Thursday, September 18, 2014

For Sydney, The Fisher King – Pell's Protege Returns as Archbishop

In his most significant appointment to date in the English-speaking world, at Roman Noon this Thursday (8pm on Harbour Bridge) the Pope named Anthony Fisher OP, the 54 year-old bishop of Parramatta, as ninth archbishop of Sydney.

In Australia's marquee post, the Oxford-trained bioethicist and lawyer succeeds his mentor, Cardinal George Pell, who Francis brought to his side in February to oversee a revolution of Vatican operations as head of the newly-created Secretariat for the Economy, now the Roman Curia's second-ranking office.

Put simply, the move is little surprise. Practically from his appointment as auxiliary to Pell in 2003, the boyish prelate raised on the city's outskirts was acclaimed as a rising star, and his combination of youthful enthusiasm and sterling academic chops quickly garnered an unusual amount of attention across the Anglophone church.

A solicitor for several years before entering the Dominicans, Fisher's profile was bolstered even more in short order when the friar was entrusted with overseeing Sydney's turn at hosting World Youth Day in July 2008. The role would become a mixed blessing, however, as the now-archbishop created a furor during the event with his remark terming the focus of "a few people" on the Aussie church's sex-abuse crisis amid the celebrations as "dwelling crankily on old wounds."

Accordingly, in his first comments upon today's appointment, Fisher aimed to turn the page on the comment, saying that "Victims of abuse and all young people must come first – no excuses, no cover-ups.

"The church must do better in this area, and I am committed to playing a leading role in regaining the confidence of the community and of our own members.... The Catholic Church in Australia is going through a period of public scrutiny and self-examination. I hope it will emerge from this purified, humbler, more compassionate and spiritually regenerated."

The "public scrutiny" refers to an ongoing Australian state inquiry into the history of the church's response to abuse in its institutions. Pell himself drew outraged criticism after an August statement while testifying to the panel which sought to compare the church's degree of liability to that of a "trucking company" whose driver "picks up some lady and then molests her."

Markedly more finessed than his "bull in a china shop" mentor, the successor who, given his religious roots, prefers to be known as "Bishop Anthony" likewise comes to the post with a new generation's tech savvy. Since taking the helm of Parramatta – comprising the city's western suburbs, said to be Australia's "fastest-growing diocese" – in 2010, the archbishop-elect has likewise taken to Twitter and maintains his own Facebook presence, where his latest post shared the news of today's appointment.

"I'm very excited to be returning to the Archdiocese of Sydney and building on strong foundations," he wrote. "I ask you to pray for me that I might be a good shepherd after the heart of Jesus Christ."

Heavily tipped for the nod from the moment Pell's departure for Rome was announced, throughout the seven-month process the choice for Sydney was universally seen as a two-horse race between Fisher and another favorite of the cardinal's, Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, who turns 66 next week.

Acclaimed in the Oz media for his searing commentary on the abuse storm, the appointment comes days after Coleridge gave a strikingly candid long interview to Australian state radio on topics ranging from his own "delayed" maturity to the Vatican's handling of the crisis' US eruption in 2002, which he witnessed firsthand as a staffer in the Secretariat of State.

By opting for the younger choice, Francis has given Fisher a two-decade run in Australian Catholicism's most prominent post, the traditional home of the country's lone resident red hat. On another front, meanwhile, the prodigal Friar-Preacher is the second Dominican to be given a major English-language post by Papa Bergoglio after Malcolm McMahon OP, who Francis named to Liverpool – Britain's largest diocese – in March. And while the Stateside church stands in wait for the all-important appointment to Chicago – now said to be pending before the Congregation for Bishops – the duo are among at least a dozen "cardinalatial sees" across the globe awaiting the Pope's selection of new occupants over the next several months.

Given the late hour in Sydney, the archbishop-elect will likely face the cameras on Friday, local time. Fisher's installation date remains to be announced.

SVILUPPO: In his first interview upon the announcement – a brief chat with Vatican Radio – an audibly stunned Fisher said he learned of the appointment about a week ago and has "been in shock" ever since.

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Sunday, September 14, 2014

"I Love You, And For This Love I Help You" – At Vatican Mass Wedding, "Papa Moon" on Marriage

Beginning the period of imminent prep for his "baby" – a Synodal revolution he's mentally plotted out over a decade and a half, the family as its first focus – earlier this Sunday the Pope witnessed the marriage of 20 couples at a morning Mass in St Peter's.

If the language of the moment below isn't universal, Church, you've got some month ahead:


...here, meanwhile the celebrant's homily to the couples and congregation:

Today’s first reading speaks to us of the people’s journey through the desert. We can imagine them as they walked, led by Moses; they were families: fathers, mothers, sons and daughters, grandparents, men and women of all ages, accompanied by many children and the elderly who struggled to make the journey. This people reminds us of the Church as she makes her way across the desert of the contemporary world, reminds us of the People of God composed, for the most part, of families.

This makes us think of families, our families, walking along the paths of life with all their day to day experiences. It is impossible to quantify the strength and depth of humanity contained in a family: mutual help, educational support, relationships developing as family members mature, the sharing of joys and difficulties. Families are the first place in which we are formed as persons and, at the same time, the "bricks" for the building up of society.

Let us return to the biblical story. At a certain point, "the people became impatient on the way" (Num 21:4). They are tired, water supplies are low and all they have for food is manna, which, although plentiful and sent by God, seems far too meagre in a time of crisis. And so they complain and protest against God and against Moses: "Why did you make us leave?..." (cf. Num. 21:5). They are tempted to turn back and abandon the journey.

Here our thoughts turn to married couples who "become impatient on the way", the way of conjugal and family life. The hardship of the journey causes them to experience interior weariness; they lose the flavour of matrimony and they cease to draw water from the well of the Sacrament. Daily life becomes burdensome, and often, even "nauseating".

During such moments of disorientation – the Bible says – poisonous serpents come and bite the people, and many die. This causes the people to repent and to turn to Moses for forgiveness, asking him to beseech the Lord so that he will cast out the snakes. Moses prays to the Lord, and the Lord offers a remedy: a bronze serpent set on a pole; whoever looks at it will be saved from the deadly poison of the vipers.

What is the meaning of this symbol? God does not destroy the serpents, but rather offers an "antidote": by means of the bronze serpent fashioned by Moses, God transmits his healing strength, namely his mercy, which is more potent than the Tempter’s poison.

As we have heard in the Gospel, Jesus identifies himself with this symbol: out of love the Father "has given" his only begotten Son so that men and women might have eternal life (cf. Jn 3:13-17). Such immense love of the Father spurs the Son to become man, to become a servant and to die for us upon a cross. Out of such love, the Father raises up his son, giving him dominion over the entire universe. This is expressed by Saint Paul in his hymn in the Letter to the Philippians (cf. 2:6-11). Whoever entrusts himself to Jesus crucified receives the mercy of God and finds healing from the deadly poison of sin.

The cure which God offers the people applies also, in a particular way, to spouses who "have become impatient on the way" and who succumb to the dangerous temptation of discouragement, infidelity, weakness, abandonment… To them too, God the Father gives his Son Jesus, not to condemn them, but to save them: if they entrust themselves to him, he will bring them healing by the merciful love which pours forth from the Cross, with the strength of his grace that renews and sets married couples and families once again on the right path.

The love of Christ, which has blessed and sanctified the union of husband and wife, is able to sustain their love and to renew it when, humanly speaking, it becomes lost, wounded or worn out. The love of Christ can restore to spouses the joy of journeying together. This is what marriage is all about: man and woman walking together, wherein the husband helps his wife to become ever more a woman, and wherein the woman has the task of helping her husband to become ever more a man. This is the task that you both share. "I love you, and for this love I help you to become ever more a woman"; "I love you, and for this love I help you to become ever more a man". Here we see the reciprocity of differences. The path is not always a smooth one, free of disagreements, otherwise it would not be human. It is a demanding journey, at times difficult, and at times turbulent, but such is life! Within this theology which the word of God offers us concerning the people on a journey, spouses on a journey, I would like to give you some advice. It is normal for husband and wife to argue: it’s normal. It always happens. But my advice is this: never let the day end without having first made peace. Never! A small gesture is sufficient. Thus the journey may continue. Marriage is a symbol of life, real life: it is not "fiction"! It is the Sacrament of the love of Christ and the Church, a love which finds its proof and guarantee in the Cross. My desire for you is that you have a good journey, a fruitful one, growing in love. I wish you happiness. There will be crosses! But the Lord is always there to help us move forward. May the Lord bless you!

* * *
As a bookend to today's rites – and in a moving nod to the preeminent figure in Papa Bergoglio's own life – in early September the Holy See announced that Francis' long planned Square Mass and meeting with grandparents on the 28th would double as the centerpiece of a global day of prayer for the Synod and its success.

While promised Vatican texts for the occasion still remain to be released, the participation of the local churches has already been expressly urged.

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Thursday, September 11, 2014


O God of love, compassion, and healing,
look on us, people of many different faiths
and traditions,
who gather today at this site,
the scene of incredible violence and pain.
We ask you in your goodness
to give eternal light and peace
to all who died here—
the heroic first-responders:
our fire fighters, police officers,
emergency service workers, and
Port Authority personnel,
along with all the innocent men and women
who were victims of this tragedy
simply because their work or service
brought them here on September 11, 2001.

We ask you, in your compassion
to bring healing to those
who, because of their presence here that day,
suffer from injuries and illness.
Heal, too, the pain of still-grieving families
and all who lost loved ones in this tragedy.
Give them strength to continue their lives
with courage and hope.
We are mindful as well
of those who suffered death, injury, and loss
on the same day at the Pentagon and in
Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Our hearts are one with theirs
as our prayer embraces their pain and suffering.

God of peace, bring your peace to our violent world:
peace in the hearts of all men and women
and peace among the nations of the earth.
Turn to your way of love
those whose hearts and minds
are consumed with hatred.
God of understanding,
overwhelmed by the magnitude of this tragedy,
we seek your light and guidance
as we confront such terrible events.
Grant that those whose lives were spared
may live so that the lives lost here
may not have been lost in vain.
Comfort and console us,
strengthen us in hope,
and give us the wisdom and courage
to work tirelessly for a world
where true peace and love reign
among nations and in the hearts of all.
–Prayer of Pope Benedict XVI
Ground Zero, New York
20 April 2008
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Monday, September 08, 2014

A Priest Forever

SVILUPPO: Fr William Carmona was called home just before 3pm CT on Wednesday, 10 September. May the angels lead him into Paradise... and at the end of his suffering, may he know the face of the High Priest he strove to serve and imitate among us.

* * *
Almost eighteen years ago, the then-rector of Dunwoodie and auxiliary of New York rushed to the family home of one of his seminarians. Chrism stock in hand and two stoles over his arm, he greeted his destination with an unforgettable line: "Eugene, we're going to make you a priest!"

Three hours after his ordination on a couch by the now-Cardinal Ed O'Brien, Fr Eugene Hamilton died at 24, taken by an incurable tumor in his chest.

Today in San Antonio, it happened again: in the last stages of a returned cancer now spread beyond treatment, William Carmona, 50, was ordained both deacon and priest on his deathbed by his bishop, Nashville's David Choby.

Born in Colombia as one of 13 children, the new priest's hospital-room rite – which came together in a matter of hours – owed itself to Fr Carmona's studies at Assumption Seminary, the bilingual house which has seen record numbers of men in formation over recent years as the Stateside church's de facto Hispanic majority continues its emergence into ecclesial life.

As the ordinand lay unresponsive in bed, a nurse keeping watch close by, the moving, surreal rite was captured by San Antonio's in-house Catholic Television arm... here below in full:


Much as the moment more than speaks for itself, God reward everyone who made it possible. And Danny... well, 'nuff said.

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Sunday, September 07, 2014

"This Beautiful Disciple" – San Diego's Cirilo Dies at 66

In just the latest blow to a diocese which has already seen an outsize share of drama over recent years, Bishop Cirilo Flores of San Diego died Saturday at 66 after a sudden, stunning decline through the last several months.

According to a statement from the Chancery, Flores passed away peacefully before 3pm Pacific time at Nazareth House, a local hospice where he had arrived just a day before.

A Stanford Law grad who worked for several years as a corporate attorney before entering St John's Seminary, Camarillo – from which he was ordained at 43 – Flores spent his priesthood in the parishes of the diocese of Orange until his appointment as an auxiliary there in 2009 by the now-retired Benedict XVI. In early 2012, the "cheerful, happily low-profile" cleric became Papa Ratzinger's surprise choice as coadjutor of San Diego, now a million-member diocese in the US' eight-largest city, which in 2007 became American Catholicism's biggest outpost to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy to enable the settlement of 144 sex-abuse suits for $198 million.

After a 19 month apprenticeship under Bishop Robert Brom, Flores succeeded as the border diocese's fifth head last September 18th, when Brom retired on his 75th birthday after nearly 25 years in office. Over his short tenure, "Bishop Cirilo" – the first Hispanic to hold the post – evoked local comparisons with Pope Francis for his simple, smiling style and dedication to the trenches from which he emerged.

Flores had not been seen in public since Holy Week, on the Wednesday of which (April 16th) he suffered a mild stroke. While the diocese reported that the bishop's recovery was progressing and initially foresaw his return within weeks, the story took a marked shift over the last month after Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles visited, reportedly to find Flores some 80 pounds lighter and learning that his southern suffragan had neglected routine medical care for several years. In response, Gomez took personal charge of the bishop's health, bringing Flores north to LA as his guest in the archbishop's residence at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. After an initial battery of tests there raised further alarm, in mid-August the bishop was admitted to USC's Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, where earlier this week Flores was diagnosed with "a widespread, very advanced and very aggressive" cancer "of unknown origin" which had spread into his bones and precluded any options for treatment.

As Flores and Brom both served as understudy before taking the reins, with the former's death, the San Diego post has fallen vacant for the first time since 1969, when the Philadelphia-born Francis Furey was named archbishop of San Antonio. With the diocese lacking any active auxiliaries, the formidable longtime vicar-general, Msgr Steven Callahan, has minded the shop throughout the bishop's illness and is the virtually certain choice to be elected administrator should the standard process be cleared to proceed.

The southern anchor of the Stateside church's largest province, San Diego ranks among the nation's top 15 dioceses in Catholic population. Between its size, the turmoil of recent years and, with these, that the state of the diocese is barely changed since the consultations leading to Flores' own selection were taken, the appointment of the sixth bishop is expected on a relatively fast track. Accordingly, with the choice likely to set off a round of musical chairs, quiet discussions on the succession have already been broached.

Said to have been the topic of a planned Friday meeting of the San Diego deans, the funeral arrangements remain to be announced. Notably, the priests of the diocese have long been scheduled to gather in convocation over four days later this month.

In any case, in a 2011 talk to a group in Orange, Flores recounted his own unusual vocation story, and it fits the moment....



As one San Diego priest termed him, "this wonderful man, compassionate shepherd, and beautiful disciple of our Lord"... one who, before his elevation, was a donor to these pages (for transparency's sake: $100, once) and a friend throughout.

He'll be missed by many – and indeed, we won't just be praying for him, but to him.

Well done, good and faithful servant. It's simply too soon. Rest in peace.

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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Cae La Bomba – With Madrid and Valencia, Francis Plays "Spanish Roulette"

In what could be considered the most decisive dealing of major posts he's made over his 18-month pontificate, at Roman Noon this Thursday the Pope defied most projections in appointing Carlos Osoro Sierra (right), the 69 year-old archbishop of Valencia, to the all-important archbishopric of Madrid – both Spain's capital and, with 3.4 million Catholics, the country's largest diocese.

His name only surfaced for the post in recent days, the succession to the retiring Cardinal Antonio Maria Rouco Varela, 78, had been long and widely thought to be destined for the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera. Instead, the 68 year-old theologian – known as El Ratzingerino (the "Little Ratzinger") for his close ties to Benedict XVI – has been dispatched to succeed Osoro in Valencia, Spain's second-largest local church, which likewise happens to be his hometown.

No new prefect of CDW was named alongside Cañizares' transfer. As the handovers of the Curia's top posts are traditionally arranged with no small amount of detail, it is exceedingly rare for a congregation's top office to be vacant for any reason other than the occupant's death.

Notably, the year of buzz over the cardinal's future at CDW was able to continue as Cañizares had been the lone head of a Roman congregation who Francis did not reconfirm in office following his election. As the Pope reaches the year-and-a-half mark since his election on 13 September, it bears recalling that several other dicastery chiefs remain in a similar limbo, among them the prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, the Wisconsin-born Cardinal Raymond Burke.

After almost years eight years at the helm of the office overseeing the global church's liturgical life, Cañizares' (above) swan-song came in a July letter which concluded a years-long consultation aimed at avoiding "abuses" in the Sign of Peace at Mass.

Having preached the Spanish episcopate's 2006 retreat and sharing his native language with the group, the relative surprise of today's double move serves to further underscore Francis' determination to be his own man where he's sufficiently appraised on a given situation. What's more, however, given Osoro's lengthy background in pastoral work and adult education before going on to lead three dioceses, the Madrid pick – an ecclesial moderate said to have an "unequaled capacity for work," and reportedly dubbed "The Pilgrim" by Francis thanks to his zest for the trenches of ecclesial life – was apparently deemed a more optimal fit for the role of this Pope's de facto "face" of Spanish Catholicism in the wake of Rouco's oft-combative two-decade tenure.

As archbishop of Madrid, Osoro is all but certain to become a cardinal at the next consistory, all the more as no Spanish elector was elevated by Papa Bergoglio at last February's intake. Despite having merely 350,000 fewer Catholics than Madrid, meanwhile, the five-century old Valencia seat only received its first red hat in 2007, when Osoro's predecessor Agustín García-Gasco was given the scarlet by B16; García retired 15 months later.

At the now Pope-emeritus' first consistory in 2006, Cañizares was elevated to the College as archbishop of Toledo – as Spain's eldest diocese, the country's primatial see – which has a Catholic population of just 650,000. While Toledo has routinely been the seat of a Spanish cardinal alongside Madrid and Barcelona, at least to date, his successor there, 70 year-old Braulio Rodriguez, has not been called to follow suit.

In another unusual aspect to the shuffle, with today's moves both Osoro and Cañizares have been tapped to lead their third archdiocese.

Beyond Madrid, another key opening in the Spanish-speaking world has been pending for some time and is likewise expected to be filled in short order: Havana, where Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino turns 78 in October. As Ortega has been assailed by hard-liners for employing a diplomatic approach over his two-decade tenure which has yielded limited freedoms for the church by Cuba's Communist regime, the appointment of his successor will be interpreted as setting Francis' intended course for the Catholic response to the island's fraught political situation.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Bishop Danny Departs – After 10 Month Wait, Philly's Thomas to Toledo

Settling the US church's longest mainland vacancy, at Roman Noon this Tuesday – in a rare August nod – the Pope named Bishop Daniel Thomas, 55, the senior auxiliary of Philadelphia, as eighth bishop of Toledo.

In the post overseeing the 300,000-member Northwest Ohio fold, the nominee succeeds now-Archbishop Leonard Blair, who was transferred to Hartford last October, just shy of his tenth anniversary in the diocese.

A longtime staffer at the Congregation for Bishops, Thomas' appointment to a chair of his own has been heavily expected over recent months, with Toledo and the likewise-pending slots in Lexington and Greensburg cited as the potential destinations. In any event, the nod marks the third time since June that a Stateside appointment has gone to a well-regarded veteran auxiliary first named in his 40s, after Baltimore's Mitch Rozanski was sent to Springfield and Newark's Edgar da Cunha (the US' first-ever Brazilian-born prelate) was tapped for Fall River.

Always quick with a smile and immaculately turned out, over a 15-year tenure running the English Desk at Bishops (1990-2005), the warm, wiry prelate universally known as "Danny Thomas" became one of the Roman scene's most popular American mainstays. Having doubled up his Curial workload with ministry as a spiritual director at the Pontifical North American College, the degree of affection most memorably showed at the young bishop's ordination in July 2006, when it looked as if half the Vatican and its attendant circles had descended for the festivities.

Over the time since, Thomas – who initially served as pastor of an Italian parish on his return from Rome – has been responsible for a sprawling chunk of the 1.1 million-member Philly church, stretching from his boyhood home in the city's Northwest corner across the predominantly wealthy and densely populated Montgomery County corridor, in addition to guiding the Chancery departments for clergy and communications. Known for a particular sensitivity to the sick and suffering, in his spare time the bishop has helped care for his 102 year-old great-aunt, who's now staying in a local Catholic nursing home.

In Toledo, the incoming shepherd will find a charge whose challenges are far from unique, but where the lion's share of tough calls has already been handled. A mix of hard-hit industrial towns and stable rural areas spread across 19 counties, like much of Catholicism in the Northeast and upper Midwest, the 8,200 square-mile diocese has felt the brunt of an aging, declining population over the last several decades. In light of the demographic shift, Blair undertook two difficult cycles of pastoral planning in 2005 and 2011, which yielded the closing or consolidation of a combined quarter of what had been 161 parishes. Beyond the apparatus, meanwhile, the diocese was roiled by the case of Fr Gerald Robinson, which made national headlines on his 2006 conviction in the 1980 murder of a religious sister at a local Catholic hospital where they both worked. The tumult resurfaced during the interregnum upon Robinson's July death in prison at 76, especially given the decision to give the criminal cleric a full priest's funeral.

While friends have voiced concerns over the back trouble that's reportedly plagued the appointee for several years, especially in light of the long drives ahead of him, on the whole, what Thomas will find in Toledo might just feel relaxing when compared with a Philadelphia scene in which everything that could've possibly erupted over the last four years has done precisely that. Even as an all-but-officially-announced papal visit in September 2015 for the Vatican's World Meeting of Families has begun to generate a measure of good feeling and enthusiasm, the mountain of crises that emerged in the wake of the 2011 grand jury report will take some years yet to be fully resolved. Among other facets, one criminal (re-)trial remains in the spring before roughly a dozen civil abuse suits can proceed, a planning effort that's already seen the folding of nearly 50 parishes has another two years until completion, and a steady stream of sales and leases of archdiocesan holdings are just beginning to level a long-term deficit which topped out in the $300 million range. Having braved the most thankless assignment an American prelate has known in at least the last half-century, Archbishop Charles Chaput OFM Cap. marks his third anniversary in the post next week.

A 9am presser called by Toledo Chancery, Thomas' installation in the majestic Rosary Cathedral (above) is set for 22 October, now the feast of St John Paul II.

With today's appointment, all of three Stateside dioceses remain vacant, while the number of (arch)bishops serving past the retirement age of 75 now stands at seven following this summer's birthdays of Archbishop Michael Sheehan of Santa Fe and Bishops William Dedinger of Grand Island, Michael Driscoll of Boise and David Fellhauer of Victoria. With the quartet's letters submitted to Rome, no other US ordinaries will follow suit in 2014; indeed, as the Latin church goes, the next domestic spot to come open due to age will be Long Island's 1.5 million-member diocese of Rockville Centre, where Bishop William Murphy turns 75 next May 14th.

Of course, topping the current docket is the all-important nod for Chicago – with 2.3 million members, Stateside Catholicism's third largest outpost. Quite possibly shaping up to be Pope Francis' lone selection for the US hierarchy's top rank, an appointment is currently expected in late autumn, with Cardinal Francis George's successor installed by Christmas.

On a side-note, this Appointment Day finds Blair just up the road from Toledo in his native Detroit, where the Hartford prelate has returned to preach the funeral of his mentor, Cardinal Edmund Szoka, the longtime Vatican financier and Polish confidant of John Paul, who died last week at 88.

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