and important consequences. I hope that all communities will devote the necessary effort to advancing along the path of a pastoral and missionary conversion which cannot leave things as they presently are. “Mere administration” can no longer be enough. Throughout the world, let us be “permanently in a state of mission”....

There are ecclesial structures which can hamper efforts at evangelization, yet even good structures are only helpful when there is a life constantly driving, sustaining and assessing them. Without new life and an authentic evangelical spirit, without the Church’s “fidelity to her own calling,” any new structure will soon prove ineffective.

I dream of a “missionary option” – that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her [own] self-preservation. The renewal of structures demanded by pastoral conversion can only be understood in this light: as part of an effort to make them more mission-oriented, to make ordinary pastoral activity on every level more inclusive and open, to inspire in pastoral workers a constant desire to go forth and in this way to elicit a positive response from all those whom Jesus summons to friendship with himself.
–Pope Francis
Evangelii Gaudium ("The Joy of the Gospel")
24 November 2013
-30-

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

"Welcome" – For Pope and Trump, The Main Event

(Updated 12pm ET with White House readout.)
After weeks of anticipation – and a rhetorical flare from the host's side – just before 8.30 this morning President Trump arrived at the Apostolic Palace for his reception by the Pope.

On reaching the Private Library in the Papal Apartment, the duo spent a half-hour in one-on-one talks behind closed doors. In what's become a sign of welcome under Francis for visiting heads of state, the American flag was again flown over the San Damaso courtyard, where the POTUS' 70-car motorcade rolled up.

While Papa Bergoglio appeared unusually somber or apprehensive as he emerged to welcome the beaming President upon his arrival, Francis returned to his smiling, animated form after the private discussion, seeming especially charmed by First Lady Melania Trump. Meanwhile, in a notable break from the standard practice for bilateral meetings, the US side didn't bring its own translator, leaving Msgr Mark Miles – the Gibraltar-born chief of the English desk in the Secretariat of State – as the sole interpreter for both parties.

Keeping the custom of his predecessors for every meeting with a major political leader, the pontiff gave Trump copies of his own principal texts – Evangelii Gaudium, Laudato Si' and Amoris Laetitia – adding alongside them a signed edition of this year's message for the World Day of Peace (1 January), in which he urged a politics of "nonviolence." Per the White House pool, the President's main gift was a boxed set of the published works of Dr Martin Luther King Jr., who Francis quoted in the Peace Day message and highlighted at length in his 2015 address to a joint meeting of Congress, the first such speech ever given by a Pope.

Here, the Vatican feed of the encounter's public moments before and after the private visit, which wrapped up with the traditional exchange of gifts and greeting of the US delegation:


As with every other diplomatic guest, after the audience itself the US principals – the President, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster – sat for detailed policy talks with the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and his British-born "foreign minister," Archbishop Paul Gallagher.

With the Pope zipping off for this morning's general audience, the second meeting reportedly stretched for 50 minutes.

In the one unique aspect of today's summit – at least, beyond the overpowering security presence that comes with this visitor alone – given Trump's first visit to the Vatican, the President, First Lady and their retinue were given a private tour of the Sistine Chapel (right) and St Peter's Basilica, which were closed to the public for the occasion.

While the new administration's domestic turmoil has taken a backseat to the spectacle of Trump's first overseas tour – and the Holy See, as a matter of course, steers clear of a country's internal politics – the US bishops notably minced few words in criticizing yesterday's release of the President's first budget, terming the plan's drastic cuts to social benefits for the poor and vulnerable (while increasing defense spending) as "profoundly troubling" and "a threat to the security of our nation and world."

SVILUPPO (5.50am ET): Just released, the Vatican's readout summarizing the private discussions as Francis and his team saw it....
This morning, Wednesday 24 May 2017, the Honorable Donald Trump, President of the United States of America, was received in Audience by the Holy Father Francis and subsequently met with His Eminence Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, accompanied by His Excellency [Archbishop] Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States.

During the cordial discussions, satisfaction was expressed for the good existing bilateral relations between the Holy See and the United States of America, as well as the joint commitment in favour of life, and freedom of worship and conscience. It is hoped that there may be serene collaboration between the State and the Catholic Church in the United States, engaged in service to the people in the fields of healthcare, education and assistance to immigrants.

The discussions then enabled an exchange of views on various themes relating to international affairs and the promotion of peace in the world through political negotiation and interreligious dialogue, with particular reference to the situation in the Middle East and the protection of Christian communities.
And in the first US comment on the audience, Trump lauded the moment in one of his trademark tweets:
SVILUPPO 2 (12PM ET): Only several hours after the motorcade pulled away, the White House released the following communiqué on the talks, featuring a marked difference of emphasis from much of the Vatican's summary:
President Donald J. Trump met today with His Holiness Pope Francis and Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin. This was the President’s first engagement with the Holy See. In their meetings, the President focused on how the United States, the Holy See, and the international community can work together to combat terrorism.

The Pope and the President discussed how religious communities can combat human suffering in crisis regions, such as Syria, Libya, and ISIS-controlled territory. The President affirmed that the United States and the Holy See share many fundamental values and seek to engage globally to promote human rights, combat human suffering, and protect religious freedom.

The President also renewed the commitment of the United States to fighting global famine. As he relayed at the Vatican, the United States is proud to announce more than $300 million in anti-famine spending, focused on the crises in Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia, and Nigeria.
Briefing members of the traveling press pool as Air Force One headed toward a NATO summit in Brussels, Tillerson mentioned another issue that came up in the meting with Parolin and Gallagher: climate change – specifically, the Holy See's interest in the US' remaining a signatory to the 2015 Paris Agreement which committed most of the world's governments to implementing targeted limits on carbon emissions.

While Francis himself played a key behind-the-scenes role in securing the accord – now ratified by nearly 150 nations – the Trump administration has pledged to withdraw from it.

-30-