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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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