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Unanswered Questions

This afternoon’s news conference at the Vatican heard two questions posed, but not answered.

The reporter from "Catholic News Service" made the observation that the Synod has generated a lot of controversy, both within and without its confines. He suggested that some saw in the "relatio" Church teaching being muted in favor of "a kinder, gentler approach;" and that traditional teaching, if not abrogated, was being put into the shadow. Was this concern at all reflected in the "small groups?"

No answer was forthcoming.

Then the reporter from "The Catholic Herald" asked directly whether Pope Francis had  seen and approved the "relatio" before it was presented to the Synod?

The question was evaded.

Summing up some of the present sentiment, John Allen reports the growing impression that:

Catholicism is undergoing a transition, even if the precise nature of the shift and where it’s going to lead are unclear. People may be dismayed or elated, and there are articulate voices on both sides, but no one seems to believe it’s mere window-dressing.

Capping the coverage Damon Linker casts caution to the winds (with ample further links):

Francis would like to liberalize church doctrine on marriage, the family, and homosexuality, but he knows that he lacks the support and institutional power to do it. So he’s decided on a course of stealth reform that involves sowing seeds of future doctrinal change by undermining the enforcement of doctrine today. The hope would be that a generation or two from now, the gap between official doctrine and the behavior that’s informally accepted in Catholic parishes across the world would grow so vast that a global grassroots movement in favor of liberalizing change would rise up at long last to sweep aside the old, musty, already-ignored rules.

If this is what Pope Francis is going for, I don’t blame conservatives for beginning to express serious misgivings. It’s a brilliant, clever, supremely Machiavellian strategy — one that promises to produce far-reaching reforms down the road while permitting the present pope both to claim plausible deniability ("I haven’t changed church doctrine!") and to enjoy nearly constant effusive coverage in the secular press.

What’s happening in Rome isn’t yet "revolutionary change." But it just may be what eventually prepares the way for exactly that.

A short story for the synod?

Whether the moment was merely fortuitous or more shrewdly considered, the New Yorker is featuring a short story this week that makes for timely reading during the current synod. It’s called “Ordinary Sins,” and it’s by the young writer Kirstin Valdez Quade, whose story “The Five Wounds” appeared in the magazine in 2009 and whose debut collection is due early next year.

The title “Ordinary Sins” presumes the presence of ordinary sinners, and though such characters could be said to inhabit any piece of fiction, they are rather more clearly etched as such here, beginning with the third-person narrator/protagonist Crystal, a teenager seven months pregnant with twins and working as a parish assistant. There is also Father Paul, pastor of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows, “benign and solicitous and eager for approval”; Father Leon, newly arrived from Nigeria and “traditional” (in the hesitant assessment of Father Paul), who to Crystal’s dismay preaches not of “love and brotherhood and the primacy of conscience” but against homosexuality and the tolerance of sin; and Collette, the parish secretary whose bad temper is “democratic in its reach” but also at times “very entertaining.”

Crystal and Paul comprise the key thematic pairing in a piece that features several (the unborn twins; Leon and Collette; a young, soon-to-wed couple waiting in the parish office for a “premarital-counselling appointment” with Paul; and, offstage and unseen, the vanished father of Crystal’s children and the bishop whom Paul believes to have delivered a threatening signal with the assignment of Leon). The story unfolds over the course of one Monday-morning hour, with some small and seamless expository flashbacks, but plot is secondary to the ordinary interactions among characters: the petty slights and venial offenses, the well-intentioned if misguided gestures, the willful misunderstandings and hurtful words, the impulse—often reluctant—toward trust, compassion, and forgiveness. Crystal’s pregnancy, obviously, and Paul’s gradually revealed failings provide the backdrop against which this is all depicted. When Paul’s kindness—“unconditional, holy, and inhuman,” so reliable she can afford to disdain it—is suddenly pulled away, Crystal to her astonished relief learns she “could be the kind of person who might meet another person’s need.”

Such reversals are nothing new in fiction, and a casual reading might leave the mistaken impression that “Ordinary Sins” is an ordinary story, with its plain language and seemingly too accessible emotional landscape. But there’s more at work here, like how ordinary people engage with and are engaged by the church on an everyday level, and how that might affect commitment and belief. Quade speaks to this in a brief interview accompanying the story (read it afterward), noting Crystal’s coming to grips with the church as a “human edifice” and the conflicts that this might yet create for her.

But what’s also worth noting here, I think, is that such a story would be featured in a publication like the New Yorker at this moment. Though it was probably conceived prior to last year’s conclave and obviously completed before the synod, could its subject and timing be indicative of “the Francis effect” at work in contemporary fiction?

Pope to synod: Don't ruin God's vineyard.

During his homily for this morning's opening Mass for the Synod on the Family, Pope Francis had some rather pointed words for the assembled.

In Jesus’ parable, he is addressing the chief priests and the elders of the people, in other words the “experts”, the managers. To them in a particular way God entrusted his “dream,” his people, for them to nurture, tend and protect from the animals of the field. This is the job of leaders: to nuture the vineyard with freedom, creativity and hard work.

But Jesus tells us that those farmers took over the vineyard. Out of greed and pride they want to do with it as they will, and so they prevent God from realizing his dream for the people he has chosen.

The temptation to greed is ever present. We encounter it also in the great prophecy of Ezekiel on the shepherds (cf. ch. 34), which Saint Augustine commented upon in one his celebrated sermons which we have just reread in the Liturgy of the Hours.  Greed for money and power.  And to satisfy this greed, evil pastors lay intolerable burdens on the shoulders of others, which they themselves do not lift a finger to move (cf. Mt 23:4).

(...)

Synod Assemblies are not meant to discuss beautiful and clever ideas, or to see who is more intelligent… They are meant to better nuture and tend the Lord’s vineyard, to help realize his dream, his loving plan for his people.  In this case the Lord is asking us to care for the family, which has been from the beginning an integral part of his loving plan for humanity.

Read the rest right here.

Field Hospital Therapies

A year ago, on this feast of his namesake, Pope Francis made a memorable voyage to Assisi. Among his many addresses and homilies, here's an excerpt from one delivered in the Cathedral of San Rufino to clergy, religious, and members of the Diocesan Pastoral Council. As it happened, they were preparing for a diocesan Synod. The Pope said in part:

But the most important thing is to walk together by working together, by helping one another, by asking forgiveness, by acknowledging one's mistakes and asking for forgiveness, and also by accepting the apologies of others by forgiving — how important this is! Sometimes I think of married people who separate after many years. “Oh … no, we didn't understand each other, we drifted apart”. Perhaps at times they didn't know how to ask for forgiveness at the right time. Perhaps at times they did not know how to forgive. And I always give this advice to newly weds: “Argue as much as you like. If the plates fly, let them! But never end the day without making peace! Never!” And if married people learn to say: “excuse me, I was tired”, or even a little gesture, this is peace. Then carry on with life the next day. This is a beautiful secret, and it prevents these painful separations. It is important to walk in unity, without running ahead, without nostalgia for the past. And while you walk you talk, you get to know one another, you tell one other about yourself, you grow as a family. Here let us ask ourselves: how do we walk? How does our diocese walk? Does it together? And what am I doing so that it may truly walk in unity? I do not wish to enter into a discussion here about gossip, but you know that gossip always divides.

I think the papal prescriptions pertain to the Synod on the Family that opens tomorrow. I don't necessarily endorse throwing plates in the Aula, but walking and working together, arguing, yet listening patiently to the other, not quick to launch accusations of "fundamentalism" or "ideology" like poisoned darts. Forgiving when necessary, and asking forgiveness.

As for gossiping -- a particular bête noir for this Pope. Perhaps the Swiss Guard could provide tubs of the disinfectant those exposed to the ebola virus use to wash hands and shoes, as the Synod members enter the Hall. Anti-gossip disinfectant. Could it also be applied via the web, perhaps like dewfall from the Cloud? That would be another Francis first!

In the spirit of Saint Francis, I would love to see a photo of Kasper and Burke exchanging the kiss of peace -- provided it did not last unduly long.

On synod eve, Kasper proposal gets a boost. (UPDATED WITH VIDEO)

See video update after the jump.

The public dispute over Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics is heating up. In the United States, Ignatius Press is preparing to release a few books featuring several cardinals arguing against Cardinal Walter Kasper's proposal to allow certain -- not all -- divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion. On Tuesday, one of them, Cardinal Raymond Burke, joined a press call sponsored by Ignatius Press to unburden himself of some thoughts about Kasper. He doesn't like that Kasper has claimed Pope Francis agrees with his proposal. It is "outrageous" that Kasper "claims to speak for the pope," Burke said on the call. "The pope doesn’t have laryngitis." Last week First Things ran an excerpt from a new book-length interview with Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in which he too tilts against Kasper's argument (not too successfully--which I'll say more about later). And today in Rome Vaticanista and papal critic Sandro Magister (who recently defended the deposed bishop of Ciudad del Este, republishing the entirety of the bishop's long-on-chutzpah-but-short-on-facts self-exoneration) introduced Cardinal George Pell, who has written the forward to one of the Ignatius Press books opposing Kasper.

When asked what he made of this coordinated effort to rebut his proposal, Kasper called it a "problem." He continued: "I do not remember such a situation where in such an organized way five cardinals write such a book. It’s the way that it’s done in politics but it should not be done in the church." Kasper's opponents claim that relaxing the discipline barring divorced and remarried Catholics from receiving the Eucharist would be to effectively change church teaching on the indissolubility of sacramental marriage, a teaching based on the words of Jesus. But their arguments, Kasper has noted, tend toward theological fundmentalism: "We cannot simply take one phrase of the Gospel of Jesus and from that deduce everything.... Discipline can change."

It's not as though the church has never made pastoral adjustments on this question.

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Was Bishop Livieres sacked for abuse-related reasons or not? (UPDATED)

"Vatican Says Bishop's Dismissal Not the Result of Sexual Abuse," read a Catholic News Service headline published Saturday. The story, written by Francis X. Rocca, tut-tuts those who interpreted the firing of Bishop Livieres of Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, as a sign of a Vatican crackdown on sexual abuse. The diocese was investigated by the Vatican in July after local Catholics, including the archbishop of Asuncion, Paraguay, Pastor Cuquejo--the metropolitan bishop--reportedly complained to Rome about several aspects of Livieres's leadership. Among his concerns was Livieres's decision to accept and promote a priest, Fr. Carlos Urrutigoity, who had been accused of sexual misconduct by several people dating back to the late 1980s. Rocca's story suggests that Urrutigoity had little to do with Pope Francis's decision to replace Livieres.

Coming two days after the Vatican's arrest of former Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, pending a criminal trial on charges of paying for sex with boys during his time as nuncio to the Dominican Republic, the dismissal of Bishop Livieres appeared to be the latest step in a Vatican crackdown on sex abuse. But the Vatican says sex abuse was not a significant factor in Bishop Livieres's dismissal.

Here's what Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi, SJ, told Rocca: "Let's not confuse Wesolowski and Livieres; one is a case of pedophilia, the other is not." Lombardi continued: "Livieres was not removed for reasons of pedophilia. That was not the principal problem." What was? "There were serious problems with his management of the diocese, the education of clergy, and relations with other bishops," Lombardi said."

That sounds a bit like what Lombardi said to the New York Times last week: “The important problem was the relations within the episcopacy and in the local church, which were very difficult.” He explained that the accusations against Urrutigoity were “not central, albeit have been debated.”

For his part, Livieres, a member of Opus Dei, maintains that he was the victim of a smear campaign orchestrated by nefarious practitioners of liberation theology, presumably not those who were recently invited to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith--or were they? Considering this explanation comes from a man who on more than one occasion publicly called his metropolitan gay, it may not be totally reliable.

But is Lombardi's?

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Pope Francis removes Paraguayan bishop (UPDATED)

This morning the Holy See press office announced that Pope Francis has removed Rogelio Ricardo Livieres Plano, who had been bishop of the diocese of Ciudad del Este, Paraguay. Usually such statements say that the pope has accepted the resignation of a bishop. Not in this case. The Holy See plainly says that Livieres is being replaced. According to the statement, the decision was made “for the greater good and unity” of the local church and episcopal communion. But the move follows a July investigation of the diocese, following complaints from local lay Catholics and clergy, including an archbishop, about Livieres’s style of governance, and his decision to bring on and then promote to vicar general an Argentine priest who has been repeatedly accused of sexual misconduct—dating back to the late 1980s. (The Holy See’s announcement says nothing about the accused priest.)

After the initial investigation, but before the pope had studied the investigators’ report, the Vatican announced that the accused priest—Fr. Carlos Urrutigoity (whose story I’ve been covering over a series of posts)—had been removed from his position as vicar general. The Holy See also took the unusual step of forbidding Bishop Livieres from ordaining any more priests.

In response, Livieres posted a long defense brief on the website of his diocese. That document—itself a remarkable development (bishops don’t usually publicly refute Vatican sanctions)—claimed that Urrutigoity was wrongly accused, that he and Livieres were the victims of a smear campaign, and that Livieres invited Urrutigoity into the diocese on the recommendation of then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now pope emeritus). The statement rebuked the archbishop of Asuncion—Livieres’s metropolitan—for “attacking” Urrutigoity, going so far as to allege that the archbishop himself was accused and “processed” for engaging in “homosexual activity.” In other words, Bishop Livieres was really feeling his oats.

He’s likely experiencing another sensation now.

Update after the jump:

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Confirmed: there are five whole women on the CDF's new advisory board

We now have the names of the new members of the International Theological Commission, including the five women theologians Cardinal Gerhard Müller mentioned a few weeks back, when he revealed in an interview that Pope Francis had asked for more women to be included. Looking over the list, I'd say the CDF won't need to fear exposure to the influence of radical feminism any time soon.

According to the press release from the Vatican announcing the new appointments, the list of advisers was proposed by Müller (prefect of the CDF) and approved by Pope Francis. Among the appointees, who will serve a five-year term, are five women, two of them sisters, and twenty-five men. That may not sound like much, but it's a significant increase over the two-out-of-thirty women who served on the previous roster. "Women now constitute 16% of the Commission’s members," the press release says, calling that fact "a sign of growing female involvement in theological research." Is it a "sign" that more women are involved in theology, or a belated acknowledgment of that fact?

I am mostly interested in what the advisers might have to say to the CDF on the subject of their reform of the LCWR. Remember that Cardinal Müller cited the USCCB's negative judgment of Elizabeth Johnson in a public scolding of the LCWR leadership -- something he might not have done if he'd asked around about the quality and reception of that particular document. I had hoped a broader complement of women among those chosen to advise the CDF might help prevent such lopsided interventions in the future, but I can't say I'm optimistic that the CDF will be getting the advice it needs to hear.

Of the five new women members, there is one American: Sr. Prudence Allen, RSM. Lest you be misled, as I was at first, by the "RSM," please note that she is a member of the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Michigan, a more traditional offshoot of the well-known congregation founded in Ireland by Catherine McAuley. (Those Sisters of Mercy belong to LCWR; the congregation to which Allen belongs is a member of the alternative religious-women's leadership group, the CMSWR.) She is a philosopher, the author of a two-volume work called The Concept of Woman, an expert in the complementarity of the sexes, and a proponent and supporter of John Paul II-inspired "New Feminism." She formerly held the Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap, Chair of Philosophy at the St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver. I am sure she is a fine scholar and will bring wisdom and dedication to her new role. I just can't see her prodding the CDF to reconsider its ingrained fear of ordinary, not-actually-radical Catholic feminist theology. (On the other hand, according to this brief biography, she is also a divorced mother of two, so she may represent a greater diversifying of the committee than is at first apparent.)

I'm more familiar with the other American named to the commission: Thomas Weinandy, OFM Cap, author of Does God Suffer? and former executive director of the Secretariat for Doctrine of the USCCB. Weinandy was in that position when the USCCB's committee on doctrine released its critique of Elizabeth Johnson's Quest for the Living God, and although the final document (available as a PDF, linked here) did not bear his name -- signed, as it was, by the members of the doctrine committee, all of them bishops -- it bore strong marks of his involvement (see John F. Haught's expert take on that, in Commonweal). If the USCCB's take on Johnson was wrong, as I would say it clearly was, that error was likely due in large part to Weinandy's personal approach to reading her work. I can't see him telling Muller to ease off on judging Johnson, and by extension the LCWR, based on the USCCB's badly argued takedown of her book. Remember also his weak explanation for why the USCCB doctrinal committee wouldn't meet with Johnson before issuing its judgment of her (misrepresented) views. And of course there was his weirdly hostile reproach to CTSA president Terrence Tilley, published in the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly -- here's the PDF -- and replied to by Tilley here. And then there's this response he wrote to Richard Gaillardetz's Commonweal article "The Limits of Authority," disagreeing with Gaillardetz's claim that "The bishops’ teaching authority is not binary in character; it is simply not the case that they either teach with an authority that demands unconditional and unquestioning assent or they teach with no authority at all."
(Daniel K. Finn replied to that here.) In short, if the CDF is looking to broaden the range of viewpoints it considers, and especially if it wants to get on top of the contributions of women in contemporary theology, Weinandy would not have been my recommendation.

I haven't found any evidence of progressive views or an inclination to challenge authority among the other members of the commission, which includes Moira McQueen, a Canadian bioethicist and mother of seven (per her Twitter bio), and Tracey Rowland, who is among other things Dean and Permanent Fellow of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family in Melbourne.

Still, a few more women, a few more lay people, a few more non-Europeans: all of these are steps in the right direction. It's worth noting, too, that Francis has indicated that policing doctrinal disputes is not a major priority for him. Perhaps we'll be hearing less in general from the CDF during this papacy.

Your afternoon Vatican.

Late this afternoon the Holy See announced two unrelated bits of news: First, the laicized former nuncio to the Dominican Republic, Jozef Wesolowski, has been placed under house arrest in the Vatican City State as he stands indicted for sexually abusing minors. Wesolowski was recalled to Rome in June after the allegations surfaced. Following a canonical proceeding, he was swiftly returned to the lay state. But questions remained about whether he would face civil justice--both in the country where he allegedly abused children and in his native Poland. Following an August report in the New York Times, the Vatican announced that it was open to extraditing Wesolowski, but hasn't said for sure whether extradition was imminent. Today's statement did not do much to clarify matters. But it does suggest that confining Wesolowski was ordered by Pope Francis.

Second, the Vatican and the schismatic Society of St. Pius X are trying to get back together again. According to the Holy See, Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, met today with SSPX head Bishop Bernard Fellay. Talks between the Vatican and the SSPX broke down in 2012, after Fellay refused to sign a doctrinal agreement drafted by the Holy See. Reconciling with the SSPX had long been a top priority of Benedict XVI. Today's Vatican statement doesn't say much--just that Mueller and Fellay met for two hours, that they discussed "various doctrinal problems," and that they agreed to proceed "gradually" and "over a reasonable period of time" with the goal of "full reconciliation." God keeps opening doors for the SSPX, but it doesn't seem like its leaders are all that interested in walking through any of them.

Francis in Albania

Pope Francis spent eleven packed hours in Albania yesterday, speaking to government officials, religious leaders, and the Catholic faithful. Each of his prepared addresses is worth reading, but here is Osservatore Romano’s report on the most touching moment of the day:

At the meeting with priests, religious and representatives of the lay world held on Sunday afternoon, 21 September in Tirana’s new Cathedral dedicated to St Paul, the testimony of Fr Ernest Simoni, 84, and Sr Marije Kaleta, 85, was the most touching moment of Pope Francis’ visit. The Pontiff was moved to tears at the end of the priest’s account. Tortured and condemned to death as an enemy of the people, Fr Ernest’s sentence was subsequently commuted to imprisonment. Of the very few survivors of the persecution, Fr Ernest, who spent 27 years in various concentration camps and in forced labor, is one of only two priests still living. “While imprisoned, I celebrated Mass in Latin by heart, as I secretly confessed and distributed communion”, he recalled.

With tears in his eyes, amid the unending applause of those present, everyone visibly moved, Francis helped the priest, who had knelt to kiss the Pontiff’s ring, back to his feet, engaged him in a lengthy embrace and kissed the priest’s hand in turn. These moments of great intensity were then followed with Sr Marije’s account. After living for seven years in the convent of the Stigmatine Sisters, she was forced to profess her faith in hiding, without however, renouncing her testimony. The Pope embraced her for a long time as well. And immediately afterwards at the moment for his homily, a meditation during the recitation of vespers, he put aside his prepared text — the only time that day — to speak extemporaneously, as he was still so touched by their testimony. A reflection spoken from the heart, concluding with a validation: “Let us go home thinking: today we have touched martyrs”.

In his ex tempore remarks the Pope reflected on the witness he had just heard:

They tell us that we, who have been called by the Lord to follow him closely, must find our consolation in him alone. Woe to us if we seek consolation elsewhere! Woe to priests and religious, sisters and novices, consecrated men and women, when they seek consolation far from the Lord! Today I don’t want to be harsh and severe with you, but I want you to realize very clearly that if you look for consolation anywhere else, you will not be happy! Even more, you will be unable to comfort others, for your own heart is closed to the Lord’s consolation. You will end up, as the great Elijah said to the people of Israel, “limping with both legs”.

What Is a "Francis Bishop," Anyway?

The appointment of a successor for Chicago's Cardinal Francis George had been anticipated as Francis's first big chance to make a major impact on the U.S. church. When his selection of Blase Cupich was announced, the religion journalist Amy Sullivan tweeted, "Since March 2013, we've all been saying, Wait until he fills the Chicago seat--that'll tell us whether he's for real. @Pontifex is for real." The choice, many observers agreed, was proof that Francis really does want to develop a different kind of leadership, not just in Rome but in America too.

I noted in a post last week that Francis had surprised me by doing what I most hoped he would do -- articulating a vision of episcopal leadership that deemphasized culture-war posturing and called for bishops to be "dedicated to repairing divisions, not deepening them." News accounts of the "Francis effect" tend to refer to his noteworthy personal choices since he became pope -- things like living in a small set of rooms instead of the papal apartments, eschewing some of the more regal vestments of the office, and saying friendly, almost offhand things like "Who am I to judge?" when speaking to reporters about controversial issues. Certainly the pope is setting an example when he does these things. But he has also spelled out the changes he wants to bring about in explicit terms, and anyone who wants to know what a bishop in the era of Francis ought to be like need only read what Francis has said on the subject. 

Francis's apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium is specifically addressed to the church's mission of evangelization, but for Francis that subject provides an opportunity to spell out in detail the ways in which the church itself needs to undergo "conversion" to communicate the Gospel more faithfully and effectively. This paragraph, in which he lays out a set of goals and desired traits for bishops, ought to  be tacked above the desk of every ordinary in the U.S. If Francis really was intimately involved in the selection of Bishop Cupich for Chicago -- which I have no reason to doubt -- it's safe to conclude that he found in Cupich a candidate likely to fulfill this vision:

31. The bishop must always foster this missionary communion in his diocesan Church, following the ideal of the first Christian communities, in which the believers were of one heart and one soul (cf. Acts 4:32). To do so, he will sometimes go before his people, pointing the way and keeping their hope vibrant. At other times, he will simply be in their midst with his unassuming and merciful presence. At yet other times, he will have to walk after them, helping those who lag behind and – above all – allowing the flock to strike out on new paths. In his mission of fostering a dynamic, open and missionary communion, he will have to encourage and develop the means of participation proposed in the Code of Canon Law, and other forms of pastoral dialogue, out of a desire to listen to everyone and not simply to those who would tell him what he would like to hear. Yet the principal aim of these participatory processes should not be ecclesiastical organization but rather the missionary aspiration of reaching everyone.

More than what they wear or where they live or what kind of car they travel in, if you want to know whether a bishop is living up to the expectations of Pope Francis, you can look to this striking vision of pastoral leadership. It's not vague or empty of substance. It's quite specific, and demanding. (There's even a footnote in the original indicating which specific canons he refers to.) Is your bishop an "unassuming and merciful presence" in your midst? Is he doing everything he can to "reach everyone"? Is he the kind of shepherd who "above all" is concerned with "allowing the flock to strike out on new paths," as he walks behind giving merciful assistance to stragglers? That's what Francis thinks the church needs. That's a Francis bishop.

UPDATE: You can hear more from me about Francis and his plans for the church by attending the Feast of St. Francis Lecture at King's College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, on October 2. Details here.

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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