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Blase Cupich to be next archbishop of Chicago. (UPDATED)

Photo: CNS/Nancy Phelan Wiechec

Atlanta -- Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane, Washington, will succeed Cardinal Francis George as archbishop of Chicago. His installation Mass will be held on November 18. The Associated Press broke the story Friday night, and was quickly followed by other outlets. Vatican Radio confirmed the appointment early Saturday morning. On Friday evening, the Archdiocese of Chicago announced it would hold a press conference on Saturday at 9:30 a.m. Central.

The appointment of George's successor was widely considered to be Pope Francis’s most significant decision for the church in the United States. The decision to tap Cupich to lead Chicago--the third largest U.S. diocese--signals a major change for the American church.

In 1997, Pope John Paul II selected George to be the eighth archbishop of Chicago. He was the first Windy City native to serve as archbishop, and he followed Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, a leading liberal churchman beloved of his people. Before long, Chicago Catholics would learn just how different George was from his predecessor. Highly regarded for his intellect, George never shied away from taking sides in the culture wars, most recently as a vocal opponent of the Affordable Care Act over its abortion-funding mechanism and the contraception mandate.

By contrast, Cupich is widely considered a moderate who has not always been in step with his more conservative colleagues in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. For example, he has expressed skepticism about the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops strategy of opposing Obamacare. And when the bishops were considering a draft of a statement on the economy, Cupich criticized it with vigor: "I don't see that I would share this with anybody, or that it would make any difference." He has expressed great enthusiasm for Pope Francis, praising the pontiff's preferred style of episcopal governance. He wrote:

Rather than limiting our consultation to those with financial and legal abilities, we also need to listen to those who work side by side with the poor each day, and who are on the frontlines in health care, education and other fields of ministry. We diminish our effectiveness when we do not call on these brothers and sisters to gain insight before making decisions in these areas. But, even more importantly, we pass up the chance to see how God is working through them and to more fully know God’s will.

Benedict XVI named Cupich bishop of Spokane in 2010. The Omaha native was ordained in 1975, and holds a B.A. in philosophy from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, as well as several degrees in theology. He's served in parishes and taught high school. He's worked in priestly formation programs, and served as president of the Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio. And he worked in the U.S. nunciature. Pope John Paul II made him bishop of Rapid City, South Dakota, in 1998. Soon after, he led the diocese through a synod process. He has served on USCCB committees related to the protection of young people, liturgy, education, and communications.

In an August 2013 column, Cupich argued that Pope Francis "has totally changed the story about the Catholic Church in the media." Rather than talk about church scandal and corruption, "people are talking about a church unafraid to go out into the world and make a difference." In short, Cupich wrote, "Pope Francis is a game changer."

Chicago is about to receive a game-changer of its own.

***

Updates throughout the day: The Chicago Tribune on Cardinal George's legacy, along with a timeline. Crux profiles Cupich here. NCR here.

Read Cupich's recent address on Catholicism and libtertarianism here. Read him on talking about faith in a secular world here.

I Storified my tweets on the press conference here:

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Is Francis About to Decapitate Cardinal Burke? Or...Just Give Him a New Job?

Something outrageous is happening in Rome: a new pope who was reportedly elected with a clear mandate to reform the curia has, over the course of a year and a half in office, been reappointing curial officials and moving bishops around in order to assemble a team that shares his priorities and can help implement his program for reform.

What's that? You're not outraged? I must have put it wrong. Let me try again: an upstart newcomer pope with no respect for tradition is carrying out a reign of terror at the Vatican, virtually executing respected princes of the church by denying them their God-given right to a high-status curial berth for life -- right under the nose of the defenseless pope emeritus who appointed them. Madness!

Sandro Magister, Vatican journalist and gloomy observer of the Franciscan papacy, is taking the latter view, as evidenced by his breathless report on rumors that Cardinal Raymond Burke is about to be removed from his position as Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura and reassigned to a largely honorary post, Prefect of the Knights of Malta, at the tender age of 66.

You remember Cardinal Burke, formerly bishop of St. Louis and, before that, La Crosse. His Wikipedia entry has an extensive section on his "Notable Actions and Statements" that may jog your memory. (He has also come up at dotCommonweal now and then: see here, and here, and here, and here.)

He is, in Magister's telling, an eminent man of virtue ("With a very devout personality, he is also recognized as having the rare virtue of never having struck any deals to obtain ecclesiastical promotions or benefices") and an indispensible canon-law expert, now condemned to the "metaphorical guillotine" by a capricious pontiff. Where conservatives regard him as an upright defender of church teaching -- Magister describes him as "not afraid to follow [canon law] to the most uncomfortable consequences" -- others view him as prone to unnecessarily divisive grandstanding over things like giving Communion to politicians and Sheryl Crow benefit concerts. (Magister calls this being "free in his judgments.") He is known as a promoter of the Tridentine Mass -- you've no doubt seen photos of the man in his cappa magna -- and a supporter of the efforts to bring schismatics like the Society of St. Pius X back into communion with Rome. He is not, in short, much in sync with the Francis agenda, and that Francis should want to move him out of a position of influence is not surprising. (I think it's a very good idea, myself.)

We don't actually know yet that he won't get another job, one that would keep him a little busier than his duties with the Knights of Malta. But Magister is already convinced that this is a "definitive downgrading," a "grave demotion of one of the most untarnished personalities the Vatican curia knows." (Well, nobody ever said the curia was in great shape.) And this after Francis "humiliated" Burke by removing him from the congregation for bishops. The rumored reassignment is an "exile," an ignominous fate for a man who by rights should be moved, if at all, only to bigger and better things. That, Magister takes for granted, is how it is supposed to work.

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The pope hangs out.

Stick around for Pope Francis's words of wisdom on the ego-destroying effects of playing sports (not professionally, obviously).

Sorry, influential Catholics: it's not so easy to get in to see Pope Francis

John Allen's new project for the Boston Globe, Crux, launched with a lengthy interview with New York's Cardinal Timothy Dolan. The first section, published yesterday, focused on Dolan's impressions of Francis, and (as ever) the Cardinal strikes a very cheerful note. "Look, as a local bishop, I’m pretty pragmatic," Dolan said. "My question remains, is the pope helping me or hurting me? This pope is helping me immensely. At this stage, it’s not about specific programs, but it’s a matter of persona, of tone, of personality."

But there is one area, he admitted, where the transition has been a challenge:

I will tell you that there are some aspects [of the Vatican under Francis] that are frustrating. For instance, as a bishop, one of the things you want to do is to get people access to the pope. In the old days, when I had an influential person I wanted to get into the line at the audience to shake the pope’s hand, or into his morning Mass, that used to be easy because you knew who to go to. Now, you don’t. I can write, and they seem very attentive, but it doesn’t seem as predictable as it used to be.

For instance, I’ve got the coach of the New York Giants, an influential Catholic who takes his faith seriously, who says to me, ‘Cardinal Dolan, I’m going to Rome. Would it be possible to get into the pope’s morning Mass?’ I have to say, ‘Coach Coughlin, I hope you can. Something tells me that if the pope knew you were coming, he’d sure like you there. I don’t quite know how to do it now, but I’ll try my best.’ There’s an area where some of the wondering, and the benevolent confusion, might be a little frustrating.

What the Cardinal is describing is influence peddling, however benevolent, and while it would be naive to be shocked by its existence, it is surprising to me to hear him describe it so candidly as part of his job as a bishop ("These are just housekeeping details," he goes on to say). That fundraising for major projects, like the ongoing renovation of St. Patrick's Cathedral, requires massaging the egos of our nation's very sensitive super-rich is not news; recall the sound of the world's tiniest violin playing for Ken Langone, who took his hurt feelings over Francis's critiques of exploitative capitalism to CNBC.

Still, if church leaders have to act like politicians, they might at least be a little embarrassed about it. I don't begrudge any particular person, influential or otherwise, his chance to shake the pope's hand, but it seems like an impertinence to expect the pope to make room at his morning Mass for, say, an American football coach on vacation. So, although Dolan may not see it this way, to me his newfound troubles granting privileged access to the pope reflect well on Francis. Evidently his talk about wanting "a church that is poor, and for the poor" is not just talk, or an act for special occasions. In his Vatican, making it easy for the well-connected to get close to the pope is not a priority. Considering what can happen when the very wealthy and well-connected enjoy privileged access to the pope, this change in policy is potentially a bulwark against corruption.

Francis wants more women theologians advising the CDF

In an interview with L'Osservatore Romano (not yet published in English Update: strike that, here it is), Cardinal Gerhard Müller, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, revealed that Pope Francis has directed that more women be included in the Vatican's international theological commission. Andrea Tornielli reports for Vatican Insider:

The members of the theological commission that assists the Holy See, particularly the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in examining crucial doctrinal questions are nominated for a five-year period and there are currently thirty of them, including two women: Barbara Hallensleben (professor of Dogmatic Theology and Ecumenism at the Faculty of Theology in Fribourg, Switzerland) from Germany and sister Sara Butler (professor of Dogmatic Theology at the University of Saint Mary of the Lake - Mundelein Seminary – in Chicago, US).

According to Müller, the number will increase to "five or six," which "would be a significant increase," Tornielli points out.

An increase in the number of women theologians would also, of necessity, mean an increase in the number of lay theologians. I'm a little baffled by the honorific titles in the list of members on the Vatican website, but from what I can tell, everyone identified as "Rev." is ordained -- with the exception of "Rev. Sr. Sara Butler, MSBT." That means twenty-five priests and five lay members of the commission, including Butler; the other four are Hallensleben, Thomas Söding, and Johannes Reiter, all of Germany, and our friend John Cavadini of Notre Dame.

In her address to the LCWR last month (which I blogged about here), Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ, pointed out that the opening of the study of theology to lay Catholics after Vatican II led directly to the increased participation of women in church life. That participation has been reflected, valued, and celebrated in academia, in many dioceses, and most especially in the congregations of women religious whose leaders make up the LCWR. But it has not been reflected in the hierarchy, where the relationship between power and sex remains firm (and is carefully protected).

Johnson talked about what it means for her to do theology as a woman:

Early on one key question arose for me when I realized that all the great thinkers whom I had been exposed to in my studies were men. I loved many of their insights. But where were the women? I was struck by the absence of their critical insights and spiritual wisdom. Inspired by a pioneering generation of American women theologians, I grew committed to bringing women’s voices to the table. This does not mean thinking about women all the time. It does mean using the human dignity of women as one lens through which think about other religious and ethical subjects. It means attending to poverty, lack of education, sexual violence, and other injustices that ruin women’s lives. It means employing theologically what promotes the flourishing of women in all their diversity....

Clearly, my work engages theology done by men and does so with critical appreciation. But I am convinced that this is not enough for the church of today and tomorrow. The submerged female half of the church, indeed of the human race, is rising, and the faith we pass on to the next generations will be poorer if women’s insights are ignored.

Now, she said, thanks to the open doors of Vatican II, "while excellent theology continues to be done by ordained priests, all kinds of new questions, methods, and understandings are now blossoming, fed by the experience of the laity, women and men alike." That experience will be reflected to a much greater degree on the international theological commission if the number of women members is increased, even to just one-sixth of the membership instead of one-fifteenth.

What kind of difference could that make? Well, imagine if the U.S. bishops' conference committee on doctrine had sought out the input of some women theologians before expressing its alarm at Johnson's not-very-radical thoughts on female images of God. And the evidence is strong that the CDF could benefit from closer aquaintance with a diversity of women's views. See David Gibson's report on the same interview with Müller, which focuses on his remarks about the LCWR. He sounds some familiar, minimizing notes -- they don't represent all the U.S. nuns; they need help to "rediscover their identity"; the CDF is obliged to come to the rescue of more orthodox sisters who are upset with their orders' rogue leadership. But Müller also insists that he is not a misogynist, which is a good sign, I guess. I presume the way in which he phrased that avowal -- "We are not women gobblers!" in Tornielli's account; "We don’t want to gobble up a woman a day!" in Gibson's -- makes more sense in Italian.

Will the Vatican extradite Josef Wesolowski?

Did you read Laurie Goodstein's disturbing story about the former papal nuncio to the Dominican Republic, Josef Wesolowski? Do. Wesolowski was recalled to the Vatican after it was alleged that he had sexually abused minors (Goodstein spoke with several of his accusers). He was laicized, and could face a criminal trial at the Vatican (Pope Francis updated Vatican criminal law last summer). Obviously that isn't terribly comforting to some Dominicans who would rather see him tried in the country where he committed his alleged crimes. If Pope Francis is serious about reforming the church's response to clerical sexual abuse, why did he allow Wesolowski to escape local justice?

According to a Vatican statement released this afternoon, the former nuncio may face extradition after all--because, now that he's been laicized, he no longer enjoys diplomatic immunity.

Former nuncio Josef Wesolowski has recently appealed, within the prescribed limit of two months, the most serious canonical sentence of a return to the lay state that has been imposed upon him. The appeal will be judged without delay over the course of the coming weeks, most likely in October 2014.

 It is important to note that former nuncio Wesolowski has ceased functioning as a diplomat of the Holy See and has therefore lost his related diplomatic immunity, and has been previously stated, the punitive procedure of the Vatican’s civil judiciary departments will continue as soon as the canonical sentence becomes definitive.



The statement continues, suggesting that Wesolowski was returned to Rome so that he could be swiftly returned to the lay state and relieved of his diplomatic duties, which means that he could be tried by another country.

Regarding stories that have appeared over the past few days in various media, it is important to note that the Authorities of the Holy See, from the very first moments that this case was made known to them, moved without delay and correctly in light of the fact that former nuncio Wesolowski held the position of a diplomatic representative of the Holy See. This action relates to his recall to Rome and in the treatment of the case in relation to Authorities of the Dominican Republic.

 Far from any intention of a cover-up, this action demonstrates the full and direct undertaking of the Holy See’s responsibility even in such a serious and delicate case, about which Pope Francis is duly and carefully informed and one which the Pope wishes to address justly and rigorously.



We must finally state that since former nuncio Wesolowski has ended all diplomatic activity and its related immunity, he might also be subjected to judicial procedures from the courts that could have specific jurisdiction over him.

Does that mean the Vatican will extradite him? Does the Vatican even have any extradition treaties with other countries? In January the Vatican said that it hadn't received any requests to extradite Wesolowski. According to Goodstein, the Dominican attorney general didn't try to have Wesolowski extradited "because he has diplomatic immunity, and 'the law would not allow it.'"

But today the Vatican seems to have issued an invitation for the attorney general to seek Wesolowski's extradition. Perhaps he ought to take them up on it.

H/T David Gibson

Francis Speaks Boldly (Update)

At today's Angelus:

Dear brothers and sisters,

The news reports coming from Iraq leave us in dismay and disbelief: thousands of people, including many Christians, driven from their homes in a brutal manner; children dying of thirst and hunger in their flight; women taken and carried off; violence every kind; destruction of historical, cultural and religious patrimonies. All this gravely offends God and humanity. Hatred is not to be carried in the name of God! War is not to be waged in the name of God!

I thank those who, with courage, are bringing succour to these brothers and sisters, and I am confident that an effective political solution on both the international and the local levels may be found to stop these crimes and re-establish the [rule of] law. In order better to ensure those dear suffering populations of my closeness to them, I have named [Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples] Cardinal Fernando Filoni as my Personal Envoy in Iraq, who shall depart from Rome tomorrow [Monday].

Update:

The Vatican released today (August 13th) a letter that Pope Francis sent to the Secretary General of the United Nations. It says in part:

I write to you, Mr Secretary-General, and place before you the tears, the suffering and the heartfelt cries of despair of Christians and other religious minorities of the beloved land of Iraq. In renewing my urgent appeal to the international community to take action to end the humanitarian tragedy now underway, I encourage all the competent organs of the United Nations, in particular those responsible for security, peace, humanitarian law and assistance to refugees, to continue their efforts in accordance with the Preamble and relevant Articles of the United Nations Charter.

 

What is Written in Our Hearts?

In a recent general audience, Pope Francis urged people to memorize the Beatitudes, a message he took so seriously that he read each one and ask the gathered crowd to repeat them back. But, as CNS reports:

One repetition of the text of the beatitudes is not enough to "remember them and impress them on our hearts," the pope said, so he gave the crowd "homework," asking them to spend time in the coming days reading the text again, from the Bible "you always should have with you."

While this teaching is likely to get far less press that his statements on hot-button issues, it actually represents something much more fundamental about the pope’s vision of the moral life. A shift to the Beatitudes would be a shift not so much in moral content, but in the framing of the moral life. This is especially important for base-level moral catechesis that goes on in preaching and religious education at the parish level. It promotes a vision of the moral life as a “morality of happiness,” rather than a “morality of obligation,” to use the contrast of the Dominican moral theologian Servais Pinckaers.

Historically, a focus on the Ten Commandments as the center of moral catechesis is relatively new. The commandments only come to the fore in the Reformation era; prior to this time, the primary categories throughout the medieval era were the seven deadly sins, which grew out of monasticism. In many ways, the seven deadly sins remain a far more powerful moral tool for assessing and discerning our own failings, since they focus on the roots of patterns of behavior, rather than simply on offenses. Indeed, like the Beatitudes, they grow out of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, in which he invites his followers to root out things like anger, greed, and lust, rather than just following the letter of commandments against killing, stealing, and adultery.

However, a turn to the Beatitudes would move us even further beyond commandments. Both modern psychology and ancient virtue ethics agree in pointing to the importance of moral exemplars in developing our moral compass. Rather than simply assessing how to follow a rule, we look at the people around us, and we develop categories that describe what an exemplary life looks like. These categories can never be exhaustively defined – instead, we ultimately develop our knowledge by pointing to and imitating figures that exemplify the categories. This is exactly what the Beatitudes do. They say to us, find the merciful, find the poor in spirit, find the peacemakers, find those who suffer for their faith… and imitate them. Such an imitation becomes our response to Vatican II’s universal call to holiness.

Structurally, a moral catechesis focused on the Beatitudes does invite further reflection on one aspect of the structure of Catholic practice: the sacrament of reconciliation. No doubt frequent confession and communion indirectly encouraged a legalistic moral theology, since the practice of confession required both priest and penitent to name particular sins. I do not mean to criticize the importance of this – I suspect many readers of this blog (myself included) can point to particular times in our lives when the concrete particularity of naming sins and receiving the grace of forgiveness was exactly the right practice. But the Pope’s emphasis on the Beatitudes should encourage us to be creative about what concrete practices our communities could implement to highlight discernment in those terms. One could imagine, for example, penances that (instead of prayer recitation) named a particular beatitude related to sins confessed. One could also think beyond the sacrament of reconciliation, for ways parish life could be practically animated by the Beatitudes – say, highlighting acts which exemplify them to the larger community, or encouraging prayer groups during Lent that would use the Beatitudes for concrete reflection on conversion.

The Pope’s call for us to memorize the Beatitudes could be a game-changer…. If we figure out how to take it beyond memorization.

Cracking the 'priesthood' of people who speak money

Today’s New York Times story on Argentina’s apparent financial default isn’t likely to make anyone more fond of hedge fund firms, except maybe those who, like the fund’s manager, tend to valorize the “rights of creditors.” The lead:

The hedge fund firm of billionaire Paul E. Singer has about 300 employees, yet it has managed to force Argentina, a nation of 41 million people, into a position where it now has to contemplate a humbling surrender.

Presented that way, the development seems an example of what Pope Francis had in mind when he used the term “savage capitalism” during a visit to a soup kitchen last year, and in fact, it’s exactly how Jubilee USA president Eric LeCompte characterizes it: “When Pope Francis has used the term savage capitalism he refers to a group of extreme actors who profit from exploitation of the poor. I can’t think of a more appropriate example than the actions of the vulture hedge funds and Argentina.” 

Imagery and metaphor are inevitable in accounts of crises like these, precisely because they can be useful in beginning to understand details that can otherwise be confounding. More from the Times story:

The campaign against Argentina shows how driven and deep-pocketed hedge funds can sometimes wield influence outside of the markets they bet in … While Mr. Singer’s firm has yet to collect any money from Argentina, some debt market experts say that the battle may already have shifted the balance of power toward creditors in the enormous debt markets that countries regularly tap to fund their deficits. Countries in crisis may now find it harder to gain relief from creditors after defaulting on their debt, they assert.

“We’ve had a lot of bombs being thrown around the world, and this is America throwing a bomb into the global economic system,” said Joseph E. Stiglitz, the economist and professor at Columbia University. “We don’t know how big the explosion will be — and it’s not just about Argentina.”

Battles, bombs, and explosions. That Elliott, a small New York firm generally unknown outside financial circles, can wield such power over a distant sovereign nation says much about its arsenal: It manages more than $25 billion in assets, an amount accrued through returns of 14% a year since 1977. By that measure, Elliott easily meets, if not embodies, the definition of a successful fund. And why might it be so successful? Perhaps because a hedge fund isn’t a “hedge” in the way that term might suggest—and in fact once was used, even in finance.

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'I prepared a speech, but I will give it to the bishop.'

Today Pope Francis met with a group of Italian priests. Rather than delivering his prepared remarks, he chose to take questions from the assembly. During that conversation, the pope told the following story:

Two years ago, a priest went to Argentina as a missionary. He was from the Diocese of Buenos Aires and he went to a diocese in the south, to an area where for years they had no priest, and evangelicals had arrived. He told me that he went to a woman who had been the teacher of the people and then the principle of the village school. This lady sat him down and began to insult him, not with bad words, but to insult him forcefully: 'You abandoned us, you left us alone, and I, who need of God's Word, had to go to Protestant worship and I became Protestant.'

This young priest, who is meek, who is one who prays, when the woman finished her discourse, said: 'Madam, just one word: forgiveness. Forgive us, forgive us. We abandoned the flock.' And the tone of the woman changed. However, she remained Protestant and the priest did not go into the argument of which was the true religion. In that moment, you could not do this.

In the end, the lady began to smile and said: 'Father, would you like some coffee?' 'Yes, let's have a coffee.' And when the priest was about to leave, she said: 'Stop here, Father. Come.' And she led him into the bedroom, opened the closet and there was the image of Our Lady: 'You should know that I never abandoned her. I hid her because of the pastor, but she's in the home.' It is a story which teaches how proximity, meekness brought about this woman's reconciliation with the Church, because she felt abandoned by the Church.

And I asked a question that you should never ask: 'And then, how things turn out? How did things finish?' But the priest corrected me: 'Oh, no, I did not ask anything: she continues to go to Protestant worship, but you can see that she is a woman who prays. She faces the Lord Jesus.' And it did not go beyond that. He did not invite her to return to the Catholic Church.

Read the rest at Vatican Radio.

Till Death Do Them Part?

Those who are opposed to Cardinal Walter Kasper's proposal that some divorced and remarried Catholics be allowed to receive the Eucharist might want to reconsider whether the Church has been wise in allowing the widowed to remarry.

In their critique of Kasper's proposal, a group of American Dominicans points out that there was much disagreement in the early Church about whether widows and widowers should be allowed to remarry. Even many of those who believed they should be allowed to do so thought remarriage should at least be discouraged. But the case for not allowing an abandoned spouse to remarry is very similar to the case for not allowing the widow or widower to remarry—namely, that marriage is indissoluble, a sacramental figuration of Christ's covenant with his Church, a covenant not even death can dissolve. Can one think of another sacrament whose effects are supposed to be nullified by death? [For an obvious answer to this, see Fritz Bauerschmidt's comment below.]

Defenders of the Church's current practice demand that the abandoned spouse persevere in chastity. Why should the Church not demand the same of the widowed? Both are victims of a circumstance beyond their control. One possible response is that the dead never come back to life (or never come back to this life), whereas it is never impossible that someone who abandons his or her wife or husband may repent of it and seek reconciliation. This sort of thing has been known to happen, after all, and when it does, it's can be a profound evidence of grace. It's also exceedingly rare, especially when the unfaithful spouse goes on to have children with another partner.

Practically, then, the abandoned spouse is in the same position as the widow or widower: in both cases, chastity would seem to require heroic virtue. From very early in its history, the church decided not to demand such virtue of widows and widowers, despite its original preference that they not remarry. The question now is why it should demand such virtue of those whose first spouse is "dead to them," often through no fault of their own.

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Mary Gordon on "Francis and the Nuns" in Harper's

In my column last month, I asked, "Why hasn’t Pope Francis stepped in to get the Vatican off the nuns’ backs" and revoke the CDF's mandate to reform the LCWR? "If Francis really wants a less authoritarian, more mission-focused church," I wrote, "shouldn’t he have called this whole thing off already?"

Mary Gordon asks a similar question in the August issue of Harper's, in an essay titled "Francis and the Nuns." It's a strong piece of writing and a very good summary of the tensions between U.S. sisters and the Vatican. Harper's readers will be well caught up on where things stand and how they got that way. And the piece ends with an interview with Simone Campbell, SSS, that gives a personal dimension to the way she and her fellow sisters from LCWR congregations have responded to the scrutiny and censure directed their way from Rome.

But when it comes to the Francis angle, Gordon's analysis is less solid. That's because there simply isn't much to go on. "Is the new Vatican all talk?" the essay's subhed asks. But on this subject Francis has hardly talked at all, so that anyone who wants to build a case for or against him has to resort to reading tea leaves. And silence has many interpretations, after all.

After an introduction that sums up the remarkable shift in tone and priorities that Francis has brought about since taking office, Gordon brings in the nuns as a test case. I think she's right to propose the U.S. sisters as the embodiment of what we might call the Francis agenda:

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Popes, peace, nationalism, and soccer

If Ross Douthat can this week give his Sunday column over to sports (specifically, the social and civic ramifications of basketball star Lebron James's return to the Cleveland Cavaliers), then it seems okay to post on that other big athletic event, the one that by its culmination today around 5 p.m. eastern will leave the nation of either Benedict (Germany) or Francis  (Argentina) as World Cup champion. You may have seen some of the lame graphics (like the one above) showing up in your Twitter or Facebook feeds, created and passed on by those eager to pit the current pope and his predecessor against each other in what soccer fans might call a "friendly." But by general accounts--and according to Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi--neither is likely to watch the game, much less with each other: The pope emeritus just isn't all that much of a fan, and, though Francis (as noted here and elsewhere) is, he doesn't watch all that much TV, "especially," Lombardi notes, "at that hour"--the game starts at about 9 p.m. in Italy. 
 
Lombardi adds that both men are also above "partisan passion," and in that sense they may reflect something columnist Simon Kuper discusses in the current issue of Harper's (paywalled). It's his belief, founded on having attended World Cup soccer tournaments since 1990, that the the sport now "exemplifies the ongoing globalization of daily life.... [T]he planet's biggest nationalist spectacle [has evolved] into a cosmopolitan party." Athletes from many nations play together on various elite professional teams, throughout Europe and elsewhere, so even those rivalries once fueled by nationalistic fervor (England vs. Germany, Argentina vs. England) are not so much, anymore. "[T]he World Cup minus the hate," Kuper declares. "It's harder to feel blind nationalism about the World Cup when the protagonists themselves don't," and this waning of World Cup nationalism is reflected, he says, by a "worldwide retreat from nationalism."
 
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Less Latin, more liberation?

In the course of my Friday reading, I happened on two unrelated (but related?) stories in succession. The first, from Sharon Otterman on the New York Times site today, brings readers up to speed on the situation at New York City's Church of the Holy Innocents, which is on the archdiocese's list for possible closure and consolidation with another parish. That's not the story so much as is the fact that it's the only church in New York City offering a daily Tridentine Mass. But even that's not the whole story, which also features a visiting South African priest who might have spoken out of turn about parishioners' rights, his dismissal by his superior at the Vatican Embassy in New York, and his recall by the archbishop of Johannesburg. Not to mention recorded transcripts of the priest's remarks being forwarded to the archdiocese, questions over just why Holy Innocents--which thanks to its thriving thrift shop and generous donations operates at a surplus--is targeted for closure, and fears among liturgical traditionalists and conservative Catholics in general that these developments "may signal a return to a broader suppression of the Latin Mass after a period of being encouraged under Pope Benedict XVI." Read it all here.
 
The second story, from Ruth Chojnacki and Jennifer Scheper Hughes in Religion Dispatches, looks at developments that may signal an end to ecclesiastical suppression of liberation theology and practice in Mexico, citing the "striking statement" from CDF head Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller "[placing] liberation theology in context with the work of the 'great Doctors of the Church like St. Augustine and St. Thomas.'” There's a lot of explanatory historical background in the piece, but the gist of it is here: 
..Mexican Bishop Felipe Arizmendi Esquivel announced that after a 14 year church-ordered suspension of the rite, indigenous deacons would again be ordained in the Diocese of San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas—where the local church serves a largely Maya population....
 
As a result of the dismissal of sympathetic hierarchs and the dismantling of progressive wings of the institution conducted in a climate of suspicion, liberation theology came to be understood as a failed vision, while the Vatican continued to pronounce it a false one. Before a gathering of Brazilian bishops in December 2009, Pope Benedict XVI declared liberation theology “deceitful.” After almost three decades of systematic Vatican suppression, liberation theology appeared to be dying.
 
When Francis welcomed [liberation theology founder] Gustavo Gutierrez to the Vatican last year, it appeared no more than a simple gesture of respect for the beloved and aging patriarch of liberation theology. But Pope Francis’ revitalization of the diaconal ministry in Chiapas indicates a deeper level of support.
If you haven't been following developments, the whole thing is here, and worth a read. 

How should the church be governed?

SAN DIEGO -- At the Catholic Theological Society of America meeting on Saturday, Archbishop John R. Quinn, emeritus of San Franciscio, responded to critiques of his 2013 book on reforning structures of church governance, Ever Ancient, Ever New. Quinn, who served as president of the U.S. bishops conference from 1977 to 1980, previewed that volume's arguments in a talk he delivered at Stanford last year. "Media reports dealing with reform tend to focus on clerical celibacy and on the ordination of women and on the reform of the Curia," he said. "These are important topics, but it would be a mistake to stop there."

The reform he urges involves decentralizing papal authority and increasing the authority of local bishops conferences. In order to achieve those goals, Quinn argued, the church has to establsh regional bishops conferences and episcopal synods that would carry out the administration of the local church (e.g., appointing bishops, handling liturgical issues, etc.). These reforms were called for by the bishops at Vatican II, according to Quinn. After Pope John Paul II asked for recommendations on reforming the papacy in Ut Unum Sint, Quinn published a book about these issues called The Reform of the Papacy (1999). Yet throughout his ponificate, John Paul continued to centralize authority in the office of the pope. Local bishops conferences lost authority. "To date," Quinn told the Stanford audience, "fifty years after the council, no deliberative synod has ever been held." His latest book is an attempt to reignite the conversation he began nearly twenty-five years ago.

The first respondent to Quinn's book was Amanda Osheim of Loras College, and the second was Joseph Komonchak (who requires no introduction here). I've collected my tweets of the session below, so remember: you may find some typos; unless you see quotation marks, I'm paraphrasing; and owing to the density and speed of the remarks, I may not have captured the speakers' intent with total clarity. The tweet parade begins after the jump.

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Invalid arguments.

While Matthew Boudway and I were interviewing Cardinal Walter Kasper last month, there came a moment when we simultaneously looked away from the cardinal and at one another: Well, that's going to be trouble. We had asked him about the section of his March address to the consistory in which he asked whether we can presume "that the engaged couple shares the belief in the mystery that is signified by the sacrament and that they really understand and affirm the canonical conditions for the validity of the marriage." We knew his answer would raise a few eyebrows: "I’ve spoken to the pope himself about this, and he said he believes that 50 percent of marriages are not valid." It didn't take long for the internet to seize on those remarks with something less than complete satisfaction.

Kasper and the pope are trafficking in insult, one critic claimed. Their suggestion that half of Catholic marriages are invalid constitutes "an insult to our natural human ability to marry...an insult to St. Paul, who said that the moral law is written on men's hearts...and it's an insult to God's grace to imagine that our own age is somehow different, that we cannot depend on God's help to live out the vocations He gives us." A canonist called the remark "reckless" and false. Another observer suggested the Holy See silence Kasper for his "shockingly indiscreet" remarks. But one of Kasper's more thoughtful critics is also one of the calmer: Ross Douthat of the New York Times.

In his post, "Against Kasper (I)," Douthat uses survey data to try to disprove the notion that 50 percent of Catholic marriages are sacramentally invalid. He also argues that the pope and Kasper are mistaken because the supernatural graces available to Catholic spouses are not a "one-off infusion" limited to the wedding ceremony. Going further, Douthat claims that because these graces are available to the couple throughout their marriage, even an "immature Catholic couple that doesn’t grasp the full import of their vows, and thus might be prime candidates for an annulment if they parted ways...can still grow into a valid, supernaturally-graced Catholic marriage over years of fidelity, childrearing, and mutual love."

Do the statistics Douthat marshals do the work he thinks they do? And has he correctly identified a lacuna in the pope's understanding of sacramental theology that undermines his speculation about the validity of Catholic marriages? I'm afraid the answer to both questions is no.

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Nicea III in 2025?

With the unpredictability of Pope Francis, some Catholics have wondered if he would call another council -- a Vatican III. It appears not.

Something that big won't do for Francis. He's thinking even bigger: the church universal will be getting a Nicea III.

According to reporting from AsiaNews, His All Holiness Bartholomew, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, has announced that an ecumenical "gathering" will be held in Nicea in 2025.

Speaking exclusively with AsiaNews, Bartholomew says that together with Pope Francis "we agreed to leave as a legacy to ourselves and our successors a gathering in Nicaea in 2025, to celebrate together, after 17 centuries, the first truly ecumenical synod, where the Creed was first promulgated."

The exact nature of the planned meeting at Nicea (now Iznik, Turkey) is not known. But how could it be, over a decade in the future?

The ongoing Catholic-Orthodox dialogue will be intensified in preparation for the event. What began in Jerusalem in 1964 and was celebrated last week at the Holy Sepulchre will continue in the holy city this fall, when, in Bartholomew's words, "a meeting of the Catholic-Orthodox Joint Commission  will be held hosted by the Greek Orthodox patriarch Theophilos III. It is a long journey in which we all must be committed without hypocrisy."

In all the attention to the Pope's gestures toward political peace in the Holy Land last week, the joint event with the Orthodox got a bit lost in the mix.

But Francis and Bartholomew didn't lose focus. And they've got a date on the calendar to prove it.

The Spirit on the Ground: Pope Francis' Mass in Amman

A First Communicant waves a Jordan flag at the Pope's Mass in Amman.

Queen Alia Street, a main thoroughfare in Amman, was packed with traffic on May 24th, the day of the Pope’s visit to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Vertical posters depicting important places in Jordan, like the site of Jesus’ baptism or the massive, blue King Abdullah I mosque, read “Joy and Hope” in Arabic and English. The flags of Jordan and the Vatican lined the overpasses and the walls of the Amman International Stadium where the Pope would say Mass later in the afternoon.

These decorations appeared just days before the Pope’s visit, but signs of his impending arrival were visible throughout Amman for the preceding weeks: curbs received a fresh coat of yellow and black paint, and images of Jordan’s King Abdullah and Pope Francis shaking hands were posted throughout the city. Jordanians, both Christian and Muslim, were excited not only to receive Francis—the fourth pope to visit them in fifty years—but also to use the opportunity to showcase their country’s long history of Muslim-Christian coexistence.

Along with 30,000 other Jordanians—mostly Christians but some Muslims—I attended the Mass over which Francis presided. Because I taught religious education classes for our English-language parish in Amman, I was able to sit on the grassy, ground level of the stadium with the families of the First Communicants, who would be receiving their First Eucharist at the Mass. I had a clear view of the altar and its big, yellow tent, and was able to walk around the field easily, greeting friends and fellow parishioners in the four hours before the liturgy.

As we waited in the hot sun for the Pope to arrive, Fr. Bashir Badr, a friend and Roman Catholic priest, served as an emcee, leading the congregation in chanting and singing. We yelled, “Long live the king!” and "Viva il papa!", sang along to well-known Arabic liturgical hymns, and learned the words to songs written especially for the visit of the Pope. Children let balloons fly into the sky, including two large balloon rosaries, one blue, one pink.

When the Pope arrived, we all ran to the edge of the track that encircled the field.

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Pope Francis poised to punish convicted bishop.

During a press conference on the return flight from the Holy Land yesterday, Pope Francis did that thing he does: he made some news. The pope revealed that he would soon meet with abuse victims, promising to "move forward on this issue with zero tolerance"--and he announced that three bishops were "under investigation." One of them "has already been found guilty, and we are now considering the penalty to be imposed." He didn't name the bishops, nor did he elaborate on the details of their cases.

Naturally, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests was not impressed. "Francis made three meaningless abuse comments today," according to Joelle Casteix, western regional director of SNAP. "None of them are significant in any way. All are disappointing because they amount to more public relations instead of real action." SNAP's executive director, David Clohessy, echoed that sentiment in his comment to the Boston Globe: “This means nothing,” he said. Francis's remarks are just “another savvy public-relations move that will protect no kids, expose no predators, prevent no cover-ups, and punish no enablers.’’

Really? I understand that SNAP must ritually denounce anything a bishop has to say about the sexual-abuse crisis. But isn't this what SNAP wants? To see bishops held accountable for their failures to protect kids from abusive clerics? Did Clohessy absorb what Francis actually said? The pope explained that three bishops are being investigated, that one of them has already been found guilty, and that the Vatican is figuring out what sort of punishment to mete out. This is anything but meaningless. Because, as everyone at SNAP knows, there aren't many bishops who have been convicted of a crime during this long scandal.

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Francis Visits State of Palestine...

...and other nearby countries.  The Pope referred to the "State of Palestine" in his meeting with Palestinian President Abbas. In an unexpected and unplanned gesture he stopped his car to get out and pray at the security wall separating Bethlehem from Jerusalem, and the Palestinians from the Israelis.

He has invited Israelie President Peres and Abbas to the Vatican to pray for peace. From the NYTimes story: "Father Jamal Khader, head of the Latin Patriarchate Seminary in Beit Jala and a local spokesman for the pope’s visit, said the invitation on Sunday to a joint prayer session was “taking the negotiations to another level – a meeting in front of God.”  Who knows!? Can't hurt!

Reminds me of ideas from a book I just finished, Faith in the Face of Empire: The Bible through Palestinian Eyes, by Mitri Raheb, the pastor of a Lutheran church in Bethlehem. Maybe Francis has read it too.