Whispers in the Loggia

All of six years ago, Fr Chuck Thompson was a parish priest in Louisville and vicar-general to its archbishop.... And today, a rapid rise completes itself – across the Ohio River from his hometown, he’s now his former boss’ equal as head of Indiana’s metropolitan church.

For the first time in the reign of Francis, an appointee of his own holds the distinction of being the youngest American archbishop. Yet anyone who’d conflate the 56 year-old’s youth with "inexperience" is sorely mistaken; whether as an alum and professor of Indy’s Benedictine seminary at St Meinrad, his lifelong closeness to his now-predecessor, Archbishop Daniel Buechlein, or his time already served on the Indiana bench, as transitions go, this one’s as seamless as it gets.

Nevertheless, there are some things even the “ArchChuck” still has to learn – for one, the Pallium “nail” (pin) is worn over one’s left shoulder, not the right.

Having marked the hour of his June appointment by taking a run through the streets he’s long known as an “adopted son” of Indianapolis, after breaking into tears on being seated in its Chair, the Pope’s pick formally took the reins today with an unusual, but fitting break from custom, sharing his vision for the 300,000-member church’s road ahead – a call from polarization to reconciliation rooted in what (a decade ago this week) Benedict XVI once termed the church’s “Great ‘Et Et’... and doing so as two of this pontificate’s Stateside “great powers” – one of them his cardinal-predecessor – approvingly looked on.

Given the possibility that the preach was really a stealth plea for BBN loyalties to be accepted in Hoosier Country, well, even an archbishop can dream....

For the substance, meanwhile, here’s the game-film:

Moving rapidly to bridge the long divide within Stateside Catholicism's most gerrymandered outpost – uniquely carved so that Meinrad would remain within its lines – the traveling Chuck-show begins this very weekend with a Sunday Mass two hours and over 100 miles to the south in New Albany: a significant nod to his new charge's heavily-Protestant, oft-disregarded rural tier... or, as the archbishop of Anchorage calls it, "home."

Posted: July 29, 2017, 1:41 am
Over the decade ending next spring, the Stateside church will have opened four new cathedrals. The sign of the times, however, lies in the specifics – all but one have been built to serve Catholicism's epic emergence in the heart of the American South.

Though the cycle doesn't wrap up until early 2018, yesterday saw the dedication of the largest of the group: Raleigh's 2,000-seat, $46 million Cathedral of the Holy Name of Jesus – the new hub for a 550,000-member fold not only doubled in size over the last decade, but tripled since 1990 on the back of massive migration both from the Rust Belt and Latin America.

Impressive as the upgrade is on its own, that's all the more the case considering what the new structure replaces: the 250-seat downtown church dedicated to the Sacred Heart, designated as the diocesan seat upon Raleigh's founding in 1924, and until now the smallest cathedral in the continental United States. Given the population boom, the parish's dozen weekend Masses have invariably drawn overflow crowds stretching past its doors; over the site's final Sunday, it was said that some of the liturgies saw people gathered around the windows outside and straining to follow along. (Even with the expanded space, the new cathedral parish will still celebrate seven liturgies each weekend.)

Built on a century-old property initially acquired by Maryknoll missionaries, while local officials have aimed to compare Holy Name's size to St Patrick's in New York and the Stateside fold's other storied outposts, another stat is more telling: with its launch, Raleigh is now home to the largest mother church of an American see that isn't an archdiocese. As Catholics barely comprised a single percent of North Carolina's population until the last quarter-century, the milestone further consolidates the faithful's historic ascent in the Tar Heel State, which has likewise birthed what's said to be the nation's largest parish – the 10,000-family behemoth at St Matthew's in suburban Charlotte.

Its copper dome already an established presence on the Raleigh skyline, the finished cathedral represents an evolved design from its first draft; after the early plans garnered criticism over their cost and concept, a scaled-back reworking based on wider consultation expanded the narthex, loaded the transepts with altar-facing pews and ditched a number of bells and whistles like an underground parking garage. At the same time, as a nod to its local context, the Romanesque-inspired product features quintessentially American touches – mostly red brick on the outside, and apart from the stained glass and life-size statues of 26 saints around the nave, a lack of interior adornment in favor of a strikingly white decor, both a traditional hallmark of the South’s Protestant churches as well as a choice reminiscent of the nation's first cathedral, Baltimore's Basilica of the Assumption, which was conceived with an eye to architecturally inculturating Catholicism to the American experiment. (In this particular instance, the latter piece is all the more significant: North Carolina’s first resident bishop, James Gibbons, was baptized in the Baltimore shrine and was sent to Wilmington as the state’s founding vicar-apostolic, serving there from 1868-72 before returning home to the Premier See, where he would become its first cardinal-archbishop and reign for 45 years.)

Marked in turns by reverence and exuberance, yesterday's rites capped an unusually emotional year for the project's builder, who fittingly – and gratefully – returned to do the honors with relish.

Upon learning of his transfer to Arlington last fall as nearly a decade of planning, fundraising and construction neared the finish line, Bishop Michael Burbidge understandably wept. And on coming back to see his vision brought fully to life – delivering it on-time, on-budget and without any enduring debt – as he said early yesterday, "My knees buckled."

In the end, however, the moment was nonetheless bound to be fleeting. Handed the keys to the building by the construction team as the first of multiple ovations thundered through the space, Burbidge promptly passed them to his successor, Bishop Luis Zarama, who takes possession of the cathedral and its marble and gilt throne as his own in late August.

And if that poetic moment – the handover from a Northeast-born Anglo to a Hispanic immigrant in the church's "New South" – doesn't sum up the reality of this era in the nation's Catholic history, then nothing ever could.

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Here, fullvid of the three-hour Dedication Mass – and its 70-page worship aid:

...and to mark the occasion, a prime-time special aired last night on the city's NBC affiliate, WRAL:

In the short term, the final lap of the US' new cathedral crop comes early next year – of course, again in the South. Amid the church's exponential growth in East Tennessee, Knoxville's $28 million, 1,500-seat replacement for Sacred Heart Cathedral will be opened on March 3rd, overflowing with frescoes and capped by a Florentine-style dome.

That said, what's arguably the Stateside fold's most prominent and intensely-watched project of the kind is now formally underway out West: within the last six weeks, construction finally began for the conversion of Orange County's landmark Crystal Cathedral into the seat of its 1.3 million-member diocese, with completion currently eyed for sometime in mid-2019.

Five years since the 34-acre campus made famous by Dr Robert Schuller's "Hour of Power" was purchased for a song by the growing Orange church, the work on its centerpiece belies the reality that the rest of the site's half-dozen buildings have already been put to ecclesial use, with the diocesan Chancery, a school, several media entities and more already based there at full tilt.

Liturgically, meanwhile, the campus' first worship space – the 1960s-era Arboretum – is serving as the de facto Cathedral church for the time being, hosting most of the diocese's major events and drawing over 12,000 people every weekend across 14 Masses in four languages: English, Spanish, Vietnamese and Chinese.

Posted: July 27, 2017, 9:23 pm
To be sure, the Vatican doesn't observe The 4th... still, the place's annual obsession with fireworks over these days has never exactly been a secret.

At least, it's not for those who've been around here long enough. Even for that, though, in terms of the broad sweep of things, what we've just seen – and what's yet to come of it – is simply on another level.

Long story short, apart from the days surrounding B16's resignation and the Conclave that followed, this scribe simply can't recall a more dramatic nor impactful news-cycle than the one suddenly sprung over the last 10 days: to top it off, of what're now the three principal dicasteries of the Roman Curia, two of their heads were wiped out within 48 hours.

Lest that didn't sink in the first time, read it again.

Put another way, when a Consistory isn't the top-line of the week – let alone the month – in which it happens, Peter and Paul gets lost in the shuffle, and no less than the Pope's pick for the largest diocesan seat in Europe is practically an afterthought, if you don't know how uncharted this is, you're not paying attention.

All around, while July 1 normally signals the end of the circus, the threads now afoot have made the period ahead anything but routine. For starters, we're 10 days out from a moment without precedent – the Vatican's de facto #2 cardinal in a criminal court back home, facing the specter of watershed sex-charges (their precise nature still to be clarified). And that's leaving aside the customary last files already decided, but not yet announced... a good few events of wider import on tap... and, indeed, the sheer unknown that's always with us.

As you might expect, by this point in a "normal" July, this scribe can really use a breather. Frankly, that's all the more so this time around, but finding one will be a bit trickier than usual. So if and when things are able to go quiet here for a couple days here and there over the next few weeks, hope you'll understand – as they take the brunt the rest of the time, my family and friends would appreciate it.

When it comes to the major stuff, however, the intent is to be in the saddle here – at least, to the degree that you make it happen.

Ergo – with a boatload of thanks to everyone who's helped the shop get through the first round of these days – as the bills are ever a work in progress, keeping all this going is the one part of this work that's in this readership's hands...

Again, all thanks – especially now, this side of the screen sure doesn't want the plug pulled... but for those who haven't yet grasped the ongoing lesson of the Northeast, well, looking at somebody else and thinking that "They'll do it" is the ultimate reason for why things close.

Lastly, while some have been griping this way over how the "Holy Office" train blew through last weekend, suffice it to say, the initial reports on it simply didn’t meet Whispers’ standards of verification – and on a move as high-octane as that, the sheer risk of getting it wrong just wouldnt've been worth destroying one’s reputation over (even if, given history, that very confluence would’ve been deliciously fitting).

Still, much as the standard “rule of three” wasn't reached before the announcement itself, one senior Vatican op did confirm the buzz amid the war-zone of last Friday afternoon, tipping the full outcome of the moment at hand in these words:

“Yes, Müller is leaving.... And Pell will never return.”

At least so far, time and events have proven him right....

For the rest, stay tuned – that is, as you will so permit.

Posted: July 9, 2017, 2:21 pm
And so, after months of anticipation, "The Big One" has arrived – arguably the most significant personnel choice of any Pope Francis will make across his pontificate.

Yet while the ancient chair of Milan has been occupied over 18 centuries by saints, future Popes – and, more recently, the intellectual heavyweights of their respective ecclesial eras – in selecting its 144th holder, Papa Bergoglio opted instead for the "man behind the curtain," picking Bishop Mario Delpini, the 65 year-old auxiliary and lead vicar-general of the Lombard church, to lead Europe's largest diocese, comprising some 5 million Catholics served by more than 1,100 parishes. (Above, the archbishop-elect is seen with Francis during his March visit to the city.)

Despite having served as top aide to Cardinal Angelo Scola practically since the now-retiring prelate's arrival six years ago, a contrast of style was clear at the noontime announcement in the Milanese Curia, as Scola donned his red-trimmed house cassock, while the archbishop-elect – known for bicycling around Italy's financial and media hub – made his debut in a faded tab-shirt and rumpled suit (below).

Oft-tipped in the Italian rumblings leading up to today's move, among the locals Delpini's ascent has evoked comparisons to the newly-elected Paul VI's pick of another native son – his own lead deputy, Giovanni Colombo – to fill the seat after the then-Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini became the post's last holder to be elected to the papacy.

Over his 42 years of priesthood, the incoming archbishop's ministry has been spent mostly in the central rungs of the sprawling, immensely complex local church, being tapped by its successive chiefs as seminary rector, regional vicar, auxiliary, and then the de facto overseer of the Curia. (At the behest of Scola's predecessor, Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi, Delpini was named an auxiliary in 2007 by then-Pope Benedict XVI.)

Beyond allowing for a remarkably smooth transition that'll see Delpini hit the ground running, it was indeed observed during the stakes that the eventual choice shares a key focus with Francis' recent nominee as vicar for Rome, Archbishop Angelo DeDonatis: on top of his duties as vicar-general, like DeDonatis the Milanese likewise coordinates the mega-diocese's efforts for the continuing formation of priests.

Striking a humble tone in his first remarks upon the appointment, Delpini joked to the throng of clergy and media on hand today that, "people who know me might say I'm a good guy... but archbishop of Milan? Somebody else would be better.

"My inadequacy can be found just in the names [of prior archbishops]," he said "illustrious [names] like Angelo, Dionigi, Carlo Maria, Giovanni, Giovanni Battista, etc. But Mario – what kind of name is that?

"As you can see, it's just some run-of-the-mill bishop."

The "biking bishop" can say that all he likes, but history shows his new reality to be rather different – beyond being thrust into the global stratosphere with his ascent, as noted here over recent weeks, five of Delpini's nine predecessors over the last century have either been beatified, elected to the Papacy, or both.

"I need everybody," Delpini said today, voicing his hope that "our church should reveal in an ever more evident way the threads of synodality and co-responsibility that Vatican II marked out.... I need all the men and women who live in this diocese... to help this Ambrosian church to be creative and welcoming, poorer and more simple, that it might be freer and happier."

In keeping with recent custom for the post, Delpini will be installed in the seat of Saints Ambrose and Charles in late September to coincide with the beginning of the church's pastoral year after the summer hiatus. By longstanding tradition, the formal "entrance" of a new archbishop into the city is conducted as a grand spectacle, with the region's civic leadership, the top brass of the Italian church, and an overflow throng outside the Duomo (cathedral) all out in force; the future Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini SJ is seen above at his 1979 arrival, having been ordained as the 141st archbishop at the Vatican by John Paul II.

While most Curial business has ceased for the vacation season of July and August, it's standard procedure that diocesan appointments already decided will still be announced over the next ten days or so.

Above all, however, given the fallout of last week's transition at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the most important nod on-deck is that of its new Archbishop-Secretary to replace the incoming Prefect, Archbishop Luis Ladaria SJ.

Though the lead official of a Roman dicastery sets his office's general direction and serves as its external "face," the second-in-command is at least as critical a figure in light of his responsibility for managing the daily nuts and bolts of its workload – which, in the CDF's case, tends to involve no shortage of the Curia's most sensitive and significant business.

Posted: July 7, 2017, 9:22 pm
(Updated 9.30am with presser video, etc.)

For all the twists and turns (and loops) of an eventful vacancy in Eastern North Carolina's 59-county fold, the nod still falls to the long-tipped frontrunner: at Roman Noon on this 5th of July, the Pope tapped Luis Rafael Zarama, the 58 year-old auxiliary of Atlanta, as sixth bishop of Raleigh – its more than 500,000 Catholics doubled in size over the last decade, a majority of them Hispanic.

The move completes a rare "trade" of hats rolled out over the last several weeks, as the latter's own Fr Ned Shlesinger was snapped up by Archbishop Wilton Gregory as a second auxiliary for the million-member Atlanta church. And as those who listened closely at the May presser announcing that move might recall the veiled yet conspicuous Wilt-line that "Raleigh may talk to me again – soon"... well, "soon" has come to pass (and on the foreseen timetable, to boot).

With his move to the land of the Blue Devils and Tar Heels, the Colombian-born pick inherits the new crown jewel of the church's landmark emergence in the "New South": the 2,000-seat, $41 million Cathedral of the Holy Name of Jesus (below), which will be dedicated three weeks from today in fittingly massive form by the project's visionary, Bishop Michael Burbidge, who was transferred to Arlington last October.

Zarama will be installed in the new space on Tuesday, 29 August. Gratefully, the cathedral's cost isn't among the challenges ahead – thanks to a redo of the initial plans that removed several of the proposed structure's pricier elements, in a rarity for an effort of this magnitude, its construction and outfitting is said to be practically paid off.

On another historic front, the choice marks a watershed – recruited by Atlanta from his homeland before his 1993 ordination, Zarama becomes the first Latino to helm a Southern diocese outside of Florida. As for what awaits, meanwhile, given reports of some tensions between Colombians and Mexicans in the Raleigh trenches, that situation – among others – just got rather more interesting.

Himself a sweetheart par excellence, even for today's usual introductory presser, Zarama's already had his maiden turn before his new charge – the act indeed seen as an "audition" at the time, the eventual appointee was brought in to celebrate this year's Chrism Mass in Raleigh due to the vacancy, nabbing high marks across the board with this homily, beginning with his admission that "my legs are shaking":

The local intro set for 10am ET today, here's the Chancery livefeed:

Developing – again, lest anybody forgot, there's no shortage of "more to come" going around.

Posted: July 5, 2017, 6:23 pm

And so, from the place where it all began, to one and all, a blessed and Happy 4th.

Much as the text is part and parcel of every civic feast here, it's never more fitting than on this day: the Prayer for the Nation written and first delivered 225 years ago (at the first National Synod) by John Carroll of Baltimore – a cousin of the lone Catholic to sign the Declaration, the founding shepherd of the church in these United States....
We pray, Thee O Almighty and Eternal God! Who through Jesus Christ hast revealed Thy glory to all nations, to preserve the works of Thy mercy, that Thy Church, being spread through the whole world, may continue with unchanging faith in the confession of Thy Name.

We pray Thee, who alone art good and holy, to endow with heavenly knowledge, sincere zeal, and sanctity of life, our chief bishop, Pope Francis, the Vicar of Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the government of his Church; our own Bishop, N., all other bishops, prelates, and pastors of the Church; and especially those who are appointed to exercise amongst us the functions of the holy ministry, and conduct Thy people into the ways of salvation.

We pray Thee O God of might, wisdom, and justice! Through whom authority is rightly administered, laws are enacted, and judgment decreed, assist with Thy Holy Spirit of counsel and fortitude the President of these United States, that his administration may be conducted in righteousness, and be eminently useful to Thy people over whom he presides; by encouraging due respect for virtue and religion; by a faithful execution of the laws in justice and mercy; and by restraining vice and immorality. Let the light of Thy divine wisdom direct the deliberations of Congress, and shine forth in all the proceedings and laws framed for our rule and government, so that they may tend to the preservation of peace, the promotion of national happiness, the increase of industry, sobriety, and useful knowledge; and may perpetuate to us the blessing of equal liberty.

We pray for his[/her] excellency, the governor of this state, for the members of the assembly, for all judges, magistrates, and other officers who are appointed to guard our political welfare, that they may be enabled, by Thy powerful protection, to discharge the duties of their respective stations with honesty and ability.

We recommend likewise, to Thy unbounded mercy, all our brethren and fellow citizens throughout the United States, that they may be blessed in the knowledge and sanctified in the observance of Thy most holy law; that they may be preserved in union, and in that peace which the world cannot give; and after enjoying the blessings of this life, be admitted to those which are eternal.

Finally, we pray to Thee, O Lord of mercy, to remember the souls of Thy servants departed who are gone before us with the sign of faith and repose in the sleep of peace; the souls of our parents, relatives, and friends; of those who, when living, were members of this congregation, and particularly of such as are lately deceased; of all benefactors who, by their donations or legacies to this Church, witnessed their zeal for the decency of divine worship and proved their claim to our grateful and charitable remembrance.

To these, O Lord, and to all that rest in Christ, grant, we beseech Thee, a place of refreshment, light, and everlasting peace, through the same Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior. Amen.
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In the time since, the Nativist paranoia of ages past actually did end up panning out: the Popes have indeed made their conquest across the Atlantic... just not by "commanding" the faithful across an ocean to dig a tunnel beneath it to Rome.

The outlandish we'll always have with us – and, to be sure, no one should understand that better than an American Catholic.

In reality, the story of (Romish) church and state on these shores has mostly come to embody the promise sketched out by James Gibbons at Trastevere some 13 decades ago: namely, that when it comes to the practice and spread of the faith in these States, "we are indebted... to the civil liberty we enjoy in our enlightened republic."

What this age tends to forget, however, is that with freedom comes responsibility... and filling in the blanks is the unique and irreplaceable service of the free institutions of faith.

On that front, Catholicism's ultimate tribute to the American experiment marks its 30th anniversary this fall: John Paul II's farewell to the country – the final word of the now-saint's most extensive coast-to-coast tour....
As I leave, I express my gratitude to God also for what he is accomplishing in your midst. With the words of Saint Paul, I too can say with confident assurance "that he who has begun the good work in you will carry it through to completion, right up to the day of Christ Jesus" (Phil. 1, 6-7). And so I am confident too that America will be ever more conscious of her responsibility for justice and peace in the world. As a nation that has received so much, she is called to continued generosity and service towards others.

As I go, I take with me vivid memories of a dynamic nation, a warm and welcoming people, a Church abundantly blessed with a rich blend of cultural traditions. I depart with admiration for the ecumenical spirit that breathes strongly throughout this land, for the genuine enthusiasm of your young people, and for the hopeful aspirations of your most recent immigrants. I take with me an unforgettable memory of a country that God has richly blessed from the beginning until now.

America the beautiful! So you sing in one of your national songs. Yes, America, you are beautiful indeed, and blessed in so many ways:

- in your majestic mountains and fertile plains;
- in the goodness and sacrifice hidden in your teeming cities and expanding suburbs;
- in your genius for invention and for splendid progress;
- in the power that you use for service and in the wealth that you share with others;
- in what you give to your own, and in what you do for others beyond your borders;
- in how you serve, and in how you keep alive the flame of hope in many hearts;
- in your quest for excellence and in your desire to right all wrongs.

Yes, America, all this belongs to you. But your greatest beauty and your richest blessing is found in the human person: in each man, woman and child, in every immigrant, in every native-born son and daughter.

For this reason, America, your deepest identity and truest character as a nation is revealed in the position you take towards the human person. The ultimate test of your greatness in the way you treat every human being, but especially the weakest and most defenceless ones.

The best traditions of your land presume respect for those who cannot defend themselves. If you want equal justice for all, and true freedom and lasting peace, then, America, defend life! All the great causes that are yours today will have meaning only to the extent that you guarantee the right to life and protect the human person:

- feeding the poor and welcoming refugees;
- reinforcing the social fabric of this nation;
- promoting the true advancement of women;
- securing the rights of minorities;
- pursuing disarmament, while guaranteeing legitimate defence; all this will succeed only if respect for life and its protection by the law is granted to every human being from conception until natural death.

Every human person – no matter how vulnerable or helpless, no matter how young or how old, no matter how healthy, handicapped or sick, no matter how useful or productive for society – is a being of inestimable worth created in the image and likeness of God.

This is the dignity of America, the reason she exists, the condition for her survival – yes, the ultimate test of her greatness: to respect every human person, especially the weakest and most defenceless ones, those as yet unborn.

With these sentiments of love and hope for America, I now say goodbye in words that I spoke once before: "Today, therefore, my final prayer is this: that God will bless America, so that she may increasingly become - and truly be - and long remain one Nation, under God, indivisible. With liberty and justice for all."

May God bless you all.

God bless America!
Posted: July 4, 2017, 7:26 pm
Capping a week of shockwaves at the topmost levels of the Roman Curia, at Roman Noon this Saturday, the Pope declined to reconfirm Cardinal Gerhard Müller as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the close of the German's first five-year mandate, and handed the reins of the "Holy Office" to its longtime #2 official, Archbishop Luis Ladaria SJ.

Despite the delicacy of the formal language, the move can indeed be viewed as Francis' ouster of the 69 year-old German, who brought a combination of firmness on moral teaching and affinity for liberation theology to the Doctrine office upon his appointment by then-Pope Benedict XVI five years ago tomorrow.

Under normal circumstances, a pontiff's renewal of a Curial prefect for successive quinquennial terms is a pro forma act done without public notification.

Himself a veteran collaborator of Joseph Ratzinger over the latter's quarter-century at the CDF's helm, Ladaria, 73, has served as the congregation's secretary since 2008. With his ascent to the top post, the Spanish Jesuit takes on the additional duties linked to the role: the presidencies of the International Theological Commission, the Pontifical Biblical Commission and the Ecclesia Dei Commission, the lead liaison for the church's relations with traditionalist groups and questions on the use of the pre-Conciliar "Extraordinary Form" of the Roman rite.

On a related front, Ecclesia Dei is the Curial organ responsible for the ongoing reconciliation talks with the Society of St Pius X, which have notched multiple major inroads through the last year, paving the way to the Swiss-based group's potential return to communion with the Catholic church. Yet another major item in the main congregation's portfolio – of particular interest in the English-speaking world – is its complete jurisdiction over the Personal Ordinariates for former Anglicans, which were established in England, North America and Australia by Benedict following 2009's Anglicanorum coetibus.

The historic successor to the "Holy Office of the Inquisition" – rechristened after Vatican II – the congregation's founding dates to 1542. The principal Congregation of the Curia, amid Francis' ongoing reform CDF (its Sant'Uffizio headquarters seen below) is now viewed as ranking third among the dicasteries, after the Secretariats of State and for the Economy.

In making the shift official roughly 18 hours after reports began to swirl – yet could not be independently verified – that Müller was told of his departure in an audience yesterday with the Pope, the Holy See gave no indication of the 69 year-old cardinal's next assignment. While some speculation has tipped the theological heavyweight for the role of Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, as of late Friday Whispers ops close to that post's current holder, Cardinal Edwin O'Brien, were blindsided on learning of said rumors, and relayed that the 78 year-old New Yorker – who was en route to the US for this holiday weekend – had not been informed of any move.

As for Müller's potential landing spots, it's worth noting that no major posts in his homeland – where he served as bishop of B16's adopted base of Regensburg until his transfer to Rome – are currently open. Closing out a recent flurry of top-level moves in Germany, the last key post to go was Mainz, where Francis named Peter Kohlgraf – a 50 year-old pastoral theologian – in April as successor to Cardinal Karl Lehmann, the progressive titan who chaired the country's formidable bishops' conference for two decades.

While the now-former CDF chief had drawn considerable attention for staking out a skeptical position on Francis' potential openings in Amoris Laetitia toward the civilly remarried and others in difficult situations vis a vis church teaching, it bears no less recalling that Müller had come in for ferocious criticism by survivors of clergy sex-abuse and their advocates given the office's role as the church's global clearinghouse of those cases. Above all, the cardinal was roundly blasted by the prominent Irish survivor Marie Collins, who resigned her seat on the Pope's new Commission for the Protection of Minors (PCPM) in April over the congregation's refusal to comply with Francis' directive that they reply to inquiries sent by victims, then continued to rap Müller for not changing course after the fact.

Among other related issues was the CDF's ostensible resistance to the pontiff's 2015 push to establish a tribunal to hear cases of abuse of office by bishops, a block that forced Francis to devise a workaround in norms issued last year. In a move that was taken as a sign of papal frustration on the accountability front, in mid-January the Pope conspicuously named the head of the PCPM, Boston's Cardinal Seán O'Malley OFM Cap., to the congregation's membership despite the Capuchin's lack of an advanced background in theology.

Along the way, too, Francis had gradually undercut Müller's standing by openly highlighting other figures on theological questions, most prominently Cardinals Walter Kasper and Christoph Schönborn, and the Argentine Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernández, the pontiff's longtime confidant, widely reputed to be the "ghostwriter" of Papa Bergoglio's major texts.

Developing... you were told there was "more to come," eh?

Posted: July 2, 2017, 1:08 pm
For all the spectacles the Vatican tends to witness, this one was simply surreal.

At the same dais where the Pope's major documents are unveiled and the global press briefed on Catholicism's showcase events – on what's usually one of the most joyous feasts of the year – today the Curia's third-ranking cardinal addressed his new fate as the church's most senior figure by far to face criminal charges of sexual abuse:

To understand the full import of Cardinal George Pell's return to Australia to appear in court and "clear my name," there's more to it than his current profile as the founding Secretary for the Economy, initially entrusted by Pope Francis with sweeping powers over finances and personnel across the Holy See's sprawling apparatus.

Indeed, what makes the 76 year-old prelate's quick move to go home for an 18 July initial hearing so significant is that Pell has not returned to his homeland since departing in early 2014 to take up his Vatican post – neither for the late 2014 installation of his hand-picked successor in Sydney, Archbishop Anthony Fisher, nor for what became a four day summons to testify before the national inquiry on religious institutions' handling of child abuse, obtained by video link from Rome.

With the scenario of a first-ever court process against a cardinal on sex crimes alleged by "multiple claimants" – the precise nature of which have not been clarified by law enforcement in his native state of Victoria – the Italian media's traditional summer "soap opera" involving the church is now set, albeit some 4,000 miles afield.

Still, despite the inevitable circus that will surround the scrutiny on one of the top rank's most enduring figures – a presence on the global scene over some two decades – for the apex of the Catholic world, it just doesn't get more serious than this.

For starters, even as Pell announced his own "leave" from his Vatican duties – and the Holy See's lead spokesman, Greg Burke, indicated that the cardinal would not "participate in public liturgies" for the duration of the judicial process – the moves amount to a de facto suspension from ministry.

Regardless of whose volition spurred the act, a recusal of the kind is without precedent for a top Curial official. What's more, however, while two decades of revelations of abuse and cover-up have been treated as a political football among the church's ideological camps, Pell is one of the few major prelates whose trajectory and alliances cut across partisan lines.

Long a favorite of the Catholic right for his unapologetic approach to moral teachings, the Oxford-trained onetime fullback – who's long relished his reputation for being a "bull in a china shop" – was initially tapped by then-Pope Benedict XVI to take the helm of the Congregation for Bishops in 2009, a move which would've made the Aussie the first prelate from the English-speaking world to oversee the all-powerful body that recommends candidates for appointments to the pontiff.

In response, what was widely perceived in Rome as a "smear campaign" went into overdrive, raising the specter of a 2002 allegation of abuse against the cardinal which dated to the 1960s. Though Pell had been cleared years earlier by an internal probe chartered by the archdiocese of Sydney, conducted by a retired judge – during which he stood aside as archbishop for several months – the ferocity of opposition to Benedict's plan led the now-retired Pope to scuttle the move before it was formally made. (Along the way, however, Pell's hard-charging style saw him successfully tackle another high-wire Vatican mission: as chair of the Vox Clara committee of senior prelates tasked with managing English liturgical translations, he led the push that brought the group's major project – the long-stymied overhaul of the Roman Missal – to completion and a historic implementation across the Anglophone world in 2011.)

Of course, that wouldn't be the end of the story. Perceived by many as angling for a Roman office from his days as an auxiliary in Melbourne – when, as one Curialist recalled, Pell "was always showing up" at the Vatican – the 2012 outbreak of the Vatileaks fiasco provided the cardinal with an opportunity for payback, and Benedict took him up on it, bringing Pell into an ad hoc group of cardinal-advisers Papa Ratzinger had convened on tackling the crisis.

Months later, the election of Pope Francis would surprisingly bring the Australian's rebound to its zenith – with his profile as a blunt, sharp-elbowed manager (and one seen as wronged by the Vatican's old guard), Pell's temporal acumen landed him a seat on the new pontiff's "Gang of 8" for the reform of the Curia (below), arguably the most surprising choice for the group given his conservative leanings.

Less than a year afterward, Francis would deliver the ultimate call – with the new Pope and his "crown council" determined to clean up the famously murky orbit of the Holy See's finances, Pell was unveiled as the choice to consolidate all control of budgets and investments under one umbrella, a first-ever CFO to replace the small village of separate entities which oversaw various pieces of the books, with varying degrees of success.

To say that the Aussie was ready would be an understatement – Pell's full-time arrival in Rome came shortly after the opening of the Domus Australia, a onetime convent converted into a hostel and event center for pilgrims from Down Under, with an ample living space already created for himself.

To be sure, though, if there was one area that the natives guarded more jealously than appointments, it was the money – and Francis' putting Pell in charge of it was greeted as something of an apocalyptic event. Unlike Benedict, however, Papa Bergoglio's Italian stubbornness wouldn't be as easily conquered.

At least, that's how it seemed at the start. While Francis has stood by his man – re-confirming the cardinal's position after he reached the retirement age of 75 last year – the Curia's penchant for bureaucratic turf-war has challenged Pell's mandate at practically every turn and made significant inroads against the new bureau's initial remit, most prominently in last year's move to suspend a first-ever external audit of all Vatican entities, which had been ordered by the Secretariat.

At the same time, the financial reform hit another major speed-bump last week as Libero Milone – the freshly empowered auditor-general hired by Pell's team – suddenly resigned from the post as reports on the move spoke of an unspecified "ugly situation" that could "get worse."

Amid the fallout from Milone's surprise departure, the Council for the Economy – the mixed group of  15 top prelates and lay experts to which Pell's Secretariat reports – had already summoned its members to an extraordinary meeting set for early July in Rome to discuss the way forward. With the new development of the charges against the cardinal-prefect – and no clarity yet on the leadership of the Economy office in the wake of Pell's leave for the court case – any long-term resolutions just became considerably more difficult.

Back in Australia, meanwhile, the indictment has come as a fresh firestorm for a church already struggling under a cloud of abuse developments. With the cardinal's polarizing shadow ever looming large despite years of absence from the scene, the nation's hierarchy has spent 2017 bracing for what's widely expected to be a damning report from the national inquiry on sex-abuse in religious institutions, which is due by the end of its mandate in mid-December.

Beyond the wide attention – and equal heaping of scorn – that Pell's 2016 testimony to the Royal Commission drew, the Australian archbishops were likewise deposed at length by the panel last February. And in another moment of major impact, a rising star of the Aussie bench – Vietnamese-born Franciscan Bishop Vincent Long of Parramatta – revealed to the probe that he had been a victim of abuse by a cleric.

All the while, another major shoe from Rome is likely soon to drop: the Pope's appointment of the next archbishop of Melbourne – already a critical move given the city's place as the continent's largest local church, yet now even more of a "hot seat" as the venue for Pell's state trial on the charges.

In a letter released after the charges were filed, Sydney's Fisher – himself a civil lawyer – warned his clergy and people that his predecessor's return to face justice "will be unsettling for many of us."

While defending Pell as "a man of integrity in his dealings with others... a thoroughly decent man," the archbishop emphasized that "we must now allow the impartial pursuit of justice," adding that the church "is not responsible" for the cardinal's legal costs and won't be footing them.

Keeping with Australian conventions for the accused, a recent biography which levied a new allegation of abuse by Pell has been pulled from sale in Victoria pending the trial. On another context note, the southern coastal state does not allow cameras in its courts, so the impending hearings will not be filmed nor televised.

Posted: June 29, 2017, 9:15 pm
So, folks, another "Scarlet Bowl" is now in the books... but its full picture is still to be had. And as the usual clearing of desks that marks the end of the "Vatican Year" is only just getting underway, in terms of news, there's simply no end in sight.

Even if it's already made for quite the week in the mine, don't be surprised that – both at home and from Rome – there's more to come....

At least, if you’ll make it happen.

As this shop has its bills to pay – and at month's end, the costs especially tend to gang up – yet again, the reminder's in order that these pages keep running solely by means of your support:

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SVILUPPO (9pm ET, Wed 28 June) – In a watershed development after a lengthy, high-profile investigation, early Thursday morning in Australia, law enforcement in the state of Victoria made the blockbuster announcement that Cardinal George Pell – Pope Francis' hand-picked field marshal to lead a wholesale financial reform of the Vatican as Secretary of the Economy, as well as a member of the pontiff's "Gang of 9" principal advisers for the revamping the Roman Curia – had been charged with multiple "historical sexual assault offenses" and was summoned to appear in court there on July 18th:

For clarity's sake, the counts against Pell – now, by far, global Catholicism's highest-ranking cleric to face criminal scrutiny on sex-abuse claims – are not tied to the work of the Royal Commission (the years-long Federal inquiry on abuse in religious institutions), its final report expected to be released late this year.

Formerly the archbishop of both Sydney and Melbourne – respectively the Australian church's most prominent and largest outposts – Pell testified before the national probe over four days in early 2016 via videolink from Rome, after the cardinal's legal team argued that his health prevented him from returning home. At that time, a viral song released by the Aussie comedian/musician Tim Minchin which blasted Pell whilst beseeching him to "come home" and face the moment topped the continent's singles charts over its week of release; the song's effect likewise fueled a successful crowdfunding push that allowed a group of survivors from the cardinal's home-diocese of Ballarat (in Victoria) to make the trip and watch his testimony in person.

Having "strenuously denied" the charges anew in a written statement issued overnight, Pell is slated to make a live response to the media – from no less than the Holy See Press Office – at 8.30 Thursday morning in Rome (2.30am ET, 4.30pm Sydney), an hour before the Pope's major Mass on this feast of Saints Peter and Paul.

As ever, no shortage of context and institutional memory are needed to flesh out this story, and this shop has a good bit of it stocked up...

..but when it comes to the Economy, well, that's the one job here that belongs to the other side of the screen. And with what's now on deck – long, complex and ugly as it's bound to be – the necessary high-grade content will only be possible with this readership's according backup.

Posted: June 29, 2017, 5:46 am
From St Peter's Basilica, here's the on-demand video of this morning's Public Consistory for the elevation of five new cardinals:

Marking yet another historic shift for the Pope's "Senate" – that is, Francis' "extreme makeover" of its composition and a banishment of the role's historic prestige – the pontiff underscored his intents in an address as brief as it is loaded, having chosen Jesus' Gospel warning against ambition as the Scripture reading for today's rites:
“Jesus was walking ahead of them”. This is the picture that the Gospel we have just read (Mk 10:32-45) presents to us. It serves as a backdrop to the act now taking place: this Consistory for the creation of new Cardinals.

Jesus walks resolutely towards Jerusalem. He knows fully what awaits him there; on more than one occasion, he spoke of it to his disciples. But there is a distance between the heart of Jesus and the hearts of the disciples, which only the Holy Spirit can bridge. Jesus knows this, and so he is patient with them. He speaks to them frankly and, above all, he goes before them. He walks ahead of them.

Along the way, the disciples themselves are distracted by concerns that have nothing to do with the “direction” taken by Jesus, with his will, which is completely one with that of the Father”. So it is that, as we heard, the two brothers James and John think of how great it would be to take their seats at the right and at the left of the King of Israel (cf. v. 37). They are not facing reality! They think they see, but they don’t. They think they know, but they don’t. They think they understand better than the others, but they don’t....

For the reality is completely different. It is what Jesus sees and what directs his steps. The reality is the cross. It is the sin of the world that he came to take upon himself, and to uproot from the world of men and women. It is the innocent who suffer and die as victims of war and terrorism; the forms of enslavement that continue to violate human dignity even in the age of human rights; the refugee camps which at times seem more like a hell than a purgatory; the systematic discarding of all that is no longer useful, people included.

This is what Jesus sees as he walks towards Jerusalem. During his public ministry he made known the Father’s tender love by healing all who were oppressed by the evil one (cf. Acts 10:38). Now he realizes that the moment has come to press on to the very end, to eliminate evil at its root. And so, he walks resolutely towards the cross.

We too, brothers and sisters, are journeying with Jesus along this path. I speak above all to you, dear new Cardinals. Jesus “is walking ahead of you”, and he asks you to follow him resolutely on his way. He calls you to look at reality, not to let yourselves be distracted by other interests or prospects. He has not called you to become “princes” of the Church, to “sit at his right or at his left”. He calls you to serve like him and with him. To serve the Father and your brothers and sisters. He calls you to face as he did the sin of the world and its effects on today’s humanity. Follow him, and walk ahead of the holy people of God, with your gaze fixed on the Lord’s cross and resurrection.

And now, with faith and through the intercession of the Virgin Mother, let us ask the Holy Spirit to bridge every gap between our hearts and the heart of Christ, so that our lives may be completely at the service of God and all our brothers and sisters.
Posted: June 28, 2017, 5:44 pm
Much as the journey is the same, the scene today is rather different.

For one, no prelate in his right mind would be caught dead wearing the old Cappello Romano in these times...

...yet most of all, here we go again – another crop of new cardinals drawn mostly, like the Pope who made them, "from the edge of the world."

In a shift from ancient practice, the Consistory to create five voting members of the papal "Senate" will take place in the afternoon – 4pm Rome time on this Wednesday's vigil of Saints Peter and Paul. (The live video will appear here at the time, and the ritual booklet – with English translations – is already up.)

Among other benefits, the change of hour ends the routine early-morning havoc around the Vatican preceding a Scarlet Bowl, as the usual crush of far-flung pilgrims would start queuing up from 2 or 3am to ensure their spots in the Basilica. In any event, given the size of the crop – the smallest since Blessed Paul VI inducted four with his final class in 1977 (four decades ago this week) – the logistics are much more manageable than with the "mega-Consistories" elevating a dozen or more Porporati, which've been the usual case over recent decades.

That said, for the second time running, the entire College has not been summoned to Rome for this week's doings, and the daylong consultation both Francis and Benedict XVI have usually held with the body likewise won't take place again.

While no one should be surprised that the session's absence has been ideologized in some quarters, in reality the rationale is the result of Francis' procrastination. Unlike the pontiff's first two classes – which were slated several months in advance – both last November's intake and this one were decided upon at the last minute, and having once been a cardinal an ocean away with better things to do than upend a full schedule for a long flight and week in Rome, convoking the global College on a month's notice is a practice the Pope has been resolutely determined to avoid.

As an example of the haul, though many US and Latin American red-hats have direct flights or something close, among more recent creations, Tonga's Cardinal Soane Paini Mafi – the first ecclesial "prince" to be given the island's minority fold of 15,000 Catholics – has to make three or four connections over a 24-hour trip and, despite being a relatively young 55, collapsed while making the journey for Curial meetings in April.

Yet speaking of the "peripheries" which form this pontificate's philosophical core, this Consistory marks a particularly salient milestone: while Francis will have chosen forty percent of his successor's eventual electors once the new crop's names are formally pronounced at the rites, another stat puts the new shape of things in an even clearer context – with this wave's additions of Mali, Sweden, Laos and El Salvador, Papa Bergoglio has named 13 cardinals with voting rights who are each the first representatives of their home-countries in the College.

In other words, that group now comprises more than 10 percent of the total electorate for the first time.

Still, even that doesn't completely put the ramifications of this shift in full light... one needs a completely different angle of looking at it.

Over days like these, see, the world is told almost ad nauseam that the College of Cardinals "chooses the next Pope." The actual point, however, is hidden within that: 

One of them will be the next Pope.

And when you remember how Conclave Math works, even if nothing else changes after this morning, the "shape of the pieces" when that day comes has already shattered the mould from anything that's preceded it.

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As recent history goes, each of Francis' addresses to his new red-hats ranks among the most loaded messages he's given as Pope, and another of the line is duly expected at this morning's liturgy.

That said, though, the text which seems to have made the greatest impression on this front is a far shorter, simpler one: the letter the pontiff sent to his first class of 19 cardinals-designate on revealing their names in January 2014, and subsequently released by the Vatican....
Dear brother,

On the day that your designation as part of the College of Cardinals is made public, I wish to send you a cordial greeting along with the guarantee of my closeness and prayer. It is my hope that, joined with the Church of Rome and “clothed in the virtues and sentiments of the Lord Jesus,” you may help me with fraternal efficacy in my service to the Universal Church.

The cardinalate does not imply promotion; it is neither an honour nor a decoration; it is simply a service that requires you to broaden your gaze and open your hearts. And, although this may appear paradoxical, the ability to look further and to love more universally with greater intensity may be acquired only by following the same path of the Lord: the path of self-effacement and humility, taking on the role of a servant. Therefore I ask you, please, to receive this designation with a simple and humble heart. And, while you must do so with pleasure and joy, ensure that this sentiment is far from any expression of worldliness or from any form of celebration contrary to the evangelical spirit of austerity, sobriety and poverty.

Until we meet, then, on 20 February... I remain at your disposal and ask you, please, to pray for me and to ask for prayers on my behalf.

May Jesus bless you and the Holy Virgin protect you. 
Posted: June 28, 2017, 4:46 am
Twenty-five years ago, Fr Jorge Mario Bergoglio lived in "exile," the enemies who consigned him to it resting comfortably in the thought that the polarizing Jesuit would never meaningfully resurface again.

But then, all of a sudden, he came back even stronger.

Early this morning, as the 266th Bishop of Rome marked the silver jubilee of his banishment's surprise end with his ordination as an auxiliary of Buenos Aires (above), that past is prologue... and facing yet another crop of internal critics who'd like to similarly cast him off the map, the message from the now-Pope Francis can be paraphrased in four simple words:

"I'm not dead yet."

Observed with a low-key Mass in the Pauline Chapel – the same venue where the newly-elected Papa Bergoglio later said he was "transformed" as he prayed before facing the world in white for the first time – today's anniversary is far from the top line of this week's news, but it arguably provides the key to understanding the rest.

More on that later – for now, here's the Vatican translation of Francis' homily for the occasion:
In the first Letter we have heard how the dialogue continues between God and Abraham, that dialogue that begins with that “Go from your country…” (Gen 12: 1). And in this continuation of the dialogue, we find three imperatives: “Arise!”, “Look!”, “Hope!”. Three imperatives that mark the road Abraham must travel, and also the way in which he must do so, the inner attitude: arise, look, hope.

“Arise!”. Get up, walk, do not stay still. You have a task, you have a mission and you must fulfil it on the move. Do not stay seated: get up, on your feet. And Abraham begins to walk. On the move, always. And the symbol of this is the tent. The Book of Genesis says that Abraham went forth with a tent, and when he stopped he pitched his tent. But Abraham had made a house for himself, while there was this imperative: “Arise!”. He built only an altar: the only thing. To adore Him, He Who ordered him to get up, to go on the road, with his tent. “Arise!”

“Look!”. The second imperative. “Look around from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west” (Gen, 13: 14). Look. Look to the horizon, do not build walls. Always look. And go ahead. And the mysticism of the horizon is that the more you go ahead, the farther away the horizon it. Look ahead, head forward, walking, but always towards the horizon.

The third imperative is, “Hope!”. There is that beautiful dialogue: “[Lord], you have given me no children, so a servant in my household will be my heir” – “A son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir”. Hope! (cf. Gen 15: 3-4). And this, said to a man who could not have had offspring, due both to his age and to his wife’s barrenness. But he will be “your own flesh and blood”. And your offspring will be “like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted” (Gen 13: 16). And a little later: “Look up at the sky and count the stars – if indeed you can count them. … So shall your offspring be”. And Abraham believed, and the Lord credited to him as righteousness (cf. Gen 15: 5-6). In the faith of Abraham there begins that righteousness that [the Apostle] Paul will carry on in his explanation of righteousness.

“Arise! Look! The horizon, no walls, the horizon – hope!” And hope is without walls, it is pure horizon.

But when Abraham was called, he had more or less our age: he was about to retire, to rest…. He started at that age. An elderly man, with the burden of old age, that old age that brings pains, illnesses. … But you, as if you were a youngster, get up, go, go! As if he were a scout: go! Look and hope. And this Word of God is also for us, who are about the same age as Abraham… more or less – there are some young ones here, but the majority are at that age – and to us today the Lord says the same thing: “Get up! Look! Hope!” He tells us that it is not the time to close up our lives, not to bring our history to a close, not to start compiling our history. The Lord tells us that our history is open, still: it is open right up to the end, it is open with a mission. And with these three imperatives He indicates the mission: “Arise! Look! Hope!”

Some, who does not wish us well say that we are the gerontocracy of the Church. It is an insult. They do not understand what they are saying: we are not geriatrics, we are grandfathers, we are grandfathers. And if we do not feel this, we must ask for the grace to feel it. Grandparents whom our grandchildren look up to. Grandparents who must give a meaning to their life with our experience. Not grandparents wrapped up in the melancholy of our history, but open to give this. And for us, this “arise, look, hope” is called “dreaming”. We are grandfathers called upon to dream and to give our dream to the youth of today: they are in need of it. Because they will take from our dreams the strength to prophesy and to go ahead in their task.

There comes to my mind that passage from the Gospel of Luke (2: 21-38), Simeon and Anna: two grandparents, but how much capacity for dreaming they had, those two! And all this dream they told to St. Joseph, to Our Lady, to the people… And Anna went around chatting here and there, and said, “It is He! It is He!”, and she told the dream of His life. And this is what the Lord asks of us today: not to close ourselves up, but to give the best of ourselves: they expect this from our experience, from our positive dreams, to carry ahead the prophecy and the work.

I ask the Lord for all of us that He give us this grace. Also for those who have not yet become grandfathers: let us see the president of [the bishops of] Brazil [Ed.: Cardinal Sergio da Rocha of Brasilia, 57], he is a youngster... but he will get there! The grace of being grandfathers, the grace of dreaming, of giving that dream to our young people: they need it.
Posted: June 27, 2017, 9:31 pm
(Updated 2.30pm ET with presser video, etc.)

For the last twenty years, Msgr Al Schlert has been the closest collaborator to the last three bishops of Allentown.

And now, he's the Fifth Bishop of Allentown.

Deciding the next chapter of the 280,000-member upstate Pennsylvania fold in just over six months, at Roman Noon this Tuesday the Pope named the 55 year-old native son as successor to Bishop John Barres, who was transferred to Long Island's 1.6 million-Catholic behemoth of Rockville Centre last December. (At left, Schlert's seen at a 2016 event to support the horses of a local mounted police unit.)

With the move, the bishop-elect becomes the first Lehigh Valley product to head its local church since Allentown was spun off from the archdiocese of Philadelphia in 1961 (fittingly, the year of Schlert's birth). Then again, that independence was fairly cosmetic for most of the last half-century – until Barres' appointment in 2009, the diocese's first three bishops had all been auxiliaries down the Northeast Extension of the Turnpike, a quirk which made the place seem less its own shop than a vicariate of the Pharaohs, even as Allentown priests came to be named bishops elsewhere.

Ordained in 1988, Schlert spent a decade in the trenches before becoming secretary to then-Bishop Thomas Welsh, quickly rising to vicar-general a year later (at 37) on the arrival of Bishop Edward Cullen and remaining in the #2 post ever since. Along the way, he's become well-steeped in the church's activity at state level thanks to a longtime involvement with the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference – the bishops' joint lobbying arm in Harrisburg – of which he's already vice-president.

During his early years in ministry, meanwhile, today's pick notably echoes several of Francis' other Stateside appointees in having served in college campus ministry, in Schlert's case three years as chaplain at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, during which time he doubled up as a teacher at his high-school alma mater, Notre Dame in Easton.

While it's indeed rare that an administrator is tapped to permanently fill the vacancy he's managing, it seems almost as elusive of late that the lead deputy to a departing bishop is even elected to the temporary post. Just over recent months, the consultors of both Raleigh and Nashville each went beyond the respective officials already in place, in both cases choosing well-regarded retired pastors as diocesan administrator in the hope of keeping their Chanceries in check until the respective next bishops arrive.

To be clear, moves of the kind send a potent signal to the Hatmakers on the state of a place... even if it seems not everyone in North Carolina has gotten the memo. (Read: "Yep, still chaotic.") In any case, that Schlert had obtained the local vote of confidence – one which, again, can't be taken for granted these days – allowed Rome to register its own in fairly rapid order.

As the scene in Allentown goes, even if Schlert's done two decades' worth of legwork behind the scenes, the fifth bishop steps into the spotlight with most of a sizable parish consolidation project – which merged the previous 121 communities into 84 – already in the can. (Just yesterday, the diocese announced the Vatican's rejection of another round of appeals from members of closed churches.) At the same time, however, with a sizable recent influx of Hispanic immigration ballooning the upstate fold's Latino bloc to almost 40 percent – by far the largest presence of its kind in a Pennsylvania diocese, per USCCB figures – it is conspicuous that the bishop-elect doesn't speak Spanish, at least not enough for the skill to be listed in the usual spot of his Vatican-issued biography, which does note his ability in Italian.

On another critical front, Allentown is one of six suffragan see currently under investigation by a statewide grand jury, which was empaneled last year after a similar probe uncovered decades of abuse and cover-up in the Midstate diocese of Altoona-Johnstown.

Begun last September with subpoenas of priests' records from the 1940s into the present from the dioceses of Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton alongside Allentown, the probe – in terms of scope, the most sprawling abuse inquiry to date into the US church – is expected to extend for several years.

With an 11am presser called at the Cathedral of St Catherine of Siena, Allentown Chancery has already announced that Schlert's ordination will take place there on Thursday, 31 August.

Upon today's move – and as the last appointments begin to roll out before the Curia's summer hiatus – five Stateside Latin-church sees remain vacant, with another five led by (arch)bishops serving past the retirement age of 75.

While the latter crop is led by Washington – where the ever-influential Cardinal Donald Wuerl reached the milestone in November 2015 – a transition in the nation's capital is not expected until at least the first half of next year. To that end, this December's dedication of the Trinity Dome – the massive mosaic "capstone" of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception – is being sensed in ranking circles as the beginning of the cardinal's "victory lap."

SVILUPPO: Brimming with enthusiasm for "teaching" – the church's, that is – here's fullvid of this morning's local introduction (presser begins at 4-minute mark)....

Posted: June 27, 2017, 8:05 pm
For the second time in a month, the City of St Francis is made to bury an archbishop... yet this time, it's the "Big One."

The figure who enshrined a progressive style of Catholicism to fit the nation's most liberal city, Archbishop John Raphael Quinn died early this morning at 88.

Head of the San Francisco church from 1977-95, the San Diego native – ordained a bishop at 38 – led the US bench as the modern conference's fourth president from 1977-80, amid the hierarchy's post-Conciliar zenith of action and activism.

Despite months of declining health, the news came suddenly nonetheless; Quinn had just been released from hospital last week and was said to be settling well into a nursing home, until his breathing became labored early today.

Referred to almost majestically in church circles as "John Raphael," the archbishop's condition had first taken a downturn last November in Rome, where he was on hand for the elevation of one of his proteges, now-Cardinal Blase Cupich, who tapped Quinn to pronounce the papal bull granting the Chicago prelate his titular church, St Bartholomew's on Tiber Island, as Cupich took possession of it. (In a similar vein, no shortage of eyebrows were raised at the latter's 2014 installation in Chicago, as the new archbishop pointedly placed Quinn at his side among the major concelebrants at the altar of Holy Name Cathedral, even with most of the American cardinals in attendance.)

Over his two decades at the helm by the Bay, Quinn's sense of the church's role in public life saw the archbishop become the first US prelate to meaningfully tackle the outbreak of AIDS, marshaling his Catholic Charities into its enduring role as the city's lead caregiver to the stricken, while most other locales remained stuck in misunderstandings on the epidemic or a lacking sense of its potential spread. Along the way, history was made in 1987 as – during his sprawling two-week Stateside tour – Pope John Paul II first met victims of the disease in San Francisco, among them two priests.

At the same time, by its mid-1990s end the archbishop's tenure had become mired under a cloud of controversies ranging from his handling of sex-abuse to parish closings, leading Quinn to seek a coadjutor at 66 as his allies accused the local media of "journalistic terrorism." In prior years, meanwhile, he had become the first known American Catholic leader to openly admit to a struggle with depression, entering treatment during a sabbatical in the late 1980s.

Having dedicated his retirement to research and writing on ecumenism – and, consequently, the reform of ecclesial structures to facilitate it – Quinn experienced something of a second spring under Pope Francis, who eagerly sought out the retiree as a sounding board for his own plans to enhance synodality in the Western church.

As the topic was the focus of the archbishop's 1999 book The Reform of the Papacy – written with an eye to rethinking the Pope's role in the name of Christian unity – much of Quinn's vision has come to bleed into Francis' mindset, a meld the pontiff expressed most daringly alongside the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew during the Pope's 2014 visit to Jerusalem, and in his landmark address in October 2015 to mark the 50th anniversary of the Synod of Bishops.

Even before the current pontificate, though, the Quinn renaissance was already underway with then-Pope Benedict XVI's elevation of several of his aides and favorites to the episcopacy, most of them shepherded onto the bench by his San Francisco successor, William Levada, from his eventual cardinal's seat on the Congregation for Bishops.

Led in tandem by Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe (Quinn's onetime secretary) and Bishop Bob McElroy of San Diego – his last vicar-general, now making an increasingly "disrupt"-ive imprint on the national stage – as one of the group once underscored to Whispers, "You say we're Levada's but, really, we're Quinn's."

In a notably effusive statement on the passing of his predecessor – reflecting the devotion with which the elder churchman was held – current San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone (above, with Quinn at his side) said in announcing the death that "our hearts are breaking at losing such a great priest and friend."

Funeral arrangements remain pending. Ever himself, however, Quinn will still have the final word – long in the works, the late prelate's last book was almost completed at the time of his passing, its focus on the First Vatican Council (1869-70), an event headlined by its definition of papal infallibility on matters of faith and morals.

According to Whispers ops close to John Raphael, the author spent his last weeks poring over the galleys from his sickbed.

Posted: June 23, 2017, 9:08 am
While late last week was supposed to be given to the Midsummer Classic – eventful as it was for a June meeting – more pressing developments have pushed the bench to the side... at least, the Stateside one.

As ever, news has its ways of disrupting the best-laid plans. Still, as sidetracks go, this instance brings the specter of a blockbuster: the most important personnel choice Pope Francis will make, bar none, is said to be on deck.

According to mounting reports from Italy over recent days, Papa Bergoglio has settled upon his pick for the archbishopric of Milan: with 5 million Catholics, Europe's largest diocese by far – above all, the Italian church's most critical assignment outside Rome thanks to the city's place as the country's financial and media hub, not to mention its top population center.

Upon his unveiling, Francis' choice will succeed Cardinal Angelo Scola, who reached the retirement age of 75 last November.

Long a favorite of Benedict XVI, the 2011 choice of Scola – Papa Ratzinger's decades-long collaborator on numerous fronts, above all in seeking to set the goalposts for a dialogue with post-modern culture – was merely the latest instance of how every Pope of the modern era has sought to send an unmistakable message with his appointment to the seat of Saints Ambrose and Charles (Borromeo).

Among others, three more recent turnovers of the post likewise stand out: Pius XII's 1954 call of his Co-Secretary of State, Msgr Giovanni Battista Montini, to the Lombard church, from which he would be elected nine years later as Pope Paul VI; now-St John Paul II's 1979 shock tap of the then-rector of the Gregorian, Fr Carlo Maria Martini, which served to launch the Jesuit Scripture scholar into cult figure status across broad swathes of progressives and others worldwide, then the 2002 choice of his successor, Dionigi Tettamanzi – already cardinal-archbishop of Genoa and, a decade prior, the primary ghostwriter of JPII's pro-life manifesto, Evangelium Vitae.

As a pontiff's ability to run the table only extends for the course of his own reign, beyond the confidence of his Maker in White – and with it, the Milanese prelate's day-to-day influence over the life of a mega-fold spread across 1,000-plus parishes – that five of the city's nine archbishops over the last century have either been beatified or elected to the papacy (or both) speaks to an enduring imprint long beyond their respective turns at its helm.

Indeed, in an act underscoring the post's nonpareil standing in papal eyes, Benedict continued the tradition (begun with Martini) of conferring Scola's pallium privately, in this case at Castel Gandolfo (above), instead of doing so alongside the world's other newly-named archbishops. In its last instance, however, the move echoed the 2002 moment when – breaking the norm that restricts the wool band to metropolitans – John Paul II placed it on the shoulders of Joseph Ratzinger, effectively singling out his eventual successor.

Accordingly, that Scola's considerable buzz as Papabile in 2013 was only short-circuited, at least in part, by sudden civil investigations into the cardinal's allies in local government – a probe which curiously leaked onto the front-pages of Italian papers on the very morning before the cardinals entered Conclave – just emphasized further both the outsize shadow of Milan and B16's unspoken "message" bolstering it. And in one of the most priceless "comic relief" moments that are Italian ecclesiastics' stock-in-trade, when the election was accomplished within 24 hours, the country's bishops' conference famously didn't let the the choice's actual identity prevent them from issuing a statement exulting over Scola as the new "Pope." (And especially these days, how that hasn't birthed a Fiat factory's worth of conspiracy theories is anyone's guess.)

In light of said lineage, then, whether the Milan pick comes this week, next month or (at the latest) early next year, it's nonetheless the ultimate venue for Francis – as both the first non-European Pope in over a millennium, and ever the son of Northern Italian emigres – to set his stamp, both for the direction of Catholicism on the "Boot" and across the wider church... let alone, on a personal level, serving as an especially meaningful act given his marked devotion both to the now-Blessed Montini – whose post-Conciliar efforts Francis sees himself as "picking up" after a half-century of Curial obstruction – and the late Martini, whose posthumously-released final interview given just before his August 2012 death (read: six months before the last Conclave) could be read as a "tell" into the election that followed on its heels, and the current moment writ large.

Within Italy itself, a new occupant for the Lombard seat – the place which, 18 centuries ago, witnessed the conversion and baptism of a certain Augustine – would cap an epochal hat-trick by Papa Bergoglio over recent weeks, following last month's appointment of now-Archbishop Angelo De Donatis, 63, a "career pastor" and spiritual director to priests, as Francis' Vicar for Rome, then his assent to the Italian bishops' choice of Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti of Perugia as the new president of their national conference, known as the CEI.

In both cases, the respective choices merely capped off trajectories signaled by the Pope himself: the preacher of the Lenten retreat for pontiff and Curia in 2014, De Donatis was catapulted into Rome's diocesan leadership a year later – when, in a rarity for one of his auxiliaries, Francis performed the ordination himself (right) in St John Lateran – while, in another shock to the system, Bassetti (a prior vice-president of the Italian bench) was plucked for the red hat in the Pope's first intake, as the cardinalate's traditional destinations in Venice and Turin were (and remain) bypassed.

On the other hand, meanwhile, both choices were the result of freshly-amplified attempts at consultation ordered from the Domus: for the Roman seat (technically the Pope's vicar-general), earlier this year Francis issued an open call for input among the clergy and faithful to be sent to him by mid-April, while in a first for the CEI's corner office – a key power-center of Italian life in the not-so-distant past – Bassetti's selection only came after the Italian bishops voted on a terna (three-man shortlist) of preferred presidents at last month's plenary, with the cardinal handily coming out on top.

That said, it is indeed conspicuous that – as the vicariate of Rome invariably brings its holder a red hat – despite having decided on De Donatis prior to his announcement of a Consistory next week, the Pope still opted against making a cardinal of the de facto head of his own diocese.

In a perfect world, that alone should end any complaints about any other place not seeing the scarlet again. Yet in an age that prefers decibel levels to actual context, it won't.

As speculation goes for Milan, listing potential names is only healthy as clickbait; in factual terms it's simply pointless in this case. Keeping with his established practice for other critical nods, it's an easy call that Francis will reserve the file to himself, taking his own soundings by phone, private letter or face-to-face and short-circuiting any debate or vote from the Congregation for Bishops.

While no shortage of possibilities have been buzzed about among Roman ops for months on end, the most scintillating among them – Pierbattista Pizzaballa, 52, the longtime head of the Franciscans' centuries-old mission in the Holy Land – is ostensibly off the table due to early days into his new assignment as archbishop-administrator of Jerusalem's Latin Patriarchate, armed with a mandate to remedy what he's termed "a critical situation, mainly financial" facing the jurisdiction which encompasses Israel, Palestine and Jordan. (And as one op summed up the scene facing the widely-regarded friar, "When an Italian's been sent in to fix the money, you really know it's bad.")

*   *   *
Immense as the expectation's running for Milan, however, Italy's super-seat is just one of three of the world's premier local churches awaiting the Pope's choice of a new leader in short order.

Likewise Catholicism's most sizable outposts on their respective continents, the archdioceses of Kinshasa and, as of early this month, Mexico City are now in play as their respective occupants have submitted their retirement letters. On the latter front, lest anyone forgot a certain "bombshell" address in the heart of global fold's second-largest national turf some 16 months ago – widely seen as Francis' pointed critique on Cardinal Norberto Rivera's leadership of the Mexican hierarchy over two decades at its helm – well, do the math.

What's more still, considering the ample audience el Arzobispo Primado de México now enjoys North of the Border – in light of Univision and Telemundo (the networks of choice for the Stateside Church's emerging majority bloc) often besting ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC and in major-market TV ratings – as the future of the US fold goes, Rivera's succession is a move of almost unparalleled domestic consequence, to boot.

Speaking of (fading European) numbers, it's a sign of the times that Italy's largest diocese is now the smallest among the A-list trio pending before Francis: the principal seat of the onetime Belgian Congo, Kinshasa's growing fold comprises over over 6 million Catholics, and while Mexico City – the global church's largest diocese of all – is said to number close to 8 million members, that figure is likely low-balled due to migration patterns and iffy record-keeping.

Though last Thursday brought the antique celebration of Corpus Christi – a holy day within Vatican City itself (read: all offices closed) – in a rarity, the Holy See apparently saw fit to troll the Italian press' outbreak of "Milanese fever" by opening shop to roll out a number of appointments in Albania, Mexico and Colombia.

Meanwhile, in a first, the Vatican observance's traditional outdoor Mass at St John Lateran and procession to St Mary Major was moved to Sunday, ending a longtime work-week ritual which tended to reflect some degree of liturgical schizophrenia and/or longing for the restoration of the Papal States.

Simply put, in choosing to match the Monstrance-march to Italy's actual calendar, the Pope didn't just opt to facilitate the convenience of the faithful, but – like so much else in the works – chose to abide by the decision of the episcopal conference... even if it took some four decades after the fact.

Posted: June 20, 2017, 10:08 pm
(Updated with presser feed, Installation date, etc.)

True story: amid the frigid splendor of Cardinal Joe Tobin’s installation at Newark in early January, this scribe hitched a couple bus rides with the amply sized Indiana delegation, which made the trek to see their former boss to his new home.

Along the way, the shop’s daily mailbag essentially came to life as, at one point or another, what seemed like the bulk of the Hoosiers on-board leaned in, warmly besieging a reporter with just one question:

“Who’s coming to Indy?”

Especially in these days of a process that’s anything but linear, one can see how the chips will fall only so far in advance…. Still, even for the usual caginess that comes with the turf, it was even more impossible to be fully candid with them, at least in words – for most of the trips, the already-tipped frontrunner happened to be sitting at my side. And now, he is indeed the Pope’s choice… or, as some might put it, the “Heir to the Joe.”

In the least surprising major move Stateside Catholicism has seen in some time, at Roman Noon this Tuesday, Francis named Bishop Charles Thompson of Evansville (right) as the Seventh Archbishop of Indianapolis, the move coming smack in the midst of the USCCB's June Meeting in the city, whose public sessions start tomorrow.

At 56, the Louisville native – an established social media presence known always and everywhere as “Chuck” – becomes the nation’s youngest metropolitan, ending the nearly five-year run over which the distinction was held by Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland, the last provincial head named by Benedict XVI. Yet perhaps most poignantly, having been a spiritual son and protege of two archbishops – Louisville’s late Tom Kelly OP and Indy’s retired Daniel Buechlein OSB – over his 30 years of priesthood, it seems no accident that Thompson has risen to the rank himself.

Wiry and easygoing with a self-described "social justice" bent dating to his teens, the archbishop-elect was said to be "anxious, but ready" for today's rollout, according to a Whispers op informed of the appointment.

A resolutely "Francis man" among a bench whose extremes tend to make disproportionate noise, Thompson outlined the pontiff's imprint on his vision at considerable length in a 2016 pastoral letter to the Evansville church, a text built around the Pope's imperative of "missionary discipleship." And speaking of emphases, that the Indy pick recently took to issuing a rare public message from a Catholic prelate to his local Muslim community – "our brothers and sisters in Abraham" – to mark Islam's penitential month of Ramadan... well, it didn't hurt.

Despite his roots in Marion County – the heart of Kentucky’s centuries-old Catholic mecca, the celebrated “Holy Land” – the archbishop-elect has long been as steeped as any “outsider” could be in the life of Indiana’s principal church, now home to some 300,000 members.

For starters, Thompson's hometown lies just across the Ohio River from the Indy archdiocese’s mostly Protestant, sparsely populated southern tier… but in particular, the fold he now inherits was his home as a seminarian in formation at St Meinrad – the source of his bond with Buechlein, then its rector – before returning to the Benedictine house in the early 2000s as a professor of the canons, juggling that role with a Louisville pastorate (with the then-retired Kelly as his "parochial vicar") and Chancery work as vicar-general to Archbishop Joseph Kurtz. Upon his 2011 appointment to Evansville – a heavily rural outpost in Indiana’s southwest corner – that familiarity was only burnished given his seat on the Hoosiers’ provincial bench and the strong history of coordination among the state’s bishops on common causes.

All this goes to underscore the backstory and needs which framed today’s move – much of the paradigm reportedly set by Tobin himself. On one critical front, the move toward a “young” choice speaks to a premium on stability; upon his installation, “Archbishop Chuck” will be the fourth prelate to lead the Indy church in the last six years – named in 2011 due to Buechlein’s declining health, then-auxiliary Chris Coyne served a year as apostolic administrator with full powers until Tobin’s late 2012 arrival from Rome, then was quickly whisked home to New England as head of Vermont’s statewide diocese of Burlington.

At the same time, a significant ongoing concern within the archdiocese has been the apparent balkanization between the population core within the see city’s metro area and feelings of neglect in the south, which Thompson’s experience almost uniquely equips him to bridge. Most of all, however, the repeated turnover of leadership and other pressing challenges – among them a parish planning effort begun by the now-cardinal – will now be remedied by an extraordinarily smooth and easy transition, with little to no time needed in terms of learning curve. And along with it, the incoming archbishop brings a decent knowledge of Spanish, an ever more necessary skill given his new charge’s growing Latino bloc.

As first reported here yesterday, a 10am Eastern presser has been called at the Chancery – here, the livefeed for on-demand video of the event... and with it, the text of the archbishop-elect's first statement:

Per the norms of the canons, Thompson must be installed within two months of today’s move. With this pick, Francis has now named a quarter of the 32 Stateside Latin archbishops.

(SVILUPPO: Per the archdiocese, the Installation is scheduled for Friday, 28 July – and, with the archbishop-elect now slated to head to Rome to receive his Pallium at month's end alongside two other prelates with Hoosier ties, will be invested with the metropolitan gear at the same time.)

Developing – more to come.

Posted: June 14, 2017, 6:08 pm
(SVILUPPO: The appointment reported below was formally announced by the Vatican at Roman Noon on Tuesday, 13 June.)

Of course, this week brings the Midsummer Classic – the June Meeting of the US bishops, the bench’s first plenary of both a Donald Trump White House and a Dan DiNardo Presidency. Yet while the former’s ascent provides no shortage of things to be discussed, such is the latter’s disposition that no session will run a second longer than it absolutely has to.

But, no, the reason for that is not – repeat: is not – politics.

While a handful of committee meetings got underway this morning, the full Floor business opens on Wednesday morning. Though the agenda's full shape won’t be plotted out until tomorrow’s meeting of the Administrative Committee, the most prominent item of the first day will come at its end: an evening Mass of Prayer and Penance “for survivors of sex-abuse within the church” – the US’ first response to last year’s call by the Pope for each episcopal conference to designate a national day toward the effort.

Notably, the liturgy falls precisely 15 years to the week since the fateful 2002 summer meeting, when the nationwide revelations of abuse and cover-up made the issue the sole item of the plenary, culminating in the passage of the Charter and Norms now known by where they were approved – Dallas.

The Dallas meeting memorably closed with a “Mass for the Gift of Tears,” no similar national gesture has been replicated since, until now. And fittingly, the “face” of the church’s response in those days – Wilton Gregory, providentially suited to tackling a storm unknown upon his election as president – will preach this week’s encore, with DiNardo celebrating as the incumbent Chief.

* * *
All that said, as this week approached, the statisticians had some brushing up to do – given this meeting’s venue, no one could remember an instance when the bench had convened in a city which was lacking a bishop as host.

Of course, that was by accident – the traveling June circus is booked years in advance, and it was just in November that the Pope shocked many by plucking Joe Tobin from Indianapolis on the eve of a watershed red hat, parachuting his oldest Stateside friend into Newark with a mission to heal the roiled Jersey fold.

In any case, with remarkable timing, the notion of a host-less meeting is now moot – in a message sent to the Brickyard clergy and lay leaders this morning, the Indy administrator Msgr Bill Stumpf invited the locals to a Chancery press conference at 10am tomorrow, its purpose stated only as “news affecting the archdiocese.”

Among Whispers ops, it is indeed understood that the event – couched as it is in the usual code – will introduce the Pope’s pick to be Indiana’s seventh archbishop, the appointment itself arriving at Roman Noon (6am ET). And given the surreal nature of some 150 prelates all landing in the place at the same time, well, this admittedly feels more like the Flying Elvises scene from Honeymoon in Vegas than anything this scribe ever thought to expect on this beat.

By virtue of his appointment alone, the impending archbishop-elect will complete a unique Hoosier troika heading to Rome at month’s end to celebrate Saints Peter and Paul alongside the Pope and receive the pallium with which he’ll be invested after his installation: alongside tomorrow’s pick and his now-predecessor, Archbishop Paul Etienne of Anchorage is an Indy native with a local fanbase as big as his family’s two-century roots in the diocese run deep...

...and if only the Alaska file came up a couple weeks later than it did last September... er, complete the sentence.

Alas, such is the budget that these pages can’t be on-site for the week’s events... but if that's the price for not being bought by an overlord, it's well worth paying. Still, as the usual stem-to-stern coverage rolls into gear – not to mention a Consistory on tap... and all the other curveballs to be had as the "Vatican year" winds to a close – the reminder's ever in order that these pages can only keep coming your way by means of your support....

And yet again, folks, buckle up.

Posted: June 13, 2017, 11:59 am
For the better part of the last decade, one of the house's Raleigh ops has invariably plugged a local standout there with these words: "Ned Shlesinger is a saint."

To be sure, that judgment ultimately belongs to God. In the meantime, though, Ned is now a bishop – and as whoever replaced the "Taz" would need all the help he can get, having holiness locked up is a sound place to start.

In a rapid turnaround for the second deputy's slot in what's now a fold of 1.2 million, at Roman Noon this Monday the Pope poached Shlesinger, 56 (left) – who precisely no one calls by his given name of "Bernard" – from the eastern North Carolina ranks as auxiliary bishop of Atlanta, the move coming barely six months since Bishop David Talley was sent to reap the whirlwind in southern Louisiana.

Until now on loan as a spiritual director at St Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia, the bishop-elect – the latest in a flood of auxiliaries rolling out nationwide over the course of this year – marks an early 70th birthday present for Archbishop Wilton Gregory, who reaches the milestone in December. Fluent in Spanish (a key trait given the Atlanta church's Hispanic plurality of membership), a veteran of the Air Force (where he made Captain and flew C-130s) and product of Virginia Tech and the North American College, the Pope's pick had been slated to head home to a parish over this summer, and reacted to Francis' change of plans this morning with one of several instances of bursting into tears.

While his response has been the opposite of ambition – no surprise to anyone who knows him, even just by reputation – that the figure described among his own as "the best priest of the diocese" has landed a hat fulfills the path charted for Shlesinger by his now-former boss, Bishop Michael Burbidge, who marked out today's pick by sending his onetime vocation director to the Overbrook house (read: Burbidge's Valhalla) after Shlesinger racked up a significant increase of seminarians in the diocesan post.

That said, the loss of one of the Triangle church's major clerics comes amid what's already been described as a chaotic vacancy following Burbidge's transfer to Arlington last fall, and as Raleigh prepares to open its new Cathedral of the Holy Name of Jesus (above) on July 26th. Though the prior occupant is slated to perform the liturgy dedicating his dream project for worship, it is credibly expected that the next Raleigh prelate will be appointed in advance of the rites, and then installed in the $41 million, 2,000-seat cathedral shortly after its formal launch.

Notably, today's nod marks the second time in recent weeks that – bucking the usual practice – an Anglo auxiliary has been parachuted into a sizable archdiocese from outside its presbyterate; the first was Bishop-elect Dan Mueggenborg, the former NAC vice-rector called in from Tulsa, who'll be ordained a second auxiliary of Seattle at month's end.

In both cases, the choices have long been in the pipeline and enjoy sterling reputations, but it likewise bears recalling how starting from scratch with a fully local search – and, ergo, finding someone who can clear the vetting – inevitably means a wait that can drag on for several years. On the other hand, however, it is the distinct reality in both spots that – with Atlanta and Seattle each having experienced exponential growth over the last two decades – the respective booms have been overwhelmingly fueled by the arrival of transplants from outside, clergy included. Even if it's not the general norm, then, in these particular instances auxiliary bishops who share that experience simply makes pastoral sense... and in today's case, indeed, there is a uniquely Wiltonian sense of history to it.

Given the schedules that need to be juggled, Shlesinger's ordination date remains to be determined; per the norms of the canons, it must take place within four months. In any event, today's move comes just ahead of Atlanta's major gathering of the year – the Eucharistic Congress, which sees a crowd of 30,000 take over the city's convention center through Corpus Christi weekend, comprising the church's largest annual gathering in the American South.

And here, featuring a new bishop as weepy as his new boss was downright giddy, the video of this morning's intro presser at Tara, albeit filmed sideways:

Posted: June 8, 2017, 7:39 pm
(Updated 1pm ET with Press Conference video.)

Over recent weeks, the growing community at St Ignatius Martyr parish in Austin has been planning a “bash” for their pastor’s 50th birthday.

However, the Pope now sends word that their late June event for Father Bill will now double as a farewell... to Bishop-elect Wack.

In an unheard-of act on a US civil holiday, this Memorial Day indeed brings an appointment – at Roman Noon, Francis named the South Bend-born priest of the Congregation of Holy Cross (a onetime vocation director at Notre Dame) as sixth bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee, tapped to lead a minority fold of 70,000 across the broad swath of the heavily-Evangelical Florida Panhandle: a charge spanning two time zones and some 14,000 square miles. (In a shot circulated this past March, the bishop-elect is seen test-piloting the new parking lot on his parish plant.)

Even as Papa Bergoglio has long taken any notion of holiday weekends for the Stateside press to the shredder, today's move is simply on a different plane, and in more ways than one at that.

His ordination reportedly set for late August, Wack succeeds Bishop Gregory Parkes, the Florida State alum sent on a fittingly giant leap across the Sunshine State late last year with his transfer to St Petersburg, the province’s second-largest post. Yet where Parkes was already quite familiar with and devoted to Noles Country from his college days, his successor arrives sight unseen... so in this instance, any expectation that a lifelong son of the Fighting Irish will lead The Chop on Day One might be a bit much to ask.

Described by Whispers ops as “a simply joyful priest” and “the kind of guy you’d want for everything [in ministry],” the bishop-elect’s road since his 1994 ordination has been unusually varied, and features an especially potent example of the identikit Francis has repeatedly demanded for those to whom he entrusts the mitre and crozier.

Before his stint until today at the Austin parish, Wack served for seven years as director of Andre House, a homeless shelter and soup kitchen in a Phoenix drug corridor where, according to a recent interview, he and his team would serve more than 500 plates every night on top of caring for the daily laundry and lodging of anyone who came.

Already a veteran of social media – a trait which will serve him well given the spread he inherits – Wack posts audio of his homilies online... his reasons for being “really keyed up” about yesterday’s preach now in the open:

My homily from this morning (Ascension). For some reason I was really keyed up today! https://t.co/m4x7KnOqTj
— Fr. Bill Wack, CSC (@FrWack) May 28, 2017
Said by an associate to “not be given to administration” – a common (but not universal) lack among Francis' recent Stateside appointees – that hasn’t stopped the Panhandle pick from making his goal in pledges for a $2.5 million capital campaign for his Texas parish. Still, Wack nonetheless has the good fortune of inheriting a charge where the locals report no major pressing issues. Meantime, with the diocese’s Hispanic population steadily ticking up due to an influx for its service industries, the elect brings ample proficiency in Spanish, a first for the bishop there.

As local media were quietly alerted on Friday – and, Florida being Florida, was then brazenly announced in Pensacola Cathedral at yesterday’s Masses – a 10am Central presser has already been called at the western hub’s Chancery. One of the US church’s few twin-seat dioceses, the joint see cities are some 200 miles apart, a roughly three-hour drive.

Among other aspects, it is of note that Wack’s appointment marks but the latest instance of Francis choosing an American bishop from a remarkably large family. The seventh of ten kids born to a doctor and a nurse, Bill was eventually followed into the CSCs by his brother, Neil, who was ordained a decade later and now holds his brother’s onetime vocations post at Notre Dame. Yet as the brothers' social feeds are each unusually sparse, it's even more salient how both follow the son of another Midwestern "tribe" who ostensibly shepherded this appointment across the finish line from his seat on the Congregation for Bishops – namely, Blase.

All that said, just a few weeks ago, an Austin pastor was but a face in the crowd among the 5,000-odd faithful who converged from across Texas for the church’s annual Advocacy Day at the Lone Star Capitol (above) – an event highlighted by the bishops' breakfast with the turf's first governor from the fold since Mexican rule.

And with today’s move, Bill Wack suddenly becomes Catholicism’s principal voice in the capital of what's now the third-largest state.

Just further proof of how these days, in this church, life really comes at you fast.

As chaos reigns in Raleigh, Indianapolis collects advice for its next occupant – and an ongoing "Auxnado" reshapes the bench's voting ranks more than anything else afoot – six Stateside Latin sees remain vacant, with another four led by (arch)bishops serving past the retirement age.

SVILUPPO: A feast of "oversharing" – a tendency the bishop-elect easily admitted to – here's fullvid of this morning's presser, which saw the Pope's pick riff at length without a scripted text....

Posted: May 29, 2017, 9:51 pm
To one and all in the Northeast, Nebraska, The Vatican (yet not Italy) – and the handful of other places where this is still Ascension Day – a blessed and buona festa with all its joys and graces....

...to everyone else, no news for you. At least, not 'til the weekend.

Given the unique patchwork of how American Catholicism observes this 40th Day of Easter (or, for the most part, doesn't), it bears recalling how the split decision – and its ever-resulting confusion – owes itself to a 1994 vote granted by Rome to the bishops of each of the nation's 33 Latin-church provinces: a concession which followed a five-year "experiment" that initially allowed the five Westernmost jurisdictions to move their Ascension date to the then-Seventh Sunday of Easter and see how it unfolded.

To put it mildly, no shortage of things have changed since then, above all the makeup of the bench. Indeed, it's hard to think of more than five still-active prelates (of some 250) who would've cast a vote on this question, and all but one of them are now in very different provinces than they were at the time.

More to the point, the last two decades have brought something of a tidal shift across the board, even as its wake has pulled in two very different directions: in the Northeast, where 1994's ample numbers of priests and people have largely been obliterated due to aging and atrophy, the region's historic premium on "tradition" – read: the Obligatory Collection – is a lot more costly these days... while even as a thousand and more new communities have bloomed to points South and West, amid presbyterates that've either grown or, at best, barely kept pace to serve the boom, in many places said epochal ascent has brought a more deeply-rooted sense of Catholic identity to the fore, one in which days like this make for a particular flashpoint, and a very desirable one to maintain at that.

In other words, since there's no need whatsoever for the prior generation's judgment to hold today's Church hostage, the Ascension Day vote can be retaken at any time... and if it were, one way or another, odds are the resulting map would look rather different.

It wouldn't exactly be rocket-science to pull off, either – the majority of diocesan bishops in any given province would be able to petition for a change on their respective turf at any time, but a spirit of collegiality seems to prod something more, well, "catholic" for the broader scene. Toward that end, the exigencies of a different Church in a different age make this question feel like something at least worth discerning anew, that the needs and aspirations of God's People in our situations today might best be served as they are, instead of as they were two decades – and an ecclesial epoch – ago.

All that said, in the grand scheme of things, the date is but window dressing. For all the hand-wringing that remains over when this feast is (or isn't) celebrated, to engage in that while missing out on what the day actually means – and the responsibility and work that it requires – only creates yet another vapid distraction from the lone thing that matters most....

Evangelization takes place in obedience to the missionary mandate of Jesus: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20). In these verses we see how the risen Christ sent his followers to preach the Gospel in every time and place, so that faith in him might spread to every corner of the earth.

The word of God constantly shows us how God challenges those who believe in him “to go forth”.... The Church which “goes forth” is a community of missionary disciples who take the first step, who are involved and supportive, who bear fruit and rejoice. An evangelizing community knows that the Lord has taken the initiative, that he has loved us first (cf. 1 Jn 4:19), and therefore we can move forward, boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast. Such a community has an endless desire to show mercy, the fruit of its own experience of the power of the Father’s infinite mercy.

Let us try a little harder to take the first step and to become involved. Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. The Lord gets involved and he involves his own, as he kneels to wash their feet. He tells his disciples: “You will be blessed if you do this” (Jn 13:17). An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary, and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others. Evangelizers thus take on the “smell of the sheep” and the sheep are willing to hear their voice. An evangelizing community is also supportive, standing by people at every step of the way, no matter how difficult or lengthy this may prove to be. It is familiar with patient expectation and apostolic endurance. Evangelization consists mostly of patience and disregard for constraints of time. Faithful to the Lord’s gift, it also bears fruit. An evangelizing community is always concerned with fruit, because the Lord wants her to be fruitful. It cares for the grain and does not grow impatient at the weeds. The sower, when he sees weeds sprouting among the grain does not grumble or overreact. He or she finds a way to let the word take flesh in a particular situation and bear fruits of new life, however imperfect or incomplete these may appear. The disciple is ready to put his or her whole life on the line, even to accepting martyrdom, in bearing witness to Jesus Christ, yet the goal is not to make enemies but to see God’s word accepted and its capacity for liberation and renewal revealed. Finally an evangelizing community is filled with joy; it knows how to rejoice always. It celebrates every small victory, every step forward in the work of evangelization. Evangelization with joy becomes beauty in the liturgy, as part of our daily concern to spread goodness. The Church evangelizes and is herself evangelized through the beauty of the liturgy, which is both a celebration of the task of evangelization and the source of her renewed self-giving.

I am aware that nowadays documents do not arouse the same interest as in the past and that they are quickly forgotten. Nevertheless, I want to emphasize that what I am trying to express here has a programmatic significance and important consequences. I hope that all communities will devote the necessary effort to advancing along the path of a pastoral and missionary conversion which cannot leave things as they presently are. “Mere administration” can no longer be enough. Throughout the world, let us be “permanently in a state of mission”....

There are ecclesial structures which can hamper efforts at evangelization, yet even good structures are only helpful when there is a life constantly driving, sustaining and assessing them. Without new life and an authentic evangelical spirit, without the Church’s “fidelity to her own calling,” any new structure will soon prove ineffective.

I dream of a “missionary option” – that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her [own] self-preservation. The renewal of structures demanded by pastoral conversion can only be understood in this light: as part of an effort to make them more mission-oriented, to make ordinary pastoral activity on every level more inclusive and open, to inspire in pastoral workers a constant desire to go forth and in this way to elicit a positive response from all those whom Jesus summons to friendship with himself.
–Pope Francis
Evangelii Gaudium ("The Joy of the Gospel")
24 November 2013
Posted: May 25, 2017, 8:08 pm
(Updated 12pm ET with White House readout.)
After weeks of anticipation – and a rhetorical flare from the host's side – just before 8.30 this morning President Trump arrived at the Apostolic Palace for his reception by the Pope.

On reaching the Private Library in the Papal Apartment, the duo spent a half-hour in one-on-one talks behind closed doors. In what's become a sign of welcome under Francis for visiting heads of state, the American flag was again flown over the San Damaso courtyard, where the POTUS' 70-car motorcade rolled up.

While Papa Bergoglio appeared unusually somber or apprehensive as he emerged to welcome the beaming President upon his arrival, Francis returned to his smiling, animated form after the private discussion, seeming especially charmed by First Lady Melania Trump. Meanwhile, in a notable break from the standard practice for bilateral meetings, the US side didn't bring its own translator, leaving Msgr Mark Miles – the Gibraltar-born chief of the English desk in the Secretariat of State – as the sole interpreter for both parties.

Keeping the custom of his predecessors for every meeting with a major political leader, the pontiff gave Trump copies of his own principal texts – Evangelii Gaudium, Laudato Si' and Amoris Laetitia – adding alongside them a signed edition of this year's message for the World Day of Peace (1 January), in which he urged a politics of "nonviolence." Per the White House pool, the President's main gift was a boxed set of the published works of Dr Martin Luther King Jr., who Francis quoted in the Peace Day message and highlighted at length in his 2015 address to a joint meeting of Congress, the first such speech ever given by a Pope.

Here, the Vatican feed of the encounter's public moments before and after the private visit, which wrapped up with the traditional exchange of gifts and greeting of the US delegation:

As with every other diplomatic guest, after the audience itself the US principals – the President, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster – sat for detailed policy talks with the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and his British-born "foreign minister," Archbishop Paul Gallagher.

With the Pope zipping off for this morning's general audience, the second meeting reportedly stretched for 50 minutes.

In the one unique aspect of today's summit – at least, beyond the overpowering security presence that comes with this visitor alone – given Trump's first visit to the Vatican, the President, First Lady and their retinue were given a private tour of the Sistine Chapel (right) and St Peter's Basilica, which were closed to the public for the occasion.

While the new administration's domestic turmoil has taken a backseat to the spectacle of Trump's first overseas tour – and the Holy See, as a matter of course, steers clear of a country's internal politics – the US bishops notably minced few words in criticizing yesterday's release of the President's first budget, terming the plan's drastic cuts to social benefits for the poor and vulnerable (while increasing defense spending) as "profoundly troubling" and "a threat to the security of our nation and world."

SVILUPPO (5.50am ET): Just released, the Vatican's readout summarizing the private discussions as Francis and his team saw it....
This morning, Wednesday 24 May 2017, the Honorable Donald Trump, President of the United States of America, was received in Audience by the Holy Father Francis and subsequently met with His Eminence Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, accompanied by His Excellency [Archbishop] Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States.

During the cordial discussions, satisfaction was expressed for the good existing bilateral relations between the Holy See and the United States of America, as well as the joint commitment in favour of life, and freedom of worship and conscience. It is hoped that there may be serene collaboration between the State and the Catholic Church in the United States, engaged in service to the people in the fields of healthcare, education and assistance to immigrants.

The discussions then enabled an exchange of views on various themes relating to international affairs and the promotion of peace in the world through political negotiation and interreligious dialogue, with particular reference to the situation in the Middle East and the protection of Christian communities.
And in the first US comment on the audience, Trump lauded the moment in one of his trademark tweets:
Honor of a lifetime to meet His Holiness Pope Francis. I leave the Vatican more determined than ever to pursue PEACE in our world. pic.twitter.com/JzJDy7pllI
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 24, 2017
SVILUPPO 2 (12PM ET): Only several hours after the motorcade pulled away, the White House released the following communiqué on the talks, featuring a marked difference of emphasis from much of the Vatican's summary:
President Donald J. Trump met today with His Holiness Pope Francis and Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin. This was the President’s first engagement with the Holy See. In their meetings, the President focused on how the United States, the Holy See, and the international community can work together to combat terrorism.

The Pope and the President discussed how religious communities can combat human suffering in crisis regions, such as Syria, Libya, and ISIS-controlled territory. The President affirmed that the United States and the Holy See share many fundamental values and seek to engage globally to promote human rights, combat human suffering, and protect religious freedom.

The President also renewed the commitment of the United States to fighting global famine. As he relayed at the Vatican, the United States is proud to announce more than $300 million in anti-famine spending, focused on the crises in Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia, and Nigeria.
Briefing members of the traveling press pool as Air Force One headed toward a NATO summit in Brussels, Tillerson mentioned another issue that came up in the meting with Parolin and Gallagher: climate change – specifically, the Holy See's interest in the US' remaining a signatory to the 2015 Paris Agreement which committed most of the world's governments to implementing targeted limits on carbon emissions.

While Francis himself played a key behind-the-scenes role in securing the accord – now ratified by nearly 150 nations – the Trump administration has pledged to withdraw from it.

Posted: May 24, 2017, 5:21 pm
For all the tools every Pope has at his disposal, it could be said that Francis wields none more effectively than the element of surprise.

Ergo, at today's noontime Regina Caeli from the Window of the Apostolic Palace, Papa Bergoglio called a Consistory – his fourth – on the vigil of Peter and Paul, 28 June, for the creation of 5 new cardinals, all of them electors:
  • Archbishop Jean Zerbo of Bamako, Mali (73)
  • Archbishop Juan José Omella of Barcelona (71)
  • Bishop Anders Arborelius OCD of Stockholm (67)
  • Bishop Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun, vicar-apostolic of Paksé, Laos (73)
  • Bishop Gregorio Rosa Chavez, auxiliary of San Salvador (74)
Here, a rush translation of the Pope's announcement, in which Francis framed the rationale for his choices:
Dear brothers and sisters, 
I wish to announce that on Wednesday, 28 June, there will be a Consistory for the naming of five new cardinals. Their hailing from different parts of the world manifests the Catholicity of the church spread across the whole world and the assignment of a titular or diaconal church in the City expresses the attachment of the cardinals to the diocese of Rome that, as the well-noted expression of St Ignatius says, "presides in charity" over all the churches. 
On Thursday, 29 June, the solemnity of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, I will concelebrate Mass with the new cardinals, the College, with the new metropolitan archbishops, bishops and some priests.... Let us entrust the new cardinals to the protection of Saints Peter and Paul, that with the intercession of the Prince of the Apostles, they might be authentic servants of ecclesial communion and, with that of the Apostle of the Gentiles, they might be joyful messengers of the Gospel for the whole world, and, with their witness and advice, they might sustain me more intensely in my own service as Bishop of Rome and universal Pastor of the Church.
*   *   *
With the new additions, the electoral College will be restored to 121 members – one over the now-traditional limit of 120 set by Blessed Paul VI in 1975. Of the total group, 49 (40%) will have been elevated by Francis.

Even for their nomination today, cardinals-designate don't enjoy their voting rights until their names are published within the Consistory itself.

Following quickly on the heels of November's intake of 17 new cardinals, while some buzz has circulated over recent weeks tipping a late June encore, the rumors had foreseen what would've been a historic super-sizing of the voting ranks – an idea which has circulated for some time, possibly ballooning the papal electorate as high as 145 or even 150 members.

Even on just a temporary basis, there is precedent for such a move: at his first Consistory after the Jubilee Year of 2000, now-St John Paul II had expanded the voting College to 135 cardinals by elevating 44 prelates younger than 80 – Jorge Bergoglio among them. (Speaking of John Paul, it also bears noting that each of today's designates were named bishops by the Polish Pope.)

In any case, even if the final Biglietto is far smaller than would've been expected, the group strikes a fresh blow for the inclusion of the church's "peripheries" in the ranks of the Pope's "Senate" – with the exception of Omella, each of the designates are the first cardinals ever to hail from their respective countries; aside from the Spanish-speaking picks, the new crop all lead miniscule Catholic communities comprising less than five percent of their general populations.

The first native Swede named a bishop since the Reformation (after centuries of missionaries serving the country's small Catholic community), Arborelius will be the first-ever cardinal on duty in Scandinavia. And in the choice of Rosa Chavez – one of the closest collaborators of Blessed Oscar Romero – at least for the first time in the post-Conciliar period, not only has an auxiliary bishop been given the red hat, but likewise a cleric currently serving as pastor of a parish (which is, of course, the historic foundation of the office, the original cardinals having been the pastors of Rome, hence the task of electing the city's Bishop).

As for the timing, beyond the topping up of the voting ranks, it is likely that this Consistory will see Francis convene the now-routine daylong consultation with the entire College on the eve of the elevations, which was conspicuous by its absence in November. Despite the short notice, a hefty chunk of the far-flung cardinals already tend to be in Rome in late June as the dicasteries of the Curia wrap up their last plenary meetings before the summer exodus.

Developing – more to come.

Posted: May 21, 2017, 5:01 pm
Four months into an experiment without precedent in American Catholic life, to speak of "the Cardinal-Archbishop of Newark" still takes some getting used to. And even more, when you've been around long enough to recall the relentless dumping on the place in which a certain late occupant of the chair across the Hudson took mountains of relish, the new state of things is all the more extraordinary.

To be sure, the "Clash of the Titans" for which some partisans have been salivating has not come to pass – at least, not yet. But little by little – with subtle swings on "evil empires," gays and lesbians, polarization, Amoris and the like – Cardinal Joe Tobin has taken to carving out his own niche, both in the church's top rank and the nation's largest media market.

Catapulted into the scarlet and the Northeast to the shock of many – elsewhere, that is – the place the former Redemptorist general and top Curial official holds in the current dynamic has a rough equivalent in recent times: just as another Midwestern-born religious superior in Rome was vaulted from relative obscurity into becoming the articulator of the Stateside church's mission in the zeitgeist, to Mamma Tobin's eldest boy now belongs the role occupied by Francis George over the prior generation of the bench. (Indeed, it bears recalling that Tobin's November elevation coincided with the start of his three-year term at the helm of the USCCB arm for clergy, consecrated life and vocations – one of the Mothership's "Big Four" committee chairs – in which he'll oversee the national implementation of the Holy See's new global guidelines for priestly formation.)

At January's installation (video), perhaps the most striking element of the scene was the full descent of the New York press corps – which packed a transept of the Cathedral-Basilica of the Sacred Heart, as every TV station's live trucks lined the street outside – in the biggest media throng Jersey Catholicism had seen since the Papal Visit of 1995.

Three years earlier in the same place, the "press box" for Bernie Hebda's ultimately-thwarted start as the next archbishop was made up of this scribe and crickets, so the contrast was as stark as the blinding Klieg lights that came out for Tobin's entrance (above). And as Francis' second, finally successful pick for Newark stomped around every aisle of the French-Gothic cathedral to show his letter of appointment (holding the parchment bull over his head), it was no less telling that Jim Goodness, the long-suffering archdiocesan spokesman, was heard to exult to no one in particular that "We have a showman!"

While the initial frenzy's calmed down, having spent the spring in "town hall" meetings and regional Masses across his new, 1.3 million-member turf, yesterday saw "Big Red" in his most high-profile Gotham turn since his launch, headlining the Brooklyn diocese's annual gathering of Catholic and secular press pros for World Communications Day – marked across the church on the so-called "Ascension Sunday," the lone ecclesial event called for by Vatican II.

Long on-record blasting what he's termed a "Fox News" approach that "keep[s] people coming back because they keep them afraid," albeit without naming the cable outlet this time, the thread returned again in Tobin's keynote, which focused on the imperative of "communicating hope" in a time of societal tumult, drawing heavily from a widely-covered intervention he made in March on behalf of an undocumented immigrant facing deportation.

Here, the fullvid:

Posted: May 19, 2017, 3:01 am
A hundred years to the hour since "a lady in white" first appeared to three shepherd children in the Portuguese countryside, here's the centerpiece of the milestone's observance at Fatima – this morning's papal Mass with the formal declaration of the seers as Saints Jacinta and Francisco Marto....

And below, the English translation of Francis' homily.

* * *
“There appeared in heaven a woman clothed with the sun”. So the seer of Patmos tells us in the Book of Revelation (12:1), adding that she was about to give birth to a son. Then, in the Gospel, we hear Jesus say to his disciple, “Here is your mother” (Jn 19:27). We have a Mother! “So beautiful a Lady”, as the seers of Fatima said to one another as they returned home on that blessed day of 13 March a hundred years ago. That evening, Jacinta could not restrain herself and told the secret to her mother: “Today I saw Our Lady”. They had seen the Mother of Heaven. Many others sought to share that vision, but… they did not see her. The Virgin Mother did not come here so that we could see her. We will have all eternity for that, provided, of course, that we go to heaven.

Our Lady foretold, and warned us about, a way of life that is godless and indeed profanes God in his creatures. Such a life – frequently proposed and imposed – risks leading to hell. Mary came to remind us that God’s light dwells within us and protects us, for, as we heard in the first reading, “the child [of the woman] was snatched away and taken to God” (Rev 12:5). In Lucia’s account, the three chosen children found themselves surrounded by God’s light as it radiated from Our Lady. She enveloped them in the mantle of Light that God had given her. According to the belief and experience of many pilgrims, if not of all, Fatima is more than anything this mantle of Light that protects us, here as in almost no other place on earth. We need but take refuge under the protection of the Virgin Mary and to ask her, as the Salve Regina teaches: “show unto us… Jesus”.

Dear pilgrims, we have a Mother. Clinging to her like children, we live in the hope that rests on Jesus. As we heard in the second reading, “those who receive the abundance of the grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:17). When Jesus ascended to heaven, he brought to the Heavenly Father our humanity, which he assumed in the womb of the Virgin Mary and will never forsake. Like an anchor, let us fix our hope on that humanity, seated in heaven at the right hand of the Father (cf. Eph 2:6). May this hope guide our lives! It is a hope that sustains us always, to our dying breath.

Confirmed in this hope, we have gathered here to give thanks for the countless graces bestowed over these past hundred years. All of them passed beneath the mantle of light that Our Lady has spread over the four corners of the earth, beginning with this land of Portugal, so rich in hope. We can take as our examples Saint Francisco and Saint Jacinta, whom the Virgin Mary introduced into the immense ocean of God’s light and taught to adore him. That was the source of their strength in overcoming opposition and suffering. God’s presence became constant in their lives, as is evident from their insistent prayers for sinners and their desire to remain ever near “the hidden Jesus” in the tabernacle.
In her Memoirs (III, 6), Sister Lucia quotes Jacinta who had just been granted a vision: “Do you not see all those streets, all those paths and fields full of people crying out for food, yet have nothing to eat? And the Holy Father in a church, praying before the Immaculate Heart of Mary? And all those people praying with him?” Thank you, brothers and sisters, for being here with me! I could not fail to come here to venerate the Virgin Mary and to entrust to her all her sons and daughters. Under her mantle they are not lost; from her embrace will come the hope and the peace that they require, and that I implore for all my brothers and sisters in baptism and in our human family, especially the sick and the disabled, prisoners and the unemployed, the poor and the abandoned. Dear brothers and sisters, let us pray to God with the hope that others will hear us; and let us speak to others with the certainty that God will help us.

Indeed, God created us to be a source of hope for others, a true and attainable hope, in accordance with each person’s state of life. In “asking” and “demanding” of each of us the fulfillment of the duties of our proper state (Letters of Sister Lucia, 28 February 1943), God effects a general mobilization against the indifference that chills the heart and worsens our myopia. We do not want to be a stillborn hope! Life can survive only because of the generosity of other lives. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (Jn 12:24). The Lord, who always goes before us, said this and did this. Whenever we experience the cross, he has already experienced it before us. We do not mount the cross to find Jesus. Instead it was he who, in his self-abasement, descended even to the cross, in order to find us, to dispel the darkness of evil within us, and to bring us back to the light.

With Mary’s protection, may we be for our world sentinels of the dawn, contemplating the true face of Jesus the Saviour, resplendent at Easter. Thus may we rediscover the young and beautiful face of the Church, which shines forth when she is missionary, welcoming, free, faithful, poor in means and rich in love.
SVILUPPO: While closing the Canonization Mass with Exposition and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament – performed with a fittingly epic monstrance – the Pope made a point of adding a specific word to the sick pilgrims in attendance, and all those beyond joined in the one body of the Church:
Dear brothers and sisters who are sick,

As I said in the homily, the Lord always goes before us. Whenever we experience a cross, he has already been there ahead of us. In his passion, he took upon himself all our suffering. Jesus knows the meaning of sorrow and pain. He understands us, he comforts us and he gives us strength, as he did to Saint Francisco Marto and Saint Jacinta, and to the saints of every time and place. I think of the Apostle Peter, in chains in the prison of Jerusalem, as the whole Church prayed for him. The Lord comforted Peter. That is the Church’s ministry: the Church asks the Lord to comfort the afflicted like yourselves, and he comforts you, even in ways you cannot see. He comforts you in the depths of your hearts and he comforts you with the gift of strength.

Dear pilgrims, we have before us Jesus hidden yet present in the Eucharist, just as we have Jesus hidden yet present in the wounds of our brothers and sisters who are sick and suffering. On the altar, we worship the flesh of Jesus; in these our brothers and sisters, we encounter the wounds of Jesus. The Christian adores Jesus, the Christian seeks Jesus, the Christian can recognize the wounds of Jesus. Today the Virgin Mary asks all of us the same question that, a hundred years ago, she asked the shepherd children: “Do you want to offer yourselves to God?” Their answer - “Yes, we do!” – makes us able to understand and imitate their lives. They lived life, with its share of joy and suffering, as an offering to the Lord.

I invite those of you who are sick to live your lives as a gift. Like the shepherd children, tell Our Lady that you want to offer yourselves to God with all your heart. Don’t think of yourselves simply as the recipients of charitable solidarity, but feel that you share fully in the Church’s life and mission. Your silent presence, which is more eloquent than a flood of words, your prayers, the daily offering of your sufferings in union with those of Jesus crucified for the salvation of the world, the patient and even joyful acceptance of your condition – all these are a spiritual resource, an asset to every Christian community. Do not be ashamed of being a precious treasure of the Church.

Jesus will pass close to you in the Blessed Sacrament as a sign of his closeness and love for you. Entrust to him your sorrows, your sufferings, all your weariness. Count on the prayer of the Church, which from every corner of the world rises up to heaven for you and with you. God is our Father, and he will never forget you.
Posted: May 13, 2017, 3:51 pm
As every and any lodging anywhere near Fatima had already been booked solid with pilgrimages well before the headliner was announced for this weekend's centennial of the first apparition there, its eve saw that rarest of things – The Pope not as Main Event, but merely the icing on the cake.

Still, as his presence tends to swell crowds – all the more given this first trek to the Iberian peninsula – the turnout estimates for the days were almost doubled, from 600,000 to over a million expected to be on hand. As for its makeup, given the milestone for the Lady of the Cova – one of the Catholic world's three principal Marian meccas, alongside Lourdes and Guadalupe (now the most-visited Christian shrine of all) – this weekend has a considerably more global crop of attendees than the usual PopeTrip throng.

Keeping the practice he began before another Madonna of Portuguese-speakers – Brazil's patroness of Aparecida – upon his arrival at the small chapel outside the shrine's Basilica on the site of the apparitions themselves, "at the feet of our Virgin Mother," Francis delivered a self-penned prayer of dedication to Our Lady, joined by the people in a refrain he writes into the text.

The moment only came, however, after another extraordinary instance of the Pope drawing a massive crowd into the silence of prayer – in this case, one which lasted over five minutes.

Significant, even emotional, as each of his Marian moments are on a deeply personal level – arguably providing the clearest glimpse into Jorge Mario Bergoglio's childlike faith at its very core – one aspect here raises this edition to a different plane: in referring to himself at Fatima as "a bishop robed in white," Francis connected himself to perhaps the most harrowing piece of the apparitions' message, a part only revealed 17 years ago this weekend, when the "Third Secret" was finally made public at the beatification of the seers on 13 May 2000....
And we saw in an immense light that is God: ‘something similar to how people appear in a mirror when they pass in front of it' a Bishop dressed in White ‘we had the impression that it was the Holy Father'. Other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious going up a steep mountain, at the top of which there was a big Cross of rough-hewn trunks as of a cork-tree with the bark; before reaching there the Holy Father passed through a big city half in ruins and half trembling with halting step, afflicted with pain and sorrow, he prayed for the souls of the corpses he met on his way; having reached the top of the mountain, on his knees at the foot of the big Cross he was killed by a group of soldiers who fired bullets and arrows at him....
Kept under seal by the Vatican for decades, that final message has principally been viewed as a prophecy of John Paul II given the assassination attempt that took place on 13 May 1981 – the very anniversary of the first Fatima apparition – with the now-saint having credited the Madonna with saving his life.

Precisely a year later, as the Polish pontiff went to the shrine to give thanks, he famously brought one of the bullets which had struck him, which was placed in the crown of Fatima's Virgin and has remained there ever since. Even so, while the reigning Pope's move to resurrect the image could say one of any number of things, rushing to interpretations is best avoided; if history's any guide, he'll explain it soon enough.

All that said, here's the English text of Francis' prayer to the Madonna on her century at Fatima with the video of its delivery, and the memorable pause which preceded it...

Hail Holy Queen,
Blessed Virgin of Fatima,
Lady of Immaculate Heart,
our refuge and our way to God!

As a pilgrim of the Light that comes to us from your hands,
I give thanks to God the Father, who in every time and place
is at work in human history;
As a pilgrim of the Peace that, in this place, you proclaim,
I give praise to Christ, our peace, and I implore for the world
concord among all peoples;
As a pilgrim of the Hope that the Spirit awakens,
I come as a prophet and messenger to wash the feet of all,
at the same table that unites us.

Ave O Clemens, Ave O pia!
Salve Regina Rosarii Fatimae.
Ave O clemens, Ave O pia!
Ave O dulcis Virgo Maria!

[Hail, O Clement; Hail, O Loving
Hail Fatima, Holy Queen of the Rosary!
Hail O Clement, Hail O Loving!
Hail O Sweet Virgin Mary!]

Hail, Mother of Mercy,
Lady robed in white!
In this place where, a hundred years ago
you made known to all the purposes of God’s mercy,
I gaze at your robe of light
and, as a bishop robed in white,
I call to mind all those who,
robed in the splendour of their baptism,
desire to live in God
and tell the mysteries of Christ in order to obtain peace.


Hail, life and sweetness,
Hail, our hope,
O Pilgrim Virgin, O Universal Queen!

In the depths of your being,
in your Immaculate Heart,
you keep the joys of men and women
as they journey to the Heavenly Homeland.
In the depths of your being,
in your Immaculate Heart,
you keep the sorrows of the human family,
as they mourn and weep in this valley of tears.
In the depths of your being,
in your Immaculate Heart,
adorn us with the radiance of the jewels of your crown
and make us pilgrims, even as you were a pilgrim.

With your virginal smile,
enliven the joy of Christ’s Church.
With your gaze of sweetness,
strengthen the hope of God’s children.
With your hands lifted in prayer to the Lord,
draw all people together into one human family.


O clement, O loving,
O sweet Virgin Mary,
Queen of the Rosary of Fatima!
Grant that we may follow the example of Blessed Francisco and Blessed Jacinta,
and of all who devote themselves to proclaiming the Gospel.
Thus we will follow all paths
and everywhere make our pilgrim way;
we will tear down all walls
and cross every frontier,
as we go out to every periphery,
to make known God’s justice and peace.

In the joy of the Gospel, we will be the Church robed in white,
the whiteness washed in the blood of the Lamb,
blood that today too is shed in the wars tearing our world apart.
And so we will be, like you, an image of the column of light
that illumines the ways of the world,
making God known to all,
making known to all that God exists,
that God dwells in the midst of his people,
yesterday, today and for all eternity.


[Pope and people together:]

Hail, Mother of the Lord,
Virgin Mary, Queen of the Rosary of Fatima!
Blessed among all women,
you are the image of the Church robed in Easter light,
you are the honour of our people,
you are the victory over every assault of evil.

Prophecy of the merciful love of the Father,
Teacher of the Message of Good News of the Son,
Sign of the burning Fire of the Holy Spirit,
teach us, in this valley of joys and sorrows,
the eternal truths that the Father reveals to the little ones.

Show us the strength of your protective mantle.
In your Immaculate Heart,
be the refuge of sinners
and the way that leads to God.

In union with my brothers and sisters,
in faith, in hope and in love,
I entrust myself to you.
In union with my brothers and sisters, through you,
I consecrate myself to God,
O Virgin of the Rosary of Fatima.

And at last, enveloped in the Light that comes from your hands,
I will give glory to the Lord for ever and ever.

*   *   *
Together with his act of consecration, Francis brought another centenary gift to the Cova – the Golden Rose (above), the centuries-old honor once bestowed by the Popes on Catholic queens, but now solely conferred as an exceptional homage to precious few Marian shrines.

As the Rose can be given to a Madonna by successive pontiffs as a mark of their respective affection, Francis' is the third accorded Fatima, following ones from now-Blessed Paul VI and Benedict XVI. For his own part, Fatima's third Rose is just the second granted by Papa Bergoglio; within a year of his election, he sent his first to Guadalupe – a historic gift from the first-ever American Pope to the Mother of the American continent – then bringing her a crown on his visit in February 2016.

In any case, the daytime rites were just the half of it. Returning to the shrine after dusk to lead the Rosary and join the nightly candlelit procession (fullvid), the Pope engaged in a rare form of sharing on his own depth of Marian devotion: a love born from the faith and example of the Italian immigrants who raised him.

Normally, whenever Francis has focused on the Theotokos, the words have either come in the form of a solemn written prayer or a homily at a public Mass – the one and only time when he puts his more animated style of delivery aside and dourly sticks to the script.

At the Fatima vigil, however, looking to greet the "oceanic" crowd outside of the context of prayer, his fervor for Our Lady and a forum to express it in full color finally came together....
Dear Pilgrims to Mary and with Mary!

Thank you for your welcome and for joining me on this pilgrimage of hope and peace. Even now, I want to assure all of you who are united with me, here or elsewhere, that you have a special place in my heart. I feel that Jesus has entrusted you to me (cf. Jn 21:15-17), and I embrace all of you and commend you to Jesus, “especially those most in need” – as Our Lady taught us to pray (Apparition of July, 1917). May she, the loving and solicitous Mother of the needy, obtain for them the Lord’s blessing! On each of the destitute and outcast robbed of the present, on each of the excluded and abandoned denied a future, on each of the orphans and victims of injustice refused a past, may there descend the blessing of God, incarnate in Jesus Christ. “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace” (Num 6:24-26).

This blessing was fulfilled in the Virgin Mary. No other creature ever basked in the light of God’s face as did Mary; she in turn gave a human face to the Son of the eternal Father. Now we can contemplate her in the succession of joyful, luminous, sorrowful and glorious moments of her life, which we revisit in our recitation of the rosary. With Christ and Mary, we abide in God. Indeed, “if we want to be Christian, we must be Marian; in a word, we have to acknowledge the essential, vital and providential relationship uniting Our Lady to Jesus, a relationship that opens before us the way leading to him” (PAUL VI, Address at the Shine of Our Lady of Bonaria, Cagliari, 24 April 1970). Each time we recite the rosary, in this holy place or anywhere else, the Gospel enters anew into the life of individuals, families, peoples and the entire world.

Pilgrims with Mary... But which Mary? A teacher of the spiritual life, the first to follow Jesus on the “narrow way” of the cross by giving us an example, or a Lady “unapproachable” and impossible to imitate? A woman “blessed because she believed” always and everywhere in God’s words (cf. Lk 1:42.45), or a “plaster statue” from whom we beg favours at little cost? The Virgin Mary of the Gospel, venerated by the Church at prayer, or a Mary of our own making: one who restrains the arm of a vengeful God; one sweeter than Jesus the ruthless judge; one more merciful than the Lamb slain for us?

Great injustice is done to God’s grace whenever we say that sins are punished by his judgment, without first saying – as the Gospel clearly does – that they are forgiven by his mercy! Mercy has to be put before judgment and, in any case, God’s judgment will always be rendered in the light of his mercy. Obviously, God’s mercy does not deny justice, for Jesus took upon himself the consequences of our sin, together with its due punishment. He did not deny sin, but redeemed it on the cross. Hence, in the faith that unites us to the cross of Christ, we are freed of our sins; we put aside all fear and dread, as unbefitting those who are loved (cf. 1 Jn 4:18). “Whenever we look to Mary, we come to believe once again in the revolutionary nature of love and tenderness. In her, we see that humility and tenderness are not virtues of the weak but of the strong, who need not treat others poorly in order to feel important themselves… This interplay of justice and tenderness, of contemplation and concern for others, is what makes the ecclesial community look to Mary as a model of evangelization” (Ap. Exhort. Evangelii Gaudium, 288). With Mary, may each of us become a sign and sacrament of the mercy of God, who pardons always and pardons everything.

Hand in hand with the Virgin Mother, and under her watchful gaze, may we come to sing with joy the mercies of the Lord, and cry out: “My soul sings to you, Lord!” The mercy you have shown to all your saints and all your faithful people, you have also shown to me. Out of the pride of my heart, I went astray, following my own ambitions and interests, without gaining any crown of glory! My one hope of glory, Lord, is this: that your Mother will take me in her arms, shelter me beneath her mantle, and set me close to your heart. Amen.
Posted: May 13, 2017, 3:09 pm
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