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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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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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Joseph Smith's many marriages

Over the past decade or so, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints—usually known as the “Mormon” or “LDS” church—has moved toward greater transparency about its earliest era.

Through the publication of “The Joseph Smith Papers” and new historical essays on the official church website, lds.org, interested readers have been able to learn about the fuzzy period of early Mormonism, the roughly fifteen years from its founding to the settlement in Utah.

Now a new essay, “Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo,” makes frank admissions about the early days of polygamous relations (called “plural marriage” in LDS terminology) at Mormon settlements in Ohio and Illinois.

Couched in a laudably straightforward tone, the essay treats specifics of some very sensitive matters. It estimates the extent of Smith’s plural marriages as somewhere between 30 and 40 women, with a wide range of ages (from 14 to 56 years old). More surprisingly, some of these were already married to other men.

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Four churchwomen and their killers, nearly thirty-five years later

Today the New York Times is featuring on its homepage a video “retro report” on the murder of American churchwomen Maura Clarke, Ita Ford, Dorothy Kazel, and Jean Donovan in El Salvador in December 1980. The report is titled “A Search for Justice,” and the tagline reads: “Nearly 35 years later, the case continues to take surprising turns.”

The video is just over thirteen minutes long and is variously disturbing, heartbreaking, and enraging, with footage of the discovery of the women’s bodies; of family, colleagues, and officials speaking of the women and of efforts to identify the murderers; and of Ronald Reagan’s U.N. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick (“the nuns were not just nuns but activists”) and Secretary of State Alexander Haig (“perhaps they ran a roadblock”) suggesting that the women were culpable in their own rapes and executions. The report also reminds us of the involvement of two U.S. administrations in supporting the right-wing military government at whose hands the women were killed; of the reluctance of the Reagan administration to pursue an investigation; and of the fact that the two generals ultimately identified as having issued the orders had since “retired” and were living legally in Florida (one having received the Legion of Merit award from Reagan). There’s also a clip, in the early part of the video, of Maura Clarke’s 1980 interview in the U.S., just prior to her return to El Salvador, and for all of the report’s painful reminders and revelations, it’s her simple statement that also should be noted: “In my work, it has been very much trying to help people realize their own dignity, to realize the great beauty that they have.” You can watch the video here.

How not to report on the sexual-abuse scandal.

The main story on the Daily Beast right now has a headline worthy of a supermarket checkout lane: "Chicago Priests Raped & Pillaged for 50 Years." The author, Barbie Latza Nadeau, gives the impression that she has examined a good portion of the fifteen thousand pages of files released by the Archdiocese of Chicago yesterday morning. She has read all about "accusations against perverted priests." She's seen "handwritten letters penned by worried mothers," and "emails sent decades after the abuses occurred." She's squinted at "letters so old the mimeographed typewriting is smudged." She's even read "emails so recent, they call into question just how much of the clerical abuse is still going on." This careful research has provided Nadeau with the following insight:

The allegations include accusations of priests plying young victims with alcohol and cigarettes, of fondling, masturbating, and performing oral sex on minors, and a strong current of denial and well-documented coverup by the church that can be traced all the way to Rome.

Her proof? "Take the case of Father Gregory Miller, whose 275-page dossier is filled with congratulatory letters of advancement within the archdiocese," Nadeau writes, noting that the file is also "dotted with frequent warnings of misconduct." She details the first accusation, then reports, "A few years later, Miller's assignment as a parish priest was renewed." And "in 2012," according to Nadeau, "a new complainant wrote an email to Leah McCluskey of the Chicago Archdiocese’s abuse committee." She continues: "More disturbing still, despite what were clearly repeat allegations, the archdiocese’s vicar general, John Canary, wrote the errant priest to tell him that he was not to be alone with anyone under age 18, seemingly apologizing for the trouble."

It all sounds so familiar, doesn't it? Victims' allegations falling on deaf ears. Church officials protecting, even promoting, priests they knew posed a threat to children. Tone-deaf churchmen praising a man who deserved jail time instead of congratulations. And this story would certainly merit the outrage it is meant to inspire, if Nadeau's narrative were true. But, as a review of the Miller file makes clear, her version of events is about as valuable as the paper it isn't printed on.

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Archdiocese of Chicago to release files on 36 more accused priests. (UPDATED AGAIN)

Updates throughout.

The Archdiocese of Chicago has released the files of thirty-six priests accused of sexual abuse over the past fifty years. In January, the archdiocese released six thousand pages of documents related to another thirty accused clerics, as part of a settlement with plaintiffs who alleged abuse. None of the priests are currently in ministry, and fourteen are deceased. The archdiocese chose to release the new batch of files, which total about fifteen thousand pages, on its own. The files were published on the archdiocese's website Thursday morning, less than a week before Blase Cupich will be installed as the ninth archbishop of Chicago.

The archdiocese is "voluntarily" releasing these documents, according to a letter signed by auxiliary Bishop Francis Kane, which accompanied a memo sent to Catholic school administrators. This release, in combination with January's documents, "covers all the priests who have substantiated allegations of sexual misconduct with minors"--except for two "where ongoing processes do not permit release," Kane wrote.

One of those men is Daniel McCormack, who in 2007 pleaded guilty to molesting five children. In June he was charged again with aggravated criminal sexual abuse in a 2005 incident involving a minor. Last month two more men who say McCormack abused them filed a joint lawsuit against the archdiocese and Cardinal Francis George--seeking $400,000 in damages. In 2006, it came to light that George allowed McCormack to return to ministry after he was arrested and released without charges, even though his sexual-abuse review board recommended that the priest be removed from ministry. The case brought scandal to a diocese that for decades had been seen as having a model policy for dealing with clerics accused of abuse. Audits commissioned by the archdiocese following the McCormack scandal showed that was not necessarily the case.

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Biggest literary influence on The Boss? Flannery O'Connor.

When we talk about the American "Catholic Imagination" in literature and the arts, the work of Flannery O'Connor is a sine qua non. Teaching on this subject, I often surprise people by juxtaposing her fiction writing not with Graham Greene or another great Catholic novelist, but rather with the songwriting of Bruce Springsteen.

Considering The Boss's oeuvre in this light is neither flight of fancy nor mere excuse to play music in class. The topic has been covered in the pages of Commonweal, the man effusively praised on the blog, and his stature confirmed back in 1998 by none less than Andrew Greeley, the scholar perhaps most associated with the analysis of the Catholic imagination.

Now it's true that Springsteen has cited Flannery O'Connor before, but I have not seen a quote as exquisite and evocative as this, from an interview in this weekend's New York Times. The reporter asks:

If you had to name one book that made you who you are today, what would it be?

And then Springsteen, who had earlier in the interview already cited O'Connor as the first author to influence his career as a songwriter, offers this assessment of his top literary influence:

One would be difficult, but the short stories of Flannery O’Connor landed hard on me. You could feel within them the unknowability of God, the intangible mysteries of life that confounded her characters, and which I find by my side every day. They contained the dark Gothicness of my childhood and yet made me feel fortunate to sit at the center of this swirling black puzzle, stars reeling overhead, the earth barely beneath us.

Perhaps he has the final scenes of the short story "Revelation" in mind, but really the quote encapsulates so much of what haunts O'Connor's world -- and thereby the American Catholic imagination writ large.

It is the mystery that does not confuse but halts through wonder; the experience of all life as both suffering and glory; the stubborn refusal to separate nature and grace.

 

Death penalty in the Colorado gubernatorial race

Over the past few election cycles, Colorado has become an important "battleground state" and a bellwether for larger electoral trends. Featuring contested races for both a Senate seat and the Governor's mansion, it is arguably the most important site of the upcoming midterm elections. The gubernatorial contest has Bob Beauprez, an established figure in the Colorado Republican party, attempting to unseat (the previously very popular) Gov. Hickenlooper.

Social issues have entered the two campaigns in some expected ways -- abortion, health care coverage, gun safety laws, and marijuana legalization. But during these gubernatorial debates, the issue of the death penalty has also briefly held the spotlight.

Back in May, Beauprez made a campaign promise that surprised many, since he presents himself as a faithful Roman Catholic. "When I'm governor," he said during a GOP debate, "Nathan Dunlap will be executed." Or, in a headline offered by Mother Jones, "Elect Me, and I'll Kill that Guy."

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Catholic colleges, the unchurched, and the nones

The editors extended to me an invitation to blog at dotCommonweal a good year ago; I can only thank them for their patience!

Foremost among the things that have occupied my time and attention was organizing a conference at King’s on “The Idea of a Catholic College,” 9/19-9/20. Select proceedings will appear in February in the Journal of Catholic Higher Education; my hope is to make a video of the keynote address, by Father John Jenkins of the University of Notre Dame, publicly available within the next few weeks. (If so, I’ll post again with a link.) By the way, “Commonweal’s own” Dennis O’Brien was among the presenters.

One month later, we’ve only begun working through the conference’s lessons -- for our core curriculum, professional programs, and student life -- though see here some more expeditious reflections posted by Jason King, from Saint Vincent College, on the blog Catholic Moral Theology. In any event, the national conversation goes on, most recently in an article by Beth McMurtrie, “Catholic Colleges Greet an Unchurched Generation,” in the October 17 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education. (Unfortunately, the article is password-protected.)

The article focuses principally on initiatives at Marquette and generally strikes a quite optimistic tone. While we’re told that the “pipeline that once fed Catholic colleges is shrinking: Catholic secondary-school enrollments have dropped 42 percent since 1970,” and that more and more students and faculty alike profess no religious affiliation, the article’s interest is in what schools are doing to connect “their religious mission to topics of broad interest, like developing a meaningful philosophy of life or pursuing social justice.” So we learn that, while the “nones” feel little affiliation with Catholicism, “‘they can relate to the values’” -- presumably solidarity, preferential protection of the poor, concern for the common good, and so forth.

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Synod day 14 presser the second: that's a wrap.

At the conclusion of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, the Vatican released the final version of the text summarizing the discussions over the past two weeks. (At present, the text is available only in Italian.) The synod fathers voted on each of the document's sixty-two paragraphs. Three sections on controversial issues did not receive the necessary two-thirds majority to pass: two paragraphs on Communion for the divorced and remarried and one on gay people. None was particularly revolutionary. The sections on divorced and remarried Catholics simply reported that some synod fathers favored finding a way to readmit such Catholics to Communion, and others wanted to maintain current practice. Likewise, the paragraph about gay people was rather tame. It referred to a 2003 document from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, which hold that there are "absolutely not grounds" for calling same-sex unions "similar or even remotely analagous" to traditional marriage, and reemphasized the obvious truth that gay people should be treated with respect.

This was the second Vatican press conference of the day, and it was delayed by a man who hasn't said much during the synod proceedings: Pope Francis. At the conclusion of the final session, he delivered a speech urging the church to find a path between rigorism and laxism (a theme Cardinal Walter Kasper has often touched on). He warned against a "hostile ridigity" that would "lock us into the letter of the law," and he complained about the "false mercy" of "progressives" who would rather bandage wounds than heal them. On the subject of the church's mission to care for its people, Francis quoted retired Pope Benedict XVI at some length. As for the well-reported disagreements between the synod fathers, the pope said he would have been" very concerned and saddened if everyone was in agreement, or if they remained silent in a false peace." Instead, Francis continued, "I saw and heard--with joy and gratitude--speech after speech full of faith, doctrinal and pastoral zeal, wisdom, frankness, and courage." When Francis finished speaking, the synod fathers gave him a five-minute standing ovation.

We know so many details about the relatio because of Pope Francis's rather stunning decision to publish the vote totals for every paragraph--and to include those sections that did not win a two-thirds majority. The relatio remains a working document. It will be sent to the world's bishops conferences for further reflection and study in advance of next October's synod on the family.

When the synod reconvenes, it won't be quite the same. Some who participated in this year's meeting won't be back (I'm thinking of papal critic Cardinal Raymond Burke). And Francis will likely select new cardinals come February. Why might a new-look synod matter? Because the sections that failed still had majority support. The paragraph on gay people, for example, failed by just six votes. But the synod fathers who want divorced and remarried Catholics to be able to receive the Eucharist have a longer row to hoe. Those sections failed by larger margins--and they did nothing more than state what had been discussed.

Whatever happens over the next year, one thing is clear: In calling for open debate among the world's bishops, and by allowing the whole church to see how that debate unfolds, Pope Francis has restored synodality to the church. Let's hope there's no going back.

The presser in tweets, after the jump.

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Synod day 14 presser the first: morning message.

This morning the Vatican released the synod's final "message" to families. The text, which had input "from every continent," according to one cardinal, was approved by 158 of the synod's 174 voting members. Two things about this synod's message are unusual: First, it's quite short. Second, it's not the synod's final word. This time the synod fathers will release a final version of the report that sparked controversy earlier this week. The message does not address any of the contentious issues that draft touched on. Homosexuality is not mentioned at all. Neither is cohabitation. And as for Communion for the divorced and remarried, the message only says that the synod discussed the question.

Instead, the message acknowledges the challenges facing families today--including economic pressures, war, women who suffer violence, children who are abused, and the victims of human trafficking. It also recognizes how difficult it can be to remain faithful to a spouse. "Failures give rise to new relationships, new couples, new civil unions, and new marriages, creating family situations which are complex and problematic, where the Christian choice is not obvious." While emphasizing that the "authentic encounter" is found in the marriage "sacrament, where God sets his seal, his presence, and grace," the synod fathers express their admiration for "the fidelity of so many families who endure these trials with courage, faith, and love."

The message also focused on charity as "another expression of fraternal communion." To give to the needy is to give witness to "the truth, to light, and to the meaning of life."

Finally, the synod fathers remind families that the Eucharist is the "high point" that ties together all the "threads of communion with God and neighbor." In the Eucharist, God "gives himself to all of us, pilgrims through history towards the goal of the final encounter when 'Christ is all and in all' (Col 3:11)." This is where the synod fathers mention that they have been looking at the issue of readmitting divorced and remarried Catholics to Communion. But that is all they say about it.

"We synod fathers ask you walk with us towards the next synod. The presence of the family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in their modest home hovers over you."

Later today the synod will vote on the final text of the relatio, which was read aloud this morning. It won't be a straight up or down vote. Rather, the synod fathers will vote on each of the three sections individually. At this morning's press conference, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, appointed by the pope to serve as one of the drafters of the document, said he expected the relatio to be approved by a considerable majority of the synod fathers, and that the pope would choose to publish it immediately.

Ravasi was asked what he made of Cardinal Raymond Burke's complaint that Pope Francis had not intervened in the synod with a firm statement of Catholic doctrine on marriage. Conservatives have been bringing up Burke throughout the synod press briefings. This time a representative of Lifesitenews cited Burke's recent complaint that the pope has "done a lot of harm to the church" by not openly stating his position. Ravasi chuckled. "Roma locuta, causa finita," he said. Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai said the notion that the pope should intervene in such a way was a misunderstanding of the synod process. The pope listens while the bishops discuss, he said.

Picking up on that theme, Ravasi praised the synod process initiated by Pope Francis. He recalled that Peter and James confronted one another at the Council of Jerusalem, with positive results. The cardinal explained that he much prefers the "Courtyard of the Gentiles" atmosphere. That openness, he continued, has produced a final relatio text that is "choral" in nature--that is, it carries many voices heard over the past two weeks. How much will it resemble the first draft? Most of the amendments from the small groups have been incorporated, but Ravasi suggested that the document's welcoming tone would remain. Jesus's approach to lepers is the model for the way the church approaches those in "irregular" relationships. The credibly of the message of the church, the cardinal said, depends on its welcome.

Come back in a few hours for news of the second of today's press conferences, which will start at 12:30 p.m. Eastern--including the final report on the synod. Today's presser in tweets, after the jump.

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Synod day 13 presser: almost there.

Cardinal Marx arrives for morning session of extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family at Vatican

At this morning's Vatican press conference, not much news. Notable comments came from Cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the German bishops conference--and one of the nine cardinals advising Pope Francis on church governance. Marx said he was surprised by the media's response to the synod's midterm report. He said that the synod has been marked by free and frank expression, and that the contributions of Latin American and African bishops have been especially important. Marx explained that most German bishops support Cardinal Walter Kasper's proposal that the church find a way for certain divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion. Kasper has posed a question; he hasn't come up with a definitive plan. "But I see many people think differently." Yet, "obviously" church practice can change. And "saying that the doctrine will never change...is a restrictive view." Marx also noted that Kasper's proposal isn't the only issue facing the synod: "We don't want to speak only of this."

The cardinal remains convinced that the church needs to find new moral language to address the challenges facing families today--the language of black and white, all or nothing won't do. Human life is much more complex. For example, Marx noted that half of Catholic marriages in Germany are not sacramental because one of the partners is not baptized. This is why, in part, Marx suggested that there may be a working group to study the law of gradualism (the idea that men and woman approach a moral ideal in steps over time). The magisterium, Marx argued, is not a collection of static phrases. We must think about the relationship between docrtine and pastoral care.

On the question of homosexuality, Marx explained that the church does not condemn a sexual orientation, but "homosexual acts" remain "unacceptable." Yet he cannot say that long-term, caring gay relationships are without value. We need nuances, he said, distinctions. (Someone who changes partners daily is another matter, Marx added.) Likewise, the cardinal continued, we can't tell gay people that they cannot experience the Gospel. "Nobody is excluded" from the church, he said. "Nobody is superfluous. Exclusion is not in the language of the church."

Given the well-reported disagreements on this and other issues, will the synod fathers be able to agree on a final report? The debate "has been very intense at times," Marx said. And media coverage has influenced the small-group conversations--by making them more responsible. But "let's start from the idea that we can," Marx said, adding that he would be surprised if they couldn't reach consensus. "What is clear that we need to find common views."

The press conference in tweets, after the jump:

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Tracking Syria's Cultural Heritage

It goes without saying that the worst tragedy of Syria's war is the loss of life and liberty. Those with the power to ameliorate suffering must do so. But academics and other scholars of the region don't have that power, and instead they have been developing their own means of trying to help Syria. The past two years have seen a dramatic expansion in efforts to track Syria's cultural heritage.

Cultural property -- monuments, buildings, artifacts, museums -- is not superficial ornamentation of a nation's identity. Rather, nations use cultural heritage to understand their pasts, bolster their spirits during times of conflict, and imagine their futures. For these reasons, archaeologists and historians of Syria, whether professional or amateur, have built up an impressive infrastructure for the acquisition and dissemination of information.

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Synod day 12 presser: vive la différence.

Cardinals Muller and Schonborn talk after morning synod session at Vatican

What's news out of today's Vatican press conference? Plenty. First, it was announced that summaries of bishops' amendments to the synod's midterm report have been made public. (Perhaps this will calm those who hyperventilated about the "secrecy" of the synod process.) Second, it looks like the pope is assembling a team of rivals to draft the final synod report: The Vatican announced that Pope Francis has added two people to the committee that will draft the final report on the synod: Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne and Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of South Africa--who, you'll recall, criticized the initial draft of the relatio as misleadingly claiming the synod had discussed some subjects that had not actually come up. The Holy See later said in a statement that the report did in fact present an accurate picture of the conversations. (Perhaps this will quiet those who have crowed that Pope Francis is pushing his own agenda at the synod.) Third, the conservative Catholic blogosphere has been lighting up with claims that Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, had decried the synod relatio as "shameful." This morning the cardinal denied that he said any such thing, claiming that La Repubblica, the outlet that first ran the explosive quote (in a strange, unsourced way), misreported him. (Looking forward to those retractions.) Fourth, the third section English version of the midterm report was edited to replace language about "welcoming" gay people with "providing for" them. The original Italian, however, remains unchanged: accogliere--which means "to welcome."** Fifth, and perhaps most interesting, were Cardinal Christoph Schonborn's comments.

He emphasized that Pope Francis is asking the church to accompany its people, to walk with them, not to judge them. He said that the tensions between doctrine and Jesus' mercy were a "permanent" reality for the church. The synod is like a family, the cardinal explained: mom says be careful, dad says be not afraid. Schonborn is the current editor of the Catechism. He predicted that John Paul II's version wouldn't last as long as the one that followed the Council of Trent. He also stated the obvious about John Paul's Theology of the Body: it constitutes a development of doctrine. The cardinal endorsed the law of gradualism, saying, "There is an ideal we want to reach. But we do it with patience, over time." And he favored looking for the positive elements even in "disordered" relationships. The church looks first at the person, not at the person's sexual orienation, he said. That's basic Christian doctrine. The church shouldn't look first to the bedrooms of its people, Schonborn continued, but to their living rooms. He spoke of gay couples he knows, praising one partner who cared for another who was seriously ill. "It was exemplary," he said. "Full stop." ***

Finally, and perhaps most important, Schonborn praised this as the first "authentic synod" he has ever attended--and he's been highly critical of previous ones. This time it's different. This synod was convened by the pope of process.

Tweet stream after the jump.

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No, Cardinal Kasper is not a racist. (UPDATED)

(Cardinal Kasper now denies that anyone from Zenit asked for an interview, and that he "never spoke this way about Africans." Zenit has pulled the interview. And the interviewer has published his response, complete with a full transcript and audio. Scroll to the end of this post for more.)

Yesterday, Edward Pentin, who sometimes identifies himself as a representative of the National Catholic Register, sometimes the Catholic Herald, published a brief interview with Cardinal Walter Kasper. Apparently Pentin got hold of Kasper as the cardinal was leaving the synod hall, and asked the obvious questions about his proposal to allow some divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion. Kasper said he believes support for that position is growing among the synod fathers.

Then Pentin--who claims he has seen "evidence of an engineered synod"--asked about the five people Pope Francis asked to help write the interim report on the discussions, and whether the pontiff was "trying to push things through according to his wishes." Kasper denied that the pope was manipulating the process, and then he elaborated on the difficulty of writing a summary document that accounts for the many cultures represented at the synod:

The problem, as well, is that there are different problems of different continents and different cultures. Africa is totally different from the West. Also Asian and Muslim countries, they’re very different, especially about gays. You can’t speak about this with Africans and people of Muslim countries. It’s not possible. It’s a taboo. For us, we say we ought not to discriminate, we don’t want to discriminate in certain respects.

Pentin had some follow up questions, naturally.

But are African participants listened to in this regard?

No, the majority of them [who hold these views won’t speak about them].

They’re not listened to?

In Africa of course [their views are listened to], where it’s a taboo.

What has changed for you, regarding the methodology of this synod?

I think in the end there must be a general line in the Church, general criteria, but then the questions of Africa we cannot solve. There must be space also for the local bishops’ conferences to solve their problems but I’d say with Africa it’s impossible [for us to solve]. But they should not tell us too much what we have to do.

Those comments, even though they do little more than state the obvious truth that a one-size-fits-all pastoral approach doesn't work in a global church, have occasioned much flouncery.

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Synod day 11 presser: Everything is awesome.

Judging by bishops' comments at today's Vatican press conference, you'd scarcely be able to tell that yesterday a cardinal went in front of the world press and claimed their coverage of the synod's working document had put the bishops in "an irredeemable position." Cardinal Lluis Martinez Sistach, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, and Archbishop Joseph Kurtz--president of the U.S. bishops conference--did not show any displeasure with the relatio--the document summarizing the first week of synod discussions. Instead they shared some of their own small groups' amendments, while speaking more or less positively about the working text (Kurtz even called it "wonderful"). Reporters gave them ample opportunity to distance themselves from the relatio, and they passed.

The presser in tweets, afer the jump:

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Synod day 10 presser: Walk back?

That didn't take very long. A mere twenty-four hours after the Vatican released the Synod on the Family's surprising document summarizing the discussions so far, Holy See spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, is trying to calm everybody down. That relatio post disceptationem shocked Vatican observes when it called on the church to "appreciate the positive values" present in "irregular" relationships--including couples who cohabitate, those who have divorced and remarried, and gay couples. As soon as today's press conference began, Lombardi emphasized that the text its merely provisional--a point he made again later in the briefing. "The contents of the document were not properly understood," he explained. It is very much a "work in progress." The smaller language groups, he continued, are revising the text, which will be released later in the week.

When it came time for Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of South Africa to speak, his comments effectively undermined the relatio. He too complained that the media "misinterpreted" the text. But he also suggested that the document misleadingly presents some subjects as though the synod had discussed and agreed on them; he claimed that simply wasn't the case. After being prompted by an employee of the website Lifesitenews, Napier shared a conversation he had with Cardinal Raymond Burke, who shared his view that the relatio had presented ideas the synod fathers had not discussed. Later in the briefing, he was asked whether he was "disowning" the text. "We are working on the document," Napier replied. And after the bishops vote on it, "that's when we own it."

A Holy See statement issued after the press conference, however, takes a different view.

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What To Do With Columbus Day?

In most of the United States, today is Columbus Day.  Recognition of the holiday is intimately tied with the Catholic presence in the United States, from initial observances by Italian immigrants and their descendants in the second half of the 19th century, to its first federal recognition in 1937.

But Seattle is only the most recent city to switch its observance to "Indigenous Peoples' Day", while several states---including Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon and South Dakota---don't recognize Columbus Day at all.

At Sunday Mass in our parish, an icon of St. Kateri Tekawitha was displayed and the opening rite included prayers from the Native American Catholic tradition, as well as a more general recognition of the complex, and often ugly, historical complexity of what most Latin Americans call Dia de la Raza.

What does the day mean to you?  How do you and your community recognize it (or not), and pray about it (or not)?  How has that changed over the years?