Wednesday, May 23, 2018


Before anything else, thanks again to everyone for the many prayers and kindnesses amid the tumult behind the scenes – thank God, Dad and things are far better than they were, but there’s still a good bit of cleanup and watch-keeping in process.

Back to all this, as was said early last week, it was a grace to have the space to return to the desk "given the moment now on tap... of which [the Chile summit] is just one critical piece."

Given what’s transpired on several fronts since, well, now you see it.

Hopefully there’s not too much rust showing in the gears – either way, frequent as it is for anything that comes up on this beat to be overdramatized in some quarters, it's honestly hard to recall a more significant and impactful cycle than the input overload which unfolded in rapid order through the weekend just past.

And, yep, there’s more where that came from – not to mention the fresh threads of the road to a Consistory, the ongoing fallout over Chile, etc. But in the meantime, as none of this is possible without being able to pay the bills that bring the product to you, as ever, these pages can only keep plugging along by means of your support....


As ever, all thanks and then some – these last days have had some memorable war stories... but it's worth ensuring that the electric and data connections stay up first.

Ergo, back to the mine?

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Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Doubling Down – Bishops’ Fates In the Balance, Pope To Consult Chile Victims. Again.

Five days after all the Chilean bishops moved to offer their historic joint resignation to the Pope, late tonight brought a further sign of Francis' immersion in the country's abuse crisis – a sudden Vatican announcement that a second group of victims would spend next weekend staying with the pontiff at the Domus (above) for private talks.

Most critically of all, the five men – survivors of what, in a striking description, the Vatican termed the "systemic abuse" or "abusive system" of the now-removed predator priest Fernando Karadima – are all now priests in their own right, marking the first occasion that a Pope will have met with clerics who have themselves been victims.

Their names not disclosed, during their 1-3 June stay, the priests will be accompanied by two other unnamed clergy "who have assisted in their legal and spiritual journey," and two laypeople who've likewise supported them. Francis will celebrate Mass with the group on June 2nd, then meet with them all together before sitting down alone with each.

While much of the focus on the Chile storm has centered on the embattled Bishop Juan Barros – the Karadima protege accused by his victims of having witnessed the abuse, now stationed in a far-flung diocese – as with the trio of survivors received last month for a first weekend visit, the invite to the next group indicates that Francis' spotlight remains fixed on "El Bosque," the wealthy Santiago parish where Karadima was pastor and carried out his crimes through the 1970s and '80s, during which time he was considered one of the country's most powerful clerics. As the succession to Cardinal Riccardo Ezzati at the helm of the capital's archdiocese – by far, the country's largest and most prominent see – was already pending before the en bloc resignations with the top prelate a year past the retirement age of 75, the coming talks will accordingly be part of the consultation that informs Francis' call on the most significant personnel-choice he'll make for the future of Chilean Catholicism.

On yet another front, meanwhile, extraordinary as the papal U-turn on the situation has been since January, tonight's development has broader implications: just a few months after Francis came in for heavy criticism from some leading survivors for temporarily letting the initial mandate for his child-protection commission lapse, then reconstituting the group without representatives of victims in its membership (a marked change from its initial makeup), the pontiff has suddenly taken an aggressive shift to approaching survivors and inviting them in on his own, without the involvement of intermediaries.

Whether this new tack is unique to Chile remains to be seen, but it is significant that it comes three months before another major test-case of his and the wider church's response to abuse: the Pope's August visit to Ireland for the World Meeting of Families in Dublin, against the backdrop of what remains the most devastating and widespread outbreak of the scandals over their three-decade trajectory across the global church. (According to one Whispers op, Papa Bergoglio has already begun his standard quiet conversations to prepare his talks and the general approach he'll take for the summer trip.)

Back to Chile, even as the Pope's determinations for the path ahead remain to be made, the combination of factors has already spurred a remarkable state of affairs – with last week's yet-unaccepted resignations of the 33 bishops having again upped the ante for Francis to act decisively, while prior Vatican attempts at managing abuse crises have largely been entrusted to the Curia or specially-tapped investigators (as took place for the Chilean church earlier this year), that dynamic has shifted, and we're now seeing an apostolic visitation effectively being carried out by the Pope himself, its resolution to be orchestrated by him alone.

In tonight's announcement, the Holy See Press Office said that, by inviting the second group, "the Pope wants to show his closeness to the abused priests, to accompany them in their pain and hear their valuable sense of how to improve the current preventive measures and the [overall] fight against abuse in the church.... These priests and laypeople represent all the victims of abuse by clergy in Chile."

While the Vatican said that the June talks will conclude "this first phase" of Francis' meetings with Chilean survivors, "it cannot be discounted that similar initiatives will be repeated in the future."

*  *  *
Before word of the next survivors' visit emerged, the return of abuse and its fallout across the world's front-pages was reinforced further by this morning's conviction of one of Australia's leading prelates, Archbishop Philip Wilson of Adelaide, on a criminal count of failing to report another cleric's misconduct to police in the 1970s, when he was a parish priest.

Twice elected president of the Australian bench a decade ago, Wilson, now 67 and reportedly in the early stages of Alzheimer's Disease, could face up to two years in prison upon his sentencing in June.

As of tonight, the Vatican has issued no reaction to the verdict.

The church's lead figure in Southern Australia since 2001, Wilson has remained in office throughout the court proceedings and pleaded not guilty to the charge. According to a response from the Australian conference, he has not indicated whether he plans to appeal the ruling.

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Sunday, May 20, 2018

A New Marian Feast... Another "Montini Moment"

Five years in, one of the dominant leitmotifs of the Rule of Francis is how a great deal of the current pontificate and its priorities derives, in a fairly direct line, from the unfinished business of Paul VI – so much so that it sometimes feels like the intervening period didn't happen... well, almost didn't.

Indeed, pick any top-shelf, long-term Bergoglio project and odds are it finds its roots in what he's termed Montini's "farsightedness and wisdom" on Peter's Chair – from completing the simplification of the papacy to the internationalization of the College of Cardinals (both reforms which Paul began in earnest), to Francis' return to the foundational role Paul intended for the Synod he founded, the shared activist approach to poverty, justice, peace and human development, to Francis' recovery of the "pastoral document" – a style Paul first charted with Evangelii Nuntiandi, which has now found its modern echo in the just-released Gaudete et Exsultate, arguably the most accessible, most personal teaching text a Pope has issued in recent times.

Along these lines, it bears recalling that while Francis has finished what his two immediate predecessors respectively started in declaring the sainthoods of John XXIII and John Paul II, Paul is the lone Pope who will be both beatified and canonized by the same pontiff.

As the 40th anniversary of his death approaches in August, this Pentecost weekend brings two more "completions" by Francis of Papa Montini's work: first, there was yesterday's formal announcement of Paul's canonization on October 14 (alongside Blessed Oscar Romero and four others: two priests and two religious women) and, in a particularly poignant move, tomorrow's first celebration of a universal memorial of Mary, Mother of the Church – the title declared by Paul toward the end of Vatican II – which the Pope decreed in February would be marked each year on the Monday following the "birthday of the church."

On a liturgical note, especially as the observance was created following the printing of this year's Ordos, the provisions for the new feast insist on proper readings for its Mass – which the USCCB has helpfully released in English – and the proper presidential prayers are already contained in the Roman Missal as Votive Mass 10B (to Our Lady, Mother of the Church) with this Collect:
O God, Father of mercies,
whose Only Begotten Son, as he hung upon the Cross,
chose the Blessed Virgin Mary, his Mother,
to be our Mother also,
grant, we pray, that with her loving help
your Church may be more fruitful day by day
and, exulting in the holiness of her children,
may draw to her embrace all the families of the peoples.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Most of all, though, given these milestones, the wider confluence they represent – and as an aid for homilies or other reflection on Monday's feast – below is Blessed Paul's original declaration of the Madonna as Mater Ecclesiae, which he delivered at the close of the Council's third session. Fittingly, this text will serve as the proper Second Reading of the Office of Readings for the new feast.

*  *  *
ADDRESS OF POPE PAUL VI
CLOSING OF THE THIRD SESSION OF THE SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL
SAINT PETER’S BASILICA
21 NOVEMBER 1964

(Excerpt)

And now, in conclusion, another thought strikes us. Our thought, venerable brothers cannot but rise with sentiments of sincere and filial gratitude to the Holy Virgin. Also, to her whom we like to regard as the protectress of the present council, the witness of our toil, our most kindly adviser, because it is to her, as a heavenly patron, together with St. Joseph, that the work of our ecumenical assembly was entrusted by Pope John XXIII right from the start.

Moved by these same sentiments, last year we offered to the Most Blessed Mary a solemn act of common homage, by gathering in the Liberian basilica, round the image venerated with the glorious title of “Salus Populi Romani” (“Salvation of the Roman people”).

This year, the homage of our council appears much more precious and significant. By the promulgation of today’s constitution, which has as its crown and summit a whole chapter dedicated to Our Lady, we can rightly affirm that the present session ends as an incomparable hymn of praise in honor of Mary.

It is the first time, in fact — and saying it fills our souls with profound emotion — that an ecumenical council presents such a vast synthesis of the Catholic doctrine regarding the place which the Blessed Mary occupies in the mystery of Christ and of the Church.

This corresponds to the aim which this council set itself of manifesting the countenance of the Holy Church, to which Mary is closely linked, and of which, as it has been authoritatively affirmed, she is portio maxima, portio optima, portio praecipua, portio electissima (the greatest, finest, principal, most elect part) (Rupert, in Ape. I, VII, c 12, P.L. 169,10434).

Truly, the reality of the Church is not exhausted in its hierarchical structure, in its liturgy, in its sacraments, in its juridical ordinances. The intimate, the primary source of its sanctifying effectiveness are to be sought in its mystic union with Christ; a union which we cannot conceive as separate from her who is the Mother of the Word Incarnate and whom Jesus Christ Himself wanted closely united to Himself for our salvation. Thus the loving contemplation of the marvels worked by God in His Holy Mother must find its proper perspective in the vision of the Church. And knowledge of the true Catholic doctrine on Mary will always be a key to the exact understanding of the mystery of Christ and of the Church.

Meditation on these close relationships between Mary and the Church, so clearly established in today’s conciliar Constitution, makes us feel that this is the most solemn and appropriate moment to fulfill a wish which, after we mentioned it at the end of the preceding session, very many council Fathers made their own, pressing for an explicit declaration at this council of the Motherly role of the Virgin among the Christian people.

To achieve this aim, we have felt it opportune to consecrate in this very public session, a title which was suggested in honor of the Virgin from various parts of the Catholic world and which is particularly dear to us because it sums up in an admirable synthesis the privileged position recognized by the council for the Virgin in the Holy Church.

Therefore, for the glory of the Virgin Mary and for our own consolation, we proclaim the Most Blessed Mary Mother of the Church, that is to say of all the people of God, of the faithful as well as of the pastors, who call her the most loving Mother. And we wish that the Mother of God should be still more honored and invoked by the entire Christian people by this most sweet title.

This is a title, venerable brothers, not new to Christian piety; it is precisely by this title, in preference to all others, that the faithful and the Church address Mary. It truly is part of the genuine substance of devotion to Mary, finding its justification in the very dignity of the Mother of the word Incarnate.

Just as, in fact, the divine maternity is the basis for her special relationship with Christ, and for her presence in the economy of salvation brought about by Jesus Christ, thus it also constitutes the principal basis for the relations between Mary and the Church, since she is the mother of Him who, right from the time of His Incarnation in her virginal bosom, joined to Himself as head His Mystical Body which is the Church. Mary, then as mother of Christ, is mother also of all the faithful and of all the pastors.

It is therefore with a soul full of trust and filial love that we raise our glance to her, despite our unworthiness and weakness. She, who has given us in Jesus the fountainhead of grace, will not fail to succor the Church, now flourishing through the abundance of the gifts of the Holy Ghost and setting herself with new zeal to the fulfillment of its mission of salvation.

And our trust is even more lively and fully corroborated if we consider the very close links between this heavenly Mother of ours and mankind. Although adorned by God with the riches of admirable prerogatives, to make her a worthy Mother of the Word Incarnate, she is nevertheless very close to us. Daughter of Adam, like ourselves, and therefore our sister through ties of nature, she is, however, the creature who was preserved from original sin in view of the merits of the Savior, and who possesses besides the privileges obtained the personal virtue of a total and exemplary faith, thus deserving the evangelical praise, beata quae credidisti (blessed art thou who believed). In her earthly life, she realized the perfect image of the disciple of Christ, reflected every virtue, and incarnated the evangelical beatitudes proclaimed by Christ. Therefore in her, the entire Church, in its incomparable variety of life and of work, attains the most authentic form of the perfect imitation of Christ.

We trust then, that with the promulgation of the Constitution On the Church, sealed by the proclamation of Mary as Mother of the Church, that is to say of all the faithful and all the pastors, the Christian people may, with greater ardor, turn to the Holy Virgin and render to her the honor and devotion due to her.

As for ourselves, just as at the invitation of Pope John XXIII we entered the council hall, along with “Mary, the Mother of Jesus,” so at the close of the third session we leave this temple with the most holy and sweet name of Mary, Mother of the Church.

As a sign of gratitude for her loving assistance, lavished on us during this last conciliar period, let each of you, venerable brothers, pledge himself to hold high among the Christian people the name and the honor of Mary, indicating in her the model of faith and of the full response to any call from God, the model of the full assimilation of the teaching of Christ and of His charity, so that all the faithful, united in the name of the common Mother, may feel themselves ever more firmly rooted in the faith and in union with Jesus Christ, and at the same time fervent in charity toward the brothers, promoting love for the poor, dedication to justice and defense of peace. As the great St. Ambrose exhorted: “sit in singulis Mariae anima ut magnificet Dominum; sit in singulis spiritus Mariae et exultet in Deo” (“Let the soul of Mary be in individuals, that it may magnify the Lord; let the spirit of Mary be in individuals, that it may rejoice in the Lord”) (St. Ambrose, Exp. in Luc. II, 26, 15, 1642).

Above all, we desire that it should be made clear that Mary, the humble handmaid of the Lord, exists only in relation to God and to Christ, our sole Mediator and Redeemer. And likewise, may the true nature and the aims of the Marian veneration in the Church be illustrated, particularly where there are many separated brothers, so that those who are not part of the Catholic community may understand that devotion to Mary, far from being an end in itself, is instead a means essentially ordained to orient souls to Christ and thus unite them with the Father in the love of the Holy Ghost.

While we turn in ardent prayer to the Virgin, that she may bless the ecumenical council and the entire Church, hastening the hour of the union of all Christians, our glance opens on the endless horizons of the whole world, the object of the most lively care of the ecumenical council, and which our venerated predecessor, Pius XII of venerated memory, not without inspiration from on high, solemnly consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Today, we consider it particularly opportune to recall this act of consecration. Bearing this in mind, we have decided to send a special mission to Fatima in the near future in order to carry the Golden Rose to the sanctuary of Fatima, more dear than ever not only to the people of the noble Portuguese nation — always, but particularly today, dear to us — but also known and venerated by the faithful throughout the entire Catholic world. In this manner we intend to entrust to the care of this heavenly Mother the entire human family, with its problems and anxieties, with its legitimate aspirations and ardent hopes.

O, Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, to you we recommend the entire Church and our ecumenical council!

You, auxilium Episcoporum, aid of bishops, protect and assist the bishops in their apostolic mission, and all those priests, Religious and laymen, who help them in their arduous work.

You who were presented by your Son Himself, at the moment of His redeeming death, as Mother to His best-loved disciple, remember the Christian people who entrust themselves to you.

Remember all your sons; support their prayers to God, preserve their faith, strengthen their hope, increase their charity.

Remember those who are in tribulation, in need, in danger and particularly those who suffer persecution and who are in prison because of their faith. For these, O Virgin, obtain fortitude and hasten the desired day of just freedom.

Look with benign eyes on our separate brothers and condescend to unite us, you who brought forth Christ as a bridge of unity between God and men.

O, temple of light without shadow and without blemish, intercede with your only Son, mediator of our reconciliation with the Father (cf. Rom. 5, 11) that He may have mercy on our shortcomings and may dispel any difference between us, giving us the joy of loving.

To your Immaculate Heart, O Mary, we finally recommend the entire human race. Lead it to the knowledge of the sole and true Savior, Jesus Christ; protect it from the scourges provoked by sin, give to the entire world peace in truth, in justice, in liberty and in love.

And let the entire Church, by celebrating this great ecumenical assembly, raise to the God of mercy the majestic hymn of praise and thanksgiving, the hymn of joy and of exultation, because the Lord has worked great things through you, O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.

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On Pentecost, Francis Revs Up The Red Machine, Taps 14 New Cardinals

Marking another push to the church's “peripheries” – and even the Vatican’s – at the noontime Regina Caeli on this Pentecost Sunday, the Pope revealed his slate of 14 Cardinals-designate to be elevated at a Consistory on 29 June, the feast of Saints Peter and Paul.

Francis' fifth intake into the College of his five-year pontificate, 11 of the group are younger than 80, and thus eligible to vote in a Conclave. For the remainder of this year, the picks will top up the electoral ranks to 124, four over the standard maximum set by Paul VI – a limit which the soon-to-be saint's successors are, of course, free to break as they see fit.

The list topped by the Baghdad-based Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako, 69 – as a sign of papal solidarity with the decimated Iraqi fold, the second consecutive head of that 1,800 year-old church to be elevated since the US-led invasion in 2003 – yet again, anyone betting on the names would've come up short, even on the group's Curial contingent: while the choices of the CDF prefect, now Cardinal-designate Luis Ladaria SJ and the new Vicar for Rome, Cardinal-designate Angelo DeDonatis, maintain usual form, the two other in-house picks – the Sostituto of the Secretariat of State Angelo Becciu, 69, and the Polish-born Papal Almoner Konrad Krajewski, 54 (Francis' very prominent field marshal in providing for the poor and stricken around Rome and beyond) – hold posts whose occupants have never received the red hat. In the former case, given Becciu's current job as deputy to Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the veteran diplomat's elevation ostensibly signals a new post for him in the short-term future; by long tradition, a seat in the College only goes to a Sostituto – the Vatican's equivalent of the White House chief of staff – shortly after his departure from the role.

Far from Rome, meanwhile, the biglietto represents yet another kaleidoscope of the church's universality – with, as ever, a preferential option for workaday prelates far removed from major centers of wealth or power.

Among these, Pakistan will have its first new red hat in nearly 50 years, as will Japan in a quarter-century (and not in Tokyo, to boot); the bishop of Fatima will now be Portugal's second active "prince of the church" alongside his metropolitan, the patriarch of Lisbon (creating the global church's lone province with two cardinals helming dioceses); and another far-flung Italian – Archbishop Giuseppe Petrocchi, 69, of quake-ravaged L'Aquila (Abruzzo) – joins a home-turf bloc that's seen Francis routinely deny the scarlet to its usual A-list destinations; most conspicuously of all, the new archbishop of Milan – Mario Delpini, the bike-riding native son who Francis tapped to lead Europe's largest diocese last year – is absent from today's list.

With the new class, Francis will have elevated just shy of half (58) of the eventual electors of his successor – even more significantly, the group from which the next Pope will emerge.

While a Consistory at some point in 2018 has been broadly expected from early in the year – with either June or October leading the educated guessing – Francis' penchant for keeping even his picks in the dark until the moment of his public announcement made any anticipation of a timeframe come with the proverbial (heavy) grain of salt until word emerged from the pontiff himself.

As for Francis’ potential future impact on the College’s electoral makeup, barring unexpected deaths, 11 more voting seats open up from now until the beginning of 2020 as their occupants turn 80. Should Papa Bergoglio fill them all, the choices would put his combined crop of appointees – many of them the first cardinals ever named in their respective countries – within striking distance of the two-thirds threshold required to elect a new pontiff: indeed, the most concrete and consequential “reform” of all, extending Francis’ legacy beyond his own reign.

Notably, too, with today's announcement Francis again did not summon the entire College for what had been the customary daylong consultation on significant issues facing the church. A practice instituted by Benedict XVI, Francis hasn't hosted a discussion with all the cardinals since his first Consistory in 2014, when he tapped Cardinal Walter Kasper to deliver a keynote on the church's outreach to the family – the first stage of the synodal process which produced Amoris Laetitia.

*   *   *
Arranged in the usual strict order of seniority by which the designates will be inducted into the Pope's Senate, here's the list (all archbishops unless otherwise noted; ages via Catholic-Hierarchy):

Louis Raphaël I Sako, 69, patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans (Iraq)
Luis Ladaria SJ, 74, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
Angelo De Donatis, 64, vicar-general of Rome
Giovanni Angelo Becciu, 69, Sostituto of the Secretariat of State and papal delegate to the Order of Malta
Konrad Krajewski, 54, Apostolic Almoner
Joseph Coutts, 72, archbishop of Karachi (Pakistan)
António dos Santos Marto, 71, bishop of Leiria-Fatima (Portugal)
Pedro Barreto Jimeno SJ, 74, archbishop of Huancayo (Peru)
Desiré Tsarahazana, 63, archbishop of Toamasina (Madagascar)
Giuseppe Petrocchi, 69, archbishop of L’Aquila
Thomas Aquinas Manyo, 69, archbishop of Osaka (Japan)

And those over 80, thus ineligible to enter Conclave:

Sergio Obeso Rivera, 86, archbishop-emeritus of Xalapa (Mexico)
–Bishop Toribio Ticona Porco, 81, prelate-emeritus of Corocoro (Bolivia)
–Father Aquilino Bocos Merino CMF 80, former superior-general of the Claretians (Spain)

In closing his announcement, Francis asked for "prayers for the new cardinals that, confirming their adherence to Christ, the merciful and faithful high priest, they might help me in my ministry as Bishop of Rome for the good of all the Holy, Faithful People of God."

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Friday, May 18, 2018

Exodus – After Pope's Abuse Indictment, The Chilean Bench Bails

From the outset, it was clear that this week's summons of the Chilean bishops to Rome for emergency talks on the country's abuse crisis would be unlike any prior Vatican push to address the scandals... and a day after its close, the summit has indeed produced a sweeping, landmark outcome: at a midday press conference in Rome, the secretary-general of the country's bishops announced that the entire 33-man bench – the heads of 27 dioceses and six auxiliary bishops – had placed their resignations "in writing, in the hands of the Pope, that he might freely decide with respect to each one of us."

The letters delivered at yesterday's end of the three-day retreat, the pontiff has not announced any immediate acceptances of the walking papers, which would be required for them to take force, and without which the prelates remain in full possession of their respective offices. It is unclear whether the move was demanded by Papa Bergoglio in the course of the meeting.

Given the standard practice of lining up the successor to a departing prelate before he formally leaves office (except in cases of ill health or other grave reason), should a full clear-out come to pass, putting it into effect could take months at the very least. Alternatively, should the pontiff decide to relieve the bishops on a quicker timeframe, the result could incite chaos, as the consultors of each diocese would need to elect administrators to oversee them pending the appointment of new ordinaries – and given a mass exodus amid an ecclesial cultural shock, the extensive vetting and consultation required to fill even a chunk of open seats, virtually certain to be intensified further here, would swamp the staff of the Nunciature in Santiago (to say nothing of the skeleton crew who man the Spanish desk of the Congregation for Bishops), creating a backlog that could extend for possibly two years or longer until new appointments are finalized. (For context, with an ample diplomatic staff equipped to handle a constant 15 to 20 selection processes at any given time, any US vacancy invariably takes at least six months, and usually much longer, to be resolved.)

In this extraordinary scenario, it is to be expected that the broad indictment of Chilean Catholicism's leadership class – which has extended to the current Nuncio, Archbishop Ivo Scapolo – would see any current crop of files for potential appointees tossed out and compiled from scratch, an overhaul most likely to occur under a new Nuncio – a figure with a fresh set of eyes, untainted by the years-long storm in which no less than Francis himself had become perilously entangled.

Along those lines, it's notable that, according to one Chilean report on the eve of the talks, a petition submitted to Rome by some participants in the recent local investigation conducted by Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta has presented a very specific name for Scapolo's replacement: Fr Jordi Bertomeu, the CDF staffer who assisted with the probe – and temporarily led it after Scicluna was rushed to a hospital with a gallbladder attack shortly after his arrival. A 49 year-old Catalonian, Bertomeu is said to have garnered high marks from those interviewed for his sensitivity, openness and candor in hearing out the suffering of victims and the wider church impacted by the turmoil.

Alongside Scicluna, Bertomeu took part in yesterday's final session of the closed-door talks.

All that said, in the country's most prominent posts, today's group act is purely symbolic: the heads of Chile's two largest dioceses – Santiago and Valparaiso – are already past the retirement age of 75 and had submitted their letters at that point, as has the head of another of the bench's four archdioceses.

On another critical front, the move doesn't include the capital's already-retired Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz Ossa, now 84. Long accused of playing a major role in the cover-up for Chile's most notorious predator, Fernando Karadima, Errazuriz's ongoing membership in Francis "Gang of Nine" lead advisers has drawn the most potent scorn from survivors and their advocates.

While Francis could have unilaterally forced any and all the prelates from office without having their resignations in hand, the bishops' offer to depart en bloc paves the way to an epochal makeover of a national hierarchy of a kind unseen over the church's long trail of abuse scandals.

Over the parallel incidences of nationwide crises in the US and Ireland, only in recent years have a handful of prelates in each stood down over findings of a cover-up – in the States, with the conspicuous exception of the late Cardinal Bernard Law's departure as archbishop of Boston, the concentrated wave of some half-dozen sudden ousters through 2002 were exclusively of bishops whose own histories of having abused came to light. (And in those cases, the men were simply retired, ceased all public ministry and lived restricted lives of prayer and penance, as opposed to being charged and tried in canonical tribunals.)

Today's stunning announcement came in tandem with a leak of the 10-page reflection the Pope delivered to the prelates at the summit's opening. The text obtained (en español) by the Chilean TV outlet TeleTrece/T13, in a stringent upbraiding of their general conduct, Francis told the bishops that their style of governing had seen the church commit the "sin of becoming the center of attention" as opposed to "signaling and announcing" Jesus to the world around it – a shift, he said, born from a "loss of prophetic strength."

"The problems you live today within the ecclesial community," the Pope wrote, "will not be solved solely by taking the concrete cases and reducing them to the removal of persons; this – and let me say it clearly – will have to be done, but it is not sufficient, there is more of a ways to go.

"It would be irresponsible on our part to not deepen our search for the roots and structures which enabled these concrete events to happen and perpetuate themselves."

Looking to the future, Francis sketched a vision of "a church capable to put what's important at its center: serving the Lord in the hungry, the prisoner, the thirsty, the homeless, the naked, the sick, in the abused" – a citation of his beloved Matthew 25, the Last Judgment – "with the[ir] awareness that they have the dignity to sit at our table, to feel themselves 'at home' among us, to be considered family.

"This is the sign of a church which has been wounded by its sin, given mercy by its Lord, and become converted in prophecy by its vocation."

Again, however, who will lead that conversion – and the full shape it will take – is anything but a solution coming overnight.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

From the Home Desk

So, you haven’t been hearing much from here these last weeks…. Then again, there’s no new Prefect of Communications either, eh?

Moral of the story: as feeding a 24-hour news-cycle always bears the temptation of getting ahead of reality – or inventing one – simply to fill space, suffice it to say, it’s an urge best avoided... at least, if you're going to do this right.

More to the point, though, things are just beginning to ease up from one of the more intense – and, frankly, frightening – moments of this scribe’s life and that of my family. It’s not easy to encapsulate, but here’s the quick-and-dirty: in mid-March, amid the last major snowfall of what felt like an endless winter, my father’s legs suddenly and completely failed. Without any warning whatsoever, he couldn’t walk or stand, and any attempt at either brought an immediate fall….

It was late, the streets were covered and icy, but it was clear the hospital couldn’t wait. A long night of tests was had, and then another, before the cause came to light: a hemorrhage in his spinal cord, essentially knocking out his lower nerves. As that’s usually attributable to trauma, but wasn’t the case here, our sudden team of top-shelf neurologists and surgeons – the kind of folks you never think you'd need until you do – are still baffled by how this happened, and that’s made things even less predictable than they already would’ve been.

It’s been a bumpy ride – the fear and incomprehension of Holy Week become very real in an intensive-care unit… and just when things seemed to be turning a corner over the Octave as Dad started rehab, then pneumonia hit, and his inpatient therapy had to start from scratch. It would be another three weeks before he could stand and take a couple steps… and to keep things brief, we finally, gratefully, got him home just last week. While the fullest possible recovery is a question of months, the improvement is gradual and constant. That said, between a spate of follow-up visits and a couple more procedures which aren’t without their risks, we’re not exactly out of the woods just yet, but at least things are becoming “normal” again… well, for the time being, as much as they’re going to be.

All this hasn’t felt like two months… more like two weeks. As those of you who’ve been through the experience know too well, when it comes up, life becomes a matter of dropping everything, putting out fires and trying to stay in one piece in the process – on this end, a task admittedly easier said than done.

Along the way, what little time and energy could be carved out for this work made for a priceless refuge of sanity. But knowing all this, I hope you can understand that my priority needed to be elsewhere, and will remain so as my father's ongoing care and recovery call for it. For the most part, though, it’s a relief to be able to creak back into the saddle here, all the more given the moment now on tap – the annual end-of-cycle flurry, of which this week’s "DEFCON 1" is just one critical piece.

As you can imagine, these weeks have made for an exhausting, oft-disorienting road… but even for the hectic days, long nights and the sheer frustrating uncertainty of it all, we’ve been surrounded by an outpouring of grace which has done so much to pull us through. Among the salient ways it's been felt here, the prayers and check-ins from a humbling many of this crowd remain a precious blessing, and to those who helped keep the scribe's panic from getting worse by minding the shop and continuing to lend a hand with the bills, thanks for being even more of a Godsend than usual – know how I’ll never forget it.

Over the last two years and more, no shortage of ecclesial voices have aimed to prove their fidelity through heated debate on the Catholic response to challenges of family life... yet far from the easy glamor of the fray, some of us still realize that the real test lies in doing our part for the people we love. In that light, again, a world of thanks for all the understanding, patience, goodness and support – if you could, please keep the prayers up… and as you've never been here for the kid behind the curtain, back to the news.

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Saturday, May 12, 2018

"There Is No Turning Back Now" – In Historic Abuse Summit, Vatican Says Chilean Bench to Face "Consequences"

When the Pope hosted Chile's three most prominent survivors of clergy sex-abuse (above) last month for a weekend of private talks at the Domus, an unspoken history proved even more instructive than usual: in an unwitting coincidence, April 2018 marked ten years since the first-ever papal meeting with victims, as Benedict XVI spent an hour praying and listening to a group from Boston in the chapel of the Washington Nunciature, the moment only made public after the fact.

With the encounters now a standard piece of a Pope's travel schedule – and Francis having first welcomed survivors into his home in 2014 – the long-frame speaks to an intensified firsthand management of abuse scandals to a degree that, not all that long ago, would've been unthinkable. Yet even as Papa Bergoglio's recent invitation to personally ask forgiveness from the victims of the now-laicized predator Fernando Karadima and hear them out in full marked another major step in the evolution of the response, it's merely the prelude for the most dramatic Vatican intervention on the crisis of the last decade, if not longer.

Coming to pass over three days of talks beginning Tuesday, in itself the Pope's move to summon the Chilean bishops for "reflection" on the collapse of confidence in their church – one to which he glaringly contributed – is a distinct rarity: you'd have to go back to 1980, when John Paul II convoked a Synod intended to wrest Dutch Catholicism away from its perceived post-Conciliar excesses, to find the last instance of an entire national bench being called to Rome outside of a standard ad limina visit. (At least, that's the precedent in the Latin church; amid years of turmoil and bloodshed impacting its multiple Eastern-church communities, a special Synod for Lebanon was held in 1995.)

Still, as the Dutch group numbered just seven, and the first-of-its-kind Roman assembly devoted to a particular area was a year in the making, the convoking of a far-flung bench five times as large on a month's notice underscores the fresh sense of gravity surrounding the situation at hand. In other words, while no shortage of other local emergencies have routinely been addressed by Curial or Pope-level meetings with a country's cardinals, archbishops and/or the executive officers of an episcopal conference – as has occurred three times for the US, most recently twice amid the domestic abuse eruption in 2002 – the command performance of a full episcopate is about as close as it comes to an ecclesiastical DEFCON 1, and indicates the specter of drastic action to meet an epochal state of affairs.

On another front, it bears noting that the visitors have had little to no input on the agenda for the three-day summit – if anything, in a reversal of fortunes, Francis has tipped that the 2,300-page visitation report compiled by Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta (a famously uninhibited investigator of abuse) would form his basis for addressing the situation, its assessment likely amplified further by his in-person findings from Karadima's victims, who were long and openly derided by Chile's top hierarchs as enemies of the church.

In a press conference following their stay at the Domus, the trio of survivors spoke of being moved by the pontiff's repentance and concern, but nonetheless reserved their final judgment of the outcome pending Francis' public efforts to rectify the damage done. Asked what most stood out from their sessions with the Pope – first at length individually, then together – one of the men, José Andrés Murillo, replied that "when [Francis] said that the abuse and the cover-up was not a sin, but corruption, I thought that maybe he will do something significant," a point echoed by another of the group, James Hamilton, who revealed the pontiff's assurance to them that "there is no turning back now, there is no turning back on this road."

(As should be obvious to anyone who's spent more than 45 seconds reading the pontiff's daily Domus homilies, being distinguished from sinners "which we all are," "the corrupt" are a frequent and uniquely loaded target in Francis' arsenal of criticism – a category of people who are essentially beyond redemption, having lost their sense of sin and thus an awareness of their need for God's mercy. Among other examples, in a 2013 homily, the Pope put it bluntly, citing St John: "The corrupt are the antichrist.")

Categorical as those statements are in a vacuum, Francis' own role in the fiasco given his heated, years-long defense of Karadima's scandal-tarred protege, Bishop Juan Barros, including his own attacks of the victims as "leftists" and guilty of "calumny" – not to mention his almost unique, lifelong familiarity with the Chilean church, most of which borders his native Argentina – merely heightens the stakes.

Historically speaking, what had been the most extensive Vatican move on a localized abuse storm came in 2011, when Benedict placed the four archdioceses of Ireland under a yearlong apostolic visitation led by senior prelates from outside. Despite its scope, however, it was repeatedly emphasized that the probe "was not intended to replace or supersede the ordinary responsibility of bishops and religious superiors," and the closing report's laundry list of recommendations – much of which focused on seminary formation – were not accompanied by any decree giving the proposals juridical force, which left the bulk of the intended resolution to effectively languish.

Among other contrasts to his predecessor, Francis is considerably less reticent about exerting the papal prerogative of "full, supreme, universal and ordinary jurisdiction" over the entire church; the emphasis added here, the latter trait empowers the Pope to govern any part of the global fold as a bishop runs his own diocese. Accordingly, while resignations are widely expected to be in the offing – among others, the cardinal-archbishop of Santiago, Ricardo Ezzati, is over a year past the retirement age – a fuller shakeup would involve a striking imposition of direct authority: a type of Roman receivership (or, it could be said, "martial law") without modern precedent.

While the Chilean conference has spoken of making the trip "with humility and hope" – and called for public prayers across the country through next week – in his April letter summoning the bishops, Francis had said he was coming into the moment "with neither prejudice nor preconceived ideas." Yet in a conspicuous U-turn from that approach, a Vatican statement issued this morning by the Holy See spokesman Greg Burke, but carrying the Pope's implied imprimatur, signaled that the findings of his subsequent meeting with Karadima's victims had sparked his notorious Latin temper, addressing "consequences" and "the conversion of all" among the gathering's imperatives.

Here, a house translation of today's curtain-raiser, which was originally released in Spanish and Italian:
Pope Francis will meet the bishops of Chile from 15-17 May in the auletta [backstage anteroom] of the Paul VI [Audience] Hall.

This encounter follows the prior summons of the Chilean episcopate last April 8th. The Holy Father, recalling the circumstances and extraordinary challenges created by the abuse of power, sex and of conscience that have been uncovered in Chile over recent decades, finds it necessary to examine deeply its causes and consequences, as well as the mechanisms that were used in some cases of the cover-up and grave omissions in interactions with the victims.

In the course of the meetings, Pope Francis wishes to share his personal conclusions in consequence of the recent special mission in Chile entrusted to Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, and Fr Jordi Bertomeu of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and filled out by the numerous testimonies, written and verbal, that His Holiness has continued to receive in these last weeks.

During the encounter, at which 31 [active] diocesan and auxiliary bishops and two bishops-emeritus will participate, the Holy Father will be accompanied by the Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, Cardinal Marc Ouellet PSS.

The objective of this long "synodal process" is to discern together, in the presence of God, the responsibility of all and of each one in these devastating wounds, as well as studying adequate and durable changes which impede the repetition of these always reprehensible acts.

It is fundamental to re-establish trust in the Church by means of good pastors who witness with their lives to having known the voice of the Good Shepherd, and who know to accompany the suffering of victims and work in a determined and tireless way in the prevention of abuse.

The Holy Father is grateful for the availability of his brother bishops in placing themselves in docile and humble listening to the Holy Spirit and renews his petition to the People of God in Chile to continue in a state of prayer, that there might be the conversion of all.

It is not foreseen that Pope Francis will release any statement neither during nor after the meetings, which will take place in absolute confidentiality.
* * *
On two final pre-event notes, while an Associated Press report earlier today sought to portray the summit's venue in the antechamber of the Nervi Hall as something of a disparagement, that depiction doesn't reflect reality – if anything, the modern, mid-sized room is Francis' preferred site for relatively intimate group audiences given the two-minute walk from the Domus; among others he's received there include Queen Elizabeth II (for what was intended to be a warmer, more personal welcome than had the Papal Library in the Apostolic Palace been employed) and the Prince of Wales; the since-abdicated king of Spain, Juan Carlos, victims of terrorist attacks, high-ranking interfaith groups, soccer players, a delegation from the NFL, the leaders of the Knights of Columbus, last year's satellite chat with the astronauts of the International Space Station, and a global group of Pentecostal pastors, who used the moment to continue their usual practice of praying over Francis in tongues (above).

In this instance, there's an added benefit to the choice – as the Audience Hall isn't shared by any offices or residents, and with no entourages milling around, it's out of everyone else's earshot.

Meanwhile, in a liturgical sense, especially given the rationale for the encounter, its timing could hardly be more conspicuous: after all, the period between Ascension and Pentecost recalls the nine-day vigil of the locked-away apostles and disciples to prepare for the coming of the Holy Spirit, and with it, the birth – in this case, rebirth – of the church.

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Monday, April 30, 2018

Down Under, The Reckoning – Pope's CFO To Stand Trial for Abuse

For everything the Catholic world has seen over its decades-long horror show of abuse scandals, this May Day brings news of a rare uncharted moment – a cardinal will stand trial on sex crimes... and not just any cardinal, at that.

Capping a two-month preliminary hearing to weigh the evidence against Cardinal George Pell, a judge in Melbourne ruled early Wednesday that the first-ever Vatican CFO – likewise a member of Pope Francis' "Gang of Nine" lead advisers – would be tried on "multiple historical sexual offenses," with courtroom reports relaying that half the original charges had been dismissed on grounds of lacking witnesses or other corroboration.

Ten months since the 76 year-old's historic indictment after an investigation by police in his native state of Victoria, the number and specifics of the surviving counts remain sketchy, the entire slate having been laid out in earlier proceedings closed to the press and public. According to the state broadcaster ABC, however, at least one charge dates to Pell's time as archbishop of Melbourne in the 1990s.

An Oxford-trained historian with a devoted following among the church's conservative wing, Pell was transferred from Australian Catholicism's largest diocese to its marquee post – the archbishopric of Sydney – in 2001, made a cardinal in 2003 and brought to Rome in 2014 by Francis, who entrusted the battle-ready Aussie with a sweeping mandate to clean up the Vatican's long-troubled, multi-pronged financial behemoth and consolidate it under his control.

In that light, as Pell has been on a self-described "leave" as Prefect for the Economy to fight the charges since their announcement late last June, yet still officially holds the title – and his deputy at the new Secretariat, Msgr Alfred Xuereb, was subsequently promoted as Archbishop-Nuncio to South Korea without being replaced – the fate of what's arguably the most significant plank of the Pope's attempt at internal reform has been thrown into doubt. (And, indeed, it could be said that's just how the natives want it.)

As previously reported, the cardinal is not expected to return to the Roman post following the trial, regardless of its outcome. Pell turns 77 in June, and – at least, under current circumstances – will remain Australia's lone papal elector until his 80th birthday.

While Pell's ideological fan-base has sought to portray the scrutiny of the cardinal as a "persecution" driven by revenge for his china-busting interventions on social issues, even his most bitter critics at home have viewed the likelihood of a conviction as far-fetched. In any case, the court process has taken place against a uniquely brutal double backdrop: Pell's history as perhaps the most polarizing figure in Australian life over the last two decades, compounded by the damning fallout of a five-year national probe of sex-abuse in churches and schools, which saw the cardinal's successor in Sydney admit the church's "criminal negligence," and whose sprawling final report in December (after interviews with some 8,000 survivors) called for changes to the church's hiring and consultation practices as well as a revision to canon law that would remove the pontifical secret from internal investigations and tribunals.

Escorted into the courthouse this morning by police given the usual scrum of protestors and media outside, Pell pled not guilty to the remaining charges. Per wire reports, some spectators in the courtroom broke into applause as the hearing ended.

The date for the cardinal's trial has not been set.

The Australian ruling is but one piece of the impending news-cycle which will plunge the wider church afresh into the scandals and their enduring toll. On one front, having spent last weekend with three prominent Chilean victim-survivors to apologize and hear their stories and recommendations, the Pope will lead an extraordinary summit with all the country's bishops in mid-May after his initial response to the most prominent abuse case there caused a global debacle. In the US, meanwhile, a statewide grand jury probing six of Pennsylvania's eight Latin-church dioceses is expected to publish its final report within the coming weeks, its contents already tipped to be blistering by survivor advocates and church officials alike.

Chartered after a 2016 grand jury on the diocese of Altoona-Johnstown saw three Franciscan provincials charged, decades of cover-ups detailed and the attorney general's office "flooded" with fresh allegations, the statewide panel's mandate is set to expire this spring following two years of testimony, underpinned by the subpoena of personnel files dating back to 1947 from the Chanceries of Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton – a group whose respective handling of cases has conspicuously varied through the years.

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