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Archbishop Cupich to Chicago Catholics: I am your servant-leader.

CHICAGO -- In his first homily as archbishop of Chicago, Blase Cupich finally answered the question he's been asked over and over since it was announced that he would succeed Cardinal Francis George: What is your agenda? "If I have learned anything over these past four decades as a pastor, I know it is a disaster for me to have my own agenda." That's not because he doesn't have his own hopes and dreams, Cupich explained. Rather, it's that his agenda is "always too small." His agenda, he continued, is "prone to be self-serving, and ultimately unworthy of the people I am called to serve." Rather, "the agenda has to be God’s, which is beyond our imagining and our abilities."

Preaching on Ezekiel (37: 1-14), Cupich highlighted the prophet's concern "to inspire new life in the people living in exile, by offering a vision of the new city to be built by God.... They are like dry bones strewn carelessly to rot in an abandoned field under the scorching sun of oppression."

The archbishop named the dryness we find in our own lives today:

It is the dryness elderly and sick persons can experience when their strength gives way and their bones become unsteady, to the point that they begin to question their worth, their sense of purpose and even the faith that has heretofore directed their lives. We see that dryness caked in on the faces of the homeless street people, in the fatigue of the underemployed worker cobbling together three or four low paying jobs to make ends meet, but also in the hectic pace of the successful business owner whose long hours in the office leave little time for family meals and sharing, for rest and recreation.

Those in public service, Cupich admitted, experience their own dryness "in the tedium of attending to administrative details, which most often go unnoticed or unappreciated, in the frustration we feel as we are called upon to face enormous challenges with limited energies and shrinking resources, and whenever opportunities for real improvement are squandered by petty squabbles and divisive discourse."

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Cardinal George to Chicago Catholics: 'You are my legacy.'

CHICAGO -- The congregation gathered early at Holy Name Cathedral this morning. A half-hour before Cardinal Francis George would begin his final Mass as archbishop before Blase Cupich succeeds him this week, the narthex was nearly full. The people waited for 9:30 Mass-goers to vacate. Msgr. Dan Mayall, pastor of the cathedral (an associate pastor of my childhood parish twenty-odd years ago), greeted arriving parishioners as they came in from the snow, and departing ones as they returned to it.

A bank of cameras on the north side of the transept turned in toward the pews to watch them fill with a very Chicago crowd: Catholics of every ethnicity, some dressed up, others down, some draped in furs and others in NFL jerseys (the Bears were playing at home), suits and jeans, some with toddlers in tow, others carrying babies, or pushing grandparents, some single, others not, some fingered rosary beads, others scanned the expansive wooden ceiling with their smartphones for the perfect Instagram shot. Cameramen moved toward the center aisle, just before the break in the pews. One leaned down to let a couple know that he wouldn't be obstructing their view for the whole liturgy. "Why are all these video cameras here?" the husband asked. The cameraman explained: the cardinal's last Mass. From within his coat pocket the husband produced a camera of his own.

An usher approached as the procession was about to start. "No one in the aisle," he warned the journalists. Besides, "the cardinal doesn't always do the procession." This time he did.

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False Mercies

Pope Francis today spoke to the Association of Italian Catholic Doctors. In his short, but powerful address he said:

The dominant thinking sometimes suggests a "false compassion", that which believes that it is: helpful to women to promote abortion; an act of dignity to obtain euthanasia; a scientific breakthrough to "produce" a child and to consider it to be a right rather than a gift to welcome; or to use human lives as guinea pigs presumably to save others.

He went on to speak of "the Gospel of Life" in that personal tone so distinctive to him:

Fidelity to the Gospel of life and respect for life as a gift from God sometimes require choices that are courageous and go against the current, which in particular circumstances, may become points of conscientious objection. And this fidelity entails many social consequences. We are living in a time of experimentation with life. But a bad experiment. Making children rather than accepting them as a gift, as I said. Playing with life. Be careful, because this is a sin against the Creator: against God the Creator, who created things this way. When so many times in my life as a priest I have heard objections: “But tell me, why the Church is opposed to abortion, for example? Is it a religious problem?” No, no. It is not a religious problem. “Is it a philosophical problem?” No, it is not a philosophical problem. It’s a scientific problem, because there is a human life there, and it is not lawful to take out a human life to solve a problem. “But no, modern thought…” But, listen, in ancient thought and modern thought, the word “kill” means the same thing. The same evaluation applies to euthanasia: we all know that with so many old people, in this culture of waste, there is this hidden euthanasia. But there is also the other. And this is to say to God, “No, I will accomplish the end of life, as I will.” A sin against God the Creator! Think hard about this.

The full text is here.

Cardinal O'Malley: Vatican must 'address urgently' the Bishop Finn problem.

Are Robert Finn's days as bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph numbered? Judging from comments Cardinal Sean O'Malley made to 60 Minutes, it sure sounds like it. Yesterday CBS News released a preview of Norah O'Donnell's interview with O'Malley, archbishop of Boston, in which he acknowledged that the Holy See must do something about Finn, who was found guilty of a misdemeanor count of failing to report suspected child endangerment over two years ago, and was never publicly disciplined by Benedict XVI.* “It’s a question that the Holy See needs to address urgently,” O’Malley told O'Donnell. Does the pope understand that? she asked. “There’s a recognition...from Pope Francis,” O'Malley replied. The cardinal also acknowledged that, owing to Finn's conviction, the bishop would not even be allowed to teach Sunday school.

In September, the National Catholic Reporter broke the news that the Vatican had sent Archbishop Terrance Prendergast of Ontario to Kansas City to investigate Finn, after the bishop's former chancellor (who is now posted in Chicago) asked the Congregation for Bishops to intervene (I covered some of this here). That seemed to confirm speculation that Finn was one of the three bishops Pope Francis revealed was under investigation back in May. At that time, the pope said that one of the three had "already been found guilty, and we are now considering the penalty to be imposed." As head of the Vatican's new sexual-abuse commission, and as one of the pope's closest advisers, Cardinal O'Malley is part of that "we."

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Collapsing Catholicism in Latin America?

There’s a lot of interesting data in a new Pew report detailing the drop of self-identified Catholics across Latin America, beginning with how precipitous the decline has been. While 84 percent of adults interviewed report they were raised Catholic, only 69 percent currently identify as Catholic, meaning, as the New York Times Upshot summarizes, “there has been a 15-percentage-point drop-off in one generation.”

Why interesting, and not, say, startling, is that no one who’s been paying attention can really be surprised by the findings, yet they also shed new light on the shift in a region where up to the 1970s more than 90 percent of the population identified as Catholic.

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Devastation, Tribulation, Hope

Saturday evening Pope Francis went to Verano Cemetery in the San Lorenzo district of Rome. Allied planes bombed the area in 1943, causing Pius XII to rush there to console the victims. Francis celebrated there the Mass for All Saints Day.

In his extempore homily the Pope spoke of the even greater perils confronting humanity today.

When in the First Reading we heard this voice of the Angel who cried out loud o the Four Angels who were given power to damage the land and the sea, "Do not damage the land or the sea or the trees" (Rev 7:3), this brought to mind a phrase that is not here but in everyone’s heart: men are capable of doing this better than you. We are capable of devastating the Earth far better than the Angels. And this is exactly what we are doing, this is what we do: we destroy creation, we devastate lives, we devastate cultures, we devastate values, we ravage hope. How greatly we need the Lord's strength to seal us with His love and His power to stop this mad race of destruction!

Towards the end of the homily, the Pope drew from the other readings of the Mass, a promise of hope:

And what should our attitude be if we want to be part of this multitude walking to the Father, in this world of devastation, in this world of war, in this world of distress? Our attitude, as we heard in the Gospel, is the attitude of the Beatitudes. That path alone will lead us to the encounter with God. That path alone will save us from destruction, from destroying the Earth, creation, morality, history, family, everything. That path alone. But it too will bring us through bad things. It will bring us trouble. Persecution. But that path alone will take us forward. And so, these people who are suffering so much today because of the selfishness of destroyers, destroyers of our brothers and sisters, these people struggle onwards with the Beatitudes, hoping to find God, to find themselves face to face with the Lord in the hope of becoming saints, at the moment of our final encounter with Him. "

Douthat on the Synod

Despite my criticism of Ross Douthat’s history of recent American religion, I look forward to his columns in the Sunday New York Times. Even when seriously wrong, they are almost always usefully (and enjoyably) contrarian to the paper’s dominant worldview.  Compared to the portrait of the Synod appearing elsewhere in the Times, for example, Douthat’s analysis last Sunday was certainly contrarian.  And no less certainly also seriously wrong.

Let’s review Douthat’s argument before offering a critique. 

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Humble and Prophetic Witness

At Mass this morning in Saint Peter's Square, closing the truly extraordinary Synod, Pope Francis beatified his predecessor, Paul VI. In his homily Francis said:

When we look to this great Pope, this courageous Christian, this tireless apostle, we cannot but say in the sight of God a word as simple as it is heartfelt and important: thanks!  Thanks! Thank you, our dear and beloved Pope Paul VI!  Thank you for your humble and prophetic witness of love for Christ and his Church!

In his personal notes, the great helmsman of the Council wrote, at the conclusion of its final session: “Perhaps the Lord has called me and preserved me for this service not because I am particularly fit for it, or so that I can govern and rescue the Church from her present difficulties, but so that I can suffer something for the Church, and in that way it will be clear that he, and no other, is her guide and saviour."  In this humility the grandeur of Blessed Paul VI shines forth: before the advent of a secularized and hostile society, he could hold fast, with farsightedness and wisdom – and at times alone – to the helm of the barque of Peter, while never losing his joy and his trust in the Lord.

The Drama Continues

So Cardinal Tagle predicted and so it proves to be.

After the dramatic publication of the small group deliberations, the committee designated with incorporating these into a final document by tomorrow faces an herculean task. Will they be able to achieve it and will it receive the approbation of a majority of the Synod participants? Indeed, will it be able to be quickly read and digested?

But, as is well known, even if passed, the document only concludes another act of the drama which will continue to unfold over the next year (with God knows how many tweets yet to come!).

Whatever one's own considered view of the significant theological and pastoral issues under discussion, I share the impression of many that Pope Francis clearly favors one party in the drama.

Here is part of the case that Sandro Magister makes:

The operational center of the synod is made up of the general and special secretaries, Baldisseri and Forte. But alongside of them the pope has placed, selected by him personally, those who will attend to the drafting of the message and the final “Relatio,” all of them belonging to the pro-change “party,” led by his trusted ghostwriter Víctor Manuel Fernández, archbishop and rector of the Catholic University of Buenos Aires.

The rest is here.

It is certainly true that two members were added to the drafting committee at the eleventh hour -- one from Africa and one from Australia. But that appears to have been a response to widespread discontent.

Tomorrow then promises to open scene two of Act Two.

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.