Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Next Communications Day's Goal: "Truth, Proclamation, and Authenticity of Life"

Keeping with Vatican custom on this feast of the Archangels, earlier today the Holy See announced B16's chosen theme for the global church's next World Communications Day -- the 45th such observance -- to be celebrated, as ever, on the Seventh Sunday of Easter (now marked in most of the Catholic world as Ascension Day), 5 June 2011.

Following on the heels of a remarkable 2010 message which, in unprecedented depth, dealt with the obligation of the church to engage in the world of new media, the next WCD will have as its focus: "Truth, proclamation and authenticity of life in the digital age."

Here, the Holy See's explanation of the topic:
The theme chosen by Pope Benedict XVI for World Communications Day 2011 is to be understood as focusing on the human person who is at the heart of all communicative processes. Even in an age that is largely dominated, and at times conditioned, by new technologies, the value of personal witness remains essential. To approach the truth and to take on the task of sharing it requires the "guarantee" of an authenticity of life from those who work in the media, and especially from Catholic journalists; an authenticity of life that is no less required in a digital age.

Technology, on its own, cannot establish or enhance a communicator’s credibility, nor can it serve as a source of the values which guide communication. The truth must remain the firm and unchanging point of reference of new media and the digital world, opening up new horizons of information and knowledge. Ideally, it is the pursuit of truth which constitutes the fundamental objective of all those who work in the media.
Again in keeping with Vatican practice, the traditional papal message for the next WCD will be released next 24 January, the feast of Saint Francis De Sales, patron of journalists.


The Making of the President

One of the perks of covering church politics is that, while the country has to wait four years between presidential elections, American Catholics get one every three. So yet again, for the 15th time in its half-century history, this year’s “Fall Classic” -- the USCCB’s November Meeting in Baltimore -- will see The Making of the President, Church Edition.

That said, the top-ballot’s outcome is the least suspenseful part of the process. Following a custom that’s essentially been inviolate since the US bishops began electing a president (prior to which the nation's ranking hierarch by seniority held the chair), barring anything apocalyptic the incumbent vice-president of the body, 69 year-old Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, will be elevated to the top slot. As ever, the real race is the one that’ll determine his #2... and this time, a very changed scene since 2007 makes the cut an even more open and intriguing question than usual.

The process is already underway. Through the summer, nominations are solicited from the body of bishops, each of whom may submit up to five names. From the results, the conference staff crunch a list of the ten most-cited prelates. Each is contacted and asked to accept nomination and, provided they do, that sets the slate for the presidency, which is traditionally published around the end of October.

Come the plenary’s Monday morning start, the vote takes place; the 230-odd active bishops elect the president, who usually emerges with a supermajority on the first ballot. The nine remaining contenders then move to the first ballot for VP. If no candidate attains 50% plus one on the first shot (and no one ever does), the two biggest vote-getters then face off against each other, and once the winner’s chosen, the next three -- and, given the deputy’s traditional ascent, six -- years are set. Last time around, it was all wrapped up by 9:45 on Opening Morning.

* * *
Granted, for some out there, this might have the ring of “deck-chairs.” Where that’s the case, though, be wise to remember three words: Health. Care. Reform. The bishops' response to the Congressional Democrats’ now-enacted package sparked the most high-profile episcopal policy push (and, in response, internal tussle) the national church has seen in years, if not decades. But considering that last year’s Five-Ring Circus in Baltimore opened as, among others, no less than Politico featured top-story analyses on the body's movements -- and how its concerns produced a significant impact on the debate’s evolution from there, all the way to the final product -- the lesson of the saga remains that, like it or not, total victory or not, rumors of the bench’s demise as a policy force remain exceptionally unfounded.

While the highlights -- and not-so-highlights -- of the reform fight (and, more broadly, the bishops’ approach to the Obama administration, even politics altogether) will arguably loom over the VP ballot more than any other issue, let’s leave even that aside. The tea-leaves always run rich in the bench’s top elections, and even more than one or another question of what moves on Capitol Hill, the slate tends to forecast the future not just for the conference’s leadership within itself, but who ends up being seen as speaking for, and leading forward, the nation’s largest religious body all told... and that’s when they don’t win.

Above all else, we’ll have to see if two pronounced recent trends hold up.

First, just like our friends Up North -- the Canadian bench, which invariably alternates its presidency between Francophone and Anglophone prelates -- the last three cycles here at home have seen the US bishops strike an unprecedented balance between the conference’s “orthodox” and “progressive” factions.

In 2004, the VP race came down to the then-bishop of Pittsburgh, Donald Wuerl, and the now-departing chief, Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George. Despite the conference’s longstanding aversion to electing a red hat to one of its top posts, George won by a razor-thin margin of 118-112 (percentage-wise, literally 51-49), becoming the first prince of the church ever placed in line to lead the Stateside bench.

Three years later, the dynamic played replayed itself, just with the result flipped. In the runoff, Rome’s most cherished American alum, Archbishop Timothy Dolan, then in Milwaukee -- faced Kicanas, the efficient, wonkish, strict vegan protege of the conference’s revered architect, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin. Though the ever-exuberant Dolan walked onto the Floor before the vote surrounded by a horde that memorably resembled a champion entering the ring, a difference of 22 votes (128-106; 55-45%) handed Kicanas the #2 slot.

That said, as consolation prizes go, losing the vice-presidency might just bring the best one of any contest anywhere. In each of the last four head-to-heads for the post, the victor went on to six years of meetings, morning calls and paperwork. In far quicker order, however, the vanquished was named to a cardinalatial see -- St Louis’ Archbishop Justin Rigali was given Philadelphia less than two years of losing his second-straight final ballot in 2001; Wuerl was promoted to Washington all of six months after being bested by George and, of course, B16 personally tapped Dolan for New York 15 months after he came up short among the brethren.

Bottom line: the presidency might last three years... but, lest anyone forgot, a red hat is forever. (And being a son of the next cardinalatial church to transition on these shores, the electors are asked to be especially merciful this time around.)

That’s not the only portending of the future the slate carries -- since the 2007 election, all but one of the eligible seven nominees who didn’t make the final VP vote has likewise landed in an archdiocese: the omni-competent Dennis Schnurr (a former general secretary of the conference and lead overseer of its 2007 downsizing) succeeded two past presidents as archbishop of Cincinnati; then in Oakland (and fresh from dedicating the $190 million “Space Egg” cathedral he inherited from his predecessor), Allen Vigneron was sent home to Detroit, becoming the beleaguered Motor City church’s first native-son archbishop just as, in Katrina’s wake, the then-bishop of Austin, Gregory Aymond -- one of the few “barometer bishops” on today’s scene, able to pinpoint the body’s ever-moving center and hash out a consensus among both sides -- returned to New Orleans as the first-ever homegrown head of its 220 year-old local church.

(In a keen side-note, Vigneron and Aymond faced off last year for the chair of the Bishops’ Committee for Divine Worship -- the prelate who’ll be tasked with the final push toward November 2011’s implementation of the new Roman Missal. In yet another close vote, the latter won, 126-110.)

While the standing of all three is arguably burnished by their appointments to metropolitan churches -- and, indeed, each cuts the figure of a future president -- time will tell if the bench deems the trio too early in their new assignments to take on the conference’s most time-consuming, travel-heavy responsibilities. Adding to this, the downturn’s unparalleled impact on the Motor City’s economy and the Crescent City’s continuing challenges of post-Storm rebuilding mean that, in ways they didn’t last time, two of the group already have their hands a bit fuller with matters at home.

What’s more still, with Dolan now on Madison Avenue -- and as a result, now subject to the conference’s ingrained paranoia about investing electoral prominence in the head of an already high-profile archdiocese -- the odds of an encore would appear slimmer than if had he remained in Milwaukee. Then again, since made to balance the globe-trotting chairmanship of Catholic Relief Services with overseeing the 2.5 million-member Gotham church, it’s doubtful he’s got much time to complain. And lastly, the two highly-regarded elder statesmen who appeared on the 2007 slate -- Rigali and Erie’s Bishop Donald Trautman -- are now either past or soon to reach their 75th birthdays, so they’ve effectively been “aged out” of contention.

In a nutshell, that leaves all of two prelates from the last vice-presidential list who: 1. haven’t been moved since the last go-round, and 2. remain sufficiently young to serve a six-year mandate. And keeping with the trend of recent cycles, both fall toward the body’s conservative side: Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, 59, the influential Supreme Chaplain of the Knights of Columbus, whose oversight of the Doctrine Committee during the 2008 elections saw him take the conference’s lead in chastising Nancy Pelosi after the House Speaker’s infamous Meet the Press comments on when human life begins, and the leader of the bishops’ concerted push for the defense of marriage -- Louisville’s Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, 64, a social worker by training and the departing conference treasurer. (At the same time, while the former's been in his Connecticut post since 2001, Kurtz became one of Pope Benedict's earliest top picks on these shores when he moved from East Tennessee's booming Knoxville diocese to Bluegrass Country in June 2007.)

Counting the president-in-waiting, the perfect storm of changed circumstances since the last election could see the slate have as many as seven open slots, in which the body will present a snapshot of the qualities it desires in leadership. And in who makes the cut this time, smart money would expect at least some revealing surprises.

To wrap, given the aforementioned intensity of criticism the Mothership has taken over recent years, all this raises an interesting corollary: among the bishops he’s inherited, the overwhelming bulk of Benedict XVI’s choices for upward movement (among others, Dolan, Vigneron, Aymond, Kurtz, Sacramento’s Soto, Salt Lake’s Wester, St Louis’ Carlson, Boston’s O’Malley, LA’s Gomez and Miami’s Wenski all come quickly to mind) have extensive histories as “conference men” -- that is, figures who invest significant time in committee work, stand for (and win) elections for the body’s top posts and, essentially, won’t be caught carrying dynamite into 4th Street (read: USCCB Headquarters) anytime soon. Lone rangers might command the effusive admiration of a stable group of the faithful -- and, indeed, the bishops themselves. As for further responsibility and visibility in ecclesial life, however, they’ve largely tended to stay put.

Lastly, though, a word on the bench’s departing head, and the legacy he leaves behind.

Over the years of his presidency -- and even as he prepared to take it up -- it’s become a cherished custom of mine that, whenever Francis George would make the news, the posts would normally be topped by a photo of the Chicago prelate, conductor's baton in hand, leading the Mormon Tabernacle Choir at a summer festival some months before his election.

By necessity, come November 15th, that shot will see its retirement. And, admittedly, I’ll miss it very much.

He hasn’t always been the most high-profile of the 14 prelates elected over time to lead this vast, fractious “flock of shepherds,” but the genius of George’s chiefship has never been one for the cameras. Instead, for whatever polarization we might see and hear about within the body of bishops, he's been far more than the president but, truly, The Chief: the unquestioned, universally-respected leader of the pack, in a moment when no other figure could equal the stature and good humor, diplomatic skill and sharpness of mind he’s brought to the presidency... and, above all, employed this exceptional set of qualities to its greatest possible effect.

Whether from the Right or Left, regardless of the dispute of the day, time and again the bishops have emerged from the executive sessions that have now become a standard feature of every plenary as pleased as stunned that the seeming irreconcilable was suddenly, almost miraculously, forged into a workable consensus. And over and over, from FOCA to health-care, Missal madness to a mission-minded push toward renewed ties with church institutions, even to the difference God makes, the same take on the president’s ability to bridge the divides would come from all sides....


And given the turbulent times and internal strains the bench has seen these last three years, even that is a seeming understatement.

Custom might limit the president to a single term. Still, you can bet that as they prepare to pick a new Top Two in the American hierarchy’s birthplace six weeks from Monday, a healthy chunk of the electorate instead find themselves wishing for “three more years.”

Alas, as it always does, time -- and the church -- march on. And as a new president begins to take on what's become an ever taller, more thankless task, God grant him his predecessor’s success.

* * *
Quickly looking ahead, tomorrow's question should be one of particular interest even beyond these shores -- a preview of B16's upcoming class of new cardinals, who could be elevated as early as late November.

That said, gang, hope all this is making for as fun reading as it's been to write.


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

For the Future, Four to Watch

As previously noted, below you'll find Part Two of your narrator's Q&A for Michael Sean Winters at the NCR's Distinctly Catholic.

As you'll see, a strict construction of today's question proved impossible, and no less than another six freshmen to keep an eye on likewise come immediately to mind. Still, hopefully the result's as interesting as it ended up running a tad long; either way, it's just a treat to return, however fleetingly, to something a bit more long-frame than the usual. (And, admittedly, still feeling a bit rusty from the summer break, being able to hack it with a modicum of coherence has come as a pleasant surprise.)

As this isn't the kind of thing you'll find in The New York Times -- or, for that matter, pretty much anywhere else -- thanks again to everyone who's lent a hand to keep these pages coming your way. Compared to keeping the bills paid and the lights on, an analysis of this sort is a breeze, so to everyone who's made the former burden manageable and, ergo, the latter grace possible, just remember that this one's for you... and, indeed, thanks to you.

All that said, today's DC Question is "Who is an up-and-coming bishop we should keep an eye on and why?"

... and, without any further ado, your narrator's stab at it:

* * *
Picking a single “up and comer” among the bench’s new crop is kinda like that potato chip slogan -- “you can’t have just one.”

Being accustomed to its sprawling nature, many of us tend to give it short shrift, but globally speaking, the US church is an immense enterprise -- only Italy and Brazil have more bishops, and given the scope of the turf here, it’s impossible to boil the situation down into a single column because, well, the culture of Catholicism in New England and New Mexico are two drastically different things.

As much as ever, the story of this moment in the American Catholic journey is that of divergent realities of East and West... only now, the latter finds itself in the driver’s seat of the national fold’s future -- and in a scenario that defies all precedent, with the South riding shotgun. For those of us who appreciate things through the lens of history, this is nothing short of an epochal shift, and God knows it makes for fascinating watching.

All that said, back to the main point: on a bench that counts some 300 active bishops and exists in a constant state of churn, I can’t really narrow my mind down to one rising star. And maybe that’s a fitting reflection on the conference’s dynamic at this point in the game. See, the days of one “strongman” bishop as the church’s de facto National Leader -- a line extending back to John Carroll, then John Hughes and James Gibbons, to Francis Spellman and his successors -- ended on 3 May 2000: that is, the night John Cardinal O’Connor passed from our midst.

While many among us have had high hopes for a restoration of New York's claim to the tradition under the latest of the line, for all Archbishop Tim Dolan’s considerable gifts, all of a decade since the Last Lion of Madison Avenue departed the stage, the church in America -- and, indeed, the wider world -- has become a very different place: more than anything else, the evolution of media has irrevocably busted up the Manhattan-based monopoly of the national conversation, granting a thousand bishops (or so it sometimes seems) entree to a broad audience; even more than the scandals, the polarization within the USCCB (only ever increased in 2002’s wake) would see any one viewpoint quickly and prominently rebutted -- we all know how the mainstream press loves a good ad intra spat, eh?; the demographic center’s double-whammy flight toward Hispanics and the West (expedited by a hemorrhaging of Anglos) has stripped the Northeast of its historic standing as the Stateside church’s flagship....

The scribe could go on, but you get the idea.

In a changing conference leading a changed church -- and one fallen on harder times than any of us have ever known -- the need for effective, credible, savvy leadership only becomes all the more pressing. And while this observer still hasn’t a clue what way the body will swing come mid-November in Baltimore as it elects its next vice-president -- a race that, thanks to all the new, markedly centrist blood in the electorate, feels more up in the air than it’s been in quite some time -- here are a couple names readers might well find guiding the high-hat fold as it journeys on over the years and decades ahead.

Before delving in, though, two explanatory caveats: first, tempting as it is to include earlier -- read: JPII -- picks that most armchair church-watchers would still see as “up and comers,” the group below were all still priests at Benedict XVI’s election and only named bishops once the pope got the selection process working his way....

And, lastly, lest anyone start trying to connect dots that don't exist, keep in mind that these names are listed in alphabetical order.

With that, away we go.
* * *
Paul Etienne, 51, bishop of Cheyenne: As the current state of things has made the high-hat an ever heavier object, “within reach of power tools” is probably the last place you’d want a nominee to be on learning of his appointment. But, indeed, it was while brandishing a chainsaw to chop some trees on a Monday off last summer that Etienne got the call informing him that he was B16's choice to head Wyoming’s statewide diocese, which had been vacant for nearly 18 months.

Luckily, the rural Indiana pastor didn’t harm himself at hearing the news, accepted, and in retrospect, the moment vindicated the wisdom of the selection process: if you’re seeking a good fit for Wyoming, someone whose idea of relaxing is cutting trees (and who, with his priest-brothers, swapped hunting rifles as ordination gifts) would be hard to beat.

Keeping with the “golden thread” highlighted yesterday, Etienne was pastoring two country churches when the nuncio’s call came; one was his boyhood parish, his parents still living in its lines. On a farewell tour of his prior assignments before heading West, each Mass was packed and said to be notably emotional. Yet behind the woodsy angle lies a veteran of the national scene, with a pedigree that some Catholic conversationalists might find rather curious.

Such is the current bleeding of secular politics into the ecclesial discourse that, most days, you’ll easily find someone or other calling for the detonation of the USCCB, citing this or that passage from Joseph Ratzinger’s writings. One thing the pope himself would’ve noticed in Etienne’s file, however, is that while on a leave from the seminary in the mid-‘80s, the future bishop found his way onto the staff of the old NCCB/USCC in its full-tilt, highly-liberal heyday. Clearly, Benedict saw that as anything but a deal-breaker (and accordingly, not long after his appointment, Etienne returned to Mothership duty, landing a seat on one of the conference’s most work-intensive, high-stakes committees of recent years -- namely, Child and Youth Protection.)

More to the point, the young bishop of Yellowstone Country brings a refreshing shot of openness to the table; performing his first priestly ordination, he preached about his own struggles with accepting celibacy, he blogs daily, and a recently-released vision statement for the diocese saw Etienne speak of his longtime “ache” over the high number of inactive Catholics and call for a new spirit of outreach.

“For God’s family to be whole,” he wrote of the fallen-away, “we need to do all we can to reach out.... We need to listen to their stories and experiences and, where possible, help them find healing and wholeness. We need to do all we can to help them take up their rightful place within our practicing family of faith once again.”

As a progressive friend in Wyoming recently put it, the bishop has "worked wonders" in his first year on the job... pointedly adding that, with the new boss’ arrival, “the Council has finally arrived” in the Cheyenne church.

Daniel Flores, 49, bishop of Brownsville: Usually, the head of one of the nation’s 15 dioceses with a million or more Catholics wouldn’t be eyed as a cleric yet to make his mark, but as someone already established in the top tier.

When it comes to the guy known at home as “Bishop Danny,” however, one can’t help but see even bigger things ahead.

As noted yesterday, before the South Texas-born prelate’s December return from Detroit after braving (by his count) “three winters” as an auxiliary there, no Hispanic bishop of any age had ever been given a Stateside diocese of a million-plus, and no Anglo still in his 40s had nabbed a post so massive since Roger Mahony’s triumphant homecoming to LA a quarter-century ago this month. That alone should underscore the height of expectations Rome has for the 49 year-old who’s quickly carved out a rep as one of the most intense, brilliant, charismatic figures in the Stateside church’s emerging generation of leadership, even if his national profile is still to launch.

Able to quote verbatim from Thomas in Latin, Tolkien in English and Sinatra in song, with a mind for penning poetry in his spare time, Flores inherited a border church that’s home to the most densely-Catholic population per capita (85%) of any US diocese. Its boom shows no signs of abating, either; tripled in size since 1980 and doubled since 1990, a majority of today’s Brownsville church is younger than age 25.

To its north, the archbishopric of San Antonio -- for the last three decades, seat of the bench's lone senior Hispanic -- might be awaiting its next occupant (...and with the post's ethnic distinction now left for Hollywood along with Archbishop José Gomez, could just see an Anglo named to fill it). Either way, for now, the bench’s Latin star reigns by the Rio Grande, and the locals couldn’t seem more pleased; Flores' February installation saw some 2,000 people pack the Brownsville’s Mission Basilica for the Mass....

Impressive as that sounds, it gets even better -- another 2,000-plus celebrated outside.

Wild as the enthusiasm might seem, to have watched Flores is to know this caliber of reaction as something approaching standard fare. In an attribute that likewise held up in Detroit, as pastor of Corpus Christi Cathedral -- and, at the same time, a commuting vice-rector of Houston’s St Mary’s Seminary -- prior to being named the youngest US bishop, his base of admirers extended all the way from his former ordinary, Bishop Rene Gracida (whose retirement blogging usually refers to the White House’s current occupant as “Barack Hussein Obama”), to at least one Anglo veteran of the Catholic Worker movement who, during those fractious days of the 2008 elections, wrote in to fume that “McCain will find more people to kill if he becomes president”... but only after going on about how much he missed “Danny.”

On an ecclesial scene whose ever-warring echo chambers barely seem to agree on Revelation, that breadth of regard says it all.

Bernard Hebda, 51, bishop of Gaylord: The paper-trail is unusually distinguished, even for an American bishop -- Harvard BA, JD from Columbia Law, JCL from the Gregorian, for 13 years a top-flight Vatican canonist as the #3 official at the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts.

Ask the folks back in Pittsburgh, though, and you’re more likely to hear stories of Bernie Hebda doing the “Electric Slide” at parish festivals on return trips to his hometown.

Over the course of his reign, B16’s shown a distinct liking for the Steel City, naming three more of its native sons to head dioceses (for a grand total of seven), sending the native-born former ordinary to the nation’s capital, bringing the energetic, pastorally savvy Bishop David Zubik home in Donald Wuerl’s footsteps... and above all, in Dan DiNardo, giving the Burgh its second native-son to reach the brass ring and don the cardinal’s red hat.

The trend’s been wise -- if you’re rebuilding a bench, Steeler Country’s a great place to start; Eastern enough to boast a strong Catholic ethos, but Midwestern enough to be devoid of the ecclesiastical grandeur that’s only expedited the faith’s epic fall along much of the Amtrak/I-95 corridor. Moreover, Pennsylvania’s western edge prides itself on its down-home sensibility -- and like DiNardo before him, Hebda’s yearning to trade St Peter's for PNC Park became so well-known that, one night a couple years back, a friend in the Canadian hinterlands called with word that “Bernie wants out,” even if the "news" was never a pontifical secret.

In the end, Hebda had to settle for half his wish -- as opposed to a return to the Burgh, his ticket out of the Vatican saw him dispatched to the northern reaches of Michigan, where the nuances of the canons are about as useful as shorts in December. But the move was no exile -- despite his path, like most of his fellow appointees under Benedict, Hebda’s blood runs more pastoral than administrative; fresh from the Greg, he spent three years on a pastoral team tasked with serving a new parish formed from the closure of seven churches, then led a local college’s Catholic center when the call to Curial service came. Seen far more widely as “brilliant, generous, gentle and pious” than through the lens of ambition -- the latter being, as never before, a particular file-killer in Benedict’s value-judgment -- even if he was heading to a place he’d never been before, simply returning to the trenches made for an especially happy homecoming.

Still, the story is just seeing its start.

When DiNardo was named the American South’s first-ever Roman prince three years ago, this scribe asked a friend what would happen to the simple “Council ring” the cardinal-designate received at his 1997 ordination as bishop of Sioux City -- the only bishop’s ring he would wear until the pope slipped the gold bas-relief of the Crucifixion (today’s version of the now-abolished sapphire band) on his finger.

Quickly, the answer came: “He’s holding it for Bernie.”

After seven happy years in northwestern Iowa’s 125,000 miles of cornfields, the cleric who'd become "Sixburgh’s" second Roman prince was transferred to Texas, and the rest is history.

Hebda marks his first anniversary in Gaylord come December... so for the rest, see you in 2016, or sometime thereabout.

David O’Connell CM, 55, coadjutor-bishop of Trenton: As the dust kicked up by the church’s battle royal over health-care reform was still settling, at the episcopal ordination of a figure (strangely) viewed as "arch-conservative" by his critics, one face particularly stuck out in a front pew of Trenton cathedral: the bishops’ bete noire of the health-care brawl, the president of the Catholic Health Association Sr Carol Keehan.

The move was vintage Dave O’Connell. Policy spat, hell or high water, nothing would get in the way of having a close friend of three decades sit with his family -- and, later, be offered a dinner seat alongside the Vatican crowd in attendance -- as, after years of widespread chatter over where the 14th president of the Catholic University of America would end up, the Philly-born Vincentian landed in an unsung gem of the downtrodden ecclesial Northeast: Central Jersey’s 850,000-member diocese, home to a notably happy presbyterate, the nation’s second-largest crop of permanent deacons, nationally-recognized lay ministry efforts and, all around, a warm, happy, energized local church.

In case any readers have been living under a rock, the successor to the beloved Bishop Mort Smith is anything but your typical rookie high-hat. For starters, while most new bishops walk the Vatican’s inner halls like kids on their first trip to Disney World, O’Connell’s 12 years effectively re-founding the nation’s top pontifical institute made him a familiar presence in Rome... and, indeed, his hosting of the pope during Benedict’s 2008 visit to Washington isn’t just warmly recalled by those in the room who listened to the pontiff’s speech. The same spirit of esteem is shared by the bishops -- for whom, until joining their ranks with his June appointment, he worked -- and but the latest proof of their enduring goodwill has just landed on the table: with stunning speed, this year’s November ballot for USCCB leadership posts already has O’Connell slated for a head-to-head vote to oversee one of the conference’s key task-groups....

Guess which.

Sure, he might be anything but a stranger to the Floor at the “Fall Classic” -- even if he’d rather be singing karaoke down in the lounge. Still, not in memory has the body nominated a member for a committee chairmanship who has yet to attend his first Plenary as a bishop. Then again, remember well that the last time an American priest began his episcopacy with this kind of mega-watt prominence, his name was Tim Dolan. Unlike the new Trentonian, though, even now, not even the made-for-TV Manhattanite can claim the words “CNN analyst” for himself.

When that's the cred one brings to the bench, there's nowhere to go but up. But what's even more, now freed from answering to a Board of Trustees that features more bishops than the whole episcopates of multiple small countries combined, in a way, the once wild-haired religion teacher gets to be his own man again... and as that gear-shift gets underway, you might just want to buckle up.

* * *
As a final note, we'd be remiss to forget two other recently-elevated, pastorally-gifted American prelates who’ll likely be key leaders on the road ahead... for now, though, they’re not members of the Stateside bench -- at least, not yet.

Of course, this refers to the two US-born archbishops now serving atop Roman Congregations: the elegant, Yale-trained theologian (and B16 favorite) Gus DiNoia OP at Divine Worship, and the “Congregation for Religious’” just-named “ray of hope,” the former Redemptorist superior-general Joe Tobin, who’ll be ordained next month in St Peter’s Basilica by no less than Benedict's very "Vice-Pope."

Most of the time, Vatican practice holds that the #2 officials overseeing the church's lead "cabinet" departments tend not to remain Curial lifers. Many, if not most, are eventually given high posts at home, so smart money would expect at least one to return to a major archdiocese here at some point down the line. In that light, while a lot can change in three years, one prediction’s already hit the ground, and however premature, it makes particular sense: given the latter’s Midwestern roots, penchant for collaboration, experience both in Rome and with running a large, complex ecclesial apparatus on top of his ministry-long care for a Hispanic flock whose language he's said to speak "beyond fluently," once Tobin’s done bringing the controversial and turbulent Apostolic Visitation of the nation’s women religious in for a smooth landing on all sides, the early line has already posited the Detroit-born Big Red in the mix as a strong contender for Chicago in succession to Cardinal Francis George, who reaches the retirement age of 75 in early 2012.

Lest anyone forgot, the Windy City crowd can easily recall another shepherd who arrived as “Joseph, your brother”... and an encore might just work the same kind of magic.

SVILUPPO: Correcting the initial draft of this piece, DiNardo was not, as previously stated, the first Pittsburgh native elevated to the College of Cardinals, but the second after Adam Maida, who received the red hat in 1994, four years after his appointment as archbishop of Detroit.

The post has been edited to remedy the error.

PHOTOS: Diocese of Cheyenne(2); Joel Martinez/The McAllen Monitor(3); The (Trenton) Monitor(5)


The Bench, Rebooted

Happy Tuesday, gang -- hope everything's great on your end... 'round here, suffice it to say, last night went long due to an especially blessed event.

Thank you, God... it never, ever gets old.

It's looking to be a slow week as the news goes -- and as your narrator's wrist is acting up, I'm going to take advantage of that to rest it up a bit to better handle the chaos that, by the looks of it, soon lies ahead. As ever, though, Page Three will be chirping with whatever quick-stuff drops in.

That said, this scribe's spending the week on a fun side-project thanks to a friend's kind invite. Lest anyone hasn't seen its start, maybe you'd be interested... especially as it deals with what's become one of these pages' core topics of note over these last almost six years.

Now running multiple daily circles around the intersection of church and state on the pages of the National Catholic Reporter -- and in succession to someone you know at The Tablet -- Beltway cardinale laico Michael Sean Winters asked me to tackle five questions on the Stateside church in advance of this November Meeting's presidential election, an impending batch of fresh scarlet (whether this fall or come spring), and with B16's number of episcopal appointments on these shores soon to hit what a prior nuncio to Washington once memorably termed "that magic number of 100" -- that is, a critical mass of the bench.

In a word, this is the kind of broad-stroke analysis I've always aimed and hoped to do here, but never been able to block out the time for (whatwith the ceaseless plate-spinning of the daily feed, the mail and errands, trying to eke out a life... and, of course, the invariable hardest part of all -- keeping the shop afloat). As being asked to drill in finally offered the chance to put something together, for whatever its flaws, I couldn't help but jump, and hopefully you'll find the result of some use.

Following a summertime turn on the church's communications efforts (or, far too often, the lack thereof), this week's contributions are rolling out daily at Winters' Distinctly Catholic... and, for this readership's convenience -- plus the sake of the archives -- they'll likewise be posted here. To start, below you'll find an (admittedly lengthy) answer to the lead-off query: "Do you perceive a central characteristic among Benedict XVI's appointments to the hierarchy?"

...and, well, have at it.

* * *
In every pontificate, any credible analysis of the episcopacy has to view it in two parts: the bishops a pope inherits from his predecessor, and the “new breed” he adds to their number. As the US church hasn’t seen in living memory, Benedict XVI’s meticulous scrutiny with the case-files has yielded a historically pointed divide between the two, producing a commentary on the status quo that’s as evident as the shift away from it has been relatively smooth, even if its effect will only fully emerge less in days than decades.

Despite the sea-change, in many quarters the perception remains that a typical appointee in the US has little more than the proverbial “six months in a parish” under his belt. While that model -- which placed a greater premium on a cleric’s administrative gifts than his pastoral ability (and, as a result, saw the de facto pattern of a “career path” to the high-hat rooted in chancery work) -- has largely been the American church’s prevailing one for most of the last century, it’s become little more than myth as the last five years of nods have seen its astonishing, near complete demise.

In its place, the freshly-operative norm for first-time appointees has overwhelmingly veered toward the selection of priests whose CVs have racked up far closer to “six months in the office,” the bulk of their ministries instead spent in the trenches of education and parish life, immersed in the concrete, anything-but-ideological reality of the gifts, challenges and concerns of the church on the ground -- and above all, picks with the instinctive, proven ability to take all comers, bring out the best in every side and keep things united and moving... just like a parish. In a nutshell, these days you’ll find far more appointees pastoring multiple churches at once than the most common of jobs on their predecessors’ bios: that is, “chancellor,” “vicar-general” and the like.

For all the criticism Rome has taken on the sex-abuse crisis, this upending of things at the top evinces a storyline many will find refreshing, even pleasantly shocking: a whole new ballgame engineered by the Vatican, a concerted reboot drawn from the keen, mostly-unsung recognition in its halls that the managerial mindset which birthed the scandals has seen its day and earned its replacement. In response, the concept is being implemented the only way such a transition can take place to its fullest effect in an apparatus like ours: a systematic evolution -- diocese by diocese, appointment by appointment.

To be sure, the necessarily incremental rollout of such a strategy won’t satisfy the internet age’s all-consuming lust for sweeping change, facile, agenda-based interpretations, or blaring headlines. Then again, Joseph Ratzinger’s never been one for playing to the short-term gaggle of insta-analysis -- as we saw with last week’s British tour, this pope is well attuned to how quickly opinion can turn. On the pope’s preferred turf of history’s long march, however, the ongoing remaking of the ranks could end up becoming the most significant shake-up of the American episcopate since the 1830s and ‘40s, when a young church ravaged and weakened by the brutal trusteeism scandals received its first wave of Irish-born prelates armed with a mandate to build strong, clerically-dominated central structures to: 1. efficiently organize the church’s growth... and 2. ensure that no one could be mistaken about who was completely in charge. As the decades-long trail of decisions that erupted in 2002 revealed the same pinnacle of excess on the chancery side that parish-seizing, power-driven laity wrought in the 1820s, the pendulum has shifted decisively away from the long-default “Irish model” template -- and given the short space of time, the result it portends is all the more more dramatic.

With today’s “baby bishops” almost invariably aged between 45 and 55 at the time of their appointments and just settling into the corner offices, we’ve got another quarter-century or longer to fully see how their ministries fully shake out, so further examination will have to wait.

In the meantime, though, a couple added things bear noting.

First, while this quick glance has mostly dealt with the priests B16 has elevated since his election, the pontiff’s push for pastors clearly extends beyond first-time appointees to those he’s inherited and moved up the hierarchical chain. For proof of this, one need look no further than the two Stateside archbishops Benedict has, so far, elevated to the College of Cardinals -- Boston’s Séan O’Malley, the “founding pastor” of Washington’s Hispanic community for over a decade before his appointment to the Virgin Islands, and Houston’s Dan DiNardo, whose last seven years before the mitre were spent starting a parish in Pittsburgh’s far suburbs, its first worship/office/meeting and religious ed. space comprising the grand total of two rooms in an office park basement. Likely to join them in time is another celebrated community-builder: Miami’s first ever native-son archbishop, Tom Wenski, whose early priesthood saw him found a parish for the city’s Haitian community and lead it for 18 years -- an experience that still usually finds him murmuring the offertory prayers from memory in Creole, whatever language the congregation before him might speak.

This leads to a second point. Not all that long ago, no shortage of active prelates remained who, being of the old school, hadn’t fully grasped the sudden emergence of Hispanics in massive numbers -- because, so the line went, the latter wasn’t noticeable “on the books.” Yet as a pastor would easily recognize, a sizable chunk of Latinos -- especially in areas where the community is freshly-arrived -- don’t register in parishes; for one, the Anglo-church fixation on paper and programs has never been a hallmark of Catholicism south of the border, and among the undocumented, a lingering reluctance toward registration remains.

Either way, the still far-too-discounted reality is that, already -- at least, by the USCCB’s count -- an ever-growing majority of American Catholics under 25 are Hispanic. As a result, a prospective candidate unable to, at the very least, engage and integrate the most crucial bloc to the church’s future on these shores probably won’t end up making the cut anymore, at least across broad swaths of the national map.

On the flip-side, Benedict’s scouting has yielded another under-noted trend: the birth of the “crossover” bishop -- an American-born, Hispanic-bred prelate native to both sides of the cultural divide and, above all, able to unite the two. To a degree, the pope’s had the benefit of timing on this one; only now is the rise of bishops like Brownsville’s Daniel Flores, Austin’s Joe Vasquez of Austin and Sacramento’s Jaime Soto bringing to full flower a decades-back push that saw Latino seminarians placed on the long-established leadership track (Roman training, advanced studies, top chancery posts, etc.). Still, what’s significant here is the staggering speed with which they’ve been sent upward -- each the youngest member of the bench when they were named auxiliaries (44 at the oldest), the trio have since received key postings as diocesan bishops, two of them now in the capitals of the twin largest states.

While such a scenario would’ve seemed far-fetched to many not all that long ago, the third of the above might just be the most notable of all: when Flores was named to the booming, million-member diocese encompassing the Rio Grande Valley last December at all of 48, it proved a watershed. No cleric of Latin roots had ever been tapped to lead a Stateside see of a million Catholics or more... and the last time any American bishop under 50 took the reins of a church of said size came in 1985, when, five months shy of the half-century mark, Roger Mahony was sent home to Los Angeles.

As game-changing company goes, that’s pretty tough to top.

Lastly, while this pontificate’s chosen crop is far less dominated by the church’s traditional “management” class, it might just come all the more prepared for objectively top-shelf leadership. Because what the new breed lacks in its reliance primarily upon the Roman universities, it more than makes up for not just in the thick of pastoral service, but in its considerable cred with the most vaunted training-grounds of the society in which it serves.

Especially these days, no bishop can even think of ruling by edict, and effective leadership and credible persuasion have ever more become the measure of one’s ministry. And, almost as if to indicate the degree to which Rome “gets” that, seemingly as never before, the Professor Pope has shown a distinct penchant for launching Ivy Leaguers onto the bench -- Bishop Bernie Hebda of Gaylord earned his BA from Harvard and a degree from Columbia Law; both Soto and Twin Cities’ auxiliary Lee Piché likewise picked up graduate degrees in Morningside Heights; Allentown’s John Barres got his bachelor’s at Princeton before scoring an MBA from NYU; like Hebda, the freshly-ordained auxiliary of San Francisco, Bishop Robert McElroy, spent his undergrad days in Cambridge, then went on for a Master’s and Doctorate from the “Western Ivy” of Stanford, another of whose alums, Bishop Cirilo Flores -- a Law grad before he entered seminary -- was named an auxiliary of Orange last year.

As education and experience ad extra goes among Benedict’s picks, that’s just scratching the surface: born a Lutheran, Bishop Paul Swain of Sioux Falls was General Counsel to the governor of Wisconsin before entering the church and ditching the Capitol for the Cathedral, Bishop Tim Doherty of Lafayette in Indiana earned a doctorate in health-care ethics from Loyola University in Chicago between stints as a highly-regarded pastor of four parishes, and as a priest of New Orleans, Bishop Roger Morin of Biloxi (currently doing double-duty as lead hand for the besieged Catholic Campaign for Human Development) served as a special assistant to the Crescent City’s mayor for Federal programs, in a unique arrangement that saw him paid $1 a year. (For good measure, Morin’s predecessor along the Gulf Coast, Archbishop Tom Rodi -- sent to Mobile in 2007 -- earned his pre-divinity degrees from Georgetown and Tulane Law.)

Shortly after becoming Benedict’s hand-picked representative to the States in 2006, the story goes that, behind closed doors, Archbishop Pietro Sambi bluntly put the bishops on notice that, in as many words, “your successors will not look like yourselves.”

Barely a half-decade into the reign of Ratzinger, the ground-shift might remain in its early stages. Even so, “mission accomplished” would hardly be a premature assessment.

* * *
As the series moves along, feel free to zip over your deadline-ready thoughts on Question 2: "Who is an up and coming bishop to keep an eye on?"

And, well, 'nuff said.

* * *
More as things shake out... lastly, though -- especially with the end of the month/quarter too quickly upon us -- it bears a bit of reminding that, stem to stern, these pages are able to plug along solely by means of your support... so if you can, remember the "guitar case" so the goods can keep coming your way.

With the bills due, the next set on the way, the Fall Classic just six weeks ahead -- and (God help us) within 36 hours of its close, the distinct prospect of a 20 November consistory to create new cardinals (and, ergo, a Romecoming to cover it) -- gang, what happens from here is in your hands, and even more than usual.

Either way, a ton of thanks for making this scribe's dream gig possible and keeping the shoestring budget from snapping. Here's to a less strained wrist in quick order... and for all the rest, as always, stay tuned.

PHOTO: Getty


Monday, September 27, 2010

On Anglicanorum, the Delegate Speaks

Making his first comments on his freshly-announced appointment as the US church's delegate for Anglicanorum coetibus -- Pope Benedict's controversial initiative to facilitate "corporate union" with groups of Anglicans who seek out full communion with the Holy See -- Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington spoke earlier tonight with "Currents," the nightly-news program of the Brooklyn diocese's NET (New Evangelization Television).

Normally, on-demand video of the chat wouldn't be available 'til tomorrow... yet given the high level of interest in the story, through the wonders of technology, here it is for this readership, right now:

Full disclosure: your narrator's a frequent contributor to "Currents" and NET's news team, as evidenced most recently during last week's UK PopeTrip.


Saturday, September 25, 2010

"The Kindly Light"

Its words and images becoming only more vivid with time, a week on since a memorable PopeTrip, one thing worth noting in its wake is the degree to which B16's immersion in all things Newman to prep for his UK tour went considerably deeper than most probably noticed.

For just one keen example, recall what's become a much-cited passage from the pontiff's pre-arrival press conference...
Q.: [D]uring the preparation for this journey there have been contrary discussions and positions. The country has a past tradition of a strong anti-Catholic position. Are you concerned about how you will be received?

Benedict: ...I must say that I'm not worried, because when I went to France I was told: "This will be a most anticlerical country with strong anticlerical currents and with a minimum of faithful." When I went to the Czech Republic it was said: "This is the most non-religious country in Europe and even the most anti-clerical". So Western countries, all have, each in their own specific way, according to their own history, strong anticlerical or anti-Catholic currents, but they always also have a strong presence of faith. So in France and the Czech Republic I saw and experienced a warm welcome by the Catholic community, a strong attention from agnostics, who, however, are searching, who want to know, to find the values that advance humanity and they were very careful to see if they could hear something from me in this respect, and tolerance and respect for those who are anti-Catholic. Of course Britain has its own history of anti-Catholicism, this is obvious, but is also a country with a great history of tolerance. And so I'm sure on the one hand, there will be a positive reception from Catholics, from believers in general, and attention from those who seek as we move forward in our time, mutual respect and tolerance. Where there is anti-Catholicism I will go forward with great courage and joy.
...and stack it up against the closing passage from Newman's famous "Biglietto Speech," delivered in Rome on the eve of his 1879 elevation to the College of Cardinals:
Such is the state of things in England, and it is well that it should be realised by all of us; but it must not be supposed for a moment that I am afraid of it. I lament it deeply, because I foresee that it may be the ruin of many souls; but I have no fear at all that it really can do aught of serious harm to the Word of God, to Holy Church, to our Almighty King, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, Faithful and True, or to His Vicar on earth. Christianity has been too often in what seemed deadly peril, that we should fear for it any new trial now. So far is certain; on the other hand, what is uncertain, and in these great contests commonly is uncertain, and what is commonly a great surprise, when it is witnessed, is the particular mode by which, in the event, Providence rescues and saves His elect inheritance. Sometimes our enemy is turned into a friend; sometimes he is despoiled of that special virulence of evil which was so threatening; sometimes he falls to pieces of himself; sometimes he does just so much as is beneficial, and then is removed. Commonly the Church has nothing more to do than to go on in her own proper duties, in confidence and peace; to stand still and to see the salvation of God.
Coincidence? Odds are, not so much.

Meanwhile, the weekly English edition of the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano has reproduced a lead editorial on the visit by its chief, Gian Maria Vian, which originally ran in its Italian editions on the Pope's return to Rome.

Titled "The Kindly Light," here's the wrap-line of the "papal paper":

A Church which sought to be attractive in the eyes of the world would be on the wrong track because her duty is to make Christ's light shine out. Christians of the East call it "joyful" (phòs hilaròn) in Evening Prayer and John Henry Newman was aware of it and described it as a "kindly" light, imploring it to guide him.

In this light as in fact the Pope predicted to journalists on the flight to Scotland Benedict XVI's British Visit was a great success. This was recognized and reported by many of the media, especially in the United Kingdom; but that is not all, getting the better of the prejudicial prognosis that predicted difficult days, as well as of the distortion of information that also aimed at dimming the Visit's importance.

The about-turn of people's expectations which was evident in the welcome and attention of those who saw and listened to the Pontiff in these days should be specifically attributed to the way Benedict XVI came across with simplicity and openness on this Visit.

It was immediately clear in his face and in his words, which followed in the wake of that tradition of gentle scholarship born in the Middle Ages and that extends to Newman.

It was thanks to the broadmindedness of the media in this great country marked by what, today, has become a multi-ethnic society in relaying his gestures and words on a perfectly organized Journey, that multitudes were able see Pope Benedict speaking to elderly people and conversing with them, "as a brother above all". They saw him gently caressing children just as on his last day, on leaving the Nunciature, he caressed a blind child in the arms of his mother who, moved to tears, could not stop thanking him and adoring the Blessed Sacrament in the impressive silence of the 80,000 young people who had gathered for the Vigil a few hours before Cardinal Newman's beatification.

Indeed the tenderness Benedict XVI shows to the little and the weak explains his powerful words renewed and repeated in the face of the crimes of the abuse of minors by members of the clergy and his meeting with some of the victims and with a group that works for the protection of children.

The British Episcopate, which collaborates with the civil authorities, is exemplary in this regard, in line with the age-old tradition of the care and education of young people which, in the past, was undeniably to the credit of the Catholic Church and her many institutions in every part of the world.

In brief, this was a historic journey. It was marked by the official and cordial Visit to Elizabeth II, a universally esteemed Sovereign, by the solemn meeting with the civil authorities in Westminster Hall (where the Pope paid tribute to the institution of the British Parliament), and by conversations with several political leaders and with Prime Minister David Cameron, who in his farewell address emphasized the positive contribution of religion to the public debate.

At the end of a State Visit which also because of the friendship with Archbishop Rowan Williams proved very important for the development of relations with the Anglicans, with representatives of other Christian denominations and with other religions. And above all Benedict XVI made the Visit shine with the kindly light that leads every human person, just as it led Newman.
Speaking of beatifications -- and, indeed "lights" -- today in Rome sees a particularly poignant one as Chiara "Luce" Badano is raised to the honors of the altar.

A member of the Focolare movement and protege of its recently-departed foundress Chiara Lubich, the new blessed -- celebrated as a "modern teen" -- died at 18 in 1991 after a brief battle with bone cancer.

To be held at Focolare's base in the Eternal City, the rites will be led by the Vatican's lead saintmaker, Archbishop Angelo Amato.

PHOTO: Getty


Friday, September 24, 2010

St Mary of the Cross... Patroness of Whistleblowers?

In what's become a rite of Roman fall in the reign of B16, next month will see the canonization of six new saints, led by the first Australian ever to receive the honors of the altar: the 19th century religious foundress Mary MacKillop.

But only now, in the run-up to the historic day, the backdrop to one of the more intriguing angles of MacKillop's journey to sainthood has come to light with a revelation that, given the tenor of these times, is bound to make her final ascent even more high-profile than it's already been.

Five years after her establishment of the Sisters of St Joseph, alleging that the foundress had incited her community to "disobedience and defiance," Bl Mary -- then all of 29 years old -- was excommunicated by the bishop of Adelaide, who retracted the sentence five months later on his deathbed... and in a documentary slated to air on Oz's state broadcaster a week before the 17 October canonization, the context behind the move emerges:
While serving with the Sisters of St Joseph, MacKillop and her fellow nuns heard disturbing stories about a priest, Father Keating from the Kapunda parish north of Adelaide, who was allegedly abusing children.

They told their director, a priest called Father Woods, who then went to the Vicar General.

The Vicar General subsequently sent Father Keating back to his home country of Ireland, where he continued to serve as a priest.

Father Paul Gardiner, who has pushed for MacKillop's canonisation for 25 years, says Father Keating's fellow Kapunda priest Father Horan swore revenge on the nun for uncovering the abuse.

"The story of the excommunication amounts to this: that some priests had been uncovered for being involved in the sexual abuse of children," he said.

"The nuns told him and he told the Vicar General who was in charge at the time and he took severe action.

"And Father Horan, one of these priests, was so angry with this that he swore vengeance - and there's evidence for this - against Woods by getting at the Josephites and destroying them."

Father Horan was by now working for Adelaide's Bishop Shiel and urged him to break the sisters up by changing their rules.

When MacKillop refused to comply, she was banished from the church.

"Mary was not excommunicated, in fact or in law. She submitted to a farcical ceremony where the Bishop had ... lost it," Father Gardiner said.

"He was a puppet being manipulated by malicious priests. This sounds terrible but it's true."...

A statement from the Sisters of St Joseph says the events of September 1871 have "been comprehensively documented".

"There were several factors that led to this painful period for Mary and the sisters," the statement said.
...and, well, just further proof that, as often as not, a "Saint" above is just another term for one whom "The Church" persecutes here below.

For good measure, the story leads tomorrow's broadcasts and papers Down Under; ABC features another interview with Gardiner, the first postulator of the MacKillop cause.

Recently praised (and effusively so) by Australia's "first atheist" -- the freshly-elected Prime Minister Julia Gillard -- as "a pioneering woman who embodied the very best of our values and the best of the Australian spirit," a formal apology for Bl Mary's excommunication was tendered to her spiritual daughters by the current archbishop of Adelaide last year.

The significance of the move -- which saw weeping among several of the sisters in attendance -- was only heightened by Archbishop Philip Wilson's added standing as president of the Australian bishops.

(Above: in a moment which he later said "deeply moved" him, B16 praying at MacKillop's tomb in Sydney during his Aussie visit for World Youth Day 2008.)


In PopeTrip's Wake, "A New Foundation"

With an expection-surpassing UK PopeTrip (texts/videos) now in the books and this recovery week at its end, British Catholicism's twin pillars of its ecclesial conversation have sent up their respective impressions of the surprising, memorable, triumphant four-day trek in their leading articles.

In that light, as we did in the run-up to B16's unprecedented state visit, let's take a look at both weeklies' editorials.

First, today's leader from an elated Catholic Herald:
Benedict XVI exposed the heart of the Catholic faith
We owe him our deepest gratitude. His visit was as great a success as that of John Paul II in 1982

The first reaction of Catholics to the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to these shores must be to thank God for its extraordinary success. By the end of the triumphant first day in Scotland, it was clear that the British people were in a mood to listen to the Pope, and that excitement at his presence was bursting out in the most unlikely places. As our guest flew to London, Catholics prayed that the momentum could be sustained. In the event, it was not just sustained but continued to build. Every occasion added new significance to the visit.
In Westminster Hall, the Holy Father asked searching questions that exposed the emptiness of secularism. In Westminster Abbey, his presence seemed to revitalise that ancient building – and his Anglican listeners, too, as they realised how much their Christian witness is valued by the successor of St Peter. In Westminster Cathedral, the Pope acknowledged clearly and with shame the dreadful acts committed by clergy and religious against children; he had done so before, but his decision to do so in the context of a solemn liturgy underlined the abominable insult to the sacrifice of Christ represented by those crimes. In Hyde Park, the Pope literally exposed the heart of the Catholic faith to crowds of thousands and a television audience of millions: very deliberately, he directed our attention away from himself and towards the Blessed Sacrament. In Birmingham, he beatified John Henry Newman, personally raising to the altars a son of the Church for the first time in his pontificate. In doing so, he quoted Blessed Cardinal Newman: “I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it, who know so much of history that they can defend it.”

By this visit Benedict XVI equipped us to become that laity. He was an example to priests, too, in showing how the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite can be gloriously celebrated. How fitting it would be if, from now on, priests everywhere were to follow the Holy Father’s example of facing a crucifix at Mass, thus properly orientating the celebrant towards Calvary. And, crucially, the Pope set a further example to non-believers, of a great religious leader who radiated love, communicated by his winning little smile as well as by his words. From now on, militant secularists will find it very hard to sustain their odious caricature of Joseph Ratzinger: these were a terrible four days for anti-Catholicism.

We offer our heartfelt thanks to the Catholic organisers of the visit, and also to the Queen and her Government for their hospitality: given the immense difficulties that threatened to derail everything, truly we can say that victory was snatched from the jaws of defeat. But the person who deserves our deepest gratitude is Pope Benedict, who ensured that this visit was – albeit in a very different way – as great a success as that of Pope John Paul II in 1982. Holy Father, we are missing you already.
...and the first line from tomorrow's edition of a no-less-pleased Tablet:
Visit lays a new foundation
To say of Pope Benedict XVI that “he came, he saw, he conquered” would be true, even spectacularly so – but still only part of the truth. For he was conquered too during his state visit to Britain, as he seemed to admit in his Wednesday general audience this week when he spoke of “the intense and very beautiful four days” in which he found the Christian faith strong in every level of society.

The visit had been preceded by vehement and sometimes malicious personal attacks, and while Pope Benedict spoke politely during the plane trip from Rome of Britain as a tolerant society, there was a nervousness in the Vatican about what was perceived as its aggressive secularism – as Cardinal Walter Kasper so dramatically articulated in a German magazine just before the visit.

What the Pope and his entourage actually found is well reflected in the figures confirmed by the Metropolitan Police after Saturday’s events in London. The enthusiastic crowds who lined the streets to watch him pass on his way down the flag-lined Mall grew to 200,000 while there were 6,000 on the anti-papal march to Downing Street, although the organisers claimed that it was several times that figure. Even those parts of the national media that had been most critical of the visit beforehand, had changed their tune by the time he left.
The Pope’s response to Britain has been greatly influenced by Britain’s response to him and that was due in no small part to his preparation for the visit, as well as his demeanour. While there had been apprehension about the country, Pope Benedict turned his formidable intellect to the question of what makes Britain tick, and the subtle and complex nuances of British society and history were both understood and appreciated and in many respects applauded. It was recognition of this that earned his address in Westminster Hall, arguably the centre piece of the entire visit, such a warm reception. The questions he raised were real and telling, and stood at the heart of political debate. He was asking for a new and constructive way for faith and secular society to work together, which he called a conversation. It struck the right note. It threatened nobody’s rights and privileges. It was plausible, even, to begin to see how the Pope might take Britain as a template for the rest of Europe, as to how faith and reason, Church and State, secularism and religion, might after all be good for one another.

At the Hyde Park rally British Catholicism set out its stall, saying simply, “Here we are, this is what we do.” It displayed its diversity, its contributions to the common good through its care for disabled and elderly people and for the education and welfare for young people, its inclusive concern for immigrants, strangers and refugees, its commitment to international development and to protecting the environment. This is precisely what the Pope, writing as Cardinal Ratzinger, once called a “creative minority”; and it is, as Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks said afterwards, a display of post-Constantinian Catholicism that eschews political power in order to stand, as the prophets of old had stood, alongside the powerless.

What happens locally also happens internationally. The Pope’s visit to Britain came on the eve of the summit in New York where world leaders are assembled to discuss progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a project to which successive British governments (and successive Popes) have been fully committed. Britain is already one of the largest sources of international aid and development, proportionately larger than any other G8 nation, and will be the first of that group to reach the longstanding target 0.7 per cent of GDP, in 2013. Italy managed only 0.15 per cent. Those same British Governments have recognised in the Holy See a key partner on the international stage on issues such as the MDGs, not because of wealth or might but because of its wisdom and influence. Pope Benedict said at his general audience on Wednesday that the state visit marked an important new phase in relations between Britain and the Holy See. Those relations matter not just to the people of Britain but to the poor of the world for whom the MDGs are designed to help secure a safer, sustainable and better educated future.
Not to be missed from the journal of record's pages: the wrap-up of the paper's venerable Rome correspondent, Robert Mickens, who covered the days from within the Vatican press-pool.

Among other nuggets in Hammersmith's 56-page commemorative issue: a report that the UK church's hotline for inquiries to convert was flooded with "hundreds" of calls and e.mails during and since the visit... and what's more, such are the hopes of the "Benedict bounce" that the Scottish bishops are already eyeing a potential reopening of Scotus College -- the last seminary on Northern soil until it closed its doors last year.

To mark the first observance of the feast of the country's newly-Blessed "kindly light," the English primate Archbishop Vincent Nichols will celebrate a Mass of Thanksgiving for the visit's success in Westminster Cathedral on the freshly-decreed Newmanmas, 9 October.



Thursday, September 23, 2010

Anglicans, Hatcaves and Quakes... oh my.

Just another reminder that if you're not keeping tabs on the freshly-launched "Page Three," you're missing out on a lot.

Thanks again to all the tweeps for the warm welcome and a great start... and, now, back at it.


Anglicanorum Wuerlibus

In the biggest stride yet toward the establishment of a Stateside ordinariate for groups of Anglicans who, while maintaining their liturgical patrimony, seek to enter into communion with Rome, the CDF has named Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington as its delegate to facilitate mass receptions on these shores in accord with Anglicanorum coetibus.

Tipped by many to be in line for the cardinal's red hat at the coming consistory -- which, according to some reports, could be announced by B16 as soon as next month -- the appointment is a sign of Rome's continuing regard for the famously-efficient capital prelate, who turns 70 in November.

Long a "conference man," Wuerl already serves in one high-profile USCCB post as chair of the bench's Doctrine Committee.

For the rest, here below, the Mothership release:
In this position, [Wuerl] is a delegate of the congregation and heads the U.S. bishops’ ad hoc committee charged with assisting CDF in implementing the apostolic constitution Anglicanorum coetibus. Pope Benedict XVI issued the document in November 2009 to provide for establishing personal ordinariates for Anglican groups who seek to enter corporately into full communion with the Catholic Church.

The personal ordinariate is a canonical structure similar to a diocese that covers the area of a bishops’ conference. This permits the incoming Anglicans to be part of the Catholic Church while maintaining aspects of their Anglican heritage and liturgical practice.

Other members of the ad hoc committee are Bishop Kevin Vann of Fort Worth, Texas, and Bishop Robert McManus of Worcester, Massachusetts. The committee will be assisted by Father Scott Hurd, who was ordained an Episcopal priest in 1993, joined the Catholic Church in 1996, and was ordained a Catholic priest for the Archdiocese of Washington in 2000. Father Hurd will assist Archbishop Wuerl as staff to the ad hoc committee and a liaison to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

Interested Anglicans are asked to contact Archbishop Wuerl through the Washington Archdiocese.

The ad hoc committee has two tasks:

To facilitate the implementation of Anglicanorum coetibus in the United States
To assess the level of interest in such an ordinariate in the United States.
Charged with taking requests for communion and facilitating petitioning groups' process of reception into the fold, Anglicanorum delegates are being named for each episcopal conference where an ordinariate could potentially emerge; Canada's is another widely-tipped cardinal-in-waiting -- Archbishop Thomas Collins of Toronto -- while Auxiliary Bishop Peter Elliott of Melbourne (himself a former Anglican priest) is handling the task for the Australian bishops. (While we're at it, another CDF delegate on these shores is Archbishop John Myers of Newark, who handles requests for the Pastoral Provision -- the case-by-case Roman dispensation from celibacy for married former clergy of other churches who seek to be ordained in the Catholic priesthood.)

Intriguingly, it bears noting that Rome's choice of its US delegate has fallen to a prelate: 1. whose mentor, the late Cardinal John Wright, bore a particularly concerted devotion to the now-Blessed John Henry Newman... and 2. who is particularly well known to the most prominent leader of US Anglicanism's breakaway traditional faction.

Bishop of his native Pittsburgh until his DC transfer in 2006, Wuerl shares warm ties with the Steel City's former Episcopal bishop, Robert Duncan, who led much of his flock out of the Anglican Communion's traditional American province last year to become the founding head of a parallel group, the Anglican Church in North America. (Duncan was accordingly deposed as a cleric of the Episcopal church.)

What's more, after the 2003 consecration of New Hampshire's Gene Robinson as the Communion's first openly-gay hierarch -- the watershed moment in Anglicanism's long-simmering divide over hot-button doctrinal and moral questions -- the roots for what's become the ACNA were laid at a summit in Plano, Texas, which drew an eyebrow-raising letter from a lone ecumenical representative pledging his "heartfelt prayers" for the gathering as he observed that "significance of your meeting is [being] sensed far beyond" the South, and even beyond the walls of the Anglican Communion.

Said conspicuous greeter? Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

On a side-note, earlier this month Wuerl released another meticulous pastoral letter, this one on the New Evangelization.

PHOTO: Getty