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Last Monday, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, Vatican ambassador to the United States, reminded the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that Pope Francis prefers shepherds who smell like the sheep, not ermine. The speech was remarkable for its directness. "[Francis] wants 'pastoral' bishops," Vigano told the USCCB, who were preparing to vote for their next president, "not bishops who profess or follow a particular ideology." What's more, Vigano cited a text well loved by liberal Catholics, Pope Paul VI's Evangelii Nuntiandi (1975): "It is primarily by her conduct and by her life that the church will evangelize the world, in other words by her living witness of fidelity to the Lord Jesus — the witness of poverty and detachment, of freedom in the face of the powers of this world, in short, the witness of sanctity."
That Vigano chose to lean on Evangelii Nuntiandi is even more interesting because of its history. The document was written in response to the synod of bishops on evangelization, and it conceives of the church not only as teacher but also as learner:
The Church is an evangelizer, but she begins by being evangelized herself. She is the community of believers, the community of hope lived and communicated, the community of brotherly love, and she needs to listen unceasingly to what she must believe, to her reasons for hoping, to the new commandment of love.
In advance of next year's synod, Pope Francis has asked the world's bishops to ask their parishioners about a range of issues, including gay marriage and contraception, and report back. He wants to know where his people are. "For the church," Paul VI wrote, "evangelizing means bringing the Good News into all the strata of humanity, and through its influence transforming humanity from within and making it new." Sound familiar? (For more of Pope Francis's commentary on the missionary character of the church, and the kinds of bishops required to carry it out, see his recent message to Guadalupe pilgrims: "The attitude of the true shepherd is not that of a courtier or of a mere functionary, focusing principally on discipline, rules and organizational mechanisms.")
Most of Vigano's speech reads like a rearticulation of Pope Francis's call for Christians not to get trapped in the sacristy. But about two-thirds of the way in, it gets weird. Vigano drops in an apocalyptic passage attributed to John Paul II, in which the late pope warns that "we are now facing the final confrontation between the church and the anti-church, between the gospel and the anti-gospel, between Christ and the antichrist." Sounds scary. Vigano claims John Paul delivered those remarks in a 1976 speech at a Eucharistic congress in Philadelphia. But that address doesn't contain those words.
Following a closed-door discussion of the contraception mandate, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued an unsigned (but unanimousy passed) "special message" that, for the most part, sounded a familiar tune. So why does religion-journalism watchdog Terry Mattingly think the media dropped the ball by not focusing on this "crucial" statement? Does this look new to you?
Beginning in March 2012, in United for Religious Freedom, we identified three basic problems with the HHS mandate: it establishes a false architecture of religious liberty that excludes our ministries and so reduces freedom of religion to freedom of worship; it compels our ministries to participate in providing employees with abortifacient drugs and devices, sterilization, and contraception, which violates our deeply-held beliefs; and it compels our faithful people in business to act against our teachings, failing to provide them any exemption at all.
This is more or less what the USCCB has been saying since the original, onerous form of the mandate dropped. The bishops restate their plan to pursue relief legislatively (not going anywhere) and judicially (maybe going somewhere). We've heard this before.
Update: The USCCB goes back on script and elects the current vice president, Archbishop Kurtz, to become the next president. And, nearly repeating the results of the previous VP election, Archbishop Chaput came close to winning but lost out to Cardinal DiNardo. More on the candidates here.
Watch a livestream of the public sessions here.
As the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops prepares to elect its next president, the apostolic nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, delivered a remarkably pointed address urging bishops to be "pastoral," not ideological.
Pope Francis, Vigano said, "wants bishops in tune with their people." The pope
Yesterday, after shying away from the press for weeks, Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis responded to the disturbing revelations about the way his diocese has been handling priests accused of sexual misconduct. He apologized to victims and their families. He promised to do better. And he pledged "before God and in memory of my beloved parents"--whose deaths he recounts at the top of his weekly column--"to do all in my power to restore trust here in this local church."
A tall order--made taller still by Nienstedt's reluctance to come clean about the facts of the cases in question. (Last month, Nienstedt's former top canon lawyer, Jennifer Haselberger, publicly revealed that the current and past archbishops of St. Paul-Minneapolis promoted a priest with a history of sexual misconduct--who later went on to abuse children--and failed to notify civil authorities when they learned that another priest had possessed "borderline illegal" images of what appeared to be minors.) In an e-mail interview with Minnesota Public Radio (MPR)--his first since they started reporting on this fiasco weeks ago--Nienstedt answers relatively straightforward questions with something shy of the whole truth.
Last week, Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis announced a new task force that will examine issues related to archdiocesan sexual-abuse policies. Nienstedt has been under scrutinty since late September, when Jennifer Haselberger, his former chancellor for canonical affairs, went to the police and the press with damning accounts of the ways her superiors--and their predecessors--handled the cases of priests accused of sexual misconduct. She resigned in April after deciding that, given her ethical commitments, "it had become impossible for me to stay in that position."
The task force will be composed of at least six members--all laypeople, none employed by the archdiocese--and their findings will be made public. The archdiocese seems to believe that this group will find and fill the gaps in its policies that permitted these lapses to occur. Others agree. “These are very significant charges,’’ Don Briel, director of the Center for Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas, told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "This was larger than the process and procedures [to halt sexual misconduct] were able to address.’’ But a review of facts of these cases fails to support that claim. The problem in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis is not with its sexual-abuse policies, but with the people entrusted to carry them out.
"This is the beginning of a Church with an organization that is not just top-down but also horizontal."
Over the summer, our talented summer interns put together a program for Commonweal readers to gather in person to discuss issues covered by their favorite magazine. Like a blog comment thread, but nicer. So far we have nine such groups from California to New York. The first Commonweal Reader Community met earlier this month in St. Paul, Minnesota, at the home of Gene and Marjorie Audette.
It was drier that day, the sky just as blue. I marveled at its cloudless clarity on my walk to 475 Riverside, weaving my way through morning sidewalk traffic, newly arrived Columbia and Barnard students still discovering what's required of pedestrians in New York City. Picked up an iced coffee from the Halal cart at Broadway and 112th St., wondered whether it would be my last of the season. "Have a good day, boss." He always called me boss.
"Did you hear what happened?" our receptionist asked as I walked in. "What?" Plane hit the World Trade Center. "They say it was small." Terrible, but not impossible. Impossible was coming. I set my coffee next to Commonweal's one web-connected computer, and dialed into MSN. Our homepage, the New York Times, wasn't loading. Neither were other domestic news sites. BBC worked, as the page came up my stomach dropped: "World Trade Center Hit," the headline came in before the photo. Smoke billowing out of one of the towers. The gash was too big for a small plane. "Oh no."