Monday, March 28, 2005

"How Do You Solve a Problem Like Archbishop?"

First, a Blessed Easter to all. I'm still digesting all the lamb I ate yesterday. But for some reason, Italians have an obsession with ham on Easter, too. I don't know why.

There's so much going on everywhere but 50 pounds of amaranth silk wins the day. Ask yourself, "Did Jesus walk into the Last Supper in cappa magna?"

The Lord didn't, but Ray Burke did.

To the straints of Anton Bruckner's very loud "Ecce, Sacerdos Magnus" ("Behold, the Great Priest"), the archbishop of St. Louis replicated the wedding scene from "The Sound of Music" on Thursday night, turning the death vigil of Jesus, the suffering servant, into his own grandiose egofest, wearing the never-ever-used "great cape," 10 feet of train trailing behind.

Hoods were involved, to boot. According to one aghast witness, the train was being borne by what appeared to be "a young, blond boy." Just what we need, more smoke....

Look, I've heard that Burke is a wonderful person, gracious, very humble, kind, etc. I wouldn't believe it unless it came from people I respect, and it does. I'd love to meet Burke, have a coffee or some Sambuca, talk -- I love gracious people. But still, to be humble and then go and do something like THIS?! And to repeat it again on Easter morning? Like the hiring of Jamie Allman, it screams domination. And domination's not supposed to be our business.


In other Holy Week detritus, I took this year "off" from my favorite of the rituals, the Thursday morning Chrism Mass. Here, while the archbishop doesn't enter in a sea of ostentatious cape, it's still liturgy performed in a hyper-triumphant style. It's sad, but I just didn't want to be part of a self-congratulatory chest-thumping session when there's nothing this local church has done this past year to earn congratulations.

Deflecting abuse suits by hiding behind the statute of limitations is not cause for pride, gratitude, or congratulations. Being driven and focused by a concern for external stability is not cause for pride, gratitude, or congratulations. Pastoral ministry by photo-op is not cause for pride, gratitude, or congratulations.... I could go on, but this great observation will suffice:

"Experience shows that when priority is mainly given to outward stability, the impetus to personal conversion, ecclesial renewal and missionary zeal can be lost and a false sense of security can ensue."

Savonarola? Drinan? Granmick? No, John Paul II -- from an address given to the bishops of the Philadelphia province last year; a speech given with input, at the pope's invitation, from a priest of Philadelphia in this pope's direct service.

In an archdiocese which professes complete and utter obesiance to the bishop of Rome, his critique sent directly to the heart of the frivolous culture which sees itself as more Catholic (more Roman Catholic, Jamie Allman) than he hasn't been heeded in the least. The bosses here, who were spooked out like you wouldn't believe at hearing the structure get called out for what it is by THE POPE HIMSELF, have put the kibosh on his words out of fear that the new Know-Nothings (i.e. laypeople) will reflect and be outraged.

Ask about John Paul's words, and they'll look around puzzled and say "What ad limina speech?"

Pharaoh as a Cafeteria Catholic? Don't say never.....


Wednesday, March 16, 2005

He Had A Reason To Get Out of Lake Charles....

If anyone doesn't know where that title comes from, open iTunes and download Lucinda Williams' Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. A magnum opus from a magnum artist.

Ed Braxton has always been the exception to the rule -- he'll tell you that himself. And so it is that in a time when vacancies are taking 12 to 18 months to fill, Justin Rigali's first auxiliary bishop came back home to take Wilton's place in Belleville (and be reunited with his beloved St. Louis Symphony and Opera Theatre) in three months flat.

Who wins? Well, prima di tutto, Braxton does -- he's been making noises for a year that Louisiana is not where he's felt at home. Wilton Gregory wins as his template of progressive and sophisticated ministry has, yet again, been validated by Rome (let's not forget that Gregory's predecessor, Jim Keleher, presided over a clergy "sex ring" in Belleville, got kicked up to an archdiocese then looked back and took credit for Wilton's extreme makeover). And Cardinal George wins as, yet again, he keeps his province safe from a rabble-rouser of the $25-million Marian shrine in cornfields kind.

Score two for George, actually: he gets Jerry Listecki to LaCrosse, where Listecki was acclaimed as the Messiah even before wheels down because he's Not Ray Burke; and now this.

Along those lines, the biggest winners of all in this move are the suffering people of Burke's personal fiefdom -- er, the archdiocese of St. Louis. The Rigali-Gregory arrangement of stylistic dichotomy across the Mississippi is continued. With this appointment, Montalvo has voiced: 1. his dissatisfaction with the Burke/Jamie Allman dream of ecclesiastical domination by means of sanctions and 2. that, given such dangerous delusions, there is a need for balance in the presentation of church teaching, a licit place for dialogue which, with Braxton in the market, will be highlighted in St. Louis media.

It is a valid belief that the damage Burke/Allman has caused led the nuncio to fast-track Belleville so that the nuclear arsenal on Lindell Blvd. would not be the sole Catholic voice in that region for long.

And Braxton will more than hold his own; nobody has ever called him camera-shy. According to the beloved Post-Dispatch, at yesterday's press conference -- where he was all cassock-ed out and couldn't hide a megawatt grin -- he noted the lectern covered with microphones and tape recorders and declared, "I will adapt."

You know he loved every second of it.

"In the land there is a hunger, in the land there is a need," the hymn goes. Yesterday, the Rome of the West's hunger -- a cry for episcopal sanity -- was heard.

Now this is gonna be fun. Buckle up.


Monday, March 14, 2005

Daddy's Gonna Take Your Allowance

No, the title is not in reference to me. My chutzpah has limits.

Two more beauties for the day. First comes from the always amusingly Calvinist mind of Bob Vasa, the bishop of Baker. Besides giving Calvinists everywhere a bad name, Vasa's claim to infamy is that he always finds the least important thing to bitch about, turns it into a crisis (does this sound familiar?), waves his wizard's wand and -- POOF! -- his opponents, who are the tools of the devil of course, are excommunicated. But then, only three people agree with him, so it's a pretty spare group seeking "justice," and a pretty big number of people seeking recourse from Rome. (Vasa, everyone may remember, is the genius who showed up at a VOTF meeting in someone's backyard and started screaming hellfire at the attendees. If that doesn't scream "crazy," then we'd be hard pressed to find a definition.)

For those who believe the Lawler Report (Phil's version of hyperventilating, hyper-out-of-context linkage in the Drudge style), the state of Oregon is currently in schism because, lacking answers from their bishops (who, in shades of Philadelphia, are too blessed by God to talk to laity), Catholic people seeking inspiration and leadership are "turning to Sister Joan Chittister."

Well, Lawler still turns to Cardinal Law as a moral exemplar, and we all know that Bernie didn't do a damn thing wrong. Nope. Nyet. Nein. He's as innocent as a lamb, a living saint if ever there were one.

And now, this is when I start my ritual gagging. This hypocrisy circus would be terribly funny, if only it were fiction.

So the Oregonian has the wisdom to ask Bob Vasa about all this Chittister witchcraze which is mesmerizing his people, and the response is vintage Bruzkewicz -- whose vicar general Vasa was:

In a telephone interview, Vasa defended his pastoral letter [which demanded oaths of fidelity from every lay minister, their families and all their pets], acknowledging that some Catholics likely won't sign it -- and may leave the church. "A teen-ager who may not like the rule of a 10 o'clock curfew may have to find another place to live," he says.

So, there you have it, kids: Vasa is Big Daddy. You're stupid, poor and it's his roof under which you live. And if you don't follow his rules, off to the shelter with you -- or the cat o' nine tails.

This is like gangsta-rap style turf marking here. But at least Biggie and Pac did it with style. And lace albs just don't cut it.


And, lastly, this afternoon a San Francisco municipal judge ruled that gay marriage is constitutional under the California constitution.

So who is this anti-family, anti-Christian, sodomist-bribed, Sponge Bob Square Pants-watching pinko? (It's SARCASM, people!) None other than a Catholic Republican.....

Somewhere in the distance, there is the pitter-patter of the angry hooves of mantilla-wearing people (men and women alike). Tomorrow, they'll march on the San Francisco chancery, demanding that Bill Levada behead this guy.

So the question presents itself: Do our forays into sanctions -- and the conservatives' intent to use them to drive out anyone they abhor (i.e. people for whom Vasa isn't some kind of freaky sex symbol, a la Rick James), while keeping the ecclesiastical Jeff Gannons in high business --extend to Catholic members of the judiciary?

The debate begins tomorrow.


Whiskey in a Chalice

Well, it's Paddy's Week, and a happy, happy one to all.

Justin Rigali gave his Irish side its annual airing yesterday at Philly's St. Patrick's Day parade. Now, let it be known -- no one really knows it because it's a hidden fact 364 days out of the year -- that Justin Rigali, il Re' dei Romani, is actually three-quarters Irish. And, as is his practice, Pharaoh gave his one TV interview of the year. He gets to talk about Grandmother Bridget from Roscommon, how the pope told the people of Ireland to come to Jesus and... well, that's basically it. Anyone looking for an answer as to how the church in Philadelphia's coming along on sex-abuse or the diocese's focus on a gospel of life will be left lacking. (Rigali's printed statement about Terri Schiavo on Friday got no play whatsoever.)

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that, if you want to interview Rigali in print or on camera, you have to pitch it as being about some obscure saint, human trafficking or a papal lovefest. It doesn't take Cronkite to get one of these sessions, either.

The blame here lies not with the Boss, but with his handlers -- Philadelphia likes an airtight bubble around Pharaoh, lest he be thought human and show signs of aging.

I like Rigali. I can't say the same for his infantile sycophants, but I respect the man, himself. He's sweet, somewhat shy but very gracious, and yesterday he just looked damn good. Of course, 99.99999999992% of the viewing audience had no idea that he just got off the plane from two weeks of Roman homecoming, but he seemed more self-assured and fluid in speaking than at any time I've seen him over his 18 months in Philly. This bodes well for his first palliumed Holy Week.

NOTE TO PRESS: My attendance at the roster of ceremonies is yet to be determined.


The word from Rome (the one John Allen won't give you, but that's why I'm here) is that the easiest way to get people shaking their heads and start navel-gazing is to mention Ray Burke. Just to show how well-appraised they are, even Jamie Allman's atomic tactics have been noted with disdain. This pretty much blows Allen's misguided theory out the window and ensures that Busch Stadium will remain home to the only cardinal red the Rome of the West will be seeing in the short-term future.


And John Paul II is home. Again. This time, however, the Household chose not to incense the Roman populace by creating another macabre Popemobile spectacle -- they got their dose of humility after that.

Looking at the photos of John Paul in the papal SUV, one will notice a religious woman in full (and we mean FULL) white habit, wimple and all. Who is she?

Sixty years after Sr. Pasqualina ran the apartment of Pius XII, La Popessa is back.


Friday, March 04, 2005

My John Myers Headache

Saying that I have a John Myers problem is like saying I have a Ray Burke problem -- it's ceaseless....

But, you ask, given his pastoral promulgation of Republican talking points such as, "those who propose tax cuts to stimulate the economy may in all sincerity believe that their way is the best method really to help the poor. This is a matter of prudential judgment," why has Myers been out of the line of fire?

Don't worry. I'm about to compensate.

Since arriving in Newark right after 9/11 -- a confluence of events making the most tragic period in Jersey history even worse -- Myers has improved upon his predecessor's relatively impoverished quality of life by:

  • buying a farm, "Villa Margherita," and having the stables illuminated so his poor horsies don't have to trudge around in the dark
  • overhauling the archbishop's suite at the cathedral rectory to the tune of six figures, sinking capuccino machines into fine Italian marble

...and the list goes on.

But is this prince among men content to swim unbothered in an opulence made possible on the backs of working people's contributions? Of course not.

Great warrior for human life and dignity that he is -- the life and dignity of wealthy humans -- Myers has his sights set on torpedoing his archdiocese's commitment to an inner city Ted the Great saw as a sacred trust. It's said that the archbishop will soon close 42 parishes as part of a project with an Orwellian name: "New Energies." Ugh.

And then there is Sacred Heart School, a thriving elementary in a downtrodden area of Newark. Terry Golway recently did a splendid piece for America (21 February) on the school's precarious place as a beacon of light where all Myers wants to see is darkness.

This leads me to believe that the recent vogue of massive closings (big double-digits in Boston, Toledo, and of course St. Louis) are some perverse way to boast one's decisiveness and curry Roman attention and favor -- "Look, Holy Father! I can close more than he can!"

But back to Sacred Heart. According to Golway, its principal, Augustinian Brother Patrick Byrne, gets "The implied, or sometimes not-just-implied, suggestion that the church's precious resources would better be used in the education of Catholic kids."

Did Byrne hear this from McCarrick? According to him,

"I remember when Cardinal [Theodore] McCarrick was here as our archbishop, he'd tell me that he didn't care if the children were Catholic or not, as long as they were evangelized with Catholic values, and as long as they came to know and love the Lord."

Brother, let the church say, "AMEN!"

Anyone who dares tell me that McCarrick is not the greatest who ever walked these hallways, especially in these times, is in for a top-of-the-line whupping. I'd take The Ted's Catholic values of dialogue, serene fidelity and commitment to service and the common good over Myers' priorities of blunt force, public hypocrisy and clerical chauvinism anyday of the week.

If that wasn't enough to get your juices flowing, I leave you with one last beauty: it's long been known that the office of Myers' best friend and former vicar general, Msgr. Steve Rohlfs of Peoria, featured shrines to dead queens (namely, Victoria and Elizabeth the Queen Mother). Like his pal, Rohlfs just left Illinois for a new job on the East Coast: rector of Mount Saint Mary's Seminary, Emmitsburg.

In a sane world, we call that "putting the elephant in charge of the peanuts."

Let's all pray for the archbishop's big intention: that he gets moved to Rome and won't have to deal with the ordinary people his office has elevated him above anymore.


Who's Your Daddy?

Oh, John Allen's really back in my graces now. He's given me such a nice present.

This week's Word from Rome has already been posted, and Allen makes great points about how the church has been somewhat out of whack because of what is seen as "the personalization of the papacy under John Paul." I call these great points as I had written them in this forum A MONTH AGO! And then, in recent weeks, I put them in a piece -- a piece which was not seen in public as it had no takers.

So now Allen gets on my bandwagon and the words will be taken as Gospel, but not because they're mine. This isn't John's fault, of course, because the Great One is too mighty to read my words. But it just shows how far ahead of the curve your good writer is.

Keep that in mind.


The Real Magic Kingdom


-"Kathleen McChesney, you've spent three years working to protect children from malfeasant bishops who portrayed you as the evil party. What will you do now?"
-"I'm going to Disney World!"

That's right, my gentle snowflakes. Congrats to the former director of the USCCB office for child and youth protection, who has been named VP for crisis management and threat assessment for the Walt Disney Company. Here's hoping that, besides having a less taxing workload, she'll have an easier time at the job -- it's nice when you can do crisis management and threat assessment for bosses who don't see you as the crisis and the threat.


Republicans and the Holy See are like peas and carrots. Back in June, after the President met with John Paul II, he whimpered to Sodano that "not all the bishops are with me" -- i.e. Democrats weren't being threatened with sanctions nationwide.

Now the cycle continues. In a get which returns him to the state of grace, John Allen reports that the Vatican secretary of state asked his American counterpart to shut down an abuse suit in Kentucky which seeks damages from Rome -- further confirmation that, having ignored the mistakes of history, what the current leadership of Catholicism seeks is nothing short of the complete subjugation of secular power to the authority of the church. Or, as the evangelicals would have it, government under the feet of Jesus.

Someone should put out a disclaimer stating, "Yes, we want immunity. And, provided we get it, we can ensure that nothing bad will ever happen to your children again." Then you will see snowballs come flyin' from the direction of Hell.


The Pit Bull is at it again.

Jean Torkelson in the Rocky Mountain News details some pretty heady exchanges between Chaput and guests at a lunch talk he gave earlier this week. But it wasn't just Chaput's presence that got everyone all hot and bothered. Check these nuggets from his introductory remarks:

Some of you may remember that a year ago I was part of a rally on the Capitol steps to protect state funding for the poor and homeless. But you didn’t read about it in the Rocky or the Denver Post, because they didn’t cover it.

Last September, just a few weeks before the election, I preached a homily to 5,000 people at Red Rocks, and I had them repeat out loud three times that if we forget the poor, we’ll go to hell. That’s one of the principles of Catholic social teaching. If we forget the poor, God will forget us. By our indifference, we will damn ourselves. But you didn’t read about that in the press either, because – again -- nobody covered it.

Our diocesan website has at least 18 articles I’ve written and talks I’ve given... just a fraction of what I’ve said and done against capital punishment for more than three ecades. The press covered that one time recently -- when I criticized our Republican governor.

Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Denver is the largest non-government provider of aid to the poor in the Rocky Mountain region. As a Church, more than 80 percent of our time, resources, ministry personnel and lobbying efforts go to issues that have nothing to do with abortion. But you’ll never see that on anybody’s front-page either, because it isn’t news....

It’s so normal that nobody pays attention – until they disagree.

I wouldn't say that -- if anything, disagreements make people tune out. We've got two factions in both the Catholic and secular polity which only listen to media which fits their ideology and buys only the frame which corresponds to their worldview. Incendiary pronouncements from either side only heightens the backlash.

The good archbishop continues:

Public witness on issues of public concern is natural and essential for Catholics because of our commitment to the common good and to the dignity of each human person. Those two pillars – the common good and the dignity of every human person – come right out of Scripture. They underpin all of Catholic social thought.

OK, fine. But has it been our experience that, in the moment of truth when the bishops had an issue of human life and dignity under their direct control, they worked without concern for lesser agendas to ensure it? Has any bishop publicly bashed his brothers about their lack of conscience when they violate the dignity of persons post-birth and employ hardball legal tactics on survivors as opposed to providing just restitution for abuses of human dignity enabled and condoned by the church's own hand?

CJ, I love ya... But give me some help here and speak up.


Thursday, March 03, 2005

Italian Eyes Are Smiling

Among the many questions surrounding the pope's current situation is the level of contact he is having with the senior officials of the curia. Of course, Cardinal Ratzinger dropped by the Gemelli the other day and handled the business of CDF with the boss. But the only areas where the pope's expressed involvement is necessary in the daily governance of the church are the canonization of saints and the appointment of bishops. As no list of audiences is being produced in the daily bulletins, a Vaticanista is led to wonder....

In that vein, we just received word of an American appointment of the unexpected kind. Pre-empting the August 75th of Bishop Ken Angell of Burlington, John Paul II has just announced the elevation of 59 year-old Msgr. Salvatore Matano of the diocese of Providence to serve as Angell's coadjutor. Again, given the number of superannuated bishops who are being made to wait in the area of two years for their successors, the timing of this one leads us to consider the circumstances.

The fact that Matano's appointment wasn't sat on for six months means that, when that August day rolls around, Rome wants Angell out -- and quickly. Either that, or the latter was just tired and put in a request for a coadjutor in the interests of a smooth transition. (And that's doubtful.)

But an Italian as bishop in Vermont, home of Phish? That's a pretty nice "wow" factor.

Get this -- Matano comes to Burlington from the Nunciature in Washington, where he has served as a "local collaborator" of Montalvo's. That the nuncio got Matano through the pipeline should be sign enough of his respect. Here's why: that job title is code for private investigator; Matano's been running the background checks which, since the scandal, have torpedoed more prospective bishops than you'd think. (Why else would the process have doubled in length since '02, eh?)

Joaquin Navarro speaks.... "In recent days the Pope has been receiving several of his collaborators with whom he daily follows the activity of the Holy See and the life of the Church."

That's all well and good, but who's coming to dinner and who isn't? Give us a list.