In a new interview with German television, Archbishop Georg Ganswein broke a bit of news. First he revealed that Pope Francis asked his predecessor to comment on the text of the interview he gave to the world's Jesuit publications last summer. Francis had Ganswein -- who acts both as the prefect of the papal household and as personal secretary to Benedict XVI -- deliver the document to the retired pope, along with one blank sheet of paper on which to record his responses. "Three days later Benedict handed me four pages of reflections, notes, and supplements concerning certain questions -- things one might go into in more detail elsewhere -- most interesting -- but I’m not of course going to reveal them. I then took this booty back to the Pope," according to Ganswein. Remind me never to give that guy any private correspondence.
But Ganswein didn't stop there. In the same interview, he also mentioned that Francis was not his choice to succeed Benedict. "I had favored other candidates," he said. "I was wrong -- but then so were other people.” Pope Francis may be fawned over by the media, he continued, “but that won’t always be the case.” Sounds ominous. The pope is not “everybody’s darling," he added -- in English.
This isn't the first time Ganswein has popped off about the pope (the current pontiff, not the "hidden from the world" one).Read more
While there is still a lot of hand-wringing in DC about Crimea becoming part of Russia, we might consider this story in the NYTimes about the consequences of joining Russia. South Ossetia signed up in 2008 after a scuffle between Russia and Georgia; now a certain amount of seller's remorse has emerged, at least economically.
Even if the Times story suggests a bout of schadenfreude, the outcome may be of interest to the Crimeans. "These days South Ossetia’s economy is entirely dependent on budgetary funds from Russia. Unemployment is high, and so are prices, since goods must now be shuttled in through the tunnel, long and thin like a drinking straw, that cuts through the Caucasus ridge from Russia. Its political system is controlled by elites loyal to Moscow, suddenly wealthy enough to drive glossy black cars, though many roads are pitted or unpaved."
William Pfaff speaks: Right here at Commonweal, a balanced and brief assessment of what Putin is NOT likely to do.
UPDATES: Leadership is a major challenge for Ukraine as it attempts to move ahead. The heroine of the moment, Yulia Tymoshenko, recently released from jail is likely to be a candidate in the coming elections. This profile shows why many Ukrainians who hope for change might hesitate to re-elect her though as Putin has said, "She's the only man in Ukraine." He should know!
A Round-Up of what the EU missed in the run-up to the Ukraine conundrum. Detailed but succinct analysis; some helpful maps. Ukrainian Tumult Highlights EU's Past Missteps and Future Dangers.
A Kathleen Parker interview with Nikita Kruschev's (he gave Ukraine the Crimea) great-great grandaughter; it's about Putin and what he did and is likely to do (or not). HT: Jim Jenkins
When the inspiration came to travel to Rome last March for the historic Conclave, a prime concern was to choose realistic dates for the stay. How long would the Conclave last? When would the inaugural Mass of the new Pope be held? I happened to meet Cardinal Timothy Dolan and put the question to him. Without sure knowledge, he allowed himself to express a hope: "it would be wonderful if it were held on the Feast of Saint Joseph." And so it came to pass.
Monday March 18, 2013 was one of the rawest rainiest days I have ever experienced in Rome. Wednesday the 20th was almost equally dismal. But Tuesday the 19th, the Feast of Saint Joseph, dawned with glorious sunshine. The blue sky above Saint Peter's Square was radiant, and as the Mass proceeded, the overflow and enthusiastic congregation removed jackets and were basking in sunlit joy: Gaudium magnum, indeed!
Here is some of what we heard from the new Bishop of Rome:
How does Joseph respond to his calling to be the protector of Mary, Jesus and the Church? By being constantly attentive to God, open to the signs of God’s presence and receptive to God’s plans, and not simply to his own. This is what God asked of David, as we heard in the first reading. God does not want a house built by men, but faithfulness to his word, to his plan. It is God himself who builds the house, but from living stones sealed by his Spirit. Joseph is a “protector” because he is able to hear God’s voice and be guided by his will; and for this reason he is all the more sensitive to the persons entrusted to his safekeeping. He can look at things realistically, he is in touch with his surroundings, he can make truly wise decisions. In him, dear friends, we learn how to respond to God’s call, readily and willingly, but we also see the core of the Christian vocation, which is Christ! Let us protect Christ in our lives, so that we can protect others, so that we can protect creation!
And he went on:
Today, together with the feast of Saint Joseph, we are celebrating the beginning of the ministry of the new Bishop of Rome, the Successor of Peter, which also involves a certain power. Certainly, Jesus Christ conferred power upon Peter, but what sort of power was it? Jesus’ three questions to Peter about love are followed by three commands: feed my lambs, feed my sheep. Let us never forget that authentic power is service, and that the Pope too, when exercising power, must enter ever more fully into that service which has its radiant culmination on the Cross. He must be inspired by the lowly, concrete and faithful service which marked Saint Joseph and, like him, he must open his arms to protect all of God’s people and embrace with tender affection the whole of humanity, especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important, those whom Matthew lists in the final judgment on love: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison (cf. Mt 25:31-46). Only those who serve with love are able to protect!
These inaugural themes have been sounded again and again during the year that has passed, in words and, even mores strikingly, in deeds. The full homily is here.
Today is St. Joseph Day. Only it’s not, except in certain Italian-American neighborhoods, where it’s been St. Joseph’s Day since more or less the weekend, which is when the confection known as the St. Joseph’s pastry started showing up alongside the grudgingly offered Irish soda bread in local bakeries. We Italians, never reluctant to indulge our impulse toward aggrieved resentment and victimization, have to remind the whole world that not everyone is congenitally (or even civically) compelled to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Must have something to do with the status anxiety that comes with, as I’ve seen at least one Irish writer phrase it recently, “arriving on a later boat.”
Growing up in rural western New Jersey, I was spared the ethnic strife I understood to be forever roiling the urban centers to the east. My father might mutter vaguely now and then about “Connecticut and Westchester Irish” he had to deal with as a day student at Fordham University in the 1950s, but he exhibited indifference to March 17, and I didn’t even know what a St. Joseph’s pastry was, or the symbolism it carried for certain immigrants and their children, until I got to know my wife’s family.
From them I got my first look at a St. Joseph’s pastry, along with firsthand stories from the frontlines of Jersey City—about the Irish toughs who bullied my father-in-law, the Irish girls who brazenly yanked the hair of his aunts and grandmother right beneath the noses of the uncaring teachers, the general haughtiness and superiority with which the Dillons and Halligans and McGoverns carried themselves, “walking down the streets liked they owned them—which they did!” Umbrage and resentment in plentiful supply, but neither did these stop my father-in-law from forging close friendships with kids like Francis Xavier Fitzpatrick and Jimmy McGovern himself (whose father Mugsy was selected for running the numbers “on account of his photographic memory”). Or one of the cousins from marrying the beautiful Kay McGillicuddy. Or the grandparents and the Dillons from becoming lifelong, mutually helpful neighbors.
Settled in Brooklyn, I was reintroduced to St. Joseph’s pastry only after my son was born, by the older Italian woman in whose care we were leaving him a couple of afternoons a week (his name, go figure, is Patrick). She said he really liked it, even better than the pistachios and Tootsie Rolls she fed him despite his only being eighteen months old at the time. This morning on the way to the subway I stopped by the local bakery, where a marked-down, forlorn-looking loaf of day-old soda bread sat on the counter. Over the weekend I read that the neighborhood I live in is now only about 20% Italian, down from 52% thirty years ago—a decline not nearly as great as I suspected from having watched the turnover in just the last decade—with median household income having more than doubled. Most of the other customers were ordering lattes and croissants. I ordered a St. Joseph’s pastry, selecting the custard variety (zeppole) over the cannoli-cream (sfinci), having to be reminded of the difference and forgetting just how large and daunting these things are. I’ll probably just bring it back home and split it four ways for dessert tonight, and quietly celebrate St. Joseph’s eve with the family.
The ATMs in Crimea have run out of cash and local banks are restricting withdrawals to prevent a run. Also, the hotels and other tourist attractions are having serious cancellations. No doubt, the Russians could take up the slack in this vacation spot for Czars and Czarinas, etc. But will they? It puts you in mind of short term, small consequences that politically excited citizens might not think about when carrying out a revolution. NYTimes (March 18).
AND HERE: Great Reporting. C.J. Chivers the NYTimes battlefield guy has gone to Kharive in eastern Ukraine where he reports on a demonstration and "confrontation" between proponents and opponents of the interim government in Kiev, "The Curtain Goes Up and the Clash Begins." He captures the choreography of staged events that no doubt have some political resonance. Nonetheless his story suggests that no one wants things to get out of hand. This seems to be a ballet staged for the benefit of Russian TV, but maybe they're just having fun. Chivers is probably a Russian-speaker and captures the rhythm of events and has some good quotes.
As a frequent critic of the NYTimes (every day I am cancelling the subscription, and every day I don't), I applaud the resources they are putting into their coverage in Ukraine, Russia, Crimea, etc. The photo in the Chiver's story is attributed to Tyler Hicks, who we will all remember from his horrific and heroic Iraq photos.
It's a bit late---but not too late!---to start a new book as part of one's Lenten observance. If that's what you're looking for, Camille Lewis Brown's splendid little book, African Saints, African Stories: 40 Holy Men And Women would make an excellent choice.
The format of the book is simple and straightforward. First Brown provides a short (1-6 pp.) biography of the saint's life. Then she adds a brief passage from scripture, a prayer and questions for further reflection. It's a wonderful format for Lenten prayer, but serves equally well at any time of year. The book is divided into two sections: "Saints, Blesseds and Venerables" and "Saints in Waiting".
African Saints, African Stories is a powerful reminder of the depth and breadth of the formative African influence on Christianity. As Bishop Joseph Perry notes in his excellent foreword, "There is evidence of African contribution throughout Sacred Scripture. beginning with Genesis 2, where the sources of the Nile River are located, to the deacon Philip's baptism of the Ethiopian official in service to the Nubian queen, Candace, in Acts 8." That influence continues with the witness and ministries of the early African saints:Read more
It has become a holiday tradition in my family, along with the wearin' of the green, to complain about the epidemic of four-leaf clovers substituted for St. Patrick's Day shamrocks.
In brief (and not that I need to tell you): the shamrock, symbol of St. Patrick (or, rather, symbol of the Trinity used by St. Patrick) and thus of Ireland, has three leaves. The four-leaf clover is a good-luck symbol that has nothing to do with St. Patrick's Day.
You may never have given it a second thought, but if you keep an eye out as you go about your business today, you'll probably be surprised how many inappropriate four-leaf clovers you (forgive me) overlooked before. It's an irritating mistake, like typos on menus ("burger's" or "Fresh Soups Everyday"), at least if you're the type of person who is easily irritated by such things. (In some cultures we are known as "copy editors.")
It is also, perhaps, a sign of widespread disregard for the religious significance of the holiday -- but there it's in very good company, because let's be honest, there isn't much that's religious about the American celebration of St. Patrick's Day. It's an ethnic-pride holiday, and in a lot of cases it isn't even that so much as an excuse for drinking too much. "Happy St. Patrick's Day! Be safe, everybody!" is a message I still see popping up on my Facebook wall. I don't think the implied danger has to do with praying too hard.Read more
Fans will be delighted to know that 538 is back up and running. Leading off is an assessment of what the citizens of the Crimea may really have thought: an interview with leading pollsters on polling in the Crimea and Ukraine. Headline: "Many Signs Pointed to Crimea Independence Vote--But Polls Didn't"
First, New York's Mayor Bill de Blasio ran into criticism from fellow Italian Americans for eating pizza with a knife and fork. Now, it seems, he is in trouble with the Irish.
That stems mostly from his decision not to participate in the St. Patrick's Day Parade. He objects to the organizers' refusal to let an organization of gays and lesbians march as a group under their banner. But there are other perceived snubs as well, as The New York Times reports.
In the past, New York mayors snubbed the Irish at great political risk. Mayor Abraham Hewitt drew Irish ire by refusing to fly the Irish flag at City Hall on St. Patrick's Day. The Irish made sure to vote him out of office in 1888.
Nowadays, no one even speaks of an "Irish vote" in New York, but rather of a white Catholic vote. It has diminished greatly, down to about 15 percent of the overall vote in the 2013 mayoral race, one analyst says.
But still, when one looks at the size -- and nowadays the diversity -- of the St. Patrick's Day Parade, it's hard to forget the major role the Irish have played and still play in shaping the nation's largest city. The students paradiing behind the banners of the Catholic high schools are usually African American or Latino, and so are many of the marchers from the civil service organizations. Is there any other ethnic parade in New York that attract so many people from other ethnic groups to stand under its umbrella? (And in such windy weather?)
What makes this possible is that there are still influential organizations that carry the Irish way in their DNA: the police and fire departments, some of the unions, and especially, the Catholic Church.
A happy St. Patrick's Day to all.
Photo: Students from Cardinal Hayes High School march in the 2012 St. Patrick's Day Parade.
Since the controversy about (and subsequent veto of) Arizona's SB 1062, a pointed debate in newspapers and blogs has ensued about civil rights vs. religious liberty. Ross Douthat's New York Times column expressed frustration that religious dissenters are not being permitted to "negotiate terms of surrender" in a culture "war."
What makes this response particularly instructive is that such bills have been seen, in the past, as a way for religious conservatives to negotiate surrender — to accept same-sex marriage’s inevitability while carving out protections for dissent. But now, apparently, the official line is that you bigots don’t get to negotiate anymore.
But is this best construed as a war, or does a less threatening metaphor suffice? Perhaps we're not fighting an apocalyptic war of religion vs. secularism, but instead tinkering with our delicate balance of Constitutional rights.Read more
As I mentioned last month, next week I will be appearing on a panel at the American Bible Society in Manhattan to mark the first anniversary of Francis's papacy -- about which you may have heard a thing or two this week. Cardinal Sean O'Malley, one of the eight advisers on Pope Francis's new "Council of Cardinals," will be speaking, Ken Woodward will be moderating, and I'll be there to respond along with R. R. Reno of First Things and Matt Malone, SJ, of America.
The event is free and open to the public, but tomorrow is the last day to register by contacting Margaret Sarci (email MSarci@AmericanBible.org).
Did you hear? The anniversary of Pope Francis's election is upon us. So here comes everybody to tell you what that means. Our own Paul Baumann weighs in at Slate, arguing that fixating on the pope is bad for the church. You've got Drew Christiansen, SJ, at America, explaining how Francis means business. There's that Pew Research poll that got lots of people wondering whether Francis was actually having much effect on Joe and Jane Catholic. I suggested that, at this stage of his papacy, Mass attendance was not a great measure of his effectiveness. Daniel Burke at CNN interviewed a bunch of Boston-area Catholics who say Francis has made a big difference in their lives (spoiler alert: Jesuits love the guy). And over at Religion Dispatches, Patricia Miller responds to the Pew poll with what amounts to an extended raspberry. Let's focus on that one for a moment.
Miller's analysis fails in several ways, some of which I was cataloguing when I noticed that she had returned with another magisterial wave of her hand, this time lumping me in with "apologists" for that Pew poll.
But first things first. Does she have the foggiest clue how the Catholic Church works? How Catholics actually think about being Catholic? And can she read polling data?Read more
If you read more than one piece on the one-year anniversary of Pope Francis' papacy (I'd also first recommend Paul Baumann's Slate essay) I might go self-referential and suggest a few stories that I reported from Rome that look ahead at where we may be going in this pontificate.
First is my take on how Francis' chief goal is changing the culture of the Vatican and the wider church -- converting the church, as it were -- and the three main approaches he is using to try to do that: preaching to the hierarchy; teaching clergy (and the rest of us) to talk openly and honestly again; and opening up to the world in order to make the church truer to her mission, more like Christ:
“Some in the Roman Curia” — the Vatican bureaucracy — “say, well, this pope is old so let’s wait a bit, and things will return to the way they were,” said the Rev. Humberto Miguel Yanez, a fellow Argentine Jesuit, who heads the moral theology department at the Gregorian University in Rome.
“If this is the attitude, then his words and his reforms don’t mean anything. I think conversion is the most important thing, and that explains why Francis speaks every day, why he preaches every day. Some say that this pope talks and talks and talks but doesn’t do anything. But I think he is preparing the ground.”
As Cardinal Theodore McCarrick said to me in a nice line that didn't make any of my stories, Pope Francis "wants the church to know that God really loves her." Or, "Be not afraid," as another pope said -- but don't be afraid of other Catholics above all.
Another story of mine tries to explain how Francis is still a Jesuit (yes, afraid so) and how profoundly that shapes what he is doing and is hoping to do. Not much new there to most Commonwealers, I'm sure, but I thought it important to try to explain to a wider readership why this is important, and just what Jesuits are.
That should keep you busy, or bored, until his second anniversary. Feedback welcome.
Ramsey County prosecutors will not press charges against Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis, who was accused of inappropriately touching a minor during a 2009 confirmation group photo. In a memo explaining the decision not to prosecute, assistant county attorney Richard Dusterhoft called allegation "unlikely." A boy who appeared in that photograph told his mother that Nienstedt had touched his rear end during the shoot. His mother mentioned it to a St. Paul-Minneapolis priest, who then reported it to the police. Officers interviewed Nienstedt twice, the boy twice, and everyone who appeared in the photo. None of them remembered seeing anyone being touched on the buttocks.
“This case was reviewed by an assistant county attorney with many years of experience prosecuting child sex-abuse cases,” Dusterhoft wrote. “It is that attorney’s experienced and considered opinion that based upon the evidence as presented by police this case could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt and should not be charged.”
Nienstedt removed himself from ministry soon after the archdiocese received the allegation in December; he will resume public ministry immediately.
If you read only one piece on the one-year anniversary of Francis’s papacy, make it “The Public Pope,” by Commonweal editor Paul Baumann, which is featured today at Slate.
Whatever people think Pope Francis is offering, he is no magician; he can’t alter the course of secular history or bridge the church’s deepening ideological divisions simply by asserting what in truth are the papacy’s rather anemic powers. In this light, the inordinate attention paid to the papacy, while perhaps good for business, is not good for the church. Why not? Because it encourages the illusion that what ails the church can be cured by one man, especially by a new man. In truth no pope possesses that kind of power, thank God. The very first pope, let us recall, was a man of legendary weakness, denying his Lord three times before the cock crowed. And the most recent pope, Benedict XVI—a man of towering intellect and inspiring, if fusty, piety—retired from the ring, overmastered by palace intrigue within the Vatican. John Paul II, to be sure, was a media superstar and arguably played a historic role in the collapse of the Soviet Union. Yet even he could not effectively confront the most critical challenge facing his church, the clergy sexual-abuse scandals.
The truth is that the more the world flatters the Catholic Church by fixating on the papacy—and the more the internal Catholic conversation is monopolized by speculation about the intentions of one man—the less likely it is that the church will succeed in moving beyond the confusions and conflicts that have preoccupied it since the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). The church desperately needs to reclaim its cultural and spiritual equilibrium; it must find a density and richness of worship and mission and a renewed public presence, which far transcend mere loyalty to the pope. Lacking such equilibrium and self-possession, the church cannot find its true voice. But to find this voice, Catholics will have to turn not to Rome but toward one another, which is where both the problems and the solutions lie.
Read it all here, then come back here to discuss.
The following voice mail was left for the principal of a Catholic high school in the contiguous United States.
I'd be most grateful if anyone could point me in the direction of Pope Innocent's renown concordat Adulteri educatio. (The caller forgot to leave his name and number.)
Confusion over the politics behind the opposition in Kiev is gradually clearing. This profile of a rightist group leader underlines the problem of political maturity--or as some of the quotes suggest political immaturity. It is interesting and instructive to watch the NYTimes reporters on the scene catching up with the blogosphere and providing a clearer picture of the situation, though it is still not the whole picture. "Front and Center in Ukraine Race, A Leader of the Far Right."
Yes, there is also thuggish behavior (and worse than thuggish) in Sevastopol, Crimea. The Washington Post has this story, including the disappearance of those opposed to a union with Russia.
Dr. William A. Donohue, PhD, took issue over the weekend with my dotCommonweal post about Pope Francis's inadequate response to the sex-abuse crisis. He didn't actually disagree with what I said, at least not in so many words; rather, he took the occasion of my post and some other, similarly disappointed reactions elsewhere to air a few of his favorite themes: first, that the sex-abuse scandal was really all the fault of the gays and is totally over anyway; and second, that -- just as he predicted -- liberals never really liked Pope Francis and are now showing their true colors by turning on him. (There's also a delightfully bizarre detour into some book from the 1970s that is supposedly motivating all us liberals to this day -- the secret key to all grievances. I guess I'll have to look it up.)
That Donohue's grasp on the abuse scandal's particulars -- most especially the cover-up part -- is at best grossly misinformed and at worst actively mendacious is old news, not that it stops people from quoting him when it's convenient. But that he should be so exercised about what was, let's be honest, quite mild criticism of Pope Francis is news, because attacking people for criticizing the pope is something the Catholic League never, never does. I know that because Donohue said so way back in December 2013: "[The] Catholic League," he explained on Newsmax TV, "has never, never been after anybody for criticizing the pope or a priest or a bishop."
In that instance Donohue was responding to a question about recent comments made by Rush Limbaugh, who -- you probably remember -- was highly critical of Francis's economic views as laid out in Evangelii gaudium. "So reading what the pope's written about this is really befuddling," said Limbaugh, "because he's totally wrong -- I mean, dramatically, embarrassingly, puzzlingly wrong." (He went on to explain that trickle-down economics does too work!)
Would the Catholic League push back? Not at all. "We get involved when you hit below the belt, when you start becoming insulting, like -- Bill Maher would be a classic example," Donohue explained. As for Rush: "He didn't like the pope's views on economics. Rush Limbaugh is entitled to that. ...Everyone's entitled to criticize the Catholic Church on any public policy issue just so long as it's not hitting below the belt." So, the interviewer asked, did Limbaugh's remarks cross that line? "No, of course not." Of course!
Neither Donohue nor his interlocutor mentioned that the Catholic League also issued one of its trademark hard-hitting press releases in response to the Limbaugh interview, in which Donohue went after...Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. They'd had the temerity to criticize Rush, forcing fair-minded Dr. Donohue (who knows from professionalism) to expose their true nature as a "bogus Catholic entity."
So, to sum up: Rush Limbaugh declaring, in response to a papal exhortation, "This is just pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope" -- totally in bounds. This, however, merits strong pushback. I can only assume that some aspect of the Catholic League mission statement has been updated since December. Donohue even followed up Friday's press release with a clarifying tweet:
Re: my release from today. This is just the beginning--lib Catholics will turn on the pope. They are a miserably unhappy bunch of whiners.
— Catholic League (@CatholicLeague) March 7, 2014
Another opportunity for all Catholics to be grateful we have such a discerning arbiter of justice looking out for our civil rights.
I recently returned from an academic conference that examined conceptions of and responses to the Anthropocene. Many of you have heard this term already: it was coined over ten years ago by geologist Paul Crutzen to describe the impact that human beings are having on the deep structure of the globe. In geological time the Anthropocene is a mere eye-blink, a punctual supplement of maybe two hundred years. Human beings have altered the relative balance of the Holocene – the previous geological epoch, one that lasted ten to twelve millennia – in ways that we cannot foresee. The most we might expect is a future world of radical volatility.
My question and topic for discussion is deceptively straightforward: What is the proper Christian or even Catholic response to the Anthropocene? What does (our) religion tell us about a world that is fundamentally (and maybe even totally) dominated by human beings? Those of us on the religious left have already heard calls and exhortations to act. I’m not interested in hearing another exhortation. The Anthropocene emphasizes that we’ve already changed the globe. How does religion illuminate this particular past and its potential future? How does it shed light on a world without nature, a post-natural globe? How does it orient us in that speculative space?